The Detroit Lions’ turnover troubles continue as Matthew Stafford is intercepted three times in a loss at home to the defending Super Bowl champs. Justin Tucker, kicker for the Ravens, was accountable for all of the Baltimore scoring in this game including a 61 yard field goal with 38 ticks left on the clock in the fourth quarter. This second year player is coming on strong and has now made 33 straight kicks. Now that is impressive. The offensive line did a decent job protecting Joe Flacco in this game, he was able to scan the field for a majority of the game. When he was unable to do so, he would toss the ball deep down the field and did not pay for it at all. While he did not throw a touchdown in the game, he also did not turn the ball over which was key in this victory. Now the Ravens are back in the 2nd wild card slot and have a shot at winning the AFC North. It will take victories over the Patriots at home and the Bengals in Cincy to do so, but if they are able to win out they will likely be the #4 seed in the AFC. If not, they are still in good position to lock down that wild card spot. The Lions on the other hand are in a tricky situation. They will need to win out and seek help if they are to win the NFC North (which is the only way they can get into the tournament). Their remaining schedule sees them hosting the 5-9 Giants and closing the season in Minnesota against the 4-9-1 Vikings. It is doable, but they are also going to have to count on the Bears and Packers stumbling down the road. However, this team really needs to work on their turnover issues. That, above anything else, is the biggest reason why they have fallen out of first place in the NFC North.
After surrendering a 17-point fourth quarter lead, the Arizona Cardinals survive the late Titan surge in overtime by the final count of 37-34. The Arizona defense did a good job slowing the Tennessee offense early on in this game, but the meltdown that they went through late was cause for concern. It did take a successful onside kick to make it possible, but the Titans were able to come all the way back after Ryan Fitzpatrick had thrown a pick-six late in the fourth quarter to put his team down 34-17. The heart that Mike Munchak’s team showed was admirable, and it is unfortunate that they could not seal the deal. You would have thought for all the world that they were going to win the game when they got the ball first in overtime. However, one Ryan Fitzpatrick interception later and the shoe is on the other foot. So I do have to tip my cap to the Cardinals for finding out a way to win the game. You won’t always dominate a game in this league, and sometimes you have meltdowns, but the good teams in this league are able to overcome them, and that is what Bruce Arians’ club was able to do. Now they are 9-5 and still in the conversation for the NFC playoffs. It will take them winning out and some help to accomplish, but at least they have a shot (I bet Arizona wishes they played in the AFC). The Titans are now eliminated from the playoffs with this loss, but at least they didn’t lie down in this game when they were down by three scores late in the fourth quarter. As a fan, I can always appreciate a team playing hard until the final whistle. You never know what could happen, sometimes you can get lucky and force an overtime. This really was a wacky game, and the Cards are in a better position because of the win. They need to continue this trend next week when they take on the Seahawks up in Seattle. A loss there would kill their playoff aspirations.
In a battle of the Saints, it is the Rams who come out on top with the “dubya”. Drew Brees was off his game in this one, and protection broke down in front of him, as he was sacked four times and pressured on other occasions. His two first quarter interceptions proved to be the difference in this game, they each resulted in Ram touchdowns. Zac Stacy had an outstanding game; he ran the rock 28 times for 133 yards and a touchdown. Kellen Clemens also played a nice game, throwing two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Rams, as a team, won the turnover battle. They did not turn it over once while the Saints coughed it up three times. Garrett Hartley’s two missed field goals did not help New Orleans’ cause either. So all and all, it was a sloppy effort from Sean Peyton’s team, and one that they could have done without. Because of this slip-up, they will be forced to play Carolina for all of the NFC South marbles next week. The game will be played in Charlotte, and the Saints have lost their last two road games and four out of their five previous contests outside of the Superdome. There really is no denying that these guys are not nearly as effective on the road as they are at home. That is why a win next week would be huge for them. Whoever wins the NFC South will have a first round BYE and at least one home game in the playoffs. The loser may not last long if they are forced to take their show on the road. So the bottom line is that this game is humongous. I do have to give props to Jeff Fisher and company for responding the way they did in this game. They got blown out at the hands of the Cardinals last week, and to come back and play well against a top-echelon opponent is pretty impressive. I like the way this Ram team looks and they will be competitive in many of their games next year, make no mistake about it.
