DAN BICKLEY

Postseason thoughts on Kyler, Super Bowl favorites, bad officiating

Feb 1, 2022, 6:30 AM | Updated: 11:13 am
Arizona Cardinals Quarterback Kyler Murray (1) looks on from the sideline during an NFL game betwee...
Arizona Cardinals Quarterback Kyler Murray (1) looks on from the sideline during an NFL game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams on October 03, 2021, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

One game remains. Thirty NFL teams have been eliminated. Here is what I know:

Kyler Murray’s stock has tumbled. He looked overwhelmed and underprepared in a playoff loss to the Rams. His pick-six was the gaffe of the postseason, worse than Dak Prescott and Patrick Mahomes running out of clock, worse than Jimmy Garoppolo’s interception that cemented his exit from San Francisco.

Meanwhile, Joe Burrow is displaying far greater toughness and much better body language with less NFL experience, oozing with the leadership that still eludes the Cardinals quarterback.

Murray is also a convenient scapegoat for a beleaguered coaching staff that has compiled its own laundry list of failures and shortcomings.

Hall of Fame wide receivers are expected to have perfect timing. That isn’t the case with A.J. Green, who spent a decade in Cincinnati, leaving a year before the Bengals’ improbable run to the Super Bowl. Same with Larry Fitzgerald, who spent 17 seasons in Arizona, walking away right before the Cardinals won 11 games and qualified for the postseason.

The Rams will win the Super Bowl in a blowout. With Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg starring in the halftime show at SoFi Stadium, it will look and sound like the ultimate West Coast party. It will be very hard to watch.

It’s also the best outcome possible for football fans in the Valley, as it will ramp up the heat, the organizational urgency and the ownership expectations in Arizona, site of Super Bowl 57.

Only two teams earned first-round byes in the NFL playoffs, which is why the No. 1 seed in each conference seemed to enjoy the greatest playoff advantage in league history. Oops. Both teams (Green Bay, Tennessee) were one-and-done failures, upset at home in their first playoff game.

When the Rams or the Bengals win Super Bowl 56, they will become the 48th different champion in the Big Four (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL) since the Diamondbacks won Arizona’s only major professional sports championship in 2001.

Overzealous officiating drove me to the brink of madness this past season. But in the past two weeks, I have seen NFL crews swallow their flags in unison, ignoring garden-variety holding penalties, pre-snap penalties, delay of game violations and illegal contact infractions. They turned their back on vicious hits and allowed Tyreke Hill to flash a peace sign on his way to the end zone.

It made for spectacular television. I hope the NFL realizes and emphasizes the importance of official restraint in the future. Or maybe the league got the point after watching the clunky Cowboys commit 14 penalties in a playoff loss to the 49ers.

Imagine the outcry if Josh Allen and Joe Burrow — two of the NFL’s brightest young stars — were eliminated from the postseason without touching the ball in overtime. That could’ve happened Sunday in Kansas City, and the NFL better amend its coin-flip overtime policy before it’s too late.

It will be interesting to see the city of Los Angeles attempt a championship celebration after the Rams win the Super Bowl. After all, their fans twice surrendered home-field advantage to the rival 49ers, forcing Matthew Stafford to operate with silent counts in the NFC Championship game at home. We know all about that brand of embarrassment.

The AFC is becoming a hotbed of franchise quarterbacks, a list that includes Burrow, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Justin Herbert. Aaron Rodgers might be traded to Denver while top New England assistant Josh McDaniels is now the head coach in Las Vegas, paired with Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. And with the impending retirement of Tom Brady, the quarterback scale has been tipped dramatically in favor of the AFC.

Which means the Cardinals will have a much cleaner path to the Super Bowl in 2022, especially if Murray is finally ready for the biggest games and the quantum leap.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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