By John Jastremski
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So another week of football is in the books, and there is still so much to determine over the final two weeks of the season. Division titles, playoff berths, draft order!
This week is ultra special. NFL football on Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday! Where do I sign??
It always bothered me that the NFL discontinued the Saturday doubleheaders. There was no reason to do so, especially once the college season came to a close. Thankfully the NFL received my memo and restarted a terrific holiday tradition.
So even though Titans-Jaguars is one of the worst primetime games you will ever see, just imagine a cold day in February without football. It’ll have you dying for such a matchup, no matter how lousy it may be!
So What Did We Learn This Week?
The Dallas Cowboys Won The Biggest Game Of The Jason Garrett Era
There’s no secret that the Dallas Cowboys have struggled quite a bit in the month of December over the last couple of years. Historically, whenever they’ve played one of these primetime, must-win games late in the year, the Cowboys have folded up like a cheap suit.
On Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys showed me something I have not seen during the Jason Garrett era. Toughness and resiliency.
The Cowboys jumped out to a 21-0 lead. The game had blowout written all over it, but the Eagles responded with 24 consecutive points and a three-point lead midway through the third quarter.
Lincoln Financial Field was rocking, Bradley Cooper was cheering and I guarantee the thought process for many of you watching the game was, “Here we go again! Same old Cowboys!”
However, from that point forward, the Cowboys responded. They marched right down the field on their next possession for a touchdown and outscored the Eagles, 17-3, the rest of the way.
Considering the way the Eagles beat the Cowboys down on Thanksgiving Day, this was such a terrific bounce-back performance for them. They needed this game in the worst way, and I loved the way they were able to respond.
It’s not something you are used to seeing from Garrett-coached teams. This display of intestinal fortitude may end up being the difference in the NFC East race.
The Cowboys control their own destiny. If they can beat the Colts and the Redskins the next two weeks, they can qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2009 and the first time under Garrett.
Now that intestinal fortitude may be put to the test with the possible absence of Murray, but I think this Cowboys team is ready for the challenge, regardless.
Call me crazy, but I think Jerry Jones might be able to print those playoff tickets after all!
Three’s A Crowd? Not In The AFC North
Sunday was a terrific day for three of the four teams in the AFC North. The Steelers, Ravens and Bengals all put themselves in excellent position to get into the postseason with their wins on Sunday.
Last year it was the AFC West with three playoff teams. This year it very well could be the AFC North.
The division race will, without question, come down to the final game of the season, and I think the Baltimore Ravens have to be the favorites to win the division.
Baltimore has the easiest schedule of the three teams vying for the division crown. The Ravens travel to Houston to take on a third-string quarterback and will take on Johnny Football and the Browns at home in Week 17.
You compare that to the Bengals’ schedule (Broncos, @ Steelers) and the Steelers’ schedule (Chiefs & Bengals), and it’s easy to like the Ravens’ chances.
The fact that this division has been so strong throughout the season will really help these teams once they get into the postseason.
All three are battle-tested and all three have postseason experience, but I’ll say that the Ravens and Steelers are much more dangerous. Here’s why: The Steelers and Ravens have big-time quarterbacks in Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco, respectively.
You can’t say the same about Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals.
Dalton will have to take the next step as a player if the Bengals want to make a run to the playoffs and play into the month of January. And I’m not buying that he’s up for the challenge.
The Road To The Super Bowl May Not Run Through Lambeau
The Buffalo Bills may have cost the Green Bay Packers home-field advantage in the NFC. The Bills’ defense shut down a future HOF quarterback for the second straight week in a 19-13 win over the Packers.
Aaron Rodgers and the high-powered Green Bay offense was all out of sorts against the very talented Buffalo defense. Rodgers statistically had the worst performance of his NFL career. He was 17 of 42 for 185 yards, throwing no touchdowns and two interceptions. You would think you were looking at a Geno Smith stat line!
Credit the Buffalo defense and Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, but this dud by the Packers could end up being very costly.
Yes, the Packers still control their own destiny in the NFC North and could easily end up with a first-round bye. However, if the Seahawks and Packers finish in a two-way tie atop the NFC, the Packers will have to travel to Qwest Field to play a possible NFC Championship Game because of that Week 1 loss to the defending champs.
This would be Mike McCarthy’s worst nightmare. The Packers are talented and have the best quarterback in football, but it’s a tall order winning in Seattle. The Seahawks have it all, folks: a top defense that has rediscovered that killer instinct, a great running game and Russell Wilson’s playmaking ability. Scary stuff.
