It feels like we’ve been watching NFL football 4 days a week all season, but now we’re officially to the part of the schedule where that’s normal – We’ve made it to week 15 y’all
Making it to Week 15 with us is Jets head coach, Adam Gase, who coached his team to a 23-20 upset victory over the Los Angeles Rams, for better or worse. The victory isn’t going to save his job, but as I wrote in last week’s recap, the win has to feel good for Sam Darnold and a roster full of guys who will likely be on new rosters after next season. With the win, the Jets lose possession of the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, which the Jaguars now possess for the time being.
While the slate of games mostly played out the way we thought they would, we still learned a few things as the season nears its end, and there’s still plenty to watch for next week. First things first…
Three Things I’ve Learned
1) The Patriots Remodel is Officially Here
I refuse to say the Patriots are rebuilding, but their rental home in the postseason is definitely closed for remodeling as they’ll officially miss the playoffs after falling to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday afternoon.
Everybody knew that the team would have a different look this season after Tom Brady left the team for the Buccaneers, but when Cam Newton arrived in Foxborough, the season outlook didn’t look as bleak. Whether Newton returns to the team next year or not, the team’s 6-8 record is enough evidence that the Patriot standard hasn’t been met.
The Bills have taken control of the division, and the young Dolphins look ready to contend. Can Belichick and McDaniels modernize without tearing it all down? They’ll have a second offseason to try before the question may answer itself and the foundation itself, or himself rather, comes into question.
2) Brady Must Really Hate Atlanta
First there was 28-3, and now there’s 24-7. Ok, it isn’t as bad as the first one, but Tom Brady’s latest comeback against Atlanta still had to bring up bad memories for the Falcons faithful. The bright side, if it can be called that, is that the Falcons only have to wait two weeks for a chance to get revenge.
Tom Brady went off for 390 yards on 31 of 45 passing, tossing two scores, including the final dagger when he found Antonio Brown for a 46 yard touchdown with six minutes left in the game. Unlike Super Bowl LI, however, Matt Ryan had a chance to respond and score, but couldn’t get it done in two drives. The Week 17 rematch between these two teams should be circled on your calendar, as we should see a really motivated Atlanta team.
The Patriots may be missing the playoffs this year, but Tom Brady has his new team positioned to push for a division title.
3) The AFC North Looks Strong In Primetime
For the second straight Monday Night, the lights were on the AFC North Division when the Cincinnati Bengals were matched up against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and for the second straight week, the teams didn’t disappoint.
Nobody would blame you if you saw this game on the schedule and decided to do almost anything else. The Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger were surely going to have no problem with Ryan Finley and the Bengals. However, you probably were scrolling Twitter and decided to turn the game on somewhere in the second quarter when the home-team Bengals were shutting out Pittsburgh. Did you forget we’re still in 2020 for two more weeks?
For Cincinnati, and possibly Cleveland, some of the planets literally aligned (thanks Saturn, Jupiter and Mars), and the Bengals were able to hold on to win the game 27-17. A week after the Ravens beat the Browns in a thrilling shootout that had a storybook ending, the top of the division remains undecided.
Cleveland represented the division well in primetime, flexing on the Giants on Sunday Night Football. Should the Browns handle the Jets next weekend and the Steelers fall to the Colts, we may just be circling another game on the final weekend of the regular season. Can we just move Pittsburgh at Cleveland to Monday Night Football that week now?
Three Things I’m Watching For Next Weekend
1) Ron Rivera Hosts Panthers In His New House
In every breakup, there’s a pressure for both parties to show their former partner that they’re in a better place. At 6-8, Ron Rivera isn’t exactly winning with his new team, and he’ll definitely have a pimple on his face in Dwayne Haskins when Washington hosts the Carolina Panthers (4-10) next Sunday. Rivera’s forte is defense though, and his unit is one of the most dangerous in the league, and should represent him well in the meeting.
Carolina would like to show that they aren’t doing as bad with their new relationship as it would appear. Matt Rhule would like to end his first season with the Panthers on a high note. Of their 10 losses on the year, only two have been by double digits, and the rest were theoretically within one score from a tie or victory. Their loss to the Packers on Saturday would’ve need a two-point conversion, but it’s a one-score loss nonetheless
2) The End of the Wentz Era in Philadelphia
I’m not saying that Carson Wentz is definitely gone, but with a solid third performance from Jalen Hurts, it may become inevitable. A win for Hurts would be a boost in his campaign to take over as QB1 moving forward, especially since the Eagles have the Cowboys in Dallas on Sunday. Sure Carson was able to lead the team to victory against their division rival back at the start of November, but Philadelphia lost their next four games, sending Wentz to the bench.
Jalen Hurts: 401 total yards in Wk 15 (338 passing, 63 rushing)
That is more than Carson Wentz has had in a single game in his entire career. pic.twitter.com/e0xzcGwV2J
— PFF (@PFF) December 21, 2020
Hurts is a rookie, and he’ll almost definitely face adversity and struggles in his career if he becomes a full-time starter, moments that Wentz should be growing out of following his fifth season. With the time and money invested, shipping or cutting Carson could be a harsh reaction to a down season in which there are still concerns about talent at the receiver position, but keeping him as a back-up could hurt their options for upgrading weapons for Jalen down the road.
3) History For Herbert
At the end of the first half last Thursday in Denver, Los Angeles Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert found Tyron Johnson for a 46 yard score to put his team ahead 17-10 over the Broncos. While the score gave the Chargers the lead in the game, it also tied Herbert with Baker Mayfield for touchdown passes thrown by a rookie quarterback.
Justin Herbert’s second TD of the first half!
Herbert has now tied the record for most passing TDs in a rookie season. #BoltUp
— NFL (@NFL) December 18, 2020
Mayfield broke the record in 2018, which was previously held by a tandem of Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson who each had 26 touchdown passes in their respective rookie seasons. Herbert, like Mayfield, wasn’t a starter in Week 1. Another similarity between the two? Both Baker and Justin replaced an injured Tyrod Taylor.
With Mayfield looking good in year 3, the Chargers wouldn’t be disappointed if Herbert can match that trajectory. While he too is likely to have a new head coach in his second year, Los Angeles would probably like to get the hire right the first time, which is something that Cleveland didn’t do.
What are your thoughts coming out of Week 15? Is your team still in the hunt? Will the Jets and/or Jags try to win a second game? Is there something that missed my radar? Let me know @JarkClonas on Twitter, and be sure to tag @110Sports.