The final week of the 2013 NFL season didn’t disappoint, as we saw a few wild finishes and plenty of interesting results. The San Diego Chargers, Green Bay Packers, and Philadelphia Eagles made it into the playoffs, while the likes of the Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, and Miami Dolphins were sent packing. Below are some thoughts on each Sunday result, as we recover from the Black Monday rumor mill.
Carolina Panthers 21, Atlanta Falcons 20
A healthy Roddy White makes all the difference in the world for the Atlanta Falcons, and they gave two great teams quite a scare in the final two games of the season. After coming close to upsetting the San Francisco 49ers in Week 16 on Monday Night Football, the Falcons only lost by one to the rival Panthers and nearly caused Riverboat Ron and Co. to miss out on a playoff bye. Matt Ryan and White were at their best, and Ryan’s 280 passing yards broke the record for the most career passing yards in Falcons history.
What kept the Panthers from being upset? Well, Cam Newton had yet another efficient outing, and he continues to make plays when needed. I’m not sure if there’s a quarterback with a stronger arm than Cam, and Mike Shula’s ability to simplify the Panthers offense for Newton has paid huge dividends. It’s clearly a much better approach than the one Rob Chudzinski took as the offensive coordinator in Carolina, which was to basically make things as complicated as possible for Newton.
New York Giants 20, Washington Redskins 6
The Giants started the season 0-6 but finished it 7-3, and they capped off their disappointing season by totally embarrassing the Washington Redskins. Pierre Garcon came into the game as the NFL’s leading receiver as far as receptions go, but he only hauled in 56 receiving yards. Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins averaged a paltry 3.4 yards per attempt in the worst game of his career, and his 31.8 QB Rating says it all. Giants CB Trumaine McBride played the game of his life with six passes defended, two interceptions, some elite coverage on Aldrick Robinson, and he was so good in coverage that he didn’t even need to record a tackle.
Next up for the Giants is finding a new offensive line. For the Redskins? How about new coaches and a much, much better defense?
Minnesota Vikings 14, Detroit Lions 13
Neither team cared about this game, and what we got out of it was a boring result, and I hope nobody actually watched this contest. Matthew Stafford was solid without Calvin Johnson, but the Vikings did an impressive job of dominating arguably the league’s best running back duo. Jared Allen and the Vikings defense were busy hitting Stafford on most plays, and the Lions played like deadbeats in Week 17 after being eliminated the week before. Both head coaches were fired for their roles in disappointing seasons, and it’s safe to say that Jim Schwartz performed one of the worst coaching jobs of the season.
Indianapolis Colts 30, Jacksonville Jaguars 10
The Jaguars defense played even worse than I expected, and they simply had no answer for Colts No. 1 wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who is a huge key for this team in their matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card round. Hilton hauled in 11 passes for 155 yards, and Andrew Luck sliced through a Jaguars pass D that is actually the strength of the team. Even though the Colts couldn’t run the ball, they didn’t need to with the way their defense and passing attack played. The Jaguars didn’t get much out of their offense, and they were an awful 3-14 on third downs.
Cincinnati Bengals 34, Baltimore Ravens 17
Even though the Bengals win wasn’t rewarded with a playoff bye due to the New England Patriots victory over the Buffalo Bills, the Bengals were still impressive and eliminated the Ravens out of the playoffs with relative ease. The Bengals are going to be a tough team to beat in the playoffs, and I’m surprised the Ravens even scored 17 points. They had a horrible 47 yards on the ground due to abysmal blocking up front, and Joe Flacco managed to throw three interceptions with an average of just 3.8 yards per attempt. Even though Andy Dalton had four picks of his own, he actually managed to move the ball downfield. The Bengals will do as well as Dalton does in the playoffs, so they have to hope he goes on one of his hot streaks.
Tennessee Titans 16, Houston Texans 10
This was a very ugly game between the two AFC South rivals, but the Titans were able to prevail. However, the team that lost ended up with the most riches, as the Texans secured the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, whereas the Titans draft pick moved down a few slots as a result of the win. In what may have been Chris “I don’t want a paycut” Johnson’s final game as a Titan, the perennial 1,000-yard rusher trampled all over the Texans run defense with 127 yards.
It sounds like Bill O’Brien is going to be the Texans next head coach, and it would be an utter shock for him to go without drafting Teddy Bridgewater (or someone in the second round) in this year’s draft. Matt Schaub had two picks in what was likely his final game as a Texan, and neither he nor Case Keenum have done much to instill confidence. Bridgewater, on the other hand, is the top prospect in the draft, and his vision, athleticism, accuracy, and physical tools make him an ideal No. 1 pick.
New York Jets 20, Miami Dolphins 7
The Jets eliminated the Dolphins from playoff contention, and Rex Ryan moved out of the hot seat and threw Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin on the hot seat with the Jets upset win in Miami Gardens. Dee Milliner was picked on for much of the game by Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill, who paid the price. Two of Tannehill’s three interceptions went to Milliner, who had the game of his life with five passes defended in total. Geno Smith played his second straight efficient game of the season, and he did a great job of controlling the Jets ball-control offense. That performance has instilled confidence into Smith and the Jets organization going forward, and they made the wise, rather obvious decision to continue forward with Ryan as the head coach. The Jets were better than the Dolphins on Sunday in every facet, and even a health Brian Hartline wouldn’t have swung the balance for Miami.
Pittsburgh Steelers 20, Cleveland Browns 7
Joe Banner and Jimmy Haslam reportedly came to the decision to fire Rob Chudzinski prior to the Browns poor display against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I’m sure the loss didn’t help Chud’s cause (though I sympathize with those who believe Chud was done wrong by the organization). Jason Campbell and the Browns offense got nothing going against the Steelers stout defense, and only stars Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron really got anything going. The Browns were able to force Ben Roethlisberger to have a rare bad day, but they were beaten up by star rookie RB Le’Veon Bell, who had a sick spin move for a five-yard TD, and couldn’t get their own offense going. Bell, by the way, has been a revelation for the Steelers this season, and the Michigan State product is indeed the kind of feature back the Steelers have been looking for.
Denver Broncos 34, Oakland Raiders 14
This was Terrelle Pryor‘s final audition of the season for the “franchise QB” role/title, and he was almost benched due to a terrible start. Pryor got better as the game went on, and I think the Raiders are better off trying to develop him over Matt McGloin, largely because of Pryor’s physical tools. I think the Raiders should draft a quarterback in 2014, but they shouldn’t feel the need to reach for one. Plus, they have plenty of other holes on the roster, and making upgrades on defense might actually be a bigger need than upgrading Pryor/McGloin.
Anyway, Peyton Manning was an absolute monster on Sunday, and he fulfilled expectations by dominating the Raiders horrible pass defense with ease. Manning threw just three incomplete passes on 25-28 passing, and he was brutally efficient with four TDs, no picks, 9.5 yards per attempt, a 95.4 ESPN TQBR, and a 145.8 QB Rating. Demaryius Thomas had a very impressive stat line with six receptions on six targets for 113 yards and two touchdowns, and those numbers really do jump off the page (18.8 yards per target). The Broncos have the most prolific offense in NFL history, but we’re all anxious to see if the defense can hold up in the postseason.
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