How cool was Week 14? Non-fair-weather football ruled the weekend.
There were, what, five games that involved snow, sleet or way-beyond-ridiculously-cold conditions? Great stuff, both in the air and on the field, with Exhibit A being the 49ers outlasting the Seahawks in the NFL's version of a title bout. Love that brand of football.
No, not really.
Because I might be stupid. Anyone have a Scantron sheet and a No. 2 pencil?
We're looking at DeVry at 32 instead of Houston, just to change it up. Their quarterbacking programmers aren't programmed to throw the ball right to the other team just because they got away with the same throw to the same guy on the same route earlier in the game ... hypothetically speaking.
The bottom of the rankings are far from set, as some clubs are certainly in contention with the Texans for the right to pick first in the 2014 NFL Draft. As for the top and beyond, big injuries will play some role in terms of how we slot these teams going forward. It's the time of year when health means everything. Well, almost everything. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts ... @Harrison_NFL is the place.
Let the dissension commence ...
(Note: Arrows reflect change in standings from last week's Power Rankings.)
Broncos fans might get upset, but the Seahawks are still the best team in football. They play all three phases of the game and -- most importantly -- can stop teams from scoring. Sure, Seattle lost on Sunday, but it was to the archrival 49ers at the 'Stick. A two-point defeat to a likely playoff team on the road is not enough to knock the 12th Man from the top spot, not when the Broncos surrendered a lot of points (again) in a home win over a non-playoff team.
See above. We respect the Broncos but worry about their viability in the playoffs. Can they run out the clock and stop a team when they need to, like the 49ers did to the Seahawks -- or like the great teams do in the postseason? Denver can outscore any AFC opponent, but how will it do versus the Seahawks or another defensive-minded squad in a cold-weather Super Bowl?
Nice to see Marques Colston destroy the Carolina defense Sunday night. He's had an up-and-down year, but he's still one of the better players of the past decade. What wasn't so nice was the way we were left wondering where that aggressive effort was in Seattle in Week 13. New Orleans needs to be able to win somewhere besides, well, New Orleans.
Incredible comeback. Even Bill Belichick was jovial afterward -- well, if a quip and a quarter-inch smirk can be considered jovial. Losing Rob Gronkowski for the season? No laughing matter. This keeps the Patriots below the Saints -- despite New England's Week 6 win over New Orleans -- and changes the complexion of the postseason. #noexaggeration
We thought it classy of Andy Reid to temper his comments after what was obviously a big win for the Chiefs with some respect for his opponent, making sure to mention the words "Hall of Fame" when discussing embattled Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. You get the rest. Reid has handled himself very well as the organizational front man, and it's clear his players respond to him.
We saw what we needed to see in Sunday night's loss to the Saints on two fronts: 1) How the Panthers fared on the road in an important, nationally televised game; and 2) how their offense responded when forced to play from (well) behind. Is it panic time? No. But this team likely will be on the road in the playoffs. Carolina can probably beat Dallas, Philadelphia or Detroit, but what about Seattle or New Orleans? That's the question with this group.
Tell me that wasn't a freaking great game versus those Seahawks. Two divisional opponents playing real football, pounding the run and hitting in a matchup conducted at fever pitch. Felt like I was watching Giants-49ers from 1990 -- it was awesome. San Francisco might not have guaranteed itself a playoff spot, but with the Buccaneers, Falcons and Cardinals coming up, the Niners likely will finish with an 11-5 record and the NFC's No. 6 playoff seed.
The Bengals stayed on the Patriots' heels in the chase for that playoff bye. Though Cleveland's late loss to New England ruined what would have otherwise been a golden opportunity to gain some ground, Cincinnati's offense still might have gone to Golden Corral for sodas and chicken after putting up 430 yards and 42 points against a playoff-bound Indianapolis Colts team. That was a statement.
OK, so Chip Kelly's offense has never worked well in the Dagobah system, but don't tell me the Eagles can't make plays on Hoth. Nice to see LeSean McCoy give a quick shoutout to Steve Van Buren, whose single-game franchise record of 205 rushing yards was eclipsed by McCoy's 217. Van Buren's most famous outing also came in a blizzard: He scored the only touchdown in the 1948 NFL Championship Game, delivering the Eagles' first ever NFL title.
