In the third quarter of the season, the NFL really starts to heat up as playoff scenarios come into play. With much of the league hovering around .500, this year’s wild card races are incredibly close. The NFC East soap opera continues, with no clear leader after nine weeks and no team with a winning record. Heading into Week 10, just three teams remained undefeated. The Panthers led the NFC while the Patriots and Bengals were both in the hunt for the AFC’s top seed. So what did we learn over the last four weeks? (Refresh your memory of Weeks 1-4 here and Weeks 5-9 here.)
Rex Ryan gets his revenge
Rex Ryan was jubilant on the sidelines as he led the Bills to a 22-17 win over the Jets, who had fired him in the offseason. LeSean McCoy rushed for 112 yards as the Bills played Rex Ryan’s preferred style of football and gave his old team a bloody nose.
Baltimore has no luck this season
Jacksonville were gifted a 22-20 win over the Ravens thanks to a defensive penalty. Blake Bortles took the snap on Jacksonville’s last chance just as time expired, but was sacked by Elvis Dumervil. However, Dumervil had grabbed Bortles’ facemask, and the ensuing penalty gave Jacksonville the chance to kick the game-winning field goal.
There are serious problems in Green Bay
The Packers struggled to move the ball as Detroit continued their resurgence with an 18-16 win, their first at Lambeau Field for over 20 years. Aaron Rodgers is struggling to build chemistry and confidence with his receivers, and the running game continues to struggle no matter who is in the backfield.
The league’s two most disappointing teams square off
Coming into the season, both the Dolphins and Eagles were touted as potential Super Bowl contenders. But preseason hype should never be adopted as wisdom. These two teams put on a painful showing in Philadelphia. The Eagles jumped out to a 16-3 lead but eventually lost 20-19 after Sam Bradford had to be replaced by Mark Sanchez.
Ben Roethlisberger is this year’s best backup quarterback
Only the Browns could knock Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback Landry Jones out of the game and then face Ben Roethlisberger as the backup. Johnny Manziel had his best stat-line ever as a pro, but the Browns still lost 30-9. Roethlisberger threw for 379 yards and three touchdowns as he looked fully healed from injuries.
Chicago’s offense is quietly good
The Bears have quietly built a potent offense this season. Jay Cutler is playing well, Alshon Jeffery is a true number one, and rookie Jeremy Langford has eclipsed veteran Matt Forte as Chicago’s all-round back. Langford had 182 total yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns against a once-dominant Rams defense in a 37-13 win for the Bears.
The Cowboys continue to throw it away
The Cowboys just cannot win with Matt Cassel. Despite interception Jameis Winston twice, Dallas fell 10-6 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after Winston scored on a one yard run with 54 seconds left.
Cam Newton is the league’s dancing MVP
With 217 yards, a touchdown pass and a touchdown run, Cam Newton had every right to dance in the endzone as the Panthers remained undefeated with a 27-10 win in Tennessee. Newton has been building a strong MVP case by leading what looked like a severely limited Carolina offense to 9-0, and having fun while doing it.
New Orleans’ pass defense is one of league’s worst ever
Kirk Cousins enjoyed a career day against New Orleans’ atrocious pass defense. Cousins finished 20/25 for 324 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions as the Redskins dominated in a 47-14 home win.
Oakland has no answer for Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson rushed for 203 yards on 26 carries, including an 80 yard touchdown run against the Raiders, averaging 7.8 yards per carry. Oakland’s defense couldn’t keep up with Peterson, while Derek Carr couldn’t break through Minnesota’s defense despite throwing for 302 yards. Two interceptions helped the Vikings to a 30-14 win.
Peyton Manning is done
Despite breaking Brett Favre’s career passing yards record, Peyton Manning was benched after four interceptions. Manning completed just five of his 20 passes as the Chiefs took over the game early. Brock Osweiler had Denver looking competitive late, but failed to overhaul a 29-13 Chiefs lead.
