Week 12 was a huge week in painting the postseason picture in the NFL with a number of teams falling out of contention and a handful of teams maximizing their postseason value at the same time. Of course the biggest game of the past week had to be New England's 34-31 OT triumph over Denver that not only shakes up the playoff picture, but becomes one of the many facts we learned about this week in the National Football League...
1) New England may have grabbed home field in the AFC: No disrespect to the Kansas City Chiefs, but by losing to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday it made it even more obvious that home field in the AFC will come down to New England and Denver, and, on Sunday we got a clue as to who gets such a prize.
When the football bounced off the leg Tony Carter allowing New England to jump on it as a Denver fumble a shift may have occurred in the AFC.
The Broncos have been treated as a the defacto number one seed in the AFC since the season started, but there have been signs all year that the Broncos might be a bit overhyped. Denver couldn't hold a 24-0 lead on the Patriots, and Peyton Manning put up pedestrian numbers in the wind and cold at Gillette Stadium -- not a good sign for a team that is trying to reach the Super Bowl. Denver can still win the division, and in turn, capture the number one seed, but if New England and Denver should both finish 13-3 -- the Patriots, not the Broncos, are the top seed in the AFC.
2) Tony Romo and the Cowboys are indeed for real: Never thought I would say Tony Romo and for real in the same sentence, but after Sunday's impressive victory over the chirpy Giants, Romo and the Boys have the upper hand in the NFC East. Romo was impressive, especially on a 14-play drive to win the game in the fourth quarter. He got a lot of flack as an anti-clutch performer -- but those days look numbered. More importantly the Cowboys are 4-0 in the division, with games against the Redskins and Eagles left. If Dallas finishes 6-0 in the East they will beat out a good Philly team for the title.
3) Is the 2nd NFC Wild Card from the West a sure thing? San Francisco decimated the Redskins 27-6 Monday night, with Colin Kaepernick leading the way with 235 yards and three touchdown passes. The Niners (7-4) are tied with the Arizona Cardinals (7-4) for the final wild card slot in the NFC, but the loser of the NFC East could be on their heels. Both the Eagles and Cowboys have very favorable schedules until they play each other in week 17. Don't be shocked if either is at 9-10 wins by that point -- which could bring the wild card into play too.
The Cardinals are having an amazing season led by their terrific secondary and a resurrected quarterback, Carson Palmer. Nobody thought Arizona would sniff playoffs this year, but Bruce Arians is a genius. The Cards take on the Eagles on Sunday in a game that could go a long way in telling us who the final NFC wild card will be.
4) Ravens - Steelers on Thanksgiving night is a wild card playoff game. Both the Steelers and Ravens are making a serious push for the postseason. Pittsburgh has won three in a row, and Baltimore destroyed the Jets last week. Now they face each other on turkey day. With six teams in the mix for the final playoff spot in the AFC, conference victories become that much more important -- and this is a huge one. The Ravens are 5-4 in the AFC, the Steelers are 4-4. While the winner of this game doesn't necessarily mean they are in the playoffs, they will have the upper hand over other close competitors like Tennessee and San Diego.
The Steelers have a very favorable schedule after Thanksgiving, with the Dolphins, Bengals at home, the struggling Packers and Browns left. The Ravens have a slightly more daunting slate with visits to Detroit and Cincinnati and a home game against New England left on the docket. The edge right now leans Pittsburgh.
5) Greg Schiano is saving his job? As hard as it is to believe but Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano could be saving his job in Tampa. The Bucs have played their hearts out over the past month and have won three in a row to jump over Atlanta with a 3-8 record. While the rest of the schedule isn't easy, there is talk that Schiano could be safe in Tampa because rookie quarterback Mike Glennon has looked very good thus far.
6) the NFC North stinks: Boy oh boy, does the NFC North stink or what? The Lions couldn't handle the prosperity of being in first place and lost to the Buccaneers at home -- an inexcusable loss for a team that is right now the favorite to win the North.
Meanwhile, Chicago can't keep anyone healthy, as both Jay Cutler and Lance Briggs are still on the shelf. Lastly, the Packers are so bad without Aaron Rodgers that they couldn't even figure out a way to beat the Vikings at home, settling instead for the tie. All three teams have five losses this year, and it is anyone's guess who is going to come out of this division. Green Bay's visit to Detroit on Thanksgiving day will be a huge factor.
