We’re not afraid to admit that we thought we might get a clearer picture of the NFL’s playoff qualifiers after Week 14. Indeed, we were certain that Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Atlanta would make it easier to determine which teams either qualified or at least had a lock on the post-season.
What we got was another week of late-game collapses and another week of waiting and hoping as our playoff picture actually got much cloudier than it was when we started the week.
In the AFC, the 11-1 Houston Texans and 10-3 Denver Broncos are in control of the South and West. Baltimore should win the North while New England already has the East in the bag.
As it stands now, the six seeds should be 1. Houston, 2. Denver, 3. New England, 4. Baltimore, 5. Indianapolis, 6. Pittsburgh.
However, there are four teams in the hunt – 7-6 Cincinnati, the 6-7 Jets, 5-8 Cleveland and 5-8 San Diego. It might be hard to imagine, but even with all their problems this season, the Jets, the Browns and the Chargers still have hope.
Over in the NFC, Atlanta has locked up the South at 11-2 while the 49ers at 9-3-1 are in the driver’s seat in the West. The Packers lead the North at 9-4, but Chicago is in control of a wild card spot at 8-5 while the Giants own the East at 8-5 and Seattle should be the final wild card winner at 8-5.
However, with three weeks left, it’s a long way from over. Washington, Dallas and Minnesota are all 7-6 while the Rams at 6-6-1 still have hope — nice comeback win for the Rams or was it a Buffalo collapse?
So as we head into Week 15, there are 10 teams in each conference with their fingers in the playoff pie. The longest shots are probably Cleveland, San Diego, Minnesota and St. Louis, but who’s to say really? With three games left, anything can happen. Just check out Week 14:
The Cowboys won despite the death of a teammate and the arrest of another. The Redskins came back and won despite an injury to their rookie superstar Robert Griffin III. Minnesota, Cleveland, St. Louis and the Jets all won despite tough games and the Colts won a big one – by coming back late again — after Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati all lost.
This was a monster week. Let’s take a close look at Sunday’s action:
Minnesota 21 Chicago 14
The NFL’s leading rusher, Adrian Peterson carried 31 times for 154 yards and two touchdowns while Harrison Smith returned an interception for a touchdown as the Vikings improved to 7-6 and are still in the Wild Card hunt. Christian Ponder was horrible again, going 11-for-17 for 91 yards and no touchdowns but Peterson bailed out his QB again. Jay Cutler went 22-for-44 for 260 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, but watched as Jason Campbell finished the game by throwing a TD pass to Brandon Marshall. Marshall finished with 10 receptions for 160 yards but Chicago lost its fourth game in five outings and fell to 8-5.
St. Louis 15 Buffalo 12
Sam Bradford hit Brandon Gibson on a 13-yard TD with 55 second left to win it. Bradford finished 19-for39 for 209 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Gibson caught six passes for 100 yards and Bradford’s only TD pass of the day. Stephen Jackson carried for 64 yards and the Rams other TD. Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick went 25-for-32 for 247 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The Rams are now 6-6-1 and Jeff Fisher has to be a coach of the year candidate. Meanwhile, the 5-8 Bills lost in the final minute of a game for the second time this season.
Carolina 30 Atlanta 20
Here’s a shocker. Atlanta falls to 11-2 while Carolina improves to 4-9. The Panthers Cam Newton was magnificent: 23-for-35 passing for 287 yards and two touchdowns plus nine carries for 116 yards and another touchdown. One of his rushing touchdowns was for 72 yards. Carolina, which racked up 475 yards of offence, built a 23-0 lead and coasted. The Panthers put a halt to a five-game losing streak. Steve Smith caught seven passes for 109 yards. Matt Ryan went 34-for-49 for 342 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Roddy White caught nine passes for 117 yards and a touchdown.
Dallas 20 Cincinnati 19
The day after teammate Jerry Brown was killed in a car accident and another teammate, Josh Brent, was arrested for “intoxication manslaughter,” Dan Bailey kicked a 30-yard field goal with four seconds left to come from behind and win it. Dallas’s Tony Romo finished 25-for-43 for 268 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Dez Bryant caught four passes for 50 yards and a caught a 27-yard TD pass that brought Dallas back to 19-17 late in the game. The Cowboys are now 7-6 while the Bengals collapsed late and fell to 7-6.
Cleveland 30 Kansas City 7
The Browns are now one of the hottest teams in the NFL. The Browns have won three straight and have now won one more game than last year. Brandon Weeden finished 17-for-30 for 217 yards while Trent Richardson carried for 42 yards and two TDs as Cleveland improved to 5-8. The big blow was Travis Benjamin’s franchise-record 93-yard punt return for a touchdown. Brady Quinn returned to Cleveland and went 11-for-22 for 159 yards. Jamaal Charles carried 18 times for 165 yards and K.C.’s only TD. The Chiefs are now 2-11.
Indianapolis 27 Tennessee 23
Another huge comeback led by Andrew Luck. The Colts trailed by 13 in the second half, but Luck engineered his sixth four-quarter comeback this season. Just like last week against Detroit, Luck wasn’t that good. He went 16-for-34 for 196 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, but he did his best work late in the game as the Colts improved to 9-4. Adam Vinatieri kicked two late field goals to take the lead and seal the outcome. Reggie Wayne caught six passes for 64 yards and a TD. Jake Locker went 22-of-35 for 262 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for 4-9 Tennessee.
