Sanchez, Seahawks, Manziel, Brees On Fire; Week 14 Loaded With Playoff Implications


By John Jastremski
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After one of the best football weekends in quite a while, this is a good time to unwind, digest and examine a playoff picture and an NFL landscape that makes a lot more sense heading into the final month of the season. If you were locked in from the start of Thursday’s tripleheader all the way through Sunday night, you learned quite a bit.

For example, the Thanksgiving action provided one tale of JJ looking like an absolute genius and the other made your’s truly look like an absolute fool. I’ll explain.

So What Did We Learn This Week?

Eagles put the NFC East & JJ on notice

When it’s time to eat some crow, it’s time to eat some crow. I could not have been more wrong when it came to last Thursday’s NFC East showdown between Dallas and Philadelphia.  I expected the Cowboys to win the matchup for two reasons; superior quarterback and offensive line play.

However, the tables were turned early Thursday afternoon.

The Eagles routed the Cowboys 33-10 in a game that was never in doubt. Mark Sanchez was brilliant. He did not turn the football over, he set a tone from the absolute get go and outplayed Tony Romo from start to finish.

Philadelphia’s gameplan was brilliant. Chip Kelly’s play-calling had the Cowboys’ defense off balance all game long. The Eagles set the point of attack, gave Sanchez time to make plays against a pourous Dallas secondary and received a monster effort from Shady McCoy.

On the other side of the ball, I think the Eagles front four was sick and tired of hearing about how dominant the Cowboys offensive line was all week long. The Eagles’ pass rush dominated the matchup and there was never a point in this game you felt Dallas was going to be able to respond.

With the win, the tables have turned tremendously in the NFC East and playoff picture. The Eagles currently own the tiebreaker and have a better divisional record than the Cowboys. They appear to be the front runners to win this division for the second consecutive year.

As for the Cowboys, they may find themselves in a usual predicament — high stress, meaningful December football.

Seahawks have rediscovered ‘The Eye Of The Tiger’

Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks dives to make the line of scrimmage against the tackle of Justin Smith #94 of the San Francisco 49ers in the second quarter at Levi's Stadium on November 27, 2014 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks dives to make the line of scrimmage against the tackle of Justin Smith of the San Francisco 49ers in the second quarter at Levi’s Stadium on Nov. 27, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

I remember watching the Seattle Seahawks last season. They were a tenacious, ball-hawking defense that was nearly impossible to play against. For most of this 2014 season, they haven’t looked the same.

The Seahawks looked like a football team in the midst of a Super Bowl hangover and I certainly wondered whether or not they would be able to find that edge here in 2014.

I don’t know if the Seahawks hung out with Apollo Creed out in Southern California like Rocky did after losing to Clubber Lang, but this looks like a football team that has rediscovered its killer instinct.

After watching the Seahawks over the last two weeks, I am ready to admit they are back. They were dominant two weeks ago against the Arizona Cardinals and in a rematch of the NFC championship game, the Seahawks put on a defensive clinic against Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers.

The Seahawks held the 49ers to less than 200 yards of total offense and had the talented quarterback guessing the entire game. They were physical, hard hitting and showed off the swagger we saw back in 2013.

The face of Seahawks’ swagger, Richard Sherman, had his best game of the season on Turkey Day. He picked off two passes and was back to being his usual chatty self.

The Seahawks are back to being a legitimate title contender because they have found their identity once again. Defense will lead the way, Marshawn Lynch will run the football and Russell Wilson will make enough plays to win you football games.

The formula worked in 2013 and you know what they say — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

It’s time for ‘Johnny Football’ in Cleveland

Quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Cleveland Browns warms up before a preseason game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on August 18, 2014 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Quarterback Johnny Manziel of the Cleveland Browns warms up before a preseason game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on Aug. 18, 2014 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

With the way the Cleveland Browns started this season, I figured it would be almost impossible for head coach Mike Pettine to change quarterbacks. Brian Hoyer led them to a 7-4 record and has had his moments, but after watching Hoyer the last two weeks, it’s time for a change.

Hoyer has played horrific football of late, tossing five interceptions over the last two games. The Browns won in spite of Hoyer last week against the Atlanta Falcons.

Here’s a more troubling sign. Over the last month, Hoyer has only thrown one touchdown with six interceptions and a horrific 53.6 completion percentage.

Coming off the bench, Manziel looked the part in the loss to the Buffalo Bills last weekend. On his first NFL series, he led an 80-yard touchdown drive, showing off the athleticism, zip and exciting brand of quarterback play we saw at the collegiate level at Texas A&M.

At 7-5, maybe it is unfair to bench Hoyer when he’s led this team to a winning record for the first time in seven years, but I think it’s a time for the Browns to be bold.

