Column as I see 'em, Championship Week:
It has long been a custom, once the Bills' season is done, to view the NFL playoffs through a Buffalo prism. This year, for the first time in 18 seasons, we had to wait a week because the Bills actually made it into the field.
But when the Vikings' Stefon Diggs scored that last-second touchdown to beat the Saints early Sunday evening, I'll bet many Buffalo fans flashed back two weeks to the Andy Dalton-to-Tyler Boyd TD throw that broke the 17-year playoff drought.
It figures. Barely two weeks go by and the Bills' miracle gets upstaged. The Dalton play got a team in the playoffs. Case Keenum's pass to Diggs was the first-ever walkoff TD in the fourth quarter of an NFL playoff game. Who knows? It might wind up being a play that kept a Super Bowl winner's season alive.
Oh, and do you know what Minnesota's improbable pass play was called? "Buffalo Right 7 Heaven." Like the Dalton play, it lifted a team's fans to seventh heaven.
Here's the reason for the name, which was bestowed by offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur: "Buffalo right" referred to the Vikings bunching three receivers to the right. Thus the "B" for Buffalo and bunch. Seven was a designation for the receivers' route to the sideline. Heaven, of course, was the uplifting and unimaginable result.
“That was God,” Vikes wideout Adam Thielen said later. “That play right there was God.”
With 10 seconds to play and the Vikings down, 24-23, Keenum got the call on his headset from Shurmur, who told him to make sure he got the ball "launched."
Keenum heaved it down the right sideline to Diggs, who leaped up to catch the football. Everyone on the Vikings sideline was yelling for him to get out of bounds. That was the presumed best result, to get close enough to give kicker Kai Forbath a chance at a last-second field goal.
But Saints safety Marcus Williams whiffed on a low tackle. As Diggs spun to the ground, he had clear sailing to the end zone. The next thing you knew, Diggs was heaving his helmet in the air, the Minnesota crowd was going nuts, and Keenum was running around the field in disbelief.
Thus ended a thrilling divisional playoff weekend, the best round of the postseason. You generally get four good games with closely matched teams. Next to the opening round of the NCAA basketball tournament, it's the best two days on the sports calendar.
Eagles-Falcons had the drama of Philly winning as a home underdog with backup quarterback Nick Foles, needing to stop Matt Ryan at the end to seal it. Then it was Tom Brady shredding the Titans defense as the Patriots, supposedly unhinged by internal strife, eased into a seventh straight AFC title game.
Jacksonville stunned the Steelers, 45-42, in a surprisingly offensive battle that had the Jags crowing about disrespect afterwards. The best came last, as the Vikings blew a 17-point lead, saw Drew Brees lead the Saints from behind in the second half, then won it on one of the most amazing plays in NFL history.
That sets up a compelling championship weekend: Pats-Jags and Vikings-Eagles. The Patriots have won five Super Bowls. The other three have never won it. Brady has appeared in 35 playoff games and won a record 26. None of the three QBs (Foles, Keenum, Blake Bortles) had won a playoff game before this month.
The Vikings could become the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium. And they are hoping to separate themselves from the Bills, the only other team to go to four Super Bowls and lose them all.
* * *
Tom Brady has a formidable task ahead in his quest for a sixth Super Bowl ring. Brady might have to go through the NFL's two top-rated defenses to get there.
Jacksonville, the Pats' opponent in next Sunday's AFC title game, is ranked second in the league in total defense and first against the pass. They lead by a wide margin in fewest yards allowed per pass play (4.8). The Vikings are first in overall D, second against the pass and in yards per pass play.
They say defense wins championships, but it helps to have the greatest QB ever to play. Brady has been at his best in the last several years. Over his last nine playoff games, his AVERAGE game is 31-for-48 passing for 334 yards.
Brady threw at least 50 times in five of those games, including two Super Bowl comeback wins. He went 43 of 62 for 466 yards, all Super Bowl records, in last year's overtime win over the Falcons.
Once again, critics suggested Brady was slipping during an ordinary finish to the regular season. He rebounded by going 35-for-53 for 337 yards, three TDs and no interceptions against the Titans in the divisional round.
Yes, he barely averaged 6 yards a throw and most of the passes were short. But if picking defenses apart with 50 or more short, precise throws was so easy, more people would do it. When a quarterback can attack a defense with Brady's relentless efficiency, it can terrorize a defense.
Beating the Jags and Vikings (or the Eagles, the league's No. 4 defense) will be a tall order. But we've learned never to sell Brady short.
* * *
Marcell Dareus had a good game for the Jaguars on Sunday. On one play, he abused David DeCastro, the Steelers' Pro Bowl guard, to sack Ben Roethlisberger. Later, he abused the Bills for treating him like a "nobody."
Ok, so Dareus was excited after a big win. But it's an insult to say the Bills treated him like a nobody. This is the same guy who accused them of treating him like a "dime a dozen" player before they handed him a $100 million contract. We should all get such shabby treatment.
"I'm a (bleeping) All-Pro," Dareus said, according to Bleacher Report. "And y'all aren’t even going to let me play? You aren't even going to give me snaps?"
Dareus took a pile of money from the Bills and gave them little but grief in return. I'll spare you another chronicle of his goofball behavior. He received half a dozen second chances and rewarded them with consistently indifferent effort and off-field embarrassments.
So Sean McDermott gave him limited snaps and traded him away. Dareus seemed eager to leave. If going to the Jags saved him, great. His talent was never the issue. When motivated, he's an elite defensive lineman. But he went through the motions his last few years in Buffalo.
I suspect the honeymoon in Jacksonville won't last all that long, either.
* * *
Once again, New England wideout Danny Amendola saved his best for the playoffs. In Saturday's 35-14 win over Tennessee, Amendola had 11 catches for 112 yards, both season highs. It was the first 100-yard playoff game of his nine-year career and tied a Pats record for most receptions (with Deion Branch and Wes Welker) in a postseason game.
Last year, Amendola had a season-high eight catches and 78 yards in the Super Bowl win over Atlanta, including a two-point conversion that tied the game, 28-all. He had just 23 catches for 243 yards in the regular year.
In 2014, "Playoff" Amendola had 27 catches for 200 yards in the regular season — then five for 48 yards and a fourth-quarter TD catch in the comeback win over the Seahawks.
* * *
Stefon Diggs was a fifth-round draft pick. Teammate Adam Thielen, who led the Vikings with 91 catches for 1,276 yards, wasn't drafted. Antonio Brown, who led the NFL in receiving yards and had two TDs on Sunday, was a sixth-rounder.
Amendola wasn't drafted. Neither was Chris Hogan, who had a TD catch for the Pats on Saturday, or Keelan Cole, who had the biggest catch of the day for Jacksonville against Pittsburgh.
You can find good receivers, even great ones, late in drafts or on the street. Considering the sorry state of the Bills' wideouts, it's imperative that Brandon Beane find some hidden gems as he goes about rebuilding an underachieving offense.
* * *
Jaguars defensive lineman Calais Campbell might want to do some side work as a psychic in the offseason. Here's what Campbell said a day before the underdog Jaguars took on the Steelers:
"I'll take it 2-0, or 45-42 if it comes that way. As long as we win, I'm happy.”
The Jaguars won, 45-42. Maybe the guy can make my picks in The News next year.