The Cowboys can clinch the NFC title with a win over the Buccaneers on, and a Seahawks win over the Chiefs will clinch a wild-card spot for them. But those aren’t the only things going on, as we take a look at The Post’s Week 16 High Five.
Last dance to watch
Is this really the end for the Black Hole?
When the Raiders play the Broncos on Sunday at the Oakland Coliseum, it might mark the final game they play in Oakland, with plans to relocated to Las Vegas next season. The thought of that made Raiders coach Jon Gruden a little introspective during the week. Gruden’s first head-coaching job came at age 34 in 1998 with the Raiders.
The Coliseum has served as the Raiders’ home from 1966-81, and they return in 1995 (they played in Los Angeles from 1982-94).
The city of Oakland’s recent announcement of its plans to file a federal lawsuit against the Raiders and the NFL over the team’s impending move to Las Vegas in 2020 has left matters very murky. The day after the lawsuit was filed, the Raiders pulled their offer to pay $7.5 million in rent for one final season in 2019 at the Oakland Coliseum off the table.
“It’s a real football stadium,” Gruden told reporters during the week. “It’s dirt, grass, it’s got tradition. It’s where some of the best games in the history of football have been played. It’s where some of the best
players in the history of the world have played football games. I mean … there are a lot of things that have happened in that stadium and … uh, next question. I don’t want to start crying about a stadium.”
Gruden waxed poetic about “just raging in the Black Hole,” adding, “Rocking and raging down there after the Steeler game [last week’s Oakland win over Pittsburgh], after a lot of wins over the years. Seeing a lot of the old highlights of great Raider teams, I get excited. I get emotional about it, and hopefully we get it all resolved so we can continue to play there.”
Possible farewell to watch
When the Cardinals play their home finale against the Rams, it’s possible that will be the final home game in Arizona for icon Larry Fitzgerald.
There has been much speculation about the future of Fitzgerald, the 15-year star receiver who’s been to 11 Pro Bowls. His contract expires after this season, and general manager Steve Keim has told reporters the team will give Fitzgerald time to determine his future before he talks to him about another contract. This has led to many guesses, and the questions of late have dogged him.
“If I decide to retire, I’ll let you guys know,” Fitzgerald told reporters late in the week. “Man, seriously. So, I don’t understand why we keep asking these questions. You know me, I’ve been answering for the last three years. Nothing’s going to change. I’m never going to tell you, ‘This is my last day. I’m excited. Honor me.’ Those words would never come out of my mouth, ever.”
It’s been a trying season for the 35-year-old Fitzgerald, whose numbers understandably have declined thanks to the team’s quarterback situation in constant flux. The Cardinals began the season with Sam Bradford before changing to rookie Josh Rosen, who’s struggled. The Cardinals are 3-11, and there is heavy speculation that rookie coach Steve Wilks might not make it to a second season.
Fitzgerald, who entered this year with three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons, has 59 catches for 645 yards and five TDs and has eclipsed 100 yards receiving in only one game.
Asked if he’s thought about the possibility of Sunday being his final home game, the humble Fitzgerald said, “No thoughts on it, really. It’s just another game for me. If anything changes, I’ll let you guys know, though.”
Post-Cam period to watch
It looks like Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will be shut down for the season because of his injured throwing shoulder. According to Panthers coach Ron Rivera, Newton definitely won’t play Sunday against the Falcons.
Enter backup Taylor Heinicke, who’s thrown just five passes in two NFL seasons. Rivera said he gives the Panthers their best chance to win this week — largely because of Newton’s inability to throw deep passes as a result of his ailing shoulder.
Newton has completed just nine passes of 20 yards or more this season and has five INTs and no TDs when throwing 15 or more yards during the Panthers’ current six-game losing streak — which has left them 6-8 and virtually eliminated playoff contention.
“It’s funny, because some of the DBs actually tell us on the field we’re not scared of y’all throwing deep,” Panthers receiver Jarius Wright told reporters. “They’ve actually mentioned that multiple times. Just having [Taylor] out there keeps everybody honest.”
