The NFL regular season is winding down, and there are many playoff races which remain tight. The AFC West, AFC South, NFC South, and Wild Card spots are all up for grabs. Week 13 presented several intriguing matchups between division leaders and playoff hopefuls. As the playoff picture starts to take shape, here are the Week 13 winners and losers.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
While it doesn’t look like the Ravens have a great shot at the AFC North, their recent play has propelled them back into the playoff race. They had won two games in a row, against the Packers and Texans, coming into their game on Sunday against the Lions. On Sunday, they played fairly closely with the Lions for three quarters. Entering the final quarter, Baltimore lead 20-13, but they exploded for 24 points and the game finished as a 44-20 blowout.
The Ravens defense in particular has been spectacular. Over the last three weeks, Baltimore has surrendered an average of just 13 points per game. They have also recorded three shutouts this season (Dolphins, Packers, Bengals). In the fourth quarter on Sunday, cornerback Marlon Humphrey and safety Eric Weddle both intercepted passes from Lions quarterback Matt Stafford within five minutes of each other. The Ravens scored a touchdown following Humphrey’s pick, and Weddle took it back for a touchdown of his own. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had a solid game of his own, recording 269 yards and two touchdowns, and running back Alex Collins punched in a couple touchdowns as well. If the Ravens offense can continue to produce, and they are able to keep turning defense into offense, they should have a great chance to punch their playoff ticket. In their remaining four games, they face the Steelers, Browns, Colts, and Bengals. Aside from the Steelers, these are all games the Ravens are expected to win, so they should be feeling pretty good about their current position.
Loser: Kansas City Chiefs
After the Chiefs’ first five games, they looked playoff bound, and maybe even primed to dethrone the New England Patriots as the champions of the AFC. They were the last remaining undefeated team at 5-0, and Alex Smith was hitting his targets and winning games like it was nobody’s business. Then, Week 6 rolled around, and they haven’t looked the same since, going 1-6 over their last seven games.
On Sunday, the Chiefs went on the road to face the perennially mediocre New York Jets and the middling Josh McCown, who boasted a 4-7 record. To nobody’s surprise, Kansas City continued their poor play. The defense allowed 331 yards on 26-36 (72.2%) passing from McCown. McCown’s career completion percentage is 60.5%, but he was able to tear up the Chiefs’ porous defense.
Furthermore, the Chiefs wasted an amazing performance from Alex Smith. Smith had struggled over the past few weeks, recording just three touchdowns and four interceptions over Weeks 9-12. Against the Jets, however, he threw for 366 yards and FOUR touchdowns. Most of the time, that type of performance from a quarterback is enough to ensure a victory, but the Kansas City defense was unable to hold up their end of the bargain. Their next two games are against the surging Raiders and Chargers, who pose a huge test, but more on that in the next section.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers and Oakland Raiders
Like I said, after Week 5, people were already handing the AFC West to the Chiefs. Now, at Week 13, this is one of the better division races in the NFL. The Chargers and Raiders have bounced back from slow starts and now sit at 6-6, finding themselves right back in playoff contention. This leaves us with a three-way tie for the division lead, in the midst of Kansas City’s complete freefall.
On Sunday, both the Chargers and Raiders played reasonably easy games. The Chargers faced off with the winless Cleveland Browns and the Raiders with the 2-10 New York Giants. Both AFC West teams took care of business, with the Chargers taking a 19-10 victory and the Raiders a 24-17 victory. Quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Derek Carr led the way for both teams, throwing for 344 and 287 yards, respectively. To finish up the season, the Chargers have the Redskins, Chiefs, Jets, and Raiders, and the Raiders have the Chiefs, Cowboys, Eagles, and Chargers. At first glance, the Chargers seem to have an easier schedule, but we will have to wait and see what happens. Either way, both teams have to feel very good about their chances at the division, considering the way the Chiefs have played lately, and the second-place team could still have a chance at a Wild Card spot.
Loser: Atlanta Falcons
When Sunday began, the Falcons sat at 7-4, holding an NFC Wild Card spot and remaining in striking distance of the very competitive and talented NFC South. On Sunday, they had a chance to bolster their playoff case with a win at home over the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings. Unfortunately for Atlanta, Case Keenum had something to say about it, showcasing razor-sharp accuracy on 25-30 passing with two touchdown passes. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan struggled, throwing for 173 yards on 16-29 passing. This was largely due, in part, to the Vikings defense, who completely shut down Julio Jones. Jones caught just two receptions for 24 yards. On Sunday, the Vikings exposed the Atlanta defense to the rest of the NFL, and showed that if you can find a way to immobilize Jones, then Matt Ryan won’t be productive with his other options.
The Falcons have a brutal schedule to finish up the season, facing the 9-3 New Orleans Saints twice and the 8-4 Carolina Panthers once. The defending NFC champions are certainly capable, but they will really have to grind out some tough wins over the last four weeks if they still want to be playing come January.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
At the beginning of the week, the Seahawks were on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. They were 7-4, but the Falcons had the tiebreaker advantage. Quarterback Russell Wilson led the Seahawks to the playoffs every season since 2013-13, and in the spotlight of Sunday Night Football, he showed that he does not want to be sitting at home this January. The Seahawks bested the mighty Philadelphia Eagles, who were 10-1 on the season, and most were betting on as the NFC East winners. Wilson took over the game and threw for 227 yards and three touchdowns; he was on the money all game long. In addition, the shorthanded Legion of Boom, missing Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, was firing on all cylinders. The Eagles are the tied for first in the NFL for offense points per game (30.1), and the Seahawks held them to just 10 points. Carson Wentz, who some believe is the MVP, was picked off by Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell and fumbled twice. One of the fumbles resulted in a huge touchback, which killed a great scoring chance for Philadelphia. After their convincing 24-10 over the current top seed in the conference, the Seahawks are in position to grab a Wild Card spot and still have a shot to overtake the Rams in the NFC West. Look out for their head-to-head matchup in Week 15.
Loser: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers may be 10-2, but this week’s game should not be a confidence booster at all. They faced off with the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football and turned in an incredibly lackluster performance. They were able to come up with the 23-20 victory over the Bengals, but it was terribly unconvincing. They went down 17-0 in the first half, but thanks to a few clutch drives from Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell late in the second half, were able to tie it up at 20. With four seconds left, kicker Chris Boswell split the uprights to give the Steelers the win.
The uninspiring effort shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. It is undeniable that the Steelers are oozing with talent, especially the offense. Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and, of course, Antonio Brown make up one of the top receiving corps in the game, and we all know what Big Ben has been capable over his illustrious career. Bell hasn’t quite been his old self, but he’s still a top running back. But it seems that every time the Steelers go up against a mediocre team, they stoop to the opposition’s level. They won on a buzzer-beating field goal against the Colts, needed overtime to take down the Rodgers-less Packers, and now needed another last second field goal from kicker Chris Boswell to take down the Bengals. With the talent on their roster, the Steelers should be routing these teams. They’ve lost defensive stalwart Ryan Shazier for the foreseeable future with a back injury, and the defense was mostly poor once he left the game on Monday. The Steelers will win their division and probably get a first round BYE, but they’ve got to figure it out if they want to do any serious damage in the playoffs: Foxborough in late January is a little different from Cincinnati in early December.