The playoff picture
How would your team's prospects look if the season ended today? See where each team stands in the playoff picture midway through the season. More ...
The final NFC playoff spot is theirs.
The Arizona Cardinals were exposed as pretenders who took advantage of weak competition during their recent four-game winning streak.
The 49ers boast a one-game lead, the highest point differential (100) and the most complete roster of any team vying for the No. 6 seed in the NFC.
We recapped the entire day on the "Around the League" Podcast. Here's what else we learned on Sunday:
- Peyton Manning's arm might be the weakest in the NFL, but he proved Sunday that it's plenty strong enough to burn defenses down the seam with a series of perfect passes to Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas. Manning did uncork a few ducks. As usual, though, they were on passes when he didn't have his feet set due to pressure on the interior. Only three times has a quarterback thrown for 38-plus touchdowns in his first 12 games of the season. This is the second time Manning has done it.
- When the Chiefs raced out to a 9-0 start against weak competition, the question was whether they could score fast enough to keep up in a shootout. They have now lost back-to-back high-scoring games with the defense as the culprit. For the second consecutive week, Alex Smith played a heck of a ballgame, burning secondaries with his arm and making pass rushers pay with his legs. As a running threat in key situations, Smith has been the equal of Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton this season. He was hurt by several drops on perfect downfield throws Sunday.
- The Chiefs are a different defense now than they were in the first half of the season. They have surrendered 480 yards per over the past four games after allowing just 309 yards per in the first eight. After generating 35 sacks in the first seven weeks of the season, the Chiefs have two in the last six weeks. They have joined the 1969 Rams and 2009 Saints as the only teams to lose three in a row after starting the season 9-0.
- Adrian Peterson trampled, bulldozed, spun around and ate up Bears defenders en route to 211 yards. A.D. started slow and appeared to lack burst early, but his battering style took its toll on the Bears' shaky run defense. He essentially put the team on his back in the fourth quarter. Peterson became the third-fastest NFL player to break the 10K rushing mark.
- Matt Cassel looked much better running the Vikings' offense than Christian Ponder. After Ponder left with a concussion, Cassel was more decisive and on point with his passes. We can't see Ponder leading that game-tying drive at the end of regulation. Who else likes when Cassel takes over for Ponder? Greg Jennings. All three of the receiver's touchdowns this season are from Cassel.
- Alshon Jeffery was unguardable Sunday. He finished with 249 yards on 12 catches, including touchdowns of 80 and 46 yards. You aren't likely to see a more ridiculous catch than the second touchdown snag. Teams continue to roll coverage at Brandon Marshall instead of Jeffery. That strategy has a serious flaw.
- Defensive coordinator Billy Davis deserves a lot of credit for improving this Eagles' defensive unit. He confused Carson Palmer with a number of creative blitzes. The Eagles sacked Palmer five times, including two apiece by Brandon Graham and Trent Cole. Philly had 11 passes defensed. When the Cardinals had a chance to win late, they couldn't pick up a first down.
- It was a strange game for Nick Foles (237 yards and three scores on 37 passing attempts) and the Eagles' offense. They had just five first downs in their first four drives. Sitting on a 24-7 lead, the Eagles put up just 30 yards combined in their last four drives. Foles was sensational in between those stretches, but he was bailed out after making an awful decision on an interception that was overturned by penalty late in the fourth quarter.
- Geno Smith left Rex Ryan no choice but to put him on the bench. Smith was noncompetitive over the first two quarters, completing just four passes, missing open receivers and throwing his league-leading 19th interception before Matt Simms came on to start the second half. Ryan has a difficult choice moving forward: Simms is clearly not the franchise's answer, but Smith isn't giving the Jets a fair chance to win. For a coach on the hot seat, it can't be a pleasant decision.
- Ryan Tannehill missed some easy throws in the first half, but his game improved dramatically in the final two quarters. He was at his best in the possession following the Jets' third-quarter field-goal that cut the lead to 13-3. Tannehill went 4 for 4 on the ensuing drive, capped by a 28-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace. Game over.
- Speaking of the Wallace score, it was a terrible tackle attempt on the play by Jets rookie Dee Milliner, who suffered through another difficult afternoon. CBS cameras captured Ryan talking to the distraught rookie, who subsequently was benched. The secondary is the weak link of New York's defense -- Milliner's struggles have been a leading reason why.
- The Texans' struggles on offense have killed them all season, but put this loss on the defense. When Case Keenum and company put up 31 points in your building, you need to find a way to take it home. Here's a reason why J.J. Watt shouldn't be seen as a runaway favorite for the Defensive Player of the Year award.
- Sneaky team MVP pick for the Patriots this season? How about kicker Stephen Gostkowski? The veteran drilled two 53-yard field goals in the fourth quarter -- one to tie the game and one to put the Pats ahead for good. He's now 28 of 30 on the season. How blessed have the Patriots been to have Vinatieri and Gostkowski back to back?
