Week 16 Judgements: Romo, Cutler face make-or-break finales

Clark Judge, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

Do not expect the last-minute victory over the Washington Redskins on Sunday to take the heat off Tony Romo or the Dallas Cowboys. But there is a path to relief right around the corner.
For the third straight season, the Cowboys have a chance to win the division in the finale.
And for the third straight year it's the Sunday night game, which could be a problem: Because what we learned the past two years about Romo and the Cowboys is they can't close the deal the 17th week of the season.
In fact, in losses to Washington last year and the Giants the year before Romo produced five turnovers and no wins. He failed in the 2008 finale, too, when he had a chance to put Dallas in the playoffs and lost 44-6 in Philadelphia. He is 1-6 in "elimination games" Week 17 or later, including the playoffs.
This is no replay: it's a repeat chance at Romo redemption.

--2. Let's make this simple: Win, and Jason Garrett gets a stay of execution from Jerry Jones as Cowboys head coach. Lose, and Garrett not only blows the division again, he loses his job.
--3. Say goodnight to New Orleans. The Saints probably make the playoffs, but almost surely as a wildcard, which means they're dead meat because they stink on the road. They're 3-5 away from the Superdome and unbeaten at home, which is why Sunday's loss to Carolina was a crusher.
There are far-fetched scenarios in which New Orleans jumps all the way to the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
But if the Saints make the playoffs as the last team in as expected, they're one-and-done.
--4. Talk about hitting the wall: Not only is Drew Brees 0-3 in his last three road starts; he had three TD passes, four interceptions and 11 sacks in those games.
--5. The Arizona Cardinals just gave the rest of the NFC hope. Seattle was perceived as the Land of the Loss, where no visitor shall exit with a victory. Only the Cardinals just did ... not with Carson Palmer, but with defense. Keep that in mind if Carolina makes the trip to the upper Northwest.
--6. Just a hunch, but Coach of the Year comes down to Ron Rivera vs. Bruce Arians, with Andy Reid a distant third. For the record, Arians -- who was last year's Coach of the Year -- beat Rivera earlier this year.
--7. Adios, Jim Schwartz. He just lost his ninth straight in December and January.
--8. When the Miami Dolphins dissect what went wrong this season, they can start here: They lost twice to a backup quarterback, Thad Lewis of the Buffalo Bills.
--9. "Way to finish strong at home," Jets' owner Woody Johnson tweeted after Sunday's defeat of Cleveland. Question: Was that a message to Rex Ryan or the team?
--10. No matter what happens next week in Miami, Ryan looks like toast. Yes, he improved on his 2012 record with little or nothing on offense, but he didn't reach the playoffs. More important, he has a year left on his contract and wasn't hired by GM John Idzik. And that's a big problem.
--11. If life were fair, Arizona would make the playoffs. The Cards won seven of their last eight, including defeats of division leaders Indianapolis and Seattle. OK, so they're still alive and play San Francisco at home next week where the Cards haven't lost since an Oct. 17 defeat by Seattle. But they're still a long shot. Too bad, too. They're far better than anyone the NFC North will offer.
--12. If and when San Diego misses the playoffs, the Bolts have only themselves to blame. So they did get hot down the stretch. Big deal. They're always hot down the stretch. They buried themselves with earlier losses to Oakland, Tennessee, Houston and Washington -- opponents with a combined record of 15-45.
--13. Let's make it simple and mail the MVP award to Peyton Manning.
--14. If I'm Andy Reid, I'm concerned. It's not just that the Chiefs are a wildcard, which puts them on the road for the playoffs. It's that they probably meet Indianapolis again, and this time in Indianapolis. So what? So the Colts just drilled K.C. at Arrowhead, where the Chiefs are supposed to be tough to beat, and are 12-3 at home with Andrew Luck -- including defeats this season of Denver and Seattle.
--15. Here's another concern for the Chiefs: The pass rush. Where in the name of Tamba Hali did it go? The Chiefs have one or no sacks in seven of their last eight starts. Worse, they have nine ... total ... after putting up 35 in the first seven games.
--16. If Tennessee's Mike Munchak is back for another season -- and his chances are slim -- he can thank a schedule that finishes with Jacksonville and Houston, a combined 6-24.
--17. Cincinnati hasn't won a playoff game since 1991, including an 0-4 record under Marvin Lewis, but that should change soon because the Bengals have at least one game at home. If you hadn't noticed, home is where Andy Dalton is unbeaten this season, where he has 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. On the road, he's 3-4, with 13 TDs and 11 picks, and now you know why it was so important for the Bengals to win their division.
--18. Let's hear it for New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin. He's not exactly known for taking chances, yet that's exactly what he did when he left Eli Manning and the offense on the field in overtime on fourth-and-7 at the Detroit 42. And why not?
He had nothing to lose other than another game in a lost season. Manning completed the pass, the Giants won and Coughlin looks like a genius.
--19. Sorry, Cowboys' fans, but it's hard to imagine Dallas stopping Nick Foles twice in one season, especially the way Foles and the Eagles are rolling now.
--20. Make it a good weekend for the NFL. Shortly after the NFL concedes it has contingency plans in place for the Super Bowl, the temperature at kickoff at MetLife Stadium is a record 70 degrees. Maybe, just maybe, the NFL lucks out in February.