There’s no shame in losing to an improving Buffalo Bills team, but it could end up being very costly for the Green Bay Packers.
If I’m a Packers fan, I’m rooting hard for either the Cardinals or Rams to knock off the Seahawks, because it’s going to be awfully tough to win an NFC Title Game in Seattle.
JJ’s Studmuffin Of The Week
Dez Bryant — WR — Dallas Cowboys
I was hosting a show a few weeks ago, and a caller mentioned that Dez Bryant never shows up in big games. I didn’t buy it for one minute, and certainly that theory was proven wrong on Sunday Night Football.
In what was an absolute must-win for the Cowboys on Sunday, Bryant was as good as it gets.
Bryant caught six passes for 114 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-27 victory over the Eagles. The Eagles’ secondary tried just about everything to slow him down and had no answers whatsoever.
I’m sure Sunday’s effort will only enhance Bryant’s leverage at the end of the year when he becomes a free agent.
Memo to Jones: Pay the man!
JJ’s Charlie Brown Of The Week
Johnny Manziel — QB — Cleveland Browns
All right, now we know everyone enjoys JJ eating some crow. So here we go. Johnny Manziel was as bad as it gets on Sunday against the Bengals. He couldn’t get the stagnant Browns offense in high gear, he turned the football over and he looked very much like a rookie in his first-ever NFL start.
Johnny Football’s stat line was pretty ugly. He was 10 of 18 for 80 yards, throwing no touchdowns and two interceptions. I don’t think he’ll be putting that box score next to his Heisman Trophy anytime soon.
I’ve been very critical of Brian Hoyer, so I have to be fair. Manziel was awful. He simply didn’t get it done and was unsuccessful in providing a spark to the Cleveland Browns’ offense.
However, don’t bury Johnny Football quite yet. He still has a long career ahead of him, and you hope he can have a moment like Eli Manning had back in 2004.
Manning’s rookie season, in which he took over for Kurt Warner, was a nightmare. He looked overmatched at times, and his poor play all but took the Giants out of playoff contention. But as history tells us, Tom Coughlin and the New York Giants made the right call.
It was time to learn something about your rookie quarterback, and you did on the final night of the season.
In Week 17 of the 2004 season, Manning led a game-winning drive to defeat the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football.
It was a meaningless game, but the lasting image of Manning leading the way carried Giants fans’ optimism into the next season. If you watched that game, you felt a lot better about your first-round pick.
I’m predicting that Johnny Football will have his own Eli Manning moment over the next two weeks.
Game Of The Week
Kansas City (8-6) @ Pittsburgh (9-5)
This should be a terrific scene at Heinz Field on Sunday. Both of these teams need this game in the absolute worst way. The Steelers still control their own destiny in the AFC North, but they must beat the Chiefs and Bengals over the next two weeks. No easy task.
On the other hand, Kansas City needs to win out to have any sort of shot of qualifying for the postseason as a wild card.
The matchup to watch is the much-improved Steelers offensive line going up against two of the best pass rushers in the NFL in Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. If Roethlisberger has time to throw the football, I would expect him to make big plays galore like he has all season long.
In order to win on Sunday, the Chiefs must pressure Roethlisberger and have to look to establish Jamaal Charles early and often. Considering the Chiefs do not have one of the most explosive offensives in the league, this cannot be a shootout in the Steel City.
JJ’s Lock Of The Week (4-3)
Ravens -3.5 @ Houston
I look at this game as a total mismatch. The Ravens have one of the best pass rushes in the league, and the Houston Texans are going to be starting either Case Keenum or Thad Lewis.
The Ravens need this one in the worst way, and Houston will be unable to exploit their lousy secondary.
I expect the Ravens to win this one with relative ease.
JJ’s Sucker Bet Of The Week (3-4)
Tennessee +3 @ Jacksonville
There’s an old adage that whenever you have a battle of 2-11 teams, you take the points whenever you can.
I’m going against that conventional wisdom. The Titans are even more of a dumpster fire than the Jaguars.
The Jaguars have played hard for Gus Bradley over the last couple of weeks and at least still have their starter in place with Blake Bortles.
The Titans are down to their third-string quarterback in Charlie Whitehurst. I’ll take my chances with the home team.
Besides, I have to pick this game! I need some reason to watch come Thursday night!
Trust me, this matchup is as bad as it gets. But on a cold day in Febuary, you’ll be dying for a little Titans-Jaguars!
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: Thursday and Friday on CBS Sports Radio (2-6 a.m.) and Sunday and next Monday on WFAN (2-6 a.m.). Follow him on Twitter —@john_jastremski.
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