Gregg Rosenthal catches you up on everything you need to know as we turn from Week 14 to Week 15.
It was the best week of games all season, it was one of the worst injuries yet. As Chris Wesseling said on the "Around the NFL" podcast Sunday night, these vengeful 2017 Football Gods are clearly from the Old Testament.
Backup quarterback Nick Foles' first start of the season will come in New Jersey against the Giants before the Eagles return home to face a sagging Raiders team and close things out against the Cowboys. Philadelphia should be considered favorites in all three games for the same reasons the Eagles were able to close out a quality opponent Sunday in Los Angeles without Wentz. They boast perhaps the NFL's best defensive line, a strong running game and a creative offensive coaching staff. Foles is a quality veteran backup, familiar with a system that has plenty of run-pass options and is like the one he thrived in under Chip Kelly in 2013, during Foles' first stint in Philadelphia.
These are not the 2016 Raiders, a 12-4 squad whose playoff hopes were essentially extinguished by Derek Carr's fractured fibula in Week 16. That team and its MVP-caliber quarterback had a weak defense and an ill-prepared backup QB, with a record built via a string of comeback victories. The 11-2 Eagles have blown teams out because Wentz's brilliance was supported by a top-five defense, excellent offensive-line play and a coaching staff that can adjust on the fly.
Sunday's win over the Rams, combined with New Orleans' loss on "Thursday Night Football," put the Eagles two games up on the NFC's No. 3 seed (currently the 9-4 Rams, with the 9-4 Saints owning the No. 4 seed). Philadelphia has all but secured a bye and the accompanying home game during the Divisional Round. Three of the top four NFC seeds lost in Week 14, while the Eagles lost Wentz. The No. 1 seed is within reach, especially if the 10-3 Vikings slip up again like they did in their loss to Carolina on Sunday. This is a conference without a superpower, where every playoff team will have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.
In a season where Case Keenum is leading a viable Super Bowl contender in Minnesota, where the Saints are winning with running and defense, where the Los Angeles Rams are in the mix, it's not crazy to suggest a Nick Foles-led Eagles team will be competitive, if not superior, in any home playoff game.
This is not the season football fans envisioned -- especially, ultimately, in Philadelphia -- but it's the season those punishing Football Gods have given us.
Wentz's injury wasn't the only season-altering development of the week. Here were the other biggest lessons of Week 14:
A Patriots defensive front seven already short on talent might have reached its breaking point when its two most important players, defensive end Trey Flowers and linebacker Kyle Van Noy, missed the game to injury and starting defensive tackle Alan Branch left too. Flowers and Van Noy should be back, but at some point a defense that is relying on so many undrafted rookies and untested players figuring out new roles was bound to struggle. The Patriots have virtually no edge rushing presence, a fact Bill Belichick has coached around all season.
The bigger concern is on offense, the group required to carry the team. Tom Brady continues to take a weekly beating because of poor pass protection and he's missed an entire practice in each of the last two weeks because of an Achilles injury. The Patriots have a short week before going on the road for the fifth time in six games, and they'll have Rob Gronkowski back from suspension.
The team inevitably will problem solve and play better in Pittsburgh because they can't play worse, because Monday night ranks as one of the worst December efforts of the Brady-Belichick era. But that might not be enough to beat the Steelers, and this game should be a reminder that the top teams in the AFC are far from infallible. The projected cakewalk path for New England to the Super Bowl was always an analytical crutch, a failure to recognize that every season is different, and anyone who says they know how this one will go is a charlatan. That unpredictability helps explain how Jay Cutler easily outshined Tom Brady in what was likely the last prime-time game of Cutler's career, a raucous ending to what's been a wild and entertaining ride. If that can happen, anything is possible. Such as ...
Antonio Brown has a chance to be the first wide receiver to ever win NFL MVP: Brown has reached a tier of sports excellence this season that only immortals have roamed. We expect Brown to come up with something magical, and then it happens. Every week.
His four-week tour across the NFL's prime-time properties, which concluded Sunday night, should not soon be forgotten: 39 catches for 627 yards, six touchdowns and three game-defining plays. There was the impossible toe-tap to beat the Packers in Week 12, followed by the tenacious, clutch touchdown against the Bengalsin Week 13, followed by the 34-yard catch to beat the Ravens (again) and win the AFC North (again), a play that was more remarkable because everyone could see it coming.
