NFL Week 15 Instant Reactions

Outside of Chiefs-Saints, there really were not a ton of interesting matchups this week. This week’s schedule featured a lot of seemingly lopsided matchups, however there were a lot of interesting results.

βœ… Chiefs Down Saints 32-29

There’s a chance we see these teams play again in the Super Bowl. The Saints defense didn’t look great in the second half, and it made me think their defensive rankings might have been over-inflated by beating up on bad teams. New Orleans held up pretty well in the first half, and the score was 14-9 Chiefs at halftime. The Saints got a safety at the end of the first half that really should’ve been a touchdown. They forced a fumble on the Chiefs punt returner deep in Chiefs territory, and the ball rolled into the endzone giving the Saints an opportunity to jump on it for a TD, but their guy could not secure the ball and it ended up going out the back of the endzone for a safety. That cost the Saints 5 points. In a big game like this, that kind of stuff will kill you. The Saints did draw within 3 points with about 2 minutes to go, but nobody is ever able to stop Mahomes at the end when he’s looking to put a game away. He’s the best closer in the league.

Here are my concerns coming away from this game: the Saints allowed 179 rushing yards and only managed 60 rushing yards of their own. The Saints did hold Mahomes to 26/47 for 254 yards, although he had 3 TDs. That’s pretty good, but you cannot allow 179 rushing yards. Kansas City’s ability to run the ball enabled them to absolutely dominate time of possession. The Chiefs had the ball for over 41 minutes, while the Saints only 18:46 of possession time. Part of this was the Saints’ inability to stop KC, but the Saints offense was also just 1 of 11 on third down and only got 15 first total downs in the game. Kansas City, on the other hand, had 34 first downs and was 9 of 18 on third down. The Saints, the league’s most-penalized team, gave KC five first downs via penalty. You can’t give that team more opportunities than they already get. Cam Jordan even got ejected from the game early in the fourth quarter for throwing a punch at a Chiefs offensive lineman. I guess, the more I think about it, given the circumstances the Saints defense held up pretty well.

Additionally, the Saints were really missing Michael Thomas in that game. He’s their go-to guy on third down. Their offense was not nearly as effective as it could’ve been. Drew Brees only had a 44% completion rate, which is obviously terrible in and of itself, but even worse when you consider that Drew Brees leads the league in completion rate this year at a whopping 73.5%. In fact, Brees has the highest completion rate in NFL history. So completing 44% of his passes is very uncharacteristic of Brees. It probably had a lot to due with the fact that he’s not fully healed from breaking 11 ribs a little over a month ago.

So if there is a Chiefs-Saints rematch in the Super Bowl, I think the Saints could realistically win it as long as they’ve got Michael Thomas and a fully healthy and recovered Drew Brees.

As for the Chiefs, well, what can we say? They’ve solidified themselves as the best team in the league, as if there were still any doubters. They are now 22-1 in their past 23 games including their Super Bowl run. They’re 13-1 on the season so far and look poised to secure the top seed in the AFC. After their week 10 win over the Jets, I pointed out that the Chiefs were about to run through a brutally tough gauntlet of games: at Raiders, at Bucs, then a home game against Denver, then back on the road at Miami, and finally this week at New Orleans. Four road games against good teams (well, the Raiders used to be good) plus a division matchup against Denver. The Chiefs have won all of those games. They’re just incredible. Normal NFL teams are not supposed to win all of those games on the road. Even the Brady-Belichick Patriots at the peak of their powers would’ve probably dropped one of those games.

Mahomes looked somewhat mortal against New Orleans’ defense, sure. But you still never really felt like the Chiefs were in any real danger in that game. They jumped out to a 14-0 lead, then New Orleans pulled ahead 15-14 in the 3rd quarter. Mahomes responded by leading the Chiefs to a TD on the very next drive. Then KC expanded their lead to 29-15 in the 4th quarter. Anytime the Saints scored, the Chiefs would respond and increase their lead. Even when the Saints cut the score to 32-29 late, you just knew the Chiefs were about to put the game on ice. Had the Saints gotten a stop, they would’ve had a little bit of time left on the clock to try to mount a game-tying drive. But you just had a feeling they were not going to get the ball back. It was exactly the same situation as the Chiefs win over the Bucs: Mahomes is the best closer in the league. There is no team in the league I trust more with a late lead than the Chiefs. If they have the lead on you late and they have the ball, you are not getting the ball back. They’re going to make whatever plays they need to make to ice the game. They will keep getting first downs until they can kneel the game away.

