There aren’t any good NFL teams this season. Heading into Week 14, no staff ranked within the high eight in each offensive and defensive DVOA. Every has a weak spot, owing to an undeveloped a part of its roster, the aftereffects of an damage stack, a schematic selection, or some mixture of the three.
The correct — or improper — matchups produce sudden outcomes. The Rams have seemed like an offensive juggernaut for a lot of the season, however matched up in opposition to a stifling Bears protection within the chill of Chicago, they collapsed on Sunday evening. The Patriots have an inexplicable concern with profitable in Miami. The Ravens look inferior to the Chiefs on paper, however they battled Kansas Metropolis to a draw on the street earlier than fading in additional time.
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As we get nearer to the postseason, it is a good time for our annual take a look at a weak spot for every seemingly playoff staff and which doable opponent may be most able to exploiting it, their would-be kryptonite. In some instances, it is an opponent the staff already has crushed, however one recreation does not supply as a lot predictive worth as how a staff has carried out over your entire season. And in some instances, I would nonetheless decide the staff whose weak spot was going up in opposition to the kryptonite staff. However on the whole, all issues being equal, there are opponents every staff may need to keep away from.
I’ve gone by means of and located a would-be spoiler for every of the 12 teams that at present maintain playoff spots. I will begin within the AFC, the place the Chiefs might need already come face to face with their worst nightmare and narrowly lived to inform the story.
(Observe: Every staff’s playoff chances are high in accordance to ESPN’s Soccer Energy Index.)
Bounce to a staff:
AFC: KC | NE | HOU | PIT | LAC | BAL
NFC: NO | LAR | CHI | DAL | SEA | MIN
1. Kansas Metropolis Chiefs (100 % likelihood of creating playoffs)
Kryptonite: nice working teams
A part of being a fantastic soccer staff is minimizing weaknesses. The Chiefs reduce their greatest weak spot by rendering it irrelevant most weeks. Kansas Metropolis ranked 32nd in rush protection by DVOA heading into Sunday’s recreation with the Ravens. Most weeks, the Chiefs get out to an enormous lead and make working the soccer a waste of time for the opposing staff, which wants to throw the ball to catch up and maintain tempo with Patrick Mahomes & Co.
On Sunday, the Ravens’ protection did sufficient to decelerate the Chiefs, though Mahomes did end with 377 passing yards in Ok.C.’s 27-24 additional time win. Holding the sport shut allowed Lamar Jackson and a vibrant Ravens speeding assault to decide on the Chiefs, with Baltimore working the ball for 198 yards and a landing. Sixty-three of Jackson’s 147 passing yards additionally got here on play-motion, together with each of his passing scores.
The one X issue for the Chiefs in opposition to the run, after all, is Eric Berry. The star security practically made it again for this week’s recreation and may be again for Thursday’s vital tilt with the Chargers, which might primarily clinch the highest seed within the AFC for Kansas Metropolis. A wholesome Berry can be a large improve at its weakest spot and provides the Chiefs a plus run defender for his or her playoff run. In fact, it stays to be seen what Berry will seem like as soon as he will get again on the sphere.
Matchup to keep away from: Baltimore Ravens
I perceive that the Chiefs simply beat the Ravens, however Baltimore put an actual shock into the Chiefs at dwelling, the place Kansas Metropolis was 5-zero and outscoring teams by greater than 16 factors per recreation. It additionally got here in a recreation during which the Chiefs recovered each of the sport’s fumbles, together with one (by Jackson) that got here amid a possible recreation-profitable drive for the Ravens. The Baltimore protection beat up Mahomes, knocking him down a staggering 15 instances. Jackson and the Baltimore offense ran at will in opposition to the Chiefs, and the Heisman Trophy-profitable quarterback is bettering as an NFL passer. There are simpler matchups on the market for the Chiefs, even when they might come in opposition to more durable teams on paper.
Kryptonite: teams that decelerate tight ends
There are usually not a whole lot of good methods to assault the Patriots, however we all know from historical past that their offense tends to decelerate with Rob Gronkowski unavailable. In 2018, Tom Brady has posted a 77.1 Complete QBR together with his star tight finish on the sphere and a 48.Three QBR with Gronk sidelined. The impact is not fairly as massive over a 5-yr span, however return by means of 2014 and there is a noticeable distinction over a big pattern: Brady has a 77.5 QBR with Gronkowski within the huddle and a 60.Three QBR with out him.
