So the NFL has exactly what it wanted: this week 13 of the 16 games have playoff implications, including New England @ Baltimore (our game of the week). Last week the AFC race more or less held fast at the top, for after the Broncos yoked away their control of the #1 seed the Patriots let a grand chance get by them in Miami, still to be outdone by the Bungles dropping a game to a play-for-nothing Steeler team on Sunday night. Meanwhile in the NFC things are a bit more crystallized, although match ups this week can set the stage for de facto division championship games in Week 17. Goodell, you beautiful bastard.
What I learned this week…..
In the last six weeks Matthew Stafford has the worst 4th quarter rating in all of the NFL. The best? Josh McCown/Jay Cutler (or Jash McCutler if you prefer, as I do). In fact, the Chicago Bears now have the 7th rated offense in the league. That’s Marc Trestman, hard at work. But Stafford and the Lions have 17 turnovers in that span. That’s how you lose a division. That’s how you get fired.
The New York Giants are the only team to be shutout this season, and its happened twice. Eli has 25 INTs and here’s really all you need to know: this was the highest scoring week in league history, and the Giants contributed zero points to that total. Good job, good effort.
Believe it or not there is a very plausible scenario in which the Indianapolis Colts get a bye and the Cincinnati Bengals miss the playoffs completely. More on this later.
YIPPEEE! A week without (too much) ref controversy. Pats fans will say different, as they were probably jobbed (again) on a pass interference at the goal line. A missed call on an horrific ‘block’ that shattered the jaw and broke the neck of Bengals punter Kevin Huber jaw should’ve negated a Steelers touchdown. ANY hit like that on a punter at ANY TIME during a play is considered a personal foul. That would’ve wiped out the Antonio Brown touchdown and given the Bengals defense a chance to stop the Steelers.
Mystery team…I am the only team in the league to be top 5 in both yards gained and yards allowed. Who am I?
This just in…The Kansas City Chiefs can score. Try 101 points in the last two weeks and 42 per game in the last four. If that happens and their defense keeps up it may be very, very difficult for the Broncos to beat them a third time.
NFC Race…In the South, this week’s Saints @ Panthers game is effectively the NFC South Division Championship game, as each team finishes the season with very winnable games against Tampa and Atlanta, respectively. Elsewhere, NBC flexed into the Bears @ Eagles on Sunday night, mostly to preserve the ability to pick their game week 17. But as an added benefit, they get two of the top scoring teams in the league, and teams angling for that playoff berth. If the Bears win, their week 17 game against the Packers, at home, becomes a play-in game for them. (If Green Bay can beat Pittsburgh this week, that week 17 game becomes the NFC North Division Championship.) If the Eagles win, then their week 17 game against the hated Dallas Cowboys becomes their chance to clinch the NFC East. If not, that rivalry game will decide the 4-seed in the NFC.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugh
Good: Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs I knew this guy would be a breakout star under Reid’s tutelage but the performance on Sunday was nothing short of stunning. How about five TDs in three quarters? Where would they be without this guy? An MVP-level performance in this game, and on the season.* Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens – this is how you ball out as a kicker. On Monday night against the Lions Tucker scored all of his team’s points in a 18-16 win. The capper as you know was a game-winning 61-yarder. Caveat: FGs won’t win in the playoffs.
Bad: Detroit Lions – Parallels are starting to be drawn between Matt Stafford and Tony Romo. Reasonably so, and its not just the teen-angst backwards hat. As mentioned, Stafford’s rating in the 4th is going from bad to worse: its under 30 i his last 5 games, capped by two more 4th quarter INTs when the game was again on the line. Toss in Megatron too because he had some bad drops.
