NFL: Halfway to the Finish Line… Who are the pretenders, and who are the contenders?

I cannot believe we are here already. 9 weeks down. The playoff picture is starting to take shape.

So who has themselves in prime position, who has work to do and who is on the clock?  Here is a breakdown by division of how all 32 teams look midway through the season.

AFC EAST (Remember when we all thought Tom Brady was done?)

  1. New England Patriots (7-2): Since being blown out in week 4, the Pats have won 5 straight, 4 of those by double digits.  They made easy work of the of 3 teams that could be in the playoffs, including a 22-point victory over the Broncos last week.  Tom Brady is top 5 in passing yards in a season where Rob Gronkowski came in off injury and Julian Edelman was leading the team in receiving yards early.   It took a couple weeks for them to figure things out, and now here they are, atop the AFC once again.  It’s almost like in the NBA when everyone calls out the Spurs for being too old, and they go and win the championship.  Maybe we should stop underestimating Brady and Belichick?
  2. Buffalo Bills (5-3): They’ve lost their top running back, their 2nd back is banged up and yet here they are, fighting for a wild card spot.  A big reason why is their defense.  They’re 6th in points per game in the league and are a +7 in turnover differential.  Add to that a steady progression from rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins to a big play threat, the ability to close out games and decent production from QBs EJ Manuel and Kyle Orton (yes that Kyle Orton).  If this team wants to stay in the conversation, they have to continue their strong defensive presence and get Fred Jackson back.
  3. Miami Dolphins (5-3): Ryan Tannehill has taken a step.  It’s in the right direction, but I’m not ready to say it’s a step that puts him in the next tier of quarterbacks step yet.  His decision making has gotten much better, as has his accuracy, all things you want to see as your franchise starter gets older.  Losing Knowshon Moreno was big, but Lamar Miller has done a good job picking up the slack.  They find ways to win, and just demolished the once high flying Chargers to the tune of 37-0.  Like the Bills, their defense is where they make money, and of the two teams, I think they have a better shot at a wild card spot coming off an 8-8 record a year ago.  They’re no worse than a season ago.
  4. New York Jets (1-8): 8 straight losses with no hope on the horizon.  Geno Smith is on the bench. Eric Decker hasn’t been the addition they hoped for.  Their defense has been awful and the run game has been abandoned.  Things are so bad for the Jets that fan put their money together to buy a “Fire Idzik” billboard (their GM).  Could Rex Ryan be out at the end of the season?  Time will tell, but they’re fighting hard for a very high draft pick, and not the playoffs like I thought they would be this season.

AFC NORTH (Who would’ve thought all these teams would be above .500?)

  1. Cincinnati Bengals (5-2-1): They’ve been inconsistent since coming out of their week 4 by with a record of 3-0.  Inconsistency is bad in any sport, but it’s very bad for Cincy this year, as they can’t afford a slip in the only top-to-bottom over .500 division in football.  Andy Dalton has shown flashes of deserving the big 6-year $115 million contract he got in the off-season.  But again, inconsistency is an issue.  Hopefully AJ Green is over his injury issues, because everyone knows how lethal he is in the passing game, and putting a confident Mohammad Sanu, who stepped up for Green in his absence, next to him is huge.
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3): 12 TDs in two games. Historic numbers.  That’s what Ben Roethlisberger and company have put up of late to get back into the division champion conversation.  Pittsburgh is still very inconsistent.  They started out 3-3, and despite their 3 game win streak, the Steelers defense is nowhere near the “steal curtain” of old. It’s more like a bead curtain.  It’s easy to outscore your opponents, until it’s not.  Can they keep it up?  Yes.  Will they?  Who knows.
  3. Cleveland Browns (5-3): So… we all saw this coming right?  The Browns are 2 games over .500 despite not getting much from Ben Tate on the ground, an oft injured Jordan Cameron and a QB controversy heading into the season.  They’ve been impressive, finding ways to win games late that they would’ve lost in years past.  Brian Hoyer has gotten better at late game decision making and has his team looking at winning it’s most games in a while.
  4. Baltimore Ravens (5-4): After looking like they’d turned a corner, Baltimore has lost two straight in the division, finding themselves momentarily in the basement.  The positive for this team?  They have games left in the division and it’s close, so it won’t take long to jump back into the top.  But they can’t be so inconsistent on defense.  The offense without Ray Rice hasn’t really skipped a beat, so if they can get some more stops, they will be in it til the end.

