The thing about going into week 16 with so few playoff spots already settled is that the weekend will be smashingly decisive. And it certainly was. The Thursday night game between the Giants and Eagles locked Dallas into the number one seed of the NFC and the NFC East championship, without the Cowboys playing a snap. Saturday locked up Houston, Kansas City and Atlanta. Sunday gives us the Steelers as AFC North Champs and Miami as a wildcard seed. The AFC is set, save for seeding, and the NFC has one spot up for grabs. This was a big, YUGE, weekend for the NFL.
Still, NFL viewership is down. The reasons are many and I will attempt to write a post about that very thing sometime soon. One thing that doesn't help is ownership firing coaches early, before the season is done. Face it, no one likes Black Monday. Not coaches, not players, not fans. But like all traditions of train wreck, it is something we look forward to. It is a painful form of catharsis, an admission that a team, our team, is not good and someone must be held accountable. It's a New Year's tradition of beginning for fans and players, out with the old and in with the new. This year, three head coaches have been fired already before the last game is played. Jeff Fisher was gone 3 weeks ago, after getting a contract extension preseason. Gus Bradley was booted from Jacksonville last week, and now Rex (and Rob) Ryan have left the Bills to rebuild from ashes. At no point would I suggest that these firings were unwarranted. But the owners do the league no favors with these actions. Interim coaches almost always do well in the shortest term. Yet only occasionally do they get the head gig next year, and when they do they rarely succeed. It only offers false hope to fans and usually accentuates the disappointment. Owners firing coaches before Black Monday is not a clean break from past failure. It's often someone grabbing the tiller in pure panic mode and hoping to impress to get the big chair, when the problem is usually the GM who had conflict with the outgoing patsy and admits little fault in sub-par talent. Seriously, fans don't find this fun, and when owners fire head coaches early, they are often saying that they don't give a shit about the fans. They only want another W in the column.
Black Monday this year will bring few surprises and interest fans hardly at all. Mike McCoy will be gone from the Chargers. Chip Kelly MIGHT be out at San Francisco, though not likely. John Fox might petulantly be burned in Chicago. What I would like to see is McCoy rejoin Fox and rebuild the Bears. I would like to see Gary Kubiak 'retired' from Denver and Kyle Shanahan as the new head coach. I would love to see Josh McDaniels go to Jacksonville so that 'the Quarterback Whisperer' can prove himself a laughingstock down in Florida. No one really knows what will happen on Monday the 2nd of 2017, but it won't be surprising or likely all that much fun. It's the league's loss.
There are no more Thursday contests, so Sunday is for real.
Baltimore (8-7) at Cincinnati (5-9-1) - Ravens (19-27, Bengals)
No playoff implications here for two playoff perennials. Always a nasty game, and I'd like to see Cincy pull out the win. But they are a bit too banged up. The real question here is how many ejections we might see.
Recap: I have never, EVER, seen the Ravens play so lackluster and disinterested game against a divisional opponent.
Houston (9-6) at Tennessee (8-7) - Texans (17-24, Titans)
Houston is locked in at the 4 Seed, so they don't have a great deal to play for, or with. Backup quarterbacks on both sides. Still, Houston will want momentum staring down the barrel of the Chiefs next week.
Recap: Tennessee was so close to a playoff birth and yet so very far. I'm going out on a limb and suggest way too early that unless Josh McDaniels is coaching in Indianapolis next year, the Titans will win the AFC South. As for the Texans, they dodged a bullet. Instead of KC in the wildcard round, they face Oakland with likely a third string QB under center. Even then, they don't look good to win it.
Carolina (6-9) at Tampa Bay (8-7) - Buccaneers (16-17, Bucs)
Tampa has everything to play for with the faint hope of a playoff spot. The Panthers, on the other hand, face the very real possibility of their coach being hired away from them, and a petulant team dynamic. Oh, and Tampa has home field.
Recap: A lot closer than I expected it to be. As it happens, the Bucs were eliminated from playoff contention halfway through the 4th quarter, but still played with heart. After all the talk of a Carolina dynasty last year, one of these two teams is rising and the other is the Panthers.
Cleveland (1-14) at Pittsburgh (10-5) - Steelers (24-27 OT, Steelers
Pittsburgh is also locked in at the 3 seed and may rest starters. But this team will not be embarrassed in front of the home crowd by the Browns. Terry Bradshaw saw to that by questioning the ability of Mike Tomlin.
