Because of the holiday, this week’s edition is just five cents. Next week’s edition will also be abbreviated and on a different schedule. I hope you had a safe and Merry Christmas and enjoy the New Year’s festivities!
$.01— Seattle vanquished Dallas on Christmas Eve, 21-12, despite almost no offensive attack whatsoever. Russell Wilson managed just 93 net passing yards on 21 attempts and the Seahawks rushed for 76 yards on 30 carries, but that was enough for the visiting Seahawks to officially eliminate the Cowboys while keeping their own dim playoff light flickering.
Dallas was far more productive, but also mistake-prone. They turned the ball over three times, including two Dak Prescott interceptions in the second half. Kicker Dan Bailey missed two fourth-quarter field goals, too. There were blown blocks, dropped passes, dumb penalties (though Seattle had more of those) and a decided failure to execute in the clutch.
The postgame comments are far more entertaining. First was Prescott not holding back in slamming Dez Bryant for a key drop and fumble. His comment points at the disappointment with Bryant just not being the alpha receiver the team relies on him to be. Prescott himself has not been as steady or dynamic as in his fantastic rookie season, but the blame game has too many players in Dallas for the disappointing 2017.
Then there’s Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. After the game, the Texas native attempted to enter the opposing locker room and told Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, "If y'all have the chance, come get me." Not exactly what the Seahawks want to hear from their leader on the back end. Thomas later tried to explain it away, but the damage was already done.
Seattle still needs help to make the playoffs. They must beat the 7-8 Cardinals and hope for the Falcons to lose to the 11-4 Panthers. Both are viable outcomes, but dealing with the leader of the secondary essentially begging a team they just beat to acquire him, and with their dismal offensive performances of late, it’s hard to believe in Seattle right now.
$.02—The Cleveland Browns remain winless after a lifeless 20-3 loss in Chicago. Hue Jackson dropped to 1-30 in his two seasons as head coach in Cleveland, and this one was one of the ugliest.
The Bears are not a good football team. Their 5-10 record reflects their youthful roster, led by a greenhorn rookie quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky. John Fox is a dead man walking if the vast majority of fans, not to mention Windy City media, have their way. Yet they so thoroughly dominated the Browns, the outcome was never in doubt.
If Jimmy Haslam and freshly hired GM John Dorsey are to be taken at their words, there is also no doubt that Jackson will return as coach. That’s the statement even if (when) they lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 17. Jackson has presided over the most losses in two seasons in NFL history.
Don’t be so sure about Jackson sticking around. There are growing whispers his finger-pointing, back-stabbing nature in press conferences is giving both the owner and the new boss serious pause. It’s not like Jackson makes a great case as a schematic genius or master developer of talent. His Browns have more talent on both sides of the ball than the Bears team which just destroyed them. They have more talent than the injury-ravaged Packers team which overcame a 21-7 fourth-quarter deficit to ruin Cleveland’s best chance at a win all year.
That’s on Jackson, and to a lesser extent defensive coach Gregg Williams and his mad scientist experiments with alignments and blitzes. It will be interesting to see if the latest management regime keeps the miserably unsuccessful Jackson, and how they justify doing so.
$.03— After losing to the Carolina Panthers in Week 15, the Green Bay Packers threw in the towel on the 2017 season. Before their inevitable, inconsequential loss in Week 16 to the Minnesota Vikings, the Packers placed Aaron Rodgers back on injured reserve.
Rodgers played in that Week 15 game, his first back since he missed two months with a collarbone injury. The perennial All-Pro didn’t play particularly well but never appeared to get injured or aggravate the clavicle. Now many teams are raising a stink that the Packers cheated the system and are using injured reserve inappropriately.
And they’re 100 percent correct. If there was any meaning still in the Vikings game, any chance for a playoff berth, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind Rodgers would be playing. Even the most ardent Packer backers would admit this. But because the team is eliminated, Rodgers is suddenly not healthy enough to play?
That’s a steaming pile of reindeer poop and the NFL should not allow Green Bay to shovel it. No, they shouldn’t be made to give up Rodgers to waivers because of the IR fraud, as is stated in the rules and as several other teams have requested. The Packers should be penalized heavily, however. My suggestion: they get the same $100K fine the Seahawks for cheating the concussion protocol rule. But because this is flaunting the rule so blatantly, they should lose a second-round pick as well. That won’t happen because the league won’t dare harm one of the marquee franchises, one already on the precipice of a precipitous fall, but it should happen.
