Newton. Rodgers. Peterson. Beckham. Watt.
Like it or not, the NFL is a name-driven business. These are the names that power NFL franchises, millions of dollars, and ... television viewership.
Plenty of NFL fans tune into games when their team isn't playing simply for the thrill of watching one of the NFL's current greats go to work.
That's what makes the Week 16 matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns so fascinating (and our 16th top game of 2015).
There were no marquee names in this game. None. Zero. Zilch.
Gary Barnidge was probably the trendiest name because of his surprising career renaissance and high-profile fantasy season. Thanks to injuries, suspensions, and team-enforced punishments, the likes of Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett, Steve Smith, Josh Gordon and Johnny Manziel were off the table.
Instead, viewers had to rely on the likes of Matt Schaub, Kamar Aiken, Austin Davis, Barnidge and Travis Benjamin to bring them some sweet, savory football goodness.
Expectations were low. I mean, bottom of the well in Buffalo Bill's basement in "The Silence of the Lambs," low.
But believe it or not, on a blustery late-November night in Cleveland, this crop of unheralded football heroes rose up to the occasion and delivered a classic.
From the back-and-forth scoring drives to Matt Schaub inevitably throwing a pick-six to Austin Davis leading a fourth-quarter comeback, this game truly had it all.
And then, just when we thought it couldn't get any better, it gave us more. With time about to expire, the Cleveland faithful waited eagerly for the game-winning field goal to soar through the uprights. It would send them into a work week awash in the glow of a last-second victory over a bitter divisional rival.
Call it what you want, that play sealed the deal: This was one of the best games 2016 had to offer that will be remembered for years to come. Even if some of the players might not be remembered on their own, this game will make them a part of football lore forever.
Play of the Game 1
Obviously, no play was bigger than the deciding field goal block. Fun little footnote about said block, courtesy of Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden in the madness during the final moments of the broadcast. The player who blocked the field goal, Brent Urban, was playing in his first NFL game -- ever. He was a fourth-round pick in 2014 who landed on IR, and then ended up on the IR designated to return list to start 2015. So a special teams player in his first NFL action forced the biggest play of the game. Remember all that talk about unheralded players above? Yeah, good old Brent Urban takes the cake.
Play of the Game 2
On the Browns' final drive, Austin Davis scrambled out of the pocket for seven yards, putting the team in field goal range with a chance to step out of bounds, save a timeout, and set them up for another play to get even closer. Except he didn't. He inexplicably slid inbounds, forcing Cleveland to use a timeout to stop the clock. Cleveland then called a run play to center the football and using their final timeout before the fateful field goal block. Would the Browns have been able to move closer with an extra play and avoid the block had Davis stepped out of bounds? Sadly, we'll never know, as Davis decided to slide early, thus setting up Cleveland for another heart-breaking loss.
Facing a third-and-1 at his own 24-yard-line to start the fourth quarter with a 24-20 lead, Matt Schaub scrambled just short of the first down marker. Baltimore challenged the ruling, strangely, and lost the review. They then went for it anyway on fourth down and converted for a first down. As baffling as this sequence was watching the game live, and it felt even more confusing when reviewing the game again. Aggressive play calling is all well and good, but why go with a risky challenge if you are going to go for it on fourth down anyway? Save the timeout. Or, considering you're sitting at your own 24 facing an offense that has struggled to move the ball all night, just punt. Fortunately for the Ravens, these decisions didn't end up costing them. That doesn't make them any less vexing, though.
From the Box Score
This game featured three return touchdowns (punt return, interception return, blocked field goal return), which is relatively rare. Only four other games of the 267 regular and postseason contests in 2015 featured that many return touchdowns -- Eagles at Patriots (Week 15), Bills at Jaguars (Week 7), Colts at Jaguars (Week 14), Seahawks at Rams (Week 1).
Ravens at Browns represented the first "block-off" in regulation that we can verify going all the way back to 1960. But it did happen once in overtime -- in a 1985 game between the Chargers and Broncos at Mile High Stadium. John Elway was the Broncos quarterback. Mark Sanchez wasn't born yet. And Dan Fouts had pushed San Diego in position for the game-winning field goal. Except Dennis Smith blocked Chargers kicker Bob Thomas' attempt, while Louis Wright scooped up a generous hop on the way to a Denver touchdown ... and ultimately a 33-27 Broncos win. I watched this game recently, and believe it or not the Broncos actually blocked Thomas' first attempt at the game winner, but Dan Reeves had called a timeout a millisecond before the kick! So Smith's swat was the second block in two snaps of the ball. Unreal. Also, the NBC color commentator was Sam Rutigliano, former coach of the Cleveland Browns. Of course. -- Elliot Harrison
Why This Game is No. 16
Every year I do this series with Elliot, it seems I get the "don't judge a book by its cover" game. Which I don't mind. The reason this game made the list is because football, more so than most other major sports, is a total team game. Despite the "big name" factor I mentioned in the lede, great, entertaining football games can come in all shapes and sizes. This game was getting OBLITERATED on social media all week basically up until kickoff, but by the end of the game the snark took a backseat to enjoyment (well, except for Browns fans). If that's not a sign of the quality of a game, I don't know what is.