by Ryan Meehan
The final week of the 2014 NFL season began with many seeds to be determined, and some teams that faced must-win situations and ended up left out of the playoffs. The ultimate goal is to end up in the stadium in the picture above on February 1st to determine who will be this year’s NFL champion, and only two teams will be vying for that spot on that evening. Those two teams will come from the pool which has been whittled down to twelve after Sunday’s results. Well take care of all that in our Wild Card Weekend Preview Piece, but for now we have to take one last look at the other twenty teams so this is what really went down in the final week of the 2014 regular season.
Bills 17, Patriots 9
New England couldn’t have been any more disinterested in this game, yet they still only lost by eight. They still have home field advantage, and deservedly so as they are easily the best team in the AFC at the moment. Tom Brady was only in the game to throw 16 passes before the Pats put in some guy named Jimmy Garropolo, a name I thought was only reserved for mobsters. The point here is that New England could have won this game with a little effort, but there was no reason for them to expend any of their energy on the contest. Turtleboy Sports had a great article about this after the game, and it explains why celebrating this win was so Buffalo it hurts. Not much to see here, the Patriots will be ready for whoever the bottom of the AFC playoff picture throws at them in two weeks.
Ravens 20, Browns 10
For a second, it looked like the Ravens were about to blow a game that they had to win. Connor Shaw came out and completed his first nine passes, but then got cold fast as he only completed one of his next eight throws. For those of you who have no idea who Connor Shaw is, he’s Johnny Football’s backup, and you could make the argument that he should have started the last two weeks. After a very poor showing in the first three quarters, Flacco was able to put it together and throw together a 312 yard 2 TD game. So perhaps he’s getting hot at the right time? Possibly, but there are going to be a lot of other AFC offenses that will be able to match his stats over the next few weeks. So the question becomes “Will 20 points be enough to do it?” Seeing as how they play the Steelers first, I don’t believe that it will.
Panthers 34, Falcons 3
It’s no small wonder why Falcons coach Mike Smith is now ex Falcons head coach Mike Smith, I can’t think of any reason you’d want to keep a guy that followed up a 4-12 season with a situation such as the Falcons were presented with Sunday. Think about this for a second: Atlanta was given the opportunity to play Carolina for the right to host a playoff game and that opportunity came in their own building. There was no real reason they couldn’t pull it off. I’m tired of hearing people talk about how well Carolina has been playing, they didn’t deserve to win this game unless the Falcons came out and looked absolutely horrible in every facet – and that’s exactly what happened here. Matt Ryan threw two picks and with them went their playoff hopes. They ended up finishing 6-10, making Matt Ryan the highest paid losing quarterback not named Jay Cutler. This is precisely why we need a new playoff structure. I suppose there’s some solace in knowing that Carolina will play Arizona, ensuring that one of those two teams will not advance to the second round. But my joy will be short lived, especially when you consider that the converse of that statement is that one of those teams will advance. The world is a very cruel and unjust place sometimes.
Vikings 13, Bears 9
The Vikings had control of this game for the most part, but neither offense really showed signs of inspired development. Fittingly, Jay Cutler ended the final Chicago possession when the game was within reach by attempting to complete a seven yard pass when it was fourth down and the Bears needed ten. That pretty much wraps up everything you need to know about the Chicago Bears in 2014, a team that was every bit as forgettable as every other team who will be drafting in the top five spots. First thing Monday morning, the Bears had a press conference where they released GM Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman from their respective positions. Perhaps “respective” positions isn’t the best word choice here, given that neither one of those seemed to have an ounce of respect for a fan base that stuck by them regardless of putting up one of the worst seasons in the history of the franchise. The Vikings will be good next year, and who knows what will happen to the Bears. With their current setup, I’d be shocked if it was anything better than a last place finish.
