Let’s overreact to NFL Week 15: How good are the Chiefs? Are the Ravens done? Is Jonathan Taylor the MVP?

7 min


201
140 shares, 201 points

We overreact all season, but this is the time of year when we seek clarity. Week 15 is … well, it’s kind of almost complete. The are two games Monday night and two more on Tuesday as a result of COVID-19 postponements, but once those are done, there will be three measly weeks left in the 2021 regular season. We should have some sense by now of who the playoff teams are.

Not so fast, says the AFC.

Entering Sunday, 13 teams remained alive in the AFC playoff race. The team that currently holds the No. 13 spot (the 6-7 Raiders) is only a game and a half worse than the team that currently owns the No. 5 spot (the 8-6 Colts). Lots of things still can happen. And lots of things likely will.

But one thing did sort itself out a bit in Week 15 — the top spot in the AFC. The Chiefs, Patriots and Titans were tied at 9-4 entering the week. Coming out of it, the Chiefs are the only one from that trio that will have picked up a 10th win. So let’s start the Week 15 overreactions column there, with …

The Chiefs are clearly the class of the AFC

Kansas City has won seven games in a row to get to 10-4. It has done it mainly with defense, as its only two strong offensive performances over the first six games of that streak came against the Raiders. But the offense showed more than a little life in Thursday’s 34-28 overtime victory over the Chargers — and pulling out that game put the Chiefs in a strong position to win the AFC West.

Their remaining three games are against the Steelers, Bengals and Broncos, all three of whom could still get into the AFC playoff field before this is over. But again … who can’t?

The verdict: OVERREACTION. Sorry, but it’s too soon and the Chiefs still don’t give off that old Chiefs vibe. You don’t see those breathtaking shot plays from Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill that always seemed to show up once or twice a game. The victory over the Chargers could have gone either way, and you can make a case it would have gone the Chargers’ way if not for the Derwin James Jr. injury. Which is no excuse, of course. The Chiefs had their share of key players out as well. But the word in this statement with which I take issue is “clearly.”

Sure, if you’re basing it just off Week 15, you’d take the them over the lackluster Patriots or the fumbly Titans. But judging a team on its worst week is bad prediction business. Heck, if we’re basing it only on Week 15, the Colts are the class of the AFC, and they probably can’t even win their division.

New England (140) and Buffalo (151) both have better point differentials than Kansas City (89) by kind of a lot, and Indianapolis (98) has a better one as well. If you had to bet one team to win it at this point, you’d probably take the Chiefs. But I don’t know how you could feel good about betting it based on everything we’ve seen.


Mike Tomlin is the best coach in the NFL

I mean, if you can win a game where you have 168 yards of total offense, go 2-for-11 on third down and possess the ball for less than 21 of the game’s 60 minutes, I don’t know but it feels like you’re doing some coaching. Tomlin’s Steelers had no business winning 19-13 on Sunday against the Titans, who outplayed them thoroughly on both sides of the ball but made the same mistake they made a few weeks back against the Patriots — they turned it over four times.

The Steelers didn’t even do much with the Tennessee turnovers, turning all of them into field goals instead of touchdowns. But they did enough, and the defense held at the end, and there has never-had-a-losing-season Tomlin sitting there at 7-6-1 with three weeks to go and daring the rest of the AFC North to let him stay in it.

The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. The Steelers are in just about every game they play. And they fall behind in almost all them, somewhat significantly behind at times. Tomlin’s halftime speeches have to be absolutely incredible, because the way his teams come out in the second half doesn’t even resemble the way they look in the first half. This 2021 version of the Steelers is talent-deficient on offense, and by now they should be out of it.

But they’re right in it, and a big part of that is Tomlin’s unparalleled ability to hold things together when others would fall apart. I don’t know if they can win enough games for him to get into the Coach of the Year race, but if he finds a way to win in Kansas City next week and gets this bunch to the postseason? Yeah, he has to get at least some consideration.


