It’s hard to believe it, but 15 weeks of the NFL season are now officially in the books. With just two more weeks left, the playoff picture has become clear, with just a handful of teams jockeying for the remaining seeds. But here is a look back at 10 thoughts from around the league in Week 15:
Odell Beckham: For obvious reasons I’ll start here. It’s never a good week in sports when the hottest topic relates to a player’s recklessness. While words and phrases like “dirty” and “cheap-shot artist” and “no place for that” have been thrown around a lot this week, the feeling I’m left with is disappointment. Odell Bekcham Jr has taken this league by storm, and has the talent to be one of the greatest WRs we’ve ever seen. So to watch a player with so much potential as a fan favorite and likeable guy behave that way was disheartening to say the least. Even with no “precedent” for suspending a WR for helmet to helmet hits, I believe the suspension is warranted and needed to show him there are consequences for these types of actions.
Playoff Clinchers: Let’s move on to happier subjects. In week 15, Cincinnati, Green Bay and Seattle all clinched playoff spots, and all three appear to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders. The Seahawks may be the hottest team in football, and the Bengals may be the most well-rounded (when Dalton is healthy), but don’t sleep on the Packers. It’s easy to forget they were only the 6 seed when they won the Super Bowl in the 2010-2011 season, and if Rodgers gets hot they can easily get back to the big game. Also worth noting, the Patriots clinched a 1st round bye, but both the Patriots and the Panthers need one more win to clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Playoff Eliminators: The Bills, Jaguars and Buccaneers all watched their slim playoff hopes go by the wayside in week 15. The Bills have to be considered one of the league’s biggest disappointments, as many pundits (myself included) labeled them as a playoff-caliber team heading into the season, and now they cannot finish better than .500. The Jaguars and Buccaneers should feel better about themselves though; both teams saw strides from their young QBs in 2015, and show promise for the future. With two games to go it will be important for players from all three teams to prove their merit as the teams look to take the next step towards playoff contention in the off-season via the draft and free agency.
QB Craziness Continues: Over the past few weeks we’ve seen a slew of absurd games, and the trend continued in Week 15. In Week 15 we saw two 5 TD performances (Cam Newton threw for 5, Cousins threw for 4 and ran for another), three 4 TD performances (Eli Manning and Bridgewater each tossed 4 while Osweiler tossed 3 and ran for one), while Russell Wilson cooled off from his first fewer than 4 combined TD week since Week 11 (he still threw for three). And with matchups like Roethlisberger at Baltimore and the Bortles-Brees matchup in New Orleans in week 16, we could be in for some more big QB outputs.
The NFC East is… likely decided in week 16. Kirk Cousins and the Washington You Like That’s were the only team to win in week 15, and they did so decidedly to eliminate Buffalo. Meanwhile, the Eagles got pounded against the Cardinals, and Giants lost a heartbreaker at home, virtually eliminating New York but still allowing Philadelphia to control its own destiny. But don’t let Philly’s bad loss deceive you- Sam Bradford played well for most of that game, and has been playing better of late. Saturday Night’s Skins-Eagles game will be a must watch.
The AFC South is… all but over. Houston dispatched Indy behind Brandon Weeden (who could’ve seen that coming?), and Jaxonville lost to end any hope of their AFC South chances. With just one more win, or one more Indy loss, the Hard Knocks hype will have been earned (kind of) and the Texans will be AFC South champs.
AJ McCaron was… …fine. Lots of people threw Cincinnati’s winning chances under the bus after Dalton’s injury, but in doing so forgot how strong this roster is as a whole. McCaron played smart football, completing 15/21 passes for just 192 yards, but did not turn the ball over while his counterpart Blaine Gabbert tossed three interceptions. McCaron may not be ready to win a Super Bowl, but I think he has a good chance to help Cincinnati beat Denver this week and lock up a 1st round bye, and maybe given Dalton enough time to recuperate.
Brock Osweiler is… …I’m still not sure, to be honest. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. His last two games he’s thrown for 600 yards and 3 TDs to just 1 INT, but the bigger issue is that he’s had to throw the ball 95 times in those two games. Just like McCaron, Osweiler is a young QB with good potential, but he’s going to need more help from his surrounding players (fewer drops, better running game) to succeed. The Peyton Manning discussion has rightfully become relevant again, as if Manning is healthy come playoff time, we may very well see him unless Osweiler takes the next step.
Uniform Nightmare: As a diehard Ravens fan, I assumed the most embarrassing part of this season would be the team’s play in accumulating just four wins. Incorrect. The Ravens embarrassed themselves while donning hideous yellow pants, which clashed pretty terribly with the purple jerseys and black helmets. Overall this season uniforms have made more angry reactions than positive ones, but I did love the Titan’s all blue look a few weeks back.
What to Watch for in Week 16: The AFC Wild Card picture is tighter than you think- the Broncos could still miss the playoffs if they lose to Cincinnati and San Diego over the next two weeks, so the Jets/Steelers/Chiefs three team race is much more of a four team race than we realized. Over in the NFC, the NFC 2 seed is also very much up for grabs, and the Packers versus Cardinals game will be a big reason why. If Green Bay can pull off the win on the road, Arizona will have to beat Seattle to ensure themselves a two seed in Week 17, which will be no easy task. The NFC East and AFC South may both be decided this week, as Washington and Houston can each clinch their divisions with a win.