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FROM THE PRESS BOX: ALABAMA BEST TEAM EVER? ... THE NFL PLAYOFFS (2021-01-15)

Alabama proved without a shadow of a doubt it was the best team on the NCAA landscape in 2020-21 with convincing wins over Notre Dame and Ohio State in the BCS playoffs.

Alabama’s Devonta Smith was the difference. Just like against Notre Dame in the semifinals, the speedy wide receiver was unstoppable, with 12 catches for 215 yards before injuring his thumb early in the third quarter in Alabama’s rout of Ohio State in the national championship game.

Ohio State scored on its first two possessions, but needed an incredible one-hand catch by its tight end to keep its first scoring drive alive, and a rare Tide turnover to set up a short field for its second score.

After that, the Tide defense did its part as well.

Ohio State QB Justin Field, who helped his draft stock incredibly in the Buckeyes’ rout of Clemson in the semifinals, was a little off his game against ‘Bama, which could have been due to the Tide’s defense, or the rib injury suffered against Clemson.

I just wonder if the Alabama offense could have been even better with a healthy Jaylen Waddle, who was widely considered the No. 1 wide receiver in the country (ahead of Smith) before breaking his leg in the season opener.

The question many pundits are asking now is: “Is this Alabama team the best ever?”

I’m not sure if they’re even the best team out of the SEC in the last two years.

LSU put up similar numbers last year, and were equally impressive in the BCS playoffs with big wins over Oklahoma and Clemson.

LSU had five first-round picks in the 2020 draft on that team, including three — QB Joe Burrow, WR Justin Jefferson, and RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire — who merit consideration for NFL “Rookie of the Year,” and another — Ja’Marr Chase expected to go early in the 2021 draft.

Alabama has as many as six — Smith and fellow WR Jaylen Waddle, QB Mac Jones, RB Najee Harris, CB Patrick Surtain II, and OT Alex Leatherwood — that could go in this year’s draft.

If we could magically get these two teams on the field against each other, what a match-up it would be.

Both defenses were overlooked because of their respective high-octane offense, but I doubt either could stop the other in what would be a very high-scoring affair.

The teams are pretty evenly matched, but if I were to pick (and I will because that’s what this column is all about), I’d take the 2019-20 LSU Tigers because of QB Joe Burrow. He just has the intangibles and the “it” factor that makes a winner.

Are either the best ever? That’s impossibly to say, considering the changes in rules over the years, as well as the size and athleticism of the athletes, but I’d wager to say both teams are pretty close to the top.

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A few thoughts on the NFL Wild Card round:

•  Last week, I wrote Pittsburgh “was ripe for the picking,” but I didn’t think Cleveland was the team to get the job done. Totally did not see 48 points for the Browns offense coming.

Baker Mayfield looked sharp, and Nick Chubb showed why he might be the best running back in the NFL.

The biggest question surrounding the Steelers is “Will Big Ben return?” I’ll say yes — like aging boxers, most QBs don’t know when to hang it up.

•  The Bills are the real deal, but the Colts put a real scare into them. Good thing for Bills fans, there is one constant: you can always count on Philip Rivers not to win the big game.

If the Bills win the Super Bowl they will have earned it. Their most likely path is through Baltimore, K.C. and either Green Bay or New Orleans.

•  Speaking of the Ravens, Lamar Jackson looks like he’s back on top of his game. And the defense looked very good against the Titans, in particular against the ground game and Derrick Henry.

Baltimore can really run the ball, and Jackson’s ability to run makes their offense incredibly dangerous.

•  Tom Brady continues to amaze at age 43. The Buccaneers have put a ton of talent around him, but their ground game is still a bit shaky.

Defensively, the Bucs have been solid all year, but Washington QB Taylor Heinicke, in his first NFL start, gave them fits with his mobility, and ability to throw on the run.

•  The Rams defense is as good as any in the NFL, and made Seattle’s Russell Wilson look average.

Jared Goff, who was sidelined after thumb surgery, was forced into the game after his replacement John Wolford was knocked out of the game, and he responded with a strong performance. Rookie RB Cam Akers has also turned into a dependable weapon.

•  The Saints did enough to win against a tough Bears defense, and an incredibly inept Chicago offense.

Drew Brees is getting healthier after missing three weeks earlier in the season with multiple rib fractures that would have put many younger QBs on the shelves for the season. He was very efficient in the win over the Bears.

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Thoughts on the NFL Divisional Round:

•  The Rams defense is very good, but all-pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald is dinged up. To beat the Packers, they will need to pressure Aaron Rodgers, and without a healthy Donald, I don’t know if they can.

Rodgers is terrific, and he has quite a supporting cast, including one of the best offensive lines in the league, and a pair of good running backs. The Packer defense is pretty good as well. … GREEN BAY 28, LOS ANGELES 13.

•  The Bills escaped with a win over the Colts last week, while the Ravens handled the Titans in a game that wasn’t as close as the 20-13 final score indicates.

Baltimore’s ground game should really worry Bills fans. And, if any group of fans know how dangerous a running QB can be, it’s Bills fans after watching Josh Allen all season. Lamar Jackson is even more dangerous.

This has the makings to be the best game of the weekend. I have a feeling it’s going to be another gut-wrenching evening for Bills fans. . … BUFFALO 34, BALTIMORE 31.

•  The Browns “shocked the world” last week with a 48-37 shellacking of the Steelers, while the Chiefs had a chance to sit home, watch, heal, and rest.

He has a lot of haters, but Baker Mayfield can play. The one thing he lacks is a big down-field weapon, like Odell Beckham Jr., but, the Browns do have a very potent ground game with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. If they can keep the ball away from the Chiefs, they have a chance.

Does anyone really have a chance against the Chiefs? Yes, they looked human in their last three games, but what were they playing for? They had everything locked up.

I’ll be very surprised if you don’t see the Chiefs take it back to the next level this weekend. … KANSAS CITY 38, CLEVELAND 21.

•  Tom Brady may be the GOAT, but Drew Brees has his number, with a 5-2 record in head-to-head meetings. Brees won both match-ups this season, including a 38-3 blowout in Week 11.

New Orleans is very good on defense, and very good on offense — possibly the most well-rounded team in the NFL. Tampa Bay is not far behind.

In Week 1, Tampa Bay was trying to put the new pieces together and dropped a 34-23 decision to the Saints. The blowout loss was “one of those things.” There are no excuses this week. … NEW ORLEANS 28, TAMPA BAY 27.

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