The Patriots escape the Giants
In a wild game, the Patriots remained unbeaten with a last minute field goal drive led by Tom Brady. After losing Julian Edelman early, the Patriots’ offense struggled against an improved Giants defense. But Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning mismanaged the clock once again, leaving Brady with time to snatch a 27-26 victory.
The NFC West belongs to Arizona
In one of the most hotly anticipated games of the year, Arizona staked their claim as this year’s NFC West champions with an impressive 39-32 win in Seattle. In a game that went back and forth, it was Arizona’s depth on offense that won the game. Carson Palmer threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns. Andre Ellington’s 48 yard touchdown run down the sideline sealed the win for the Cardinals.
T.J. Yates still owns the Bengals
T.J. Yates returned to Houston to fill in for the injured Brian Hoyer and once again defeated the Bengals. As the Texans’ quarterback, Yates was responsible for the first two of Cincinnati’s four consecutive one-and-done playoff appearances. Yates’ strike to DeAndre Hopkins proved the difference and J.J. Watt and the defense held the Bengals in check in a 10-6 win.
Jacksonville remain in the AFC South race
Blake Bortles outduelled Marcus Mariota to keep Jacksonville’s AFC South hopes alive. Bortles threw for 242 yards and a touchdown as Allen Robinson had 113 receiving yards. With the 19-13 victory, Jacksonville won consecutive games for the first time in over two years.
The Falcons are reeling
D’Qwell Jackson’s easy pick-six proved the difference as the Colts overcame two 14 point deficits to win the game on Adam Vinatieri’s last minute field goal. The 24-21 win sees the Colts stay in the hunt for the AFC South, while Atlanta slips to 6-4.
Baltimore’s third big-name injury ends Ravens’ season
Despite a 16-13 win over the hapless Rams, Baltimore’s season took yet another nosedive as quarterback Joe Flacco joined receiver Steve Smith and linebacker Terrell Suggs with a season-ending ACL injury. With Flacco out, the Ravens will turn to backup Matt Schaub for the rest of the season.
The Redskins are pulled back to earth
After a career day against New Orleans, Washington got a taste of their own medicine against Carolina. Cam Newton threw for 246 yards and five touchdowns without an interception to keep the Panthers undefeated with a 44-16 home win. Carolina scored 27 points from Washington turnovers as the defense begins to really hit its stride.
Brock Osweiler outfoxes John Fox
In his first career start, Brock Osweiler faced the coaching staff that drafted him. He managed to lead the Broncos to a 17-15 victory over former coach John Fox and former offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Osweiler threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, earning AFC Offensive Player of the Week honours.
Oakland’s playoff hopes are fading
The Raiders couldn’t bounce back from a loss to the Vikings, falling 18-13 to Detroit as the Lions continued their resurgence. Oakland managed just 209 total yards of offense as the Lions controlled the game on defense.
DeAndre Hopkins is a star
DeAndre Hopkins embarrassed Darelle Revis on a 61 yard touchdown while later burning the Jets for another score as the Texans beat New York 24-17. Houston now hold a tiebreaker over the Jets which could get them into the playoffs.
Tony Romo should be the MVP
After going 0-7 without Romo, the Cowboys were overjoyed to see him back against the Dolphins. Romo looked fully healed in a 227 yard, two touchdown performance as the Cowboys looked more like the playoff team from last season with a 24-14 road win. And thanks to the dismal state of the NFC East, they are still in with a shout of winning the division.
The Vikings don’t control the NFC North just yet
With Green Bay struggling, the Vikings had a chance to take the advantage in the NFC North. But Minnesota folded as Aaron Rodgers led Green Bay to a 30-13 win, their 10th over the Vikings in their last 11 meetings. Green Bay’s offense looked much better against a good defense. James Jones and Eddie Lacy had over 100 yards receiving and rushing respectively. But have the Packers fixed all their problems?
Jameis Winston is surrounded by weapons
Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers torched the Eagles for 529 total yards of offense in a 45-17 blowout in Philadelphia. Winston threw five touchdown passes and no interceptions, while Doug Martin averaged 8.7 yards per carry on 27 attempts for 235 yards. Tampa Bay have a dangerous young offense ready for a postseason push.
