A look back at Week 14 in the NFL:
1. The takeaway from Week 14 is that the Super Bowl race is now wide open. Just a week ago, Philadelphia was the NFC favorite, but the loss of CarsonWentz means the odds are against them. Pittsburgh and New England were the AFC favorites and one of them may make it, but the Steeler defense isn’t the same without Ryan Shazier. And the New England offense has been sluggish the last two weeks. The Patriots led Buffalo only 9-3 at halftime two weeks ago and lost to Miami last week as the Patriots went 0-11 on third down and Tom Brady threw two picks. Jacksonville, likely to be the third seed, has possibly the best defense in the league, but an inconsistent quarterback in Blake Bortles even though he has played well the last two weeks. San Diego, which started out 0-4 but is 7-2 the last nine games, could wind up the fourth seed. In the NFC, Philadelphia has the best record at 11-2, but Wentz injury opens the door for the 10-3 Vikings and the 9-4 Rams, Saints and Panthers and the 8-5 Falcons and Seahawks. Of those seven teams, one will be left out of the playoffs. In a year without a dominant team, it’s anybody’s guess which teams will wind up in the Super Bowl.
2. Carson Wentz may have learned a lesson when he tore his ACL, probably from diving into the end zone against the Rams although coach Doug Pederson said it could have been from a non contact injury. Wentz showed grit by staying in the game after the dive that was nullified by a penalty and throwing a touchdown pass. The Eagles still won, 43-35. But he’s got to stop making risky dives. Now Nick Foles will try to become just the fourth backup to replace the starter late in the year and win the title. Jeff Hostetler replaced injured Phil Simms in 1990, Tobin Rote replaced Bobby Layne in 1957 and according to dandalyonsports.com, Ed Danowski replaced Harry Newman in 1934 when the Giants won the famous sneakers game when the Giants switched to sneakers at halftime because the field was frozen. Anyway, the odds are against the Eagles winning it with Foles.
3. What’s with Tom Brady in Miami? He fell to 7-9 there and played one of his worst games with the 27-20 loss to the Dolphins Monday night. He threw two picks and was 0 for 11 on third down. He was outplayed by, of all people. Jay Cutler. The Pats can still get the top seed by winning their last three, starting with Pittsburgh Sunday but they need Brady to play better to do it.
4. When the Chiefs started out 5-0 and the Chargers started out 0-4, nobody dreamed they would be tied for first place in the AFC West at 7-6 going into Saturday’s game between the two teams that will likely decide the division title. The Chiefs beat the Raiders 26-15 and the Chargers routed Washington. Since their fast start the Chiefs are 2-6 and since their slow start the Chargers are 7-2 so the momentum favors the Chargers.
5. Atlanta stayed alive in the NFC South race by beating New Orleans, 20-17, last Thursday night to boost its record to 8-5, a game behind the Saints and Panthers, who are both 9-4. Atlanta, though, has both the best and worst shot at the winning title. If the Falcons win their last three and wind up in a three-way tie with the Saints and Panthers, they win the tiebreakers and get the division title. The problem is they have to play New Orleans and Carolina in their last two games Besides playing Atlanta, the Saints have the Jets and Tampa Bay in their other two games and the Panthers have Green Bay, which gets Aaron Rodgers back this week, and Tampa Bay. So Atlanta likely has no margin for error. Unless the Falcons sweep the last three they figure to have to settle for being in the wild card hunt.