The Eagles still are’t very good.
Patriots fans might disagree with me, but it’s the truth. The Eagles did less to win than the Patriots did to lose on Sunday. Poor special-teams play on the line and in punt coverage led to a blocked punt and an aging Darren Sproles return that both resulted in touchdowns. A poor Tom Brady throw was returned 100 yards for a score. The Eagles scored one touchdown offensively before the midpoint of the fourth quarter. Don’t get too excited, Philly fans: I know some of you are suddenly talking Super Bowl, but you will be lucky if your team comes out of the season with more than seven wins.
Neither are the Packers -- but I wouldn’t want to face them, anyway.
Be realistic, Packers fans: the only things separating you from being swept by the Lions are a dubious-at-best penalty and an admittedly spectacular throw that wouldn’t have happened without said penalty. That Aaron Rodgers even had a chance to throw that Hail Mary is a testament to the weak officiating this season. That he completed it is a testament to...well, to Aaron Rodgers. For as bad as he’s been this season, he’s still Aaron-Freakin’-Rodgers.
Conversely, the Raiders aren’t as bad as they looked for a quarter on Sunday.
Derek Carr is going to have his ups and downs. He has played well at times, and he has looked like...David Carr, at other times. For those of you who need a refresher on Derek’s older brother, he’s the guy who was taken first overall in the 2002 NFL Draft, then threw 65 touchdowns and 71 interceptions, fumbled 77 times and was sacked 267 times in 2,534 dropbacks. In his defense, the Houston Texans’ offensive line couldn’t have blocked a view, let alone an NFL defensive lineman, but David carried plenty of the blame, too. His brother has been a breath of fresh air, but his three fourth-quarter interceptions against the Chiefs -- at home, no less -- were just about the worst stretch of his young career. Still, the Raiders are a young team on the rise, and Sunday was simply a case of inexperience intersecting with the team with the hottest hand in the AFC at the moment.
Cam Newton’s throws look effortless.
While this isn’t the least bit surprising, given that he palms small planets and eats glass and shrapnel for breakfast, it’s always fun to watch Newton throw. He throws forty yards downfield with what looks like a flick of his wrist -- and, at least this year, they actually are going to the right place. While he may still have a little maturing to do as a person, he’s pretty much there as a football player. He’s fun to watch, and he has the Panthers blowing teams out, and also winning the close games.
The Jets are the current playoff team least likely to make the final cut.
Aside from the Buccaneers possibly sneaking into the playoffs, there isn’t a whole lot left to realistically be decided in the NFC playoff landscape. In the AFC, however, there is plenty happening, mostly with the wildcards. The Chiefs look to be a lock when you consider their remaining schedule and how they’ve been playing since week seven. The Jets, though, are one of the most inconsistent teams still in the hunt, and there are teams breathing down their necks. The Steelers and Texans are the nearest threats right now, but the Jets have a tiebreaker over the Steelers. As long as they don’t lose more games than the Steelers, they are in, but that’s easier said than done: with the way the Pittsburgh offense is playing, they could run the table from here, while the Jets still have games against the Patriots and the Bills. They also play the Cowboys, who despite being 3-8 are still mathematically alive in the NFC East and may go down swinging hard. Not likely, but possible.
College Football Bonus! The case has resoundingly been made for an eight-team playoff.
As it turns out, there are about nine or ten teams that could legitimately win in the playoffs this year. While teams like Notre Dame and UNC wouldn’t likely have won the whole thing, they would have been competitive and could have snuck into the final. Higher up, Ohio State and Stanford are both good enough to win it all, but are locked out, because the college football playoff accepts fewer than four percent of eligible teams. When a school like Ohio State -- with one of the largest fanbases in all of college sports -- misses the playoffs a year after winning the championship, you can pretty much guarantee the committee will end up talking long and hard about expanding the field in the next season or two. After all, it’s still all about the money.
And finally...That’s what it looks like when the Steelers live up to their potential on both sides of the ball.
Sunday night’s game against the Colts certainly ranks right up there in the top five for Most Thorough Butt Stomping of the Year. We had an idea of what this team would be capable of in 2015, but we also knew that could be tempered somewhat by a young and inexperienced defense. Well, this game was about as clear a signal as I can imagine that the 2015 Steelers are ready for the stretch run and aren’t going down without a fight. While the AFC North is pretty much guaranteed to go to the Bengals, the Steelers still have a legitimate shot at the sixth seed. Even the fifth seed is within reach, but they will need varying amounts of help from other teams for either one. With a schedule consisting of the Bengals, Ravens and Browns -- with Brock Osweiler’s Broncos thrown in for good measure -- it’s still going to be tough, but every one of those games is very, very winnable. Oh, and I hereby nominate Antonio Brown's punt-return-touchdown celebration as the best in the history of football. At that point in the game, it was well worth the penalty.