The Chiefs are dominant
Against a dominant Chiefs defense, Philip Rivers managed just 178 passing yards and threw a pick-six to Justin Houston. The Chiefs sacked Rivers three times as Spencer Ware became the latest running back to take the lead role. Ware finished with 96 yards and two touchdowns as the Chiefs rolled over San Diego 33-3.
The Seahawks are back
After struggling at times this season, Seattle seemed to recover their old form with a 29-13 win over San Francisco. Undrafted rookie running back Thomas Rawls rushed for 209 yards and a touchdown, averaging seven yards per carry. Rawls has given Seattle’s offense some much needed juice, and has easily eclipsed Marshawn Lynch this season.
Carson Palmer has his revenge
Facing his former team, Carson Palmer led the Cardinals to a 34-31 win over Cincinnati in a potential Super Bowl matchup. Palmer and Andy Dalton – his successor in Cincinnati – combined for 632 passing yards and six touchdowns. Dalton led the Bengals back from a 14 point deficit to tie the game at 31-31. But Palmer led the Cardinals on a game-winning field goal drive to seal the win for Arizona.
The Patriots own the AFC East once again
New England solidified their stranglehold on the AFC East by sweeping the Bills for the 12th time since 2001 with a 20-13 win. With a 4-0 divisional record, a 7th consecutive division title surely belongs to the Patriots.
Philly’s defense crumbles once again
After giving up 45 points to Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers last week, Philadelphia were shredded for another 45 points by Detroit. Matthew Stafford threw for 337 yards and five touchdowns with zero picks in a 45-14 Thanksgiving blowout. Philly’s defense had been the team’s saving grace for much of the season, but now lies in ruins.
Dallas’ season is over… again
The Cowboys entered Thanksgiving riding a wave thanks to a win over Miami with Romo back at the helm. They left Thanksgiving beaten and bruised as Carolina’s defense kept the Panthers undefeated with a 33-14 win in Dallas. Tony Romo re-fractured his clavicle and will be absent for the rest of the season, much like Dallas’ playoff hopes.
Time to P-A-N-I-C
Green Bay suffered its second consecutive home loss in front of both Brett Favre and Bart Starr on Thanksgiving. Aaron Rodgers didn’t get any help from anyone against Chicago’s defense, and the Bears pulled off a 17-13 upset at Lambeau Field. It’s time to P-A-N-I-C in Wisconsin.
Minnesota’s defense grounds Falcons
The Vikings won 20-10 in the Georgia Dome thanks to a dominant performance from their defense. Minnesota intercepted Matt Ryan twice and sacked him two times. Anthony Barr had one of those sacks and also forced two fumbles. The Vikings now hold a tiebreaker over the Falcons, which bodes well for Minnesota’s playoff hopes.
The Rams’ defense has regressed
Cincinnati dominated the limping Rams with a 31-7 blowout win in St. Louis. Cincinnati’s dominant offensive line had no problems from what should be a fearsome Rams defensive line, who failed to get a sack. St. Louis’ offense couldn’t get anything going as Nick Foles threw three interceptions and the Bengals stacked the box against Todd Gurley. Another season of mediocrity beckons for Jeff Fischer.
J. Watt stifles Drew Brees
New Orleans failed to score a touchdown for the first time since 2005 as the Texans’ defense pummelled Drew Brees in a 24-6 win. J.J. Watt was on great form and terrorised Brees and the Saints offensive line, notching two sacks and numerous hits.
Matt Hasselbeck keeps winning
Matt Hasselbeck moved to 4-0 as a starter in place of Andrew Luck with a 25-12 win over Tampa Bay. Hasselbeck threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns as the Colts sacked Jameis Winston five times and intercepted him once.
