NFL Week 15: Any Given Sunday

Packers stun America’s Team, Vikings shoot down Eagles again

Green Bay went to Jerry World with quarterback Aaron Rodgers sidelined, then trailed 26-3 at the half. Dallas insisted on passing the ball, steering away from running back DeMarco Murray and the productive ground attack. The game was all but over, until a balanced Packers offense surged against the worst-ranked defense in the league. As improbable as it was, the Cheese Heads stole one on the road to keep their playoff hopes alive, 37-36. Tony Romo aired the ball out but threw another costly interception, a play that head coach Jason Garrett said was audibled from a run to a pass. That led to more shenanigans from receiver Dez Bryant, as Dallas shot themselves in the foot in the NFC East race.

That’s right, earlier on Sunday the Eagles got outscored in Minnesota. Quarterback Matt Cassel has been on a quiet role lately, guiding the Vikings to a 48-30 home victory without MVP running back Adrian Peterson. Cassel shred the secondary for 382 yards and a pair of TDs, 163 yards to receiver Greg Jennings who caught one score. Fullback Matt Asiata started, fulfilling his role by plunging into the endzone for that hat trick. Defensive end Jared Allen made his presence felt with pressure early and often, sacking Nick Foles twice. Foles connected  with receiver Desean Jackson 10 times for jsut under 200 yards and a score, throwing three touchdowns in total. He also tossed interception number two on the year, leading Philadelphia with 41 yards on the ground. The NFL’s leading rusher, running back LeSean McCoy, was surprisingly limited to 13 touches. Minnesota beat them a few years ago to ruin their playoff hopes, trying to play spoiler again.

Bears roar in Cleveland, Ravens kicking it in Detroit, Steelers Stump Bengals

Chicago inserted quarterback Jay Cutler back into the lineup, who was able to overcome two picks with a trio of touchdown passes. Running back Matt Forte carried the load, 24 rushes for 127 swift yards. The best receiver tandem, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey, they came to play and the offense got a boost from tight end Martellus Bennett. Cleveland was moving the chains on the ground, then that strategy came to a halt and they fell behind. Receiver Josh Gordon was contained but still found his way for six, it was the defense that contributed two TDs. The Bears got some plays from cornerback Zach Bowman to seal the deal, 38-31, moving into first place after Detroit dropped a home game on Monday Night Football.

When the Lions lose, it’s a result of them beating themselves more than anything opponents do. The same can be said when Baltimore came to town, kicker Justin Tucker booted six field goals for an ugly 18-16 win. Far from pretty, the Ravens moved the ball just enough, for Tucker to kick a game winning field goal from 61-yards out. The stat line reveals that receiver Calvin Johnson was just shy of a triple-digit performance, unfortunately he had three huge drops including a failed two-point conversion. Detroit’s defensive line applied constant pressure on Flacco, but it was the Ravens’ defense snagging a few picks from quarterback Matthew Stafford. A little poetic justice, the game was decided by safety Matt Elam, the guy that called Johnson old intercepted Stafford on the final drive. Detroit trails Chicago by a game now, with Baltimore sneaking back into the NFC North picture, they could take the division from Cincinnati by winning out.

The Bengals growth was stunted on Sunday Night Football in Pittsburgh, 30-20. A battered secondary wasn’t the problem, the defense as a whole couldn’t get off the field although they played better in the second half. The Steelers forced punts while the special teams gave the offense great field advantage in the first half, there was a punt that receiver Antonio Brown took to the house. Brown also caught a receiving touchdown. Cincinnati couldn’t muster up much on the ground, and quarterback Andy Dalton only hooked up with receiver A.J. Green on nine of 18 targets for under a buck. Just when it looked like the defensive scheme was making up for losing starters to injuries, the rival Steelers exposed them to keep slim playoff hopes alive.

Home-field advantage slips away from Patriots, Dolphins hovering over two playoff spots

Jockeying for an AFC spot, New England fell short of a comeback in Miami, 24-20. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has out-dueled his counterparts all year, he got the best of Tom Brady to close in on their AFC East lead. Both signal callers eclipsed 300 yards, the difference being that Tannehill threw three touchdown strikes without a turnover. Receiver Mike Wallace diced his way to a hundred-yard performance. Receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola ran wild for 130+ yards each. Both teams got viable production rushing, the thing is that both were sustaining drives with the other trying to quickly respond. The Patriots tallied a trio of sacks and while the Dolphins only notched one. They were all over Brady though, especially on that last drive, concluded with a pick in the endzone. New England losing gives Denver the advantage for the top seed in the AFC while giving Miami a slight chance at the division title. The Dolphins are also neck and neck with Baltimore for that sixth and final wildcard spot.

Seahawks make themselves at home, Panthers handling business, Poisonous Big Apple

The Jets are out out playoff discussions, losing at Carolina 30-20. New York focused on containing the running ability of Cam Newton, so the quarterback sat back and picked apart a vulnerable secondary. Both teams ran the ball with success, falling behind took that option away. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith was harassed, getting sacked four times and tossing a pick six. He did throw for a score and scramble effectively. Running back Deangelo Williams torched NY for 168 total yards, with tight end Greg Olsen emerging as a go-to target in the process. Carolina pulls even with New Orleans, looking to return the favor in a week 16 showdown. Those two teams are battling for the second seed and a bye, with the other dropping to fifth and playing on the road in the postseason.