😱 The Jets Get a Win!

The Rams were the highest-rated team in my statistical rankings and the Jets were the lowest-rated. The Rams were the biggest favorite of the day at -17.5. And the game was in LA. So of course the Jets win the game. The Rams were down 13-3 at half, fell behind 20-3 by the midway point in the third quarter, and ended up losing 23-20. This is an unacceptable loss for the Rams. Maybe they got caught snoozing, maybe they weren’t taking the Jets seriously–I don’t know. Whatever it was, it gives me serious doubts about them going forward. With that loss, they fall to second-place in the NFC West behind the Seahawks. With a win, or even just a tie, the Rams could’ve clinched a playoff spot and kept themselves in contention for the #1 overall seed in the NFC. Now they’re the #5 seed.

But beyond the playoff seeding implications, losing to the Jets just makes me lose confidence in the Rams, specifically their offense. They only managed 65 rushing yards. They were 2 of 11 on third down. It wasn’t that the Rams had a bunch of turnovers and the Jets capitalized on them. The Rams only had 1 turnover. That’s not going to kill your chances of winning. The Rams offense was just stymied by the Jets defense. They just got beat. That’s the most concerning thing about this game: it wasn’t a fluky loss.

In recent weeks I had really started to buy into the Rams based on the belief that they had an elite defense and an offense that, while not great, was at least good enough to get them to the Super Bowl. After all, with an elite defense, you do not need to be elite on offense in order to win games. You just have to be good enough. Now I’m not convinced the Rams offense is “good enough.” Now their offense is a question mark.

As for the Jets, that win may have cost them Trevor Lawrence. The Jaguars, who are also 1-13, now hold the top pick in the 2021 NFL draft with two weeks left in the NFL season. ESPN says the Jags have a 71% chance to hold on and finish with the league’s worst record. Part of me is happy that the Jets won’t be rewarded for tanking, but it’s not as if the Jags aren’t tanking, either. Neither of those teams deserve to get Trevor Lawrence. They’re both transparently tanking and a disgrace to the league.

If you’re a Jets fan, though, you’ve got to be pissed about this. Your reward for sticking through this terrible season was supposed to be Trevor Lawrence, the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck in 2012 and possibly since Peyton Manning in 1998. Now that’s looking unlikely. The whole point of going into full-on tank mode was to get Trevor Lawrence. Now the Jets look like they’re going to get the worst of both worlds. If Trevor Lawrence lives up to the hype and becomes an elite NFL QB, Jets fans are going to rue this win over the Rams on December 20, 2020 for the next 10-15 years.

This about sums it up:

😬 Wentz Done in Philly?

We all know Jalen Hurts played a great game last week as the Eagles upset the Saints. But a lot of people were still not sold on him, figuring his success could’ve been a product of the fact that opposing defenses had no tape on him. Well, it’s getting tougher and tougher to doubt Hurts now after he followed up last week’s performance with a better performance this week, albeit in a 33-26 loss to the Cardinals on the road. Hurts was 24/44 for 338 yards with 3 TDs and no INTs despite being sacked 6 times. He also had 11 runs for 63 yards and a TD. But the numbers don’t tell the full story: the guy just makes plays. He’s poised; he converts 4th downs, he can scramble. He’s just a good football player, period. And it’s an incredible story because at one point during Hurts’ college career at Alabama, he couldn’t throw the ball at all. It’s why he got benched in the national championship game for Tua. He was basically a running back playing QB. He never had that natural arm talent; he developed it. Transferring to Oklahoma and playing for Lincoln Riley was such a great decision for him.

When I watch Hurts play in the NFL, it’s still hard to believe he’s the same guy I watched play at Alabama. His arm has developed so much over the past few years. It’s really incredible. He’s out here making big-time NFL throws, too. His arm is legit.

And the Eagles just look so much more competitive and energized now with Hurts at QB. They had chances to win this game against a decent Cardinals team. While it’s only been two games, and while it’s still a bit too early to declare that Hurts is legit, it’s starting to look like Carson Wentz has lost his job for good in Philly. At the very least Hurts is making it a real debate going into next season. Think of it from the perspective of an Eagles fan: this season was going horribly until Jalen Hurts took over. The team just looks undeniably better with Hurts as the QB. Eagles fans would be rightly pissed if the team decides to go back to Wentz.

