Buccaneers get shut out, Lions rip Cardinals, Patriots win streak ends, Steelers back in playoff chase – what a wild week in the NFL it was!
Top Takeaways from NFL Week 15:
(1) There is no dominant team in the NFL this season: For a while, we thought the Arizona Cardinals were going to be "the team to beat" come playoff time. But since rattling off the league's best record going into December, the Cardinals have since lost two straight, including an apparent mismatch loss at home versus the Los Angeles Rams, and then then exclamation point on a panic attack – getting thumped by the 1-11-1 Detroit Lions. Ouch! Scratch off the Cardinals. Nice season, but they're not in the same league at the best teams in the NFL.
(2) Okay, so maybe the Green Bay Packers are the dominant team: The Packers not only own the best record in the NFL but they're also a remarkable 11-3 against-the-spread. Green Bay failed to cover against Baltimore on Sunday. Nonetheless, considering all the injuries to Packers' starters throughout the season, their record is remarkable. Yes, the Packers are "the team to beat," and the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC likely leads through Lambeau Field. Brrrrr.
(3) Pittsburgh back in the playoff hunt: No team has won uglier than the Steelers, who seem so hopelessly ill-prepared in most of their games but somehow always seems to stage a second-half comeback. Pittsburgh did it again on Sunday, falling behind 13-3 to the Titans, then roaring back to win 19-13 with a late stop and stunning victory. Pittsburgh had just 168 yards of total offense in the game, the lowest total by any winning team this season. With that win – 5-0-1 the last six Steelers' home games – Pittsburgh still has a shot at both the division title and a wild card. But they'll have to win at least 2 of their last 3 games, and perhaps all 3 to win the AFC North.
(4) What happened to Tampa Bay? In the "WTF?" category, New Orleans stormed into Tampa Bay on Sunday night as 12-point underdogs with a utility QB and absolutely spanked the defending Super Bowl champions. The Saints were even without their head coach, who wasn't on the sidelines. Losing the game was one thing for Brady and Co. (now 0-4 to the Saints). But to get shut out at home was a shocker. It's not panic time in Tampa yet, but the Bucs had better get healthy at wide-receiver, or they're in serious trouble. Last night, the Bucs lost most of their key receivers and Top Brady's lack of targets showed. He looked completely lost in one of the worst losses of his career in several years.
(5) Ravens come close, but no cigar: Baltimore came back from being down by two touchdowns late in the 4th quarter, with a backup quarterback and several starters out due to COVID, no less. It was a remarkable effort against the NFL's best team (Green Bay). Nonetheless, John Harbaugh's decision to go for the win in the closing seconds rather than a tie with the extra point remains controversial. This was the second time in three weeks the Ravens elected to gamble, and lost. The loss knocked the Ravens out of first place in the AFC North.
(6) New England cools off: The Patriots were on fire heading into Saturday night's game at Indianapolis. At 9-4, they looked to be on the verge of wrapping up the AFC East title in what's been a stunning turnaround. But New England fell behind early and failed to complete a comeback. That sets the stage for a huge showdown this week against rival Buffalo. Both teams desperately need this win which is likely to settle the question as to who's the division winner. New England also has a chance to wrap up a first round bye, assuming they can beat Buffalo and then handle their last two opponents.
(7) Kansas City is the Green Bay Packers of the AFC: Does this make sense? It should. Many of us thought Kansas City's day had passed. Now, they're riding a 6-game win streak and the offense is clicking on all cylinders. The Chiefs' win at the LA Chargers last Thursday verified that this is probably the best team in the AFC. If Kansas City enjoyed HFA in the playoffs, they're going to be very difficult to beat. It sure looks like a Kansas City-Green Bay Super Bowl looks to be the favored matchup.
(8) Dallas uncharacteristically not getting enough respect: The Cowboys are perpetually overrated. But not this season. They've quietly gone 10-4 this season, and are virtually assured of winning the NFC East. Dallas is also 11-3 against-the-spread, tied for the best record in that category. The Cowboys defense appears to be for real this year, which will make them a dangerous foe from this point forward. Dallas at Green Bay in January for Ice Bowl 2?
(9) The worst of the worst: As for the NFL's worst team, that's easy. No, it's not Detroit, or the NY Jets, or Houston. That dubious distinction clearly falls to Jacksonville. Days after firing flop coach Urban Meyer (another college coach bites the dust in the pros), the Jaguars responded by going out in front of their home fans and getting hammered by two touchdowns to another really bad team, the Houston Texans. This franchise is totally dysfunctional. It doesn't matter how many top draft picks they acquire next year. Jacksonville remains snake bit and cursed.
(10) Bonehead Decision of the Week: Finally, there's the worst head coaching decision in the NFL this week, easily Mike Tomlin's mind-boggling idiocy in the Pittsburgh-Tennessee game. Here's the scenario:
Pittsburgh is losing to Tennessee. The score is 10-3. It's the 2:00 warning in the first half. Titans have the ball on the Steelers 4-yard-line.
On first down, Tennessee runs a play but doesn't score and the clock is now at 1:53. Pittsburgh has ALL THREE TIMEOUTS. Instead of calling a timeout (to INEVITABLY get the ball back for one more series, which is basically a freeroll), the Steelers let the clock wind down to 1:20. Then, there's another play, and then another, and the Steelers fail to use a timeout. Tennessee kicks an easy field goal on 4th down to go up 13-3.
Pittsburgh was GOING TO GET THE BALL BACK FOR ONE MORE SERIES, no matter what. If the Titans scored, they'd have one more possession. If the Titans kicked a FG, they'd still get one more possession. If the Titans committed a turnover, they'd still get ONE MORE POSSESSION. One more critical possession in a game they're losing, with playoff hopes on the line.
Kinda' a big freaking deal.
Instead of using ANY timeouts, Pittsburgh let's the clock run down to :23 seconds. Now, the Steelers offense has almost NO TIME to run a full series. They somehow move the ball up to the Titans' 40 and then the clock expires.
Dumbest coaching I've seen in the pros in a long time. Wasting a full possession in a game they're losing. That's UNFORGIVABLE.
Rant over, "til next week!