AFC SOUTH (Indianapolis is starting to pull away)

  1. Indianapolis Colts (6-3): After an 0-2 start, the Colts have righted the ship in a huge way.  Andrew Luck leads the league in passing yards, with a healthy 3,000 plus already! So you wouldn’t be surprised to know they have the best total offense because of it,which has helped cover up their middle of the pack total team defense.  Those numbers are a bit skewed at 18 after allowing over 600 total yards to Pittsburgh in week 8, but it is what it is.  They already beat Houston once, so in affect have a 3 game lead, and with how they’re playing, I think they’re easily on their way to another division crown.
  2. Houston Texans (4-5):  The good news?  JJ Watt is a beast and they’ve already doubled their win total from a year ago.  The bad news. they are in the same division as the Colts, and Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the greatest replacement for Matt Schaub, which has led to him being benched in favor of Ryan Mallett.  But they are still in the conversation without any real production out of number 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney, so there is room for improvement.  Add better days from offensive weapons Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, and I see them hovering around .500 the rest of the way.
  3. Tennessee Titans (2-6): They’re in the bottom third of the league on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football. So frankly, I don’t know how they have two wins (one of which came against Jacksonville).  Two of their losses were by a combined 3 points, which shows a lack of late game execution, which reeks of bad coaching and bad personnel.  Delanie Walker might be the lone guy that’s having a representative season for Tennessee.  And after a 7-9 season a year ago, there was a place for improvement, and they haven’t and look like they won’t even get back to a similar record this year.
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8): They’re not good, but I have to give the Jags some credit.  They aren’t rolling over on a weekly basis.  They took down the Browns for their first win in wee 7. Things weren’t made easy for the Bengals and Dolphins following that win.  Denard Robinson has proven to be a very good starting running back and Blake Bortles has shown some glimpses as the 4th pick in the 2014 draft.  So while the record will again put them in the running for a top pick, there are at least signs of talent at skill positions in Jacksonville.

AFC WEST (Denver might start to run away with this one)

  1. Denver Broncos (6-2): Peyton Manning is still really good, but even he couldn’t lead his team past the red hot Patriots.  But at 6-2, they’re still in prime position to make a deep playoff run despite a very difficult schedule.  The difference between last year’s Broncos and this year’s… the defense.  A bad showing against New England not withstanding, off-season acquisitions are doing big things for this team on both sides of the football.  This offense is so good, Wes Welker is now the 4th option. Think about that.  I’m not worried about this team, and even though they haven’t run away with the division, the Chargers have dropped and they can do no worse than tying the season series with both them and the Chiefs.
  2. Kansas City Chiefs (5-3): The defense hasn’t allowed more than 26 points in a game, and that came week 1.  Jamal Charles continues to have the ability to break out on any day.  Alex Smith isn’t lighting up the stat sheet, but he’s done enough to keep them in the conversation in the division.  This team was never going to repeat the 9-0 start from a year ago, but they’ve responded from a slow start, and can still make a play at a wild card spot, if not the division.
  3. San Diego Chargers (5-4): This team was 5-1 and looked like a top 2, top 3 team in the league.  Now they’re on a 3-game slid that’s seen them score 3 TDs in the past 8 quarters of football.  The defense can’t live up to that, but it’s hard to outscore 35-plus point efforts as well.  So if this team wants to get back in the conversation, both sides of the football need to improve and fast.
  4. Oakland Raiders (0-8): They may never win again.  This team has yet to show me any reason to ever pick them.  Charles Woodson called it early, and it never sparked a fire.  They’re the worst team in the league, but could always fall into a win, and could lose that title to a Jets or Jaguars team.  But I doubt that happens.

NFC EAST (Is this division really as “strong” as the records suggest?)

