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What We Learned From Week 14 in the NFL

Pack is back, Miami in trouble without Tannehill, and much more….

Miami Dolphins center Anthony Steen (left) checks on the condition Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (right) during the second half against Arizona Cardinals at Hard Rock Stadium. (Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

Miami Dolphins center Anthony Steen (left) checks on the condition Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (right) during the second half against Arizona Cardinals at Hard Rock Stadium. (Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

 

Week 14 of the NFL is in the books. Late December just seems to bless us all with great football and tight playoff races. This year is no different, but I did learn a few things observing all 32 teams in action. I would love to say I am always right, but then this would not be fun to talk about. After all, aren’t you supposed to learn something new every day? Now, onto my observations…

The Packers and Aaron Rodgers are fine…and that’s scary

Let me steal a line from Rodgers himself: “R-E-L-A-X, Relax.” Green Bay walloped Seattle in Lambeau on Sunday 38-10. Rodgers looked like his typical, future Hall of Fame self, going 18 of 23 for 246 yards and three TD in a game that was over before the 4th quarter. That’s three wins in a row for the cheese-heads to improve to 7-6 and while they still trail Detroit by two games for the NFC North lead and one game behind Tampa Bay for the final wild card spot, the Packers are certainly capable of finishing 10-6. With Aaron Rodgers once again playing at a high level and a suddenly reinvigorated defense after forcing five interceptions from Russell Wilson, the Packers look dangerous heading towards January.

Seattle. Woof. I had a feeling they would have a tough time going to Green Bay and pulling out a victory. The defense is easily hurting with the loss of All-Pro safety Earl Thomas and it showed Sunday. I still trust Seattle at home in the postseason and there should not be any difficulty winning their division and securing at least one home game in the postseason.

The Giants boast arguably the best defense in the NFC

I like old school football. Low scoring, hard hitting, with one big offensive play to make the difference. That’s exactly what the doctor ordered as Odell Beckham Jr. took a 61 yard catch and run to the house. The story was the defense however and that’s what has carried Giants teams of the past to Super Bowl titles. Dak Prescott was limited to 165 yards on 17 of 37 throwing and even though Ezekiel Elliott gained 107 yards off of 24 carries, he was kept out of the end zone and limited on his big play potential. That’s a season sweep of Dallas and the Giants still have an outside shot at the NFC East crown. While that may be out of reach, the Giants are a week away from clinching a playoff berth. When those high priced free agents like Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins are sacking the quarterback and corralling athletic interceptions, the Giants are getting hot at just the right time.

I still believe Dak Prescott is good but not great yet

Prescott has exceeded expectations this year by a lot; that is no secret. But people fail to remember this kid is a rookie. I understand Dallas has Super Bowl aspirations and is currently in line for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, but no rookie quarterback has EVER won the Super Bowl. Give this kid time and he’ll develop into a top tier quarterback, the potential is there.

I also understand Dallas has only lost to divisional rival New York but looking at Prescott’s last 3 games, the numbers are not jumping off the stat sheet. 499 yards, three TD, and two INT, both which ultimately cost the Cowboys a win over the Giants, are just not “blow me away” stats. When he is surrounded by the best offensive line in football, arguably a top 2 RB in Elliot and a pass catching trio of Dez Bryant, future hall of fame tight end Jason Witten, and emerging slot man Cole Beasley, there should be more than 15 and 7 points scored in the last two games. Dak is good and I always believed he would be a pretty decent QB in this league, but let’s hold off the gold jacket ceremony.

The Cowboys should be viewed as the favorite in the NFC, but aside from last night, their defense has been masked by an extremely efficient and ball controlling offense that could be exposed against a more experienced team come January.

The Rams continue to be an incompetent franchise

So Jeff Fisher was fired on Monday, just weeks after signing a contract extension. Fisher famously said during HBO’s “Hard Knocks” that he was not going 7-9 again. Well, if you add a few explicit words, he said that. In any case, he is right because the Rams currently sit at 4-9 and Fisher won’t get a chance to coach another game this season, so congratulations Jeff, you did not go 7-9. Since the early days of the Kurt Warner and a Super Bowl title over, hey, how about that, Jeff Fisher and the Titans, the Rams have been the poster child of mediocrity. It also didn’t help that they are now under pressure to bring in talent and star power considering this is their first year back in Los Angeles after their stint in St. Louis. The Rams have not been better than 8-8 since 2003 when they finished 12-4. Better hope the next coach can help out with the offense with potential stars in quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley.

