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December 20, 2022

NFC Hierarchy/Obituary: Week 16 edition

Eagles NFL
122022JalenHurts Daniel Bartel/USA TODAY Sports

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts.

Week 15 of the NFL season is in the books, and we have one long overdue obituary. There were also some important game results this weekend, as the NFC seeding became a lot clearer.



Falcons (5-9): This is probably the most overdue obituary we have ever written in the history of this series, as the Falcons managed to stay alive past Week 15 because they play in the horrid NFC South. But after a loss to the woeful Saints on Sunday, they're done.

The 2022 Falcons were an odd team. They were the second-most run-heavy team in the NFL, behind only the Bears, despite trailing in most games. They ran it out of necessity, because Marcus Mariota struggled with accuracy, often missing wide open receivers. The Falcons eventually benched Mariota, who then said, cool, k bye I'm out. I would imagine he's gone for good. On Sunday, rookie third-round pick Desmond Ridder got the start, and was 13 of 26 for 97 yards.

At this point the Falcons should be in full on tank mode for a franchise quarterback. The are currently seventh in the draft order. Two teams ahead of them — the Texans and Colts — will absolutely be in the market for a quarterback, and two others — the Seahawks and Lions — should be as well, as long as they don't overvalue what they have in Geno Smith and Jared Goff. 

If you'll recall, the Cleveland Browns showed that they were a lot more willing to sell their souls for Deshaun Watson last offseason, leaving the Falcons to settle for Mariota. And after yet another frustrating season, the Falcons still may not have an easy path to a franchise quarterback in 2023. Maybe they can take another tall receiver for the third straight year. 





8) Buccaneers (6-8): It's time to move the Bucs back to the last available slot. There are going to be six deserving teams that make the playoffs in the NFC, and then whoever wins the NFC South. That will still probably be the Bucs, who will clinch a losing season with one more loss. Let's update the NFC South standings:

 NFC SouthRecord Division record Point differential 
 Buccaneers6-8 3-1 -41 
Panthers 5-9 3-1 -38 
Saints 5-9 2-3 -29 
Falcons 5-9 1-4 -27 

In games played outside of the division, NFC South teams have a combined record of 12-26 (0.316), with a combined point differential of -135.

The Bucs are still heavy favorites to win this division, since they finish out their season against the 4-10 Cardinals, the 5-9 Panthers, and the 5-9 Falcons, but holy crap have they looked bad this season. Assuming the Cowboys are the 5 seed, they are going to have an easier first-round matchup on the road than whoever the 49ers or Vikings will have to face as the 2 and 3 seeds at home. 

Last week: 5


7) Seahawks (7-7): The Seahawks were looking at one time like favorites in the NFC West, and at a minimum, at least a wildcard team. Not anymore. After losing four of five, they are likely to miss out on the playoffs. They played some really bad teams during that five-game stretch, too:

Opponent DVOA 
 Buccaneers (L)13 
 Raiders (L)25 
 At Rams (W)27 
 Panthers (L)28 
 49ers (L)

Side note: How are the Bucs ranked 13th in DVOA? 

Anyway, whatever. Honestly, Seattle is probably better off. They are one of four teams with multiple first-round picks, along with the Texans, Lions, and Eagles.

The pick they own from the Broncos is currently third overall. The Broncos' second-round pick owned by the Seahawks will likely be a top 35 pick. If they miss out on the playoffs, their own pick could also be in the top half of the first round, and they have a butt-ton of cap space to work with in 2023. They can draft a quarterback and build around that guy with draft picks and free agent signings. Had they made the playoffs, they might have fooled themselves into thinking Geno Smith is some sort of long-term answer at quarterback, though I guess that possibility still remains.

Last week: 7


6) Commanders (7-6-1): Commanders fans are very mad about two penalties that occurred late in their loss to the Giants. The first was an illegal formation penalty on Terry McLaurin that wiped a Brian Robinson touchdown off the board. The contention seems to be that McLaurin asked the side judge if he was lined up correctly, and the side judge gave him an "all good."

My interpretation is that the official is pointing for McLaurin to get up to the line. McLaurin then moved up a bit, looked at the official, who continued to point to the line. The official did not indicate that he was good to go. McLaurin then looked away, and the official readied the flag.

