Now we know who the four best teams are in college and pro football The NCAA on Sunday announced its four finalists for a playoff; the NFL didn’t … but it doesn’t need to. We’re not idiots. Make it Denver and New England in the AFC and Seattle and Green Bay in the NFL. Yeah, I know, the Seahawks aren’t in first place, but they will be when December is over. Arizona has to play St. Louis, Seattle and San Francisco, and I don’t know that it can win more than one. But Seattle? The Seahawks are on a roll – allowing only 20 points over their last three starts (all victories) and winning 12 of their last 17 on the road … including their last four.
2. Can’t wait to hear what Colin Kaepernick doesn’t say about his latest stinker.
3. The story isn’t Peyton Manning’s 51-game touchdown streak coming to an end. It’s what’s going on with him … which is nothing. He didn’t look right last weekend, and he’s struggled plenty lately – with two interceptions apiece in four of his last six starts. In short, his throws are beginning to look more like Rip Sewell and less like Peyton Manning. Good thing the Broncos discovered C.J. Anderson and a running game.
4. When the Miami Dolphins wonder why they missed the playoffs again, they can blame it on the Tuck Rule. It bounced Oakland from the 2001 playoffs, and it all but scratched Miami from this year’s postseason. What could’ve been – and Miami thought should have been – a Joe Flacco fumble at the Miami 2 with Baltimore up 14-13 in the fourth quarter was ruled … correctly … an incomplete pass, setting up a Ravens’ TD. The rest, of course, you know. But the Dolphins didn’t lose because of a rule; they lost because of themselves. They produced just three points in the last three quarters vs. a defense that was short of defensive backs and without Haloti Ngata, and, yes, that’s an indictment of Ryan Tannehill, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and anyone else you want to throw under the bus.
5. I don’t know who wins the AFC North, but I’m betting against first-place Cincinnati. Reason: The Bengals just lost their second straight at home after going 14 straight without a defeat. But then there’s this: The schedule. Look what’s left: At Cleveland; Denver and at Pittsburgh. The Bengals could lose all three.
6. OK, I’m backing Baltimore again in its division … and it’s not just about being home for two of the last three games (Jacksonville and Cleveland). Nope, this has more to do with this team’s resolve as well as its history. The Ravens know what it takes to get to the playoffs, they know how to win once they’re there and they have a quarterback who’s 9-4 in the postseason.
7. Adios, Brian Hoyer.
8. Mike Pettine last week said he kept Hoyer in the lineup because he gave the Browns the “best chance” to win … only he was wrong. And here’s the proof: In his last four games, Hoyer’s not only 1-3; he has one touchdown, eight interceptions, a completion percentage of 49.7 and a passer rating of 50.75.
9. It’s over, Buffalo … and it has been since that loss in Miami. Sure, it would be nice not to have a losing season. But to have a winning one, you must win beat two the next three opponents (Green Bay, at Oakland and at New England), and good luck with that.
10. For those Houston die-hards hoping for a victory next weekend in Indianapolis, remember this. Your Texans never won in Indy. Ever.
11. St. Louis may decide who wins the NFC West, but, trust me, nobody wants to face the Rams now – and I can tell you why: Defense. There have been six shutouts in the league this year, and the Rams are the only team with two. The Rams have Arizona at home and Seattle on the road, with Seahawks getting the edge there.
12. “I feel like I’ve failed, in a lot of different ways,” Jay Gruden said last week. I feel like he’s right. Advantage, RG3.
13. Sorry, but I can’t help but like Jeff Fisher’s trolling Washington by making all players acquired in the RG3 trade as his captains. I remember when Rams’ fans two years ago questioned this trade. Question it now, people.
14. Too bad the Saints don’t fight as hard on the field as they do off of it.
15. Believe it: Carolina – a team that’s won once since Oct. 5 — is going to be a half-game out of first after Atlanta loses to Green Bay Monday night. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the land mine that is the NFC South.
16. I guess T.Y. Hilton never got that memo about Joe Haden being the best cornerback in the game.
17. I swear, I don’t know what takes longer: Waiting for a Chiefs’ wide receiver to score or Kyle Orton to get rid of the ball.
18. Consider that a lesson learned: Never, ever, ever pick against Tom Brady when it comes to a second straight loss. Since 2003, he’s lost only four times immediately following defeats.
19. I’d say it’s safe to assume we don’t see London Fletcher at the Haslett family Christmas get-together.
20. One of Sunday’s biggest winners didn’t even suit up, and that was Dallas. With Philadelphia losing, the Cowboys are tied for first in the NFC East; with San Francisco losing their chances of making the playoffs … period … just improved. Only problem: The next two games. The Cowboys play Philadelphia and Indianapolis, and that’s a potential sink hole for a franchise with a history of folding down the stretch.
