Merry Christmas, everybody. Well, it wasn't a football Christmas for everyone.
Hearing Marcus Mariota get carted off the field on the radio, then watching Derek Carr writhe in pain on the field knowing his season was over, cast a pall over an otherwise merry Week 16. Now both are donning casts, with Mariota's team done for '16 and Carr's in the hands of a McGloin, for a limited time only.
Who wasn't curious to see if the Raiders could give the Patriots all they could handle in the postseason tournament? And even though the Texans are planting Savage Garden under center, Texans-Titans was shaping up to be one of Week 17's top matchups. Of course, Tennessee would've had to beat the Jags, whom they were trailing even before Mariota went down on Saturday. A win would've at least been possible had Mariota not ridden off into the 2017 season.
On to your football thoughts ...
Does O.J. McDuffie still play for the Dolphins?
@HarrisonNFL anxiously waiting to see if the browns move up in this weeks power rankings. Just maybe?â Mark Nathin (@MarkNathin) December 27, 2016
Optimism is fun.
For the full rundown, see below. You'll notice major movement in the top 10, some of it courtesy of a Raiders adjustment due to losing their MVP candidate. Will take your thoughts on that grouping (it was tough this week): @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Let the dissension commence!
NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our Dec. 20 Power Rankings.
These ain't the same ol' Patriots. Sure, they are the favorites coming out of the AFC, a certifiable threat to tar and feather the playoff field en route to their fifth Super Bowl title. Yes, Tom Brady is still droppin' dimes, like his second-quarter rainbow to James White to put New England up 27-0. Yep, all that is neato ... But do you know the last time a Bill Belichick team led the NFL in points allowed? How about 2003, when the Patriots won the Lombardi Trophy. The time before that was 1994, the last Browns team to win a playoff game. And the time before that? The 1990 Giants, when Belichick was a stud defensive coordinator under Bill Parcells. That group won the Super Bowl, too. #Defensegate
Despite the fact that I'd watched nearly every play from the Cowboys' first 14 games, the 28 unanswered points Monday night qualified as shocking. Not just because the offense was moving at ease, either. Talk about an about face from the defense. After allowing the Lions three touchdowns on the first three drives, Rod Marinelli's unit adjusted, then held, then created a takeaway that altered the course of the game. Jon Gruden did a heckuva job breaking down Rod Marinelli doing a heckuva job going to a 32 defense, too. On to other matters ... How many of you Cowboys fans got a not-so-slight scare watching the replay of the hit on Tyron Smith's knee?
Watching Le'Veon Bell run is like hearing live albums of Bob Seger, Springsteen or even Guns N' Roses. The set list is often different, the rhythm slightly off from the studio album, and maybe Sebastian Bach shows up for a carry -- er, to carry a tune for Axl. Yet, at the end of the day, you know "Welcome to the Jungle" is coming, brother. Bell's stutter-step, explode-then-slow-down-then-accelerate-again is as frustrating for defenders to stop as it is exhilarating for us to watch. While other Steelers made the occasional play, Bell steadily put up 137 yards from scrimmage, inching him ever closer to 2,000 ... despite missing the first three games of the season. He needs just 116 yards to hit that mark. With apologies to a couple of NFC guys, Bell might be the best running back in football. The best wide receiver in football was getting wrapped up with seconds to go at Heinz Field on Sunday, his outstretched arm clinching the AFC North title.
Dontari Poe ... the 346-pound Tim Tebow of the NFL. Huge touchdown, literally. Poe was one of many Chiefs who helped the team matriculate the ball down the field Sunday night. The 2016 Chiefs would make former head coach Hank Stram very proud. Stram's Chiefs played the NFL's longest game on Christmas Day 1971, a true NFL classic, 45 years before Andy Reid's group moved closer to hosting a playoff game at Arrowhead. In order to do that, the Raiders must lose against the Broncos, while the Chiefs have to take out their nemesis -- the always tough Chargers -- in San Diego. [Insert the you-can-throw-out-the-records-for-this-game line here.]
