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 14
1. OBJ wants out
“It’s not me. It’s you.” This might be the single most predictable player-team breakup in history. Beckham has a hard time hiding his feelings, and his feelings, as a less-than-significant part of this 6-7 Browns offense are…bad. Beckham ranks twenty-fifth overall in receiving yards, and has only two TDs to his name, good for… (looks through pages of receiver stats confusedly) ninety-eighth in the league. Beckham is on pace for the worst statistical season of his career, and it isn’t close. In 2017 he scored three TDs in four games before losing the rest of the season to injury. While it’s probably on brand for the Browns to keep a disgruntled superstar on the payroll, I expect big changes in Cleveland this offseason. Beckham will be one of them. That can happen when you tell opposing players and coaches to “Come and get me.”
2. New England’s offense isn’t ready for the playoffs
New England can’t win the AFC with this offense, much less the Super Bowl. You can say what you want about Brady and company getting robbed by the zebras, (they sort of did), but this was a Chiefs team that’s really, really bad on defense, especially against the run. I’ve mentioned that Josh McDanielsreally, really needs to balance this offense for Brady to operate at his age, but New England is averagingover 60% passing plays this season. For some reason, against a bad Chiefs rush defense, that number jumped up to 65% as Sony Michel was contained in the early going. For the second straight week, New England mounted a furious fourth quarter comeback that fell short. You don’t have to be a genius to see that Brady is compromised to some extent, and the lack of firepower around him is taking its toll. If they can’t find a consistent rhythm apart from Julian Edelman, it’s going to be a uncharacteristically short postseason for the GOAT.
3. The NFC East is really, really bad
I think that anytime it’s week fifteen in the NFL season and a whole division is under .500, it’s safe to assume that there’s nothing good happening. But the NFC East is a special kind of bad. The Cowboys and Eagles lead the pack at 6-7. Dallas has fallen off of a cliff, losing three straight, while Philly, who has the clearest path to a division title needed overtime…I repeat, overtime to beat the 2-11 Giants who have lost nine straight AND were playing without their starting quarterback. As a division, they boast a staggering -174 point differential and .333 winning percentage. There’s a very real chance that a sub .500 team from this division will host a playoff game against a twelve-game winning wildcard team. If that’s not enough to make you want to reconfigure the playoffs, I don’t know what will.
4. The Texans need to find some rhythm, and fast
More than any team I’ve ever seen, the Texans offensive philosophy seems to be “The QB will figure something out…”. Deshaun Watson has performed admirably in spurts this season. He took down the Patriots and had the Texans looking like a solid lock in the AFC South, but they stubbed their toe in a blowout loss to the Broncos on Sunday. Drew Lock carved up the Texans for 309 yards and three TDs,rookie tight end Noah Fant had his coming out party, catching four passes for 113 yards and a TD on four targets. The 8-5 Texans still hold the divisional lead and the fourth seed but will need to play the Titans twice in the final three games to determine the divisional champ. The loser is likely to miss the playoffs altogether.
5. San Francisco-New Orleans showed us the big guns
San Francisco has looked exceptional all season long, especially on defense. They trail only New England in most important defensive statistical categories, but Sunday’s tilt against the Saints was a different type of matchup. San Francisco came out on top with a last second field goal by Robbie Gould, but this was NOT a typical Niners performance. The Niners allowed Drew Brees a monster night, as he threw for 349 yards and five, count them, five TDs. The Saints scored a crazy forty-six points, the most of any opponent all season, and they lost. These two are the juggernauts of the NFC, and I am amped to see them in the playoffs with everything on the line.
6. The Ravens are holding their breath
Short weeks are never good. But the prep for a Thursday night game is so condensed, it’s hard to imagine being able to actually prepare a game plan and settle in. Now imagine doing that with your primary offensive weapon watching from the sideline. That’s the scene in Baltimore as the Ravens prepare for a TNF tilt against the Jekyll and Hyde Jets. Lamar Jackson is listed as “questionable” after he sustained a quad injury in week fourteen. Jackson has said that the leg is feeling better and he expects to play, but the brass can’t love the idea of putting the future of their franchise on the line at 75% on short rest. Since the Ravens effectively have a two-game lead on New England due to the head to head result, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some limits on Jackson on Thursday night.
7. Chicago is creeping back towards relevance
No. They won’t make the playoffs. Currently in third in the NFC North with three weeks to play, the Bears just have too far to go. But the Bears have won three straight including a solid win over the NFC East leading Cowboys. That defense is still good, and Trubisky looks more like the guy we saw last season. Why does that make them relevant? Because they can completely shake up the playoff picture. They Bears play three playoff teams over the final three weeks, and they can affect playoff seeding, home games and more in that stretch. Green Bay, Kansas City and Minnesota all need to contend with this reinvigorated Bears unit down the stretch and I’m betting that the Bears pull the upset in at least one of those, if not more.
8. Ryan Tannehill is…good?
Remember when I did a whole segment on how similar Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill were from a statistical standpoint? It was eerie. But how about the former Dolphin now? The Titans are 6-1 since he took over, and back in the mix for the AFC South. Tannehill went off on Oakland this week, going for 391 yards and three TDs with an interception to post his second-highest passer rating this season (140.4). He also averaged just under five yards per attempt when he ran the ball to keep the chains moving. Not bad at all. He’s never looked this solid in orange and turquoise, but he’s also never been healthy for a full year, either. A Sunday tilt with the up and down Texans will likely decide the AFC South.
9. The Rams just own the Seahawks
The Seahawks had the inside track on the NFC West, despite the Niners white-hot start this season. But the Rams have bested Seattle in five of their last six meetings, and this week’s resounding victory by Jared Goff and company could send Seattle to the wildcard round. They now trail the Niners by a game and will very likely need to beat San Francisco again in week seventeen to avoid playing on wild card weekend…In Dallas or Philly.
10. Le’Veon Bell finds bowling very therapeutic
ICYMI, Le’Veon Bell missed some time last week due to illness, and on Saturday, the Jets ruled him out for Sunday’s game against Miami. Bilal Powell carried the rock just fine in his absence, but then the news broke that Bell was out Saturday night, bowling with friends. Yes, it was recreational and not athletically dangerous, but if you’re healthy enough to go out, you’re healthy enough to GO. Bell hasn’t found his rhythm since sitting out a year and leaving Pittsburgh, and while Adam Gase has declined to penalize Bell for the incident, this can’t sit well with team management. The optics are terrible for a New York team that expected to contend with New England this season.
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Image source: AP Images