Perhaps it’s time to stop being surprised each Sunday. After four months, the only common theme to this NFL season appears to be total chaos – a wide-open MVP race, a constantly changing field of championship contenders, a demolition derby of a divisional race down South. And the Week 15 weekend added even more wrinkles.
Sunday’s slate may have separated contenders from pretenders, as the Broncos, Patriots and Colts clinched division titles, while Dallas, Seattle and Detroit took steps toward doing the same. But we also witnessed a clunker of a game from the normally unflappable Aaron Rodgers – just in time for the fantasy playoffs, too! – a dud of a debut from Johnny Manziel and two teams battling it out in the 2014 Suck Bowl.
Yeah, it was another weird one. Yet somehow, I was able to wade through the WTF to bring you Week 15’s Winners and Losers.
Winners: The Buffalo Bills
The Bills needed a miracle to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, especially with the high-powered Packers coming to town. What they got was a defining victory for a franchise adrift for more than a decade.
Their relentless defense forced presumptive NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers into his worst game of the season – 185 yards passing, 25 incompletions, two interceptions and zero touchdowns – and Buffalo found ways to put points on the board, returning a punt for a TD and forcing a game-clinching safety. The end result? A 21-13 Bills win, with wide-ranging implications.
For starters, it meant that the Bills will finish at .500 or better for the first time since 2004. More importantly, they’re now one game out of a Wild Card spot, and though they still need help – either the Chargers, Ravens or Steelers must implode – and have to figure out a way to beat the Patriots in Week 17, for the first time in a long time, there’s reason to believe in Buffalo.
Winners: The Clinchers
Three AFC powerhouses went to work yesterday and all handled their respective business against division foes.
Andrew Luck and the Colts took care of Houston, beating them 17-10 to clinch their second straight AFC South title. Luck threw a couple of touchdowns, but the story of the day was Reggie Wayne, who broke Peyton Manning’s franchise records for both games played and games won with the Colts.
Speaking of Manning, he had himself a Jordan Flu Game as his Broncos beat the Chargers 22-10 to win the AFC West once again. Manning played through illness, an intravenous infusion and a thigh injury, yet made zero excuses – and threw for 233 yards and one touchdown.
Finally we come to the Pats, who were led by Brady’s 287 yards and two touchdowns to demolish the Fins 41-13. With the victory over Miami, the Pats clinched their sixth straight division title, which hasn’t been done since 1970! That’s a grand total of 12 division titles for Brady and Belichick, which makes their relationship more important than any other in the history of Boston. Sorry, Matt and Ben.
Winner: The Detroit Lions
The best team in the NFC North is not the Green Bay Packers (a sentence I didn’t think I’d write for the remainder of the season).
After the Packers’ shocking loss the Bills, the door was wide open for the Lions to swoop in and take the lead in the division with two games remaining. Despite falling behind 14-0 to Minnesota, the Lions slowly crept back into the game after a Matthew Stafford hit Golden Tate for a TD. The Lions eventually seized the opportunity given to them by their ex, Buffalo defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, and won 16-14.
The Lions and the Packers each have winnable games next week before they meet at Lambeau Field in the last game of the season. With the Cowboys, Seahawks and Cardinals also jockeying for position, the loser of that game might also lose a playoff berth. That’s right, Mr. Relax could miss out on the playoffs. Damn You, NFC South!
Loser: Johnny Manziel
I’m tempted to name myself as a loser here for thinking Johnny Manziel would dominate. Holy shit, was I wrong.
Manziel was 10-of-18 for 80 yards and zero touchdowns in his NFL debut. He was also sacked three times, threw two interceptions and led the Browns to one first down and negative 17 yards of offense in the second half. Woof. What’s worse, he was mocked mercilessly throughout, as every member of the Bengals defense lined up to do the Money Fingers dance over his corpse. This one was ugly.
Loser: The Tennessee Titans
In what NFL historians will someday call “Suck Bowl 2014”, the Titans and Jets – owners of a combined 4-22 record this season – squared off in the ultimate battle to see who sucks worse. At one point, the score was 5-3, because why not?
The Jets proved to be the prouder team on Sunday after Chris Ivory scored the game-winning touchdown with 3:09 remaining. Geno Smith had an impressive game (for Geno Smith) as he threw for 179 yards and a touchdown. He also got involved in some trash talk that ultimately led to one of the most pathetic brawls in NFL history – again, because why not?
All of this came as the New York Post started the Marcus Mariota “Suck for the Duck” campaign. Come to think of it, that’s not the worst idea. Hell, maybe the Titans were the real winners after all.
Winner: Dez Bryant
There’s been plenty of talk from Dez since his Boys lost to the Eagles on Thanksgiving Day. He’s labeled the Eagles “cheaters,” called them “cheap” and went on record as saying he “fucking can’t wait” to play them again. On Sunday, he got his shot – even before the teams took the field, Bryant was jawing with Philly’s Malcolm Jenkins – and Dez backed up his tough talk.
Bryant went full Beast Mode against Philly, catching six passes for 113 yards and three touchdowns to power the Cowboys to a 38-27 win and first place in the NFC East. Remember, you can talk the talk…so long as you can walk the walk.