Five Wide: 2023 Week Fifteen

By Thomas Willoughby

The sport has got me feeling down, friends. The past fortnight I’ve gone from feeling good at the possibility of watching my team in the playoffs next month to realising they’re probably done with three weeks left to play. The NFL be a cruel mistress.

This isn’t a (fully) Falcons column, mind, so I better get onto the rest of the NFL. It feels like something to this effect is said every week either here or on the podcast, but this is a weird season. Something bizarre seems to happen every week. So here are some things that happened this week.

Philidelphia Feebles

Way back in week eight, I wrote about how I thought the San Francisco 49ers would be fine, despite having just lost 3 games on the spin. I was right, of course. In week fifteen, I’m telling you that the Philadelphia Eagles, who have just lost 3 games on the spin, are not fine. They’re in a bit of a pickle, actually. 

See, the 49ers defeats came at a time when they had a major injury in just about every offensive position. Plus, they’d lost to some pretty good defenses, and played their opposition pretty close. The Eagles, on the other hand, do not have the same excuse, availability-wise. They’ve been blown out in two of their three defeats. On top of that, they’ve kind of looked off all season. Like their regression has/had been masked by a general regression around the NFL. Oh, and they’ve just made Matt Patricia their defensive play-caller.

Giants, Cardinals, Giants to end the season is soft. They should win all three games, but it feels like their first seed opportunity has gone. It feels like their rough patch as come at the worst possible time. Re-opening myself up for a cold taskes-ing, but the Eagles might be the shock early playoff exit. I think their wheels are starting to rattle off.

Steph Chambers-Getty Images

The Raidercoaster

It’s a weird game, isn’t it? American Football. Especially the NFL. Most sports have an element of “anyone can beat anyone”, but you know, by and large, what’s likely to happen from game to game. The NFL is a bit different. It’s that “any given Sunday” thing. One week you’re flying high, the next you’re being humbled. Or, one week you’re scoring exactly zero points, the next you’re putting up 63. Weird game.

The Raiders are the embodiment of that, I think. They’re a bonkers outfit. They have special players in some positions, but they’re not exactly special across the board. Far more questions than answers. And yet, week to week, I don’t think you can necessarily predict what they’re doing. Yes, I know the Chargers are hapless, but it was 42-0 at halftime. I repeat: the Raiders scored zero points, at home, to the Vikings. Insane.

They’ve got the Chiefs next and I think they’ll lose. But I’m 100% going to be making them by ballsy callsy this week. Odd team.

You're (re)fired

Six weeks after saying that the Falcons won’t be playing musical chairs with the QB position, Arthur Smith has brought out a line of stools and is getting his birthday party playlist ready to go. We have a QB change (again). Desmond Ridder is out, Taylor Heinicke is back in. Joy of joys.

I really hate talking about the Falcons on here but I feel like I need to. A QB for any team is noteworthy, not least when it’s the fourth time the position has changed hands over the course of the season. Following a defeat to the Titans, the Falcons benched Ridder for Heinicke and went on to lose two more games. They went back to Ridder, won twice, and lost twice. Their playoff hopes, which once sat at around 75% a week and a half ago, have dwindled to about 11%. They need to win 3 games in a row (for the first time in the Arthur Smith era) to even have a shot at the post-season. These are dire times.

It’s clear for all to see that the Ridder experiment has failed, and Arthur Smith’s objective over the next 3 weeks is simply to retain his job. Based on reasons I won’t go into here, I’m not entirely convinced his days are up in Atlanta regardless of how these next three games go. All I know is the Falcons had the most straightforward path to a division crown, and the first playoff game in the history of the Mercedes Benz Stadium, and successfully failed to capitalise on it. Roll some heads, Blank, for goodness sake.

Rusty Jones - AP Photo

Dallas Oh Boy's, more like

What comes up, must come down, I guess. Last week I talked up the Dallas Cowboys after their most impressive win in decades, but with a caution. Bills and Dolphins, both on the road. Show us what you’ve got. What do they got? Oh. Oh no.

The Buffalo Bills slaughtered them. 31-10, it wasn’t even a contest, really. Granted the Bills feel like they’re getting hot, now. The points left on the field are now being hung on the scoreboard. The defense is clicking. The Cowboys, however, just couldn’t keep in the game. Dak looked overawed, the run game was nowhere to be found. Granted, their (stellar) offensive line was a little dinged up, but they were just beaten, on every snap. 

Listen I don’t want to pile on the Cowboys. That’s their first defeat since the start of November, they’re fine. But if they don’t show up on Sunday, the questions will begin to be asked again, probably a little louder than they usually are.

Los Angeles Changers

A word to end us off this week on Brandon Staley. Week ten, I called him, and his team, out for wasting one of the league’s most exciting offenses, and apparently, the Chargers listened. Staley is GONE, and the hunt for their next figurehead begins.

No real insight into who could be their next HC (Ben Johnson and Dan Quinn seem to be the names linked most), but I have to plea: just give Herbert a chance, man. Go get an offensive coordinator (Arthur Smith would be perfect), pair him with a steady, experienced defensive coordinator, and cook. You can do it. I believe in you.

Get the feeling black Monday is going to be particularly dark this season. Quite a few bad teams, especially in the NFC, will see the opportunity to hit reset. The Chargers have given themselves a bit of a headstart on the search. I hope they get it right. Because God knows I can’t bear to see them waste the life of another elite QB.

Features Image Credit: David Becker-Associated Press

Thomas Willoughby