NFL Week Sixteen After Action Report (AAR)
Welcome to the NFL Week Sixteen After Action Report. I (Chris) hate blaming the officials, but the officials have the benefit of some pretty amazing technology these days and they’re getting it wrong with alarming frequency. I’m also not big on conspiracies but the overturned touchdown against the Bills in favor of the Patriots makes me just want to shake my head.
Those are the headlines this week but we’ll discuss a few more things in our AARs below.
Because I am impervious to learning, I went with three road teams again this week and paid dearly. As soon as I finish this piece, I am heading straight to the nearest blackboard to write the following sentence 100 times: “NEVER BET ON A BAD QUARTERBACK PLAYING ON THE ROAD.”
Minnesota Vikings (11-3) @ Green Bay Packers (7-7); Line: Vikes by 8
Prediction: Vikings 31, Packers 13
Outcome: Vikings 16, Packers 0
Did they cover? Yes
I predicted an 18-point Vikings victory and they won by 16, but I didn’t see the Packers failing to score a single point at home. As I wrote yesterday, Brett Hundley stinks and it’s time to pull the plug. He had a pair of interceptions, but you also have to wonder why he was asked to throw the ball 40 times. Statistically this game was incredibly close which is a testament to the Green Bay defense, but they need #12 back really bad. In its season finale Green Bay travels to Detroit where they will be a 9-point underdog to the team that choked the hardest on Sunday. As for Minnesota, it needs a home win on New Year’s Eve against Chicago to sew up a first round bye but is no longer in play for home field advantage, which will go to Philly. The Vikings have been methodical all year with defense and running the ball so you have to think this team is built for the playoffs.
Cleveland Browns (0-14) @ Chicago Bears (4-10); Line: Bears by 7
Prediction: Browns 19, Bears 18
Outcome: Browns 3, Bears 20
Did they cover? Yes
I’m not sure if I believed the Browns would win or if I was just seized upon by Christmas spirit and bad egg nog. I rolled with Deshone Kizer on the road so draw your own conclusions. This was another game that was played very evenly by the numbers. However, in typical Browns fashion, they found a way to make the biggest mistakes in the most critical moments. The first five plays of the second half absolutely epitomize the season that Cleveland has had. On 1st & 10 at the Chicago 40, Myles Garrett intercepted a Trubisky screen pass and ran it back for a touchdown which, with the extra point, would have given the Browns a 10-6 lead. Instead the play was called back because defensive end Carl Nassib lined up in the neutral zone—as fundamental a mistake as one can make in professional football. Nassib gained no advantage, but his error took points off the board and, two big plays later, Chicago was in the end zone to go up 13-3, an enormous swing at that stage of the game. The loss drops the Browns to 0-15 with a road game at Pittsburgh in Week 17 likely meaning the second 0-16 season in NFL history. After going 1-15 last season, this wraps up easily the worst stretch we’ve ever seen. The Browns are telling us that Hue Jackson will be back in 2018, but the guy is 1-30 as a head coach. Ouch.
Chicago wraps things up in Minneapolis next weekend where they will be a two-touchdown underdog. This was a very strange year for the Bears who scored three very good victories over teams that will be in the playoffs. As is the case with most teams in turmoil, week to week consistency was the problem. A scan of prominent 2018 mock drafts reveals that no one knows what the Bears will be looking to do with their top-7 pick. This may relate to uncertainty with the head coach, but even if John Fox is out, Chicago is likely still tied to Trubisky for awhile longer.
Jacksonville Jaguars (10-4) @ San Francisco 49ers (4-10); Line: Jags by 4.5
Prediction: Jaguars 24, 49ers 21
Outcome: Jaguars 33, 49ers 44
Did they cover? No
Well, I was wrong. Handsome Jimmy G obviously IS going to win every start of his career. This was a very compelling game from start to finish though. San Fran raced out to a 16-0 lead only to see Jacksonville roar back and tie the game 16-16 in the last 15 seconds before intermission. The Jags outgained the 9ers by more than 100 yards, but they couldn’t overcome a bevy of mistakes including three interceptions and a dozen penalties. The other critical factor was the savage efficiency of Jimmy and the 49ers on third down (10 of 15). They were able to extend drives and force the road weary Jaguar defense to stay out there for long stretches. If what we have seen from the 49ers in December is any indicator, the NFC West is going to be a lot of fun the next few years. Speaking of which, SF wraps up its season with a chance to go 5-0 this month as they travel to LA to take on this year’s division champions. In a Week 17 that offers very few compelling match ups on paper, that might be a fun game to watch.