Moreover, Brady’s 4 losses this season have come in opposition to teams who typically handle to funnel manufacturing away from tight ends. The Dolphins, Jaguars, Lions and Titans all enable fewer receiving yards per recreation to tight ends than the league common. Gronkowski additionally struggled to make his normal affect in opposition to the Jaguars (two catches for 15 yards) and Lions (4 catches for 51 yards) whereas he was injured and missed the blowout loss in opposition to Tennessee.
Rob Gronkowski says he is discovered lots after the Dolphins’ double lateral, recreation-profitable TD, including that he is “by no means been part of something like that.”
Gronkowski was nice till the final play of the sport on Sunday in Miami, catching all eight of the passes thrown to him for 107 yards and a landing. You realize what occurred subsequent: Gronk was despatched out onto the sphere as a deep security for what the Patriots thought was a Hail Mary state of affairs, just for the Dolphins to throw a checkdown, hit on two laterals, and spring Kenyan Drake previous a hobbled Gronkowski for a recreation-profitable landing on what should go down because the play of the yr.
As an apart, I might hesitate to blame Gronk for the loss, on condition that he was nice on offense and positioned into an unfamiliar state of affairs during which he was not bodily able to doing his job. The Patriots additionally performed sloppy soccer and put themselves liable to falling prey to the Dolphins’ miracle play. Stephen Gostkowski missed an additional level and a area aim, Brady took a sack on the finish of the primary half when he incorrectly thought the Patriots had a timeout left, costing the Pats an opportunity at a area aim, and the Patriots failed to capitalize on a primary-and-aim alternative with 1:50 left and kicked a area aim to go up 5 as an alternative of scoring the landing that will have sealed the sport. The missteps aren’t going to matter, and whenever you’re up 5 with seven seconds left, you are going to win 499 instances in 500. The Dolphins pulled out a miracle, however the Patriots should not have left themselves uncovered to one unbelievable play.
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Matchup to keep away from: Los Angeles Chargers
Brady has won his previous seven video games in opposition to the Chargers, however L.A. goes to be a scary matchup within the playoffs. The Chargers are permitting a passer score of simply 61.Three on throws to tight ends this season, the second-greatest fee within the league, and are third in QBR allowed on throws to tight ends. The 49ers’ George Kittle had an 82-yard landing in opposition to the Chargers in September, however he racked up 42 yards over the remainder of the sport. No different tight finish has topped 55 yards in a recreation in opposition to Los Angeles to date, an inventory which features a 6-yard recreation in opposition to the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce within the opener.
Kelce will get one other shot in opposition to his division rivals Thursday, and we’ll have to monitor whether or not the Chargers battle in opposition to the seemingly first-staff All-Professional tight finish with out inside linebacker Denzel Perryman, who went down for the season in Week 10. If the Chargers can gradual or shut down Kelce, they may very effectively have the ability to do the identical to Brady and Gronk.
Kryptonite: working the ball
Whereas the Texans have sprung Lamar Miller for a 58-yard run and a 97-yard run, Invoice O’Brien’s offense simply hasn’t been efficient on the bottom. Houston is 24th within the league in win expectancy added by its working recreation, the worst mark within the league for a staff with a profitable file. Simply 20.1 % of its runs have changed into first downs, the fourth-worst fee within the league.
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Miller & Co. scored two of their three touchdowns in opposition to the Colts on Sunday on the bottom, however Houston’s 25 carries produced simply 89 yards and 4 different first downs. The Texans’ pink zone efficiency has typically been a difficulty; Houston ranks 22nd in pink zone effectivity and 25th in goal-to-go effectivity this season. Settling for area objectives wasn’t a difficulty when the Texans have been taking part in in opposition to the Jaguars, Titans and Payments, however issues will probably be more durable for Houston come January.
