Look out, NFC, here come the Seahawks. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
The Seattle Seahawks have officially arrived to defend their NFC crown. Even the Seattle offense has exploded in recent weeks, and Russell Wilson is at the center of that explosion. Three of Wilson’s four biggest passing days in 2015 have come over the last three weeks. In that span his completion percentage hasn’t dropped below 70%, he’s thrown 11 touchdown passes and rushed for another. He hasn’t turned the football over either. Did I mention Seattle averaged 35 points per game over that span? Or that they knocked off probable playoff teams in consecutive weeks? There’s been a lot of talk regarding Wilson’s play this season. Whether it was due to a leaky offensive line, a less than stellar ground game or Wilson’s regression, the critics were loud. I was one of them. Wilson subsequently responded with the best three game stretch of his career. 879 yards and 11 TD over three games is the best three game stretch of Wilson’s career by nearly 100 yards. What he did to one of the NFL’s top passing defenses entering Week 13 was plain dirty. It’s not all Wilson, either. Seattle has found a potent running game despite Marshawn Lynch’s absence as Thomas Rawls continues to ground defenses into submission. That has prevented defenses from pinning their ears back and attacking Wilson. The offensive line has either improved or benefitted greatly from the improved ground game. Probably both. The naysayers will argue Seattle’s defense took advantage of a weak offense Sunday in Minnesota. They’d be somewhat correct. Seattle is elite in stopping the run, and while they’ve struggled against elite passing offenses, there’s a saving grace for Seattle: The NFC doesn’t have elite aerial attacks like it’s had in year’s past. Outside of Arizona, I’m not sure any NFC offense qualifies as a deadly passing attack. Eli Manning is hit or miss and may miss the playoffs entirely. Aaron Rodgers is throwing to amateurs and it’s killing that offense. The Saints are done. Cam Newton and Carolina have shown the ability to reach that level, but not on a consistent basis. I’m not arguing the NFC is Seattle’s to lose. Far from it. However, the makeup of the conference this year is breaking in Seattle’s favor, as their greatest weakness may not meet an opponent capable of exploiting it.
Tom Coughlin bought a ton of equity by winning two Super Bowls in five years. Amazingly, in just four short years, Coughlin is about upside down on his mortgage with New York Giants fans. I’m all for aggressive coaching. Nine out of ten times, I believe the aggressive call is the right call. However, going for it on 4th and 2 with a 10 point lead while in chip-shot field goal range was a little too aggressive, even for me. I understand the logic behind the call. A field goal keeps it at a two score game and two touchdowns still beats you. I get that. However, the percentages of converting 4th and 2 are significantly less than 4th and inches or even a 4th and 1. On a 4th and 2 the running game is essentially eliminated as a threat. Add the field position to the equation and that too works against your ability to threaten the defense with anything beyond seven yards from the line of scrimmage. It’s easy to play the result here and criticize Coughlin. In his defense, the Jets went 80 yards and then 76 yards on their subsequent drives, and in all likelihood, the Jets forego the field goal and try to for a touchdown if they’re down 14. So maybe the outcome wouldn’t have changed. I just wouldn’t have done it. Not in that part of the field. Not with six feet to gain.
The Atlanta Falcons and their red zone issues continued Sunday, this time going 1/3 against the Buccaneers. At this point, I think Atlanta would have an additional win or two if they’d given the red zone play calling duties over to any 12 year old kid playing Madden. Even the mild-mannered Julio Jones is fed up, and he should be. As you can see from the quote below (courtesy of ProFootballTalk), the Falcons are completely neutralizing their greatest red zone threat. Here’s the thing about the fade route; it’s unguardable. It doesn’t even require great precision. 95% of college quarterbacks could walk into the Falcons huddle and complete one out of four fade routes to Julio Jones. Matt Ryan is unbelievably awful. I’d have to think long and hard before coming up with five starting quarterbacks I WOULDN’T want over Ryan.
If you want a 90 second clip that sums up Atlanta’s plunge from 6-1 to 6-6, I encourage you to watch the 4th quarter from the 2:45 mark until about 1:30 remaining in the game. In that time, Atlanta allowed Jameis Winston to convert a 3rd and 19 WITHOUT THROWING THE BALL. I lost count, but I think he broke close to 17 tackles on the play. The Buccaneers would eventually score the go-ahead touchdown four plays later. With 1:39 to go and Atlanta needing a touchdown, Matt Ryan efficiently ended the game on one play when he threw a horrific interception directly into the hands of Lavonte David. It wasn’t even close. Direct shot. Right into David’s hands. We’re through 13 weeks and Matt Ryan has one more touchdown than turnovers. But hey, he’s Matty Ice.