To me, their offense has maxed out with Hoyer. He is what he is, a stopgap, run-of-the-mill quarterback. I think Manziel has a chance to be a star and maybe he can be the difference maker for the Browns down the stretch to put them over the hump in the wild AFC playoff picture.

After 13 weeks, it’s time for “Johnny Football” to take the reigns in Cleveland.

JJ’s Studmuffin of the Week

Drew Brees — QB — Saints

Drew Brees (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Drew Brees (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Considering that JJ After Dark doesn’t get off the air until 6 a.m. on Sunday, I usually don’t invest any time watching the Sunday pregame shows. However this Sunday, I rolled out of bed a little bit earlier.

Never again.

I’m sitting around getting ready for my football Sunday and I have to hear a report that the New Orleans Saints are thinking about a quarterback next year in the first round to replace Drew Brees?? Now, I’m aware this hasn’t been a vintage Brees season by any means, but considering the problems with that team, the quarterback is at the bottom of the list.

I guess Brees read the same memo, because he turned back the clock against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, throwing for 257 yards and five touchdowns in a 35-32 road victory. Believe it or not, the 5-7 Saints are still in prime position to get back to the postseason.

Isn’t it a thing of beauty to play in the NFC South?

Charlie Brown of the Week

The Giants

Odell Beckham of the New York Giants is stopped by Dwayne Gratz #27 and Telvin Smith #50 of the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second half of the game at EverBank Field on November 30, 2014 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

Odell Beckham, center, of the New York Giants is stopped by Dwayne Gratz, left, and Telvin Smith of the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second half of the game at EverBank Field on Nov. 30, 2014 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

For the second straight week a New York football team receives this dubious honor. The Giants hit rock bottom on Sunday, squandering a 21-0 lead to the Jacksonville Jaguars, one of the worst teams in the league.

Seriously, I just did yet another double-take. How in the world did the Giants lose that football game? Here’s why. The Giants in 2014 are a bad football team. Bad football teams find ways to lose.

The Giants fumbled twice, leading to not one but two Jacksonville touchdowns!  You couldn’t make that up if you tried! This team is a mess! They don’t protect Eli Manning. They don’t get after the quarterback. And does a Perry Fewell defense have any idea how to handle the read-option???

The Giants have now lost seven consecutive games and I think you’ve reached a point of no return with this current regime. Tom Coughlin and Jerry Reese accomplished a great deal together, but the last few seasons have turned ugly. Fair or unfair, it’s time for change.

Game of the Week

Ravens (7-5) @ Dolphins (7-5)

There are so many matchups with real juicy playoff ramifications, but this game is almost a must have at this point for both of these teams. Considering the importance of tiebreakers, you almost look at this game as one that could decide one of the final playoff spots in the AFC.

The Ravens lost a crushing game last Sunday to the San Diego Chargers, and, considering the fact that they lost both games to the Cincinnati Bengals, it puts them at a serious disadvantage in the AFC North.

However, this is a game that could really propel the Ravens in the wild card race. Historically, Baltimore has owned Miami. The Dolphins have not beaten the Ravens in seven years and were eliminated by Baltimore in the 2008 playoffs.

Obviously, a lot has changed since that game, but the Dolphins need to figure out what is wrong with their run defense. After having one of the best units in the league, it was gashed for more than 200 yards in back-to-back weeks. If Justin Forsett has similar success it is going to be a long afternoon for Miami.

JJ’s Lock of the Week (4-1)

Saints -9.5 vs. Pamthers

The Saints are 5-7 and there’s no denying they have underachieved this season. However, they are currently tied for first in the NFC South. They welcome the Carolina Panthers, who are an absolute mess on both sides of the ball. They can’t protect Cam Newton, they can’t run it and they can’t stop anyone.

Seems like a recipe for disaster. And let’s think about this for a minute. Are the Saints really going to lose four consecutive home games? Against this awful Panthers team?

Didn’t think so.

Saints -9.5

Sucker Bet of the Week (2-3)

Rams -2.5 @ Redskins

Now, I’ll be to first to tell you, out of all of the juicy matchups on deck in Week 14, this is one of the worst games. In fact, it is downright miserable. However, something tells me there will be a little Colt McCoy magic on Sunday.

Yes, the Rams are playing pretty good football at the moment, but this just reeks of a letdown. Alfred Morris should be able to have his way on the ground and I just cannot justify laying points on the road with Shaun Hill at quarterback.

Sometimes a sucker bet just stands out. This is one of them.

Redskins +2.5

John Jastremski was the winner of Fantasy Phenom in 2011 and can be heard on his program, “JJ After Dark,” on WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. This week: Friday 10 p.m.-2 a.m. (CBS Sports Radio), Sunday 2-6 a.m. (WFAN) and Monday 10 p.m.-2 a.m. (CBS Sports Radio). Follow him on Twitter — @john_jastremski

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