Sports | December 28, 2021 7:48 am

Week 16’s Top NFL Storylines: Nick Foles, Joe Burrow and the Same Old Chargers?

Plus, the early-season favorite that appears to have been exposed as a paper tiger

Nick Foles of the Bears throws the ball against the Seattle Seahawks
Nick Foles of the Bears throws the ball against the Seattle Seahawks.
Steph Chambers/Getty

With Monday’s matchup between the Dolphins and Saints on ESPN over and no games moved this week due to COVID-19, it is on to Week 17 in the NFL. While we can’t get to everything that happened over the weekend — like Drew Brees being asked to come out of retirement to play for the Saints — here are four of the top storylines that emerged in the season’s 16th week, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.

Buy: Bears QB Nick Foles has a flair for the dramatic

A Super Bowl champion with a 29-27 record as a starter in the regular season and a 4-2 mark in the playoffs, Nick Foles somehow found himself at the bottom of the depth chart in Chicago to start the season and was left to linger as a third-stringer for the Bears instead of being dealt to another club to serve as a backup and/or compete for a starting job.

For 15 weeks, Foles watched as veteran Andy Dalton and rookie Justin Fields led an inept Chicago offense that failed time and again to put points on the scoreboard as the Bears limped to a 4-10 record heading into a Week 16 matchup on the road against the Seahawks. With Fields banged up and Dalton injured, Foles got his first start of the season in nearly a year.

He did not disappoint.

Playing on a snowy field in Seattle, Foles finished 24-of-35 for 250 yards and helped lead a Chicago comeback in the second half after the Bears fell behind by a 17-7 margin at halftime. Trailing in the game’s final moments, the 32-year-old QB hit former Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham for a 15-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-14 to pull the Bears within one point with 1:07 go.

Instead of attempting to tie the game with an extra point, Chicago coach Matt Nagy put two fingers up in the air and sent St. Nick out onto the field to attempt to complete a post-Christmas miracle. Like Santa did the day before, Foles delivered, hitting journeyman wide receiver Damiere Byrd in the back of the end zone with a ridiculous pass for a two-point conversion that gave Chicago the lead.

After getting the ball back, Russell Wilson was unable to lead a game-winning drive of his own, and the Bears, who had lost three straight and seven of their previous eight games, escaped with a stunning 25-24 victory at Lumen Field that officially eliminated the Seahawks from playoff contention.

“I was a third-string quarterback tonight. I was just third string. That’s my label, but at the end of the day, that’s not who I am. I am just Nick Foles. I go out there and I play,” Foles said.

And damn if it ain’t entertaining.

Buy: Giving Joe Burrow bulletin board material was not smart

Already facing an uphill battle to slow down Cincinnati’s passing attack due to his injury-depleted secondary, Baltimore defensive coordinator Wink Martindale made his job much more difficult by giving Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow bulletin board material before the Ravens hosted him on Sunday.

Asked what sort of coverage the Ravens were planning for Burrow and rookie wideout Ja’Marr Chase before Sunday’s matchup, Martindale mentioned Green Bay Pro Bowl wide receiver Davante Adams and his MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who Baltimore went up against last week.

“Adams is one of the top two receivers in the league and he’s not No. 2,” Martindale said. “Aaron Rodgers is a Hall of Fame quarterback and I don’t think we’re ready to buy a gold jacket for Joe [Burrow].”

While Burrow may not be bound for Canton, he certainly played like he’s heading there on Sunday, torching Martindale’s defense for 525 passing yards and four touchdowns in a 41-21 win over the Ravens

With his performance against Baltimore, Burrow set a franchise record for passing yards in a single game and now has completed 58 passes for 941 yards and seven touchdowns in two games against the Ravens this season. Afterward, Burrow said “maybe” when asked if he was thinking about what Martindale had to say.

“I didn’t think it was a necessary comment,” Burrow said. “I wouldn’t say I was offended by it. I mean, I’m in year two. Who knows what’s going to happen down the road? But I didn’t think it was a necessary comment.” 

It certainly wasn’t, as the second-year franchise QB didn’t need any more motivation to torch a Baltimore team that was leading the AFC North but has now fallen to second behind the Bengals (9-6) after losing four in a row. Martindale, who added fuel to the fire and got burned, is at least partially to blame.

