It was a topsy-turvy week in the NFL.
There were a lot of victorious underdogs. A Super Bowl coach was given the boot. A star running back was shown the door.
And while the Texans stayed hot with their ninth straight win, the Packers seemingly hit rock-bottom. Green Bay made note of that fact by firing long-time head coach Mike McCarthy.
But they weren’t the only team struggling mightily on Sunday. The Colts failed to score a point after winning five games in a row. The Steelers lost the second consecutive game they should’ve pulled out. And Carolina continued to skydive in the NFC standings.
It doesn’t help for the Panthers that their Pro Bowl TE Greg Olsen is hurt once again. Fellow TE Rob Gronkowski is trying to get off the mend (are you surprised?). Throw in A.J. Green for the broken-down Bengals and the Steelers’ James Connor on that list of offensive playmakers who are sidelined.
I will give updates on their statuses and those of many other difference-makers around the league. But first, to the headlines.
Cowboys Shutting Down Saints
I’ll be talking more in the coming days about Dallas’ chances in the NFC Playoffs.
They haven’t gotten past the divisional round since the last time they won a Super Bowl, which was 1995. So I’ll look into this team and see if it’s built differently than the rest.
For now, though, their win before the masses on Thursday Night Football can be considered masterful. I said I’d be convinced this team was a true threat if they kept things close. But beating the Saints, considered the best team in the league by many, was the biggest win any team has had all year.
And the biggest stat of it all was the fact New Orleans put up only 10 points the whole game in a 13-10 loss.
The Cowboys still have some questions to answer on offense. But they have a young and productive front-seven, one of the better o-lines in the league, and a premier RB to plow through defenses with.
But if anything, they’ve proven they aren’t just the over-hyped franchise that they always are. They have potential all around. Now can they deliver a win January?
Eagles Win When They Have To
The Eagles channeled their best Bee Gees in a 28-13 win against the Redskins on Monday Night Football.
Sure, it took a 14-point 4th quarter and another Washington QB breaking a leg for them to pull away. But they did just that behind the arm of Carson Wentz and a defense that benefitted from a one-dimensional opponent on offense.
Now all they have to do is beat this same team at their house at the end of the year. That and probably win at least two of three versus the Cowboys, Rams, and Texans. Those teams are a combined 27-9. No one said defending a Super Bowl title was easy.
But for now, Philly fans can exhale until they face their archrival this weekend, who could bury them for good in Dallas.
While this was a pretty complete win for this group, it was against a team headed on its way down. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Redskins ended up in the NFC East basement by the end of the year despite being one game out of first place. The losses on defense and at QB will doom them.
But the Seahawks are scorching the Earth all of a sudden and it’s hard to imagine Vikings not staying in the conversation until the final week. Nine wins will probably get the job done for the second wild-card spot.
But Philadelphia has their work cut out for them playing three playoff teams in a row. By comparison to their 33-15 opponents’ record, Minnesota’s is 25-23 from here on out, and Seattle’s 21-26-1.
Packers and McCarthy Finished
It’s hard to know whether head coach Mike McCarthy was the real problem with Green Bay. But either way, he’s been fired by the Packers in what seemed like a fair possibility for the past few weeks.
But it was not expected to happen until the end of the year. While the move seems a little disrespectful on Green Bay’s part, it seems it could be because they’re trying to secure someone early from the college ranks. Perhaps a Lincoln Riley or Brian Kelly?
Then again, there will always be prized NFL coordinators floating around. There could even be another Super Bowl-winning coach in John Harbaugh on the market depending on how well the Ravens finish out.
For McCarthy, he’d won a Super Bowl in 2010 with the Pack and went 15-1 in the following regular season. Even since then, he’s had four 10+ win seasons in seven years.
But when you create high expectations, you must constantly live up to them. Even if you’ve been around longer as the head coach than Vince Lombardi was.
McCarthy came close to a .500 record las season despite not having franchise QB and future Hall-of-Famer Aaron Rodgers in the second-half the year.
Rodgers injured his knee in the seventh game of the season. But Green Bay was only 4-3 at the time and McCarthy somehow brought them onto shore at 7-9 despite the poor play of replacement Brett Hundley.
But after starting 4-7, being all but eliminated from the playoff chase, and losing to one of the worst NFL teams (Arizona) at home, the time had apparently come for change.
And their first home loss this year was a particularly bad one. It was the worst non-divisional team they’ve lost to at Lambeau since losing to the eventual 3-11 Houston Oilers in 1986. Yeah, they don’t exist anymore.
Colts Come to a Screeching Halt
Indianapolis was on a tear.
They’d won five games in a row, staying at the heels of the division-leading Texans. But that tower of momentum they were building collapsed hard on Sunday.
Andrew Luck had more passes (52) than the run game had yards (41) against Jacksonville. The defense had likely their best game of the year in the 6-0 loss to the Jaguars, and yet Indy now sits at 6-6.
And by dropping this game, they handed sole control of the last playoff spot to the suddenly-hot Ravens. It’s not like Lamar Jackson is putting up gaudy stats, but Baltimore has responded to his leadership. And now they might even win their division.
