I know I missed a week. A busy week last week kept me from posting my Week 13 takeaways, but you know what a little bye never hurt anyway and it sets up a huge post here for Week 14. We are rapidly approaching the playoffs in the National Football League and the playoff races have hit its boiling point. Three first place teams lost in Week 14, and the wild card races in both the AFC and NFC are heating up.
So what else did we learn this week? Let's take a look.
1) The Cincinnati Bengals are big trouble. It's almost like clockwork, ain't it? Once we get to December and January the Bengals suddenly turn into pumpkins. Sunday's 33-20 drubbing at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers left little doubt that the Bengals still can't be trusted once they play meaningful games in January. This team has already lost three games this year to teams that could end up in the postseason, and two of them were in primetime. The Bengals just have a real aversion to playing well when the chips are down.
What makes matters worse, however, is the fact that quarterback Andy Dalton is going to miss at least one week with a fractured thumb, after he failed to tackle a Steeler on an interception late in the first half. Not the first time a Bengals QB went down in a Steelers game, just Google Carson Palmer vs. Steelers. While the projection is just one game, who knows how long Dalton will be out, and a thumb injury can be tricky, considering the force on the digit from the snap by center and actually clutching and throwing a football. This is serious. If Dalton were to miss extended action, and the Bengals had to rely on A.J. Maccaron to carry the load, this team is in big trouble. In just one day the Bengals went from the number 1 seed to teetering on the brink with the number 3 seed in the playoffs.
Remember the Bengals still have to visit Denver, and the Broncos might have Peyton Manning back by then. In other words, Cincy fans, get ready to host a game on Wild Card weekend yet again.
2) Brock Osweiler struggles and everyone wants Peyton Manning back. Well, that didn't take long did it? After winning his first three starts as a professional, Brock Osweiler struggled in a loss to the Raiders on Sunday afternoon. Osweiler was sacked five times, and the Broncos produced only four field goals, all in the first half. While it is easy to blame the young quarterback for the defeat, there was plenty of blame to go around, i.e. Vernon Davis dropping a sure first down completion on fourth and five, and the fact that Denver missed a field goal. But, even that is not enough to stop the Peyton Manning express.
Manning is still recovering from a foot injury, but is on a week-by-week basis as to when he will return under center. While it is easy to pull the trigger on the kid and go with the experienced vet in the former MVP in Manning, it's not the right move right now. The Broncos are going on the road into a very hostile environment in Pittsburgh. This is not the game one bring back a limping Peyton Manning. After this week, the Broncos have the Bengals and Chargers on the schedule. If Manning is ready to go by Week 16 or 17, that would be the ideal time to bring him back. Until then, let Osweiler continue to gain experience, this loss to the Raiders wasn't his fault.
3) The AFC South: A.K.A. the Division Nobody wants: Or maybe we should call it the division that the Jaguars may dominate one day. Heck with the way the Colts and Texans are going, the Jaguars are still in the mix to win this horrid division after their 51-16 thumping of the un-LUCK-y Colts. Like I wrote a few weeks ago, the Jaguars are going to be everyone's trendy AFC South pick in 2016, but right now, it's not 2016. This division comes down to next Sunday in Indianapolis between the Texans and Colts. There are questions right now about the health of back-up quarterback Matt Hasslebeck for the Colts, and questions about the health on Texans starter Brian Hoyer. If the game is indeed a match-up of Charlie Whitehurst vs. TJ Yates, I'd have to favor Yates, since he has won games in the past for Houston. That's right, I said Houston right now has the inside track. The Bizarro Division continues to be rather bizarre.
4) Are the Patriots are in control of the AFC, again? From the standpoint of taking the number 1 seed, the answer is yes. The Patriots destroyed the Texans 27-6 in typical Patriots fashion. Tom Brady was excellent. Rob Gronkowski was an unstoppable force, and the Pats defense did more than enough to win. That has been the formula for success for the Patriots, but the team still needs to get fully healthy. While the Patriots are likely to capture the AFC's number 1 seed, they are no lock to get to the Super Bowl, especially if one of these wild card teams, like the Steelers, Chiefs or Jets waltz into Gillette Stadium during the divisional playoffs.
5) Will the Panthers go 16-0, and are they a lock for the Super Bowl? I am tempted to say no to both questions. Let me start with the undefeated season stuff. The Panthers have three winnable games left on their schedule, but I have a feeling that if there is an opportunity for Ron Rivera to rest his starters come Week 17, he will do so. Not to mention road contests against the desperate Giants and Falcons could be tricky for the Panthers. They might get picked off within in the next two weeks. Then again, 16-0 is not impossible. The Super Bowl is a different story. The NFC is very competitive. The Cardinals, Packers and Seahawks could all beat the Panthers on any given day, so to expect Carolina to run cleanly through the playoffs to Super Bowl 50 might be asking a lot.
6) Nobody wants to help the Giants win the NFC East. After their disparaging loses to the Jets and Redskins the New York Giants needed some help in Week 14 before their kick-off in Miami on Monday night. They didn't get that help. The Eagles and Skins both won on Sunday, making Monday Night's game against the Fish a do-or-die night for Big Blue. A win, and the Giants fading playoff hopes are alive. A lose and it is over, and so is the Tom Coughlin era.
The Redskins control their fate down the stretch, and may have the most favorable schedule with games against the Bills, Eagles and Cowboys on the schedule. The Eagles have to play the Cardinals next week, and visit the Giants in week 17. Looks like the NFC East champion is coming from D.C.
7) The AFC Wild Card sets up like this, the Chiefs (8-5) and Jets (8-5) currently control the wild card in the AFC. What about the Steelers (8-5)? Well, the Steelers right now are out because they have one less win in-conference as compared to the Jets. Both the Jets and Steelers have four loses in conference, but the Jets are 6-4 in-confernece compared to the Steelers' 5-4. If the Jets, Chiefs and Steelers all finish at 11-5, the Jets would be out based on common opponents. The Jets would need to win out and hope either KC or Pit gets tripped up in the next three weeks in order to make. The Jets could make the playoffs with a 10-6 record, IF the Steelers finish 10-6, and the Jets only loss is to the Cowboys. The Chiefs are the closest thing to a lock for the playoffs, but they have to win out as well to guarantee themselves a spot in the postseason party. However this wild card in the AFC shakes out, these will be two teams that will have a very good chance to win on Wild Card weekend.
8) Can the Dolphins go back to this uniform? The Dolphins will wear throwback uniforms that honor the birth of the franchise in 1966. The uniform combines the original Dolphins logo with the teal jersey with thick orange piping. It's a beauty and much better than the teal and white explosion that they are wearing on a regular basis now.