NFL AM: Vikings Win The North, Now Face Tougher Tests


Vikings Top Packers For NFC North Title

In a “winner take most” Sunday night game to finish the regular season, the Minnesota Vikings went on the road and defeated the Green Bay Packers, 20-13, to take the NFC North title and No. 3 seed in the NFC.

Although you can never argue players playing hard and teams giving their all to win every game, was this really the best move for the Vikes?

With the No. 3 seed, Minnesota will now host the Seattle Seahawks next week, a team that throttled them, 38-7 a month ago.  If they somehow make it past Seattle, then they would have a date in Arizona with a Cardinals team that also defeated them earlier this season.

If Minnesota were to have used Sunday night as an audition for younger players, they would have finished with the No. 6 seed and then faced the Packers again next week.  Assuming they would have defeated Green Bay, then they would have a date with the top-seeded Carolina Panthers, who they would seem to match up better with.

As for Green Bay, they finished the season with two straight losses and will travel to Washington to take on the red-hot Kirk Cousins and his Redskins.

Don’t judge the Packers on the way they finished.  Although they look particularly flawed, there are plenty examples of teams that have failed down the stretch, only to put things together when they really count.

The 2009 New Orleans Saints dropped their final three games of the regular season and rallied to win the Super Bowl.  The 2008 Arizona Cardinals were blown out in their last two games and had a lead in the Super Bowl with under two minutes left.  The 2012 Baltimore Ravens finished the regular season 1-4 before hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Ray Lewis’ final season.

There’s plenty of football left to be played.

Jets Loss is Steelers Gain

After spending weeks on the outside looking in of the final AFC Wildcard spot, their mission finally became simple for the New York Jets: Win and you’re in.

They couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain.

As Rex Ryan had done for the previous four seasons, he once again kept the Jets out of the playoffs.  This time Ryan directed his new team, the Buffalo Bills to a 22-17 victory on Sunday to even their record to 8-8.

“I feel great,” Ryan said following the victory.  “I have a lot of friends over there, but I don’t want them to be successful at my expense.”

The Jets are a tough luck spectator at 10-6, when they needed to be 11-5 to get in the dance.

“I’m a little numb right now,” said receiver Brandon Marshall. “I have no emotion. Just get on the bus and reflect a little bit.”

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick misses the postseason once again, and he was a major cause for Sunday’s loss.  The Harvard graduate completed just 16 of 37 throws for 181 yards with a pair of touchdowns and three interceptions, all coming in the fourth quarter.

“It’s the hardest and most difficult end to a season I have ever had,” Fitzpatrick said. “There’s not a whole lot of talking in there right now. It’s hard to come up with words.”

Marshall and Fitzpatrick now extend their playoff drought to 10 and 11 years respectively.

For the Jets to blow their opportunity, the Pittsburgh Steelers had to take care of their business and that’s exactly what they did in Sunday’s 28-12 victory over the Cleveland Browns.

“I assumed there was a fight or a Steelers fan was beating up a Browns fan,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger explained when he gauged the crowd reaction with the Bills-Jets result. “When I saw the towels getting out I kind of assumed what was going on. A lot of thanks to coach Ryan and the rest of the Bills and everybody in Buffalo. I know they’re excited about 8-8 and we’re excited they got us in.”

It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but the Steelers did just enough to take down the now 3-13 Browns.

“It’s been a tough, 16-week fight for us, but we’re where we want to be,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’re where we need to be.”

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown had another monster performance, catching 13 balls for 187 yards and a touchdown.  Brown finishes the season tied with Julio Jones for the NFL lead in receptions at 136, and is second to Jones with 1,834 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.

“It’s so gratifying,” said Brown. “Sitting here as a Pittsburgh Steeler, that’s the expectation to make the playoffs and hoist the Lombardi Trophy. We continue to stay together no matter what people say.”

Pittsburgh will travel to Cincinnati to play the AFC North Champion Bengals this weekend.  The Steelers took down Cincy three weeks ago, 33-20, in a game which saw Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton go down with a broken thumb.

Cleveland Cleans House, Again

The Cleveland Browns might be the most dysfunctional organization in professional sports.  Just before putting the finishing touches on their 3-13 2015 campaign, they let go of general manager Ray Farmer.

Farmer hasn’t done a great job as Browns GM, and even brought some embarrassment to the organization when he was suspended last season for texting from the press box down to the sideline.

With that said, not everything has been his fault.

Farmer was said to not have any choice in the team’s 2014 first-round draft picks, which saw Cleveland select cornerback Justin Gilbert with the eighth-overall pick, followed by trading up for quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Both players have failed miserably.

Farmer did bring in Josh McCown this season, who won the starting job and played solid football.  He also whiffed on this year’s first round as he selected Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton to sure up the running game (which ranked last in the NFL) and Florida State center/guard Cam Erving, who was benched.

It is being reported that Farmer won’t be alone on the chopping block, as head coach Mike Pettine will also be let go.  Pettine was hired in 2014, after being Rex Ryan’s defensive coordinator in New York, and he led the Browns to a respectable 7-9 season prior to this year’s debacle.

Pettine has struggled with game management and although he was handed a quarterback that neither he or the general manager wanted in Manziel, he hasn’t handled him well and/or cultivated any type of winning atmosphere.

“We’ve made this decision because we don’t believe our football team was positioned well for the future,” Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said in a statement.  “We are all disappointed with where we are and we take full responsibility.  We will approach the search for our next football coach and executives to lead our football operations with a clear vision regarding what we need to do to build a successful organization.  We will be methodical in looking for strong, smart leaders with high character who are relentlessly driven to improve our football team, willing to look at every resource possible to improve, and who embrace collaboration to ultimately make the best decisions for the Cleveland Browns.  We are fully committed to bringing our fans the winning organization they so clearly deserve.”

The next Browns head coach will be the sixth to man that position since the end of the 2008 season.

About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.