“Hey look, at us. Huh? Who’da thought? Not me!”
Yes, I just quoted the popular Paul Rudd gif that was gif-ted (thank you very much) to the Internet in his appearance on Hot Ones, but I ask you – What else better captures the sentiment we all feel right now?
Like the wing challenge that Rudd was participating in, this year progressively got hotter and more intense the deeper we got, and the same can be said for the NFL season. Did you really think the league would make it, let alone with ZERO missed games? Well OddsShark sure didn’t at least.
Sure, it took some stretching on their part, and not all teams got to experience a traditional bye-week (sorry Steelers), but here we are, just five days away from Week 17 – Knock on wood if you’re with me. Seriously, please knock on wood.
Before we can go into Week 17, we first have to unwrap the gift that was Week 16, and with Buffalo’s humbling beatdown on the Patriots for the second time this season now complete, let’s tear into it.
Three Things I Learned in Week 16
1) The Jets Found Their Fuel
“OK, we won a game yesterday. If we win today, it’s called ‘two in a row’. And if we win again tomorrow, it’s called a ‘winning streak’… It has happened before!”
That quote, of course, comes famously from the movie Major League 2, when skipper Lou Brown was speaking to the locker room of the fictional Cleveland Indians. It also may have been what Jets head coach Adam Gase told his team Sunday afternoon before facing the Cleveland Browns.
Coming off an upset win over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 15, the Jets scored 17 unanswered points against an albeit depleted Cleveland team, another playoff hopeful like the Rams, that still had a lot of talet. New York hung on for their second win of the season, and their first home victory.
I wrote a couple of weeks back in the Week 14 recap that the Jets might look for some wins down the stretch to stick it to everyone, and put some good film out there for new teams. Whether former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams truly was the weight keeping the Jets from taking off, or the team just got tired of losing, Frank Bush and Adam Gase have a chance to keep building momentum going against a struggling Patriots team.
2) Trubisky Comeback Season
Is it possible for a player to receive Comeback Player of the Year in the same season that they are coming back from? Not that it matters too much since Alex Smith has to be the favorite to receive the honor for his personal journey back to the field, but I’d like to make a 2020 exception for Mitchell Trubisky.
In the eyes of some NFL executives, Mitchell Trubisky has played some of the best football of his career, and has made a case as to why Chicago will need to consider re-signing him — especially if the Bears now advance to the playoffs.https://t.co/EjKFG2yKrq
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 27, 2020
It was pretty shocking when Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy sent Trubisky to the bench in the third game of the season and then opted to ride the hot hand of Nick Foles that quickly cooled. At the time of the benching, Trubisky was leading a 2-0 Bears team, and personally had a 6-3 TD-INT ratio, and was moving the ball decently with his arm and his legs. In the third game, against the Atlanta Falcons, Trubisky was struggling, and Nagy went to Foles, who helped the team comeback and win.
Following the Falcons game, the Bears went 2-5 under Foles, and a hip injury to the former Super Bowl MVP opened the door for Trubisky to get another chance. Since his return, Chicago has won three of the five games, the victories coming from the team’s current three-game winning streak. For the playoffs, it’s “win and in” for the Bears, and Mitchell’s could be deemed complete with Week 17 victory over the NFC-leading Packers to seal the deal.
The way the season’s gone for them, a playoff win would be gravy for Trubisky’s ascension back to starting quarterback of the Bears.
3) Running Up the Score
In college football, teams are sometimes justified in running up the score on opponents because rankings in the polls and the shot to play for a title may depend on it. In the NFL, strength of win doesn’t come into play until determining qualifiers who are otherwise tied in the standings by the slimmest of margins. You wouldn’t have thought so with some of the scores around the league this weekend, however.
Of the 16 games played in Week 16 of the NFL, the winners in seven of the contests scored 30 or more points, with the New Orleans Saints leading the way with 52 points in their victory over the Vikings on Christmas Day to start the weekend. The average point differential of games where the winning team scored 30+ was 23.4 points, with the greatest difference being the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beating the Detroit Lions by 40 (47-7), and the closest being the Cincinnati Bengals edging out the Houston Texans by 6 (37-31).
