Five Wide: 2022 Week Seventeen

By Thomas Willoughby

The column leans very much to the sillier side of the sport. You know this. Right now, the conversation surrounding the sport is very serious. And that serious tone is absolutely correct.

On Monday night, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest following a tackle on Tee Higgins. His heart stopped, however paramedics were with him within seconds. He was administered CPR and defibrillation for around 10 minutes, and his heartbeat was restored. That’s utterly incredible, and those involved are legitimate superheroes.

We, of course, wish the very best for Damar. At the time of writing, he remains in critical condition, and we hope that he improves rapidly. We love the game, and there’s a recognition that player safety is at risk whenever they take to the field. This goes beyond that, however. A man almost lost his life.

Don’t complain about your fantasy championship, don’t complain about your accumulators, and don’t complain about the playoff ramifications. This is bigger than all that. The game will get played eventually (knowing the NFL, probably the Thursday before the playoffs begin), and that score will be settled. For now, appreciate the people that managed to stablise Damar, and appreciate the people around you just as much. This is a scary event, and it’s not one that should be forgotten or brushed aside.

I’m not particularly sure what an appropriate segue into the actual column is at this point, so, this is that.

Belichick And Tomlin: Attorney's At Law

Listen, I know 2022 is very much not a season you expect from a side coached by them, but I genuinely don’t think I can say enough about the jobs being done by Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin this season. The pairs’ sides might not be setting anyone’s world alight this year, but they’ve got them playing fundamentally sound football that is actually meaningful heading into the final week of the season. And you wouldn’t have expected that even a handful of weeks ago.

First on the Patriots; The all-conquering behemoths of the 21st-century NFL. Under the stewardship of Bill Belichick, the Patriots seldom missed a championship game, let alone a playoff berth. Since Brady moved away, however, that once solid foundation has shaken somewhat. And yet, here they are at 8-8, having just beaten a divisional rival, knowing that if they win, they’re in again. They’re not pretty, not they’re not exciting, but they’re effective. And you can’t help but respect that.

The Steelers have had it a bit rougher in 2022. A quarterback change mid-season from Mitchell Trubisky to rookie Kenny Pickett suggested a lost year in pursuit of development. But the darndest thing happened; they started winning. No, I can’t believe it either. But they’ve won 4 from their last 5, and are now 8-8. And, don’t you just know it, they can make the playoffs. Granted they need to win, and need the Patriots to win, AND need the Jets to win. But they’ve got a chance. Considering their obituaries were written over Halloween, that’s one hell of a job.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Frauds Of The Year Frontrunners

As I’m sure you’re aware, the Touchdown’s stable of writers is really good. You should check out literally everything every week, because it’s all very worthwhile. The good part is we all get on pretty well, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we agree with everything we all say every single time. But, sometimes, you’ve got to stand back and applaud. Case in point, Callum’s “Fraudwatch” standings. Fair play, because he’s had the Minnesota Vikings atop that tree from the word go. Nailed it, to be fair.

The Minnesota Vikings have already won the NFC North. They looked, for a time, capable of usurping the Eagles for that first overall spot in the NFC playoff standings. But look beyond the win:loss spread and what do you see? 11 wins in one-possession games, and a points differential of -19. MINUS NINETEEN. That’s awful!

I’ve no faith they can find something resembling form in time for the playoffs. Soundly beaten by the team they consider their biggest rivals this weekend, and with no motivation to start anyone of note against the Bears, they feel like the most undercooked 12/13 win team in recent history. I’m not sure Vikings nation are going to like what they see in their playoff return.

Riverboat Gone

Part three of “here is something very very funny that I can’t really comment on”. Get a load of this from the soon-to-be-unemployed Ron Rivera:

I feel like, if I were the head coach of an NFL franchise, I would at least be aware of where we are. I can’t promise wins, and I can’t promise excitement, but what I can promise is basic off-field awareness. To go into a game not knowing that defeat might well spell the end of your playoff aspirations is legitimately unforgivable.

The Commanders are done in 2022, and where they go next is very interesting. They’re not likely to be in the mix for one of the top QBs in the draft, and are surely over the Carson Wentz experience at this stage. I can’t imagine this coaching staff survives another playoff-less year, and so it’s a clean sweep, again. If anything summed up their season, however, it’s probably this.

Miami: You Blew It

Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Four weeks ago, I suggested Mike McDaniel had hit the wall. The honeymoon period was over, and the work began there. We’re now only a week away from the end of the season, and the Dolphins have won exactly zero games from their last 5. Their playoff aspirations hang by a thread. They’re a million miles from where they thought they thought they’d be a month ago.

They’ve had to overcome a lot, granted. You can’t legislate for the NFLs barely functional concussion processes to fail the same player three times in one season. And Tua Tagovailoa should consider legal action against the NFL, by the way. But let’s not pretend like you can’t win games with Teddy Bridgewater. The drop-off isn’t so large that your season torpedoes in little over a month.

The good news is they’re still alive, but wholly reliant on the Bills. They need to beat the Jets, a side with nothing to play for, and hope the Bills can stop the Patriots. It’s not impossible. But, based on what we’ve seen since Thanksgiving, do you even trust the Dolphins to hold up their end of the bargain?

Steven Senne-Associated Press

Playoffs: Week Zero

The AFC South doesn’t currently have a division winner, and is the only division in the NFL yet to name its champion. Fortunately, we have a winner takes all match up on Saturday evening. The Tennessee Titans travel to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The winner will progress to the wildcard round, the loser will go home with a top 15 draft pick. The playoffs start here, folks.

A couple of interesting tidbits for this one, I guess starting with Tennessee. Joshua Dobbs, fresh from starting a meaningless week 17 fixture on Thursday night, has been named the starter for this one. Ryan Tannehill is injured, so the opportunity is there for a back up to make a name for themselves. That backup will not be Malik Willis. The third-round pick garnered first-round grades from some circles of the draftsphere in March, but you’ve got to wonder just what his future in Tennessee looks like if he can’t be trusted over Joshua Dobbs in this scenario. Maybe I’m looking too much into it.

The Jaguars are in form. 4 wins from their last 4, including a victory over these Titans on December 11th. Trevor Lawrence and company have something nice cooking right now, and, given they’re the home side, you’d expect this to be the next statement win in the early legacy of this young team. Who knew that all those turgid color rush Thursday Nights would eventually provide a fixture with actual ramifications?!?

Features Image Credit: Matt Ludtke-Associated Press

Thomas Willoughby