Dude, Matt Ryan is not playing around. How does 27 of 33 for 277 yards and two touchdowns suit you? Look, he's not gonna win the MVP. Don't think enough people around the league are taking notice of Ryan's exploits. Tom Brady, Derek Carr and perhaps Ezekiel Elliott are probably ahead of Ryan in the voters' minds. That said, the numbers for the face of the Falcons franchise are staggering: He's completing just about 70 percent of his passes, owns nearly a 5:1 TD-to-INT ratio and ranks third in the league in passing yards (4,613). Oh, and he's led Atlanta to its first NFC South title since 2012. With that high-octane offense, the Falcons could be a scary opponent in the playoffs.
Too high for the Packers? Can't be. Green Bay has won five in a row on the strength of Aaron Rodgers' right arm and a defense that has completely turned it around since that awful loss in Washington. Well, not totally, as the Cheesehead secondary had enough holes in it to let the Sam Bradford- Adam Thielen combo resemble the Randall Cunningham-Randy Moss connection circa 1998. The whole key now is whether the Packers can run the football when it counts.
No words. No words for how much the Derek Carr news sucks. Carr's season-ending leg injury couldn't have come at a worse time, and it's crushing for a franchise that had created excitement across pro football. Put another way: The NFL is better when the Raiders are better. Carr was (and is) the Roy Hobbs of this football team, often putting everyone on his back -- even with a finger that that looked like a tree branch in a Tim Burton movie. It might have been Christmas, but Oakland's fan base received a stocking full of bricks.
Some concern growing around this team. No, a Cardinals win in Seattle shouldn't shock anyone. Arizona won there last year, too, as well as in 2013 -- the same season the Seahawks smothered the Broncos in the Super Bowl. Of larger concern is the play of the offensive line and the absence of Earl Thomas. The former is indicative of a problem every team has -- i.e., sacrificing an area of the football team to pay for areas of strength. Look no further than Bruce Arians' Cards, who have had much issue with their long snapper and kicking game this season. But Thomas? His absence was felt in this loss, a game in which Carson Palmer averaged almost 11 yards per attempt. Ditto a few weeks ago in Lambeau. Plainly stated, Seattle is a different football team when its safeties, either one of them, aren't right. What other team can you say that about?
Well, that blew. No, not Big Blue. The Thursday night game. Tell you what: If the Giants are going to do anything -- anything -- in the postseason, they are going to have to establish some semblance of a ground game. Eli Manning dropped back so many times his Fitbit overheated -- 63 attempts. Interestingly enough, the 2011 title team couldn't run a lick, either. But, but, but the air attack was precisely that -- an attack, ranked fifth in the league with Manning as hot as they come. Now, he is anything but.
Huge win in the scope of the AFC playoff picture for the Fins on Saturday in Buffalo. Besides knocking out their AFC East adversary, Miami locked up a postseason berth for the first time since 2008. In fact, the Dolphins have only made it to the tournament two other times this millennium: 2000 and '01. The first two came courtesy of Jay Fiedler. So if you're thinking Matt Moore is not quality enough to close the deal in Week 17 ... umm ...
Up 21-14, moving the ball at will, Zach Zenner playing like the lovechild of Billy Sims and Earl Campbell ... then wot happened?? A few miscues against the Cowboys on the road, and the whole deal falls apart. So what can we anticipate this coming Sunday night? (Please no more falling apart. That would be so Lions.) I think Matt Stafford will be on his game. Question is, can the Lions' pass rushers force Aaron Rodgers to be off his? They had better, because the Detroit secondary is not very NFC North winningesque. At least not without Darius Slay manning the corner. Ford Field better be louder than a Nugent show in an efficiency apartment on Sunday night.
Two things we know for certain: 1) The Redskins still have an excellent chance of making the playoffs for the second season in a row; and 2) Kirk Cousins will be hiring the Mayflower to transport his cash in March. Anybody who knows anything about football knew Cousins would rebound from that Monday night debacle. Anybody who knows anything about "Star Trek" knew it, too. Cousins' grit should be obvious to everyone by now. It was impossible to measure accurately coming out of the 2012 draft as the team's second quarterback selected. How remarkable it is that the team's first-round pick that year, Robert Griffin III, was thought to be the savior. More remarkable, is that RGIII was the savior -- for one season, at least. The best that Cousins was ever expected to be in D.C. back then was a nice fellow who, if he played well enough in spot opportunities, might morph himself into expensive trade bait. Now, how much is it going to cost the Redskins' brass to keep him?
