I may be late to the party, but I realized something after Week 12; the Eagles can go further than I ever expected. (Photo by Evan Habeeb/Getty Images)
Two things you should know before reading what I have to say about the Eagles. 1. I am an Eagles fan. 2. I’ve been a harsh critic of the Eagles defense and quarterback play this year. At no point throughout the season did I think they were a contender in the NFC… until now. That’s right, I like the Eagles chances of reaching the NFC title game and it has absolutely nothing to do with the Philadelphia Eagles. The NFC is simply…
I don’t know what word to use to describe the NFC. Mediocre is too harsh. There are plenty of good teams, one good team with a truly great quarterback, but zero great teams. Anyway, my point is this: Aside from Aaron Rodgers, there isn’t a single NFC opponent that scares me as an Eagles fan. Sure, going into Seattle in January would be a tough task but nothing near impossible. I still doubt Arizona and would pick the Eagles in a rematch. The 49ers, Lions, Cowboys and NFC South champion X are all beatable. If the Eagles can avoid the Packers, they have a realistic shot of playing for the NFC Championship. Of course, each of the aforementioned teams could make the same argument. I wouldn’t disagree with any one of them, either. The NFC is wide open. Assuming the Eagles continue to run the football and pressure the quarterback, I like their chances at playing on January 18, 2015.
The NFC West is still the best division in football. You can claim the AFC North is better but you’d be wrong. The AFC North has the benefit of preying on the putrid NFC South. What makes the NFC West so great (and unique) is defense. No other division in the league features as many elite defenses. As a division, the NFC West has posted 27 wins in 2014, second only to the AFC North’s 28. Amazingly, those 27 wins have come without a single offense ranked inside the top 10 in points scored. In fact, only two NFC West offenses (Seattle & Arizona) rank inside the top 20.
In today’s NFL, offenses generally win games and drive storylines. The NFC West is the exception. Despite lackluster offenses, the division continues to win behind three top ten defenses. In all sports, the name of the game is to score more than your opponent. Unlike most of the NFL, the NFC West attacks the game from the other side of the ball. So while we act like the NFC West has underperformed in 2014, let’s not forget that all three of the division’s playoff contenders are more built for the playoffs than any of the other NFC contenders.
I spend an irrational amount of time comparing conferences in the NFL. In recent years, despite great Bronco teams and the always-competitive Patriots, I thought the NFC was far and away the better and more competitive conference. I can’t decide if the balance of power in the NFL shifted in 2014. Maybe not long term but at least for this one season? Look at the AFC standings and you’ll see three divisions with at least three playoff contenders. In the NFC, only the NFC West can make that same claim. The more I investigated the cloudier the picture got. Currently, the AFC has 25 inter-conference wins to the NFC’s 22. I thought to myself, I bet if you eliminate all the AFC North’s victories over the NFC South the NFC would have a distinct advantage. Not quite. In fact, if you eliminate victories over the equally abysmal AFC South, the picture doesn’t change at all. AFC victories: 15. NFC: 12. While I would argue the AFC is still the stronger conference this season, the inter-conference records don’t necessarily back that up to the extent I expected.
Unofficially, the Texans season ended after they surrendered 24 points in under three minutes to the Steelers on Monday Night Football. After Sunday’s dismantling at the hands of the Bengals, Houston’s season is officially over. The margin for error was always small for the 2014 version of Bill O’Brien’s Texans. When the Texans were good, it was due to a dominant ground game led by Arian Foster and a disruptive, turnover-producing defense. Once Foster’s nagging injuries returned, it was obviously difficult for the team to overcome such a dismal offense. With their season essentially on the line Sunday, Houston’s offense could only muster 248 total yards, went 4/14 on 3rd downs and lost the possession battle 2:1. I always thought the Texans would be a dark horse for the AFC South title simply by riding Foster and letting the defense win games, much like the Cardinals and 49ers do. Unfortunately, Foster’s body couldn’t hold up and the defense, despite leading the NFL in takeaways, couldn’t bail out one of the NFL’s worst quarterback situations.
Odell Beckham Jr.’s catch was the greatest catch of all time. There have been bigger catches in NFL history but none were as impressive in regards to athleticism and degree of difficulty. Once that football hit Beckham’s hand IT DID NOT MOVE. Not once. Simply amazing.
Brandon Carr is having a great season…
y'all pray for Brandon Carr man.. pic.twitter.com/AVGRnupVfR
— ATL 4-7 | LAL 3-11 (@the_rANT_) November 24, 2014
My Power Rankings after Week 12:
1. New England
2. Green Bay
7. San Francisco
9. Kansas City
The New England Patriots are indeed zombies. Different season, different backfield, different receivers, same result; winning. If the Patriots were in the NFC I’d worry some about going through the defenses in the NFC West. However, in the AFC, only the Chiefs boast an elite defense and they just lost their all-pro safety. Even worse, Kansas City is now in danger of possibly missing the playoffs altogether after an embarrassing loss to the Raiders. The Broncos are still somewhat of a threat but Peyton Manning in Gillette Stadium is significantly less scary than Manning in Denver.
There once was a time when the NFC was loaded with “quarterbacks of the next generation.” Cam Newton, RGIII, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick, were supposed to change the game. Instead, after three seasons (four for Newton), none will receive Pro Bowl consideration. (Wilson might, but he shouldn’t.)
Newton has been horrendous and debilitated by injuries. Wilson has been inconsistent at best. Kaepernick has gone backwards in his development. However, both Wilson and Kaepernick are backed by great defenses and therefore mostly shielded from heavy criticism. Griffin III is on the verge of being out of job in Washington. All four are still young enough to right the ship, but if two years ago you asked anyone to predict where these players would be now, no one would have guessed all four would fall outside the top 18 in QBR.
Mike Smith is really bad at clock management. This isn’t news. I’m already excited for the next blown win. And to be honest, clock mismanagement is humorous and enjoyable when it’s not your team. I lived through over a decade of Andy Reid. When it’s your team, nothing could be worse.
JJ Watt gets all the attention as the NFL’s most disruptive and dominant pass-rusher. That attention should go to a former Houston Texan. Mario Williams is the best I’ve seen in 2014. Williams and Buffalo’s defense are wildly underrated. If the Bills had an offense of any kind Buffalo would be in the playoffs.
The Saints are 4-7 and not 5-6 because Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham kept screwing up in the red zone. In the 2nd quarter Graham dropped a touchdown on 3rd down. The Saints kicked a field goal. Later, in the 4th quarter with New Orleans down 10 and needing a touchdown, Brees badly underthrew Graham in the end zone on 3rd down. Again, the Saints settled for a field goal. Brees and Graham are two of the best in the NFL at their respective positions. To see them screw up multiple times at something they’ve accomplished so often was shocking. I’ve said many times this season that Brees is prone to backbreaking mistakes (like the pick-six that swung the game Monday night), but even I was surprised by his poor performance inside the red zone.
Despite a bye week, the Carolina Panthers gained ground on the rest of the NFC South. With the easiest remaining schedule in the division, it’s not inconceivable the Panthers win the NFC South. Though, given how Carolina has played this season and Cam Newton’s injuries, another week of football could end Newton’s career. Perhaps missing the playoffs is the best route for Carolina.
My favorite picture of the week. And possibly ever:
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) November 22, 2014
MVP: Justin Forsett.
Runner Up: Defenses.
Not on the ballot: Mike Smith.