1. The Chiefs are looking to the future
While an up and down season has cemented the Chiefs a number four seed in the AFC playoffs, they’ll be resting starters and looking to the future by starting rookie Patrick Mahomes this weekend against the Broncos, who are nowhere near as good as their 5-10 record. Alex Smith is reportedly fine with the move, per coach Andy Reid, but heading into a likely wildcard weekend matchup with the Ravens, I would think that the Chiefs would be looking to stay sharp, not considering the 2018 season. This isn’t a one-seed resting their starters, it’s a team that would very likely miss the playoffs if they weren’t the champs of
the underperforming AFC West.
2. The Patriots have no mercy, none
I can only imagine the sound that emanated from Mike Tomlin’s office when the news broke that disgruntled-and- then-cut Steelers linebacker James Harrison had taken meetings with, and then immediately signed with the New England Patriots. The future hall of famer and Steelers franchise sack leader is ancient by NFL defensive standards at thirty-nine, but has been frustrated that he wasn’t on the field for more snaps this season. I’m sure the Steelers wanted to free up the roster spot heading into the playoffs, but they can’t have imagined that Harrison would suit up against them wearing the red, blue and
silver. For the Patriots part, they obtain a slightly slower version of a guy that was Pittsburgh’s hard-nosed defensive leader for years. The Patriots are thinner at linebacker than they’d like to admit, so from a purely X’s and O’s standpoint, it’s not a bad move to add some depth. I’m not sure how much of a role he’ll play in New England, but my guess is that he’ll make a few impact plays here and there. His workout regime is the stuff of internet legends and now he’s only the second oldest guy on the roster. That has to feel nice. In typical Bill Belichick fashion, the Hoodie refused to comment on his new defender. Apparently they’re on to New York…
3. Hark, the herald Eagles sing
They lost Carson Wentz and almost lost to the Raiders, who imploded for the second straight week. Nick Foles showed that he was equal to the task however, putting up workmanlike numbers against a Raider defense that made him look uncomfortable all night long. The Eagles are still singing, however, because the win locked up the number one seed and home field advantage all the way to the NFC Championship game. Playing with a backup QB under center, that’s going to be huge.
4. Fear the purple
Given the QB situation in Philly, I think the NFC’s best team might well be the purple people eaters. This is a balanced team that plays exceptional defense and is quietly a top ten offense as well. Case Keenum has been much more than a stopgap measure at QB, throwing 21 TD’s to only 7 interceptions on 67% passing. He’s just outside the top ten in yardage, and Adam Thielen’s emergence as a star receiver has bolstered the Vikings attack. This weekend’s 16-0 shutout of the Packers was a statement game in many ways, but mostly it signals that the NFC North has a new bully on the block.
5. The Giants are in full-blown meltdown
There are meltdowns, and then there are meltdowns. Benching two members of your starting defense in subsequent weeks is bad. Benching your Super Bowl MVP QB to try out Geno Smith is REALLY bad. But having a defensive player publicly call your top draft pick a cancer is some next level locker room demolition stuff. But apparently, Landon Collins isn’t off base in his comments. Per NFL Network’s Mike Garofolo, Eli Apple has been suspended for the final game of the season for verbally sparring with coaches and refusing to take the field with the practice squad. Ladies and gentlemen, these are your New York Football Giants. They have some serious work to do in the offseason to get back to respectability. On the plus side, they’re better than Cleveland. On the down side…they’re better than Cleveland, so they won’t have the first pick in the draft.
6. The Niners aren’t far off.
If you had a look at last week’s One to Watch column, you know that we gave the Niners and their new QB Jimmy Garoppolo a puncher’s chance to give the Jaguars some trouble. Not only did they give them trouble, they handed them a loss and locked them into the AFC’s three-seed. The Niners have won four straight and look like a team that knows what they have in Garoppolo; a polished, NFL-ready leader who can change the team’s fortunes for the next several years. In other words, a franchise guy. Any thoughts of the Niners going after Kirk Cousins should be long gone by now. They’ll lock down Garoppolo and build an offense around him, they certainly have the cap space to do it right. These wins might be hurting their draft position, but they’ll still have a pick somewhere in the top six, and the positive vibe during this win streak is undeniable. Don’t be surprised to see them win nine or ten games next season if they can rebuild that defense properly.
7. The Rams are taking the week off.
Well, not really. Sean McVay has indicated that he’ll be resting some starters for this weekend’s matchup with the suddenly white-hot Niners. The Rams are the AFC West champs and can only be the three or four seed in the NFC, so either way, come wildcard weekend, they’ll be playing at home. The Rams can’t catch the Eagles or Vikings, so a bye-week is off the table. It happens every year, but I can’t say I like it in this case. The Rams are a young team that’s playing great football, I don’t see how taking a loss to the worst team in their division is going to help their confidence.
8. The Titans are in a tough spot.
As I mentioned last week, the Titans have a grueling last few weeks. Tilts against the Rams and the AFC South champs, the Jaguars, are a tough way to spend the holidays. Here’s the thing, if the Jags, who are locked in at the three seed, were to rest key starters, the Titans would probably have an easy path to the playoffs. Apparently, Doug Morrone and his Jaguars aren’t that type of cat. Morrone has indicated that he’s playing to win this Sunday, and it’s more than likely that the Titans will be playing golf sooner rather than later. Tennessee actually won the first matchup of the season, 37-16, but have lost three straight to put their playoff hopes on life support.
9. The Ravens are perched to advance
Never mind that the Ravens close out the season against the Bengals who slammed the doors on the Lions playoff hopes this week. The Ravens SHOULD win that game, but they’ll probably be ok if they don’t. They’d need both the Bills and Titans to win this weekend in addition to that loss to be eliminated. Buffalo has the better chance of doing that against Miami. The Titans, as I mentioned, are poised to cough up that six seed. If any of these three teams ties, the Ravens will move on. John Harbaugh’s bunch are a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde act this season, but can win on wildcard weekend if they get the wind in their sails.
10. The NFC South is still in play
With the Saints and Panthers tied atop the division with one game left to play, the NFL’s toughest division is also the last one to be decided. The Saints currently occupy the fourth seed and would be the division champs if the season ended today. The Panthers can still catch them with a Saints loss against Tampa Bay and a victory over the Falcons. If the Falcons win, however, it’s a virtual certainty that all three teams from the South will play in the NFC playoffs, with the Saints winning the division and the Panthers and
Falcons taking both wildcard slots, leaving Seattle on the outside, looking in.
Question of the Week:
“What wildcard team looks the most dangerous, and why?” -Albert G
It’s hard to say, there’s still a lot to be decided with seeding, but if the Ravens are in, I’d have
to say they’re the most likely to upset someone. Defense travels well, and Joe Flacco has
risen to the occasion in the playoffs before. I also can’t imagine that anyone wants to see the
Panthers coming to town. Cam Newton can change a game by flipping the switch, and he’s a
nightmare to defend when he’s going on all cylinders. We’ll have to see where these teams
end up, but it’s going to be fun with the level of parity in the playoffs this year.
Got a burning question? Disagree with me? Want more proof? Want to know my
thoughts on your rookie that I didn’t mention? Hit me in the comments and I’ll answer the
week’s best question (or questions) in next week’s edition.
Image source: twitter.com/eagles
Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.