Jacksonville’s defense is terrible
The Jaguars allowed an injury-ravaged Chargers offense to outscore them 31-25 in Jacksonville. That same Chargers offense scored just three points at home in their last contest. Gus Bradley hasn’t seemed able to replicate the defense he used to run in Seattle, while Blake Bortles still makes too many rookie mistakes despite being in his second year.
Kansas City keep collecting tiebreakers
The Chiefs are in a good position in the AFC wild card race after collecting another tiebreaker against a fellow wild card contender. A 30-22 win over Buffalo means that the Chiefs hold tiebreakers over the Texans, Steelers and Bills.
Jets complete sweep of Miami
For the second time this season the Jets put a dominant performance together against Miami. The 38-20 win keeps the Jets in the AFC wild card race while pushing the Dolphins further out of contention. Most of Miami’s points came in garbage time as the Jets eased off the thrust.
Derek Carr gets Raiders back on track
After falling to Minnesota and Detroit over the past two weeks, Oakland got back on track with a 24-21 win in Tennessee. Derek Carr threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns without an interception as he continued his stellar sophomore season.
The Giants may have just lost the NFC East
With a chance to take the lead the NFC East after Dallas and Philadelphia were decimated on Thanksgiving, both New York and Washington has plenty to play for. It was the Redskins who emerged as the winners in a 20-14 contest. Odell Beckham managed another spectacular touchdown catch, but couldn’t overhaul the Redskins on his own.
Cardinals continue to rise after tough win
Billed as a blowout, Arizona couldn’t break away from San Francisco in a game that was closer than it should’ve been. Carson Palmer’s eight yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter sealed a 19-13 win for the Cardinals. Blaine Gabbert continued to show promise for the 49ers, throwing for 318 yards, but couldn’t overcome the Cardinals.
Seattle can win shootouts
In one of the most exciting games of the year, Seattle outscored Pittsburgh 39-30 in a high-octane shootout. Both teams combined for 959 yards of total offense and nine total touchdowns. Russell Wilson looked comfortable in the pocket with five touchdowns and no interceptions compared to Roethlisberger’s one touchdown and two picks. The Seahawks are back.
While it didn’t have the pedigree of a Brady-Manning contest, Brady-Osweiler I was an instant classic. Both teams looked fairly evenly matched and the game was decided by C.J. Anderson’s walk-off touchdown run in overtime for a 30-24 Denver victory. The Patriots suffered a huge scare when Rob Gronkowski went down with what looked like a bad knee injury, but initial diagnosis is that it isn’t season-ending.
The Kick-Six Game
The Browns found another trademark way to lose a game. Travis Coons, who hadn’t missed all season, had a potential game-winning field goal blocked and returned for six points to hand Baltimore a 33-27 win.
The Rodgers’ can still save Green Bay
Aaron and Richard Rodgers (no relation) teamed up for a 61 yard Hail Mary touchdown after a facemask penalty as time expired gave them a free play. The Packers had been on the back foot all evening against Detroit, who were looking for their first sweep of Green Bay in over 20 years. Green Bay had the lead for zero seconds in a crazy 27-23 win.
The wild card plot thickens
Buffalo found a way to contain J.J. Watt and keep their wild card hopes alive with a 30-21 win over Houston. Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins are one of the most dangerous triplets in the AFC and have the Bills in playoff contention.
The 49ers still have life
Both teams looked fairly evenly matched for much of the game, heading into overtime tied at 20-20. Then Blaine Gabbert threw a 71 yard deep ball for Torrey Smith to give the 49ers a walk off 26-20 win. Gabbert looks much better than Colin Kaepernick, and gives San Francisco a solid option for next season if they don’t draft a quarterback.
Polar opposites in Battle of Ohio
Cincinnati completely outclassed neighbours Cleveland 37-3 in another embarrassing showing for the Browns. Cleveland’s defense has struggled all year and had no answer for Cincinnati’s powerhouse offense, who racked up a total of 344 yards.
Matt Schaub, king of pick-sixes
Matt Schaub threw a pick-six for the second straight week, tossing away a potential Ravens victory as Miami struggled to move the ball. Miami won an underwhelming 15-13 game as both teams battled to avoid the first overall pick for next year.
