Game of the Week:
It was definitely a wild and wacky weekend in the NFL, showcasing plenty of games with major playoff implications and setting us up for some real “win and you’re in” doozies for week 17. Seriously, if you don’t spend Sunday with your eyes glued to the TV set, you might want to go get your head checked. Gotta work? Call in sick.
But first, week 16. Let’s start off by turning our attention to the NFC East.
The Dallas Cowboys needed a big win this week to swing the pendulum of momentum back in their favor after blowing a 26-3 halftime lead in week 15 and falling to the Packers. While it wasn’t pretty, Tony Romo led his team to victory on a hobbled leg when he found DeMarco Murray in the end zone from 10 yards out on a 4th and goal play with only 1:08 left in the game. For all the ups and downs this season, the 24-23 win over the Redskins sets up a winner-take-all showdown between the Cowboys and the Eagles in the final Sunday Night Football game of the season. Philadelphia absolutely dominated the Chicago Bears at home this week 54-11 and so they should be heavily favored to win this one, especially since Romo has since been diagnosed with a ruptured disc and could be out for the season.
Similarly, a loss by every single team in the NFC North means that Green Bay will travel to Chicago next Sunday to compete for the division title. This is welcome news for the Packers who lost a heartbreaker 38-31 in the snow to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Green Bay marched down to the Pittsburgh 1 yard line with a chance to tie the game, but the Steel Curtain held on for the win.
The Steelers’ playoff hopes are still alive by a thread, although they’ll need the other three contenders in the AFC Wild Card hunt to lose in order to make the impossible possible. Either way, if you’d asked the (0-4) Steelers if they’d be happy where they’re at today, they’d certainly have been stoked to hear that their season hadn’t ended by week 10.
The goose egg Miami put up at Buffalo in a 0-19 loss surprisingly wasn’t the nail in the coffin of their playoff hopes. If the Dolphins can beat the Jets next week they’ll take the final Wild Card slot with a Ravens loss or a Chargers win. Speaking of the Chargers, they topped their division rival Raiders 26-13 to keep their slim postseason dreams alive.
Cincinnati clinched the AFC North with a 42-14 shellacking of the Vikings, and so for the first time in franchise history, the Bengals will be visiting the postseason for three seasons in a row. Take that Boomer Esiason.
It wasn’t all good news for teams in the playoff hunt, dreams were dashed this week as well. The Detroit Lions completed their embarrassing implosion at home versus the stumbling New York Giants. Matthew Stafford threw a pick-6 to allow the Giants to force overtime where they won 23-20.
Wow…that’s quite the lead in before we get to the Game of the Week.
Much has been said this season about the return of Sean Peyton and the impact it has had on Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. Then again, there has been an equal amount of chatter devoted to the Saints’ road woes.
Well, their woes continued as the Saints have now lost 5 of the past 6 games away from the Super Dome. The Carolina Panthers rallied from behind to take a 17-13 lead with 23 seconds left in the game on a Cam Newton to Domenik Hixon 14-yard touchdown toss.
The former #1 overall pick didn’t have a great game stat-wise as he was only 13 of 22 through the air for 181-yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception, but he was able to come through in the clutch when his team needed him the most to give the Panthers a legitimate chance of winning the NFC South.
Carolina is already in the playoffs, but a win at Atlanta will give them the division title and a first round bye, as will a Saints loss against the Buccaneers.
Performance of the Week:
The Performance of the Week goes to the QB-RB tandem of Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy. Seriously, these guys are making Chip Kelly look like an absolute genius. While the first half of the season had pundits once again shaking their heads at yet another college coach trying to shake it up in the pros, you’d have to be a complete idiot to not recognize that Kelly may truly be on to something in the city of brotherly love.
Their stat lines weren’t “over the top” impressive in their blowout win over the Bears (McCoy-133yd 2 TD, Foles-230yd 2 TD), but I want to look at what they have been doing over the course of this season.
Foles and McCoy are on track to become the first QB-RB combo to have the highest passer rating and win the rushing title in the same season since the 1960s. And if that isn’t impressive enough for you, Foles has thrown 25 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions! Two! And this is just his second season. McCoy has racked up more than 2,000 yards rushing and receiving combined and has pranced into the end zone ten times.
It is ironic that there are those who criticize Chip Kelly for having a pass-happy offense. You can’t really argue that they don’t run the rock enough when the leading rusher in the NFL wears an Eagles jersey.
Biggest Upset of the Week:
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson now holds the NFL record for the most wins during the first two years of his career. Sure, he plays on a team with a dominant defense and can hand the ball off to Beast Mode. Nevertheless, we all know that this is a quarterback driven league, and you simply can’t win without a champion under center, so Wilson’s success should be duly noted without any asterisks.