As for Jacksonville, the loss wasn’t particularly damning. With the Titans falling to the Rams, the Jaguars clinched the AFC South, but it still sets up an interesting final week divisional showdown as Jacksonville travels to Nashville with the opportunity to play spoiler. Tennessee currently sits in the final AFC Wild Card slot by virtue of tiebreakers it holds over the Chargers and Bills. This means that Tennessee can clinch a berth in the playoffs without watching the out of town scoreboard. If they were to lose, they could still get in with a Chargers loss at home to the Raiders AND a Bills road loss to the Dolphins.
Week Sixteen Accuracy: 1-2
Overall Accuracy: 27-13
Los Angeles Rams (10-4) @ Tennessee Titans (8-6); Line: Rams by 7
Prediction: Rams 31, Titans 17
Outcome: Rams 27, Titans 23
Did they cover? No
Jared Goff played well but Todd Gurley is the regular season MVP. How can the guy not be in consideration after having the performance he had on Sunday? Gurley carried the ball 22 times for 118 yards which is a fantastic 5.4 yards per carry figure. That’s great. He also added 10 receptions and 158 yards with two touchdowns. That’s for a total of 276 yards all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. That’s astounding. Jared Goff played well and is certainly one of the most improved players from last season, but without Gurley this team is not an 11-4 Super Bowl contender. They’re not the NFC West division champs for the first time in 14 years. Perhaps the only piece of this Ram’s team more important than Gurley in my mind is Sean McVay. I cannot believe the turnaround he’s had with this team and I’m going to enjoy watching him coach in this league for a long, long time.
With that said, the Titans played well in this game and were competitive down the stretch. Momentum definitely shifted on a botched officiating call in the third quarter after the Titans successfully converted a surprise onside kick only to have it overturned in a confusing sequence of events. Marcus Mariota had another tough outing as he was unable to find any receivers in the end zone this weekend and again threw an interception. DeMarco Murray ran in the Titans only offensive touchdown but the Titans defensive secured their first defensive touchdown all season. Ryan Succop continued his consistent production contributing three field goals on the day.
The final scoreline was a little closer than I had anticipated, but the game played out as expected. Rams with the victory.
Buffalo Bills (8-6) @ New England Patriots (11-3); Line: Pats by 12.5
Prediction: Patriots 24, Bills 21
Outcome: Patriots 37, Bills 16
Did they cover? Yes
The Bills looked like they were going to give the Patriots a fight in the first half of play this weekend, but were unable to overcome the Patriots, and the officials, and are definitely going to be upset with the league after their playoff hopes suffered a major setback. Following the loss this weekend the Bills need to beat the Dolphins, and they need some other teams to lose in order for them to sneak in the back door.
That wouldn’t necessarily have been the case had a touchdown by Kelvin Benjamin not been overturned. Late in the first half the Bills were in prime position to take the lead heading into halftime, but after a controversial call benefiting the Patriots, the Bills were forced to kick a field goal and settle for a first half tie. Whether or not the touchdown stands certainly didn’t decide the game but it may have deflated a locker room that was poised to fight until the last whistle. As many teams have found out over the years, it’s simply a tough proposition to be the underdog and have the referees side against the favorites, but unlike many questionable calls we’ve seen over the years, I have yet to meet someone that actually thinks the officials got this call right. Well, except Bill Belichick but that doesn’t count. The call this weekend certainly isn’t going to help with this debate, and Bills fans aren’t going to feel good or forget about it for a long time.
Moving on, Dion Lewis had a big game for the Patriots and helped put some distance between the teams on the scoreboard in the second half. And following the expected outcome I mentioned in the picks for this week, the Patriots are comfortably coasting into the playoffs in Week 17 and the Bills will have to keep fighting.
Atlanta Falcons (9-5) @ New Orleans Saints (10-4); Line: Saints by 5.5
Prediction: Saints 31, Falcons 21
Outcome: Saints 23, Falcons 13
Did they cover? Yes
This was supposed to be one of the better games this weekend, but I didn’t find it all that interesting and I didn’t think I would. The Saints came in disciplined playing playoff football, while the Falcons fell apart. Again. I already mentioned my dissatisfaction with Dan Quinn’s team because they’ve been flat in big moments and I didn’t think that was going to change. They’ve been dead to me for awhile and that hasn’t changed.
