Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Cohen's Corner NFL Week 16 Takeaways

Only one week remains in the 2015 regular season, and just about every playoff slot has been filled except for one wild card slot in the AFC. Week 17 is always a weird week. It is both a chance for teams who have everything locked up to rest their starters, while those still jockeying for a higher seed will go all out to win the regular season finale. What did we learn in Week 16? Let's look back.

1) Bill Belichick outsmarted himself, plain and simple. If you listened to Patriots fans or even Bob Costas, you would think that the NFL tried to do the Patriots in during their 26-20 loss to the Jets. However, the only person to blame for coin toss-gate is Bill Belichick. Belichick instructed captain Matthew Slater to elect to kick, and Slater blurted out "we want to kick" before the official ever had a chance to ask him if the Patriots wanted to kick or receive. 

Belichick gambled. He trusted a defense that shut down the Jets over the past four drives of regulation, and didn't like his chances of getting a touchdown, since the Pats offense was held to just one score in nine drives. He had every right to kick the football and ask his defense to make a stand. It didn't work, the Jets earned the win by driving 80-yards down field for the victory. No conspiracy people. 

2) The Jets are alive and well ... for now. The Jets win over New England, coupled with the Steelers loss to the Ravens, put New York back in the drivers seat for the last playoff spot in the AFC. Outside of the overtime madness the Jets outplayed the Patriots, and earned the victory, in what was easily their best team effort of the year. Now they need to duplicate that effort in Buffalo on Sunday against their old coach Rex Ryan. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three touchdowns to tie Vinny Testaverde for the most TD passes by a quarterback in Jets single season history. 

3) So much for those Steelers are going to Super Bowl 50 predictions. While the Steelers could still sneak into the playoffs with a win in Cleveland and a Jets loss to the Bills, the Steelers didn't look like the juggernaut that everyone trumped for weeks on end. Pittsburgh overlooked the Ravens, a team that was 4-10 coming into the game, and got smacked around. Ben Roethlisburger threw two picks, and the Steelers D allowed Ryan Mallet, of all people, to throw a big touchdown pass for Baltimore. If things don't break right for Pittsburgh, this talented but flawed team will miss the postseason party. 

4) The Panthers will not be perfect. Which might be a good thing, considering the pressure that would be on Carolina's shoulders should they go into the playoffs at 16-0. The Panthers had a couple close calls in two of their previous three weeks coming into the Atlanta game on Sunday. Their defense gave up a ton of points to both the Giants and Saints, and Cam Newton has been limping around a lot. Not to mention the absence of Jonathan Stewart was very apparent in both the Giants game, and in the Falcons game this past Sunday. The Panthers had to use five backs to get over 100 yards rushing on Sunday, and Newton was off his game too. 

One had to know that the Falcons would treat the game like their Super Bowl considering the nightmare season they have had this year, and played their hearts out with their most complete game since September. 

The Panthers must win on Sunday if they want to hold onto home field advantage in the NFC playoffs. The Cardinals (13-2) are hot as a fire cracker and could steal home field from the Panthers with a win and a Panthers loss. Suddenly, the Panthers can't rest their starters for Week 17. 

5) The Cardinals are now the favorites in the NFC. During the middle of the season when the Cardinals beat the Seahawks on the road, I wrote that the Cardinals could be the NFC representative in Super Bowl 50. My mind has not changed. The Cardinals dismantled the Packers 38-8 on Sunday, with the Cardinals D sacking Aaron Rodgers eight times. Arizona has now won nine games in a row and looked poised for the NFC's top seed if they win and get some help. Regardless, the Cardinals are a team that could go on the road to Carolina and win the NFC title if need be. Watch out for the Red Birds. Bruce Arians has a monster on his hands. 

6) Broncos-Bengals shook up the AFC playoff picture. The Broncos come-from-behind win against Cincinnati will have lasting affects on the AFC playoffs. Denver clinched a spot in the playoffs with the win, and overtook the Bengals for the number two seed. Cincinnati is now the number three seed, and will likely see the Jets or Steelers in the wild card game. The Texans could not officially clinch the AFC South with Denver's win, but can win it out right with a win over the Jaguars on Sunday. The Chiefs appear locked into the five seed, but they could still win the AFC West with a win over the Raiders coupled with a Broncos loss to San Diego. 

7) The NFL loves Packers-Vikings, Not Jets-Bills: The NFL chose to go with the safe bet of Packers vs. Vikings for the Sunday night match-up. Safe because both teams are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs and all that is on the line is the division title. Still an interesting game, but a game Green Bay should win at home. The Jets-Bills game had a lot of great storylines to it, least of all includes the Jets chance to clinch a playoff berth against their old coach, Rex Ryan. But, the NFL and NBC didn't think it had the star power of Packers-Vikings which has Aaron Rodgers and Adrian Peterson. 

8) Coaches Hot Seat: With the New Year, we get the coaches hot seat. Coaches likely on their last days include: Tom Coughlin - NY Giants; Mike Mularky - Tennessee;  Rex Ryan - Buffalo; Dan Campbell - Miami; Chuck Pagano - Indianapolis; Mike Pettine - Cleveland; Mike McCoy - San Diego; Jim Caldwell - Detroit; Sean Payton - New Orleans; Jason Garrett - Dallas; Chip Kelly - Philadelphia; Jim Tomsula - San Francisco, and Jeff Fisher - St. Louis. Granted some of these coaches might get one last shot to keep their job in 2016, but these are the guys who are all on the hot seat going into Week 17. 

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