Time to put Foles, 'Franchise QB' convo on hold... for now

Time to put Foles, 'Franchise QB' convo on hold... for now

Sure, Nick Foles has made some history. Last week tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in a game, was one of only three guys even to do it without an interception, and was the only one to do it with a perfect quarterback rating. On Sunday became one of only three passers to start a season with 16 or more touchdowns and no interceptions, one being Peyton Manning, the other being a guy from 1960. Oh, and he posted the highest single-game quarterback rating at Lambeau Field. Ever.

But while it's good and fun to debate whether Foles should be the starter for the rest of the season and projects as a franchise guy, or merely finds himself at the middle of a fun and fortunate convergence of events, with the Eagles 27-13 win over the Packers this Sunday, the conversation has shifted, been put on hold.

Now, it's whether the Eagles can make the playoffs, and what it means for Foles if he leads them there.

First, on the Birds' road to January.

At 5-5, the Eagles sit a half-game behind the Cowboys in the NFC East, thanks to a tiebreaker coming in the form of that time Foles played less than good. Their chance for a season series split, and at closing the one-game difference between their in-division records, comes in Week 17, at Dallas.

Until then, the Eagles have a pretty manageable schedule. Their opponents -- Washington, Arizona, Detroit, Minnesota, Chicago, Dallas -- have a combined 26-29 mark. Only two division leaders, though one is the Cowboys. Only one at two games over .500. (Lions.) Toughest defense they'll face (Cardinals, coincidentally led by... Todd Bowles), comes after Philly's bye, in Week 14. Only one hour-plus time zone change, at 2-7 Minnesota. Four of six at home, and the Linc Stink has to subside sometime, right? (Right?)

Dallas, though, has it even easier. Combined opponents' record for the rest of the way: 24-31. Three games against teams at three games under .500. None against teams at two over. Chicago, in Week 14, may be without Jay Cutler. Samesies for Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay, their next opponent. What may be the de facto NFC East championship game, the regular season finale against the Eagles, is in the Cowboys' house.

Dallas is the current Vegas leader to win the division, at an even money line. The Eagles are +150.

As for a wild card berth: read today's MMQB. Probs not gonna happen. As for the Giants and Washingtonians: I may be crazy to go here with the Eagles. Not crazy enough to go there with them.

Of course, the focus will eventually double back to Foles' long-term prospects, and rightfully so. Finding a franchise quarterback isn't just Jeffrey Lurie's No. 1 priority. It's just kind of what you do in the league.

If he doesn't win, the argument against Foles being cemented as "the guy" moving forward through the draft and into training camp next year will make itself. But what happens if he does win? Then what?

Here's a list of guys who've won at least seven games in a season in any of their first two NFL seasons dating back to 1984, Dan Marino's first year. Why seven? Two reasons. One, it's probably going to take seven Foles wins to get the Eagles into the playoffs safely. He has three already. (Remember, he didn't start in Week 5 in New York.) Two, lowering the bar to seven accounts for guys taking over mid-season, like Foles.