7) The Colts are in big trouble. There is a reason for concern in Indianapolis with the Colts playing some very poor football of late in spite of the fact that this team is still in first place in the AFC South, and in control of a potential three seed in the AFC playoffs. In their last four games, the Colts have been outscored in the first half by a combined score of 93-12. That is not a recipe for success, and if it weren't for huge comebacks in Houston and Tennessee, the Colts would be on a mega losing streak.
Sunday, the Colts were blown out again by an NFC West opponent, this time it was the Cardinals to the tune of 40-11. It doesn't help matters that the Colts have lost five players to injury including Reggie Wayne. Andrew Luck has struggled to find a dependable receiver since Wayne went down with a ACL tear against Denver in late October. It's anyone's guess what Chuck Pagano must be telling his team on a week in-week out basis, but it doesn't seem to be sinking in. This style of play will get the Colts nowhere in January. The only saving grace for Indy is their large lead in the South. They play Tennessee at home this week in a must impress and win for Luck and Co.
NFL Coaches Hot Seat Week 12
1) Rex Ryan, NYJ. Seat: RED HOT: It's getting stuffy in New York and it could be Rex Ryan's head on the platter before too long. Last week it was Dave & Buster's gate up in Buffalo; this week was another listless performance on the field as the Jets were blown away by Baltimore. Geno Smith has greatly regressed, yet Ryan is standing by his guy the way he did with Mark Sanchez. Major red flag alert here.
2) Joe Philbin, MIA. Seat: WARM: His seat is not as hot as it was two weeks ago in the midst of the Incognito-Martin mess, but that doesn't mean Philbin is off the hook. The Dolphins (5-6) are in need of some big time wins, and with two games against the Jets -- they need those to have a shot at the postseason. Then again the Incognito story is not going away and could come back to haunt the coach later.
3) Gary Kubiak, HOU. Seat: HOT: Gary Kubiak was off the hot seat after a serious health scare, but since his return this team has still stunk it up. Now they are losing games to the Jaguars at home and the once fabled Case Keenum is looking pretty ordinary. Look at the rest of the Texans schedule and it is hard to see this team winning again -- and they haven't won since week 2.
4) Mike Munchak, TEN. Seat: LUKE WARM: Tennessee's road victory over Oakland a week after blowing a big lead to Indianapolis was a huge victory for Munckak and company, but they still have to get it done. They have tie breakers against three potential wild card competitors, but Tennessee needs more consistency. If they miss the playoffs, the coach could still get the ax here.
5) Dennis Allen, OAK. Seat: LUKE WARM: It's the Raiders, any coach would be on the hot seat.
6) Mike Shanahan, WSH. Seat: RED HOT: Shanahan's relationship with RGIII is deteriorating before our eyes, and Griffin is coming off more and more like a spoiled child who has gotten too much good PR too early in his career. Yet, when Dan Snyder evaluates this team at the end of the year, he will more likely side with Griffin then with the steely-eyed Shanahan.
7) Jason Garrett, DAL. Seat: LUKE WARM: Garrett took a lot of pressure off with his team's gutsy performance against the Giants. He could take himself totally off the hot seat with a nice finish, a division title and playoff berth. By the way, Jerry Jones offered the dreaded vote of confidence here as well.
8) Jim Schwartz, DET. Seat: LUKE WARM: There was pressure on Schwartz to win this year in Detroit, and Sunday's loss to Tampa was really, really bad. The Lions are expected to win the North with Aaron Rodgers out for the Packers, but if the Lions keep shooting themselves in the foot and miss out on serious January football the blame will be on Schwartz.
9) Leslie Fraizer, MIN. Seat: RED HOT: He's done. The rest of the season is a formality.
10) Mike Smith, ATL. SEAT: WARM: Received the dreaded vote of confidence from owner Arthur Blank -- but since Blank has shown a quick trigger finger in the past -- nothing will be surprising here. Smith does deserve another shot since the guy is the winningest coach in Falcons history for a reason.
11) Greg Schiano, TB. Seat: WARM: Talk is Schiano may end up keeping his job, but let us not forget how things have unraveled here in Tampa Bay. Unless Schiano has pulled a page out of the Tom Coughlin book of overcoming adversity, and is now treating his players with respect, I still find his return a dubious card to play. We shall see here.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!
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Detroit 27, Green Bay 21
Dallas 34, Oakland 9
Baltimore 20, Pittsburgh 16