A Tuesday night surprise retirement for the Carolina Panthers has ramifications for the the NFL and for their NFC South Rivals, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Eight year veteran Luke Kuechly shocked everyone by announcing via social media and through the Panthers website, that he has decided to end his career after a trying season with the Panthers:
“In my heart, I know it’s the right thing to do.” pic.twitter.com/mSDyJ0iEMw
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) January 15, 2020
Kuechly, the Panthers #1 pick in 2012 has been a Pro Bowler in each of the last seven years and is a five-time All-Pro. And, he is regarded as one of the top two or three inside linebackers of the previous decade. However, the 2019 season was a very long one for he and his Carolina teammates.
With Pro Bowl quarterback Cam Newton injured in preseason and eventually shut down for the season after the Buccaneers upset the Panthers in week two, Carolina’s future was in doubt. That Thursday night in Charlotte, Kuechly registered a staggering 18 tackles, including a safety, but they still lost 20-14.
Still, even though they won four games in late September and October without Newton, they quickly plummeted after that on their way to a 5 – 11 season.
Head coach Ron Rivera was fired in early December and has now been replaced by former Baylor College coach Matt Rhule.
Kuechly was still with his usual self with 144 tackles including four for losses and he also had two interceptions. One of those was a pick of Jameis Winston in the London rematch with the Bucs, as Winston had six total turnovers and the Panthers defeated the Bucs for revenge.
While he did not specifically did not address concussions and head trauma, it is well known that Keuchly has suffered numerous ones in his career, including two of them in the 2016 season. The 2nd of which, sidelined him for four games that season.
It should be noted that he has played 47 of the 48 regular season games over the next three years.
Kuechly was instrumental in leading Carolina’s defense throughout his tenure including their magical 2015 year where they started the year 14 – 0 and made it all the way to the Super Bowl. He registered 153 tackles to go along with nine for loss, three sacks and two takeaways on the season. The Panthers eventually lost to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
Who is headed to Miami and Super Bowl XLIV after Sunday?
Two games remain to determine whom will tee it up at Super Bowl XLIV in Miami. Will the upstart Titans pull off a third straight upset in Kansas City? Can the Packers get revenge over a San Francisco team that humbled them in late November?
We know this: the unexpected has already happened several times in these playoffs and don’t rule out the upsets Sunday.
First, the Baltimore Ravens had been favorites to win Super Bowl LIV for some time now. Pretty much since they destroyed the Pats in the middle of the season. They had already beaten the K.C Chiefs and a handful of other solid teams. And, once they defeated the the 49ers in December, it looked like the Ravens were the best team in the NFL .
Then, last Saturday night, this happened:
The Ravens appeared to be the most complete team in the NFL, but that’s the thing about the playoffs, all it takes is one bad game and you’re out.
The Tennesse Titans went into M&T Bank Stadium and surprised them last Saturday night. Jim Harbaugh got outcoached and the Ravens hit a brick wall of a Mike Vrabel defense. So, now they are gone.
But who fills the void, now that the supposed “best team in football” got eliminated, and whom is the favorite to win it all now headed in to Championship Sunday?
The Titans and veteran QB Ryan Tannehill are on an epic run. They are the beast slayers, so to speak. But it isn’t them. Aaron Rodgers is arguably the best QB in the NFL, and the Packers have won six games straight games after last week’s close one at Lambeau over Seattle.
However, it’s not them either. The 49ers are in a position to win it all for the first time since 1994 and they have the best pass defense in the league. But again, it’s not them.
That leaves just one team: Andy Reid and his “Kool-Aide-Colored” Chiefs.
Kansas City leads the Super Bowl Futures odds charge at +135. The SF 49ers can be found around +165 and both the Packers are Titans are sitting at +650. So, Las Vegas has the Chiefs to win, with the 49ers close at second.
But does this mean the Chiefs and their perennial runner-up coach, will win out?
Many smart sports handicappers have their picks with the Titans to at least keep the game close enough to cover the point spread Sunday. More like the rolling Titans to win outright.
