Week 14 is almost finished and the number of teams clinching playoff berths are narrowing down. Sunday’s games revealed who’s competing past the first two weeks in January and who’s securing a top-15 draft pick. It’s time to discuss who or what took positive steps toward a playoff run and who’s closer to elimination on the second Sunday of December.
Winners: The NFC East
It’s no secret the NFC East has been the worst division in 2020. However, if sports fans knew the division had the best record in the NFL since Week 11 (with a record of 9-6), what would they think? Thankfully, we’re witnessing a competitive finish.
The New York Giants led the division before Sunday and had a case for not just beating the Arizona Cardinals, but retaining their lead for the rest of December. They’re now looking up as they suffered a lopsided loss and the Washington Football Team beat San Francisco. The Philadelphia Eagles have a spark as Jalen Hurts led the way and upset the Saints in New Orleans. Dallas took care of business in Cincinnati, staying alive in the division race. They play the Giants the last game of the regular season.
Whoever wins the NFC East may not be over .500, but they’ll be favored wild-card weekend. Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief knowing this may not be the worst division in American sports history.
Green Bay Packers
No team won or caught as many breaks like the Packers did Sunday. Matthew Stafford’s rib injury guaranteed a Packers win. The only blemish was the referees, who held both them and the Lions back missing multiple roughing the passer penalties and plays that looked inbounds.
Outside of their divisional win, the Packers are the top seed in the NFC. The Jalen Hurts-led Eagles ran all over the Saints defense and held on for a needed win in their divisional race. Green Bay was surprised by Jalen Hurts when previous starter Carson Wentz was benched last game, but they won because he played in the fourth quarter. The Saints had no answer or gameplan when he ran to extend plays.
The Packers remaining obstacle to locking up the number one seed is if they lose to the Tennessee Titans in Week 16. If they’re able to stop Derrick Henry, they’ll be a hard team to face in the playoffs, especially if they’re the only team with a week off.
The Los Angeles Chargers may be out of the playoff race, but their win over Atlanta after being shutout 45-0 is good for confidence. So was the second half rookie quarterback Justin Herbert had.
Another week will go where we hear the Atlanta Falcons choked a lead away. It’s on Matt Ryan to not turn the ball over three times throughout the game. The Chargers had all ten of the second half points, and that’s because the offense capitalized on mistakes.
Herbert threw one of his touchdowns passes to star receiver Keenan Allen to tie the game at 17 in the third quarter. After Michael Davis’ interception on Matt Ryan late in the fourth, the Chargers executed an 11 play drive in 31 seconds. That drive started at the Charger 26 yard line, and the field goal at the end was at the Falcon 25 yard line.
Time management was an issue in LA’s loss to the Bills where they squandered a minute at the end. The rookie quarterback seemed to learn from that botched drive.
Josh Allen’s case for MVP
The MVP race is between Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes at this point, but Josh Allen’s name should be thrown in. I criticized the Buffalo Bills and Allen earlier in the season for not playing superior to their opponents, which was deserved since they struggled. They’re not just 3-0 since their bye week, they’ve beaten all their opponents by ten points or more. One was against the former NFC conference champions last Monday and the other a statement game last night against Pittsburgh.
Quarterback Josh Allen is a big part of that. While the defense is clicking at the right time unlike the first half of the season, Allen is elevating the play of the offense. Last night was the first Sunday night game the Bills were featured in since the Patriots went 16-0. The franchise star threw for 238 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and took one sack against one of the best defenses in the league.
Allen stepped up behind his offensive line to extend plays or run the ball, making the right decisions throughout the second half and had his best performance in a critical AFC matchup this year. He’s yet to have a red-zone interception in his career, something no other elite level quarterback can say.
Add on his 28 touchdowns are second most in franchise history behind the legendary Jim Kelly, and his resume for MVP this year should at least be considered.
Losers: Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville has been competitive in almost all of their 13 losses. They have a carousel at quarterback, and this time Gardner Minshew II gets his starting job back.
Mike Glennon had no answer against the Tennessee Titans. That feel-good story was going to end some time. Coach Doug Marrone will be fired at the end of the season, but the team still plays hard despite winning one game.
It doesn’t help that after the Jaguars lose, the New York Jets find ways to out-do them. Owner Shahid Khan and Jaguars management must be upset they can’t lock in the number one pick for next year’s draft.
The Bengals’ offensive coaches in the fourth quarter v. Dallas
If there was a good case to fire head coach Zac Taylor and his offensive staff at the end of the season, this past Sunday would be it. The Bengals lost a game they could’ve won but bad coaching in the fourth quarter cost them.
Backup quarterback Brandon Allen played well against one of the worst defenses in the league. The Cowboys got a lead early by forcing turnovers on three straight Cincinnati possessions, but couldn’t pull away. Down 20-7, the Bengals had a shot at narrowing the deficit to 6 and had all three of their timeouts.
Allen got hurt in the middle of a 16 play, 70 yard drive that ran almost seven and a half minutes off the clock. It was clear when the Bengals got deep into Dallas’ side of the field he couldn’t throw off one foot, but the Bengals coaching staff didn’t see anything wrong with that. Allen continued to be hit, limp closer to the endzone and the offensive possession grew worse. The drive ended because Taylor decided to go for 6 points instead of three, and Allen threw an uncatchable pass to Tyler Boyd out of bounds. Dallas’ next possession resulted in a Greg Zuerlein field goal and Taylor used all of his timeouts.
Whoever is coach of the Bengals next year is a lame-duck candidate at best. They’ll have a high draft pick, but this was a winnable game against a team still in the playoff race and the coaches couldn’t make a simple substitution. That’s firable.
How good would the Texans have been this season if Bill O’Brien was fired two years ago? The former Houston head coach and general manager traded away many of the prized assets the team gained the second half of last decade. It’s hurt the team much of this season and a blowout loss to the Chicago Bears emphasized all of it.
Quarterback DeShaun Watson was sacked six times and even took a shot to his groin, staying on the sideline until the next possession. His top target was Chad Hansen, who caught seven passes for 56 yards. Hansen was activated only Friday and didn’t fully practice. The second best receiver was second string runningback Duke Johnson.
Interim coach Romeo Crennel did all he could. It’s best to deactivate Watson for the rest of the season so he doesn’t get hurt against Indianapolis or Tennessee. Watson does all he can and has the Texans at second in the league in passing. He has little help on the offensive line, one of the many mistakes O’Brien made regressing the franchise.
J.J. Watt isn’t coming back next season and Crennel, who’s in his early 70s, should retire. This is Bill O’Brien’s legacy. Hopefully he won’t be a head coach any time soon.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers had a week they’ll want to forget. Losing Monday night to an AFC East-leading Bills team is tolerable. The offense laying a dud against the Washington Football Team ended their season.
Nick Mullens is a great quarterback in garbage time, just not in critical situations. Statistically, he was better than both Washington quarterbacks. Still, he’s the reason San Francisco lost. Multiple turnovers, sacks, and a touchdown thrown only when trailing by 16 points is bad football.
The Rams, Cardinals and Seahawks all won in Week 14. That singles out the 49ers as the first team in the NFC West to be eliminated from the playoffs. With salary cap issues looming this upcoming offseason, it could be a long 2021 for San Francisco.