The NFL regular season goes way too far into winter, but the home stretch is here. The time for some to assert dominance and others to sink claws into the final playoff spots has come.
There’s no more United States team in the Men’s World Cup to provide a distraction for the American public. Any NFL disappointment will be remembered from now until post-Labor Day 2023, whether it’s postseason hopeful that never got to the second season, or a team that gets quickly bounced in January.
The Week 13 slate of games — with only the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers on a bye — was supposed to reveal some true contenders and pretenders.
Not every team that won has a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl, and not every losing team needs to rebuild. However, a separation did take place. There were some prolific matchups on the schedule, and Separation Saturday most certainly shone the spotlight on some NFL haves and have-nots.
Good luck dealing with the Eagles, NFC playoff teams
They have played on the road only twice since Oct. 9, and only once this season away from home against a team with a record that is currently over .500.
Still, they showed out against the Tennessee Titans yesterday. The Titans opened the season with two losses but had only lost once since. Derrick Henry was looking like the player he was before last year’s foot injury. Their first-round rookie replacement for A.J. Brown — Treylon Burks — had been quite productive in recent weeks, and held onto his first touchdown of the season while suffering an illegal hit.
On offense, the Eagles committed four pre-snap penalties in the first quarter, and another less than four seconds into the second. They still were able to take a 14-7 lead on their third drive of the game and never relinquished it, while continuing to commit penalties.
This was not the Eagles’ cleanest game, but they showed that it wasn’t necessary to defeat a playoff-caliber NFL team. The NFC’s likely No. 1 seed will be a problem come playoff time.
Vikings fans, this isn’t 1998
Turning around their record in one-score games does not make them a contender. The Minnesota Vikings are a talented team. They have playmakers on both sides of the ball, but there is no reason to expect a Gordon Bombay and Adam Banks type of result from this team.
While Mike White and the New York Jets put on Mighty Ducks jerseys on their way into the stadium, their quarterback is limited. While the Jets were able to make the game competitive, it was the same Mike White behind center, who after leading the NFL in passing yards during his first 2021 start, tossed four interceptions and no touchdowns in his final one last season.
Yes, the Jets had chances to win, but at the end of the game, they found themselves frequently behind the sticks. They put up a valiant effort to come back from an early deficit, but the result was a loss and also more reason to doubt the team with the second-best record in the NFC.
The Vikings faced one of the best defenses in the league, and with all of their skill position talent, scored once in the second half after building a 20-6 lead. This while up against a Jets’ offense that still needs a quarterback, and missing Breece Hall. The Washington Commanders or New York Giants would be a similar opponent in a wild-card game and the Vikings, by nearly coughing up Sunday’s game, did little to prove that they can dispose of either opponent in the playoffs.
This Bengals thing is real
For those who weren’t sold last season, I don’t blame you.
The Baltimore Ravens had the best record in the AFC North last season when Lamar Jackson went down with a December ankle injury, and didn’t win another game. The Cincinnati Bengals stumbled their way to a 10-7 record and a division title. They were far from dominant in the playoffs, and all of that offensive skill-position talent fell short against the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl.
This season, the Bengals might have earned the “team nobody wants to see in the playoffs” title.
They have dealt with injury issues, including Ja’Marr Chase’s recent stint on IR. Arguably, the most explosive player in the NFL missed four games and the Bengals only lost one. Last week they knocked off the Tennessee Titans on the road, and with Chase back in the lineup they hosted the top team in the AFC, the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Bengals topped the Chiefs in total yards, time of possession, turnovers, and also the final score. After leading for most of the game, the Bengals relinquished the lead late in the third quarter, but got it back with nine minutes remaining in the fourth and held on for the win. The defense put forth a tremendous effort on the Chiefs’ final drive, including Joseph Ossai running down Patrick Mahomes on a third-down sack that resulted in a missed 55-yard field goal.
Jackson suffered another December injury on Sunday. The Ravens say that there is no timetable for his return. With Sunday’s victory, this more experienced Bengals’ squad just defeated the Chiefs for the third consecutive time in two seasons. The Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, and the rest of the AFC must realize last year’s conference champions are back, and better.