With so much doubt surrounding their chances of winning the Super Bowl, both the Atlanta Falcons and the Houston Texans moved one step closer to locking up homefield advantage with impressive wins on Sunday.
Arian Foster ran for 165 yards as the Texans beat the Colts 29-17 to improve to 12-2 on the year while Matt Ryan tossed three touchdowns as the Falcons shut-out the Giants to also improve to 12-2.
Both teams still have a lot to prove in the post-season but after strong showings in Week 15, their odds will be much better to go all the way.
What else happened in Week 15?
Star of the week:
Tony Romo deserves some love after throwing two touchdowns in the Cowboys dramatic 27-24 overtime win over the Steelers. Romo and the Cowboys are 3-0 in December and very much alive in the playoff race in the NFC.
As great as Romo played against the Steelers, the star of the week award goes out to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Playing on the road and in foul weather against the powerhouse New England Patriots, Kaepernick threw four touchdowns as the 49ers won 41-34 to clinch a playoff spot.
Kaepernick really showed his mettle late in the fourth quarter after the Patriots overcome a 31-3 deficit. Following a 62-yard kick return by LaMichael James, Kaepernick went right for the jugular as he hooked up with Michael Crabtree for a 38-yard touchdown to all but seal the deal for the 49ers.
Rookie of the week:
Washington Redskins rookie Kirk Cousins received many votes for leading a crucial 38-21 road win over the Ckeveland Browns. Getting the start in place of fellow rookie Robert Griffin III, Cousins threw for 329 yards, two touchdowns and one interception as the Redskins won their fifth straight game. http://www.nfl.com/videos/auto/0ap2000000111646/WK-15-Can-t-Miss-Play-Hankering-for-a-touchdown
Kirk Cousins was good; but Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was even better. Wilson threw a touchdown and <a class="link" target= "new" href="http://www.nfl.com/videos/auto/0ap2000000112101/Russell-Wilson-s-third-rushing-touchdown-of-first-half
“>ran for three more as the Seahawks destroyed the Bills 50-17 at Rogers Centre in Toronto to become the first team since the 1950 New York Giants to score 50-plus points in back-to-back games.
Speaking to tight end Zach Miller and receiver Sidney Rice after the game they couldn’t stop raving about Wilson. “We are letting Russell (Wilson) open it up, and he is doing a heck of a job controlling the offense right now,” said Rice.
1) Adrian Peterson - Peterson’s final numbers in the Vikings win over the Rams are a little deceiving. Yes, Peterson ran for 212 yards on 24 carries but what makes Peterson’s game so special was the fact the Rams defence had held him to a mere eight yards on his first eight carries. Then on his ninth carry quarter early in the second quarter Peterson shredded the Rams defense on an amazing 82-yard touchdown run.
“For an opposing team it’s demoralizing. You feel like you’re about to get back in it and the guy that you come into the game saying you have to stop still breaks big plays. That’s demoralizing,” said Vikings coach Leslie Frazier after the game to reporters.
I’m not sure what I liked more; Peterson’s run or Gus Johnson’s call.
With those 212 yards Peterson is now 188 yards away from 2,000 and 294 yards away from breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season record of 2,105 yards. In the last eight games Peterson has run for 1,313 yards, the most over an eight game stretch in the history of the NFL.
2) Peyton Manning – While fans in Baltimore are stressed with Joe Flacco and the direction of the Ravens offence, there are no such issues in Denver. Peyton Manning runs the show and the Broncos just keep on winning.
Manning threw one touchdown as the Broncos beat the Ravens 34-17 to extend their winning streak to nine games.
So far this year Manning has thrown for 4,016 yards, 31 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions.
3) Aaron Rodgers – Rodgers threw for 291 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in the Green Bay Packers 21-13 win over the Chicago Bears.
Not only did Rodgers and the Packers beat their hated division rivals, they clinched the NFC North title in the process. With two games left to play Rodgers has thrown for 3,588 yards, 32 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.
