The Week 16 Wrap

It was not exactly pretty, but I came away from our Sky Sports studios on Sunday night hugely impressed with the Philadelphia Eagles as they recorded a 17-9 victory over the disappointing Dallas Cowboys.

The Eagles improved to 8-7 on the year and are now just one win - against the New York Giants in Week 17 - away from securing the NFC East crown.

Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz was interviewed by FOX's Erin Andrews on the field after the game and he spoke about the Eagles' resiliency. And that has been evident in recent weeks as Philly have ignored injury after key injury and strung together three straight victories.

The complete list is too long but let's just highlight a few 'out for the season' losses in offensive tackle Lane Johnson, wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson; and running backs Jordan Howard, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles. Others got banged up on Sunday with both tight ends, Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, going in and out of the lineup.

And yet the Eagles kept fighting and scrapping and are now 60 minutes away from being rewarded with what seemed to be an unlikely division crown.

The offense is hardly going to be a work of art given all the injury losses on that side of the ball, but they are manufacturing yardage with some clever play calling and some chunk plays that are eating up ground at opportune times.

Wentz threw for 319 yards and one touchdown and he continues to put this Eagles team on his back as he leads a playoff charge. And a once-struggling unit has now racked up more than 400 yards in three straight games for the first time since their Super Bowl season of 2017. That is a credit to head coach Doug Pederson and his franchise QB who is truly earning his money after signing a contract extension during this past offseason.

On the other sideline, questions are going to be asked of Jason Garrett and his Cowboys, who disappointed throughout and could only manage three Kai Forbath field goals and no touchdowns.

There were some numbers in this game that will heap further pressure on Garrett, who could be fired next weekend. The Cowboys dropped to 0-8 in games in which they trailed at halftime, suggesting their in-game adjustments are not the best. His receivers dropped five passes and ran some sloppy routes and their best player, Ezekiel Elliott, never got on track. Zeke carried five times for nine yards in the first half and with Dallas needing a win to seal the NFC East, he added just 38 yards on eight carries after the break.

Now, we are not party to how a player ends up on the sideline and for what reason, but I can tell you this. It would not sit well with me if I were a Dallas fan and there were several occasions on Sunday when Elliott or wide receiver Amari Cooper were on the bench during a critical down.

That makes no sense to me unless they have suffered a significant injury. If the player has tapped out, Garrett should send them back in; providing they are not risking long-term injuries. The season was on the line for Dallas and no one - their head coach included - stepped to the fore.

What does that say about the current state of these Cowboys? No wonder owner Jerry Jones was seen storming out of his luxury box on Sunday.

Who's Hot...

Michael Thomas...This will come as a surprise to no one because he has been prolific since he entered the NFL, but Michael Thomas was excellent once again on Sunday as the New Orleans Saints overcame a slow start to record a 38-28 win over the Tennessee Titans in Nashville. Thomas recorded 12 catches for 136 yards and scored the game's decisive touchdown, taking his receptions total for 2019 to a single-season record 145, breaking the mark previously held by Marvin Harrison, of the Indianapolis Colts. Harrison formed an historic partnership with Peyton Manning and there have been other great duos in NFL history, with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice leading the way, in my opinion. But if they continue to pile up these big numbers, Drew Brees and Thomas can force their way into that particular conversation, although a dominant playoff run would help in that regard.

Chandler Jones...Other defenders get more attention, but few are as deserving of the plaudits that should be thrown in the direction of the Arizona Cardinals pass rusher. Jones would get more headlines if he played on a better team and he was influential in his squad's surprise 27-13 defeat of the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday. Jones recorded four sacks in a game for the second time this season and also forced two fumbles. He was the driving force behind one of Arizona's best performances of a growing season in 2019.

Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley...It was only one game and it came against a struggling Washington defense, but the New York Giants must have been delighted by the showings from rookie quarterback Daniel Jones and second-year rusher Saquon Barkley during Sunday's 41-35 overtime win. Jones looked good from start to finish as he threw for 352 yards and five touchdowns on his return from an ankle injury. And Barkley was back to his explosive best in a season hampered by injury as he rushed for 189 yards and a touchdown while adding four receptions for an additional 90 yards and another score. This pairing will make up the focal points of New York's attack for the next decade, particularly a fully-fit Barkley.

Who's Not...

DeAndre Hopkins...This will be a worrying stat line for the Houston Texans following their 23-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that saw Bill O'Brien's men clinch a fourth AFC South title in five seasons. Star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins had five catches (sounds decent enough so far) for just 23 yards and no touchdowns. Hopkins finds extensive coverage and attention directed his way whenever Houston fails to serve up a viable and threatening alternative in the form of Will Fuller. And the worry is that this particular young receiver never seems capable of staying healthy. Fuller was out with a groin injury in Tampa and Hopkins and the whole offense struggled as a result. Houston could sit starters in Week 17 and they should make it their mission to get Fuller back in time for the first round of the playoffs.

Pittsburgh quarterbacks...The Steelers suffered a damaging 16-10 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday night and it opens the door for the Tennessee Titans to take the final AFC playoff spot with a win against Houston in Week 17. Pittsburgh lean heavily on an excellent defense but, frankly, they have not been nearly good enough at quarterback since Ben Roethlisberger went down for the year. Devlin 'Duck' Hodges was intercepted twice and benched, before returning to sub for the injured Mason Rudolph. Mike Tomlin has done a tremendous job papering over the cracks in 2019 but on Sunday the Steelers looked like exactly what they are - a team desperately trying to cope with the loss of its franchise quarterback.

