After an absolutely disastrous 13 weeks, the New York Giants finally cleaned house Monday, firing head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese. While co-owner John Mara attempted to shelter McAdoo and Reese from the criticism they received for their handling of the Eli Manning situation, there’s no doubt the Giants needed to make substantial changes after their season spiraled out of control.
A 2-10 record on its own would be enough to inspire major changes in New York. Factor in the Odell Beckham Jr. contract situation dating back to the preseason, the failure to construct an adequate offensive line, in-house suspensions to key players throughout the year and the fact that the decision to bench Manning was actually initiated by the head coach and GM and it’s clear the writing was on the wall in New York.
Where do the Giants go from here? In a lot of ways, this season could be a blessing in disguise for the franchise in the long run. The roster wasn’t good enough to contend for a Super Bowl heading into this season.
By bottoming out, the franchise can hit the reset button around some key pieces this off-season. The Giants have one of the NFL’s best young wide receivers in Beckham. New York could also add another core piece with a potential top-five pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Giants have a lot of work to do, beginning with finding a new GM and head coach. However, there is reason for optimism that this year’s disastrous season could be a catalyst towards the franchise turning things around and eventually becoming a legitimate Super Bowl contender once again.
As for the rest of this season, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo takes over as the interim head coach while Manning will start against the Dallas Cowboys this week. New York is far out of contention but still has something to suit up for, with a chance to play the spoiler role against the Cowboys. Will the Giants rally around Manning in a potential upset alert on Sunday? It will definitely be interesting to see how the team responds in New York following some major changes this week.
Monday Night mess
Monday Night Football was difficult to watch for a number of reasons. It was hard to watch Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier carted off the field early in the game with what we all immediately realized was a significant injury. The worst part about Shazier’s injury was that there was really nothing anybody could do to prevent it.
The worst part about what happened next is that a lot could have been done to prevent it. Juju Smith-Schuster and George Iloka have both been handed one-game suspensions for violations of player-safety rules following their hits on Vontaze Burfict and Antonio Brown respectively. Surprisingly, Iloka’s suspension was later reduced to a fine.
The moment Smith-Schuster hit Burfict and stood over him to taunt him, my first thought was to wonder how the Bengals would retaliate. Smith-Schuster is a talented first-year player who was trying to make a strong impression by laying out an opponent who has taken his share of liberties on Steelers players over the last few seasons.
What he didn’t realize was that his actions could have severe consequences – both in terms of Burfict’s health and potentially putting his own teammates in danger should a player on Cincinnati’s roster decide to retaliate.
That’s exactly what happened a short time later when Iloka took a run at Antonio Brown in the end zone. Fortunately, Brown was able to pop up from the big hit. The situation could have been substantially worse if Brown suffered a significant injury on the play. Last year there were zero suspensions in the NFL for on-field misconduct.
Ten players have been suspended this season for on-field misconduct, although Iloka’s suspension was reduced to a fine. The league has demonstrated a greater emphasis on player safety and eliminating dirty hits. Now the players have to hold themselves accountable. Monday Night Football was difficult to watch for even the purest of fans. While the league will take a lot of heat, a greater emphasis needs to be placed on the players to demonstrate a higher level of respect for each other when it comes to eliminating the types of egregious hits we saw on Monday night.
Meanwhile, there was a measure of relief when news finally broke that Shazier had regained movement in his lower extremities and would not need surgery after suffering a spinal contusion. Hopefully Shazier is able to make a full recovery.
Chargers heating up
A couple of weeks ago I picked the Los Angeles Chargers as a dark horse to challenge for a playoff spot in the AFC.
The Chargers were coming off a big win over the Buffalo Bills to improve to 4-6 with a favourable schedule that included just one opponent that was holding down a playoff position at the time. After back-to-back wins over the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles is now tied for the division lead in the AFC West at 6-6 – one game back of the final Wild Card spot.
Phillip Rivers has thrown for over 1,000 yards with six touchdowns and zero interceptions over the course of three straight wins. Meanwhile, defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram have combined for 20 sacks, which is the highest combined total of any teammates in the NFL.
The Chargers remaining schedule includes home games against the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders as well as road games against the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets. Los Angeles could very well run the table and finish atop the AFC West at 10-6. An afterthought after an 0-4 start to the season, the Chargers are certainly trending in the right direction heading into Week 14.
