What a week of football it was. The beginning of a new tradition, Christmas Day NFL games, began this year, plus we had a slate of Saturday games. We’re in the middle of four days of football, as the Bills-Patriots MNF game is still to go. But here’s the recap of the action prior to tonight’s game:
⚜ Saints Blow Out Vikings 52-33
There was a lot that happened in this game. Let’s see: first Christmas Day game since 1971, Alvin Kamara had 6 rushing TDs becoming the first player since 1929 to do it, Drew Brees crossed the 80,000 passing yard mark, the Saints scored on literally every drive outside of their two INTs and the final kneel-down drive, the Vikings are eliminated from playoff contention… I think I covered the most important headlines.
People were knocking Brees for throwing 2 picks, but one of them was not his fault at all–it went right through Emmanuel Sanders’ hands and into the Vikings’ DB Hardy Nickerson’s hands. He was still 19/26 passing with 311 yards, a major improvement over last week’s 44% completion rate against the Chiefs. I still don’t think his ribs are fully healed, but apparently people don’t cut him any slack for this.
One question about this game: why did Sean Payton let Taysom Hill take what should’ve been Kamara’s 6th rushing TD? The Saints had the ball all the way down around the Vikings 2 yard line in the 4th quarter and everyone assumed Kamara was about to get his 6th rushing TD. But Payton let Taysom Hill run it it. The FOX cameras kept showing Kamara on the sideline, and the announcers were expecting Kamara to come back into the game, but it never happened. Luckily the Saints found themselves on the goal line yet again on their next drive and Kamara was able to get #6, but it was odd that Payton didn’t give Kamara the ball on his first opportunity to get #6. So basically what I’m saying is that Kamara should’ve actually had 7 rushing TDs. I really don’t get it.
Was Payton just trying to protect the best player on his team from injury since the Vikings would clearly be keying on him and going extra hard at him? That’s the best explanation that I can think of.
🐐 Bucs Obliterate Lions 47-7
Brady’s day was over by halftime. The Bucs were leading 34-0, Brady had 4 TDs to 4 different receivers. When you look at Brady’s numbers in the first half of this game and the last half of the Falcons game, it’s really something to behold.
- 1st Half vs. Lions: 22/27, 348 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, 98.5 QBR, perfect 158.3 passer rating.
- 2nd Half vs. Falcons: 21/29, 320 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 131.4 passer rating. As for his QBR, I don’t know. No website I know of has QBR broken down by half. But I’m sure it was 90+.
- Combined: 43/56, 668 yards, 6 TDs, 0 INTs, average 144.8 passer rating.
So much for the “Brady is washed” takes. Look, I get that the Lions are a terrible defense. But these are incredible numbers. The Bucs finally played a good first half, and it was so good that they barely even needed to play the second half.
People are still doubting the Bucs, though. And it’s because they look great against bad teams, but tend to get exposed against good teams. They’re 9-0 against teams with losing records, but only 1-5 against teams with winning records. I get why people doubt them. But this is what they can do when they’re firing on all cylinders.
As for the Lions, are they going to hire 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh as their next head coach? The guy’s name comes up a lot in coaching rumors, and he’s Michigan born and raised. I could see it.
👊 Seahawks Take Down Rams, 20-9
Don’t look now but the Seahawks defense is getting better and better with each passing week. Jared Goff apparently has a broken thumb, and the injury happened in the third quarter when the game was 13-9 Seattle. So that partially explains why the Rams couldn’t score points, but he did stay in the game after the injury, so it couldn’t have been that bad of an injury. I could fully excuse the Rams’ weak offensive output if Goff had been knocked out of the game, but he wasn’t. And they still only scored 9 points.
But longer term, the Rams are in some trouble here. Goff is having thumb surgery and will miss week 17 against the Cardinals. Darrell Henderson left the game against the Seahawks and is heading to IR, meaning he’s out for week 17, too. Cam Akers missed the game against the Seahawks entirely, but they’re hoping he can come back for week 17.
