The Panthers rolled the Falcons to remain undefeated and the Wildcard races cooled dramatically. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The Carolina Panthers moved to 13-0 by pummeling their division rival 38-0. The game was over before the 2nd quarter. You’d think the Atlanta Falcons would put up a fight considering their season was on the line, but nope. Instead, Atlanta turned the ball over four times, Matt Ryan continued to be awful, and Atlanta waved the white flag on 2015. If you need one drive to sum up Atlanta’s afternoon, it came right at the start of the 2nd quarter. Down 21-0, the Falcons drove to the Carolina 20. On 1st down Matt Ryan fumbled. Atlanta recovered, but now faced 2nd and 36 from the 46 yard line. Two plays later the Falcons punted on 4th and 30. Atlanta is 1-7 since their 5-0 start. They haven’t scored more than 21 points in two months. Matt Ryan has more turnovers than touchdowns. Devonta Freeman hasn’t reached 50 rushing yards in over a month. The Falcons are now 11/25 in the red zone since their 5-0 start. Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers – who were supposed to be offensively challenged this season – have scored at least 33 points in five of their last six victories. They lead the NFL in points scored, have the 2nd ranked rush offense, and the defense is ranked among the top 5 across the board. The Carolina Panthers; 2015 juggernaut.
If you’re not one for reading, here’s a visual illustration of what the Carolina Panthers did to the Atlanta Falcons Sunday.
Ohhhhhhh, that's cold. pic.twitter.com/cjMAGS0okc
— NBCSN (@NBCSN) December 8, 2015
The Denver Bronco offense put on one of the most bizarre performances in Week 14. Denver dominated time of possession by 11 minutes. They outgained Oakland on the ground and nearly tripled the Raiders production in the air. Denver had 20 1st downs to Oakland’s 8. And still the Broncos lost. Here’s why. On four of their first five possessions of the game, Denver drove inside the red zone three times. When they didn’t reach the red zone, they got the ball as far as the Oakland 21. On all four drives into Raider territory the Broncos could only muster field goals. Instead of a 12-0 lead, Denver should have been ahead 20-0, or at worst, 16-0. The lack of red zone productivity appeared to zap Denver of its offensive mojo. After accumulating over 240 yards in the 1st half, the Broncos mustered less than 80 yards the remainder of the game, and failed to generate a 1st down on six of their eight 2nd half possessions. Denver’s 2nd half disaster also consisted of a safety, a missed field goal, a lost fumble, and surrendering 5 sacks to Khalil Mack. The Denver defense deserves better. The Broncos limited the Raiders to 126 total yards and still lost. Outside of New England and Pittsburgh, the AFC is a hot mess.
Staying in the AFC West, Danny Woodhead dropped what would have been the game-tying touchdown (assuming the XP was good) against the Chiefs as time expired. It was an ugly day for both teams, but the Chargers hung around on that final drive by converting on 4th down three times before Woodhead’s drop and the clock finally got the best of them.
Barring an epic collapse by two teams, the AFC Wildcard is a three team race between the Steelers Jets and Chiefs. Kansas City has the easiest remaining schedule and already owns a victory over the Steelers, so they’re the most likely to nab one of the Wildcard berths. Currently, the Jets own the tiebreaker due to conference record. With Denver’s offensive struggles, Pittsburgh has the edge in strength of schedule. After hosting the Broncos in Week 15, the Steelers visit the Ravens and Browns to close the season. Those teams have a combined 7-19 record. The Jets, meanwhile, travel to Dallas, host New England, and finish the season in Buffalo. The Cowboys will fold like a chair if they fall behind early. Even with a win and a Denver loss in Week 15, the Patriots can’t clinch until after Week 16, so there will be no freebie there for the Jets in Week 16. Traveling to Buffalo to take on the jaded Rex Ryan and the Bills to close the season is no picnic. Ryan would love nothing more than to keep New York out of the playoffs. Considering the schedule, the edge has to go to the Steelers. Even if both teams win out, the Steelers would claim the Wildcard spot over the Jets due to record in common games. If it came to this, the Jets surprising loss to the Raiders would end up being the decisive blow. Of course, considering how bad the Chiefs looked Sunday, it’s possible Kansas City trips up down the stretch and both the Jets and Steelers advance, but the best guess is the Jets will be on the outside looking in.
In the NFC, the Wildcard race came to an end this week as the Buccaneers and Falcons spun out as they approached the final turn. With comfortable two game leads over the 6-7 Falcons, Buccaneers, Eagles/Redskins and (likely) Giants, there’s little reason to believe the Vikings and Seahawks will miss the postseason. At this point, they’re jockeying for position and Seattle has the advantage there with their victory over the Vikings last week. A few weeks ago the NFC Wildcard race looked like it could be a heated competition right down to the wire. Unfortunately, the Seahawks took off, and the Giants, Lions, Bears, Falcons, Saints and Buccaneers all faded.
