How is that for some drama-filled NFL action?
The New York Giants mounted an amazing comeback attempt against the Carolina Panthers with a backdrop of tempers flaring on both sides.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals clinched the NFC West title after obliterating the Philadelphia Eagles on the road Sunday night.
In the AFC, the Pittsburgh Steelers may have changed the playoff race on a dime with a 17-point comeback win against the Denver Broncos.
Staying in that conference for a second, a Buffalo Bills loss to the Washington Redskins guaranteed that Rex Ryan’s squad will miss the playoffs for a 17th consecutive season. It also gave Washington a clear path to the NFC East title.
These are among the top 10 takeaways from Sunday’s Week 15 NFL action.
A frustrated Odell Beckham Jr. should face a suspension
It’s understandable that this talented young New York Giants receiver would be frustrated going up against one of the top corners in the NFL in Josh Norman of the Carolina Panthers.
It’s not understandable to react in a manner that shows him in a classless way.
What we do know now is that the NFL believes Beckham Jr. should have been ejected from the game. It remains to be seen what the league office will do during the week, but all options should be considered to be on the table here.
On a micro level, this could end up being really bad news for a Giants squad that needs a ton of help in order to win the NFC East. If it is forced to take on the Minnesota Vikings without its top receiver, that could be the end of the line for New York’s playoff aspirations.
More than this, the spats between Beckham Jr. and Norman, which resulted in five personal foul penalties, was a black eye for a league that has had too many of them in recent months/years.
For that, Beckham Jr. — as the unofficial face of young players around the NFL — should be ashamed.
Time to take the Kansas City Chiefs seriously
Following a blowout 34-14 win over the hapless Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City has now won eight consecutive games. And at 9-5 on the year, the Chiefs find themselves in control of their own destiny as it relates to the fifth seed in the AFC.
This is big for numerous reasons. First off, if the Chiefs are able to maintain this seeding, they would take on the winner of the AFC South in the wild card round of the playoffs.
Considering how bad that division has been, Kansas City might very well have an easy road to the divisional round of the playoffs.
The other thing to look at here is what could be a potential wild card game in the AFC that could see an Andy Dalton-less Cincinnati Bengals host the sixth seed. What’s so big about that is that Kansas City could find itself taking on the Denver Broncos in the divisional round.
Not to put the carriage before the horse, Kansas City still has two games remaining — each against a team that is currently under .500 on the season.
This scenario also includes the possibility that Kansas City could win the AFC West outright should the Denver Broncos do them some favors in the final two weeks of the season.
If the Chiefs are able to take care of business in those two outings, they will head into the playoffs with a 10-game winning streak.
Based solely on what we saw Sunday against Baltimore, there’s a good chance this will happen.
Alex Smith had a workmanlike 21-of-25 day with 171 yards as the Chiefs avoided turning the ball over for the sixth time during this eight-game winning streak. Meanwhile, Kansas City forced two turnovers itself to bring its eight-game differential to plus 18.
Washington Redskins look to be NFC East favorites
Kirk Cousins compiled a perfect quarterback rating en route to a four-touchdown outing against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. It was the team’s sixth win in its past seven home games, a span of games that has seen Cousins throw 19 touchdowns compared to zero interceptions.
Now one game up on both Philadelphia and New York, the Redskins control their own destiny in the division. Though, the team is going to have to find success on the road in order to wrap this mediocre division up. With just one road win on the season, Washington closes out the season in Philadelphia and Dallas.
As it relates to Sunday’s performance, the rest of the team helped Cousins put up a statement against a Bills squad that needed a win in order to remain alive in the AFC playoff race. Alfred Morris and Matt Jones led a rushing attack that went for 123 yards on 27 attempts.
Meanwhile, the defense did just enough to fend off a second half Bills rally that saw the team put up 25 points en route to bringing a 21-point halftime deficit down to 11 at the end of three.
It wasn’t a tremendous performance from Washington’s defense in a 35-25 win, but that unit held on two huge possessions midway through the fourth quarter to put the game away.
Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars blow golden opportunities
Indianapolis lost at home to a Brandon Weeden-led Houston Texans team. It’s highly unlikely you need us to repeat that sentence, but here goes. Indianapolis lost at home to a Brandon Weeden-led Houston Texans team.