Matchup to keep away from: Kansas Metropolis Chiefs
The Chiefs are going to come up a number of instances on this piece. Right here, the issue is constructed round how they break down on protection. Heading into Week 14, Bob Sutton’s protection ranked 13th in move protection DVOA however lifeless final in rush protection DVOA. The better competitors may assist the Texans run the ball extra successfully, however the Texans would in all probability choose to go after a protection that struggles in opposition to the move with DeAndre Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas.
Should you’re trying towards the NFC, whereas the Texans can be thrilled to make it to the Tremendous Bowl, they might in all probability slightly not see the Rams in Atlanta. Earlier than Sunday evening’s loss to the Bears, the Rams ranked eighth in opposition to the move and a middling 25th in opposition to the run. Chicago promptly averaged extra yards per run (5.5) than move (Three.7) throughout its 15-6 victory. Operating at Aaron Donald is a method to strive to take the Defensive Participant of the 12 months candidate out of the sport, however that may be out of the Texans’ capabilities.
Kryptonite: nice tight ends
Even earlier than the Steelers misplaced Ryan Shazier final season, Pittsburgh had points coping with opposing tight ends. Since Shazier has gone down together with his profession-threatening spinal damage, although, issues have gotten worse. Pittsburgh has tried to get by with stretching gamers akin to Jon Bostic and Morgan Burnett into linebacker spots in sure conditions, however there’s simply no changing a possible an All-Professional like Shazier.
Earlier than Sunday’s recreation, the Steelers had the fifth-worst DVOA in opposition to tight ends this season. Amongst playoff favorites, solely the Texans had been worse in opposition to tight ends. And after Jared Cook dinner caught seven passes on 10 targets for 116 yards within the loss in Oakland, the Steelers are actually permitting a passer score of 117.2 on throws to tight ends this yr, the fourth-worst mark within the league.
Matchup to keep away from: Kansas Metropolis Chiefs, New England Patriots
Choose one. In Week 2, Travis Kelce dominated the Steelers, catching seven passes on 10 targets for 109 yards and two scores. With no single participant able to protecting Kelce, the Steelers went with zone appears to be like and have been burned by Patrick Mahomes’ velocity. Pittsburgh did not actually trouble to cowl Kelce on his 19-yard rating up the seam within the first quarter or his 25-yard landing up the opposite seam within the third.
Kelce is the scariest tight finish in soccer lately, however let’s throw an honorable point out in for Rob Gronkowski, who has completely owned the Steelers going again since earlier than Shazier entered the league. His recreation-by-recreation numbers:
Over that six-recreation stretch, Gronk has racked up 39 catches for 664 yards and eight touchdowns. Prorate that over a full season and Gronkowski would publish a 104-1,771-21 line. Even in the event you assume Gronk has misplaced a step or two, the Steelers is not going to need to see the longer term Corridor of Famer lining up throughout from them in January.
Kryptonite: deep passes
The Chargers have an aggressive, deep secondary, led by Professional Bowl cornerback Casey Hayward and Defensive Rookie of the 12 months candidate Derwin James. Since Gus Bradley arrived initially of the 2017 season, the Chargers have intercepted Three.2 % of opposing passes, the second-highest fee in soccer. In 2018, they rank sixth in Complete QBR allowed (54.zero) and eighth in passer score allowed (87.four). With Joey Bosa again within the fold, the Chargers are a move protection no staff needs to face.
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They’ve one very notable weak spot, nonetheless. Heading into Week 14, the Chargers led the league in move protection DVOA on quick passes, which the NFL defines as passes touring not more than 15 yards previous the road of scrimmage within the air. In opposition to deep passes — throws touring 16 or extra yards within the air — the Chargers ranked 32nd. Lifeless final. On Sunday, the Bengals had inexperienced passer Jeff Driskel go deep solely thrice, however the 25-year-outdated accomplished two of these three throws for 43 yards.
Matchup to keep away from: Kansas Metropolis Chiefs
That is the final time I will throw the Chiefs on the market, however they match but once more right here. This one should not shock you, on condition that Mahomes has accomplished 51 deep passes this yr, greater than every other quarterback within the league. He additionally has tried a league-excessive 107 deep throws, however he has been environment friendly: Mahomes has posted a 96.7 Complete QBR on these passes, the fourth-highest mark in soccer. The three quarterbacks forward of him embody two passers the Chargers may fear about on the NFC facet of the bracket in Russell Wilson and Drew Brees, in addition to one they’re certain to keep away from: Philip Rivers, who has a league-excessive QBR of 99.6 on deep throws this season.
