B/R Staff NFL Week 15 Report Card: Cowboys Start Run Toward Postseason

NFL StaffContributor IDecember 16, 2019

B/R Staff NFL Week 15 Report Card: Cowboys Start Run Toward Postseason

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    So much more than a playoff berth is on the line as the 2019 NFL regular season nears its conclusion.

    Yes, postseason races deserve the most attention. For example, the Dallas Cowboys seized control of their fate with an impressive 44-21 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, who now see their own postseason hopes fading.

    Eight teams already secured a trip to the next phase of play.

    Meanwhile, many general managers, coaches and players are still working to keep their jobs, as the strain of an NFL season doesn't relent on either spectrum.

    That's why Matt Patricia shouldn't be comfortable with his standing as the Detroit Lions' head coach. Or why certain individuals shouldn't cruise through the last two weeks. As always, it's never as bad as it seems, and you're never as good as you think you are.

    Bleacher Report's team of NFL writers decided how good or bad it is regarding the MVP race, playoff positioning, quarterback competitions, a last stand for an AFL original and more.

Matt Patricia's Job Security After Lions' Huge Backslide

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    The Detroit Lions season is in disarray.

    Matt Patricia's squad remained competitive through the season's first eight weeks before everything fell apart. Now, the Lions have lost seven games in a row, including the last six without franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is dealing with a transverse process fracture.

    Detroit is also without running back Kerryon Johnson, tight end T.J. Hockenson and wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. at this point. So, the team's downward trend isn't entirely on the coaching staff.

    Even so, how safe should Patricia's job be going from 6-10 last year to 3-10-1 this season?


    Mike Freeman: F

    Patricia is not on good footing, and he shouldn't be. He hasn't improved the Lions in any way. They look like the same ol' Lions. If they keep Patricia, it would be a mistake.

    Mike Tanier: C+

    Patricia has two things that every bad coach hoping to keep his job needs: a general manager who handpicked him and a third-string quarterback for an excuse.

    Brent Sobleski: D

    The only reason Patricia doesn't receive an "F" is because of built-in excuses. With that said, the Lions fired Jim Caldwell, and the previous coach never finished worse than 7-9 overall. Patricia's team has won nine games through two seasons so far.

    Brad Gagnon: D

    I know injuries have played a huge role, and the absence of Stafford factors in. But even before he got hurt, they had a losing record. I don't think Patricia should survive consecutive double-digit-loss seasons. Already time to try something new in Detroit.

    Gary Davenport: D

    I'm tempted to give this an "F," but the Lions may blame injuries for this year's collapse just enough to spare Patricia—who will then go 5-11 next year and get fired anyway. Deee-troit, folks!

Russell Wilson’s Chances of Stealing the MVP from Lamar Jackson

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson delighted NFL fans with a five-touchdown performance Thursday against the New York Jets. His most recent contributions appeared to be a knockout blow for anyone else in the MVP conversation.

    The Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson isn't ready to concede, though.

    Wilson completed 76.9 percent of his passes for 286 yards and a pair of touchdowns after a cross-country trip in a 30-24 win over the Carolina Panthers. The Seahawks quarterback continued to extend plays and create, even when nothing was available.

    "That's what the league talks about with Russell—the way he extends plays," Panthers safety Tre Boston told reporters. "It's the play after the play with him. And he hurt us."

    Jackson remains the MVP front-runner, but does Wilson still have a shot at claiming the award?


    Mike Freeman: F

    The grade is about the chances of Wilson stealing the MVP from Jackson. The chances are zero. But Wilson has been unbelievable this year. It's rare when you can look at a singular player and know he will almost always have his team in contention...for a game,xf for the playoffs, for a Super Bowl. Year in and year out.

    Mike Tanier: D

    Did Thursday night not count or something?

    Brent Sobleski: F

    Like recent Heisman Trophy voting (congrats, Joe Burrow), a runaway favorite emerged in the MVP race. Hand Jackson the award. He deserves it, which doesn't diminish Wilson's greatness.

    Brad Gagnon: D

    It would have been an "F" if Wilson wasn't fantastic Sunday, but at this point he'd have to do that twice more and Jackson would have to fall on his face in back-to-back weeks. Jackson still has a higher passer rating and is a top-five rusher.

    Gary Davenport: F

    Wilson has had a great year, and he'll get some votes. But Jackson leads the NFL in touchdown passes and is fifth in rushing. He's the MVP without a doubt.

Eli Manning's Chances at Being a Starter Somewhere in 2020

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Eli Manning received a standing ovation during his likely penultimate performance at MetLife Stadium. The 38-year-old showed he still had a little left in the tank with a 283-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 36-20 win Sunday over the Miami Dolphins.

    However, he still threw three interceptions.

    Clearly, his career is winding to an end, but there are always teams willing to give a proven quarterback another chance. How likely is it we see the two-time Super Bowl MVP start for another team during the 2020 season?


    Mike Freeman: A

    If Manning wants to play, he will play, and someone will take a chance on him. It's a lock...if he wants to play.

    Mike Tanier: D

    Drew Lock closed off his escape route to Denver. That leaves Eli remaining in New York and beating Daniel Jones in training camp next year because a new coach is trying to prove a point. You'll notice this is not an "F."