I figured they would’ve bounced back after losing to the Jets, but apparently that game was a sign of things to come. The Rams offense looks broken. Maybe it’s all due to the injuries, but the offense did not look great against the Jets, either.
I wrote after the Jets loss that my big concern with the Rams was that they only had 1 turnover and it was not a fluky game; they just got beat fair and square. That was very concerning. I thought the Rams defense was elite and their offense was good enough to win the Super Bowl, but now I’m going to have to revise that. The Rams offense is not that good. It doesn’t matter how good their defense is: few defenses in the history of the league are good enough to win games when their offense only puts up 9 points.
Also, this is fairly important: the Rams have not yet clinched a playoff berth. I was surprised to learn that, but it’s true. They’re now 9-6 and the NFC #6 seed, the Seahawks are now officially the NFC West Champions with an outside shot of actually getting the #1 overall seed in the NFC. The Rams, though, have to win in order to get into the playoffs–either that, or they just need the Bears to lose to the Packers. Either will do. So it’s not a must-win situation for the Rams, technically.
But if the Bears win and the Rams lose to the Cardinals, then the Rams will, shockingly, miss the playoffs. The Bears and Cardinals would get in over them. Things are not looking good for the Rams right now. With the Goff injury and their offensive freefall, I am not confident in their ability to beat the Cardinals. They’re starting a guy named John Wolford at QB. He got cut from a few NFL rosters and then went over to the AAF (remember that?).
He’s either the next Kurt Warner or the next Kendall Hinton. I think the Rams might be in some trouble here.
🌨 Packers White-Out Titans, 40-14
We knew there would be snow in this game, and my assumption was that the Titans would be better equipped to play well in it since they’re a run-first team. I figured Derrick Henry would be running wild, and that the Packers’ run defense would get exposed. Nope. The Packers’ run defense shut Henry down, and Rodgers was able throw all game long. The snow didn’t even affect him.
But it affected the Titans. If you look at the box score, it shows that the Titans ran for 156 yards on 27 carries for an impressive 5.8 yards per carry. But one of those was on a 45 yard TD run by Tannehill, which was kind of a fluky play overall. Derrick Henry finished with 23 carries for 98 yards, but it just didn’t feel like he was dominant in the game. Tennessee only scored 14 points total, and were getting shut out until 1:37 left in the first half. Tennessee’s first three possessions of the game were as follows: 8 plays, 33 yards, 4:05 off the clock, ends with punt. 3 plays, 6 yards, 1:24 off the clock, ends with an INT. 3 plays, -17 yards, 1:45 off the clock, ends with punt. Tennessee did close out the half with that TD drive as I just went over, it was a 10 play, 71 yard drive in 3:39. They ran Derrick Henry on 5 of the 10 plays but he only picked up 16 yards on the ground.
It just wasn’t happening for the Titans’ run game. If you watched the game, you understand. Derrick Henry’s longest run was only 10 yards, which is very unlike him. To really hammer home how ineffective the Titans’ run game was, consider that the Packers dominated time of possession 36:37 to 23:23. The Titans only had 15 first downs to the Packers’ 27, and only 6 of those 15 first downs came by running.
I think I’m officially ready to say the Packers’ run defense is no longer a liability. Don’t trust the box score from that game. The Packers contained Derrick Henry in the first half (34 rushing yards at halftime) and by the time the third quarter was over, the Packers were up 33-14 and the game was already out of hand. At that point, Henry’s rushing yard total was 49.
Maybe the Packers have a run defense now. And maybe it’s going to be very difficult for opposing teams to come into Lambeau in January and get a win. One of the craziest stats I heard this week: since the 2011 season (meaning the season after their Super Bowl run), the Packers have played 6 playoff home games, and 7 road playoff games. It feels like we see playoff football at Lambeau every season, but nope.
The Packers are 4-2 at home and 2-5 on the road in the playoffs since the 2011 season. Now they’re closing in on the first round bye and home field advantage in the playoffs. That’s a big deal for them. Plus they’re not going to have to worry about getting steamrolled by Kyle Shanahan’s unstoppable rushing attack again, as the 49ers have been eliminated.