Another incredible stat is that Wilson has never lost a game when playing at home at Century Link Field. Well, at least this was the case before Arizona came to town.
While Seattle certainly had plenty to play for, hoping to clinch the NFC West and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Cardinals have been on fire of late and needed the win in order to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Cardinals QB Carson Palmer did his best to throw away Arizona’s chances by tossing four picks, but their stout defense, led by a front four including defensive tackle Darnell Docket, shut down the Seahawks offense, holding them to 192 total yards and only 10 points.
Down 10-9, Palmer made the play of the game on a perfectly thrown 31 yard touchdown pass to Michael Floyd. It was Floyd’s only catch of the game and vindicated Palmer for his bevy of turnovers.
After Arizona successfully converted the 2 point conversion the Seahawks were left with 2 minutes to rally and tie the game, but Russell Wilson threw an INT on a controversial play where the ball appeared to bounce off the turf prior to being intercepted. Replay officials felt it was too close to reverse the call and gave the turnover to the Cardinals. Palmer kneeled out the clock to keep Arizona’s playoff wishes intact.
What to Look Forward To Next Week:
We’ve already talked about the two pseudo playoff games between the Bears and Packers and then Eagles and Cowboys, but there are even more great games to enjoy as you munch on Christmas cookies, packing on the holiday pounds.
Unless the Dolphins, Chargers, and Steelers all lose, the Baltimore Ravens will need a big win in Cincinnati if they want a chance to defend their Super Bowl title. But even a win against the Bengals isn’t a guarantee as they’ll also need either San Diego or Miami to lose either way.
The Cardinals could conceivably end up with an (11-5) record and miss the playoffs if they beat the 49ers and New Orleans fails to lose. Either way, Bruce Arians may very win coach of the year two seasons in a row, with different teams. He’s turned this team into a real contender as the NFC West is easily now the toughest division in the NFL.
When the Seahawks visited St. Louis, the Rams gave them just about all they could handle. This game could be interesting as a Seattle win gives them home field advantage throughout the playoffs, while a loss could conceivably give the NFC West crown to the Niners and drop the Hawks into the Wild Card.
Week 16 prediction results: 0-2, again. Seriously, if Commentary Box Sports keeps me around for the 2014 season, I’m cutting the predictions right out of the column. Or maybe I’ll outsource them to India.
My predictions for Week 17:
Pick of the week: Packers 24 – 17 Bears
Both Aaron Rodgers and Eddie Lacy might miss out on this one, but Cutler’s return to the starting line-up has not fared well thus far.
Upset of the week: Raiders 34 – Broncos 31
There’s an old saying that I am not sure I’ll be allowed to “print” here: “The sun even shines on a dog’s ass once in a while.”
There’s been quite a bit of talk this season about proposals to alter the NFL playoff format. The current structure has been in place since 2002 when the league restructured into eight instead of six divisions, but opponents of the scheme site two major flaws.
The first flaw is that division winners are automatically given a home game over Wild Card teams, even when the Wild Card team has a better record. For example, both the Chiefs and 49ers could end this season at (12-4) and still hit the road for round one of the playoffs.
The second problem is that teams with impressive records often don’t make the playoffs at all. Look at Arizona, they could wind up with 11 wins and still not get in. And they wouldn’t be the first team to do so, the New England Patriots already know what it’s like to be (11-5) but be on the outside looking in.
Suggested solutions call for two additional playoff teams and possibly removing the automatic home game for division winners, and there are certainly quite a few compelling arguments for why this should be done. But, personally, I don’t think they should change a thing.
I’m not one of those stubborn old coots who never wants to see restructuring. I found it ridiculous that “traditionalists” wanted to keep the old MLB model of only four teams in the entire league making the postseason. Realignment was great for baseball. And realignment was great for the NFL when they did it in 2002. But now is not the time to do it again.
Sure, there are times when these strange anomalies take place, but realistically, they usually don’t. Most seasons the best six teams from each conference make it in, and if you get left out on a tie-breaker, well, then next year you’d better try to win your division.
I like the excitement of making the playoffs just difficult enough to qualify for that it’s a big deal, but not so hard that half of the league’s season is over midway through the campaign.
And with regards to division winners getting a home game. Tough. If you don’t want to play on the road, then again, win the division. Making the division crown SO important is part of what makes divisional match-ups so exciting to watch, even when one of the teams is totally out of the playoff race.
My guess is that the NFL will end up adding one more team from each conference, if nothing else for more revenue. But I hope they don’t. In my eyes the current playoff structure is perfect as it is.