Dolphins continue their unlikely resurgence; more Week 15 Snaps

Monday December 16th, 2013
Now 8-6, the Dolphins are in good shape to secure their first winning season and playoff trip since 2008.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

• Another win or two like the one they got Sunday against the Eagles, and the Vikings may not be in the market for a new head coach after all. Leslie Frazier is on everyone's coaching hot-seat list, but his club has continued to play hard for him, and were it not for Baltimore's remarkable last-second win at home last week, the Vikings would be 3-0-1 in their past four games. As is, they're 2-1-1, with that tie in Green Bay and victories over potential playoff clubs in Chicago and Philly.

How the Vikings finish the season (at Cincy, vs. Detroit) will impact Frazier's fate, league sources have told me, and Minnesota continues to be a tough out.

• And for what it's worth, it's pretty obvious by now that Minnesota should have been playing Matt Cassel all along this season. With neither Christian Ponder nor Josh Freeman expected to return to the Vikings in 2014, that makes Cassel the clear-cut favorite to enter the year as the team's starter -- maybe even if the Vikings draft a first-round quarterback and elect to groom him slowly for the No. 1 job.

I suppose the muddle Minnesota has made of its quarterback situation is a strike against retaining Frazier and his staff. But Cassel has played a smooth and consistent brand of quarterback almost every time he's been on the field this season, taking superb care of the football and keeping the chains moving. The Vikings could do a lot worse than running him out there 16 times in 2014.

Against the Eagles, Cassel completed his first eight passes, for 149 yards, and had 202 yards passing with a touchdown at halftime. Not bad for a team playing without its top two running backs, and relying on former practice-squad member Matt Asiata, who happened to score three touchdowns on the ground, from 1, 1 and 5 yards out.

• Chicago head coach Marc Trestman has a little more credibility in his locker room about now. Not to mention in the eyes of Bears fans and the media. That's one takeaway from Jay Cutler getting the job done in his return to the lineup after a month-long ankle injury. Chicago outlasted Cleveland 38-31 on the road, and Cutler overcame some early interception issues (twice being picked off by Browns safety Tashuan Gipson, including a pick-six) to get a much-needed W for the Bears.

Had Cutler imploded and Chicago lost, with backup Josh McCown having played so well in relief of Cutler this season, the winter chill would have gotten considerably more biting in the Windy City. But Cutler's 22-of-31, 265-yard, three-touchdown day proved the wisdom of Trestman's move back to the QB well enough. Especially since the Bears trailed 24-17 early in the fourth quarter, before rallying for three consecutive touchdown drives.

• Another week, another Alshon Jeffery highlight. The Bears' second-year receiver is reminding me of a young Randy Moss: You throw it up there, and some how he's going to come down with it.

Jeffery had the game-tying 45-yard touchdown reception between a pair of Browns defenders with just fewer than 11 minutes left in the game, and the score gives him four touchdowns in his past three games. When Jeffery gets his big hands on it, the ball has been secured. Definitively.

Kirk Cousins' start for Washington at Atlanta was a mixed bag, but there was plenty to build on in his 381-yard, three-touchdown performance. Cousins threw a couple of interceptions and lost a fumble, but he wasn't alone on the turnover front, given Washington had a season-worst seven giveaways. The Falcons turned those seven turnovers into only 20 points, after coming into the game with just 12 takeaways all season.

Overall, Cousins looked pretty sharp in only his second career start, and his pocket passing skills are obviously more well-developed than those of Robert Griffin III. But I still don't think teams are going to be lining up to trade a first-round pick to Washington in exchange for its backup quarterback, no matter what embattled Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan suggested last week.

Washington's 27-26 loss to the Falcons, of course, turned on Shanahan's unconventional decision to go for two rather than kick the game-tying point-after in the game's final half-minute. The Redskins failed to convert when Cousins' pass was batted away in the end zone.

I don't have a problem with Shanahan's roll of the dice, any more than I did when Michigan coach Brady Hoke tried the same all-or-nothing maneuver against Ohio State last month. For teams with nothing to lose, why not try to win it on one play, rather than take your chances in overtime? But I'm guessing Shanahan's call will be viewed through the prism of his recent warfare with Washington owner Daniel Snyder and his likely departure from D.C. in a couple weeks. And that may leave Shanahan open to questions of whether he took his two-point chance in the mindset of a man who knows he's gone any day now.

He probably wanted to just get this week over with as soon as possible, one way or another.

• The other risky move of the day was the decision by Philadelphia head coach Chip Kelly to go for it on a 4th-and-1 from his own 24-yard line in the third quarter. The Eagles were stopped on the play by the Vikings, and I think even Kelly would admit that Sunday did not represent his best work on the sideline. I'm still not sure why Philadelphia, even facing a sizable deficit for most of the game, didn't get the ball to running back LeSean McCoy more.

A week after breaking the Eagles' single-game rushing record with 217 yards against Detroit in the snow, McCoy had just eight carries for 38 yards, with five catches for 68 yards. Is it possible Philly forgot about the NFL's leading rusher?

• Besides Washington's Robert Griffin III, I can think of another turnover-prone NFC East quarterback who might need to be shut down for his own good. Your move, Tom Coughlin. The Giants' Eli Manning threw another five interceptions in New York's 23-0 loss to visiting Seattle, giving him a league-leading 25 with two weeks to go. Manning threw for just 156 yards, with those five picks, three sacks and a 31.9 passer rating.

The Giants are the only team in the NFL this season to get shut out, and they've done it twice now, losing 38-0 at Carolina in Week 3.

• Just wondering, but do you think the Seahawks wrote "We'll be back'' on the walls of their locker room in MetLife Stadium? Between now and the Super Bowl in seven weeks, Seattle probably won't have to leave home. It finishes the regular season with two home games, and if it garners the NFC's No. 1 seed, it will have both playoff games at home. Then perhaps a return trip to the Meadowlands awaits.

Being home for the holidays is always a nice little treat for everyone.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.