The consternation of letting the division, and a playoff berth, slip away in Pittsburgh will sit with this Ravens group for months. Up 20-10 in the second half, and 27-24 with a shade over a minute to go, the dark cloud of we-left-too-much-time-on-the-clock set in as Ben Roethlisberger methodically moved Pittsburgh down the field. You knew the Steelers weren't playing no Martyball, either; they weren't settling for a field goal with seconds to burn. Baltimore's top-ranked defense simply couldn't stop what we all thought would happen after Kyle Juszczyk lunged over the goal line. What a game, though -- by both teams.
For the second year in a row, the AFC South title goes to the Texans. For the third straight season, Houston will don a winning record. So what does this mean? Can Bill O'Brien's group win come the second weekend of January? The Texans could host either the Raiders, Chiefs or the aqua hot Dolphins, although the latter are the least likely to venture to Houston in the first round. The key for the Texans in the postseason might be getting a former Dolphin, tailback Lamar Miller, healthy (i.e., not playing him much in Nashville this weekend). Also of import: Tom Savage keeping his head above water as he did Christmas Eve night.
No playoffs for Tampa Bay in 2016 (
barring an absolute miracle), but it sure doesn't mean this season was a failure. The Bucs would have been one of the more interesting teams in the postseason, featuring a rookie head coach in Dirk Koetter and sophomore quarterback in
Jameis Winston. Think about it. All we've received from the NFC South of late has been the
Panthers. The Bucs are new blood, the Scrappy-Doo of the NFL. Case in point: The contest they gave the
Cowboys in Dallas in
Week 15. Unfortunately,
Dak Prescott was 32-of-36 passing in that game.
The Bucs had another close one this past Saturday in New Orleans, and again, fell short. Drew Brees: 23 of 34 for 299 yards and no picks. Tampa Bay's back seven couldn't create turnovers, or get stops, when the outcome was in doubt. That, and a few untimely giveaways, is why they will be home fishing. Actually, we should say that Scrappy-Doo was a crappy-doo cartoon. The Bucs are much better than that 30-minute abomination. All that relevant stuff aside, there is much reason to hop on the pirate ship next year. This team will be back in contention.
Not often that both Super Bowl teams miss the playoffs altogether the following season. In fact, it hasn't happened since 2003, when the Raiders fell apart and Jon Gruden couldn't will his champion Bucs back into the postseason. That Tampa outfit was quite similar to the 2016 Broncos, dependent on an oft-dominant defense to lift the offense to wins, despite the presence of two quality wideouts (Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell). On that note, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will be catching footballs from _________ next season. Your guess is as good as mine -- and Tony Romo's.
Down, down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up, up, down, up, down, up, down. The Colts are the Playstation cheat code of the NFL. What the hell? One week after walking into Minnesota a beaten-up underdog, then walking out 34-6 victors, Indy looked like a pack of lost puppies down three scores to the Raiders. Derek Carr's injury took the wind out of the sails of the home team, allowing Andrew Luck and Co. to at least make it interesting. Intriguing is not involved, however, as the Colts' last playoff game is still the one that breathed life into the air-in-footballs narrative.
What a terrible development for the Titans this past weekend. By now, you've heard that Marcus Mariota is out for Week 17 with an offseason of recovery ahead of him. The Titans' poor outing (even before Mariota broke his leg) was disturbing, considering all Mike Mularkey's team had on the line. A Week 17 matchup with the Texans that could've been for the AFC South crown, will now likely be three hours of mediocrity. If Titans fans want that, they can download "The Force Awakens" instead of watching the Savage-Cassel, non-title bout this Sunday. Ah, go make yourself feel better. Go get $20 movie nachos and see "Rogue One" after the game.