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (6-2): They’re well on their way to a possible 2nd straight division crown.  But a couple of big injuries in week 9 could derail their Superbowl aspirations.  Nick Foles is set to be out 6-8 weeks with a broken collarbone, while DeMeco Ryans is out for the season with a torn Achilles.  The latter could prove more costly, as Philly at least has a backup QB in Mark Sanchez who has proven he can help lead a team deep into the playoffs.  But if they want to survive the injuries, the run game has to pick up the slack.  So this team will only go as far as LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles can run, in conjunction with Sanchez limiting the mistakes.
  2. Dallas Cowboys (6-3):  Just when you thought this might be their season, Tony Romo goes down.  DeMarco Murray is on a record pace on the round, but with his injury history, how much more can you ask from him?  Brandon Weedon wasn’t horrible with Cleveland, but you’re not going far with him either.  You’ve got to hope you can get Romo back after the bye week in week 12, while hoping teams like the Packers, Panthers, Seahawks or 49ers don’t get hot and steal a wildcard spot.
  3. New York Giants (3-5): The G-men were feeling good about themselves after a 3-game win streak that saw them score 30-plus to get them above the .500 mark at 3-2.  But it’s been downhill from there.  Eli Manning hasn’t thrown an interception since week 4, and has just 5 all season. But the injuries are piling up and Manning has no real deep threat.  They’ve put themselves behind the 8-ball, but with games left with both the Eagles and Cowboys at home, to go with some softer games in the 2nd half, it’ll be tough, but they don’t have any wiggle room if they want to make a real run for the playoffs.
  4. Washington Redskins (3-6): RGIII came back, for better or worse and it didn’t make them better.  The former Rookie of the Year looked slow and out of it in his return, and I didn’t understand bringing him back when they did.  Colt McCoy (yes he still exists) looked pretty good and got them a win against Dallas. I would’ve run him out there again.  They’re the worst team in the division, even with how banged up the Giants are.

NFC NORTH (This was always going to be a fight between Detroit and Green Bay)

  1. Detroit Lions (6-2): They boast the best team defense in football.  You’ve been looking for this team to put all their talent together for a while now, and this seems to be the year, led by the D.  But that being said, their offense has been off lately. Calvin Johnson has missed time, the run game isn’t what you want and they’ve played games using their 4th string tight-end.  But when your defense is top 5 in rushing and passing defense, it tends to hide offensive question marks.  If they can get Megatron healthy, this team is going to be very dangerous in the playoffs.
  2. Green Bay Packers (5-3): They might be in 2nd place, but they’re the best team in this division.  Green Bay got off to a slow start, but while defense has carried the current leader, the Pack is a much more balanced team.  Aaron Rodgers is an MVP candidate again.  And if Eddie Lacy could ever be the consistent threat they need on the ground, I don’t know how you beat this team.
  3. Chicago Bears (3-5): You boast probably the best wide-receiver combination in football to go with a top 5 running back, and yet they find themselves under .500.  The defense, aside from allowing a 51 spot to New England in their last game has been pretty good.  The issue is on offense, where there is questions of a lack of trust between Jay Cutler and his targets of Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.  And when there is questioning of each other in the media, it’s hard to recover from.
  4. Minnesota Vikings (3-5): considering they lost their starting QB and their All-pro running back early on, Mike Zimmer has his team competing.  Even with Matt Cassell and Adrian Peterson, I don’t think this team would be much better than 3-5, but they’ve learned that Teddy Bridgewater is a capable starter.  In a tough division like the North, at least they’ve shown they can play with teams outside.  Now they just have to figure out how to make games in the division close.  And with how bad Chicago looks, finishing 3rd is in the realm of possibility, especially with two left against the Bears.

NFC SOUTH (The most disappointing division in football?)

