NFL Midweek Tailgate: Despite Derrick Henry's return, Titans on upset alert vs. Bengals
Should Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy be on the hot seat after the debacle in Dallas?
Which four teams will survive this weekend?
Every week during the regular season, USA TODAY Sports+ NFL Insiders Tyler Dragon and Safid Deen bring you their top five stories of the week for the NFL Midweek Tailgate.
Why wait for game day to get the party going? Start the grills with the insiders' hot takes, keep your beverage-of-choice chilled with a healthy dose of reality in their thorough analysis and grab a chair because Dragon and Deen don't hold back.
Should Mike McCarthy be on the hot seat after the Cowboys committed an embarrassing 14 penalties?
Tyler Dragon: Committing 14 penalties at home is an indictment on the head coach. It shows a lack of preparation and discipline. It ultimately falls on the head coach, but the players on the field deserve some accountability as well.
Mike McCarthy is 18-15 in two seasons as head coach. Last year, he was forced into a bad situation when Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending ankle injury. There was some improvement this season, but, in typical Cowboys fashion, they fell apart late.
Stability is important. Two years isn’t very long. I think McCarthy deserves another season at the helm. If the Cowboys don’t make the playoffs or are one-and-done in 2022, McCarthy should get a pink slip.
Safid Deen: Yeah, McCarthy is certainly on the hot seat. The Cowboys put too much pressure on Dak Prescott offensively and were unable to get their run game going against the 49ers. And the penalties, which piled onto each other kept Dallas away from moments where they could’ve made a difference in that game.
McCarthy’s seat may not be hot enough for him to be fired this time around. But his coaching performance and job security will be questioned and heavily scrutinized every week next season. Dallas simply must prove it in the playoffs in 2022.
J.J. Watt called the Cardinals' loss a 'massive failure.' Is the veteran defensive lineman right?
Dragon: Absolutely. The Cardinals’ performance last week was an embarrassment. They got ran out of Los Angeles. The team looked like it wasn't prepared for the moment and they got thoroughly dominated against a division rival.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, their poor performance wasn’t surprising. They backed into the playoffs, losing four of their last five regular-season games. Under head coach Kliff Kingsbury, the Cardinals have routinely regressed late in the season. The Cardinals collapsed in dramatic fashion this year, and their last game was their worst game.
Deen: Maybe it’s "massive" because J.J Watt said it? Look, this Cardinals team was completely different once DeAndre Hopkins was lost for the season with a knee injury. Kyler Murray is one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the NFL, but he was limited without his best offensive weapon who stretched the field and opened passing lanes for others.
The Cardinals must prioritize finding at least one more talented, top-tier receiver and address their running-back room to ensure Murray has the right weapons around him. And most of all, Murray must grow from his worst game in the NFL. He was shaken after the pick-six interception he threw — unlike anything we’ve seen in his young career.
Kansas City sent Buffalo home in last year's AFC championship. The Bills got a little revenge during the regular season this year. Who wins Sunday's battle?
Dragon: You all know my answer. As I always say on “It’s a Football Podcast!”, — “I’m picking the Chiefs, again.”
This matchup does concern me, though. The Bills probably had the best four-quarter performance during wild-card weekend. They looked sharp against the Patriots. Plus, Buffalo has revenge on their mind. The Chiefs sent Buffalo home last postseason in Kansas City. You know Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs and company are going to be motivated.
However, the Chiefs have won five-straight postseason games at Arrowhead Stadium. It’s the longest active home playoff-win streak in the NFL. Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are the most dangerous trio in the playoffs. Kelce and Hill have combined for 1,802 postseason receiving yards, that’s the sixth-most ever among teammates.
Plus, the Chiefs defense, headlined by Chris Jones and Tyrann Mathieu, will be up for the challenge.
Deen: I really like Buffalo’s chances in this matchup because of their talented defense and Josh Allen’s capabilities offensively. But the Bills rely too much on Allen at times. If they turn him into a runner and passer Sunday, they might have a chance to beat the Chiefs.
But at the end of the day, I think Patrick Mahomes has better weapons in Hill and Kelce, and the Chiefs’ improving defense performs better in its second crack against Allen and the Bills this week.
The Packers and Titans begin postseason play this weekend. Which No. 1 seed is on upset alert?
Dragon: The Tennessee Titans. Joe Burrow’s signature win last season came against the Titans. This year, Burrow is improved and has a better team surrounding him. The Bengals are a dangerous football team. Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase are one of the best duos already in the NFL, plus Joe Mixon is a Pro-Bowl running back in the backfield. On defense, Jessie Bates and Trey Hendrickson are two of the better players at their positions.
There’s a reason why the Bengals broke a 31-year winless playoff drought. This is a much-improved team.
Most importantly, we don’t know if Derrick Henry is going to return to form in what will be his first game since Halloween. The running back said he has a steel plate in his foot, but declared he feels good.
If Henry plays like the best running back in the NFL, everything I said above is null and void. Henry has three career postseason games with at least 150 rushing yards. That’s the second-most in NFL history. Henry is the wild card.
Deen: The Titans may be one and done this week. Look, I know Derrick Henry’s potential return from foot surgery two months ago is a thing. I’m just not sure how much the Titans will rely upon Henry to be his true self after his layoff. I think the Titans will try their best to incorporate some carries for Henry behind running back D’Onta Foreman, but they will ultimately fall to the Bengals Saturday. Burrow and the Bengals offense – featuring Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Mixon – will be too much for Tennessee to overcome.
Which teams will make the AFC and NFC championship games?
Dragon: I predict the Titans and Chiefs will make it to the AFC championship. Over in the NFC, I have the Packers and Rams advancing this weekend.
Deen: Love a good prediction segment. I’ve got the Bengals and Chiefs in the AFC title game. Give me Joe Burrow vs. Patrick Mahomes, a rematch of their shootout earlier this month. And in the NFC, I’ve got Brady and the Bucs visiting Aaron Rodgers and the Packers again.