And as you can see in the video, McLaurin is a full yard off of the line of scrimmage. He's not lined up correctly. It's a penalty 🤷‍♂️. If the question is, "Should officials use some discretion in affecting games with that kind of game-changing flag when there is no competitive advantage," then I would say sure.

The other officiating gripe was a very clear pass interference foul that occurred in the end zone that went uncalled. 

Those two calls remind me a little of the Commanders-Eagles game from earlier this season. On the play that ended the game, Brandon Graham tried to not hit Taylor Heinicke, who had given himself up on the play. But Graham's momentum carried him into contact with Heinicke, and out came the flag. Penalty? Maybe. Could discretion have been applied? Absolutely.

And then of course there was the play in which Jamin Davis tried to rip Dallas Goedert's head off of his body with his facemask. That was an obvious missed call, with the play resulting in (a) a turnover, and (b) Goedert missing five games of the season.

Here's Taylor Heinicke when weak calls go his way:

And when they don't: 

I guess these things have a way of evening out.

Last week: 6


5) Giants (8-5-1): The Giants hadn't won since November 13, so their huge road win over the Commanders must've been a huge sigh of relief. Also, in case you missed that game, Kayvon Thibodeaux is really good.

Last week: 8


4) Cowboys (10-4): For posterity's sake:

I have seen some folks hand-waiving away Dak Prescott's recent spate of interceptions because some of his passes have bounced up in the air on contested catches. Certainly the game-sealing pick-six against Jacksonville was on receiver Noah Brown, not Prescott, but the majority of his INTs have been bad decisions or simply bad throws. He has thrown two interceptions in four of the Cowboys' last seven games. That not just being "unlucky." 

Last week: 3


3) Vikings (11-3): Give credit where it's due. Kirk Cousins stayed poised in the face of a 33-0 deficit, and balled out in the Vikings' absurd comeback win over the Colts on Saturday. He was 34 of 54 for 460 yards, 4 TDs, and 2 INTs that weren't his fault. 417 of those passing yards came in the second half and overtime.

So who was at fault for those INTs? Old friend Jalen Reagor, of course. On the first INT, Reagor posted up against a zone defense, and then moved as Cousins was throwing to him.

That's rookie stuff. And then later, Cousins was looking for Reagor deep down the field, but Reagor just stopping running his route.

Winning despite two Jalen Reagor "Reagorings" in one game is pretty impressive.

Last week: 4


2) 49ers (10-4): After locking up the NFC West in Seattle on Thursday Night Football, the Niners really don't have much left to play for the rest of the regular season. They are technically still alive for the 1 seed (and thus homefield advantage throughout the playoffs), but their odds are less than one percent, per FiveThirtyEight. The New York Times give them a one percent chance.

Otherwise, it's either going to be the 2 seed or the 3 seed. The Vikings currently hold that advantage with a better overall record, but the Niners have the better conference record and would likely win that tiebreaker. The only difference between those two seeds is whether the divisional round is played in San Francisco or Minnesota should both the Niners and Vikings advance to the divisional round. Remember when the 2 seed really meant something? Now... meh.

The Niners will no doubt continue to play hard. They're peaking, having allowed 11 points per game during a seven-game winning streak. They'll want to maintain that high level play defensively. And then on offense, the more experience that they get Brock Purdy to close the season, the better off he'll be in the playoffs.

But this team would seem a lot more threatening to the Eagles right now if earning the 2 seed meant resting starters during the wildcard round.

Last week: 4


1) Eagles (13-1): When you lose your MVP candidate quarterback with a sprained throwing shoulder, that's never good, but the Eagles probably couldn't have picked a better time for it to happen. With three games remaining and Hurts likely out for at least two of them, the Birds only need one more win to wrap up the 1 seed in the NFC, and one of those games happens to be against a team the front office will be highly incentivized to beat in the New Orleans Saints. Assuming the Eagles can wrap up homefield advantage by Week 17, Jalen Hurts will have plenty of time to get right for the next game that will really matter, which will be in the divisional round of the playoffs either on January 21 or 22, more than a month away. 

For now, the Eagles are 6-point underdogs in Dallas this Saturday. That almost feels disrespectful to Hurts' supporting cast. There was a lot of talk about whether Hurts' MVP-caliber season was merely a product of the incredible talent around him. It will be interesting to see if any of the analysts propagating that theory also think that the Cowboys will beat the Eagles on Saturday because Hurts is likely out. 

Last week: 1

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