- For the second time in as many matchups between these two teams, the difference in the game was Andrew Luck's scrambling ability. Holding the ball too long while waiting for his receivers to get open, Luck took five sacks in the first 3 1/2 quarters. With a 15-14 lead in the fourth quarter, Luck engineered a statement drive highlighted by first-down scrambles of 8 and 24 yards. Once Luck began leaving the pocket to escape pressure, it finally opened up running lanes for Donald Brown.
- Forty-six of Brown's 52 rushing yards came on the fourth-quarter drive that culminated in the game-sealing touchdown. For the bulk of the game, Pep Hamilton's beleaguered power rushing attack continued to look like a myth. Trent Richardson's 12-yard run on a draw play was one of his most impressive of the season. It was a rare display of speed and decisiveness.
- Panthers backs struggled early, but Cam Newton made up for it, flashing his outstanding mobility on a 56-yard scamper that set up Carolina's first touchdown. Ace Boogie's 20 career games with both a running and passing touchdown lead all active players -- and no quarterback looks better converting short-yardage situations.
- Mike Glennon deserves to be in the conversation for Offensive Rookie of the Year. His arm is legitimate, and the Bucs quarterback entered Sunday with just one pick since Week 6. He didn't play well Sunday, however, losing a fumble on a ghastly botched pass and tossing a costly pick in the third quarter that helped Carolina salt this one away early.
- Josh Gordon is a bona fide beast. One week after piling up 237 yards receiving against the Steelers, the Browns wideout scorched Jacksonville's defense for another 261 off 10 catches, making Gordon the first player in NFL history to post back-to-back 200-yard outings. It's daunting to imagine what Gordon might become if a franchise passer ever emerges from the rubble in C-Town.
- No more Jaguars jokes. They're 3-1 over the past four weeks and gave the Browns all they could Sunday. The offense has a rash of intriguing youngsters -- Ace Sanders, Cecil Shorts III and Jordan Todman for starters -- and it helps when Maurice Jones-Drew shows up like he did Sunday, running with more urgency than we've seen of late and even throwing a touchdown pass.
- Brandon Weeden is finished in Cleveland. Gordon's fireworks aside, Weeden imploded Sunday, with two interceptions and a lost fumble on a three-possession stretch to close the first half. Outside of Brian Hoyer, the Browns' quarterback room is in for a comprehensive makeover (again). The team announced after the game that Weeden suffered a concussion on Sunday.
- The Bengals got the ball back with 4:48 left in the game, up seven points. The Chargers didn't touch the ball again. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard ran it up the gut on San Diego. The Chargers knew what was coming and couldn't stop it. The Bengals rushed the ball 38 times and only passed it 23 times on the day.
- Keep an eye on the Niners in the NFC. The Seahawks and Saints are seen as the favorites to come out of the conference, but San Francisco has the personnel to embarrass anybody. The win combined with an Arizona Cardinals loss puts the Niners in sole possession of the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC. We don't expect it to slip away.
- Welcome back, Michael Crabtree. The wide receiver made an impact in his 2013 debut, setting up a third-quarter touchdown with a 60-yard catch and run. The play served as evidence that Crabtree is not back to full speed (this was to be expected), but his presence played a role in big days from both Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin.
- The Falcons' porous defense couldn't stop the Bills' tandem of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, who combined for 223 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns. Spiller set up the first touchdown with the longest run of his career (77 yards) and added a 36-yard score to break a 24-24 tie in the fourth quarter. His ankle injury is still not 100 percent, as he was refitted for an ankle brace and was limping on a couple of plays. Jackson put a clown suit on rookie Desmond Trufant on a 22-yard touchdown.
- The Falcons' equally permeable offensive line continues to give Matt Ryan little chance for success. Ryan was sacked six times and hit nine. Pass protection was an especially big problem on third downs, with Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine dialing up blitzes. Ryan is unquestionably a top-10 NFL quarterback. He's had a lot working against him since Julio Jones was lost for the season. Give him credit for being the difference in this game.
- Roddy White is as healthy as he's been since suffering a high-ankle sprain in the preseason. He's still not cutting quite as sharply as he did last season, but the rest of his game has returned. His 10 receptions and 143 yards more than doubled his single-game highs coming into the game.
- The Washington Redskins need an upgrade at right tackle. Entering the game with 2.5 sacks, Justin Tuck abused notorious swinging gate Tyler Polumbus to the tune of four sacks on Robert Griffin III. Although the sack numbers haven't been there until now, Tuck has enjoyed a fine bounce-back season as a premier run stuffer with solid pass pressure. The Giants might re-sign him in the offseason after all.
- Robert Griffin III appeared poised for his best game all season, starting 12 of 12 for 111 yards and one touchdown. The offense went in the tank from there, with Griffin holding the ball too long, his receivers dropping passes and the play calling forgetting about Alfred Morris. The Redskins' only two plays of 20 yards were a dumpoff to Roy Helu and a Griffin scramble that should have been a Hail Mary.
- The St. Louis Rams certainly enjoyed watching Washington lose. Based on strength of schedule, they would have the Redskins' draft pick at No. 2 overall. If the Texans knock off the Jaguars on Thursday, the top spot would be in play. It's not inconceivable that the Rams could then parlay that pick into even more first-round draft picks if a team such as the Browns is desperate enough to trade up for a quarterback.