Recap: This played out pretty much how I thought it would. No Big Ben, no Bell, no Brown. Still the Steelers got it done in overtime, having scored 21 straight points to overcome a 14-0 deficit. Still, to all the fans who roll their eyes at the Browns and chuckle 'first pick, yuck yuck', this is team that didn't just cave to the vaunted Steelers, but came damned close to beating them. They sit on a ton of draft-picks, trade fodder, cap space, and a Coach committed to building a quality program from the ground up. Roeslithsberger isn't getting any younger, the spirit seems gone from Baltimore without Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and a retiring Steve Smith, and the ice gets thinner under Marvin Lewis in Cincy all the time. 3 years from now, it may be Cleveland laughing at the rest of us.
Dallas (13-2) at Philadelphia (6-9) - Cowboys (13-27, Eagles)
Even if Dallas rests some starters, does anybody truly believe that Tony Romo is that big a step down from Dak Prescott?
Recap: I have to admit, I thought Romo would play more than a series. And that's the story of this game. Jerry Jones put in Romo only to prove that he is the most elite trade bait dangling out there in the off-season. Will Elway bite? Will the Browns? Say tuned, campers.
Buffalo (7-8) at New York Jets (4-11) - Bills (10-30, J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets!)
Interim coach tries to impress and likely succeeds. Let's not kid ourselves that starting E.J. Manuel over Tyrod Taylor is anything but a head office call. Manuel could be the difference in this game, for the Jets. He is still too raw and inconsistent. And Todd Bowles might be fighting for his job. Still, Buffalo has the talent, and New York doesn't seem to.
Recap: This game goes down, in my mind, as "How to piss off football fans, 101". Manuel is not ready. He may never be ready. The decision to put him in over Taylor was a business attempt to get value out of a stupid administrative move. This is what it says to fans: "We at the head office know more than you do and our decisions will work because we made them! And they don't, we'll make the same bad decisions again until you admit we know more than you." For crying out loud, Cardale Jones looked better than Manual and he's started played in like or 7 collegiate and pro games combined. Just as I said, that administrative incompetence via Manual handed the game to the Jets. Replacing Taylor was stupid, and Tyrod Taylor should be upset about it, as Bills fans should be. The only good thing about this game was that Derelle Revis got his first interception since Thanksgiving 2015.
Chicago (3-12) at Minnesota (7-8) - Vikings (10-38, Vikings)
My only real reason for this pick is home field.
Recap: The Vikings actually looked good, and proved that the NFL records can be a capricious sort. One of the very few Quarterback records not held by Manning, Brees, or Brady is the season completion percentage record. It was held by Drew Brees at 71.2%. It is now held by Sam Bradford at 71.6%. Sam Bradford. Let that sink in. Sam Bradford holds the NFL completion percentage record. The Vikings have the worst choice to make at the QB position of any team in the league. Bradford or Bridgewater? Both, and then who starts? Trade bait for one, but which one? Zimmer does not strike me as a coach who let a quarterback controversy fester, so expect interesting things come February.
Jacksonville (3-12) at Indianapolis (7-8) - Colts (20-24, Colts)
The Jaguars have shown some spunk, especially on defense. But they aren't facing the Broncos anemic offense or the talent-poor Titans (after Mariota). They face Andrew Luck, and a team that wins by outscoring opponents with Moncrief and Hilton.
Recap: But was that enough for Pagano to keep his job? Here's my first NFL conspiracy theory of the new year. Colt's owner Irsay has made rumblings about coach Pagano and his staff, but hasn't made a move yet, as of this writing. I don't think he will, because he's already chatting up Patriots owner Robert Kraft about a certain OC named McDaniels. If Irsay can get a back-room stylee deal done to bring Josh McDaniels to Indianapolis then Pagano is out. Hey, this is all just theory, because it's not like the Patriots have done the least thing dishonorable ever ...
New England (13-2) at Miami (10-5) - Hatriots (35-14, Hatriots)
Whatever. New England can't rest starters if they want that number 1 seed. Miami is locked at 6, and can't change that, headed to Pittsburgh next week. I expect that Miami will be more cautious then Darth Belichick.
