The fourteenth week of the regular season eliminated teams from playoff contention and solidified division leaders. The playoffs are a month away and most teams are getting ready for free agency/offseason, or vying for home-field advantage. Time to break down who’s closer to the Super Bowl and who’s ready for a top five position in the draft.
Winners: Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Derrick Gore
Kansas City’s offense hasn’t been the unstoppable force many expected or wanted not just because of quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ play, but also an anemic running game. Sunday showed how great the offense can be if the starting runningbacks have good games.
Starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s faced valid criticism on his play. He’s a late first round pick both Mahomes and general manager Brett Veach thought could add flexibility to the offense. While he’s struggled in the starting role this season, Sunday was a step in the right direction.
Edwards-Helaire ran for two of the three touchdowns Kansas City scored in the second quarter of a home rout of the Las Vegas Raiders. The Chiefs had the biggest blowout against the Raiders in their franchise’s historic rivalry.
Backup Derrick Gore deserves credit too. The undrafted rookie had the longest run of his season for 51 yards and his second career touchdown. The game was out of reach but he needs to see the field more in order to improve his vision and efficiency.
If the running game improves the last four weeks of the season, it’s possible Kansas City winds up as the top team to beat in the playoffs. In an up-and-down AFC, the Chiefs have the leverage until someone beats them.
The Cleveland Browns after the bye
Cleveland was fortunate to play the same opponent back-to-back with an off week in between. Regardless of an injury to Baltimore Ravens franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Browns were the better all-around team.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield looked better after a week off. While he threw for 190 yards and two touchdowns, Mayfield made it known this was the best he felt all season. Cleveland’s offensive line has been hit or miss, but they played well and protected Mayfield when the play-calling went pass heavy.
The defense continues improvement from last season especially in the secondary. Part of that is due to another year of chemistry on the front seven and the increased pressures on opposing offenses. The Browns defense forced and recovered two fumbles while sacking Jackson and backup Tyler Huntley four times.
The AFC North race is tight but Cleveland can come out on top if the offense steps up and gets hot at the right time. Runningbacks Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb can add potency in their returns from injury.
Javonte Williams and the Denver Broncos
Denver’s been a hard team to figure out. They look good some weeks and awful in others. One positive is runningback Javonte Williams, who’s giving the offense ways to win and extend drives.
It’s known the Detroit Lions keep most of their games close, and they did the first half in the Mile High City. The Broncos dominated in the second half thanks to Williams’ touchdown catch and Melvin Gordon III running for a score.
Javonte Williams has the potential to be a dual purpose runningback, and Denver’s starting to realize that. His rushing stats are higher because of increased usage the past three weeks but he’s also a good receiver averaging almost nine yards a catch, three touchdowns and almost 300 yards. If he can keep the fumbles to a minimum, there’s no reason he can’t be a top five runningback in the league.
Also, applause to Tim Patrick, Cortland Sutton, the fans and the Broncos organization for honoring and memorializing Demaryius Thomas, who passed away last week. What Denver, Detroit and referee John Hussey did in the opening makes all of them winners.
The race for the number one seed in the NFC
Since the NFL expanded to a seven team playoff format, many wondered when competition for the top seed’s lone bye would make playoff caliber teams perform better and stay closer with their winning records. It’s happened in year two of the format.
Arizona (pending the Monday night result) is best in the NFL with two losses, but Green Bay and Tampa Bay are close behind with three. The Dallas Cowboys have four. Dallas and Arizona play week 17 and the result of that game could rearrange the top four order in the conference.
Outside of that matchup, each team has at least one difficult game. Tampa Bay hasn’t beaten New Orleans in the regular season since Tom Brady’s arrival. Green Bay lost to Minnesota earlier in the year and could struggle with Baltimore and Cleveland. Arizona plays both Indianapolis and Seattle, teams playing desperate football despite injuries. You couldn’t ask for a more exciting finish in a more competitive NFC.
Losers: Urban Meyer’s First Season in Jacksonville
The Urban Meyer experiment peaked at the hiring and has been downhill since. Before Sunday, news sources ranging from Yahoo Sports to USA Today reported brutal treatment to coaches and staff and how ruling with impunity caused franchise stars such as number one pick Trevor Lawrence to openly say certain players need to play more instead of being benched. Then came Sunday.
Lawrence was sacked three times and knocked down at least double. He threw four interceptions on 40 passing attempts. The Jaguars were shutout against a Tennessee Titans squad who’s best player outside of quarterback Ryan Tannehill is replacement runningback D’Onta Foreman.
The press conference sunk them lower. On a question regarding assistant coaches speaking out against Urban Meyer’s stubbornness and terrible running of the team, the head coach said anyone who leaked information from within to the press would be fired. No head coach can either say this publicly or make the move without the general manager’s approval.
The worst part is Jacksonville owner Shad Khan may not be able to fire Meyer because of the contract in place. Five years remain under the current contract broken down in this published article by Charles Robinson earlier today.
