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The Schein Nine

NFL Week 16 winners and losers: Steelers bounce back, Raiders complete collapse

Santa treated some teams incredibly well in Week 16 of the 2020 NFL season. Others apparently were on the naughty list.

Here are the winners and losers from Christmas weekend, Schein Nine style:


1) Jacksonville Jaguars

NFL executives and scouts will tell you that Clemson's Trevor Lawrence is a Mount Rushmore quarterback prospect of the past few decades, in the same category as John Elway and Andrew Luck in terms of dreamy talent and tools. And now, with the Jaguars' loss to the Bears and the Jets' stunning win over the Browns, Jacksonville (1-14) is locked into the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. This, of course, puts them in position to land Lawrence, should he ultimately choose to declare. This is the absolute jackpot. And Lawrence should be thrilled, too.

Jacksonville is a great city. There's no state income tax in Florida. Jaguars owner Shahid Khan is patient. The team, which already has some prime young talent in house, is loaded with draft currency and cap space. The general manager position is open, and the head coach spot could be soon to follow. High-level candidates will be fighting for this job, with the No. 1 pick in hand and additional roster-reconstruction ammo coming out of the franchise's ears.

The 2020 campaign marks Jacksonville's 12th losing season in the past 13 years, but the Jaguars' future suddenly looks quite bright.

2) Brian Flores

Brian Flores is getting my AP vote for Coach of the Year. He has completely maximized the talent on this Miami team. The fact that these Dolphins head into Week 17 with a 10-5 record and a win-and-in mandate is a credit to Flores' unbelievable work with this squad, especially the stingy, playmaking defense. But the coach actually made his biggest mark on the other side of the ball Saturday night.

Flores' no-nonsense approach is brilliant -- in Year 2, he's already earned the kind of respect from his charges that allows him to do whatever it takes to win. Tua Tagovailoa was terrible Saturday in Las Vegas, so Flores went to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who rallied Miami to a thrilling win. (Honestly, with the way that contest finished, it was one of the games of the year.) This was the second time Flores benched the No. 5 overall pick in the fourth quarter of a winnable game this season. So, are we heading toward a quarterback controversy in Miami? Will the team come apart? Nope. Immediately following the win, Flores said Tagovailoa will be the starter at Buffalo in Week 17. And that's that.

Miami has a chance to make the playoffs for just the third time in the last 19 seasons. And in the bigger picture, this organization is set up for long-term success with a winning culture, oodles of draft picks and ample cap space. Flores deserves so much credit for knocking his first head-coaching opportunity out of the park.

3) Pittsburgh Steelers

In the midst of a three-game losing streak and trailing the Colts by 17 points, the Steelers were cooked. At least that's what I -- and no doubt, many of you -- thought. Turns out this Pittsburgh squad has some fighting spirit after all.

Down 24-7 in the third quarter, Mike Tomlin's squad scored 21 unanswered points to beat the Colts, 28-24, and claim the AFC North crown.

Ben Roethlisberger -- who'd been mired in a prolonged slump, leading to serious questions about his viability as a 38-year-old quarterback coming off major elbow surgery -- caught fire in the second half and finished with a season-high 342 passing yards and three touchdowns. This was especially key because the Steelers' ground game was worthless once again.

Looking forward to the postseason, my trust level in this team remains rather slim. But Tomlin's ability to pull this team out of the fire and improve to 12-3 was rather impressive.

4) Aaron Rodgers

Is there anything more perfect and poetic on the gridiron than watching the most talented quarterback ever do his thing in a meaningful night game on a snowy Lambeau Field? The answer is no. A resounding no.

Green Bay (12-3) is in pole position for the NFC's top seed following a 40-14 demolition of the Titans on Sunday Night Football. And when you remember that the "V" in MVP stands for "valuable," Aaron Rodgers is absolutely the front-runner for the 2020 honor in the wake of another masterful performance. Braving the late-December snow and frigid temperatures, Rodgers delivered with Santa Claus efficiency, completing 21 of his 25 passes for 231 yards and four touchdowns, including three to all-world wideout Davante Adams. Yes, Rodgers had one pick thanks to a fabulous diving effort from Malcolm Butler, but his season TD-to-INT ratio still sits at a mind-boggling 44:5.

Time to clear some space on the mantel: MVP No. 3 is on its way.


5) Dwayne Haskins

The DMV native had already been quite disappointing in his two seasons with Washington, but he reached a new low over the past nine days. And now he's out of work altogether.

