Playoff race gathers speed


Week 14 of the NFL season saw nine one-possession games and many critical playoff spots shift place. With just three weeks remaining, teams with outside shots at the postseason will begin to do everything they can to get into the hunt late.

One of these teams is the Dallas Cowboys, who stayed alive with their second-straight win and second on the season over the lowly New York Giants. At 7-6, the Cowboys are hanging on by a thread in the NFC wildcard picture. The Cowboys are looking up at Seattle, Carolina and Atlanta and even with Detroit and Green Bay.

Dallas will need to win their remaining three games as well as get some help from other teams around the league if they wish to qualify. Running back Ezekiel Elliot will return to the field in week 16 against the Seahawks. This could prove to be a critical matchup.

In the week’s most hyped game, the Philadelphia Eagles clinched the NFC East and moved back into the NFC’s top slot with a road win over the Rams. In a back-and-forth thriller, the Eagles lost star quarterback Carson Wentz to a knee injury and had to rely on backup Nick Foles to finish off the game. Foles did well and secured the win, but Wentz is out for the season and he will have to make a habit out of it.

Foles was effective as a starter on the Eagles in 2013 and, since, he has left and accomplished little. He was a serious MVP candidate when he was at his best and some consider him to be one of the better backup quarterbacks in the NFL. However, I didn’t see this team making the Super Bowl even if they had Wentz in the starting lineup. Without him, I believe the top-seeded Eagles are set for an early exit in January despite clinching already.

A Rams loss gave Russell Wilson and the Seahawks a prime chance to get back into a first-place tie in the NFC West. However, Seattle had to travel to Jacksonville and just weren’t able to get anything going offensively until it was way too late. Wilson is an MVP candidate, but these are the sort of games he needs to win in order to get his team into the playoffs. The Seahawks and Rams will meet next week in a gigantic divisional showdown.

The week began with another divisional bout between the Falcons and the Saints oil Thursday night. Despite poor quarterback play by Matt Ryan, Atlanta was able to squeak out a much-needed 20-17 home victory over their rivals. Drew Brees had a chance to win the game at the end, or at least send it to OT, but he threw an uncharacteristic interception into the end zone to give New Orleans their fourth loss. This was huge, not only to keep the Falcons alive, but also because the Panthers evened up their record with the Saints with a win on Sunday. The division has three teams alive, two of which are tied for the lead.

While the Saints dropped this game, I still think they’re one of the biggest threats in the NFC along with the Panthers. New Orleans was without star rookie running back Alvin Kamara for most of the game thanks to a hit to his helmet. Instead of the deadly duo of Kamara and Mark Ingram, it was just Ingram. With these two backs in the lineup, they can beat anybody. Without one, they are now proven vulnerable.

Carolina won their ninth game by handing the Minnesota Vikings just their third loss of the season. The Vikings, who currently hold the number two seed and a bye in the NFC playoff picture, lost for the first time since Oct. 1. Still, they’re in a good situation with head-to-head wins over most conference divisional leaders and a hard-fought road loss on Sunday.

In the AFC, the Steelers improved to 11-2 with a win over division rival Baltimore Ravens at home on Sunday night football. Despite the hot start and ultimate victory, the Steelers often looked lost on the defensive side of the ball without linebacker Ryan Shazier to lead the unit. Shazier suffered a scary spine injury in last week’s win over the Bengals.

Pittsburgh can score with the best of them, but there is a lot of concern on the defensive side of the ball now. The good news is that they clinched the AFC North with a win. The bad news is that Tom Brady is coming to town next week for a matchup that should all but decided who has home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

On the other hand, the AFC West continues to leave more questions than answers. The Chiefs finally found a way to win a football game with a 26-15 victory over the Raiders at home. The Chargers, meanwhile, kept pace with another win over Washington at home. With records of 7-6 apiece, Kansas City currently holds the tiebreaker thanks to a win over the Chargers in week 3. The two will face-off again on Saturday night in Kansas City. The Raiders are still alive in the hunt as well.

It was an ugly day for the Texans all around. Not only did they lose to the lowly San Francisco 49ers, but backup quarterback Tom Savage showed signs of a seizure and coughed up blood after a nasty hit and did not return to the game. Instead, it was T.J. Yates who would showcase his talents in Houston. If it weren’t for DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans might not have scored a point.

Houston continues to spiral downward and find themselves starting their third string quarterback. It’s been a lost cause since the injury of Deshaun Watson, and the Texans can just play for draft picks over these last few weeks.