The 101st NFL Season: Weeks 13 to 17

Image courtesy Toledo Blade 

By Jack Cherico 

Week 13

Week 13 of the 101st NFL season kicked off after it was week marred by COVID-19 concerns. However, there were no issues this week, and all games were able to be played as scheduled. 

Some teams wish the games were not played, however, because of their abysmal performance on Sunday. The New England Patriots faced the San Diego Chargers, and although the Pats have not been an offensive powerhouse this season, they made up for it with a 45-0 win. Cam Newton ran for two touchdowns, and the Patriots’ special teams unit came to play with a field goal block and a punt return each for a touchdown.

The New York Jets continued their heartbreak of a season with a painful loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. Las Vegas was trailing 24-28 when QB Derek Carr threw a 55 yard Hail Mary to rookie speedster Henry Ruggs, who had multiple steps on the defender. Ruggs’s TD was the go-ahead score and won the game for the Raiders 31-28. Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was responsible for the blitz, and man coverage called on the play, which he defended by saying it has worked before. It is unfathomable why one would play man coverage on Ruggs with four seconds to go in the game, with no safety help. Williams was fired in the wake of the loss, and the Jets have sunk to 0-12, in pole position for the #1 overall pick.

The final notable game of week 13 was the bout between the Washington Football Team and the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers, coming off of a win against injury-riddled Baltimore, could not keep the streak alive, losing to Washington 23-17. Linebacker Jon Bostic sealed the game with an interception of Ben Roethlisberger in a two-minute drill and has heated up the race for the top spot in the NFC East. The New York Giants shockingly beat the Seattle Seahawks, with QB Daniel Jones out with an injury, when veteran signal-caller Colt McCoy, as well as the defense, propelled the Giants to a 17-12 win. These wins have put the Giants ahead in the race for the division’s top spot as both teams sit with a 5-7 record, and the Giants hold the tie-breaker.

Week 14

The playoff race is coming down to the wire with the Kansas City Chiefs clinching a playoff berth in week 14. The AFC North, however, came into some turbulence with two prime time games. The Buffalo Bills beat Pittsburgh 26-15, advancing their record to 10-3 and giving the Steelers their second loss in two games. The Bills struggled in the first half, only scoring a field goal until a few seconds left in the half when they picked off Roethlisberger for a touchdown. Pittsburgh could not recover and they had to rely on Baltimore for some help In clinching the division. For Buffalo, the win was personal as Steelers wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster filmed himself dancing on the Buffalo’s midfield logo, which ruffled some feathers of the Bills players, especially Josh Allen. Allen said prior to the game “Let them do all the talking and the… dancing… we do all the work.” 

The Baltimore Ravens played the Cleveland Browns on Monday night, and it was quite the contest. Lamar Jackson threw for 163 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Not to be outdone, Cleveland QB Baker Mayfield threw for 343 yards and two touchdowns, and halfback Nick Chubb scored two touchdowns. The game was back and forth in the fourth quarter, and Justin Tucker kicked a game-winning field goal to keep the Raven’s playoff hopes alive and keep the Browns from gaining ground on the Steelers. The Raven’s 47-42 win was integral to the Steelers, who only needed a win against the Joe Burrow-less Cincinnati Bengals, who lost 30-7 against Dallas. 

The NFC East has been a toss-up all year, and it seems like all the teams are finally showing up to play. After Carson Wentz was benched due to poor play, the Eagles decided to start rookie QB Jalen Hurts out of Oklahoma. Hurts has seen a few snaps in relief for Wentz, but this was the first start of his NFL career. Hurts made the most out of his opportunity, leading the Eagles to a 24-21 victory in which Hurts ran and threw for a combined 273 yards and a touchdown. Philly is only two games behind the Washington Football Team and has a chance to grab the fourth seed in the playoffs, despite being a .500 team.

Week 15

Week 15 was a crazy week that determined some playoff spots for most divisions. 

Week 15’s best story was the New York Jets, and how they proved no matter how bad the season could be, it could always be worse. New York faced off against the Los Angeles Rams and put on a good enough performance to get their first win of the season. “The ageless wonder,” Frank Gore, ran for the 100th touchdown of his career and picked up a crucial first down that put the Jets in victory formation for the first time all season, sealing a 23-20 win. However, as Jets players and coaches were delighted to get their first W, fans and team front office staff remembered one crucial detail. The win put the Jets at 1-13, which ties the Jacksonville Jaguars record, putting the first overall pick in serious doubt. Assuming both teams lose the rest of their games, Jacksonville would obtain the first overall pick based on schedule strength. New York has been planning for the first overall pick all year, which many believe will be Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence has shown to be the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck, being a .9999 overall ranked high school player and a 5-star recruit. Lawrence’s success at Clemson has been remarkable, and the 6’6’’ quarterback might breathe a little easier as Jacksonville is inarguably in a better position to succeed down the line than New York. The Jets have two games left against the Browns and Patriots, while Jacksonville plays the Bears and Colts. 

