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Two Minute Warning: The NFL playoff picture just got interesting

(With a win from both Dallas and Philadelphia, the 2020 NFL Playoffs could be the start of the next great decade) 

NFL Playoffs
Dec 15, 2019; Landover, MD, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Greg Ward (84) catches the game winning touchdown over Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman (24) in the final seconds of the fourth quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Greg Ward probably never thought it would come down to him to help his side focus on making the playoffs. 

The Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver once shined under center at the University of Houston. Ask any Houstonian about the 2016 Peach Bowl, and his name will be mentioned more than once. 

After transitioning to wide receiver and finding himself on the Eagle practice squad, Ward became a household name in the now-debunked AAF. In San Antonio for the Commanders, the quarterback turned pass-catcher shined as the team’s top target and go-to return man. Even after a stellar training camp, Ward was still considered nothing more than a practice squad player. 

A camp body. A warmup player. 

On Sunday, Ward’s 4-yard touchdown reception in man coverage against Josh Norman, still one of the league’s highest-paid cornerbacks, solidified a Philly victory. Sitting at 7-7, the Eagles will now have two chances to close out the year with wins and potentially an NFC East title. 

“Guys just kept believing,” said Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, who fumbled twice and lost one in the middle of the fourth quarter. “I didn’t lose faith or confidence at all. I just wanted one more chance. I wanted another chance to go down, and the defense gave that to us, and we got it done.”

The only problem is so will Dallas – and the two meet Sunday for a “winner-take-all” series at Lincoln Financial Field. 

As the year slowly trickles down and Christmas approaches, the good little teams are heading to the playoffs while the naughty teams remain at home. Outside of two divisions and overall, perhaps four sides, the picture is all done.

However, it is not but set for those who need to kick off the new year in style. 

Then, of course, you have Dallas and Philadelphia who will get in because of history or politics or you know – no one cares that they’re on the naughty list. 

Take nothing away from the Cowboys on Sunday. Their 44-21 victory over the Los Angeles Rams helped mold the playoff picture, showing the world they could at least make noise against good teams.

Dallas’ offensive line looked great in run protection, rushing for a combined 263 yards and three touchdowns. Dak Prescott had over 200 yards through the air and didn’t cause a turnover. Plus, Sean Lee still proved his injured body could hold up thanks to his strong soul in coverage. 

Lee, 33, would leap in front of a pass intended for Robert Woods – snatching it out of the air – sprinting down the sideline into Rams territory. An Ezekiel Elliott touchdown culminated the drive with an uproar from the stands in AT&T Stadium. 

Who is this Cowboys teams, and where have they been all season? 

With the season entering a countdown like that of Christmas, eight of the NFL’s 12 teams are officially set for postseason play. Baltimore, Buffalo, Green Bay, Kansas City, New England, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Seattle did their part over the week. Houston took the upper hand over Tennessee with their victory Sunday, but the two will meet to close out the year. 

Minnesota needs a win or a Los Angeles loss to make nine while Pittsburgh still holds the lead over the Titans. And then there is the runner up between the Seahawks and 49ers.

Both will likely be aiming for a bye week in the NFC West but the one who loses will be forced to play on the road. 

It’s a flawed system, but one that seems futile to change.

Take your poison between the NFC East and AFC South. Either the two Lone Star stadiums will be hosting playoff games, or the Music City will be singing a new tune to begin the year. The once-feared Eagles could be making a push late, ruining Dallas’ chance to win it all while slowly making Jerry Jones go from senile to insane. 

Do any of the four look like contenders? Probably not. Still, with two weeks left in the season, it’s hard not be excited what’s to follow next.

As we say goodbye to 2019, the 2020 NFL playoffs could be the proper chaos to start us into the new decade on the right foot. 

—- 

Do you know what stinks about living in Houston? The weather changes more times than the red zone. Seriously, yesterday I was taking my dog for a run with two hoodies on, and now I’m back in gym shorts because of the heat. But much like the scorching land that is the fourth-largest city in America, The Two Minute Warning is here with some exciting news. 

On top of players starting to show their true colors, teams are looking ready to tank and implode. When the Arizona Cardinals look functional, you have larger issues to worry about. Anyways, let’s get you caught up on what you missed around the league over the past 48 hours or so. 

Believe it Bills fans… you’re for real  

The last time Buffalo capped off a double-digit win season, Doug Flutie was calling shots under center. Since then, the Bills have been one of the biggest laughing stocks on the NFL on a yearly basis – consistently filling the stands while taking “Ls” along the way. 

