Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 14: Wentz injury opens up NFC playoff, MVP races
There is suddenly a wide open NFC playoff race and the MVP battle could get interesting too
The play was relatively innocuous -- just another instance of Carson Wentz crashing into the end zone in typical hard-nosed fashion, trying to pick up a touchdown for the Eagles in a potential NFC championship preview. Four plays later, including a laser touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery, Wentz was limping to the locker room as a nation of Eagles fans held its breath.
About 11 minutes after that, Wentz was ruled out for the rest of the game by the Eagles, a terrifyingly quick turnaround, which oftentimes symbolizes the worst-case scenario. It is being reported that the Eagles fear that too, potentially expecting a Monday MRI to reveal a torn left ACL -- or at least damaged ACL -- for Wentz.
That would shut down his season and dramatically change the landscape of the NFC, previously dominated by the MVP candidate in just his second season. A victory over the Rams clinched the NFC East and secured the Eagles a playoff berth. It feels meaningless and bittersweet if Wentz is indeed out for the rest of the year.
Wentz himself offered no actual update with an inspirational tweet, although read between the lines and it's not hard to imagine Wentz talking about adversity and also expecting the worst.
No one wanted to see this, even the teams competing against the Eagles for a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
"It's terrible. I feel really bad for him. I shot him a text hoping for the best," Rams quarterback Jared Goff said after the game. "It's tough, especially a guy like Carson to be out. I hope that's not the case. I'm praying for the best. If there's anyone who can bounce back, it's him."
Philadelphia has handled everything -- only an early-season loss to the Chiefs and a Week 13 loss to a desperate Seahawks team serve as blemishes on an otherwise outstanding season. And just like that, a possible Super Bowl run was ripped away from them, with the likely news that Wentz will miss significant time.
There has been some chatter in the wake of Wentz injury about Philip Rivers. Not because Rivers could replace Wentz in the MVP race -- that works too, though -- but because Rivers once played in an AFC Championship Game without an ACL. It's true: Rivers tore his ACL in a playoff game, won the playoff game and played the next week. He would also return to practice within 100 days of having surgery on his knee.
Let's not make that the standard bearer for Wentz here. Rivers was just in his third season in San Diego at the time, but Wentz is a 24-year-old franchise quarterback with three regular season games left on the schedule. He has shown warrior-like qualities in the way he plays, a reckless abandon to do what's best for his team and perhaps not what's best for his body. That's how he got hurt. But his game changes when his movement in and out of the pocket is eliminated. It would be a foolish move to force him on the field.
The Wentz injury changes the way the NFC playoff picture looks, obviously. Good luck . The Vikings just lost to the Panthers and the Saints just lost to the Falcons. But neither Carolina nor Atlanta is dominant/consistent enough to warrant the nod. The Rams just lost to the Eagles despite Wentz going down.
Minnesota probably holds the theoretical belt and will probably finish with the best record, thanks to remaining games against the Bengals and Bears sitting on the schedule. Carolina's got the toughest row to hoe, drawing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers next week, then the Buccaneers and the Falcons in Week 17. 11-5 is the Saints' floor with games against the Jets and Buccaneers remaining, although they might not win the NFC South if they lose to the Falcons in Week 16.
There are a couple of teams on the periphery to keep an eye on too.
Here comes the calvary
Everyone is aware that Aaron Rodgers is coming back soon, right? Because everyone should be, and everyone should be very, very scared about Rodgers' return. It wasn't pretty, but Brett Hundley managed to go 3-4 in Rodgers' absence, winning the past two games for Green Bay in tight, overtime fashion against the Buccaneers and Browns.
The latter involved a walk-off win to really rub it in on Cleveland and/or anyone who might be in possession of a ticket that featured the Browns +3.5 or the Browns +3. Just make a stop and force a field goal. You can't even cover correctly, Cleveland.
Hardly great competition, but it hardly matters.
Rodgers is going to, in all likelihood, be back for the stretch run, which includes a game at Carolina, a home game against Minnesota and a Week 17 matchup in Detroit. If the Packers win out and finish 10-6, there is a greater than 90 percent chance they're in the playoffs.
There's no wiggle room, but we knew that when Rodgers went down. Hundley merely had to keep them in range of the postseason. Now Rodgers gets to show up and try to run the table. If this sounds familiar, it should.
But Rodgers and the Pack aren't the only team hoping to make a bold move out of nowhere. The Dallas Cowboys, who steamrolled the Giants on Sunday, also find themselves thinking about late December playoff dreams. Dallas needs more help than Green Bay though -- win out and Dallas has just a 63 percent chance of making the postseason. Winning out isn't crazy, though. Dallas gets the Raiders on the road for "Sunday Night Football" next week, then the Seahawks at home, in their reinforcement game.
That's when Ezekiel Elliott comes back from his six-game suspension, and if he's as good as he was right before getting suspended, Elliott could be a difference maker for Dallas down the stretch.
But the difference here is that Elliott doesn't provide some infinity-level upgrade at the position. Rod Smith and Alfred Morris have been very good running the ball the last two weeks. Elliott's an incredible player, but the leap from his backups to his level of performance is not the same as Hundley to Rodgers.