The Panthers pick up their tenth win of the season at home over the Jets and now pull even in the NFC South with the Saints (given New Orleans’ recent loss to St. Louis). The defense played pretty well and was highlighted by a strong showing from Captain Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn recorded two sacks and a pick-six in this game for the Panthers. This pick-six is the fourth one that Geno Smith has thrown this season, by the way. Cam Newton was pretty efficient throwing the ball in this one, as he played his best game since the team defeated the Patriots a few weeks back. He hit 16 of his 24 passes (with one of them being a 76-yard touchdown on a screen pass to DeAngelo Williams) and was not intercepted. The Jets did a nice job running the ball in this game in their own right. The team carried it 28 times for 157 yards (5.6 yards per carry). Sheldon Richardson, the defensive tackle, actually recorded a rushing touchdown in this game. Talk about being versatile! Geno Smith did not play horribly, but once again, he didn’t do anything special to help his team win the game. Now the Jets are cooked in terms of the playoff race, and they will get to see teams like these Panthers compete from their couches this January. Oh yeah, and don’t look now but the NFC South is up for grabs next week when the Saints and Panthers play once again. The winner of this game will almost certainly take home the division crown. How is that for a Week 16 primer? That one should be fun.
Holy cow, Jamaal Charles went off in this game! He accounted for five touchdowns and was just the third player this season to record four receiving touchdowns. His eight catches tied his career high from earlier this season (against Dallas) and his 195 yards receiving was a career high. Fantasy owners have to be salivating at #25’s beast performance from this Sunday. Alex Smith also posted a perfect passer rating in this game, becoming the second quarterback to do so against the Raiders this year. What does that tell you? I tells you that Oakland needs to play better defense. They have been picked apart twice now, and because of it their defensive numbers don’t look good. I have watched the Raiders play a few games this season and I can say that they are better on defense than this game (and the one against Nick Foles) would lead you to believe they were. You could say they are bad, but I think it would be more appropriate to call them inconsistent. Elevating the level of play and keeping it there on a weekly basis is going to be key for Oakland as we go forward. The Chiefs, on the other hand, have clinched a playoff berth (after finishing just 2-14 last year) with this win and are tied atop the AFC West with the Broncos yet again. It will take a lot for them to become the division champs though as they have to win out and hope for Denver to lose one of their next two games. Instead of focusing on the division crown, I would do what I could to play well against playoff (and playoff calibur) teams. The Colts will come to Kansas City next week to play a game that will serve as a measuring stick for both teams (and a possible preview for a wild-card weekend match-up). The Chiefs will then draw a rematch with the Chargers on the final week of the season. Let’s see if these guys can finish the year off in a strong way. These final two games will help us all determine if Kansas City is a contender or a pretender.
This was a very important win for the Miami Dolphins. They came into this game with a loaded gun; they are on a hot streak and all of their talent is healthy and firing on all cylinders. Meanwhile the Pats came into this one without Gronk, without Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thomkins, and without many key players on their defense. If ever there were a time for the ‘Phins to pull out a win over their rivals, this was it. Luckily for them and their playoff hopes, they were able to get the job done. Tom Brady threw the game-ending interception with seven seconds left in the end zone, so it was yet another Patriots game that came down to the final seconds. Brady was not very elaborate in his post-game press conference either, following the tough loss. It hurt a bit more because the Broncos had lost on Thursday night. A win would have given New England control of the #1 seed. However, they were unable to capitalize on that opportunity and instead find themselves having to win out just to make the #2 seed (which, let’s not get this confused, is still a pretty good place to be in). Speaking of good places to be in, the Dolphins are primed to lock up that #6 seed following this win. They are competing with Baltimore (who will play these Patriots and Bengals down the stretch) and the Chargers who still have to deal with the Raiders and the Chiefs to get to the tournament. Miami has the inside track here. Their schedule is much more favorable down the stretch and having downed the Patriots, they have to feel confident that they can hang with anybody. Perhaps most surprisingly, Ryan Tannehill outplayed Tom Brady in this game. His stats were, in every way outside of yardage, better than his counterpart. Tannehill’s success will be key for the ‘Phins if they want to keep this winning streak going.