FIVE HALL-OF-FAME SIZZLES
1. Seattle QB Russell Wilson. All the guy does is make as many plays as he doesn’t make mistakes. He’s thrown 12 touchdown passes, with only one interception, on the road this season …. but that’s not all. With the victory, Wilson now has 33 victories — tying him with Dan Marino and Matt Ryan for most wins for a quarterback in his first three years.
2. Denver RB C.J. Anderson. Three more touchdowns, and just in time. Peyton Manning suddenly is beginning to play as if he’s 38 … which he is.
3. Indianapolis WR T.Y. Hilton. Nine of his 10 catches, 141 yards and both touchdowns came in the second half, including the game-winner.
4. Pittsburgh WR Martavis Bryant. He’s the first NFL wide receiver since 1954 to score seven times in his first seven games, and his latest performance was one of his best. It was Bryant’s 94-yard TD catch that dropped the dagger in Cincinnati.
5. Oakland QB Derek Carr. He completed all but six of 28 passes, threw for three touchdowns, produced a season-best 140.2 passer rating and, best of all, beat San Francisco — proving that while the 49ers have the better record they don’t have the better quarterback.
FIVE HALL-OF-FAME FIZZLES
1. Indianapolis WR Reggie Wayne. He had at least three drops and finished with one reception for five yards – ending his streak of three-catch games at 82. “I’m mortal,” he said later. “I played like (expletive deleted).” I won’t argue with either, but the Colts will need more than that if they’re going to threaten New England and/or Denver in the playoffs.
2. San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick. His first pass was intercepted. His last meaningful pass was intercepted. He pushed down a cameraman going into the locker room at the half, he was sacked five times and he took three … yes, three … delay-of-game penalties. Remember when Ron Jaworski said Kaepernick could be one of the all-time great. It was last season. It seems like a decade ago.
3. Kansas City TE Travis Kelce. OK, so his fumble was questionable (it was called after a replay challenge), but it was fatal. It not only short-circuited a fourth-quarter scoring drive; it short-circuited the Chiefs, with Kansas City dropping its third straight game and bowing out of the playoff picture.
4. Buffalo QB Kyle Orton. The more I see of him the more I wonder just how bad EJ Manuel can be. If Orton is an upgrade from Manuel – and the coaching staff must think he is – then who’s responsible for making Manuel a first-round pick? Whoever it is, report to the principal’s office.
5. Anyone with the New Orleans Saints. Let’s face it, they all stunk. Or is that stink?
FIVE GUYS ON THE HALL-OF-FAME RADAR
1. N.Y. Giants WR Odell Beckham. In a galaxy of bright rookie wideouts, his star shines the brightest. Make that six straight games with 90 or more yards in catches — the first rookie in league history to do that.
2. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh. Talk about guts. He goes for it on fourth-and-1 at his own 34 … on the first series of the second half. With one gamble, Harbaugh demonstrated to his players how much confidence he has in them — and that faith was rewarded.
3. Cincinnati WR A.J. Green. So he didn’t win. He caught a personal-best 224 yards in passes, hauled in an 81-yard TD and put the Bengals in a position to win … which they could not.
4. Houston DE J.J. Watt. He had his third three-sack game and now has 51 for his career, two shy of Mario Williams’ franchise record. He also had a tackle for a loss, batted down a pass and lined up for two goal-line snaps. Watt could get MVP consideration, but he won’t win the award. When you play defense you have one strike against you; when you play for a 7-6 team you have two more.
5. Pittsburgh RB Le’Veon Bell. He’s the best back in the AFC, and (sorry, Dallas) he may be the best back in football. He’s the first running back since Walter Payton in 1977 to have three straight games with 200 or more yards from scrimmage.
THIS WEEK’S HALL-OF-FAME NOMINEE
Baltimore QB Joe Flacco. It’s not that only that he overcame a 10-0 deficit on the road; it’s that he overcame a horrendous first-half interception where he threw a jump-ball up for grabs. Flacco completed 25 of his 33 passes, including two for touchdowns, and scored once himself to lead the Ravens to a huge win that puts them back in the AFC North race.
THIS WEEK’S HALL-OF-FAME QUOTE
“Obviously, that’s embarrassing. How we played, how we coached … You pick an area; you pick a phase. It was awful.” – New Orleans coach Sean Payton.
1 — Passes aimed at Darrelle Revis
4-0 – Baltimore vs. Miami under John Harbaugh with Joe Flacco
4-0 – Seattle in Philadelphia since 1998
7-0 — Arizona at home, the most home wins for the franchise since 1925
9 – Andrew Luck fourth-quarter comeback wins
12 — Straight seasons with at least 10 New England wins
15 – New York Giants’ sacks in their last two starts, including eight Sunday
16 – Elvis Dumervil sacks, a Baltimore record
16-4 — Arizona outside its division the past two years
43 — 100-yard games by Calvin Johnson, tying him with Marvin Harrison and Torry Holt for second-most in NFL history. Only Randy Moss (45) has more.
1999 – Last time Saints lost four straight at home