TMF: The Week Of Covid, Again; Plus: Riveting MVP Race, Previewing Buffalo At New England, More From Week 15
Covid continues to play a role in the NFL, and everywhere, as the playoffs loom closer. One player had his MVP moment on Saturday night. Buffalo at New England is a big one this weekend.
In what has truthfully become a Déjà vu like feeling, the word Covid continues to become a word we’d someday love to never use again. Sadly, we’re not there yet. Prior to the weekend, the NFL was forced to postpone three Week 15 games amid a Covid-19 surge throughout the league. Around 100 players across multiple teams tested positive in a three-day span – a record number of cases for the 2021 season.
The latest variant, Omicron, continues to make its heave across the United States. Pro sports leagues across the country have been forced to postpone games amid rising positive cases. And while life certainly goes on, the word Covid continues to become much more than a mild headache for all of us.
Like you, I sat down on my living room couch Saturday night to watch the Patriots-Colts game. The kids were tucked in bed, Christmas lights shining bright, and of course; a cold beer in hand. But like the rest of the league, and more notably, the rest of the world, Covid played a large role in my weekend. Because early last week, I tested positive.
Control what you can control. Right?
That’s all we can do. Time doesn’t stop. Life keeps going. As does the looming NFL playoffs. So, back to football.
Lead Stories from Week 15:
Buckle up and grab some popcorn, because the stretch run for the AFC North is set up to be a fun one. With only a half-game of separation from top to bottom entering Monday, the sprint between Cincinnati 8-6, Baltimore 8-6, Cleveland 7-7, and Pittsburgh 7-6-1 will be quite the watch. Cleveland’s loss to the Raiders last night didn’t help their case. But what should we expect from a team playing it’s third-string quarterback in a crucial game?
If the season ended today, and I had a vote for who the 2021 NFL MVP is, my vote may very well be a running back. Yeah, Jonathan Taylor is that special. The Colts season has turned around because of Taylor, with Carson Wentz simply enjoying the view from behind center as his star running back bolts through the line for big game-winning runs, each and every week.
Buffalo at New England next Sunday is a big one. The AFC East is up for grabs, and Buffalo is entering Foxborough with something to prove. While the lead story heading into this game will surely be Josh Allen vs. Mac Jones -- keep an eye on Bills head coach Sean McDermott in this one. After the last embarrassing loss to the Patriots, McDermott better have a mightier plan on how to beat Belichick this go around.
Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-0 shutout loss to New Orleans Sunday night marked the fourth-straight regular season loss to the division rival Saints. Also, the Bucs’ hopes of the top seed in the NFC looks to be all but gone with Chris Godwin reportedly out for the year after an MRI confirmed a torn ACL.
When we look at the landscape of the league, the rebuilding ‘bad’ football team with the most fight and heart continue to be Dan Campbell’s Detroit Lions. Sunday’s stunning win over the Kyler Murray led Arizona Cardinals is yet another testament to how hard those players fight for their first-year head coach.
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TMF FRONT PAGE: The MVP…
Eight straight QBs have won the NFL Most Valuable Player award. 13 of the last 14 MVPs have been quarterbacks. Going all the way back to 2002, only three non-quarterbacks have walked away with the award. Those three players? Adrian Peterson (2012), LaDainian Tomlinson (2006), and Shaun Alexander (2005). Three running backs. Three special seasons.
Jonathan Taylor’s season in Indianapolis has been quite the story. Taylor leads the NFL in rushing, and by a wide margin at that, with 1,518 yards. The next closest player, Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon, trails Taylor by 424 yards. But to me, it’s not just the numbers that make Taylor worthy of consideration for the MVP award. It’s the way in which he’s single-handedly winning his team games. When it matters most, too. In Saturday night’s win over the Patriots, the Colts had given away a 20-0 lead with less than a quarter of football to play. Now up by just 3 points, Carson Wentz took a second down snap and handed it off to Taylor.
And off he went.
Taylor somehow found a hole through the left side and bolted past Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty, and the rest of the New England defense. In what felt like milliseconds, Taylor flashed to the endzone for a 67-yard touchdown run, to clinch the game for Indianapolis.
The type of play that becomes a moment for an NFL team, and it’s season. The type of play that people remember. Most importantly, the type of moment that creates separation in a tight race. That’s what that 67-yard run was for Taylor.
So, while the continued greatness in Green Bay is indeed worthy of another MVP nod, it’s in fact, Jonathan Taylor, not Aaron Rodgers, who deserves the label of Most Valuable Player.
LEAD TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 15
Buffalo at New England: ‘We know who’s up next,’
Buffalo’s 31-14 win over an exceedingly dysfunctional Carolina Panthers team wasn’t the prettiest of wins, but Josh Allen and the Bills found a way to grind through. Josh Allen was sacked a season-high four times in the win, and while Buffalo should feel confident heading to Foxborough this weekend, their flaws on gameday aren’t yet completely solved.
With normal weather conditions expected in Foxborough, Buffalo should remain comfortable heading into a crucial game knowing they’ll be able to utilize their traditional – pass heavy and often – game plan this go around. No 50 mph wind gusts in the forecast, which should also see Mac Jones attempt a few more passes too.
Bills players and coaches know what’s at stake this Sunday. They know who’s next, as do the Patriots. It’s a big game, for both teams.
“We know who’s up next,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said in a team video of the postgame locker room.
“We know who’s up next. It’s all about us, right? Stay humble.”
Bills fans appear to know who’s next too, as they’ve graciously put up a ‘best fans’ billboard near Gillette Stadium ahead of this weekend’s matchup.