Minnesota haven’t upset NFC applecart just yet
Any hopes Minnesota had of being one of the NFC’s top contenders this season were dashed by the soaring Seahawks. The Vikings managed just 125 yards of offense as Adrian Peterson had just eight carries for 18 yards. Russell Wilson spearheaded another strong showing from Seattle’s offense in a 38-7 blowout in Minnesota.
Carolina can win with offense alone
With the defense struggling, it fell to Cam Newton and the offense to win a shootout with Drew Brees in the Superdome. Newton responded by throwing for 331 yards and five touchdowns, while an early pick failed to generate any points for the Saints. Carolina remains unbeaten and clinches a third consecutive NFC South title with a 41-38 win.
Coughlin coughs up lead again
The Giants were leading 20-10 at the start of the fourth quarter when their defense imploded and allowed 10 unanswered Jets points and Tom Coughlin mismanaged the clock again to allow Ryan Fitzpatrick to drive down the field to take the game to overtime. A 23-20 loss means the Giants have blown another chance to seize the initiative in the NFC East.
The Rams are a mess
A week after allowing 31 points to Cincinnati, Jeff Fischer’s defense coughed up 27 to the Cardinals in a 27-3 loss. Firing offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti and switching between Nick Foles and Case Keenum means that the offense has hardly functioned in weeks. The Rams may struggle even to make their customary 7-9 finish.
Tampa Bay is NFC South’s second best
Matt Ryan looked lost in Kyle Shanahan’s offense once again as the Buccaneers beat Atlanta 23-19, sweeping the Falcons for the first time since 2007. With the Saints and Falcons struggling, Tampa Bay are in the thick of the wild card race and could join the Panthers in the playoffs.
Marcus Mariota has legs
Marcus Mariota became the first Titans player to rush for 100 yards in a game since Chris Johnson in December 2013. Mariota’s 87 yard touchdown scramble was the difference in a crazy fourth quarter shootout against Jacksonville. Tennessee’s 42-39 victory is their first win at home in 11 games.
Kansas City remains Denver’s closest challenger
The Chiefs scored 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter as Derek Carr threw three interceptions in an AFC West clash. With the 34-20 win, Kansas City now add a tiebreaker over the Raiders to their collection against fellow wild card hopefuls and look like one of the most dangerous teams in the AFC. Alex Smith still hasn’t thrown an interception in over 300 attempts.
Denver’s defense is dominant
Denver sacked Philip Rivers four times and allowed just four completions to San Diego receivers in a 17-3 slugfest. The Broncos forced three turnovers, including a pick-six from Danny Trevathan that sealed the win on a day when the offense didn’t really control the game.
Philly’s special teams saves their season
Sam Bradford threw for just 192 yards on his return as Philly’s special teams unit won the game. Leading 14-0, Bill Belichick chose to try and surprise the Eagles with a drop kick. It didn’t work, setting up a touchdown. Philly then blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown to tie the game just before halftime. A Darren Sproles punt return touchdown and a 99 yard pick six from Malcolm Jenkins gave the Eagles an insane 35-28 upset win in Foxborough.
Pittsburgh have league’s best offense
After throwing for almost 500 yards against the Legion of Boom, Ben Roethlisberger shredded the Colts as Pittsburgh piled up 522 total yards of offense in a 45-10 blowout. Both Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant eclipsed 110 receiving yards, while DeAngelo Williams had his third 100 yard game of the year. No one wants to face this Pittsburgh offense if they make the playoffs.
The NFC East is still wide open
The Cowboys were 0-7 without Tony Romo in the line-up before Monday Night. They finally managed to win a game without him thanks to errors by Washington. Dallas’ 19-16 win keeps the NFC East wide open. Washington, Philadelphia and New York are all tied for first place at 5-7, while the Cowboys are unbelievably only one game back at 4-8. Remind you of last year’s NFC South?