Chiefs in a tailspin
Speaking of the AFC West, remember when the Chiefs owned the NFL’s best record at 5-0 with signature wins over the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles?
Kansas City has dropped six of its last seven to fall to 6-6, including losses to the New York Giants and, most recently, the Jets.
It was easy to pin the Chiefs issues on quarterback Alex Smith before last week’s performance. Then he threw for 366 yards and four touchdowns and added a 70-yard run in a loss to New York.
Meanwhile, Josh McCown and company lit up the Kansas City defence for 488 total yards and 38 points. The Chiefs didn’t register a single sack on McCown and the 38-year-old torched their secondary for 331 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for two scores.
Kansas City hasn’t been able to put a complete effort together throughout its current four-game slide. When the defence has played well, the offence has struggled. When the offence played well against the Jets, the defence struggled.
With four games left on the schedule, Kansas City desperately needs to figure out how to deliver a complete team performance versus Oakland this Sunday. The Chiefs still have a relatively favourable schedule, with home games against the Raiders, Chargers and Miami Dolphins before wrapping up the season on the road against the Denver Broncos in Week 17. A win over Oakland would move them to 7-6 heading in to a showdown with the Chargers in Week 15.
There is a good chance, based on the schedules, that only one team from the AFC West ends up making the playoffs. For as bad as things have looked over the past few weeks, Kansas City still has an opportunity to salvage its season over the next four weeks.
Vikings stand alone atop NFC
There is a new No. 1 seed in the NFC.
The Minnesota Vikings improved to 10-2 with a 14-9 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles are both 10-2 after the latter lost to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Night Football, but Minnesota owns the tiebreaker based on the better win percentage in common games.
The Vikings and Eagles are the only two teams in the NFL that rank in the top-five in both total offence and defence this season. Minnesota’s second-ranked defence delivered another dominant performance in the second of back-to-back road games last week. The Vikings held a Falcons offence that had averaged 31.6 points per game over the course of three straight wins to just nine points. Atlanta went just 1-of-10 on third-down conversions and didn’t score a touchdown. One week after registering 12 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns, Julio Jones was limited to two catches for 24 yards on six targets versus Minnesota.
The Vikings defence is among the best in the NFL. It’s the biggest reason why Minnesota is now the favourite to clinch the top seed in the NFC and home advantage throughout the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Vikings offence has been one of the biggest surprises of the year, thanks in large part to the play of quarterback Case Keenum. Keenum ranks second in the NFL in Total QBR this season behind only injured Houston Texans rookie Deshaun Watson. While he hasn’t been forced to carry the Minnesota offence by any means, Keenum has been extremely efficient. That was the case again on Sunday against the Falcons when Keenum completed 25 of his 26 pass attempts that travelled 19 yards or fewer downfield.
Keenum, who ranks fifth in the NFL in completion percentage, also went 14-of-14 on pass attempts that travelled over the middle of the field. With an improved offensive line and excellent pass-catching options in Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph, the 29-year-old Keenum has the support he needs to continue to perform at a high level.
The Vikings will face another tough test on Sunday as they go on the road to take on the Carolina Panthers for their third road game in as many weeks. Win or lose, nobody is sleeping on Minnesota in the NFC any longer.
Russell Wilson’s MVP case
The Seahawks picked up an absolutely crucial win over Philadelphia on Sunday night. Russell Wilson, who has carried the Seattle offence this season, delivered what might be his best performance of the season. Wilson threw for 227 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 31 yards in a 24-10 win.
The sixth-year quarterback has thrown for 3,256 passing yards and 26 touchdowns while leading the Seahawks with 432 rushing yards and another three scores. Wilson has put up outstanding numbers despite playing behind a terrible offensive line without the threat of a legitimate run game outside of what he, himself, has done on the ground.
Seattle’s schedule won’t give them any breaks as they travel to face the Jacksonville Jaguars this week before a crucial NFC West showdown against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 15.
Wilson has been as valuable to his team as any other player in the NFL, and while his numbers might not be good enough to beat out Tom Brady or even Carson Wentz for MVP, it’s clear he deserves to be in the conversation.