The Buffalo Bills smothered and flustered Aaron Rodgers to his worst day in six years, likely costing the Packers the NFC’s top seed. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
The best part about the Bills dominant defense is 98% of football fans couldn’t name two players from that unit. Furthermore, the Bills are doing this without the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year runner up, Kiko Alonso. Look at Aaron Rodgers’ stat line (17/42, 185 YDS, 2 INT) and you can imagine how badly the Bills flustered Rodgers and the Packer offense. I had to go back to 2008 to even find a game where Rodgers’ QBR was lower than it was Sunday. (I actually found two.) And in those 2008 games against the Buccaneers and Vikings, Rodgers’ numbers were still better than they were Sunday. It’s possible Sunday was the worst game of Rodgers’ illustrious career. However, as great as Buffalo’s defense was, Packer receivers, most notably Jordy Nelson, contributed greatly to Green Bay’s defeat. Nelson had two of the Packers six drops, including a deep ball that surely would have been good for a touchdown. If Nelson hangs on to the ball that hit both his hands in stride like he has all season, the Packers are still atop the NFC and the Bills are making vacation plans. Instead, Green Bay will need help to climb back into a 1st round bye. For Buffalo, the road is still dark and treacherous, but at least hope remains for another week.
If you thought I was done whining and crying about the Eagles loss in Week 15 you are sadly mistaken. I can mourn for months. Let’s start with Mark Sanchez. There are so many things I have to complain about regarding Sanchez’s play Sunday. His pocket presence was horrendous, his throws inaccurate, and he looked totally overwhelmed by the intensity of the game. However, and I often forget this, Sanchez is nothing more than a backup quarterback. He’s guided the Eagles to a 4-3 record, including a split with Dallas. Do his inabilities limit the offense? Yes, and drastically, too. The offense can no longer stretch the field. Opponents bring safeties in and force Sanchez to fit the ball in tight places, which he cannot do. Sanchez is a backup quarterback. He’s played like it the last two weeks. While I want to be mad, I’m not sure it’s reasonable.
(Side note: Did you see Bob Ford’s column about Chip Kelly facing a tough decision on who to start once Nick Foles is healthy? Um, hello? What has Ford been watching? There’s absolutely no question who the starter is. Sadly, though, it will remain Sanchez for what looks like the remainder of the year as Foles’ injury is not healing fast enough.)
Needless to say, things are looking bleak for the Eagles. After watching Chicago Monday night, there’s less than a 2% chance Detroit falls to a Bears team that surrendered the season weeks ago. One win over the final two weeks clinches the Lions a Wildcard spot over the Eagles due to conference record. You can hope Green Bay, Seattle, or Detroit loses out, but that too is unlikely. The Eagles’ most realistic shot is Dallas falling to Indianapolis this week, opening the door for the Eagles to reclaim the NFC East. DeMarco Murray’s injury certainly doesn’t hurt Philly’s chances. Also, why does everyone believe the Colts have nothing to play for next week? Sure, they’re unlikely to catch New England or Denver for a top seed, but the Colts must stay a game in front of Pittsburgh to maintain the 3rd seed if Pittsburgh is able to win the AFC North. The Steelers own their own destiny, so I would think the Colts prefer the 3rd seed and Denver in the 2nd round than traveling to New England, but maybe I’m wrong.
While I’m not blaming poor officiating for the Eagles loss, the inconsistency of officiating is frustrating. Last week, officials allowed Seattle defenders to be excessively physical with Eagle receivers. I was fine with it. That’s generally how the playoffs are officiated. However, the officials in the Dallas game were on the other end of the spectrum, calling two questionable illegal contact penalties on Cary Williams. Both extended eventual scoring drives. I’m fine with the game being called either way, but call it that way. Don’t make defenders adjust the way they play to the preferred style of the officiating crew.
Also, well done, Riley Cooper. Your greatest accomplishments this season include, dropped passes, putting your nose in Jeremy Maclin’s contract situation, throwing Mark Sanchez in front of a bus, and more dropped passes. You’ve been worth every penny.
Earl Thomas is as underrated a star in the NFL as Johnny Manziel is (or I guess, was) overrated. In a league that has mostly neutered the impact of physical, havoc-wreaking safeties, Thomas continues to excel. Thomas is so good it’s painful to watch. The Eagles passed over Thomas for Brandon Graham in the 2010 draft. While Graham has been okay, Thomas is a three time All-Pro and the backbone of the league’s most dominant defense. Furthermore, Thomas reminds me of Brian Dawkins. Watch any Seahawks game and you’ll notice the first player to congratulate the offense or special teams when they exit the field is Thomas. His energy is contagious much like Dawkins’ was in the glory days. The thought of missing out on Earl Thomas taking the torch from Brian Dawkins in Eagles midnight green still haunts me, and likely always will.