  1. New Orleans Saints (4-4): It’s been a long trek back to .500 for the Saints after an 1-3 start.  Drew Brees’ low is 17 points scored… that on the road against the Cowboys.  So the offense has been pretty good.  But this team is only going to go as far as the defense.  They are very lucky to be in a division having a down year top-to-bottom.  Having a game up on Carolina already for me gives them a clear path to the division crown.
  2. Carolina Panthers (3-5-1): So I think their defense forgot how to play… well defense.  Carolina finds itself top 3 in points allowed and the bottom 3rd of the league in total yards allowed.  Add to that, a banged up Cam Newton, and an offense that finds themselves in similar spots in offense as defense.  All ingredients for a below .500 record.  And nothing I’ve seen of late has me thinking they can rebound in the second half of the season here.
  3. Atlanta Falcons (2-6): Remember when this was a good team?  Yeah, neither do I. A 2-0 start, the Falcons look like the 2013-14 Texans that finished the season on a 14-game skid. You know, minus the loss of a quarterback.  Matt Ryan has been healthy, and has had enough weapons to get some wins here.  The issue is on defense.  Their secondary is basically swiss cheese, and the front 7 isn’t any better.  I do think they’ll find a way to win again this season, but it might not be more than once or twice.
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-7): Ugliness. I thought they’d be a playoff team.  Nope.  A rotating door at quarterback has shifted back to Josh McCown.  Doug Martin looks like he’s never ran a football.  The defense is atrocious.  Vincent Jackson seems to forget that he’s a load and can out muscle any secondary player.  It’s just bad for the Bucs.

NFC WEST (Arizona far atop the hill, just like we all thought… right?)

  1. Arizona Cardinals (7-1): I give you the best team in the NFC, and it’s not really even close.  They swept the NFC East that currently holds 2 of the 4 best records in the conference.  They survived a couple weeks without their starting quarterback.  Not to mention they’re getting healthy and are consistent on both sides of the ball.  Arizona’s only real issue is that they still have two match-ups with the defending champs, but with how they’ve played, there’s no reason they shouldn’t at least split with them and maintain their led in the division.
  2. Seattle Seahawks (5-3): For a team that entered the year as defending champs, they look nothing like a team capable of a repeat.  Russell Wilson is leading one of the worst passing offenses in football.  Marshawn Lynch is a shell of himself. Percy Harvin, a dynamic offensive weapon, was so distracting they traded him for nothing to the Jets.  And the Legion of Boom has been disappointing to say the least.
  3. San Francisco 49ers (4-5): This team is a mess.  Between off-the-field issues and a lack of a run game to help take pressure of Colin Kaepernick who has his team in the bottom half in passing offense, they find themselves on the outside looking in.  Rumors that Jim Harbaugh is leaving don’t help.  Their only bright spot is their team defense, ranked 2nd in total yards allowed.  What they need is to take advantage of 3 games left with the teams ahead of them, and for Kaepernick to figure some things out offensively, particularly in the red zone.
  4. St. Louis Rams (3-5): I have to give them credit, they don’t quit.  They’ve shown glimpses with getting big leads early over the Cowboys and Seahawks, but then they regress to a 3-5 team by losing both of those leads.  Now they look to play spoiler (as they did against San Fran this week).  Losing your starter just before the season starts is tough.  If they could’ve executed better down the stretch of games, they could be in the conversation for 2nd in this division with a down year from the champs and niners.

So if things continue on the track they are, here are my 12 playoff teams as of now:

NFC

– Arizona, Green Bay, Saints, Philadelphia, Dallas (if Romo comes back quickly) and Detroit

AFC

– New England, Denver, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Miami and Baltimore

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NFL: Week 13 Thoughts

13 down. 4 to go.

It’s not often that 1 player goes off for 200+ yards on either the ground or in the receiving game.  But this week we saw 3 players have exception games.  How about 3 to 4 touchdowns for one player?  There were a few of those as well.

NFC EAST (This One’s Going Down to the Wire)

