It’s really dawning on me now what a blatant cash-grab the 17 game regular season is. I mean, we all knew it was, but hell it’s really feeling like it now.
Is anyone really thinking right now “man, I totally want two more games of the regular season.” Unless you’re on the playoff bubble it makes no sense, and it’s just artificially increasing a season that needs to end for a multitude of reasons. Perhaps the lesson here is: If you nonsensically want players to keep competing deeper into the year, maybe wait until there in’t a global pandemic.
Who am I kidding? This is the NFL, nothing matters more than making money.
So for the first loser this week I’ve got to say it’s all of us. No matter what team you’re pulling for, everything feels meaningless. In the NFC there are five teams who still have something to play for. In the AFC that number is seven. Yes, I know there’s seeding and home field advantage to consider, but if we get to brass tacks this fundamentally means that the next two weeks are meaningless to 62.5 percent of the league. That number will likely soar if we fast-forward to what could happen in Week 17, which could result in the final week of the regular season only mattering to three or four teams out of 32. To make matters worse, this is the new normal.
Essentially we traded a meaningless preseason game for a meaningless regular season game. Theoretically that all comes out in the wash, but it feels a lot easier to ignore football in August than January. I just don’t like this. As a fan of the Panthers I just want the plug pulled on the mess that is 2021, and please fire Matt Rhule too.
Anyway, it is what it is. I know whining about it won’t achieve anything, but this is soothing for my soul to scream into the void. Now, let’s jump around the league to see what mattered in Week 16.
Winner: Wait … are the Colts one of the best teams in the AFC now?
I think this will really get lost in the shuffle because the game happened on Christmas Day, but damn Indianapolis’ win over the Cardinals was impressive. I know Arizona is banged up, but so is every team right now.
Nobody in the NFL is benefitting more from the 17 game season than the Colts, who have turned from being a 1-4 team on October 11, to now being 9-6 and really in control of their own destiny. In the last two weeks Indy faces the Raiders and Jaguars, which really should amount to two wins.
That would finish the 2021 campaign at 11-6. This season has progressed from the Colts being dead in the water, to a bubble team, to now becoming a top seed. Carson Wentz and Jonathan Taylor are doing enough on offense behind a stout offensive line, and the defense is showing they can really limit some of the best offensives in the NFL — holding the Cardinals to 16 points this week, while stuffing the likes of New England and Buffalo along the way. This isn’t a “win by default” situation. The Colts are earning it, and seem to be just getting better and better.
Loser: Oh, Ravens what is you doing baby?
I know Baltimore has been injury ravaged this season, but I still don’t know if you can justify the collapse that’s been happening over the past month. The Ravens are 0-4 over this stretch, dropping three games in the AFC North in the process. I don’t think anyone would consider losing to the Steelers, Browns AND Bengals the mark of a top-tier playoff team, and yeah, this team isn’t.
The Ravens are tentatively holding on to the No. 7 spot in the AFC playoff picture. With the Rams and Steelers yet to come, I’m not sure if they have the ammo needed to make it in 2021. It would be the most profound disappointment in the league for a team once expected to be elite.
And I think it’s going to happen.
Winner: Joe Burrow, conquerer of worlds
We all knew Joe Burrow was good, right? I mean, his rookie season showed that he could absolutely be one of the best teams in the NFL with a little nurturing. Well, that’s happened in 2021.
It’s been a remarkably quiet 4,000 yard season for Burrow, who simply went off in Week 16 by throwing for 525 yards and four touchdowns in one of the most perfect NFL games you could ever see statistically. It pushed Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase over 1,000 on the season, giving the Bengals one of the best young offensive nuclei in the league.
This wasn’t just a huge individual performance, but could be the difference in the Bengals winning the AFC North a year after being the worst team in the league.
Loser: The Chargers’ plunging mediocrity
I can’t defend this team anymore. They have become a mess. It’s not fair that the Chargers will always be mired in middling seasons, but I don’t know what could possibly change it at this point.
Could they make the postseason with the Broncos and Raiders to go? Absolutely. Am I confident they will? Hell no.
Winner: The … Texans?
So hear me out: I don’t care if the Texans are one of the worst teams in the NFL, or that they beat the Chargers. The focus here should be Davis Mills.
It’s not the kind of rookie season that blows your socks off, but Mills has been absolutely solid for third round pick arriving on a franchise with a dearth of talent like Houston. There’s plenty of development that still needs to happen, but he’s a damn sight better than anyone expected.
Houston still needs to fix its myriad roster problems, but at least quarterback tentatively looks like it might have a future? Weird when you think about it.
Loser: Matt Rhule’s optimism
This is so bad.
Rhule taking the long view on what has to be done: “There are are key areas we have to fix. But I believe 1,000 percent it’s working.”
— Darin Gantt (@daringantt) December 26, 2021
News flash: Nothing is working in Carolina.
Loser: Washington … woof
Losing to the Cowboys? Bad.
Fighting because of them? Really bad.
Destroying your playoff chances in the process? Welp.
It’s been a terrible, horrible, no-good few weeks since Washington looked ready to make a playoff push. That all culminated on Sunday with a backbreaking loss.