The Cleveland Browns...The Factory of Sadness is back open and operating full steam ahead in Cleveland after the Browns -hose of the preseason hype train Super Bowl talk - secured a 12th straight losing season with Sunday's 31-15 loss to Baltimore. This result might have been expected against a Baltimore team that secured the number one seed through the AFC playoffs, but it stung so badly for the Browns because it put an exclamation point on a bitterly disappointing season that promised so much. This loss saw Odell Beckham Jr. get in the face of his head coach, Freddie Kitchens, and a continuation of Baker Mayfield's poor form at quarterback. While the Browns would love to resist the temptation, I think they fire Kitchens and attempt yet another rebuild in 2020, albeit without the considerable offseason hype of 2019.

The Fast Five...

The pre-game reports on Saturday night suggested that Tampa Bay are ready to stick with Jameis Winston at quarterback for 2020 and beyond. I'm not sure how you can win with such an up and down passer. Winston had another 300-yard passing day in a 23-20 loss to Houston, but he tossed up another four picks. He makes you say 'wow' for good and bad reasons every single game.

It was still far from a masterclass but that was one of New England's better offensive displays as they secured an 11th straight AFC East crown with a 24-17 win over Buffalo on Saturday. Tom Brady completed his first 10 passes and ended with 271 yards and a touchdown and, for the second straight week, the Patriots rushed for more than 140 yards.

The San Francisco 49ers are certainly going to be battle tested come playoff time. Another of their games went down to the wire on Saturday as Robbie Gould's field goal as time ran out gave San Francisco a 34-31 win. The Niners cannot even ease up in Week 17 as their visit to Seattle could be the difference between being the one or the five seed in the NFC.

Jimmy Garoppolo came up massive in San Francisco's game-winning drive, hitting Kendrick Bourne for 18 on third and 16 before connecting with Emmanuel Sanders for 46 yards on another third and 16 play. Jimmy G has come up big a few times in the second half of this season and that makes the Niners an even more complete team heading into the playoffs.

Tom Coughlin was fired by Jacksonville after handing out more than $700,000 in player fines during his time back with the club. But here is my worry. This was a massively ill-disciplined team even with Coughlin overseeing the football operation. What happens now he is gone? I'd be concerned about that if I were a Jags fan

Finish That Sentence

This article is being written from 38,000 feet as I jet across the Atlantic with the family for a Christmas break in New York. So in order to limit my in-flight WiFi costs (they don't pay us that much at Sky Sports), I'm going to answer my own 'Finish That Sentence' offerings this week.

When the Chargers play in Los Angeles...they get embarrassed by an obvious lack of fan support. During Sunday's loss to the Raiders, Philip Rivers was forced to burn a time out in front of his own 'fans' because the crowd noise got too loud. In his own stadium! It's not going to get any better when the Chargers move into a new and much-larger stadium in 2020. It is only going to highlight the problem and remind us that this team faces a real challenge to become relevant in LA and may never achieve that goal.

The Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals are...going to be picking very high in the 2020 NFL Draft but no one can accuse them of giving up on the season. Miami played very well for large portions of Sunday's 38-35 overtime win as Ryan Fitzpatrick threw four touchdown passes but the Bengals came roaring back late to force the extra period with Andy Dalton throwing four scoring strikes. The way these talent-deficient teams are playing down the stretch bodes well for the futures of Brian Flores and Zac Taylor respectively

If I could be granted one NFL-related Christmas wish it would be...to see Andrew Luck return to the NFL, but only with a completely clean bill of health. I'm not going to lie, I miss seeing Andrew firing strikes and leading the Colts to last-second victories. Jacoby Brissett has done a decent job, but he is a downgrade on Luck and the Colts have missed their former signal-caller. He was so often the difference in close games. This wish will not get granted, however. As expected, Andrew has disappeared off the grid as soon as he stepped away from the NFL. I'm not surprised. This is a very private man who played football for the love of the game and not for the fame and glory. Wherever you are, Merry Christmas, Andrew!

Fact of the Week

The Oakland Raiders are remarkably still alive in the AFC playoff race after Sunday's win over the Los Angeles Chargers and here is how they could book their postseason spot with an 8-8 record. The Raiders need to beat Denver in Week 17 and have Tennessee lose to Houston, Pittsburgh lose to Baltimore and Indianapolis to beat Jacksonville. Silver and Black fans, now is the time to believe in a Christmas miracle!

Final Thought...

It's hard to believe we are about to put Week 16 in the record books and put our feet up for the holiday season. It hardly seems like yesterday that I was watching the Cleveland Browns attempt -and fail - to control the preseason hysteria in training camp in Ohio or Efe Obada leading the Carolina Panthers to victory at the newly-opened Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. NFL seasons fly by once they get started but we can at least raise a glass to this toast.... a mouth-watering playoff competition lies just around the corner and gets going in the first weekend in January. We'll be back in the Sky Sports studio on Sunday December 29 but before then... have a great break and thanks for reading this column during the 2019 season. Merry Christmas!

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