We’re back, people. Your weekly look-around the NFL for the best performances, worst chokes, and most questionable prognostications.
If I didn’t mention your team this week, no worries. Good, bad, or meh, I’ll be getting to everyone in due time.
NFL Week 13
1. Riverboat Ron is looking for a new canoe
It might seem unfair to yank a head coach when the franchise quarterback is injured. In fact, it is. Wildly so. Yes, the Panthers have been up and down all year, despite MVP-caliber play from Christian McCaffery. Yes, they just had an embarrassing home loss to Washington, after leading 14-3 in the first quarter. The truth is, they just got Guiced (not a typo). Derrius Guice mauled Carolina for 129 yards and two TDs on only 12 carries. How did that compare with Run CMC? I’m glad you asked. No comparison. McCaffrey could manage only 44 yards on 14 carries when Carolina had the lead and needed to grind, he wasn’t able to get the job done. I’m guessing that this is the end of the MVP talk in Carolina, because this loss will come up when it’s time to cast votes. As for Rivera? He’s won a Super Bowl. He’s a very experienced defensive minded head coach. He won’t be out of work for long. New York, Dallas or Chicago may come calling.
2. The Texans aren’t doormats
Until Sunday, Bill O’Brien’s Texans had never beaten the Pats. But finally, O’Brien, DC Romeo Crennel and the Texans got over the hump. It was a pretty clean win over a stout defense for the AFC South leaders, despite some anxious moments in the final two minutes. Are the Texans ready to tangle with Baltimore come playoff time? I don’t think so. But I also don’t necessarily see them as a wild card round flameout either. When the Texans can protect Watson, this is just a different team offensively. While New England’s secondary did its job, holding DeAndre Hopkins to five catches for 64 yards and no TDs, Watson was able to connect with a slew of secondary targets on 18/25 passing for 3 TDs. When the playoffs roll around, the Texans have one of the league’s best passers and range of weapons to utilize. Make no mistake. Houston is a threat to anyone and everyone in the AFC.
3. New England has a big problem
No. It’s not the flu bug that ripped through the locker room last week and left about a dozen players questionable until the Sunday night showdown with Houston (though those players DID take a separate plane to the game because…Bob Kraft). The problem is that Tom Brady isn’t right. I know, the receiving corps is depleted. I agree. Mohammed Sanu is doing what we expected, allowing Edelman to be deployed differently, but away from his primary skill set. N’Keal Harry is what we expected of a rookie in November (Brady simply doesn’t trust rookie WR’s in meaningful games, the stats are borderline hilarious) and Phillip Dorsett missed a hand signal and ran the wrong route on a potential touchdown pass. James White and Sony Michel are more dangerous than they look right now, because for some reason, the Patriots are throwing the ball too much. That’s bad, because Brady isn’t right. His mechanics and release are off. He’s floating balls off his hand and he doesn’t have the expected snap as he releases. Don’t believe me? Watch tape from week one and then from week thirteen. I’m not saying he’s too old. I’m not saying that the Patriots can’t win with this version of Brady (he’s still top five in passing yardage despite the past few weeks). They can. But they need to start grinding teams out with the run and keep the defense fresh. So far, they’re running the ball on only about forty percent of offensive snaps. They need to flip that ratio if they can, because Buffalo, yes, Buffalo is hot on their heels.
4. Buffalo can still win the AFC East
I said it. I meant it. Brady and crew could be playing on wildcard weekend, on the road. The Bills are 9-3 after a 26-15 road win over Dallas that will probably cost Jason Garrett his job when all is said and done. Those nine wins should guarantee the Bills at least a wildcard slot, but they’re only one game behind New England for the AFC East and the two teams play each other in week sixteen. Sure, the Bills host the Ravens this weekend, but the Patriots have Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs heading into town. At the end of the day, that stiff Bills defense can make life miserable for the Pats. They’re much better defensively than both of the teams that New England has lost to. It. Could. Happen.
