NFL Week 15: Five things we learnt

A look back at the biggest talking points from Sunday's action

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The Independent Online

The regular season for the NFL is drawing to a close and the playoffs are just around the corner. Zander Swinburne examines which teams have secured their postseason spot, and who’s on the outside looking in.

Johnny Manziel fails to live up to the hype

Last week saw Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer collapse yet again under the mounting pressure that had been placed on both him and his side. Following a disastrous loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Hoyer was spared from another humiliating outing, and Johnny Manziel was named the starter in a must win game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

Was this to be the start of a new era in Cleveland? One that will finally end their playoff woes? Far from it. Manziel’s first career start in the NFL was as bad as it could have possibly been. Cleveland were completely demolished by the Bengals 30-0, all but ending their chances of making the playoffs. As well as failing to lead his team to a single point, Manziel was totally subdued throughout the afternoon, throwing a couple of picks as well as being sacked three times. Johnny Football was clearly rattled by the occasion and he was unable to display any of the attributes he has become renowned for, completing just 10 passes for 80 yards and rushing for only 13 yards. 

The hype surrounding Manziel before the game may ultimately have been his downfall during it, with so many expecting too much from a young quarterback who clearly didn’t start the other 14 games for a reason.

The AFC’s powerhouses stroll into the play-offs

With two games to spare, the usual suspects in the AFC have cruised into the playoffs without even making their fellow divisional competitors challenge them. In the AFC East, the New England Patriots produced a master class second half performance, seeing off the Miami Dolphins 41-13. The win gave the Patriots their sixth successive divisional title and 12th of the last 14.

In what is one of the worst divisions in the league, the Indianapolis Colts secured their division title with a 17-10 win over the Houston Texans. Led by Andrew Luck, the Colts have had little to worry about from their division rivals, who now combine for 31 losses on the season, so making the playoffs as the AFC South champion seemed an inevitable outcome.

Despite having to fight off both the Chargers and the Chiefs, the Denver Broncos with Peyton Manning at the helm secured their division for the fourth straight year with a 22-10 win over San Diego. It all seemed too easy but the Broncos were harder pushed than their other AFC division winners. Both the Broncos and the Patriots represent the best in the conference so it will be no surprise to see both these teams square off in January for a place in the Super Bowl.

RGIII still fighting to keep his job in Washington

Following a number of poor performances, Robert Griffin III was seemingly done for the year, being forced to sit on the bench behind Colt McCoy. The embattled QB that was once so highly rated was given a second chance against the New York Giants on Sunday when McCoy went down injured early. Griffin took his chance, giving Redskins fans a brief glimpse of the Griffin they had once cheered for.

Griffin not only passed for over 230 yards but completed over 66% of his throws. The quarterback was also effective on the ground, averaging nearly 10 rushing yards per attempt. The Redskins were unable to win the game, letting Odell Beckham and the Giants cruise to a 24-13 victory. Nonetheless, Griffin looked much improved, limiting mistakes and failing to throw a single interception. The quarterback was electrifying in his rookie season, sending expectations sky high and to a level that would be hard to get back to following a significant ACL injury.

Now that those expectations regarding Griffin have returned to earth, he may be able to regain his place as an NFL starter.

The Eagles are on the outside looking in

For the Philadelphia Eagles, these last two weeks will need to be forgotten if they are to stand any chance of making the playoffs. The Eagles have now lost two straight and went from lone leaders of the NFC East to one game back and an outside view of the playoff bracket. Chip Kelly’s team were beaten at home against the Cowboys on Sunday night 38-27, surrendering their division lead and possibly their post-season.

Mark Sanchez continues to do good things as the fill in quarterback yet his offence was simply unable to keep up with Dallas who have playmakers on both sides of the ball. The Eagles remaining schedule should bring some hope to the franchise’s fan base as games against the Giants and the Redskins should realistically be won.

With Dallas on a hot streak, the Eagles may just have to settle for a wildcard berth. This however will be hard fought over as the Seahawks and Packers or Lions look set to occupy this spot. It’s amazing how quickly a team’s fortunes can change in just a couple of weeks, for the Eagles they’ll be no doubt holding onto that fact.

Five teams in the running for Marcus Mariota

With several teams guaranteed not to make the post-season, it’s not surprising to see their fan bases turn their concentration to the upcoming draft in 2015. The coveted number one pick is still very much up for grabs and there is one player who seems to be garnering the most attention.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has been one of college football’s stand out players, passing for 38 touchdowns and rushing another 14 scores. He recently won the Heisman Trophy, college football’s most coveted award. Although teams will no doubt trying to win their remaining games, fans will be torn between the success of their team in both the short and long term. The race for the wooden spoon which no team wants to win is currently between five franchises, the Jets, Titans, Raiders, Buccaneers, and Redskins.

Mariota hasn't received the same amount of attention Andrew Luck did prior to being drafted in 2012 however his stock is rising and for at least four of these teams a new quarterback under center could be the difference next season. The next two weeks of the season could very well define the next three years for these teams.