The Seattle Seahawks roll the Saints at home, and in the process take total control of the NFC in a laugher. To be honest, I didn’t see this game playing out in this manner. I anticipated a more competitive match-up, but instead we got a blowout. Simply put, the Seattle defense was dominant, even without Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond III. Also, Russell Wilson was a beast. Wilson was nearly unstoppable throwing the ball and the New Orleans defense really had not answer for him or his right arm. The Saints did a nice job bottling up Marshawn Lynch in this one, but as we all know now, that is only half of the battle when you take on the ‘Hawks. Russell Wilson proved to the world that he is a true game-changer and deserves to be considered as one of the top quarterbacks in this game today; that is my biggest takeaway from this contest. Also, I can’t imagine many teams that would fare much better at stopping the Seahawks come playoff time; it is darn near impossible to steal a victory away from the Emerald City these days. To me, Seattle showed the world that they are the best team in football, and they did it at the Saints’ expense. Now New Orleans is in a first place tie with Carolina in the NFC South and those two will face off next Sunday down in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The mobile Wilson really exposed the Saints’ “D” in this game, and they will be challenged yet again when they try to contain Cam Newton. It will be interesting to see the adjustments they make against Newton on that side of the ball, and how they will attack and equally formidable defense. The NFC playoff picture has been shaken up a bit following the outcome of this game, but at the same time it has become much clearer for many of us.
This game will rank right up with the Week 9 game against the Redskins as the most frustrating loss for the San Diego Chargers. They played some good defense through three quarters in this one, and were moving the ball against a pretty darn good defense, all in front of their home crowd. However, the defense just caved in during the fourth quarter as BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran roughshod on them. Down 17-10, the Bolts had to rely on their defense to force a Bengal punt. They were unable to do so and Cincinnati was then able to run out the clock. Green-Ellis and rookie Giovanni Bernard combined for 34 carries and 149 yards in this one. The Law Firm also plowed his way into the end zone for a rushing touchdown. Good teams win tough games, and simply put the Chargers could not get the job done at home. This loss really kills their playoff hopes. I do believe that the winner of the #6 seed in the AFC will be a 9-7 team (possibly a 10-6 team). Right now San Diego is 5-7. That means that the best they can do is 9-7 on the year, and quite frankly I don’t like their odds. Pretty much every team in the running for that #6 seed has some sort of tie breaker over the Chargers, so it is going to take more than a miracle for them to fight their way in to play some January football. In the meantime, we pretty much know that the Bengals will be playing in January. They own a two game lead in the AFC North and would probably have to lose out to miss the playoffs, and they will be home for three of their final four games. They will play another 8-4 team at home next week in the Colts. This will be a good game for each team to measure themselves to see how good they really are. The Chargers will play host to the Giants in a game that will eliminate the loser from playoff contention for good. But for now, I’ve gotta say that I really don’t like San Diego’s chances going forward.
The Falcons win their third game of the year in an overtime victory against the Bills. The thing that jumped out at me from this one was the fact that Atlanta was finally able to run the ball with consistency. They topped 150 yards on the ground for just the second time this year, with 151 yards on 30 carries. Staying dedicated to the run was key in this victory. Antone Smith ripped another long run (he had one carry for a 38 yard touchdown). In limited action this year, he had carried the ball for a whopping 29 yards per carry! He also has two touchdowns on the season now. If I were Atlanta, I’d find more ways to get him the ball in space. Roddy White had, by far, his best game of the year. He had ten catches for 143 yards. It is encouraging for the Falcons to get White going because he has the talent to be a dynamic receiver in this league, even at the age of 32. Buffalo also ran the ball very well in this one. C.J. Spiller had 15 carries for 149 yards on the afternoon, and the Bills had three touchdowns on the ground (one from Spiller, one from Fred Jackson, and one from E.J. Manuel). The thing that killed Buffalo in this game was their turnovers, more specifically the Scott Chandler fumble in overtime. This fumble lead to great field position for the Falcons, and they were able to steal one away from the Bills up in Canada. So neither team played poorly in this game at all. It was all pretty even until the Chandler fumble. You could make the case that this game would have gone the other way without the overtime turnover. Anyways, both of these teams were really playing for pride in this game. It was a good win for the Falcons and a frustrating loss for the Bills. Atlanta will take on Green Bay while Buffalo will face Tampa Bay (both games will be on the road).