The Packers have to be the favorites to come out of the NFC at this point.
Aaron Rodgers is going to win MVP, Davante Adams looks like the best receiver in the league, and they now have three dangerous running backs. AJ Dillon ran for 124 yards last night. The Packers are scary.
😬 Chiefs Scrape By Falcons 17-14
The Chiefs were very fortunate that Falcons’ Pro Bowl kicker Younghoe Koo missed a 39-yard field goal that would’ve tied the game with 14 seconds to play. Otherwise the Falcons would’ve taken them to OT.
Instead it’s another Chiefs win, their 23rd in their past 24 games including the Super Bowl run. The Falcons held the Chiefs under 400 yards of total offense (395) and are the first team to hold the Chiefs under 20 points since the Colts beat the Chiefs 19-13 in week 5 of the 2019 season. Mahomes had a pretty pedestrian day throwing the ball: 24/44 for 278 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, a 68.2 QBR and a 79.5 QB rating.
And yet he still found a way to win the game.
To be honest, the Chiefs were actually lucky to win, and not just because of the missed field goal. At the 2:01 mark in the 4th quarter, Mahomes threw what looked like an INT in the Falcons endzone as the Chiefs were driving to try to retake the lead, down 14-10. Falcons cornerback AJ Terrell caught the ball but it bounced out when he went to the ground. It looked like an interception all the way, but then you saw the ball come out. The Chiefs scored the go-ahead, game-winning TD on the next play.
I’m not sure if the INT would’ve sealed the win for the Falcons–the Chiefs still had the two-minute warning and three timeouts left. And this is the Atlanta Falcons we’re talking about: choking games away is what they do. But KC was very fortunate Terrell dropped the INT.
That’s now 7 straight wins for the Chiefs, all of them by one possession. Overall, they’re on a 10-game winning streak. A lot of people are saying this proves the Chiefs are due for a loss, but I don’t know. The fact that they’re consistently finding ways to win these close games might speak to their greatness as a team. Obviously you’d prefer them to dominate other teams, but they seem to always find a way to pull out wins. They’re beating bad teams close, and good teams close.
And that’s the thing: you can say the Chiefs are due for a loss, but who’s going to beat them? They’ve beaten the Dolphins, the Bucs and the Saints in recent weeks. There might be another team out there–like Green Bay, or Buffalo–that can win a close game against them. But until we see it, I’m giving Kansas City the benefit of the doubt. In my view they’re on cruise control, doing just enough to win each week, and will flip the switch come playoff time.
But I can totally see why people think the Chiefs are ripe for a loss. This was a home game for Kansas City and they still barely won. Mahomes hasn’t had a passer rating over 100 since the Tampa game on November 29.
They’re apparently planning on resting some starters in week 17 against the Chargers, which will effectively give those players two weeks off since the Chiefs have locked up the first-round bye. Maybe this is just what the doctor ordered. We’ll see soon enough.
😤 Steelers Bounce Back, Beat Colts 28-24
Just when we all thought the Steelers were dead in the water and would finish their season with 5 straight losses, they somehow pull this win out of their asses. They were down 24-7 at one point in the third quarter, but the Colts’ offense just stalled out after that point.
The Steelers kept creeping back into the game. 24-14, then 24-21, then the Colts found themselves down 28-24 and needing a two-minute drill to win. They couldn’t do it. Give the Steelers a ton of credit for rallying to win this game, claim the AFC North Division Title, and potentially righting the ship after their three-game skid.
I still think the Steelers are limping into the playoffs, and Big Ben’s arm looks shot, but this Colts win was impressive. It showed there are still signs of life in Pittsburgh. I had no doubt in Mike Tomlin’s ability to rally the team and get them re-focused on winning; my doubts were in their ability to actually win games with their on-field talent and play. I figured the defense was too decimated by injuries and Big Ben’s arm was too shot to score points anymore. But as bad as they’ve been lately, the Steelers are still good enough to beat the Colts. And the Colts are pretty good. Which means the Steelers must still be pretty good.