The same goes for the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers game. The Niners are big favorites, but we are dealing with a team whose recent situation performance shows, they would actually win –but maybe not cover.
So, we have two conference championship games with clear, heavy favorites … that could both lose.
The Chiefs showed us a few things in their incredible Division-Round win over the Houston Texans. The first thing they showed us is that their defense and special teams units are vulnerable. This was made apparent when the Texans went up 24-0 and looked to be dominating the game.
Next, the Chiefs showed us that they can adjust better than anyone. They shook it off and put up 28 points in the second quarter to retake the lead. Then they poured it on in the 3rd and 4th, adding 23 more to the board, showing us that they are still the best second-half team in football.
That said, the Texans are not the Titans. They showed us this season that they really only get consistent wins against sub-500 teams. Houston ranked way back at No. 23 in the league for scoring defense (and way worse in their last 3 games allowing 35 per affair) and 26.7 overall while playing on the road.
The Titans on the other hand, only allow 16.6 points per game on the road. They have a top-ten defense overall and have been absolutely stellar in recent games. In their last 3, they’ve only allowed 13 points per game. KC has allowed 18.3 per game in their most recent three.
On the flip side, the Super Bowl favorite has scored 29 points per game at home and averages the same overall. But, the Titans have upped their average to 25 points per game both overall and on the road. So, we should see a very close game, indeed.
Can the SB LIV favs beat the Titans and go on to win it all in South Florida? Perhaps, but it won’t be easy.
Titans QB Tannehill on Wednesday- “I wanna win”
The Tennessee Titans are readying to play in the AFC Championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. And on Wednesday, former Dolphins quarterback now turned Tennessee starting QB, Ryan Tannehill, met with the media about the opportunity for he and his teammates to play their way into Super Bowl 54.
And, Tannehill made something abundantly clear again, it doesn’t matter about his own personal pass attempts or stats, he’s mainly concerned with getting another victory:
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) January 15, 2020
“We’ve put in a lot of work to win multiple ways this season. You don’t forget how to throw and catch…. Being a quarterback, I love throwing the ball, but I just wanna win.”
Tannehill has only thrown the ball a total of 29 times with 15 completions in the Titans two playoff wins over the Patriots and the Ravens. So, it’s obvious the Tennessee’s game plan of grinding teams with the run and Derrick Henry bruising them, and, then, playing sound, physical and opportunistic defense has worked thus far.
However, Tannehill also acknowledged Wednesday that it might be different against the Chiefs, who certainly are more explosive then either New England or Baltimore on offense. The Texans found that out firsthand at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, when their 24 – 0 lead evaporated in the second quarter and Patrick Mahomes and Co. proceeded to put 41 unanswered points on them.
Now, Tennessee’s defense is better than Houston’s overall and it’s one of the big reasons why they’re still alive at this stage of the postseason. Still, Tannehill may be called upon to make a bunch of big throws and plays in this game if the Titans are going to have any chance.
His first start was at home against the Chargers and threw for 312 yards and two touchdowns in a win. Tannehill then led them on a run of winning six of seven starts total. And, in every one of those games, Tannehill threw for either at least 300 yards or for at least two touchdowns or a combo of both.
His play has been consistent, and at times, very good for Tenneessee.
Further, when you total up his 11 games started, Tannehill now has an 8 – 3 record (including these two playoff wins), and he has only one game, a 30 – 20 loss at Carolina in early November, where he had two interceptions.
One, essentially “bad game” in 11 starts.
And, since that November Carolina game, Tannehill has thrown only 3 picks total, while throwing 19 TDs. Oh, and Tennessee is now 7 – 2 over those next nine games.
And, one of those games is the previous win over Kansas City in Nashville on November 10th, when Tannehill threw for 181 yards and two scores and no picks.
Now, they will head to frigid K.C. to play the biggest game of Tanehill’s and several of the young stars on offense’s biggest professional game ever. And, you get the sense that the veteran signal caller whom the Dolphins gave up on this off-season, is ready to throw it 10 times or 40 times to try to get it done.