Aaron Rodgers has never lacked for signature performances. The greatest quarterback of the post-Manning/Brady generation has made statement games a signature of his MVP arsenal. 2015 hasn’t been any different, except … the statements have all been negative.
Rodgers entered the Packers’ Week 7 bye with a 115.9 QB rating and 15:2 TD:INT ratio. He was completing 68 percent of his passes and averaging 8.19 yards per attempt. He was being Aaron Rodgers.
In the nine games since, both Rodgers and the Packers have gone off the rails. Rodgers completed 14-of-22 passes for 77 yards in a Week 8 loss to the Broncos, and what’s followed has been the comprehensive disintegration of the Packers’ offense. The receivers haven’t separated, the running backs have struggled to produce and the offensive line has failed to stay healthy. There have even been hints of friction between Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy.
It’s been a perfect storm not even the league’s best quarterback can pass his way out of. Since that day in Denver, Rodgers has posted an 82.0 QB rating and Sanchez-ian 56.4 completion percentage. He’s produced just 15 scores compared to seven turnovers, and averaged 5.89 yards per attempt. Rodgers’ once implacable composure has appeared rattled on the field, with back-foot throws becoming ever more common. Sunday’s three-turnover, 151-yard day was the nadir, but hardly an aberration.
Is there any hope for the playoffs? In a vacuum, Rodgers remains one of the league’s ultimate X-factors, a player capable of turning things around on a moment’s notice and single-handedly winning the biggest games you can imagine. It’s just that, Jordy Nelson isn’t walking through that door, and unless Davante Adams and Randall Cobb learn to separate between now and Wild Card weekend, order is not about to be restored to the Packers’ offense, especially if the Seahawks are the draw.
Counterintuitively, the Packers would probably be better off losing Sunday’s NFC North championship game with the Vikings, as it would lessen their chances of facing Seattle. A win coupled with a Seahawks loss to the Cardinals would send Seattle to Green Bay. A loss, on the other hand, would send Green Bay to Washington, and Seattle to Minnesota. Not that the Packers would/should be favored against the Redskins, but they’d definitely be underdogs to the Seahawks. So is life in Green Bay, where last year’s overtime loss in the NFC Championship Game threatens to become not just a haunting moment, but the start of a two-year winter.
Five Week 16 Negatives
The Steelers’ total no-show in Baltimore. There’s no way to sugarcoat this one. Coming off a 380-yard, three-touchdown performance against the league’s best defense, Ben Roethlisberger got out-dueled by Ryan Mallett. Big Ben seemed confused from the game’s opening whistle, making confounding decisions with the ball while forcing the Steelers to burn timeouts and take delay-of-game penalties. It was a massive egg, one where DeAngelo Williams was the only skill player to do his job. Now the Steelers need to not only beat the Browns in Week 17, but for the Jets to lose to the Bills. Although Rex Ryan’s team has hilariously declared the game its “Super Bowl,” Gang Green is far more disciplined than it ever was under Rex, and should take care of business. That would leave Roethlisberger and his conference-best passing attack on the outside looking in of a tournament it should be a part of.
Cam Newton and the Panthers’ fantasy finals dud. Newton entered Week 16 as the QB1 both on the year and over the past five weeks, but exited with only one touchdown and 188 total yards, a season-low of which 142 came through the air. It ended the Panthers’ quest for perfection, and quite possibly the campaigns of fantasy owners Newton carried to the finals. What it should not have ended was Newton’s MVP candidacy, as no player has done more — like lead the league in total touchdowns — with less supporting talent on offense. Tom Brady and Carson Palmer have been great, but Newton has been the best.
Ryan Tannehill’s latest shaky afternoon. Tannehill got out-dueled by two kids standing on each other’s shoulders pretending to be a quarterback Matt Hasselbeck/Charlie Whitehurst, managing a solitary score for the fourth consecutive game. Tannehill has two passing touchdowns in the month of December, and even if the Pats rest a number of starters, seems unlikely to solve Bill Belichick’s defense in Week 17. Tannehill has proven he’s good enough to not get benched out of hand, but not good enough to win without a stellar supporting cast. It’s hard to see things getting much better for 2016.