If Tampa Bay makes the playoffs, do NOT underestimate them

Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota? At this point you could take either. Both quarterbacks have taken huge leaps in year two in the NFL. While Winston played game manager in a defensive battle against the Saints, the Bucs pulled out a 16-11 victory to move to 8-5. There is just something about Winston. He has already thrown for more TD’s (23) then he did as a rookie (22) but the interceptions are relatively the same, (12 this season, 15 last season) however eight of Winston’s INT’s in 2016 came in the first four games. Safe to say, 15 TD and four INT and going 7-2 in the last nine games is pretty good for an offense that features only one game breaking wide receiver in Mike Evans.

The last 4 games are telling as well for the Bucs. Beating top tier teams in Kansas City and Seattle, the Chiefs on the road, while holding them to 22 points combined shows the Tampa defense is doing something right. At the moment, Tampa Bay would be on the road against Seattle in the wild card round. Having beaten them before, they could certainly do it again. With the possibility to also play Detroit on the road or Atlanta, the Bucs seem to match up. Oh and they are also tied for the division lead with Atlanta anyway. I certainly wouldn’t want to play a young and hungry Tampa team on the road in the playoffs. There’s something special brewing in South Florida.

Tennessee is the best in the AFC South

Jacksonville has been a large disappointment, the Colts have failed time and time again to surround Andrew Luck with talent and more importantly, blocking, and Houston is paying 72 million dollars to Brock Osweiler. The Titans, led by second year QB Marcus Mariota, have been a pleasant surprise this season now sitting at 7-6 with Sunday’s win over Denver. The Titans still trail Denver by a game for the final wild card spot, but in the always-weak AFC South, Tennessee is the best team, BY FAR. Even sporting the same record as Houston, give me the Titans with a hot QB, a dual threat running game featuring Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry, and a young but talented defense. Houston has wasted a boatload of money on Osweiler as he sports a line of 2,656 yards, 14 TD, and 14 INT, completing just a hair under 60% of his passes. Yeah, give me Tennessee. Also, on the off chance we see yet another Kansas at Houston wild card playoff game, I plea to the football gods to prevent that from happening. With that said…

Tom Brady should be the MVP

What a performance on Monday night. Brady tossed for 406 yards on 25 of 38 passing with three TD, which basically made fans forget about his red zone interception in the first half. Baltimore came in with a hot defense and a chance to tie Pittsburgh for the division lead, but the 39 year old Brady just seems to get younger everyday. I get the Patriots were 3-1 without him, but this man is a game changer and can singlehandedly will his team to a victory with some clutch throws. That was on display Monday night when he hit Chris Hogan in stride for a 79 yard score that essentially ended the game. At this rate, the road to Houston will go through Foxborough in the AFC playoffs.

Miami is finished without Ryan Tannehill

What a shame. Honestly, it upsets me to see Tannehill get hurt this late in the best season of his career. Rookie Head Coach Adam Gase has done wonders with the 5th year man out of Texas A&M but losing Tannehill significantly hurts Miami’s playoff chances. He was building a nice rapport with WR’s Jarvis Landry, Davante Parker and Kenny Stills while riding the hot streak of RB Jay Ajayi. The good news however, Tannehill, the day after the game was diagnosed with a sprain in his ACL and MCL. Depending upon the severity and how fast he can heal, he is still likely to be out the rest of the regular season and would probably not return until the Divisional round of the playoffs, and that is only if the Dolphins are playing that deep into the postseason.

Since starting 1-4, the Dolphins were the hottest team in the NFL as they now stand at 8-5 just outside the final wild card spot owned by Denver, also 8-5. Matt Moore will step in and play his first meaningful snaps since he last started a game for Miami in 2011. While he played decently well, that was 5 years ago and he has ridden the bench since Tannehill was drafted and has only appeared in six games with no starts since 2012. I just don’t trust him to win at least 2 games to give the Dolphins a shot at the postseason at 10-6.

Wrap Up

Yeah, the NFL is wide open at this point. Aside from New England, there is no runaway team. Even the Patriots have their flaws with the lack of Rob Gronkowski and the health of Martellus Bennett still in flux. The final three weeks are primed to be exciting, as teams will inch closer to punching their ticket to the playoffs. And for you Eagles fans out there, there is still a mathematical chance they make the playoffs! “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

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