Hey everyone, John here, filling in for Kyle this week. What a week for him to take off! A lot of action and a lot of movement in the playoff pictures, as many teams had chances to gain the upper hand in divisional and seeding battles. Thursday Night Football has become a bit of a drag as usual this season (mainly due to the NFL making sure every team get's a prime time game every season) but we are not used to seeing bad football on Monday and Sunday as well. Lucky for us, all of these prime time games gave us exciting football games to watch.
San Diego Chargers 27 - Denver Broncos 20
The Chargers have made every game tough this year, which is both good and bad. They have gone punch for punch with the heavyweights of the NFL, but have also played down to the less talented teams. While this isn't exactly a strategy most teams want to stick by, it does tend to be an accurate formula for .500 ball, and San Diego proved all these points on Thursday night. Peyton Manning thought he proved to the NFL world that he could in fact play well in the cold, it would make sense to think that he could lead his offensive juggernaut to a victory over a team who is arguably the least familiar with cold football. But sure enough the Chargers weren't falling for that theory.
Typically in the cold teams tend to run the ball more often than they usually would, which is what the Chargers did. Ryan Matthews was the workhorse for the offense as he ran the ball 29 times for 127 yards and a touchdown. Philip Rivers only threw the ball 20 times in the game, but he was sure to make them all count, throwing for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Both touchdowns went to Offensive Rookie of the Year front runner Keenan Allen, including a nifty 19 yarder where he jumped over a defender and plowed his way through another for the score.
John Fox and the Broncos did not have the same game plan, as they had Manning throw the ball more than twice as much as Rivers. Because of this, Knowshon Moreno was never able to get into a rhythm, leaving the Broncos offense more one sided than ever. Typically one would imagine Manning would throw his way into another big win, but the Chargers were having none of that. He was picked off late in the game, and was even sacked for the first time in what seemed like forever, as Marcus Gilchrist came in off a corner blitz to take him down. The Chargers were up as far as 24-10 in the fourth quarter of the game, and were able to keep the Broncos at bay just long enough to seal the win and keep their playoff hopes alive. The Broncos on the other hand gave the Patriots the inside track to the one seed for the playoffs.
Washington Redskins 26 - Atlanta Falcons 27
While it would have been hard to believe in August that this game would be between two of the worst teams and two of the worst records in the NFL, the game certainly did not feel that way during the action. In Kirk Cousins' first start of the season he did his best not to disappoint his potential suitors by throwing for 381 yards and 3 touchdowns, however the Redskins turned the ball over 7 times in the game, including two picks and a fumble from Cousins himself, which is never a good sign. Despite those turnovers they were still in the game, and down 27 - 20 with only seconds left in the game Cousins finds Santana Moss for a touchdown, but Mike Shanahan made it very clear that it was a lost season but electing to go for a two point conversion and the win instead of tying the game and sending it to overtime.
This may look like a death wish, but it's not the first time Shanahan has gone for two in this situation. Week two of the 2008 season he led the Denver Broncos to a 39-38 win over the San Diego Chargers. The Broncos were given a chance to win the game after Ed Hochuli blew a whistle too soon on a fumble, leaving Shanahan to believe the dice were rolling in his favor at the time. They were, but they were not this time. Cousins tried to lob one over the defense to Pierre Garcon, but rookie corner Desmond Trufant bats the ball away and the Falcons cheer victoriously for only the fourth time this season.
A fun thought that came to mind after this game was the future of Kirk Cousins. Not because of the Griffin/Shanahan/Snyder nonsense that Kyle and I would both prefer to ignore, but because he is arguably a franchise quarterback sitting on the bench. The Redskins are currently without a first round pick this year (which the St. Louis Rams are reaping the benefits of) and many, including former head coach Jon Gruden, believe Cousins is worth just that. I would keep an eye on two teams in particular: the Houston Texans and the Cleveland Browns. Houston certainly will not be parting with the first overall pick which they are currently on pace to have, however the first pick in the second round will be appealing to the Redskins. As for the Browns, they likely will not be parting with their first round pick either, however they also hold the Colts first round pick as part of the Trent Richardson trade, a pick that they may be willing to part with for a franchise quarterback.
