The 2015 Super Bowl representatives keep getting further apart. The Broncos won, while the Panthers appear to have lost not just games, but all hope, as well. The AFC playoff picture is muddier than Heinz Field after a December rain. Let’s see what we learned in week 13.
- Turning a corner, or just blind squirrels? It was a big week for the AFC North, which has collectively been fairly awful this season. We’ll get to the Steelers’ 24-14 win over the Giants in a minute. But the Bengals handled the Eagles with ease in Cincinnati, and the Ravens easily dispatched the Dolphins, who had been on a six-game winning streak. We’ll have to see if those performances carry over, or if they were just flukes. Cleveland, meanwhile, didn’t fare so well: they lost at home to the bye week by 17.
- Had he been naked it wouldn’t have made things any worse. The Carolina Panthers’ head coach, Ron Rivera, benched starting quarterback Cam Newton for the game’s first series for violating a team dress code when he forgot to pack a shirt to go with his tie. Backup quarterback Derek Anderson took the reigns to start the game and kept Newton’s banishment to an absolute minimum: he was intercepted on his lone snap. It’s a good thing they put Newton in, too. Otherwise, they may have lost by 40 instead of 33.
- Do you mean we have to play both halves?? How do you blow a game you were leading by 14 with 24 minutes to go? For starters, hire Rex Ryan to lead your team. Then, let him hire his brother, Rob Ryan, to run your defense. If you are patient, you will eventually witness the legendary Ryan Collapse. This time, it was to the tune of 29 unanswered points. Next time...well...with any luck, it will be next week against the Steelers.
- At least Jacksonville doesn’t have any fans to let down. It’s a good thing no one seems to even realize there is a football team in Jacksonville, Fla., because things are bad down there. Bad, bad, bad. Their once-presumed franchise quarterback, Blake Bortles, is struggling mightily. He is currently the 31st-highest rated quarterback among those with at least 150 pass attempts. It may have come to a head Sunday, when he lost a head-to-head matchup with Denver’s Paxton Lynch. Yes, Denver has a very good defense, but Bortles is making bad games a habit. In losing to Lynch, he lost to the backup to starter Trevor Siemian who, in 2015, was Peyton Manning’s backup’s backup’s backup. Or, to put it another way, he lost to the guy who is backing up the guy who couldn’t win a 2015 roster spot from Zac Dysert.
- This week’s Weekly Fumble goes to...the Atlanta Falcons! The award could have gone to Buffalo for blowing a 15-point lead to lose by 14, but that shtick is getting old — it’s so Cleveland, and the Browns have won this award about for or five times already this year. Instead, let’s get some new blood here. And how did they win the award? By taking a late, one-point lead! In an effort to go up by three — because that’s what the little situational chart says and, quite frankly, it actually made sense — quarterback Matt Ryan accidentally threw an interception on the two-point attempt. Okay, no big deal...eeeeeexcept that Eric Berry didn’t stop with picking off the pass. Instead, he ran it aaaaaaaall the way back the other direction, which was good for two points for the Chiefs, instead. Game time-wise, it is literally the shortest-lived lead in NFL history, at zero seconds, as the game clock doesn’t wind during the try.
- College Football Bonus! Well, at least they got the teams right. The College Football Playoff field is set, and I don’t disagree with any of the teams that made it. They are the four best teams this year. That there was ever a controversy — specifically, whether or not Penn State should be in — shows just how convoluted the system still is. Yes, I’m glad they have a playoff. The problem arises when conference championships could potentially alter the teams in the playoff. That’s because the conferences are ranked by intraconference record, while the CFP is determined by subjective means. Mixing the two doesn’t just create the potential for problems, it makes them inevitable. It would be like the NFL arbitrarily changing who makes the playoffs by rewarding a team for a seven game winning streak — despite losing their first nine games. The solution is simple: the CFP field should be locked in before conference championships are played. If a team in the CFP loses its conference championship...so what? If they win...so what? The only thing that would change is which team gets the automatic bowl bid for bowls that award a particular conference’s champion an automatic berth, because then the runner-up would be in. In that case, we’d know going in who makes it to which bowl, and the teams would simply be playing for their conference championship. It’s fair, and it doesn’t mix objectivity and subjectivity.
- And finally...When did we flash back to 2008? Good gravy, who was that playing defense for the Steelers Sunday afternoon?! Leading up to the game, people were saying that holding Odell Beckham Jr. to 200 yards or less would be considered a victory of sorts. In the end, he had 10 catches for 100 yards, but almost half of that came in garbage time, and he was held to just one catch for 10 yards in the first half. His number-two, Victor Cruz, didn’t catch a single pass. And, save for the garbage-time touchdown drive, the Giants managed just 182 yards of total offense. For perspective, Le’Veon Bell broke 180 yards by himself and Ben Roethlisberger had more than 200 yards passing at halftime. There isn’t enough hyperbole in the world to overemphasize how happy yesterday’s defensive performance made me — especially from our top two rookies, who are beginning to look like the long-term fixes for the secondary that we had been hoping for.