NFL

NFL 10 Big Things: Week 16

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1. The Titans and Jaguars in primetime. Why? Dear NFL schedule makers, what the heck were you thinking about when scheduling some of these prime time games this year? While Thursday night’s Titans and Jaguars game might be the worst of the bunch, Sunday nights, Monday nights and Thursday nights have been littered with awful, awful football. This week Thursday night’s biggest story line is which team will lose and keep hope alive for the number one pick in the NFL draft. I’d congratulate the two teams on their spotlight tonight, but nobody outside of Jacksonville or Tennessee will be watching the game.

2. RG3 starts again: Of all the situations in football, there might not be a more dysfunctional one than the Washington Redskins. Sure, Jay Gruden needs to try to win football games, but to give up on the quarterback the team spent three first round draft picks on creates so many more questions. How can the organization admit that Robert Griffin III is a bust and continue to employ Bruce Allen? We hear all the time about coaches and quarterbacks being tied together, but sooner or later Allen has to answer for one of the worst trades in NFL history. The situation in Washington is so bad there’s already been talk about if it could cost Jay Gruden his job after just a season. It’s hard to imagine the team sticking with the embattled quarterback instead of the new coach, but if somehow it happens, Griffin will earn himself a new title, coach killer.

3. Jimmy Clausen starts for the Chicago Bears against Detroit: While it’s hard to imagine a situation much worse than the one in Washington, the Bears aren’t far behind. While the Redskins may have mortgaged the future by giving up a ridiculous package for Robert Griffin III, at least they don’t have to worry about swallowing an enormous contract like the $126 million deal the Bears gave Jay Cutler before the season. The fact that there is still plenty of the $54 million Cutler has guaranteed in his contract will make him impossible to move. At this point the Bears are going to have to either eat the contract and the millions of dollars guaranteed to Cutler or leave him in place as the league’s most expensive backup quarterback in history. For now, Marc Trestman is just focuses on trying to win a game and saving his job. Nobody is quite sure why he thinks Jimmy Clausen is the guy to help him accomplish that.

4. Manziel’s second chance: Johnny Manziel’s NFL debut didn’t exactly go how the Cleveland Browns rookie would have liked, and that’s putting it mildly. Manziel put up one of the worst performances by a quarterback, rookie or otherwise, in recent history. Manziel only added fuel to the fire for those who are rooting against him for all of his flamboyant and boisterous ways when the quarterback threw for just 80 yards on ten completions with a pair of interceptions in a 30-0 shutout loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Manziel looked lost and it’s clear that he hasn’t yet figured out the wild, hair on fire style of football that was so successful for him in college isn’t going to work in the NFL. Assuming the kid can’t figure it out because he hasn’t after a single start, is just plain silly. Manziel still has some physical tools and can make all the throws necessary to succeed in the NFL. If he can learn to settle down in the pocket and play controlled football, he’ll be ok. Manziel will get his second chance to figure it out Sunday when the Browns travel to Carolina to take on the Panthers.

5. Battle for the NFC South: In third place with a 5-9 record, the Atlanta Falcons will still win the NFC South if they can win out against the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers. If the 5-8-1 Panthers can take down the Browns this weekend, their game against the Falcons in Week 17 would be for the division crown if Atlanta were to win in New Orleans this Sunday. For the first place Saints (6-8), a victory at home against Atlanta would all but guarantee an 8-8 finish and the NFC South title. New Orleans finishes the season in Tampa Bay where the Bucs are unlikely to put up much of a fight.

6. Saturday night’s alright: I was compelled to quote the great Elton John because this Saturday will be the best of the NFL season as we get some NFL football on our televisions. Sure, three of the four teams playing Saturday aren’t playoff contenders and these aren’t exactly massive games, but the San Francisco 49ers – San Diego Chargers game should be fun to watch, and if you have any Philadelphia Eagles playing in your fantasy playoffs this weekend, you should enjoy watching the Eagles slap around the Washington Redskins earlier. Sure, those aren’t exactly the greatest story lines you’ve ever heard, but it’s NFL football on a Saturday night, and that’s better than anything else that’s going to be on your television!