Recap: I really have next to nothing to say about this game, save that I will root for anyone against the Hatriots moving forward. If you wnat to know what folks hate about the NFL? Look to New England. The Raiders were/are hated, but they worked for it, they basked in it, provoked it and adored national revulsion. The Hatriots? Look to their behavior on the field. They think themselves above reproach, worthy of adulation, the very best that people should worship and adore.
Kansas City (11-4) at San Diego (5-10) - Chiefs (37-27, Chiefs)
KC can still take the number 2 seed and the AFC west with help from Denver. That's ironic. Expect the Chiefs to be playing lights-out football. Andy Reid likely wants a do over for that Foxborough death march fiasco of last year.
Recap: I feel sorry for McCoy, burnt by injury and poor circumstance. I feel sorry for Phillip Rivers, burnt by injury and poor circumstance. I feel sorry for fans watching interception after interception and being told that somehow injury and poor circumstance explain why the Chiefs just pounded the Chargers to go 6-0 in the AFC West.
Arizona (6-8-1) at Los Angeles (4-11) - Cardinals (44-6, Cardinals)
Arizona has been playing tough football, even in their losses. If one looks objectively at the Rams, it should be a surprise that they even won 4 games this year.
Recap: Oh My Dog, was that an ass-kicking! Not much more to say at all.
Oakland (12-3) at Denver (8-7) - Broncos (6-24, Broncos)
With McGloin under center, fans should expect to see a ton of Latavius Murray. The Broncos certainly will. COTY candidate Del Rio will likely know that and throw some wrinkles in the passing game, but the No Fly Zone hasn't gone anywhere or been diminished. All Denver has to do is score some points, but can they? That's what makes this game intriguing.
Recap: The word had already been spread that this was Kubiak's last game as the coach of the Broncos, and holy crap did they respond. This was not a defeat for the Raiders, this was an absolute smash-mouth crush-yo-ass beat-down. McGloin got pulverized and Cook didn't fare much better. The Broncos held nothing back, and game Coach Kubiak the send off he deserved. If only, if only, Denver had played with such intensity twice more this year, they would not have couch-row seats to the playoffs. As for the Raiders, they should be terrified of the position that the last two weeks have left them in going into playoff contention.
New York Football Giants (10-5) at Washington (8-6-1) - Taterskins (19-10, Giants)
Eli Manning just hasn't looked like himself recently. If this game were in Jersey, I would likely pick the G-Men. But it's not.
Recap: Damn, that New York defense looks strong. Washington had a chance to take the lasy playoff spot in the NFC for themselves, and gave it up, badly. Still, this is not 2011. The G-Men look strong on D, but have problems with that offense.
Seattle (9-5-1) at San Francisco (2-13) - Seahawks (25-23, Seahawks)
Carroll gets his guys ready to play and few things do they love more than devouring the 'Niners in California.
Recap: Chip Kelly go bye-bye. I still think he had it right and the head office had it wrong. Kaepernick was and remains a better starting option than Blaine Gabbert 100 times out of 100.
New Orleans (7-8) at Atlanta (10-5) - Falcons (32-38, Falcons)
If there is a better team at scoring in the NFC, I ain't seen it. You haven't either. Matt Ryan is the clear MVP of the league, unless he drops an egg against Brees and the Saints. If, and it's a big if, the Falcons can find a way to beat the Cowboys in the Taj MaJones, I think they can actually win the Sooper Dooper Bowl, even against Brady and Belichick.
Recap: Brees is good. He is real good, and I am convinced that Michael Thomas should be Rookie of the Year. He won't be due to the sad coincidence of competing with Ezekial Elliot, but still. The Falcons win the 2 seed in the NFC and they deserve it by far. They look like the toughest team to beat in the National, even with Seattle, Green Bay and Dallas.
Green Bay (9-6) at Detroit (9-6) - Packers (31-24, Packers)
As much as I would love, LOVE, to see the Lions in the playoffs, I think Aaron Rodgers has found his groove. The Pack defense still has problems but that doesn't matter when Rodgers and the offense can score at will. IF Tampa beats Carolina and this game goes as I think, then the Lions will get a couch row seat to the playoffs.
Recap: Hurray Lions! Even though they had nothing to do with their playoff birth. Rodgers is on a Dogdamned tear, throwing touchdown passes at will. Stafford doesn't look much worse, but will face huge challenge flying across the country to Seattle. In short, this is the kind of game I love the NFL for.
Last Week's Score: 10 - 6, 63% Overall: 152 - 88, 63%