Losing Tyrann Mathieu stinks. It's also the reason the
Cardinals dropped, along with the fact that everyone around Arizona (
Big ups, though, to the Cards, who are right back in the thick of the NFC wild-card race. After a tough loss in Philadelphia, Bruce Arians' club regrouped in a big way, controlling the Rams throughout Sunday's win. Arizona didn't even need Adrian Murrell or Frank Sanders.
Another clutch victory for the
Dolphins, who have now won three out of four and have a more favorable schedule the rest of the way than their main competition for the AFC's final wild-card slot, the defending champion
Dolphins' remaining sked: vs. Patriots, at Bills, vs. Jets
Ravens' remaining sked: at Lions, vs. Patriots, at Bengals
The key here is the Dolphins lost to Baltimore back in Week 5, so they must gain a game on the Ravens over the final three weeks of action.
the Titans' loss in Denver, the
Colts clinched the AFC South on Sunday, which gave us
this tweet, courtesy of
Harvey Specter (@MateoTillard):
"@Harrison_NFL So even in Denver, Peyton helps Indy to get their playoff berth."
Funny how that all works, isn't it? Either way, after giving up 40 points to the Cardinals two weeks ago and 42 to the Bengals on Sunday, the Colts' defense has to get it together.
On the surface,
it sure looks as though the
Lions will still win the NFC North. With the
remaining on their schedule, they should, in theory, finish at 10-6.
Then again, who cares? Their fans must be so sick of this team folding when it counts. Whether the Lions are matched up against the Panthers or 49ers in the playoffs, does anyone think either of those clubs couldn't go into Detroit and be favorites? While the Lions play well at Ford Field, they seem to lack the kind of true leader who will rally the troops. A dynamic returner doesn't count. Helluva game, though, Jeremy Ross.
You think a few playoff teams wouldn't mind having Josh McCown as their backup? He's not exactly Jim Sorgi. Jay Cutler's alleged caddy was on point for the majority of Monday night. Yes, he got away with a couple of throws, but he ultimately finished with 348 yards passing and five total touchdowns.
How clutch was that
Joe Flacco throw in the snow to
Marlon Brown? It just doesn't get any better than that, especially considering no one knew who the heck Brown was before the season. A lot of people questioned
the $120 million contract Flacco landed in March, but Sunday's end-of-game performance
versus the Vikings says a lot. Ah, hell, people will still question it.
As for where the Ravens stand in the race for the AFC's sixth playoff seed, jump up four blurbs to see how their schedule shakes out the rest of the way.
Can't you just see Rob Ryan on Monday night, downing a plate of chicken nachos at the Cluck 'n' Chuck, belly-laughing at the TV in the corner? Against Ryan's old Cowboys defense, Bears quarterback Josh McCown threw it around the park like Warren Moon circa 1990. At least when Chicago's receivers caught the ball 25 yards downfield, a Dallas defensive back was there to make the tackle.
The signing of Danny Woodhead elicited about as much excitement as a Jim Kleinsasser touchdown run, but no one can deny his contribution to the Chargers this season. He gained 94 yards from scrimmage and scored a touchdown on just 11 touches in Sunday's win over the Giants -- and now has 65 receptions on the year. The Bolts are still alive.
Geno Smith turnovers and "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" previews were even over recent weeks, but thanks to Smith, we've now seen more pics of Bilbo than picks of Geno. Sure, Smith had an INT Sunday. Considering he came in with 23 turnovers, the Jets' defense and running game could overcome one. On that note, Smith ran for a career-high 50 yards in the victory over the Raiders. That's not usually his game, but if it works ...
Whoever plays quarterback for the
Titans next season will have some well-developed young receivers to target.
Kendall Wright has been solid, though he did have
a rough day in Denver;
Justin Hunter, meanwhile, put up 114 yards and a touchdown.
Again, the question is this: Who will play quarterback? Is Jake Locker the guy? He's tied to a head coach, Mike Munchak, who might not be in Tennessee in 2014.
That last play of
Dolphins-Steelers was freaking amazing. Watching it live, I saw Miami safety
Chris Clemons position himself too far inside after
Antonio Brown took the lateral. The
Steelers wideout merely had to give Clemons an inside juke move to put an uncoverable expanse of frozen Heinz Field grass between himself and the
Dolphins defender -- and then
Brown stepped out. Ugh.
