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  • Writer's pictureJoshua U.

NFL Synopsis, Christmas Weekend & Week 16

So, full self-awareness moment: the 49ers have gotten a lot of spotlight this season.


But that's gonna tend to be the case when a team just manages to score at will every single week.


49ers star Christian McCaffrey finds the end zone for 1 of his 3 touchdowns vs Arizona in Week 15.


San Francisco (11-3) racked up their 10th (!!!) double-digit margin victory of the season last Sunday in a 45-29 affair in Arizona vs the Cardinals.


And we all know the story. They've got playmakers littered all over the defensive side of the ball, and to say the same for their offense would be the understatement of all understatements. Aiyuk. Kittle. Deebo. McCaffrey. Head coach Mike Shanahan consistently calling the plays to perfection, like he's eternally set to the tune of a Beethoven symphony.


That all makes it very difficult to evaluate a certain quarterback, who -- since taking over the Niners' starting job in Week 12 of last season -- has done nothing but win, and win, and then win some more.


49ers QB Brock Purdy salutes fans in the crowd at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona after San Francisco's 45-29 victory on Sunday, December 17th.


Brock Purdy, or as he's more affectionately known in NFL circles, Mr. Irrelevant-to-Relevant, has followed his spectacular 6-0 close to the 2022 regular season as San Fran's leading man with a 11-3 record through Week 15 of this season, while putting together just flat-out scintillating stats. Purdy leads the NFL in touchdown passes to this point with 29, and has thrown just 7 interceptions in 14 games. He leads all QBs in passer rating (119.0) and also in the more modern "QBR" (76.0). If you focused solely on Purdy's statistical profile in addition to his career win/loss record -- he'd absolutely be considered the league's best QB and clear-cut 2023 NFL MVP. But the evaluation of him hasn't been made to be that simple in the NFL media.


The main issue that people seem to have with Purdy is the fact that he is playing with an almost-unprecedented wealth of talent & coaching behind him as a young QB. Couple in the fact that he was literally the last & final pick in the 2022 draft after an alright 4-year career at Iowa State, and it's easy for some to come up with the take of "he's a system QB" or "most quarterbacks would be able to do the same thing with what he's got" or even, as former league MVP and current podcaster Cam Newton put it, "he's a game manager, NOT a game changer".


As I'm indifferent on the subject -- I would guess that a "Purdy-truther" would respond by pointing out the fact that neither Jimmy Garoppolo nor Trey Lance -- both of the QBs who were ahead of Purdy on the SF depth chart last season, and also both of whom have dealt with injuries and have since faded into obscurity on other teams -- had ever looked even close to as good as Purdy has through his now-20 NFL starts. But, if you reading this are a "Purdy-denier", I'm sure you're eager & hoping to watch him fail on the Christmas evening stage in what looks to be the biggest test of his career yet.


Lamar's comin' to town.



That's right. The Ravens, also 11-3 and also the current #1 seed in their conference, coming off a primetime SNF victory in Jacksonville, will now head to the Bay for a special Holiday showcase. Do you think the NFL schedule makers knew this game would have THIS type of billing when they set it up in the offseason? Two top-10 defenses, two top-5 offenses, two great head coaches & coaching staffs, and two MVP candidates? ON CHRISTMAS??? We've definitely been treated.


The Ravens have been every bit as good as San Francisco this season, and while that's easy to say with their mirroring 11-3 records, I feel as if the Ravens have flown -- no pun intended -- under the radar for much of the season. Look, the AFC has largely been reduced to the Patrick Mahomes Invitational ever since the Chiefs' first SB appearance in 2019, but just as Baltimore's divisional rival Bengals were able to break through to the Super Bowl in '21, the Ravens have a golden opportunity to do the same in what as been a weak year for the AFC as a whole.


Baltimore's great chances to win the AFC aren't just a result of the diminished squads around them. Lamar Jackson, in his first year under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken, has grown increasingly comfortable in the new scheme with every passing week. It also helps a young QB to have great skill-position players, and even with the loss of star TE Mark Andrews in Week 11, a rookie and a vet at the wide receiver position have stepped up big-time to help supplement that loss. The young Zay Flowers and the seasoned Odell Beckham Jr have seen upticks in targets and production since Andrews went down, and should be able to continue getting open vs San Francisco's secondary -- so the Ravens' key to victory rests in how well Baltimore's offensive line can hold up against the likes of Nick Bosa and Chase Young.


So, that game is clearly Week 16's main event. How about an undercard?


In the previous All-22 piece, I waxed poetic on how dominant the Cowboys looked against the defending NFC champs and divisional rival Eagles two weeks ago. Surely, Dallas wouldn't have me looking stupid after their game vs the Bills up in Buffalo, right?


Yeah...


Bills RB James Cook (#4) stole the show vs the Cowboys -- his 221 all-purpose yards and 2 total TD led the way in a banner performance for Buffalo's ground game.