That pretty much sums up just how bad the Colts have played this season. It also came in a game that could have sent the team into sole possession of first place in what has been a horrible AFC South this season.
Instead, Indianapolis now finds itself one game back with two remaining. The Colts were also eliminated from wild card contention, meaning the division title is the team’s only path to the playoffs.
With the second season now looking like a long shot, the larger question here is whether Chuck Pagano will be back next year. Based on Sunday’s performance in particular, that also seems like a long shot.
You simply can’t lose at home against a team that was led by a third-string quarterback that found himself picked up off the street just earlier this month. Excuses surrounding Andrew Luck’s injury are one thing. Not coming to play in an important game is a completely different thing.
Taking on an Atlanta Falcons team that had lost six of its past seven heading into Sunday’s action, the Jacksonville Jaguars also blew a golden opportunity.
With a win at home, Gus Bradley’s squad would have found itself one game back in the AFC South with two games remaining. Instead, it is on the verge of being eliminated from playoff contention following a game it had every opportunity to win.
The biggest play in this one came in the second quarter with the clock winding down to halftime. With Jacksonville driving down to Atlanta’s one-yard line, Blake Bortles threw an ill-time interceptions into the hands of Falcons safety Kemal Ishmael, who proceeded to return the ball 84 yards down to the Jaguars 16.
This came with Atlanta up 14-3 and the Jaguars threatening to make it a one-score game. Instead, the Falcons opened up a 17-3 lead heading into the half and didn’t look back.
As good as Bortles has been this season, these types of mistakes have been too common. It’s also the difference between earning a playoff spot and finishing below .500.
Jacksonville surely does have a bright future, but it doesn’t appear to be there quite yet. That much was evident on Sunday.
Another season without playoff football in Western New York
By virtue of their loss to the Washington Redskins on Sunday, the Buffalo Bills will miss the playoffs for the 17th consecutive year.
It’s a harsh reality for a team that headed into the season with high expectations and a confident mentality under first-year head coach Rex Ryan.
And in reality, there isn’t a whole lot pointing to the Bills finding a way to rebound from this near two-decade long span of mediocrity.
To be sure, there is a ton of talent on this team. Tyrod Taylor has proven himself to be a legitimate starting quarterback in the NFL — something Ryan himself hasn’t had since Mark Sanchez’s first couple seasons in New York.
There is also a ton of talent at wide receiver, especially second-year player Sammy Watkins. Heck, LeSean McCoy has proven himself worthy of a potential Pro Bowl spot at running back this year.
On defense, the Bills boast a really good young secondary and a front four that should continue to perform at a relatively high level.
Still, there seems to be something missing here. The past several weeks were defined by close losses and an uncharacteristically bad defense. Prior to that, the Bills’ struggles were mainly summed up by injuries and a lethal amount of penalties.
The talent is surely here for Buffalo to contend for a playoff spot. But something larger needs to change moving forward. This is something Ryan and Co. will have to figure out prior to taking the field next September.
Ship righted in Minnesota
It took Adrian Peterson leaving the game for a bit due to an ankle injury for Teddy Bridgewater to finally break out of his year-long slump Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
He completed 17-of-20 passes for 231 yards with a career-high four touchdowns in a dominating 38-17 home win.
It was the first time all season that Minnesota’s offense ran through its quarterback rather than the future Hall of Fame running back.
It also tells us a story of an offense that could be looking at more balance heading into the final two weeks of the season — something that will be a necessity when all is said and done. It’s rather simple for the Vikings to get into the playoffs. If they are able to win one of the final two games, they are in.
More than this, Minnesota isn’t completely out of the NFC North race. It takes on the Giants next week before squaring off with the Green Bay Packers to close out the regular season. If the pieces all into place here, Minnesota could very well earn the division title.
Antonio Brown is a freak of nature
Following a 16-catch performance against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Brown has now caught 245 passes in his past 30 games. Yes folks, that’s an average of over eight catches per game. He’s also caught 70 percent of the whopping 165 passes thrown in his direction this season.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that Brown is playing at a level we have rarely seen as it relates to NFL receivers. On Sunday against a top-ranked Broncos defense, that was magnified to a T.
And in reality, Pittsburgh needed every one of those catches — including a game-clinching first-down reception late in the fourth quarter — to complete what was an amazing 17-point comeback to put his team in a position to control its destiny in the AFC playoff race.
