If you remove the Lions/Bucs game that floated around a pick’em, NFL favorites posted an eighth consecutive winning Sunday, finishing 7-6 against the closing number. Over the past eight Sundays, favorites are now a combined 59-33-5 (64.1 percent) ATS. Five of the six underdogs that covered on Sunday also pulled out an outright victory: Bears +6, Cardinals +3, Panthers +2.5, 49ers +1.5 and Broncos +1. Home teams split on the day at 7-7 against the spread, and unders turned a slight profit at 7-6-1 against the closing total.
Despite three blowouts of at least 20 points, we experienced one of the most entertaining days of the NFL season, as illustrated by the 10.6 point average margin of victory. Eight of the 14 games were decided by one possession, highlighted by two overtime games and a Sunday night thriller in Pittsburgh.
Of course, the major storyline from yesterday was the torn ACL of quarterback Carson Wentz, whom the Eagles lost for the remainder of the season.
What does this do to the NFC landscape?
Before we try to answer that question, let’s first take a look at the updated NFC playoff picture heading into Week 15, updated following yesterday’s results. We will take a deeper dive into the AFC tomorrow after we know the outcome of Patriots/Dolphins.
NFC Playoff Picture
1. Eagles (11-2)
2. Vikings (10-3)
3. Rams (9-4)
4. Saints (9-4)
5. Panthers (9-4)
6. Falcons (8-5)
Still Hopeful: Seahawks (8-5), Lions (7-6), Packers (7-6), Cowboys (7-6)
Life Support: Cardinals (6-7)
Eliminated: Redskins (5-8), Bucs (4-9), Bears (4-9), 49ers (3-10), Giants (2-11)
- Despite the injury to Carson Wentz, Philadelphia clinched the NFC East in a critical comeback road win with Nick Foles under center. If the season ended today, the Eagles would only need to win two home games to get to the Super Bowl. With a loss yesterday, they would have been staring at a potential game on Wild Card weekend. Philly will play their third consecutive road game next week against the Giants before ending the season with two home games against the Raiders and Cowboys. A 2-1 finish will guarantee Philadelphia the all-important first-round bye.
- Speaking of three consecutive road games, Minnesota dropped out of the 1 seed after losing for the first time in their past nine games. The Vikings have two remaining home games, against the Bears and Bengals, in addition to a Saturday night trip to Lambeau Field in two weeks. One more win locks up their inevitable NFC North title, and three wins gives them at least a first-round bye. Since the Vikings own head-to-head tiebreakers over the Rams and Saints, a 2-1 finish should also give them a first-round bye as long as Carolina doesn’t win out to win their division, which would require at least one Saints loss.
- If the season ended today, the NFC South would get three teams into the postseason. The Saints and Panthers sit on top of the division at 9-4, but New Orleans owns the tiebreaker as a result of a sweeping Carolina this season. The Falcons hold the second Wild Card after replacing the Seahawks in the top six this weekend. However, Atlanta will win the division if they finish the season with three wins over the Panthers, Saints and Bucs. This division will most likely come down to the outcome of Falcons at Saints on Christmas Eve and Panthers at Falcons on New Year’s Eve.
- The Seahawks fell out of the top six after their comeback effort fell short in Jacksonville, but the Rams loss means they didn’t lose any ground in the NFC West. If Seattle can sweep the season series with Los Angeles at home next week, they will leap from out of the playoff picture into the division lead. Conversely, a road loss in Seattle would most likely drop the Rams to the six seed, just one week after blowing a late home lead to secure the No. 2 seed. The Rams head to Tennessee in Week 16 while the Seahawks head to Dallas, which makes next week’s game that much more important.
- The Cowboys, Lions and Packers essentially need to win out and then hope for some help to sneak in as a Wild Card. The NFC South teams do play each other a few times over the final three weeks, and the Packers can help with a win in Carolina this weekend. Additionally, the loser of the NFC West showdown next week will have a tough road game the following week; Dallas fans should root for a Seattle loss next week since they host the Seahawks in Week 16. Detroit has the easiest remaining schedule, but Dallas will get Ezekiel Elliott back in Week 16, and Green Bay could get Aaron Rodgers back this week. Keep in mind the Packers face the Lions in Detroit in Week 17.
Let’s now take a look at some key takeaways in the NFC from Week 14…
1. Eagles save their season with key road victory in LA
Eagles (-1) at Rams | Eagles win 43-35 (O 47.5)
Even without Carson Wentz, this Eagles team can still do some damage in the NFC playoffs assuming they can hold on to the No. 1 overall seed, which is what made that win yesterday so incredibly important. The Eagles do have one of the better backup quarterbacks in the game, and they can still lean on a strong running game, an outstanding receiving corps and a stingy defense.
