Carolina Panthers 17, New Orleans Saints 13
I did an in-depth analysis of the game this morning, and it was a great one between these two rivals that went right down the wire. With the Panthers victory that came off of a remarkable game-winning reception from Domenik Hixon, they still have a chance at locking up a playoff bye. Neither quarterback played well in this defensive struggle that featured a mini-monsoon in the second half, but both QBs were able to make plays when needed after the offensive lines shook-off awful first-halfs. The most pivotal one-on-one matchup in this game was Greg Hardy vs. rookie left tackle Terron Armstead, who surrendered three sacks and four QB hits to Hardy (Armstead also had two false start penalties). Luke Kuechly had an incredible 24 tackles and caught an easy interception from Drew Brees, and both he and Thomas Davis continue to play at a high level. They are both great sideline-to-sideline linebackers who were great against the run and in coverage (Davis had a beautiful pick and made some awesome tackles on pass D against Pierre Thomas), and the two instinctive leaders give the Panthers a lot of flexibility schematically. Sean McDermott managed to outduel Sean Payton, who did whatever he could to beat Kuechly and the Panthers D.
New York Giants 23, Detroit Lions 20
The Detroit Lions are out of the playoffs following yesterday’s shocking, overtime defeat, and it’s time for Jim Schwartz to get his walking papers. This was an embarrassing and inexcusable performance from the Lions, and Schwartz was thoroughly out-coached in this one. Calvin Johnson‘s limited game due to knee and ankle injuries isn’t a viable excuse for Schwartz to point to, because the Lions outplayed their opponents but didn’t win due to bad play-calling and a lack of discipline. The Lions are going to be sitting at home in January, and Schwartz shares most of the blame (others like Matthew Stafford deserved to be blamed for their roles in the collapse). At least Joique Bell can hold his head high in defeat, as he had a fantastic game through the air and on the ground.
Arizona Cardinals 17, Seattle Seahawks 10
The Arizona Cardinals kept their playoff hopes alive by upsetting the Seattle Seahawks, and they took advantage of some shaky pass protection for Russell Wilson that spawned from star left tackle Russell Okung‘s injury. The Seahawks can only hope that Okung’s toe injury isn’t serious, because they absolutely can’t afford for him to be out during the playoffs; Wilson needs him healthy. Carson Palmer had a dreadful game with four interceptions against the Legion of Boom, but the Cardinals won by controlling the ball, making timely plays, and getting less penalty yards. This one could have gone either way, but the playoff darkhorses in the NFC West will live to see another day. The Cards deserve more national attention, because there is still a chance that they knock out the San Francisco 49ers from the playoffs in wild fashion. We’ll see.
Pittsburgh Steelers 38, Green Bay Packers 31
This bad-weather game between two of the NFL’s most storied franchises was all about the rookie running backs, and both players delivered. Hopefully Eddie Lacy‘s aggravated ankle injury isn’t serious, because the Packers can’t afford to lose him for next week’s huge game against the Chicago Bears (it will decide a playoff spot) or a playoff run. Lacy is far too important, and he’s been a beast all season long. He was a beast yesterday, too, with two rushing touchdowns and an average of 5.6 yards per carry on 15 carries. Le’Veon Bell carried the Steelers offense with 124 rushing yards and a TD in an excellent performance, but I think the difference in this close game was the quarterbacks. Matt Flynn had a QB Rating under 70, whereas Ben Roethlisberger had another solid outing and continues to make throws in big spots.
San Diego Chargers 26, Oakland Raiders 13
Dennis Allen’s fate in Oakland is still in flux, and it’s going to be decided by the Raiders evaluation of his performances this week and in next week’s game against an even tougher opponent in the Denver Broncos (Allen’s old team). While the Raiders fell to their bitter in-state rivals yesterday, not too much can be gleaned when it comes to Allen’s status. The Raiders are just 4-11, but they also have one of the league’s worst rosters. I mean, have you seen some of the players they are starting on defense? If anything, Reggie McKenzie is the problem here and not Dennis Allen; he deserves at least one more year. I mean, most experts projected the Raiders as like a one or two-win team before the season, so four wins isn’t that bad when you contextualize things.
New England Patriots 41, Baltimore Ravens
Did anyone really think that the New England Patriots would be worse on the road? A surprising majority of experts selected the Baltimore Ravens to win this game, but T-Sizzle’s team was all sizzle and no steak (Suggs brought the steak, though, with a sack, an additional QB hit, and an additional tackle for loss). It was a disappointing game for the Ravens and for most NFL fans, since we were hoping and expecting a close one between these two teams that love to hate each other. Joe Flacco was ineffective and clearly hobbled by his knee sprain, and he even fell in front of an open field on an attempt to scramble. Tom Brady was efficient and the Patriots were solid on the ground, but the same can’t be said for the Ravens, who were probably mystified by Logan Ryan‘s big game. Ryan has the makings of a stud, and Devin McCourty defended two passes before going down with an injury. But despite the embarrassment of a 34-point loss to the Patriots, I don’t think this result was as bad as the Dolphins shutout loss to the Bills. The Ravens are still very much in it, but the Chargers got a leg up by taking care of business against Oakland.
Philadelphia Eagles 54, Chicago Bears 11
The Chicago Bears defense has been awful all year long, but they took their ineptitude to new heights in front of a national audience. Knowing that they could have locked up the NFC North by beating the Philadelphia Eagles following losses by the Packers and Lions, the Bears simply curled up and died. Nick Foles made mincemeat out of the Bears secondary with an 84% completion percentage, and elite running back duo LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown made roadkill out of the Bears horrible run defense (even Lance Briggs couldn’t save them) with 100-yard games each. There’s a lot of criticism fired at Jay Cutler for his subpar play in the loss, but the defense is a much, much bigger problem than Cutler, and it’s been a much bigger problem than Cutler for the entire year. Injuries to the likes of Charles Tillman and Henry Melton have played a big role, but the Bears personnel isn’t good enough either; they weren’t good on D even when Tillman was healthy. The Bears have a lot of questions to answer, and Matt Forte wasn’t even able to get anything going on the ground yesterday. Next week’s game against the Packers decides everything, so they can’t afford to come up lame for a second straight week.
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