And, again, the Cowboys need help. They need the Packers to drop one game (totally reasonable), the Lions to drop one (could be to the Packers) and have the Falcons struggle down the stretch (basically lose to the Panthers and Saints).
Slipping up whatsoever will probably doom the Cowboys to watching the postseason from home, which will probably mean Jerry Jones continues to stew over Roger Goodell suspending his running back.
Expect some fines ...
... and maybe suspensions when it comes to the end of the Jaguars' victory over the Seahawks on Sunday, a massive triumph that set the Jags up very well for the playoffs and potentially makes them a team capable of claiming a bye in the AFC. (The Steelers winning did not help them, but it's still within reach.)
As Jacksonville, which serves as a physical and aggressive East Coast doppleganger for the Seahawks, was taking knees to close things out, Michael Bennett went Full Schiano and tried to take out the victory formation. You never want to go Full Schiano.
The teams did not appreciate one another's company after that, and things spilled over to the sideline. Quinton Jefferson was ejected from the game and was leaving in pretty peaceful fashion, when a bunch of Jaguars fans appeared to lob beer in his direction from the stands. He when the fans continued to trash talk him. Someone else appeared to lob a drink and Jefferson nearly went Full Artest.
You really do not want to go Full Artest, because it can result in a suspension. And it wouldn't be surprising to see suspensions handed out in the wake of this game. At the very least, you better believe there will be plenty of fines. It was an ugly scene.
The Seahawks' frustration probably stems from the likelihood of them missing the playoffs. They are still mostly in control of their own destiny; with a win against the Rams next week, their odds of making the postseason spike to 78 percent. But the Rams, Cowboys and Cardinals are not three easy outs down the stretch in a crowded NFC.
Return of Josh Gordon
It had been a long time since Josh Gordon sniffed an end zone -- almost four years in fact, for the often-troubled wideout. He scored for the Browns on Dec. 15, 2013, and has not been in the end zone since. Until Sunday against the Packers anyway, when Gordon, who is inarguably one of the most talented players in the NFL, broke a scoreless streak of 1,456 days by finding the end zone against the Packers.
This particular portion of the program seemed a lot more exciting when the Browns were leading 21-7. Cleveland is now the first team in NFL history to start the season 0-13 in back-to-back seasons, and somehow they are guaranteeing the architect of that, Hue Jackson, a job in 2018.
But, hey, they have touchdown sunglasses!
There is a lot to unpack from the Panthers' game against the Vikings, but my biggest takeaway was this: the Carolina defense was mad about what happened against the Saints last week and came to play, aided by the injuries on the Vikings' offensive line. Carolina jumped out to a big lead, largely thanks to Jonathan Stewart's first career game with three rushing touchdowns, and held off a rally from Minnesota.
His stats weren't perfect, but Cam Newton did some things that most human beings should not be able to do. Mixed in those athletic marvels were a lot of interesting fashion choices.
Cam rocked cleats honoring Prince before the game, which was superb.
Then after the game he paid homage to the Shriners. Or something.
In between those two instances, Cam did some pretty cool things on the football field. The thing that people will talk about most is the run he had to seal the game, a 62-yard sprint up the middle that saw him setup the Panthers for Stewart's third touchdown run.
Say goodbye to your ankles, good sir.
Hilariously, Newton got walked down on the play by Trae Waynes, although he claimed later that he wanted to get caught from behind. A likely story.
"It was very strategic, though. If I had scored they would have had all their timeouts still, so I just felt like, lemme put this car back in third gear," Newton said after the game.
The play that stands out more to me was Newton's touchdown pass to Devin Funchess.
There are -- maybe -- five human beings on the planet who can pull this whole play off. It requires the speed to escape the rush combined with the strength, all in his arm, to make the throw to Funchess while sitting on his back foot with no power generated from anywhere but his arm.
The Bills and Colts suited up for a football game on Sunday that was unlike many we've seen in recent years when it came to the weather. About lunchtime, Buffalo meteorologists started talking about a snow band that was coming and, . It was a lot like your weird uncle coming over for Christmas: arrived quickly, made a huge mess and got everyone drunk.
Things were wild throughout the whole game; it wasn't unlike the Army-Navy game on Saturday, in the sense that it was just a ton of running and not a ton of points. That's kind of to be expected -- the over/under flew down from 40 to like 35 before kickoff. The second-half over/under was 14. Fourteen!
But while most of the game was fairly bland, Jacoby Brissett throw a short pass for a touchdown.. The Colts used a triple-option type of play to let
They ran the same play back for the two-point conversion, but a questionable, late flag from the refs for offensive pass interference negated the conversion. The Colts had to move back and then had to do some snow kicking.
The result was a lengthy extra-point attempt from Adam Vinatieri that the future Hall of Famer was forced to curveball in. You will never seen another extra point like this.
Vinatieri would later miss a field goal at the end of regulation, though, which set up overtime. And just when you thought the Colts might manage to at least cover, LeSean McCoy ruined everyone's life who was holding Indy +3.5.
Twitter had a lot of fun with this game, by the way.
Celebration of the Week
Originally I was going to go with Devin Funchess, who clearly must have known that Tony Romo and Jim Nantz, both avid golf guys, were calling his game when he busted out the putting celebration. But then snow happened.
Let's also give a shoutout to Tre'Davious White for just having fun in the snow. No touchdown necessary.
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