The MVP race is over, Denver need to resist any urges to return to Peyton Manning and why Carolina shouldn’t be resting starters but New England should. All that and more in our Christmas edition of Tuesday Morning Touchdown.
Puttin’ Six On The Board
The Coronation Of Cam
Colour me convinced. The MVP race is done. That Cam Newton has locked up the award in a year when Tom Brady overcame Deflategate and an array of New England Patriot injuries to throw 35 touchdowns to six interceptions after 14 games illustrates how well the Carolina Panthers quarterback is performing. Not only is he playing the position in a manner we’ve never really seen in the NFL before, combining designed running with dynamism from the pocket, he’s winning every game regardless of what is thrown at him.
With the New York Giants launching a fierce comeback to turn 35-7 into 35-35, the cameras cut to Newton on the sideline. What it showed was a man incredibly comfortable with the situation, under the spotlight of The Big Apple. His look oozed an ‘I’ve got this’ vibe, and do you know what? He did have it. The ensuing game-winning drive was effortless and, while the Giants defense is dreadful, you cannot take anything away from Cam. In college, it would have been called a Heisman moment. In the NFL, it was the moment that sealed Newton’s first MVP award.
Still Not The Manning
No matter how poor their second-half display was at Heinz Field, the Denver Broncos shouldn’t even be thinking about going back to Peyton Manning if he returns to full health. Have people forgotten how bad he was playing before injury? The 39-year-old was not only struggling physically, but also making mental errors that suggested his best days are behind him. He was, quite frankly, a bottom-five quarterback in the entire league. There have obviously been big issues over the last few weeks for Denver and Brock Osweiler, epitomised by the fact they’ve been shut out in their last three second halves, but there is little doubt the younger signal-caller gives the Broncos their best chance. He doesn’t turn the ball over as often as Manning, and that’s key given Denver want to win on defense. It’s unlikely that ‘best chance’ brings a Super Bowl, yet it’s still much better than what Manning can offer up.
To Rest Or Not To Rest?
As the season winds down, we’ve reached the point where a couple of teams are in the bizarre waters of weighing up whether to rest players down the stretch. Neither New England nor Carolina have their conference’s number-one seed locked up but, given the schedules of their nearest opponents, it seems likely they will grab them. In the case of New England, second might be favourable given it would likely ensure they avoid Pittsburgh – their biggest threat in the AFC – in the divisional round. Protecting against injuries while trying to ensure players remain game-ready is a difficult balancing act and, to me, the cases of Carolina and New England are very different.
The Panthers, for my money, have to go for 16-0. The best way to do that would be playing their starters early in games and hoping to build big leads that would ensure they can shut down their stars later in fixtures. Carolina are battling for something only two teams have managed in NFL history. Imagine if they threw a game away and then won the Super Bowl; surely, even with the big prize, there would be some regret?
In the case of New England, though, it’s already time to shut players down. As mentioned above, the two seed might be the best option, plus they have a number of key guys with niggling injuries – alongside a larger group on IR. They’ve already had a scare with Rob Gronkowski, and Tom Brady endured a worrying moment himself on Sunday. Even if Denver or Cincinnati claim the first seed, it’s unlikely they reach the Championship Game with Pittsburgh likely at six so, if I am the Patriots, I sideline Brady, Gronk and perhaps others at New York on Sunday. Then, if they really want the one seed, perhaps go bigger at Miami, although I could see them picking up the W there with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback and Gronk on the sidelines.
Ban It Like Beckham
Good work NFL on suspending Odell Beckham Jr. for that disgusting hit on Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman. The New York Giants wide receiver, for those who still haven’t seen the incident, launched himself and targeted the head of his opponent on a running play. So horrific was it that, right now, I can’t think of a dirtier moment in recent memory. The only criticism I’d have of the league is that they only banned Beckham for one game rather than simply saying, ‘Sorry, Odell, but you’re done for the year’. In a week when the movie Concussion hits theatres in the United States, a severe punishment for Beckham was the only way to go. If the recent edition of Gridiron taught us anything, it’s that the impact of a helmet-to-helmet hit can stretch far beyond just one game.
Cough, You Could Have Done More
The only man who deserves as much criticism as Beckham is his head coach Tom Coughlin. As somebody who’s built a reputation as one of the league’s biggest disciplinarians, I naturally expected the veteran to act when his star player was not only attempting to injury a opponent – but also costing his team as yellow flags littered the field. Coughlin, more than perhaps any other NFL coach, hates ill-discipline so him not pulling Beckham out for at least a series to calm down amid three personal-foul penalties was remarkable. It seems, on this occasion, the player became bigger than the team – which isn’t a good look for a head coach whose job security is non-existent right now. Especially when that head coach is in charge of a New York Giants organisation that puts a greater emphasis on class and grace than most other NFL teams.
While I gave the Jacksonville Jaguars a big billing last week, it’s hard not to be concerned by some of Blake Bortles’ decision-making. The Jags clearly have something special under centre and the second-year man has already shown an ability to make every throw in the book. However, he continues to be undermined by a penchant for making big mistakes at killer moments. That has perhaps never been more evident than in Atlanta on Sunday, when Bortles threw a dreadful interception on first and goal from the one-yard line just before half-time. The ill-advised pass cost Jacksonville the W against a team who haven’t been able to beat anybody recently and all-but ended their playoff hopes. While few believed they would actually make the post-season (and there’s little doubt the Jaguars would have gone one-and-done if they did sneak in), that was a significant carrot being dangled. There is still work for Bortles to do, it seems.
Treasure the next two weeks. As always in the NFL, we’re reaching the final throws of the regular season seemingly moments after the campaign has begun. And while the playoffs, with its closer games and higher stakes can often provide greater drama, it’s the weekly yearning for Sundays of commercial-free football on Red Zone that will encompass your consciousness over the off-season. So enjoy your turkey, and enjoy your final two Sundays of Scott Hanson!