An improbable division championship, a stellar swan song and record-setting performances highlight the last regular season NFL Recap.
2020 NFL Week 17 Recap
January 4, 2021, 4:10 AM
Forget how sloppy the final game of the regular season was (and the entire season for the NFC East, really) — the historical context of what Washington just did is pretty breathtaking. First team in NFL history to start 2-7 or worse and make the playoffs. Only the fifth team to advance to the postseason with a losing record. Ron Rivera overcomes cancer to become the first Washington coach since 1943 to win a division title in his first season and does it with Alex Smith playing quarterback on a rebuilt leg. Now, the Burgundy and Gold get Tom Brady’s Bucs as a reward — and cinch Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young wants all of it. Call me crazy, but it’s actually not a bad matchup for Washington.
Yet, it’s hard to fully embrace this division title when it basically came by default. I don’t care what Doug Pederson says: His were not the actions of a coach trying to win a game, but of one who has been told he’ll be back in 2021 no matter what. Eagles brass needs to reevaluate that more than Nate Sudfeld.
It was good to see D.K. Metcalf break Steve Largent’s single-season receiving yardage record, and I’m president of the “Let Russ Cook” fan club, but this Seattle offense doesn’t look playoff ready after needing three quarters to get in the end zone against an injury-depleted San Fran defense. If the Seahawks aren’t careful, their postseason stay will be brief.
And while most of us made the New Year’s’ resolution to be healthy in 2021, San Francisco relates to it in a very special way. If the 49ers can get healthy and upgrade the QB position — both starter and backup — this is a Super Bowl contender again.
John Wolford’s historic first start was only good enough to beat an Arizona squad playing a tatted-up QB who had never thrown a pass in the NFL. The Rams should be careful what they wish for — they’ll get no such benefits in Seattle next week.
Despite my high expectations, the Cardinals have missed the playoffs for the fifth straight season thanks largely to four losses to teams with losing records. Consider this the initial warming of Kliff Kingsbury’s seat.
If Jon Gruden still isn’t over last week, maybe he can just have Maxx Crosby block it out for him. Dude earned the extra X in his name with all that Dikembe Mutombo stuff he was doing in Denver. Regardless of Gruden’s hefty contract, the NFL’s most overrated coach needs to turn this offensive firepower into a playoff berth or the 2021 season could be his last.
I know the pandemic basically neutered home-field advantage in NFL games this season, but the Broncos going 2-6 at home is pretty embarrassing. This team is too talented to be 5-11, and Vic Fangio probably has one more chance to get Denver back on the right side of .500.
New Orleans doesn’t have home-field advantage, but the Saints can march into any stadium and win based on what they’ve shown this season. Without any of their running backs, the Saints rushed for 156 yards, Drew Brees looked more like his old self than an old man, and the defense registered three sacks and five (five!) interceptions. The Bears won’t enjoy their trip to the Bayou.
Meanwhile, Teddy Bridgewater’s year-end goal fell woefully short, and he didn’t even finish the game for Carolina, which now has back to back 11-loss seasons for the first time in franchise history. This is a young team, so 2021 will tell us more about who the Panthers really are.
No matter what happens with coach Anthony Lynn, Los Angeles has to feel good about its future with Justin Herbert at quarterback. This might be the last time this decade we see a losing season for the Chargers.
I’m on record saying I think it’s counterproductive to choose rest over momentum, and it could bite Kansas City in the butt considering how unimpressive the team has been in recent weeks. The AFC is stacked with some of the hottest teams in the league, and the Chiefs might wish they tried to get their mojo back before trying to take them on.
All hail King Henry.
Derrick Henry’s back-to-back rushing titles already put him in Hall of Fame company, but his 250-yard demolition clinched him the eighth 2,000-yard campaign and the fifth-best rushing season in NFL history. Henry and the Ravens defense really are like Batman and the Joker: an unstoppable force and an immovable object destined to do this forever.
I can’t say enough how much Houston deserves Deshaun Watson and the Texans organization does not. How are you so terrible that you put his name in the same sentence as Jeff George?
It turns out this wasn’t Philip Rivers’ last game. That comes Saturday in Buffalo. But until then, give it up for Jonathan Taylor setting the Colts franchise record with 253 rushing yards in a game. It’ll be interesting to see if Indy tries to rehabilitate Carson Wentz, which would be a damn good long-term option at QB if Frank Reich can pull it off.
