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.
1. The “Worst Rule in Football” isn’t changing any time soon
After Monday night, in a low-scoring game that almost saw the Panthers upset the Saints, talk is flying around about the so-called “Worst Rule in Football”. It’s the one where if an offensive team fumbles the ball through the end zone, it becomes a touchback, and the defense gets the ball. I’ve seen a slew of posts calling for some sort of change that keeps the ball in the hands of the offense. I understand the outcry. “My team had it on the one-yard line. The other team didn’t recover the fumble. Why should they get the ball?” The answer, to be blunt, is because you can’t reward fumbles into or through the end zone. Forward fumbles can’t ever be considered as a viable offensive option. If offenses just got the ball back on the goal line, there’s no incentive to not try for a forward fumble through the end zone if a runner gets stuffed. If the rule were to change (it won’t), I think the best option is the reverse touchback. In other words, the offense would keep the ball, but be moved back to the 20-yard line. There’s a litany of reasons why this might be a terrible idea, but let’s face facts. If your team fumbles at the one-yard line, you’re probably upset. It’s just a matter of how upset you’ll be…
2. The Colts are contenders
Man was I wrong about the Colts this season, huh. Specifically, about that defense. I just did not see this coming. I could imagine Andrew Luck becoming himself again if the surgically repaired shoulder was up to the task, but I couldn’t imagine the defense becoming the unit it is right now. This is a top ten rushing defense that is also top ten in points allowed. Darius Leonard is a one-man tackling machine, leading the league by twenty. He’s a shoo-in for Defensive Rookie of the Year. This week they shut out a likely division winner in the Cowboys, blocking a field goal and stuffing two fourth down conversions in the process. They held Zeke to under 100 yards on the ground and are the only defense that’s been able to completely shut down Amari Cooper since his arrival in Dallas, holding him to only 32 yards receiving.
3. The best team in football might be a wildcard
The Chargers, right now, are the best team in Los Angeles. Beating the Chiefs, on the road, without running back Melvin Gordon is a supreme feat, but in that game, we saw the truth. That Kansas City’s strategy is simply to overwhelm the opposition with speed and aggression. The Chargers and Patriots have shown us that the Chiefs don’t have much of a backup plan. I’ve said all along that I thought that the Chargers would win the AFC West, but if they don’t catch the Chiefs in the tiebreaker column, god help the number four seed come Wildcard Weekend.
4. Pittsburgh really, really needed that win over NewEngland
Why? Because if they didn’t, they would have gone from division leader to life support. Baltimore is right on their heels, and they aren’t slowing down. Pittsburgh has scuffled the past few weeks and gave everything they had to beat a shell-shocked Patriots squad that looked out of sync. The normally steady Patriots struggled for the first time all season with penalties, racking up fourteen yellow flags, including some dismal false starts that factored into a stalled final drive. It’s a good thing Pittsburgh overcame the loss of running back James Conners, because a loss on Sunday could have dropped them out of the playoffs entirely. They’ve also struggled against Tom Brady and the Patriots for so long that it borders on a complex. They’re a perpetual contender, but a loss to the Patriots that knocked them out of contention this week might have signaled the need for larger changes.
5. Running the ball still matters 2.0
As the weather turns colder, even the league’s most aggressive offenses are starting to think about balance the way kindergarteners think about presents. The Chiefs might be an exception, as they lost their primary ball carrier late in the season, but everywhere else, the ground game is heating up. Proof, you say? Sure. Only Jared Goff and Philip Rivers threw for over 300 yards in week 15. Goff and the Rams fell to the Eagles. Only Rivers threw for 300+ yards and won. How many 100-yard rushers did we see this week? Ten. How many of those hundred-yard rushers won in week fifteen? Eight.
6. Cleveland is officially mediocre (that’s a compliment)
I know that their playoff hopes aren’t good. But it’s almost Christmas and the Browns haven’t been eliminated. This weekend, they beat a Broncos team that’s proved troublesome all season to improve to 6 7-1. It’s the first time that the Browns have beaten the Broncos since the first Bush administration. We can say, unequivocally, that the Browns are on the right track. They don’t appear to have whiffed horribly on any of their four picks in the first two rounds of the draft. Gregg Williams appears to have a steady hand on the reins. Can they contend for the AFC North next year?
7. San Francisco is going to be good next year
In the Bay Area, talk radio is ablaze with scorching cold takes about how the Niners should have tanked out entirely in an attempt to snatch the first overall pick. That’s nonsense. At 4-10, only Arizona and Oakland are likely to pick before them anyway…maybe the Jags. In any case, they have their starting quarterback in Jimmy G and a young talented roster, they are looking for the right complementary pieces, not a blockbuster. Based on what I’ve seen, they’re likely to get there. That win in Seattle, with third stringer Nick Mullens under center is proof positive of a team on the rise. Does anybody want to bet me that Mullens becomes the subject of some exciting offseason trade rumors?
8. Philly might be…better…without Carson Wentz?
I don’t know how to put this any plainer. Nick Foles is just somehow magic for these Eagles. Wendell Smallwood had a career night running against a very stout Rams defense. The Eagles are still in the hunt after humbling the Rams with consecutive losses for the first time under Sean McVay. I’m not sure if the Eagles can sneak in without a little help, but if they do, a part of me thinks it’s going to be an interesting run for the most accomplished backup QB in history.
9. The Patriots are just a bunch of jangled nerves
There’s a lot to unpack after the Patriots back to back losses against the Dolphins (who are Brady’s nightmare fuel) and the Steelers (who have generally been incapable of solving the Belichick mystery). For what it’s worth, here’s my two cents. It was a rough, stressful week after that horrific collapse in the final seconds of the Miami game. The stress was through the roof, and for once, it showed. They know this might be the last rodeo for number 12, and until two weeks ago, it was more or less going exactly to plan. Now it’s not, and we’re going to have to see what they’re made of over the final two weeks and a potential wildcard weekend game. They’ll need to do it without Josh Gordon, who parted with the team just before news broke of a suspension. It’s not the sort of season that screams Super Bowl, but it’s Tom Brady. It’s Bill Belichick. Anything can happen.
10. The Ravens are running over everyone
With Pittsburgh’s win over New England, the Ravens remain a half game back for the AFC North crown, but the Ravens look like they’re peaking at the right time. Lamar Jackson is (rightfully) terrifying defenses and Gus Edwards has proven to be the real deal. They’re second in the league running the ball, averaging a whopping 141 YPG on the ground, but it’s almost impossible to tell which direction they’re headed. Lamar Jackson and Edwards are ranked 28 th and 29 th respectively in rushing yards, with only 15 yards separating the QB/RB tandem. Defensively, the Ravens allow the fewest yards and points in the league and they aren’t exactly nice about it. I don’t think it matters if they end up as a wild card or the AFC North champs, Baltimore is going to be a tough, tough team to beat in January.
Image Source: USA Today