What to Watch for in NFL Week 15
Week 15 storylines in the NFL have some rather bizarre twists and turns to say the least.
As the playoff picture becomes more defined, some teams are facing must-win situations.
Meanwhile, what the heck is going on in our nation's capital? We're all familiar with Obamacare, but what about Shanacare? You know, I'm referring to the mysterious, altruistic impulse of Mike Shanahan regarding quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Guess what team is looking to win six in a row?
Which rookie defensive back decided to play with fire in the most unusual way this week?
Would you rather watch Alshon Jeffery or Josh Gordon? How about both? Perfect!
Let's get to it folks. Here's the weekly guide of what you may want to pay attention to heading into Week 15 of the NFL.
Jay Cutler Starting over the Red-Hot Josh McCown
So head coach Marc Trestman decided to remain loyal to his starting quarterback and put the red-hot Josh McCown in ice for the Chicago Bears' critical matchup against the Cleveland Browns.
McCown has thrown 13 touchdowns to just one interception with a passer rating of 109.8, the third best in the league.
It's going to be awfully hard to take Josh out of there right now the way he's playing. In my opinion, he should be the guy. He should be the starting quarterback for the Bears, even if Jay Cutler is healthy. You can't take a guy who's this hot out of the football game. If I was on that team, I would have a hard time with them taking him out.
It seems reasonable to speculate that Trestman’s decision was based on the pending contract negotiations the team is preparing for as Cutler is in the final year of his contract. Some might think benching Cutler for McCown at this point would give the team leverage for demanding less money, but in reality, if Trestman were to keep a healthy Cutler on the bench, the Bears would never be able to re-sign him this offseason.
This appears to be a move that indicates they’re not ready to cut ties with Cutler and would rather risk playing a rusty quarterback in crunch time than losing a chance at keeping him.
It’ll be interesting to watch how Cutler performs with the added pressure of a potent backup breathing down his neck. At this point, he’s a few bad plays away from having the crowd turn on him and start chanting for McCown.
Battle of the Second-Year Studs
Staying with the same matchup, Jay Cutler will have the luxury of two 1,000-yard receivers at his disposal in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. On the opposite sideline will be second-year sensation Josh Gordon.
Both Jeffery and Gordon have emerged as bona fide stars this season. Gordon is playing on a level of his own. Had he not missed the first two games of the season due to a suspension, Gordon would be on pace for the first 2,000-yard receiving season in NFL history.
If there was ever a debate about which second-year WR you’d rather have on your team, these two names would likely be atop of a rather impressive list that includes Malcolm Floyd, Kendall Wright and Justin Blackmon.
It should be fun to watch two of the best go at it from opposite sidelines. Perhaps when the smoke clears from this game, we’ll have some clarity on just who really is the best of the young receivers.
Keep an eye on how many times Cutler targets Jeffery in this game. Cutler has been known to force the issue to Marshall perhaps more than he should, while McCown seemed more willing to take what the defense was giving him. That led to an impressive string of games for Jeffery.
Rookie Matt Elam Pokes a Sleeping Dragon
It's one thing to give the most-feared wide receiver in the NFL more reason to torch you come Monday night, but it’s another thing when your comments are just plain false.
For reasons I’ll never understand, Baltimore Ravens rookie safety Matt Elam decided to take the bait of a reporter when asked how best to match up against the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson. Here’s what he said, courtesy of the Associated Press' David Ginsburg via the Detroit Free Press:
He’s pretty old, so I don’t know how physical he’ll be. He’s a big guy, but he’s older. I guess when they get older they’re not going to be as physical, you know what I’m saying? We’re going to have to be physical, make him uncomfortable.
First, it really doesn’t seem like Elam was aware that Johnson is only 28 years old. Nor does he seem to understand that Megatron earned his nickname because he’s 6’5” and well over 230 pounds. That’s about six inches and 30 pounds more than Elam. So perhaps it’s not such a good idea to try to get physical with him. Even if that was the plan, why let Johnson know about it beforehand?
That’s like standing in front of a train and yelling at it to go faster.
This game might be worth watching just to see how the Ravens plan on stopping the best receiver in football—especially when you call the guy out.
Note: Elam is the same guy still looking for his jockstrap somewhere at midfield after being juked out of it by Vikings receiver Cordarrelle Patterson last week in what nearly became the game-winning touchdown.
Looks Like a Rodgers-Less Green Bay in a Must-Win Game
If the Green Bay Packers have any interest in making the playoffs at 6-6-1, they better understand they’re faced with the most critical game of the season this weekend. This may not seem like such an insurmountable obstacle normally, but this time the battle must be fought without one of the greatest weapons in the NFL. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is still recovering from a broken collarbone and was officially ruled out of the Dallas game on Friday.
