NFL Sunday Six-Pack
1) Next week’s New York showdown could be an elimination game.
After blowout losses for both the Jets and Giants, Saturday’s Meadowlands matinee has huge implications for both teams. For the Giants to remain in strong position to win the NFC East and reach the postseason, they’re sure as hell not getting in as a wild card, they desperately need a victory. For the Jets to remain in position to win the AFC’s final wild card berth, they have to rebound from a turnover-filled lackluster loss in Philadelphia and pull off a win against Big Blue on Saturday. With teams like Cincinnati, Oakland and Tennessee holding various tie-breakers, the Jets absolutely cannot afford another defeat.
2) In an unpredictable season, Philadelphia still has a shot.
The Eagles were 4-8 two weeks ago and a laughing-stock afterthought, but two weeks can make a huge difference. With the Giants and Cowboys struggling, Philadelphia still has an outside chance at a division title with a little more help. Next Saturday’s game at Dallas could determine who takes home the crown one way or the other. A Cowboys win and a Giants loss to the Jets, not totally out of the question, would clinch the division for Dallas. An Eagles win could change the equation altogether with Dallas playing New York on the final Sunday. A lot has to go right, but the Eagles and the under-fire Andy Reid will survive to live another pressure-packed week.
3) Brady bests Tebow and New England continues its incredible run.
Tom Brady and his superior skill-set and receivers overwhelmed Tim Tebow’s Broncos in an eventful but predictable outcome. Tebow’s heroics weren’t enough against the high-powered Patriots in what could be a playoff preview if Denver runs into the wrong matchup. Face a dynamic offense and the Broncos won’t be able to keep up. Denver had been 18-0 when rushing for at least 250 yards before Sunday’s 41-23 loss at Mile High, but Tebow had to throw the ball more than he and the offense specifically designed for him was accustomed to and they couldn’t keep pace. Tebow lost and people will jump all over that, but that shouldn’t be the take-away from this game. In a league designed to promote parity and competitive balance, New England just clinched its ninth division titles in the last 11 years, proving that the Patriots have become the modicum of stability that all football teams should emulate.
4) Lions reverse fortunes with last minute win in Oakland.
A furious late game comeback orchestrated by Detroit QB Matthew Stafford, capped off by a Calvin Johnson TD catch with under a minute to play in the fourth quarter, revived a Lions season which looked doomed after an undisciplined Thanksgiving loss to Green Bay and the suspension of top DT Ndamukong Suh. Detroit coach Jim Schwartz was blasted by various media outlets for fostering a reckless defensive approach, but it came through in a big way against Oakland. DL Cliff Avril registered two sacks and Suh blocked a potential 65-yard game winning field goal to get the Lions its ninth win, the first over-.500 season since 2000. A loss to the Raiders would have put Detroit’s playoff chances very much in doubt, but a win practically solidifies a wild card berth for the Lions. Stafford and Schwartz may not do things conventionally, but victories come more often than not and a playoff spot appears likely for the first time in quite a while.
5) Brees puts New Orleans in a great position for a bye.
Drew Brees was at his absolute best on Sunday in Minnesota, throwing for five touchdowns and reaching four different receivers in a 42-20 win over the Vikings. Brees is somewhat lost in all the hype surrounding Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Tim Tebow and Eli Manning, but the Saints QB is putting together one of the best statistical season a QB has ever had. The New Orleans win and a likely San Francisco loss to Pittsburgh on Monday night gives the Saints the inside track at a first-round bye and an easier path to reach the Super Bowl in Indianapolis.
6) Loss to Carolina exposes Houston’s vulnerability.
There is certainly no playoff team in the NFL in need of a bye more than the Texans, and their inability to stop the run is the reason why. The Panthers rushed for 166 yards an held the ball for over 32 minutes in a 28-13 win at Reliant Stadium. T.J. Yates won’t be able to win games in the postseason and his offense needs to control the clock by dominating the running game on both sides of the ball. Failure to do that in the wild card round against a team like Pittsburgh, Baltimore or the Jets will lead to a quick exit in the franchise’s first playoff appearance.