If there was anything close to a sure thing this NFL season, it was Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles. They had the most talent, they were the most consistent, they were the best team top to bottom. Even though most didn’t see it coming, they were the one team we could agree on.
Now, that’s all gone.
With his ACL torn, Wentz commanded four plays before heading to the locker room limping Sunday. One of the four turned out to be a touchdown, a two yard pass to Alshon Jeffrey in the back of the end zone.
If Wentz’s season was gonna end in any way, that’d be the way it would. And it did.
The injury turns the NFL completely upside down. We’re now dangerously close to Case Keenum or Jared Goff starting in the Super Bowl. The AFC was already a mess, and though Wentz’s injury doesn’t totally affect the conference, it makes the likelihood of two mediocre teams playing in the Super Bowl even greater.
However, there’s a couple teams that feel better than others heading into Week 15. Record and stats may not agree, but these teams earn a high grade when it comes to the eye test and knowing what matters in the playoffs.
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans may not win their division, and could struggle to get in. I would assume NFL defenses are hoping that holds true the remaining three weeks.
Drew Brees has been a monster once again, throwing for 3,569 yards this season. His yards and touchdowns have declined a little bit, but when you have a running game like New Orleans does to rely on, then that’s expected.
New Orleans has a million guys a defense needs to cover, as Alvin Kamara is just as good out of the backfield as he is a runner. Michael Thomas doesn’t do anything besides catch touchdowns. Brees has even turned Ted Ginn Jr. back into a NFL player (Who else could do that?). The Saints have gone to their 5th and 6th receivers, using guys like Tommylee Lewis and Brandon Coleman occasionally.
The defense is the cause for concern for most people, but their poor performances have been the result of injuries or ridiculous performances by dudes who are really, really good (Cough, Tom Brady. He’s kinda good.). Yeah, they gave up 29 points to Sam Bradford, but that was Marshon Lattimore’s first game as a pro. Give him a break. (I was there. Minnesota’s receivers torched the secondary. But both happenings make sense: The Vikings’ receivers have turned into some of the best in the league, and it was game one for a young secondary. They’ve pieced it together since.). Brady, as I said above, torched them in Week 2.
But since then, New Orleans’ defense has been awesome. They didn’t have a performance cost them a game until the Rams showdown two weeks ago, and Lattimore didn’t play. The Saints should have the Offensive and Defensive Rookie(s) of the Year.
The loss to Atlanta was a weird, flukey game. I wouldn’t read too much into it. Thursday games are weird for multiple reasons; but really nobody plays their best (I wonder why?! Maybe it’s because they played four days before? Does that sound reasonable, NFL?). Those games gotta go. It’s time.
So what makes New Orleans one of the teams most fit to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl? Well, for one, name the quarterbacks starting for NFC teams you trust in a playoff game: Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers (More on him later), um… Jared Goff? Case Keenum? Nick Foles? … What’s the text property you’re supposed to use after italics to say something sarcastic? Anyways, whatever it is, that’s what Nick Foles’ name should be highlighted/styled in.
I know you’re probably wondering where Matt Ryan and Cam Newton’s names are. Look, when they’re hot and playing well, they’re near unstoppable. But it’s really hard to instill trust into either offense this season. Atlanta’s still recovering from the Super Bowl loss on both ends, with their defense capable of blowing any game and the offense making frequent dumb plays and dropping passes. Carolina may or may not show up half the time, taking a whole half to get their offense going. That can’t happen in the playoffs. They won’t be able to catch up.
Secondly, New Orleans’ defense is a menace when healthy. They get clutch turnovers and ball-hawk. Up front’s a little bit of an issue, but the offense and secondary can make up for it.
Green Bay Packers
This scenario was in the works for awhile, and Tuesday night it became a reality. With Aaron Rodgers back, the Packers return to at least above average. There’s a lot of issues, and a lot of holes in a potential run, but the most important piece to the puzzle is back.
