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Last chance to see Eli Manning one of the very few reasons to watch MNF this week

The NFL makes some wise decisions, and one to applaud was the flexing of the Buffalo Bills-Pittsburgh Steelers game from an afternoon time slot to Sunday Night Football in Week 15, on Dec. 15.

The first time the surprising Bills play on Sunday night in a dozen years will have serious wild card race ramifications, at least, for both sides. Hell, a win at Heinz Field could move Buffalo past the New England Patriots atop the AFC East. And wouldn’t that be refreshing?

Meanwhile, losing the prime-time slot as a result will be the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Chargers, and for not having to watch Phillip Rivers’ career continue to fade into oblivion one more time we can all be thankful.

It’s just too bad something can’t be done about this week.

When the schedules came out, the two bookend matchups had some definite appeal.

They still do, to a certain extent. But while the 6-6 Bears need a home field victory to keep alive their slim playoff hopes, and the 6-6 Cowboys are clinging to top spot in the NFC East, the game on Thursday isn’t exactly lining up as a classic.

Of their combined 12 wins, the Bears and Cowboys have beaten just one team that currently has a winning record. That was Chicago’s 16-6 victory over Minnesota on Sept. 29. 

The Bears are 3-1 in their last four, and Dallas is 3-6 in its last nine, yet the visitors are 2 1/2-point favourites. Deservingly so.

And then there’s a Monday night matchup that lacks much enticement. Okay, the Eagles are mathematically alive, but even coach Doug Pederson says the fact they still have a playoff shot is “crazy”.

The dreadful Giants, meanwhile, have lost eight in a row. Of the millions of eyes in the New York market, most have to be covered when either of their NFL teams take the field these days.

The one reason to take a peek at the Giants this week will be to get what could be the last look at Eli Manning, who is scheduled to get the start with rookie Daniel Jones nursing a high ankle sprain. 

A two-time Super Bowl winner will presumably move past Ben Roethlisberger into seventh place among the leaders in career passing yards (he’s currently eight yards behind him), but depending on how long Jones is out, this may be his last hurrah, or it could also be the start of Manning’s four-game sendoff into retirement. 

The thing is, everyone is expecting the 38-year old to hang them up later this month, even though Peyton’s little brother sounds reluctant to go anywhere.

“You never want to make decision about your future while you’re still kind of living in the present, and don’t know the circumstances of what could happen,” Manning told reporters gathered around his locker room stall on Wednesday. “Just got to go out there and try to get a win for the Giants … I’ll analyze everything else after the season.”

Its probably time for Manning to walk away from the game and get ready to be fitting for a gold Hall of Fame jacket. But here’s hoping we still see him on TV — making more entertaining commercials with his brother.

PRIME TIMING IT

Here are the remaining night games on the NFL schedule, in case you want to plan any get-togethers at a bar with your buddies. 

Thursday night: Cowboys at Bears

Sunday night: Seahawks at Rams

Monday night: Giants at Eagles

Thursday, Dec. 12: Jets at Ravens

Sunday, Dec. 15: Bills at Steelers

Monday, Dec. 16: Colts at Saints

Saturday Dec. 21: Rams at 49ers

Sunday, Dec. 22: Chiefs at Bears

Monday, Dec. 23: Packers at Vikings

One Week 17 game (Sun. Dec. 29), ideally with playoff implications, will be played in prime time.

HANDING OVER THE KEYS

In their must-win game against the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night, the Chicago Bears must buy some time for quarterback Mitch Trubisky. It won’t be easy. According to ESPN Analytics, the Cowboys have the league’s best pass-rush win rate — a statistic that measures how often pass rushers beat their block within 2 1/2 seconds. Applying most of the heat at the instruction of Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli — who held the same post with the Bears from 2010-2012 — will be Robert Quinn (9 1/2 sacks), Michael Bennett (5 1/2 sacks) DeMarcus Lawrence (five) and Maliek Collins (four). Quinn ranks first in the pass-rush win rate.

Thanks to their past rush, the Cowboys have held opponents to a 32.45 percent success rate on third downs that ranks third best in the league. 

“They’re a team, a defence, that gets home with four guys,” Bears coach Matt Nagy told reporters in Chicago. “They can get after you.”

QUCK SNAP

You would have to think the Panthers already have made up their mind about what they are going to do with Cam Newton, who was into his ninth year as their starting quarterback before going down with a season-ending foot injury in Week 2.

According to reports, Newton has decided to have surgery, with hopes he’s as good as new in plenty of time for the 2020 campaign. But of course, there are no guarantees, and the new coach the Panthers hire will want to know who his guy is.

Newton has one more year on his contract, with a cap hit of $21.1 million. The Panthers can cut him and free up $19 million in cap space. Newton completed 25 passes in each of the games he played this season — losses to the Rams and Bucs — yet zero were for touchdowns and one was picked off.

On Instagram, Newton said he was “hurt deep” by the firing of Ron Rivera, the only coach he has ever known in the NFL. “Will be forever grateful because of the impact you had on my life,” he wrote. “Thank you for giving me an opportunity. Thank you for believing in me. I can go on and on, but most importantly, thank you for allowing me to be me.”

If the 30-year old Newton is set free, he very well could wind up reunited with Rivera with whatever team hires him as its new coach.

EXTRA POINTS

It’s time for Chiefs offensive co-ordinator Eric Bieniemy to get a head coaching job. Even his current boss agrees. “I’d say hire him right now,” Andy Reid said, via ESPN. “That’s what I’d tell you. I don’t want to lose him, but I mean if you’re asking me if he’s ready to be a head coach, yeah, he’s ready. He was ready last year.” … Colts running back Marlon Mack was back at practice, and would return from a broken hand this week … Vikings corner Xavier Rhodes publicly apologized to “the organization, my team, my family” for his sideline tirade and argument with head coach Mike Zimmer on Monday. “That’s not the way I should carry myself, especially as a leader of this team,” said Rhodes … The Dolphins have snapped up receiver Mack Hollins, who was placed on waivers by the Eagles.

dbrennan@postmedia.com

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