Ugh: Dallas Cowboys – Cringe-worthy. Putrid. Sickening. These are just some of the ways in which Cowboys fans described the home team’s most recent meltdown. There’s no escaping the label now, Tony Romo. There were major NFL insiders this season on the backlash train fighting for Romo and against the “stupid” notion that he’s a choke artist. Can’t run from it now, its gotten so bad there is a Top Ten list. What about the coaches? Blowing a lead like that to a backup QB that had been cut twice already this season, at home, by refusing to avoid your Achilles’ Heel? Unforgivable. Jerruh will not be pleased when he watches the tape. (He doesn’t watch tape? Really, huh.) To make matters worse it was in front of 20,000 very audible and boisterous Packer fans no less. Someone has to be fired, right? I’d start on D. Monte Kiffin now leads the NFL’s worst defense, a year after leading NCAA’s worst defense at USC. Ask Schwaub if retirement is right for you.
Coaching Carousel…Silly season is about to heat up, and there are maybe 10 spots that will come open. I’ll tackle them one-by-one in coming weeks, just wanted to get this out there: the Houston Texans are dead serious about talking to Bill O’Brien, he of Penn State and the Patriots.
Temp Talk…So, Peyton Manning won a game in the cold. Which got me thinking: who are these people that are putting together these stats, and where are they getting them? What if the game starts off at 42º but after halftime its 36º? Is that a game below 40? How about if it snows to start the game but the weather improves? How about if the wind shifts, like at Soldier Field, Foxboro or the old Meadowlands?
FWIW….Eleven of the last twelve Super Bowl winners have been Top 10 in yards per play differential, and all twelve have been at least on the positive side. Of those in contention, the Colts, Chiefs, Chargers, and Cowboys all are in the red with negative YPP differential. And the Ravens are 29th.
AFC Race…There are so many games with big implications its almost too difficult to start breaking down. Almost. Colts @ Chiefs and Pats @ Ravens are the big ones. If the Colts lose the Patriots can secure the inside track to #2 in the AFC, even with a loss in Baltimore. They’d be looking for another Baltimore win against the Bengals and then New England would need only a win at home in week 17 to clinch the bye. Meanwhile, if the Ravens take care of the Pats this week, the Bengals will need two wins to avoid missing the playoffs altogether, including wha would then be the AFC North Division Championship game. Sitting right there are the Indianapolis Colts. Ridiculous to think just a short time ago, but there is a very plausible scenario in which the Colts themselves get the #2 seed in the AFC, and its quite simple: if the Ravens win out and the Colts do too, they get the bye. The way the Ravens are playing, its a very real possibility they beat both the Patriots and the Bengals. The Colts finish the season at home against the Jaguars. So this Chiefs / Colts game is the biggest game the Colts have had in a few years.
You gotta figure…The more QBs stay out of the draft, the higher the price for Kirk Cousins, Josh McCown and yes, Jay Cutler. Maybe even Mike Vick.
Top Three…Cowboys, in honor of what is sure to go down as one of the most dubious of all losses in the Romo era
W2W4: New England Patriots @ Baltimore Ravens – This has turned into a great NFL rivalry. The last five games the Patriots have played have come down to the last possession (4-1). The last three games the Ravens have played have been decided by a total of 7 points (3-0). The Ravens are peaking at the right time while the Patriots, certain to win their division and be in the tournament, are a patchwork of bodies on offense trying to play roles normally filled by others. The Patriots can clinch their division with a rare road win. The Ravens can take a another huge step towards their playoff push with a wine of their own. I promise you this: the Patriots want no part of the Ravens coming to Foxboro for the playoffs, and certainly not in the first round. beating them in Baltimore would help keep them out altogether.
Locks of the Century of the Week…
TB +5.5 @ STL Bucs +5.5
ARI @ SEA -10 Seahawks -10
CHI @ PHL -3.5 Eagles -3.5
TEN @ JAX +5.5 Jaguars +5.5
IND +6.5 @ KC Colts + 6.5
Told ya so…Packers @ Dallas was bonkers and Brady running out of magic was predictable. All season we’ve talked about their red zone deficiencies and knew it couldn’t last forever.
Mystery team Answer… New Orleans Saints
* MVP Discussion to follow in coming weeks but if Tom Brady had again found a way to win with a 4th quarter, last minute comeback drive, he’d have to be in the discussion. Should the fact that his passes went into and out of the hands of his intended receivers make him any less worthy a candidate?
NFL Week 15
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