My thoughts on all 32 NFL franchises ahead of the chaotic 2021 off-season conclude today with thoughts on the eight teams from NFC south and west divisions.
There were records, upsets and the throw of the year. With one week left until the playoffs, where are we at?
1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-1)
Last week: 1
The Chiefs claimed home-field advantage and a bye week to start the playoffs. It was a bit of a pedestrian day by Patrick Mahomes’ standards though. That saw the Chiefs hold on for a win against the lowly Falcons (who missed a game-tying field goal with a few seconds left). The KC defence again played pretty well, which is encouraging ahead of the next phase. Travis Kelce also set the single-season tight-end receiving record with 1416 yards. So, with nothing on the line next week, they’ll be resting key starters.
2. Buffalo Bills (11-3)
Last week: 3
As the saying goes, no one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills, and right now they are a team with a tonne of swagger. They went in to Foxboro against a potentially tricky opponent in the Patriots and ruthlessly destroyed them. For another week, no one was able to get between the Josh Allen-Stefon Diggs combo as they combined for 145 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Now they have a very curious game against the division rival Dolphins, as they try to get in to the playoffs.
3. Green Bay Packers (12-3)
Last week: 3
Lambeau Field looked like a game of Madden, when you’d set the weather to blizzard. Think that would slow the number of points scored? Not really – especially for the Packers, who dealt a decent flogging of Tennessee. There is quite a bit intrigue now with a clash next week against the surging Bears.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3)
Last week: 3
RIP to the Steelers’ 2020 season. That’s what everyone was thinking as they trailed Indy 24-7 in the second half of their game. But wait – you mean they came back and won?! You bet your lunch money they did. They stormed back with 21 unanswered points to maybe get their momentum kick-started again. Next up, Cleveland.
5. New Orleans Saints (11-4)
Last week: 5
We’ve heard of AK47, but what about AK41? Alvin Kamara shot holes all through the Vikings’ defence on his way to an NFL record six rushing touchdowns. The only thing that could stop him was Sean Payton subbing him out on a goal-line drive to let Taysom Hill run it in. Bummer, as that would’ve been quite something. Also, a bummer for anyone playing against Kamara in fantasy football.
6. Seattle Seahawks (11-4)
Last week: 6
It was another really good week for these birds, as they won, while the Rams and Cards folded. The much maligned defence stood up to what the Rams had to offer, which ended up being not a lot. They’ve now clinched the NFC West and are still a shot at stealing the NFC’s number one seed.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-5)
Last week: 10
The Bucs are quite happy they brought in a guy named Tom Brady this year. Not only did he break their season record for most passing touchdowns (33), but he did it without throwing 30 picks, like Jameis Winston. Plus, they’re off to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. I didn’t even realise it had been that long. I was only 25 years old in 2007. What a time to be alive.
8. Cleveland Browns (10-5)
Last week: 7
So what happens when the Browns lose all of their wide receivers due to COVID? Well, their plans get completely thrown out the window and they fall to the Jets. They also had to sub a couple of offensive linemen last minute and their flight was delayed. They still needed the win though and they blew it, with Baker Mayfield fumbling the ball all over the place. Now they’ll have to beat Pittsburgh to guarantee a spot in the playoffs.
9. Tennessee Titans (10-4)
Last week: 8
I didn’t realise until the game against the Packers that Tennessee only had 15 sacks all season, leaving them dead last in the NFL rankings. That’s a problem against anyone, but especially Aaron Rodgers. After drawing back to trail 19-14, the Titans completely fell apart and let this one become a blowout. I’m unsure what they’ll bring to the playoffs, but pass rush will already be locked in to their 2021 draft plans.
10. Indianapolis Colts (10-5)
Last week: 9
I am not sure if any Colts fans threw any remotes through their TVs, but the game against the Steelers would definitely qualify. I mean, this was an Atlanta-level collapse. Riding high at 24-7, who knew just how bad things were about to unfold for these guys. Now they are on the outside looking in and relying on the Browns to lose Pittsburgh, while winning their own game against Jacksonville.