Asking Nick Foles to win two homes games in the NFC with this roster is at least plausible. There will certainly be a drop off after losing arguably the MVP of the league through the first 14 weeks. Foles does have mobility, but the Eagles simply can’t replace the creativity of Carson Wentz, especially in the red zone. Wentz has a staggering 23/0 TD/INT ratio in the red zone this season, a primary reason the Eagles own the No. 1 red zone offense in the NFL.
Heading into this weekend, I had the Eagles rated one point behind the Vikings as the best team in the NFC. With Wentz lost for the season, I would re-shuffle my NFC power ratings, since I have Wentz worth four points. As a result, the Eagles would fall from second to fourth in my NFC top five, which you can find below along with a key question or two for each team:
- Minnesota Vikings – They have the best defense in the NFC, but they will need a healthy offensive line to make a deep run.
- New Orleans Saints – With a healthy Alvin Kamara, this is the most dynamic offense in the NFC, but they must improve their run defense by January.
- Carolina Panthers – The defense and special teams are strong, but an inconsistent offense might ultimately hold them back.
- Philadelphia Eagles – I love their strong running game and stout rush defense, but what will the dropoff be with Foles on third down/in the red zone?
- Los Angeles Rams – The offense is scary good with a healthy Woods, assuming their tackles are OK. However, the defense can’t stop the run, and their top two corners suffered injuries on Sunday.
As long as the Eagles hold on to the No. 1 seed in the NFC, I can still see them representing the NFC in the Super Bowl, relying on the NFL’s No. 1 rush defense and No. 2 rush offense to secure two January home wins. However, I can’t envision a Wentz-less Eagles team winning in Minnesota, either against the Vikings in the NFC Championship or against the Patriots in the Super Bowl. You have to remember the Eagles already lost their best offensive lineman and best linebacker. The ceiling is lower, but the ride isn’t over. For additional context, their Super Bowl odds didn’t completely crater, moving from 5-1 to 10-1 at Westgate.
Three stars of the game:
- QB Carson Wentz (PHI) – 23-41 291 yards 4 TD
- RB Todd Gurley (LA) – 16 touches 135 yards 2 TD
- WR Torrey Smith (PHI) – 6 catches 100 yards
The Eagles have clinched the NFC East… here’s Merrill with the call pic.twitter.com/CL74AoV7VE
— Nick Piccone (@nickpiccone) December 11, 2017
2. Vikings need to get healthy up front before January
Vikings at Panthers (+2.5) | Panthers win 31-24 (O 40)
It really didn’t come as a big shock to see the Vikings’ eight-game winning streak come to an end in Carolina in their third consecutive road game, all of which came against opponents currently over .500 on the season.
However, I was surprised to see the Vikings only hand the ball off 16 times in a game that never really got away from them. Minnesota actually ranks second in the NFL with 31.5 rush attempts per game, behind only Jacksonville; the Vikings averaged 36 rush attempts during their two road wins the previous two weeks.
Minnesota’s offensive line has kept Case Keenum clean all season, but a few key injuries caused a usually reliable unit to struggle against a very good Panthers defensive front. Sunday marked the first time all season the Vikings were missing more than one offensive lineman. Keenum, who had not been sacked more than two times in a single game all season, was sacked six times on Sunday behind a reshuffled front (he was also hurried 20 times). Keep an eye on the health of Mike Remmers, Riley Reiff and Pat Elflein moving forward, as the Vikings’ winning formula on offense starts with establishing the run, protecting the quarterback and taking care of the ball. The passing attack with Adam Thielen, Stefan Diggs and Kyle Rudolph naturally follows.
The Vikings should get right back on track next week at home against the Bengals, but the offensive line injuries are something to watch in the playoffs.
Oh, and one name could still throw a huge wrench into all of this: Teddy.
Three stars of the game:
- RB Jonathan Stewart (CAR) – 103 yards 2 TD
- WR Adam Thielen (MIN) – 6 grabs 105 yards 1 TD
- CB Daryl Worley (CAR) – 9 tackles 1 PD 1 INT
Cam Newton really been watching James Harden Euro step. pic.twitter.com/K3QCGLT3To
— Tyler Steege (@TSteegeNFL) December 10, 2017
3. Lions stay alive against the “Tampa Too Easy” defense
Lions (PK) at Buccaneers | Lions win 24-21 (Under 48)
Tampa came into the week allowing 267 passing yards per game and 7.7 passing yards per attempt, both second worst in the NFL. Those numbers got worse on Sunday after a banged up Matt Stafford threw for 381 yards, averaging 8.7 yards per attempt.
Don’t forget about the Lions’ two outstanding Pro-Bowler caliber players in the secondary, Darius Slay and Grover Quin. Slay had another outstanding game in coverage, and Quin dominated in run defense.
