Written by J.D. Stenger:
NFL playoff focus starting to narrow
With four weeks remaining, some of the playoff-maybe-teams are starting to lose their grip on the post-season. After pulling to .500 by upsetting the Packers in week #11, the Vikings have lost two in a row. Not only did they lose this past week, but they also gave the Lions their first win of the season under Dan Campbell. The loss all but assures the Vikings will be handing out presents at home on Christmas. The Ravens’ house of cards began to show some cracks this week as well. Entering the game with the Steelers, they had given up more touchdowns than they had scored, yet, somehow they were the number one seed going into week #13 — it boggles the mind. The Steelers YO-YO play was enough to beat the Ravens, yet, they could only tie Detroit at home — another sign that this season is a different beast altogether than most. The AFC is a jumble of teams that, so far, have lost enough to be questionable but have somehow won enough to stay in it. No AFC team has been able to distance itself from the rest. Only the Patriots, and maybe the Chiefs, have shown that they have what it takes to outsmart and outlast. It’s going to be straight insanity ‘come the post-season. The NFC hasn’t been a whole lot different. The Cardinals are clearly the team to beat. The Packers and Bucs have looked good at times but have both lost games to below-average teams that they should have beaten.
Cowboys @ Saints (27-17)
The Cowboys (8-4) rebounded from a last-minute loss to the Raiders to take down the Saints by ten. It was a win, but they still have much to prove when it comes to being a clear-cut contender. The talent is there but has yet to come together after a great showing in the first half of the season. The Saints (5-7), like the rest of the division, minus the Bucs, are still struggling mightily. Losing Jameis Winston has really hurt a team that was always a threat with the retired Drew Brees under center. The only thing for sure about the Saints is that they will give the Bucs all they can handle in their second matchup of 2021 because they always do. The Saints are another playoff-maybe-team that you can probably scratch off the playoff list. Only Drew Brees leaving the booth would give them any chance, and that’s not happening.
Buccaneers @ Falcons (30-17)
This game, to me, seemed to be a lot closer than what the score suggested for the Bucs (9-3). It probably wouldn’t have been had Brady not thrown another pick-six to, of all players, a defensive lineman. Brady continues to have unexplainable moments. Thankfully, as usual, he recovered from the mistake and ended up throwing a great game. Chris Godwin was a beast in this game, having had more receptions than any receiver this year (15rec.-143 yards). The 15 receptions were also a franchise’s all-time best. Another stat involving Godwin stirs up many questions in this writer’s mind. That stat being that Chris Godwin had as many running plays as Ronald Jones II did. It’s bordering on being criminal that the leading ball carrier and record-setter from last season could fall asleep in the locker room and miss the game, and no one would even notice or even care. He’s being treated as an afterthought and a nobody this season. What was it that made him go from being “the man” to being a practice squad reject? Two fumbles and a dropped pass? Fournette has done close to that himself minus one fumble. It’s just a very puzzling situation for me. I think it’s fair to say that Bucs’ fans are waiting for the “aha-moment” when the team will magically come together and start playing for entire games the way they did late last season. While it’s true, their record is better at this stage; the injured defense is not. There are more questions concerning this season’s edition. Realistically they should be 11-1, with losses to the Saints and Washington Football Team that should not have happened. Only the loss to the Rams makes sense, at this point, and the Rams have stumbled since beating the Bucs. Some uncertainty should be erased when the Buccaneers welcome a talented Bills team to RayJay in week #14. I really have nothing to say about the Falcons (5-7).
Cardinals @ Bears (33-22)
Kyler Murray returned to action and showed why he’s the man to lead the Cardinals to the promised land. Throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for two, he stretched the Cardinals league-best record to 10-2. DeAndre Hopkins also returned to the lineup, catching one of Murray’s two touchdown passes. The Bears (4-8) are pretty much consistently bad from week to week. Journeyman Andy Dalton threw twice as many interceptions as he did touchdown passes (4 to 2). Da Bears remain unimpressive, to say the most.
Chargers @ Bengals (41-22)
This was a chance for the Bengals (7-5) to show that they belong in the discussion about playoff teams. No team in that division is impressive in the least. Even with this loss, they are only one game behind the division-leading Ravens (8-4). The Chargers (7-5) are looking like a team that has found itself this season. Of course, next week, they could look horrible. This season is like that for teams on the rise — just ask the Bengals. They will whip up on a good team and look like the Bengals of old the next — all part of the process, I guess. Stay tuned to both these teams as they continue to try and do just that.