I’m not ready to declare the Packers among the NFC’s elite after a decisive win over the creampuff Cowboys. However, if that rushing performance can be duplicated over the next month the Packers will be major players in the NFC playoffs. Eddie Lacy looked great Sunday. Unfortunately, he looked great in Weeks 11 and 12 before laying an egg in Week 13. Do we know what version of the Packers we’re getting each week? At this point of the season, it’s a statement of fact that the Packers can’t score points in bunches or rely on big plays to move the ball. There’s simply not enough talent on the outside. The 2015 Packers must be a ground and pound, play-action over the top team if they have any hope of competing for an NFC title. Sunday was Green Bay accepting that identity. We’ll see if they forget who they are in a week.
The Houston Texans remain in contention for the AFC South despite dropping two straight, but they may be forced to go the rest of the season without starting quarterback Brian Hoyer. That loss isn’t nearly as bad as it appears though, and that’s not a knock on Hoyer. The key to the Texans winning the division is production from the ground game. After only surpassing 100 rushing yards once in their first eight games, Houston emerged from their bye week to break the 100 yard plateau in their next four games before Sunday night’s defeat to the Patriots. The Texans were 3-1 in those games, and 2-0 in the games that backup QB T.J. Yates played. Houston doesn’t have a workhorse back, either. A running back has rushed for more than 70 yards only twice this season for the Texans, which is shocking considering Houston owned the NFL’s 5th best rushing attack in 2014. The absence of Arian Foster is certainly a contributing factor, but even in Foster’s four games this season, he only averaged more than 3 yards per carry once. Houston will face the division-leading Colts in Week 15. If they can produce on the ground, they should be fine, regardless of who is under center.
POWER RANKINGS. I dropped the Broncos because that offense is a disaster. Seattle leapfrogged both the Bengals and Broncos despite an early season loss to Cincinnati. The Chiefs didn’t move despite their 7th win in a row. If you watched that victory, you’d know why. Also, despite a solid outing, the Packers remained ninth. I don’t give much credit for beating anyone in the NFC East. Finally, the Vikings surrendered their spot to the Jets. I may have been wrong about the Jets.
The Andy Dalton injury is obviously a big blow to the Bengals. Dalton was having his best season and ranked among the top quarterbacks in touchdowns, completion percentage and QB Rating. He was a major part of Cincinnati’s 11-1 start. The Bengals are definitely worse without Dalton under center. On the other hand, I still don’t think I’d pick Dalton and the Bengals in a playoff game against anyone outside the AFC South. I don’t trust him in big games. He was dreadful against the Texans last month. He struggled in both Steeler games this season. Even against the Cardinals he missed some big plays. Dalton is certainly better this year than any year prior, and the Bengals are worse without him. I just can’t get behind the “Andy Dalton was having an MVP season” nonsense I’ve been hearing since the injury.
The AFC South brings me so much joy. For most of the 1st half Sunday, it appeared as if the Colts would stifle the Jaguars and emerge a game up on the Texans. Then the following three play sequence occurred and the Colts never recovered.
– Blake Bortles fumbles, Colts return 29 yards to the Jaguars 34.
– Matt Hasselbeck fumbles, Jaguars return for touchdown.
– Jaguars miss extra point.
If pictures are your thing, take a look at the three consecutive drives below. This stuff only happens in the AFC South.
The Jaguars are still lingering in the AFC South. If the Texans can knock off the Colts next week, the Jaguars could have an opportunity in the season’s final week to squeeze their way into a tie for the AFC South, assuming of course they can beat the Falcons and Saints before that. While I doubt that happens, how great would a three-way tie at 8-8 be? Also, Blake Bortles threw three more touchdowns Sunday. He now has 30 on the season. Jacksonville has 90 points in two weeks. They’ve scored 20+ points in three of the last five quarters they’ve played. That Jaguars offense should be a lot of fun over the next 5-7 years.
Nothing is worse than rich people trying be outraged by something. Try harder Jeffrey Lurie. Your disgust would sell better if you weren’t dressed like you’re walking into a conference room. The double hand flip in disgust also has to go. Slam your Diet Coke down or storm off into the back of your suite. Ask your buddy Bradley Cooper for acting lessons. Just please, do better. That was embarrassing.
When you hear they're remaking Memento https://t.co/kXJtD1Z45x
— max (@MaxRappaport) December 13, 2015
MVP: Russell Wilson
Runner Up: Cam Newton
Left off Ballot: Broncos Offense