The phrase “Jalen Hurts is the MVP” began trending on Twitter on Sunday. You would think that would be good news for the Philadelphia Eagles, but it was Gardner Minshew who happened to be starting that afternoon. Instead of clinching the top overall seed with a win, the Eagles lost to the New Orleans Saints 20-10, thanks in no small part to uneven quarterback play.
The one positive to come out of the loss for Philadelphia is that Hurts’s stock is now higher than ever. It’s not that it was necessarily undervalued before, of course. Throughout this season, Hurts has officially made the leap to one of the game’s elites. He has passed for 22 touchdowns – and 3,472 yards – while rushing for 13, and that’s while missing two games.
Yet, one of the main knocks on Hurts’s MVP case was the idea that he was a “system quarterback” benefitting from the talented team the Eagles have surrounded him with. This is not untrue in that if Hurts were playing with the same roster that Justin Fields has in Chicago, his record at quarterback – he is currently 25-18-1 – would look radically different.
However, it’s clear that this is a different Eagles team without him. With Hurts nursing an ailing shoulder, Philadelphia has turned to the experienced backup Minshew for the last two games, losing both of them. It’s not impossible that this has improved Hurts’s MVP odds: he has proven his value in absentia.
Here’s the issue: the Eagles have the record of a world-beater, but these last two games have shown that Hurts might be the x-factor that would make them favorites to reach the Super Bowl. So, if Hurts isn’t 100% by the time he returns, that makes their path to a title much rockier.
Ideally, the Eagles would have had the luxury of sitting Hurts in a meaningless game next week. Instead, the top overall seed in the NFC will be on the line against the New York Giants in Week 18. Would the Eagles really want to roll the dice and play the largely ineffective Minshew again if Hurts isn’t quite ready? Given the evidence at hand, it feels like Philly will be hoping their MVP candidate is good to go.
MVP of the week
Jarrett Stidham, QB, Las Vegas Raiders. Week 17 was a day for fantasy football championships in many leagues, which made the day’s top performers more impactful than most weeks. Sometimes, matchups come down to the most unlikely players. Take the curious case of Jarrett Stidham, who only started on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers because the Raiders effectively exiled Derek Carr.
If you happened to have started Stidham—or receiver Davante Adams, who caught two of his three touchdowns—it’s very possible that it wrapped up a league victory for your imaginary team. The former New England Patriots backup went 23-for-34 and threw for 365 yards (an appropriate New Year’s number) in his first career start.
But, alas, fantasy success does not always beget real-life fortune. While the Raiders were fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive, they were only able to keep them afloat until overtime, when a Stidham interception led to the 49ers’ field goal which formally ended their season. I guess there’s no winning a mojo battle against Brock Purdy at this point of the season, but Stidham at least suggested what football in Las Vegas might look like after Carr’s inevitable exit.
Video of the week
New York Giants edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux’s snow angel celebration after sacking Indianapolis Colts quarterback Nick Foles seemed harmless in isolation. However, it appeared to be wildly inappropriate after Foles was carted off the field with a rib injury, leading to a controversy that slightly overshadowed the Giants returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
After the 38-10 Giants win, Thibodeaux said that he was unaware of Foles’s injury. “After a sack, you celebrate,” he told the media. “I think when I did realize he was hurt, that’s when we started getting up. … I hope he gets well, and I hope he is all right.” We’ll see if that explanation is accepted around the league or whether this becomes a visual image that comes back to haunt the talented rookie.
Stat of the week
5,000. For the second straight year, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has thrown for 5,000 passing yards in a season. Only Tom Brady and Drew Brees have thrown for at least that many yards in multiple campaigns, which sounds exactly like the company you’d expect him to have.
Mahomes’s three-touchdown game helped Kansas City pull off a fourth-quarter comeback victory over the Denver Broncos. The 27-24 win leads us to our bonus stat of the week: it was the 15th straight occasion that the Chiefs defeated the Broncos. At this point, it’s safe to say that one of these teams has the others’ number.
Patrick Mahomes at Arrowhead. Photograph: Denny Medley/USA Today SportsQuote of the week
“We could be eliminated?” – Washington Commanders’ head coach Ron Rivera, after being told that his team’s postseason hopes were on thin ice following their 24-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
It’s not entirely sure if Rivera was being serious after a three-interception game from Carson Wentz in a 24-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Yes, his team could be eliminated with a Green Bay Packers victory over the Minnesota Vikings and, as a matter of fact, they were. The Packers beat the Vikings 41-17 to keep their own postseason hopes alive.
Listen, the playoff picture can get confusing this late in the NFL season, particularly with so many wild-card berths in play. Still, keeping track of all the potential possibilities is kind of a major part of being an NFL head coach. If Rivera were joking, it probably was a poorly timed moment of deadpan sarcasm. If he wasn’t, he probably should have just pretended that he was.
Carson Wentz stands on the field after throwing an interception against the Browns during the fourth quarter. Photograph: Geoff Burke/USA Today SportsElsewhere around the league
Tom Brady had at least one more comeback win left in him on Sunday. The Carolina Panthers were eliminated on Sunday after they couldn’t hold on to a 14-0 lead against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and instead lost 30-24. With the win, the Buccaneers clinched the NFC South with their quite modest 8-8 record because, well, someone had to.
Despite everything, including back-to-back embarrassing endings in regrettable losses, the New England Patriots came into Sunday still alive in the playoff hunt. They even lucked out in that they were playing at home against a Miami Dolphins team starting Teddy Bridgewater and not Tua Tagovailoa. The Patriots managed to take a 17-14 lead on a Kyle Dugger pick-six and then just barely hold on for a 23-21 victory. Now comes the most difficult part: making the playoffs will require a road win over a Buffalo Bills team that still looks like the cream of the AFC.
Patriots wide receiver Tyquan Thornton makes a spectacular reception. Photograph: David Butler II/USA Today Sports It’s not much of a chance for New England, but at least they aren’t the New York Jets. The Jets’ dark-horse playoff hopes came to an end with a 23-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Still, the fact that their hopes were alive this late in the regular season probably bodes well for the franchise’s future.
For some reason, the Chicago Bears kept quarterback Justin Fields into the entirety of their 41-10 loss to the Detroit Lions, despite the team being clearly overmatched the entire time. With Fields clearly established as the future of the franchise, it was a risky move to keep him in a game the Bears were better off losing. As it turns out, the defeat dropped Chicago’s record to 3-13, ensuring that the team will be selecting somewhere near the top of this year’s draft. The 8-8 Lions, in contrast, probably prefer to still be playing meaningful football this late in the season.