  • Cowboys: They got off to a slow start, but were able to come back from a 21-7 deficit to maintain their tie atop the division. An opening kick-off fumble by Terrence Williams was returned for a score, putting them down as quick as you can be down.  DeMarco Murray was huge in the redzone, scoring 3 rushing touchdowns, adding a number of big catches to help lead the comeback. Tony Romo managed the game well, finishing with 235-passing yards and a touchdown pass to Dez Bryant.  Back-up rusher Lance Dunbar added a career-high 82 yards in the ground game.  It’s the first time all season Dallas is 2 games over .500.  (7-5)
  • Eagles: Make it 19 touchdown passes with no interceptions for Philly savior Nick Foles. Though he did throw a pick in the game, it didn’t go against him as it was called back on a defensive penalty.  No matter what, Foles continued to shine against a very good Arizona defense, throwing 3 touchdown passes for 237-yards in their 4th straight victory.  He also set an Eagles record for most passes without an interception (233), breaking Michael Vick’s mark of 224 set in 2010. DeSean Jackson went over the 1,000 yard mark for the season.  Rookie receiver Zach Ertz on 2 of his 5 catches on the day.  The only concern is this team continues to be shutdown in the 4th quarter, something that gave Arizona multiple chances to steal a win on the road.  But the defense held, and the division crown still remains in play. (7-5)
  • Giants: Big Blue rallied from 14-0 down to at least keep their slim playoff chances alive, thanks in big part to their run game in the red-zone, and their defense.  Justin Tuck looked like his old self, racking up a career high 4 sacks, and after a bad start, the defense held the Skins to just 95 2nd half yards.  The run game overall wasn’t spectacular, but Andre Brown made his 35-yards count, scoring two touchdowns including the go-ahead score.  Eli Manning threw touchdown, and one interception, the Giants lone turnover of the game.  They’re the only team with at least 1 turnover in every game this season. (5-7)
  • Redskins: RG-still-stuck-at-3-wins and company got off to a very hot start Sunday night, but cooled off late.  Griffin was 16-for-17 at halftime, but went just 8-for-15 in the second half, and was dropped 5 times.  Washington had a chance to go the length of the field in the final minutes to try and tie. But a mix-up by officials with a 1st down being called a second with no measurement, the Skins play calling suffered and ultimately resulted in having to go for it on 4th down, and not converting.  The loss officially eliminates them from the playoffs.  (3-9)

NFC NORTH (Detroit Puts Some Separation Between Themselves and the Rest of the Division)

  • Lions: The Thanksgiving Day skid came to an end at 9 thanks to a big day from just about everyone.  Matt Stafford got off to a shake start, but he finished with over 300-yards passing, 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.  Calvin Johnson caught one of those TDs, his 5th straight Turkey day score, as well as his 5th straight game this season.  Reggie Bush put an opening drive red-zone fumble behind him, rushing for 117-yards and a score in the rout.  The win helps put them in the driver’s seat for the division title. (7-5)
  • Bears: Matt Forte finished with 120-yards on the ground, and that wasn’t even the best total on the ground in the game, let alone the best from scrimmage total on his team.  Rookie wide-out Alshon Jeffery went off for two touchdowns and 249-yards receiving, giving him the two best receiving games in Bears history, ever.  The usually sure-footed Robbie Gould wasn’t so on point though, missing 2-of-4 field-goal attempts, including a 47-yard attempt that would’ve won it in overtime. (6-6) 
  • Packers: Matt Flynn “savior” wasn’t to be this week.  After a 10-3 start, the Pack were completely shut down by the Lions.  The defense did all it could, forcing 3 turnovers, including the early fumble they returned for Green Bay’s lone touchdown of the game.  But they couldn’t outplay their quarterback. Flynn threw a pick, lost two fumbles and was sacked in for a safety in the 3rd quarter.  The loss doesn’t put them out of contention for a wildcard spot or the division title, with a game against Chicago left.  But it does make things harder.  Aaron Rodgers could be back in week 14.  (5-6-1)
  • Vikings: Down 20-10 after 3 quarters, 10 unanswered in the 4th forced overtime for the second straight week.  The Vikings were 1:43 away from their second straight tie, but a Blair Walsh 34-yarder gave them the win instead. Walsh missed a 57-yarder earlier in overtime but Minnesota was given new life after the Chicago miss. Oh and in case you forgot, Adrian Peterson is really, really good.  Peterson ran for 211-yards on 35 carries for a 6-yard-per-attempt average.  Christian Ponder went down with an injury early in the game, and Matt Cassel came in and did a good job in his place.  Cassel threw 1 touchdown to Greg Jennings, a pick and finished with 243-yards in the air. (3-8-1)

NFC SOUTH (We Have a Battle For 1st Place on our Hands)

  • Saints: Other than one long drive in the 1st to cut the deficit to 17-7, the Saints offense looked like a shell of themselves. The one touchdown went to Jimmy Graham.  Drew Brees was held under 200-yards passing, and the run game was non-existent.  Just one turnover, but it was recovered for a touchdown early. Those 7 points scored by New Orleans, according to NFL.com, are the lowest scored by the Saints since Sean Payton became headcoach in 2006.  Making things worse, plane troubles kept them in Seattle overnight. (9-3)
  • Panthers: 8 straight wins and this time around, it was never in doubt.  The defense ravaged Tampa’s offense, holding them to just 2 field-goals, recording 5 sacks and forcing two turnovers.  Cam Newton did throw 2 picks, but he also threw for 263-yards and two touchdowns to go with 68-yards on the ground and a rushing score.  5 receivers finished with at least 35-yards, with Brian LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr each finding the end-zone.  Now they sit tied for 1st, with 2 games to go against New Orleans. (9-3)
  • Buccaneers:  They actually led the Panthers, not for long and not by much, but in a 21-point loss, I guess you take any positives you can find.  Mike Glennon has been very good for Tampa, but not this week as Tampa saw their win streak snapped at 3 games.  Glennon went on to post 14-21 completions, 180-yards, no touchdowns and an interception in the loss.  The defense did all it could, forcing a couple turnovers, but they had no real answer for Newton short of those takeaways. (3-9)
  • Falcons: It took overtime, but the skid ends at 5 for Atlanta.  Steven Jackson had his first multi-touchdown day as a Falcon as a part of an 84-yard rushing performance.  Matt Ryan didn’t throw any interceptions, something foreign to him this season, but he did lose one fumble.  Ryan was good throwing the rock though, finishing with 311-yards passing and a touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez.  Roddy White had nearly 150-yards receiving. They never led in regulation, and won it thanks to Matt Bryant’s 2nd field-goal of the game in the extra frame. (3-9)

NFC WEST (Seattle Just Continues to Fly Higher)

  • Seahawks: It was all Seattle early, thanks to a fumble recovery for a score for Michael Bennett, his first careers touchdown.  And it stayed Seattle’s night, thanks to Russell Wilson, whose throws we’re on point all game long.  The 2nd year quarterback threw for 310-yards, 3 touchdowns and added another 47-yards on the ground.  The defense was huge against a potent Saints offense, holding them to under 50-yards rushing and Brees to under 200-yards passing, a rare feat. Home field throughout the playoffs looks way more likely now with a 2-game lead over the rest of the NFC. (11-1)
  • 49ers: There was a big time Anquan Boldin sighting in week 13, as the wide-out caught 9 passes for 98-yards.  Tight-end Vernon Davis added an athletic leap over a defender, 82-yards and a score to San Fran’s 10-point division win. Colin Kaepernick threw for nearly 300-yards and a score. 3 Phil Dawson field-goals and a Frank Gore rushing touchdown was the rest of the niners offense as they put a game between themselves and Arizona.  They never trailed, and currently hold the 6th and final playoff spot in the NFC. (8-4)
  • Cardinals: They put themselves in a 21-7 hole early, and they were never able to fully recover.  Carson Palmer threw 3 touchdown passes, but also threw 2 interceptions, as well as lost a fumble.  Those 3 turnovers proved costly in a 3-point game.  Rashard Mendenhall had one of his better games of the year, picking up 79-yards on the ground, but it wasn’t enough.  Michael Floyd came up just short of the 100-yard receiving mark, while Larry Fitzgerald added another 72 in the passing game.  Both scored touchdowns.  The loss hurts drops them back in the hunt for a wildcard spot, but they still have a better shot than most.  (7-5)
  • Rams: They did a decent job of holding down the 49ers early, but the offense couldn’t do much against San Fran.  Kellen Clemens finished with over 200-yards passing, a touchdown and an interception, while Zac Stacy gained 72 on the ground.  But drives stalled, and they had to settle for field-goals rather than touchdowns on 2 of them.  They are still much improved over last season, but with 3 teams to jump in their own division, the playoffs aren’t realistic.  (5-7)

AFC EAST (It’s Still The Pats Division)

  • Patriots: They won, but I wouldn’t be too proud of myself if I was a Patriots player after Sunday’s performance  Down 17-7 at the half to a 2 win Houston team, they needed a big 2nd half to save themselves from a bad loss.  The game saw 5 lead changes as Tom Brady finished with 371-yards passing, 2 touchdowns and an interception. Both Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman finished with over 100-yards receiving.  LeGarrett Blount added a score in the run game.  But they couldn’t stop the run in the red-zone, allowing 4 rushing touchdowns.  They rallied again, but the defense was suspect and their run game wasn’t great. (9-3)
  • Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill finished the must-win game completing 28-of-43 passes for 331-yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception.  4 players combined for over 120-yards on the ground, including 22 from Tannehill.  The defense took advantage of a down New York offense, holding them to just 3-points. Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace combined for over 200-yards and 2 scores while  3 Caleb Strugis field-goals book-ended the scoring for Miami, who keeps playoff hopes alive.  (6-6)
  • Jets: Well, they’re in a free-fall now.  Geno Smith hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since before the World Series began, and was finally benched in favor of Matt Simms. not that it made a difference.  Smith went 4-for-10 for 29-yards with an INT before being replaced by Simms, who completed 50% of his passes for 79-yards, a fumble lost and a pick. The only offense New York could muster was a 2nd half Nick Folk field-goal.  After not winning or losing 2 straight, the Jets are now on 3-game losing streak, and see their playoff hopes die  with each loss. (5-7)
  • Bills: They had their chance to win in regulation on a possible game winning drive, but a lost fumble ended those hopes, and they eventually fell in overtime.  It was a good day for the running backs, with CJ Spiller nearing the 150-yard mark, while Fred Jackson scored a rushing and receiving touchdown.  But a couple lost fumbles, and their defense’s inability to stop Atlanta, meant disaster. (4-8)

AFC NORTH (The Ravens are Trying to Fly Back into the Race)

  • Bengals: Andy Dalton’s 190-yards passing put him over 3,000 for the season, making him just the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 3,000 in each of his first 3 seasons.  Peyton Manning is the other.  Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis had one of his better games of the season, picking up 92-yards and finding the end-zone for the games first score. The defense showed up big time, forcing 3 turnovers, and 2 sacks to help maintain their 2 game division lead. (8-4) 
  • Ravens: It was close throughout on Thanksgiving night, but Baltimore held on in the end, stopping Pittsburgh on a late 2-point conversion to hold on and keep playoff hopes alive. It was a first quarter Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith 7-yard touchdown pass that put Baltimore up for good.  And then it was the Justin Tucker, who continues to have a monster season, hitting on all 5 of his field-goal attempts. (6-6)
  • Steelers: Jerricho Cotchery’s 1-yard touchdown catch with a minute left in regulation looked like it might force overtime, but a failed 2-point conversion meant a loss.  The Steelers couldn’t recover from an early 13-0 deficit, despite 73-yards and a rushing touchdown by Le’Veon Bell.  Ben Roethlisberger did everything he could to help lead his team to a comeback win on Thanksgiving, throwing for over 250-yards, 2 touchdowns and no turnovers.  But the road win and a .500 record wasn’t to be. (5-7)
  • Browns: Cleveland scored a touchdown in every quarter, but it wasn’t enough as they allowed a late score to Jacksonville.  The loss spoiled a historic effort from wide-receiver Josh Gordon, whose team record 261-receiving-yards made him the first player in NFL history to have back-to-back 200-yard receiving games.  Gordon also had 2 touchdowns, including one late in the 4th that looked like it might be the game-winner.  Brandon Weedon had a very up and down day in his return to the starting lineup.  He threw for 370 and 3 scores, but also threw two picks, lost a fumble and took a 4th quarter safety. The loss brings their losing streak to 3 games.  (4-8)

AFC South (Indy on the Verge of Wrapping This One Up)

