Four NFL playoff contenders exposed in Sunday losses

  • By Gregg Rosenthal
  • Around The League editor
  • Updated: Dec. 17, 2012 at 01:32 a.m.

We built up Week 15 as Statement Sunday. There were six games between winning teams, the most in NFL history this late in the season.

Statements were certainly made. Great games were not played. Sunday's early games exposed a raft of mediocre squads with aspirations for more.

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens offense went from bad to worse against Denver. Joe Flacco was harrassed, inaccurate, and ineffective. The defense actually played well considering all its injuries. The Ravens are headed to the playoffs, but even the division title is up for grabs now. Their three-game losing streak could easily be extended to four against the Giants next week. Then again ...

New York Giants: We all expect the Giants to become consistent and it doesn't happen. They lost 34-0 in Atlanta. They couldn't pick up tough yards. They couldn't get off the field. Yes, the Giants didn't turn it on until Week 16 last year. They also missed the playoffs entirely in 2009 and 2010. The Giants are far more likely to make the playoffs as a wild card now rather than the NFC East champ. They are 2-5 in the last seven weeks. Isn't it possible they are just another mediocre team?

Chicago Bears: We warned you last week that the Bears could fall out of the playoffs entirely. They now have an uphill battle to make it. The Bears have a favorable schedule (@ AZ, @ DET), but this is a team that was 7-1. Sneaking into the playoffs and going one and done wouldn't be a success for them.

Indianapolis Colts: It's a miracle this team is 9-5. We give Bruce Arians, Andrew Luck, and Reggie Wayne all the credit in the world for this amazing season, but the Colts show way too many weaknesses on a weekly basis to take them seriously as a title contender.

On the flip side ...
What Sunday's games meant to the victors Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons needed a win like this before the playoffs. Not only did Atlanta all but assure the No. 1 seed on Sunday, they proved they can absolutely dominate a quality opponent at home. The Falcons are 7-0 at the Georgia Dome.

Denver Broncos: Coupled with New
England's loss on Sunday, the Broncos should have a playoff bye and a home game in the divisional round. (Denver faces the Browns and Chiefs the next two weeks.) It is a much, much easier road to the Super Bowl for Denver to host New England before a potential AFC Championship game in Houston. The Broncos defense is so versatile and dangerous.

Houston Texans: At least the Texans don't have to worry about winning the AFC South now. We still have doubts they can beat the Broncos or Patriots in the playoffs, but they should only have to beat one of them. Not both.

Green Bay Packers: They continue to improve and get the job done while they get healthier. That's a difficult task. My preseason Super Bowl pick should hit the playoffs peaking.
The best game of the year

The Fail Mary was the most memorable moment of the year but Sunday night's 49ers-Patriots classic was the most memorable game. I'm so impressed with San Francisco. They pushed New England around physically in the first half. With the walls crumbling around them, San Francisco responded like champions in the last seven minutes.

It wouldn't be shock to see a rematch in New Orleans, but New England's path to get there just got much tougher.
About that NFC East

I broke down every conceivable NFC East scenario and angle right here.

The short version: The Redskins are the new favorites. If the Giants go to the playoffs, it will more likely be as a wild card team. The Cowboys have the toughest road ahead, but they still get in with two more wins. If Dallas and Washington win next week, we'll have a play-in game between the division rivals. How great would that be?
So you're saying there's a chance

1. Once the Vikings fell to 6-6, I thought it was possible they could lose out. Instead, they have gone 2-0 with impressive wins over Chicago and St. Louis. That's the power of Adrian Peterson. He's making a strong case as an MVP candidate.

2. That said, I'd still be stunned if the Vikings made the playoffs. Their next two games: at Houston and home for the Packers. Good luck with that.

3. It was a good Sunday for the New York Jets. Pittsburgh's loss keeps the Jets' small hopes alive. Everyone killed me for not "sticking a fork" in the Jets at 4-7, and the last few weeks have supported my vision. They may not be any good, but the Jets aren't dead. Yet.

4. The Redskins don't even need Robert Griffin III to get healthy in time for next week's game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Kirk Cousins has it covered. Let's just get RG3 back for the finale against the Dallas Cowboys.

5. Pittsburgh's loss in Dallas doesn't hurt the Steelers that much. They have to beat Cincinnati this week, but that was true no matter what. The bigger issue is that Pittsburgh doesn't resemble a team that could win multiple playoff games anyhow. The AFC is top-heavy. It would be very surprising if any team outside the top three seeds made the Super Bowl.
They're real and spectacular

Based on numbers, Football Outsiders had Seattle as their No. 2 overall team heading into Week 15. The Seahawks will probably be No. 1 after this week. With San Francisco probably winning the NFC West (they can do it with a win at home over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17), Seattle will have to win on the road in the playoffs. The Seahawks have finally showed they are able to do that with their victory in Chicago and Sunday's convincing beatdown of the Bills in Toronto.

The Seahawks were my NFC West pick before the season, so perhaps I'm a little biased. But I think they are absolutely a top-five NFL team. The offense has improved dramatically during the season. They will be a very tough out.