Giants @ Dolphins (9-20)
This recap is basically an honorable mention for the Dolphins (6-7). After losing seven in a row, the Dolphins have racked up five consecutive wins, including a win over the Ravens. Even if the Dolphins win out, it would be tough for them to make the playoffs. It appears the Dolphins are finally starting to get things turned around in South Florida.
Colts @ Houston (31-0)
The Colts (7-6) had a great road opponent for a rebound after dropping the Bucs’ game at home in week #12. The only problem is that the next two games the Colts play are against the Patriots and the Cardinals. It’s a great litmus test for the Colts. If you want to be one of the big boys, you have to beat the big boys. These two games will reveal the real Colts of 2021. If they can win those two and take care of business in the last two (Raiders, Jaguars), they will be tested and primed for a playoff run, having beaten two of the best teams in the league in their 4 game stretch to playoffs time. They have the talent to do whatever they want to do as far as the AFC is concerned in the playoffs. Really, only KC and the Patriots are playing lights out football over there. So, the sky is the limit. The truth is that they are probably a season or so away from really being a serious threat to win the American Conference. Frank Reich has them in a good position to get even better. They will be a force very soon. I’m not wasting the time on the Texans.
Washington @ Raiders (17-15)
The Redskins (6-6) have won four straight, now, since beating the Buccaneers. They should come back down to earth against the Cowboys in week #14. Their playoff chances are slim but are still alive for the moment. Forget about it, not happening. The Raiders are the Raiders, no playoffs for them neither.
Ravens @ Steelers (19-20)
The AFC is a mess, and especially the North Division. Week after week the Ravens, Bengals, Steelers, and Browns seem to take turns looking good, then bad, and back and forth it goes. The Ravens at (8-4) lead this group of misfits. I’m going to step out on a limb and say the AFC Super Bowl representative will not come from this division — not a chance of it happening. Watching this Ravens vs. Steelers game was torture. It got to the point that I just gave up caring who was in the lead. The Ravens may be 8-4, but they have given up more points than they have scored. This team is going nowhere.
Broncos @ Chiefs (9-22)
The Chiefs (8-4) just keep getting better and keep on winning games. The Broncos are still wondering, “what the hey?” happened with their quarterback phenom Drew Lock. This young man will never start for the Broncos again. His days are numbered in Denver. He’s as good as gone. The quarterback search will continue in the Mile High City. The Chiefs and Patriots are the class of the conference moving forward. Their demise was greatly exaggerated — they’re back.
Patriots @ Bills (14-10)
The Patriots (9-4) did the expected and beat the Bills (7-5), making this game their seventh in a row. The Patriots and Chiefs have risen to the top of the conference and are the ones to beat to make it to the big game in February. The Bills get the Bucs next week — good luck with that. The Bills, who were thought to be the team to beat in the AFC this season, may not even make the playoffs; if they don’t get it turned around, like yesterday.
Top 14 – 14 playoff spots
1. Cardinals – As long as the Cards still own the best record in the NFL, they have earned the numeral uno spot.
2. Packers – I won’t punish the Pack for a bye week, so at number two, it’s still the Packers
3. Patriots – Is there a hotter team in the NFL right now? Winners of their last 7 in a row, the Patriots are on fire after beating back the Bills — their division rival.
4. Buccaneers – I’m still waiting for the Buccaneers to have that aha game where everything comes together and they destroy an opponent. The defensive backfield is still the weak spot.
5. Chiefs – Winners of the last five in a row and the last six out of seven, the Chiefs continue to look like we thought they would look.
6. Cowboys – This is one of the last teams in the rankings that should be a shoo-in for post-season play. They should win their division.
7. Rams – The Rams are the next to last team that should coast into post-season. If they play as expected, they should breeze right in.
8. Titans – The last of the division leaders that should get in if they handle business.
9. Ravens – A division leader that just lost to an underwhelming Steelers team. The Ravens are a house of cards waiting to fall. They have allowed more points than they have scored.
10. Colts – With J. Taylor leading the way, if they win the tough ones that are left, they should get in no problem.
11. Bengals – Hard to tell which Bengals team is for real. They are loaded with talent and should get in if they can hold it together.
12. Chargers – Like the Colts, I love this team and their future. Chargers are for real, but some time away from being dominant
13. Bills – If they lose to the Bucs this week, which they should. They will drop from this list. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
14. 49ers – If they take another loss, it may be all over in 21 but the crying.
Rising – Washington Football Team, Miami Dolphins