Let’s be real. the 2015 NFL regular season sucked. The final several weeks were passable because playoff implications will always matter in a sport with a 16 game regular season and 4 weeks of postseason play, but the games were borderline unwatchable in the first chunk of the season. We always hear how the NFL is such an inelastic product no matter what major PR screwups they commit, but the product itself might ironically lead to a declining growth in popularity if the next few NFL regular seasons are like this one.
But it’s still football, and we can still find some diamonds in the rough. Here are the best 5 regular season games from 2015. Just don’t ask me to rank the worst 5.
5. Steelers at Chargers Week 5,
PIT wins 23-20
You’ll remember this game mostly from the Le’Veon Bell walkoff touchdown that was actually a really, really stupid play call from Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley. The play started with 5 seconds left from the 6 inch line on 1st down, and the Steelers had a timeout. They should have given Vick a chance at the QB sneak touchdown and then chased the ref down with anything short of a tranquilizer gun in order to call a timeout if Vick was short. Instead, they voted for the all-or-nothing play with Bell, and it worked due to his second effort.
A walk-off touchdown on Monday Night Football with the best running back in the league (at least before tearing up his knee) is an amazing and memorable play, but the game, and especially the 2nd half, was great otherwise. Philip Rivers had a sweet drive that ended with a celebration that caused people online to actually think he punched a bird out of mid air. If you are intense enough on the field that people think you might have actually punched a bird, then I like you. I don’t have many rules in life, but that is one of them, and don’t ask me to explain it in any rational way.
The 2nd half also had a pick-6 from the Steelers right when they didn’t think they were getting any offense from Michael Vick, but then Vick somehow woke up and delivered a few huge throws in the final period, including a 71 yard TD pass to Markus Wheaton. Lastly, right before the Bell TD drive at the end, Josh Lambo nailed a 54 yard field goal. This game was very well played at the end, and if it wasn’t for a boring 1st half, it’d be higher on the list.
4. Panthers at Seahawks Week 6,
CAR wins 27-23
In the days following October 18, there’s no way anyone would have guessed that this would be a Top 5 game of the season. Yes, the placement of this game on the list does demonstrate how weak of a regular season it was, but there’s another reason that this matchup clocks in at number 4 with the benefit of hindsight.
Check Football Outsiders’ end of the season rankings. You’ll notice that the Seahawks check in at the top spot. The Panthers are 4th, which makes this week 6 game a much bigger deal than we realized. At the time, we thought that Carolina was a very good team, but we didn’t realize that they were a regular season juggernaut. We also thought that we had seen the last of the Seattle Seahawks as true contenders, but that was obviously incorrect. It’s too bad that this matchup was only in the 6th week of the season, because it would have gotten the attention it deserved had it been in the final weeks of the season.
The Seahawks suffered their 2nd straight defensive meltdown vs. the Panthers, as Cam Newton led his team to a pair of touchdown drives on their final 2 possessions after trailing 23-14… in Seattle, the toughest place in the league to play over the past few seasons. The Legion of Boom botched their coverage of Greg Olsen and gave the Panthers the win in the final minute. Looking back, this game featured two titans of the NFC going at it. We just didn’t know it then.
3. Patriots at Broncos Week 12,
Broncos win 30-24 (OT)
This game obviously hurts now that the Pats may have to go back to Denver in the AFC Title Game, and Mile High is not very nice to the Patriots. During their week 12 matchup, the setting was picturesque. Sunday Night Football with Michaels and Collinsworth, in the house of the 2 great AFC teams of the past 4 seasons, in the thin air of Denver and the falling snow. The only thing that sucked about the aura of the game was that it should have been the final great battle between Manning and Brady.
I was at this game, and I gained a ton of respect for Denver as a city and their sports fans. I was at the Avalanche game the night before as well, and Denver fans are a perfect example of diehard fans. The crowd and the organization owns the fact that their stadium is the only one that’s a mile above sea level, and I saw firsthand how much the thin air matters when the Pats run defense wore down completely over 4 quarters and overtime. The game was a fantastic experience for me, and the game and its importance will be very memorable going forward.
So why did I not rank it higher? Well, as entertaining as the game was, the actual play of both teams didn’t quite match the moment. Don’t get me wrong, the Pats and Broncos played really, really well, which is why the game is at number 3 on the list. But while the game was the clash of the 2 best AFC teams, the game didn’t feature 2 dominant teams throwing their best punches at one another. The Broncos offense looked dead for the majority of the game, and it didn’t help that Demaryius Thomas dropped more balls in a night than a $10 hooker with silicone lubricant all over her hands. The Pats were playing with a skeleton offense by the end of the game after Gronk went out, and both teams had so many injuries at that point of the season that they were not the caliber of teams that might go head to head on January 24.
2. Giants at Saints Week 8,
Saints win 52-49
I’m actually uncomfortable with ranking this game at number 2 on the list, because it means that i’m prioritizing entertainment over the skills and execution demonstrated in the game. The defenses in this game were horrendous, which is what you’d expect with the pre-JPP 2015 Giants defense and Rob Ryan’s swiss cheese defensive unit. The defenses wouldn’t have been able to stop a nosebleed this game, and if we’re ranking games based on how well the teams played, then this game shouldn’t be #2.
…But the game was so freaking entertaining. I simply can’t not put it here, not when Eli Manning and Drew Brees kept one-upping each other until the final whistle. Odell Beckham Jr. had 8 catches for 130 yards and 3 TDs in his return to New Orleans, which would be the most impressive stat of the game if Drew Brees hadn’t thrown for 7 (!!!) TD passes and 505 yards. You could argue that Eli Manning’s stat line was better (30-41, 350 yards, 6 TD, 0 INT) was better than Brees’, who was 39-50 for a ridiculous completion percentage of 78% but also threw 2 picks. Either way, this QB duel was flat out ridiculous, and I’ll factor in the overall entertainment of the game just enough to put this at the penultimate spot on the list.
Patriots at Giants Week 10,
Patriots win 27-26
i hope you already knew that this would be number 1. This game had everything. The storyline of Pats-Giants, and it was the Pats’ first time in the Giants new stadium to face the Giants, as well as the first time playing the G-Men in the Meadowlands since Week 17 2007. Brady demonstrated that the Giants were his kryptonite with the 4, yes, FOUR possible turnovers that he had in the 4th quarter. (He fumbled twice, but one was recovered by the Pats, and he threw the horrendous interception on the goal line and then threw up a duck to Landon Collins in the final 2 minutes, only to have the Giants’ safety drop the easy pick.) Eli Manning was spectacular on the first handful of drives of the game, and he and ODB (ODB is a better nickname than OBJ, and no, I don’t care that there’s a rapper by the name of ODB) only came back to earth when Malcolm Butler played like the cornerback who won the Super Bowl for the Patriots and not the 5th string corner he was up until that point.
The storyline, the game, the everything. Week 10 vs. the Giants had it all, right up until the final kick that only Stephen Gostkowski or Adam Vinatieri could make us feel confident about. I’ve watched the condensed version of this game on league pass twice already and just the 4th quarter another 2 times. If you weren’t able to catch that game and you’re wondering whether or not I’m retroactively placing too much rooting interest and importance into a November game against a non-conference opponent, you can check with these fans.