After Dallas' 33-13 thrashing of Philly, they went up to Buffalo and suffered a 31-10 defeat at the hands of the Bills. Dak Prescott's MVP campaign took a big step back, as the QB was only able to muster up 134 pass yards, no TDs, and 1 pick. Fellow star QB Josh Allen, amazingly threw for only 94 yards in this one, which spoke to just how dominant the Bills were in every other facet. Buffalo rushed for 266 yards, which spoke to how different their offensive approach has been since making the change from Ken Dorsey to Joe Brady at offensive coordinator weeks ago. Brady is clearly emphasizing more usage for the running back position, and it's paid off with consecutive wins for the Bills -- and more importantly -- Josh Allen, who doesn't have to be Superman every single play with this refined approach. The Bills haven't been great all season, 8-6 thru 15 weeks. But, let's be real for a second. Do you think any of the current AFC division leaders -- the aforementioned Ravens, the Dolphins, and Chiefs (both Miami and KC won their games this past week against lesser opponents) -- do you really think any of those teams is in their locker rooms, saying "Man, I really want to catch Buffalo in the playoffs"? Not a chance in hell. Buffalo's currently the AFC's 9th seed -- 1 of 4 AFC teams sitting at 8-6, so they've still got work to do over the final three weeks of the regular season. I don't know if they'll make the playoffs. But they're back to being a force to be reckoned with, that much I know.


Me, personally, I'm not too worried about the Cowboys after that one. I know the media is always eager to tear them down after they put on a performance like they did on Sunday. They HAVE to shore up their rush defense, that's for sure. That's typically a hallmark for true Super Bowl contenders, and I'm sure defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's group will work tirelessly at that issue. Dallas has a bounce-back opportunity this week, as they travel to Miami. The Dolphins will be happy to get Tyreek Hill back, although they didn't miss him very much in their 30-0 beatdown of the hapless New York Jets.


I mentioned the Eagles earlier -- they had a road MNF matchup with the Seattle Seahawks in Week 15, and... lost their 3rd straight, THIS time to a previously-6-7 team. Losing consecutive games to the 49ers and Cowboys -- clear contenders in the NFC -- is one thing. But letting Drew Lock "put that s--- on"? That might warrant some alarm bells, now.


I say that to take no credit away from Lock and Seattle. They played a spirited game in a must-win game for their playoff chances. Lock's brilliant TD pass to rookie WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba from 29 yards out was the game-deciding play.



It's one of my personal favorite plays this season -- just look at the love and support towards Lock shown from the injured, usual starting QB Geno Smith on the sideline. Amazing.


Other notable outcomes and results from the past week:


  • In the battle of backup QBs -- the very entertaining battle -- Jake Browning & the Bengals defeated Nick Mullens & the Vikings, 27-24 in OT. Nick Mullens is if like Nick Mullens had Brett Favre's brain. Don't let that go over your head.


  • To finish up Saturday's action, the Colts won by 17 and the Lions won by 25 over the Steelers and Broncos, respectively. Both Pittsburgh and Denver fell to 7-7, which should teach us that not all records are equal in a vacuum. Denver still should have life, where this Steelers' team just looks and feels like a cooked product. George Pickens refused to block on a play where it looked like Jaylen Warren was about to run in a touchdown. Instead, Pickens' man made the score-saving tackle. The clip is a horrible look for Pickens, but at least he had the wherewithal to raise the excuse of "I didn't want to get hurt". Not quite "the dog ate my homework" level of bad, but it's up there.


That'll about wrap up my thoughts on the week that was in the NFL. It's a big week to come, too. I already made mention of the huge Ravens/49ers and Cowboys/Dolphins games this week -- it's plenty more games with playoff implications this Saturday and Sunday. And with that being said, let's get to the pre-Holiday NFL Team Tiers ahead of Week 16.


Contenders:

  • 49ers (x, 11-3)

  • Ravens (x, 11-3)

  • Cowboys (10-4)


Pretenders:

  • Eagles (x, 10-4)

  • Dolphins (10-4)

  • Lions (10-4)


If Everything Breaks Right:

  • Browns (9-5)

  • Chiefs (9-5)

  • Jaguars (8-6)

  • Bills (8-6)


Could Make The Playoffs and Make It Fun, Too:

  • Colts (8-6)

  • Texans (8-6)

  • Bengals (8-6)

  • Rams (8-7)

  • Seahawks (7-7)

  • Vikings (7-7)

  • Buccaneers (7-7)


They're Not For Real:

  • Steelers (7-7)

  • Saints (7-8)

  • Packers (6-8)

  • Falcons (6-8)

  • Raiders (6-8)


Thanks For Trying:

  • Giants (5-9)

  • Titans (5-9)

  • Bears (5-9)


Get The Tank Revved Up, Buddy:

  • Chargers (5-9)

  • Jets (5-9)

  • Commanders (5-9)

  • Cardinals (3-11)

  • Patriots (3-11)


Earning The First Pick But Won't Get To Actually Use It:

  • Panthers (2-12)


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