Believe it or not, NFL season is hitting its home stretch, with just four games to go. Every week becomes more and more important for division races and playoff seeding. And every week, we learn new things about the NFL, closing in on understanding which teams are true contenders and which ones are just pretenders. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from Week 13:
Any Given Sunday
Any given Sunday. That’s the mantra of the NFL, a league where every team has a chance to win each and every week. And Week 13, a week of upsets, showed why a bunch of playoff contenders lost to teams well below them in the standings, most of who are not in the postseason picture. Teams can’t take any game for granted, no matter the record of their opponent. Because of that, the teams at the top of the league should be respected as such regardless how easy or tough their schedule seems to have been. No matter how much talent they have, they have to come out and fight.
All the Upsets
Most of this week’s upsets were in the NFC. The Green Bay Packers lost to the (formerly 2-win) Arizona Cardinals, essentially knocking them out of the wild card hunt and causing the franchise to fire longtime head coach Mike McCarthy. Carolina lost its fourth game in a row, this one to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The reeling Panthers are now 6-6 and their lack of offensive weapons outside of running back Christian McCaffery is showing, while Tampa Bay is only a game behind them. The Chicago Bears lost to the Giants, and while they still hold the NFC North lead, missed out on a good opportunity to put the Vikings in the dust. Finally, the New Orleans Saints, who had been looking absolutely unstoppable, had their offense completely shut down by the Cowboys and lost 13-10.
In the AFC, the surging Indianapolis Colts had an opportunity to move up in the playoff race against Jacksonville. Quarterback Andrew Luck had thrown at least three TD passes in his last seven games and risen into the MVP discussion. But the Jaguars shut Luck and the Colts out in a 6-0 victory, putting Indy back in the Wild Card pack.
What these games told us was something that NFL fans already know. Teams cannot take any game for granted in this league; every win is earned.
Chargers are for real
The Chargers entered Week 13 with an 8-3 record and only a game behind the division-leading, number one seed Kansas City Chiefs. However, many people were still questioning them because they had only beaten one team that currently has a record over .500. While winning that many games is impressive in the NFL, they have found creative ways to crush their fans’ hopes in recent years.
Sunday’s comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers showed that the Chargers’ fortunes have turned this year. They faced an early 16-point deficit, but Philip Rivers led a comeback effort with a fabulous performance, making tough throws from the pocket on his way to 299 yards and two touchdowns. Their running game, with Melvin Gordon out, was stagnant in the first half with a grand total of two yards. However, Justin Jackson had an explosive performance in the second half with 63 yards and a touchdown on only eight carries. He can hold the fort down until Gordon returns.
At the end of the game, it seemed like maybe it was the same old, same old Chargers again. On back to back plays with zeroes on the clock, kicker Michael Badgley missed a game-winning field goal and had another one blocked. However, the refs called Pittsburgh offsides on both plays and Badgley put through a 24-yard field goal to win the game.
Now, the Chargers have a signature win and are still only a game behind the Chiefs who they still play again in a couple of weeks. With Kareem Hunt’s release in Kansas City, LA has an opportunity to potentially steal the top overall seed and take home-field advantage in the AFC.
Ravens still in the hunt for AFC North
The Baltimore Ravens beat the Atlanta Falcons 26-16 and put themselves in sole possession of the AFC’s six seed. Not only do they have the upper hand for the final wild-card spot, but this victory combined with the aforementioned Steelers’ loss puts Baltimore in striking distance of the AFC North lead. The Ravens are now, at 7-5, only a half game behind the 7-4-1 Pittsburgh team.
Every NFL game, no matter what team it is against, requires focus and execution. However, there are so many really good teams in the AFC this year that starting from the Wild Card round, teams will need to play extremely well to win. If the Ravens can win the division, playing a game at home would be very beneficial in the first round and could potentially start a playoff run.
If Baltimore does make the playoffs, as either division champ or wild-card, their quarterback situation will be interesting to monitor. Lamar Jackson is currently filling in impressively for the injured Joe Flacco. He brings a true dual-threat attack to the NFL; Jackson has double-digit carries and at least 70 rushing yards in each of his three starts. His passing is just alright, but Flacco’s play had fallen off a bit prior to his injury. On the other hand, Flacco is certainly a more polished passer and is obviously proven in the postseason. Remember, he had an incredible run of 11 TDs and 0 interceptions en route to a 2012 SB championship.
Flacco will probably retain his starting spot when he returns from injury, but Lamar Jackson is going to get touches. His threat as a runner is too much to keep on the bench in a playoff situation.
Featured image by LA Times
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