Two more weeks of regular season action left. Time flies, doesn’t it?
Now that our worst nightmare is over, the final AFC Wild Card spot is officially a three-team battle between Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh. The Colts (at Kansas City) and Bengals (at Pittsburgh) can clinch their spots with a win today.
Let’s just assume that Indy wins today – because we’re all expecting them to, anyways. If Pittsburgh knocks off Cincinnati today, they are now in the driver’s seat for the final Wild Card spot. This is certainly the can’t-miss game of the week.
In the NFC…well, there’s much to sort out. Seven teams are still alive and fighting for the remaining three spots. The best part is that only Seattle (currently the fifth seed) has a “win and you’re in” scenario, so there’s plenty to be decided next week.
Just as a little side note, the Giants (currently ninth seed) get in with a win and losses by Dallas, Washington, and Minnesota. All three are ahead of New York due to a tiebreak, but only Washington can also clinch a spot today (with a win and losses by New York, Minnesota, and Chicago). Can’t make this stuff up.
Meanwhile, those teams who have already clinched still have postseason positioning to play for.
In the AFC, the current top seed, Houston can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win. The second-seeded Broncos seal the first-round bye with a win and a New England loss. Keep in mind that New England beat Denver earlier in the season, so the Colts can’t afford to lose either of their remaining games.
The top seed in the NFC, the 12-2 Atlanta Falcons wrap up home-field with a win today as well. The other two playoff-bound teams, San Francisco (10-3-1) and Green Bay (10-4) are separated by a half game. If the 49ers lose to Seattle tonight, Green Bay will move into the first-round bye spot with a win over Tennessee.
NFL.com’s clinching scenarios may clarify this a little better I did.
Now let’s talk individual records for a second. During these final weeks, we could see three remarkable single-season records all get broken.
It’s no secret how improbable of a season that Adrian Peterson’s had, returning from a torn ACL just last December. He’s a shoo-in for Comeback Player of the Year (Even Peyton has nothing on him) and is currently 294 yards away from the great Eric Dickerson’s mark of 2,105.
We’ve seen two other backs go over 2,000 this century in former Raven Jamal Lewis (2,066) and current Titan Chris Johnson (2,006), but at the level Adrian’s been running over the last three games (576 yards, 192 per game), averaging 147 over the next two seems more than doable.
Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson has amassed 1,667 yards receiving so far this season. He is a mere 181 away from Jerry Rice’s single-season mark and looks to be well on his way toward breaking it – he’s averaged 119.1 yards per game this season.
But what Calvin has accomplished just six years into his career is even more striking. Since Matthew Stafford played his first full season last year, Johnson has gone over 1,600 yards receiving both times. Torry Holt and Marvin Harrison are the only other receivers to eclipse that mark twice in their careers. The Stafford-Johnson connection isn’t necessarily a winning formula, by itself (hence Detroit’s 4-10 record), but it could continue to be a historic one over the years.
(NOTE: One down. Calvin Johnson broke the record last night against Atlanta.)
Jared Allen came within a half sack of Michael Strahan’s record 22.5 sacks back in 2001. This year we have two players, Houston’s J.J. Watt and San Francisco’s Aldon Smith, three sacks away from the record. With the string of performances they’ve both put together this season, they could both go over 22.5 before it’s all said and done.
Whether the record is broken this season or not, I can’t see it standing for another five years. With all of the great defensive ends and outside linebackers we have in the league now, I can Watt, Smith, Von Miller, Cameron Wake, DeMarcus Ware, Jason Pierre-Paul, or another great sack artist eclipsing Strahan in the coming years. We’re in a golden age for pass rushers.
Now let’s pick. Last week, I went 9-7 bringing my overall record to 143-81. But above all, I’m rooting for great games.
Atlanta over Detroit
As most of us expected, Atlanta got the win and Calvin Johnson got the record. Moral victories, I guess.
Dallas over New Orleans
The Saints made somewhat of a believer out of me last week with their 41-0 blowout of Tampa Bay, but we’ve known throughout the season that they’re not an easy out. The Cowboys are likely aware of this too and will need their best to win. Drew Brees looks like his old self again, but still leads the league in interceptions.
Green Bay over Tennessee
Tennessee’s cornerback tandem of Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner are among the league’s best, but they’ll have their hands full today with all the weapons that Green Bay has. Can Chris Johnson and the offense do enough to pull off the upset? I say no.
Indianapolis over Kansas City
Andrew Luck’s Rookie of the Year train has slowed over the past few weeks, but his team is still winning games. But he’ll more than likely break Cam Newton’s rookie record for passing yards today en route to an improbable 10th win of the season.
Miami over Buffalo
Miami started the season with such promise and could easily be 9-5 right now with all of the close losses they’ve had. Ryan Tannehill is coming off of a good game against Jacksonville and their defense could force numerous Bills turnovers today.
San Diego over New York Jets
You wouldn’t know it by looking at Carolina’s 31 points last week, but San Diego’s defense is not a pushover. And with Greg McElroy getting his first career start today, expect many mistakes.
Washington over Philadelphia
Pretty high on the list of things I never thought I’d utter: “It doesn’t matter who the Redskins start at quarterback They’ll probably win, anyways.” It still doesn’t sound right, but Robert Griffin III is on track to return today and add to his fantastic rookie season.
Pittsburgh over Cincinnati
Tough call. Cincinnati is playing the best football and is the better team, in my opinion – the problem is they can’t seem to beat Pittsburgh. They’re an embarrassing 6-20 against the Steelers since 2000 and have lost their last five. The incentive of making the playoffs and subsequently eliminating Pittsburgh could be enough to put them over the hump, but I’m leaning toward Big Ben and company.
St. Louis over Tampa Bay
Four weeks ago, Tampa Bay was 6-4 and looked well on their way to making the playoffs. But they haven’t won a game since and are still licking their wounds from last week’s beatdown. I’ll give the edge to St. Louis today in what should be a close one.
Carolina over Oakland
Could Carolina’s late season push be enough to save Ron Rivera’s job? Today could be the decider. Another win would match their total from last season, while a loss could spell the end.
New England over Jacksonville
What more needs to be said?
Houston over Minnesota
Adrian Peterson has Minnesota on the verge of the postseason, but their final two games are a nightmare. I can’t see them winning both and they may be lucky to win one, but I’ve been wrong about them numerous times before.
Denver over Cleveland
Nine wins and counting for Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Cleveland is playing good football, but I don’t see them preventing a tenth consecutive.
Chicago over Arizona
Arizona’s defense helped them pull off a stunning 38-10 win last week against Detroit. The “stunning” part was that the Cardinals found a way to mitigate the play of their quarterback Ryan Lindley and in turn, won the game. Chicago’s offense has been just as mistake-prone as the Lions this season, but it’s unlikely that the Cardinals score enough non-offensive touchdowns this week.
Baltimore over New York Giants
Anyone who claims to have “insight” on this one is lying. Both teams are coming off of bad losses and today’s game is a virtual toss-up. Joe Flacco and Eli Manning can look great and not-so great. Both defenses have shown flashes of greatness and futility. But with Baltimore playing at home, I’ll give them the nod.
San Francisco over Seattle
Seattle has put up video game numbers their last two games and they’re undefeated at home this season. But if any team can come in and knock them off, it has to be San Francisco. Keep in mind that they went into New England last week and punched them in the mouth early on. The recent play of Russell Wilson and the Seahawks has certainly been good enough to justify picking them, but San Francisco’s has as well.
Record (Week): 12-4
Record (Season): 155-85