Week 14 in the NFL was a brutal one throughout the league, as three of the top four playoff seeds heading into the weekend lost – Raiders, Cowboys, Seahawks – and another division leader (Detroit) trailed late in the 4th quarter before rallying to defeat Chicago, which was on its 3rd-string QB.
There’s no scary team in the NFL right now (not even the Patriots). Everyone is deeply flawed, which should make for an epic end to the regular season, and a thrilling postseason. A quick breakdown of the flaws of the NFC contenders:
Dallas (11-2): Any defenses fear a rookie QB in January? As good as Dak Prescott has been, he’s been held under 200 yards passing for three straight games. The Dallas defense? Only 21st in yards per play allowed (5.7). The defense dropped four interceptions in a loss to the Giants.
Seattle (8-4-1): Lost star safety Earl Thomas. The offense hasn’t traveled well this year – in five road games, they have a combined two offensive touchdowns. The good news is they’ll play at home early, where they’re dominant! Except they only narrowly beat Miami, Atlanta and Buffalo at home. Perhaps the worst offensive line of any contender.
Detroit (9-4): The schedule is brutal (Giants, Cowboys, Packers), so the Lions could miss the playoffs altogether. How’s Matthew Stafford’s finger? No single player on the offense scares anyone. Haven’t had a 75-yard rusher this season. The pass defense is 22nd in ypa allowed and 31st in passer rating allowed. That won’t cut it.
NY Giants (9-4): Have the single scariest, game-changing offensive player in the NFC (with apologizes to Julio Jones) in Odell Beckham. Can’t run the ball to save their lives. Perhaps the hottest defense in the NFC, but are without their best pass-rusher, Jason Pierre-Paul, the rest of the way. Eli Manning is Mr. Boom or Bust. He actually scares me more than any QB listed from these teams. Still, he has two Super Bowl wins, including one run as a Wild Card team.
Tampa Bay (8-5): Have a more dangerous offensive player in Mike Evans, than anyone on Dallas or Seattle. In the last three weeks, have two better wins than anyone else in the NFL — winning in Kansas City, and completely shutting down Seattle. Sure, they started slow, but what have you done for me lately? Just 10 interceptions, 13 sacks, and two defensive TDs in the last five weeks, and oh yeah, they shut down Drew Brees and Russell Wilson in back-to-back weeks.
Atlanta Falcons (8-5): Have the second-scariest offensive player in the NFC (Julio Jones), and actually have a running game, forming the most balanced offense in the conference. The fear is that shaky defense, though it has an emerging edge rusher (Vic Beasley, 13.5 sacks, tied for 1st in the NFL; six forced fumbles, 1st in the NFL). Really misses top cornerback Desmond Trufant, and that secondary is weak. KC’s Alex Smith, the check down king, averaged 10.1 ypa in Atlanta two weeks ago.
Washington Redskins (7-5-1): Nobody wants to see Kirk Cousins and a healthy Jordan Reed come into their stadium in the first round. Poor kicking and a fumble in the end zone, plus a late Stafford touchdown, beat the Redskins in Detroit, but Washington outplayed them. The Redskins defense (a gross 5.7 ypp allowed) bends frequently, but does have an elite cornerback in Josh Norman.
Green Bay Packers (7-6): Winners of three straight (Philly, Houston, Seattle), the Packers feel like the USC of the NFL – perhaps the best team in the conference at this moment, but may not even get into the playoffs. They’re healthy. Aaron Rodgers is scorching hot (seven TDs, zero INTs in the last three weeks). Starks getting healthy will help the run game, and the offensive line has been dominant during the 3-game streak (only two sacks allowed after allowed 10 the prior three weeks).