In Week 14 we saw a couple of big statement wins delivered. The Philadelphia Eagles were emphatic again in beating the New York Giants, and the San Francisco 49ers showed us with their hammering of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that, even with a rookie seventh-round quarterback in Brock Purdy leading the way, that they’re going to stay competitive in the NFC…
1) Niners just fine with Purdy at the helm
And that’s where we’ll start this week, in San Francisco. If you’re head coach Kyle Shanahan or a 49ers fan then you’re feeling pretty good about the direction your team is going in.
Given the talent the Niners have got on defense and the talent they’ve got surrounding Purdy on offense, they’re bang in the thick of the NFC playoff race.
And Purdy didn’t just ‘manage’ the game, he made some veteran throws, some off-platform throws that made me sit up and take notice.
There will be no losing skid in San Francisco it seems, even though they’ve got a young quarterback at the helm now. From listening to various 49ers players this last week, he has led the team well since he has stepped up to the plate. He spoke after the game too and seemed very level-headed.
It’s all positives right now for the 49ers. The emphatic nature of the result suggests they’re going to be just fine.
2) Eagles a class apart from competitors
The Eagles continue to show us that they’re the class of the NFL. They were utterly dominant on both sides of the ball against the Giants on Sunday, and ran all over them, in particular, towards the end of the game.
Every week this team seems to get stronger and stronger. And that’s saying something, considering how good they’ve been all year long. They’re definitely playing their best football right now, in December – they’re a complete team and the class of the league, for me.
Their quarterback Jalen Hurts continues to showcase himself as a legitimate MVP candidate. Sometimes his numbers aren’t huge because the team runs the ball so well, but he is arguably the most dominant player in the NFL at the moment.
Hurts has 10 rushing touchdowns this season, for the second year in a row, and he throws for big yardage every week.
His biggest challengers for MVP, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes, have been a little up and down of late, so I’d say Hurts is the frontrunner right now.
3) In-form Lions fighting for playoff pace
The game between the Lions and Vikings in Detroit was supposed to be about Minnesota clinching the NFC North division with a victory, but this Lions team had other ideas – they’re a very different proposition to what we’re used to seeing.
What is amazing is their ability to score points and put up big yardage on offense. They’ve now had seven games where they’ve scored at least 30 points – that’s the most of any team in the NFL this season.
Quarterback Jared Goff is playing himself into a long-term deal there. It had always been felt that he was just something of a stop-gap in Detroit, but that theory is diminishing by the week.
The Lions, at 6-7, are now just one win off the teams in the final playoff spots in the NFC. On current form, with four weeks to go, you wouldn’t bet against them grabbing one.
4) Cowboys survive trap-game scare against Texans
Nobody in the NFL really knows where a trap game is going to come from. That’s precisely why you see teams getting tripped up from time.
The Dallas Cowboys almost had their nose bloodied by the one-win Houston Texans on Sunday, and that really would have been one of the biggest surprises of the year, given how poor Lovie Smith’s team have been.
Dallas had to dig deep, going 98 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
It was an otherwise sloppy performance from the Cowboys, but it might be one that has them back on guard against any miscues going forward. It was a warning, but without being too damaging.
That being said, with three turnovers on offense like they had, better teams will punish them in the playoffs. A concern.
5) Dolphins offense turning sour at the wrong time
The Miami Dolphins offense has really dried up in the last couple of weeks. It’s a major worry if that is starting to head south at the wrong time of the year.
The Los Angeles Chargers, meanwhile, were much better on defense in their Sunday Night Football win, but really the star of their show was their quarterback Justin Herbert.
As good as Tua Tagovailoa has been for the Dolphins this year – and he has been very good – I’m sure there are still a lot of people, myself included, that think Miami should have taken Herbert over Tua in the 2022 NFL Draft when they were taken one pick after the other.
The Dolphins, with back-to-back defeats, have suddenly gone from being division leaders in the AFC East to looking rather tenuous as a playoff team. There’s some pressure on the Dolphins; they’ve got to get their season back on track… and that starts this weekend in what is expected to very snowy Buffalo against the Bills, the No 1 seed in the AFC. Not ideal.
Player of the Week: Baker Mayfield
Baker Mayfield landed at Los Angeles International Airport at 9.15pm (local time) on Tuesday night and his new team, the Los Angeles Rams, kicked off at 5.15pm on Thursday… by about 5.30pm, he was in the game against the Las Vegas Raiders.
The numbers aren’t huge. And he didn’t do particularly well leading up to the final two touchdown drives to win it for the Rams… where he just exploded!
He had 230 passing yards, with one touchdown, and led the team on a 98-yard game-winning touchdown drive, capped with a strike to Van Jefferson with only 10 seconds remaining.
You’re not supposed to be able to do that. He shouldn’t really have a clue about where he’s throwing the ball in that offense given he has only just got there, but there he was leading the team to victory.
It’s going to be a very interesting final month for the Rams, and for Baker, because this could well prove to be a long-term union… especially given that Matthew Stafford’s future is currently being clouded by a spinal injury. There is obviously talent there, and could Sean McVay be the one to unlock it?
Play of the Week: Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes’ under-hand pass to Jerick McKinnon. It was just another example of how you can never guard Mahomes.
He was running to his right, almost throws it under his own armpit and to McKinnon who does the rest and takes it the distance.
No area of the field is safe when Mahomes is playing. With his arms almost by his side, the defense would be thinking, “well, he’s not throwing it” and then the next thing you know, the ball is out and the Chiefs have a touchdown.
It was just another example of the magic of Mahomes.
Coach of the Week: Steve Wilks
The Carolina Panthers interim head coach has this team in position. They’re only one game back from the Bucs in the NFC South.
Wilks made the decision to go back to Sam Darnold at quarterback and they’ve won back-to-back games since. They also traded away star running back Christian McCaffrey to the 49ers but they’ve continued to be decent on the ground since then – they ran for 223 yards and two touchdowns against the Seattle Seahawks.
Wilks is coaching his way into getting the full-time job in Carolina. It’s worth exploring, because clearly they’ve had some adversity this year and he has kept them in the hunt.
On My Radar: Seattle Seahawks
On the flip side of that, Seattle’s defeat to Carolina on Sunday was their third loss in the last four games.
The wheels aren’t exactly coming off, but they are looking a little bit more like the Seahawks team we expected to see struggle at the start of the season. They’re certainly not looking like an elite team.
The running game has completely dried up in the last month, though it doesn’t help that Kenneth Walker III is injured. That puts more pressure on Geno Smith at quarterback, and though he still has some amazing throws each week, the interceptions are also starting to creep in a little bit.
Seattle are going the wrong way at the wrong time of year. Head coach Pete Carroll is a great motivator, so let’s see if he can turn this ship around – and he’ll have great motivation to do that this week against their great division rivals the 49ers on Thursday night.
Sky Sports NFL is your dedicated channel for NFL coverage through the season – featuring a host of NFL Network programming. Don’t forget to follow us on skysports.com/nfl, our Twitter account @SkySportsNFL & Sky Sports – on the go!
#Neil #Reynolds #Lions #NFC #playoff #race #Eagles #prove #theyre #class #blowout #win #NFL #News