Recapping This Past Week's NFL Action
In addition to writing sports articles and movie reviews for Skid News, I am also the co-founder (along with Nick Fronte, another Skidmore student) of the website Check Down Sports. Our goal at Check Down is to present you- the sports fan- with the most insightful, bold, and heartfelt takes on the hottest storylines in sports. Check out our site, if you haven't already, and enjoy the the latest edition of "The Sunday Recap," a weekly column dedicated to my thoughts on the previous day’s NFL action. Here are the big winners from last week's games.
Detroit delivers statement victory over New Orleans
The Detroit Lions picked a great time to pull off their most impressive win of the season. As 6.5 point underdogs, the Lions went into New Orleans and completely shut down the Saints' prolific offense in a relatively easy 28-13 victory. Detroit, a team that many predicted would not make the playoffs after Calvin Johnson’s sudden retirement, now sits at 8-4 with four games left to play. This should be enough of a cushion to hold off the surging Green Bay Packers.
Tony Dungy said it perfectly during Football Night in America: It wasn't too surprising that the Lions won. It was how they won. Detroit entered Week 13 ranked near the bottom in many of the most important defensive categories. For instance, Football Outsiders had them rated as the league's 2nd-worst defense, in spite of the fact that they have played the easiest slate of offenses up until their showdown with the Saints. Nonetheless, they limited New Orleans to just thirteen points and held Drew Brees without a touchdown pass for the first time this season. Let's keep in mind that the Saints' offense has also been significantly better at home this year, as they have averaged close to thirty-five points per game at the Superdome in their six home games.
Matthew Stafford continued his MVP-caliber campaign as well. The former number one pick was extremely efficient once again; he finished with an over 70% completion percentage to go along with two touchdown passes and an 85.0 Total QBR, all of which was accomplished without much of a running game. Zach Zenner, of all people, was the team’s leading rusher with 40 yards. Before I move on, I'd be remiss if I did not mention Golden Tate, who had another prolific performance with 145 receiving yards, including a 66-yarder that put the Lions up by two touchdowns in the second half.
A loss to the Saints would've dramatically affected Detroit's playoff hopes. They would have been just one game in front of Minnesota and, most notably, Green Bay; since the Packers defeated the Lions earlier in the season, a win-or-go-home tilt in Week 17 against Aaron Rodgers and company would have been guaranteed. That is certainly not a position Detroit wants to be in, home field advantage aside.
But now the Lions hold a two-game lead in the NFC North, making the odds of a winner-take-all matchup against Rodgers less likely. In a year full of surprises, Detroit's ascent continues to be one of the most remarkable.
Kansas City escapes with another narrow win, and proves they're a Super Bowl contender
Since Andy Reid took over in 2013, the Chiefs have always been a good team. Now it is finally time to start calling them a Super Bowl contender after they went into Atlanta and pulled off a victory, albeit another miraculous one.
For the second consecutive week, Kansas City used defense and special teams to their advantage. A 37-yard interception return by standout safety Eric Berry gave the Chiefs their first lead of the game with under a minute remaining in the first half. In the third quarter, Kansas City looked like they were about to punt the ball back to the Falcons, until backup wide receiver Albert Wilson took a direct snap and bolted through Atlanta's unsuspecting defense. Wilson got a sudden 55-yard touchdown that increased the Chiefs' lead to two scores.
The big play of the game, however, occurred after Atlanta managed to fight back and take the lead after a Matt Ryan touchdown pass with just over four minutes to play. Attempting a two-point try to go up 30-27, the normally clutch "Matty Ice" neglected to locate the aforementioned Berry, who, in another dramatic turn of events, jumped in front of Ryan's pass and took it the house.
Kansas City now owns road victories over Oakland, Denver, and Atlanta. That, along with their determination in all three phases of the game, should convince anyone that does not think the Chiefs are a serious contender that they are mistaken. However, I do think it is necessary to put Kansas City's success into perspective. They have been doing incredibly well in one-possession games this year (6-2). I mean, think about how the Chiefs managed to pull off their last three victories. Down by two-touchdowns in the fourth quarter against Carolina, the Chiefs needed an astonishing pick-six from Berry (does this guy make enough plays?) and a well-timed fumble by Carolina with less than a minute to play to complete a ridiculous comeback. When they played the Denver Broncos, the Chiefs needed another return touchdown from their special teams, a couple of clutch plays in very unfavorable circumstances to tie the game at the end of regulation, and a questionable coaching decision by Gary Kubiak. And, of course, we all know what happened yesterday.
The point is this: Kansas City is definitely for real. Their 9-3 record is not a fluke, because they are terrific in all three facets of the game and they dominate the turnover margin. However, their ability to make game-altering plays at such opportune moments is not sustainable and could cause their success in close games to even out in the long run. The question is whether or not they can ride out this good fortune until season's end.
Dark horse alert: Baltimore is dangerous
If Baltimore's offense can continue to play like they did on Sunday, is there any team in the AFC that wants to see this team in the playoffs? The normally anemic Ravens offense finally exploded in their 38-6 rout of Miami, and it was truly a complete performance.
Joe Flacco was tremendous, posting season highs in passing yards (381), touchdown passes (4), and Total QBR (94.3). While Flacco's outburst may have come as a surprise, Baltimore's terrific defensive showing should not be. Their defense actually has a case to be the league's best, as they rank number one against the run and are first in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, despite having played the league's eighth toughest slate of offenses. It should not come as a shock that they forced three Ryan Tannehill interceptions and held Jay Ajayi to just 61 rushing yards.
Clearly, the Ravens are capable of making noise in the playoffs. They have been one of the league's best teams since an uninspired loss to the Jets dropped them to 3-4. It all begins with their defense: in their last five games, Baltimore has held each of their opponents, with the exception of the Cowboys, to under 20 points. That includes the prolific Steelers, who the Ravens held to only 14 points when the two rivals met in early November. Perhaps this breakout game from Flacco is a sign of things to come. We know that "January" Joe makes his living in... well, January. Flacco's quarterback rating, yards per attempt, and touchdown percentage figures are all higher in the playoffs. Oh, and he's 10-5 in those games too, and many of those wins have come on the road.
With such an outstanding defense and a proven winner at quarterback, Baltimore is extremely capable of advancing a round or two in the playoffs. The only problem is that they might have trouble getting there. Pittsburgh is right on their heels at 7-5, making their Week 16 meeting at Heinz Field a de facto playoff game. Set aside time on your calendar for that one, if you have not done so already.
A word on the G.O.A.T.
Is it even a debate anymore? You know what I'm talking about. Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all-time. Did he really need to become the all-time wins leader this past week to prove that to you?
Nonetheless, it is impressive that Brady was "officially" able to add most winningest quarterback ever to his already impressive resume. Think about it. Four Super Bowl titles. Three Super Bowl MVP's. Most Super Bowl appearances for a quarterback. Most conference championship appearances for a quarterback. Eleven Pro Bowl appearances—and soon to be twelve. Two MVP's. Only quarterback to lead a team to a 16-0 season. Best win-percentage (.538) when tied or trailing the fourth quarter. And now we can say he has won the most career games in history as well? It seems the gap between Brady and everybody else who has ever played his position seems to be getting wider and wider by the week.