We learned a whole heck of a lot about where the NFL season is trending during what was a drama-filled slate of games on Sunday.
From an overtime win for the New York Jets to dominating performances from the two playoff contenders in the NFC West, there was also a lot decided in Week 14.
Contenders were separated from pretenders as 12 of the 14 games that took place on Sunday had some sort of playoff implications.
Meanwhile, the New England Patriots laid an absolute egg at home against a previously struggling Philadelphia Eagles team.
These are among the top takeaways from Sunday’s Week 13 NFL action.
The Seattle Seahawks are back
A week after putting up a win in a shootout against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle absolutely dominated a first-place Minnesota Vikings team on the road on Sunday.
Minnesota ran a total of four plays on Seattle’s end of the field, never driving past the 39 yard line in a game that saw the Vikings tally 125 total yards and nine first downs.
Meanwhile, Russell Wilson was back at it after putting up a career-high five touchdowns last week.
He completed 21-of-27 passes for 274 yards with three touchdowns and zero picks, including two touchdown passes to Doug Baldwin. This comes immediately after Baldwin tallied three touchdowns against Pittsburgh.
When all was said and done, Seattle absolutely obliterated Minnesota by the score of 38-7 in the team’s best performance thus far this season.
At 7-5 on the season, Seattle has a firm grasp on one of the two wild card spots in the NFC. With games coming up against the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams prior to a season finale on the road in Arizona, Seattle is in the midst of what should become an extensive winning streak heading into late December.
After that, who knows what type of damage this team could do come playoff time? Heck, if Seattle somehow earns the fifth seed, it will take on the winner of the NFC East in the wild card round.
Horrible home loss for the New England Patriots
It’s readily apparent that the Patriots are struggling without some of their top skill-position players. This was magnified to a T against the hapless Philadelphia Eagles at home on Sunday.
Despite holding Philadelphia to under 250 total yards and making a valiant comeback attempt after falling down by 21 points, the Patriots lost their second consecutive game.
Missing Rob Gronkowski, quarterback Tom Brady put up his first multiple interception game since Week 10 of last season.
The stats will tell us that New England dominated. It put up 427 yards compared to 248 for Philadelphia. Brady outgained Sam Bradford 312-120 through the air. Heck, New England had a dozen more first downs than the Eagles in this one.
It was, however, costly mistakes from Brady in the passing game and three defensive/special teams touchdowns that did the Patriots in here. Specifically, a 99-yard pick six by Malcolm Jenkins to give Philadelphia the lead midway through the third quarter.
The ramifications of this loss are clear. By virtue of the Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals winning on Sunday, New England would not be the top seed in the AFC if the season were to end today. In fact, it would have to host a wild card game as the third seed.
A lot can change between now and the start of the playoffs, but it’s readily apparent that New England needs Rob Gronkowski back if it is going to repeat as champs.
Deciphering contenders from pretenders
Multiple teams that entered Sunday with an opportunity to reach .500 on the season and remain in the playoff race found themselves on the losing side when all was said and done.
Finding a way to hand a game to the last-place San Francisco 49ers, Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears lost in a heartbreaking manner Sunday afternoon in Chicago.
It came following a last-second missed field goal in regulation and a 71-yard game-winning touchdown from Blaine Gabbert to Torrey Smith.
This dropped Chicago to 5-7 on the season and two games back of the final wild card spot with a loss to the seven-win Seahawks already under their belt.
In what was a must-win game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they handed the division-rival Atlanta Falcons a sixth loss in seven games after Matt Ryan and Co. started the season with five consecutive wins.
Now tied with Atlanta at 6-6 on the year, Tampa Bay holds the tiebreaker by virtue of two wins over the Falcons on the season. Both squads are now one game behind Seattle for the final wild card spot in the NFC.
In the AFC, a mistake-plagued fourth quarter led to the Oakland Raiders falling in a disheartening fashion against the division-rival Kansas City Chiefs.
Any hope for a move to .500 on the season came crashing down after a late-game pick six thrown by standout second-year quarterback Derek Carr — one of his three fourth quarter interceptions.
Oakland now finds itself at 5-7 on the year and a full two games behind both the Chiefs and New York Jets in the wild card hunt. This pretty much signifies that Oakland is out of the playoff race heading into Week 14.
If you look at the standings, you will find the New York Jets in position to earn a wild card spot in the AFC. That was made possible by a late-game win over a suddenly fledgling New York Giants team Sunday afternoon.