The Patriots’ truly bizarre decision in overtime. Regardless of whether or not there was a miscommunication — the Pats insist there wasn’t — their decision to give the Jets the ball to begin overtime made sense on zero levels. Yes, Tom Brady’s offense has been weakened by injury, but the defense also spent the majority of Sunday’s game allowing chunk gains. Willingly putting it on the field to begin a road overtime period was hubris at best, boredom at worst. With the pathetic Dolphins on tap for Week 17, the Pats should still secure home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs, but now a team that’s already among the most banged up in the league has to risk further injury when it could have sewn things up with one overtime drive on Sunday.
The Seahawks’ shoddy running game. Perennial teases Christine Michael and Bryce Brown managed all of 15 yards on 13 carries, and ceded critical late snaps to a washed up Fred Jackson. The weight of the world was placed on Russell Wilson’s shoulders, and he responded with his first bad game in six weeks. Wilson has emerged as a legitimate superstar this season, but the Seahawks will still be in big trouble if Marshawn Lynch isn’t ready for the postseason. Neither Michael nor Bell are on the DFS radar for Week 17.
Five Week 16 Positives
Drew Brees’ rinsing of the Jaguars. Playing on a bum foot with a banged up supporting cast, Brees produced his second 400-yard day of the season, and third three-TD effort in four games. The performance came the same day the Saints leaked/NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported that Brees might have to take a “hometown discount” to return in 2016. There have been a lot of issues in New Orleans this season, but Brees throwing for 31 touchdowns with Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and Ben Watson as his top three weapons hasn’t been one of them. If the Saints want Brees to slash his $19.75 million or agree to a team-friendly extension, he could be playing elsewhere while the Saints embark on a full-on rebuild.
Doug Baldwin’s 11th touchdown in five games. Baldwin’s third quarter score was his 14th of 2015, good for a new Seahawks record. Baldwin also caught a season-high eight passes, and turned in his third 100-yard game to move beyond 1,000 on the year. He is the first 1,000-yard receiver of the Russell Wilson era, and an emerging star with only one year left on his contract. With Marshawn Lynch moving on this offseason and Wilson only getting better, locking up RW's new No. 1 receiver should be a priority for the twice-defending NFC champions.
Todd Gurley’s big day in a tough spot. The Seahawks entered Week 16 allowing the third-fewest rushing yards in the league, but Gurley stung them for 85 on only 19 carries (4.47 YPC). He delivered big runs when the Rams’ pop-gun offense needed them most, and salted away a stunning road victory. His reward is a Week 17 matchup with a 49ers defense allowing the fifth most yards and second most fantasy points to running backs. The offensive rookie of the year, Gurley could finish with a YPC above 5.0 with a big day in San Francisco. He has a strong argument for No. 1 overall status in Dynasty leagues. Perhaps only Odell Beckham, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are worth more.
Bilal Powell’s continued hot play. For the third time in four games, Powell out-gained Chris Ivory despite touching the ball fewer times. Ivory was shot out of a cannon on his draws, and finished averaging eight yards per carry. Ivory, meanwhile, could manage just 38 yards on his 11 totes, and looked sluggish as he battled through a knee issue. With everything on the line for the Jets in Week 17, an increased commitment to Powell would seem to be in the cards.
Darren McFadden’s third-straight 90-yard performance. DMC has been saddled with negative game flow and horrendous quarterback play, but is averaging 103 yards and 7.04 yards per carry over his past three games. His YPC for the year is now all the way up to 4.59, while he’s just three yards away from his first 1K campaign since 2010. McFadden is too elderly and injury prone for the Cowboys to trust as their locked-in starter for 2016, but he’s done more than enough to guarantee he’ll be back at his $1.25 million salary. This being Jerry Jones, an extension can’t be completely ruled out of the equation.
1. Can “officially killed the backwards hat” be added to Jeff Fisher’s Wikipedia?
2. Can it really be considered the “playoffs” if Brandon Weeden is there?
3. If losing Sunday’s game was “good” for the Panthers, why aren’t the Titans Super Bowl favorites?
Gary Barnidge needs 23 for 1,000.
Tom Brady is 364 away from his first 5,000-yard campaign since 2011.
Russell Wilson is 173 away from his first career 4K season.
Stats of the Week
Brandon Marshall is the first player in league history with six 100-catch seasons. His 101 receptions are also a new Jets team record.
Kenny Britt’s 18.2 yards per reception is the third highest in the league. #TheMoreYouKnow