Monday, November 30, 2015

Cohen's Corner Week 12 Takeaways

The Thanksgiving holiday has now come and gone and with it so does Week 12 of the NFL season. And what a week it was, the NFC East is a mess, the AFC South finally has two teams over .500 and there is one unbeaten left in the league, and it is not who you think it is. Let's recap!

The Patriots are Indeed Mortal: The New England Patriots are no longer unbeaten (insert shocked emoji). New England blew a 21-7 lead to the Denver Broncos on Sunday night, as the Brock Osweiler directed team stunned the Patriots with 17 fourth quarter points to take a lead late in the game at 24-21. Of course leave it to Tom Brady to lead the Patriots back into field goal range to tie the game and send it into overtime, but it was not enough. After New England went three and out on its opening possession of overtime, C.J. Anderson went dashing in the snow, for a 48-yard touchdown run that sent Denver to a 30-24 upset win, and sent Bill Belicick into a another classic morose postgame press conference. 

Anyway, you had to know the Patriots were going to lose at some point. They were teetering on the brink of losses the last two games against the Giants and Bills, and have sustained a lot of injuries to key players -- then again so has everybody in the NFL as we hit December. I guess, New England has to burn those "19-0" shirts once again. 

Brock Osweiler vs. Peyton Manning, who is Denver's starter: The aftermath of Denver's 30-24 win brings up a very interesting question: when Peyton Manning is ready to play again, should he? Or should the Broncos stick with Brock Osweiler. This is an impossible question, but the best answer to the Broncos ills right now is to stick with Osweiler indefinitely. The kid has a spark that Peyton Manning doesn't have anymore, and I am one of the biggest Manning supporters on the planet. Osweiler threw for 270 yards against an unbeaten Patriots team and didn't make a mistake. The only interception he threw was a ball that was batted into the air by Chandler Jones. Most young quarterbacks struggle against a Bill Belichick coached defense, Osweiler did not. He has led Denver to two straight wins, and fits Gary Kubiak's offense much better than Manning, who wanted to run his own offense instead. We all know how that went.

If Denver were to go back to Manning and he resumes his struggles, it could divide up the locker room, something a Broncos team that has eyes on the Super Bowl can not afford. Moreover to expect the Peyton Manning from even four years ago to take a snap from center is asking a lot at this point in the quarterback's career, and his foot injury is a very tricky one to monitor. 

If the Broncos decide to stick with Osweiler for the duration and into the postseason they won't be the first to ever do so. The Patriots themselves are an example of this. When Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury in Week 2, Tom Brady took over and never let the job go, even when Bledsoe was fully healthy and could have started. Bledsoe did save the Patriots in the AFC title game that year when Brady went down, but the torch had already been passed. This is not to say that Osweiler is destined to win four Super Bowls, win countless MVPs and maybe even get embroiled in a deflate gate scandal, but he might be the answer for Denver now, not in 2016. 

The Redskins Control the NFC East, I repeat the Redskins control the NFC East: The New York Giants were given a great gift on Thanksgiving Day. Losses by the Eagles and Cowboys set the stage for a Big Blue run through the month of December to an NFC East crown. All they had to do was beat the Redskins on Sunday and the division would be theirs. So much for that. A horrid day for Eli Manning led to a Big Blue meltdown west of D.C. as the Redskins toped the Giants 20-14.  Now the NFC East runs through Washington and with a pretty favorable schedule the Redskins could indeed take this division, even with an 8-8 record. The Giants now have to 9-7 or better in order to make the playoffs, and with how inconsistent they are, it may not happen. And speaking of the Washington Redskins, remember that quarterback controversy between Kirk Cousins and RGIII? Yeah, we do, but nobody cares anymore. 

Are the Vikings this year's Seahawks? Ok before you go nuts, hear me out. The 2013 Seattle Seahawks won a Super Bowl behind a strong running game and a great defense while asking a young Russell Wilson to only manage the game and not make mistakes. The Vikings have of course a very strong running game in Adrian Peterson; a good, but not great defense, and a very young quarterback who isn't going to wow anyone with his offensive production. Sound familiar? It should.

 While, I still expect the Packers to win the NFC North, the Vikings might more closely resemble the 2012 Seahawks who came out of nowhere to make the playoffs and make noise during it as a wild card team. That mini-run set up their Super Bowl runs for the next two years. The Vikings could be in a similar position. Minnesota's dominate 20-10 win over a desperate Atlanta team was the latest example of the Vikings formula. Peterson gashed the Falcons for 158 yards, while the Vikings defense smothered the Falcons and Matt Ryan. Minnesota is now 8-3 and in first place in the NFC North. I guess we have to start buying in at some point. 

The Kansas City Chiefs could be the most dangerous team in the playoffs: If they get in of course. The Kansas City Chiefs are riding a 5-game winning streak. They are not just winning games, but they are blowing people away. Four of their wins in this streak have been by more than 10 points, and on Sunday the Chiefs erased a 16-7 deficit to beat Rex Ryan's Buffalo Bills 30-22. Once again Spencer Ware is making people forget about Jamaal Charles, with a 114 yard performance on Sunday. Ware has now run for 234 yards on 36 carries, a 6.5 yards per carry clip. Not to mention, Alex Smith has had the quietest solid season in the NFL. Smith threw two more touchdown passes on Sunday, and hasn't thrown a pick since September. If the Chiefs do get into the playoffs, they look like a very, very difficult out. Keep in mind KC hasn't won a playoff game since Joe Montana was their quarterback at the end of his HOF career. 

The Texans and Colts are now rolling in the AFC South: Ask me a month ago and I would have told that you that only one team from the AFC South was going to be a serious playoff contender. So much for that. Right now both the Texans (6-5) and Colts (6-5) look like legit playoff contenders this season. The Colts have now won three in a row, two of them with Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback. While there is little doubt that this is Andrew Luck's team when he returns, the fact that Hasselbeck is playing well at age 40 with so much time on the sideline since he was last a major NFL starter, speaks volumes. The Colts run of late also speaks volumes of coach Chuck Pagano who could still lose his job even if the Colts make the playoffs this year. 
As for the Texans, they are starting to really figure things out. They dominated the Saints on Sunday, and are winners of four in a row. J.J. Watt continues to make a case for another Defensive MVP award with 13.5 sacks, while Houston has finally settled on a quarterback with Brian Hoyer. While Hoyer isn't going to put up monster numbers, he is a lot like Alex Smith, a guy who is going to manage the game and minimize his mistakes. Could Houston and Indy both sneak into the playoffs come January? If they keep this up, they could. By the way, the Texans and Colts meet for the final time this year on December 20. 

Playoff Races: The Panthers (11-0) are the lone unbeaten in the NFL. They can clinch a playoff berth next week with a loss by the Falcons. A win for Carolina next week and they win the NFC South for the third straight year. The Patriots (10-1) can win the AFC East with a win and/or a loss by the Jets next week. Cincinnati (9-2) needs a win on Sunday and a loss by Pittsburgh, and maybe even Houston and Kansas City to get at least a playoff berth. Arizona (9-2) and Denver (9-2) can't clinch berths just yet. 

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