    Brent Sobleski: A

    The NFL recycles quarterbacks about as often as David Lee Roth returning to Van Halen rumors surface (unless their last name is Kaepernick, of course). Manning will leave New York and likely start at some point next season because injuries will inevitably occur.

    Brad Gagnon: D-

    Never rule it out because this league is oddly attached to retread quarterbacks. Still, I think most teams would rather roll the dice on a much younger quarterback like Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota or Teddy Bridgewater. Plus, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers could even become available!

    Gary Davenport: C

    Rolling Manning out as a starter in 2020 would all but certainly be a terrible idea. So terrible that John Elway has probably already halfway talked himself into doing it.

Terry McLaurin's Offensive Rookie of the Year Chances

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    Quinn Harris/Getty Images

    The Washington Redskins appear to have a burgeoning connection between rookies Dwayne Haskins and Terry McLaurin. To be fair, the two established a rapport during their days together at Ohio State. McLaurin, in particular, developed from a third-round pick into a vertical threat and now Washington's No. 1 wide receiver.

    "Now that he's the focal point of our receiving corps, I know he does a great job with owning his routes and being able to win vs. man, win vs. zone coverages," Haskins told reporters. "And he's someone that works hard every day."

    McLaurin caught five passes for 130 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown, against the Philadelphia Eagles and extended his season totals to 51 receptions for 833 yards.

    Has Washington's top target worked his way into the Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation? If so, what are his chances of winning the award?


    Mike Freeman: D

    He won't win Offensive Rookie of the Year, and he's not deserving. That doesn't mean he's not good. He damn sure is. There are just players I would put ahead of him, including Eagles running back Miles Sanders and Raiders running back Josh Jacobs.

    Mike Tanier: D

    I love McLaurin, but c'mon: He wasn't even the most impressive rookie in that Philly-Washington tonsillectomy of a game. (Check out what Sanders did for a team that had no receivers.)

    Brent Sobleski: F

    McLaurin isn't even the league's most impressive rookie wide receiver this season. Take your pick between DK Metcalf or A.J. Brown.

    Brad Gagnon: C

    Pretty incredible that he might hit 1,000 yards while scoring seven to 10 touchdowns as a rookie in that environment, but Jacobs still has an edge. He's over 1,100 rushing yards and has as many touchdowns as McLaurin. It's a legit battle, though.

    Gary Davenport: C

    McLaurin has been fantastic as a rookie, and he has a puncher's chance of bringing home the award. But I still think Jacobs and Arizona's Kyler Murray are the favorites.

Just How Good Is the Patriots Defense?

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    Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

    The New England Patriots defense isn't the 1985 Chicago Bears, '00 Baltimore Ravens, '02 Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the '13 Seattle Seahawks like their initial play this season indicated. Instead, the unit settled somewhere between historic to pretty darn good.

    The Cincinnati Bengals (ie the NFL's worst team) sent a bit of a scare through Patriots nation when they grabbed an early lead and sliced through New England's No. 1-ranked defense with an impressive running attack. The Bengals managed 315 total yards, including 164 rushing yards, in the 34-13 loss.

    How good is the Patriots defense, really?


    Mike Freeman: A

    This defense is still badass: four interceptions, a pick-six, a fumble recovery, and it gave up just 13 points. Every team in football would take that.

    Mike Tanier: A-

    It's still good. Did we ever doubt it was good? Did beating the Bengals somehow prove it was any better? As for "historically good," I think the Patriots actually have to beat a good team now and then to earn that honor.

    Brent Sobleski: B

    New England's defense is built from back to front, and the secondary is fantastic—it's arguably the league's best unit. At the same time, the front is an obvious weak spot. The Patriots ranked 16th in yards-per-carry allowed before the Bengals averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Plus, New England lacks a consistent pass-rusher.

    Brad Gagnon: A

    They're not historically good after all. Still, they gave up just the one first-quarter touchdown, generated a touchdown of their own and turned Cincinnati over five times. This is a top-three defensive unit.

    Gary Davenport: B-

    The Patriots are a very good defensive football team. But their "historic" pace early in the season had more to do with the tomato cans they played every week than the defense itself. That's become clear in recent weeks.

Raiders' Farewell

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    The Raiders franchise played its last home game in Oakland on Sunday before moving to Las Vegas next season. But the team didn't leave its fanbase on the best of terms, blowing a 16-3 second-half lead and eventually losing 20-16 to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the last minute of play.

    Raiders faithful booed quarterback Derek Carr off the field after the disheartening loss.

    "I'm sure they don't want to hear anything right now," Carr told reporters when asked what message he'd give the fans.

    What kind of sendoff did the Raiders give their supporters?


    Mike Freeman: C

    The Raiders' departure is sad, and the way they left is even sadder. They will be greatly missed in Oakland. What the Raiders also showed is they have a lot more work to do to improve the team than people like me thought.

    Mike Tanier: D

    Apparently, things got a little unruly after the game. Every fan is responsible for his or her own actions, of course. And moving a franchise out of a region where fans have been loyal for generations generates the type of strong emotion that leads to bad behavior. Oakland fans deserve better than what is being done to them.