This season, without Rodgers in the lineup, the Packers have been 1-4-1 (includes the loss to the Bears in which he played one series). This speaks to a lack of depth at other positions and to their obvious need for a more capable backup moving forward. Such is the reality in professional football. As for the Packers, Matt Flynn is ready to show up huge in a clutch game against the Cowboys.
Flynn became the fourth starting quarterback for Green Bay this year when he started against the Detroit Lions in Week 13.
On the season, Flynn has thrown three touchdown passes to go with three interceptions for an 82 passer rating.
The Packers have scored 30 points or more in four of the seven games in which Rodgers finished the game. In the six games without the former league MVP, they have yet to surpass the 26-point mark.
This will likely have to change come Sunday. The Cowboys may be fielding one of the worst defenses in franchise history right now, but they can put points on the board in a hurry.
Philly Looking for Its Sixth Win in a Row
After starting off the season 3-5 with a poor defense and a ton of questions about the viability of Chip Kelly’s college-style offense in the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles were not a team with much upside and promise.
Now, mostly behind the promising performance of Nick Foles, the Eagles have become the league’s hottest team. Their current five-game winning streak is the longest in the NFL.
My, how so much can change after only a month or two.
Standing in their way this week will be the very beatable Minnesota Vikings, who will likely be without their best player, running back Adrian Peterson. The Vikings have had a disappointing season at 3-9-1. They’re currently out of the playoff hunt and will be playing for pride only.
The Eagles, on the other hand, are looking to clinch the NFC East as they currently own a one-game lead on the Cowboys.
At this point, it appears the only way into the postseason for Philly or Dallas will be to win the division. That makes every game from here on out critical.
The Vikings are allowing 30 points per game this season, which has to have Chip Kelly licking his chops.
After the Minnesota game, the Eagles will close out the season against the Bears and Cowboys. If they happen to win out, they’ll enter the postseason with their last loss coming way back on October 27 against the Giants.
How Will Kirk Cousins and Washington Respond to the Controversy?
The saga in our nation’s capital continues to be the football equivalent of The Real Housewives of D.C.
Head coach Mike Shanahan has officially declared his franchise quarterback, Robert Griffin III, shut down for the remainder of the season in favor of Kirk Cousins. This is one of the more puzzling moves of the year in the NFL, eliciting numerous opinions and theories from every possible angle.
Even offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has publicly spoken against his father’s decision, as reported by SI.com's Doug Farrar, while specifically pointing out his unfortunate challenge of preparing two separate game plans for each quarterback as he waited to get a definitive answer on whom the starter ultimately would be.
So, how will this all play out on the field Sunday when Washington takes on the Atlanta Falcons?
Neither team is in the playoff hunt, but this game may just have enough pending disaster written on it to warrant tuning in.
Not a lot is going right for Washington right now. It is currently a mess in nearly all phases of the game. Its defense is allowing 31 points per game, and its special teams has been abysmal. One of the only positives on this team right now is Alfred Morris and the running game.
It should be interesting to see if Kirk Cousins can actually have some success under these tumultuous circumstances. This poor kid may be set up for failure. There are some serious concerns that the team has already given up on the season.
We also get to see whether Mike Shanahan is even coaching his team to win at this point. Or, is he playing some strange game of politics?
Was Da’Rick Rogers' Performance an Anomaly?
If you don’t know who rookie wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers is by now, you’re probably in the same boat as 98 percent of the football world. But there are a few of you out there who are familiar with this talented Indianapolis Colts enigma.
Rogers exploded onto the scene last weekend, racking up six catches, 107 yards and two touchdowns in only his second active game of his professional career.
Houston may be a punch line this season, but keep in mind its pass defense still ranks No. 2 in the league. What does that mean? It means if Rogers is able to repeat his success from last week, the Colts may have found that diamond in the rough, in terms of talent.
Rogers went undrafted last April and was signed by the Buffalo Bills to a contract shortly after the conclusion of the draft. The reasons for Rogers being devalued had nothing to do with his immense physical talent or his overall potential on the field. Teams were scared of Rogers because of numerous character concerns, including repeated failed drug tests, which ultimately got him kicked out of Tennessee.
It seemed his attitude was somewhat to blame when he failed to make the team’s 53-man roster.
Using a metric I created that factors every major physical attribute of a player, Da’Rick Rogers ranked 10th overall in the 2013 rookie class. This easily makes him one of the more physically gifted receivers in the NFL.
Don’t be surprised if Rogers continues to put up numbers as he gains the trust of quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck has struggled since losing Reggie Wayne for the season because of a knee injury. The emergence of Rogers could be the answer this offense has been looking for.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and writes for B/R.
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