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Evaluation | What to know from NFL Week 16: The NFC seas are parting for Aaron Rodgers

Evaluation | What to know from NFL Week 16: The NFC seas are parting for Aaron Rodgers


The variety of groups now certified for the playoffs surpassed, in lots of stadiums, the digit on the thermometer. Eight franchises, 4 in every convention, have clinched postseason spots with two weeks to go. The Chargers can be a part of them with a victory Monday evening over the Colts. On Sunday, it is going to be January. It’s beginning to really feel an terrible lot like playoff time.

The NFC may be making the grave mistake of letting Aaron Rodgers into the playoffs. Inexperienced Bay’s sudden scorching streak, mixed with the collapse of the convention’s mushy underbelly, has shot the Packers into playoff competition. As December dawned, it appeared doable the Packers would flip to Jordan Love with an eye fixed on both growth or showcasing him for a commerce. Three straight victories later, they might realistically steal the NFC’s closing playoff spot — and provides Rodgers an opportunity to make a run in an underwhelming convention.

Because the wild card aspirants — the Giants, Lions, Commanders and Seahawks — all misplaced this weekend, the Packers intercepted Tua Tagovailoa 3 times, held the Dolphins scoreless within the second half and erased a 10-point deficit to win in Miami, 26-20. It could have been the Packers’ most spectacular victory of the season and supplied additional indicators of life from a maligned protection that has allowed 19, 12 and 20 factors throughout Inexperienced Bay’s streak.

The Packers, seemingly a franchise in flux lower than a month in the past, are all of a sudden the league’s most fascinating staff. If they’ll beat each the Vikings (who don’t have a lot to play for) and the Lions (who confirmed in a horrible loss to the Panthers how weak they’re towards the run) at Lambeau Area, they’d have a 91 % likelihood to make the playoffs, in accordance with FiveThirtyEight’s predictive mannequin.

Postseason underachievement has outlined the again half of Rodgers’s profession. He’s 7-9 within the playoffs since successful the Tremendous Bowl after the 2010 season and hasn’t received the NFC once more. He would nonetheless be a scary sight if he comes into the playoffs on a scorching streak, taking part in with nothing to lose relatively than freighted with expectations. The Packers’ protection is lastly taking part in as much as its expertise degree, and if David Bahktiari returns from an appendectomy, their offensive line will likely be as wholesome because it has been all yr.

The AFC playoff quarterback discipline might be outrageous. The Jaguars’ demolition of the Jets and the Titans’ loss to the two-win Texans moved Jacksonville into first place within the AFC South. Meaning with two weeks left, the beginning quarterbacks in playoff place within the AFC are Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa.

All are first-round picks, with solely Jackson chosen exterior the highest 10. All are remarkably younger; Mahomes, at 27, is the oldest. Two have already received an MVP award, and it will be extra shocking than not if the others, maybe apart from Tagovailoa, didn’t win one earlier than their profession ends.

Within the quick time period, each AFC playoff recreation will likely be must-watch, a spectacular show of the league’s current and future. Within the lengthy view, the gathering of passers reveals how troublesome it is going to be to interrupt into the AFC’s circle of competition. Whether or not Mac Jones or Kenny Pickett, for instance, will likely be viable NFL starters is one query. Whether or not they can repeatedly compete with these quarterbacks for the following decade is one other one fully.

The Broncos and Browns have already proven the dangers of allocating sources to a perceived franchise quarterback on the commerce market. Each cratered within the first seasons of Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson for various causes, and now each will likely be transport excessive draft decisions to their earlier groups. However the desperation for AFC groups to discover a quarterback able to competing with these seven will solely enhance.

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It’s why the Raiders could also be eager to maneuver on from Derek Carr, why Jackson is justified in squeezing each penny out of the Ravens and why there will likely be a race to the underside subsequent season for faculty prospects Caleb Williams and Drake Maye. The may of the AFC quarterback crop will form the league for years and years to return.

Dying, taxes and Mike Tomlin successful soccer video games. Tomlin will all the time discover a option to win eight video games. The Steelers had been as soon as 3-7 with a rookie quarterback after which traded a beginning wideout who netted a second-round decide. They’re now 7-8 and never technically out of the playoff race.

Tomlin’s streak of by no means having a dropping file stays alive after one of many season’s most emotional victories: The Steelers retired Franco Harris’s quantity two days after his tragically timed dying, after which Pickett and George Pickens, each rookies, linked on a 14-yard landing move within the closing minute to erase what had been a 10-point deficit and beat the Raiders, 13-10.

Even when the Steelers stumble and Tomlin suffers his first dropping season in his sixteenth yr as Pittsburgh’s head coach, it is going to be one other commendable efficiency. No coach has the next flooring. Nonetheless, Tomlin should enhance the ceiling in Pittsburgh. Because the Steelers began 11-0 in 2020, they’ve gone 17-19-1 within the common season and haven’t been aggressive in two playoff losses. Their final playoff victory got here in 2016.