Unbelievable. Unbelieva Bills. Actually, check that: Saturday's collapse was totally foreseeable, at least if you have been following this franchise's late-season fortunes since Y2K. You know, a small window like that. Buffalo did manage to come back from two scores down, twice. But not managing any points after Mike Gillislee rumbled into field-goal territory in overtime? Dude. For whatever reason, the Bills kept trying plays to see if Dolphins DE Andre Branch would stay home. (He did. Every time.) That includes running a reverse to Reggie Bush that lost eight yards! Why risk that play with swirling winds and a kicker who is about as money as a buffalo nickel this season? Don't ask where the Bills' safety was on that 850-yard Jay Ajayi run to set up Miami's game-winning field goal, either. Probably Mordor, with this group's luck. Feel bad for fans in Buffalo, who love their team 'til it hurts.
Welp. If this team had about 11 Adam Thielens, it'd be in good shape. Going from 5-0 to 7-8 is never fun, unless you have your eyes set on drafting a guy in the middle of Round 1. On to brighter notes: How about this Adam Thielen?! Dude was competing like Adam West out there ... Sock! Boom! Bam! No, I didn't expect you to get a reference from a cheesy show from the mid-'60s ... but we should all get how impressive this guy's season has been, going from an undrafted third-year player who nobody in pro football was talking about, to putting up two hundy at Lambeau and closing in on a 1,000-yard season. Pow!
New Orleans ruined the Bucs' postseason hopes Saturday, one year after sending Tampa into a tailspin with a late-season win. Unfortunately for the Saints, they will be part of the mediocre pack again this season. The best Sean Payton's group can do is 8-8 ... one year after going 7-9 ... one year after going 7-9. Perhaps this is a middling group, yet you have to like what you see in terms of young talent. Michael Thomas was out there making plays Saturday. He gained 98 yards. Brandin Cooks equaled that total. Cam Jordan sacked Jameis Winston late, when the Bucs could ill afford it. Rookie Sheldon Rankins got to Winston, too. Fellow freshman Vonn Bell has 81 tackles to his name. So while not sure how long Drew Brees will look out from under center for this franchise, we do know that his view is getting much better. Well, at least at practice anyway.
Styles make fights. That's the old boxing proverb, probably borrowed from a Jack Dempsey tug-of-war from 100 years ago. In the case of the NFC West, it's true. The Rams can beat the Seahawks, but not the 49ers, who of course never take down Seattle. The Cardinals blow a game at home to New Orleans, then take down the Seahawks in the toughest place to win in pro football. Arizona has pulled off the feat three times in the last four years now, which is stellar ... or stupidly maddening for fans who watched them blow one-score games against the Vikings, Dolphins and those Saints. None of which are awful clubs. But it remains an incredible feat that of the Seahawks' six home losses since 2013, half have come from Bruce Arians' group.
Plain confounding that the Eagles' defense performs so well at home. Thursday night's win was the latest installment in the Jim Schwartz defensive turnaround. Save for the fact that it can't turn around Philadelphia's record. Schwartz's unit only allows 21.2 points per game (nearly six points less than last year), including a scant 15.9 per game at home. All this improvement came sans a giant influx of talent. Didn't hurt against the Giants, now did it?
At halftime Saturday, Falcons defensive backs had run for more yards off of Cam Newton interceptions than Cam Newton had passing yards. Another clunky outing for the 2015 MVP, a guy who inexplicably played well last Monday night. Why inexplicable? Because games like his stinker versus the Falcons have been as much the norm for Newton as the mistake-free product he put out there versus the Redskins. Don't see status quo heading into 2017 for the Panthers, whether that means Ron Rivera bolts west or not.
Another ugly loss for the Bengals, who could manage just 10 measly points fielding a lineup devoid of a few major pieces. Without A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert, and with the immortal Rex Burkhead carrying the ground game (impressive, given the length of T-Rex arms), the Bengals' offense versus Houston was punchless most of the night. The defense played well enough to win, but -- as has all too often been the case in 2016 -- the different sides of the ball couldn't produce on the same night. The loss did ensure Cincinnati a top-10 pick, however. Back to Burkhead: Has anyone ever seen "Rawhead Rex"? A horror cult classic, kind of like the Cincinnati QBs of the '90s.
