NFL Winners and Losers: Russell Wilson earning his massive contract (Shutdown Corner)

In the offseason, there was an endless, circular debate about whether Russell Wilson was worth more than $20 million a year. For the first half of this season it didn’t seem like a great bargain by the Seattle Seahawks to give Wilson about $87.5 million over four years. With Marshawn Lynch banged up and the defense not looking as great as it has the past few years, he became the foundation of the Seahawks. He’s on pace for a career high in passing attempts and his pace in rushing attempts is close to a career high too. And for nine weeks he was just OK. He had 10 touchdowns, seven interceptions, no rushing touchdowns. The Seahawks were 4-5. And then, for the past three weeks, Wilson has been the best quarterback in the NFL (though, Cam Newton might argue ). Wilson has accounted for 12 touchdowns and no turnovers the past three weeks. He has thrown for 11 scores, completed at least 70 percent of his passes each game and ran for another score. His ratings the past three weeks: 138.5, 147.9, 146. He’s up to 106.2 for the season. He is playing  very well from the pocket , and making everyone on the offense look better. He’s playing like a franchise quarterback should play when his team needs it. This sums up Wilson’s play lately: He ran for a 53-yard touchdown against the Vikings that was called back for holding. So on the next play he hit Doug Baldwin for a 53-yard touchdown pass. The Seahawks, not really known as an offensive juggernaut even when they were winning back-to-back NFC titles, have scored 106 points their past three games. They’re 3-0 in those games, and at 7-5 with a head-to-head win over fellow wild-card contender Minnesota, the Seahawks seem like a very good bet to make the playoffs. And all of a sudden the Seahawks seem like a legitimate threat in the playoffs (our Eric Edholm discussed here how the Seahawks might be the NFL’s most dangerous wild-card team ). They’re likely going to have to win three straight games on the road to make it back to a third straight Super Bowl, assuming the Arizona Cardinals don’t collapse. And their defense is still not what it has been, though holding Adrian Peterson to 18 rushing yards and Teddy Bridgewater to 118 passing yards might be a sign things are turning around on defense, too.  But how far the Seahawks go in the playoffs probably depends on Wilson playing at a very high level through the postseason. He hasn’t had to carry the team the last two postseasons. In each of the Seahawks’ last two postseasons he never had more than 268 passing yards or 39 rushing yards in a game, and Seattle finished each season in the Super Bowl. When Seattle won the Super Bowl two seasons ago, Wilson didn’t have more than 215 passing yards or 26 rushing yards during any game in the championship run. But Wilson also wasn’t being paid more than $20 million in those seasons. More is expected of him now. Seattle’s championship hopes rest a little heavier on his shoulders than ever before. And if the past three weeks are any indication, he might be turning into the type of a player who can deliver in that spot. Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 13: WINNERS Greg Olsen and his perfection-saving catch: If the Panthers finish this regular season 16-0 — there’s only four games left and they’ll be favored in each one — they can look back on Greg Olsen’s fingertip catch just before the ball hit the Superdome turf as the closest the perfect dream came to dying. On fourth-and-4 just before the two-minute warning, Newton had nothing and scrambled to his left to buy time. He saw Olsen come open, and flipped a pass out to him. Because Newton couldn’t get much on the throw, Olsen had to adjust. And he made a spectacular catch to keep the drive and the Panthers’ perfect season alive. It’s not out of the question that the Panthers could have gotten the ball back and scored anyway, but their chances of winning would have plummeted had the pass hit the ground before Olsen snagged it. Plenty of NFL games come down to a play or two, and the difference between making that play or it going the other way can be a few inches. For the Panthers, a perfect season might be a matter of inches too. Green Bay Packers: On Thursday night, the Packers were as close as it gets to a lock to lose, and fall a game-and-a-half behind the Vikings in the NFC North standings. When Aaron Rodgers was about to get tackled, right before a controversial face mask call on the Detroit Lions, even the Packers’ playoff spot wasn’t a sure thing. And somehow the Packers finished Sunday tied for the division lead. Green Bay hit a miracle Hail Mary to beat the Lions, and then the Vikings got blown out 38-7 at home by the Seahawks. The division will almost surely come down to a Week 17 meeting at Lambeau Field (a game that will almost surely be flexed for “Sunday Night Football”), but the Packers’ outlook looks a lot rosier now than it did a few days ago. And the Vikings probably lost a lot of confidence being handled like that at home. Wade Phillips: Phillips never really panned out well as a head coach (fun fact though: his last playoff win was in 2009, which is six years after Jeff Fisher’s last playoff win) but the man is really good at devising a defense. The