Following a Week 15 loss to Seattle in which Dwayne Haskins tossed a pair of interceptions, the second-year signal-caller went mask-less to what he called a "private birthday party" with his girlfriend. As the starting quarterback on a first-place team competing for a division title, Haskins not only let down his teammates, but he seriously disrespected his head coach. Ron Rivera has been battling cancer in the midst of a global pandemic, valiantly going about his job throughout ... and then his quarterback just throws caution to the wind for a night of revelry? Talk about clueless.

With Alex Smith still recovering from a calf injury, Washington was forced to start Haskins again in Week 16. Rivera understandably deduced that you can't punish the whole team for the tone-deaf actions of one man. Then again, maybe Rivera did punish everyone by starting Haskins. The 23-year-old threw two more picks and lost a fumble before getting benched in favor of Taylor Heinicke, who hadn't thrown an NFL pass in two years. Despite Heinicke's inspired relief effort (12 of 19 for 137 yards and a touchdown; three rushes for 22 yards), the Football Team lost to the Panthers, 20-13.

Now Washington (6-9) faces a win-and-in season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football. With the NFC East title hanging in the balance, who'll Rivera trot out at quarterback? Not Haskins, who was released on Monday. Rivera will roll with Smith -- or, if he's not healthy, Heinicke -- over the No. 15 pick of the 2019 draft. And I don't blame him. Not one bit.

6) Los Angeles Rams

A win in Seattle would've punched Los Angeles' ticket to the playoffs. Instead, the Rams (9-6) lost 20-9, as Jared Goff made a series of facepalm-inducing decisions and inexplicable plays. Oh, and Goff also broke his thumb in the process, leaving him doubtful for Week 17. When it rains, it pours for a team that looked like an emerging juggernaut earlier this season.

Losing at home to the previously winless New York Jets in Week 15 was beyond humiliating, but I believed the Rams' talent and coaching could cook up a bounce-back win on Sunday. Shame on me. L.A. had opportunities, as Seattle refused to put this game away until late in the fourth quarter, but Goff was working as a double agent for the Seahawks, and the Rams doomed themselves with regrettable play-calling in the red zone.

Two weeks ago, the 9-4 Rams appeared to be rounding into Super Bowl form. Now they might miss the playoffs altogether.

7) Baker Mayfield

Yes, the third-year quarterback was suddenly without his top four receivers, due to COVID-19 protocols. But Cleveland had a chance to lock up its first playoff berth since 2002 -- thanks to Indianapolis' loss to Pittsburgh -- and all the Browns had to do was beat the lowly Jets. No dice. Baker Mayfield turned in one of his most inefficient performances of the season, averaging just 5.4 yards per attempt on a career-high 53 pass attempts, with zero touchdown passes, two fumbles lost and four sacks taken in the 23-16 loss to New York. Mayfield's internal clock appeared broken and his accuracy nonexistent.

To his credit, Baker completely owned the loss in the postgame: "There's no excuse. Plain and simple. I failed this team."

Just when you thought Cleveland was destined to be a playoff lock, the Browns now need to beat the Steelers in Week 17 in order to hit the tournament.

8) Las Vegas Raiders

I still can't believe Jon Gruden played for a field goal on Saturday night, allowing the Dolphins to steal a one-point win. I still can't believe the Raiders outbotched the Chargers down the stretch in Week 15. Heck, I still can't believe Las Vegas' complete no show in Atlanta at the end of November.

And now, for the second straight year, the Raiders are officially eliminated from playoff contention after collapsing in the second half of the season. Just brutal. Especially after the sinful game management in the final 2020 game in Sin City.

9) Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals entered Week 16 in control of their playoff destiny ... and proceeded to lose a home game to the injury-ravaged, C.J. Beathard-led 49ers. Totally unacceptable. Beathard, San Francisco's third-string quarterback, threw three touchdown passes, while reserve RB Jeff Wilson gashed the Cardinals for 183 rushing yards and a 21-yard touchdown reception. Just unfathomable.

Blame the defense. Blame Kliff Kingsbury. Blame Kyler Murray, who couldn't even reach 5 yards per attempt on 50 throws, with zero touchdowns and a pick. Arizona's had some brutal losses this year -- SEE: back-to-back defeats to Detroit and Carolina in Weeks 3 and 4 -- but this was the worst of the bunch, given all the circumstances at play.

Now, the Cardinals can still earn a playoff bid with a road win over the Rams on Sunday. Given Goff's doubtful status for that game, you'd presumably feel pretty bullish about Arizona's chances to finish the job. But, you know, C.J. Beathard ...

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