I think the Eagles are going to have to trade Carson Wentz. I really do. Jalen Hurts is making it harder and harder to justify keeping Wentz with each passing week. I know it’s only been two weeks with Hurts, but it’s impossible to deny that the team looks way better with him in. The determining factor is that Wentz will account for a $34 million cap hit next season as his 4-year contract extension kicks in. He will not become an unrestricted free agent until 2025. However, I’m sure there’s at least one other team out there that will view him as a reclamation project and want to take on his contract. At the top of the list, in my view, are the Indianapolis Colts. They’ve got Old Man Rivers as their QB now, but he’s not going to be around long-term. The main reason I can see Wentz going to Indy is Frank Reich: he was the Eagles offensive coordinator in 2016 and 2017, which were Wentz’s two best seasons. A lot of people have pointed out that he’s not been the same QB since Reich left to become the head coach of the Colts. If anyone can get the best out of Wentz, it’s Frank Reich.

😏 Brady Steals One From Atlanta Again

The Falcons took a 17-0 lead into halftime, and the Bucs didn’t get on the board until the 11:28 mark of the 3rd quarter. Going into the 4th quarter, the Falcons held just a 24-21 lead. The Bucs managed to come back and get the dub, and Brady connected with AB on an impressive 46 yard bomb to score the go-ahead TD with about 5 minutes left in the game. Another Atlanta choke against a Tom Brady-led team.

The Bucs have a problem with slow starts, however. This season they have been outscored by 32 aggregate points in the first quarter, and are only outscoring their opponents in the second quarter by 13 total points over the season. That means, overall, they’re -19 in the aggregate of all their first halves this season. They’re much better in the second half, having outscored their opponents by an aggregate of 99 points. The problem is, you can’t get away with starting slow against the great teams in the league.

πŸ”’ Seahawks Clinch Playoff Berth

The Seahawks beat Washington 20-15 and improved to 10-4, clinching a playoff berth and taking over 1st place in the NFC West following the Rams loss to the Jets. Seattle had a 20-3 lead in this game early in the third quarter, but Washington made things interesting in the 4th quarter, drawing within 5. The Seahawks were able to hold on for an impressive road win against a Washington team that had won 4 straight coming into the game.

Due to the Giants’ loss to the Browns on Sunday night, Washington remains in first place in the NFC East with a 6-8 record even after the loss. Next week, Washington plays Carolina while the Giants play the Ravens, so with a win and a Giants loss, Washington will be able to wrap up the division. Technically all four teams in the division are still alive, even Philly at 4-9-1.

As for Seattle, they’ve got the Rams next week at home. A win in that game locks up the division for Seattle.

πŸ₯΅ Colts Escape With Huge Win Over Texans

For the second time in three weeks, the Texans lose to the Colts at the goal line at the very end. Two weeks ago, a fumbled snap at the Colts’ 2 yard line gave the Colts the ball back and allowed them to secure a 26-20 win. This week, a Keke Coutee fumble at the Colts’ 3 yard line with 24 seconds to go gave Indy the ball back and allowed them to kneel away at 27-20 victory. It was a real heartbreaker for Houston. After the Colts took a 27-20 lead with 1:47 to play, Watson led the Texans down the field and got them to a 4th & 5 from the Colts’ 15 with 28 seconds left on the clock. He found Coutee over the middle, who caught the ball, slipped a tackle and ran towards the endzone, but he was hit and fumbled the ball just shy of the goal line. The ball went into the endzone where the Colts fell on it to end the game. What a brutal couple of losses for the Texans.

As for the Colts, it was a big win. They improved to 10-4 and remain in a two-team race with the Titans for the AFC South. A loss today would’ve dropped the Colts to 9-5 and would’ve potentially put them out of the playoffs, as the Ravens, who won to improve to 9-5, hold the tiebreaker over Indy by virtue of their head-to-head win back in week 8. I’m not sure if the Colts hold the tiebreaker over the Dolphins, who are also 9-5, but the Dolphins hold the tiebreaker over Baltimore and the Ravens hold the tiebreaker over Indy, so I’m going to assume the Colts would’ve been on the outside looking in if all three teams were 9-5. Those three teams are competing for the final two playoff spots. Actually, you can throw Tennessee and Cleveland into that mix, too: seeds 4 through 8 in the AFC are all either 10-4 or 9-5 and competing for the final 4 playoff spots.

