Week 14 and week 15 were both characterised by emphatic wins, but while week 14 was a successful outing for the traditional pre-season favourites, week 15 blew the playoff picture wide open again, just as it had been in the early part of the season.
Now let’s look at week 14 first, as this gives us an insight into just how significant week 15 was as a series of results.
There were wins for the Patriots, Packers, Giants, Colts, and although the 3 main contenders in the AFC North all lost, every division leader strengthened their grip on their respective divisions, all except 2 teams… the Falcons and the Texans.
The Falcons fell to the Carolina Panthers, a team who are doing their utmost to salvage their disappointing season after seven defeats by less than one score, including an undeserved 30-28 defeat to the Falcons in week 4. Perhaps more significantly, running back Arian Foster and his Texans teammates were obliterated by a clinical Patriots team lead by a classy display from Tom Brady. Although both of these teams have been impressive in recent seasons there was still a lack of confidence in them being able to make a lengthy and successful playoff run. The Texans had only made the playoffs once in their eleven year history and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had not yet won a playoff game in his three attempts. So while each team still lead their respective conferences, the Texans had lost big games against their probable Superbowl rivals in the Packers and Patriots and the Falcons continued to misfire against supposedly weak opposition.
After week 14 one thing is for certain though, the Patriots are the team to beat!
I am writing this blog after the conclusion of week 15, so whilst that previous statement now appears a bit stupid, many pundits and fans can’t deny that they shared that same view just a week ago. The Patriots were rapidly brought down to earth on Monday night with a home defeat to the dangerous San Francisco 49ers.
Adjectives like ‘clinical’ and ‘classy’ just don’t seem appropriate after last night’s performance by Tom Brady and his offense. Not only were NBC commentators Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth quick to recognise these failings but Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers were quick to capitalise on them. The Patriots possessed the ball on five separate occasions in the first quarter and on not one occasion did they convert on third down. Instead the 49ers quickly established the largest lead over the Patriots since November 1998. The Patriots fans and players were in shock for the majority of last night’s game, none more so than Aaron Hernandez who flinched when faced at the prospect of another devastating hit from the impressive San Francisco defensive backs. Though ‘just when you thought’ the game was over as a contest, the 49ers relinquished their lead and Danny Woodhead spear headed an extraordinary 4th quarter comeback. Although the Patriots tied the game late on, the 49ers scored a mere two plays after the kick-off.
Kaepernick directed a passing attack that had somewhat restricted the 49ers in previous games, and receivers such as Crabtree and the 49ers as a whole will no doubt profit from this added element to their offense. Despite a lacklustre Patriots performance there should be no need to panic. They showed they have the ability to mount late comebacks and the clever play calling late on enabled them to catch the their opposition off guard and also nullify the 49ers most potent pass rushing weapon, Aldon Smith.
Another reversal of fortunes involved the Giants and Falcons. After contrasting results in week 14 the Falcons demolished the Giants 34-0. A score line that will certainly strike fear into the Falcons’ NFC opponents. Should we now be more confident in expecting a Falcon post season run? Then there is the other conference leader, the Houston Texans. The Texans recovered from last week’s thumping against the Patriots to beat the mightily improved Colts. I did previously say that Colts were traditional Superbowl contenders, and if you ignore their incredible attempt to lose all their games last season, then I’d say they still fit that bill.
In the space of just two weeks, the main Superbowl contenders have endeavoured to achieve the level of equality that the NFL strives for, leaving the race for the Superbowl once again wide open. This competitiveness isn’t typified more than by the unpredictable NFC East, the topic of my next blog.