We’re back, people. Your weekly look-around the NFL for the best performances, worst chokes, and most questionable prognostications.
If I didn’t mention your team this week, no worries. Good, bad, or meh, I’ll be getting to everyone in due time.
NFL Week 15
1. Drew Brees is somehow underrated
After breaking Peyton Manning’s career TD record, Drew Brees leads the pack with 541 in his hall of fame career. He’s got a scant lead over Tom Brady, who will overtake Manning this season as well. Brady’s output this season has been far from expectations, but that brings me to an awkward point. If Brees had played at literally any other time, would he be in the G.O.A.T. conversation? Sure, some folks will lump him in based on regular season stats, but these are the people who think Marino should have a seat at the table. Brees has played his entire career in the shadow of Manning, Brady and Rodgers, and it’s hard to give the guy a nod for all time greatest when he’s usually just inside the top five every year. But he’s led the league in passing seven times and in touchdowns four times. He’s a Super Bowl champion and MVP. He holds the regular season records for career passing yards and completions, as well as TDs. He has the highest career completion percentage and the most 5,000 yard passing seasons. He’s just never been the best QB in the league at any time. That’s a shame. Here’s hoping Brees can make it back to another Super Bowl to try to burnish up his legacy.
2. Eli got the sendoff he deserved
I’m sure that this season isn’t what Manning the Younger was hoping for as his victory lap. The two-time Super Bowl champ was benched in favor of his heir apparent early on and is only back on the field as Daniel Jones gets healthy. The Giants are a miserable 3-11, tied for the worst record in the NFC. But at least there’s always the Dolphins. Manning wasn’t brilliant, throwing for 283 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions, but it was enough to get the G-Men a win in their next to last home tilt of the year over Miami, 36-20. The standing ovation at his curtain call was less about week fifteen than fifteen-plus years of service. That’s the way it should be for a two-time Super Bowl champ in what is likely to be his final home start.
3. Mahomes looks good in white
No, I don’t mean the Chiefs strange white on white uniforms that they break out for special occasions. I mean the frozen stuff, and that’s bad for opponents. Mahomes showed no signs of slowing in the snow as the Chiefs dismantled the Broncos 23-3 at Arrowhead with the weather in full force. Mahomes went 23/34 for 340 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on the day, and if that’s what opponents can expect while the young gunslinger is battling the elements as well as opposing defenses, lookout.
4. New England doesn’t need signals to whip up on the Bengals
As we all deal with the latest Patriot “gate”, let’s get back to reality for a minute here. First, of course the camera crew filmed the field and sidelines while working on the scout’s segment. That’s the view that the scout had. It’s literally what he’s supposed to be looking at during that moment. If they’re recording how he’s supposed to “Do His Job”, then that footage is part of the recipe. Secondly, eight minutes of footage sounds like a lot, but it’s not a lot of tape from which to mine a good understanding of the Bengals various signs. There were only a handful plays during that duration. It’s hardly consequential in terms of building a comprehensive compendium of the Bengals offensive intricacies. Lastly, and most importantly: why? Why would New England bother to steal signs from the worst team in the league. The risk reward simply isn’t there. They were filming a meaningless game for web-based documentary, there’s no way Belichick would risk the public outrage to gain an advantage against an overmatched opponent. I get the media’s obsession with making New England into a villain, but this makes no sense. If he did in fact order the taping, the penalties against both Belichick and the Patriots should be severe, but I think it’s entirely more likely that this was exactly what it looks like. A video crew that Belichick didn’t even know existed before the “scandal” broke did something stupid without asking first.
