With week 13 in the NFL in the books, here are five things I took away from the 16 game slate:
1. The NFL should stop putting Steelers/Bengals games on national television
The Steelers rode their triplet of offensive stars to a 23-20 win over Cincinnati last night, but the lethal hits delivered throughout the game ultimately took precedence over the final score. Leaving out Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier’s frightening injury, players on both teams delivered sickening headshots to the likes of Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict (who was carted off the field) and Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Bryant. When ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters asked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger about the graphic nature of the game, he simply responded, “AFC North” football. That oversimplified explanation doesn’t pass muster. Football is inherently violent enough without adding this nonsense to the equation (this also includes Rob Gronkowski’s egregious hit in the Patriots/Bills game). Along with the paucity of good quarterback play (or simply higher expectations of them), garbage like this keeps fans away and sickens those who don’t choose to change the channel. Ultimately, this falls at the feet of the league for giving these teams a national platform. This isn’t the first time a game between these two teams got chippy (see: 2016 AFC Wild Card Game), even the announcers brought up their history. If the NFL is serious about head injuries, and that remains dubious, they and their network partners can’t continue to broadcast this type of stuff in primetime. They have to know what they are going to get from a Steelers/Bengals game at this point.
2. The Ravens will make the playoffs…probably
Speaking of AFC North teams, the Ravens greatly aided their playoff chances with an impressive 44-20 win over the Detriot Lions. Quarterback Joe Flacco temporarily abandoned his check-down tendencies and finished the game with an 83.4 total QBR in the victory while the defense collected three more turnovers to pad their league-leading total. The Ravens dispatched their second toughest remaining opponent with a trip to Pittsburgh coming up this Sunday night. Even if Baltimore falls to the Steelers (wiping out their division title hopes in the process), their competition after that is mediocre at best; they go to Cleveland before hosting the Colts and the Bengals for their final three games. Of those teams, Cincinnati has the best Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), 20th according to Football Outsiders. Thanks to this lenient schedule, FiveThirtyEight gives Baltimore an 85 percent chance to make the playoffs. Against the Bungles and two of the worst teams in the league, the Ravens can reach the postseason even if Flacco constantly throws the ball just barely past the line of scrimmage. If they want to get further, they need the Flacco that torched the Lions last Sunday.
3. There was no point in benching Eli Manning
Now that New York Giants fired head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese, the decision to sit Eli Manning becomes even more baffling. Manning sacrificed his consecutive games streak to make way for Geno Smith, and the results weren’t that different. The former New York Jets signal-caller went 21-for-34 for 212 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s loss to Oakland. Was there any reason to expect any better from Smith considering the team’s lack of talent at receiver and on the offensive line? In the end, this did nothing for the Giants outside of improving their chances of drafting Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold. Frankly, the team should look into Lamar Jackson or another QB that has some athleticism if the Giants trot out the same sorry O-Line next year. Starting or sitting Manning wasn’t going to increase New York’s chances of beating the Raiders. Now that he’s scheduled to start against the Cowboys, it was also a waste of time.
4. The Eagles will be fine, but their loss at Seattle was concerning
I was not a big believer in Carson Wentz coming into the season. The Eagles’ first game against Washington did little to assuage my concerns; he was constantly off target, even when throwing short passes. Since then, however, Wentz has hit his stride, ranking third among qualified passers in total QBR, earning deserved consideration for league MVP. Wentz quest hit a bit of a snag in Seattle last Sunday night. The North Dakota State product played turned in a “meh” performance (53.8 QBR) that included an interception and critical fumble in the red zone. Those turnovers aided Seattle’s cause in a 24-10 win. Philadelphia doesn’t have too much to worry about following the loss; they would have a first-round bye if the season ended today. But they need to bounce back quickly, as they face another potential playoff foe this week when they go to the L.A. Coliseum to play the Rams.
5. Kansas City is in trouble.
That 5-0 start must feel like a lifetime ago for Chiefs fans. Since their hot start, Kansas City has gone 1-5 with a minus-24 point differential. The defense has played atrociously (24th in DVOA), Alex Smith has played like Alex Smith, and Andy Reid’s squad has gone from Super Bowl contenders to possibly missing the playoffs altogether. Don’t take my word for it; Football Outsiders gives them a 56.8 percent chance to make the playoffs. Fortunately for K.C., they still have games against Oakland and the Chargers (the currently hold tiebreakers over both) before finishing the year against the awful Dolphins and at the wretched Broncos. They still have the best chance to win the AFC West out of the other 6-6 teams- Oakland and Los Angeles. Given their recent play, I wouldn’t bet on it though.