The Schein Nine  

 

Bill Belichick, Jets, NFC North head key questions for Week 17

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Week 16 was wild, paving the way for a highly enticing closing chapter of the 2015 regular season.

There are myriad questions stemming from Sunday's results, and how everything will play out in Week 17. Here are the answers, Schein Nine style:

1) Will Bill Belichick's curious decision cost New England the No. 1 seed?

Truthfully, I still can't believe that happened. I simply cannot believe that Bill Belichick instructed Matthew Slater to tell the officials that the New England Patriots would kick off to start overtime, instead of making the only viable decision when you have arguably the best quarterback in NFL history: taking the football. I've written in this space many times that Belichick is the best coach in NFL history -- given his consistent domination in the salary cap era -- but this was an illogical gaffe, a rare Hoodie faux pas.

The good news: It won't cost him and the Patriots home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

I believe Denver will beat Cincy on Monday night. Either way, I feel terrible for poor Miami: New England is going to crunch the disappointing Dolphins next Sunday, a win that'll give the Pats the AFC's top seed for the second consecutive season.

2) Will the Jets make the playoffs?

Yes, they will. And for all of the conversation -- of which I've certainly been a part -- about how the Steelers would be ultra-dangerous if they made the playoffs, the same always has held true for the surging Jets, winners of five straight. Gang Green boasts a great defensive line, a strong overall defense, a physical offensive line, a solid run game and an elite 1-2 punch at receiver that's fueled by Ryan Fitzpatrick putting it all together with big-time throws.

Brandon Marshall has been one of the best receivers in the NFL this year, with another monster game (eight catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns) in Sunday's win over the Patriots. Fitzpatrick has enjoyed a stunning rebirth in 2015. He has an amazing rapport with Marshall, as well as a great connection with Eric Decker, whom he teamed up with for the game-winning score in overtime Sunday.

The Jets now control their own destiny in the race for a playoff berth. They need one more win on the road this coming Sunday. The team standing in their way? The Buffalo Bills, led by old friend Rex Ryan. (Of course!) Rex's Bills just struggled to beat the Kellen Moore-led Cowboys. The Jets are too talented (credit general manager Mike Maccagnan) and too focused (credit head coach Todd Bowles) to blow this opportunity. I think Gang Green shakes the "Same Old Jets" mantra and keeps the great play and mojo rolling, thus securing the last remaining AFC wild-card spot.

That means Pittsburgh will fall short of the postseason, and the Steelers have nobody to blame but themselves. The defense has been hit-or-miss all year. It's unfathomable and unacceptable to be ripped apart by Ryan Mallett, the Ravens' fourth starting quarterback this season. This was a total collapse. Baltimore is an injured mess, but under John Harbaugh, the Ravens still played with immense heart and determination. The Steelers lacked both.

3) Will the Chiefs earn a home playoff game (by winning the AFC West)?

I don't think so. But the sizzling-hot Chiefs have rolled off nine straight wins in remarkable fashion. Their rebound from 1-5 to clinching a playoff berth in Week 16 is such an amazing credit to Andy Reid's brilliant coaching and leadership, and the clutch play of guys like Alex Smith, Travis Kelce and Jeremy Maclin. Coordinator Bob Sutton has done a fantastic job with this defense, which continues to make plays even without the unit's best player (Justin Houston) on the field. The defensive backfield is great; rookie cornerback Marcus Peters has been nothing short of amazing, with an NFL-high eight interceptions on the season.

I still think Denver wins the division, but to be having this conversation in the final week of the regular season -- in a campaign where K.C. lost five of its first six games and lost Jamaal Charles in Week 5 -- is special. And don't overlook Kansas City making a playoff run in this wide-open AFC.

4) Who will win the NFC North?

Yes, the Packers looked downright dreadful, losing by 30 -- thirty -- to the Cardinals on Sunday. We keep waiting for the Packers to find it, but Christmas is in the rear-view mirror and it hasn't happened yet. Meanwhile, Minnesota has been a solid, winning team all year, with the latest victory being a complete smackdown of the Giants on "Sunday Night Football".

Now the two 10-5 teams are set for a de facto division title game in Week 17. With the contest taking place at Lambeau Field, I'm actually going to go against the eyeball test. Yes, I'm rolling with the Packers and the best player on the field, Aaron Rodgers.

5) Who will win AFC South?

Houston -- because nobody puts Brandon Weeden in a corner. Or something like that.

Brandon Weeden making plays in critical December games?! I've officially seen it all.

The Texans crushed Tennessee on Sunday, which was hardly a surprise. Houston's defense has been fantastic. And while Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson and the Jaguars represent formidable competition in Week 17, J.J. Watt won't let the Texans blow a win-and-in opportunity. And actually, it might not even get to that: If the Bengals beat the Broncos tonight, Houston wins the division regardless of next Sunday's outcome.

6) Will the Panthers fall to the No. 2 seed?

No, that won't happen. Prior to the Panthers' setback in Atlanta on Sunday, I continually had written that Carolina wouldn't go undefeated. It's just so difficult in the NFL. Another thing I've written many times: The Cardinals, thanks to the best GM/coach combination in the NFL, have the most complete roster (1-53) in the NFL.

All that said, I think the Panthers will respond to their first loss positively, by beating the Bucs at home in Week 17 and sewing up the NFC's top seed. Still, I think the Cardinals are primed and ready to represent the NFC in Super Bowl 50, even if that means beating the Panthers in Carolina.

7) Which team will end up with the No. 1 pick in the draft?

College Football 24/7 Hot Topics:

The Titans and Browns head into Week 17 tied for the worst record in the league (3-12). However, Tennessee holds the tiebreaker, with an inferior opponent strength of schedule. Thus, if both teams lose, the Titans "win" the top pick.

Cleveland draws what should be an angry Pittsburgh team in Week 17. That won't be pretty for the Browns. In theory, Tennessee could sneak out a win in Indy, given the state of affairs at quarterback for the Colts. In reality, though, have you watched the Titans? They are dreadful, and even more so sans an injured Marcus Mariota.

Long story short, Tennessee will snag the No. 1 pick.

8) Is Johnny Manziel the future in Cleveland?

Being fair, John Football has flashed promise. He earned a win with 270 yards passing and a 92.1 passer rating in Week 14, and on Sunday, he made a number of plays with his legs and eclipsed 100 yards rushing. Most importantly, he's stayed out of the headlines for the wrong reasons since regaining the starting job in December.

But all signs point to Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine quite possibly losing their respective jobs in Cleveland. It's crazy to think that a new general manager and head coach would opt to stay the course and make Johnny the guy.

9) Will Tom Coughlin keep his job?

He won't. And I think Coughlin has been sensational in his 12 seasons as the Giants' head coach. But it's time. A Week 17 win against Philadelphia won't save it. I hope both sides can work this out so that Coughlin can retire, as opposed to getting fired. It's just time for a fresh perspective in New York.

Still, regardless of all that, anyone who solely blames Coughlin for this Big Blue mess isn't paying attention. The Giants' issue is that they aren't any good. They haven't been for years. That's on general manager Jerry Reese, as we've been saying for years. The Giants need a cleansing.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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