The moment reminded someone in the NFL Media newsroom of the time that the Saints pulled off the same play to apparently tie a game in Jacksonville in 2003 -- only for John Carney to miss the extra point. Anyone else remember that?
Week 14 in San Diego might have been King Ugly of the
Giants' slate thus far. New York was never in this game. Well, that's not entirely true; Big Blue was right there duking it out -- until the
Chargers scored midway through the first quarter.
Is this as ugly as Kerry Collins' last year in New York, Giants fans? Or worse? (@Harrison_NFL)
Against the Cardinals on Sunday, Kellen Clemens was no good. The running game, save for one Tavon Austin sprint, was no good. And the vaunted pass rush? It was, well, no bueno. Though Carson Palmer attempted more than 30 passes, the Rams got to him only once, making life easy for him for most of the game -- and he absolutely took apart St. Louis' secondary. Jeff Fisher's job is apparently not in doubt, but his Rams have looked lousy two weeks running.
You know it's your day when your quarterback goes 9-for-25 passing and you
win by 21 points.
Game manager, meet Mike Glennon.
Ah, it happens to the best of them. I still remember a playoff game some years ago in which Dieter Brock went 6 for 22 and the Rams still won, 20-zip. Of course, Eric Dickerson set a playoff record with 248 yards rushing that day ... but work with me, here.
Tampa Bay has taken four of five, by the way.
Who would have thought Florida teams would be playing their best football at this point in the year? It's hard not to heap a little praise on coach Gus Bradley. Losing the first eight games of the season by double digits (literally) would normally wreck the confidence in any locker room, but there was Bradley after Thursday's win over Houston, talking about how his team was practicing. Now we see.
Leon McFadden probably wanted to crawl into a hole after that
crucial pass-interference penalty Sunday -- maybe an iHole, given the way people are consuming their football these days. While his mistake was bad, there were many others to count in this
late-game collapse ... like the fact that no one covered
Shane Vereen all day. How does a backup running back get 153
receiving yards on you?
Speaking of monstrous receiving totals, we hope folks are noticing what Josh Gordon is doing for the Browns: three games, 649 yards. Think about that ... that's an average of 216.3 yards per game.
Not the outing the Raiders were hoping for after recent improvement on both sides of the ball. Yes, it's time for Oakland to evaluate young players -- and yet, we still can't figure out why Marcel Reece isn't used more frequently in the way that he was on Sunday. Given 21 touches, Reece gained 161 yards and scored a touchdown. He performed like this when called upon last year, too.
Awful loss for Minnesota in Baltimore, but allow us to play Positive Perry here. The
Vikings finally have an explosive piece in addition to
Adrian Peterson, one who has the home-run-hitting ability of
Cordarrelle Patterson, who had five catches for 141 yards and a touchdown, and who also leads the NFL in yards per kickoff return.
OK, back to being negative. How did the Vikings let Marlon Brown get that much room near the back of the end zone? We feel bad for Minnesota fans.
How do you rate these Falcons going into next season? Yes, they have suffered key injuries, but the majority of their front-line players were out there competing in Green Bay on Sunday -- and they still lost. At first glance, Atlanta resembles Kansas City, in that the talent is there to turn this deal around quickly. Bear in mind, however, how much better stocked the Chiefs were on defense.
This Mike Shanahan situation is getting weird. We understand the challenges a head coach faces when a player has a close relationship with a general manager or owner, but the bottom line is, this is Daniel Snyder's team. He paid a lot of money for it, and he can have whatever kind of relationship he wants with whichever player he chooses. Each organization has its own set of hurdles; it was up to Mike Shanahan to manage those hurdles in such a way that Washington didn't drop from 10-6 to 3-10 in less than a year's time.
Tough times for the
Houston Texans. We thought Gary Kubiak would have the opportunity to at least finish out the season, but it was not to be. Perhaps the ugliest part of
the loss in Jacksonville was that
Matt Schaub played just good enough to get his team beat. Obviously, Kubiak supported Schaub throughout, sometimes to the detriment of his own credibility with Houston fans.
The last two offensive plays of Kubiak's tenure said it all. With just over two minutes left, his veteran quarterback had a clear window ... and threw it right to the linebacker. After the Jaguars kicked a field goal, the Texans got the ball back ... and Schaub was promptly sacked for an 18-yard loss. Game over, era over and season -- essentially -- over.
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL.