We are inching ever closer to the NFL playoffs. Week 15 was a strange one. Playoff seeding position, draft positioning, and pride were all on the line. Here's how I saw it all go down:
-The Bills' 17-10 win over the Steelers featured the first trio of brothers to play in an NFL game since 1927. The Steelers' Terrell and Trey Edmunds lost to Tremaine Edmunds' Bills as the Bills clinched a playoff spot and may have eliminated the Steelers. In 100 years of NFL football, it took 92 years before we saw this occur again. Kudos to the Edmunds family.
-Eagles running back Miles Sanders had a great game in their win over the Redskins. Sanders had 25 touches for 172 yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles needed every bit of his performance and a fumble return for a touchdown to beat the Redskins 37-27 and keep thei playoff hopes alive.
-Bucs' quarterback Jameis Winston became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 450 yards in back to back games. the games were also wins in which they scored 38 points each. Winston combined for 914 yards, eight touchdowns, and four interceptions. He now leads the league in passing yards and second in passing touchdowns. He's trying to make his case to stay in Tampa next season.
-In possibly his final game as a starter, Giants quarterback Eli Manning had the most Eli game he could: 20/28 for 283 yards two touchdowns and three picks. Pretty accurate with the 71.4% completion percentage, but the three interceptions are what will stick out. He ended his career (allegedly) with a 1.5:1 touchdown to interception ratio.
-The Raiders closed out their last game in Oakland with a 20-16 loss to the Jags. This was not the way fans of The Black Hole envisioned this ending. The fans of the Raiders have been arguably the most loyal fans in the NFL. They booed and threw trash on the field as the team left it for the final time since they're moving to Las Vegas.
-The Browns are now 6-8 and still the biggest dumpster fire in the league. They lost to the Cardinals 38-24 as Kyler Murray outdueled Baker Mayfield in the battle of former OU Heisman trophy-winning number one overall picks. For as much fanfare as they came into this season with, they flamed out just as bad. This offseason will be eventful for them considering how hard they fell off the hype train.
-Vikings running back Dalvin Cook went down woth a shoulder injury and isn't expected to return for the regular season. The Vikes suspect he will be healthy for their playoff run. But when your star running back has a shoulder injury that keeps rearing it's ugly head, you have to call it into question as a major sticking point in the argument for them as a true NFC contender.
-Phillip Rivers is done as a viable option as a starting quarterback in the NFL. The same can be said for Andy Dalton, and possibly Marcus Mariota. They may have futures as backups, especially Dalton and Mariota since they have age/time on their side. Rivers, however, is done.
-Word came down Monday that Seahawks receiver Josh Gordon is suspended indefinitely by the league for a violation of the substance abuse/PED drug program. This is Gordon's fifth such suspension since he entered the league. He's one of the most physically gifted and talented receivers we've seen, but his inability to do right has cost him his career most likely.
The only team in the NFC playoff picture without 10 or more wins isn't a wildcard team. Meanwhile, in the AFC, there are five teams with a mathmatical shot at the last playoff spot. With the schedule now giving us division matchups in the final week of the regular season and the race for positionining is so tight, every game means something in these last two weeks. Every win or loss could effect how we watch the playoffs, or the draft depending on how you're looking at things. Let's enjoy these last couple weeks of the regular season.
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.