$.04—The playoffs are nearly set in both conferences. We know all four division champs in the AFC:
New England, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Kansas City
The Patriots and Steelers each earned byes, with the Patriots locking up the No. 1 seed if they beat the visiting Jets, now 5-10 and losers of five of their last six. The Jaguars wrapped up the No. 3 seed and a home Wild Card game despite their outstanding defense giving up 44 to San Francisco, suddenly the hottest team in the league under Jimmy Garoppolo.
Baltimore (9-6) and Tennessee (8-7) are in “win and they’re in” status entering Week 17. Baltimore hosts Cincinnati, which just played spoiler to Detroit (more on that below), while the Titans must play the Jaguars. The Chargers and Bills, both 8-7, have to hope the Jaguars don’t take the game off despite having nothing to play for and get a little lucky. Los Angeles faces the Raiders coming off their short week, while the Bills finish off the Dolphins.
We know five of the six NFC teams who will play in January, but the order remains up in the air.
Minnesota won the North and will get one of the byes if they can beat Chicago next week. Philadelphia earned the other bye and No. 1 overall seed, and it’s a good thing they did because the uninspiring (read: awful) win over the Raiders late on Christmas leaves them looking like the weakest of any of the NFC participants.
After that, it gets complicated. The Rams (11-4) won the West and will host a Wild Card game. The NFC South champ remains up in the air after Carolina beat Tampa Bay in uninspiring fashion and the Saints knocked down the Falcons. If the Panthers beat the Falcons and the Saints lose to the Bucs, Carolina wins the South.
This is where the contingencies get crazier than Ancient Aliens reruns. If the Panthers win the South, and the Vikings lose to Chicago and the Rams lose to the 49ers, the Panthers will be the 2 seed. The Rams or Saints cannot earn the bye, however. LA has the tiebreaker for the 3 seed over New Orleans and Carolina but not Minnesota. Got that?
Atlanta captures the sixth and final spot if they win, or if Seattle loses. If they both lose, the Falcons get the spot and the trip to Los Angeles, unless Minnesota and New Orleans both lose and Carolina wins. Then the 6 seed would head to Minnesota.
--I loved seeing and hearing the outpouring of happy reminiscences upon the passing of legendary broadcaster Dick Enberg. He was one of the icons for any of us who even dabble a little in broadcasting. His ability to enthusiastically and intelligently cover a broad swath of sports made him a personal favorite. RIP Mr. Enberg.
--He gets overlooked too readily when talking about the great players, but Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald remains an amazing talent. He topped 1,000 receiving yards for the ninth time, and also pulled in his 100th catch on the year. Not bad for playing with three different QBs…
Fitzgerald also completed his first career pass in Sunday’s win over the Giants
--The Houston Texans set the mark for the most players used in a season this decade when Taylor Heinicke replaced T.J. Yates at QB in the team’s miserable 34-6 loss on Christmas to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Heinicke was the 78th player used this year. Because this is exactly what happens to Houston this year, he threw one pass before suffering his own concussion and being ruled out of the game.
--Best story from the weekend did involve the injury-ravaged Texans: Offensive lineman David Quessenberry made his NFL debut after missing the last three years conquering cancer. He was a captain for the Texans and received a huge ovation from the home crowd, his teammates and the Steelers too.
--My Detroit Lions flat-out embarrassed themselves in losing to a lame-duck Bengals team. With a playoff lifeline there for the taking with Atlanta’s loss, Jim Caldwell’s team came out flat (again) and couldn’t make plays when it needed them. The miserable performance on third-and-short damned the Lions to playoff elimination. Rumors are quite loud that Caldwell will not be back. Early front-runners for the Detroit gig include both Patriots coordinators, Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, as well as Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel. All have strong ties to Lions GM Bob Quinn.
--New England wrapped up the AFC by pounding Buffalo, but the Patriots once again benefitted from a questionable decision by replay official Al Riveron. Bills WR Kelvin Benjamin quite clearly dragged his foot inbounds to complete the TD catch, but Riveron, the league’s replay official, overturned it. Even officiating sycophant Mike Pereira was angered by the bizarre call. Coming on the heels of the controversial but correct (in my view) overturning of Jesse James’ game-winning TD in the Pittsburgh game a week earlier, it’s a terrible look for Riveron.
--I have to throw in a college quickie. Hats off to my Ohio Bobcats for winning the Bahamas Bowl in dominating fashion. Ohio routed UAB 41-6 for OUr rare bowl victory, and the biggest winning margin in Bobcat postseason history. The Cats return dynamic QB Nathan Rourke, playmaking safety Javon Hagan and arguably the nation’s best kicker in Louie Zervos in 2018, but must replace a pair of standout LBs and most of the offensive line. Thank you, Frank Solich!