Sunday seemed like one of those days where everything was just going to go wrong for the Carolina Panthers. I thought for sure the game was telling Carolina to quit before one of its key players suffered a devastating injury. It just felt like one of those days. The Eagles lost Donovan McNabb in a similar game against the Titans back in 2006. The Patriots experienced something similar in the 4th quarter last week and nearly lost Rob Gronkowski for the season. Luckily, the Panthers escaped unharmed and proved what a great team they are in the process. Carolina rallied from three early turnovers and a 14 point deficit as well as two different 4th quarter deficits to outlast the Saints. For an undefeated team that clinched its division earlier in the day to show that resilience was impressive, at least to me. The best part about Carolina is they can win in so many ways. Shootout? No problem. Ground and pound? They can do that too.
The most entertaining game of the day was in Nashville. Remember how we once made fun of the NFC West for being horrible and then over the next few years they turned into the NFL’s best division? Well, the AFC South is horrible right now, and while I’m not saying it’ll be the NFL’s best division within the next five years, there’s a very real chance it’ll be the most entertaining. Marcus Mariota and Blake Bortles combined for 700 yards and 9 touchdowns in a scintillating 42-39 Titans victory Sunday afternoon. There were 41 points in the 4th quarter. 41 POINTS IN THE 4TH QUARTER! Add a healthy Andrew Luck to the equation and the AFC South will have three of the league’s most entertaining gunslingers for years to come.
Also, I had no idea Marcus Mariota was that fast. He hasn’t rushed as much as I expected this season. Perhaps that’s due to nagging injuries or the Titans coaching him to remain a passer. Either way, it was nice to see he has that game-changing ability in the arsenal.
POWER RANKINGS. I understand if you disagree with the Bengals being 4th, but I’m not ready to back Andy Dalton against the Patriots. As for the Patriots, I’d have dropped them further down than 2 had they been defeated with a healthy roster, or even a relatively healthy roster. That hasn’t been the case. The skill position players Tom Brady is playing with right now are equivalent to a training camp scout team. The defense has also played most of the last two weeks without their two most important players. Outside of Dion Lewis, none of the aforementioned injuries appear season-ending, so there’s hope for Patriot fans.
Blaine Gabbert is not at all horrible. In fact, he’s been pretty good for the 49ers since replacing Colin Kaepernick. San Francisco is 2-2 with respectable losses to the Seahawks and Cardinals. While his stats aren’t overwhelming, Gabbert’s four games under center this season account for the best four game stretch of his career. I’m not ready to declare Gabbert capable of quarterbacking a playoff team, but he’s certainly an interesting prospect. Considering how football is a young man’s game, it’s funny that older players often dominate the most important position. Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger have been three of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL this year. Drew Brees is right outside that mix. Each of them is over 33 years old. When you add in the overwhelming success of Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner in their late 30’s, there’s enormous payoff opportunity in kicking the tires on quarterback castoffs, especially those with 1st round pedigree like the 26 year old Blaine Gabbert.
That was the flukiest of flukey wins for the Eagles yesterday. I will absolutely be Negative Nancy in tomorrow’s Week 13 Bird Feed.
The stat flying around last night about extra points was crazy. Eight extra points were missed during Sunday’s action. There were eight missed all of last year. The decision to move extra points out to the 15 yard line was brilliant. It adds another layer of excitement to close games. Over the next few years I’d expect to see more teams doing what Pittsburgh does now and opt for the two points with growing frequency. In fact, one of the most disappointing things about Philly’s horrific season is Chip Kelly’s hesitancy to go for 2. Considering the Eagles are using a backup kicker and Chip’s “aggressive” stlye, I thought the Eagles would lead the NFL in two point attempts.
Speaking of extra points, congrats to the New Orleans Saints for the NFL’s first return of a failed extra point. I think that was the loudest I cheered all afternoon. I don’t know if he’s responsible for the title or not, but the “FART” (Failed Attempt Return Touchdown) as designated by Bill Simmons is a great name for it.
Congrats on another great performance. Your team is 12-0, clinched the NFC South and you have a two game lead for the NFC’s top seed. Your thoughts?
— Daniel Guy (@danny_g13) November 28, 2015
MVP: Eagles Special Teams
Runner Up: Cam Newton
Left off Ballot: Tom Coughlin