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were non-existent and combined for just 17 carries and they weren’t much of a factor in the passing game either. With Alvin Kamara leaving their last regular season matchup with a concussion early, many wanted to see how these two teams matched up at the running back position and while the gap doesn’t appear big on paper, it was obvious to those watching that the two Saints runningbacks, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, made big plays when it mattered. The difference in this game though was the improved defensive play from the Saints. Rookie Marshon Lattimore, Brad’s defensive rookie of the year candidate, had a big interception and a few key defensive plays and the Saints defensive pressure was fantastic throughout.
This is going to be one tough team to beat come playoff time with a great mix of young talent and veteran leadership at most positions on the field.
Week Sixteen Accuracy: 3-0
Overall Accuracy: 25-16
Detroit Lions (8-6) @ Cincinnati Bengals (5-9); Line: Lions by 3.5
Prediction: Lions 24, Bengals 14
Outcome: Lions 17, Bengals 26
Did they cover? No
I’m curious if Andy Benoit watched this game and if he would still pick Matthew Stafford over Russell Wilson. Stafford and the Lions were unable to deliver against a woeful Bengals team that has seen Andy Dalton regress. These are the types of games that Matthew Stafford was able to deliver last year when he led the league in 4th quarter comebacks. This year he hasn’t been able to recapture the magic. Meanwhile, the Bengals deserve credit for staying competitive while playing for nothing. The Bengals controlled the ball, winning the time of possession battle and out gaining the Lions by nearly 100 yards.
The Lions’ front office should take notice of this game. Jim Caldwell and Matthew Stafford were only able to muster up a little better than 250 yards with the playoffs on the line. The team was out muscled and out played by an inferior Bengals team. This game could be the nail in Caldwell’s coffin. While I like Stafford, I wonder if the Lions can win with his crippling contract. I like Stafford $19 million, not $27 million. The front office should also take note of what the Vikings are doing with Case Keenum and a team built around running the football and playing suffocating defense.
Los Angeles Chargers (7-7) @ New York Jets (5-9); Line: Bolts by 7
Prediction: Chargers 27, Jets 20
Outcome: Chargers 14, Jets 7
Did they cover? Yes
With a playoff spot on the line the Chargers took care of business on the road against a decent Jets team that has managed to stay competitive in most of its games this year. Philip Rivers put up a solid performance and the defense stifled the Jets passing game giving up just 98 yards through the air and forcing three turnovers. If the Chargers had a decent kicker we would be talking about how this team was locking up the AFC West and possibly the number three seed for the playoffs. If the Chargers are able to get in to the playoffs, they should be feared. They have a quarterback capable of putting up huge numbers when he is hot and a defense that can travel in January.
Seattle Seahawks (8-6) @ Dallas Cowboys (8-6); Line: ‘Boys by 4.5
Prediction: Seahawks 30, Cowboys 24
Outcome: Seahawks 21, Cowboys 12
Did they cover? No
This game proved that the Cowboys offensive issues run deeper than the absence of Ezekiel Elliott. The Seahawks were able to get to Dak Prescott early and often forcing him into several ill advised throws with one going the other way for six-points. Seattle’s defense also proved that despite its age, it is capable of putting together one of those games that reminds you of the 2012-2014 squads that were perennially at the top of the league. This unit is too proud to have back-to-back clunkers.
The Seattle offense on the other hand played another bad game. The offense hasn’t had a good game in three weeks and the offensive line is at the core of its problems. The Cowboys defensive front harassed Russell Wilson, who failed to break 100 yards through the air. The Cowboys head into the off-season clearly needing to re-establish its identity. The Seahawks are still alive in the playoff race and can get in with a win and a Falcons’ loss. Despite their record, Seattle hasn’t looked like a playoff contender since their victory over Philly three weeks ago. On a side note, to this point this season, the ‘Hawks have won more games on the road than at home (so much for the vaunted Seattle home field advantage, Bruce Arians isn’t worried about it).
Week Sixteen Accuracy: 2-1
Overall Accuracy: 23-13