When something is underrated, it won't stay that way forever. At a certain point, it becomes so underrated, it's overrated. But the pendulum always swings back, and it's swung on the Patriots, who, after winning their eighth straight AFC East title, are actually an underrated team.
That's crazy and dumb and many weird things, but it's still true. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady don't get enough credit for what they do. This isn't the 1970s; players aren't full-blown indentured servants. Brady and Belichick are winning division title after division title after division title after [repeat until infinity] because the Patriots operate on a different level from everyone else.
Here's the Pats' finishes in the AFC East since Belichick showed up: Fifth in 2000 (back when the AFC East still had five teams), then 1, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1.
That fifth-place finish is a big old fat sore thumb. The twos are a bit awkward as well, mainly because there's one of them shoved in the middle of a stretch of ones. Just first and first and first over and over again.
We just assume the Patriots will show up and win the title every year. Take away Brady for four games? No big deal. Rob Gronkowski out for the year? No sweat. Trade multiple top defensive players in the last two years? Move along, people, nothing to see here.
New England wasn't dominant on Sunday against the Broncos. It was in stark contrast to the home win over the Ravens last week when Brady rolled up 400 passing yards. On Sunday, the greatest quarterback of all time averaged less than six yards per attempt and barely completed 50 percent of his passes. He had a lower passer rating than Trevor Sieman.
And the Pats still strolled out of Denver with a division title, a first-round bye and a classic "Do Your Job" type of win. It's funny that they would lock up the division this way too, because the Pats of yesteryear, the first team Belichick and Brady took to the Super Bowl, were a bunch of no-name guys winning in different ways.
This Patriots team isn't that different, except everyone knows Brady and Belichick now. The greatness is expected because that's what they do. The Patriots are the boat beating against the current, ceaselessly into the past, except there's no time to wonder about yesterday because the page is consistently being turned towards tomorrow and the goal of winning another Super Bowl.
There probably won't be another MVP award for Brady this year. And there probably won't be that bizarrely elusive Coach of the Year award for Belichick, even though he's making more with less in 2016.
It's just the Patriots doing Patriots things as they move back into the realm of the underrated.
Here are five more takeaways from Sunday's Week 15 action.
1. A Savage situation
It takes a big man to admit a mistake. It takes a really big man to admit a $72 million mistake. Bill O'Brien is a big man, because he finally caved Sunday and yanked Brock Osweiler, essentially acknowledging the Texans gave $72 million in offseason money to a guy who is the worst quarterback in football.
That's mean, but how can you sugarcoat it? Osweiler was terrible Sunday, just like he was the Sunday before that and the Sunday before that and the -- well, just repeat that 11 times and the picture becomes incredibly clear.
The most remarkable thing about Osweiler's benching wasn't that it took so long for this to happen -- and that was quite remarkable considering how terrible Osweiler was throughout this season. The most remarkable thing was how good Tom Savage looked when he came in and took over. Tom Savage!
It's not hard, either. Savage did the obvious and absolutely force fed the ball to DeAndre Hopkins.
|Hopkins in Week 15||Targets||Receptions||Receiving Yards||Yards/Catch||TD|
A year removed a 1,521-yard season, Hopkins was supposed to explode with the addition of Osweiler in the lineup. He'd been catching balls from Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden, Savage and an assortment of terrible quarterbacks.
Somehow this was just the second game over 80 yards on the season for Hopkins. He had five such games before Halloween last year.
It's not like Osweiler hasn't tried to force Hopkins the ball before. He had double-digit targets in four different games this season and now has 116 on the year. That's a far cry from his 192 last season, but he's had the ball thrown his way.
Osweiler just isn't accurate. He handed Jalen Ramsey the rookie's first career interception on a horrific pass, just an absolute airmail to Will Fuller.
.@JalenRamsey will take that!— NFL (@NFL) December 18, 2016
It's his FIRST career INT! #JAXvsHOUhttps://t.co/nq1G0gCfw2
That wasn't even the pass that got Osweiler benched. It was merely the straw that nearly snapped the camel's back. The pass Osweiler threw just a few minutes later -- literally the first pass attempt after Houston got the ball back -- was even worse, and it was enough for O'Brien to call the dogs off and bring in Savage.
Pulling his starter rejuvenated the Texans offense, which suddenly started finding some rhythm, started targeting its top player and began moving down the field.
Playing football is hard, but it's not rocket science if you're O'Brien here. You can't go back to Osweiler. By any reasonable metric, Osweiler's been the worst quarterback in football.
He has a sub-60 percent completion percentage (59.6) and more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (14), isn't averaging more than 200 yards per game (193.1) and is averaging a pathetic number of yards per passing attempt (5.8).
Savage isn't some savior. He will make less on his contract than Osweiler makes per game from the Texans this year.