The Colts are now the #8 seed in the AFC and need somebody ahead of them to lose in order to make the playoffs. Luckily the Colts play the Jaguars, so they should have no problem finishing 11-5. They will need somebody ahead of them to finish 10-6.
🐬 Fitzmagic Saves Dolphins’ Season
Yet again, Dolphins head coach Brian Flores benches Tua mid-game and brings in Ryan Fitzpatrick. After the game, Flores referred to Fitzpatrick as a “relief pitcher,” which is actually pretty hilarious and accurate. This time it was in the 4th quarter with just 9:47 left in the game, Miami down 16-13.
Fitzpatrick delivered. He led the Dolphins on three straight scoring drives, including the game-winning drive. He had one of the craziest plays of the year, honestly. At the very end of the game, with the Dolphins down 2 with just 19 seconds to go and pinned back at their own 25, Fitzpatrick airs out a deep shot to Mack Hollins while being facemasked by a Raiders defender and somehow completes the pass for 34 yards, plus the Dolphins got the 15 extra yards on the penalty, which brought them to the Raiders’ 26 yard line. From there it was a fairly easy 44 yard field goal for Jason Sanders, Miami wins.
If you haven’t seen the play, it was incredible. Fitzmagic is literally being dragged down backwards by his facemask and still manages to get off an accurate bomb of a pass:
It’s easily in the top 10 for Play of the Year, maybe even the top 5.
The Raiders are now out of the playoffs and the Dolphins remain alive. In fact they can still make the playoffs even if they lose to the Bills in week 17.
So what’s the deal with Tua, though? Kurt Warner had a really interesting comment about why Tua has looked over-cautious with the ball. Warner basically said that Tua was looking for his receivers to get “Alabama open” instead of “NFL open”. What he means by that is when Tua would have a guy like Devonta Smith or Jerry Jeudy wide open by 9 yards downfield, and it made Tua’s decision making so much easier. Tua was used to having his wide receivers get wide open and just abusing defenders play after play. But in the NFL, guys rarely get that wide open, and so Tua needs to adjust to that and learn how to throw to covered receivers.
Tua just doesn’t take many risks. Before getting benched, he was 17/22 for just 94 yards in the game, and 1 TD. He averaged 4.3 yards per attempt. That’s really low.
Tua’s extreme caution with the ball is good–it means he doesn’t turn the ball over much, if at all. But it also severely limits their offensive upside. It makes them way less explosive. NFL QBs have to know when to be game managers and when to be gunslingers. Tua seems to be hesitant to throw to guys who aren’t already open, and you can see why Brian Flores keeps going back to Fitzmagic when his team needs a spark: because Fitzmagic will throw into tight windows, he’ll air it out deep, he’ll throw guys open. He’ll take the risks that you need to take to win big games.
In other words, Fitzmagic isn’t afraid of throwing interceptions, but it seems like Tua is.
I still think Tua is a talented player, and if he just lets it fly and stops hesitating, he could turn into a really great NFL QB. But maybe it’s in his DNA to be cautious. As the saying goes, a tiger can’t change his stripes. Maybe this is who Tua is.
🤦♂️ Browns Choke, Lose to Jets 23-16
Look, I get that the Browns were missing all of their wide receivers. But they’ve got some good tight ends. They’ve got phenomenal running backs. And they have arguably the best offensive line in the league. That should’ve been enough for a team like Cleveland to beat the lowly Jets. Yes, the Jets just beat the Rams, but that doesn’t mean the Jets are any good, right? Well, maybe the Jets aren’t as bad as people think. Not only did they beat the Rams, they should’ve beaten the Raiders the week before, too. This Jets team is playing hard and should not be taken lightly.
