The AFC South and NFC East finished Week 14 with its respective division leaders sporting 6-7 records. Two more teams (New England and Arizona) have punched their playoff tickets. In addition, Carolina clinched the division and a first round bye. If the season ended today, the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets would be the last teams in the their conferences in the playoffs. Sitting at 8-5, Pittsburgh (winners of two straight) might become the best team to miss the playoffs in recent memory.
The New York Jets offense appears to be peaking at the right time. For the second time in three games, the Jets scored at least 30 points en route to a 30-8 win over Tennessee. Ryan Fitzpatrick tossed three touchdowns and the Jets shredded the Titans rush defense to the tune of 183 yards (as a team they generated 5.4 yards/carry). The Jets also have won three in a row and play the lowly Cowboys next week. Cleveland knocked off San Francisco 24-10. Johnny Manziel (270 passing yards, 1 TD & INT) played well, but the real story for the Browns was Isaiah Crowell and the Cleveland run game (a collective 230 rushing yards). The Buffalo Bills blew a golden opportunity in a 23-20 loss to the Eagles. The Bills dropped to 9th in the AFC playoff race with the loss and their playoff hopes appear to be much more obscure. With the win, Philadelphia moved into a three-way tie for the NFC East crown.
The Pittsburgh Steelers picked up a much-needed win against Cincinnati 33-20. Also, the Bengals lost QB Andy Dalton (right thumb injury) and TE Tyler Eifert (concussion) for the season. Currently, Cincinnati still holds the #2 seed in the AFC, but with Pittsburgh right on their heels, back-up AJ McCarron is going to have to step up immensely to make sure Cincinnatti’s season doesn’t turn into a disaster. Jacksonville completely dismantled a undermanned Colts team 51-16. Indianapolis may qualify for the playoffs because of an inferior division, but this team looks nowhere near a legitimate playoff contender; with or without a healthy and productive Andrew Luck behind center. Kansas City knocked off San Diego in a rain-soaked game 10-3. The Chiefs won their 7th straight game and hold a firm lock on the 5th playoff spot in the AFC. The Patriots beat the Texans 27-6 in Houston, but it came at a cost by losing running back LeGarrette Blount for the season.
After nursing a banged-up hip this past month, this time the lingering hip caught up to him. Injuries have become a common occurrence for New England this season and now with another body to replace, the Patriots will yet again look elsewhere for insurance in the backfield.
Also falling victim to injuries, the Texans lost quarterback Brian Hoyer for what could be multiple weeks. Houston will now turn to TJ Yates (in his second stint in Houston) to turn the ship around. If it matters, Yates was in fact responsible for leading the Texans to their first ever playoff win back in 2012.
Arizona finally got a healthy game from Michael Floyd and he didn’t disappoint (5 catches, 102 yards, 1 TD) in a win against Minnesota 23-20. Seattle’s Russell Wilson tossed five touchdown passes for the second time in three weeks. As it stands, no other offense in football is hotter than the Seahawks who have received enormous support from Wilson to back up an injury riddled rushing attack.
In Minnesota, things got intense late. With the Vikings driving for a potential game tying score, the ageless Dwight Freeney stripped quarterback Teddy Bridgewater of the football to preserve the win. St. Louis snapped a five-game losing streak by beating the Lions 21-14. The game lacked much excitement as only 51,000 tickets were sold, of which less than half of the people attended the game. If this was the last NFL football game in St. Louis, it wasn’t a great showing for the city. Tampa Bay dropped to 7th in the NFC playoff standings after a heartbreaking 24-17 loss to division rival New Orleans. Drew Brees (312 yards, 2 TDs) moved ahead of Dan Marino for third place on the career December touchdown passes list (112) in the win.
Washington eliminated the Chicago Bears from playoff contention and picked up the season’s first road win in the process. Washington is currently tied with Philadelphia and the New York Giants for the NFC East lead, they also hold the tie-breaker. Cam Newton and Carolina kept rolling as they shutout the Falcons 38-0. With the convincing win, the Panthers clinched a first round bye. At 13-0 and the final three games at NY Giants, at Atlanta and home against Tampa Bay, Carolina has a legitimate shot at going undefeated right before the playoffs hit.
Green Bay moved into sole possession of 1st place in the NFC North by beating a battered Cowboys team 28-7. One week after disciplining its’ best running back, Green Bay got an encouraging performance from Eddie Lacy (124 yards). If Green Bay can figure out the run game, they could be a tough out in the playoffs. Eli Manning completed 12 straight passes and finished with his highest career passing percentage (87%) in a win over Miami 31-24. New York hosts Carolina next week in what is a must win if they hope to earn a playoff berth.
- New York Giants’ Eli Manning– 27/31, 337 yards, 4 TDs in a win over Miami
- Seattle’s Russell Wilson – 23/32, 292 passing yards, 5 TDs in a win over Baltimore.
- New York Giants’ Odell Beckham – 7 catches, 166 yards 2 TDs in a win over Miami.
Honorable Mention: Isaiah Crowell (145 rushing yards, 2 TDs), Doug Baldwin (82 yards receiving, 3 TDs), Todd Gurley (140 rushing yards, 2 TDs), Brandon Marshall (6 catches, 125 yards, 1 TD).
- Philadelphia’s DeMarco Murray – 11 carries, 34 yards in a loss to Buffalo.
- Atlanta’s Matt Ryan – 22/34, 224 yards, 1 INT in a loss to Carolina.
- St. Louis’ Case Keenum – 14/22, 124 yards, 1 INT in a win over Detroit.