This Week in the NFL: (Johnny) Football Fever

In a week that saw one Franchise quarterback consigned to the bench and another one retrieved from it, play-off places confirmed and growing concerns about Peyton Manning’s health (and his demonstration of his abilities as a Full Back), one man stole all of the headlines.

Yes, Johnny Manziel (centre, being thankful for the colour of his trousers) received his first start in a meaningful NFL game, and it did not go well. Early in the second quarter Manziel had thrown for more yards to his opposition than his own receivers, and he was largely uninspiring all night in a 30-0 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, totalling 93 all purpose yards, and completing ten of eighteen passes for two interceptions. The very next day there was an article on lambasting Head Coach Mike Pettine’s decision to start Manziel as ‘one of the worst decisions ever.’

However, the criticism Manziel has received is somewhat harsh; while I don’t believe he is even a middling quality NFL quarterback, the Browns were absolutely dominated in the trenches throughout the game, offering the rookie passer little protection on offence and allowing opposing running back Jeremy Hill to gain over 5.9 yards a clip on the ground. Indeed there was not a single position where the Browns looked to have the beating of the Bengals, despite dominating them 24-3 six weeks ago.

One thing is for certain though, Jerry Jones owes his son an amazing Christmas present for stopping him from drafting Manziel instead of Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate Zack Martin.


Benching of the Bear

Possibly the biggest story of the week, next to Johnny Manziel’s continued employment in the NFL, occurred mid week, days after the games ended with the announcement that Jay Cutler would be benched for the Bears’ divisional clash with the Lions.


Cutler is being dropped in favour of Jimmy Clausen who as a career passer rating of 58.1 – somewhere between Mark ‘Buttfumble’ Sanchez and Ryan Leaf whose name is synonymous with the very definition of a draft bust. This news comes less than a fortnight after Bears Offensive Co-ordinator Aaron Kromer told NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport that the Bears were experiencing a case of ‘buyer’s remorse’ after giving Cutler a seven year, $126.7million dollar contract in January of this year. Head Coach Mark Trestman is clearly sending a message, and the likelihood of Cutler remaining a Bear in 2015, despite over $15 million dollars guaranteed, has plummeted.

Only one Quarterback over the age of 30 has had success in their career after being benched, all others have failed to achieve winning seasons

Although there will be half a dozen teams fighting Black Friday style for the right to sign Cutler should the Bears cut him, statistically this is very likely to be a death knell in Cutler’s career. Only one Quarterback over the age of 30 has had success in their career after being benched, all others have failed to achieve winning seasons. The lone exception is two-time NFL MVP Kurt Warner, and it would have seemed unlikely Cutler would live up to Warner’s example even before the benching.

However, after a disappointing season for the ‘Quarterback Whisperer,’ there is every possibility that Trestman will be ousted before he has a chance to cut Cutler, and if this is the case, with no better options through free agency, and without a draft pick high enough for Marcus Mariota, Cutler may yet remain a Bear.


Play-off Picture

Whilst there’s been a great deal of controversy in the Quarterback position this week, there have also been key developments in the pursuit of the play-offs. Four teams clinched a play-off berth over the weekend, with the Broncos, Colts and Patriots sealing their respective divisions in the AFC, and the Cardinals confirmed for at least a Wild Card spot in the NFC. Only the AFC North and Wild Card positions remain open in the AFC. The Bengals hold a half game lead over the Steelers and Ravens in the AFC North with records of 9-4-1, 9-5 and 9-5 respectively. It is possible that all three teams could make the play-offs, but the one division winner will have valuable home field advantage in the first round of the play-offs.

The Picture in the NFC is much less clear. With one play-off spot taken by the winners of the woeful NFC South (currently being led by New Orleans at 6-8), and six teams with a record of 9-5 or better, we are very likely to see a 10-6 or 11-5 team miss out on the play-offs, so there is everything to play for for five of the NFC’s best teams in the next two weeks, and one slip up, could cost the whole season.

When the Eagles scored 24 unanswered points, the picture started looking all too familiar for Dallas fans and another December disappointment loomed

In the NFC East the Cowboys took a huge step to winning the division by beating the Eagles in Philadelphia. In what was a must win game for Dallas, they took a 21 point lead mid-way through the second quarter. However, when the Eagles scored 24 unanswered points, the picture started looking all too familiar for Dallas fans and another December disappointment loomed. Yet with the game on the line and two minutes to go, it was Mark Sanchez that threw an interception, his second of the match, and with Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant turning in his best performance of the season, the Cowboys held on to win, and took the lead in the NFC East, jumping to third seed in the play-off picture.


In the NFC North both the Packers and Lions underperformed against poorer opposition. The Bills overcame the former despite not scoring a single touchdown against one of the NFL’s most formidable Offences. Aaron Rodgers had the worst performance of his career, and misfired with his receivers, capped off by a rare Jordy Nelson drop on what surely would have been a ninety yard touchdown pass, and a Rodgers fumble resulting in a safety less than a minute later. The Lions didn’t so much seize advantage of this as just about catch it, they were less Odell Beckham wonder catch, more David Tyree helmet catch, as they limped passed a Vikings team which missed three field goals and lost two turnovers in a two point game. Though Detroit may worry that Vikings’ rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw for more than twice as many yards as Lions’ franchise Quarterback Matthew Stafford, they will just be glad to have seized leadership of the NFC North and caught up Green Bay. The Packers, meanwhile, have shown that Rodgers is mortal.

In the NFC West the Seahawks eliminated the 49ers from the play-off hunt with another emphatic display on Defence, averaging only 6.5 points against them in the last three games and flourishing with the return of third year Linebacker Bobby Wagner. The 49ers were hurt considerably by the second quarter loss of rookie Running Back Carlos Hyde, who had been averaging over nine yards per carry. The Cardinals secured their play-off berth with a victory over the Rams, despite losing yet another Quarterback to injury, in a game that finished without a single touchdown.

The less said about the NFC South the better, but a Saints victory over the Bears put them in the driving seat as the Falcons lost to the Steelers in a surprisingly close game in the Georgia Dome. However, with only a single game differentiating first place and a play-off spot, and third place and the seventh pick in the 2015 draft, any of three teams could make the play-offs by winning out.


Looking Forward

With fourteen teams still playing for their play-off future, plenty of games are must win. The Eagles can’t afford to drop a game to the Redskins on Saturday, as their divisional record is their one advantage (and the first recourse in a tie-break) over the Cowboys. Whilst the Cowboys will need to defeat Andrew Luck’s Colts – a team that has struggled against the run – without their star Running Back Demarco Murray (or at least without his left hand, on which he received surgery this week.) The Seahawks face the Cardinals on Sunday night (Monday morning) in a game that will likely decide the winner of the NFC West, and the second seed – along with the first round bye week that comes with it. Meanwhile the Packers face the Buccaneers in a rare game which both sides will want the same team to win, as the Packers chase the play-offs and the Bucanneers are doing excellently in their campaign to get the first overall draft pick in April.


By Sam Roach

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Image courtesy of The NFL & Guardian.


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