First off, Happy Holidays to all of you guys out there! I appreciate the support and feedback I’ve been getting from my columns this NFL season, and it’s been a blast writing about it.
Speaking of a blast, that’s exactly what Week 16 was. We had:
- Three great Saturday games
- A 23-point Bengals comeback against the Dolphins in regulation with less than three minutes left
- Michael Thomas broke the NFL record for most catches in a season
- A Daniel Jones breakout game
- Two quarterback benchings for the Steelers (yikes)
And most importantly, the Cowboys lost! It’s time to look at some of the biggest takeaways from the penultimate week of the 2019 NFL season, as well as the playoff picture and my final coach firing predictions.
1. WHAT TEAM IS THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT IN 2019?
Two teams come to mind when I try and answer that question: the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams. Unfortunately for both squads, luck just didn’t bounce their way at all this past week.
The reigning NFC Champions got knocked out of the playoff picture following a 34-31 loss to San Francisco. It’s been an inconsistent, trying season for the Rams, and plenty of blame for missing the playoffs has to be spread around. First, we can point to the offensive line, which is by far one of the worst units in the league. Second, Jared Goff took a major step back this season with his play, ranking #25th in the league in QBR. While Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey played well, their defense was also a mess and couldn’t be trusted every week. Then there is Sean McVay, who has certainly lost some of his luster after only putting up three points in the Super Bowl and now a most likely 9-7 record this year. The Rams don’t have much cap space or draft capital, so hopefully, they can find a way to improve their team for next year because it would be a shame for this to all fall apart so quickly.
As for the Cowboys, this team had some major expectations going into the year. Looking at their roster over the preseason, you can argue that this team had little to no weaknesses. Dak Prescott had a career year, the offensive line was still fantastic, and their defense looked scary on paper. Unfortunately, Dallas lost to Philadelphia Sunday afternoon 17-9 and will now need the Eagles to absolutely fall on their face and lose to the Giants in Week 17 to get into the playoffs. The major problem in Dallas is the coaching, and thankfully for them, it looks like Jason Garrett is a dead man walking. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the entire coaching staff being let go by Jerry Jones.
So who’s been the bigger disappointment? Many will say the Rams because of how success and dominant they looked last year, but that doesn’t mean anything. Great teams adapt to change, even in horrible circumstances. I think the Cowboys will be known as the biggest failure of 2019 because at this juncture, a team that talented not playing in the postseason is just not right.
2. BRADY PUTTING IT TOGETHER AT THE RIGHT TIME?
I know, I know. The thought of the Patriots suddenly putting it together and making the Super Bowl again would be torturous to non-New England fans. However, that can’t be ruled out after what we saw Saturday in the Pats’ 24-17 win over Buffalo to clinch their #11th straight AFC East title.
Despite having, in my opinion, the best defense in the league, many have voiced their concerns about how bad Tom Brady and the rest of New England’s offense has looked recently. So what do they do? Brady picks apart the Bills pass defense for 271 yards and only seven incompletions, Sony Michel has a good game, and the Pats got back to their “spread the ball around” mentality that has become synonymous with their team. If you look at the box score, it wasn’t an explosion of offense by any means. It’s just that it was against the Bills, whose defense is nearly on the same level as that of New England.
The Patriots basically have a first-round playoff bye locked up as long as they take care of Miami, and I think it would be foolish to expect them to just fade away in January.
3. PACKERS CLINCH NFC NORTH TITLE
On Monday Night Football, the Green Bay Packers won their first division title since 2016 after defeating the Minnesota Vikings 23-10. Regardless of what happens in the playoffs, this has to be considered a successful first season for Matt LaFleur.
When discussing some of the top teams in the league, many people brush off Green Bay, and I can’t understand why. Maybe it’s due to their #13th ranked offense and the ever-so-slight drop off of Aaron Rodgers. On the contrary, the Packers finally have a great defense to the point at which they don’t need to rely on Rodgers to throw for 400 yards and a handful of scores each game. Speaking of not needing to be relied upon, how about Aaron Jones this season? His 19 total touchdowns and almost 1,500 scrimmage yards have been crucial for Green Bay, and I believe he has been their best player this season.
The league always seems to be more fun when the Packers are good, and it will be interesting to see how far they can go this postseason.
4. AFC & NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE
The 2019-2020 NFL Playoffs are right around the corner, so let’s take a look at both conferences and eye some potential matchups.
The Ravens have the #1 seed locked up in the AFC, and as long as New England doesn’t allow this to happen again on Sunday, they will hold the #2 seed and their own bye. Most likely, Kansas City will be #3 and Houston and Buffalo are locked in at #4 and #5, respectively. It all comes down to this weekend for that final spot. Seeing this Houston offense against the Bills’ ferocious defense will be an interesting matchup. If the Titans avenge their loss to Houston, they will get in. However, if they lose, it will most likely be Pittsburgh in that spot. There is also an extremely outside shot for Oakland to get in, but that would be a bloodbath against the Chiefs.
The NFC side is more tricky, despite the six playoff teams being locked in. The Cowboys or Eagles are locked into #4, while the Vikings will be at #6 no matter what following their demoralizing loss to Green Bay. Besides those two, there are plenty of different ways San Francisco, Seattle, Green Bay, and New Orleans can get first-round byes. All four will be playing their starters and trying to aim for one of those two sacred spots. Seattle will need to beat the Niners again to clinch the division title and #1 seed. If San Fran wins this go-round, they will be the #1 seed. As long as the Packers take care of the Lions (easy money) and the Saints beat the Panthers (easy money as well), both of those teams will be rooting for Seattle to come up short.
To make a long story short, Week 17 is going to be awesome.
5. FINAL HOT SEAT PREDICTIONS
While the Week 17 games will surely be riveting, the same can’t be said for the dreaded Black Monday following. For the past few weeks, I’ve been observing the NFL coaching landscape to see what openings are available. As of now, it seems like two (Washington and Carolina) are a lock to see the change due to their in-season firings, but what about the rest? Let’s check into my crystal ball:
While it would be embarrassing for the Browns to give up on yet another coach so quickly, this move has to be done. Kitchens seems like a likable guy, but he was handed too much responsibility too soon and has turned himself into a laughing stock. If Cleveland really wants to compete in 2020, a more established coach must be put into place.
I don’t even know what to make of the Jaguars. This team seems to have the worst kind of quarterback controversy where both options aren’t very good. Their once elite defense has lost many of its main guys, and this team simply looks to have been mailing it in since Thanksgiving. I know there have been reports of Shad Khan wanting to retain Marrone and Caldwell, but I don’t buy it.
Pretty cut and dry. Despite consecutive wins over Miami and Washington, the Giants still have an atrocious defense and Daniel Jones had a very average rookie season. I don’t care how many touchdowns he threw, the man fumbled 15 times in a half a season. A coach with Shurmur’s personality doesn’t fit well in the New York media, and I believe it’s best if both sides part ways.
As I mentioned earlier, Garrett would need to make the playoffs and make a Cinderella run to the NFC Championship game to retain his job. Pretty cut and dry.
VERDICT: Contract in not renewed (basically fired)
Halfway through the season, this one looked like a lock. However, the Falcons have rattled off monster wins over the Saints and Niners since then, and Atlanta owner Arthur Blank loves Dan Quinn. I say he’s back in 2020, but the leash is shrinking by the minute.
VERDICT: Safe for now.
I didn’t bother adding Matt Patrica because it has been confirmed that he’ll be back in 2020 (probably for only 4-5 weeks). This means six new head coach openings after this season. Once we get the final results after this week, I’ll be making my new coaching hire prediction for these spots.