  • Colts: 1 more win, another Titans loss, or a tie would give them the AFC South crown thanks to their 8-point victory over Tennessee.  It wasn’t an impressive win for the offense, but sometimes you have to win ugly.  Adam Vinatieri continues to show why he’s one of the best kickers to ever play the game, hitting all 5 of his field-goal attempts, including a go-ahead 49-yarder in the 3rd quarter.  Andrew Luck struggled again, finishing with just 200-yards passing, no touchdowns and an interception.  Donald Brown’s touchdown run in the 4th sealed the victory. (8-4)
  • Titans: They held in there against Indy, even taking a 14-12 lead in the 3rd quarter, but the Colts defense got to Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Tennessee’s quarterback finished with 201-yards passing, a touchdown, 54-yards rushing, but 3 interceptions and a fumble loss.  Those turnovers helped a struggling Colts offense to set up those 5 Vinatieri field-goals. The loss basically puts them out of range of a division crown, but they are still in the hunt for a wildcard. (5-7)
  • Jaguars: Dont look now, but the Jags are on a winning streak, and no longer have the worst record in the league.  Their 2nd straight win came in comeback fashion, capped off by a 20-yard touchdown pass from Chad Henne to Cecil Shorts with just 40-seconds left in regulation.  Maurice Jones-Drew had himself a day, picking up 77-yards on the ground, and throwing an 8-yard touchdown, his first (you know because he’s a runningback). The defense wasn’t great, but they got the win anyway. (3-9)
  • Texans: Early on, it looked like they might snap their skid, instead the losing streak hit 10 thanks to a 3-point loss to New England. Ben Tate was huge in the red-zone, scoring 3 touchdowns of 20, 10 and 8 yards.  Case Keenum added a rushing score of his own, to go along with his 270-yards passing and 1 interception. Andre Johsnon finished with over 100-yards receiving. They put up a good fight against a very good team, but a final game-winning drive stalled and they couldn’t get that 6th lead change for-the-win. (2-10)

AFC WEST (The Chiefs Picked the Wrong Time to Start Losing)

  • Broncos: They put themselves in a touch position early against a good team, but for the 3rd straight game KC’s defense was lacking, and Peyton Manning took advantage.  After 2 early interceptions, Manning went on to throw for 400 yards and 5 touchdown passes. Eric Decker was the beneficiary, registering a career day 174-yards and 4 touchdown passes. Rookie running back Montee Ball added a career high 103-yards on just 4 carries.  One concern was the fact that Von Miller went down twice in the game, though he would continue both times. The win all but ensures them the AFC West crown after taking both games of the season series against Kansas City.  (10-2)
  • Chiefs: From 9 wins in a row, to 3 losses in a row.  The offense did all it could, picking up over 400-yards of total offense, and going up 21-7 in the 1st half.  Add to that a franchise record 108-yard kick-off return touchdown  from rookie Knile Davis, and it looked like it might be their day. But the Chiefs defense betrayed them again, allowing Eric Decker to run circles around Champ Bailey all day. They’re lucky the AFC wildcard isn’t as tightly bunched as the NFC, as they have a 3 game lead over the 6th seed, so their playoff dreams are still very much in tact.  (9-3)
  • Chargers: The defense wasn’t the problem, it was the offense against a good Cincinnati squad.  Their lone touchdown was scored by tight-end Ladarius Green, in the 2nd quarter.  San Diego was held to just 1 field-goal in the 2nd half.  Keenan Allen found a way to have another good day, catching 8 Philip Rivers passes for 106-yards.  Rivers finished the loss with 252-passing-yards, the Green TD pass, and an interception.  This team has been inconsistent all year, and Sunday was just another example of that. (5-7)
  • Raiders: They returned the opening kick-off fumble for a touchdown.  And gave themselves a nice 2-score cushion on Thanksgiving, but the Cowboys are just a better team.  After those 21 first half points, they managed just 1 field-goal in the 2nd half.  2nd year wide-out Andre Holmes had a nice game, 5 catches for 136-yards, but that’s where the good days ended.  Sure, Rashard Jennings found the end zone twice, but only had 35-yards rushing.  Matt McGloin threw a pick, and no touchdowns as a part of his 255-yard passing performance. (4-8)

There you have it.  If week 13 wasn’t fun enough for you, week 14 promises to be even more eventful as the playoffs inch closer.

Enjoy.