Four Downs – 12/18: What is a catch? + Bye bye Green Bay & Seattle’s on-field train wreck

An all-NFL four pack of topics this week…the last Monday column I’ll write for a while. Starting next week, the column goes to two days a week…usually Tuesdays and Thursdays though that may vary.

FIRST DOWN: The end of the Patriots-Steelers game was…

Amazing…yet awful at the same time. Not only should Pittsburgh have clinched the game just before the two minute mark but a dropped easy interception was missed. Tom Brady managed to lead New England down the field for the touchdown and two-point conversion which gave the Patriots a 3 point lead with just under a minute to play.

But the Steelers weren’t done…JuJu Smith-Schuster caught a simple crossing route that he took 69 yards inside the Pats 10 yard line. On first down and goal, TE Jesse James appeared to catch a touchdown to give Pittsburgh the lead.

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But it was all for naught as the NFL’s catch rule determined James didn’t maintain possession throughout the duration of the play as it might have initially seemed on television. Former NFL VP of Officiating and current FOX analyst Mike Pereira noted:

Two plays later, Roethlisberger made an awful decision on 3rd down and instead spiking the ball to set up a game tying field goal, he threw a pass over the middle which was tipped and intercepted to seal a Patriots 27-24 victory.

But getting back to the catch rule and the Steelers win that wasn’t…it was borderline criminal. James made the catch in the eyes of most spectators who were impartial including game announcers Jim Nantz and Tony Romo. As I see it, the rule must be more subjective based on the intent of what the receiver is attempting to do on the play (i.e. catch and immediately stretch the ball over the goal line).

Now Pittsburgh, who lost star WR and NFL MVP candidate Antonio Brown to a partially-torn calf earlier in the game, also likely lost home field advantage to New England based on a rule that makes little sense in the minds of many fans and observers. Something must be done this offseason!

SECOND DOWN: The Packers season effectively ends in Carolina.

For weeks I had been predicting that Green Bay would be 7-6 upon QB Aaron Rodgers’ return from a broken right collarbone in Carolina…followed by three straight Packers’ wins and a playoff berth.

With the loss to the Panthers on Sunday, that hope / possibility is now virtually impossible.

Clearly not fully healthy, Rodgers threw 3 interceptions and while he had his moments of success, the rust from his nine weeks off was apparent. 290 yards passing, 43 rushing, and 3 TD passes is nothing to sneeze at…but the Packers defense also didn’t help the cause by making Cam Newton (4 TD passes) look like Joe Montana.

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Going forward there is absolutely NO reason whatsoever for Rodgers to play in Green Bay’s final two meaningless games. Sit him, let backup Brett Hundley play out the string, lose to Minnesota and Detroit, and get a higher draft pick.

If Rodgers does play on the 23rd vs. the Vikings defense which hurt him in Week 6, coach Mike McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson should be fired for negligence.

THIRD DOWN: The Seahawks turned in one of the worst performances in recent history in a MEANINGFUL game.

Hey Seattle…what the hell was THAT!? You were playing AT HOME, with a chance to take over the NFC West lead against the stinkin’ Rams…and you give up 34 points to Los Angeles in the FIRST HALF!?

Now I’m not complaining selfishly for one reason…I was facing the QB-WR combo of Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin in my fantasy football league (and they stunk to say the least).

But if I were a Seahawks fan, I’d be beside myself. I might even overreact to the point where I’d wonder the following:
-Is their ‘dynasty’ over?
-Does Wilson need a new supporting cast?
-Is coach Pete Carroll’s time coming to an end?

For now the next two games in Dallas and against Arizona will provide the answers to these questions and more. Either way, their performance on Sunday was among the most pathetic and embarrassing, considering the circumstances, of any team’s this season.

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FOURTH DOWN: Projecting the NFL’s playoff picture

With 33 games to go (including Monday night’s Falcons-Bucs game), here is how I see the playoff seeds stacking up.

AFC:
1. New England – by virtue of their ‘fortunate’ win over Pittsburgh, the Patriots will likely win the top overall seed in the AFC considering their remaining schedule (Buffalo, NY Jets).

2. Pittsburgh – they won’t be losing to either Houston or Cleveland so a first round bye seems likely.

3. Jacksonville – They either have to beat San Francisco in Week 16 or Tennessee has to lose at home to the Rams for the Jaguars to clinch the AFC South. If not, the Titans and Jags play in Week 17 with the winner getting the AFC’s #3 seed. Count on scenario #1 in some form.

4. Kansas City – They’ll clinch the AFC West with a win over Miami on Sunday.

5. Baltimore – The Ravens will beat Indy and Cinci at home while Buffalo and Tennessee (also currently with 8 wins) are more likely to lose.

6. Los Angeles Chargers – I’m going out on a limb here…I see Philip Rivers and company beating the Jets and Raiders with the Titans and Bills both losing out. Right now it seems difficult but don’t give up hope LAC fans (if any of you are still left out there.

NFC:

1. Philadelphia – Backup QB (and UofA grad) Nick Foles will lead the Eagles to the #1 overall seed in the NFC with a win over the Raiders at home on Christmas night.

2. Minnesota – The Vikings have also been a fine cinderella story this year and assuming Aaron Rodgers doesn’t play on 12/23 in Lambeau Field, they will be hosting a playoff game during the second weekend of January as well.

3. Los Angeles Rams – They’ll win their last two games to complete an improbable 12-4 regular season yet not achieve a first round bye surprisingly.

4. New Orleans – I see the Saints beating the Falcons and winning in Tampa Bay to get the NFC South title and a Wild Card round home game.

5. Carolina – The Panthers clinch a playoff spot with one more win and they should do that this week at home against the Bucs.

6. Atlanta – This is assuming they beat Tampa Bay tonight. If not, flip a coin…literally and figuratively. The Falcons hold the tiebreakers over the Lions, Cowboys, and Seahawks so their magic number is 10 wins. If for some reason they only win 9, I’d take Dallas over Detroit based on the projected strength of victory tiebreaker.

It should be a WILD final two weeks!

To read previous entries of my blog, click here. Also make sure to follow me on Twitter @eacohen83.

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