The hottest debate in the football world this weekend had nothing to do with the NFL. No, the vitriol and spite was saved for those who ranked teams for the final College Football Playoff ranking. It appeared more than a few fans didn’t see the college season the same way former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did. But let’s cut the committee some slack, it can’t be easy picking the four best teams out of 128, spanning across ten conferences with only 14 weeks of evidence. The NFL is a quarter of the size, and I’m still unsure who the four best teams are.
To start this week’s Nuts, I’ve given myself the task of figuring out who would be in the NFL playoffs if it was just the top four teams, regardless of conference. Why? Because, if this weekend has reinforced one lesson – whether it’s Jeff Fisher getting an extension, Brock Osweiler’s play, coaching decisions, or subjective rankings – it’s that football fans love to get outraged. So why not give them yet another reason?
Week 13 In A Nutshell
The NFL Playoff Ranking
- Dallas Cowboys
- Oakland Raiders
- Kansas City Chiefs
- New England Patriots
- (First out) Seattle Seahawks
Dallas did the rankings a real solid, winning an ugly game in Minnesota to keep their stranglehold on no. 1. After that is where things get hectic.
For weeks now, Oakland has had the look of a team whose record is better than its play; trailing in the second half of their third straight “home” game, it looked like that elusive third loss may finally come. But the Raiders rallied once again, and finished with a resounding 38-24 win over the Bills. The offense continues to be one of the most productive units in the league, and while their defense leaks yardage, Khalil Mack and company can make big plays when the team needs it most. It’s officially time for me to stop being surprised by Oakland and acknowledge they’re a complete team.
A big factor the college committee cares about that the NFL doesn’t is “signature wins.” Washington can make the playoffs without beating an above .500 team. While I’m still going to let the Pats sneak into the top four, it should be known that this is not an impressive 10-2 team. New England has only beaten two teams that currently have a winning record: Miami in Week 2 and the Steelers with Landry Jones at QB.
History has proven that doubting Bill Belichick’s team is a mistake, but I think I’m allowed to be underwhelmed by the Patriots’ performances so far. The Gronk-less Pats can win some huge favor with the committee (me) in the coming weeks though, with games against the two AFC teams that have given Brady the most trouble in his career: Baltimore and Denver.
Good Seattle returned this week and avenged last year’s playoff loss to the Panthers in a big way. But Russell Wilson and the Seahawks still remain too inconsistent to be worthy of a hypothetical playoff spot. At this point, their Week 2 loss to Los Angeles looks like the equivalent of losing to an FCS school. Much like Penn State, despite a head-to-head win over a playoff team, their shortcomings in other areas have them on the outside looking in.
The team that impressed the committee most over the past week was none other than Kansas City. While I could gush about the Chiefs here, that’s also what the next section is for, so why wouldn’t I seize the opportunity to write less?
Shout-out of the Week
Eric Berry, Andy Reid, and those crazy Chiefs.
Kansas City was coming off a grueling five-quarter win over a division rival, and as such, 10 players names were on the injury report (though all but Jeremy Maclin were cleared). With another crucial AFC West game on tap for Week 14, overlooking a matchup with the high-flying Falcons wouldn’t have come as a huge shock. Instead, the Chiefs were the ones doing the shocking, pulling out a gutty 29-28 win, despite Atlanta gaining nearly twice as many first downs.
If you were using the word “explosive” to describe one of these teams, chances are you wouldn’t be talking about the one quarterbacked by Alex Smith. Yet on Sunday, the Chiefs gained huge chunks of yardage, while Atlanta had the more methodical approach. Kansas City’s offense had seven plays over 20 yards to Atlanta’s four. Some came courtesy of Travis Kelce, others were beautifully drawn up trick plays. But the biggest plays of all came from Eric Berry and that opportunistic D.
Berry already showed his nose for the endzone once this season, but clearly one touchdown wasn’t enough. In front of his hometown friends and family, not only did he spot the Chiefs the lead at the end of the first half with a 37-yard return to the house, but he notched the second game-winning two-point convert return in NFL history, picking off a ball meant for Austin Hooper after the Falcons had gone up by one.
A holdout before the season started, Berry is playing this season under the franchise tag. And it looks as though that gamble is going to backfire on Kansas City. With Earl Thomas suffering another injury (and apparently contemplating retirement), the title of best safety in the NFL is Berry’s to lose. That means he’ll be the one calling the shots this offseason.
As for the more immediate future, the AFC West title and a first-round bye is all in front of the Chiefs. This team has already proven it’s one to be reckoned with; homefield advantage would be truly terrifying. We’ve seen even the best of quarterbacks crumble in Arrowhead.
Stray Week 13 Observations
- After a few games this season ended without a result, the NFL’s overtime rules have been called into question, and could become a point of discussion in the offseason. But I know at least one coach who is in favor of the current rules: Ron Rivera. As he proved last night, he needs ties in his life.
- Mike Tomlin might secretly be a fantasy football player. What other explanation could there be for consistently sending his backup QB out for kneel downs? He’s starting Big Ben, and he can’t afford that negative yardage.
- I heard a lot of people refer to the Giants as “the worst 8-3 team ever.” That chatter should stop now that they’re 8-4. Not because their record is suddenly reflective of their play, but because they’re now in competition with the 2009 Broncos, a team led by Josh McDaniels and Kyle Orton.
- Odd move by Texans owner Bob McNair to rush to Osweiler’s defense while criticizing his receivers for dropping passes. He’s going to bump into Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins in the halls for years to come; there probably won’t be a ton of awkward encounters with Osweiler after this year.
- People were bailing on the “Wentz Wagon” like mad before this weekend, and it ended up being a good idea, because it turned over, caught fire, then exploded. It’s clear the rookie still has some growing to do, but so does this Eagles organization as a whole. The number one concern heading into the season was a lack of playmakers, and to highlight that need, Paul Turner led Philly in receiving on Sunday. Who is that, you ask? Point proven, I reply.
- Tampa Bay’s turnaround has been nothing short of miraculous, pulling out another well-balanced win over the Chargers on the road. Whether the Bucs can complete this run with a playoff appearance or not, they’ve already achieved something the franchise hasn’t had in awhile: national interest. Their Week 15 game was flexed into Sunday Night Football, Tampa’s first appearance since 2008. Sure, that’s mostly a result of playing the Cowboys, but still, hearing Al Michaels gawk over Mike Evans some more will be fun, right?
- Dear NFL broadcasters: you can praise great defenders without nominating them for MVP! I swear every time Von Miller/Khalil Mack/Landon Collins/Insert-Name-Here makes a play, it cues the following; “forget Defensive Player of the Year, this guy’s name should be in the MVP conversation.” No! Winning DPOY is the highest realistic honor a defender can get. Stop treating the award like it’s a Golden Globe.
- I think the Jeff Fisher extension might secretly be a brilliant move by Les Snead. Now, it would be easy for Rams players to quit on the season, seemingly doomed to an eternity of 7-9 football. This allows Snead to evaluate who the true leaders on the team are, the players who don’t quit during this final, terrible stretch. Then, the Rams can make a point of extending those players in the offseason. Of course, the possum act will only pay off if they actually do fire Fisher in the end; until then, it’s just a regular dumb move for L.A.