Updated look at the AFC wild-card contenders, more Snap Judgments
• As it turns out, the sunny Sunday afternoon they spent in the Sunshine State was a very productive chunk of time indeed for the AFC East wild-card contenders, with the resurgent Jets climbing back over .500 with a 26-3 win at Tampa Bay, and the Dolphins gutting out a 14-10 victory in a virtual elimination-type game at Jacksonville.
Outside of the three-team tug-of-war going on in the NFC East, the battle for what figures to the be AFC's last wild-card berth holds the most potential for intrigue in the regular season's final three weeks. Sunday at least provided some clarity, even if the four teams fighting for that one spot were still in a 7-6 clump at the end of the weekend.
In order, here's how I break down the playoff chances of the four AFC wild-card contenders:
The key game for Miami will be next week at Tennessee. The Titans are not your average 6-7 team, and they'll be tough. The Dolphins finish at home against Houston (6-7) and Pittsburgh (6-7), which means that Pittsburgh plays both Baltimore and Miami in the final two weeks, giving the Steelers' great spoiler potential. Pittsburgh won't be headed to the playoffs, but it may help determine the last team that is in the AFC.
• Don't do it, Colts. Don't back off now that you've set the NFL record for consecutive regular season wins with 22, locked up the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, set the league mark for wins in a decade (114), and tied the franchise's best start ever at 13-0 (also in 2005).
Four weeks is an eternity to keep your edge in the NFL, and trying to rest players and maintain momentum through three more meaningless games and then a bye week is a losing proposition. Indy only has to look at its one-and-done playoff flameouts of 2005, 2007 and 2008 to know that easing off the gas isn't the right call. The one recent year Indy didn't rest any players late in the season was 2006, and we know how things turned out for the Colts in that case.
• This undefeated season stuff is getting serious in Indianapolis and New Orleans, but having two teams instead of one attempting to do it, a la New England in 2007, has to help diffuse the pressure on both the Colts and Saints. There's no singular national spotlight falling on one team this time, like the Patriots dealt with two years ago.
Also, the feat of going 16-0 isn't as novel these days because of the Patriots having done it just 24 months ago. I'd say those reasons alone make it more probable that at least one of this year's 13-0 clubs go on to close the deal.
• What a big day for the diva receiver set in the NFL.
Marshall had 10 catches for 109 yards in the first half alone at Indy, and his 21 receptions wound up producing 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But I would think the excitement of breaking the record for most catches in a game is lessened considerably by the fact Denver scored just 16 points on the day, and lost by a dozen points at 28-16.
• Anybody else get the feeling we're starting to see signs the last two weeks of the old, indifferent
Moss just didn't fight for either ball, pretty much allowing the defender to make the play without him using his 6-foot-4 frame to increase the degree of difficulty of the catch. Moss was booed by the faithful at Gillette Stadium, and it didn't help his cause one bit that he fumbled away a first-half 16-yard catch.
Are those plays windows into Moss's soul and his current state of commitment level? Has he partially checked out in any way, convinced perhaps that New England's Super Bowl hopes are fading away? We can't know the answer to those questions, but it is worth noting that Moss was one of the four Patriots sent home Wednesday morning after arriving minutes late for a team meeting.
• The Patriots did what they had to do to scratch out an ugly 20-10 win over a Carolina team playing its backup quarterback, but these really don't look anything like the Patriots that have largely dominated this NFL decade.
I will say this:
Given the funk that Moss appears to be in, I would expect Brady to continue to target Welker on at least half of his passes.
• Here's one sure-fire way you know December has arrived in the NFL: Backup quarterbacks were playing everywhere in Week 14. The Jets went with
• Did I hear that right, the Broncos won the coin toss to start their game at Indy and deferred to the Colts? And
• Then again, Manning rather quietly threw a season-worst three interceptions against Denver, two of them to Broncos veteran safety
I wouldn't be surprised if some of Manning's MVP votes were starting to slip away here and there. He has 29 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, compared to 32 and 10 for New Orleans quarterback
• The Broncos' loss to the Colts featured some frustrating missed opportunities, but it changes nothing about their path to the playoffs. They still have to win at home against Oakland next week and Kansas City in Week 17 to get to 10 wins. At Philadelphia in Week 16 still looks like a tough hill to climb.
It's San Diego that gained the most from Denver and Cincinnati's losses in Week 14. By beating Dallas, they improved to 10-3 with the inside track on the AFC's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.
• If there's an elite team that has something to prove heading into Week 14, it's the Bengals, who really didn't compete with the Vikings in that 30-10 Minnesota win. That makes Cincinnati's trip to San Diego next week pretty important from a confidence and momentum-building standpoint in Bengal-dom.
• It was absolutely the "wow'' factor play of the day when Baltimore receiver
Nobody really tackles any more in the NFL. Nobody wraps up. They either just lunge and miss, attempt the proverbial arm tackle, or go high and try to negotiate the ballcarrier to the ground. You see the same thing I see.
• What a stunner,
Then again, the problem with Thomas for the past three seasons in New England has been that even when he's active, he's not very active.
• Speaking of veteran free-agent acquisitions who have done little to earn their money in New England,
Alas, his luck didn't hold. He briefly left the game with an injury, then returned in time to surrender a 41-yard Matt Moore touchdown pass to
• Another week, another fourth-down call that went awry for the Patriots. We get it, Bill. You like to go for it on fourth down. But stop trying to prove it every chance you get.
• Here's a headline you might have missed: The Bengals finally lost a game in/to the North on Sunday, falling 30-10 at Minnesota. Entering Week 14, the 9-3 Bengals has been 9-0 against teams from the two North Divisions -- 6-0 against the AFC North, and 3-0 against the NFC North (beating the Lions, Packers and Bears). Cincy's only previous losses this season had come against Denver, Houston and Oakland.
• I have to be honest,
• What has gotten into
• What is it with the Seahawks and injuries? It's almost freakish. Sunday's toll of the wounded at Houston included quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (shoulder), linebacker
• My rational mind knows that was progress was made in Detroit this season, but at the moment, I really couldn't identify where, other than the won-loss record having two more wins. That's was a wholly uncompetitive effort at Baltimore for the
• Stupidest quote of the week (year, decade)? NFL Network analyst
Give me a break. No he wouldn't. In trying to offer something bold, fresh and evocative about the Colts and Saints' march to an undefeated season, Irvin was committing the No. 1 sin of NFL talking heads everywhere: Saying something just to say something. I've been guilty of it myself.
Last I checked, there's no way Irvin can give back his three Super Bowl rings or his Hall of Fame bust, so it's a meaningless, empty claim.
• Good call, Ochocinco. Leave Ragnar alone. The Vikings mascot has a Harley and at least 50 pounds on you.
• Week 14 was great for Super Bowl rematches, if you're into that sort of thing. We had Panthers-Patriots in New England, Rams-Titans in Nashville, and Redskins-Raiders in Oakland.
Carolina didn't get any revenge for the Super Bowl loss it suffered against New England almost six years ago. But the Titans and Redskins exacted a little payback for their Super defeats of 10 and 26 years ago, respectively.
• Dubious fashion choice on the black sweater vest, Rex Ryan. For starters, it was like 80 degrees in Tampa. And secondly, well, although black can be very slimming, let's just say it didn't quite compliment your full figure.