7. Odell Beckham Jr’s amazing streak: Does it seem like we can’t stop talking about Odell Beckham Jr? That’s because we can’t. The New York Giants rookie receiver hasn’t just been the best rookie since November began, he’s been the best receiver in football. If you didn’t look behind the numbers, you might assume that comment comes from the amazing one handed touchdown grab against the Dallas Cowboys, but when you put the numbers alongside some of the great catches, it’s quite clear. Since November 1st, Beckham has 61 receptions for 866 yards. Both of those numbers lead the NFL over the span. Odell Beckham Jr also became the first rookie receiver in the NFL to have over 90 yards receiving in seven consecutive games Sunday against the Redksins. If he can do it again in the Giants final two games, he’d tie the NFL record of nine games held by Michael Irvin. On the season, Beckham ranks 21st in receptions, and 14th in receiving yards (tied with Julian Edelman), with two games left in his rookie season. In what may go down as the greatest class of receivers to ever come out of a single draft, Beckham is the best. Beckham is tied for the rookie lead with Jarvis Landry of the Dolphins with 71 receptions, leads the rookie class with 972 receiving yards, and is tied with Kelvin Benjamin with 9 touchdowns, which is second amongst rookies to Mike Evans’ 11. These statistics are impressive enough, and Offensive Rookie of the Year award worthy on their own, but when you couple those statistics with the fact that Beckham has done it all after missing the entire preseason and the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury, it makes his accomplishments that much more impressive.

8. DeMarco Murray’s hand: The Cowboys received some bad news after their big 38-27 victory over the Eagles on Sunday night when the team learned starting tailback DeMarco Murray broke a bone in his hand. Fortunately for Murray and the Cowboys, the injury was minor and he’s already back to work practicing before Dallas’ big game this weekend against the Indianapolis Colts. You’d have to assume that the plan would have been to ride Murray to keep Andrew Luck and the Colts offense off of the field, but Murray’s injury might force a change in plans. While a hand injury won’t affect the way Murray runs the football, it can’t be helpful for a player who already has a history of fumbling the football. It doesn’t sound as if there’s much of a risk for reinjury, so we’ll have to keep an eye on Murray’s ball security, because if it doesn’t look like the injury is affecting his ability to secure the football, there will likely be plenty of work for Murray against the Colts.

9. Seahawks and Cardinals about more than the West: No matter how much they try to convince you or themselves, the Arizona Cardinals can’t feel great about heading into the playoffs with Ryan Lindley under center. If the Cardinals hope to avoid the nightmare scenario of Lindley taking snaps in a place like Seattle, they’re going to have to find a way to take down the Seahawks this weekend at home. At 11-3, the Cardinals still have the best record in the NFC, but a loss to Seattle at home Sunday would give the Seahawks the division lead, and leave them atop the NFC with the Lions heading into Week 17. Yes Bears fans, I did just assume the Lions will mop the floor with the Bears Sunday.

10. Peyton’s diminished returns: While they’ve won four in a row, and nobody is going to say anything out loud, the Denver Broncos have to be at least mildly concerned with the play of Peyton Manning of late. Despite being an all-time great, Manning has always been known to throw a duck or two. The last few games however, Manning looks like a guy who isn’t getting as much on the football as he was a season ago, and the results have been astounding. Manning’s recent stretch is about as anemic three game stretch as you’ll find in his career, despite the fact that the Broncos just keep winning. Over the past three weeks, Manning has thrown for just 585 yards with three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. Seriously, if someone told you Manning threw for 585 yards and three touchdowns over the past three weeks, you’d probably look at them and ask them which game! The good news is the Broncos have continued to win, and they’ve shown teams that they can beat on the ground and with defense, and that’s scary. If there’s something physically wrong with Manning, it’s the end of the Broncos Super Bowl hopes, but if this is just a slump, and Manning starts playing like himself again, the added dynamic of a strong rushing attack is going to make the Broncos very hard to beat in the playoffs.


About Pat Donovan

Pat Donovan

Pat Donovan has covered the NFL for almost a decade and is a host and producer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers radio flagship 620WDAE/95.3FM. Pat covers the NFC South and NFC East for Football Insiders. Follow him on Twitter, @PatDonovanNFL.