Week 12 is almost finished and audiences are narrowing down what teams will head to the playoffs. Sunday’s games revealed who’s competing for a playoff spot heading into December and who’s ready for the offseason. It’s time to discuss who or what took positive steps toward a playoff run and who’s in a bigger hole on the last Sunday of November.
Winners: Eric Bieniemy and the Kansas City Offense
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has one of his best staffs ever, and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is sure to get interviews after the season. It’s hard to ignore him if you’re upper management in any NFL franchise.
The Tampa Bay defense is respected as announcers Jim Nantz and Tony Romo said in yesterday’s game. Chiefs quarterback and star of the league Patrick Mahomes made sure to exploit Tampa’s man coverage scheme, throwing to Tyreek Hill early in the game and not letting up. Mahomes threw for 462 yards and three touchdowns; 269 of those yards and all three touchdowns went to Hill.
Bieniemy got the rest of the offense involved after a 17 point first quarter. The Chiefs ran the ball 20 times and Mahomes completed passes to seven different receivers. While Travis Kelce is the second best pass catcher on the team, Sammy Watkins eased back into the offense and Demarcus Robinson fits as a second wide-out option. Despite Pittsburgh’s 10-0 record, the Chiefs are the team to beat in not just the AFC, but the NFL with how their offense is ahead of everyone else.
If any analyst or fan told you two weeks ago after the Indianapolis Colts dominated in Nashville that the Titans would grab the division lead, you’d be shocked.
The second round of Titans and Colts thrilled in the first half as the first five possessions produced touchdowns. The Titans lead after the first half 35-14 and didn’t look back. They embarrassed Philip Rivers and the Colts offense in the third quarter alone, prompting head coach Frank Reich to pull Rivers and put last year’s starter Jacoby Brissett in.
Bruising runningback Derrick Henry had a rivalry record 178 yards rushing with three touchdowns. On 27 carries, he averaged over six yards a carry against a top five defense. Take some of the injuries out for the Colts, it’s still impressive after they played each other two weeks ago. Receivers A.J. Brown and Corey Davis are locks for the franchise. Two years ago, this franchise couldn’t find a reliable receiver. Now they have two.
Head coach Mike Vrabel and offensive coordinator Arthur Smith got the Titans to the AFC Championship last year. This team looks better than they did during that run, something the stacked conference should keep an eye on. The Steelers and Chiefs are the top two teams, but Tennessee will have a bigger part to play in who represents the AFC in the Super Bowl this year.
Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams
Last night was a divisional game the Packers had to win. They didn’t just play perfect football. They set records.
The Green Bay Packers become the first team in their rivalry over the Chicago Bears to win 100 games. That’s around 14% of their all-time wins. Future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers threw four touchdowns in three quarters of play. The “elite” Bears defense had eight hurries, but never hit or sacked him. Rodgers became the 11th quarterback in NFL history to throw for 50,000 yards and is the second youngest quarterback to accomplish this (Ben Roethlisberger is the youngest to). The Packers lead everyone else by three games in the NFC North, and are clear favorites to win the division.
Davante Adams broke some franchise and league records too. Adams is the fastest Packer receiver to reach 500 receptions in the franchise, surpassing icon Sterling Sharpe in his 95th game. He’s the fifth Packer receiver to reach this milestone. Green Bay’s twitter feed added this morning that Adams is the first NFL receiver to post 60+ receptions, 700+ receiving yards and 9+ touchdowns in his first seven games of the season.
The iconic franchise added a cherry on top: accomplishing this on prime time national television. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Pretty sure 75% of NFL fans and analysts didn’t know who Chinn was until Minnesota’s offensive debacles yesterday. He was taken in the late second round in this year’s draft, so we’ll hear more about him. However, he’s in the record books his rookie season.
Jeremy Chinn did something no defensive player has done in not just the 21st century, but since 1948: he returned two fumbles for touchdowns. If you don’t think that’s impressive, he did that in eight seconds, on back-to-back plays.
These two touchdowns put the Carolina Panthers in the lead before Minnesota scored on their last offensive possession of the game. The game turned 180 degrees and forced the Vikings to throw the ball much of the second half. Chinn is now the third player in league history to accomplish this feat, and probably did it the fastest.
Losers: Anthony Lynn
Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn has mismanaged a lot of games the past year and a half. This one may be one of his worst, even if they didn’t have a lead during the game.
Lynn mismanaged a critical last offensive possession. Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert completed a Hail Mary pass to Buffalo’s four yard line. The Chargers should’ve spiked the ball to stop the clock, but chose three plays before the game ended. These were the last three plays they ran:
- Austin Ekeler one yard run with 24 seconds left, almost 40 seconds after the Hail Mary reception by Tyron Johnson
- Incomplete pass for Mike Williams
- Herbert’s run for -2 yards on a quarterback sneak
There was one minute left on the clock before those three plays. At 3-8, this game could determine if Lynn returns next season.
Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich
There’s no doubt these two coaches are great with their work on offenses and how to handle their teams. There is a problem with use of their runningbacks, regularly forcing quarterback Tom Brady to throw the ball early in games.
Kansas City led 17-0 after the first quarter in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers offense punted on all their possessions in the quarter, and that’s because Tom Brady threw the ball two of every three downs. The Buccaneers ran the ball 12 times (minus Brady’s one yard loss, and he doesn’t run much) for 76 yards. That’s over six yards a carry, and Kansas City’s defense struggles to stop the run.
This isn’t the first time either. While penalties cost Tampa a win against Chicago in October, they ran the ball well with Ronald Jones. Later in that game, the coaches decided passing was the better option. That resulted in holding penalties, Tom Brady being sacked, and turnovers. Ronald Jones had just under a dozen carries, averaging over seven yards. It’s time to stop berating Brady in a new scheme and criticize these two coaches for failing to gameplan against playoff caliber opponents.
The Cardinals have shown up in big games against teams who could make deep playoff runs. They’ve played down to their competition against teams who struggle, and that goes on head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Seattle’s second game against Arizona was their best performance against a skilled offense all season, and the Cardinals didn’t look ready to sweep them. It happens, and there’s nothing wrong with that. A week and a half later, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph put a good game plan together against a Patriots offense that’s running the ball more to ease pressure off Cam Newton. Newton had one of his worst performances yesterday, throwing for 84 yards and two interceptions.
The Cardinals can point fingers at the referees for bad penalties on New England’s last drive, and they should because the outcome could be different. However, kicker Zane Gonzalez missed what could have been a game winning field goal before the Patriots got the ball back. If the Patriots tied, the Cardinals had a chance to win in overtime. That’s the difference.
Don’t put all the blame on Gonzalez either. Murray threw for 170 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Coaching cost the Cardinals a win, and they’re further back in the playoff standings because of it.
Whoever watched even half of the New Orleans-Denver game
Emergency quarterback Kendall Hinton did what he could with no practice reps a day and a half before Sunday. The Denver offense wasn’t a factor for almost the entire game. Look past the Saints’ 31 points, and Taysom Hill wasn’t good either. The two quarterbacks combined didn’t even throw 100 yards or a touchdown.
It’s good New Orleans won by 28, but there should be questions about Taysom Hill starting all of December. Thankfully both sides scored. Let’s hope no one has to watch a game like this the rest of the season.