Checking in on another AFC East playoff contender, the Buffalo Bills maintained their positioning in the playoff race following a four-touchdown performance from Tyrod Taylor in a 30-21 win over the Houston Texans. On the other hand, Houston dropped to 6-6 on the year and remains tied with Indianapolis atop the AFC South.
A whole heck of a lot was decided during Sunday’s Week 13 action. Of the teams mentioned above, it’s readily apparent that Kansas City is the squad to look at. It has now won six consecutive games, mainly due to the performance of Alex Smith under center.
Smith has now gone 300-plus passes without an interception, his last coming in a Week 3 loss to the Green Bay Packers. If Smith can continue to play mistake-free football, the Chiefs will be heard from when all is said and done in January.
NFC East still there for the taking following New York Giants loss
After a horrendous late-game loss to the New York Jets on Sunday, Eli Manning and Co. find themselves tied with the Philadelphia Eagles in second place in the NFC East, a half game behind the Washington Redskins.
Depending on the outcome of Washington’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, we could be looking at all four teams in the division being within one game of one another heading into Week 14.
Yes folks, this means that the three-win Dallas Cowboys still find themselves very much alive in what has to be considered the worst division in football.
For the Giants, they blew a major opportunity to get back to .500 on Sunday. Leading by 10 heading into the fourth quarter, a mistake-prone Giants team let the Jets right back in the game.
It started with an Eli Manning interception with the Giants driving deep into the Jets’ territory with a 10-point lead and just under nine minutes remaining in the game.
It continued after Tom Coughlin’s squad allowed Ryan Fitzpatrick to lead the Jets to a 10-play, 71-yard game-tying drive in just over two minutes to end regulation.
Then in overtime, the Jets drove down the field on the initial possession for a field goal before Giants kicker Josh Brown missed from 48 yards out to end the game.
You simply can’t lose in that manner and expect to be taken seriously when it comes to the playoffs. Fortunately for the Giants — losers of three consecutive — no one else is prepared to run away with the NFC East.
The Arizona Cardinals are in pure domination mode
Arizona barely broke out in a sweat for its sixth consecutive win on Sunday against a suddenly hapless St. Louis Rams team. Carson Palmer put up 356 yards and two scores while both Michael Floyd and John Brown accumulated 100-yard receiving days.
Replacing injured running backs Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson, rookie David Johnson added 120 yards and a touchdown on 24 touches.
Defensively, Arizona held the Rams to 212 total yards, nine first downs and three points. In fact, a total of seven Rams drives went for single-digit yardage in the blowout Cardinals win.
Now 10-2 on the season, Arizona stands a darn good chance of earning a first-round playoff game.
If the past six games are any indication, Bruce Arians squad may very well give the Carolina Panthers a run for their money when all is said and done in January.
Blaine Gabbert’s tremendous play continues in San Francisco
It won’t be enough to save the San Francisco 49ers from what has been a disastrous season, but there is something going on with this former top-10 pick.
Long written off as a bust after the Jacksonville Jaguars selected him back in 2011, Gabbert has had somewhat of a career revival since taking over for Colin Kaepernick as the team’s starting quarterback.
After San Francisco’s offense put up a dud of a performance through the first three quarters against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, it woke up big time late in the game.
Including a 44-yard touchdown run for Gabbert to tie the game late in the fourth quarter and a 71-yard game-winning touchdown strike to Torrey Smith in overtime, San Francisco put up 135 yards on its final three drives after tallying just 37 yards in its previous four drives.
For his part, Gabbert put up 270-plus yards for the third consecutive time. He’s now 2-2 as a starter with six touchdowns and just three interceptions in four starts this season.
That might not seem overly impressive, but it does indicate that the still young 26-year-old quarterback has turned the corner.
With the Kaepernick situation still unsettled for next season, we do know that Gabbert is under contract for one more season.
Considering Gabbert is due just $2.25 million next year compared to $16.8 million for Kaepernick, the writing might very well be on the wall here.
If Gabbert can continue to perform at this relatively high level, it might also signal a change of direction for San Francisco when it comes to the 2016 NFL draft.
Instead of going quarterback, the team might be able to fill a void at a position where there is more need. That’s pretty big in the grand scheme of things.
Have the Cleveland Browns given up on Mike Pettine?
Cleveland’s head coach might have been satisfied with the effort of his team following a 37-3 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, but it sure looked like the players quit on him.
Tied at zero late in the first quarter, Cleveland allowed Cincinnati to score on seven consecutive possessions, tallying 37 points in the process. From what this one scribe saw, it simply appeared that the team’s defense failed to put up much of an effort in this one.