But for Indy, they’re just hoping to fend off the Titans, Broncos, and Dolphins, who have all caught them with wins Sunday. With the Chargers beating the Steelers on Sunday, it looks like five teams will be taking it to the wire for the last wild-card spot.
Luck had looked like an MVP dark horse until this game. He didn’t get any help from the lackluster Marlon Mack. The offensive line took a step back in this one as well, with the Jags getting a trio of sacks.
But the defense is who needs to be apologized to. They gave up no touchdowns. Jacksonville only had 229 yards of offense, less than Luck had just passing. And DE Denico Autry had a career day with three sacks and six total stops.
Yet, here we are again questioning the Colts. They came out of nowhere after appearing to be a lost cause at 1-5. Now their lack of a run game is concerning. I still believe the o-line will continue to improve and that Luck is going to put up great numbers in the future.
But not being able to beat a team playing without their only offensive threat (Leonard Fournette) on a seven-game losing streak is a nightmare. Playing the Texans and Cowboys next doesn’t help things.
Kareem “Kicked” to the Curb
Last year, Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing and was probably the best rookie aside from Alvin Kamara. Now he’s without a team and shouldn’t be allowed to have one for some time.
Video of an offseason incident surfaced on TMZ last week, which showed Hunt shoving and eventually kicking a woman in a hotel. No matter what legal process follows, what happened in the video is very cut-and-dry and egregious on Hunt’s part.
The Chiefs did the right thing in cutting him, not wasting a moment no matter how much he meant to the team on the field. And while this case is a little different than the one Ray Rice went through, the road back to the league should be a long and tenuous one for Hunt.
Hopefully, no one will make a boneheaded move like the Redskins did by recently signing Reuben Foster.
The Injury Report
It looks as if Gronkowski is finally off the injury report.
That doesn’t mean his back and ankle problems won’t linger throughout the rest of the season. The Patriots will have him for this Sunday versus the Dolphins though.
Jets QB Sam Darnold is also healthy enough to play but is listed as questionable as of yesterday. The Jets aren’t going to rush his return to protect a future asset. But I expect him to play after already having a precautionary week off.
James Connor is a huge loss for the Steelers. He was the missing piece for them after the departure of Le’Veon Bell, and now his sprained ankle will keep him out for at least one game.
Another key AFC North injury is that of Joe Flacco (hip). But it seems he’s at the point of return and may not play anyway. After all, Lamar Jackson is 3-0 as the Ravens’ QB.
And despite how hard he tried to play every week, WR A.J. Green was put on injured reserve by the Bengals. The pass-catcher was an absolute trooper all season playing through a foot injury.
But with Cincinnati falling out of the playoff picture, this was the right call by the organization.
CB Malcolm Butler had a big interception on Sunday but is still battling a quad injury. He was limited in practice but it’s still likely he’ll play this week.
The same will probably be said for another corner, in this case, Jalen Ramsey of the Jaguars. No, he does not have jaw soreness from all his trash-talk. Instead, he has a banged-up knee.
Things just can’t quite get right for Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins.
His foot injury is still bothering him and there’s probably a little less than 50% chance he plays this week. He won’t be the same even if he does.
As for the team that’s chasing Kansas City in the AFC West, the Chargers are close to getting Melvin Gordon III back. His sprained MCL won’t allow him to play this week, but he should be back in week 14 or 15.
It looks like the Cowboys will be improving their WR corps soon.
Cole Beasley is back at practice for Dallas after dealing with a foot issue for a big chunk of the season.
Meanwhile, the Eagles are listing OT Jason Peters as day-to-day. He suffered a leg injury in Monday night’s showdown with the Redskins.
The Giants may not start TE Evan Engram this week again as they’re monitoring a delicate hamstring injury. He missed last Sunday’s game against the Bears.
And speaking of Chicago, QB Mitch Trubisky is continuing to get healthier.
His shoulder was probably fine for last week’s game. But it was best to let him rest until the massive showdown and Game of the Week this Sunday night versus the Rams.
And at the bottom of the division, the Lions are still waiting for RB Kerryon Johnson to return. He hasn’t practiced yet, so the likelihood of him returning this week is getting much slimmer.
Another day and another untimely foot injury in the NFL. This time, it’s Carolina’s TE Olsen, who’s been dealing with injuries all year. He was placed on injured reserve, effectively ending his season.
And another pass-catcher that could miss the remainder of the year is the Bucs’ DeSean Jackson.
The wideout is dealing with a pretty bad thumb injury. That’s obviously not an injury you want to have at that position.
San Francisco 49ers RB Matt Breida is once again battling injury. And this time, his hurt ankle is going to keep him out of the lineup Sunday. So adjust your own fantasy lineups accordingly.
And while LB K.J. Wright has yet to get back onto the field for the Seahawks, there is some good news for him. He is showing progress with the knee he had offseason surgery on.
He’ll even be able to start conditioning at practice this week.