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: The further development of Jared Goff
Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff is having one of the best seasons of his professional career. He plays better every week even if there aren’t flashy stat-lines. He completed 27 of 39 passes on Sunday for three touchdowns and a 120.7 quarterback rating. The Lions dominated a ten win Minnesota team start to finish.
Unlike previous seasons in Los Angeles, Goff is showing growth reading fields, calling plays at the line of scrimmage and throwing sharper passes. In the top ten quarterback statistics category he’s 3rd in least interceptions thrown (seven), tied for second in times sacked (19), sixth in total quarterback rating and eighth in yards thrown. He’s in the middle of the top ten quarterback list which includes Patrick Mahomes II, Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen and Joe Burrow.
Jared Goff’s growth without the forced pressure in Detroit’s offense is the best part. Many analysts and fans figured the running game and offensive line would carry the offense. The Lions passing game is 15th in the league. That’s ahead of Philadelphia, Dallas and his former team the Los Angeles Rams. It’s likely the former “genius” head coach had no idea how to work with and properly develop him past a couple of seasons. It’s paying off for Detroit.
Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati went confidently into Sunday tied for first place in the AFC North after starting December with a win against the Kansas City Chiefs. A playoff caliber team like the Bengals occasionally trips up losing to an inferior team the week after beating an elite opponent. Considering starting quarterback and former number one overall pick Joe Burrow never beat the Cleveland Browns, it was a possibility Cincinnati could drop a home game to a struggling inner-state rival.
The Bengals started slow but played well the last three quarters of the game to seal a double digit win against Cleveland. Burrow threw two touchdowns and runningbacks Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine combined for over 110 yards and one score.
Coach Zac Taylor has Cincinnati in a great position to not just win the division but go on a deep run at the best time in the NFL season. The AFC should be careful with the Bengals.
Denver might not win another game this season and wide receiver Jerry Jeudy voiced that frustration in Sunday’s loss to Kansas City. The tirade galvanized the offense. They scored 21 straight points and were six points away from tying the Chiefs late in the third quarter.
Jeudy was a reason Denver almost tied the game. The receiver had his best performance of the season catching eight passes for 73 yards and three touchdowns. When starting quarterback Russell Wilson left with a concussion and backup Brett Rypien took over, Jeudy helped out scoring his third touchdown of the day.
It’s likely Jerry Jeudy leaves in the offseason due to Denver needing an overhaul at every position on offense. Whichever team picks him up will get a good option at third receiver on the depth chart.
DeVonta Smith’s touchdown between two Giant defenders on fourth down
While receiver DeVonta Smith didn’t have the sexiest touchdown or best catch highlight from week 14, he had an important scoring play that secured a dominant Philadelphia Eagles win on the road early against a division rival. The New York Giants’ secondary doesn’t miss tackles often but he made them look like fools.
Losers: Tennessee Titans
Since the close loss against Cincinnati three Sundays ago, the Titans have been blown out twice. The road game in Philadelphia was understandable but Jacksonville thumping Tennessee in Nashville is a bad sign.
The Titans fired general manager Jon Robinson after a dismal record of letting high profile receivers go in exchange for draft picks who haven’t worked out. Tennessee would have a better record and clinched the AFC South had they not traded A.J. Brown to the Eagles or kept Jonnu Smith in a prior free agency period. Now the Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts remain in the AFC South race due to an anemic Titans offense.
The schedule doesn’t get easier. Coach Mike Vrabel has to prepare the team against the Los Angeles Chargers and Dallas Cowboys; teams with better offenses and solid defenses. Tennessee’s desire to split their final four games shows how far the team’s fallen in Super Bowl hopes.
Anyone stuck watching Baltimore-Pittsburgh
Sunday’s AFC North rivalry game wasn’t a fun watch because of the injury to Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson’s PCL. The game got worse when the starting quarterbacks on both teams left with injuries.
Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett was the first to leave because of a concussion. Then Ravens backup starter Tyler Huntley left with injured ribs. Viewers were stuck with an Anthony Brown v. Mitchell Trubisky duel. Let’s just say neither team sniffed 20 points.
Baltimore won (or Pittsburgh lost) but they don’t look good on offense with neither Lamar Jackson nor a play-maker at wide receiver. This is when we look back at the double-digit blown leads earlier in the season and wonder how different things would look if the Ravens were three games ahead and not tied for first with a hot Bengals team that started slow.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If this is quarterback Tom Brady’s last season in Tampa Bay then Sunday’s beatdown loss against San Francisco might be the exclamation point on a disappointing year. It reveals how important offensive line positions are and what happens when there’s not enough depth after starters suffer season ending injuries.
People who watch games weekly know the Buccaneers would be better if they weren’t missing multiple Pro Bowl caliber linemen, including two centers. Opposing defenses go full throttle at the backups and hit a seven time winning quarterback around 40-50 minutes a game. It’s miraculous Brady hasn’t suffered a season ending injury.
Probably the worst part of a 28 point loss was losing defensive interior presence Vita Vea to a leg injury. San Francisco took advantage of Vea not playing and ran up 21 points on Tampa’s defense. Ouch.
U.S. football is a strange sport. Broncos starting quarterback Russell Wilson has struggled in all but one game. He had a hard time Sunday until Denver’s defense got some turnovers. Then Wilson played like how most audiences remembered him in Seattle. He lead a comeback where Denver came six points away from tying the Chiefs in the third quarter.
Then he suffered a game-ending concussion. Any offensive momentum (save for Rypien finding Jeudy to finish the last scoring drive) left. Kansas City’s offense ran the clock out easily with a tired defense on the field.
Eerily, broadcaster Ian Eagle said after Russell Wilson was intercepted by Willie Gay for a defensive touchdown earlier in the game, “That’s Denver’s season in a nutshell.” It’s been a season to forget for both Denver and Wilson.
Note: Winners and Losers will return the last Monday of December due to the World Cup Finals match taking place on the 18th.