AFC East, Baltimore Ravens, Bill Lazor, Buffalo Bills, Carson Wentz, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Hue Jackson, Indianapolis Colts, Jon Gruden, LA Chargers, LA Rams, Las Vegas, London, Marvin Lewis, Matt Patricia, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, NFC East, NFL, Nick Foles, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Stan Kroenke, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans
Here we are, Christmas is done, the year soon will be and so will the NFL regular season. We have one more round of games left and then we’ll wave goodbye to the disappointed twenty and focus in on the post season games.
So what important changes did we get the weekend before Christmas? Well, the New England Patriots claimed their tenth straight AFC East title with a win over the Buffalo Bills but they didn’t exactly convince. The Dallas Cowboys won the NFC East with a win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints beat the Pittsburgh Steelers to secure home field advantage through the playoffs. That result also places the Steelers playoff hopes in jeopardy as they have to beat the Bengals (probably not that hard) this weekend and hope that either the Ravens lose to the Browns (distinctly possible) or that there is a tie between the Indianapolis Colts and the Tennessee Titans. There are other permutations involving a tie with the Bengals and a Ravens’ loss but all the Steelers control is their result against the Bengals. If you look back at the season it’s hard to be too upset about a three-point loss to the Saints in New Orleans, and it will be the losses to the Broncos and Raiders that will haunt the Steelers if they do miss the playoffs. Meanwhile the Tennessee Titans and the Indianapolis Colts face a winner gets in week seventeen games, which is why that will be final game on Sunday.
Over in the NFC, five teams have secured their playoff berths and the only question left is whether the Philadelphia Eagles can complete their remarkable late season surge by beating Washington and hoping that the Bears can beat the Vikings. There is a route where the Bears could end up facing the Vikings in the Wildcard round so it is likely that the Bears will not pulling out all of their offensive tricks in this Sunday’s game, but apart from that it will be each team for itself and the Eagles hoping for the best. There are even whispers that Nick Foles might be the better quarterback but given his age compared to Carson Wentz it’s hard to see him not moving on in the offseason unless he keeps producing the miraculous.
Stepping away from the playoff picture for a moment, even if I didn’t actually pick it to happen it did not surprise me that the Oakland Raiders won what looks to be their last game in Oakland. After being sued by the city, the Raiders are not planning to play their final year in Oakland before their new Las Vegas stadium is ready and there is some talk of them playing in London for the 2019 season. It seems doubtful that with the logistical challenges of placing a team in London, that the Raiders would try it for a solitary year but it seems that the recent NFL franchise movement has not exactly been a flying success so far and it’s hard to see the Raiders bucking the trend. The now LA Chargers are playing in a small capacity venue and are routinely outnumbered by road fans despite having an 11-4 record. The LA Rams are doing better thanks to their previous links to the city, but it is still not exactly unusual for the well supported teams in the NFL to have sizable contingents present for games. At least Stan Kroenke will own the mega-campus he’s building for the Rams and the NFL, but I do wonder about the long term viability of the Chargers, who will be tenants in the Rams’ facility. The Raiders should make money in Las Vegas given the combination of locals who have already take their NHL team to heart and who could embrace their new football team, and the travelling fans who will leap at the chance to go to Vegas to see their team. How difficult an environment this will make for visiting fans remain to be seen, and there are an important couple of drafts coming for Jon Gruden and whoever is hired to execute his plan as the new GM. However, with no home for next season, a GM to appoint and a vital draft coming it feels like there is too much uncertainty for everything to come good even if some thrive in chaos and for those who are choosing to stick with the Raiders, they will be hoping that Gruden is such a person. It does feel like there are a lot of things that could potentially go wrong for the Raiders in the next couple of years.
Getting back to the week seventeen slate, it seems to make sense to focus on the battle for the playoffs and what is left of this season before worrying too much about the offseason. It is likely to be the games I’ve already mentioned that will be the ones worth watching. This last week features divisional matchups exclusively, which I’m sure the NFL will hope ensures competitive games (even amongst teams who have nothing to play for) but there are careers and jobs on the line as there are every week.
We haven’t even reached the end of the season and there are already stories of the Packers interviewing potential coaches and Matt Patricia is apparently ‘pretty confident’ that his job with the Lions is safe. There is apparently a press conference scheduled for Monday for Marvin Lewis but I have long since given up speculating on how to make sense of the Bengals coaching situation. I’m just hoping the long term plan does not involve Hue Jackson being made head coach, but it is a genuine possibility that worries me a little as I’d favour someone from outside of the central brain trust to freshen things up, although I might take current offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. We can cover all of this and more next week as I write up the disappointed twenty, but for now let’s enjoy the spectacle of those fighting to make the playoffs, and for those of whose team’s aren’t going to make it, as ever there is always next year so let’s grab our last chance to watch them this season.