The AFC has clearly become a two-horse race, while the NFC might just have more viable horses than starting gates. For the Patriots and Steelers, the obvious class of the AFC, that #1 Seed will be immensely important, as it will dictate who gets to host a theoretical AFC title game. The two teams play in Pittsburgh Week 15 in a pivotal match-up. It will be key for the two teams to not get caught looking ahead, but that’s easier said than done. Meanwhile, the NFC is a dogfight at the top, with the Rams beating New Orleans to leapfrog into the 3 Seed. We told you about all the juicy upcoming NFC match-ups in this space last week, and Week 13 gives us a delightful slate – Eagles @ Seahawks, Vikings @ Falcons, and Panthers @ Saints. If Philly and Minny somehow fell, the 1 Seed would be in play for a half dozen teams. Buckle in for an exciting sprint to the finish.
Biggest Winner – Tennessee Titans
I started to put the LA Rams in this slot, but I feel like I’ve been boosting them all year long. While a win against the Saints is more impressive than narrowly beating the Jacoby Brissett-led Colts, I’m giving Tennessee the nod here. They uglied their way to a 20-16 victory, which vaulted them into the AFC South division lead, ahead of this week’s Biggest Loser. Their defense played well on the road, allowing just one TD and pounding the slippery Brissett for eight sacks. Most importantly, Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry led a five-plus minute game-winning drive in the 4th quarter – getting it done when they needed to. If the Titans learned one thing from this game, it should be that they need to feed Henry the ball in lieu of the sluggish DeMarco Murray (3.5 yards per carry). Rookie wide-out Corey Davis is slowly establishing himself, securing four catches for 39 yards in this one. Mariota will need to be healthy for this team to succeed, but they are in the driver’s seat in their division at 7-4. Fans should circle Week 17 when Jacksonville comes to town in what could very well be a battle for the division crown.
Biggest Loser – Jacksonville Jaguars
Blaine Gabbert Revenge Game? Yes please. Jacksonville came in on a four-game winning streak, which, when I typed that in Microsoft Word, caused Clippy to politely ask me “what the f***?” I was talking about. Well, all good things come to an end, and the aforementioned Mr. Gabbert ensured that his former ‘mates woke up Monday morning wearing frowns that befit the city of Jacksonville. The Jags couldn’t get Leonard Fournette rumbling, which is a serious problem because they still have Blake Bortles at QB. That will continue to be an issue, as he is a better runner than thrower. But then again, he’s probably a better pastry chef than thrower of the football too, because that’s a low bar to clear. It’s a tough loss for the Jags, who fall to second in the AFC South, behind the Titans. 3-2 is very doable down the stretch, with games against Indy and SF remaining, but Tennessee is now in the driver’s seat for a home playoff game. What’s amazing is that if not for Deshaun Watson’s ugly injury, the much-maligned AFC South could be on track to send three teams to the postseason. Dishonorable mentions for “Biggest Loser” go to the Chiefs and Cowboys (weekly contenders for this unfortunate distinction).
Rookie Watch – Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
If you drafted and sat on this guy in fantasy, you’re licking your chops right about now. Kamara just needed an opportunity, which arose when Adrian Peterson was traded after he was rightfully deemed a terrible fit for NOLA’s offense. The youngster out of Tennessee went off for his best game on Sunday, scoring a rushing TD and a receiving TD, while racking up 87 yards on the ground and 101 through the air. He’s nearly impossible to tackle, wriggling out of tight quarters with Darren Sproles-ian ease. He’s a talented receiver, which affords him ample opportunity to ball hard beside Drew Brees. Kamara is not just talented; he’s the most important Saints skill player. Expect to hear his name called a lot come playoff time.
Sleeper Awakens – Robby Anderson, New York Jets
Okay, so Anderson has been rising for a while now. Maybe it’s past due that I included him in my weekly column here. It’s his fifth straight week finding the end zone, and he got there twice this week. Anderson did serious damage on just six catches, totaling 146 yards and those two scores. He’s every bit of the cliché explosive playmaker, pairing an ability to get free downfield with slippery evasive moves after the catch. His story is really cool, as he went undrafted despite an excellent senior season at Temple and a sensual pro day performance (4.36 40 time). He had to beat out four other dudes in the 2016 preseason, and proceeded to make the most of his opportunities that year, filling in for the injured Eric Decker. He’s starting to come into his own, clicking with QB Josh McCown of late.
Dominating Performance – Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
This is the game Steve Sarkisian dreamed of calling when he took the Falcons Offensive Coordinator job. Atlanta’s All-World wide-out Julio Jones went for an astonishing 253 receiving yards and two TDs on 12 catches, even adding a 15 yard rush on an end-around. Maybe the most astonishing thing about this performance is that it is the third time Jones accumulated 250 yards in a game, which no player has ever done before. He’s now cleared 1,000 yards for the fourth consecutive year. Most importantly for Atlanta, he looks healthy heading into the final five weeks of the season.
Most Devastating Injury – Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
Cooper exited the field Sunday after a brutal head hit from Darian Stewart left the wide-out apparently unconscious where he lay. He did not return after being diagnosed with a concussion. It’s impossible to say how long he’ll be out, but any sort of extended absence would hamper the Raiders’ playoff chances. Those chances are suddenly not miniscule after the Chiefs coughed up a home game against the Bills, putting the Raiders just a game out in the AFC West. With games remaining against the Chiefs and Chargers, Oakland can win their way to January, but it will be tough to do without their top receiving threats. In addition to Cooper’s concussion, Michael Crabtree was tossed from the game for fighting, which could result in a suspension.
The bottom of the league held steady this week, with Cleveland (0-11), San Francisco (1-10), and the New York Giants (2-9) all losing. Many mock drafts are currently predicting Josh Rosen to go #1 overall to Cleveland. Is it possible that being picked by the Browns isn’t worth the prestige and extra money that comes along with being the top pick? Of course a player would never publicly admit that he didn’t want to go first (it would be unbecoming of the hypercompetitive expectation we have of athletes), but I wonder if a somewhat unconventional thinker like Rosen would want to avoid the miserable situation in Cleveland. Would he sandbag his own pro day in an effort to fall to a better team? It’s hard to imagine, but theoretically his career would be in much better hands in a situation like Denver, New York, or Arizona.
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