When the clock strikes zero to close out the decade, 12 teams will remain. Eight franchises will be represented in the NFL Divisional Playoffs, while the four best teams that missed the cut will play the role of wild cards. We don’t need to explain the playoff system if you are on this site reading about football, we trust you know how that works.
The 2019 season will see a team or two sitting at home come January when their case for the playoff races is stronger than others. Why? Simple; divisional play will stand in their way.
Week 14’s matchup brought the harsh reality front and center that either the Dallas Cowboys or Philadelphia Eagles will be heading to the postseason due to their standing in the mess we call the NFC East. Both rosters were expected to contend for a Super Bowl after free agent signings and productive preseasons. Now, the duo is fighting for who could win just enough to host a playoff game they’ll likely lose.
Mitchell Trubisky is carving up the Cowboys defense 😤
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 6, 2019
Thursday’s action against the Chicago Bears proved that Dallas shouldn’t be considered a contender. The offense is still finding ways to win, but the defense has struggled over the past several games. Let’s not get Bears fans excited to take the D.O.A. tag off Mitchell Trubisky, but his performance kept the team alive in the playoff hunt for another week.
The former second overall pick has been at the center of criticism from both actual and Twitter analysts all season. Sure, his 3.8 yards through the air stat is going to make the Windy City hold on to the defibrillator a little longer, but he was competent with a four-touchdown performance.
This offseason, the Cowboys focused on keeping their young core intact with the extensions of Jaylon Smith, La’el Collins and Ezekiel Elliott. Don’t let the final score fool you into thinking the game was close — Trubsiky’s 23-yard touchdown run to begin the fourth ended that thought. Still, a quarterback with mechanical issues was able to torch a defense that was expected to be one of the best and made a secondary look incompetent in coverage.
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) December 6, 2019
Monday night’s action should have been a slam dunk victory for Philadelphia. Rookie Daniel Jones had struggled since Week 5 and the team had turned back to Eli Manning to lead the way. Instead of seeing Carson Wentz breakout against one of the league’s worst pass defenses, it was the Manning show once more.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) December 10, 2019
A pair of late touchdowns to Zach Ertz — one in overtime (because yes, they needed an extra 10 minutes to decide this snooze fest) gave the Eagles their sixth of the season. Now, the team will need to pick up victories over all three division rivals to finish with a record above .500.
This now makes December 22nd a must-see event in the NFL. Not because it’s going to be a good game, but rather a game where we see two teams who probably should remain home after the holidays battle it out for the division. Both have been mathematically eliminated from the wild card race, but still have to decide who should be “blessed” to be embarrassed in front of their fans come the first round of playoffs.
Do you see Minnesota or Seattle losing to either of these teams? Sorry, if your fandom has gotten in the way.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) December 3, 2019
This wouldn’t be the first time a team has underwhelmingly made the postseason. In 2010, a 7-9 record from the Seahawks sent them to the postseason because that was enough to win the NFC West. While fans were graced with one of the greatest playoff runs in history thanks to Marshawn Lynch, the team fell short to Chicago in the divisional round.
As Seattle was granted a postseason berth, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Giants both finished with double-digit wins. Both had convincing wins in their division and finished with at least a .500 record against their conference foes. Instead of seeing what they could do against a real opponent, they remained at home to watch Seattle trudge their way through a postseason.
Since 2010, the Bucs have had one winning season and New York has made the playoffs twice — both times exiting the circle early.
Tampa won their game Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, but with the same record as Philadelphia, they were eliminated from playoff contention. The team could finish with a 9-7 record under the first season with Bruce Arians all for nothing, while some roster out “east” will be crowned a “champ”.
The Los Angeles Rams are still in contention thanks to their win on Sunday night against the Seahawks. Over the past two weeks, Jared Goff has somewhat begun to live up to his franchise contract with back-to-back wins over divisional opponents. Sure, two interceptions aren’t what you hope for, but 717 yards and four touchdowns have the Rams trending in the right direction.
The problem is that Los Angeles will finish with at least a .500 record and will need to defeat Dallas and San Francisco while praying that Seattle or Minnesota trips over their own feet to make the postseason play.
Instead, Dallas pretty much needs to win against Philly and they’ll be going back to the big show.
Divisional play has been pointless for quite some time now. Sure, we get to see “rivals” meet twice a season, but does that mean that the best teams are playing against real competition? Instead of seeing the best rosters battle it out for glory, we’ll see five solid units and a roster who did enough to get by in a division that has been the joke of the league for the past three seasons.