Sell: The Arizona Cardinals remain a serious contender in the NFC

The NFL’s last unbeaten team at 7-0 heading into a matchup against the Packers at home, the Cardinals suffered their first loss of the season against Green Bay to fall to 7-1 on the season. Since then, Arizona has lost four of seven games and are now 10-5 amid a three-game losing streak that includes a blowout defeat to the Detroit Lions.

A Super Bowl sleeper for some earlier in the season, Arizona clinched a playoff spot in Week 16 despite losing at home to Indianapolis on Christmas in a 22-16 game that wasn’t nearly as competitive as the score suggests and was managed poorly by head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

Though they will make the playoffs this season, this Cardinals team looks eerily reminiscent of the squad that started 5-2 and finished 3-6 and out of the playoffs last season. Now ranked fifth in the NFC standings and second in the NFC West behind the surging LA Rams, the Cardinals will have a shot at erasing memories of last year’s collapse and putting a halt to this year’s version against the Cowboys on Sunday in Dallas.

It would be foolish to bet on them doing it.

With Kingsbury at the helm, the Cardinals were unable to stop Colts running back Jonathan Taylor despite knowing Indy was going to turn to him as much as possible. Flat from the get-go despite playing at home the week after an embarrassing loss to the Lions, the Cardinals struggled to score touchdowns and saw kicker Matt Prater miss two field goals and an extra point, leaving seven points on the field in a game the team lost by six. Heading to Dallas, Arizona will face another physical running back in the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott, and there is no reason to believe the Cardinals will have any more success against him than they did with Taylor.

“We feel it, you see it,” quarterback Kyler Murray said. “It’s just good teams don’t do that and we weren’t doing that early on in the season, and now you see, it’s killing us in crucial moments where we’re just not scoring touchdowns because of it, or vice versa, on the other side of the ball. As a collective group, offensively and defensively, like it’s just mental mistakes that you just can’t keep making if we want to win these games that we know we’re supposed to be winning. I mean, it’s bad football.”

It’s time to accept that maybe the Cardinals are playing bad football because they’re just not that good.

Sell: The Chargers will end the year in a Charger-ly way

The Los Angeles Chargers entered Sunday’s game against the horrific Houston Texans fighting with teams including the Ravens, Bills, Bengals and Chargers for the second wild-card spot in the AFC. Courtesy of a 41-29 upset defeat to the Texans that was never really in doubt, the Chargers are now outside of the playoff picture looking in at No. 8 in the conference.

In years past, the Chargers would continue their traditional late-season swoon and miss the postseason. This year, LA, who have lost two games in a row for the second time this season, will break that trend.

Inexcusable under any circumstances, Sunday’s loss to the Texans does include the caveat that the Chargers were missing a raft of players due to COVID-19, including star linebacker Joey Bosa, running back Austin Ekeler, center Corey Linsley and wide receiver Mike Williams.

While there’s no guarantee the Chargers will be at full strength, the team will be healthier by default during the final two games of the regular season at home against the Broncos and on the road versus the Raiders. In addition to getting some help in the form of a Baltimore loss, the Chargers will likely need to win both of those games in order to qualify for the postseason. For what it’s worth, we think they will.

Still prone to bouts of inconsistency on both sides of the ball, the Chargers seem slightly more settled this year than in past seasons, and first-year LA coach Brandon Staley appears to have a decent handle on doing his job, if not well, at least competently.

LA also has a promising young quarterback in Justin Herbert, who doesn’t have the established history of choking in tight moments that former Chargers QB Philip Rivers had. Herbert may get that rep if LA continues to have performances like Sunday’s, but for now he’s playing with the benefit of the doubt.

“This was a challenging week, and I loved the way that our guys prepared this week,” Staley said after the Houston loss. “We didn’t play well enough today, but that doesn’t change the way that I feel about them. This is the tough side of the NFL. It didn’t go down today, and that’s what I told them. This is the tough side of the NFL. It’s been a fight this entire season for us, and it’s going to continue to be that way. We still have a lot in front of us.”

At least two more games and then probably a third, at minimum, in the playoffs.