With NFL Playoff Push Looming, Some Teams Shine and Others Falter

Jaws continue to drop and teams continue to flip-flop as the National Football League approaches week twelve. I don’t know about you guys but at the start of the season but I didn’t think that J.J. Watt would have more receiving touchdowns right now than the entire Chiefs wide receiver core. Watt was a tight end in junior college before he transferred to Wisconsin and began to play defense. He’s doing a great job of tapping into those days in many of Houston’s red zone packages. It can be disputed whether that aforementioned stat is due to Watt’s offensive prowess, the emergence of stand-out Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, or just a sign of the putrid state of those Kansas City wide-outs. Statistically anomalies aside, J.J. Watt has been responsible for dropping a lot of those jaws, along with dropping a lot of quarterbacks. To accompany his four touchdowns on the year, Watt ranks seventh in the league in sacks as well as fourth in tackles amongst defensive ends. He showed off the wheels when he housed the season’s third longest interception return for a touchdown in week four. His defensive excellence, along with his offensive red zone play, has thrust the Texan into the conversation as one of the best multi-dimensional athletes in the league along with names like Matt Forte, Randall Cobb and Antonio Brown. He would almost certainly be in the MVP race if the rest of his team was half as good as him or a healthy Arian Foster.

Speaking of Browns, Cleveland has shocked the world by not playing totally awful this year. Yeah that’s tongue-in-cheek, but as much as America wants to hop the Brown-wagon, I for one am not convinced. They rank near the middle of the pack in almost every team statistic, not really excelling in any one aspect of the game. Their rushing attack has been decent, but inconsistent. Brian Hoyer has played just efficiently to keep Manziel’s name out of fans’ mouths. But despite mediocrity, they still have six wins on the year. With stellar performances against perennial playoff teams such as the Bengals and Saints, Cleveland’s wins look really good, not as bad as their losses look though. Besides being trounced by a rookie running back and a quarterback starting his first game this week, Clevetown also has a loss to the lowly Jaguars in the books. The Jaguars! One win! Worst point differential in the league! That team everybody wants on a different continent! Don’t give me that “any given Sunday” hoop-blah, the Jaguars are awful every given Sunday. The AFC North always plays tough divisional games, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh get a pass dropping one each to Browns in my book. That division, perhaps the best in football from top to bottom, is too tough to lose to subpar non-rival opponents. That also goes for Pittsburgh dropping a trap game to the ragtag group of lovable misfits known as the New York Jets.

Another team that continues to drop jaws this season is the surging Arizona Cardinals. Coming off a win where they held a high-powered Lions team to only six points, the Cards are sitting pretty at the top of their division with a record of 9-1. Forget the Seahawks. Forget the Niners. The NFC West is all about ‘Zona baby. Even without their starting quarterback Carson Palmer, who was sporting the best quarterback rating since 2005 before he tore his ACL, the Cardinals have proved they can still win ball games. Much like Cleveland, they rank in the middle to low section of most team statistics, even ranking 30th in rushing. What jumps off the stat sheet for the Cardinal is their turnover ratio, which is +11, proving that teams who hold on to the ball will hold onto victories. Even without an exceptional amount of star power, Bruce Arians and his boys are getting the job done by playing smart football. I doubt that this will lead the Cards back to the Super Bowl though. A playoff berth is almost definite for the squad, but I compare this team to the Chiefs of last year. They’re great in the regular season, but not a dangerous enough team to threaten top-tier teams when the postseason rolls around.

Other teams who seem to have all the talent in the world, can’t seem to find a steady pace. The defending Super Bowl champions are flip-flopping enough to send a Rutgers basketball coach into a violent rage. The Seahawks have some of best wins in the NFL this year, statement wins against top-notch teams like the Packers and Broncos. Week one, they picked up where they left off last season when they contained that bad man Aaron Rodgers to only 16 points. Two weeks later they held off a vengeful Peyton Manning, which is a feat in of itself, especially considering his supporting cast is somehow even better than last year. Yet other teams have began to find ways to exploit the Legion of Boom. The Chargers did it through the air, putting up 284 passing yards and three passing touchdowns. Philip Rivers did not hesitate to throw in Richard Sherman’s direction, as the Superchargers were consistently beating and exposing to the world the self-proclaimed “best corner in the league” with double moves and crisp route running. To be fair to Sherman, he probably is the best in the league but the rules and style of said league favors the offense so much that it is hard to play defense at all, let alone on an elite level. Top running backs have also found ways to exploit this once legendary defense. MVP frontrunner Demarco Murray torched the Hawks on their home turf for over 100 yards and touchdown, leading his Cowboys to a 30-23 road upset in week six. More recently, Jamaal Charles posted nearly 160 rushing yards on 20 attempts, along with two scores against the squad. That’s a walloping eight yards per carry. That means Charles blew past the front seven on nearly every carry. In fact, the only quality running back that Seattle has shut down has been Alfred Morris, but that Washington Football Club offense is so shaky that I wouldn’t trust that as far as I can throw Trent Williams. The Seahawks also let the division rival St. Louis Rams led by “Stone Cold Steve” Austin Davis put up 28 points on them. Davis recorded a quarterback rating of 97.1 that contest. This is the same guy that just lost his job to Shaun Hill. Remember when Davis was supposed to be the next Kurt Warner? Remember when people were saying that? That made me giggle. Anyway, the Seahawks are going to have to sure up that defense if they want to get back to where they were last season. How funny would it be to see the Saints win their rancid division at 7-9 and then upset the Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs? Maybe Mark Ingram will have a 67-yard touchdown run, running over the whole defense on his way to the second round? Too specific? Either way, I doubt the Seahawk offense doesn’t pack enough of a punch to victories alone when crunch time comes around. Their defensive must return to form.

Speaking of packing things (which is somehow even more forced than that other transition) the Green Bay Packers do have that monstrous offense that can win them those big games. They’ve put up 108 points over the last two weeks. Let that sink in. I’ll wait. Yeah, that’s a butt load of points to put it frankly. That was the first team to score 50 points in back to back to games. I can’t take credit for that one, just heard Boomer say it during the Monday Night halftime show. Green Bay’s offense is clicking at all levels. Rodgers and the receiving core are dissecting secondaries. Eddie Lacy is finally pounding the rock like he should. Most importantly, Rodgers isn’t taking the sacks he was last year. Teams can’t just count on cutting the head of the snake to shut down this offense. So that snake continues to bite and release that deadly venom until Rodgers has to get pulled so he doesn’t set a record. The only way teams can beat them is by keeping that offense off the field, which is hard to do when the Packers defense ball-hawks so well. They’ve snagged seven turnovers in the two games since their bye week. The Pack Show hasn’t lost at home and could be real scary if they snatch the division from the Lions. They could be even scarier if the Cardinals begin to stumble and the NFC’s path to the Super Bowl has to go through the frozen tundra of Lambeau. I wouldn’t be shocked if Rodgers ends up shooting it out with Brady or Manning for that big game in February.

Leave a Reply