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What we learned around the NFL: Week 15 Edition

Marcus Mariota and the Titans are eyeing the NFL Playoffs. (Charlie Riedel, AP)

Marcus Mariota and the Titans are eyeing the NFL Playoffs. (Charlie Riedel, AP)

 

With just two weeks remaining, teams are starting to secure their spots in the NFL playoffs.

A few more teams clinched this past weekend while others saw their postseason dreams dwindle to mathematical possibilities. There were also some thrilling finishes to some games that just add to the “playoffs before the playoffs.”

Now, onto my observations…

The Giants just proved their defense could be carrying them to a Super Bowl

Last week was an argument. This week it’s true. The New York Giants defeated the Detroit Lions 17-6 behind yet another stellar defensive performance. This was without Jason Pierre-Paul, who is lost for the season, as well. Matthew Stafford has been able to generate eight 4th quarter comebacks this season, but would find no luck against Big Blue. New York, sitting at 10-4, is looking right towards the postseason but have not yet clinched. A win at Philadelphia on Thursday night will get them to the postseason for the first time since 2011, when, you guessed it, they won the Super Bowl.

Tennessee just put themselves in tremendous position

Going on the road to face the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead is no easy task. Trailing 17-7, QB Marcus Mariota engineered a comeback that got the Tennessee Titans within one point of the lead. Head Coach Mike Mularkey elected to go for two, which failed in epic proportions. Yet somehow, an ever improving defense led by veteran and former Steelers defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau halted the Andy Reid’s offense and got the ball back. Mariota led the offense down the field once again and it was all set for Ryan Succop, the veteran kicker who was once drafted by Kansas City. Succop proceeded to miss the first kick but was saved by a timeout called by Reid in an attempt to “ice” him, in frigid temperatures no less. The second attempt was booted perfectly and just cleared the crossbar. 19-17, Tennessee wins.

Now at 8-6, the Titans are tied with struggling Houston, who finally benched Brock Osweiler in favor of former Rutgers QB Tom Savage (we’ll get to that later). If Tennessee beats Jacksonville in week 16 and defeats Houston in the finale, they’ll be crowned division champs and be in the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Yes, the Titans and playoffs will be in the same sentence.

Baltimore and Pittsburgh are set up for epic showdown

Perhaps the best rivalry in football, Pittsburgh comes in at 9-5 with Baltimore at 8-6 looking for the season sweep. The Steelers will either win the division this weekend or the results will be delayed until week 17. Pittsburgh might not want to leave this one to chance, so they should make it easy on themselves and get the win at home over their hated rival. There will be more on this game next week. Let’s just enjoy it as our nice Christmas present.

Maybe the Dolphins do Make the Playoffs

It’s only been one week, but I was wrong about Miami and Matt Moore. Also, it was the Jets, but hey, a dominating divisional victory on the road has to count for something when you do it with your backup quarterback.

Moore tossed four touchdowns in his first start since 2011 and looked nearly flawless. For Dolphins fans, they better hope they can ride the momentum into the Wild Card round where things might get interesting if they should try to get Tannehill back into the starting role or ride a hot Matt Moore. With Buffalo and a possible game against New England’s backups in week 17, 11-5 could be in the realm of possibility for Miami.

Dak was never getting benched. 

I may have claimed last week that Dak Prescott is good but not great yet and I stand by that. The man is a rookie, helped immensely by the best offensive line in football, currently one of the best running backs in football, who is also a rookie, and top play makers to receive the ball. Will Prescott be great? I think there is a good chance considering I was high on him coming out of college and he has shades of Donovan McNabb in him. Poised, confident, delivers a nice ball, a and also runs when he needs to. While Prescott doesn’t have the deep ball of McNabb that can easily be developed.

Now, about this quarterback controversy. There wasn’t one. When you lead a team to a 12-2 record, playing at a high level most of the season, there is no reason to pull the quarterback making it happen. To pull a line from Colin Cowherd, the Cowboys have already made their bed with Prescott and cannot go back to Tony Romo. Romo will only see the field in case of an injury. His time in Dallas is done. Prescott is the future of the Cowboys and pairing him with rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot makes Dallas contenders for years to come.