Kryptonite: nice run defenses
Since Lamar Jackson took over because the starter, the Ravens have turn out to be essentially the most run-heavy staff within the league. Throughout Jackson’s 4 begins, John Harbaugh’s offense has run the ball a staggering 63.7 % of the time. To place that in context, solely 4 different teams have run the ball greater than half of the time, and none of them has topped a run fee of 55 %. The Ravens have not had any early blowouts during which they have been afforded the posh of milking the clock, both; working has been their recreation plan.
Over that 4-week span, the Ravens have run for 914 yards, practically topping what the Cardinals have gathered all season (1,zero32). They’ve 50 first downs by way of the run, greater than the Vikings have racked up over your entire marketing campaign (44). As I discussed within the Chiefs part, going through a run protection that ranked 32nd in DVOA coming into the week, Jackson & Co. ran the ball 39 instances for 198 yards, 10 first downs, and a landing on Sunday.
The Chiefs aren’t the one weak run protection Jackson has gone up in opposition to; his first 4 begins have all come in opposition to run defenses that ranked within the backside 5 by rush protection DVOA heading into Week 14, together with the Bengals (28th), Falcons (29th) and Raiders (31st). Again in November, I argued that the Ravens ought to have benched Joe Flacco for Jackson earlier than their Week 9 bye as a result of they have been about to face a pleasant slate of defenses. Harbaugh publicly declined to accomplish that, just for Flacco’s hip damage to drive his hand. Now, it is troublesome to think about the Ravens going again to Flacco if Jackson stays wholesome.
Matchup to keep away from: Houston Texans
Naturally, if the Ravens need to make a deep playoff run, they are going to need to keep away from powerful run defenses. Essentially the most troublesome run protection they’re seemingly to encounter within the postseason belongs to the Texans, who ranked second in DVOA heading into the week and held the Colts to 50 yards on 23 carries in Sunday’s 24-21 loss. Quarterbacks have had some success — Josh Allen, Dak Prescott and others have run 47 instances for 220 yards in opposition to the Texans — however Romeo Crennel’s protection is permitting opposing working backs to run for simply Three.Three yards per carry. Solely the Saints have been extra stifling.
Kryptonite: deep passes
The 11-2 Saints haven’t got many weaknesses, and their losses come out of various books. New Orleans misplaced in Week 1 when Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buccaneers dropped the hammer in a 48-40 shootout, after which rolled off 10 straight victories earlier than the Cowboys manhandled them in a 13-10 Thursday evening particular. There are few frequent threads between these two defeats.
One place the Saints have been weak all season, although, is on deep throws. When quarterbacks throw the ball 16 or extra yards within the air, the Saints are permitting the league’s seventh-worst QBR at 94.7. Marshon Lattimore & Co. have seven interceptions on 92 such makes an attempt this season, however even with these picks, opposing quarterbacks are averaging 14.Three yards per try on these passes.
Down 14-Three on the half, Drew Brees and the Saints pull off a second-half rally to beat the Buccaneers 28-14.
As well as, there are six defensive move interference penalties on these deep throws, including 125 yards of penalties to these totals. The Saints have dedicated a league-excessive 14 move interference penalties, and whereas three of them belonged to deposed nook Ken Crawley, alternative Eli Apple has three of his personal since coming over from the Giants by way of commerce. Sensible teams will take photographs on the Saints downfield.
Matchup to keep away from: Los Angeles Rams
The Saints already beat the Rams earlier this season, however in the event you’re trying on the opponents they’re seemingly to face within the NFC playoffs, Sean McVay’s staff can be the one I would need to keep away from if I have been a Saints fan. With a number of weapons at broad receiver, the Rams are going to have a doable mismatch in opposition to Apple on each down. Jared Goff has accomplished 46 deep passes to date this season, the second-highest whole within the NFL behind Patrick Mahomes.
When these two teams performed the primary time, Goff was 5-of-10 on these throws for 150 yards; certainly one of them was picked off by the Saints’ Alex Anzalone, which helped break open the sport simply earlier than halftime. There are few teams which have the power to management the clock with their working recreation and go shot-for-shot downfield with the Saints. The Rams are the one a type of doable opponents within the NFC bracket.