4) Tom Brady – Not many quarterbacks in the NFL can heave the ball down the field 65 times in a game and not expect to throw at least one pick. Tom Brady threw two interceptions to go along with his one touchdown in the Patriots 41-34 loss to the 49ers.
Even with all the Patriots issues, Brady was still able to engineer a furious comeback in the fourth quarter to keep the game close. After 14 games Brady has thrown for 4,276 yards, 30 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Stiff of the week:
The fact the woeful Chiefs and the slumping Bucs were both shut out Sunday isn’t too much of a shock. The sight of the defending Super Bowl champion Giants getting walloped by the Falcons was downright stunning.
To me the real shocker has been the freefall the Ravens are in right now. After pulling off a fluky overtime win over the Chargers, the Ravens have now lost three straight games. A change at offensive co-ordinator didn’t help much as Joe Flacco and the Ravens were a dismal 1-for -12 in third-down conversions against the Broncos.
Even more disturbing was the sight of Knowshon Moreno, the Broncos backup running back, run for 118 yards and a touchdown. Then again the injury-riddled Ravens have the 27th-ranked run defense in the NFL.
With games remaining against two teams fighting for their playoff lives, the Giants and the Bengals, there’s no guarantee that the Ravens will snap out of it by the end of the season.
A healthy Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs would help a ton but ultimately the Ravens need Joe Flacco to be better than Eli Manning and Andy Dalton in the final two weeks.
Defensive player of the week:
Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt wins the award this week after his performance in their win over the Colts. Watt was a one-man wrecking crew Sunday, sacking Andrew Luck three times, forcing a fumble and adding another 10 tackles. Watt is now tied with Aldon Smith for the league lead with 19.5 sacks and both players have a chance at Michael Strahan’s single- season record of 22.5 sacks.
Beyond his sack totals, Watt also leads all defensive linemen and linebackers with 15 knocked down passes.
The Steve Largent award:
This might not have been the finest individual catch in Week 15 but because of how the Seahawks pulled it off, Golden Tate wins this week’s award.
After taking the handoff, Marshawn Lynch pitched it back to Russell Wilson who then heaved it down the field for 44 yards to Tate on what was a a perfectly-executed flea flicker.
The playoff watch:
Wins by the Redskins and Cowboys coupled with losses by the Bears and the Giants have turned the NFC playoff picture into a real crapshoot. Along with the Vikings, the aforementioned teams all have identical 8-6 records and will be going balls to the wall during the final two weeks to try and get into the playoffs.
Thanks to their win over the Browns, the Redskins now control their own destiny. The Redskins are in Philadelphia this week and then wrap up the season at FedEx Field when they host the Cowboys for what could decide the NFC East.
The Giants they will still make the playoffs if they can win their final two games against the Ravens and the Eagles. Fuelled by Adrian (A.D. as in All Day) Peterson, the Vikings are also in a position to make the playoffs. With games against the Texans and the Packers to close out the season it won’t be easy though.
With their overtime loss to the Cowboys, Pittsburgh needs to win their final two games to get into the post-season. The Chicago Bears have now lost five of their past six and have gone from 7-1 to 8-6 in a few short weeks. While Jay Cutler and the Bears close out the season with games against the Cardinals and the Lions; both of those games are on the road. Even if they win out, the Bears will need some help to get into the playoffs.
The Monday Night game:
I know a lot of people are trying to find any excuse to avoid tonight’s game but the New York Jets still have something to play for. A win tonight in Tennessee and the Jets will keep their razor thin playoff hopes alive. Thanks to improved play from their defence, the Jets have won two straight and three of their past four games.
With games remaining against the Chargers and the Bills, a 9-7 season is still very much a possibility for Rex Ryan’s squad. Don’t expect too much from Mark Sanchez; the beleaguered Jets quarterback, who is ranked 33rd in quarterback rating (71.8) and 31st in completion percentage (55.4 per cent).
Then again the Titans Jake Locker is not much better. The 4-9 Titans are playing for jobs as they close out the season; especially head coach Mike Munchak.