Remember when Bills head coach Sean McDermott decided to bench Tyrod Taylor and start Nathan Peterman in Week 11 against the Chargers? Everybody was confused, because the Bills were squarely in the playoff hunt. Now it’s coming back to haunt them.
Taylor was benched after a poor showing in the Bills’ 47-10 loss to the Saints in Week 10. At the time, the Bills were 5-3 and in the playoff mix. Peterman was thrust into the starting role in Week 11 and promptly threw five picks in a single half before being replaced by Taylor.
But the damage was already done. The Chargers took it to Buffalo, winning 54-24. Now the Bills are 8-7 and they’re still in contention for an AFC wild card spot. They’ll need the Ravens, Titans, and Chargers to lose in Week 17. If that happens, they should make the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season. But if they’d started Taylor and managed to beat the Chargers, this team could already have locked up a wild card spot.
Panic index: Taylor didn’t have a good game against the Saints, but it still made no sense to bench him and roll with Peterman. The Bills may very well find themselves watching the playoffs from home, and you can chalk it up partly to McDermott’s decision to bench Taylor back in Week 11.
The Falcons may play themselves right out of playoff contention
The Falcons had a shot to punch their ticket to the playoffs on Sunday against their most bitter rival, the Saints, and they couldn’t get it done. Sloppy, undisciplined play and mental mistakes may push the Falcons right out of the postseason mix.
Atlanta got flagged for 10 penalties against the Saints on Sunday. They let the Saints defense sack Matt Ryan five times. The Falcons are No. 1 in the league this season on third down after successfully converting 45.3 percent of them. They converted a measly two third downs out of 13 attempts against the Saints.
The offense has taken an obvious step back without Kyle Shanahan. It would be easy to pin it all on new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, but it’s not all Sark’s fault. Atlanta is tied at the top of the NFL for drops this season with 28. Julio Jones has seven of those, which puts him second in the league.
Panic index: The only way for the Falcons to get that 28-3 taste out of their mouths is with another trip to the Super Bowl. Penalties, mistakes, and offensive regression are making that look like a very long shot.
Star Wars ruined Blake Bortles
Blake Bortles was in the midst of, by far, his best month of the season before Christmas Eve. The Jaguars quarterback entered Week 16 with a 3-0 record in December, leading the league in yards per attempt and TD-to-interception ration during that time.
Then on Sunday against the 49ers, he reverted back to old Blake Bortles, throwing his first pick-six of the season just a year after he was on a record-setting pace for them. Bortles, who hadn’t turned the ball over at all this month, finished with a three-interception day in a 44-33 loss.
So what changed? Well, he finally watched Star Wars for the first time ever (Episode IV, that is. So please take your The Last Jedi opinions elsewhere). Jags offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, noted Star Wars superfan, has been trying for years to get Bortles to get versed in Wookie talk, but Bortles had resisted — until this past weekend, when he caved and watched the original film on the team’s flight to California.
It’s not like Bortles nerded out and became so obsessed that he demanded the team reroute to Skywalker Ranch instead of prep for the game. Nope, Bortles fell asleep — triggering a great disturbance in the Force that let the AFC South champion Jaguars lose to the NFC West bottom-dweller Niners.
Panic index: There’s reason to worry about Bortles’ ability to take the Jaguars deep into January, but don’t blame Star Wars. We always knew BB-8 Blake Bortles was only so long for this world, so be prepared to see more of BB-9E Blake Bortles again.
The Browns are really gonna do this, huh?
The Cleveland Browns are knocking on the 0-16 door. They’ve basically kicked the damn thing down at this point. They’d become the second team in NFL history to go 0-16, unless they can somehow beat the Steelers on Sunday (lol).
The Browns haven’t been competitive in very many games this season, and the last time they played Pittsburgh, they came within three points in a 21-18 loss.
Perhaps they’ll have a greater chance on Sunday, assuming the Steelers sit starters for a good chunk of the game. Either way, it’s a bad look for Hue Jackson who would — at best -- finish with a 2-30 record in two seasons as Browns coach.
But of course, not all is bad in losing:
The Browns have clinched the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) December 24, 2017
They will be the 5th team in the common draft era to pick #1 overall in back-to-back drafts (last team to do so was 1999-2000 Browns)
Of course, you’d prefer to *not* go 0-16 in the process of getting that top pick. But at this point, it seems inevitable.
Panic index: At least they’ll get a parade out of it.
The Philadelphia Eagles have not looked like the high-flying and fun team we watched prior to Carson Wentz’s ACL injury. On Monday night against the Raiders, the Eagles put out their worst offensive performances of the season in their 13-10 win.
It doesn’t seem like Nick Foles is going to be the guy who can carry the Eagles to the Super Bowl. His numbers haven’t been terrible in his six appearances this season. He’s completed 59 percent of his passes for 498 yards, five touchdowns, and just one interception. But he was 19 of 38 with 163 yards, one touchdown, and one interception against a 21st-ranked passing defense by the Raiders.
The good news for the Eagles? They haven’t lost at home this season, and secured home-field advantage throughout the postseason:
That first-round bye is good, but going to make their first challenge in the postseason a difficult one. It’s similar to when the Cowboys had a 13-3 regular season, and lost in the Divisional round to the Packers.
With Wentz out, this feels all too familiar.
Panic index: If Foles plays like he did in his first start this season, the Eagles have a chance. But Monday night’s performance doesn’t give much hope in that regard.