First, lets lay out the Packers-making- the-playoffs scenario. They’re 7-6 with three games left, tied for 2nd place in the division with Detroit. The remanning schedule is tough: @Carolina, home for Minnesota, then at Detroit. But worst case scenario they go 2-1 over that stretch; losing the Lions game would be an embarrassment even if their hopes are dashed at that point. They simply aren’t good.
2-1 wouldn’t get Green Bay into the playoffs though. Minnesota will get to at least 12 wins with Cincinnati, Green Bay and Chicago left, so winning the division is out of the question. Carolina, one of the current wild-card teams, has Green Bay, Atlanta and Tampa Bay left; they’re getting at least 10 wins. Atlanta, the 2nd NFC Wild Card, has their whole division left (Yikes!). That’s not ideal for the Falcons, who as we know by now doesn’t do well in critical spots and hasn’t shown up in all their games this year. Currently sitting at 8-5, they’re probably only getting one more win. And that’s if they don’t pull a Super Bowl 51 against the Buccaneers.
That will be Green Bay’s spot if all goes right. There’s a couple outsiders who still want in: Dallas, Seattle, and even Detroit is still mathematically alive. But screw math for now, who’s the best team? Seattle’s offense is essentially Russell Wilson doing as much as he can and the defense is completely ravaged. The Lions are the “How are they 7-6 team?, so you can cross them both off.
And then there’s the Cowboys, who haven’t totally gone away despite a pitiful offense without Ezekiel Elliot and a defense whose performance totally hinges on whether Sean Lee plays or not. They get Elliot back in Week 16. If anyone’s gonna steal a spot from Green Bay, it’s them.
Now that we’ve got the scenarios figured out, let’s use our brains to make some calls. I’ve written all year that Carolina and Atlanta are mediocre and can’t be taken as true threats. If they make the playoffs, it’ll be Case Point No.1,346 as to why the country needs a sports czar. Seattle is always fun in the playoffs, but this team seems like one that just wants the season to end as soon as possible. Cross them off.
It comes down to Green Bay and Dallas. We’ve heard that one before.
If Green Bay wins out and makes it in, there’s no telling me that that’s not the scariest team in the playoffs. They would have won three straight with Aaron Rodgers running the table and would probably be the hottest team coming in. Despite a terrible defense, Rodgers is someone good enough to do it on his own. He is a bad, bad man. I hinted at it above, but I’ll take him over any other NFC quarterback in the current playoff field. That alone is why the Packers have to be taken seriously.
So can this actually happen? Well, here’s how I see Green Bay and Dallas’ season playing out.
Home for Minnesota-W
Home for Seattle-W
The Vikings fans aren’t gonna believe I have the nerve to do that, but I do and I just did, so get over it. Look, the Vikings are really freaking good. But you can’t tell me the win against Green Bay in Week 6 was legit: Your linebacker made an illegal but not dirty hit which knocked out Rodgers, who was replaced with Brett Hundley. Brett Hundley! How did he do the past two months? We don’t really know if Minnesota is the better team. On paper, yes. But truly? We’ll see.
As for Dallas, Sunday night’s game could go either way. Those two teams couldn’t be more identical. They’ve came close to having or are in the midst of a lost season. They’ve both have sputtering offenses and terrible defenses. I really have no idea. This feels like it should be a game that you shouldn’t watch, but it’s actually somehow important. Welcome to this NFL season!
If the games go the I way predicted, both teams would end up at 10-6. The Packers have the head-to-head tiebreaker, so they’d get in. Both are in similar spots and are similar teams. But one has Aaron Rodgers. And besides a couple outliers, history tells us that’s all that matters.
Lets do a couple quick hits before Week 15…
- The AFC is a disaster. There’s two Super Bowl teams (New England and Pittsburgh) and they both have serious defensive issues. The Patriots’ has been bad all year, but has improved slightly lately. I’m still not convinced. Pittsburgh really misses Ryan Shazier. God, I hope he plays again. Looks like a shootout in the AFC Championship Game.
- I would fire everyone on the coaching staff in Oakland and Tennessee. There’s no excuse for those teams to be as bad as they are.
- I trust John Dorsey in Cleveland. I’ve also said this about two other Browns GMs.