Week Sixteen in Review
Sunday and Monday Games:
The Five Major Story Lines
The Best Matchups to Watch
1) Michael Crabtree vs. Falcons cornerbacks
The Five Major Story Lines
- Every single NFC North team lost on Sunday. The Lions officially bowed out of the race by falling to the hapless Giants. Detroit was eliminated from playoff contention and now heads into the final week of the season with major changes likely looming. The Packers lost in dramatic fashion to the Steelers, but remain alive by virtue of their tie. Aaron Rodgers returning next week is by no means a certainty either. The Eagles slaughtered the Bears on Sunday night. It is debatable whether the Bears were just that overmatched or just extremely unprepared. They certainly did not look like a team deserving of a playoff spot. It seems that whatever team comes out of the NFC North is merely going to be a candidate for a quick playoff exit.
- Everything looked set for an epic Dallas collapse, but the Redskins defense had other plans. In the early stages of the second half, the Cowboys looked as if they learned absolutely nothing from their loss last week. However, as the game wore on the Cowboys went back to their running game, and eased the burden on their quarterback. Tony Romo led a clutch fourth quarter that he topped off with a touchdown pass; further contributing to the see-saw nature of the narrative surrounding him. In light of this win, the Cowboys are merely setting up the true dramatic tragedy for next Sunday night when they face the Eagles for the NFC East crown.
- The Panthers and Saints game lived up to the billing. The Panthers dominated the game defensively, but their offense sputtered along almost the entire day. Drew Brees finally broke a touchdown drive through on their ferocious defense and it looked like the Panthers would not be able to regain the lead. Then magic happened. Cam Newton was downright bad the entire game, but flipped the switch with under a minute left in the contest. Newton made three of the best throws you will ever see and took his team down for the game-winning touchdown. It was a huge moment for the quarterback and his entire team, who are now booked for the playoffs.
- In one of the worst games of the day, the Patriots trounced the Ravens. Baltimore’s offense was embarrassing, and most of that falls on their knee brace wearing quarterback. Flacco looked uncomfortable all day, and the Ravens were hopeless to move the ball. The Patriots took care of business and are AFC East champions once again.
- The Browns certainly did not seem interested in playing for anything other than a higher draft pick. The Jets were very impressive in their win over Cleveland. Houston predictably fell to the Broncos, but that was to be expected. The Bills put up a great fight in beating the Dolphins, and even the Giants came to play. Of all the non-playoff teams, only the Vikings were completely humiliated.
The Best Matchups to Watch
1) Michael Crabtree vs. Falcons cornerbacks
- Crabtree, and the entire 49ers offense started pretty slow. However, Crabtree exploded in the second half, finished with over. This was the game that showed Crabtree is back to his old self. A master route runner, Crabtree toyed with the Falcons young corner backs on some deception routes. He also showed his physicality by high pointing passes and breaking tackles after the catch. Crabtree is without a doubt a top ten wideout in the league when healthy and playing this well.
- Mike Nolan really used his secondary to confuse Colin Kaepernick. At first glance it looked like the corners were in press man coverage, and that seemed to rattle the 49ers quarterback. Unfortunately the inexperience of the backend players showed itself eventually. Crabtree and Anquan Boldin began to outmuscle and exploit them in the second half. The Falcons put up a great fight in this game, but eventually the better team rose to the top.
- At first look of this game, Al Woods and the Steelers d-line were not nearly as effective as they were week. Eddie Lacy found plenty of room against Pittsburgh’s front. On Lacy’s longer touchdown run the entire Steelers defense looked as if it was washed away against the run. The Steelers were fortunate Lacy had to leave the game at one point, or this outcome may have been different. Woods can still be a promising young player for the Steelers, but this was a setback.
- The Packers offensive line is a solid unit, especially inside. Guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang are so strong as run blockers, its no wonder Woods did not have the same impact as he did against the Bengals. With a nice interior line and a young powerful running back, the Packers are set up as a dangerous ground team for the next several years.
