Who Fed It And Who Ate It: Week 15
The season is dwindling down, as the playoff contenders fight for position and the ones furthest out become mathematically eliminated from postseason play. Who made the most noise this week?
The Ass Kicking of the Week was once again given to the Arizona Cardinals, this time by the Atlanta Falcons in a 40-14 decision. No one questioned that the Cards were going to be in a rebuilding stage, but not many anticipated the Redbirds would struggle to this magnitude. General manager Steve Keim will have his work cut out for him this coming offseason, as he will not only restock the roster with more talent, but more than likely retool the coaching staff to mold QB Josh Rosen into a franchise player. As for the Falcons are concerned, they were decimated with defensive injuries, and the offense is still not performing to its potential under coordinator Steve Sarkisian this year. They may be out of playoff contention, but they will still play hard. That is a testament to head coach Dan Quinn, which will hopefully buy him a reprieve with Falcons brass.
Two shutouts were posted today: Tennessee Titans defeated the New York Giants 17-0, and the Indianapolis Colts beat the Dallas Cowboys 23-0. With the explosion of offense this year, the idea of teams being shut out is a rare occurrence. But on this day, two teams were left scoreless. The Giants were not a huge surprise. The Titans kept rookie running back Saquon Barkley in check and forced QB Eli Manning into errors, while Titans RB Derrick Henry continues his hot running streak in a road victory. The real stunner was the Cowboys being rendered to a goose egg by the Colts defense. Granted, Dallas have a reputation for being less than stellar on the road, but this was the hottest team in the league turning in a turkey of a game at the worst possible time. This loss, combined with victories by Washington and Philadelphia, keeps Dallas from clinching the NFC East. The Cowboys control their destiny, but if they let either of those teams linger, America's Team could be left home come January. Meanwhile, Indy stays in the running for the AFC South title and for a wild card spot. They find themselves still trailing the Houston Texans for the division and on the outside of the AFC's 6 seed. All the Colts can do is win out and let the chips fall where they may. But expect a barnburner of a finish in the AFC.
The Minnesota Vikings, on a short week and working with a new offensive coordinator in Kevin Stefanski, came out strong against the Miami Dolphins in a 41-17 win. With the season on the brink and getting stuffed in front of a national cable television audience in Seattle on Monday Night Football, the Vikings made a change in the coaching ranks. Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was fired, and Stefanski was installed in his place. The first challenge: the Miami Dolphins, a team with flaws but can kill if the offense gets careless. The Vikes had only one turnover, a Kirk Cousins pick six in the second quarter, but that would be the only real hiccup. The new boss was credited with a veritable explosion of 41 points, 418 total yards, with 220 yards rushing. This turn of events would spark the defense, dropping Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill 9 times to snuff out any ideas of a comeback. It remains to be seen if this will be a case of too little too late, or a shock to the system that can fuel the Norsemen to a deep playoff run in a pretty deep conference.
Two more playoff berths have been clinched, as the Los Angeles Chargers earn their first playoff berth since 2013, and the Chicago Bears win the NFC North for the first time since 2010. Two of the longer playoff droughts were put to rest this week. On Thursday, the Chargers punched their ticket by their whirlwind victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead. It's only a playoff berth at this point because they can still win the AFC West, provided they win out and the Chiefs lose one of their final two. But the Bolts are in for the first time in five years. Congratulations to them. Congratulations are also in order for the new NFC North champions, the Chicago Bears. This is the Bears first playoff berth in eight years. And just to put it out there, the last time they made the playoffs, they played in the NFC Championship game. With a defense that is among the best in the league and an offense that is making plays week after week, does anybody make a bet against them? Especially since they are in the running for at least a first round bye. Chicago, at 10-4, are only a game behind the LA Rams (11-3), who the Bears hold a head up victory over them. And the Bears are a game and a half behind the New Orleans Saints (11-2, with their game against the Carolina Panthers on Monday Night Football to close out Week 15). Nothing is for certain, and there's been enough crazy happenings this year to not dismiss the possibility of the Bears playing in the elements in January in the Windy City. These next two weeks could shape who will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Stay tuned.