But don’t tell that to a coach in Pettine who is likely as good as gone when the season comes to a conclusion in early January, if not before:
“Was I satisfied? Absolutely. Pull up the film and find me a guy that didn’t play hard and then go in the locker room and ask him if he played hard,” Pettine said following the game. “That’s one thing: I thought our guys were flying around, but I give them (Bengals) some credit too. It’s a good football team.”
Um, no. A defense with some pretty solid players doesn’t let the opposing team score on seven consecutive drives if it is playing inspired football. This might be coach speak, but it’s insulting to even the average football observer.
As it is, Pettine also indicated after the game that ownership hasn’t even committed to him to finish out the 2015 season.
This all comes on the heels of reports surfacing that Johnny Manziel is expected to start the final four games of the season. Despite Austin Davis’ horrendous performance in the blowout loss on Sunday, Pettine didn’t put Manziel in the game.
This tells us a story of a potential rift between the front office and head coach as it relates to the enigmatic former first-round pick.
Losing by 34 points to an in-state division rival at home definitely won’t quiet rumors about Pettine getting the ax. You can’t have your team quit on you and expect to retain your job. That’s not how it works in life.
Does anyone want to win the AFC South?
Rivaling the NFC East as the worst division in football, the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts remain tied at the top of the AFC South at 6-6 after both teams lost on Sunday.
Adding to this, the Jacksonville Jaguars lost a shootout against the last-place Tennessee Titans to ruin an opportunity to put them just one game back in the division.
We really have no idea who wants to win this division. Indianapolis came into Sunday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers knowing full well that it would be in the driver’s seat with a win. It responded by being blown out to the tune of 45-10 on front of a national audience.
Meanwhile, Houston simply couldn’t find a way to stop the Tyrod Taylor-led Buffalo Bills offense after its defense had yielded a total of two touchdowns over the previous 14 quarters. Taylor went for four total touchdowns in the 30-21 Bills win.
In Tennessee, the Jaguars were torched by a rookie quarterback in a game they needed desperately. Titans starter Marcus Mariota led an offense that put up 467 yards and a whopping 26 first downs. You aren’t going to win many games with that type of defensive performance.
Undefeated against divisional opponents since the start of the 2013 season, Indianapolis still seems to have the inside track here. Three of its final four games come against the AFC South with home dates against both Tennessee and Houston.
With a game coming up against the New England Patriots before taking on the Colts in Indy, Houston has a bit tougher of a road to conquer.
Either way, it doesn’t look like the winner of this division will offer up much of a fight when the postseason comes calling. Sunday’s results magnify this even further.
A cluster mess in the AFC playoff standings
One week after entering “Sunday Night Football” with an unblemished record, the New England Patriots find themselves as the No. 3 seed in the AFC heading into Week 14. The Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos would have first-round byes if the season were to end today.
When it comes to the wild card standings, things are even more convoluted. At 7-5, the Jets and Chiefs would be the last two teams in. Meanwhile, the seven-win Steelers, by virtue of losing the tiebreaker to both teams, would be on the outside looking in.
With six wins, the Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans are just one game back. Heck, even the five-win Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins find themselves somewhat alive in the AFC playoff race.
If you include Jacksonville still being alive in the AFC South, there are just four teams in the AFC legitimately out of the playoff race heading into Week 14.
This means that there will be a ton of drama in the AFC over the final quarter of the season.
Week 17 brings games between the Jets-Bills, Jaguars-Texans, Raiders-Chiefs and Dolphins-Patriots. Yeah, this promises to be rather exciting.
Cam Newton remains top MVP contender
We can look at advanced stats all we want. Tom Brady and Carson Palmer may be having better statistical seasons than Newton. That’s fine and dandy.
What simple stats don’t take into account is that Newton has his Carolina Panthers at 12-0 on the season, only the ninth team in NFL history to start the season with 12 consecutive wins.
Sunday’s game showed us just how valuable Newton is. For the first time this season, Carolina’s defense failed to live up to its end of the bargain. It yielded 29 points and four offensive touchdowns to a previously struggling New Orleans Saints offense.
And when the Saints took a four-point lead on a Mark Ingram touchdown run with just over five minutes remaining, it looked like the Panthers’ undefeated aspirations were coming to an end.
Newton responded by leading the Panthers on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a game-winning touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery with just over a minute left on the clock.
In this, Newton cemented his status as the top MVP candidate heading into Week 14.