5. The NFC is really, really crowded at the top
Three, count them, three teams are at 10-2 in the NFC. Two of those are in the NFC West. The wildcards at present are the 49ers (10-2) and the Vikings (a narrow loss to Seattle dropped them to 8-4). So yeah. If the playoffs started today, San Francisco would start the playoffs by positively trampling the 6-6 NFC East Champion Cowboys at Jerry World. It’s not even that unlikely that the NFC ends up with five teams with twelve or more wins. The Vikings and Packers are the sole winning teams left on each other’s schedule. The toughest road to twelve wins? Actually, the 49ers, who still have Saints, Rams, Seahawks and confounding Falcons left.
6. The Eagles aren’t very good. They still might win the NFC East
O.K. Philly just lost to Miami. I get it. The Dolphins put up thirty-seven points on the Eagles in the win, but such things happen when Fitz-Magic gets involved. The Eagles, however, are still playoff contenders at 5-7, if, but only if, they can walk down the Cowboys to win the division over the final four weeks. Will it be a challenge? Maybe not. The Eagles will need to beat the 6-6 Cowboys, but the rest of the schedule is…not good. The remaining schedule consists of the Redskins and get this… the Giants…twice. All in all, it’s a remaining schedule with a .270 winning percentage and a scoring differential of -261. Dallas will need to beat the up and down Bears and the recently surging Rams to stay clear of the Eagles.
7. The Bengals pulled one out
Speaking of less than elite competition, the Bengals put one on the Jets on Sunday, cruising to a 22-6 win as Andy Dalton started again over Ryan Finley, who couldn’t muster much in his three starts. Many argue that Dalton was never the problem with this Bengals team, and while I don’t disagree, Dalton has never shown the ability to elevate his teammates. So, he might not be the solution, either. Despite the win over the Jets, who have somehow turned Le’Veon Bell into one of the most pedestrian running backs in the league (10 carries, 32 yards), the Bengals are still the overwhelming favorite to pick first in next year’s draft.
8. Baltimore can win on the road
I told y’all that they should have moved that Ravens-Niners game into primetime. It may or may not have been a Super Bowl preview, but it was awesome. Lamar Jackson was definitely fazed by a Niners front that didn’t need to overload the box to make him work for every yard. Jackson still ran for over one hundred yards on sixteen carries and passed for another hundred as Baltimore escaped their toughest test to date on a Justin Tucker field goal. It was the sort of game that you leave not knowing if the better team won. Which is fine by me when we’re talking about late season and playoff games. Baltimore’s defense travelled well, and these two run-first offenses did just that, with both teams earning more ground yardage than passing yards.
“Five stars. Would watch again.”
9. The Raiders aren’t ready yet
I have to admit, I thought that this one was going to be different. Maybe it wasn’t realistic for Oakland to beat Kansas City, but I thought they’d keep it interesting. Instead, here’s how the Raiders first half possessions ended: Interception, Fumble, Punt, Turnover on Downs, Interception, Missed Field Goal.
Oakland had more passing and rushing yards than the vaunted Chiefs offense. They controlled time of possession. They just couldn’t keep it together when it mattered. That’s on the coach. No matter what he says about calls being changed by “The Wizard of Oz…” There’s a lack of discipline that ends drives and we saw it on Sunday. The kicker? Oakland was penalized twelve times to Kansas City’s (checks sheet) zero. Oakland is still a bit of a mess.
10. The Saints have the NFC South on lockdown
I bet you forgot about the Saints. With all the talk about New England’s demise at 10-2, Baltimore’s dominance at 10-2, San Francisco and Seattle’s battle for the NFC West at 10-2, it’s easy to forget that there’s another team with only two losses and they just sewed up the NFC South, New Orleans. They’ve got the best receiver in the game in Michael Thomas and Drew Brees is Drew Brees. Add in Alvin Kamara and the league’s third-best rushing defense and you’ve got a Saints team that can compete with anyone, anywhere. They’ve got a few weeks to get healthy, then they’re out to prove that they got robbed by that missed call last year (spoiler alert: they didn’t).
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Image Source: AP Images