Kryptonite: stress on Jared Goff
Keep in mind the unbelievable recreation Goff had in opposition to the Vikings on nationwide tv in Week four? Since then, Goff has been far nearer to common than nice. Over the following eight video games, Goff ranks 20th in passer score (90.four) and 18th in Complete QBR (58.6), rating just under San Francisco’s Nick Mullens in each classes. He has thrown 9 interceptions, together with 4 in opposition to the Bears in a surprisingly terrible efficiency on Sunday evening, even given the presence of the league’s greatest move protection on the opposite facet of the sphere. In truth, let’s simply lower to the chase …
Matchup to keep away from: Chicago Bears
You noticed what occurred, proper? The Rams would in all probability get to play the playoff rematch between these two teams in Los Angeles, which might alleviate issues in regards to the climate impacting Goff, however I believe the larger concern is with Goff struggling in opposition to stress. In 2018, Goff has posted an 83.eight Complete QBR when he is unpressured, the fifth-greatest mark within the league. When he’s pressured, although, Goff’s QBR falls all the way in which down to 11.Three, which is simply between Marcus Mariota and Josh Rosen for 25th within the league. That 72.5-level slide is the largest drop-off for any quarterback within the NFL. Goff does not need to see Khalil Mack once more anytime soon.
Kryptonite: deep passes
In fact, the man on the opposite facet did not have a fantastic evening, both. Whereas Goff posted the second-worst QBR of the week, opposing quantity Mitchell Trubisky won regardless of the week’s third-worst QBR. Trubisky went 16-of-30 for 110 yards with three interceptions, though he did run for 23 yards and throw a landing move to reserve lineman Bradley Sowell on what was seemingly the heaviest offensive personnel in league historical past, with Trubisky joined by six offensive linemen and 4 defensive linemen.
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The Bears will hope that Trubisky had a nasty day on the workplace in his return from a shoulder damage, however even earlier than the previous second total decide went down, deep throws had been a difficulty. On passes touring 16 or extra yards within the air this season, Trubisky ranks 26th in passer score (68.four) and 27th in Complete QBR (56.6), with extra interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (six). Two of these interceptions got here Sunday evening.
Matchup to keep away from: Minnesota Vikings
The Bears beat the Vikings 25-20 earlier this yr, after all, nevertheless it got here in a recreation during which Trubisky threw for simply 165 yards on 31 makes an attempt and was picked off twice. A decide-six from Eddie Jackson ended up because the margin of victory, because the Bears’ run protection held Dalvin Cook dinner and Latavius Murray to 17 yards on 13 carries.
The Vikings will get a rematch in Minnesota in Week 17, and whereas the Bears can have seemingly clinched the NFC North by then, they symbolize an impediment for Trubisky. The Vikings enable opposing quarterbacks a Complete QBR of simply 58.1 on passes inside 15 yards of the road of scrimmage, the second-lowest fee within the league. On deeper throws, their QBR allowed rises to 88.5, which is 19th within the NFL. Trubisky wasn’t in a position to benefit from the Rams on Sunday evening even supposing the Rams have been permitting a league-worst QBR of 98.7 on deep throws coming into the sport. Will he have the ability to make performs downfield in January?
Kryptonite: dependence on Amari Cooper
I do not know in the event you’ve seen, however the Cooper commerce has gone fairly effectively for the Cowboys. The Cowboys have gone 5-1 and claimed first place within the NFC East since dealing a primary-spherical decide for the broad receiver. Over these six weeks, Cooper has racked up 40 catches for a league-excessive 642 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns. Dak Prescott struggled for many of Sunday’s win over the Eagles earlier than getting on the identical web page with Cooper, and his numbers are considerably higher with Cooper on the sphere; Prescott is averaging eight.1 yards per move with a passer score of 105.1 with Cooper within the huddle, up from 7.zero yards per move and an 89.Three score with Cooper on the sideline or with the Raiders.