The Giants haven’t come close to the playoff team some expected them to be. Quarterback Eli Manning has been clutch in the past but was never elite. Seattle went to the Meadowlands, trying to make themselves at home to return there for the Super Bowl down the road. Manning was forced into a handful of interceptions, yes that would be five picks in one game where they were shut out 23-0 at home. He is on his way to lead the NFL in interceptions for the third time in his career. The Seahawks looked like they were practicing on their aerial attack, Marshawn Lynch went beats mode for 120 total yards (including 6 catches for 73 yards). The Seahawks have made the playoffs and are on the verge of clinching the top seed and home-field advantage. Who’s going to beat the 12th man?

Rams smother Saints, 49ers Digging in Tampa for a better seed

Former rivals, St. Louis hosted New Orleans and straight up bullied them 27-16. The Rams aggressive defense got in the receivers’ faces, practically living in the Saints’ backfield. They hit quarterback Drew Brees early and often, rattling him for a pair of picks and four sacks. Rookie running back Zac Stacy paved the way, battering the Saints for 133 yards and finding his way into the endzone. Quarterback Kellen Clemsn was efficient, taking advantage of short fields with two touchdown passes and field goals.The Saints offense put the defense in a whole, making them one-dimensional and even worse, taking tight end Jimmy Graham out of the game with double coverage. The Saints head to Carolina with the NFC South on the line.

San Francisco is playing their best football of the season. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick made good decisions against the cover-2, relying on his playmakers, running back Frank Gore and tight end Vernon Davis. Joining in on the fun was receiver Michael Crabtree, who has brought a different dynamic to the team after missing the majority of the season. The 49ers defense was active as usual, either hitting someone or getting their hands on the ball (4 sacks, 7 passes defended). Tampa Bay didn’t get anything going on the ground, which put rookie quarterback Mike Glennon in an undesirable position throughout. Glennon had his moments, leaning on tight end Tim Wright and receiver Vincent Jackson.

AFC West scoreboard watching, Cardinals hanging by a moment, Colts regaining form?

Thursday Night Football unveiled the San Diego Super Chargers. They went to Mile High Stadium with a gameplan and excuted it to a tee. Running back Ryan Mathews controlled the game for the Bolts, keeping quarterback Peyton Manning on the sidelines as much as possible. It was an off day for the highest scoring offense in football, they were definitely out of rhythm. San Diego used the blueprint illustrated by New England a few weeks back, daring Denver to run while contesting receivers at the line of scrimmage. The Chargers are clinging onto improbable wildcard odds. On the flipside, Denver lost but so did New England, giving the Broncos the leverage to lock up the first seed. The Bolts could be a tough out if they snuck in to the dance, they commanded this game 27-20.

Kansas City has the same record as Denver, except the Broncos swept them (twice). The Chiefs, specifically running back Jamaal Charles, has done it all and then some this season. He had a field day against the Raiders, finishing just shy of 200 yards passing. Oakland did what they could with rookie quarterback Matt McGloin trying to make plays. You can’t really say much about each defense. The Chiefs are 2013, tied with the Broncos for the AFC West, with the runner-up falling down to the fifth or sixth seed. Both running backs did their thing alright, Kansas City clinched a spot in the postseason by beating the Raiders 56-31.

The Colts got back to playing their style of fooball, playing tough to hand Houston their 12th consecutive defeat 25-3. After producing in limited snaps as of late, running back Trent Richardson received the bulk of the work. Indianapolis picked up four sacks and two picks, they were all over rookie quarterback Case Keenum. The Texans are in full rebuild mode, as they get a look at their young talent. The Colts are young and impatient, they are built for the playoffs. The loss of receiver Reggie Wayne was a big blow, one that can be aided with some shuffling of the faces.

Arizona did everything to keep themselves in the playoff hunt 37-34, before doing everything to give the game away. Tennessee woke up in the 4th quarter to send the game to overtime. The Cardinals lost receiver Larry Fitzgerald to a concussion, that came on an onside kick that hit his hands, in which the Titans recovered. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick did what he could 402 yards and 4 TDs later. An overtime interception (one of two) sealed their fate, giving life to the Cardinals that are are on bubble for a wildcard spot. Running back Andre Ellington got back to his pre-injury form, going hand-in-hand with quarterback Carson Palmer’s 100.8 rating.

Redskins lose in the A-T-L, Bills and Jaguars playing for pride, Sneak peak at the future

Washington went for the win, they didn’t get the 2-point conversion but it was the right call to go for it. A battle between teams that made the playoffs last year, well they are actually in the cellar of the standings. The great Tony Gonzalez hauled in another touchdown reception, the future Hall of Famer can still play at a high level but it’s nice to see him leave on his own terms. On paper, the stats suggest that the Redskins played better offensively. Quarterback Kirk Cousins threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns, running back Alfred Morris ran for 98 yards. Unfortunately, the two combined for four turnovers. Receiver Pierre Garcon went over a hundred yards with a score, as deep threat Aldrick Robinson was a yard shy of the mark. Running back Steven Jackson punched the ball in twice.

No game is meaningless, on Sunday Buffalo escaped Jacksonville 27-20. It was an opportunity for rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel to get reps, he had an rocky but active game as a dual-threat. With receiver Stevie Johnson trying to play after his mother passed away unexpectedly (prayers to the family and friends), Manuel got the ball to rookie receiver Robert Woods, he turned the ball over twice yet managed a rating of 105. Sprinkle in tight end Scott Chandler with a running back duo, C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson did their damage between the tackles against an improved Jaguars defense. Shining in  a losing effort was running back Jordan Todman, getting the call in the absence of Maurice Jones-Drew with 153 total yards. Tight end Mercedes Lewis has been healthy and productive lately, his 4 catches went for 54 yards and a TD.