Cowboys 44, Redskins 17
I’m not the least bit surprised that the Cowboys came out swinging in this one. They wanted to use the first half of this game to kind of show the rest of the conference they can hang, and that’s exactly what they did. The Cowboys are going to be a difficult team to beat next week – they drew the Lions, and if this game is any indication of how their air attack is going to look in that contest Detroit doesn’t stand a chance. Sure Washington sucks almost any way that you slice it, but Romo had almost 300 yards in a game where he hit seven different targets and none of them had one hundred yards receiving. I don’t care who you play, it is hard to defend against a team that spreads the ball around like that. The Redskins suffered nine penalties for 101 yards, and it’s difficult to stay in the game when you are penalized the entire length of the field. As we well know, that’s just the beginning of their off-season concerns. More info on the Cowboys coming soon…
Packers 30, Lions 20
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford entered this game 0-15 for his career in road games against winning teams. That’s a crazy stat to wrap your head around, but remember the Lions play a lot of bad teams. There will be a lot of talk this week on how Suh stepped on Rodgers’ calf following a play late in this game in the upcoming week. It’s impossible to define intent. I don’t know whether he meant to aggravate that calf again, but I do know that this seems to be a recurring problem with Ndamukong Suh and at some point the coincidence related arguments stop working. It’s not coincidence with him anymore…This seems like it’s the ninth or tenth time that this has happened. Rodgers re-aggravated his calf injury in this one, and for a second it looked like their hope would be centered around Matt Flynn. But thankfully for the Packer faithful, A-Rod returned and still finished the game 17 for 22 for 226. Stafford was called in his own endzone for intentional grounding late in this one, which resulted in a safety. The next drive they failed to convert, and it was all over after that.
Texans 23, Jaguars 17
The Texans were in an excellent position here to lose this game at the last minute, but a key defensive stand at the end of the game saved them from the embarrassment of losing to the Jags in front of their home fans. Their playoff hopes were dashed just seconds later when they learned that Baltimore won, so they were in effect eliminated from contention. I know people are tired of hearing me say it, but JJ Watt should definitely be in the MVP conversation. After revving up the home crowd by circling the entire stadium, he went out and had three sacks, a forced fumble, and a safety as the Texans defense looked as impressive as any other squad in the league. He’s the first player to have 20 or more sacks in two different NFL seasons, and he is slowly becoming my favorite NFL player. If the Texans can square away their quarterback situation in the offseason they should be in good shape next year because the other side of the field is good to go. I can’t say the same about Jacksonville, who is going to need about 28 or 29 draft picks to get that franchise to eye level. For the record, eye level is still under .500 and I don’t see the Jaguars making the playoffs anytime soon.
Colts 27, Titans 10
If you weren’t certain how irrelevant this game was in the grand scheme of things, Charlie Whitehurst started this one for the Titans. If it was their plan to tank the game for a high pick, it worked except for the fact that everyone they were in competition with to get the number one pick did the same thing. Andrew Luck’s time on the field must have been quite limited, as he had less completions than his backup Matt Hasselbeck did after he took to the bench. The Colts are in good shape – they didn’t get banged up in a meaningless game against an awful team, and they get to play the Bengals at home next week. Tennessee better draft well, and do even better when it comes to making trades and picking up free agents. But it’s hard to get somebody to come down to Nashville to play football, so with Indy excelling and slowly becoming elite and the Texans improving and returning to form this division could look a lot like it finished this season.
Chiefs 19, Chargers 7
I don’t want to hear anything pro-Chargers for a very long time. They are at best a network full of poorly drawn cartoon characters, and they bit the big one in what was a huge game for them. They played horribly, and their defense wasn’t able to take advantage of the fact that the Chiefs have still not had a wide receiver score all season. I don’t personally believe that Arrowhead is the tenth level of hell from Dante’s Inferno either. This was a game that San Diego should have definitely won. I do have to Justin Houston from the Chiefs a lot of props – he wrecked Rivers’ day and racked up 4 sacks for a total of 22 on the year: A Chiefs team record. Overall, I’m not going to lose any sleep over either of these two teams missing the postseason. I never believed in the Chiefs, and the Chargers just got stomped by a team I never believed in. Yawn.
Jets 37, Dolphins 24
In another soon-to-be garbage time classic, the New York Jets scored 37 points on Sunday – something that is not a regular occurrence. A lot of this had to do with Eric Decker having a career day of 221 yards on ten catches. I can’t believe I’m about to type this, but Jets QB Geno Smith threw for 358 yards, three touchdowns and had a perfect passer rating. (I think I’m going to throw up now) The Dolphins’ defense looked pathetic, and the one bright spot was that Lamar Miller had 178 yards on 19 carries in this one. They had better hang on to his because they are in desperate need of retaining every single above average position player on their roster. Not just guys like Lamar Miller, guys like…ummmm… On Monday Rex Ryan was fired and deservedly so – I’m not sure a 70 spot in this one could have saved his job – So the Jets are going to be looking for a franchise player with that number six pick, and may even try to trade up and see if they can’t pick sooner.
