Gabe's Gridiron Week 15 edition
Week 14 saw snow play a significant role in many games throughout the NFL. The weather will continue to play a role for the remainder of the season and has the potential to be the backdrop of this year’s Super Bowl which will be played at MetLife Stadium in the shadows of New York City. Let’s look back and see what we learned.
5 Things We Learned in Week 14
1. Home field is significant. This is not a relatively new concept and is a fact that has been stated over and over in these columns. 5 of the 8 division leaders (New Orleans, Seattle, New England, Denver, and Cincinnati) are undefeated at home. Among division leaders, only the Philadelphia Eagles have a losing record at home (3-4). 14 of the 16 home teams won this past Sunday, a day which saw the weather play an important role in home field advantage. Going forward, home field advantage for the postseason will be determined in the coming weeks. As you can see, these division leaders have an edge at home and look to use that advantage in the playoffs.
2. Snow didn’t slow down offenses in the NFL. Sunday saw 90 touchdowns scored, the highest one-day total in NFL history. The 4 games that saw significant snowfall (Detroit at Philly, Minnesota at Baltimore, Miami at Pittsburgh, Kansas City at Washington) accumulated 30 touchdowns between them. Perhaps this is a result of all the rule changes that allow offenses more leeway by preventing defenses to attack the way they had been allowed to before. The NFL hopes that this trend continues as the playoffs may end up running through cold-weathered Denver and Seattle (not to mention the Super Bowl in East Rutherford, New Jersey).
3. Peyton Manning and Drew Brees continue to put up record breaking numbers. Manning threw for 4 touchdowns for the 7th time this season. The previous record was held by Dan Marino who had six games of 4 or more touchdowns in 1984. The Broncos’ 1st ranked offense has 731 yards, or 56.2 yards per game, more than the 2nd highest offense (Detroit). To put that in comparison, 784 yards separate the 2nd ranked offense (Lions) and the 13th ranked offense (Falcons). Not to be forgotten, Drew Brees continues to pile up numbers in his great career. This past Sunday, Brees crossed the 50,000 passing yard plateau. Only Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Brett Favre, and John Elway have more passing yards. Out of these 5 quarterbacks, Drew Brees reached 50,000 yards the quickest (183 games).
4. It’s hard to count out the Patriots. This Sunday marked 3 games in a row that New England came back to win from a double digit deficit in the second half. However, even with the win, the Patriots lost tight end Rob Gronkowski for the season. There’s no mystery that the Patriots a different team without Gronkowski. Without Gronkowski in the first 6 games of the season, the Patriots’ offense was ranked 22nd in scoring converting only 9 of 22 red zone trips (40.9 percent). With Gronkowski in the lineup, the Patriots’ offense jumped to 5th in scoring and converted on 22 of 33 red zone chances (68.8 percent). Patriots’ fans can point out that Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen were also not healthy during the first 6 games of the season but they cannot deny neither of those players have the level of impact to the offense as Rob Gronkowski.
5. The Dallas Cowboys’ defense is all-time bad. Their defense was on display in the frigid air of Soldier Field on Monday night where they failed to force a turnover or even a punt. The Dallas defense has allowed 5,549 yards over the course of the season. Last year’s New Orleans Saints (who gave up an astounding 7,042 yards in 2012) may still be worse but the Cowboys may threaten that in the remaining weeks. Still, even with an awful defense, the Cowboys still have a shot at the NFC East title. With 3 games remaining (including a week 17 matchup against the Eagles), the Cowboys are only one game out of the lead. Depending on the outcomes of the next 2 weeks, that week 17 matchup between the Eagles and Cowboys may serve as a play in game for the playoffs.
