What an amazing Sunday of football. The NFL games to remember happen in December. Between the 49ers-Saints game and Bills-Ravens in the early window, followed by Patriots-Chiefs in the late window, we might have had our best Sunday this season.
As usual, this week also provided another glimpse into what the playoffs will look like. Two more teams clinched their spot in the playoffs, while six others were eliminated.
Let’s check out which of the contenders helped and hurt themselves the most Sunday in Week 14.
The AFC’s Risers
1. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are officially in the playoffs, and unless something weird happens to end the season, they’ve basically locked up homefield advantage. Their offense has cooled off the last two weekends as they’ve faced better defenses, but they find ways to get it done.
In the 24-17 win over the Bills, Lamar Jackson had 145 yards passing, with 61 of those coming on a single pass. The Ravens ONLY had 118 yards rushing, almost half of their usual amount. The Buffalo defense harassed the Ravens and made Jackson uncomfortable. I don’t think they are getting figured out, but that’s two straight weeks of just OK play on offense.
However, Baltimore defense was legit once again. The Ravens made life tough on Josh Allen and forced a fumble to give their offense a short field. Their defense doesn’t get the credit they deserve because Jackson is on track to win MVP.
I’ll say it again, though: The Ravens just have that look of a Super Bowl team.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs went into New England and won! It almost never happens. In fact, the Patriots entered the week 42-0 at home against AFC opponents when Tom Brady has had a healthy Julian Edelman in the regular season. How wild is that? Or how about this one:
At 24 years old, Patrick Mahomes is the youngest QB to beat Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in Foxborough during the regular season.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 9, 2019
New England had been 29-0 against starting QBs under the age of 25 at home since 2001. pic.twitter.com/nd7UAtTs0L
But, the Chiefs got it done. They had an outstanding second quarter where they scored 17 of their 23 points. Outside of that quarter, their offense was out of sync, like it’s been at many times this season. Patrick Mahomes leaves the pocket way too often when there’s no pressure and doesn’t set his feet, or step toward his target on plenty of his throws, which leads to inaccurate tosses. It started when he hurt his ankle at the same time the Kansas City offensive line was beat up. It’s not gotten better as the OL has gotten healthier. It’s something to watch moving forward.
The Chiefs’ defense continues to play well, although I’d caution against getting overly excited about what y’all saw Sunday because the Pats’ offensive skill players are a hot mess. While Brady wasn’t fooled by anything, no one was getting open when the Chiefs brought the house. You can’t do that as often against better receiving options. The Chiefs did find matchups on the New England offensive line to take advantage of, so that was good for them.
In the end, the Chiefs won the AFC West for the fourth straight season. Andy Reid is the man.
Raise your hand if you saw the Titans inserting Ryan Tannehill into the starting lineup and rattling off six of seven wins. The Titans cannot be stopped on offense right now. They put up 42 on the Raiders in a massive win on the road, after scoring 31, 42, and 35 in consecutive weeks. Tannehill is first in the NFL in passer rating, has completed 77.6 percent of his passes the last three weeks, and is one of the best in the NFL on play-action passing.
Ryan Tannehill threw for 276 yards on play action today, the 2nd-most yards on play action in a game over the last 4 seasons.@ryantannehill1 now has 2 of the top 5 games in yards on play action since 2016, both in the past 3 weeks (Week 12: 218 yards).#TENvsOAK | #Titans pic.twitter.com/mOWwffJCoW— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 9, 2019
He’s had a revival in the Music City, and he’s got the Titans sitting at 8-5 with two games against the Texans in their final three weeks. I think the Titans have a great shot to win the division.
Quack, Quack, Quack ... Duck Hodges is 3-0 as the Steelers’ starting quarterback. It’s not always pretty, but he’s not making mistakes. He’s letting the game come to him. He was 16 of 19 for 152 yards in a 23-17 win against the Cardinals. It was a modest day, but he didn’t turn the ball over, and the Steelers’ run game and defense are winning games for them.
Right now, they are the sixth seed in the AFC. They get the Bills next weekend, then the Jets and possibly a Ravens team that’s not playing hard in Week 17. There’s a real chance they can make the wild card. What a coaching job by Mike Tomlin.
