The Schein Nine  

 

Bill Belichick, Cam Newton among stars of thrilling Week 16

Another incredible week in the NFL was loaded with pulsating moments and potential statements.

Here, Schein Nine-style, are some sizzling takes on Week 16 and how all the excitement from the recent past ties into the very near future.

1) Belichick's season among his best

The New England Patriots' Bill Belichick is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He's one of the best coaches in NFL history and one of the game's best defensive minds. He once piloted a team to a perfect regular-season mark.

I reference that 2007 campaign because I think his coaching job this season is even better. Really.

Three of New England's five best players this year (Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Rob Gronkowski) are on injured reserve -- and the Patriots keep on keeping on. They are flawed and depleted, yet they continue to win.

Consider what transpired in Sunday's matchup with the Ravens, a team that had long had the Pats' number. Baltimore was on a four-game winning streak, having shown off its championship mettle just one week earlier in a win against the Detroit Lions. New England, meanwhile, hardly resembled New England in its Week 15 loss to the Miami Dolphins. And yet, the Patriots bludgeoned the Ravens in Baltimore, 41-7.

There is no "elite" team in the AFC. It would be foolish to count out the NFL's best coach and the league's most clutch quarterback. What Belichick and Tom Brady have accomplished this season is remarkable.

2) Panthers on the prowl

This offseason, I wrote that the Panthers were going nowhere with Cam Newton and Ron Rivera. When they started 1-3, I looked like a prophet. Since, though -- and I'm thrilled for the great Panthers fans about this -- I've been proven dead wrong.

Rivera's team plays hard and is ready for any challenge, as the Panthers showed once again by beating the Saints on Sunday. And though Newton, frankly, struggled mightily in what was arguably one of his worst games of the season, he saved his best for a pulsating final drive. That's clutch; that says something.

I've already written that Luke Kuechly deserves to be the Defensive Player of the Year. As for Rivera, he's a Coach of the Year candidate, while Newton is on my short list for Comeback Player of the Year.

3) Romo showed how much he matters

On NFL Network
NFL Replay
will re-air the Dallas Cowboys' 24-23 win over the Washington Redskins from Week 16 on Wednesday, Dec. 25 at 9 p.m. ET.

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Tony Romo saved Dallas' season. If you read my columns on a regular basis, you should know I was not surprised. Sunday's effort was a fantastic one by Romo, the quarterback capping a fourth-quarter comeback against the Redskins with his 31st touchdown pass of 2013.

I think the Cowboys will ultimately lose to the Eagles in a winner-take-all NFC East showdown in Dallas. I love Philly, which I think is the better team, in the Sunday night matchup -- especially if Romo is indeed done for the year.

Let's remember that the only reason Dallas is contending for the division title is because Romo had been playing like a top-10 quarterback. Dallas has major issues, as we documented last week; Romo made the Cowboys relevant. He gave this poorly constructed outfit a chance.

4) Say goodbye to Schwartz

Aaron Rodgers has missed a large portion of the season for the Green Bay Packers, as did Jay Cutler for the Chicago Bears. The Detroit Lions had a huge advantage in the NFC North -- and they blew it. In fittingly maddening and logic-defying fashion, the Lions lost at home to the otherwise defunct New York Giants -- the kind of outcome that has become the norm for the Jim Schwartz era. Detroit is undisciplined and prone to self-induced mistakes (the 104 penalties accepted against them ties them for eighth-most in the league).

Last year, we described how the Lions spiraled under Schwartz. The collapse this season, with the playoffs at their fingertips, was worse.

The Detroit fan base deserves a fresh start and a team it can be proud of.

5) Feeling sleepless in Seattle?

I love the Seahawks and think they're the NFL's best and deepest team. But they aren't a juggernaut. When the Cardinals, who I figured would keep it close Sunday, beat the Seahawks, they made a statement, taking a bit of the invincibility mystique away from Seattle.

I think a physical team that knows the 'Hawks well -- such as the San Francisco 49ers -- could beat them in the playoffs, even in Seattle.

6) Arizona rising

Ahead of the Cardinals' Week 12 drubbing of the Colts, I wrote that Arizona was the most fascinating team in the NFL. I love how the Cards were built under general manager Steve Keim and how they play for coach Bruce Arians. They're tough and physical, operating with a brilliant style of defense.

It would be such a shame to see the Cardinals win next week and finish 11-5, only to miss the playoffs. They project as a tougher out than the Saints.

7) Can Colts keep this up?

I thought the Colts' 23-7 away win over Kansas City was stunning. The Chiefs seemed to be peaking at the right time, while Indy hadn't been itself since Reggie Wayne was hurt. But the Colts prevailed -- and actually ran the ball. Indy has a star quarterback in Andrew Luck and is well-coached under Chuck Pagano.

Still, I'd be stunned to see the Colts pull off the same trick against the Chiefs in the first round of the playoffs.

8) M-V-Peyton

Peyton Manning set the record for touchdown passes in a season with his 51st scoring toss on Sunday. He is the deodorant for the Denver Broncos' defense.

Let's not overthink this. Manning is the 2013 NFL MVP. It's not even up for debate.

9) Fitting the Bills

The Buffalo Bills put forth a fantastic effort against a super-hot Dolphins team that began Week 16 in control of its postseason dreams. That Buffalo shut out Miami 19-0 while dealing with key absences (on the part of EJ Manuel and Stevie Johnson) was highly impressive.

The Bills could've beaten the Falcons back in Week 13 if not for Johnson and Scott Chandler both coming down with a case of the butterfingers. Though they've dealt with health issues all year, the Bills have never quit.

This team is close under Doug Marrone, who has shown that Buffalo finally has the right head coach.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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