Why did Baker have 53 passing attempts? Cleveland should’ve been running the ball all game, yet they only had 18 rushing attempts. I get that the Jets run defense isn’t that bad, and that the Jets were expecting the run, so the Browns tried to throw them off by passing, but this is a game where the Browns should’ve just kept it simple and ran the ball. Baker ended up getting sacked 4 times, largely because his receivers weren’t getting open, and he did not have a good day throwing the ball, finishing with just a 20.9 QBR and 68.5 QB Rating. He fumbled 3 times and lost 2, which is what happens when you make him throw 53 times despite having none of his wide receivers. Again, I get that the Browns were trying to zig (pass) when the Jets thought they would zag (run). But it was pretty clear early on it wasn’t working. They needed to stick to the run and just grind that one out. If it ended up a close win, whatever. A win’s a win. Instead they tried to get cute and lost. Here’s the real issue for the Browns, though: they let the Jets run for 131 yards and convert 7-18 third downs. The Jets run defense might be underrated, but their offense is horrible. There’s no excuse for allowing the Jets to move the ball like that.
So the Jets win two games straight, improving to 2-13, while the Jaguars lose their 14th straight game to fall to 1-14. The Jaguars have now locked up the #1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. No matter what happens next week, even if the Jags win and the Jets lose and both finish 2-14, the Jags still get the #1 pick. Trevor Lawrence is going to Jacksonville. What will the Jets do now? They might be stuck with Sam Darnold. Do they want to take their chances hoping a new coach can get the best out of him in a way Gase never could, or take their chances on a guy like Justin Fields, who has looked a bit inconsistent and shaky in this admittedly weird, janky Big Ten College football season.
As for the Browns, it’s not going to be easy for them to get in to the playoffs. They have to beat the Steelers in week 17. Because the Steelers beat the Colts today, had the Browns beaten the Jets, the Browns would have clinched a playoff berth. The Browns got all the way down to the Jets’ 25 yard line at the end of the game, but could not seal the deal.
The Steelers will not be resting their starters in week 17. At least I don’t think they will. If the Bills beat the Patriots on Monday Night Football, then the Bills and Steelers will both be 12-3. The Bills do own the tie-breaker over the Steelers, but the Steelers could still get the #2 seed if they beat the Browns and the Bills lose to the Dolphins next week. Now, the #2 seed is not as valuable this year as it was in the past because the #2 seed no longer gets a first-round bye. So it’s possible the Steelers just don’t care if they get the #2 seed or the #3 seed, but I doubt that will be the case. I think the Steelers are going to play for the highest seed they can possibly get, which means the Browns will not have it easy next week. The only way I could see the Steelers deciding to rest their starters is if Big Ben just straight up tells Tomlin he needs a week off to prepare for the playoffs. That might actually happen, honestly. But I wouldn’t count on it if I were Cleveland.
Luckily for the Browns, it’s win-and-in. They still control their own destiny. If they finish 11-5, they will get into the playoffs over the Colts. They have the head-to-head over the Colts. Unfortunately, the Colts play the Jaguars, so that’s basically a guaranteed win, so there is little hope for the Browns to get in without a win. The Browns lose the tiebreakers to both Baltimore and Miami, so there is no scenario where the Browns will get in over those teams if they finish with the same record.
I guess for the Browns it was always going to come down to the Steelers. This is the test the Browns will have to pass. There’s no hiding from it. It’s their destiny. There’s no getting into the playoffs without first beating the Steelers, their rival that has owned them for the past 20+ years. The Browns have to prove they’re for real by beating the Steelers. This is the moment where the Little Brother has to finally get a win over the Big Brother.
🐻 Bears Beat Jags 41-17, Control Playoff Destiny
The Cardinals lost 20-12 to the 49ers on Saturday Night, which meant that the following day, the Bears just had to beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville and the Bears would be in great shape to secure a playoff berth.
The Bears are now 8-7 along with the Cardinals, but the Bears have the advantage and will make the playoffs if they win their week 17 matchup with the Packers. The Cardinals, on the other hand, need a win and a Bears loss in order to make the playoffs.
The Bears and Cardinals are both 6-5 in conference play, but the Bears have a better record against common opponents, so that’s why the Bears win the tiebreaker.
