Cowboys suffer letdown; Patriots’ huge blunder; Eagles in cruise control: 3 up, 3 down

From a wild comeback in Minnesota to an unbelievable finish in Las Vegas, Week 15 delivered an awesome slate of NFL action. Here’s who is trending up and down around the league.

UP

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles and Cowboys both entered Sunday as favorites in their respective road games before their big NFC East matchup next weekend. It was the perfect setup for a trap game, where you’re looking ahead to the following game and the effort level can wan against a weaker opponent. The Cowboys lost (more on that below), while the Eagles handled business, beating the Bears by five points after being down for most of the first half. The Eagles had three turnovers and allowed the Bears to rush for 157 yards. It was not their best effort, but they won while their division rival lost. That is what elite teams do. Win when you’re not playing your best. An Eagles’ win next Sunday against the Cowboys will give them the division crown.

Hurts leads the Eagles to hard-fought win over Bears

Hurts leads the Eagles to hard-fought win over Bears

Jalen Hurts had 315 passing yards and added 61 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns in beating Chicago.

Reseeding of the playoffs

Playoff seeding is done simply. The winner of each division, no matter their record, will host at least one playoff game. The wild-card teams are seeded five through seven based on their records. While I’m generally for structure in sports, it might be time to rethink NFL playoff seeding. A solution? Seed the playoffs by record, throwing out division records, and just seeding by record top to bottom. This would be the perfect year for that to happen.

A team has to win the NFC South. None of the four options will have a winning record. The Buccaneers currently sit at 6-8, with the other three teams in the division at 5-9. None of these teams deserve to host a playoff game over a team like the Cowboys, who will finish with at least three more wins than either of these four teams. The four South teams have 12 combined wins outside their division. These teams have no joy. Nothing about them is fun to watch. I can totally buy the argument they should not host a playoff game. Maybe after this year, we get some change to the seeding.

Giants‘ postseason chances

As recently as last weekend, I called the Giants a pumpkin, a team that started hot but has been molding the last six weeks of the season. Well, the pumpkin has been replaced. After a grinding victory over the Commanders on Sunday night, the Giants are back in the playoff hunt and own the tiebreaker with Washington.       

The Giants won against the Commanders with their rushing attack and defense, highlighted by first-round pick Kayvon Thibodeaux. Kayvon has steadily improved with more reps, something I figured would happen once he was in the NFL. His improvement was showcased on a strip sack and fumble recovery for a touchdown. He had multiple tackles for loss in this contest as well.   

Kayvon was “redflagged” during the draft process as reports surfaced about his character, work ethic and love of the game. All of that was, excuse my language, B.S. And anyone who did a tad bit of research would have figured that out. Perhaps I’m sensitive to the way Oregon guys are discussed during the draft process because we often hear draft pundits knock high-round Ducks picks for character issues. Remember when Justin Herbert wasn’t vocal enough to be a good NFL quarterback? Just nonsense. I’m glad Kavyon has improved. He will be an impact player in New York for years to come.

DOWN

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys always get me. Every season. I buy into them being better than they are, and then they show their true colors. They are flakes. They cannot be trusted. The Cowboys were up 27-10 at Jacksonville. Just play your game and get out with a win. Nope. The Cowboys turned the ball over, couldn’t get a stop and eventually lost on a walk-off interception for the Jaguars in overtime. Dak Prescott has turned into a turnover machine, and the once fierce pass rush can be tamed enough to allow Trevor Lawrence to do whatever he wanted in the second half. The Cowboys also decided to attempt a third-and-long with under two minutes left, instead of running the ball, which would have forced the Jags to use their final timeout. Guess how the Jaguars were able to stop the clock to kick a game-tying field goal? Yep. That final timeout. This loss essentially cost them the division, as they are two back of the Eagles with a must-win next weekend against Philly.

The dumbest play … in NFL history?

The Patriots and Raiders are tied at 24 with three seconds left in regulation. The Patriots are out of field-goal range and call a draw to run out the clock. Rhamondre Stevenson takes the handoff at the New England 45 and sprints forward through a Raiders defense just trying to avoid doing something silly to cost them the game. If Stevenson can’t score, his job is to go down without turning it over and send the game goes into overtime. That is not what he did.

In a brain fart moment, Stevenson lateraled the ball to receiver Jacoby Meyers, who was trailing the play after blocking his assignment. This is when the play turned into one of the dumbest endings in NFL history. Meyers, who for no practical reason, looked to pitch the ball backwards to run the “lateral play.” However, that play was not called and absolutely not needed at that moment. The game was tied. Overtime was coming. Meyers found his target, his quarterback Mac Jones, who was a good 20 yards behind the ball just hanging out waiting for overtime. Meyers turned towards Jones and let it fly. The ball floated towards Jones, and then out of nowhere, Raiders defensive end Chandler Jones stepped in front of the toss, picked it off, trucked Jones and ran into the end zone. I do not believe Meyers started the play with the intention of making an all-time blunder, but once the ball was pitched to him his instincts took over. It’s time to run the lateral play, he must have thought. Just completely wild.

Vikings‘ Super Bowl Chances

I don’t want to be mean to the Vikings because they are doing what is asked of them. Winning football games. That is the goal of this sport. However, the Vikings are the most blah winning team in the league (Saturday’s epic comeback notwithstanding). Minnesota is 11-3 and has clinched the NFC North. They are a playoff team who will host at least one game this January. However, make no mistake, they have zero shot to win the Super Bowl, let alone the NFC conference. 

This becomes apparent the more we watch them play. The Vikings are 10-0 in one-score games, which is unsustainable. At least in theory, because the Vikings are proving everyone wrong. For starters, what does the team do well? They are 19th in yards per play on offense and 30th in the same stat on defense. They are in the bottom half of the league in pass rush and offensive line play. Of course, there’s a quality to winning despite all of these shortcomings, but those catch up to you when you’re playing better teams. I just don’t view them as a viable competitor in the conference to the Eagles, 49ers or Cowboys. They also got smoked by the Lions, who they might play in the wild-card round.

Geoff Schwartz played eight seasons in the NFL for five different teams. He started at right tackle for the University of Oregon for three seasons and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection his senior year. He is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffSchwartz.

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