As difficult as it is to belief, the Broncos are the number one seeded team in AFC, after the loss by the Patriots. Despite running roughshod over the hapless Chargers, multiple turnovers by the Broncos in the first half left the score 7-6 at halftime, and the Chargers then took a 13-7 lead early in the third quarter. It was at that point that Peyton Manning stepped in to “save” the day. Manning threw only nine passes the entire second half, and one wonders how things would have turned out if Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson hadn’t been slicing and dicing the Chargers’ injury-wracked defense like butter. But after the initial 80-yard drive to retake the lead, the game was still very much in question with the game tied at 20 with six minutes to play. But Philip Rivers threw an interception, and one play later Hillman ran 23 yards for the winning score, 27-20. If there was any “improvement” in the play, it was that Manning “managed” the game better than Brock Osweiler, and for some reason his teammates decided to stop fumbling the ball away.
Before people start consecrating Manning, let’s remember that he played badly his last five starts, and the Broncos lost the last two. He is still the lowest rated quarterback with the required number of pass attempts (67.9), and incredibly, despite missing six games, would still lead the entire NFL in interceptions if Blake Bortles hadn’t thrown two more in the final week. If he had not been placed out to pasture for a time, there is little doubt that the Broncos would have had a difficult time even making the playoffs, as it turned out that at least 10 wins was required. We should not belittle that Osweiler won four games, and this is why the Broncos were in a position to win the top playoff seed. Right now we don’t know if Manning can play more than one full game given uncertain opinions on the condition of his arm, especially if the Broncos’ running game is muffled.
The rest of week went something like this:
Bills 22 Jets 17. The Jets missed the playoffs with the loss. Although Ryan Fitzpatrick threw all three of his interceptions in the fourth quarter in the miserable, windy weather, it was the first that really mattered. Deep in Bills territory, the Jets seemed ready to take a 24-19 lead when Fitzpatrick threw a terrible pass in the end zone intended for Eric Decker.
Dolphins 20 Patriots 10. Tom Brady injured his ankle and was mostly ineffective the entire game as the Patriots lost the chance win home field for the playoffs. He says he’ll be ready, but like the Packers, the Patriots seem to be limping badly into the playoffs.
Vikings 20 Packers 13. Playing at home, one would have thought that the Packers would have dug deep and found the will to win this game and the division. Instead, they were lethargic in the first half and eventually fell behind 20-3 despite a bad game by Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson spending time on the bench from injury. The Packers launched a comeback of sorts in the fourth quarter, but were held to a field goal after a first-and-goal opportunity, and in a second such opportunity Aaron Rodgers threw one of the hair-pulling interceptions in the end zone that might remind some Packer fans of Brett Favre’s worst moments.
Seahawks 36 Cardinals 6. Carson Palmer actually played the entire first half and part of the third, so it was somewhat disturbing how the Cardinals played at home. After a bad loss to the Rams last week, all of a sudden the Seahawks are the “sexy” pick in the playoffs again. Russell Wilson led the NFL in passer rating at 110.1 and passed for 4,000 yards and 34 TDs; quite impressive, for him.
Panthers 38 Buccaneers 10. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Cam Newton had by far the best season of his career passer-rating and TD pass-wise, while the Panthers’ finished 15-1. I suppose that is enough to give the impression that he is the NFL’s “most valuable player.”
Chiefs 23 Raiders 10. The Chiefs won their final ten games of the season. Does that mean they are the “hottest” team entering the playoffs? They may have generated some momentum against sub-.500 teams, but they are still a wild card team that has to play on the road. Based on their past playoff history, I would be surprised if they made it to the second weekend.
Redskins 34 Cowboys 23. “Short” quarterback Kellen Moore threw for 435 yards and three touchdowns for the Cowboys, although these stats were somewhat nullified by his three turnovers. The Redskins, meanwhile, finish the season with a winning record and have slightly more credibility than they did a month ago. Unfortunately, playing the Seahawks next week should make that a moot point.
Steelers 28 Browns 12. With Johnny Manziel back in the dog house after another video surfaced of him partying, there wasn’t much standing in the way of the Steelers recovering from last week’s inconceivable loss and passing the Jets for the final playoff spot in the AFC.
Bengals 24 Ravens 16. AJ McCarron played Andy Dalton-like in winning two of his three starts, and he should have won all three. But whether this says more about the team around him will be discovered next week, when the Bengals play another “sexy” pick, the Steelers.
Texans 30 Jaguars 6. The Titans are another mediocre team that finished the season with “impressive” wins over bad teams. But do they have a shot against the Patriots next week, who haven’t looked good lately and Brady limping around? Somehow, I doubt it.
None of the other games had playoff implications. The Colts third and fourth-string quarterbacks at least saved the team from a losing record in beating the Titans, who have clinched the top position in next year’s draft. Blaine Gabbert led the 49ers to an OT victory over the same Rams team that beat the Seahawks last week. How is that possible—especially when Gabbert is supposed to be so “amusing”? The Bears lost to the Lions, of interest only in that the Bears were 5-3 away from home, and just 1-7 at home, while the Saints beat the same Falcons team that beat the Panthers last week; despite missing a game, Drew Brees led the NFL in passing yards with 4,870.