Rk Player Year Age Tm Lg GS W L T
1 Dan Marino* 1984 23 MIA NFL 16 14 2 0
2 Peyton Manning 1999 23 IND NFL 16 13 3 0
3 Ben Roethlisberger 2004 22 PIT NFL 13 13 0 0
4 Kurt Warner 1999 28 STL NFL 16 13 3 0
5 Marc Bulger 2003 26 STL NFL 15 12 3 0
6 John Elway* 1984 24 DEN NFL 14 12 2 0
7 Bernie Kosar 1986 23 CLE NFL 16 12 4 0
8 Jay Schroeder 1986 25 WAS NFL 16 12 4 0
9 Tom Brady 2001 24 NWE NFL 14 11 3 0
10 Dieter Brock 1985 34 RAM NFL 15 11 4 0
11 Daunte Culpepper 2000 23 MIN NFL 16 11 5 0
12 Joe Flacco 2008 23 BAL NFL 16 11 5 0
13 Andrew Luck 2012 23 IND NFL 16 11 5 0
14 Eli Manning 2005 24 NYG NFL 16 11 5 0
15 Donovan McNabb 2000 24 PHI NFL 16 11 5 0
16 Ken O'Brien 1985 25 NYJ NFL 16 11 5 0
17 Carson Palmer 2005 26 CIN NFL 16 11 5 0
18 Matt Ryan 2008 23 ATL NFL 16 11 5 0
19 Mark Sanchez 2010 24 NYJ NFL 16 11 5 0
20 Russell Wilson 2012 24 SEA NFL 16 11 5 0
21 Derek Anderson 2007 24 CLE NFL 15 10 5 0
22 Drew Bledsoe 1994 22 NWE NFL 16 10 6 0
23 Andy Dalton 2012 25 CIN NFL 16 10 6 0
24 Josh Freeman 2010 22 TAM NFL 16 10 6 0
25 Shaun King 2000 23 TAM NFL 16 10 6 0
26 Kyle Orton 2005 23 CHI NFL 15 10 5 0
27 Christian Ponder 2012 24 MIN NFL 16 10 6 0
28 Kyle Boller 2004 23 BAL NFL 16 9 7 0
29 Chris Chandler 1988 23 IND NFL 13 9 4 0
30 Kerry Collins 1996 24 CAR NFL 12 9 3 0
31 Andy Dalton 2011 24 CIN NFL 16 9 7 0
32 Joe Flacco 2009 24 BAL NFL 16 9 7 0
33 Robert Griffin III 2012 22 WAS NFL 15 9 6 0
34 Neil O'Donnell 1992 26 PIT NFL 12 9 3 0
35 Jake Plummer 1998 24 ARI NFL 16 9 7 0
36 Ben Roethlisberger 2005 23 PIT NFL 12 9 3 0
37 Matt Ryan 2009 24 ATL NFL 14 9 5 0
38 Mark Rypien 1989 27 WAS NFL 14 9 5 0
39 Russell Wilson 2013 25 SEA NFL 10 9 1 0
40 Vince Young 2007 24 TEN NFL 15 9 6 0
41 Drew Brees 2002 23 SDG NFL 16 8 8 0
42 Brett Favre 1992 23 GNB NFL 13 8 5 0
43 Tarvaris Jackson 2007 24 MIN NFL 12 8 4 0
44 Byron Leftwich 2004 24 JAX NFL 14 8 6 0
45 Mark Sanchez 2009 23 NYJ NFL 15 8 7 0
46 Michael Vick 2002 22 ATL NFL 15 8 6 1
47 Vince Young 2006 23 TEN NFL 13 8 5 0
48 Troy Aikman* 1990 24 DAL NFL 15 7 8 0
49 Sam Bradford 2010 23 STL NFL 16 7 9 0
50 Aaron Brooks 2001 25 NOR NFL 16 7 9 0
51 Kerry Collins 1995 23 CAR NFL 13 7 6 0
52 Jay Cutler 2007 24 DEN NFL 16 7 9 0
53 Trent Dilfer 1995 23 TAM NFL 16 7 9 0
54 Tony Eason 1984 25 NWE NFL 13 7 6 0
55 Trent Edwards 2008 25 BUF NFL 14 7 7 0
56 Boomer Esiason 1985 24 CIN NFL 14 7 7 0
57 Chad Henne 2009 24 MIA NFL 13 7 6 0
58 Danny Kanell 1997 24 NYG NFL 10 7 2 1
59 Cam Newton 2012 23 CAR NFL 16 7 9 0
60 Alex Smith 2006 22 SFO NFL 16 7 9 0
61 Ryan Tannehill 2012 24 MIA NFL 16 7 9 0
62 Tim Tebow 2011 24 DEN NFL 11 7 4 0
63 Mike Tomczak 1986 24 CHI NFL 7 7 0 0

Lot to like, the cases in point being, Marino, Brady, Peyton, Brees, Luck, Wilson, RG3, Roethlisberger, Favre, Aikman. Lot of yuck, too, such as Tomczak, Tebow, Kanell, Trent Edwards, Aaron Brooks, Kyle Boller, Shaun King, Ken O'Brien, Dieter Brock and a whole mess of other guys I have to use two names to reference.