- This one was no contest; Greg Hardy continually got the better of this matchup. Hardy was credited with three sacks on the day, and was wrecking several drives early on in the game. His burst and power were too much for the young rookie tackle at times. Hardy used the same inside move that was sampled in this week’s preview on one of his sacks, and Armstead looked completely lost. Hardy showed why he is one of the best edge rushers in the game by doing exactly what was expected of him today.
- All that being said, Terron Armstead was not a colossal disaster. Seriously. As was predicted in the preview, when Armstead failed to engage Hardy and get his hands on him, he stood no chance. Armstead had a few positive moments, but his ugly sacks allowed and penalties will justifiably overshadow them. This was as tough a first test there could have been for a rookie offensive tackle, and he will certainly improve going forward.
- What an embarrassing performance by the Dolphins. With the chance to take themselves into the playoffs, they put up a shocking zero points against the Bills. A dreadful offensive performance for the ages. The Bills defensive line threw that Dolphins offensive line around like it was early in the season all over again. Ryan Tannehill finally sustained an injury, which was frankly long overdue behind this line. The Dolphins really should be ashamed of that effort.
- So the Seahawks are not completely invincible at home? That loss to the Cardinals should remind analysts out there making definitive statements about what is going to happen several weeks in the future, much less in the playoffs, is a great way to make yourself look foolish. The Cardinals are a good team, with a great defense; they even won this game with Carson Palmer throwing interceptions at an alarming rate. Teams with great defensive front sevens like the Panthers, 49ers, or Eagles can absolutely walk into Seattle and get a playoff win.
- Kirk Cousins’ laughably bad four and out drive to close out Washington’s loss to Dallas should dispel any notion he can be a high-end starter in this league. He threw several passes to no one at all. When the defense is solely focused on shutting him down, he just does not have the physical tools to overcome.
- What happened to the Chiefs today? The Colts had been pretty dull for over a month now, but they obliterated the eleven-win Chiefs. Lets hope they were not taking their foot off the gas in anticipation of playing the Colts again in a few weeks. That strategy hardly ever pays off.
- The Jets have to be encouraged they got very good games from their much maligned early picks, Geno Smith and Dee Milliner. Milliner shadowed Josh Gordon most of the day and held his own. That not only shows the growth of the young cornerback, but also what this team thinks of the rapidly fading Antonio Cromartie. Smith looked as poised as we have seen him since the win over the Falcons. The players clearly responded to Rex Ryan’s telling them he was likely losing his job. If the Jets do not retain him, it will be a travesty. He would excel as the head coach of the Cowboys or Lions.
- If Steve Smith is out for an extended period of time, that is a pretty big hit to an already lackluster Panthers offense. While Smith has not been a stat stuffer this season, his impact is still felt on a team starving for playmakers. At least Newton led the game-winning drive without him, but life without Smith would make the going pretty tough in the playoffs.
- The talk out trying to put anyone else other than Peyton Manning into the MVP race is an embarrassment to the sport. No one else holds a candle to Manning right now, and its just that simple.
- Three Monday Night Parting Shots:
- Harry Douglas is the biggest example of “stats are for losers” we have this year. Douglas is an incredibly inefficient receiver, who is lacking in a number of areas. However, be prepared to be lambasted with talk all offseason about how he really improved this season, all because he topped 1,000 yards. That number is incredibly meaningless nowadays.
- Matt Ryan was criticized in last week’s review, but he was quite impressive tonight. The 49ers pass rushers were exploding off the ball on almost every snap, and Ryan’s line did little to stop them. Ryan was masterful in evading them, climbing the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield. Qualities like that give you reason to hope he will be right back to his prior standard, and maybe even better, next year with an improved roster.
- The 49ers offense was so dynamic in the second half, but stinkers like the first thirty minutes of this game make you hesitant to think they can go on another Super Bowl run. Colin Kaepernick looked lost in the first half, and unable to locate open receivers. He also looked very slow and timid as a runner. If Kaepernick is great, this is a championship caliber roster. Will he be great for four games in the postseason? That remains to be seen.