The AFC’s Fallers
1. New England Patriots
The Patriots’ longest plays on offense were two trick plays, two defensive pass interference calls, and a Tom Brady scramble. Their offense just isn’t good right now. They don’t have a single WR who can win against man-on-man coverage. Julian Edelman can, but he’s being doubled. There’s no easy fix unless their receivers all of a sudden become quicker. Brady is seeing everything, but just can’t make the connection. They still can’t run the ball, which is less than ideal when you can’t pass it.
The defense wasn’t perfect against the Chiefs, but it wasn’t bad either. They allowed 23 points, forced two turnovers, and the Chiefs had just 4.9 yards a play on offense.
Now, to address the obvious: Yes, the officials screwed the Pats out of two touchdowns. I get that. But the old Patriots would have been able to overcome that. This team can’t. They can still get the No. 2 seed and play two perfect playoff games, most likely rematches against the Chiefs and then the Ravens for the AFC Championship. It’s possible, but right now, how can you count on that?
In the past, the Patriots would lose games to random teams, like the Dolphins and Titans. We’d laugh about it and pretend to write them off, but they’d always be fine. However, this season they’ve lost to the other top seeds in the conference. That’s a legit concern. The Patriots might not have it this season.
2. Houston Texans
WTF, Texans? You get crushed by the Ravens, then beat the Colts and Patriots, only to get smoked by the Broncos at home with Drew Lock starting his second game. The inconsistencies week to week fall on the coaching staff, which I’ve felt has held back this team for years. Now, with the Titans coming on strong, the Texans have to get their shit together to win the AFC South.
The NFC Risers
1. San Francisco 49ers
Oh boy, a big-dog game from the 49ers. Down 27-14 in the Superdome, the 49ers came all the way back to win 48-46 after George Kittle just destroyed half the Saints’ defense on the final drive. The 49ers are a young team, with only two of their players on the roster seeing meaningful playoff time in their career. I thought they’d struggle with another physical opponent after losing to the Ravens, and they did not.
I think we can put to rest the idea of Jimmy Garoppolo not being a franchise quarterback. He had stones, throwing for 349 yards on 26 completions. He answered the critics.
The importance of this win goes beyond the box score. The 49ers now control homefield advantage. If they win out, they stay at home for the playoffs. While Levi’s Stadium isn’t a massive homefield advantage, they don’t have to travel to New Orleans or Seattle for the playoffs. Combined, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson are 11-1 at home in the playoffs. So the advantage is not having to go on the road.
The Packers barely won at home against Washington, but they won. Their offense is still a wreck. It didn’t matter this week. They are now sitting in the No. 2 and are still a game up on the Vikings in the NFC North.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
They were banged up on the offensive line and wide receiver, down 17-3 against the Giants at home. Then, they came back to win in overtime. It wasn’t pretty, but the Eagles did what they had to do stay in the race for the NFC East title.
1. New Orleans Saints
Not only did the Saints allow 48 points at home, but Sean Payton did some weird things. The Saints scored to go ahead 13-7 and they went for two after the ball was moved from the 2 to the 1 because of a Niners penalty. Instead of running ahead, they tried to run Taysom Hill on an end around, and it was stuffed. If you’re going for it, at least call a decent play. You’ve run Taysom Hill on end round-type plays this season and it was zero surprise.
Then, why the heck are you attempting a boring fake punt? If you’re going to call that play, you need to make it creative, especially from the 49ers’ 45-yard line down 35-33. The Niners promptly drove down the field for a touchdown. I did not like that call.
With the loss, the Saints now fall from the No. 1 seed to No. 3 for now. More importantly, they lose the tiebreaker to the 49ers if it comes down to that.
They just laid an egg on the road against an average Rams team. Now they drop from the No. 2 seed and leaders of the NFC West to the fifth seed. There’s still plenty of time to make up the ground with a home game against the 49ers to end the season. But they looked flat in this game. Their defense was torched by a Rams offense that had been dormant for much of the season.
A few days ago, I ranked the Super Bowl contenders and I wrote that I didn’t trust the Seahawks. Their lackluster performance against the Rams showed why.
As a refresher, here’s what the playoff standings look like after Week 14:
- Baltimore Ravens (11-2)*
- New England Patriots (10-3)
- Kansas City Chiefs (9-4)**
- Houston Texans (8-5)
- Buffalo Bills (9-4)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5)
- San Francisco 49ers (11-2)
- Green Bay Packers (10-3)
- New Orleans Saints (10-3)**
- Dallas Cowboys (6-7)
- Seattle Seahawks (10-3)
- Minnesota Vikings (9-4)
*clinched a playoff spot