Point being, the same point I made to counter people ready to anoint Foles on the basis of a couple of NFL records alone: end of the day, elevating a guy to "franchise QB" status isn't about stats, records or superlatives. It comes down to evaluating his performance on the field, in terms of abilities, and projecting how that performance should translate in the future.

Things that will be fun to debate on sports talk radio for, well, ever.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @MKH973 Catch him every Saturday from 12-2 on 97.3 ESPN-FM. 

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

NFL Playoff Wrap: Packers, Steelers off to conference title games after dramatic wins

ARLINGTON, Texas -- This time it was a catch, and another win for the Green Bay Packers.

Call it a "Half Mary" from Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers threw a 36-yard pass to a toe-dragging Jared Cook on the sideline, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired, sending the Packers to the NFC championship game with their eighth straight win while thwarting a huge Dallas rally in a 34-31 victory in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday.

The throw on the run from Rodgers to Cook -- confirmed on review -- wasn't nearly as debatable as Dez Bryant's famous catch that wasn't in the Cowboys' divisional round loss to Green Bay two years ago.

Cook kept both feet inbounds with a knee just above the ground out of bounds.

And it came after the Cowboys tied the game twice in the final 5 minutes behind rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in their playoff debut.

It was the third field goal of more than 50 yards in the final 1:38 -- two from Crosby and one from Dallas' Dan Bailey. And Crosby had to make the winner twice after Dallas coach Jason Garrett called timeout before the first attempt.

Rodgers, who sparked last week's wild-card win over the New York Giants with another Hail Mary before halftime, is headed to an MVP showdown with Atlanta's Matt Ryan next Sunday. It will be his third NFC title game -- all on the road.

Green Bay's win was the first by a road team after 12 straight home victories in the playoffs dating to last season.

The Cowboys (13-4) almost became the third team in the Super Bowl era to win in the playoffs after trailing by 15 points in the fourth quarter. The first was Dallas in 1972, when "Captain Comeback", Roger Staubach, rallied the Cowboys for a 30-28 win over San Francisco.

Instead, Dallas ended up with its fifth straight loss in the divisional round and a 21-year drought in trips to the NFC championship game.

Prescott got the Dallas rally going with a 40-yard touchdown toss in the first half to Bryant, the first playoff TD for the star receiver.

Then he set the stage for the first tying score on a 6-yarder to Jason Witten, also the first postseason touchdown for the 14th-year tight end.

Rodgers led the Packers to a go-ahead 56-yard field goal from Crosby with a big boost on a pass interference penalty against rookie Anthony Brown that wiped out an interception from Jeff Heath, whose pick earlier in the game helped Dallas rally.

The Cowboys answered with a 52-yarder from Bailey (see full recap).

Steelers hold off Chiefs to set up rematch with Pats in AFC title game
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Who needs to reach the end zone when you have Le'Veon Bell chewing up yards and the clock, and Chris Boswell setting an NFL playoff record with six field goals?

Throw in a stingy Pittsburgh defense for most of Sunday night, and a multitude of mistakes by Kansas City, and the Steelers' 18-16 victory sent them into the AFC championship game.

The Steelers (13-5) needed to hold off a last-ditch threat by the Chiefs (12-5) before advancing to face New England next Sunday night for a spot in the Super Bowl. The Patriots won at Pittsburgh 27-16, but Ben Roethlisberger was injured and didn't play.

Spencer Ware's 1-yard touchdown run took Kansas City within 18-16. The Chiefs at first converted the 2-pointer to tie it, but tackle Eric Fisher -- the first overall selection in the 2013 draft -- was penalized for holding. The next try failed.