Saints 23, Buccaneers 20
The Saints were losing this game big, but then Tampa pulled back the second they realized that nothing good was going to come out of a W. They would have sank in the draft, and it’s not like they’d be putting one over on a team who has had their feelings hurt and are playing like a sad puppy. New Orleans has looked like that for weeks anyway, and even when they were winning there was nothing convincing about it. As for Tampa, I know their play towards the end wasn’t good, but this was a tank job if I’ve ever seen one. They knew damn well what they were doing. While most draft analysts are going to spend a majority of the next month revisiting options for teams such as Tampa, Tennessee, and the Jets…It’s safe to say that the Saints have a lot to look at here in the draft pool as well. With the team they assembled before the season started, to finish 7-9 in a division that was so poor to begin with is hardly an accomplishment. And for the Bucs? Looked like the tank job worked…they’ll pick first in April.
Eagles 34, Giants 26
Odell Beckham had another huge day here, as he racked up another TD and 185 receiving yards. But it wasn’t enough, and the Giants succumbed. Speaking of Odell Beckham, is his “showboating” really enough for other players around the league to want to kill him every time he touches the ball? Did Jeff Fisher place a phone call to Chip Kelly suggesting that the Eagles also do everything they can to hurt him seconds after the whistle blows? Weird…In the end, Sanchez came out on top here, and as a Giants fan that’s fine with me….It bumped us up from 14th in the draft order to ninth, and Lord knows we need a ton of help in every facet of the game. Philly is very close to being a playoff team, but like I said maybe they should be and maybe the Panthers should be in Cabo.
Broncos 47, Raiders 14
I don’t understand John Fox’s logic here: You have a guy who is 38 years old, headed into a brutal playoff set, and you waited until the fourth quarter to take him out of a game you won by 33 against the Raiders? I’d have pulled him at halftime. Even though they were only up 20-7 at halftime, I would have enough confidence in the rest of the team and Brock Osweiler to rest a dude who is going to need that rest. The stat line is pretty much what you’d expect…And I swear Derrick Carr throws for exactly 50% every week. (18 of 36 on Sunday afternoon). Raiders will pick third, so we’ll see how that goes. Peyton Manning is going to feed you the “one game at a time” line, and don’t buy it – all he’s thinking about is how he has to go to Foxboro if he wins in two weeks. At least they got the week off so those muscles can get some much needed time in the sauna.
49ers 20, Cardinals 17
Before this game even headed into halftime, FOX was reporting that Jim Harbaugh had planned to head to Michigan to announce that he will be the new head coach for the Wolverines. Shortly after the win, he said his parting goodbyes to a team probably wasn’t listening as they hadn’t all year, and the Harbaugh era was over in San Francisco. He left them with a great roster that plays awesome defense sometimes but for the most part looks confused and struggles inside the red zone. They won the game, but Kaepernick’s 16 of 26 performance was all but legend. It’s not like the Cardinals are in much better shape. They might be headed to the postseason, but they’ve lost four out of their last six and they should be underdogs at Carolina in the first round next week. That team needs a quarterback, and they’re stuck with Palmer for the time being.
Seahawks 20, Rams 6
Seattle looked very poor in the beginning of this one, as they seemed to sputter on offense while getting an unusual amount of pressure from the league’s most underrated pass rush. But they eventually pulled it together to score 20 unanswered points and send their fans off with a reminder that CenturyLink Field is going to be a very difficult place for opposing teams in two weeks. It was also a big win because the Rams had already beaten the Seahawks this year, so although they might not have needed a confidence booster they got one anyway. I’m not weeping tears for St. Louis, if they can get a healthy Bradford back, this is a team that could leap over Arizona and San Francisco next season if they play their cards right. But that’s a huge “if”, as I’m not sure the next time Bradford goes down it’s not going to be the end of his career.
Steelers 27, Bengals 17
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Steelers are better than the Cincinnati Bengals. Even though they picked Ben off twice in this game, they are still the weaker sex and everyone in the AFC knows it. They’ve just bought themselves the farm too, because now they have to go to Indy where they lost 27-0 back in October. Andy Dalton didn’t look bad – his completion percentage was actually higher than Roethlisberger’s – but at the same time his interceptions were coyote ugly and at the moment they only have one effective running back. Antonio Brown of the Steelers won the receiving title, and he deserves it as that guy has worked his ass off this year. More on both of those teams in the preview piece, which I seem to be saying an awful lot.
We’ll discuss this at further length in the preview piece (See, I did it again…) – but here is an early example of what the bracket looks like:
Also before the week is over you’ll see who each playoff team would be if they were a classic rock band, and trust me you’re not going to want to miss that.
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