Chicago Bears 38 - Cleveland Browns 31
Jay Cutler returned to the helm of the Chicago offense, but Cleveland was doing their best to spoil his return. Josh Gordon came into the game on a record setting streak of receiving yards, but was only able to come down with three catches against the Bears, however one of them was a touchdown. The score may have been high in this one, but it wouldn't have been that way if it weren't for the great plays on defense for both teams. Tashon Gipson picked off Jay Cutler twice in the match, taking on of them back for a touchdown, and Martellus Bennett was stripped of the football and returned for a score by TJ Ward. On the other end, Zack Bowman picked off an awful throw by Jason Campbell and returned that one for a touchdown. Despite the scores, there were only two sacks in the game, both coming from Cleveland. The Bears may have inches away with the win in this game, but their defense has been downright pathetic this year. Their sloppy run defense even made Edwin Baker (you're wondering who that is for a reason) look good. Chicago may now be on pace for the playoffs, but they won't make much noise unless they can get Lance Briggs back healthy. Henry Melton has already been named out for the year, and the same news was delivered regarding Charles Tillman this day as well. Tim Jennings and Julius Peppers have been the only healthy (and non-retired) stars of last years great defense, and Peppers is certainly showing his age in 2013.
Houston Texans 3 - Indianapolis Colts 25
Never thought I would say this, but the Colts defense was toying with it's opponent during this game. Robert Mathis continued to add to his candidacy for Defensive Player of the Year with a strip sack that ended up being a safety, and rookie first round pick Bjoern Werner added his first full sack of his young career, but the real player of the game was Darius Butler, who, after several failed seasons with the Patriots, has really come alive and played outstanding football for the Colts this year. Butler picked off Case Keenum twice in this game, and nearly had a third interception on a weak toss to DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans have now all but mathematically locked up the first overall pick.
Buffalo Bills 27 - Jacksonville Jaguars 20
The Bills defense has been sneaky good this year, however a win over the Jaguars isn't exactly one you put at the top of the resume. With 8 or more sacks out of every member of their front four, a middle linebacker in Kiko Alonso who is making a push for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and outstanding play from a secondary of three first round picks and an early second round pick that all seem to finally be clicking (and healthy) at the same time, the Bills are no pushover right now. Their biggest concern this off season will be to resign Jairus Byrd and to find another weapon for EJ Manuel. If they can make that happen they may be a surprise playoff team in 2014, but health will remain an issue if Manuel does not develop more as a pocket passer.
Oh yeah, and the Jaguars are hopeless.
New England Patriots 20 - Miami Dolphins 24
After a loss by the Denver Broncos on Thursday night, the Patriots held their own destiny and only needed to win their own games the rest of the way to play on their own field throughout the playoffs. The Dolphins on the other hand are fighting for a chance to get into the post season, and need to win their own games and hope the Ravens can lose another game somewhere along the way.
This game was eerily similar to the Monday night game between the Patriots and Panthers. The Dolphins went punch for punch with the Pats all game, and despite only a single sack on the stat sheet by who else but Cameron Wake, the Dolphins were giving Tom Brady fits in the backfield all game. Unlike the match against the Panthers, the Patriots were actually given a fair chance without the referees making up ways to end the game. The Dolphins were able to pick off Brady on fourth down in the red zone with only a few seconds left.
Philadelphia Eagles 30 - Minnesota Vikings 48
Without Adrian Peterson, and his very under rated backup Toby Gerhart, and going against the hottest offense in football, one would think the Vikings were in for an ugly loss. Well, that's the beauty of the NFL. Some guy named Matt Asiata rushed for three touchdowns, and Greg Jennings had one of the best games of his career to put the Vikings on top, but the defense finally showed some life as well. Harrison Smith made his return to the lineup and made some noise, but both Jared Allen and Brian Robison had two sacks as well. Nick Foles still had a good game statistically, and Desean Jackson was able to produce without a standout corner breathing down his neck, but the Eagles, like the Bears, are hard to imagine making any noise in the playoffs without an ounce of defensive talent.
Seattle Seahawks 23 - New York Giants 0
I can count 24 current NFL quarterbacks that I would rather have than Eli Manning. That includes three backups. How that man won two Super Bowls will continue to confuse (and haunt) me. He threw five very well thrown balls to the Seattle Seahawks in this game.
