NFL Week 13: AFC Playoff Picture
Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and weekend as well, as Week 13 kicked off. With five weeks left in the seasons, December could be the most "wonderful time of the year" for some playoff teams. Others could be feeling a cold chill after the season is done. Let's hope your team makes it a "December to Remember."
Conference Clincher: Indianapolis Colts (11-0)
The Colts roll into Week 13 with an undefeated record. What's new?
I'll tell you what's new for the Colts. They are now the first NFL team to win at least 11 games for seven straight seasons and the first to win five straight games after trailing in the fourth quarter.
What certainly wasn't new for the Houston Texans is their 15th loss to the Colts in the 16 times they've faced each other since 2002.
In the "post-Marvin Harrison Era" in Indy, the Colts have seen their offense shape up nicely with the routine success of Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, the continued progress of developing receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, and the emergence of second-year running back Chad Simpson.
5 defensive starters were out on Sunday, but familiar faces solidified the defense. Clint Session ran a pick into the endzone and would later see Robert Mathis recover a stripped fumble from Matt Schaub resulting in a Chad Simpson score which sealed the comeback victory as The Colts rallied from a 20-7 deficit at the half.
The Colts' secondary, decimated due to injuries, were exposed in the first half, but rookie corners Jacob Lacey and Jerraud Powers continue too show promise.
The Colts have always showed they were a resilient team but in particular defensively they can look back too the 2006 season, where they ranked last in the league in rush defense but finished second on their way to a Super Bowl victory in Miami.
Still, that was then. Now, key defenders Marlin Jackson and Bob Sanders are out for the season.
Hopefully, after missing time in Week 12, Dwight Freeney can continue too be a welcomed force for the Colts the rest of the way.
We can only wonder how well this defense will hold up in the playoffs.
AFC East Leader: New England Patriots (7-4)
The Patriots aren't looking so much like the Patriots of old recently.
A 38-17 thumping on Monday night by the Saints had the New Orleans faithful chanting, "Who dat say they gonna beat them Saints?" and left the Patriots in a pool of humility.
Coach Bill Belichick said about his defense, "We had several blown coverages and they took advantage. There were enormous mistakes on our part. You can't make those mistakes against a good team."
In a summary, he called them "really bad."
It seems clear now that Belichick doesn't have a lot of confidence in his young defense as evident by having his team convert a fourth-and-four on the New Orleans' 10-yard line in the third quarter.
This move follows the much controversial fourth-and-two on New England's own 28 that Belichick decided to go for against the Colts with the game in hand. You can debate Bill's reasoning there but you can't deny that it made for "fiery" sports talk weeks after wards.
Are we seeing a declining Patriots defense?
The lack of pressure on the quarterback was clear from the Patriots. They have given up 73 points combined in their meetings with the Colts and Saints, playing well against the Colts but not when it counted later in the game.
The only defensive player that was part of their last Super Bowl in 2004—somebody an average NFL fan would recognize—is nose tackle Vince Wilfork.
The defense has played sufficiently for most of the season but was exposed Monday night by one of the league's top defenses.
We expect the Pats to right the ship and make the playoffs but with obvious issues, will they stumble again?
Coach Belichick had to admit something this week that he often doesn't have to: he was "out coached."
AFC North Leader: Cincinnati Bengals (8-3)
The Bengals have definitely been a nice surprise in the NFL this year and as much as this might disgust fans of other AFC North teams, I'll even dare to call them the "darlings" of the league.
The star of the Bengals' 16-7 victory over the Browns was running back Mr. Larry "no one wanted me" Johnson. Cedric Benson's replacement had 22 carries and 107 yards, averaging 4.9 yards a carry on a day that even surprised him.
"By far, this isn't what I was expecting, I wasn't expecting to come in and play as much as I did today," Johnson said.
They finished with 210 yards on the ground despite not having Benson and Bernard Scott struggling through a minor knee injury.
Cincinnati only threw it 24 times as they wanted to take advantage of a weak Browns rush defense, which is allowing close to 160 yards a game.
The Browns' only score came on a Brady Quinn rushing touchdown.
First, the Bengals blew the doors off of their division this year as well as win close games in enduring fashion, earning the nick name "Cardiac Cats."
Then they bring in troubled players in Cedric Benson and Larry Johnson and have success with them.
Mind you none of their triumphs would be possible without the revived defense under Mike Zimmerman.
Who knows what's next for these guys, but I'm honestly anxious too find out.
AFC West Leader: San Diego Chargers (8-3)
LaDainian Tomlinson passed Marcus Allen and Edgerrin James on Sunday with 12,257 career rushing yards, moving him to 10th on the all-time rushing list.
At 30, he's a back whose best years seem to be behind him, yet he's been putting up mostly modest performances this season.
Although still averaging between 13 and 20 carries, his biggest asset to the team has been at the goal line. He currently leads the NFL with 26 goal-line touches and seven touchdowns down there.
Whatever the future may be for L.T., the Chargers are surely getting the best they can from him this year. They are now on their way to earn a No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs and a first-round bye, given their traditional success in the month of December.
The Chargers are 14-0 this month with Philip Rivers at QB and 9-0 under Coach Norv Turner. Their toughest games ahead of them will be at Dallas, Cincinnati, and at Tennessee.
The question is, can this team be elite in the playoffs and finally make a push to the Super Bowl?
AFC Wild Card No. 1: Denver Broncos
As you know, the Broncos began the season as one of the hottest teams in the NFL winning their first six games.
Then, mysteriously, Denver lost four games straight after its bye week.
The Broncos defense, which had only 66 points to opposing teams during that winning streak, gave up 117 points over their four game skid.
The 32-3 beating handed down by the Chargers had us thinking the Broncos were surely "pretenders" and would have another one of their disappointing Decembers.
The Broncos haven't reached the postseason since 2005, when they lost to the Steelers in the AFC Championship game. Since then, the Chargers have dominated the Broncos.
Although they routed the Giants 26-6 on Thanksgiving night, they had to rely mostly on the leg of Matt Prater.
Still, the Broncos' defense is back at a respectable fifth place in the league and the offense looked more balanced despite their red-zone woes.
They'll try to keep up with the Chargers as they take on a lowly Chiefs team on Sunday.
AFC WIld Card No. 2: Baltimore Ravens
Rookie defensive end Paul Kruger was the hero of the Ravens' 20-17 victory over the Steelers, as he picked the perfect moment to nab his first interception of the season.
The pick resulted in the Ravens marching down the field and setting themselves up for the game-winning field goal to beat the defending champs in overtime.
Before Sunday night, the Ravens were among the most underachieving teams in the NFL. They saw their 3-0 record quickly turn south after losing three straight and now sit tied with a declining Pittsburgh squad.
The Ravens have won six of seven over the Steelers in Baltimore—with the only defeat coming in last season's controversial finish.
The Ravens struggled to beat a Steeler team who was missing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Former Oregon product Dennis Dixon looked good in the pocket and provided a challenge for the Ravens when using his feet and scoring a rushing touchdown.
Still, the Ravens effort wasn't pretty and they had to gut it out after losing the turnover battle. That said, they capitalized on their redzone opportunities and now are in the thick of the playoff hunt.
One bright spot in particular has been second year running back Ray Rice, who finished with his third game with over 150 total yards and now is only the fourth player in team history to total over 150 yards against the Steelers.