By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Consider New England the weekend's biggest winner.
First of all, Baltimore just dropped out of the playoffs, and I know what you're thinking. So what? Well, so that’s a big win for the Pats. And here's why. The Ravens are the one team that can beat Tom Brady at home in January. They're 2-2 there in the playoffs. The rest of the AFC? Try 1-13.
Second, instead of Baltimore the AFC North will deliver Pittsburgh to the playoffs … and, granted, the Steelers are dangerous ... and have momentum ... and a Super Bowl quarterback and Hall-of-Fame candidate in Ben Roethlisberger ... and two heavy pieces of artillery in Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.
But they also lost to New England this season.
So it was Landry Jones, subbing for the injured Roethlisberger. I get it. But Brady is 9-2 vs. Pittsburgh in his career, including 2-0 in the playoffs -- with both wins in Pittsburgh. Plus, he owns the Steelers, with 26 touchdown passes and just three interceptions.
But the Steelers aren't the playoffs' second seed as things stand today. Oakland is ... at least for now ... and there the picture is complete for Patriots Nation. The Raiders are one of the feel-good stories of the year, reaching the playoffs … and producing a winning season … for the first time since 2002. And at 12-3 they're only one game behind the Patriots in the rush for home-field advantage, and that’s great.
But this isn’t: They just lost quarterback Derek Carr to a broken leg.
Coach Jack Del Rio called it "a huge thing to have to deal with," and that’s an understatement. The Raiders go from Carr to Matt McGloin, and no disrespect to McGloin, but they go nowhere with him. Derek Carr is an MVP candidate for a reason. He's the heart and soul of the Raiders.
And he's gone. Advantage New England, and that’s a huge thing everyone in the AFC must deal with.
(Tom Brady photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)
(Ben Roethlisberger photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)
- People say Dallas and New England should consider sitting down their quarterbacks because of what just happened in Tennessee and Oakland, and I say they shouldn’t. Injuries are part of this game. They happen. If I'm Dallas I play Dak Prescott the first half of the regular-season finale, then give Tony Romo a look in the second. You never know when you might need him. Remember, Drew Bledsoe came to Brady's rescue in the 2001 playoffs.
- Mike Tomlin just won Terry Bradshaw's Cheerleader of the Year.
- Repeat: It just doesn’t get any better than Pittsburgh-Baltimore.
- That was a marvelous game-winning play by Antonio Brown at the goal line. Had he not reached the ball into the end zone it probably was the last snap of the contest ... but it shouldn't have been. Baltimore safety Eric Weddle had a hold of Brown's facemask, something conveniently ignored by officials.
- I make Doug Marrone my early leader in Coach-of-the-Year voting.
- Whatever the under is for next Sunday's Raiders-Broncos game in Denver, I'm taking it.
- Turns out the Vikings' team charter had more of a clue what it was doing in Green Bay than the team's secondary. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I agree with Deion Sanders when he called Minnesota defensive backs "stupid and ignorant" for ignoring game plans.
- I feel for Rex Ryan, but how in the world does he coach a team that can't tackle?
- If I'm Seattle's first playoff opponent, I call Carson Palmer. He's 3-0 vs. the Seahawks as quarterback of Arizona, including 2-0 in Seattle.
- Memo to Cincinnati: Let's see AJ McCarron. You’ve gone as far as you can with Andy Dalton. Turn this team over to his backup.
- Congratulations to Miami on reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Now the bad news: It won't go far. Reason: Defending the run. The Dolphins don't do it, allowing an average of 173.6 yards rushing in each of their last five games and 6.03 yards per carry.
- Well, yes, as a matter of fact, it does matter who comes out of the AFC South. It's Houston, and it is going nowhere. When you try playing without a quarterback you're playing rugby.
- Here's hoping Larry Fitzgerald sticks around another year. Next to David Johnson, he's the best thing about the Cards.
- For those counting at home, that’s two field goals and no touchdowns allowed by New England in the past two weeks.
- Reason Number One why Seattle's late-season collapse is so costly: If Atlanta gains a first-round bye, at some point in the playoffs the Seahawks must hit the road, and good luck with that. Seattle is 7-1 at home, 2-4-1 on the road. Worse, the Seahawks average 14.6 points on the road and four times failed to score more than 10.
- Todd Bowles should be worried. Not only are the Jets 4-11; they've been outscored 75-13 in their last two losses, both to division opponents. They might be next to check into an emergency room.
- I told you that Randy Bullock draft pick would pay off one day for Houston.
- Let's see, in two seasons San Diego's Mike McCoy is 1-10 within his division and just lost to an opponent that dropped 17 straight. That should make him a candidate for another one-year extension.
- Smart move by the NFL to flex next Sunday's Detroit-Green Bay game. Perfect way to end the season and gain a ratings spike at the same time.
- I don’t care how the Giants reached the playoffs. They're in, and they're the Cowboys' worst nightmare. Unlike the rest of the league, they're the one team that knows how to beat them … and they’ve done it twice.
WHAT WE LEARNED …
Tom Brady is not questionable.
To paraphrase Denny Green: The Tampa Bay Bucs are who we thought they were.
Anthony Lynn can start warming up in the Buffalo bullpen.
Maybe we should ask Aaron Rodgers what we should expect from 2017.
Bill O’Brien should send the Jags a Christmas bonus.
Denver still hasnt figured out how to defend Tyreek Hill.
… AND WHAT WE DIDN’T
How you cover Travis Kelce.
How much we should trust Matt Moore vs. New England.
Why the Legion of Boom got an early start on Christmas vacation.
Where the Bengals find their next kicker.
What the deal is with Steven Hauschka and extra points.
When Denver tackle Donald Stephenson makes his next move.
THE WEEKEND'S HALL OF FAMER
GREEN BAY QB AARON RODGERS. I thought the guy was supposed to be hurt. Yeah, sure. He never looked better than he on Christmas Eve, throwing for four scores and running for another, and, no, I don’t care what defense the Vikings' secondary was supposed to play. It wasn’t going to work … not the way Rodgers was dealing. For the record, over his last six starts – five of which Green Bay won – he has 14 touchdown passes, no interceptions and ratings of 108.9 or more in five of those six starts. He had three in his previous nine. But we know the guy's a great quarterback; what we didn’t know was that he was a modern-day Nostradamus, with Rodgers predicting the Packers would run the table when they were 4-6. So far, so good. "He's a prophet," said teammate Davante Adams. He's also on one heckuva roll.
THE WEEEND'S HALL OF SHAMER
SAN DIEGO PK JOSH LAMBO. Bad enough that he had one game-tying field goal blocked. He missed a second, too, pushing this one to right from 45 yards before exiting the locker room without addressing the media. Okay, so it’s never easy losing, and it’s never easy losing to Cleveland ... especially when nobody had done it for 17 straight games. But Philip Rivers was the losing quarterback, and he had no trouble meeting the press. Lambo did not, and that’s the least of his concerns. The guy is 6-for-11 on field-goal attempts this season from 40 yards and beyond, including 0-3 from 50 or more, and you want to know how the Bolts lost when they sacked the opposing quarterbacks nine times? Try a rash of penalties, not enough healthy players and wide right.