New Orleans Saints 42, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17
The Saints were never going to suffer a letdown against the Buccaneers, and if you thought that Peyton Manning had the best QB performance of Week 17, then you need to check out what Drew Brees did to the Bucs defense. Brees averaged a ridiculous 12.3 yards per attempt with four touchdowns and no interceptions, and his ESPN TQBR of 99.2 was nearly flawless. What was his QB Rating? 157.4.
Mike Glennon looked efficient out there, but the Buccaneers new regime has the unenviable task of deciding whether or not Glennon is “the guy”. Mark Dominik and Greg Schiano seemed to really love the N.C. State product, and Glennon could be at the cross-roads if Lovie Smith’s (or whoever else gets hired by the Bucs) coaching staff isn’t high on him. The Bucs have plenty of pieces, and Adrian Clayborn looks like one of them, too, as he had four tackles for loss, ten total tackles, a QB hit, and a sack in an impressive performance on the defensive side of the ball.
Seattle Seahawks 27, St. Louis Rams 9
It just doesn’t seem like the Seattle Seahawks have a weakness, and they are heading into the playoffs as the Super Bowl favorites, which is a title they’ve held for quite some time due to their depth and talent. The NFC West is the toughest division in the league, so you do have to feel for the Rams. Still, they came up absolutely flat, and the Seahawks just downright dominated them. Zac Stacy has done an amazing job as a rookie carrying the Rams offense, but they rely on him too much to get things going. The Seahawks elite defense shut him down, and he finished with an almost-embarrassing 15 yards on 15 carries. The Rams inability to move the ball on the ground led to Kellen Clemens tossing two interceptions in a horrific performance. It’s still impressive, though, to see that the Rams won seven games this year despite playing in a killer division and starting Clemens at QB for much of the year.
Russell Wilson had another efficient outing, and a 15-23 line with no interceptions is all you can ask for in an ugly, defensive battle. The Seahawks pounded the Rams down with 97 rushing yards and a touchdown from Marshawn Lynch, who is the face of the offense. Golden Tate carried the passing attack with one of the best performances of the week by any player.
San Francisco 49ers 23, Arizona Cardinals 20
It sucks how we don’t get to see the Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs, because they are a better team than either the Philadelphia Eagles or Green Bay Packers. But that’s the way things go in the NFL with the way divisions and playoff seeds are set up, and the Cardinals will have to be on the outside looking-in despite ten wins and a cadre of impressive performances. After upsetting the elite Seattle Seahawks last week, the Cardinals only lost by a field goal against the rival 49ers. Carson Palmer nearly willed the Cardinals to victory with over 400 passing yards, which is never easy to do against the 49ers, though the Niners are starting to show some holes in their armor as a pass defense, as Matt Ryan torched them in Week 16.
Still, the 49ers have a great defense despite the performances from Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and the Cardinals passing attack, and the 49ers made the Cardinals one-dimensional by effectively bottling up star rookie RB Andre Ellington. The 49ers offense continues to look good, and both Colin Kaepernick and Anquan Boldin had terrific performances. Kaep is clearly in top form again, and he had a 111.2 QB Rating in the win.
Green Bay Packers 33, Chicago Bears 28
Despite two amazing performances from Jay Cutler and Matt Forte on offense, the Bears and their abysmal defense still found a way to blow it against the Packers. They couldn’t take advantage of some early rust from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose return back wasn’t spoiled at all. The cries from Bears fans to fire defensive coordinator Mel Tucker are getting louder, and I would be surprised if the Bears didn’t make the move. But first, they need to fix up the actual talent on the roster, and getting at least one new starting safety would help the cause.
Don’t forget about Randall Cobb‘s first day back on the job, as he caught two critical touchdowns.
New England Patriots 34, Buffalo Bills 20
The New England Patriots running game was the difference in this one, and LeGarrette Blount had a career day with 189 rushing yards and two fantastic touchdowns. Stevan Ridley also had plenty of success on the ground, and more performances like this from the Patriots running game will truly alleviate pressure off of Tom Brady‘s back, which has been weighed down an awful lot this season. Thanks to the success of the Patriots rushing attack, Brady didn’t have to do much. The Pats defense will have to do a lot better at stopping the run, though, as Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller led a Bills rushing attack that had 169 yards.
San Diego Chargers 27, Kansas City Chiefs 24
The Chargers are in the playoffs, but not without controversy due to two questionable calls made by the refs. But the Chargers are in instead of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Philip Rivers‘s incredible season will be rewarded with a playoff bid in the first year of Tom Telesco’s and Mike McCoy‘s excellent rebuild in sunny San Diego. Rivers is a legitimate MVP candidate, and he’s pushed the Chargers to a 9-7 record this season. The Chargers offense has had to overcome one of the league’s worst defenses, and they were shredded by top backup Chase Daniel on Sunday. But Rivers was once again the difference with three TDs and a QB Rating over 100. The Chiefs will be upset that they lost, but their backups played very well, and this should give the Chiefs plenty of hope for a long playoff run.
Philadelphia Eagles 24, Dallas Cowboys 22
Much has been made of Kyle Orton‘s game-losing interception, and it was an awful throw. But Cowboys czar Jerry Jones was correct in stating that they couldn’t have expected a better performance from Orton, who helped to keep the team in the game with his 358 passing yards. The Cowboys are being heavily criticized for only running the ball 17 times with an RB, but all 17 runs were by DeMarco Murray, who was actually ineffective with an average of three yards per carry. Murray is undervalued and has been good all year, but I don’t think you can point any fingers. The Eagles are the better team, and the better team won. The Cowboys, however, should be proud that they kept things within two, but they have to make plenty of changes on defense in the offseason. And Miles Austin? I would be surprised if he sticks around.
As for the Eagles, LeSean McCoy has asserted himself as the clear No. 2 back in the NFL behind Adrian Peterson, and Nick Foles had a solid outing in a big game. The Cowboys sought to put as much pressure as possible on Foles, but he delivered a quality performance. Hopefully Brandon Boykin gets some more press after his interception, which was his sixth of the year. He’s been a huge bright spot in the Eagles secondary, and he’s one of the best players on the Eagles D. Just because he’s a nickel corner doesn’t mean you should overlook what he’s done.
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