The team snuck into the postseason with a 9-7 record in Sean McDermott’s first season. For players such as Eric Wood and Kyle Williams, it was a moment worth waiting for as they crowded around the television watching Tyler Boyd score late against Baltimore. It was the end of an 18-year drought, culminating in an early exit to Jacksonville the following week. 

Sunday, the Bills reemerged as a playoff contender and double-digit victors. This time, it didn’t feel like a fluke season and or by the skin of their teeth playoff roster – because it isn’t like those times. 

Believe it, BillsMafia; you are for real. 

The Pegula Family nailed it correctly with the additions of Brandon Beane and McDermott. A defensive-minded coach and rising star executive, the two built a team through free agency and the draft to contend long-term. 

By missing out on Patrick Mahomes, Buffalo received cornerback Tre’Davious White. The former Bayou Bengal collected a pair of interceptions against Duck Hodges, one on the opening drive to dampen Pittsburgh’s spirits. 

The following year, the team would package a deal to move up and select a slowly improving Josh Allen. The second-year quarterback still has his flaws but has molded into a qualified starter in the NFL. He’d finish Sunday’s game with 135 yards and a touchdown. 

And the 2019 overhaul should keep the Bills in contention long-term. John Brown has over 1,000 receiving yards, Cole Beasley is averaging 11.2 yards per catch, and Devin Singletary looks like a viable lead runner. Trumaine Edmunds leads the team with 105 tackles while Ed Oliver has five sacks despite playing a rotational role. 

All that and then some? Since when has this Buffalo team been around? The last time the Bills had a stable quarterback, his name was Jim Kelly. To call Allen Kelly-esque would be foolish, but his charisma is that of the once well-known USFL Houston Gamblers signal-caller. 

And while playoffs are one thing, the Bills head to Foxborough next Sunday. First place is on the line, and you beat your keester Buffalo is still in the running for the title of the AFC East.          

Southbound and down… the AFC South is coming 

Personally, this is the one division in football that probably doesn’t matter, but man is it going to be fun to watch at the end. Much like the NFC East, the AFC South will feature a pair of rosters battling for playoff hopes to end weeks 16 and 17 off in style. 

Slight difference; they’re actually decent at football. 

Say what you will about the Texans, but when they’re hot, they can roll with the best. Two weeks ago, Deshaun Watson dazzled against Tom Brady in a 28-22 victory at home. The defense then made Drew Lock look as if he was Pro Bowl quarterback in a 38-24 loss the following Sunday. 

Watson threw a pair of red-zone interceptions against Tennessee that could have added 14 points to the final score. He also threw two touchdowns, one to surprise pickup Kenny Stills, eventually leading to 24-21 victory. That would solidify Houston finishing with a .500 record for the fifth time in the Bill O’Brien era.

But here comes the Titans still pushing forward for the playoffs. Since the switch over to Ryan Tannehill, the team has gone 7-2 and again are vying for a playoff spot. His two interceptions both came off plays that could have gone in favor of the receiver and instead bounced into the hands of a defender. 

The problem is Houston could end the season next week on the road in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers will be without star receiver Mike Evans for the remainder of the year while fellow standout Chris Godwin was carted with a hamstring injury. If Jameis Winston was still throwing picks left and right with two promising players, imagine how he’ll look with Breshad Perriman playing as his top target. 

Tennessee’s year could come to a close next week with a “must-win” game against the red hot New Orleans Saints. As the boys from the Bayou are still hoping for a first-round bye, expect all starters to contribute and seal their place as Kings of the conference, forcing the Titans to be near flawless for all four quarters. 

All of the Titans wins have come against opponents with sub .500 records. Houston has been inconsistent, but victories against New England and Kansas City – both playoff-bound rosters – should have them the favorites to win the division. Health and secondary play could be their Achilles heel, but all indications have Houston looking promising heading into the final two games of the year. 

Houston won the fight on Sunday. Hopefully, with a win against Tampa, they won’t have to worry about winning the war to close out the year. 

Brees breaks the record 

If not for a potential missed pass interference call, Tre’Quan Smith might have become the greatest receiver in Drew Brees’s career. Last season against the Washington Redskins, the then-rookie wideout helped the veteran signal-caller pass Payton Manning for the all-time passing yards leader on a 62-yard score. 

In the second quarter, once again, Smith should have been rewarded once more on a 5-yard touchdown pass to help Brees pass “The Sheriff” in touchdowns. The man in New Orleans would have the last laugh on the next drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Drew Hill against Manning’s old team. 

