Week 14 was one of the most compelling weeks of the regular season. There were a few games between top tier teams that lived up to the billing. There were also some closely contested games from unlikely sources. There’s now just three weeks left in the regular season with much to still be worked out before the playoff begin. The situation got cloudier for at least one team on Sunday...
Big win, bigger loss for the Eagles
In one of the most entertaining games of the season, the Philadelphia Eagles pulled out a 43-35 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. The win clinched the NFC East for the Eagles and again made them the favorite for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. But late in the third quarter, Carson Wentz was forced to leave the game with a knee injury and he did not return.
Early reports indicate the Eagles fear a torn ACL for Wentz. A report from Adam Schefter indicated the ACL is Wentz’s knee was loose, which is a bad sign whether the ligament is fully torn or not. A loose ACL would leave little support in the knee even if there was only a partial tear. Playing on a partial tear can be just as dangerous and lead to further damage down the road, as it did to Miami’s Ryan Tannehill who injured his ACL back in December, tried to avoid surgery during the offseason, but was forced to have it in August, which put him out for the season. There was a similar situation with Robert Griffin III in Washington and he never fully recovered.
BREAKING: The Eagles announce Carson Wentz has a torn ACL in his left knee. pic.twitter.com/beubme70ED— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) December 11, 2017
It’s most likely Wentz will be out for the rest of the season, which leaves the Eagles offense in the hands of Nick Foles. Foles was less than impressive late against the Rams -- he averaged 4.2 yards per attempt on 10 passes -- but this has been an offense that has successfully schemed receivers open and has been supported by an efficient running game as of late. Foles will also get the defenses of the Giants and Raiders over the next two weeks to work out whatever needs to be worked out before the playoff run.
Philadelphia still has one of the league’s best defenses -- third in DVOA through Week 13 -- and good special teams -- 10th in DVOA -- so it’s not as if the offense was the one unit carrying this team during the regular season. It’s been a full team effort. This is not what the Eagles envisioned heading into the playoffs, but all things considered, it could be much worse.
Leaving the door open for Aaron Rodgers
One top quarterback in the NFC might be lost for the season, but we could be on the eve of another returning. Aaron Rodgers is eligible to return off injured reserve this week and the Packers’ 27-21 overtime win over the Cleveland Browns made it worth it for him to try.
Green Bay is just 7-6 and technically in ninth-place in the NFC, but all three games left on the schedule are against teams in front of them in the standings. Next week the Packers play the 9-4 Carolina Panthers, who occupy the fifth-seed in the conference, in Carolina. Green Bay then hosts the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings and then finish the season against the Detroit Lions, who are also currently 7-6. Three wins in a row would get the Packers to 10-6 and that could possibly be enough to get them into the playoffs, however likely that those three wins may be. ESPN’s Football Power Index currently has them with just a six percent chance of making the playoffs. Other teams in front of them, like the Atlanta Falcons, still have to play against the Panthers and Saints, too, so it’s not as if the other teams are guaranteed wins.
If nothing else, having Aaron Rodgers back for the final three weeks of the regular season adds even more intrigue to the bottom of the NFC, which has already been highly competitive to this point in the year.
Sack bubble burst for Case Keenum and the Vikings
Minnesota is still the clear favorite to win the NFC North -- basically a 100 percent chance, per FPI -- but the magic bubble burst a bit against the Panthers on Sunday. The 31-24 loss was the Vikings’ first since Week 4. The Minnesota offense had been a big factor in that win streak and the play of Case Keenum was the most surprising part. While he was able to make plays and get the ball down the field to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, Keenum’s ability to maneuver in the pocket and avoid sacks was one of the best assets he brought to the table. Entering Week 14, Keenum was sacked on just 2.4 percent on his drop backs, which was a league-low and 28 percent better than the league average sack rate. That did not hold up against the Panthers.
Carolina got to Keenum six times on Sunday, five in the second half. He had only taken nine sacks all season. Three of those sacks came on third down. Not all of those plays were Panthers defenders abusing the offensive line of the Vikings, though there was that on some occasions. It’s hard to blame the Vikings because of the injuries along the line. Minnesota started the game with just two offensive line starters in their normal positions and that turned to just one when left tackle Riley Reiff was injured during the game. The offensive line should get healthier by the end of the season and that will be an important update to watch because it will be a completely different offense is Keenum is under constant pressure.
Jaguars out-Seahawk’d the Seahawks
Here were are 14 weeks through the season and the Jacksonville Jaguars are 9-4, sitting as the No. 3 seed in the AFC. As strange as it is to read that, it really can’t be all that surprising anymore. The Jags have been imposing their will on defense and on the ground. They’ve even sprinkled in a nice passing game or two, though let’s not get carried away there just yet.
Jacksonville’s 30-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks was easily their most impressive of the season. The Jaguars, who hold an NFL-leading 9.9 percent sack rate, only got to Russell Wilson twice, but the defense has able to hold Seattle’s offense mostly in check during the game. Until Wilson jumped into his now weekly fourth quarter touchdown barrage that made the game close, the Jacksonville defense was able to slow down the offense. Through Wilson’s first 22 passes of the game, he had only completed half for 4.8 yards per attempt. He ended the game with 31 passes and 8.7 yards per attempt, if that helps show how spectacular those last few throws were. But on the way there, the Jaguars forced Wilson to throw three interceptions -- two from A.J. Bouye and one from Jalen Ramsey.
The Jaguars defense has allowed opponents to pass for 3.5 adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A), which factors in touchdowns, interceptions, and sacks into yards per attempt to get a total picture of a pass defense. If Jacksonville finishes with that number, they’d be the first defense to finish a season below 4.0 ANY/A since the 2013 Seahawks at 3.2.
We can’t get out of here without mentioning snow football. The game between the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts was apparently played on Hoth in a brilliant marketing stunt for the new Star Wars movie coming out this week. The 13-7 overtime Bills win was a wonder to watch at times, once it started to resemble something close to a football game. A few quick thoughts:
- The Colts had no plan to start. Obviously these weren’t normal conditions, but Indianapolis had little offensive game plan to start the game than just hand the ball to the running backs. Jacoby Brissett didn’t have his first pass attempt until midway through the second quarter and he didn’t have his first rushing attempt until midway through the third quarter. When Brissett had to start for the New England Patriots last season, the game plan was option heavy and allowed for misdirection and took advantage of Brissett’s athleticism. It would have been a nice wrinkle in the snow.
- Get LeSean McCoy in every snow game. McCoy had 32 carries for 156 yards, including the game-winning 21-yard touchdown in overtime. This isn’t the first time he carried a team to victory in heavy snow. In another Week 14 game during the 2013 season, the Philadelphia Eagles hosted the Detroit Lions in a similar scene. McCoy carried the ball 29 times for 217 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-20 Eagles win.
- Indianapolis should have won. Credit to Colts head coach Chuck Pagano for going for two when the Colts scored to go down one with 1:16 left in regulation. Indianapolis even converted the two point attempt, a pass to tight end Jack Doyle in the corner off a run-pass option (RPO). However, Kamar Aiken was flagged for offensive pass interference on a pick, even though his contact was initiated within a yard of the line of scrimmage.