Taylor and the Colts got a solo primetime slot Saturday night for their game against the Patriots, and they came out fired up, taking it right to the Patriots from the get-go in a way no one had done in months. Taylor, the second-year running back out of Wisconsin, rushed for 170 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries, salting the game away with a breathtaking 67-yard touchdown scamper with two minutes left. It was the fifth time in his last six games that he has gone over 100 rushing yards, the fourth in which he has gone over 140 and the third time in that span he’s hit 170.

With Derrick Henry on the shelf, there is perhaps no player in the league who is as central to his team’s identity as Taylor. And with the Colts galloping toward a playoff spot, he’s surely entered the MVP conversation.

play

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Jonathan Taylor scores a 67-yard yard touchdown to put the Colts up by 10 just before the two-minute warning.

The verdict: OVERREACTION. I’m as big a Taylor fan as the next guy, but this is about the MVP award, which is voted on by human beings and — let’s be honest — tends to go to quarterbacks. Just check out the latest betting odds. It’s true that a few of the quarterbacks in this race — Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson and Matthew Stafford. — have had their stumbles recently. But it’s also true that Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are likely still ahead of Taylor, even after Brady’s two-turnover night against the Saints.

Taylor is making a powerful case and might actually be the right choice if the season ended today. But history tells us this award is a quarterback’s to lose.


The Ravens will miss the playoffs

There’s nothing inherently wrong with losing to the Packers with your backup quarterback, and the ever-resilient Ravens were in the game until the end, as they always seem to be. But big picture, they’ve given away their division lead and — because their division record is worse than Cincinnati’s — sit in the No. 8 seed in the AFC playoff picture. Only seven teams get in.

The Ravens have been hammered by injuries since training camp, are using backups at cornerback, running back, left tackle and quarterback among other positions and they’re still right there in the hunt for the AFC North. But if the season ended right now, they would be on the outside of the playoffs looking in.

The verdict: OVERREACTION. If the Browns win Monday, there will be a three-way tie atop the AFC North, with Cincinnati, Baltimore and Cleveland all 8-6 and the Steelers right behind at 7-6-1. Literally any of the four could win this division, and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) sees it as tight race too, giving the Bengals the best chance to win it (35%), followed by the Ravens (31%), Browns (25%) and Steelers (9%). The Ravens showed Sunday that they are to be reckoned with no matter who they’re playing or how shorthanded they are.

They go to Cincinnati next week, then finish up with home games against the Rams and Steelers. All tough games, but the Ravens are a tough game for anyone, too. You can like the Bengals’ chances better, or even make a case for Cleveland or Pittsburgh. But to rule out John Harbaugh’s Ravens would be a mistake.


The Packers will go to Super Bowl LVI

Green Bay celebrated a third straight NFC North division title Sunday when the Ravens’ 2-point conversion fell short. They have higher hopes, of course, having reached the NFC Championship Game each of the last two seasons. They have accomplished the first step and also kept themselves in position to claim that No. 1 seed and first-round bye for the second year in a row. Win out, and it’s theirs.

And you can tell me all you want that they lost the NFC Championship Game at home last year anyway, but if I’m the Packers I’d like to take my chances in Lambeau in January. I believe they have their sights set on the 1-seed.

The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. Look, a 31-30 victory over Tyler Huntley doesn’t exactly scream “Super Bowl team,” but games are hard in the NFL and all the Packers seem to do is win them. Aaron Rodgers might be a handful — or, to coin a phrase, a “complicated fella” — but he sure is great at football. And given all of the uncertainty — or, to coin a phrase, “beautiful mystery” — that surrounds the coming offseason with Rodgers and Green Bay, it just feels like Rodgers is driven to make this happen before it’s all over.

Arizona is scuffling. Dallas’ offense doesn’t look right. Tampa Bay — all right; I’m never betting against Tom Brady. But one of these years, the conference title game ball is going to bounce Green Bay’s way. Its organizational priority is to keep itself perpetually in position to allow that to happen, and at this point there’s no reason to doubt that it can happen.

Source: ESPN


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