--1. Joe Flacco's sprained left knee is more of an issue than he admits. Sorry, but the Baltimore Ravens' quarterback just didn't look right vs. New England. He not only didn't make big throws; he made big mistakes, throwing two interceptions en route to Baltimore's worst loss under John Harbaugh.
--2. Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly should get Defensive Player of the Year consideration. In the year's biggest game for the Panthers, nobody played bigger or better than Kuechly, who had 24 tackles and an interception. According to the NFL, Kuechly is the first player since Tampa Bay's Derrick Brooks in 2001 to have at least 20 tackles and an interception in a game.
--3. It's the Detroit Lions, not baseball's Tigers, that need recently signed veteran closer Joe Nathan. The Lions just don't know how to finish off opponents, blowing fourth-quarter leads in six of their eight defeats.
--4. Miami is not playoff worthy. I don't care if the Dolphins make it or not. They're not going anywhere, stinking it up in a crucial game vs. a Buffalo team that played without its top receiver and with a backup quarterback. The Dolphins should've played as if the game meant something ... which it did. Unfortunately, they did not. Check, please.
--5. Nobody matters in the NFC North. It's the next-to-last week of the season when there should be a sense of urgency. So what happens? The division gets blanked, going 0-4, with Chicago completing the sweep with Sunday night's 54-11 torching.


--Do we finally get a look at Aaron Rodgers now?
--Does it matter who the AFC's sixth seed is?
--Is it too soon to start rooting for Manning-Brady XV now?
--Does that mean Seattle is vulnerable?
--How did Nick Foles get to be this good this fast?


--1. Detroit Lions quarterback Matt Stafford. With five minutes to go, he's up by seven and facing third-and-7 at his own 22. The Giants have done squat in the half -- in fact, they have one first down in the third and fourth quarters -- so all Detroit has to do is not commit a fatal mistake. Guess what?
Stafford commits a fatal mistake, throwing a pass that Will Hill intercepts and returns for a touchdown. Football isn't tough to figure out. Run out the clock, and Detroit wins. Get stupid, and you suffer the consequences.
--2. Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. It's not that he and his teammates flopped vs. Philadelphia. It's what's next, and that's not just Green Bay; it's a mountain of a challenge for Cutler. Since taking over as quarterback in Chicago he's 1-7 vs. the Packers, with eight touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Guess that means Tony Romo is not the only one with something to prove next weekend.
--3. Green Bay offensive tackle Don Barclay. When he moved, so did the Packers -- down to another loss.
Barclay moved too soon on a second-and-goal at the Pittsburgh 1, a mistake that not only cost the Packers five yards but, more importantly, 10 valuable seconds. With only one play left, Green Bay threw to the end zone and lost to the Steelers.
--4. Referee Ron Winter. Scratch another ref from Super Bowl consideration. Winter's crew was as bad as his mike, which sometimes worked, with officials making phantom calls and suffering from indecision --- three times changing their minds. Now you know why the NFL wants to take control of a situation that keeps getting worse.
--5. Buffalo Bills wide receiver Robert Woods. With Stevie Johnson out and Marquise Goodwin sidelined in the first half, he was the only reliable receiver for third-string quarterback Thad Lewis. So what does he do? Catch 70 yards in passes before getting tossed in the third quarter for sucker punching Miami's Reshad Jones at the bottom of the pile. You have to be kidding. Someone give this guy smart pills.


--1 -- Cleveland Browns rushing TDs on the road
--2 -- Points by which Washington lost the last two games
--3-9 -- Matt Stafford's record in December
--4 -- Oakland penalties on its first drive
--4 -- Carson Palmer interceptions
--5-0 -- Dallas vs. the NFC East
--6 -- Miami first downs
--7 -- Andy Dalton TD passes in his last two home starts
--11 -- Division titles for Tom Brady, an NFL record
--17 -- Giants' points off Detroit turnovers
--58 -- Sacks of Ryan Tannehill this season, most in the NFL
--142-69 -- Opponents' score vs. Cleveland in the fourth down
--289 -- Philadelphia yards rushing


--Philadelphia at Dallas
--San Francisco at Arizona
--Cincinnati at Baltimore
--Green Bay at Chicago
--Kansas City at San Diego

-- Clark Judge, a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange, has covered pro football since 1982 and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.

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