When the commerce occurred, I steered I understood the Cowboys’ logic in making the deal and felt like I used to be an outlier by way of viewing this commerce positively, however I nonetheless could not have pictured this occurring. Cooper has completely circled this offense. He is in all probability getting slightly extra credit score than any receiver deserves — Washington has folded amid accidents, and the Dallas protection has taken a leap ahead in current weeks — however Cooper has been arguably a very powerful participant in pushing the Cowboys to a division title.
Matchup to keep away from: Chicago Bears
The matchup the Cowboys don’t desire, then, is one during which the opposing staff is able to taking away one of the best broad receiver. The Bears have been wonderful at nearly every little thing on protection this season, with Kyle Fuller and the secondary posting the league’s second-greatest DVOA in opposition to No. 1 receivers heading into Week 14. Whether or not you outline the Rams’ No. 1 wideout as Robert Woods or Brandin Cooks, these numbers aren’t going to decline a lot after Sunday evening. With the Bears shutting down Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott would wish to thrive for the Cowboys to transfer the ball on offense in a doable NFC Championship Sport between these two powerful defenses.
Kryptonite: passes to the left facet of the sphere
The Seahawks’ secondary is likely one of the quiet success tales of the season. They shed the whole lot of the Legion of Increase by the top of September, with Richard Sherman in San Francisco, Kam Chancellor compelled into retirement, and Earl Thomas out for the yr after breaking his leg. Seattle is beginning modest free-agent addition Bradley McDougald and second-yr security Tedric Thompson at security and working up second-yr nook Shaquill Griffin and rookie fifth-spherical decide Tre Flowers at nook.
On paper, this needs to be one of many worst secondaries within the league. Pete Carroll has a sure magic in working with secondaries, although; do not forget that as soon as upon a time, whereas Thomas was a primary-spherical decide, Sherman and Chancellor have been fifth-rounders and Byron Maxwell was a sixth-rounder. Carroll is a wizard with creating younger defensive backs, and certainly, the younger defensive backs surrounding the 28-year-outdated McDougald have developed properly.
If there’s a weak spot, although, it is on the appropriate facet of the protection, the place Flowers typically strains up. Once you cut up the Seahawks’ move protection into sections, the Seahawks ranked second within the league in DVOA on throws between the hashes and a good 11th on passes to the appropriate facet of the sphere, heading into Week 14. On throws to the left facet, although, Flowers and the Seahawks rank 29th.
Matchup to keep away from: New England Patriots
As at all times, teams can by no means be upset in regards to the thought of probably taking part in in a Tremendous Bowl, however even ignoring what occurred the final time these two teams performed in a championship recreation, Carroll in all probability does not need to see his outdated employers in Atlanta. Tom Brady throws 49.1 % of his passes to the left facet of the sphere, the very best fee within the league this season. He additionally has no qualms about choosing aside the weakest hyperlink in a staff’s secondary. Essentially the most frequent passer to the left among the many 5 different seemingly NFC playoff teams is Prescott, whose 43.5 % fee ranks ninth amongst common starters.
Kryptonite: area aim kicking
Nothing new, however even after including Dan Bailey, area objectives have been an journey for the Vikings. Bailey and Daniel Carlson have mixed to go simply 17-of-26 on area objectives, good for a 1980s-esque conversion fee of 65.four %. By superior metrics, the Vikings have value themselves 1.four wins on area aim kicking, per ESPN’s win chance added, which might be the third-worst mark for any staff in a full season over the previous decade behind the 2009 Ravens (minus-1.5 wins) and the 2018 Chargers (minus-1.eight wins).
Darren Woodson and Tedy Bruschi agree that the Vikings can have their fingers full with the Seahawks in Week 14 on Monday Night time Soccer.
Matchup to keep away from: Chicago Bears
Bailey was 2-for-2 the primary time these two teams performed, however with the Vikings way more seemingly to end as runners-up within the NFC North and face the Bears in Chicago come the postseason, would you need to rely on anyone in a purple uniform to kick area objectives in Soldier Discipline in January climate? I did not assume so. The remainder of the NFC playoff image ought to function typically pleasant situations, on condition that the Cowboys and Saints play in domes and the Rams play in Los Angeles. If the Vikings find yourself in opposition to the Seahawks, effectively, it won’t be as chilly — or as painful — because it was final time.