Rather than break down divisional races and/or analyze who’s hot, who’s not and why, let’s revisit last week’s games with a focus on Head Coaches & Comments.
Chargers 21 Raiders 63
Nothing personal, but Brandon Staley enjoyed one good season as a defensive coordinator (2020 Rams) then parleyed it into the Chargers head coaching job. Way too underqualified!
On the other hand, Raiders interim head coach Antonio Pierce got shut out one week then turned killer the next, encouraging his offense to “turn up the heat” after leading the Chargers 42-to-0 at halftime. Mark Davis needs to make Pierce’s hire permanent.
Vikings 24 Bengals 27
A shame either team had to lose this game. Love the Vikings' Kevin O’Connell’s play-calling with his 4th different starting quarterback this season. If I’m a Minnesota player, I’m totally on board going forward—perhaps even to the playoffs.
The same goes for the Bengals Zac Taylor. Despite trailing by two touchdowns against the Vikes, he didn’t dumb things down for his own backup QB Jake Browning. Consequently, Browning tied this game in regulation then won it in OT, granting him the opportunity to troll his old team (Vikings) for giving up on him in 2021. Schadenfreude!
Three weeks ago, Mike Tomlin’s team was 7-4 on its way to the postseason. Now, he's starting his third string QB, his receivers are giving up on pass routes and blocking assignments, dissention is running rampant, and the vaunted “Steeler Way” is fading into oblivion—as may be Tomlin’s head coaching tenure.
Meanwhile, Shane Steichen’s decision to bring his backup QB from Philadelphia (Gardner Minshew) with him to Indianapolis has the Colts tied for the division lead in the AFC South. Sometimes off-season farsightedness yields December dividends.
Broncos 17 Lions 42
Truly enjoyed watching Sean Payton blow his little stack then turn on his team when things stopped going his way. With any luck, this trend will continue.
As for Detroit, amazing how much better Dan Campbell’s team plays when QB Jared Goff doesn’t try to force deep downfield throws into tight windows. And wow for Sam LaPorta! He could set a slew of rookie tight end receiving records.
Tommy Devito’s giddy Gotham Gridiron Gala got its first bad review, and Brian Daboll’s late-season surge toward the playoffs got sidetracked, possibly until 2024.
In the Big Easy, Dennis Allen continued his December playoff run with QB Derek Carr and an aging defense—in a division (NFC South) whose eventual champion may host a playoff game despite a sub .500 record. Is there no justice?
Just when the Bears Matt Eberflus appeared poised to keep his job, a “Hail Mary” pass fell into the hands of Darnell Mooney then was juggled and kicked away for a season-ending Cleveland interception rather than a game-winning, season-saving TD!
It allowed Kevin Stefanski’s Browns to continue their improbable march toward the playoffs with 38-year-old QB Joe Flacco running the show. This could happen, folks!
Falcons 7 Panthers 9
Conversely, Arthur Smith and his hand-picked passer Desmond Ritter managed just a single touchdown in a must-win game against NFL 2023’s losingest team. Taylor Heinicke will replace Ritter as Atlanta’s starter this week, while Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank insists “We’ll let the season play out” (before firing Smith).
The result: Panthers' interim head coach Brian Tabor recorded his first-ever NFL win on a last-second, game-winning field goal—and battered and bruised rookie QB Bryce Young looked like a competent professional passer and team leader. There’s hope!
Buccaneers 34 Packers 20
Tampa Bay QB Baker Mayfield played his best game in years as the Bucs won their third straight to solidify both their position atop the NFC South and Todd Bowles immediate future. The Bucs' New Year’s Eve matchup at home versus the Saints will likely determine this year’s NFC South champion.
For Matt Lafleur, this loss marked his second straight defeat, the only 2 Christmas season blemishes on Lafluer’s Green Bay head coaching resume (now 16-2 in December). The Packers' up-and-down defense picked a bad time to go soft.
Jets 0 Dolphins 30
Another lesson in humility for Robert Saleh and his invisible Jets offense. Wasn’t much-maligned quarterback Zach Wilson coming off an Offensive Player of the Week award?
As for Miami, another big day for Mike McDaniel’s offense, this past weekend featuring Jaylen Waddle instead of the injured and resting Tyreek Hill. Dallas is next.
Have Andy Reid and Pat Mahomes rescued KC’s sinking ship in time for another playoff run? They actually showed mercy for the Patriots at game’s end.
Bill Belichick’s defense played well enough, but New England’s stable of not-ready-for-primetime passers once again pooped all over the Pats’ Serta Perfect sleeping pill season.
Houston's DeMeco Ryans made the tough call to go with Case Keenum at QB, and it paid off with an overtime win. His decision was cold, calculated and correct.
Tennessee's rookie QB Will Levis played well enough to win—until he didn’t. Despite Mike Vrabel’s team losing its playoff eligibility, this head coach’s job seems secure.
Points in every quarter for Kyle Shanahan’s potent and beautifully implemented 49ers offense as they continued their journey to the NFC’s first-round playoff bye.
Lots of fight but another failure for Cards’ rookie head coach Jonathan Gannon, who endured his eleventh defeat against only 3 wins with no reprieve in sight.
Commanders 20 Rams 28
I truly feel sorry for the soon-to-be-fired Ron Rivera. He’s a good man and a better coach than the Redskins allowed him to be. Good luck, Ron, wherever you land.
Sean McVay’s Rams remained in the hunt. We’ll know Thursday night whether it’s LA or New Orleans (They play each other…) who will remain playoff-eligible.
Cowboys 10 Bills 31
Another road disaster for Mike McCarthy’s Cowboys. If Dallas fails to win the NFC East and is forced to play in stadiums other than its own, the Cowboys may disappear quickly.
Sean McDermott’s Bills dominated this contest! And if QB Josh Allen continues to play well and protect the football—with any luck at all—the Bills may travel to Miami in Week 18 with a division title and a home playoff game at stake.
As Lamar Jackson closes in on the MVP award, John Harbaugh’s Ravens continue to win games convincingly as they advance toward the AFC’s first round bye!
Doug Pederson rolled the dice on Trevor Lawrence’s ankle and wound up losing his QB to a concussion. Jacksonville’s playoff hopes are now in serious jeopardy.
A third straight December defeat for Nick Sirianni’s Eagles. And yet, if they win out, they will still clinch the NFC East and the conference's 2 seed. The schedule favors them, but my better football judgment tells me this team is toast in the postseason.
Major kudos to Pete Carroll's wounded Seahawks. Though missing several key players on defense as well as starting QB Geno Smith, Seattle’s backup passer Drew Lock rallied his team on a 92 yard, fourth quarter drive to score a stunning upset!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all twelve of you who read this every week. Your support is greatly appreciated.