11. Miami Dolphins (10-5)
Last week: 11
This was crazy. In the final quarter, Tua Tagovailoa was benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick, who immediately added some juice. However, the Raiders looked to have this game, as they didn’t run the ball in for a touchdown. Instead, they kicked a field goal, leaving just 19 seconds for the Dolphins to go 50 yards. That was when the Fitzpatrick magic happened. Fitzpatrick had a Raiders lineman grab his face mask and pull it sideways, so he couldn’t even see where he was throwing the ball. Oh, but throw it he did. The threw a 34-yard completion to receiver Mack Hollins on the sideline. Add on a 15-yard penalty for the face mask and they could then kick the game-winning field goal. It was the pass of the year. The Dolphins stay ahead of the Ravens.
12. Baltimore Ravens (10-5)
Last week: 12
Even though the Dolphins stayed ahead of them in the AFC playoff race, things are still looking quite promising for these birds. With the Browns and Colts both losing, they are now on the inside track. And with the way they are starting to play, they could be one hell of a danger in the playoffs. As a team they rushed for 249 yards against the Giants and the defence was also dominant. Win against the Bengals and they should punch their playoff ticket.
13. Los Angeles (9-6)
Last week: 13
There was no bounce-back against Seattle and Jared Goff is under an injury cloud due to dislocating his thumb. He did get it popped back in during the game and played on for what it was worth, but he now faces surgery, so he has been scratched for the virtual playoff game next week against Arizona. This is all getting really interesting.
14. Chicago Bears (8-7)
Last week: 15
You know those people who went on to wildly overachieve? That seems like Mitch Trubisky right now. He is piloting the fourth most efficient offence in the league right now. Granted, this week was against the Jaguars, but they’ve been putting up points for about the last month now. Plus, if they tip over the Packers or Arizona loses, they will be in to the playoffs, which would be peak 2020.
15. Arizona Cardinals (8-7)
Last week: 14
There’s no sugar-coating this – you blew it. Arizona held their fate in their own hands and let it slip against a 49ers team lead by CJ Beathard. Kyler Murray picked up an injury at the end of that game too, but he is going to pour some magic water on his leg to play against the back-up quarterback-led Rams. It should be compelling viewing.
16. Las Vegas Raiders (7-7)
Last week: 16
What a heart-breaking couple of weeks it’s been for the Raiders. They got pipped in overtime by the Chargers, then this week they had the win in the palm of their hand only for it to disappear into thin air like a magic trick. There is plenty to ponder this off-season and some serious fortifying of the defence will be in order.
17. Washington (6-9)
Last week: 17
It was a bad week for Washington and an even worse week for former first-round pick Dwayne Haskins. Following a COVID-breaching visit to a strip bar the previous week, Haskins was given one last shot at the quarterback spot against the Panthers. He did poorly, was benched for Taylor Heinicke and the following day got cut from the team altogether. As for the team, if they can beat Philly, they will make it to the playoffs.
18. Dallas Cowboys (6-9)
Last week: 25
It was a big jump for the Cowboys this week, as they’ve jumped right into playoff contention. Early on Monday morning, they will take on the Giants to try and sneak in the back door. They’ll then need to wait it out for the late game between Washington and Philly. Could they actually make it?
19. San Francisco 49ers (6-9)
Last week: 21
This 49ers team just keeps on fighting, no matter what. Given the Super Bowl hangover from hell, these guys just keep on keeping on. Led by Jeff Wilson Jr’s 183 rushing yards, CJ Beathard’s three touchdowns and the return of George Kittle at tight end, they managed to upset the Arizona apple cart. Kittle also said that he was happy to spoil the Cards’ playoff push, as he grew up a Bears fan.
20. Los Angeles Chargers (6-9)
Last week: 24
It was another satisfying and close win against a division opponent. And even though they did give up 13 points in the final quarter, they were not to be denied this time. I know this season is a write-off, but there’s a bunch to be excited about for the future of this franchise. We’ll find out when the next season gets underway.
21. Minnesota Vikings (6-9)
Last week: 18
Watching the Vikings’ game against New Orleans, I got the impression that Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer had given their defence a Christmas holiday. What a nice guy. Seriously, these guys couldn’t stop a stationary object. They let Alvin Kamara run all over them, but on the other side of the ball they did actually look pretty good. If they get some guys healthy and add a few defensive pieces in the off-season, they could be back in the mix.
