I already wrote about the Cardinals big victory against Minnesota on Thursday Night Football, which cemented a playoff berth.
As we move closer to the end of the season, the playoff picture is clearing up for both conferences.
Yet, some of the results are a bit surprising.
Jacksonville 51, Indianapolis 16 - The complete collapse of the Colts at Jacksonville yesterday begs the question of what is wrong with this team, why they are no closer to being an elite team after some tremendous steps forward last season, For a team fighting for their playoff lives, hoping to earn a home playoff game and desperately trying to defend their division title, getting blown out in a game as important as the one at Jacksonville yesterday is completely baffling.
Philadelphia 23, Buffalo 20 - A battle of two teams fighting desperately for their playoff lives, but only one could win. It wound up being the host Eagles, who managed to top Buffalo in the end, and keep their division title hopes alive, piecing together their second win in a row after looking like the season had fallen hopelessly apart for them. Now, however, they are in the driver's seat, with showdowns against Washington and the Giants in their final two weeks, and a big game hosting the Arizona Cardinals next week. As for Buffalo, this was a tough loss that might have sounded the death knell on their hopes to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Carolina 38, Atlanta 0 - There is a short list of teams that have managed to remain unbeaten this late into the season. The 1972 Miami Dolphins, the 1998 Denver Broncos, the 2005 Indianapolis Colts, the 2007 New England Patriots, the 2009 New Orleans Saints, the 2009 Indianapolis Colts, the 2011 Green Bay Packers, and now, these Carolina Panthers. But now the Panthers are entering true elite territory, even among teams with long undefeated starts, as the Panthers now have a chance to become only the fourth team in NFL history to start 14-0, should they manage to defeat the Giants in New Jersey next week. The problem for them is that the Giants could prove far tougher than Atlanta did in this last contest, and the G-Men have a history of beating undefeated teams. Everyone knows about the victory against unbeaten New England in Super Bowl XLII. But remember the Giants victory over a 13-0 Denver team in 1998, when no one expected it at all? You have to wonder if the Panthers are going to pick a game where they allow themselves to lose on purpose, in order to avoid the pressure of the undefeated mark once they get to the playoffs, like the 2009 Colts did against the Jets. If so, is this the one?
NY Jets 30, Tennessee 8 - The Jets handled this game efficiently in a relatively dangerous situation. After all, the Titans at this point are a spoiler team, eager just to win another game and snap their losing habit. it would have been a source of pride for them to beat a playoff contender on the road. But the Jets defense was in their face all day, and New York's offense pounded the ball and ate the clock. In the end, the Jets earn a predictably convincing win, and stay on track for the playoffs, avoiding a potential landmine of a game.
Kansas City 10, San Diego 3 - As with the Jets, this game featured one hot team (the Chiefs) hosting one irrelevant team (the Chargers), and as such, it posed a dangerous challenge for KC. The best that they could hope for is not to disappoint expectations. The Chargers have been playing a bit better in recent weeks, and they would have loved nothing better than to spoil Kansas City's playoff hopes. But the Chiefs did what they needed to do, grinding out a win at home, and keeping on pace to reach the playoffs with a seventh straight win.
Washington 24, Chicago 21 - This one pretty much wraps up Chicago's playoff chances, while it puts Washington more or less in the driver's seat for the NFC East division title. It was a back and forth game, but Washington proved more resourceful towards the end, and earned a tough road win. This loss puts Chicago too far back behind both Minnesota and Green Bay within the division, as well as Seattle for that final playoff spot, to entertain even the most remote hopes of making something happen. Another long off-season in the Windy City will be starting early.
Cleveland 24, San Francisco 10 - The Browns finally snapped their seven game losing streak, finally. They at least put something positive up by soundly beating the 49ers. Yet, it might have just prevented them from obtaining the first pick in the draft come spring, although we shall see. In any case, a solid victory for them.
Seattle 35, Baltimore 6 - This might have been a really huge game in the previous seasons. As it was, the Ravens were far out of the playoff picture heading into this one, while Seattle was really starting to look like they were coming on. The Seahawks came into Baltimore and dominated, handing the Ravens a blowout home loss that stings, and is a sign of the surprising futility for the Ravens this season.
New Orleans 24, Tampa Bay 17 - Tampa Bay looked like contenders for a while there, but this game might just have exposed them as pretenders. Now, the Buccaneers find themselves two games out of a playoff spot, with three games left, and no real chance of controlling their own destiny. Most likely, this loss proved fatal to their playoff chances this season. A good, solid win for the Saints, who have tightened up on defense considerably these last few weeks.
St. Louis 21, Detroit 14 - A game that did not mean much for the playoff picture, one way or the other. But the Rams managed to win a game for the first time in two months or so, beating lowly Detroit, another team that simply got nothing done this season.
Pittsburgh 33, Cincinnati 20 - This result was more shocking for the Bengals than just a mere loss to a playoff hopeful division rival. Losing Andy Dalton is even more shocking, since his play was so crucial for them this season. This is unlikely to cost them the division title, since they are still up by two, with three games remaining. However, this might jeopardize the Bengals chances of a division title, and certainly at least puts their ability to actually win a playoff contest into question. For the Steelers, a strong resurgence has put them in position to once again make the playoffs.
Green Bay 28, Dallas 7 - The Cowboys looked down and out for most of the season, until pulling off a rather miraculous road win at Washington last Monday. They were hoping to capitalize and keep their suddenly relevant division hopes alive, and exact a measure of revenge against the Packers in the process, who had eliminated them from the playoffs last season. But the Pack, who had struggled at home in recent weeks, returned to their previous, efficient form, and earned a solid 28-7 win and left no doubt, as they reclaimed sole possession of first place in the NFC North in the process.
Oakland 15, Denver 12 - Much like the Colts loss, this one made you kind of scratch your head. The Broncos have a chance at home field advantage, as well as basically wrapping up the division title. When the Broncos went up 12-0, it seemed like everything was going according to plan. But then suddenly, the Raiders defense was playing lights out, which is usually what the Denver defense does to other teams. Oakland capitalized on their opportunities, and not only got back into the game, but essentially took it over, frustrating the Broncos again and again, and handing them a shocking and costly loss.
New England 27, Houston 6 - The Patriots returned to form, and ended their slide at exactly the right time. After an amazing 10-0 start that had people wondering if they were capable of yet another perfect regular season entering the playoffs, New England suddenly suffered a slide, losing two straight games, and going from just about locking up the top seed, to suddenly finding themselves in possible third seed position. But this team always seems to hang in there, and they did it again. Looking elite once again, they made a tough Houston Texans team desperately fighting not only for a playoff berth, but a division title, look almost irrelevant. And the bad news of Andy Dalton's thumb injury taking him out for the duration of the season is good news for the Pats, as is Denver's surprising loss to the Raiders.