If there is one thing Tom Brady knows about the Atlanta Falcons, it’s how to make a comeback. Brady and the Bucs were down 17-0 going into halftime and were down 24-7 at one point in the third quarter. However, Brady channeled the ghosts of Super Bowl 51, when his Patriot’s team rallied from a 28-3 deficit to win the game 34-28. The 43-year-old quarterback threw 31/45 for 390 yards and two touchdowns, bringing the Bucs to a 31-27 win and a 9-5 record, second in the NFC South, and currently the 6th seed in the NFC playoff standings. 

In week 15, many teams punched their ticket to the playoffs and clinched the division. Currently, the Saints, Seahawks, and Steelers have clinched playoff spots, while the Chiefs, Packers, and Bills have clinched the title of their respective divisions. The Steelers have continued to blow their lead in the division, with a 27-17 loss to the Bengals, putting their AFC North division championship hopes on hold. The Browns have a chance to put pressure on Pittsburgh heading into next week, which might culminate in a week 17 matchup between the two teams. 

Week 16

In week 16, more teams clinched their playoff spots, while others confirmed that it had been a season to forget. 

On Christmas, the game was a matchup between the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings, a rematch of many playoff heartbreaks for New Orleans. To refresh your memory, the Saints lost to the Vikings on two separate occasions; the so-called Minneapolis miracle was a 2018 game in which the Vikings threw a Hail Mary to Stefon Diggs, who caught it for the walk-off touchdown and a 29-24 win. And last year, in overtime, the Vikings won 26-20 with a contested Kyle Rudolph catch to send the Saints home. New Orleans, however, regaining their star quarterback Drew Brees, punished the Vikings, and the resurgence of former MVP candidate Alvin Kamara pushed New Orleans to a win, furthering their place in the NFC South division. Throughout the whole season, Kamara has shown that he should be seen as one of the league’s best running backs. However, when the quarterback Taysom Hill was starting in place of Brees, who was coming off a rib injury, Kamara’s production dropped off wildly. With Brees back, Kamara put up six rushing touchdowns, tying a record set by Chicago Cardinals running back Ernie Nevers in 1929. The last person to have six touchdowns on the ground was Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers in 1965. Kamara had a chance to beat the record and get seven touchdowns, but head coach Sean Payton gave the ball to Hill on the two-yard line, to much chagrin of the Saint’s fans. Kamara, a third-round draft pick out of the University of Tennessee, has exploded in the Saints offense this year, scoring 16 touchdowns and needing 68 more yards next game to achieve a 1000 yard season. The Saints are first in the division at 11-4, with the number 2 seed in the playoffs going into week 17. Their next game is against the Carolina Panthers, who have put up good performances that haven’t translated to wins. 

Speaking of MVP candidates, with Kamara’s recent lack of production, the award (being predominantly a QB heavy title) has fallen between two candidates, quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers and Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs. Both players led their teams to first in the division, the Chiefs with a 14-1 record and the Packers with an 11-3 record. However, Mahomes has struggled in recent weeks, with a poor performance against the Atlanta Falcons, only winning 14 to 17, and a three-interception game against the Miami Dolphins, although they also won that game. Another statistic that could raise eyebrows is Mahomes has been extremely lucky this year, with a record of 17 dropped interceptions and only six caught. Although Mahomes is excellent and will be the best quarterback in the league for years to come, these issues, as well as the Chiefs’ insane roster that can win even when Mahomes is having an off day, may make him the less favorable candidate in this year’s MVP race. However, Rodgers hasn’t slowed down, throwing 4059 yards and 44 touchdowns this season, with only five interceptions, leading his team to a division win and clinching the first overall seed. Rodgers’ favorite target this year has been wide receiver Devante Adams, who has been putting up insane numbers (1328 yards, 17 TD’s); additionally, the Packers’ run game  has rushed for 1780 yards and 12 touchdowns. In the Sunday Night Football game, Rogers and the Pack played the Tennessee Titans, who needed to win to clinch their spot in the playoffs. The Titans had to go into Lambeau Field, sometimes called the frozen tundra, because of frigid temperatures and frequent snowfall. The tundra saw a blizzard on Sunday night, yet Rogers didn’t feel the cold. The Packers roared to a 40-17 victory, in which they stifled the Titans run game, their best asset. 

The Titans have put themselves in a predicament, with five AFC teams having a 10-5 record. The Ravens, Browns, Dolphins, Titans, and Colts are all fighting for the rest of the four playoff spots, and one team will be out. My prediction for who will lose the final spot is the Dolphins, who played the Buffalo Bills. If Buffalo refuses to rest their players, as their playoff standing is already clinched, Miami will have a tough time against the red hot Bills, who won their game against the New England Patriots 38 to 9. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs has been a legitimate candidate for offensive player of the year. Diggs has broken team records and set career highs in his first year with Buffalo, with 120 receptions, 1459 yards, and eight touchdowns. Josh Allen, who has been improving every year he’s been in the league, is an MVP candidate as well, but Allen would have a better case if Mahomes and Rogers weren’t so great. However, I feel that this play isn’t a flash in the pan and will indicate good years to come for Buffalo. Bills Mafia will have a lot to celebrate in the next few years, and I hope Home Depot doesn’t run out of plastic tables.