22. New England Patriots (6-9)
Last week: 19
The most energetic part of this game for the Pats was when Bill Belichick threw a sideline telephone handset away in disgust. Maybe that’s where Cam Newton has been learning it from? I saw a troubling stat that showed Josh Allen had thrown more touchdown passes (four) at Gillette Stadium this season than Newton (two). No wonder it’s been a struggle.
23. New York Giants (5-10)
Last week: 20
They’re a scrappy bunch of scrappers, these Giants. But really, that will only get you so far. They were healthily outplayed by the Ravens. That extinguished their playoff hopes. I’m sure there’ll be another big lot of questions being asked at the Meadowlands over the break. Is Daniel Jones the guy? Defence? There is plenty to ponder.
24. Denver Broncos (5-10)
Last week: 23
This is another team that isn’t that far off. Certainly big improvements need to be made, but the personnel they have on both sides of the ball indicates they should be playing better. But you’re only as good as your record, so Drew Lock is hoping for another shot next year.
25. Carolina Panthers (5-10)
Last week: 29
They turned up for their match against Washington wearing Rivera strong t-shirts in honour of their former coach Ron Rivera, who beat cancer earlier this year. There’s obviously still a lot of love there and his old team played like a Ron Rivera team in dealing their playoffs hopes a serious blow. The Panthers currently own the ninth pick in next year’s draft, so reviews will start gearing up.
26. Cincinnati Bengals (4-10-1)
Last week: 30
They had another win. This time it was an offensive shootout against the fun Texans. Last week’s hero – back-up, back-up quarterback Ryan Findley – was benched in favour of back-up quarterback Brandon Allen. And boy, did he have himself a time. He notched 371 yards and two touchdowns, including a beauty to wide receiver Tee Higgins. The jungle cats went toe-to-toe in scoring and came out one better. It was a good reward for a gutsy team.
27. Detroit Lions (5-10)
Last week: 22
Where to start here? Quarterback Matthew Stafford left the game early with and ankle injury and things spiralled downward from there. If not for a 74-yard punt return by Jamal Agnew, this could’ve been an even more embarrassing scoreline than the 47-7 drubbing. I have a lot of admiration for Detroit Lions fans. If you are one, please comment below, as you deserve some recognition for your sacrifice.
28. Philadelphia Eagles (4-10-1)
Last week: 26
It seemed as though the Eagles were on track against the Cowboys, as Jalen Hurts connected with DeSean Jackson on an 81-yard touchdown bomb to send the Eagles out to a 14-3 lead. But from there it all came apart at the seams, as another playoff dream went down in flames.
29. Houston Texans (4-11)
Last week: 27
“We stink” were the wise words of the Texans’ spiritual leader JJ Watt. I know I keep calling them the fun Texans, but Watt was having none of that in the press conference following the loss to the Bengals. It was one of those rare moments when a professional athlete cut through all the PR speak and just ripped some truths about his forlorn team. It’s sad, but also quite refreshing.
30. Atlanta Falcons (4-11)
Last week: 28
Kicker Younghoe Koo has been one of the bright spots for the Falcons in this terrible year. He was named to the Pro Bowl last week and deserved to be in a season when he has not missed a single field goal. Well, at least he had not missed a field goal – until the one to force overtime against the table-topping Chiefs. It’s just been one of those seasons. Matty Ice and the defence actually played well though.
31. New York Jets (2-13)
Last week: 31
Fresh from losing by winning, the Jets repeated the dose. Jets fans were already annoyed having watched the team blow the Trevor Lawrence pick and now have that fate sealed after a gutsy win over a receiver-less Browns. And good on them too. Anything can happen on any given Sunday. Running back Frank Gore also became the third running back in NFL history to eclipse 16,000 rushing yards, which sure is something.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-14)
Last week: 32
One thing that unsettles me when watching sport is the Philadelphia Eagles getting booed by their own fans in a game. So I was likewise taken aback as Jaguars fans cheered scoring plays by the Bears. I know they are looking at Trevor Lawrence, having now sealed the number one draft pick, but it all just seems a bit wrong.