Starting at the top, the now 10-2 Minnesota Vikings took over as the top seed because of the tiebreaker of best winning percentage in common games. Philadelphia’s loss opened the door for Minnesota to win the Super Bowl without playing a single postseason game outside of its home stadium. Case Keenum looks more and more like a legitimate star quarterback every week, as Mark Maske writes, so it may not be far-fetched.
Both ends of the result created a monster next two weeks for the 9-3 Rams. They could not shake the Seahawks, who moved to 8-4 and beat the Rams in their first meeting. Philadelphia’s loss means the Rams are just a game behind of both the top seed and the second seed.
In Week 14, the Rams host the Eagles. The next week, they travel to Seattle. By the end of Week 15, then, the Rams could either be holding a bye or in second place in their division and clawing for a playoff spot. Even by next week, the Eagles, impregnable all season, may be staring at playing on the opening weekend. (It’s also important to remember the Rams hold the tiebreaker over the 9-3 New Orleans Saints, whom the Rams beat last week.)
While the Sunday night result created opportunity for the Rams, it created desperation elsewhere. Seattle’s victory knocked the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons out of playoff position. The Falcons, who lost at home to the Vikings on Sunday, will have the chance to fight back in the NFC South — they play the Saints twice and close with the Carolina Panthers over the course of the final four weeks. But for now, they’re looking up at Seattle, which seemed unlikely after Atlanta beat the Seahawks in Seattle two weeks ago.
Seattle’s victory Sunday night dismayed several NFC teams on the brink of the playoffs, most notably the Packers. In the afternoon, a path seemed to be opening for the Packers to sneak into the postseason. Seattle’s rejuvenating victory placed another hurdle on that path.
The Packers hoped they could win enough with Brett Hundley at quarterback to still be alive when Aaron Rodgers, recovering from a broken collarbone, is eligible to come off injured reserve in Week 15. Rodgers represented hope, no matter how faint, especially when he rejoined drills. “Aaron looked great yesterday in practice,” Packers Coach Mike McCarthy said Sunday. “It really gives your football team a shot.”
Green Bay plays at Cleveland next week, a game it will be heavily favored to win, even with Hundley at quarterback. Then Rodgers returns for the final three games, likely with a chance to push the Packers to 10 wins, at Carolina, home against the Vikings and at the suddenly reeling Lions.
The Packers were outgained 395 yards to 202 in regulation Sunday yet still managed a 26-20 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field. They returned a fumble 62 yards for a touchdown and blocked a punt to set up their first offensive touchdown before Hundley led a run-heavy, 72-yard, game-winning touchdown drive in the extra period. It was an ugly win over a bad team, but with Rodgers sidelined only the final result mattered for Green Bay.
“Since Aaron was injured, I made it clear all three phases needed to play better or play different,” McCarthy said. “That was different today.”
And then, the Seahawks’ victory tempered the meaning of Green Bay’s overtime victory. The Saints are 9-3, the Panthers and Seahawks are 8-4, and the Falcons are 7-5. Maybe if the Seahawks had dropped down, the Packers see themselves squeezing in. But the field is too crowded now, it seems, for Green Bay to have a shot when Rodgers comes back. It may take 11 victories to claim an NFC wild card, and the Packers can only get to 10.
Then again, check back next week. So much can change in the NFL, even with just one game.
>>> The Chiefs’ problems are getting worse and weren’t all about Alex Smith after all. Smith passed for four touchdowns and 366 yards, but the Chiefs still suffered a 38-31 defeat at the Jets that imperiled their formerly rock-solid playoff outlook. Kansas City has lost four in a row and six of seven, incinerating the 5-0 start that made them the toast of the NFL.
The Chiefs still technically lead the AFC West based on tiebreakers, but they are tied at 6-6 with the Raiders and Chargers. The 7-5 Ravens, who have won four out of five despite frequent impotence on offense, hold the final wild card spot, which puts the Chiefs on the outside of the playoff picture if they fall out of the division lead. The Chargers have won three in a row, face the Chiefs in two weeks and rank among the scariest teams in the league.
Sunday, the Chiefs melted down. After getting flagged for pass interference, cornerback Marcus Peters protested by picking up the flag and chucking it into the stands. As far as childish ways to get thrown out of an NFL game, at least it was creative.
>>> Jimmy Garoppolo made his debut as the San Francisco 49ers quarterback and led the Niners to their second win of the season, a 15-14 victory over the Bears. Garoppolo completed 26 of 37 passes for 293 yards and an interception. Garoppolo didn’t throw a touchdown pass, or even lead a touchdown drive, but he looked sharp, as he has in every chance he’s had in the NFL. He proved he’s worth the hype — and a long-term contract, writes Dieter Kurtenbach.
>>> Rob Gronkowski should be suspended for his cheap shot Sunday in the Patriots’ 23-3 victory over the Bills. Gronkowski leapt on top of cornerback Tre’Davious White after White made an interception, slamming White’s head with a swing of his arm. Gronkowski apologized afterward and said the play happened out of frustration.
“First off, I definitely want to apologize to No. 27,” Gronkowski said. “I’m not in the business of that. It was a lot of frustration, and I was just really frustrated at that moment. It just happened naturally through emotions and frustration, and I just want to apologize to Tre’Davious White. I don’t really believe in taking shots like that.
“I felt like he kind of pushed me a little bit and made the play. I just don’t understand why there wasn’t a flag. A couple times through the game, they’re calling me for the craziest stuff ever. It’s like crazy. Like, what am I supposed to do? And then, they don’t call that?”
Gronkowski had reason to be frustrated. He was clearly interfered with on the play, and he takes more uncalled abuse than any receiver in football because of his size. That in no way excuses his violent, unnecessary hit. White, a rookie, landed in the concussion protocol. Referees missed the call on the field, but Gronk should be penalized this week.
“I don’t think there’s any place in the game for that,” Bills Coach Sean McDermott said. “It’s unfortunate and I know he’s a better player than that.”
Bills safety Jordan Poyer said Gronkowski’s hit will “for sure” carry over when the teams meet in Week 16, Robert Quinn reports.
>> Ben McAdoo’s bungling reign as the Giants’ head coach seems headed for imminent demise. The Giants lost, 24-17, at Oakland with Eli Manning sitting in favor or Geno Smith, a handoff that McAdoo handled poorly this week. The Giants could fire McAdoo before next week in an attempt to quell fan revolt ahead of their first home game since Manning’s benching, Paul Schwartz writes. The 2-10 Giants may also face a group of ex-players wearing No. 10 jerseys in support of Manning, whose remarkable streak of 210 consecutive games played came to an end.
Manning, meanwhile, will not let his career end on this note. He emphatically said, “I plan on playing next season,” Jordan Raanan writes.
>> Alvin Kamara is incredible. Kamara, the Saints running back and runaway favorite for rookie of the year, rushed nine times for 60 yards and two touchdowns Sunday, and caught five passes for another 66. He is the most exciting player on the field every week — against the Panthers, he bowled through a defender at the goal line, leapt over another in the open field and jumped into the stands after a touchdown, smiling to reveal gold teeth as fans mobbed him. Kamara is what makes the Saints a legitimate Super Bowl threat — there is not another weapon quite like him in the NFL.
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