Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians has some explaining to do. Guy is a great coach and in the Coach of the Year conversation. But why on earth did he have star safety Tyrann Mathieu still on the field late in Sunday night's blowout win in Philadelphia? Mathieu had a meaningless interception of Sam Bradford on Arizona's final defensive play, but his right leg twisted a bit as he went down.
"It could be devastating. It could be okay," Arians said right after the game. "We just don't know. When he came off the field, he was smiling. But the doctor said the knee's loose. We could replace Tyrann, but who would replace his interceptions and his sacks? I have to say, he's my favorite."
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Unfortunately for the Cardinals, it was devastating as an MRI on Monday showed the Honey Badger had a torn ACL. Obviously that ends his season and probably means he doesn't play at the start of 2016, either. Mathieu tore his left LCL and ACL in December 2013 and wasn't really the same player last year before returning to form this season.
This is very big. The Cardinals blitz more than any team, so that means they leave their secondary often on an island. Arizona plays more defensive backs than any team in the league because guys like Mathieu can blitz or play run support at any time. Mathieu had been playing like an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He has 89 tackles, five interceptions, 16 passes defensed, one forced fumble and one sack. He's Pro Football Focus' No. 1 overall cornerback (even though he really is a safety).
The Cardinals did clinch the NFC West with Sunday's win but are still two games behind Carolina for the top seed in the conference. And I'm sure that Panthers coach Ron Rivera will look at an injury like this and perhaps decide to rest his key guys at least Week 17 -- the Panthers can clinch the top seed this week with a win or Arizona loss. The Cards are -4.5 this Sunday at home against Green Bay. They are +260 Bovada second-favorites to win the NFC, with Carolina still favored at +180.
Here are some Week 16 games and opening lines that caught my eye. As usual, I won't touch on the Thursday game, my Sunday featured game (which will be Saturday again this week and Redskins-Eagles) or the Monday nighter.
Texans at Titans (+4.5, TBA): Houston will clinch the AFC South title with a victory and Colts loss in Miami. There's no total here yet -- most books don't have a line, so take this one with a grain of salt as it will move -- because it's not clear whether either team will have its starting quarterback. It's now expected that the Titans won't have Marcus Mariota as he suffered a knee injury in Sunday's loss to New England and is done for the year. At this point, there's no reason to even risk anything; the Titans will pick No. 1 overall if they lose their final two games. Houston's Brian Hoyer had to miss the Week 15 win in Indianapolis with a concussion. Then backup T.J. Yates tore his ACL during that game on a play he wasn't even touched. Former Cowboys castoff Brandon Weeden replaced him and actually looked somewhat competent. Hoyer would have to clear the NFL's concussion protocol, and the Houston Chronicle reported today he's feeling better. I'd be pretty surprised if he's not in there. Weeden was 0-3 as a starter this year for Dallas before being released. Key trend: Houston is 5-5 against the spread in its past 10 as a road favorite. The pick: Texans if Hoyer's back.
Browns at Chiefs (-12.5, 42.5): I'm simply flabbergasted by what the Chiefs are doing -- and they still could take the AFC West title. Kansas City won its eighth straight game Sunday, becoming the first team in league history to win eight in a row immediately following a five-game losing streak. They are now just a game behind Denver in the division, and the Broncos have a tough one Monday night against Cincinnati. Also in Sunday's win over Baltimore, the Chiefs became the first team in NFL history to have a 90+ yard interception return touchdown and a 70+ yard fumble return touchdown in the same game. They have an NFL-high six defensive touchdowns this season. Kansas City will clinch at least a wild-card spot with a win this week and either a Steelers or Jets loss. If I'm the Chiefs, I might almost prefer the No. 5 seed in the AFC and face the Texans in Round 1 in Houston (if Texans win South) than winning the division and maybe having to play Pittsburgh, even if that was at Arrowhead. It is being reported that star Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston likely won't play the rest of the regular season due to a knee injury suffered Nov. 29. The defense hasn't even missed the 2014 NFL sack king. Key trend: Kansas City 5-5 ATS in past 10 as double-digit home favorite. The pick: Chiefs will win, but I'll take the points.
Cowboys at Bills (-6, 43.5): These two were both eliminated following losses in Week 15. The Cowboys, as I predicted they would, have decided to give up on the Matt Cassel experiment and will give former Boise State star quarterback Kellen Moore his first NFL start in this one. He replaced Cassel in Saturday's loss to the Jets and was 15-for-25 for 158 yards, one touchdown and three picks. Might as well do this and see if Moore can be your backup to Tony Romo next season. You know what you have in Cassel, and that's not much. This will be the first time since 2001 that the Cowboys have started four quarterbacks in a season. Moore is the first lefty QB to throw a pass in Cowboys team history. I didn't know that! Buffalo, meanwhile, is expected to be without running back LeSean McCoy the rest of the season due to an MCL injury. The Bills will miss the playoffs a 16th straight year, the longest drought in the NFL. Key trend: Buffalo 4-6 ATS in past 10 as home favorite of at least 6 points. The pick: Huge on the "under." Take Buffalo.
Giants at Vikings (-4, 44.5): The NFL has smartly suspended Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for this game. I'm sure by now you've seen what an immature knucklehead Beckham was being in that loss to Carolina on Sunday. How the referees didn't eject him when he took a running start and targeted Panthers cornerback Josh Norman's head on a helmet-to-helmet hit is beyond me. Beckham is crazy talented but clearly has an anger problem, and it wrecked his game in the first half vs. Carolina as he was held without a catch. Now other cornerbacks know the best way to stop Beckham is to get under his skin. New York still has a shot in the NFC East. The only way the Giants can make the playoffs is to win their final two games while Washington loses its final two. The Vikings, meanwhile, clinch a playoff spot with a win, a Seahawks win or a Falcons loss. They still have a shot to win the NFC North as well. Star Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson sprained his ankle in the win over the Bears on Sunday but says he will play here. Key trend: Minnesota 5-4-1 ATS in past 10 as home favorite of at least 4 points. The pick: Vikings.
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