NFL Week Sixteen: Locking Up the Playoffs…Well, Almost
The playoffs are pretty much set after this week’s action. Many teams won their way in, while a few got in with a good deal of help. The only spot up for grabs is the final playoff spot in the NFC. The winner of Green Bay/Detroit locks up the North, and a home playoff game, while the loser would need help to stay in the playoffs. Washington is set up to be the sixth seed as long as they beat the Giants, thanks to the Detroit loss to the Cowboys. Most of the playoff positioning is set as well. Most notably though is the fact that the AFC West is still up for grabs. With Derek Carr getting injured and being unavailable, it leaves that division and the second seed wide open for Kansas City to win if they can take care of business and the Raiders lose next week. So, while there will not be a lot at stake on the week 17 docket, there are still a few games that should mean something, and with the NFL’s mandated scheduling of divisional matchups to end the season, it will at least be an interesting week of matchups.
I think it’s safe to say that if the Rams were considering John Fassel to succeed Jeff Fisher, they sure aren’t now. I think it’s also safe to say that the problems that the Rams face are a bit more than coaching. When the 49ers can beat you twice in a year, there’s trouble all around. I hope Chip Kelly wasn’t hanging his “don’t fire me” hat on beating the Rams twice.
The Giants, despite laying an egg against the Eagles (and it was quite the egg, they were outplayed in every way by a 6-9 team), backed their way into the playoffs when the Bucs lost to the Saints on Saturday. While the defense for the Giants still seems pretty solid, unless Eli can become “playoff Eli” over the next few weeks, Big Blue might see an early exit. The Eagles looked as good as they had all year and definitely seem like they have something to build on moving forward.
The Saints played spoiler to the Bucs playoff chances, making it two losses in a row for the young Tampa team that doesn’t look quite ready for primetime. I know we’ve been saying this since the year after they won the Superbowl, but if you put a decent defense around them, the Saints are perennial playoff contenders and Drew Brees is a first ballot hall of famer.
Miami punched their ticket to the playoffs thanks to the legs of both Jay Ajayi and Dan Carpenter (of course he gets a special thanks for missing a 45 yard field goal in overtime). The Bills have been a disappointment for much of the year, and don’t seem to be trending upward heading into an offseason of uncertainty in the coaching ranks.
That Steelers/Ravens game was a classic. This is why Pittsburgh is a tough out every year, they are battle tested with some of the best rivalries in sports. It’s a shame that the Ravens won’t be in the playoffs, but in a season that wasn’t expected to be even this special, they have to feel good about their progress. Watch out for Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Home field advantage be damned, they’re good everywhere they play.
The only thing worse than having your playoff hopes dashed is having them dashed at the hands of your bitter division rivals, and the only thing worse than that is getting blown out in the process, and the only thing even worse than that is having a defensive tackle throw for a touchdown against your defense. This will be the most critical offseason of John Elway’s career in the mile high city.
The Chargers look like they’ve already headed for the golf course, but that still doesn’t take away from the fact that the Browns won a game. You have to feel good for Coach Hue Jackson and the veterans on that team that have endured plenty of heartbreak as a member of the Browns organization, but never to this extent.
As predicted, the Patriots took the Jets to the woodshed, further solidifying the fact that the Jets need more than just a quarterback in the offseason.
The Jaguars won a game, and the Titans proved that, like the Bucs, they are just not ready for the bright lights yet. They are a solid team and will be in the conversation in the AFC South for years, but every time they’ve had a chance to lock things up this season, they’ve dropped a critical, and winnable, game.
In a game that looked closer than it actually was, the Packers embarrassed the Vikings, adding to the further misery in Minnesota this season. For a team that looked like it was on the cusp of winning it all before the season started, there are a lot of roster questions in the Vikings organization this offseason.
The Redskins blew out the Bears to keep their playoff hopes alive, and maybe quiet some of the doubters that popped up after they failed to show up last week in their loss to the Panthers. This is one of the most explosive teams in the league when they’re playing well. It’s just a matter of having them playing well consistently, and against a team that’s not the Bears.
Speaking of blow outs, the Falcons are quietly one of the best offenses in the NFL, and they proved that by destroying the Panthers on Saturday. Carolina is a team that has lost its way all season long, but this was particularly embarrassing.
The Raiders were impressive in their win over the Colts. Unfortunately, it came with a price as Derek Carr’s broken leg puts quite the damper on their playoff hopes. The Colts have a lot of decisions to make in the offseason as to whether they are okay with mediocrity moving forward (because it’s pretty evident that’s been the status quo so far).
Seattle just doesn’t have that magic that they harnessed so well the last few years. 9-5-1 is not a record you would expect out of a team this talented at this stage of the game. Can they find that mojo for the playoffs, or have they started to lose their way? The Cardinals are as much of an enigma, 6-8-1 this year with one of the best running backs in the league. They should be better than this.
Houston locked up the AFC South and Cincinnati showed that it shouldn’t have a football team this year. Will Houston be the first football team with homefield advantage on a “neutral field” in the Superbowl era?
Rising like a Viagra binge:
While one win can’t really qualify as a “rise”, can we just give it to the Browns? They finally got one at the expense of the Chargers, who look like they’ve completely checked out. But a win is a win, especially if it’s your only one!
Sinking faster than the Titanic:
Tampa Bay went from challenging for the NFC South crown to a playoff afterthought in two weeks. Is this young team with its first year head coach just too green for the bright lights? Probably. Have they shown us a team that should be a force for years to come? Absolutely. They will be on many “experts’” lists next year and thereafter as a team to beat in the NFC.
Coaches on the hot seat:
Okay, lists are easier, let’s go to a list:
Fisher – Rams – 100% gone
Bradley – Jaguars – 100% gone
Ryan – Bills – 100% gone
Pagano – Colts – 90% gone
Lewis – Bengals – 90% gone
McCoy – Chargers – 75% gone
Bowles – Jets– 25% gone
Kelly – 49ers – 20% gone
Rivera – Panthers – 10% gone
A quick word on the Cowboys:
I’m an unabashed Cowboys fan, have been since my youth and the time of the “triplets”. So I would like to say something about the worst-run team in the NFL this side of Cleveland.
I’m not sure if I was the only Cowboys fan that thought this game was over when the Lions scored three straight times to open the game (especially when the Cowboys bogged down on their own third drive), but I was pleasantly surprised to see that what I thought was the Dallas team quitting on this game and not actually being as invested in an outcome that didn’t matter too much in the long run to them, was really just the team collectively catching their breath before slamming their foot on the gas pedal. The defense, despite being shorthanded, was scarily disruptive in the second half. Dak Prescott led the offense on efficient drive after efficient drive all night long, but definitely seemed to switch into a second gear after the team went down 21-14 in the second quarter. Most importantly, it looks like this team is having fun (the wide receiver pass from Dez to Witten, and the reaction to punter Chris Jones laying out the Detroit returner showed me that). While I am sure this will all come crashing down at some point, I have decided to just have fun while I can. I still can’t stand Jason Garrett as a coach, but I’m willing to just enjoy this ride for as long as I can. The rest of the Cowboys certainly are…except maybe Tony Romo.