NFL Week 16: Five things we learnt - New England coin toss proves costs, Carolina finally taste defeat

The 2015 NFL season is nearing its conclusion and playoff spots are continuing to be snatched up. Zander Swinburne examines who made a blunder with the coin toss, who is no longer undefeated and which team can still take the NFC North

Zander Swinburne
Tuesday 29 December 2015 15:49 GMT
Eric Decker of the New York Jets speaks with Matthew Slater of the New England Patriots
Eric Decker of the New York Jets speaks with Matthew Slater of the New England Patriots (Getty Images)

Coin toss blunders can be costly

As proven on Sunday, it turns out that a team can still receive the ball first, even if they don’t win the coin toss.

In one of the most bizarre blunders in the history of overtime, the New England Patriots were forced to watch the New York Jets march down the field and secure a 26-20 victory despite being given the opportunity to receive the ball first.

During the coin flip, the Patriots’ Matthew Slater immediately shouted "we want to kick" as soon as his team had won the toss. To the surprise of New York’s representatives, they then tentatively asked to receive, thus sparking an outburst of confusion from Slater who looked to have chosen the wrong option. As the Patriots almost never opt to receive, one could argue it was a knee jerk reaction to ask to kick off having won the toss. The subsequent panic from Slater afterwards showed he had made a costly mistake.

Overtime rules state that if a team scores a touchdown on its first possession then the game is over. Tom Brady and his fellow offensive players then watched Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets score the necessary six points barely minutes into overtime to win the game.

Bill Belichick and Slater defended the call after the game, claiming that it was part of the game plan not to receive. Regardless of whether the blunder was deliberate or not, it was a costly one. The Patriots’ playoff position has already been secured, but they have yet to safeguard the number one seed and their loss to the Jets now puts that objective in doubt.

It goes to show that the margin of error in the NFL is incredibly small. One slip up and your opponents quickly take advantage.

Panthers are no longer undefeated

It took 16 weeks of football, but with one more game week remaining, there are now no more undefeated teams. The Carolina Panthers are now 14-1 and have experienced their first loss in a competitive game since January.

The NFC South team was finally toppled by a fellow divisional rival, the Atlanta Falcons, 20-13. Like many others before it, this was a game the Panthers were expected to win but for some reason, the Carolina side we had become accustomed to seeing failed to turn up on Sunday. Despite some flourishes of brilliance from Cam Newton in the first quarter, Carolina failed to sustain the momentum they gained early on and thus the Falcons capitalised towards the latter parts of the game.

Whilst the loss has no real playoff implications, it will no doubt leave the team feeling a bit deflated at a time when they should be energetic going into the postseason. So much is often made of the teams on hot streaks going into the playoffs, not the ones who limp in, and whilst the Panthers are not yet at that stage, missing out on a historical undefeated season will likely have an impact in some capacity. The loss will also spark some confidence in the other NFC Super Bowl hopefuls as it shows that the Panthers are a team capable of being beaten. Better still, the NFL’s last remaining undefeated team was undone by the Falcons, a mediocre side at best whose only hopes of a postseason spot lie in the 2016 season.

Whilst the undefeated label has gone, the Panthers remain a top contender for the Lombardi Trophy. As long as the Super Bowl is their main focus, not chasing records, Carolina will continue to be an imposing force come January.

Non playoff teams always have something to play for

Regardless of whether a team has been out of the playoff running for a few days or even a few weeks, such teams always have something to play for. Whilst they may not be able to grab a postseason spot themselves, they have the power to stop others getting in and thus help out the franchises in desperate need of assistance.

On Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens gave the New York Jets a late Christmas present, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-17. The win made no difference for the Ravens, a team who had been out of the running for a number of weeks, but they gave the New York Jets an opportunity to sneak into the playoffs.

Whilst Baltimore were unlikely to have been playing to help the Jets, they were certainly competing to spoil the Steelers’ postseason party. After the game, it came to light that the Ravens were doing everything they could to ensure Pittsburgh would start an early offseason. With an almost playground type attitude, Ravens players were revelling in the prospect of knocking out their rivals from the playoffs. When referring to the Steelers’ playoff scenario, cornerback Lardarius Webb told reporters, “If we can't get in there, then you can't get in either”.

Baltimore will unlikely be the only team hoping to spoil a few postseason ambitions as this coming week the NFL season finishes with all divisional matchups. Rex Ryan and the Bills will no doubt be relishing the chance of ending New York’s season early.

The Packers can still lose the NFC North

Despite being seen as Super Bowl favourites at various stages of the season, the Green Bay Packers are all of sudden in danger of losing their grip on the NFC North. Green Bay has not not won the North since 2010 and it has been a division for which they have held a stranglehold over ever since.

Now, after an embarrassing 38-8 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay have the same 10-5 record as the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings, a largely underrated team in the NFC, has kept pace with the Packers throughout the season, keeping the pressure on a team that is usually in cruise control by this stage of the year. Minnesota demolished the New York Giants on Sunday night 49-17, firmly establishing themselves as contenders when it comes to playoff time. The Vikings and Packers will both faceoff on Sunday to see who is crowned champion of the NFC North.

Whilst both teams will undoubtedly be going for the win and thus the division title on Sunday, one can argue that the loser may come off better as the playoff bracket currently stands. Whoever takes take the north will go on to play the 6th seed, who at the moment are the Seattle Seahawks, a team who has found their form late and will no doubt be a threat come the postseason. The loser of Sunday’s season finale will face the 4th seeded Redskins. At 8-7, Washington pose a far less danger to Super Bowl ambitions and thus teams will be hoping to square off against them. Either way, the Packers and Vikings will likely be both winners and losers after Sunday, but in very different ways.

Indianapolis could still make the playoffs... possibly

Somehow, the Indianapolis Colts can grab themselves a playoff spot, and it all comes down to not just their final game of the season, but nine others. Despite a disastrous campaign, the Colts still have a shot of making it to the postseason, albeit a very small one.

At 7-8, the Colts are one game behind the current division leaders, the Houston Texans, and thus need to beat the Tennessee Titans on Sunday and have Houston lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars to even up the records. Even then, however, the chances of being able to make it to the playoffs are incredibly slim.

Due to Indianapolis’ poor tiebreaker record with Houston, the Colts need eight teams to beat their opponents, starting with the Broncos beating the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night. At the time of writing, Denver have yet to beat Cincinnati but if you are reading this and Denver have triumphed in their Week 16 matchup then the Colts’ hopes of making the playoffs extend into next weekend.

It is at this point that Indianapolis supporters are no longer just Colts fans but are also rooting for a number of other teams. The Colts need not only themselves to win but also the Steelers, the Broncos, the Falcons, the Bills, the Jaguars, the Dolphins, the Ravens, and the Raiders

If there accumulator pays off then the Colts would see themselves play in their fourth straight postseason. The odds of this happening, however, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index are 3,326-1. The Colts appearing in the 2015 playoffs is looking unlikely to say the least.

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