The way in which McDermott has handled recent losses to Belichick and the Patriots is worth noting. And even monitoring closely. It’s unclear whether the rivalry, or end outcome, is the focal point of McDermott’s irritation in the past. But the situational coaching and overall game plan for Buffalo will be under a large microscope in this one. Buffalo has yet to string together consecutive football games exhibiting their best brand of football. The talent lining up on the field is far from the main concern for the Bills, which bodes the question to what the underlying issues are, exactly. As we’ve said in the past, one too many times at that, asking your quarterback to play hero ball usually isn’t best tactical approach.
Josh Allen is great, top-five in the league maybe. But if you’ve ever watched Belichick coach a game in your lifetime, what’s his prime focus? Taking away your strengths and forcing you to beat him other ways. Will it always pay off? Of course not. The Patriots just allowed Jonathan Taylor to beat them, and the entire country knew he‘s the strength of Indianapolis.
How Buffalo adjusts from their December 6th 14-10 loss to New England will be everything or nothing, in this one. Although the stories will be written with headlines on Josh Allen or Mac Jones, the coaching and situational football may be the determining factor in this one.
The King(s) of the AFC North?
When you woke up yesterday morning, the separation from the top team in the AFC North and the bottom team was a mere half-game. After Cleveland scarcely fell to Vegas last night, the other three teams in the division race jumped for joy.
So, is it Joe Burrow’s time? Will Big Ben give us one more run prior to him riding off into the sunset? Could Baker Mayfield shock the country and run the table in Cleveland? Will Lamar Jackson make his heroic return and lead his team on a run? Take a peek at each team’s remaining games and drop your opinions in the comments below!
Sat, Dec 25: Green Bay Packers
Mon, Jan 3: Pittsburgh Steelers
Sun, Jan 9: Cincinnati Bengals
Sun, Dec 26: Cincinnati Bengals
Sun, Jan 2: LA Rams
Sun, Jan 9: Pittsburgh Steelers
Sun, Dec 26: Baltimore Ravens
Sun, Jan 2: Kansas City Chiefs
Sun, Jan 9: Cleveland Browns
Sun, Dec 26: Kansas City Chiefs
Mon, Jan 3: Cleveland Browns
Sun, Jan 9: Baltimore Ravens
All four teams have two divisional games left, plus a game against either the Chiefs, Packers, or Rams. Yet, Baltimore still looks to have the best odds to come away winning two out of their next three, leading me to give them the edge in the AFC North. Lamar Jackson’s health is a key factor, however.
TEN THINGS FROM THE WEEK
Per NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Jonathan Taylor reached a top speed of 22.13 mph on his 67-yard game-clinching TD run against the Patriots on Saturday, which is the fastest speed by a ball-carrier this season.
No one thought the hiring of Urban Meyer was a smart move by Shad Khan. Everyone was right, of course. Jacksonville better hope they make the right hire this time around, because Trevor Lawrence doesn’t seem like the type of player willing to accept mediocrity.
I loved John Harbaugh going for the win there, especially with Aaron Rodgers sitting on the sideline potentially getting the ball first in overtime. I did not love the playcall, however.
Travis Kelce’s 10-catch, 191-yard, two-touchdown performance Thursday night was remarkable to watch. The Chiefs are coming in hot at the right moment in the season, as many champion level teams often do.
Pittsburgh’s playoff desires live another day, thanks to the heroic efforts of Joe Haden. 46 seconds left with a 19-13 lead over Tennessee, Haden stopped Titans receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine a short half-yard from the first down marker. That was the game. Steelers win, and remain alive in the crazy AFC North division.
Bruce Arians may not love it, but his squad desperately needs a healthy, hopefully vaccinated, Antonio Brown back on the football field. With no Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, or Leonard Fournette, Tom Brady struggled mightily against a fueled Saints defense on Sunday night.
Trevon Diggs nabbed his 10th interception of the season in the Cowboys’ 21-16 win over the Giants on Sunday. Dallas remains out of touch, in some sorts, with their vertical passing game on offense. But, with Diggs and Micah Parsons leading the way defensively, they still have time to piece things together on offense.
Detroit may have something in Dan Campbell. At 2-11, the Lions continue to display a level of heart and competitiveness that we haven’t seen from other rebuilding teams who also have first-year head coaches. Also, that Amon-Ra St. Brown guy looks pretty darn good, eh?
Down 20-0, partially at fault, Mac Jones led the Patriots in the fourth quarter to give his team a shot at tying the game. Ultimately, Jonathan Taylor’s 67-yard TD run sealed the game for Indianapolis. Still, even in a losing effort that saw Jones throw two ugly interceptions, the rookie QB looked poised and unaffected by the moment.
If Baker Mayfield had been eligible to play against the Raiders on Monday, the Browns would have had a high probability of walking away with the win. I came away from that game thinking that Derek Carr and the Raiders are much worse than their 7-7 record indicates.
ASK ME ANYTHING FROM THE WEEK
–Do you believe Vegas will pursue other options at QB after the season?
–Should Carolina fire Rhule and bring in a more experienced NFL HC?
I really liked the hiring of Rhule at the time. But his recent comments, the Joe Brady firing, and the overall dysfunction that is the Panthers offense lead me to believe it may be time for a change. Doug Peterson or Jim Caldwell are two names to watch if you’re aiming for experienced coaching candidates.
–Who should Jacksonville hire as the next HC?
Anyone Trevor Lawrence wants. I’m half kidding, of course. But I would make it very clear to candidates that Lawrence’s development is the No. 1 priority for the franchise. Period.
–Russell Wilson’s next team? Predictions?
Broncos or Steelers.
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