The NFL playoff season is upon us, the regular season is behind us. Some thoughts:

  • Does anyone find it ironic that the only NFC North team to emerge from the regular season with its dignity in tact is the Chicago Bears?
  • What was wrong with the Minnesota Vikings? Lots. But in retrospect, perhaps their single greatest shortcoming was that they didn’t know what they wanted to be on offense. They played several games this year in which they didn’t seem to have an offensive plan, and in the second half of the season they weren’t a running team, weren’t a passing team, they were just a desperate team -- playing uninspired football, not anxious to win, but afraid to lose.
  • And the Most Valuable Player is … Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs. For a few weeks, I was thinking Drew Brees. Then I started to appreciate Philip Rivers. Aaron Donald was in the mix. Face it: Mahomes isn’t just the most exciting quarterback to join the league in years, but he also had the best year. He made spectacular throws, week in and week out. And unlike Brees and Rivers, he never had a bad game.
  • Wild card weekend picks: Indianapolis 27, Houston 20; Seattle 21, Dallas 17; L.A. Chargers 24, Baltimore 20; Chicago 17, Philadelphia 16.
  • Super Bowl champion: No pick yet. I can’t think of an NFL playoff field more balanced than this one. Not weak, but balanced. Kansas City looks capable, but the defense is a little suspect. The L.A. Rams have that high-powered offense, but it sputtered at times over the second half. New Orleans could be a safe pick, with Brees at the helm and a good defense behind him. But … Dallas could get hot. Philadelphia is already hot. All I can do at this point is write off New England, not just because the Patriots are beginning to look like mere mortals, but mostly just because I want to.
  • And, no, TV network talking heads, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is NOT so immensely talented that he can make a lousy team a winner all by himself. Can we finally pull that big “S” off his chest now?
  • Luckiest team: The Cleveland Browns. Who would have ever thought they’d actually stumble upon a quarterback (Baker Mayfield) with a future?
  • About a month ago I was fixing to write a column about how the NFL is turning into a pinball game, an offensive show where good old-time defense will soon become a thing of the past. But wait a minute. There’s still exceptional defense being played in the league, and not just by the Chicago Bears. And speaking of the Bears, their defense this year has drawn comparisons to their 1985 team. That says a lot for this 2018 version, which is shutting down offenses in a league that has now realized that more offense is what fans want.
  • What a year for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They had to deal with that whole season-long drama of Le’Veon Bell’s holdout, and then they were denied a playoff berth on the last game of the regular season. And now wide receiver Antonio Brown is being a spoiled team-busting blockhead. Head coach Mike Tomlin said Brown hasn’t asked for a trade. If I were Tomlin, I think I’d run him out of town, anyway.
  • Biggest draft bust: Sam Darnold of the New York Jets. The question is, is Darnold bad because he’s just bad, or is he bad because he’s a Jet? You be the judge. But Darnold was drafted No. 3 overall, so he is the highest-drafted player who generally stunk it up this year and one who, I’m thinking, might never become the “franchise quarterback” the Jets hope he’ll be.
  • Biggest draft surprise: Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills. I, for one, thought the NFL would quickly prove beyond the grasp of a quarterback like Allen, who insiders said never really learned the details of quarterbacking that he should have figured out in college. And yet, there’s some evidence that he may turn out to be more than just a strong arm. He was drafted No. 7 overall.
  • It’s been a good year for the NFL. It has been one of the more entertaining seasons in memory, thanks in part to young stars like Mahomes and old vets like Brees rekindling the old magic.
  • Which brings up another point: kneel-downs for the national anthem. I’ve hardly heard the subject mentioned this season. Do a few players still disrespect the flag before the games begin? Probably. But I don’t even know who they are. Don’t care. I guess it’s one of those subjects that I’d just rather not even know about. If I did know about it, it would make me less inclined to watch. Hopefully, next year will also be more about football and less about politics.