Few coaches within the league have earned higher job safety than Tomlin. However it’s been a half-decade because the Steelers had been an elite staff. Getting there with Pickett, who has proven promise however not elite traits, towards the present AFC quarterback crop will likely be a large teaching problem. However who would need to wager towards Tomlin?

The Cowboys’ offensive ceiling makes them a Tremendous Bowl risk. Dallas is bafflingly inconsistent, its protection has been springing leaks for the second half of the season, and Mike McCarthy’s recreation administration makes you cowl your eyes. However the Cowboys should be taken significantly within the playoffs, as a result of in the event that they play their greatest offensive recreation, not many opponents can hold tempo.

When a cart carries away an injured participant, and the sport goes on

The Cowboys’ 40-34 victory over the juggernaut Eagles, assisted by 4 Philadelphia turnovers and outlined by Dak Prescott’s third-and-30 completion to newcomer T.Y. Hilton, revealed how troublesome Dallas is to cease. Its extensive receivers, particularly CeeDee Lamb, are too powerful to defend in man protection, and Prescott is simply too expert at choosing aside a zone. Defensive coordinators haven’t any good choices, particularly after they need to account for Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard out of the backfield.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon prefers simplicity to keep away from surrendering huge performs. Prescott made a meal of that strategy Saturday. He accomplished all 24 passes he tried when Philadelphia performed zone protection, in accordance with the NFL’s Subsequent Gen Stats. The mix of that offense and Micah Parsons will give any playoff opponent a headache.

The Cowboys, by the way in which, can nonetheless win the NFC East within the unlikely occasion they beat the Titans and Commanders and the Eagles lose to the Saints and Giants.

The Broncos are 4-11, and their future is even bleaker than the current. They tried and failed for years after Peyton Manning’s retirement to discover a appropriate quarterback and eventually made an all-in transfer this offseason. Quite than resolve the issue, they set the franchise on a course for utter catastrophe.

Even those that may peer across the nook and see Wilson’s decline coming couldn’t have foreseen how rapidly and disastrously it will arrive. The Broncos’ 51-14 loss to the Rams on Sunday supplied the bottom level in a season chocked with low factors. They’re final within the league in factors scored per recreation. They’re struggling with each other on the sideline. They’re a multitude, and it is probably not doable to wash up.

The Broncos’ new homeowners can hearth Coach Nathaniel Hackett, however they haven’t any outs at quarterback. Even when they might discover a taker for him in a commerce, his useless cap hit could be $107 million, in accordance with Spotrac. That solely drops to $85 million in 2024 and $49.6 million in 2025, when his precise cap hit will likely be $55.4 million, and Wilson will likely be 37. The Broncos can not realistically commerce or lower Wilson till 2026. Whether or not as their starter or a sunk-cost backup, they’re caught with him.

Denver will ship its first-round decide, virtually definitely a top-five alternative, to the Seattle Seahawks together with extra draft capital. They surrendered large draft capital for the proper to tether themselves with out recourse to one of many worst beginning quarterbacks within the NFL.

“I’ve obtained to play to the requirements that I understand how to play to, that I’ve been taking part in to my complete profession,” Wilson advised reporters after Sunday’s loss. However the participant who set that commonplace not exists. Wilson was reliant on his operating skill to open up the remainder of his off recreation. With out it, he’s a pocket quarterback who lacks the scale and processing to function an NFL offense. He isn’t at a stage of his profession the place he can recapture the athleticism and nerve required to run, nor one the place he’s more likely to rework his type of play.

Please, Panthers, don’t make us watch the Buccaneers within the playoffs. Carolina, which fired its coach and traded a franchise icon earlier this season, controls its personal playoff destiny after it dominated the beforehand scalding-hot Lions, 37-23. Though Tampa Bay scraped out one other unbelievable win over a foul opponent, the Panthers will win the NFC South in the event that they beat the Buccaneers subsequent week after which beat the Saints in Week 18.

Anybody who cares about entertaining soccer ought to hope Carolina pulls it off. The Cardinals, who misplaced handily to the Broncos final week and began third-string quarterback Hint McSorley, led by 10 factors within the fourth quarter earlier than Tom Brady engineered his newest comeback. One way or the other, the Bucs can flip Brady’s heroics right into a slog. There could be nothing attention-grabbing about watching them within the playoffs, which is outstanding given their quarterback is the perfect participant of all time.

The Panthers, in the meantime, rebounded after a dispiriting loss to the Steelers with their greatest win in years. Interim coach Steve Wilks has gone 5-5, together with 4-2 previously six video games. Given the state of the roster when he took over and the quarterback shuffling that endured, it has been among the best teaching performances of the season. Their energy operating recreation would at the very least present a problem, particularly matched up towards a Cowboys run protection that has typically been suspect.

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