Tuesday, December 13, 2016

NFL Playoff Race Tightens With Titans And Others

The Patriots took a more solid hold on the AFC's top seed with a clutch Monday Night victory over the Ravens.

The undisputed highlight was Brady's Moss-esque bomb to Chris Hogan.

So with three games to go the playoff push keeps getting more interesting the next sixteen games become all the more important, so we look ahead to this coming weekend -

Seahawks over Rams - Jeff Fisher is now gone and the Seahawks come in smarting from being humiliated by the Packers. Jared Goff is clearly a failure and the suddenly-struggling Seahawks are in almost must-win mode, especially with the return of their old road struggle bugaboo.

Dolphins over NY Jets - The Dolphins dodged a bullet with injury to Ryan Tannehill not as bad as feared after the win over the Cardinals. They go to Metlife Stadium still with a legitimate playoff shot and facing the 4-9 Jets. The caveat here is Bryce Petty began to show improvement, albiet against the 49ers and amid rumblings Todd Bowles will be fired after the season.

Lions over NY Giants - Matthew Stafford has the Lions at 9-4 (the same record as the Giants) and has won fifteen of his last twenty-one games including his last two road games. The Giants defense is clearly stout, but the offense is not, with Eli Manning seemingly locked onto Odell Beckham Jr. at the expense of others, plus Beckham hasn't been all that good the last five or so games. Eli's passer rating (87.8) is well below Stafford's (97.8).

Vikings over Colts - The Colts have actually gotten better in road games lately, winning their last three including only the third career win over an AFC East opponent in Andrew Luck's five seasons in the league. But the 6-7 Colts remain an iffy team with just 38 points in their last three losses. The Vikings aren't exactly great shakes either at 7-6 but they go for the sweep of the AFC South, something their division rivals certainly can't claim this season, and despite his struggles Sam Bradford's passer rating (98.2) is higher than Andrew Luck's (95.3). This one could produce quite a few points. Expect quite a bit of the run as well as neither team's run defense is much (both teams average a combined 4.4 yards per carry allowed)

Titans over Chiefs - I'm going out on a limb on this one given Kansas City's superb season presently with the AFC's second seed. The Titans, though, have shown the most growth with Marcus Mariota (his 99.1 passer rating is higher than Alex Smith's 92.7) and presently are 11th in scoring compared to Kansas City's 14th; the Chiefs though have the decisive edge in points allowed (8th compared to Tennessee's 20th). The big weakness for the Chiefs is run defense (27th in the league) with the Titans third in rushing yardage. The other weakness is Andy Reid is 1-5 lifetime against the Titans.

Bears over Packers - This one screams mismatch, but the Packers have been far more inconsistent than usual and the Bears have changed quarterbacks and with Matt Barkley they've shown more competitiveness. The Packers are also just 4-3 in their last seven division games and remain the frontrunning phonies they've always been under Aaron Rodgers. The subplot here is the rumor of ex-Colts GM Bill Polian coming to the Bears front office, a rumor Polian has denied for now.

Steelers over Bengals - The Andy Dalton era Bengals have never matched up well with the Steelers and the Steelers got a break when the Ravens fell on Monday Night.

Ravens over Eagles - In typical low-class and delusional style Terrell Suggs - curiously held on the sideline for lengthy periods when the Ravens defense was on the field in Foxboro - vowed the Patriots "had better hope" they don't play the Ravens again. First, though, he and a Ravens offense that exploded against Miami but looked confused against the Patriots (and where a rift of sorts has developed between Joe Flacco and coordinator Marty Mornhinwig) need to shoot down a falling Eagles squad whose playoff hopes are gone and whose quarterback in Carson Wentz has been in something of a freefall. This task gets harder with a meltdown by Steve Smith and admission by Suggs that the Ravens were rattled - "we're all a little messed up."

Bills over Browns - The hot rumor here is that Rex Ryan is on his way out and Anthony Lynn supposedly will take over, with quarterback Tyrod Taylor benched for rookie Cardale Jones. The Bills get the winless Browns this week to try and right this ship.

Texans over Jaguars - Only on paper has Blake Bortles outplayed the woefully inconsistent Brock Osweiler; in the actual games (of which Houston has won the last five against the Jaguars) the Texans remain in the division hunt with the Jaguars trying to pick up the pieces; an interesting subplot here is rumor that the Jaguars will reach out to their first ever coach, Tom Coughlin.

Falcons over 49ers - Suddenly the NFC South isn't so secure for the Falcons with the surging Buccaneers breathing down their throat, so beating the abysmal 49ers is a must for Matt Ryan's bunch.

Cardinals over Saints - By now it's clear - Drew Brees is done as a title-contending quarterback (or even one who can win a lot of games - 26 losses the last three seasons and just one winning season the last four) and Sean Payton has shot his bolt as Saints coach. The Cardinals haven't taken any next step and their playoff hopes are gone, not to mention playing with questions about their coach's long-term health. But the Cardinals are still decent on both sides of the ball, though drawing up a replacement for Carson Palmer needs to become a priority.

Raiders over Chargers - The Raiders appear a playoff lock at 10-3, but need to win out and get help to win the division. Tennessee can give them some help at Kansas City and the Raiders get a Chargers team with one division win the last two seasons. Philip Rivers is finished as a relevant quarterback and the Chargers coaching staff has now proven they can't handle it.

Patriots over Broncos - The Patriots defense sent a message on Monday Night - they're not as bad as they looked earlier this season. The Patriots offense also sent a message - it finally is starting to ween Tom Brady off the Edelman binky. Julian Edelman was targeted fifteen times with just seven catches, and he wasn't the decisive weapon in Monday Night's game; those were Martellus Bennett - who now looks healthy after several weeks appearing somewhat hobbled - James White (81 yards on three catches), and Chris Hogan. Malcolm Mitchell also made key catches and a touchdown. The Patriots also defied the analyses about the Ravens run defense and put up 95 yards on the ground; LeGarrette Blount increasingly looks like the workhorse back the Patriots usually don't utilize. They have this against a shaky Broncos team exposed as such by the Titans last week between first-half rushing struggles and also Trevor Siemian's failure to finish a comeback effort.

Buccaneers over Cowboys - Suddenly the Cowboys look one-dimensional as Zeke Elliott appeared to be their only offense in their third straight loss to the New York Giants, and one labors to remember one clutch catch made by Dez Bryant; one certainly remembers his fumble. Turnovers have been a plus for the Bucs, plus-eleven in turnover differential the last eight games, though only plus-one compared to the Cowboys in that same span. The last two games have been instructive as the Bucs have scored 44 points to 24 for the Boys. The big advantage for the Cowboys is the Bucs' run defense can be eaten up by Elliott and company.

Panthers over Redskins - The Panthers' atrocious start continues to cripple their season with the playoffs now gone; they have though won four of their last seven games with two of the losses in that span stunning gag-jobs against AFC West foes. The Redskins in that same span are 3-3-1 and have lost two of their last three with more than 27 points scored only once in their last nine (the Panthers have broken that total twice in the last three weeks). While it's clear Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins are building something positive in DC they do not appear ready yet for the next step.

So we await Week 14.

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