We built up Week 15 as Statement Sunday. Six games were between winning teams, the most in NFL history this late in the season.
Statements certainly were made. Great games were not played. Sunday's early games exposed a raft of mediocre squads with aspirations for more.
Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens' offense went from bad to worse during a 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos. Joe Flacco was harassed, inaccurate and ineffective. The defense actually played well considering all of its injuries. The Ravens are headed to the playoffs, but even the AFC North title is up for grabs now. Their three-game losing streak easily could be extended to four against the Giants next week. Then again ...
New York Giants: We all expect the Giants to become consistent, and it doesn't happen. They lost 34-0 in Atlanta. They couldn't pick up tough yards. They couldn't get off the field. Yes, the Giants didn't turn it on until Week 16 last year. They also missed the playoffs entirely in 2009 and 2010. The Giants now are far more likely to make the playoffs as a wild card rather than the NFC East champions. They are 3-4 in the last seven weeks. Isn't it possible they're just another mediocre team?
Chicago Bears: We warned you last week that the Bears could fall out of the playoffs entirely. After a 21-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Bears now have an uphill battle to make it. They have a favorable schedule (at Arizona, at Detroit), but this is a team that was 7-1 and now is 8-6. Sneaking into the playoffs and going one and done wouldn't be a success for Chicago.
On the flip side ...
Denver Broncos: Coupled with the New England Patriots' Sunday night loss, Denver should have a playoff bye and a home game in the AFC's divisional round (the Broncos face the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs the next two weeks.) It's a much, much easier road to the Super Bowl for Denver to host New England before a potential AFC Championship Game in Houston. The Broncos' defense is so versatile and dangerous.
Best game of the season
The Fail Mary was the most memorable moment of the year, but Sunday night's 49ers-Patriots classic was the most memorable game. I'm so impressed with the 49ers. They pushed New England around physically in the first half. With the walls crumbling around them, they responded like champions in the last seven minutes.
It wouldn't be shock to see a rematch in New Orleans, but New England's path to get there just became much tougher.
About that NFC East ...
The short version: The Washington Redskins are the new favorites. If the Giants go to the playoffs, it most likely will be as a wild-card team. The Dallas Cowboys have the toughest road ahead, but they'd still get in with two more wins. If Dallas and Washington win next week, we'll have a play-in game between the division rivals in Week 17. How great would that be?
So you're saying there's a chance ...
- It was a good Sunday for the New York Jets. The Pittsburgh Steelers' overtime loss at Dallas keeps the Jets' small hopes alive. Everyone teased me for not "sticking a fork" in the Jets at 4-7, and the last few weeks have supported my vision. They might not be any good, but the Jets, who play Monday night at Tennessee, aren't finished. Yet.
- The loss in Dallas doesn't hurt the Steelers that much. They have to beat the Cincinnati Bengals next week, but that was true no matter what. The bigger issue is that Pittsburgh doesn't resemble a team that could win multiple playoff games anyhow. The AFC is top heavy. It'd be very surprising if any team outside the top three seeds made the Super Bowl.
They're real and spectacular
With the 49ers probably winning the NFC West (they can do it with a win at home over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17), the Seahawks will have to win on the road in the playoffs. They finally showed they can do that with their Week 13 victory in Chicago and Sunday's convincing beatdown of the Buffalo Bills in Toronto.
The Seahawks were my NFC West pick before the season, so perhaps I'm a little biased. But I think they're absolutely a top-five NFL team. The offense has improved dramatically during the season. They will be a very tough out in the playoffs.