Speaking of benching QB’s…

Going 6-11 for 48 yards and two interceptions is atrocious, considering Osweiler was playing a disappointing and horrendous Jacksonville team. Savage came in and…well…salvaged the day if you would (you see what I tried to do there?). Four years, 72 million dollars. Gee, I wish I could get paid that for writing this column. But that’s what the Brock-star will be getting paid to sit the bench the rest of the season. Savage was named the starter for week 16 and if Houston has any chance of making the playoffs and hanging onto the division title, Osweiler should continue to ride the pine for the remainder of that contract.

Oh how the Mighty have Fallen

Philadelphia and Minnesota seemed to be the class of the NFC earlier this season. What a time that was. Both teams stormed to 3-0 and 5-0 starts, respectively and did face each other in Philadelphia with the Eagles winning 21-10.

Since the Eagles 3-0 start, they have lost nine of 11 and will have their second straight losing season. Philadelphia was still in decent wild card position at 5-4 but have lost five straight. Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz has all the tools and has shown flashes of greatness, but not even he, in his first year out of the FCS level of college no less, can save the mess that is the Eagles offense. An offense that has no receiver that could be better than a No. 3 on any other team aside from Jordan Matthews and with a running game featuring the oft injured Ryan Mathews and having to rely on an aging Darren Sproles and rookie Wendall Smallwood; its not a recipe for success. I have no doubt better days are ahead for the Eagles, but they’ll have to surround Wentz with some talent and hope rookie Head Coach Doug Pederson can improve his in game decision making.

As far as the Vikings, they were 5-0, and now sit at 7-7 needing to win out and a lot of help to make the postseason as a wild card. It hurts when the defense was Super Bowl caliber to start the season but has since faltered due to the ineptitude of the offense. It’s not the Vikings fault. Losing starting QB Teddy Bridgewater to a devastating knee injury that could keep him out for some time in 2017 as well, losing Adrian Peterson for nearly the entire season during week 2 (but him being a medical freak, he returned from a torn ACL in week 15), and having the offensive line decimated by injury; everything that could go wrong, went wrong for the Vikings. They took a chance though. They traded their first round draft choice to Philadelphia in exchange for Sam Bradford, an average QB at best but former No. 1 overall pick, to salvage the season. Essentially, Bradford is the same dink and dunk intermediate passer as Bridgewater, just less mobile. It seemed to be working out until the injury bug came and the rest of the league caught up to Minnesota. Like Philadelphia, the Vikings have a ton of talent on defense and loads of potential. Might just have to wait until next year however.

Patriots reign supreme and Denver could be missing out 

Tom Brady usually struggles in Denver and Sunday was no exception. But with great defense, comes a great win. On the road, the defending champs have owned Brady in the Mile High City. Didn’t happen this time. The Patriots are 1 game ahead of Oakland for the top spot in the AFC. All roads to Houston will eventually have to go through Foxborough in order to have a chance to play for the Lombardi.

Denver meanwhile is now a game out of a spot behind Miami and currently behind in tiebreakers with Baltimore. The Broncos still have a rough schedule as they are at Kansas City and host Oakland. The super bowl hangover could be very real for a Broncos team sorely lacking in the offense department. Even an injured Peyton Manning in his final season was able to do enough with his brain and weakening arm to keep Denver afloat while the defense took over. Unfortunately, this is not last years historic defense.

The Race for the Final Wild Card Spot in the NFC East will be Interesting 

All the Giants needed was a win and losses by Washington, Green Bay and Minnesota to clinch this past weekend. Only Green Bay won.

With New York holding a firm grip on one of the two spots, the final spot is totally up for grabs. Even 6-8 Carolina and New Orleans are still alive but realistically they won’t be making the postseason. Let’s say the Giants are in. This leaves these teams alive:

Tampa Bay (8-6 currently 6th and final spot)

Green Bay (8-6)

Washington (7-6-1)

Minnesota (7-7)

The Vikings are done if they lose this weekend at Green Bay but can hold the tiebreaker over the Packers by winning and earning the season sweep. They’ll still need Tampa to lose out and Washington to lose one more game, but stranger things have happened. Washington can now likely only get in with two wins and Green Bay and Tampa Bay losing one each. Based on tiebreakers, Tampa Bay now controls their own destiny. Green Bay’s likeliest path to the playoffs is probably the division but a wild card is still a possibility if they finish with a better record than Tampa Bay (obviously) because of tiebreakers.

The possibilities are endless and make the fan inside me extremely excited for the end of the regular season.

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Nick is an NFL Analyst at DoubleGSports.com as well as the Philadelphia Soul Beat Writer.
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