NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers advance with wild-card routs

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers advance with wild-card routs

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers, master of the Hail Mary pass, struck again in another big moment.

Rodgers overcame a sluggish start and finished with four touchdown passes, including a momentum-swinging 42-yard heave to Randall Cobb at the end of the second quarter, to lead the Green Bay Packers to a 38-13 win Sunday over the New York Giants in an NFC wild-card game.

The Packers move on to face the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round next week.

Rodgers was 25 of 40 for 362 yards, continuing a remarkable run of quarterback play that helped the Packers win their final six games of the regular season to take the NFC North. Cobb finished with five receptions for 116 yards and three scores.

For much of the first half, the Giants' defense flustered the two-time NFL MVP. They got pressure on Rodgers and the secondary blanketed the Packers' talented receiving corps , and a few boos even rained down from the stands after New York built a 6-0 lead on two field goals by Robbie Gould.

As it turned out, Rodgers was just getting started.

Green Bay scored two touchdowns in the final 2:20 of the second quarter, punctuated by another remarkable desperation pass by Rodgers.

With the ball on the Giants 42, Rodgers took the snap with 6 seconds left. He rolled to his right before heaving a throw from about the Packers 47. Cobb somehow got behind three defensive backs near the back of the end zone to haul in the pass, getting both feet down before falling out of bounds.

The Giants looked stunned, just like how the Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals looked last season after Rodgers pulled off similar feats.

Rodgers and Cobb weren't done.

They connected again on a 30-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter for a 21-13 lead. That score answered a Giants scoring drive that briefly cut the deficit to one.

A Packers defense ranked 21st in points allowed (24.3) coming into the game limited the production of Odell Beckham Jr., and the Giants' receiving corps in spite of a battered secondary.

Beckham finished with four catches for 28 yards. Eli Manning was 23 of 44 for 299 yards, including the 41-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King in the third quarter.

But the Giants were plagued by a series of drops by their receivers .

Rodgers began dissecting the secondary after coach Mike McCarthy had his quarterback roll more outside the pocket, and the Packers started working the middle of the field.

Cobb had a big night after missing the last two games of the regular season with an ankle injury. Davante Adams had eight receptions for 125 yards and a score.

Top receiver Jordy Nelson was knocked out of the game with 11 minutes left in the second quarter with a rib injury (see full recap).

Bell, Brown lead Steelers' rout of Dolphins
PITTSBURGH -- Injuries forced Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell to wait three seasons for the chance to run onto the field together in the playoffs. The wait for the Pittsburgh Steelers' "Big Three" to do it again won't be nearly as long.

Bell ran for a franchise postseason record 167 yards and two scores, Brown caught five passes for 124 yards and a pair of first-quarter touchdowns from Roethlisberger as the Steelers overwhelmed the beaten-up and mistake-prone Miami Dolphins, 30-12, on Sunday.

Pittsburgh (12-5) ran off its eighth straight victory by avenging a whipping by the Dolphins (10-7) in mid-October to set up a visit to AFC West champion Kansas City (12-4) next Sunday. The Steelers rolled by the Chiefs 43-14 on Oct. 2.

The Dolphins tried to hype themselves up by running around in shirt sleeves in the single-digit wind chill during warmups. Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier did them one better, racing around shirtless -- as if to send a message that his team is plenty comfortable playing this time of year.

It sure looked like it.

The Steelers scored on their first three possessions, and Miami's playoff victory drought was wall on its way to 17 years and counting.

Brown turned a pair of short passes into long scores. The first, a 50-yard sprint down the left sideline, came after Brown patiently waited for tight end Jesse James to provide the one block he needed. The second, a crossing pattern Brown turned into a 62-yard touchdown, ended with the All-Pro receiver pointing at a Miami defender as he crossed the goal line to put the Steelers up 14-0 before the game was 10 minutes old.

Matt Moore, making the first playoff start of his decade-long career with Ryan Tannehill still sidelined by a sprained knee, played on despite taking a helmet-to-chin shot from Pittsburgh linebacker Bud Dupree in the second quarter. Moore returned just minutes after sitting dazed on the turf and completed 29 of 36 passes for 289 yards with a touchdown and an interception. But he fumbled twice with the ball in Steelers territory and the game still in doubt.

The first fumble, caused by an unblocked James Harrison, ended a Miami drive at the Pittsburgh 13. The second, when Moore collided with running back Jay Ajayi, set up a Chris Boswell field goal that pushed Pittsburgh's lead to 23-6 midway through the third quarter.

Shazier stepped in front of Moore's pass on Miami's next possession, and when Bell darted it from eight yards, the Steelers were up 30-6 (see full recap).

Eagles should stay away from running backs in first round

Eagles should stay away from running backs in first round

Ezekiel Elliott was the fourth overall pick by the Cowboys in the 2016 NFL draft.

He went on to have a historic rookie season, leading the NFL in rushing behind the best offensive line in football.

But do you know who finished second in the league in rushing? That would be the Bears' Jordan Howard, another rookie, drafted in the fifth round. 

If you keep going down the list of the league's top rushers last season, nine out of the top 10 on the list were drafted after the first round. Only three backs in the top 10 were drafted in the first two rounds (Elliott, LeSean McCoy, Le'Veon Bell). 

Whether it's LSU's Leonard Fournette, Florida State's Dalvin Cook or Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, the Eagles should stay away from running backs in the first round.