5. Atlanta is infuriating
I mean, really infuriating if you’re a Niners fan, who now have to deal with the very real possibility of a road wildcard matchup, instead of the number one overall seed. The fourth quarter was a revelation, with Atlanta reeling off nineteen points in the final frame to secure the win. But I’m thinking about being a Falcons fan. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are in the top five in passing and receiving yards, respectively, but the Falcons, even with the shocking road win over San Francisco on Sunday are mired at 5-9, tied for last in the NFC South. This team has just never recovered from blowing that big Super Bowl lead against New England, have they? I get the feeling that there’s not a lot that can save Dan Quinn, but maybe this road win over one of the best teams can keep him behind the wheel for another season. On the other hand, if they have the talent to contend with San Francisco, why are they 5-9???
6. Buffalo is a lock
With their 17-10 road win over the wildcard-bound (maybe) Steelers, the Bills have guaranteed their playoff bona fides. The Bills still have a lot to play for. They’re 10-4 and a week sixteen matchup at New England will do much to decide the final seeding in the AFC. That’s right. Buffalo can still win the AFC East AND make it to the number two overall seed. It’s no fluke, and it’s been happening all season long. Defensively, Buffalo is among the league’s best, boasting the third-best total defense and second-best scoring defense, allowing a scant 15.9 points per game. Do I think they can march into Foxboro and get the win? Actually, I do. I don’t think it will happen. I just think it can.
7. Oakland fans are not happy
This season was always going to be bittersweet. Well, mostly bitter for long time Raider fans. Yes, the franchise has relocated a few times over the years, but this move to Las Vegas seems more final, more permanent. Following their week fifteen loss to Jacksonville, the Raiders swansong at the Coliseum turned into a melee, with fans hurling anything they could grab onto the field. Food, beer bottles, seat (yes, seats) and just random garbage all flew from the Black Hole onto the turf. It’s a sad ending to an iconic fanbase, many of whom have sworn that they won’t follow their team remotely. It’s anyone’s guess how a professional football franchise will fare in a tourism driven city like Vegas. One can assume that the homefield advantage might be mitigated. But the players will have access to all you can eat prime rib and lobster, so there’s that.
8. Farewell, Josh Gordon
You kind of got the feeling that this was coming, didn’t you? When receiver-needy New England cut Gordon citing “reliability issues”, you got the sense that they knew it was coming. With Gordon’s history of suspensions for violations of the league’s substance abuse policy, his ban will now be indefinite, and we can expect it to extend well into the 2020 season, minimum. It’s a shame that we’ll never get to know what Gordon might have been in the prime of his career if he’d been able to keep clean. The Seahawks will miss his playmaking ability down the stretch, but with D.K. Metcalf starting to build rapport with Russell Wilson, I suspect that they’ll be just fine.
9. Jacksonville is a tough place to play
With the confirmation that the NFLPA won a grievance on behalf of Leonard Fournette against his team, as well as a second Jacksonville related grievance in recent days, the union has essentially warned the league’s players that Jacksonville isn’t exactly “player-friendly”. The letter noted that over a quarter of the grievances filed by the NFLPA over the past few months have all involved Jacksonville’s management, which, we can now assume, has been put on notice for excessive and/or inappropriate fines for minor infractions.
10. Miami can’t win
No, I’m not just talking about the Fins struggles on the field, as they lost to the Giants with a 54-year-old backup quarterback. Just kidding. Eli isn’t that old…I don’t think. Anyway, I’m talking about how the Dolphins managed to get shut out of the Pro Bowl completely. Not a single player on the AFC’s roster. Want to know who did? Two former Dolphins who got traded away to greener pastures. Laremy Tunsil, now a Texan and Minkah Fitzpatrck, now a Steeler. That’s right. Both of Miami’s highly visible trades ended up as Pro Bowlers this season. What did Miami get out of the deal? A total of three first round picks, all of which are being watered down by the Texans and Steelers overperformance this season. It’s a good bet that both of those teams end up in the playoffs, thanks to the Miami trade (especially Pittsburgh, who is simply a different defensive team since Fitzpatrick came on board). As for Miami, they’ll bide their time again, waiting for Tom Brady to retire and reminiscing about the 72 Dolphins.
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Image Source: AP Images