Week 15 Meaningless Power Rankings
1. Denver Broncos
2. Seattle Seahawks
3. New Orleans Saints
4. New England Patriots
5. Cincinnati Bengals
6. Carolina Panthers
7. Philadelphia Eagles
8. Kansas City Chiefs
9. San Francisco 49ers
10. Detroit Lions
5 games to watch in Week 15
Last week’s record (2-3) Season record (41-28)
Thursday, December 12th: San Diego Chargers (6-7) at Denver Broncos (11-2)
The Denver Broncos don’t have to worry about the San Diego Chargers in the postseason, although they have not been eliminated yet. This game will serve as a test for two reasons. Number one: It’s a night game in Denver in December. Regardless of what Peyton Manning will say, his record is not good in cold weather. The forecast calls for temperatures below freezing, but not too much colder. Number two: the Chargers’ offense is good and the Broncos’ defense is not. San Diego’s offense is ranked number 4 overall while the Denver defense is ranked 25th overall. You can bet that this will be a high scoring affair. Manning will want to put his doubters to rest yet again and will have the benefit of playing at home where the Broncos have not lost all season. They should continue that winning on Thursday.
My pick: Denver Broncos
Sunday, December 15th: New England Patriots (10-3) at Miami Dolphins (7-6)
This is one of only two matchups between winning teams in Week 15. This game is full of storylines. The Patriots will play their first full game (since the injury) without Rob Gronkowski. The Pats will try to keep pace with the Broncos for home field advantage in the postseason. They will be traveling to play a Miami Dolphins team that have postseason aspirations of their own. The Dolphins currently sit at 7-6, tied with Baltimore for the final playoff spot in the AFC (Ravens own tiebreaker), and need a win to keep their playoff dreams alive. In their prior matchup in Foxboro, the Patriots won 27-17. This Week 8 game was Rob Gronkowski’s second game back from his prior injuries. The Patriots should win but this game should be close.
My pick: New England Patriots
Sunday, December 15th: Green Bay Packers (6-6-1) at Dallas Cowboys (7-6)
Both the Packers and Cowboys are fighting for their playoff lives. It appears the Packers will prepare for this game like Aaron Rodgers will not play. The good news for the Packers is that Dallas’ defense is so bad (as mentioned before) it may not matter who is at quarterback for Green Bay. The good news for Dallas is that this game is at home, where they have won 5 of their 7 games. At the end of the day, it may come down to who can force the most turnovers. As bad as the Cowboys have been defensively, they are 4th in the NFC in forcing turnovers (25) and rank 2nd in turnover margin (+12). The Packers will succeed against the Cowboys defense but are still a different offense without Aaron Rodgers. Once again, I cannot believe I’m picking Tony Romo in December.
My pick: Dallas Cowboys
Sunday, December 15th: Arizona Cardinals (8-5) at Tennessee Titans (5-8)
The Cardinals are fighting for the final playoff spot in the NFC and need a win against the Titans to stay alive. The Titans have lost 7 out of their last 9 after starting the year off at 3-1. Perhaps the biggest surprise about the Cardinals’ season is their top 5 defense. The 5th ranked defense (in yards allowed) is particularly stout against the run where they rank 3rd overall. Even though he is not as dominant as he once was, Chris Johnson is still a top running back in the league. The Cardinals’ running defense will force Tennessee to throw the football, an area where the Titans are not strong (ranked 23rd overall in passing offense). Even though the Cardinals have not been as good on the road (2-4), they should be able to beat the struggling Titans to stay alive in the NFC playoff race.
My pick: Arizona Cardinals
Monday, December 16th: Baltimore Ravens (7-6) at Detroit Lions (7-6)
This is one of only two matchups between winning teams. One team will fall to .500 and will take a massive hit to their playoff aspirations. The other team will be in good shape. If the season ended after Week 14, both teams would be in the playoffs. Each team is neck and neck in their respective playoff race. One of the reasons why the Ravens have struggled this season is their play on the road. The Ravens have a 1-5 record away from Baltimore’s M & T Bank Stadium. They will need to reverse this trend if they want to enter the postseason as 2 of their final 3 games are on the road. The Lions have not been playing well lately in general, losing 3 out of their last 4. Ford Field, who is hosting their 3rd Monday night football game in 3 years (after a 10 year hiatus before that) will be raucous but Joe Flacco is no stranger to winning in hostile environments when the season is on the line.
My pick: Baltimore Ravens
There are not a whole lot of interesting head-to-head matchups this week but any upset can throw a monkey-wrench in the way the playoff seedings play out. It’s hard to believe that there’s only 2 weeks of regular season football after this week! Enjoy!
Be sure to Follow me on Twitter: @GabePride