Jacksonville is officially on the clock for the first pick in the 2021 NFL draft. The Jaguars wouldn’t hire Urban Meyer or Ryan Day and then take Sugar Bowl hero Justin Fields, would they?
Aaron Rodgers has been openly campaigning for MVP, but this closing argument may have been more convincing than his actual words. A-Rod had more TD passes than Green Bay had punts this season, and even without David Bakhtiari watching his blind side, Rodgers should be able to lead the Pack to victory on the Frozen Tundra twice to hammer home the point.
Chicago, however, promises to have what amounts to a playoff cameo. Don’t let his late-season improvement fool you: Mitchell Trubisky is basically Blake Bortles 2.0, and the Bears shouldn’t be seduced into paying him top dollar to stick around.
Perhaps the only impressive aspect of this ugly game is that Daniel Jones basically told Dallas the game plan, and Big Blue still found a way to win. Still, it wasn’t enough to back into a division title, and the Giants spent Sunday night bellyaching about it. Hey, maybe win more than six games and you won’t have to rely on a last place division rival to do your work for you!
It should be an interesting offseason in Dallas, where the Cowboys are already setting themselves up for more mediocrity and foolishly thinking they’re close to contention despite failing to win the worst division in the league. Never change, Jerry Jones.
How’s this for a statement? Baltimore rushed for a franchise-record 404 yards — the most in the NFL since 1950 — Lamar Jackson became the first QB to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons and the Ravens defense had more take-aways (two) than first down conversions allowed (one). Baltimore beat Tennessee as a wild card on the way to a Super Bowl victory in Tampa 20 years ago, and history has a funny way of repeating itself.
It certainly repeats itself in Cincinnati, where the Bengals have a string of five straight losing seasons, and even with Joe Burrow as their franchise quarterback don’t seem likely to break that trend anytime soon. Cincy may look for better, but I wouldn’t expect it.
Go ahead and hand Kevin Stefanski the Coach of the Year award now. Not just because the rookie head coach led Cleveland to its first playoff berth since 2002, but because his reward for ending the NFL’s longest postseason drought is playing the Pittsburgh Steelers again — just like they did in the 2002 wild card round. Browns fans have to hope for a game just as thrilling but with a different ending.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh may have mended some fences with this rivalry loss, but the Steelers may regret not dispatching this Browns team earlier by playing their starters and going for the win. Even with a rested Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh looks vulnerable to a home upset.
Tampa Bay has the top NFC wild card but may come to Washington without its top receiver fresh off his historic accomplishment. Tom Brady still has enough weapons to get out of the wild card round — including his buddy Antonio Brown, to whom he’s literally handing money — but it’s hard seeing the Bucs make a deep playoff run without a healthy Mike Evans.
Even with this loss, Atlanta would be wise to give Raheem Morris serious consideration for the full time head coaching gig. The Falcons were markedly better with him at the helm, and Morris seems to have learned enough from his failed stint in Tampa to be an asset to a franchise wise enough to give him a second chance. This would be a great Plan B to Eric Bieniemy.
Still don’t think Buffalo is for real? Against a division opponent playing for its season, the Bills had their second-highest scoring output in franchise history against the league’s top scoring defense. Their six straight double-digit wins to close out the regular season put them in some elite company. This feels like a team of destiny.
Even though Miami made the wrong kind of history in this loss, the Dolphins have no reason to hang their heads. Going 10-6 in the second year of a massive rebuild is a big leap forward, and they’ll have the third and 18th overall picks in the draft to further bolster an already-solid roster. It looks like this Fins-Bills rivalry will define the AFC East for years to come — a refreshing change after New England’s decades of domination.
Now that’s the Cam Newton I know and love.
Even with his four-touchdown swan song in New England, Cam is the first primary starter since 1970 to finish a season with more rushing touchdowns (12) than passing touchdowns (eight). Even if he’s not at his 2015 MVP form, Washington should kick his tires this offseason.
And, remember this: No matter how bad 2020 was, it was fired before Adam Gase. I pity the fool who gives him a third crack at being a head coach.
Justin Jefferson may have broken Randy Moss’s rookie yardage record, but the latter had a whopping 17 touchdowns in that stellar 1998 season. No rookie is touching that any time soon.
If Detroit is smart — and the last three-plus decades of futility would suggest the Lions organization is not — they’ll pull the trigger on hiring Marvin Lewis. I’ve already explained why he’s the most underrated coach of the 21st century, and he deserves another chance at being a head coach.
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