There was not a lot of drama at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday as the 49ers came into Tampa and took care of business with a dominant win. San Fran is really peaking at the right time and they are looking like they could go on a bit of a run if and when they make the playoffs. Colin Kaepernick played very well in this one, throwing two touchdown passes and no interceptions. Really, the Niners just ran their offense in this one and dominated the Buccaneers in the trenches. As usual, the defense did its job as well; they forced two turnovers and allowed just 13 first downs, 183 total yards, and only one third down conversion (on ten attempts). The 49ers just dominated this game. Taking care of business against weaker teams on the road is something that all of the best teams in this league are able to do, and to me, this game just proved that San Francisco is still a top 5 team in the league. The Tampa Bay offense has been shut down as of late. Bobby Rainey has not looked good in two of the team’s last three games and the Bucs have suffered as a result. This is an offense that needs to be backed by a strong ground game. It sets up play-action deep shots down the field to the likes of Vincent Jackson. Fundamentals will be key for the Bucs in their final two games of the season, both of which will be on the road (against the Rams and Saints).
Mike Shanahan pulled a Mike Shanahan in this one, going for two in the final minute of the game in order to win. It worked out well the first time he tried it, but it backfired this time. Instead of kicking the extra point to send this one into overtime, he decided to go for the win and, as you can see, it did not work. Truthfully, I would have rather seen him kick the extra point. It would have given the ‘Skins an extra period of time to evaluate Kirk Cousins. Cousins did play well save for a few poor decisions. He threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns. Washington, as a team, moved the ball well all game long; they put up 476 yards. With numbers like this, you would probably be surprised that the team lost the game, especially since the defense held the opposition to just 243 yards of offense. However, the seven turnovers in this game killed the Redskins (including a jaw-dropping five lost fumbles). That is just embarrassing. The turnovers were the big reason why Washington could not claim victory in this game. They need to clean this up if they hope to clip Dallas at home next week. The Falcons did benefit from playing a poor, sloppy team, but they were actually lucky to win this game overall. I do think that they will be better next season, but I also find it hard to believe that they will be worlds better as soon as Julio Jones returns. Atlanta should be an interesting team to track as we head into the 2014 campaign.
I fell into the Jaguars trap. I was drinking the Kool-Aid for a while there, but the Bills came out on top with a win. Obviously, the team does much better when E.J. Manuel plays well. After throwing four picks and being sacked seven times against Tampa Bay last week, Manuel came out and threw two touchdowns and was sacked just four times. Buffalo also unveiled their optimal game plan in this one: from Week 1, it was clear that these guys had to be a run-first team as they sport two talented backs in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. In this game, they ran the ball 44 times for 198 yards (4.5 yards per carry). Conversely, Manuel only threw it 24 times. This is the type of play-calling that Nathaniel Hackett would like to utilize on a weekly basis. For the Jaguars, the team could have used the presence of Maurice Jones-Drew in their backfield. Jordan Todman did a good job filling in for him, running the ball 25 times for 109 yards but the team would have benefited from a change-of-pace back. It also doesn’t help that Chad Henne threw two interceptions in this game. The Jaguars are not good enough to overcome a handful of turnovers. In the games Henne has started in that have resulted in wins (4) he has thrown just four interceptions. In the games he has started in that have resulted in losses (7) he has thrown eight interceptions. The Jags need to work hard to eliminate these turnovers in their future games. Stiffening up in their run defense wouldn’t hurt either.
This was a nice bounce-back win for the Colts after they fell hard to the Bengals in Cincinnati a week ago. To me, the most encouraging thing for the AFC South champs is the fact that their defense dominated this game. They allowed just one field goals while forcing two Case Keenum picks. Houston also fumbled three times, but were fortunate enough to recover all of them. Andrew Luck did throw one interception, but outside of that he was solid, passing for 180 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Luck did not have to throw the ball a whole lot in this game though as it was pretty much over by halftime. Indy did run the ball well and Trent Richardson’s numbers did not look bad (although they were beefed up with his 22 yard dash). This is how the Colts want their team to look on a weekly basis. They want to be able to throw the ball when they want to, not when they have to. To do this, you must rely on a strong running game and a solid defensive effort. They got both of these this week. Now Houston, on the other hand, is clearly in prime position for the #1 overall pick next year. Honestly, I’d be shocked if they didn’t go for a quarterback with that pick (but then again, we all thought they were going to select Reggie Bush with their first pick in 2006). It is just that the quarterback play has really fallen off the wagon over the past few weeks, and it is the biggest reason why they are on this current 12-game losing streak. Times are tough if you are a Houston fan, and to make matters worse, they have Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos coming to town next week. You guys may want to sheild your eyes.