AFC team playoff chances by seed, per FPI: pic.twitter.com/jypIdvhUIx
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) December 10, 2019
The AFC playoff picture is all but set. Kansas City, Baltimore, New England and Buffalo all seem likely to be making an appearance, but their seeding could change. The Ravens should lock up the AFC North while Josh Allen will need some of Tom Brady’s “Spice Melange” to take over the AFC East this year. Throw in a struggling Houston, a surprising Tennessee team, and the Duck Steelers Dynasty and those are your six rosters.
But the NFC will be missing a team this year. The Rams and Bears both have had moments of greatness and struggles but rely on one side of the ball to carry the way. Seattle, San Francisco and Minnesota will finish with double-digit wins on the year, yet two will have to travel until they meet in the NFC Championship.
All because divisions will allow a team that doesn’t belong to make the postseason since they scathed by just enough. And while the reality is there’s nothing the NFL can do about this year, why won’t change it in the future?
So congrats Philadelphia and Dallas fans, for once we the nation won’t be booing you because of your fan bases. Instead, it’s because you’ll be in the playoffs due to the bureaucracy of the league instead of proving you’ve been good enough all along.
And even you know we’re right.
Once upon a time, I had a dream that this week’s Two Minute Warning was going be stellar. We’d be discussing so much that went on in the league, all the while giving you quality information to read on Tuesday morning. Then, much like Fantine in Les Miserables, life (or WordPress deleting everything) killed the dream I dreamed.
If you don’t get that reference, go rent the movie with Wolverine on the cover and become cultured outside of the football world kids!
Still, I promised you a Two Minute Warning and by gosh, you’re getting one. So much happened in the NFL this weekend that actually was important unlike two struggling franchises, so let’s get at it.
Lock is lightyears ahead
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) December 8, 2019
Remember those days when analysts would make fun of John Elway, the Hall of Fame quarterback who was a Hall of Shame bust when it came to drafting quarterbacks? Ah yes, those were the days. They could be coming to an end should rookie quarterback Drew Lock continue the trend of you know — being good at his job.
The second-round pick was a favorite of Elway through the draft process, but some concerns of his mechanics worried the team enough to make him their third selection. Even when Joe Flacco went down, Vic Fangio turned to journeyman Brandon Allen to lead the team on the way to a lost season. It was only when the team knew they wouldn’t contend did they allow the Missouri star to start.
If his first two games indicate anything for the future, imagine what Denver could have been should they started Lock earlier this season. In his first road start, the rookie looked like a veteran against the Houston Texans defense, going 16-of-19 for 235 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. A five-touchdown outing gave Denver a convincing win and a late interception was just a learning lesson for the young gunslinger.
What a game‼️
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) December 8, 2019
One game won’t decide Lock’s status in the NFL. In fact, the final three shouldn’t either as all the opponents pass defenses rank among the NFL’s worst. But for the first time in a while, Elway can perhaps take a step back a breathe. Instead of spinning the quarterback carousel with the first-round pick or free agent, the ride can be “locked” in place.
After all, Lock became the first quarterback to win his first two games as a rookie since the man who made the call in April to welcome him to the organization.
Tannehill time is real
A change of scenery could mean many things. For some, it could be the beginning of the end of a career. For Ryan Tannehill, it’s likely the start of a new one.
Tannehill, 31, spent six underachieving seasons with the Miami Dolphins where he took the team to one playoff appearance. As the franchise imploded, they made sure to send their “franchise star” out of South Beach for nothing. In the offseason, Miami traded Tannehill for a sixth-round pick to the Tennessee Titans.
Depending on who that pick is, Miami could be regretting that choice should Tannehill succeed and their next “future start gunslinger” struggle.
WHAT A THROW!
Ryan Tannehill 🎯 Kalif Raymond #TENvsIND
— PFF (@PFF) December 1, 2019
Tannehill was not expected to be anything more than Marcus Mariota’s backup in Tennessee. In three weeks, the Music City could be singing a victory tune down at the local saloon thanks to his services. Since entering the game against Denver, Tannehill has been one — if not the reason why the Titans are now just two wins away from winning the AFC South.
During the team’s four-game win streak, Tannehill has thrown for over 1,000 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception. His one pick was batted at the line of scrimmage, and while fat man touchdowns are great, so are tackles by quarterbacks that would make Brian Urlacher jump with joy.
Ryan Tannehill ruins an all time fat guy TD with an epic open field tackle pic.twitter.com/xTLPfgQhkY
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) December 8, 2019
The Titans have transformed into legitimate contenders thanks to the veteran’s presence in Nashville. The offensive line has done enough while Derrick Henry is emerging as one of the league’s top backs. Although the defense is far from perfect, the offensive production will keep Tennessee vying for their first AFC South title in over a decade.