The Wests can be won in Week 15: The Rams' loss to the Eagles changed the trajectory of Los Angeles coach Sean McVay's next three weeks. Instead of battling for the NFC's No. 1 seed, the team could be battling just to win the NFC West. The Rams can all but end that drama Sunday in Seattle against a banged-up Seahawks team. A win in Seattle would give the Rams a two-game lead in the division with two games to play. A win by the Seahawks would give them a season sweep over the Rams -- which means having the tiebreaker advantage -- and first place heading into Week 16. (It would also mean the Rams finished 1-4 against the top tier of NFC playoff contenders.)
One week can change so much in the NFL. Seattle's win over Philadelphia in Week 13 gave the team the look of a title contender again, but Sunday's loss in Jacksonville coupled with Bobby Wagner's hamstring injury puts them on the brink. (Wagner's campaign for Defensive Player of the Year, like Wentz's MVP bid, could end prematurely.) The Seahawksneed to beat the Rams; otherwise, they'll face a steep uphill climb just to make the playoffs.
The AFC West race could be similarly close to wrapping up. Despite their four-game winning streak, the Chargersface a near must-win situation in Kansas City on Saturday night. The Chiefs have a chance to sweep the season series, essentially reducing their magic number to one to win the division with two weeks left. The Chargers are the better team right now, with the better quarterback and the far better defense. But the Chiefs' victory over Oakland on Sunday was a reminder of how much coaching matters, and I'd never count out Andy Reid in a matchup against a rookie head coach.
Jacksonville can win with offense: The Jaguars needed a victory like Sunday's 30-24 win over Seattle: in a home game against a playoff-tested opponent, with Blake Bortles playing a key role. It was the organization's biggest win in a decade, setting up a chance for Jacksonville to claim the AFC South before heading to Tennessee in Week 17.
Everyone knows the Jaguars' pass defense is special, and they delivered for two and a half quarters Sunday, holding Russell Wilson to 36 yards with two interceptions on his first 17 attempts. A funny thing happened, however, when the Jaguars' secondary mysteriously collapsed, allowing three touchdown drives of two plays or less: Bortles steadied the ship. While he missed a few throws, he consistently made good decisions and completed some difficult passes for the second straight week. The Jaguars scored 27 points on five straight possessions against the Seahawks, with the final two drives in that stretch taking up more than 13 minutes of playing time. The emergence of talented rookie receiver Dede Westbrook alongside Marqise Lee will make it tougher for teams to keep loading up to stop Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars running game. (Jacksonville still ran for 156 yards against the Seahawks.) Seattle was without linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright late in the game, but it's worth noting that the Jaguars are now capable of taking advantage of such situations.
When Wilson got the ball back with Seattle down six points and 2:38 to go, I expected him to spin more of his magic. Instead, the Jaguars, keyed by a Malik Jackson sack, didn't allow a first down. On third-and-11 on the ensuing Jaguars drive, Bortles did the most Jaguars thing possible and handed the ball off. Fournette picked up the first down, a moment that should have been the lasting memory from the win before the Seahawks defense and the Jaguars crowd ruined it. When the Jaguars host their first playoff game since the 1999 postseason next month, they will be able to look back at this win and remember how both sides of the ball came through when it mattered.
The Raiders are who we thought they were: The question is not how the Raiders went from preseason darlings to 6-7. The question is how this team won six games at all with one of the league's worst defenses and one of the most predictable offenses. The Raiders trailed 26-0 with 10 minutes left in Kansas City on Sunday, having been outflanked in every phase by the Chiefs' staff. (It could have easily been 38-0 if not for some Chiefs mistakes in the red zone.)
"We had high hopes heading into today. It was a big day, a big moment, and we didn't play well," Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said after the game.
Del Rio fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. three weeks ago. Del Rio also gambled by replacing veteran offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave after last season, promoting in-house option Todd Downing. Nearly every aspect of the offense has disappointed since, with the exception of Marshawn Lynch's tough running. Carr has too often missed seeing open receivers down the field and taken checkdown passes before pressure arrived. The lasting image of Sunday's game was Carr continuing to throw short passes over the middle while down two scores, a symbol of a season that has been going nowhere fast for a while.