The past two weeks of the NFL have been crazy, to say the least. We were getting ready for the typical playoff picture to come to life, however, in the past two weekends; we’ve witnessed the resurgence of a few teams and the slight decline of a few others.
As hard as it is to believe, the New England Patriots have now lost two games in a row. Last weekend they felt the sting of their first loss of the season, which came against a Peyton Manning-less Denver Broncos team in overtime. This past weekend, the Patriots woes continued as they were trumped by the underdog Philadelphia Eagles. The Patriots injury troubles seem to be getting the best of them. The New York Giants are another team that seems to be down on their luck as they have lost their last three games. After a brief stint at the top of the laughable NFC East, the Giants now sit in third place in their division and are still searching for answers. Speaking of searching for answers, the Atlanta Falcons have lost their last five games and have dropped to third place in the NFC South with a 6-6 record. In case you forgot, the Falcons started this season 5-0, the Falcons have gone, since then 1-6. Needless to say, they are still trying to find their identity under new head coach, Dan Quinn. The Kansas City Chiefs, on the other hand, are a team that has found their stride in the last few weeks. The Chiefs started off the 2015 campaign by going 1-5 in their first six games. However, in their last six, they have gone undefeated and have seen their offense come to life.
There are four more weeks of football action and each week teams will either edge closer to clinching a playoff spot or quickly see their playoff chances vanish.
Going into week 14, here is what you need to know ahead of this weekend’s slate of games.
The Playoff Picture
With only four weeks of regular season action left in the 2015 NFL campaign, I think it’s time we start looking at the league’s playoff picture. As of now going into week 14, the AFC side of the playoff picture looks like this:
- 1st seed: Cincinnati Bengals (10-2)
- 2nd seed: Denver Broncos (10-2)
- 3rd seed: New England Patriots (10-2)
- 4th seed: Indianapolis Colts (6-6)
- 5th seed: Kansas City Chiefs (7-5)
- 6th seed: New York Jets (7-5)
The Steelers, Bills, Texans, Raiders and Dolphins are teams that are still in the hunt, and I am indeed listing them in order of which they actually ranking going into this week’s set of games. The Steelers are playing some terrific football as of late, just take a look at their offense, it speaks for itself. If they win out and the Bengals slip up, I think they can take the AFC North. The Bills and Texans are very close, both teams have a 6-6 record and if they want a chance to make the playoffs this season, they will surely need to win the remainder of their games. It’ll be tough for them because they currently sit behind flourishing teams such as the Steelers and Chiefs. Desperately clinging to faint playoff hopes are the Raiders and Dolphins. Both teams come into this week with a 5-7 record and will need to win their remaining games and hope that all the teams ahead of them suffer catastrophic endings to the 2015 season.
Moving over to the NFC, we can see that the playoff picture looks like this:
- 1st seed: Carolina Panthers (12-0)
- 2nd seed: Arizona Cardinals (10-2)
- 3rd seed: Green Bay Packers (8-4)
- 4th seed: Washington Redskins (5-7)
- 5th seed: Minnesota Vikings (8-4)
- 6th seed: Seattle Seahawks (7-5)
The Carolina Panthers are having a terrific season, no doubt about that. They have already clinched the NFC South and are now looking to claim the top seed in the NFC by going undefeated and enjoying a bye week in the first week of the playoffs. The Arizona Cardinals are picking up where they left off last season as they are firmly on their way to clinching another playoff birth. QB Carson Palmer has that offense running smoothly and their defense is proving to be the real deal, I wouldn’t want to play them in the post-season; that’s for sure. The Seahawks and Packers should be able to clinch playoff spots if they can stay healthy, however, the Vikings do worry me. They are thin on the defensive side of the ball and have been struggling to get their offense going as of late. With regards to the NFC east representative, that’s a whole other story.
The Buccaneers, Falcons, Eagles, Giants and Bears are all on the outside looking in. The Bucs and Falcons both hold identical 6-6 records, and oddly enough, the Bucs beat the Falcons in week 13 thanks to a late-game TD drive. The Eagles and Giants are in control of their own destiny, both teams need to win out as they try to shoot for the division title. Just when we thought the Bears were finding their groove, they find a way to lose to the visiting 49ers, which managed to bring down the Bears in overtime in week 13. After that tough loss the Bears saw their record dip to 5-7 as they took another step back in the playoff race. It’ll be interesting to revisit this playoff picture next week and reflect on the changes that came to be after the games of week 14.
