NFL 2011 Playoff Race: Week 14 Contenders and Trends

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NFL 2011 Playoff Race: Week 14 Contenders and Trends
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What a bizarre week in the NFC playoff race. Dallas, with a chance to put some distance between themselves and the Giants in the NFC East, tanked the Cardinals game. 

Every other playoff hopeful lost as well. Yep, that’s right—every one of them.

If the season were to end today, here’s how the NFC playoff picture shakes out:

Division champs: Green Bay (12-0), Dallas (7-5), New Orleans (9-3) and San Francisco (10-2).

Wild cards: Atlanta (7-5) and Chicago (7-5)

Contenders: Detroit (7-5) and New York Giants (6-6)

A very strange week indeed. Let’s review what happened and what it means going into the last four games of the year.

 

New York (6-6)

The Giants put a scare into the Packers, losing 38-35 on a last moment field goal. The pick-six by Clay Mathews was the difference in the game. It was the Packers league-leading 24th interception in 2011.

The Giants season now largely depends upon the two games remaining with the stumbling Dallas Cowboys, who gave a game to the lowly Arizona Cardinals (5-7) when head coach Jason Garrett iced his own kicker by calling a timeout as regulation time expired.

Which two teams will be shut out of the playoffs?

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Sure enough, Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey missed the field goal after the timeout. The Cards won the coin flip, and Cards QB Kevin Kolb hit a 52-yard TD pass to win in overtime.

New York looks—well, this week, anyway—like they might have what it takes to overtake the ‘Boys in the NFC East.

 

Detroit (7-5)

The Lions gave away a game to the Saints that was winnable after another embarrassing, undisciplined performance.

Here’s some fun facts:

  • The Saints team was penalized four times (one offsetting). The Lions receivers alone were penalized eight times, including three personal fouls (one offsetting).
  • Lions QB Matt Stafford passed for over 400 yards and couldn’t win.
  • The Lions had more penalty yards (108) than rushing yards (87).
  • Lions kicker Jason Hanson missed two field goals.

The Lions have a young, talented team that will not beat more disciplined teams of lesser talent going forward. That much is abundantly clear.

It’s time to turn up the heat on Lions head coach Jim Schwartz for some accountability. Right now, the Lions look like nothing more than playground bullies.

 

Chicago (7-5)

That Week 13 home loss to Kansas City (5-7) spells big trouble in the Windy City. The Bears now travel to Denver to take on the red hot Broncos and St. Timothy, the patron saint of the talent impaired.

Lions fans should send Chiefs QB Tyler Palko and Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel thank you notes this week for pointing the way to beat the Bears—with the blitz.

Chicago’s NFC wild card hopes seem to be dwindling with each passing week, and their schedule no longer looks as soft as it did prior to Jay Cutler’s injury.

Now, the Bears might have lost RB Matt Forte to a knee injury suffered in the Chiefs game.

As I stated a couple of weeks ago, QB Caleb Hanie isn’t the answer. The question now becomes: What do the Bears have to lose by signing recently released QB Donovan McNabb?

 

Atlanta (7-5)

The Falcons went to Houston (9-3) and laid a Texas-sized egg, losing 17-10.  Atlanta QB Matt Ryan threw two interceptions before the fans in the stadium finished their first beer, while the rest of the Falcons offense decided to take the day off.

Atlanta travels to Carolina (4-8) for a Week 14 game that has now achieved a higher level of urgency—DEFCON II.

Atlanta still holds the tie-breaker with Detroit, but some troubling cracks are starting to appear in the Falcons wild card hopes.

 

Summary

The Lions will have to win three straight games (Minnesota, at Oakland and San Diego) for any hope of making the playoffs.

The Bears will have to find a way to win behind Hanie, a stout defense and Devin Hester’s prowess in the return game in order to keep pace.

Atlanta hit a speed bump in Houston, but looks like a favorite to back into a wild card berth.

The Giants will make a run at the NFC East crown, but needs to run the table.

The Cowboys are in danger of missing the playoffs if their propensity for giving away games persists. Which Tony Romo will show up is the question.

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