The San Francisco 49ers flex their muscles in a dominant win over the St. Louis Rams at home. The defense really got after it in this game and the return of Michael Crabtree really sets the Niners up for a strong playoff run. Colin Kaepernick played a pretty complete game for San Fran in this one. He threw for 275 yards with a touchdown (and no interceptions). The 49ers were not able to run the ball with the amount of success that they would have liked to, but they were able to throw it. To me, Kap proved that he can win a game with his arm if he absolutely had to. This was many people’s biggest complaint about the second year pro. For St. Louis, the team simply could not keep their drives going. They were really hurt by two things, the first being their third down success rate. The Rams were 4/13 on the money down. The other thing that killed them was the fact that they were flagged 11 times for 105 yards. You will not win very many games in this league if you commit over ten penalties. This looked like one of those weird games for the Rams. They moved the ball well but just were not able to score. That is typically the trademark of a good defense; one the 49ers have. With Arizona’s loss this weekend, the 49ers now own a full game lead in the wild card race and still remain alive in the NFC west race (although that division is really Seattle’s to lose). Anyways, San Fran really strengthened their chances at the playoffs with this win. They are also beginning to get healthy, so they can be a very dangerous team down the stretch.
Don’t look now but the Jaguars have won three out of their last four games! Dare I say, they are one of the hottest teams in the league? Jacksonville did a great job going on the road and picking up a win against a stingy Browns defense. The Jags scored a season-high 32 points and were able to overcome the beast that we have all come to know as Josh Gordon. Yes, in a world without Calvin Johnson, it is possible that we all look at Gordon as one of the most unstoppable receivers in the NFL. Heck, even in this world dominated by Johnson, what Josh Gordon has been able to do is impressive. With his 261 yards receiving in this game, he becomes the first receiver to ever go over 200 yards in back-to-back weeks. Perhaps this may be a bit premature, but this guy has suddenly burst on to the scene and proven that he is capable of being an elite wide receiver. Fun fact: there have been only three plays in the NFL that have gone for more than 90 yards this year, and two of them have come against the Jaguars (the 93-yard touchdown run by Terrelle Pryor against the Steelers being the other). Gordon had a 95 yard touchdown reception in this game; but Jacksonville was able to overcome it. I think that this win really speaks to the culture that Gus Bradley is trying to create in the Jacksonville locker room. He wants his players to be positive, and for them to improve each week. That they have done, and here is another fun fact: the Jags are actually 3-4 on the road (a pretty respectable mark). Cleveland’s Browns have really fallen off the top of the ladder since Week 5. First and foremost, they need a franchise quarterback. Secondly, they need to be better running the ball. They have a great defense and a strong offensive line. This is a team on the brink of being pretty good, they just need to carve out an identity and find their guy under center going forward.
The Colts luck out (no pun intended) as they earn the win over the Titans at home, thus sweeping Tennessee and basically locking up the AFC South. However, if you ask me, they are lucky to be in the position they are in. Andrew Luck has been mediocre as of late, he has thrown just two touchdown passes over the past month against five interceptions. The team was only able to find the end zone once in this game as they had to settle for five Adam Vinatieri field goals (distanced 47, 48, 45, 37, and 49 yards). They picked up only 264 yards on the afternoon and were still not able to get much of a running game going (they had just 104 yards on the ground). Trent Richardson was benched in favor of Donald Brown, and it didn’t really pay off. Indy did benefit from four Titan turnovers in this game, and that is the biggest reason why they won this game. Winning ugly is something of a necessity in this league, but it feels like that is all the Colts have been able to do lately. Ever since their impressive win over Denver, nothing has come easy for Indianapolis and I am really concerned about this team going forward. As for the Titans, they suffer a serious blow to their playoff hopes with this loss. They are now 5-7 and will likely have to win out in order to make the wild card. Good luck with that, they are heading on the road to Denver next week. Need I say more?
The Houston Texans make things interesting against the rock solid New England Patriots, but eventually drop their tenth straight game 34-31. The team intercepted Tom Brady early on in this one and were able to jump out to the improbable 10-0 lead, but from that point on Brady was able to rekindle some of that magic the nation saw in the second half of the Broncos-Patriots game as he threw for 371 yards and a couple of touchdowns. Gronk made a couple of big catches, including a shoe-string touchdown grab in the first quarter of this one. Eventually, Houston and New England began trading scores and this turned into a Texas shootout. Clearly, a game like this favors the Patriots; they can hang points with anybody when they are at the top of their game. And thus, we saw them pull out the three point win (their second straight 34-31 win, for those of you who like to keep count). Case Keenum didn’t play extraordinarily well, but he didn’t really have to for the most part. His running back Ben Tate bulldozed his way into the end zone three times (backed with 102 yards). Looking at the stats, I saw that Bill Belichick decided to go away from Stevan Ridley this week. Ridley didn’t even have a carry in this game due to his fumbling problems. LeGarrette Blount and Shane Vereen split the carries in the back field and each did a serviceable job. But in the end, this was Tom Brady’s game to win, and win he did. Now the Patriots are 9-3 with a tie-breaker over the Broncos in their back pocket. If they win out (and Denver loses one game), the Pats will earn the #1 seed in the AFC. Not bad for a team that had been bitten by the injury bug early on in the season.