With 2:43 remaining, Justin Gilbert misplayed the kick return and was tackled at the Pittsburgh 5. Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for 7 yards on third down and Pittsburgh then ran out the clock, securing a ninth straight victory for the Steelers. The Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1994, losing five in a row.

The scoring started furiously in the opening minutes, then the game became a kicking exhibition by Boswell, who also had six field goals in the regular season against Cincinnati. And Bell put on a virtuoso running performance, patiently finding holes and then exploding through them. He added a team-record 170 yards rushing to the 167 he had in a win over Miami last week.

The Steelers became first team to win a playoff game without a TD since eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC divisional round at Baltimore.

Using a no-huddle attack almost to perfection early on, the Steelers drove deep into Kansas City territory. But they bogged down inside the 5 and Boswell made a 22-yard field goal.

The Chiefs were just as efficient on a six-play march capped by receiver Albert Wilson lining up in the backfield, then slipping uncovered into the end zone for a 5-yard score.

Pittsburgh's answer came on a 52-yard heave to All-Pro Brown, who somehow was covered by linebacker Justin Houston. That led to Boswell's second field goal, a 38-yarder. He added a 36-yarder to cap a 14-play drive on which Pittsburgh again barely huddled.

A clean game up until then turned to, well, turnovers, on successive series. Bud Dupree pounded Alex Smith, whose pass shot high into the air and was caught by linebacker Ryan Shazier.

The Steelers got to the Kansas City 5, where Frank Zombo leaped to deflect Roethlisberger's throw, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry -- burned for 26 yards on the previously play -- picked it off in the end zone.

Boswell's fourth field goal, from 45 yards, made it 12-7 at the half. His 43-yarder, setting the franchise record for a postseason game and tying the league mark of five, came on Pittsburgh's first series of the second half. A 43-yarder midway in the fourth quarter gave Boswell the NFL record.

Kansas City's Cairo Santos got in on the kicking act with a 48-yarder to make it 15-10. At that point, 10 seconds from the end of the third quarter, the Chiefs were outgained 333 yards to 150 (see full recap).

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

Best of NBA: James Harden's 12th triple-double paces Rockets' rout of Nets

NEW YORK -- James Harden had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in his 12th triple-double of the season and the Houston Rockets easily ended their first losing streak of the season by beating the Brooklyn Nets 137-112 on Sunday night.

Held to 105 points in losses to Minnesota and Memphis, the Rockets bounced back with 104 after three quarters and handed the Nets their 10th straight loss.

Eric Gordon led the Rockets with 24 points and Trevor Ariza added 23. Houston made 21 3-pointers and had five players with at least 16 points.

Houston shot just 40.8 percent during its two losses, well below its 46.8 season average, while being held nearly 10 points below its season scoring average. But the Rockets had no trouble bouncing back against the Nets, who allow an NBA-worst 114.3 per game (see full recap).

DeRozan leads Raptors past Knicks
TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan had 23 points, Norman Powell added 21 and the Toronto Raptors used a dominant third quarter to beat the New York Knicks 116-101 on Sunday.

DeRozan also had five rebounds and five assists before coming out late in the third quarter.

The Raptors improved to 27-13, taking the lead for good late in the first quarter. They led by 38 points in the third in winning their third straight game overall and fifth in a row against the Knicks.

DeMarre Carroll added 20 points, and Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 16 rebounds.

Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 18 points, Justin Holiday had 17, and Derrick Rose added 16. The Knicks are 2-10 in their last 12 to drop to 18-23 (see full recap).

Hawks stay hot by beating Bucks    
ATLANTA -- Kent Bazemore scored 24 points, Mike Dunleavy added 20 and the Atlanta Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks 111-98 on Sunday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 33 points and was a tough matchup in the paint for Milwaukee, which dropped 2 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Hawks in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta has won eight of nine. The Bucks have dropped three of five.

Dunleavy, in his second game since arriving in a trade last week with Cleveland, had his first 20-point performance since a first-round playoff game for Chicago on April 30, 2015.

Antetokounmpo has scored at least 30 points in eight games in a breakout season (see full recap)