“It was special, everything about the night,” Brees said. “It just kind of makes your whole life and career flash before your eyes because I never thought I’d have a chance to be part of something like this.”

It wasn’t a matter of if, but rather when. Brees, 40, has continued to be one of football’s top ambassadors on and off the field. Shattering records while making fans smile for a base that was nicknamed the “Aints”, the long-time gunslinger now sits on top of the record books with 539 career touchdowns. 

Brady will soon near that feat, but Brees did it in 10 games less than the G.O.A.T. ever could. Well, you know, if not for the 2008 season where the Patriots quarterback missed the entire season after a half of football. 

Both quarterbacks have been herald as one of the best to ever play the position. Still, Brees has played for multiple 7-9 or 6-10 teams while Brady hasn’t missed the playoffs in over a decade. For that reason, we call the greatest and the other just another quarterback who was a part of the era. 

As Hill embraced Brees, the quarterback kissed the stands trotting off the field. He said thank you to the city who always stood behind him, even in years of struggles. He blessed with wife and children – who were seen cheering and wiping the tears away from a box found on the club level. 

And he certainly thanked both Hill and Smith for making them a part of history that perhaps won’t soon be broken unless Tom Brady comes back for two more seasons and then retires the second after he breaks both records. 

They call it Brown for a reason  

If you don’t get the joke in the title, ask your parents why? If you do, you understand that that is just the Cleveland Browns. 

Sunday’s 38-24 loss against the 4-9-1 Arizona Cardinals may seem close, but it wasn’t. No, it wasn’t even a game as Kyler Murray emerged as a rising quarterback while Baker Mayfield continued his sophomore slump. The rookie from Oklahoma completed 76 percent of his passes, threw for over 200 yards, and rushed for another 56. Meanwhile, that superb defense that was supposed to wreck the AFC North allowed Kenyan Drake to score four total touchdowns. 

Yep, four. And before that game, the former Dolphins running back had rushed for 280 yards and a lone touchdown on his first drive in a new uniform. 

There are two games left in the regular season, yet Cleveland is still at the starting line. They continue to make mistakes, eat up their own issues and fail to connect on any level – both coaching and personnel-wise. Part of the blame could be on John Dorsey thinking that talented players could all bond together. 

But a majority comes on Freddie Kitchens’ shoulders, who still believes he could turn the team around in the near future. 

“I don’t care about my future as Browns coach,’’ Kitchens said. “I’m going to do the best job I can do Monday. That’s the only thing I can control.”

Sometimes the reality is a team is going to be bad. Perhaps they’re just cursed and will never find it in a lifetime. Cleveland has hopes of playing in the postseason and contend for a Super Bowl. 

Now, the team will need a miracle to finish No.2, and jokes about the toilet bowl can slowly write themselves. 

The Josh Gordon situation 

Usually, I try to end 2MW with 10 parting shots. Today, I have just one because it’s the only one that really matters. 

Entering the season, there was hope that Josh Gordon could return to his old form after a year-long suspension due to substance abuse. It’s going to be hard to see him make another start again following the league’s decision to suspend him indefinitely following another abuse policy. 

Gordon played in six games with the Patriots before being claimed off waivers by the Seahawks. He registered 27 catches for 426 yards and a touchdown during his 11-game run. This comes at a little surprise as the 28-year-old battled multiple injuries throughout the season. 

Since 2013, Gordon has received at least a one-game suspension. This could be the final straw for the NFL should test results prove he is still struggling to remain clean off the field. Yet, at the same time, imagine how the league would act should he had beaten a spouse or claimed domestic abuse against a child. Perhaps he misses the playoffs and comes back next season? 

Gordon’s story will never be told in the NFL – at least the real one. Too many times has the abuse forced the soon-to-be 29-year-old wideout to miss time and become untrustworthy. But no matter, the league has rules, and by all means, he broke them. 

Coming from a family of substance abuse, this hits home for me. It truly seemed like Gordon was back on track and finally going to show the league who he could become. Instead, most people will remember the games he should have played in but couldn’t due to suspensions. 

https://twitter.com/JimmySpencerUN/status/1206690485219102720

Should this be a legitimate problem, I truly hope Gordon can seek help. Although football is important, so is living a healthy lifestyle. If this past week was his final game, let’s hope he gets the help the deserves. 

And remember, it’s never too late to hate to help anyone in need. If you or someone you know is struggling with a similar issue, please get in contact with someone who can help. Everyone’s problem has a solution to what is going on. 

Cole Thompson is the Lead NFL writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @MrColeThompson.

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