NY Jets 17 Jacksonville 10
Despite all the controversy and shenanigans in New York, the Jets still have playoff hopes. Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell rushed for short touchdowns as the Jets improved to 6-7 with a win over the 2-11 Jags. Mark Sanchez went 12-for-19 for 111 yards, but the Jets defense shut down a horrible Jags offence.
San Diego 34 Pittsburgh 24
Speaking of shockers. The Chargers put up 34 points and won on the road. Philip Rivers went 21-for-41 for 200 yards and three touchdowns, two to Danario Alexander who caught seven passes for 88 yards. Michael Spurlock caught seven passes for 64 yards. The win was San Diego’s first in 15 regular season visits to Pittsburgh and snapped a four-game losing streak. Ben Roethlisberger returned and went 22-for-42 for 285 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Mike Wallace caught seven passes for 112 yards and two TDs. The Chargers are 5-8 while Pittsburgh fell to 7-6.
Philadelphia 23 Tampa Bay 21
Nick Foles hit Jeremy Maclin on a two-yard TD pass with no time left to come back and beat Tampa at the Pirate Ship. In fact, Foles threw two touchdown passes in the final four minutes to win it, as the Bucs became the fourth of five teams to collapse late. Foles completed 32-of-51 passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns. Jason Avant caught seven passes for 133 yards while Maclin caught nine passes for 104 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Josh Freeman completed 14-of-34 passes for 189 yards and two TDs while Doug Martin carried 28 times for 128 yards and a TD and Vincent Jackson caught six passes for 131 yards and one touchdown. The Bucs fell to 6-7 while Philly improved to 4-9.
Washington 31 Baltimore 28 (OT)
The Ravens were the fifth team to collapse late in the game and they did it with Robert Griffin III sidelined with a sprained knee. Griffin was hurt with the Redskins trailing 28-20, but they rallied behind Kirk Cousins. Cousins hit Pierre Garcon on an 11-yard TD pass and then ran in the two-point conversion with 29 seconds to play. Then Kai Forbath kicked a 34-yrad field goal to win it 31-28 in overtime. Before his injury, Griffin went 15-for-26 for 246 yards and one TD while Alfred Morris carried 23 times for 122 yards and another TD. Joe Flacco went 16-for-21 for 182 yards and three TDs while Ray Rice carried 20 times for 121 yards and another TD. The Redskins, who have won four straight, are now 7-6 while Baltimore fell to 9-4 and lost back-to-back games for the first time since 2009.
San Francisco 27 Miami 13
Frank Gore finished with 63 yards rushing, had a one-yard TD run and reached 1,000 yards rushing for the sixth time in his career as the Niners improved to 9-3-1. Colin Kaepernick started his fifth straight game at quarterback for San Francisco and completed 18-of-23 passes for 185 yards and rushed six times for 53 yards and a TD. Ryan Tannehill went 17-of-33 for 150 yards and one touchdown for 5-9 Miami.
NY Giants 52 New Orleans 27
What a game for Giants rookie RB David Wilson. He carried 13 times for 100 yards and two touchdowns and returned a kickoff 97 yards for another TD. Eli Manning went 22-for-35 for 259 yards and four touchdowns as Victor Cruz caught eight passes for 121 yards and one TD. The Giants are now 8-5, first in the NFC East. The Saints fall to 5-8 although Drew Brees went 26-for-43 for 354 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Seattle 58 Arizona 0
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch carried 11 times for 128 yards and three touchdowns as Seattle set a franchise record for points in a game. Arizona (4-9) was shut out for the first time since 2003 against Seattle and lost its ninth straight game. It’s unlikely head coach Ken Whisenhunt will return next season. Despite 58 points, Seattle QB Russell Wilson was just 7-for-13 for 148 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The 8-5 Seahawks are tied with Chicago in the NFC Wild Card race at 8-5.
Green Bay 27 Detroit 20
The Packers are now one win away from clinching the NFC North title. DaJuan Harris rushed for a score in his first NFL game, Aaron Rodgers added the longest TD run of his career, and Mike Daniels returned a fumble 43 yards for another TD. Rodgers finished 14-for-24 for 173 yards as the Packers improved to 9-4. Randall Cobb caught seven passes for 102 yards in a snowy game. Matt Stafford went 27-for-45 for 264 yards and one TD. Calvin Johnson caught 10 passes for 118 yards but no TDs. The Lions built a 14-0 first-quarter lead but still lost their fifth straight game.
New England 42 Houston 14
This should have been a good football game, but the New England Patriots used it to make a statement. Tom Brady went 21-of-35 for 296 yards and four touchdowns as the Patriots built a 21-0 halftime lead and cruised to a 10-3 record. The Pats are now tied with Denver at 10-3 and just one game back of 11-2 Houston for the overall lead in the AFC. New England has won 20 straight December home games. Houston, which has clinched at least a wild-card berth, leads Indianapolis by two games in the AFC South and plays the Colts twice in the final three weeks of the season. Houston QB Matt Schaub went 19-of-32 for 232 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.