Somebody had to do it. There had to be a team that was capable of playing crappy enough to let the certifiably worst team in the league pick up its first win of the season. Enter the rudderless Chargers, who could be playing two hours up the road in 2017 ... who might have a new head coach in 2017 ... and whose long-time franchise quarterback has looked like a shell of himself over the last month. You realize the possible Hall of Famer hasn't hit the 60 percent completion mark in a game since November? For all their shortcomings -- and shortfalls in the health department -- the Bolts could deal a devastating blow to the Chiefs this weekend in San Diego. A W means K.C. plays in the WCR. And I sure hope the Chargers stay in SD. SMH.
Much was made of Doug Marrone's odd departure from Buffalo, when he opted out of his contract ... escaped ... got out of Dodge ... as the organization went through an ownership change. By beating the Titans (a team playing for the division) on Saturday, the now-interim coach of the Jaguars might have taken a step closer to getting back into the saddle on a more permanent basis. Make no mistake: The Jags were in control of the affair long before Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota broke his leg. Make no mistake: Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles decided to proffer his best day of the season the week after his head coach got fired.
The legend of Matt Barkley didn't continue. Shocking to look at the box score and see five interceptions. Tried rewatching the game to see them, you know, to maybe do the ol' shining of the turd. Nope. They were all ugly. Or, put in a language everyone can easily understand, Ryan Fitzpatrickish. Still, Barkley competes and tries to provide his team with a chance to win -- he's no Checkdown Charley. Or Charlie Whitehurst. Or Charley Pride Christmas album, which my Dad made us listen to every year. Barkley still threw for more than 300 yards and a couple of touchdowns. Cameron Meredith caught the first one. Think he's a find for the Bears. Wish I could find that Christmas album ...
Most analysts -- TV and radio -- say Todd Bowles is a solid football coach. Don't disagree, yet there can be no getting around the Jets' disappointing December, during which it appears that, in at least two games, the players quit competing (SEE: Colts in Week 13, Patriots in Week 16). Coaches should get an opportunity to work with players, implement their system and adjust their strategy based off the mistakes made during their stewardship. I feel that is at least a three-year process. Not sure Bowles will last that long, but if Gus Bradley lasted nearly four years ...
After weeks upon weeks with San Francisco mired in the 31-hole, we are finally able to put a cute little green up arrow atop this paragraph you are reading. Merry Christmas, everybody. Kudos, as well, to Colin Kaepernick, who carried out a sales job worthy of "Glengarry Glen Ross" on that run-pass option play for the winning two points. Always be closing. Which, the 49ers hope to do against the visiting Seahawks this Sunday. Let's not get carried away.
Of course we realize that the Rams own a record equal to or superior than four of the teams above them in the Power Rankings. Los Angeles places this low because, frankly, no football team has looked worse over the last month. The Rams were outscored 141-48 over the previous four games prior to Saturday's contest versus the 49ers. Blown out this time? No. Blown lead? Unfortunately. A beleaguered defense that had caught plates in an earthquake all afternoon ran out of hands in the waning minutes. Could've used a hand from the offense. Jared Goff is a rookie, understood. But 11 of 24 for 90 yards, a TD and two picks against the worst defense in the league? Hand Rams fans a cold beer, please.
Yes! Yes! Yes! #%$# The Fumble. Red Right 88 can stick it, too. These 2016 Browns finally won a game, and damn it feels nice to type it. While we're at it, those Cleveland fans who wanted the Chargers to prevail so that the Browns would obtain the first overall pick didn't need to commit such a sports sin. The 49ers' win late Saturday means the Moneyballers are in the driver's seat for the No. 1 selection. As an aside, the year I went to the most Cowboys games as a kid was 1989. Dallas was terrible that season, finishing 1-15. I never rooted against them. Just saying. Congratulations, Brownies.
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.