Tom Savage replaces Brock Osweiler.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 18, 2016
Savage has $300,584 guaranteed in his current deal
Osweiler has $37,000,000 guaranteed in his deal
We hear all the time that football is a "results-oriented business." The results are right there in black and white. Osweiler can't start if the Texans want to win the AFC South and have any shot at moving forward in the playoffs.
2. More proof we need full replay
Every week there's a case for the NFL instituting a replay system that allows the league office and the officials watching all the games from New York to step in and say "Pardon me, but you screwed this up royally, so stop playing so we can fix this."
There isn't much of a better example than the egg job by officials in the Lions-Giants game, when they awarded Odell Beckham, Jr., a catch despite the ball blatantly hitting the ground.
The refs gave the Giants a catch on this play. This is the ball on the ground pic.twitter.com/079gjv0bUe— Isaac (@WorldofIsaac) December 18, 2016
Screengrabs can be deceiving but this was not some accident. This was a total botch job by the officials.
Now, the only situation here in which the Lions can prevent this from being a catch is to challenge. In other words, the onus is on the Detroit coaching staff to fix what should be a very obvious call. There are refs staring right at Beckham. What are you looking at, guys?
This is the perfect scenario for a Replay Overlord to swoop in and fix the issue at hand. There was very obviously a situation that could have been fixed by someone simply buzzing the referees and letting them know not to keep playing football because someone was awarded a catch even though the ball hit the ground.
Having this replay, which is what the NHL implements in certain instances, would let the league pause the game in question, fix a blatant problem and quickly move onto the next play.
"Hey, hold on a second. That ball hit the ground. Reverse the play."
It's not hard -- the weirdest thing about the NFL's whole setup is the league clearly is more interested in letting replay occasionally fix obvious issues than it is interested in getting things right. It's a bizarre approach that should be altered.
3. Indy's Hail Mary in the AFC South
The Colts essentially eliminated themselves from the playoffs last week by losing to the Texans. On Sunday, Indy kept a little bit of hope alive with a dominant performance against the Vikings in Minnesota that saw the Colts cruise to a 34-6 victory and keep a slight window open for the playoffs.
It's a tricky scenario that involves them winning the AFC South. And even in that instance, they need a lot to happen. The Colts, obviously, need to win out, which means victories at Oakland in Week 16 and at home against the Jaguars in Week 17.
They need help too, including losses by the Texans at the Jaguars and a loss by the Titans at home to the Bengals in Week 16. The Titans would then have to beat the Texans in Week 17. If that happens, Indy and Tennessee would be 9-7 and the Texans would be 8-8. Indy would take the AFC South by virtue of its head-to-head tiebreaker over the Titans.
4. Lions' share of the concern
There's no way to look at Week 15's game for Detroit and call it a "must win." The Lions were 9-4 and in first place in the NFC North. They're still in first place in the division, but at 9-5 things are suddenly a little scary.
The Packers are 8-6 and just a single game back. Green Bay hosts Minnesota next week while the Lions travel to Dallas to play the Cowboys, who will be motivated to try and secure a first-round bye and a division title.
In Week 17, the Lions face off at home against the Packers. Green Bay is a better team right now, even if the Lions have the better record. Odds are pretty good the Lions and Packers will both be 9-6 when that happens. Even if the Lions win in Week 16, as long as Green Bay takes care of Minnesota, Aaron Rodgers is going to have a look at the NFC title by virtue of a tiebreaker (the Packers would be 2-0 against the Lions with another head-to-head win).
5. NFL celebration rules remain ridiculous
The NFL's competition committee has some work to do this offseason when it comes to the league's celebration situation. Let's look at two instances in particular over the last month that prove just how broken the current setup is.
First is the snow angel situation.
The NFL literally doesn't have a rule in place to make decisions about people who do snow angels and whether or not they can actually, you know, do them. Depending on what happens in a particular situation, NFL refs are free to throw a flag or not throw a flag.
Don't like the style of the angel? Bomb a flag. Think the shape wasn't high quality enough? Lob it out there.
And the second situation is the usage of props. Utilizing a prop is an automatic penalty. So when Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott jumped into a gigantic Salvation Army pot behind the goal post after scoring a touchdown on Sunday, he drew a flag.
Zeke scores the touchdown and jumps into The Salvation Army bucket pic.twitter.com/QEgsLBZgav— Steve Noah (@Steve_OS) December 19, 2016
Zeke also drew a bunch of attention to a very important charity. After doing work with the Salvation Army, Elliott used his score to help let people know they should donate to the cause. And the NFL hit him for 15 yards because of a ridiculous rule.
As the Salvation Army accurately pointed out, the NFL is being ridiculous.
Zeke made an important contribution for the @dallascowboys tonight. Can you contribute to the millions in need? https://t.co/zwJrWxPYLjpic.twitter.com/12zBHxczIz— Salvation Army USA (@SalvationArmyUS) December 19, 2016
Fix it already, NFL. If someone actually delays the game or acts like a jerk to another human, then flag them. Otherwise let's make this game remain fun and entertaining.