Three stars of the game:
- WR Golden Tate (DET) – 8 catches 85 yards 1 TD
- CB Darius Slay (DET) – 6 tackles 1 PD 1 INT
- S Glover Quin (DET) – 9 tackles 1 FF
The Bucs have officially been eliminated from playoff contention. pic.twitter.com/xk41rvYJEn
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) December 10, 2017
4. Packers somehow cover against the hopeless Browns
Packers (-3) at Browns | Packers win 27-21 (Over 38)
The only two consistent things about the Browns are they can stop the run, and they will find a way to not cover. The Cleveland defense, which leads the NFL in rush yards allowed per attempt, held Green Bay to only 85 yards rushing on 27 carries. However, Brett Hundley still found a way to lead the Packers back from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit to force overtime, where the Packers escaped with a six-point victory.
Green Bay could get Aaron Rodgers back this week, but he won’t help a defense that came into the week ranked 24th in the NFL in both total yards per game (354.8) and yards per play (5.7). Those issues should only get worse with some of the recent injuries on defense.
Three stars of the game:
- QB Brett Hundley (GB) – 35-46 265 yards 3 TD
- WR Davonte Adams (GB) – 10 for 84 yards 2 TD
- RB Isaiah Crowell (CLE) – 22 touches 131 yards
5. Jimmy G remains undefeated on the season
49ers (+1.5) at Texans | 49ers win 26-16 (Under 45.5)
Consecutive wins over the Bears and Texans might not sound impressive, but they are when you consider both came on the road, where the 49ers had only two total wins in their previous 21 games. You can just see Brady similarities in some of the intermediate throws that Jimmy Garoppolo makes. San Francisco is playing with new life after the quarterback change, and I have a feeling they could make it three consecutive outright victories as an underdog this weekend at home against Tennessee.
Keep an eye on the status of 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who will have an MRI after injuring his knee in Sunday’s victory. The rookie out of Colorado is currently the 49ers’ best cornerback in a very thin secondary.
Three stars of the game:
- QB Jimmy Garoppolo (SF) – 20-33 334 1 TD
- WR DeAndre Hopkins (HOU) – 11 for 149 2 TD
- WR Marquise Goodwin (SF) – 106 yards
— Rob Lowder (@Rob_Lowder) December 10, 2017
6. Cowboys are getting healthier in the trenches
Cowboys (-4) at Giants | Boys win 30-10 (Under 42)
The Cowboys are a totally different team with a healthy offensive line and Sean Lee playing on defense. If Dallas can find a way to keep the momentum going in Los Angeles against the Raiders next week, they will get Ezekiel Elliott back for their final two games against Seattle and Philadelphia. They still need a lot of things to break right, but they could make some noise in January behind the best offensive line in football when healthy.
Three stars of the game:
- QB Dak Prescott (DAL) – 20/30 332 yards 3 TD
- RB Rod Smith (DAL) – 11 touches 160 yards 2 TD
- LB Sean Lee (DAL) – 10 tackles 1 PD 1 INT
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 10, 2017
7. Bears easily handle a lifeless Bengals team
Bears (+6) at Bengals | Bears win 33-7 (O/U 40 PUSH)
Jordan Howard ran wild in a game where the Bears gained 248 more yards than a Bengals team that continues to grade out poorly in the trenches on both sides of the ball. However, I think this result spoke more to the Bengals’ emotional letdown on a short week after essentially having their season end in heartbreaking fashion to their division rival. I will be interested to see how the Bengals respond, as they play three teams in the playoff hunt to close out the season.
Of the Bears’ four wins this season, three have come against the AFC North, and they have not played the Browns yet.
Three stars of the game:
- RB Jordan Howard (CHI) – 23 for 147 yards 2 TD
- QB Mitch Trubisky (CHI) – 25-32 271 yards 1 TD
- S Eddie Jackson (CHI) – 5 tackles 1 FF 1 INT
Jordan Howard finds the end zone! Bears are running all over the Bengals. pic.twitter.com/6hY1tY71RD
— ✶ Sports Mockery ✶ (@sportsmockery) December 10, 2017
Key NFC Injuries on Sunday:
49ers CB Ahkello Witherspoon – Knee (?)
Bucs DT Gerald McCoy- Biceps (OUT)
Chiefs C Mitch Morse – Foot (?)
Eagles QB Carson Wentz – Knee (?)
Eagles LG Stefen Wisniewski – Ankle (?)
Giants S Landon Collins- Ankle (?)
Giants DT Damon Harrison – Finger (?)
Packers CB Davon House – Back (?)
Rams LT Andrew Whitworth – Ankle (?)
Rams RT Rob Havenstein – Knee (?)
Rams CB Kayvon Webster – Achilles (?)
Rams CB Trumaine Johnson – Concussion (?)
Redskins LT Trent Williams – Knee (?)
Redskins LB Zach Brown – Foot (?)
Redskins RB Samaje Perine – Stomach (?)
Seahawks LB K.J. Wright – Concussion (?)
Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner – Hamstring (?)
Vikings LT Riley Reiff – Ankle (?)