That was quite the debut by Johnny Manziel. As I stated last week, I was completely intrigued by Manziel’s debut simply because I had no idea what to expect. Holy goodness, it did not disappoint. Manziel was legendarily awful. His arm was a noodle. He would throw an out route with such confidence only to look on in horror as an NFL defensive back closed in to knock the ball away or pick it off. Either Manziel is a moron or he entered Sunday with a total lack of respect for the speed of the NFL game. Defensive linemen chased down Manziel from behind. He failed to adjust to the closing speed of Cincinnati’ secondary. Manziel’s passes floated too long and lacked the zip needed in the NFL. For a player so confident he would “tear the league up,” Manziel looked closer to a player that would be out of a job in the next 12 months.
I watched too much of the Jets and Titans abomination. The comedy was endless. The teams combined for 13 punts and an 8/29 3rd down conversion rate. Why either team wanted to win that game is beyond me, but they both cared enough to come to blows at midfield. The Titans even attempted a miracle at the end and nearly pulled it off. But in classic Titans fashion, Delanie Walker ran out of bounds at the Jets’ 10 yard line with possession of the football and no time on the clock. Whoops. There was plenty more awfulness like that. Just imagine a game between teams with a combined 4-25 record, because that’s exactly how it played out. One team sucked less than the other, but only barely.
My Power Rankings after Week 15:
2. New England
3. Green Bay
The events of Week 15 dropped a bomb on the current NFC playoff seeding. Now everything is wide open and up for grabs. Green Bay could still finish with the top seed or out of the playoffs entirely. The same is true for Seattle, Dallas and Detroit. Arizona is the only sure thing, and they could finish anywhere between the 1st and 6th seed. This is exactly why the NFL should NOT do away with the division format. If the divisions were eliminated and the top six teams advance to the playoffs, we’d know the six NFC playoff teams already. Only positioning would remain. While that’s exciting, it’s not quite riveting theater, especially when you account for the intensity of the closing weeks. Instead of coaches weighing health and playoff seeds, there are five NFC contenders fighting for four playoff spots. Then there are another three teams fighting for one spot. That’s drama. There isn’t a single coach in the NFC playoff race considering rest for his players over the final weeks and that’s because the division format is in place.
The battle for the AFC North is as competitive and intense as the race for the NFC South but with good football teams.
Though no one will talk about them, I think Bill Obrien and the Texans deserve some praise for their season. No, the wins won’t overwhelm you, nor will their final place in the standings, but they’ve been undermanned and outgunned for almost the entire season. They’ve also managed to put together a .500 record without a decent quarterback. If you look at their schedule, they have only one impressive victory (Buffalo). On the other hand, Houston lost by a single score to Dallas, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis (twice). Their lone blowout loss came in Week 3 against the Giants. Good teams beat good teams. I’m not arguing the Texans deserve to be called a good team. However, teams on the rise often own a schedule similar to Houston’s. One in which they battle good teams but fall short due to a lack of talent, experience, or both. With a solid defense, a star running back and the NFL’s most disruptive defensive player in decades, the Texans can win the NFC South in 2015 if O’Brien and the front office can add some punch to the offensive side of the ball.
After the 49ers came out of the half and looked like garbage, it was obvious they would surrender their lead and eventually, the game. So while I don’t believe the call impacted the ultimate outcome, that roughing the passer call against the 49ers was as bad as it gets. I mean, how long is the NFL going to actively ruin the game? It’s absurd. Why even put a defense out there if they can’t put their hands on the opponent anymore? The horrendous call came on a failed Seattle 3rd down conversion. Instead of a field goal and a six point Seahawks lead, Seattle’s drive continued and eventually ended in a touchdown. Again, the 49er offense has been so inept that I don’t think the outcome would have changed, but the NFL needs to do something about this alarming trend where any significant hit is automatically flagged as either unnecessary roughness or a blow to the head.
Last week I believed the Lions offense had finally come around after the healthy return of Calvin Johnson. Though taking into account subpar competition, I still thought Detroit would have success against a fairly good Vikings team. I was wrong. The Lions could only scrape together 233 yards while going 2/11 on 3rd down and an alarming ¼ in the red zone. How can you fail to score a touchdown 75% of the time when Calvin Johnson is on the team? I didn’t think that was possible. Anyway, Detroit stinks. I was wrong.
MVP: Buffalo Bills Defense.
Runner Up: Tony Romo.
Not on the ballot: Johnny Manziel.