Maybe the Buccaneers went too far in their embarrassment of the Lions, and the Buffalo Bills could be close in their beating of the New England Patriots by 29 points (38-9). In both games, the victors pulled their starters, and Tom Brady was even pulled for Tampa Bay at half-time after already having tossed four scores.
In a season that didn’t have OTAs, a normal training camp, or even standard practices, it isn’t really surprising to see teams taking advantage of any opportunity to get reps in. Six of the victors of the aforementioned seven games all have current playoff aspirations.
Three Things I’m Watching For in Week 17
1) Action-Packed Sunday
There are 16 games this weekend, and all of them are on Sunday. While you commandeer all the screens in the house to watch all of the games, be sure to let everyone know that it’s necessary.
With seven games in the noon broadcast spot, and eight in the mid-day lineup, the majority of games have playoff implications. For a number of teams who are currently holding playoff spots, it’s simply “win and you’re in”, but should any of them lose, the qualifying scenarios get tricky. With Week 17 being division week, even the teams at the bottom of the standings have something to fight for, and that’s respect amongst their peers.
The afternoon on Sunday merely sets the stage for what could appear to be an underwhelming matchup between the Washington Football Team and the Philadelphia Eagles, but neither team needs to look really far to find motivation going into this one.
Washington released quarterback Dwayne Haskins on Monday, hours after coach Ron Rivera said either Alex Smith or Taylor Heinicke will start the regular-season finale with the NFC East at stake.
— AP NFL (@AP_NFL) December 28, 2020
For the Eagles, even though they’re eliminated, this is their chance to get revenge on Washington for the “upset” loss the Football team handed Philly in Week 1 of the season. With Jalen Hurts continuing to play under center for Philadelphia, a win in the division to end their season could be sweeter revenge for the Week 1 if the victory knocks Washington out of the lead in the NFC East.
Washington is shaky at quarterback this weekend after Dwayne Haskins was released on Monday afternoon following a poor outing against the Giants and his off the field behavior. Alex Smith may be back, and Ron Rivera has to be crossing his fingers that Smith is ready to go. A win secures the division title for the Football Team, and a loss means the winner of the Giants vs Cowboys game gets it.
2) Black Monday
Black Monday, if you aren’t aware, is the first day after the regular season ends, and a time for coaching changes for teams not satisfied with the end result. There have been some hot seats under a number of head coaches this season, and Week 17 presents one more opportunity for them to possibly save their jobs.
Adam Gase is the first name that comes to mind when considering coaches that will be losing their jobs following the season, after Matt Patricia and Bill O’Brien already lost their jobs in Detroit and Houston respectively. Should the Jets beat the Patriots and finish the season on an official win streak as stated above, would the front office still fire Gase and try another approach?
Joining Gase on the chopping block is Anthony Lynn, head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers. His team hasn’t performed very well either, but he too finds his team getting hot at the right time, currently sitting at 6-9, having won three straight. Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert has set a new record for passing touchdowns in a season by a rookie, and keeping things consistent going into his second year could be valuable for his development.
Matt Nagy could find his name trending on Twitter on Black Monday, especially if the Bears fall to the Packers and ultimately end up missing the playoffs. Sure, he turned things around, but would Foles still be starting had he not gotten hurt? Possibly. If Foles was still the starter, would the team be in position to make the playoffs right now? I’m going to lean toward “no”. Nagy made the reactionary call to go to Foles in Week 3, and it doesn’t look like it was the right decision, and it could yet cost him his job.
3) COVID Impact
I started this article in astonishment that we’ve made it to this point without a full cancellation of a game, which would really stir things up if a team poised for the playoffs were to fall short of completing the season and fall out of the standings. The Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns are both coming off of games that felt the impact of the pandemic.
For the health of the players and for the integrity of the season, I really hope that the league has a clean week in terms of no new cases or outbreaks among the teams. This season has come so far, and these players have gone through so much to get here. If there was a week to act with extra caution in and around team facilities, this is it.
What did you think of Week 16 in the NFL? Is there something that you noticed, but didn’t make the cut here? Do you have your eyes on something this Sunday may be overlooked? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter @JarkClonas, and be sure to tag @110Sports.
Photo by: All-Pro Reels / Wikimedia Commons