There have been two shutouts in the NFL all season. Both of them came against the Giants. It still amazes me that people thought they were back in the hunt after the weakest four game winning streak in the history of the NFL. The Giants may be worse than the Jaguars.
Sorry, that's ridiculous. But they're a distant second.
San Francisco 49ers 33 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14
Tampa Bay was beginning to show some life recently, but that was short lived. Their defense is still formidable, as Darrell Revis, Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David are all arguably the best player in the NFL at their respective positions, but they still need an elite edge rusher to be seen as one of the top defenses in the league. The 49ers on the other hand are getting hotter and Michael Crabtree works his way back into the mix. He scored his first touchdown of the season in this game, and as he gets hotter, so will Colin Kaepernick, and as he gets hotter, so will the 49ers. The defense will get them close to the Super Bowl again this year, but it's going to be in Kaepernick's hands to pull the trigger and win it for them. He may get another chance this year if all his weapons can stay on the field
Also, it will be fun to see next year how Marcus Lattimore will be thrown into the mix. He may be an immediate successor to Frank Gore.
New York Jets 20 - Carolina Panthers 30
The Jets gave the Panthers a good football game here, but it was evident throughout that the Panthers were the better team. The Panthers are currently sporting the NFL's best front seven (something Kyle can tell you I've been saying since before the season started) but their secondary is beginning to come alive as well. Captain Munnerlyn is playing like a top 10 corner right now, and Mike Mitchell is making the late Al Davis roll over in his sarcophagus. Sheldon Richardson also ran in a touchdown from the fullback position in this game. Is he allowed to add that to his resume for Defensive Rookie of the Year? Or does that now make him a candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year as well? I feel bad for whoever has to make that decision.
Kansas City Chiefs 56 - Oakland Raiders 31
The chiefs are currently wishing they were in a different division, as they remain on pace for a 13-3 record and only a wild card berth. The pass rush still wasn't able to get back on track in this game, but it turned out not to be an issue because the Raiders apparently forgot how to cover a screen pass because Jamaal Charles took four of them back for touchdowns, and even added a fifth one between the tackles for good measure. The defense didn't do quite as bad as the score showed, as they picked off McGloin and Pryor a combined five times. Eric Berry returned one of his two interceptions back for a touchdown. Berry was supposed to be the next Ed Reed coming out of college, but after that brutal knee injury several years ago it looks like he is finally getting back on track this year. The Chiefs may not get a chance to take advantage of their supreme home field advantage, but don't count them out as Super Bowl contenders this year. If Tamba Hali and Justin Houston can get healthy, this team can beat anybody, anywhere.
Green Bay Packers 37 - Dallas Cowboys 36
The idea that the Cowboys are going to win the NFC East by default is long, long gone. The Eagles have the hottest offense in the game right now, and Dallas can't seem to stop anybody at all on defense. Last week Dallas was beat up pretty good by a hot offense led by a backup quarterback in Chicago. This week, they took on another backup quarterback and an offense that was left for dead just a few weeks ago.
For some reason, Matt Flynn seems to come alive in Mike McCarthy's offense. He certainly had help from Jordy Nelson, Eddie Lacy and Tony Romo, but Flynn was one of the key players that helped the Packers stay alive both in this game and in the NFC North hunt. Dallas had a 26-3 lead at halftime, and Demarco Murray carried over his hot streak from the game against the Bears, but even after rushing for over 100 yards in just the first half, the Cowboys inept coaching staff decided to turn away from the run game. The logic behind this still eludes everyone else that follows, plays or coaches football at any level, but that's what the Cowboys did. They threw the ball almost exclusively in the second half, and gave the Packers ample opportunity to get back in the game.
And they did. The Packers were down 36-31 when Romo started working his magic. He broke away from a tackle, looked down field and saw an open Miles Austin with no one else ahead of him; a sure touchdown. Only Romo threw it behind Austin, and Sam Shields jumped in front and picked it off. After Eddie Lacy dove over the pile for a touchdown with a minute and a half left, the Cowboys still had enough time to drive down the field and kick a field goal for the win. This time, it looked like a miscomunication between Romo and Cole Beasley, but Romo threw it wide of his receiver and Tramon Williams was able to make a diving catch for the interception and the win.
