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NFL: Broncos Falter As Patriots And Seahawks Seek Top Seeds

football

Week sixteen of the NFL regular season is now behind us, and we have a good idea of how the playoffs are shaping up. Many of the floundering hopefuls and wannabes have been put out of the race now, failing to last pace with the true contenders. This was a weekend of big moves for many, with several clinching playoff berths over the weekend. Big plays and big stops were in abundant supply with seasons on the line, and there is plenty to look back fondly on. Let’s review the action here.

Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals (35-6)

A top-of-the-table clash between NFC West powerhouses that will both be playing post-season football descended into a blowout quite early on here. The Seattle Seahawks had a dominant road win here, claiming the top seeding in the NFC conference standings in the process. The Seahawks were taking on a team ravaged by injuries, but to hold a playoff side to six points on their home turf is a phenomenal effort. The Legion of Boom is back in full force, but the offense was equally as impressive, with Marshawn Lynch running all over a top run defense, while Russell Wilson knitted offensive series’ together with some fine play from under center. Luke Willson emerged as a big target at tight end, gaining 139 yards and two touchdowns to effectively end the game. With Paul Richardson and Doug Baldwin making big plays too, the offense is getting coherent. If the Seahawks beat the St Louis Rams in the season finale, they will claim the NFC’s top seed. It seems a long time ago now that Seattle appeared to be in mid-season crisis mode.

The Arizona Cardinals weren’t the only side headed to the playoffs to get blown out this weekend, but they were playing with a view to home field advantage. That has likely gone now, for a Cardinals team that has been shorn of so many key players. They will undoubtedly raise their games for the post-season, but it was worrying that they got bossed around so much in this one. Are they merely a shell of their former selves? Russel Wilson and Marshawn Lynch combined for two hundred yards on this defense that prides itself on stuffing the run. Bruce Arians’ team won’t give up, but this year may peter out in very disappointing fashion for the Cardinals.

Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys (7-42)

Another big blowout between playoff-bound teams, with the Dallas Cowboys dominating right off the bat. Tony Romo threw for four touchdowns, with Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams having fun against this secondary. DeMarco Murray played a surprisingly high 22 snaps, despite having had hand surgery last Monday. The defense picked Andrew Luck off twice, eventually leading to the gallant quarterback being stood down with the score 35-0 at the end of the third quarter. It’s hard to envision a more dominant performance, and the Cowboys are on a roll. They own the NFC East crown for the year, but are unlikely to secure bye for the wild card round.

The Indianapolis Colts sure miss T.Y. Hilton. With no run game and no deep threat to speak of, this offense looked extremely pedestrian. Indianapolis rushed for the whopping total of one yard. Drops continue to hurt the Colts, with a particularly galling one coming on a fake punt to Dewey McDonald early on. The play was from deep inside the Colts territory, giving Dallas tremendous field position and it helped them put the game to bed. The Colts defense got minimal pressure on Romo, and the secondary wasn’t able to cover or tackle to NFL standards, which should be very worrying with the playoffs coming up so soon. Soul searching time for this promising but raw Colts team.

Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals (28-37)

Make sure and examine the box score for this one, because the numbers are crazy. The Cincinnati Bengals beat up Peyton Manning here, with the quarterback throwing a stunning four interceptions. On a night when AJ Green was held without a catch (after taking a jarring shot to his bicep on an early Andy Dalton misfire that turned into a pick-six), the Bengals were able to capitalise massively on their turnovers.  The run game made big plays, most notably Jeremy Hill’s first quarter 85 yard run that set the tone for the evening. Jermaine Gresham and Gio Bernard were solid safety blankets in the screen game, keeping Andy Dalton from being sacked. All the credit has to go to the defense here, who never gave Manning time to breathe all night. At 28-27 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Bengals won the fourth 10-0. If this team, with all that talent, continues playing clutch football, there’s no telling how far they can go.

Bad night at the wrong time for the Denver Broncos. With Manning struggling, the run game had its worst performance for several weeks too, with CJ Anderson mustering just one good run all night, being hounded by linebackers and defensive ends, as his offensive line got beaten up. The defense was spotty too, with no sacks registered and a lot of points given up, although the mitigating factors of four interceptions looms large here too. The Broncos loss gives the New England Patriots the number one seed, and leaves Denver looking very exposed, as the team loses its fear factor.

Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-20)

Big win for the Pittsburgh Steelers here, securing themselves a minimum of a wild card slot. Ben Roethlisberger was accurate and steady, notching 18/25 for 220 yards and a touchdown. The offensive line deserves a lot of credit, keeping Big Ben upright in the face of a ferocious pass rush. Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell did enough to put some points up, with Heath Miller offering a fine security blanket too. But this game boiled down to what the Steelers defense was able to do, in keeping Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles out of the end zone. Keeping the opposition to field goals was the big difference in this game, and this much-maligned unit finally put in a show stopping performance when it needed it most, with James Harrison looking like a man fifteen years younger than he really is, notching 7 tackles and 1.5 sacks. A winner takes all duel against Cincinnati in week seventeen for the AFC North title is their reward.

The playoff aspirations of the Kansas City Chiefs are left hanging by a thread after defeat here. Their lack of production from the wide receiver position has hurt all year, and an inability to find the end zone allowed the Steelers to keep them at arm’s length throughout this one. Alex Smith threw for over three hundred yards, but Dwayne Bowe and co. were unable to bring one down for the big score. If they beat the San Diego Chargers next week, the Chiefs could still make the playoffs.

Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints (30-14)

Even the worst defenses can have a big game occasionally, and the Atlanta Falcons proved that here, relinquishing the mantle of being the 32nd ranked defense to rattle Drew Brees all day long. Earning four turnovers, despite being down to the bare bones in the secondary, went a long way to winning this one, and the Falcons never let Brees breathe all day. They shut down the run and kept Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston quiet until the fourth quarter. The philosophical shift to bring pressure worked like a treat for Atlanta, and the free-flowing play of Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Julio Jones, who made over a hundred yards while playing through the pain barrier on limited snaps , helped see this one out. The Falcons are now set up for a win-and-in divisional clash with the Carolina Panthers for the NFC South title.

It all started so brightly for the New Orleans Saints, who took the opening kick-off 99 yards to set up Mark Ingram’s 1 yard touchdown run in minute one. But that was their best play of the day. Drew Brees was dogged by the chasing pack of Falcons, and was unsettled and jittery throughout. The Saints will likely point to Jimmy Graham’s contentious goal line fumble that was a big momentum swing, but they were simply second best all day, as they have been all year. The Saints have now been eliminated from the playoff hunt, and will surely come under great scrutiny in the off-season.

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