Cleveland Browns QB Woes
I hate talking about the Cleveland Browns in a negative way because I feel like they’ve been in the spotlight of negativity for several years and to be honest, I have a serious soft spot for this team, this franchise because they have been through a lot and so have their fans. The Browns boast an AFC worst 2-10 record going into week 14 of the season and throughout the year they have had a carousel at the QB position. Since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Cleveland Browns have gone through 24 Quarterbacks, yes, you read that correctly, TWENTY-FOUR. In 2015 alone, the Browns have used, QBs Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel and Austin Davis. McCown was used for the first handful of games then suffered an injury, which kept him sidelined for a few weeks. In comes their savior, Johnny Manziel, who started a few games for the Browns and made a somewhat decent impact. However, due to some off-field issues, Johnny Football was benched. In comes Austin Davis, who left the St. Louis Rams after having a few solid starts in 2014. Davis led the Browns to a 37-3 loss to the Bengals last weekend so guess what happened to him? He was benched and now coach Mike Pettine has named Johnny Manziel the starter for the remainder of the 2015 season.
In my very humble opinion, the quarterbacks of Cleveland Browns are not the only ones who are to blame for the annual troubles that are experienced by this franchise; it is a combination of no proper coaching systems, on both offense and defense, and a lack of offensive weapons. If we take a brief glance back at past Cleveland Brown teams, we see that the Browns have always lacked depth in the offensive talent department and without offensive play makers, how is a team to achieve success on the scoreboard? Yes, there are always the under the radar guys that can produce, however, they Browns have been shorted of those as well. What happens when a team can’t score, the QB takes all the heat. What happens when the QB isn’t producing, they tend to get benched after a while. This leads to inconsistency in both player execution and coaching because no positive chemistry can be built between the coaching staff and the players. All the same issues continue to arise with the Cleveland Browns, no matter what coaching regime is in power and it’s been very tough to watch. The Browns need to give coach Mike Pettine one more season and in the season, he must look to have a great draft and keep moving the team forward around Johnny Manziel. He needs to be the franchise player for the Browns. Why? Because they need to start creating some consistency and if they try it again with another QB at the draft this year, the same things are going to happen to this franchise.
To me, it’s Johnny Manziel’s dynamic playing style that gives the Browns the best chance to win on a weekly basis. The Browns need to finish the season on a positive note, and if they do, it will help them going forward into next season, as they will be able to further understand what key areas they need to address in both the draft and free agency.
The NFC East, who wants it?
Thirteen weeks into the season and the NFC east is still the laughing stock of the NFL. The division leading Washington Redskins hold a 5-7 record, the same record held by two other teams in the division, the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. There are a few whimsical facts about this division that crack me up every time I reflect upon it. One of them is that the team that wins this division could have an under .500 record and would host a playoff game against a team boasting a record over the .500 mark. The other interesting little tidbit of information is that the Dallas Cowboys, whom boast a 4-8 record, could still win this division and clinch a playoff birth. Now, I’m not saying the teams in the NFC East are awful and should revoke their playoff spot to another team, I’m simply saying that it’s comical that this once powerhouse of a division has sunk this low. “America’s team”, the Dallas Cowboys, have proven that they are just not the same without QB Tony Romo running the show on offence. The New York Giants can’t seem to close out a game, which is why they’ve lost three in a row and lost their share of the lead in the NFC East. The Philadelphia Eagles have their own share of issues, on both sides of the ball; however, they have shown that if they can execute the fundamentals of the game, they can beat any team in the league. The Washington Redskins have looked very good since Kirk Cousins took over the quarterback duties from RGIII; however, they need to figure out how to close out games when they have a lead.
As far as I’m concerned, any of these four teams can win the division, but, I can’t sit here and tell which team it will be because each and every week these teams perform differently and in all fairness, it’s becoming quite frustrating. If we break it down by strength of schedule, the Redskins technically have the easiest path and the Philadelphia Eagles have to toughest path, however, we have seen time and time again that strength of schedule can be a non-factor at times. It’s going to be awesome to see how this all plays out, I know I will be watching intently.