The grind of December football is in full effect with 2 weeks to go in the 2013 season. Let’s look back at Week 15, a week full of upsets.
5 Things We Learned in Week 15
1. Offenses refuse to let the cold affect them. Yet another record fell only a week after there was a record-setting amount of touchdowns (90) scored on Sunday of Week 14. Sunday of Week 15 saw the highest scoring day in NFL history. A record 763 points were scored, breaking the record of 759 points scored on January 1, 2012. Offenses are moving up and down the field at an astounding rate this season. The headliners are always Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees however this season has seen guys like Josh McCown, Nick Foles, and Ryan Tannehill move the ball. Having said that, when it comes to winning championships…
2. Defense still matters. We have heard time and time again that “defense wins championships”. While that may be less true in today’s game, it is true that a bad defense can hinder a team from winning a championship. This past week Dallas’ dreadful defense cost the Cowboys the game (and maybe the postseason) by blowing a 26-3 lead at home. A lot has been made of the Broncos’ offense but their defense may end up costing them a championship. Denver’s defense is ranked 23rd in the league overall and was unable to stop San Diego’s running game (ran for 177 yards Thursday night). Denver was not the only top team that lost this past week…
3. On any given Sunday, anyone can win. This past week, the Broncos, Patriots, Eagles, Bengals and Saints were all upset (all division leaders). Chicago, Indianapolis, and Seattle were the only division leaders to win. Most of these teams were playing lesser opponents and perhaps they were all guilty of looking ahead. The classic “trap game” is dangerous for any team this time of year. Not winning games you are supposed to win may not keep you out of the playoffs but it can lessen your chance of getting a better playoff seed. Because of these “trap game” losses, this has inevitably led to….
4. A large number of division races are coming down to the wire. With two weeks to go, only the Indianapolis Colts have clinched their division. Both New England and Seattle can clinch their respective divisions this week as well. All the other division leaders have a one game lead or less. In 4 of these divisions, the two teams fighting for the division championship play each other within the last 2 weeks. This equals a good amount of great football at the end of season and the NFL is thrilled about this. In prior years, there is always a team or two that can coast at the end and rest their players before the playoffs. This is certainly not the case this year. Let’s look at one of the most intriguing playoff storylines…
5. The Packers can still make the playoffs. After Aaron Rodgers got injured over a month ago, it looked like the Packers were done. The Lions failed to capitalize and have lost 4 out of their last 5. The Chicago Bears have won their last two but Jay Cutler, in his first game back, looked far from sharp this past Sunday. The Bears lead the division at 8-6 but the Packers are right behind them at 7-6-1. Depending on the outcomes of the Week 16 games, the Week 17 matchup between the Bears and Packers may be for the NFC North title.
Week 16 Meaningless Power Rankings
1. Seattle Seahawks
2. Denver Broncos
3. New England Patriots
4. New Orleans Saints
5. Carolina Panthers
6. Kansas City Chiefs
7. Indianapolis Colts
8. Cincinnati Bengals
9. San Francisco 49ers
10. Chicago Bears
5 games to watch in Week 16
Last week’s record (2-3) Season Record (43-31)
Sunday, December 22nd: Indianapolis Colts (9-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)
Both of these teams are in the playoffs already but their playoff seeding is yet to be determined. The Chiefs have the most to play for. The Colts have guaranteed at least one home playoff game by winning the AFC South and still have a shot at a bye. The Chiefs, who have also clinched a playoff spot, are hoping to win the AFC West rather than a wild card spot. The AFC West crown would give them both a bye and possibly even home field throughout the playoffs. The Wild Card would give them neither. Because the Broncos own the tiebreaker between Kansas City and Denver, the Chiefs must win this game if they want any hope of winning the division. I like the Chiefs at home.
My pick: Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday, December 22nd: New Orleans Saints (10-4) at Carolina Panthers (10-4)
Much like the Chiefs, both the Saints and Panthers are fighting between being either a division winner or a wild card team. The Saints won the first matchup in the Superdome whey are undefeated this season. The Panthers are 6-1 at home and look to put an exclamation point on a surprise season. The Saints are coming off a shocking loss to the St. Louis Rams that allowed the Panthers to tie them in the standings. Along with the Saints loss to the Seahawks not long ago, the loss to the Rams may prove that the Saints are not the same team when they are not in the Superdome (3-4 on the road). Because of this, I am going with the Carolina Panthers.
My pick: Carolina Panthers
Sunday, December 22nd: Arizona Cardinals (9-5) at Seattle Seahawks (12-2)
In the 2013 season, the Seattle Seahawks have played consistently head and shoulders above everyone else in the NFC. The Arizona Cardinals have been a surprise but are the victims of playing in a tough division. Right now, the Cardinals are on the outside looking in to the postseason. Beating the Seahawks would still not ensure that the Cardinals would make the postseason but losing would all but crush their playoff hopes. We have talked in great length all year about how important home field advantage is. There may not be a better team at home than the Seattle Seahawks.
My pick: Seattle Seahawks
Sunday, December 22nd: New England Patriots (10-4) at Baltimore Ravens (8-6)
This is an interesting rematch of the last two AFC Championship games. In fact, these two teams are responsible for 12 appearances in the last 13 AFC title games. The Ravens are 6-1 at home while the Patriots are 3-4 on the road. As we saw in Miami, and as we discussed in this column last week, the Patriots are a different team offensively without Rob Gronkowski. Joe Flacco wants to silence the critics that have said the rich contract he signed in the offseason was a bad contract. A win against the Patriots at home in December would go a long way to silence those critics and, even more importantly, help the Ravens get back into the postseason to defend their Super Bowl championship. And it’s possible that nobody in the NFL plays the Patriots more tough than the Baltimore Ravens.
My pick: Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, December 22nd: Chicago Bears (8-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (8-6)
This is a matchup between two teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today but have each failed to play consistently all year. The Eagles lead the NFC East despite only going 3-4 at home this season. The Vikings upset over the Eagles broke Philly’s 5 game winning streak. The Eagles look to get back into the win column before their showdown at Cowboys Stadium in the season finale. The Bears want to continue their winning ways before their showdown against the Packers in their season finale. The differences between these two teams are astounding. The Bears’ passing offense ranks 5th overall while the Eagles’ passing defense ranks 31st in the league. The Eagles’ running offense ranks 1st overall while the Bears running defense ranks 32nd in the league. There is a reason why the over/under for this game is around 56 points (I’d take the over). Because the Bears (19 turnovers) tend to turn the ball over more than the Eagles (17 turnovers), especially with Jay Cutler as quarterback, I am going with the Eagles.
My pick: Philadelphia Eagles
There are a lot of great games on tap for the weekend before Christmas. My column next week may come at a different time because of Christmas. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @GabePride for updates. Have a happy and safe Christmas!