Tannehill has never won any awards under center. He should at least be in contention for the Comeback Player of the Year. He’s never been to a Pro Bowl. That should change in January. Everyone has written him off as “just another quarterback.” Tell that to a 6-1 record.
For once, maybe he was the only good thing in Miami? Weird to say right?
So, what does Sean Payton owe the referee committee from a poker game? That has to be the only reason why the New Orleans Saints continue to find themselves losing games at home due to missed calls.
Granted, while Sunday’s matchup against the 49ers was one of the best games this season, a flagrant missed pass interference call in the third quarter. San Francisco’s Tarvarius Moore never turned to see the ball, forcing New Orleans’ Tre’Quan Smith to try and make an incredible catch off the defenders shoulder. Clear as day it looked to be a penalty and an easy call by the refs.
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) December 10, 2019
Nah, they’re good with it.
In similar fashion up in Foxborough, rookie wide receiver N’Keal Harry dove for the end zone on the fourth quarter to give New England the touchdown against Kansas City. Instead, the refs would say that he stepped out of bound before crossing the pylon, eliminating the score. Since it wasn’t a scoring play and New England was out of challenges, the play couldn’t be reviewed.
— Beach Front Property (@BeachFront718) December 9, 2019
Both teams would end up losing. Perhaps they still would have even with proper officiating, but fans will have to wonder “what if” for the remainder of the season. Either way, officiating has been a problem for multiple seasons and needs to be fixed in the future for games to end on the right note.
But in all honesty, it’s getting a tad annoying to watch New Orleans lose in spectacular fashion due to either a miracle play or a bad call. Send me the bill refs, and I’ll start a go-fund-me page for them so you can start calling games properly.
The tale of two quarterbacks
In 2018, five quarterbacks were taken in the first round. Three were expected to have the mold of “franchise pieces” while two others were highly criticized as a risk at the position. Both Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen had the overall ‘boom or bust’ potential due to their strengths that were polar opposites.
Jackson, known for his running skills, was asked by some to change positions due to his throwing ability. Allen, a sure-fire quarterback, possessed one of the strongest arms in football but lacked the touch and accuracy a scout would say could make him elite. The Ravens and Bills took the chance on the two signal-callers, hoping they would work out for the best.
Lamar Jackson reaches 1,000 yards on the ground with this filthy move on Bills LB Matt Milano. Downright disrespectful. pic.twitter.com/fQBZyqpKyp
— Bobby Trosset (@BobbyWBAL) December 8, 2019
Sam Darnold will be sitting at home and more than likely so will Baker Mayfield. Josh Rosen still is riding the pine in Miami after a miserable rookie season in Arizona. Meanwhile, Allen and Jackson could meet consistently in the future, vying for a chance to take their team deeper into the playoffs.
The two squared off Sunday in New Era Field, with Baltimore picking up the win. Allen still was working through the mechanics of his accuracy issues, completing just 43.6 percent of passes at home this year. Sunday wasn’t different as he threw for 146 yards and a sole touchdown.
Pressure forcing Josh Allen to rush his process on deeper throws; something the Ravens know Allen has struggled with statistically this year. pic.twitter.com/sfpaCewmTB
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 8, 2019
Meanwhile, Jackson’s stat line wasn’t strong, but it was better than the third quarterback taken. Throwing 145 yards and three touchdowns, the Ravens clinched a postseason berth and are one win away from taking the division. Part of that has been Jackson’s ability to improvise while his targets break downfield. The other is due to coaching
Under the direction of Greg Roman, known for training mobile quarterbacks such as Colin Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor, the two have fixed minor throwing errors. Roman’s new-found knowledge of the mobile quarterback has help Jackson has flourished into a dual-threat quarterback who is in the running for MVP honors. A head coaching position could be coming for the Ravens’ OC in a matter of weeks thanks to the development of his next successful quarterback.
Both squads have talented defenses that will pick up the slack when the offense stalls — a case is more so known for Allen’s side. The two men will likely finish the sophomore campaign with double-digit wins and a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy — potentially meeting in the divisional round of the playoffs for a rematch.
The two quarterbacks still have their flaws and are a work in progress. Still, when looking back at the decisions of both general managers, it would be hard for either Brian Gaine or Ozzie Newsome to regret their decisions.
After Josh Allen had greeted Lamar Jackson post game yesterday, Raven Head Coach John Harbaugh shouted to make sure he got Allen's attention.
— Thad Brown (@thadbrown7) December 9, 2019
Right now, they’re looking like the two top young guns from the class that could be one of the greatest quarterback classes this century when all is said and done.
Cole Thompson is the Lead NFL writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @MrColeThompson.