The Cowboys are somehow still in the race for the division, and only need a win against Washington next week to play a win or go home throwdown against the Eagles in the last week of the season. The Packers on the other hand now are in complete control of their playoff destiny. Now knowing they only have to win their own games to make the playoffs, the fans are praying Aaron Rodgers can make it back soon to save the day.
Arizona Cardinals 37 - Tennessee Titans 34 OT
This game was surprisingly exciting, and surprisingly offensively heavy. After the Antoine Cason picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick and returned it for a touchdown, the Cardinals had a 34-17 lead and were sitting pretty. The Titans, however, were not done yet. A touchdown and a field goal later only a touchdown separated the two teams, and for the second consecutive week an NFL team tries an onside kick within two minutes remaining in the game and recovers it. Larry Fitzgerald certainly belong on the hands team (and would probably be on the all NFL hands team too if there was one) but he botched this one, letting the ball get away and giving the Titans an opportunity to get back in the game.
And they took full advantage, scoring with 37 seconds left on an 8 yard strike to Michael Preston. In overtime, the Titans were driving down the field when Cason picked off Fitzpatrick again, which set the Cardinals up for a field goal and the win. The Cardinals are now in the heat of the playoff race, and might be able to make it in, but the next two weeks they have to face arguably the two best teams in football in the Seahawks and 49ers. Best of luck, Arizona.
New Orleans Saints 16 - St Louis Rams 27
The Saints are very difficult to gauge as a team overall, because they have been in complete domination of all their home games, and yet when they are on the road they lose ugly, even to mediocre teams like the Rams.
Don't get me wrong, the Rams have a talented team. Robert Quinn is the best pass rusher in football, and it's not even close. Watch the game tape on him, but remember to pick your jaw up off the floor when you're done. The Rams however, never should have won this game the way they did (it wasn't even as close as the score shows, they were up 27 - 3 until late in the fourth quarter). The Rams won this game because the Saints looked like a bad football team. Left tackle Charles Brown was terrible. Garrett Hartley missing two field goals didn't help either. The Saints are going to have to shape up if they want to have a chance next week in Carolina.
Cincinnati Bengals 20 - Pittsburgh Steelers 30
Cincinnati had a chance to gain the inside track towards a first round bye in the playoffs, which, frankly, it would have been a nice change of pace to see someone besides Brady or Manning have the bye in the AFC. The Bengals have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, even without their best player, Geno Atkins, out for the rest of the year. But for some reason, they have a tendency to choke in prime time. Marvin Lewis didn't seem to have much of a game plan, which didn't help. It was almost as if he was just calling plays, with no goal in mind. Just picking one out of the book and turning the page. There was no drive, no goal. The Bengals looked like they were just playing football to play. They are a talented team, but they need to win games like this. The Steelers were the better team on Sunday night, and hid their age very well. They played the type of smash mouth football that the Steelers are known for. Too bad Marvin Lewis didn't know how to plan for it.
Baltimore Ravens 18 - Detroit Lions 16
Both teams in this game have had significant ups and downs, and both were playing for their playoff lives. The Ravens however, made the biggest statement in this game. They showed the world that their defense had adequately replaced Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Rookie safety Matt Elam was excellent against the Lions, playing all over the ball and even picking Stafford off (one of Stafford's three picks). While Daryl Smith played well in the middle of the field, the Ravens were able to lean on young corner Jimmy Smith, as he and Elam did most of the work in taking Calvin Johnson out of the picture. The other player that helped was Calvin himself, as he had two awful drops, and a third one that he was very capable of coming down with. While he may have had a bad game, Stafford's was worse. He may have one of the strongest arms in the game, but he tends to Brett Favre it sometimes. Every once in a while he will make a really, really bad decision, or make a really, really bad throw. He had a few Monday night.
Oh, and Justin Tucker hit six field goals, including the game winner from 61 yards that just barely snuck in. While kickers are usually not worth mentioning, Tucker really did turn heads. He was flawless.
Well, that's it for me. Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave your comments below.