The Jaguars have issues with crowd attendance since re-building and while this is the most pivotal point in the franchise, it’s led by a coach who has no business in the NFL. Meyer’s capable of ruining the team top to bottom, again opening the idea of the Jaguars moving to another market. It’s not that far off with how bad the team’s been since 2008.
There wasn’t a worse loss for a playoff caliber team than Cincinnati’s on Sunday. Despite turnovers, penalties and a slow start, the Bengals led by three and lost in overtime because no one could cover a tight-end.
From fumbles on offense by rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase to fumbles on punt returns, Cincinnati couldn’t hold onto the ball in the first half against the 49ers. Despite the blunders, San Francisco lead 20-6 after the third quarter.
The Bengals played their one good quarter of football in the fourth. The game went to overtime after a Robbie Gould missed field goal, and the Bengals responded by making theirs. It was their only lead. The defense had no answer for George Kittle who had his second 150 yard game in two weeks on 13 catches. The touchdown from Jimmy Garappolo to Brandon Aiyuk gave San Francisco the win.
The worst part is Cincinnati’s playoff positioning. Baltimore lost in the early afternoon, so the Bengals had an opportunity to jump to first place and further knock the Ravens off the playoff standings (especially after Lamar Jackson’s injuries and terrible play). Pittsburgh would also have little chance of winning the division since they lost both divisional games decisively. The Bengals drop to third place in the AFC North and are in ninth place, two spots outside the final playoff berth.
Ever since the Sunday night dominance over the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bills have played like one of the worst teams in the NFL. Their wins after that Sunday night are against what was the one win Dolphins, the New York Jets and the Trevor Siemian-led New Orleans Saints. That’s a poor list considering this team made the conference championship last year and were touted as one of the league’s best teams.
On offense, quarterback Josh Allen looks more like what people say Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson is: a thrower who either forces passes to his top three targets or a runner who is the main runningback on the team. The offensive line has regressed and none of the runningbacks are trusted for critical yardage gains.
On defense, a unit that many said was the best in the league was again picked apart by nemesis Tom Brady. What was accidentally funny and shocking was a Brady pass on 3rd on 3 in overtime where CBS commentator Tony Romo said something along the lines of, “This is it. This is the play of the game. If Buffalo wants to win, they have to get the offense off the field or in a position to punt.” 15 seconds later, Brady threw his 700th career touchdown to a receiver who hadn’t caught a pass all game.
While Buffalo finishes with a softer schedule compared to teams like Indianapolis and Cleveland, they aren’t a team who can go far in the playoffs or even win a game. This is after playing like the best team in their conference up to week seven. It doesn’t more disappointing than that.
The NFL and NBC’s terrible decision of making audiences watch Bears-Packers
Journalists are supposed to be objective in criticism and I think this particular criticism in flexing games is valid especially when commissioner Roger Goodell flexed two games to be played this upcoming Saturday and not on their Sunday dates. The last Sunday night games have been terrible for audiences wanting to watch good football.
Last week was how you don’t flex a divisional matchup that is entertaining and can pull an audience from a specific area of the country. The logic the NFL and NBC used to flex week 13’s Seattle-San Francisco matchup wasn’t there in a skewed Chicago-Green Bay game. Green Bay has “owned” the Chicago Bears since 1992, and while the Bears put up a good fight for one half, the coverage was awful. Here’s a list of terrible and disrespectful things on the Sunday night show.
- When making picks for Sunday night’s game, the SNF poll reported 95% of the audience expected Green Bay to win. Instead of everyone saying who they had winning the game, show host Mike Tirico said, “there’s no need, you all know who we have winning tonight.” Everyone picked the home team Packers.
- Cris Collinsworth wouldn’t shut up about how Aaron Rodgers is, “a great guy. He doesn’t care. Have you seen a guy, and in particular this year, be more honest about everything. You may not agree with everything he says, but we have heard from the beginning of this entire season exactly what he thinks about everything.” This from the quarterback who said he was immunized, believed in Joe Rogan’s “science-filled” podcasts and took Ivermectin. Sure Cris.
- Jokes, roasting, blatant disrespect and ignoring the Chicago Bears outside of Matt Nagy praise in the first half (for who knows what). The last ten minutes of the game both Al Michaels and Collinsworth made it known they wanted to talk about Rodgers and doing one-liners when the Bears were the focus. What’s important is how they’re not the only broadcasting crew on a network airing football to do this. Fans, including those in Chicago would like for the Bears not to be watched on national television because of how bad they are.
- Must we be reminded of how terrible the Bears are since their one Super Bowl win? Again?
- When the Bears are on offense but bearded doppelgänger of Aaron Rodgers is more important.
The worst was on ESPN’s Sportscenter when Scott Van Pelt said the best thing he saw Sunday was the thrilling win by the 2021 Canadian Football League champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers in their Grey Cup overtime win. Most of that game was aired during the Bears-Packers game.
If the NFL wanted to flex a divisional matchup, Dallas and Washington would’ve been a great game in terms of audience, revenue and a close finish. Tom Brady facing the Buffalo Bills has a lot to work with and spin. Even Baltimore and Cleveland part two would’ve been a more fun watch. The NFL has to choose which games deserve flexing and be consistent on why.