|“I said give me a hug!”|
Firstly, apologies for my lack of predictions this weekend. I’ve been pretty busy so unfortunately I was unable to get them out in time. I did however get a podcast done with Scott Taylor last week, which you can listen to here. Moving on, there’s plenty of action from both Thanksgiving and last night to review in addition to looking forward to tonight’s bumper Monday Night Football match-up between New Orleans and Seattle. The two teams are currently jostling for home-field advantage throughout in play-offs in the NFC, and with both the Saints and Seahawks much better at home than on the road the game has added significance. But before we explore that titanic tussle any further lets look back on the games from week 13 that are already in the books.
Broncos Complete Chiefs Sweep, In Pole Position For #1 Seed
Having begun the season 9-0 Kansas City are in danger of stumbling into the post-season after three consecutive defeats, including two losses to their division rivals Denver. The Broncos may have lost to New England in last weeks classic but this bounce-back victory on the road by the score of 35-28 gives them the inside track to the AFC west crown and more importantly a first round bye. Surprisingly it’s been Kansas City’s defense which has let them down in recent weeks, and after San Diego ran riot last time out Peyton Manning put the Kansas City D to the sword by throwing five touchdown passes. However it wasn’t just the Kansas pass defense which struggled yesterday, as Broncos tailback Monte Ball racked up 117 yards on just thirteen carries. With only a moderately effective offense Andy Reid will be worried about his once dominant defensive unit and to make matters worse star defensive end Justin Houston looks set to miss multiple weeks with an elbow injury. Denver meanwhile don’t face a team with a winning record in their remaining four games and it would be a brave man who’d bet against them finishing the regular season 14-2. Whether or not Manning can get it done in the harsh January climate, where he has oft struggled during his career, remains to be seen.
Lions Feast on Flynn, Rout Packers
Some teams, including Green Bay, tend to invest very little resources in their backup quarterback and unfortunately that decision is coming back to haunt Mike McCarthy in a big way. First Seneca Wallace then Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn have failed to play even competently for the Packers and Thursday night in Detroit saw the worst offensive performance in Aaron Rodgers absence yet as they went down 40-10. Flynn was sacked seven times including once for a safety and the former Bills QB also turned the ball over three times. The win for Detroit was their first in ten years in the traditional Thanksgiving showpiece, with Matthew Stafford throwing for 330 yards and three touchdowns in an impressive performance. Reggie Bush also played well, rushing for 117 yards and a score while Joique Bell totaled 94 yards on the ground with a touchdown himself. Much like Kansas City the Packers defense has declined alarmingly as the season has wore on, however unlike their AFC counterparts they look extremely unlikely to still be playing in January. As for Detroit, thanks to a Chicago loss they have a one game lead in the NFC north and with a superior record within the division they’d have to play pretty poorly in the coming weeks to miss out on a play-off berth.
Eagles Hold On Against Disappointing Cardinals
In a game between two play-off contenders it was Philadelphia and Nick Foles who came up trumps against an erratic Carson Palmer led Arizona outfit. After taking a 24-7 lead early in the second half Philly nearly threw the game away from that commanding position, but a late defensive stop and some questionable penalties helped them earn the win. The Arizona defense lived up to their reputation and were steadfast against the #1 ranked Eagles rushing attack, but two interceptions and a lost fumble from Palmer gave the Eagles good field position on more than one occasion. Foles was sharp for most of the game but what would have been his first interception of the season was wiped out by a defensive holding call. There probably isn’t much between these two teams, I’d say the Cardinals are more rounded while Philly has a better quarterback, however unfortunately for Bruce Arians’ and his team Arizona find themselves in the NFL’s best division while the Eagles are in probably the worst. Both could be dangerous in January albeit for different reasons, however it’s unlikely that there will be room for both once the regular season dust settles.
Steelers Loss to Ravens Overshadowed by Sideline ‘Trip’
Mike Tomlin often earns plaudits for being the ‘coolest’ head coach in the league, but Pittsburgh’s leader took his often active role on the sidelines a little too far late Thursday night when he looked to have tried to trip Baltimore kick returner Jacoby Jones in the third quarter. Jones had built up a head of steam and had to alter his path in order to avoid Tomlin, who incredibly wasn’t flagged for the misdemeanor. However the league is looking into the incident and all signs point towards Tomlin receiving a fairly hefty fine. A suspension also isn’t out of the question but it would be surprising to see the league come down so heavily on a previously well behaved coach. The game itself was a good one between two 5-6 teams, coming down to a failed two point conversion from the Steelers in the closing minutes and finishing 22-20. Neither side set the field alight with explosive offensive play but that won’t matter to the Ravens who are still in with a chance of defending the Lombardi Trophy they won back in February.
Colts Effectively Clinch Division With Win Over Rival Titans
Indianapolis may not be playing well, in fact there’s no ‘may’ about it, but they’ll be playing for a while yet as they edged past Tennessee 22-14 yesterday. Adam Vinatieri kicked five field goals and without the future hall of fame kickers steady leg Andrew Luck and co may have struggled to overcome the resilient Titans. Although the Colts couldn’t muster much offensively their defense showed up for the first time in weeks, an encouraging sign and something they’ll need to keep up as the standard of competition increases. With this result the Colts magic number to clinch the division shrinks to one, meaning a Tennessee loss or an Indianapolis win next week will ensure their participation in the play-offs. With Tennessee playing Denver the Colts would be wise to put the champagne on ice.
Looking forward to tonight’s Monday Night game in Seattle we have a battle between two of the top quarterbacks in not just the NFC but all of football. Russell Wilson idolised Drew Brees when growing up, but if he has things his way tonight he could deal Brees a serious blow as he aims to win his second Superbowl title. Percy Harvin looks set to miss out for Seattle as he’s suffered discomfort in the same hip that kept him out for the first half of the season. The Seahawks are also without cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond after they both violated the leagues substance abuse policy. However I still think that Seattle has enough about them on defense to outperform Rob Ryan’s unit on the opposite sideline, and when you factor in home-field advantage I think that just about gives Seattle the edge. I may be wrong (I often am), but I’m going to go for a 27-24 home win.
That’s all I have for tonight, I’ll hopefully be back with the American Football Focus podcast later in the week depending on mine and Scott Taylor’s availability. However one thing I will definitely be writing about is the second test match in Cricket’s Ashes between England and Australia, which you can read all about at my other blog Fred Stanley Sport. Don’t forget to have your say in the comments or tweet me @fredjstanley.