We'll start with Fournette, considered by most to be the best running back in the class. He was also mocked to the Eagles in a trade-up scenario by Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke with the No. 5 overall pick. Burke is an excellent evaluator, but in this case, he's off the mark. Fournette's talent is real. His combination of size and speed is unmatched by any running back in the class and perhaps any running back in the NFL. He'll correctly be the first back off the board and go in the top 10. 

But would the Eagles give up a second-round pick to obtain Fournette? It's just hard to see as realistic. This team has too many holes and not enough draft picks to make a move like Burke suggests. Fournette looks like he'll be a special player, just not for the Eagles.

Then there's Cook, who seems to be the belle of the ball with Eagles fans. Watching the tape, it's undeniable: Cook is an extremely talented player. But evaluations aren't black and white. Cook has issues with injuries (multiple shoulder surgeries) and has had a couple issues off the field. 

He also tested poorly at the combine. In the biggest audition of his life, Cook's numbers didn't match what you saw on tape. That has to make you wonder if he was fully prepared for the combine. If the Eagles take Cook, there's no doubt he'll make their offense better. The biggest concern has to be his long-term success and the value you get taking him at 14 over another player at a more valuable position.

Lastly, there's McCaffrey. It's easy to see the fit here. McCaffrey is an explosive back who runs routes and has the ball skills of a receiver. He's also incredibly dangerous in the return game. Unlike Cook, McCaffrey tested off the charts in Indy. His strength (10 reps at 225) is the only real concern.

From a scheme perspective, McCaffrey is perfectly suited for Doug Pederson's offense. Pederson can use McCaffrey much like Andy Reid used Brian Westbrook over a decade ago. McCaffrey's struggles running between the tackles are a little overblown, but it still has to be a concern for a team that doesn't have a proven, primary back. 

This is also a strong running back class. Toledo's Kareem Hunt would fit nicely in this offense and should be available in the third round. Clemson's Wayne Gallman is a tough, versatile back that could be available in the third or fourth. There's also BYU's Jamaal Williams, Pitt's James Conner and Wyoming's Brian Hill, all of whom should be there in the middle rounds.

When you look at who else could be there at 14, it just doesn't make sense to draft a running back. If you're looking to give Carson Wentz more weapons, either Clemson's Mike Williams, Western Michigan's Corey Davis or Washington's John Ross should be there. Any of them could give Wentz a long-term receiving threat. 

If you're looking to improve the defense, there are plenty of options. In case you've been living under a rock this offseason, this cornerback draft class is crazy deep. Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore is the best of the bunch and will likely be gone by 14. His teammate, Gareon Conley, should still be around at 14. So should LSU's TreDavious White, Alabama's Marlon Humphrey, Clemson's Cordrea Tankersely and Florida's Quincy Wilson. 

Don't count out Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett as an option if he's on the board. With Vinny Curry's struggles and the Eagles' lack of depth, a pass rusher is a definite need. If Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster slips for a spat he had with a hospital worker during the combine, he's worth a long look. He's a game-changing 'backer.

Elliott was as close to a sure thing as you can get. There's a reason he was taken at No. 4 overall. If Cook and McCaffrey are there at 14, there's a reason for that, too. 

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie rails against political polarization in Washington

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie rails against political polarization in Washington

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie isn't often very outspoken on football or political matters. 

He has apparently made an exception. 

Just a few days before Lurie is tentatively scheduled to speak to Philadelphia reporters while in Phoenix for the league's annual meetings, the Eagles owner authored a story for Time Magazine railing against political polarization in Washington.

Lurie has not spoken to reporters publicly since last March in Boca Raton, Florida, at the 2016 owners meetings. 

The owner's essay was published just hours after House Republican leaders pulled legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act on Friday afternoon. Lurie, for the record, donated money to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign last year.

Lurie, the Eagles' 65-year-old billionaire owner, in the story, uses football as an example for which Washington should strive. 

Here's how Lurie begins the piece:

"What do football, political polarization and autism have in common? They all illuminate aspects of the human condition, explaining who we are, where we are headed and the hurdles along the way. As a sports team owner I rarely publicly discuss politics, but as a member of a family touched by autism, I often think about the unspoken millions of people who live with the daily challenges of this disorder."

Lurie then goes on to explain why football can act as a guide for Washington when it comes to united for the common good:

"What I have learned from football can be applied to society at large. Just as we intensely game-plan against an opponent in sports, we need to game plan for the reality and consequences of polarization. Extreme polarization is the opponent -- not each other. A football team is made up of players from a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences and political viewpoints. What unites them is grit, determination, and the desire to win. They join in a common goal and do what is necessary to transcend their differences for the greater good of their team.

"What unites Americans is far more negative. We are now in an age where communicating verifiable information becomes secondary to the goal of creating a common enemy that unifies people in fear, negativity and opposition. This masks our inability to solve serious domestic problems (poverty, violence and institutional racism to name three current examples) and diverts our attention from obvious suffering."

Lurie then writes that we, as Americans, have the "necessary resources" to tackle serious problems, like autism, but lack the leadership to put aside differences. 

The whole piece isn't very long and is worth reading in full to gain a better understanding of its context. 

Next week while in Phoenix, Lurie will surely be asked about what motivated him to write the piece.