Week 15’s Top Storylines: Philip Rivers, Jameis Winston and the Frustrating Falcons
Five of the big stories to emerge this week, and whether we’re buying or selling 'em
With the Saints destroying the Colts 34-7 in New Orleans on Monday Night Football, Week 15 of the NFL season is officially in the books and open for review. While we can’t get to everything — like the Bills clinching their second playoff berth in three years and the Chicago Bears being eliminated from postseason contention — here are five of the top storylines to emerge from the football week that was, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.
Buy: The Chargers should move on from Philip Rivers
Now at 5-9 following a 39-10 defeat to the Vikings in Week 15, the Los Angeles Chargers have some big decisions to make.
L.A. turned the ball over seven times with quarterback Philip Rivers being the biggest culprit as he had three interceptions and a fumble to go along with 307 passing yards and a touchdown in the loss.
The Chargers have now lost four of their last five games and Rivers has been pretty brutal with 11 interceptions compared to just nine touchdowns throughout that stretch.
A free agent after this season, the 38-year-old has become a liability during his 16th year in the NFL and it’s time for the Chargers, who could end up with a top-10 draft pick, to move on.
Speaking after the loss to the Vikings, Rivers admitted that it’s a possibility.
“I mean, they could be (the final two games),” he said. “I don’t necessarily expect that it is, or I don’t necessarily think it’s a crazy thought that it will be. I think you just don’t know. It’s not solely going to be my decision. That’s where I think that uncertainty lies. We will just kind of have to see.”
It’s possible Rivers could still have some value as a backup quarterback or even as a starter in a situation where he isn’t asked to do too much and can rely on a good running game paired with an elite defense (Chicago?).
The Chargers, who are in the middle of the pack defensively and will likely lose top running back Melvin Gordon in the offseason, don’t project to have either of those things next season.
Whether they decide to draft a quarterback, go with backup Tyrod Taylor or bring in a third option, the Chargers won’t have Rivers either if they’re smart.
Sell: Tampa Bay must sign Jameis Winston to a new deal
By passing for 458 yards Sunday against the Lions one week after throwing for 456 against the Colts, Jameis Winston became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 450 yards in consecutive games.
Winston, who has thrown an NFL-high 24 interceptions this season, did his damage against Indianapolis while playing with a fracture in his hand as well as missing top target Mike Evans who was out with an injury.
Undeterred, Winston was able to toss four touchdown passes, three of which went to third-string wide receiver Breshad Perriman.
The 25-year-old leads the league with 4,573 passing yards and is second in the NFL with 30 touchdown passes behind only Lamar Jackson (33). But, thanks to all the interceptions, Winston is in the middle of the pack in quarterback rating and trails unspectacular passers like Jacoby Brissett and Gardner Minshew.
It’s a tricky situation for Tampa Bay as Winston is in the final year of his rookie contract and will be a free agent after the season.
The Buccaneers do have the option of placing the franchise tag on Winston which would keep him in Tampa Bay on a one-year deal and pay him between $25 million and $27 million.
Given his inconsistency and that the situation is almost precisely why the tag exists, that’s exactly what the Buccaneers should do.
By franchising Winston instead of giving him a long-term deal, the team will get another season to see if he’ll continue to develop under coach Bruce Arians. If Winston’s interceptions go down and his touchdowns go up and he ends up demanding more money than the team is willing to give him, using the franchise tag again is always an option.
And if the reverse happens and Winston can’t get the turnovers under control. the Bucs can move on from him after next season without losing anything substantial.
Considering Winston is just 28-40 as a starter and has never made it to the playoffs in five seasons, treating him as a year-to-year player is Tampa’s best option.
Buy: The Falcons are the NFL’s most frustrating team
This season, the Atlanta Falcons have lost games to the Arizona Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a trio of teams with only 17 wins between them.
But, also this season, the Falcons have beaten the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers, both of whom have legit shots at reaching the Super Bowl.
That both of those victories came on the road only makes the situation more maddening.
With an offensive nucleus that includes Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Austin Hooper, Calvin Ridley and Devonta Freeman, the Falcons, on paper at least, have some of the best skill-position players in the NFL.
Though their defense isn’t quite as loaded, it’s a unit that does have some star power in Grady Jarrett and should theoretically be bolstered by having defensive-minded coach Dan Quinn on the sidelines.
For whatever reason, the Falcons were unable to get both units playing well at the start of the season and dug themselves into a hole that a 4-2 record over their last six games has been unable to fix.
Now at 5-9, the Falcons aren’t close to a playoff spot nor are they really close to earning one of the top choices in April’s draft as there could be more than 10 teams that will finish with a worse record than Atlanta.
It’s a frustrating spot for a team that is less than three years removed from a Super Bowl appearance but has gone just 22-24 since losing the big game.
So what to do? It seems like getting rid of Quinn following the season would probably be to the way to go as Atlanta’s roster is still stocked with good, albeit inconsistent, players who are still in the prime of their careers.
Whether owner Arther Blank, who has been mum on the topic of Quinn’s job security of late, will be willing to pull the trigger is another issue entirely.
Sell: A win over the Bengals cured what ails New England
Courtesy of a 34-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, the Patriots locked up a postseason berth for the 11th year in a row.
But, despite the win over the 1-13 Bengals, New England has yet to beat a team with a winning record this season and has gone 0-3 against the other No. 1 teams in the AFC (Ravens, Texans and Chiefs).
Though Tom Brady did have two touchdowns in the win over Cincinnati, New England’s offense struggled once again and, as it has for much of the season, needed help (and points) from the defense.
The final margin looks good, but the reality is New England needed its defense to intercept Andy Dalton four times, something that likely won’t happen against better competition.
Poor for much of the season, the team’s rushing attack finally got on track with 175 yards on 32 carries, but that effort came against Cincy’s NFL-worst rush defense.
It’ll be interesting to see if New England’s running game can stay on track on Saturday against the Bills as Buffalo’s top-tier defense has been more susceptible to the run than the pass this season.
Should New England keep it going against the Bills and beat Buffalo in convincing fashion and lock up first place in the AFC East in the process, then it’ll be time for some optimism that the Pats may have turned the corner.
But, based on win over the hapless Bengals, that time certainly isn’t now.
Buy: Eli Manning’s final home game was typical Eli
Playing in what was likely his final home game for the New York Giants on Sunday, Eli Manning was his usual self.
Though he was able to lead New York to a 36-20 victory over the Miami Dolphins and toss two touchdowns, Manning was picked off three times in the win and has now thrown an interception against every NFL franchise except the Giants.
Now with a perfectly even career record of 117-117, Manning helped the Giants avoid their first 10-game losing streak with the win over the Dolphins.
Afterward, an emotional Manning was appreciative of the ovation he received from fans after Giants coach Pat Shurmur put backup quarterback Alex Tanney in the game with less than two minutes left.
“Obviously, I don’t know what the future is. I don’t know what lies next week, let alone down the road,” Manning said. “Obviously, the support and the fans, their ovation, chanting my name from the first snap to the end, I appreciate that. I appreciate them always and all my teammates coming up to me. It’s a special day, a special win and one I’ll remember.”
A mediocre performance, a win and the adoration of New York fans: typical Eli.
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