The issue for the Bears is that they play the Packers, while the Cardinals play the faltering Rams. The Rams look like they’re in free fall, and it feels like the Cardinals have a better shot against the Rams next week than the Bears have against the Packers.
It does not appear the Packers will be resting their starters in week 17 against the Bears. The Packers still have not locked up the #1 overall seed in the NFC. If the Packers beat the Bears, they clinch the #1 seed, but if they lose to the Bears, then either the Seahawks or Saints could leap them for the #1 spot.
Now, if the Packers lose to the Bears and the Saints win against the Panthers next week, both finish at 12-4 and the Packers get the #1 seed because the Packers beat the Saints early in the season.
But because the Seahawks just clinched the NFC West with their win over the Rams and are now 11-4, they’re in the mix for the #1 seed. If the Packers, Saints and Seahawks all finish at 12-4, then the three-way tie will render the Packers’ head-to-head win over the Saints irrelevant. It’s stupid, I know, but that’s how it works. The Saints would get the #1 seed in the NFC if all three teams finish 12-4 because the Saints will have the better conference record. The Saints will be 10-2 in the NFC, the Packers and Seahawks would each be 9-3.
The Packers-Bears game is in the 1pm slate of games next Sunday. The Seahawks and Saints both play in the 4:25 games, so the Packers will have no choice but to play their starters and try to beat the Bears. This is bad news for the Bears. The last time they played the Packers, they lost 41-25, and the score was only somewhat close because they added two 4th quarter garbage time TDs. Going into the 4th quarter, the score was 41-10 Packers. So it seems like the Packers are, as usual, way better than the Bears.
HOWEVER: since the Rams have not yet clinched a playoff berth, the Bears can get into the playoffs even if they lose. They’d just need the Rams to beat the Cardinals. The Rams would then clinch, and the Bears would hold the tiebreaker over the Cardinals and get in at 8-8.
The Bears offense has looked much-improved lately, scoring 30+ points in each of their past 4 games after only having one 30-point game in the 11 games prior this season (they beat the Falcons 30-26 in week 3). Now, the past 4 games for the Bears have been against the Lions, Texans, Vikings and Jaguars, four of the worst defenses in the league. But the Bears’ offense has looked much better in recent weeks, and maybe that has a lot to do with Matt Nagy giving up playcalling duties.
I saw a stat somewhere that said this is the first time since 1965 that the Bears have scored 30+ points in four consecutive games. It sounds ridiculous but it’s true.
If the Bears make the playoffs, Matt Nagy probably saves his job, at least for another season. Mitch Trubisky, who has looked like a new QB over these past 4 weeks, might just get a contract extension–although that seems unlikely unless he wins a playoff game. It really looks like Nagy and Trubisky might have figured something out–and that “something” is not having Nagy call the plays. David Montgomery looks like a new man over the past few weeks, too. Everyone on that offense looks better since Nagy gave up the playcalling. I think the Bears should give the Nagy-Trubisky combo one more season no matter what happens here. They seem to have built up some real momentum and have potentially turned a corner here. You have to let them try to carry that into next season.
NFC bEast 😤💯💪 Playoff Update
I figured I’d just put all these teams in one category. The Eagles are now eliminated after losing 37-17 to the Cowboys, but the Cowboys at 6-9 are still alive for the playoffs, as are the 5-10 Giants and the 6-9 Washington Football Team. Washington, despite losing 20-13 to Carolina on Sunday, still leads the division currently and is the favorite to win it and make the playoffs, but if they lose to Philly on Sunday Night Football this weekend, then the winner of the Giants-Cowboys game will take the division and make the playoffs.
So either it’ll be the 7-9 Washington Football Team, the 7-9 Cowboys, or the 6-10 New York Giants. The fact that a team that is currently 5-10 is still alive for the playoffs is absurd.
Games That Didn’t Interest Me Enough to Write About:
- Chargers 19, Broncos 16
- Bengals 37, Texans 31
- Ravens 27, Giants 13. Sure, I guess both teams are alive for the playoffs, but c’mon. We all know Baltimore is fore real and the Giants are only alive because they’re playing in the worst division in history.