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Around the NFL: What We Learned in Week 15

The AFC is crowded at the top and downright painful to watch at the bottom, and Gus Bradley now gets the best seat in the Jaguars’ house: the outside looking in. The Browns also still look like a sitcom on the verge of being canceled. See what else we learned about the NFL in week 15.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
The look when you realize the December temperature in Ohio is higher than your second-half offensive output.
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

As the season wears on, it stands to reason that you would learn less and less about teams. Identities are formed in the first half of the year. But, there is still football to be played, so there are still chances for teams to be amazing. More likely than that, though, are the chances for teams to do something stupid, which is what this weekly column thrives on. Here’s what we learned in week 15.

  1. Maybe it was just the Wrath of Khan. Shahid Khan, that is. I get the timing of it, but why, specifically, this week? What made now-former Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley’s career loss no. 48 more significant than, say, last week’s loss no. 47? It seemed strange that the Jaguars kept Bradley after the 2015 season, so to fire him with two games to go seems downright goofy. The promotion of Doug Marrone is a head-scratcher, too, because it’s not like Marrone has a stellar record as a pro head coach, either — although his .469 win percentage is more than twice that of Bradley’s .226. Now word is out the Jags are interested in bringing back Tom Coughlin. So, if Marrone wasn’t supposed to be the long-term guy, why fire Bradley before the end of the season?! Then again, this is the team that is owned by a guy who could be the Iron Sheik’s stunt double.
  2. You did not think this through, coach. I’ve railed about how coaches should play to win rather than play to not lose, but I think Eagles head coach Doug Pederson failed to read the manual before trying it. Doug, your playoff hopes were slimmer than Twiggy after a week-long bout of influenza, but playing to not lose is perfectly acceptable when you are up against a top-three defense and your offense has fewer weapons than Mahatma Gandhi’s happy place. Your team had the momentum at that point; just kick the extra point and go to overtime, for the love of Pete.
  3. The cake is stale, and the icing is getting moldy. Andy Reid is the most unfortunate kicker-icer ever. I’m aware of several times where he called a timeout at the laaaaaaast possible moment, only to watch the kicker follow through and miss. Then, on the retry, they split the uprights. The most recent was this weekend, as the Chiefs stared in disbelief at Ryan Succop’s 53-yard game-winner. The worst part? Not even Succop himself expected the retry to be any better than the first attempt, which was short of the goal posts. Can we just do away with this practice entirely, already? If an opposing coach calls a timeout after the kicking team has set for a field-goal attempt, it should be a five-yard penalty.
  4. It’s like hitting 40 HRs and committing 80 errors, yet managing to play baseball in October. If the regular season ended today, the Houston Texans would be the only playoff team with a negative point differential — and it’s not even close to zero. They would be at minus-44. For context, five of the other 11 teams currently in position to make the playoffs have less than the inverse — plus-44 — and one of the remaining six is at plus-45. Point differential is a solid indicator of the teams who are capable of success in the post-season; a positive number indicates that a team has regularly outscored its opponents in its victories without also being on the losing end of a blowout or four. It’s a mark of consistency above the line. For the Texans, it’s a warning for the city of Houston to cover their collective eyes come the post-season.
  5. The Weekly Fumble for Week 15 belongs to...the Cincinnati Bengals, for pissing away a 14-point lead at home, to a bitter rival. Steeler Nation thanks you from the bottom of our collective heart, of course, and we were flattered by those four consecutive penalties that got us rolling again.
  6. College Football Bonus! Bowling for $$$: How can you tell the college football Bowl situation is getting out of hand? When perennial contenders Boise State (10-2) and Baylor (a disappointing 6-6 this year) have more than 3,000 seats available for as low as twelve dollars, it’s pretty easy to tell that the bowl market has passed the saturation point. These are supposed to be the elite teams, but now there are 40 bowl games at the FBS level — which has 128 teams. That means there are almost twice as many teams that do participate in a bowl (80) as don’t participate in a bowl (48). And that’s just at college football’s highest competitive level. When anything sponsored by Motel 6 or Dollar General is considered worth aspiring to, your standards have rocketed downward past sea level and are on a collision course with the abyss.
  7. And, Finally...Ugly? Yes. But it was also exactly the win these Steelers needed. The seemingly fatal flaw of this team has been an inability to win ugly, especially on the road. In their first four wins, the closest was by eight, to these very same Bengals. Their other three wins were 22, 29 and 18 points, and two of those were against 2015 playoff teams, no less. In their four-game losing streak, they had chances to win three of those games in the final minutes, and failed to pull them out. And in the four-game winning streak prior to Sunday, the only reason they didn’t win all four by at least 14 points each was because the Giants and Bills both scored garbage-time touchdowns. It’s been feast or famine, until this week. The first half of Sunday’s game was the first time since losing to Dallas on November 13th that the Steelers even trailed, and it was by 14 points until just before halftime. To score 18 unanswered and hold a decent offense to 38 total yards in the second half? That, not winning by 30, is the mark of a championship-caliber team.