Firstly, I hope everybody is having a very happy holiday season. I know I’m still recovering from the Christmas/Boxing Day/NYE food-fest that my family puts on. While preparing for those festivities, the NFL was there to entertain us. And though there was plenty of good football played recently, the week was dominated by the Josh Norman-Odell Beckham Jr. incident/s during the Carolina Panthers vs. New York Giants match; those incidents resulted in the former being fined $26,044, and the latter being suspended for one game. To say the game was chippy would be an understatement, check out some of the dirtier plays below.
In terms of actual game play, the Panthers and Giants put on quite a show. Cam Newton continued to carve up defences and build his case for MVP consideration, and Eli Manning showed why you should never count his Giants out of a game, coming back to tie the game at 38 before the Panthers won on a field goal as time expired.
Elsewhere, the Washington Redskins scored a crucial win against the Buffalo Bills – and after last week’s win against the Philadelphia Eagles they have officially clinched the NFC East. Other big winners included the Houston Texans, New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs. Speaking of the Chiefs, this week I’ve decided to look at both the AFC West, as well as the tight AFC North. Within these divisions there are four genuinely good teams, though one will potentially have to miss out on the postseason action.
With many of you playing your fantasy championship game this past week, I will look forward to next year’s fantasy season by highlighting a few of this year’s star performers.
The Cincinnati Bengals have been great, but can AJ McCarron pick up where Andy Dalton left them
It would almost be unfair to expect a QB with so little NFL experience to guide his team to success in the playoffs, but with the pieces that AJ McCarron will have at his disposal I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bengals managed at least one win. That in itself would be a huge deal for die-hard Bengals fans, who have been without a playoff victory for quite some time; it would be ironic if the win they have been chasing for so long came without franchise QB Andy Dalton.
I put this hypothetical to my brother the other day, and while it seems far-fetched, bear with me: what happens to Andy Dalton if AJ McCarron takes these Bengals to the Super Bowl? Or worse (better?), what happens if they win the Super Bowl? I don’t see them trading Andy Dalton, but it’s still an interesting thought.
Aside from Dalton, the Bengals have a healthy squad that’s ready to take on the playoffs. Their loss against the Broncos earlier today might serve as a prelude to a potential playoff match up between the two sides. With much more on the line, the Bengals will be hoping McCarron can rise to the occasion and deliver as he did during his time at the University of Alabama. Even without Dalton, I still believe in these Bengals. Their first and most important step towards success will be to take care of the Baltimore Ravens, and cross their fingers for a Broncos loss – that happens, and they secure the 2nd seed in the AFC.
Fantasy watch: A.J. Green finished the fantasy season as the 9th best WR in the NFL, and is definitely worth considering spending an early pick on next year.
The Pittsburgh Steelers crucial loss to the Baltimore Ravens could cost them a playoff spot
Even could seems hopeful at this stage. The Steelers are no longer in control of their own playoff destiny, requiring the New York Jets to lose to the Buffalo Bills to snatch the last Wild Card spot. They’ll be ruing losing both of their encounters with the Baltimore Ravens, both by three points.
But it’s not all bad for the Steelers. Finishing the season with (potentially) a 10-6 record when your star QB and RB spent very little time on the field together shows that they have depth, and if Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger are both healthy for the majority of next season this is most definitely a playoff team, and probably one that could make a run at a Super Bowl. All of that is probably of little consolation to Steelers fans right now, but it’s true. They might just have to wait a little while longer to get their shot at the big time.
Fantasy watch: Antonio Brown has been phenomenal this year, notching up 1647 receiving yards and 9 TD’s on his way to the second most points for a WR in fantasy this year. He finished just 0.70 behind Julio Jones for the top spot.
The Brock/Peyton led Denver Broncos can make a splash in the playoffs, but will need more than defence to win it all
I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: defence wins championships, and this Denver Broncos defence is damn good. They currently sit fourth in points allowed (18.4), second in rushing yards allowed (81.8) and first in both passing (199.1) and total yards allowed per game (280.9). Their 49 sacks on the season are good for the best in the NFL, they’ve forced 26 total turnovers and their defence has scored 5 total TD’s. Stats aren’t always enough to gauge how good a team is, but I think those do a pretty good job of telling you what this team can do.
The offence, however, is a bit of a work in progress. After Peyton Manning’s less than ideal start to the season, the question was being asked: at what point can you bench one of the great QB’s of our generation? A tear to Manning’s plantar fascia quickly squashed that question, and thrust backup QB Brock Osweiler into the starting job. Brock has been great, but the offence as a whole has been patchy, with their best work coming in their overtime win against the New England Patriots, and in a close loss to the potent offence of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
I guess the point of what I’m trying to say is that while defence wins championships, this league still belongs to the QB. It’s a passers league, and for either Brock or Peyton to bring a Super Bowl ring home to the good folks at Mile High, one will need to step up and be just a little bit better than they have been.
Fantasy watch: That Denver defence has been monstrous, and finished the season as the second best D/ST option, just two points behind the Arizona Cardinals.
Alex Smith is balling out, and the Kansas City Chiefs could steal a division title from the Denver Broncos
Ok, so it’s unlikely that the Broncos lose to the San Diego Chargers in the last week of the season, but the fact that the Chiefs are even in this position is incredible. Nine straight wins by Andy Reid’s men have put them in the box seat to secure the 5th seed in the AFC, and a likely match up at Arrowhead Stadium against the Houston Texans.
Though the Chiefs improvement as a whole has been impressive, it has been QB Alex Smith that has stood out above the rest for me. Smith has thrown just two interceptions in the last 12 weeks and has already trumped his career mark for rushing yards in a season, amassing 437 yards in 2015. Smith is also on track for his first season without a lost fumble, further adding to his impressive run.
The way they’ve been playing, there’s no ceiling on what Kansas City can do in the playoffs. I think they’ll certainly beat the Texans – if that is their first round opponent – and then a meeting with either the New England Patriots or the Denver Broncos awaits them. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the Chiefs reach the AFC Championship Game.
Fantasy watch: Kansas City had the third best defence in fantasy this season, just behind Denver and Arizona, and just ahead of Carolina.
Questions? Insults? Let us know in the comments section, or yell at me directly via my Twitter handle, @NickBudicin