It’s too early to say that Sunday’s slate of NFL action cleared up the playoff picture a whole heck of a lot. However, we did acquire an understanding of where some of the previously mediocre teams are following Sunday’s action.
In the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins and St. Louis Rams laid complete eggs. All three are clearly on the outside looking in.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts all made pretty strong statements in the AFC.
To the joy of all football fans the world over, Sunday was capped off by a tremendous game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals — a game that had wide-ranging playoff implications.
We cover all this and more in our weekly takeaways piece below.
The Oakland Raiders aren’t quite there yet
The expectation heading into Sunday afternoon in Detroit was that Oakland would find a way to dominate a hapless Lions squad. Following a disheartening 18-13 loss, that expectation was thrown completely out the window.
Instead, Jack Del Rio’s squad now looks like nothing more than a pretender at 4-6 on the season.
It wasn’t as much about Oakland playing a bad game against an inferior opponent. In terms of what we saw Sunday, Detroit looked evenly matched with the Raiders. And in reality, that’s the issue for a suddenly struggling Raiders squad.
Second-year quarterback Derek Carr couldn’t get into rhythm throughout the game, completing just 13-of-25 passes for 169 yards. Meanwhile, the Raiders put up just 2.4 yards per rush against a Lions defense that came into the game allowing the fifth-most rushing yards in the NFL.
The main thing to look at here is that Oakland just isn’t ready to be taken seriously as a playoff contender. It has a ton of young talent, but remains a few key players away from doing some serious damage in the AFC West. That’s been magnified during the team’s current three-game losing streak.
Disastrous loss by the Atlanta Falcons has the team’s playoff aspirations on hold
This INT by Matt Ryan is just inexcusable. Horrible decision. https://t.co/9aP7DpFdi2
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) November 22, 2015
Following a late-game loss to the Indianapolis Colts at home on Sunday, Atlanta has dropped four of its past five games after winning five consecutive to start the season.
Its only win during this span was by three points against the Tennessee Titans back in Week 7.
The primary issue on Sunday was the turnover bug. Atlanta gave the ball up four times, including three Matt Ryan interceptions in the 24-21 loss. Ryan’s late-game pick six tied the game up with just over 10 minutes remaining.
After putting up just 26 yards on its next two possessions, Atlanta allowed the Colts to get out of dodge with a last-minute field goal for the 24-21 win.
Once 5-0 on the season, Atlanta is now just one game up on three teams and two games ahead of five other squads for the final playoff spot in the NFC. That’s obviously not what first-year head coach Dan Quinn had envisioned after the team’s blazing hot start to the season.
The Philadelphia Eagles are done
You can’t put up the performance we saw from Chip Kelly’s squad on Sunday and expect to be taken seriously in today’s NFL.
From the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tallying nearly 400 yards in the first half to Mark Sanchez’s three-interception performance, Philadelphia was absolutely dreadful in the team’s sixth loss of the season — a loss that pretty much ends any conversation of playoffs.
Granted, Tampa Bay is much improved from what we saw last year. It still had no business going into Philly and laying a 45 spot and 521 yards on an Eagles defense that had played pretty good football earlier in the season.
Despite playing in an NFC East that has the New York Giants atop the division at 5-5, Philadelphia simply doesn’t have the look of a team prepared to make a run.
The only saving grace here is that no other team in the division is going to run away from the pack moving forward.
Tony Romo proves he’s MVP material in win against the Miami Dolphins
It won’t be this season, but Romo has continually proved himself to be among the most valuable players in the NFL.
With his Dallas Cowboys losing all seven of the games he missed with a collarbone injury, this Pro Bowl quarterback needed to find a way to lead his team to a win in less-than-stellar conditions in Miami on Sunday.
That’s exactly what Romo did.
The veteran may have thrown two picks while tallying a pedestrian 227 passing yards. However, his mere presence on the field opened up the Cowboys offense big time.
Without seeing the Miami Dolphins defense stack the box against him like Tampa Bay was able to do last week, Darren McFadden found much more green to run through. He put up 129 yards on 29 attempts. Meanwhile, recent addition Robert Turbin added 35 yards on seven attempts.
It’s this type of balance that should afford Dallas the ability to perform at a high level on offense moving forward.
It should also lead to the team in contention for the division title heading into December. And in reality, Romo is pretty much the sole reason for this.
Carolina Panthers may be the NFL’s best
The Washington Redskins may have helped out with some horrendous football on Sunday, but there is little doubt that Carolina belongs in the conversation with the best teams in the NFL.
It’s not just one game against a mediocre opponent. Instead, it’s Carolina’s performance throughout the season that has this team thinking Super Bowl. Sunday was no different.
Cam Newton completed 21-of-34 passes for 246 yards and a career-high five touchdowns in yet another elite-level performance from the MVP candidate. Heck, Newton probably could have added a couple more scores if Carolina wasn’t intent on avoiding handing Washington a more embarrassing loss.
As it stands, Carolina is now the first team in NFL history to start the season 10-0 a year after finishing with a losing record.
Prior to Sunday’s game, the Panthers’ season could be defined as doing just enough to win. While it matters little in the grand scheme of things, the style points Carolina put up on Sunday could be an indication that this team has indeed taken the next step.
