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. Kirk Cousins is, if nothing else, predictable
Remember when Kirk Cousins’ star was on the rise? When I thought he was flirting with MVP territory? When I thought I’d need to issue a mea culpa for spilling more than my fair share of ink condemning his astronomical contract with Minnesota? Well, with his ninth-consecutive loss on Monday Night Football, in a game that could have been his signature win, and bring the Vikings the NFC North crown, he laid an egg. Cousins completed just over fifty percent of his passes (16/31) for 122 yards with a TD and a pick. On the plus side, those are Tom Brady numbers. On the down side, that’s not a compliment. In the second half, with the game very much in question, the Vikings offense stalled entirely, punting four times, plus the INT and a missed attempt on fourth and fifteen when the game was already out of reach. The Packers cruised to an easy win, 23-10 to lock up the NFC North for the first time since 2016.
There are a handful of dudes in the league whose personalities generally make the game of football more fun to watch. Marshawn Lynch and his Skittles fueled downhill running are near the top of that list. With a horrific triad of injuries at running back, the cupboard was completely bare for Seattle as they contend for a title. I’m not saying that Beast Mode can carry the load like he did back in the Legion of Boom’s heyday, but he can still mow some cats over. Despite the loss to Arizona in this weekend, Seattle can still make noise in the playoffs.
3. The Ravens are coasting
With Baltimore’s 31-15 shellacking of a meltdown-mode Cleveland team (more on that in a minute), the Ravens locked up the number one seed in the AFC. It’s been a dominant stretch since their last loss, a 40-25 embarrassment at the hands of…wait for it…the Browns. As a result, Baltimore will take next week off. Well, not everyone. Just pretty much everyone you’ve heard of. Watching from the bench (at least) will be Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram, Marshall Yanda, Earl Thomas III and Brandon Williams. And that’s just for starters. By the time Santa has made his rounds there’s a chance that the Steelers will be facing a must-win scenario for their playoff lives against a team that’s resting fully a third of its starters. Seriously. I’m not saying that RGIII and company aren’t capable of taking down the Steelers, they are. But it makes this one a coin flip instead of a sure thing.
4. New England is…sorry everyone…looking better
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A Patriots team looks good but flawed for the better part of a season before rounding a corner and suddenly figuring something out just as the weather turns cold. This season, it’s been a sputtering offense that looks out of balance, with Tom Brady passing too much and pressing to hit well-covered receivers. The result was a far lower completion percentage than we’re used to for the GOAT. Well, against the league’s third-best defensive unit Brady and crew found some balance and moved the ball efficiently all day…with a huge chunk of it on the ground. Sony Michel had the kind of day we saw in the cold weather last season, with just under one hundred yards on twenty-one carries and Rex Burkhead recovered from an early fumble to go for just under one hundred all-purpose yards and a score. New England held the ball for almost forty minutes and held Buffalo to just 18% on third down conversions. The Pats became only the third team to score more than twenty points on Buffalo, the others being Baltimore and Philadelphia. Translation? Against the best defense in the AFC that isn’t their own, New England ramped it up, just like they have so many times before. They’ll close out the season at home against Miami with the chance to get a bye week. I don’t expect anyone to rest.
5. The Steelers rope might be fraying
Pittsburgh had the chance to all but lock up the second wildcard slot on Sunday, as they visited the beleaguered Jets, but after Duck Hodges threw up two ducks early that landed in Gang Green’s paws and staked New York a 10-0 lead, he got benched for former backup-come-starter Mason Rudolph, who has recovered quite nicely from his Miles Garrett induced cranial discomfort. The comeback wouldn’t last too long, though, as Rudolph’s day was ended when he was gang tackled in the third, injuring his shoulder and ending his season. So, next week, against the best team in football, the Steelers will once more turn to the Duck with a chance to play in the postseason. It looks dicey, but if they can pull this off, I seriously think we can just hand Mike Tomlin the Coach-of-the-Year award.
6. Oakland is alive
After the fan-riots that marked the end of an era for Raider fans, in the waning moments before we have to start calling them the Las Vegas Raiders, Oakland is still in the mix with one game to play. I know. I didn’t believe it either. But its actually quite simple. If Oakland, Tennessee and Pittsburgh all end up at 8-8 after week seventeen AND out of contention Indy beats out of contention Jacksonville, Oakland will be in. It’s not even that far-fetched. Oakland needs to beat Denver. That’s reasonable. Baltimore needs to beat Pittsburgh, which might be weird since Baltimore isn’t playing starters, but then again, neither is Pittsburgh. Baltimore SHOULD win. Houston needs to beat the Titans again. That can and should happen. The only real head scratcher is Indy over Jacksonville. It’d say it’s a coin flip. Maybe 60-40 Indy. I don’t hate Oakland’s chances to make the postseason here.
7. Jason Garrett is on the hot seat
You know whose chances I hate, despite still being in contention? Dallas. Specifically, I hate Jason Garrett’s chances to keep his job after losing to Philly in week sixteen to drop below .500 and hand the NFC East to the Eagles. Sure, Dallas can back into the playoffs as the division champs, but if they squeeze out the worst division in football at 8-8, do we really think Jerry Jones is looking to re-up the most mediocre coach in Dallas Cowboys history? The guy has a decade of results behind him and he’s batting .556. That’s great for baseball, but in football, it means barely making the playoffs three years out of ten, with, it should be noted, a lot of talent on the roster almost every season. It’s perpetual underperformance.
8. Cleveland’s regression is almost complete
Speaking of perpetual underperformance, how about those Browns. How many teams can add OBJ to the roster and get worse? None. The answer is none, except for Cleveland, somehow. I’m fairly certain that the Browns have got to see this season as weird kind of rock bottom. They might win seven games for the second consecutive season, but they chaos surrounding these guys is palpable. Players begging other teams to rescue them. Everyone yelling at everyone. It’s bad. And Freddie Kitchens can’t find a way to steady the ship. It’s not his fault. He was a position coach. The promotion was probably more than he was ready for, and we’re seeing the results of that here and now. Can this talented roster make waves next year? Maybe, but they’re going to need new management from the top down. I expect Kitchens won’t be the only Cleveland staffer sent packing on Black Monday.
9. We might not see Tom Coughlin for a while
After the revelations about the fine-frenzied culture in Jacksonville, you had the feeling that something was going to have to happen to change the conversation. If the word around the league is that players aren’t happy there, it could start to have an effect on their ability to draw top talent. They’ll need to bring in some bodies to get back to where they were just a few years back. Minshew-Mania might be an improvement at quarterback, but the Jags have more than just one need.
10. Chandler Jones is a beast
Four sacks. Against Russell Wilson. The guy is hard to catch and harder to tackle, getting him wrapped up and to the ground four times in a game is huge for a team, but unheard of for a solo guy. Jones now leads the league with nineteen sacks, and a repeat performance next weekend will crown him as the single season sacks record holder. He was good in New England, but he’s at a different level this season with Arizona. Whether or not Jones catches Michael Strahan, it’s an all-time great defensive season that got pretty much wasted in Arizona this year.
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