Houston Texans finished second, seventh and seventh in the NFL in total defense his three seasons there as an assistant. He was the perfect fit for the Denver Broncos. The Broncos, with a lot of top-end talent already on hand, are the best defense in the NFL under Phillips’ guidance. They went into San Diego, without safety T.J. Ward, pass rusher DeMarcus Ware or nose tackle Sylvester Williams, and held the San Diego Chargers to a field goal in a 17-3 lead. The Chargers had just 272 yards. the game was never in doubt. Phillips’ pressure-heavy scheme is perfect for Denver, and especially outside linebacker Von Miller. Miller had an outstanding game on Sunday. The Broncos had a huge day. With their win (in a difficult spot, given the injuries and coming off the emotional win over the New England Patriots), and the Patriots’ second loss in a row, the Broncos might be the favorite now to be the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The Cincinnati Bengals have that spot at the moment, but they come to Denver for a huge matchup on Dec. 26. If the Broncos enter the playoffs as the AFC’s top seed, they’ll be tough to beat. Phillips’ defense will make sure of that. The Winston-Mariota Rookie of the Year race: This is getting fun. As Todd Gurley continues to fade, the offensive Rookie of the Year race seems to be between the top two picks of the draft. And both quarterbacks were pretty good on Sunday. Marcus Mariota had a great day in an entertaining 42-39 Tennessee Titans win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, completing 20-of-29 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns, and also rushing for 112 yards and a touchdown ( his 87-yard score was phenomenal ). Winston led a game-winning drive for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the final two minutes, beating the Atlanta Falcons on Mike Evans’ touchdown catch. Winston had 227 passing yards, a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown. There aren’t a ton of can’t-miss young quarterbacks in the NFL. And rookie success doesn’t mean these two will continue onto greatness for the foreseeable future. Ask Robert Griffin III about that. But watching each of them do some special things this season has been a lot of fun. LOSERS Cordarrelle Patterson: I don’t have problems with NFL players celebrating in general. I think all celebration rules should be lifted, in fact. Let the players have fun. Dab on, Cam. The one exception: If you celebrate when you are getting destroyed in the game, it’s going to be a bad look. Every time. And Cordarrelle Patterson really, really celebrated his 101-yard kickoff return when the Vikings were trailing 35-0. Yes, it was 35-0 when Patterson combined like four different celebrations into one mega-celebration as he was on his way to the end zone to break Seattle’s shutout in the third quarter.  I mean, cool celebration, Cordarrelle. Just save it for a time your team isn’t getting beat by five touchdowns. Melvin Gordon: If Gurley is an example of why it’s OK to invest a first-round pick in a running back, Gordon is good argument for why you never take a running back that high. Somehow, despite playing in all 12 games with 10 starts, Gordon hasn’t scored a touchdown for the San Diego Chargers. His 3.6-yard average is not what you’d expect from a first-round pick. He also has a fumbling issue, and when he lost his fourth fumble of the season on Sunday, he was benched. That’s not even the first time he has been benched for fumbling this season. Gordon’s struggles look even worse when rookies who cost far less in the draft, like Thomas Rawls of the Seattle Seahawks, David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals and Javorius “Buck” Allen of the Baltimore Ravens, looked so good on Sunday. Gordon’s best hope is to do enough by season’s end that the Chargers don’t go into the offseason wondering if they need to find a new starting tailback. Tom Coughlin: The New York Giants should be running away with the NFC East by now. And they should have had Sunday’s game in hand, too. But neither happened, and after the New York Jets came back to beat the Giants in overtime, co-owner Steve Tisch’s words that seemingly put coach Tom Coughlin on notice seem a bit more important now. Coughlin was questioned after the game for a questionable fourth-down decision. With the Giants ahead 20-10 and a little less than nine minutes to go, the Giants went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Jets’ 4-yard line. Eli Manning was picked off. You can make a great argument that’s the right call — field goals on fourth-and-2 from the 4-yard line are generally a bad idea, and a field goal there wouldn’t put the game away — but when the Jets came back to tie the game and win in overtime it looked bad. The loss to the Jets might end up being the reason the Giants don’t win the NFC East. And if that’s the case, Coughlin’s long and successful tenure with the Giants might finally end. Chip Kelly haters: So what college job should Chip Kelly be taking? I mean, if he can beat Bill Belichick, he should do pretty well in the Big 12 or ACC or wherever he ends up after he gets run out of the NFL, you’d think. – – – – – – – Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

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