At .500, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are legitimate playoff contenders
We covered just how bad Philadelphia played on Sunday. It’s now time to actually give the Eagles’ opponent a bit of credit. Tampa Bay played a superb all-around game in a dominating 45-17 win over Chip Kelly and Co.
Continuing to play stellar football, Jameis Winston put up a career-high five touchdowns while leading Tampa Bay’s offense to its most yards (521) in over a quarter century.
Meanwhile, Doug Martin rebounded from a couple substandard performances by going for 235 yards, including 170-plus in the first half.
Defensively, Tampa Bay continued its ball-hawking ways. It forced four Eagles turnovers, including a Lavonte David pick six on Mark Sanchez to tack on some style points in the humiliation of the home team.
Now 5-5 on the season, Tampa Bay finds itself right in the thick of the NFC Playoff race. It’s just one game behind Atlanta with a road win against the Falcons to its credit. After a two-win 2014 campaign, that’s an amazing accomplishment.
Jeff Fisher should be fired
— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurkeNFL) November 22, 2015
If you were able to catch the end of the St. Louis Rams game against the Baltimore Ravens, you probably have a good idea what we are talking about here.
Leaving Case Keenum in the game after the quarterback suffered an obvious concussion, Fisher didn’t just lose the respect of many around the football world, he lost the game.
Two plays later, Keenum lost a fumble — a play that led to the Baltimore Ravens kicking the game-winning field goal as time expired. In a league that has taken considerable steps to help prevent head injuries, this is absolutely unacceptable.
As a member of the NFL’s competition committee, Fisher should be ashamed. As a head coach, which is a privilege in the truest sense of the word, he shouldn’t be given a pass here.
More than the Rams continuing to throw out a mediocre product, this could be the final nail in the coffin of Fisher’s tenure as the team’s head coach. In fact, the organization firing him likely wouldn’t be met with opposition from those close to the game.
Finally a good nationally televised game between two solid teams
There have been closely contested games on national television this season. Thursday’s outing between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans comes to mind.
However, there’s been a lack of good games between potential Super Bowl contenders.
That changed in a grand way Sunday night when the Arizona Cardinals bested the Cincinnati Bengals 34-31 on a last-second field goal.
Back and forth the two teams went. Cincinnati opened up a 14-7 lead in the desert before Arizona ran off 21 unanswered third quarter points, seemingly ending any hopes the Bengals had of a road win.
Fortunately for Bengals fans, they were able to make a game of it in the final stanza, tying it up at 31 with just over a minute left on an Andy Dalton touchdown to Tyler Eifert.
Then, in an instant, Arizona drove down the field on three plays to put Chandler Catanzaro in position to nail a chip-shot field goal with time winding down.
The ramifications of Arizona’s win cannot possibly be overstated. Bruce Arians squad remains three games ahead of the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West and maintains its lead for a first-round playoff bye.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati falls to 8-2 after losing its second game in less than a week. It is now just two games ahead of the suddenly charging Pittsburgh Steelers. In addition to this, a first-round playoff bye — seemingly a lock six days ago — is now in jeopardy.
High drama, good football and major playoff ramifications. It’s possible that Sunday night’s game may have signaled the start of the stretch run around the NFL heading into Thanksgiving weekend.
What did the Baltimore Ravens do to anger the football gods?
Already without stars Steve Smith and Terrell Suggs for the season, Baltimore lost two-third of its offensive backfield for the remainder of the year on Sunday.
While he somehow played through the injury, Joe Flacco suffered a torn ACL and will miss the final six games.
Earlier in the game, starting running back Justin Forsett suffered a broken arm. He’s also likely done for the duration of the campaign.
At 3-7 on the year, Baltimore’s hopes of returning to the playoffs are already dead in the water. Still competitive (all 10 games decided by one score this year), the Ravens weren’t throwing in the towel.
It just remains to be seen whether this could be it for the Ravens as they are currently formed. Suggs will have a lengthy rehab after he suffered an Achilles injury back in Week 1. Smith had indicated his plans to retire prior to suffering an Achilles tear himself back in Week 8.
Both are on the wrong side of 30, meaning it would be a tremendous surprise if they returned to pre-injury form.
There are also questions regarding John Harbaugh’s future in Baltimore after reports earlier in the season indicated he may be looking to move on.
Unfortunately for the Ravens, this has all come to a head with the team dealing with injury blow after injury blow. At full health, there’s little doubt this team is a legitimate playoff contender.
Sunday was nothing less than a culmination of what has been a frustrating year for the team.
There’s a team in Kansas City playing dominating football
Winners of four consecutive following a 33-3 domination of the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs are firmly in the AFC Playoff race.
Still without an interception since Week 3, Alex Smith completed 20-of-25 passes for 253 yards in yet another stellar performance from the much-maligned quarterback.
Meanwhile, running backs Charcandrick West and surprise performer Spencer Ware combined for 165 total yards in a balanced offensive attack.
Defensively, Kansas City stifled what has become an awful San Diego offense. It held Philip Rivers and Co. to 201 total yards and 14 first downs while forcing two turnovers.
After losing five consecutive earlier in the year, Kansas City has now won its past four games by a combined 91 points.
With games coming up against the Oakland (twice), San Diego, Baltimore and Cleveland following a Week 12 game against Buffalo, Kansas City has a pretty easy schedule to end the year.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Andy Reid’s squad sneak into the playoffs — something that seemed incredibly unlikely just a month ago.