The rigours of an NFL season have a way of sorting out the pretenders from the legitimate contenders. In week 14, the Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots continued to put themselves in a solid position for a run at the postseason, while Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers confirmed that they are on a completely different level right now by shutting out the Atlanta Falcons 38-0.
I know I’m a little late this week, so let’s call it a week 14.5 wrap. As this week will be all about the NFC East, I wanted to see if the Dallas Cowboys had it in them to overcome the New York Jets in today’s game before I passed my final judgement on “America’s Team”. The 2015 NFC East is the division that nobody wants to win, with the Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants all tied for first place with losing records (6-7).
Despite the low quality of football, this situation sets up quite a few “win or go home” games which are sure to entertain – so let’s get into it.
The Washington Redskins have the pieces to win, but just can’t seem to do it consistently
Despite not being able to consistently win football games, I have to give some credit to Jay Gruden and his coaching staff. They have done an excellent job of keeping a lid on the seemingly endless stream of controversy that comes out of D.C. They made a choice at the start of the year to bench Robert Griffin III and have not wavered from that position, even when Kirk Cousins wasn’t performing to a high level. By sticking with this decision, the team seems more stable than it has in years.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t exactly equated to winning a lot of football games. The Redskins have found themselves stuck in a rut of mediocrity; they aren’t bad enough to secure a top draft pick, and they aren’t good enough to make a realistic run at the Super Bowl. And yet, there they are, sitting atop the NFC East. If the season ended today the Redskins would, somehow, find themselves in the playoffs, facing off in the Wild Card round against last years runners-up, the Seattle Seahawks.
Their playoff ticket is far from punched, though. The ‘Skins will host the Buffalo Bills tomorrow in what could be a season defining game for them. A win against the Bills could give them some much-needed breathing space at the top of the division, as the Eagles face the rampaging Arizona Cardinals, and the Giants face the undefeated Carolina Panthers.
Normally, I’d say anything is possible in the playoffs, but this year I’m willing to make an exception. Whether it’s the Redskins, Eagles or Giants, no NFC East team has a shot at winning a playoff game.
Fantasy watch: TE Jordan Reed had a huge day against the Chicago Bears. Reed was everywhere, and finished with 120 receiving yards, one TD and 18.0 fantasy points.
Are the Philadelphia Eagles playoff bound just weeks after almost firing Chip Kelly?
It is extremely possible, but like their NFC East opponents, the Eagles hold their destiny in their own hands. The Eagles actually have a bit more control over their own circumstances than the Redskins and Giants, as they will play both teams before the end of the season. Winning those two encounters would essentially sew up a spot in the playoffs for Kelly’s Eagles, regardless of other results.
But you just don’t know what you’re going to get with these Eagles. You could get the Eagles that conceded 45 points in consecutive weeks against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Detroit Lions, or you could get the Eagles who came out and silenced the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills for two crucial wins. It’s this type of inconsistency that would infuriate Eagles fans, but also makes this division so intriguing.
In Sam Bradford, Ryan Matthews, Brent Celek and Riley Cooper you don’t exactly have names you can trust on a weekly basis, and that might be the most worrying part for Philadelphia. There’s no go-to guy in desperate situations. There’s no Odell Beckham Jr., no DeSean Jackson, no Jeremy Maclin or LeSean McCoy. The one known playmaker they do have, DeMarco Murray, is on the outer with the coach and seems to want out. Murray was never given the chance to put this team on his back, and has topped 20 carries just three times this season. Amazing, when you think back to how dominant he was last year.
For me, the Eagles just miss out. What that means for Chip and DeMarco moving forward, I don’t know.
Fantasy watch: RB Darren Sproles was the closest to being fantasy relevant for the Eagles against the Bills. He had 41 rushing yards, 4 receiving yards, one TD and 10.5 fantasy points on the day.
Have the New York Giants cured their fourth-quarter blues?
It certainly seems that way. The Giants did a great job of holding off the Miami Dolphins in the ridiculous Florida humidity to stay in touch with the Eagles and Redskins. But they’ll need something extra special to drag this team into the playoffs.
The Giants will host Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers this week; the Panthers seem hell-bent on running the table, so a win is basically out of the question. They’ll follow that up with a road game against Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings. These two games alone could derail the playoff hopes of the blue side of New York. If they do lose both, their best-case scenario is that the Eagles and Redskins only win one game each. But the difference between the Giants and the rest of the NFC East is star power. The Giants have it, the rest don’t, simple as that.
They’ll beat the Eagles in their week 17 match up, so the question is: can they sneak a win against either the Panthers or the Vikings? Eli Manning is a proven winner, and as long as OBJ is running down the sideline, anything is possible.
Fantasy watch: Odell Beckham Jr., ladies and gentlemen. OBJ had a day out against the Dolphins, racking up 166 receiving yards, two TD’s and 28.60 fantasy points. Damn, son.
The Dallas Cowboys had a bad, bad year
I’ll be brief on the Cowboys, because their story was pretty much the same all year. Without Romo, their offense just can’t get it done. Six losses by seven points or less show that the defence is keeping them in the majority of games for long enough. But the Cowboys’ lack of depth at QB was their undoing. Pinning the hopes of your franchise on Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel or Kellen Moore was never going to turn out well, and their 4-10 record proves it.
As they have now been officially eliminated from playoff calculations, the Cowboys can turn their attention to the 2016/17 season, and I dare say that a quality backup QB will be high on their shopping list.
Fantasy watch: RB Darren McFadden has been a consistent contributor this season, and backed up his 11.10 fantasy points last week against the Green Bay Packers with 11.30 fantasy points against the New York Jets.
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