That’s why this win was so huge for the Colts. The Browns, Ravens and Titans all for sure have the tiebreaker over Indy, so Indy needs to finish with a better record than at least one of those teams. The tiebreaking procedures in the NFL go as follows: first look at head-to-head record. If the two teams haven’t played, then it goes to division record. If they’re tied in that category, then you look at record in common games. If that’s tied, then it goes to conference record. They’re tied there (and the Colts and Dolphins are both 6-4 in AFC games). But I believe the Dolphins actually have the better record in common games, so that means the Colts need to finish with a better record than all four of those other teams including Miami.

😀 Browns Handle Giants on SNF

It was kind of a boring game, but the Browns took care of business and won in New York 20-6. People were hyping up the Giants after their win over the Seahawks a few weeks ago, but it’s looking more and more like that was a fluke. The Giants aren’t ready yet. They’re still a major work in progress.

Baker Mayfield continues his scorching hot streak. He was an incredible 27/32 passing for 297 yards and 2 TDs and 0 INTs. He had a QBR of 98.3. That’s insanely good. I’ve been trying to find a list of the highest QBR games ever, and while I couldn’t find regular season games, I found an article from 2018 of the 10 highest QBR playoff games since 2006 (the “QBR era”). The highest QBR recorded in a playoff game over the past 14 years was 98.0; it was Tom Brady in 2007 against the Jags in the divisional round. Baker against the Giants last night was slightly better than that.

Is Baker just in the middle of a hot streak, or is he finally reaching his potential as a quarterback under the leadership of Kevin Stefanski? It remains to be seen, but I’m leaning towards the latter. We know Baker has a ton of arm talent, and he was drafted #1 overall in 2018 for a reason. I think he’s finally figuring it out.

As much as it sucks to say, a big part of it might be the loss of Odell Beckham for the season. Before Odell got hurt in week 7, Baker had a 60.2% completion rate on the season, 10 TDs vs 7 INTs and a season average passer rating of just 81.7.

Since Odell went down, Baker has a 66.8% completion rate, he’s got a 15-1 TD-INT ratio and his passer rating is 112.5. That is a large sample size: he now has as many games without Odell this season as he has with him, and in the games since Odell went down, Baker has been phenomenal. Like, top 5 QB in the league phenomenal.

So the question is this: do the Browns move on from Odell after seeing how great Baker has been without him? Or do they view Baker’s improvement since Odell’s injury as just a coincidence? It’s possible that Baker’s rise has more to do with development under Stefanski than it does with Odell going down. If I’m the Browns, I think I would give it one more season with Odell and Baker. I’d bet that Baker has grown as a QB and will be able to better incorporate Odell into the offense next season. You can’t just give up on a talent like Odell, he’s too good a football player. If he and Baker can make it work, that offense goes from very good to unstoppable. I think I’d give it last hurrah, and if it doesn’t work, you flip Odell for defensive pieces before the trade deadline next year.

As for the game last night, it was a big win for the Browns, and we went over why in the Indy section above: there are now 5 teams in the AFC competing for four playoff spots. One of the Browns, Titans, Colts, Dolphins or Ravens will be on the outside looking in at the end of the season. That’s why the Browns really needed this win against the Giants. They stay in New York all week and play the Jets in week 16, so that should be a win for Cleveland. If the Browns beat the Jets and improve to 11-4, they’re still not even in for sure.

Less-Important Games:

  • Packers down Panthers 24-16 on Saturday night
  • Ravens easily beat Jags 40-14.
  • Chargers beat Raiders 30-27 in OT on Thursday night.
  • Bears beat Vikings 33-27.
  • Cowboys beat 49ers 41-33, eliminate SF from playoff contention.
  • Titans pound Lions 45-26.
  • Dolphins beat Patriots 22-12, Patriots will miss playoffs for first time since 2008.
  • Bills crush Broncos 48-19 on Saturday Night Football. The only thing I’ll add about this game is that Josh Allen is elite. He was 28/40 for 359 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs and a 98.2 QBR.
Octavian

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