Wright, who played with Heinicke at Minnesota, sounded like he’s looking forward to catching passes from him.
“The guy can throw the heck out of it,” Wright said. “He does a great job of reading coverages and making quick decisions. A lot of people don’t realize he can move. He’s not a sitting duck back in the pocket.”
Newton, who underwent shoulder surgery during the 2017 offseason, hasn’t been right for weeks. He hasn’t rushed for a TD in the past seven games and has rushed for 33 or more yards rushing only once in that span. In the first seven games, he rushed for four touchdowns and had more than 33 yards six times.
Newton was sacked nine times over the past three games and 19 times over the past seven after being sacked just 10 times the first seven games.
After a 12-9 loss to the Saints on Monday, during which Newton rushed five times for 15 yards and had a season-low 52.5 passer rating, Carolina center Ryan Kalil said it was obvious after watching film of the game that Newton “couldn’t do it.”
Asked if it’s possible Newton could play in the Panthers’ season finale at New Orleans if they still had a mathematical chance to get into the playoffs, Rivera called it unlikely but added, “crazy things can happen.”
Dallas rebound to watch
Call it spin or whistling past a graveyard. Or call it prescient. But, after the Cowboys lost, 23-0, to the Colts last week, some of their players actually said they believed the loss might have been good for them.
Quarterback Dak Prescott told reporters he thought maybe the Cowboys were “too hot to trot” after a five-game winning streak. Running back Ezekiel Elliott said, “We needed to get put in check.”
As the 8-6 Cowboys prepared to play host to the Buccaneers with a chance to clinch the NFC East, coach Jason Garrett said he didn’t agree with the narrative that his team had gotten cocky or complacent.
With the Eagles (7-7) and Redskins (7-7) winning last Sunday, the Cowboys face more pressure to win this week Sunday. Three times in the Garrett era the Cowboys have had win-and-in scenarios, and they lost all three times.
Garrett referred back to when the Cowboys were 3-5 and floundering as a show of their strength rebounding this season and believes this team is different.
“It goes back to mental toughness,’’ Garrett told reporters. “I think we’re all challenged by those things in our lives, in our careers, and certainly a football team gets challenged, as well. It’s a matter of putting that last experience behind you and getting focused on this one and be your best for this experience through your preparation and through your focus and intensity when you’re locked in on it.
“I think our team has actually done a really good job of that over the course of the year, handling some early adversity and came back and we won a few games in a row.’’
Baker and Hue watch
When the Browns play host to the Bengals, it will pit Browns rookie quarterback against his first NFL coach, Hue Jackson, who’s now a member of the Bengals coaching staff after being fired by Cleveland earlier this season.
After Jackson was fired, Mayfield didn’t exactly have a lot of nice things to say about him. Mayfield tweaked Jackson for joining the Bengals, a rival of the Browns. And Cleveland got the best of the first meeting this season, a 35-20 Week 12 win at Cincinnati.
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When Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was asked by reporters about the Jackson-Mayfield relationship, it clearly touched a nerve.
“You want to talk about Browns and the Bengals?’’ Lewis asked. “Other than that, we’re done.’’
Mayfield has been good enough in his rookie season that he was named as a fourth alternate in the Pro Bowl. He’s helped make a Browns franchise — which was 3-36-1 under Jackson — relevant again, having gone 4-2 since his firing.
“The young man has it,” Browns interim coach Gregg Williams said.
“The energy that he brings to the game is unbelievable,” receiver Rashard Higgins told reporters.
Mayfield is one of just 11 rookies ever to have thrown for 3,000 yards and 20 TDs, and he’s within five TDs of tying the rookie record of 26, shared by Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson.
“I believe he’s one of a kind,” receiver Breshad Perriman told reporters. “We all just go as Bake goes.”
Even with the Browns playoff chances virtually non-existent, Mayfield is pushing his teammates for a strong finish in the final two games (Bengals and Ravens) with a chance to finish with the first winning season since 2007.
“We want to win our last two games,” he said. “Any guys on this team that don’t want to do that, they need to get out.”