Week 17

After a season marred by COVID concerns and injuries, the 2020 NFL regular season has finally finished. For some teams, this was a historic year, and for others, it’s just another rebuilding year. Week 17 was the final chance for teams to punch their ticket to the dance and solidified the draft positions for the teams that didn’t make the playoffs.

Going into week 17, five AFC teams sitting at a 10-5 record were fighting for four coveted playoff spots. The Ravens, Browns, Colts, Titans, and Dolphins were all vying for the final position, and my prediction was that the Miami Dolphins would be the team standing out in the cold. I was proven correct when Josh Allen led the Bills to 52 points against Miami, who ended their promising season with a whimper. Simultaneously, Buffalo roared to the second seed in the playoffs and will have home-field advantage for all of their games, unless they play the Kansas City Chiefs. The Ravens essentially had a guaranteed win because Cincinnati had nothing to play for and are waiting for QB Joe Burrow to come back from ACL surgery. The Ravens won the game 38-3, off the back of Lamar Jackson’s three touchdowns. The Colts faced the Jags, who had nothing to play for as they had already clinched the number one pick in the draft. Running back Jonathan Taylor finished a game with 253 yards and two touchdowns en route to a Colts 28 to 14 win. The Cleveland Browns clinched their first playoff appearance in 17 years with a 24-22 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The latter rested most of their star players, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, and Maurkice  Pouncey. As they have all year, the Titans needed a little flair in their win, in which they sunk the Houston Texans on an off the upright field goal attempt with no time on the clock. Running back Derrick Henry rushed for 250 yards and two touchdowns, pushing him past 2000 yards in the season and a total of 2027 on the season. Only eight running backs have ever done this, and he joins an elite club, containing Barry Sanders, Chris Johnson, and Adrian Peterson. Next week in the wild card round, The Steelers play the Browns again, the Bills play the Colts, and the Titans play the Ravens.

As impressive as the AFC was, the NFC was not to be outdone. Going into week 17, the Rams and Bears were sitting at the number six and seven playoff spots, respectively, with the Cardinals on the outside looking in. Arizona had to win their game against the Rams without quarterback Jared Goff as he broke his thumb in a previous game. However, Arizona couldn’t win the game they needed to, and even though the Bears lost to the number one seed Packers, Chicago was the seven seed, and LA was the sixth seed after a 7-18 win. 

Perhaps one of the most controversial events of the past few weeks, the Washington Football Team played the Philadelphia Eagles in the primetime Sunday night game. The New York Giants beat the Dallas Cowboys, placing their record at six and 10, and needed a Football team loss to punch their ticket to the playoffs and get the fourth seed. Giants fans and players intently watched the Eagles-Football Team game because the Giants would make the playoffs if the Eagles could come through. While three points separated the game in the third quarter, Coach Doug Pederson did the unthinkable and benched rookie QB Jalen Hurts for third string quarterback Nate Sudfeld. Former starter Carson Wentz was placed on the inactive list for the game, even though he wasn’t injured, because of the tensions between Pederson and Wentz. Pederson benching Hurts was a baffling move for the Eagles, as this only makes sense if they were trying to lose the game. With a loss, their draft pick moves from number 9 overall to number six overall, yet they have nothing to play for if they win. So, in a three-point game, the Eagles benched their budding star for a player who has one career touchdown. Washington took what the Eagles gave them and punched their first playoff ticket since 2015. Giants fans and players were enraged, with former quarterback Eli Manning saying on Twitter, “This is why we don’t like the Eagles.” This sparked a national debate on whether the Eagles should be sanctioned for trying to lose a game, and there are two sides of the argument. One side says throwing the game inhibits the integrity of the game, in which everyone should be trying to win; it doesn’t matter about future picks or anything else; you have to win the game put in front of you as a professional. Eagles Center Jason Kelce was disgusted by Peterson’s actions, as he is very outspoken in trying to win every game at all times. Reporters took pictures of Kelce, tight end Zach Ertz, and Wentz, on the Eagles bench after the game talking, and it seems to be the last ride for the trio, who won a Super Bowl in 2017. Tanking has shown to be a problem all year, with the Jacksonville Jaguars benching Gardner Minshew, who seems to be the best option for the starter, in favor of Mike Glennon. The Jaguars anticipated taking quarterback Trevor Lawrence From Clemson with the number one overall pick, and they had to secure a one and 15 records to do it.

Coach firings: On Monday, January 4, commonly known as black Monday for NFL coaches, multiple head coaches were relieved from their duties. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, Jaguars coach Doug Marone, and Jets coach Adam Gase were fired after various years. The leading candidates for all of the head coaching positions in the NFL are Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy, former college coach Urban Meyer, and 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

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