Brown isn’t going to break the single-season reception record unless he finds a way to nab 24 receptions over the final two games. This doesn’t discount the fact that he’s been a historical figure for Pittsburgh over the past two seasons.
It just remains to be seen whether that will be enough to get his team in the playoffs in what has proven to be a remarkably good AFC this season.
Cam Newton: NFL’s MVP
The Carolina Panthers survived an incredible comeback attempt by the New York Giants to remain undefeated on the season. They are now just the fourth team in NFL history to start a year 14-0.
With two more wins, the Panthers will earn a bit of history by being only the second team to go through a 16-game regular season with a perfect record.
To be clear: Newton is the primary reason for what has been one of the most-surprising seasons for a team in the recent history of the league.
With five more touchdown passes on Sunday, Newton has reached that plateau in three of his past five starts and has now compiled 40 total touchdowns compared to just 10 interceptions on the season, including a 19-to-1 split over the past five games.
It’s not a coincidence that Carolina is averaging a league-best 32 points per game, including nearly 40 points over the past four games.
We can talk about Russell Wilson’s recent run of excellence. We can also include New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the conversation. Heck, both J.J. Watt and Josh Norman might deserve some consideration on the defensive side.
None of them have done more with less than Newton. After all, Ted Ginn is his No. 1 receiver on the outside and Michael Oher has been tasked with protecting his blindside.
Despite all this, Newton has his Panthers two games from perfection in a season that seemed to have mediocrity written all over it. That’s the true representation of most valuable.
Carolina needs to watch out for those western teams
Arizona and Seattle have both clinched playoff spots. They are coming off a week of action which saw them outscore their opponents by a combined 40 points.
Arizona has now won eight consecutive games by an average of 11 points per outing. Meanwhile, Seattle has won five consecutive by an average of 20 points since losing to the Cardinals back in Week 10.
Outside of Carolina and Kansas City, these are the two hottest teams in the NFL. They also boast some of the best all-around talent in the league.
While the Panthers will likely avoid having to play Arizona until the NFC Championship game if both teams were to advance that far, they might have to host Seattle in the divisional round of the playoffs. That would be a less-than-ideal scenario for the unbeaten Panthers.
Not that any of this really matters. Cam Newton and Co. know full well that the road to Santa Clara and Super Bowl 50 will run through Carolina.
It’s now all about continuing to take care of business on the field and not worrying about those squads breathing down their backs. If that happens, the Panthers will be just fine when all is said and done.
Playoff picture taking shape
Six spots, two in the AFC and four in the NFC, have been wrapped up heading into Week 15. Outside of one final wild card spot and the NFC East, playoff positioning is the only drama remaining in the NFC.
Meanwhile, it’s possible we could be looking at tiebreakers making the decision as it relates to the two wild card spots in the AFC.
Here’s what we do know right now.
The Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots have all clinched division titles. Meanwhile, the Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals have locked up playoff spots.
In the ultra-competitive AFC, the Pittsburgh Steelers hold the tiebreaker over the New York Jets for the sixth and final playoff spot.
Winners of eight in a row, Kansas City has a clear hold on the fifth spot. It can also earn the AFC West title with wins in the team’s final two games and help from the Denver Broncos, who have not clinched a playoff spot themselves quite yet.
There is actually a scenario in play here that could exclude the Broncos from the postseason. This would require the Jets winning out with Pittsburgh finishing in a virtual tie with a Denver team that loses one of its final two games. If that were to happen New York would make it in over the Broncos.
Head spinning yet?
Just wait until Week 16 action. Washington travels to Philadelphia for a chance to wrap up the division against an Eagles team that actually still controls its destiny in the NFC East following its blowout loss to Arizona on Sunday.
The Jets host New England in a game it must win in order to remain viable in the AFC playoff race.
Meanwhile, Green Bay travels to the desert to take on a Cardinals team that’s looking to wrap up a first-round bye. A win here by the Packers and they could in fact remain alive for said first-round bye.
Then on Monday night, Cincinnati heads to Denver to take on the Broncos in a game that could decide the No. 2 seed in the AFC — a game that could also help Kansas City earn what would be one of the most shocking division titles in recent NFL history.
Stay tuned. It’s going to be an absolute blast.
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