    Brent Sobleski: F

    Can I give this an "F," and a "D" for "fans be damned"? The NFL is a business. For those fanbases that have experienced the pain of having their favorite team ripped away from them, it never gets any easier. The Raiders simply started that process a week earlier than expected. 

    Brad Gagnon: F

    The whole thing is a shame on multiple levels. First, there was that embarrassing choke in the final game, which was inexplicably played out of prime time in Week 15. Also, that game reminded us again that the Raiders fanbase is strong and unique. That's not replicable in Las Vegas. It's ridiculous the city lost its beloved team twice in a 40-year span, and I frankly wouldn't be surprised if the Raiders returned in a decade or two.

    Gary Davenport: D

    Even after the loss, the Raiders are headed in the right direction. And I understand the financial realities that forced the relocation to Vegas. But as a fan who lost his favorite team about 25 years ago, I know how rotten this all is for fans in Oakland.

Baker Mayfield vs. Kyler Murray

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    In a fun twist of scheduling, the two previous Heisman Trophy winners went head-to-head Sunday. Not only did Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray both hoist football's most prestigious trophy, they also played together at Oklahoma.

    Obviously, the former teammates wanted to get the best of one another, and Murray and the Arizona Cardinals came out on top with an impressive 38-24 victory.

    This year's No. 1 overall selection threw for 219 yards and a touchdown with a pick while adding 56 yards on the ground to become the Cardinals' all-time single-season leader in quarterback rushing yards.

    Last year's No. 1 overall pick didn't fare quite as well. Mayfield threw for 247 yards, a pair of touchdowns and an interception. But the bulk of his yardage and the second score came during garbage time.


    Mike Freeman: Mayfield, B; Murray, A

    Mayfield wasn't the reason the Browns lost. He was solid enough. But there remains a disconnect between the quarterback and his best receiver, Odell Beckham Jr. Murray, meanwhile, continues to demonstrate why he was the first overall pick in the draft. He has one of the best futures of any young player in the league.

    Mike Tanier: Mayfield, Incomplete; Murray, B+

    As always, it's impossible to grade a Mayfield performance until he announces who is to blame for it. Whereas, Murray has had a quietly impressive rookie season. He spent most of Sunday just handing off to Kenyan Drake and waiting for the Browns to self-destruct, however.

    Brent Sobleski: Mayfield, C; Murray, B

    Neither quarterback played great or all that poorly. Sure, both missed certain throws and had turnovers, but the difference came down to coaching. Kliff Kingsbury knows how to scheme a cohesive offense. Apparently, Freddie Kitchens doesn't.

    Brad Gagnon: Mayfield, C; Murray, B

    Mayfield did not play well and missed too many throws. And he wasn't even under much pressure. Murray was more efficient while getting the victory, but he didn't really have to do much or take any chances. I'll also say this: One coach makes things a lot easier on his quarterback, and the other does not.

    Gary Davenport: Mayfield, C; Murray, B

    Mayfield's passing numbers don't look terrible, but much of that came with the game out of hand. Murray wasn't spectacular, but he made plays when he needed to and didn't make many killer mistakes.

Can We Believe in the Cowboys' Resurgence?

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Just when everyone was ready to bury the Dallas Cowboys, fire head coach Jason Garrett and write off the entire NFC East, Jerry Jones' squad finally came to play after three straight losses.

    Dallas ran through the Los Angeles Rams on its way to a 44-21 victory. The previously maligned Cowboys offense bullied its way to 263 rushing yards and 475 total yards.

    "Momentum is a dangerous thing, and we've got to get it on our side," quarterback Dak Prescott told reporters after the game. "We have to build off tonight."

    The 7-7 Cowboys still hold two advantages over the Philadelphia Eagles with a head-to-head win and a 4-0 division record.

    Is Dallas' latest performance enough to believe the Cowboys can return to their early-season winning ways, capture a division title and make some noise in the playoffs?


    Mike Freeman: F

    Not sure how anyone could believe in any team from the NFC East. The battle between the Cowboys and Eagles for the division is more about which team will screw up less.

    Mike Tanier: C

    As always, the Cowboys will be fine as long as they can run off tackle effectively, the opposing offense is dysfunctional and Garrett doesn't have to make any decisions whatsoever. That formula should lead to another win next Sunday in Philly.

    Brent Sobleski: B+

    The Cowboys are very talented. If the team built some confidence with its latest win, as Prescott intimated, it can do damage. This will be especially true if the Cowboys pound their way through the rest of the regular season with Philadelphia and Washington still on the docket.

    Brad Gagnon: D

    Eventually, they were going to beat a winning team, and in hindsight this made some sense at home with their backs against the wall. But they've been so inconsistent that there's no way they deserve the benefit of the doubt right now. Crush the Eagles again next week, and then we'll talk.

    Gary Davenport: C

    Who the hell knows what to make of the Cowboys? After looking like poo for most of the past month, Dallas dropped a piano on a Rams team that had been playing its best football of the season. Dallas has the talent to beat anyone—and absolutely zero consistency.