(Carson Palmer photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Carolina has more to worry about than completing an unbeaten season. It has the NFC West-champion Arizona Cardinals. Now, more than ever, I believe that Arizona ... not the Panthers ... is the team to beat in the NFC. The Cards can beat you with the run, the pass and a defense that, unlike Carolina, doesn't wilt in the fourth quarter. And they make few mistakes, with Sunday's game their fourth straight without a turnover. Plus, like Carolina, they're hot. They won their last eight. And, best of all, they don't have the pressure of an unbeaten season hanging over their heads.
2. Granted, there's a lot to like about Carolina, including history. The Panthers are the fourth team in league history to start 14-0, and their predecessors all went to the Super Bowl. But this is what concerns me: Two of their last three opponents hung 73 points on them. OK, so they won, but that was because it was the Giants and New Orleans Saints, the NFL’s two lowest-ranked defenses. So what happens when Carolina plays an opponent (Arizona or Seattle) on the other end of the rankings – which it will in the playoffs? It must count on a defense that just blew a 28-point lead and had to hang on vs. New Orleans.
3. Seldom have two wildcards looked as dangerous as Pittsburgh and Seattle. Yeah, I know, we still have two weeks left, but who’s kidding whom? These guys are in. The Steelers have games left vs. Baltimore and Cleveland, a combined 9-21 and playing with second-and-third-string quarterbacks, while Seattle takes on St. Louis at home before going to Arizona for the season finale … where the Cardinals could be resting starters. The Steelers won five of their last six, with their only defeat to … who else? … Seattle. And the Seahawks? The won seven of their last eight and are beginning to look like the team that finished with a flurry the past two seasons to reach the Super Bowl. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see one … maybe both … in Super Bowl L.
4. Let’s hear it for Houston’s Brandon Weeden. He did what nobody in Houston Texans’ history could – namely, win in Indianapolis. Nevertheless, I still don’t trust him or the Texans, and here’s why: Weeden is 0-11 as a starter.
5. That’s two straight weeks where the Broncos have been caught from behind, and that’s a problem, people. This game is all about finishing, and the Broncos the past three weeks were outscored 36-0 in the second half – losing two of those three. Yes, they have the league’s top-ranked defense, but there’s just so much pressure a defense can withstand when its offense shuts it down for two quarters.
6. For that reason, don’t discount the possibility of Kansas City catching Denver in the AFC West. The Chiefs are hot, hot, hot, and Denver is not, not, not. If the Broncos lose to Cincinnati next weekend, the Chiefs will pull off the most improbable upset of the season and steal the division – winning their last 10 after losing their most valuable player, Jamaal Charles.
7. Carolina's Ron Rivera has a tough decision ahead of him. He hasn’t lost in his last 20 regular-season games, including 14 this season, and has two gimmes to make it to the finish line unbeaten. So does he go for the 16-0 season, or does he rest his starters? My guess: He keeps his foot on the gas.
8. Next time Josh Norman and Odell Beckham get together, put them on Pay Per View.
9. One cheap shot that wasn’t flagged in the Giants-Carolina game was the one Carolina cornerback Cortland Finnegan took afterward. Asked why OBJ was so worked up, Finnegan said, “Maybe it’s in his blood. Maybe it’s female-related.” Huh? Cortland, the National Organization of Women would like to speak to you.
10. Maybe someone should try double-covering Doug Baldwin. Just a suggestion.
11. The Washington Redskins are in great shape in the NFC East, but they sure make it hard to believe in them. Reason: Their last two games are on the road, where the Redskins are 1-5, and one of them (next Saturday) is in Philadelphia. OK, so the Eagles stink. So does Washington away from home.
12. How come there’s no MVP buzz about Russell Wilson? Someone? Anyone?
13. Bad enough that Sunday’s game might have been the last for the Chargers in San Diego. Worse, someone thought it would be a good idea to make it Fan Appreciation Day, too. Honest.
14. Sure glad the Texans let Ryan Fitzpatrick go. It's not like they need a quarterback.
15. Memo to Jerry Jones: Go ahead and put Tony Romo on IR.
16. People who want to crush DeMarco Murray, remember this: It was Chip Kelly who signed him and Chip Kelly who thought he'd be a good fit for the Eagles ... which, of course, he's not.
17. Just when you thought the Ravens’ season couldn’t get worse … they show up in gold pants.
18. Sorry, but I DO believe Peyton Manning won’t sit behind Brock Osweiler. OK, so he didn’t communicate that to anyone. Big deal. He doesn’t have to. He’s Peyton Manning, and he doesn't hang around the game to serve as a backup. He starts or else.
19. When you wonder what happened to Indianapolis, look no farther than turnovers. The Colts have a league-leading 29.
20. Since winning Super Bowl XLVI, the New York Giants are 28-34 and haven't returned to the playoffs. Just sayin.’
21. Shame on referee Terry McAuley. He saw that low blow by Robert Ayers on Cam Newton. And he did nothing.
22. Cincinnati relief pitcher AJ McCarron did exactly what he’s supposed to do: Not screw up. He made no mistakes, completed all but six of 21 passes and let his supporting cast do the rest. Oh, yeah, he also completed the first NFL victory by an Alabama quarterback since 1987.
23. Can’t wait for those ratings on the Christmas Eve game between San Diego and Oakland … especially the ones in Carson.
24. Bruce Arians is right. Carson Palmer deserves MVP consideration. But he won't get it. Not with the competition he faces this season.
25. Nope, I can’t see the Jets making the playoffs, either. Their last two games are home to the Patriots and at Buffalo.
SUNDAY’S HALL OF FAME
(Kirk Cousins photo courtesy of the Washington Redskins)
Kansas City CB Marcus Peters. He has two interceptions, returning one for a TD, then does a spot-on Ray Lewis dance in the end zone. Make him a serious Defensive Rookie-of-the-Year candidate.
Washington QB Kirk Cousins. He throws four touchdown passes. He runs for another score. And he wins at home again, where he has 15 TDs, 0 interceptions and 4 rushing TDs the last six games there.
Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown. I don’t know whom I’d rather have – him or Odell Beckham Jr. – but I do know I can always count on Brown. His consistency is staggering, and so is his production. Not only did he have 16 catches vs. Denver, the fourth time this season he's had 10 or more in a game, he threw in two touchdowns, too – including the game-winner.
Seattle WR Doug Baldwin. He and Jerry Rice are the only guys in history to put up 10 TDs in a four-game span.
Minnesota QB Teddy Bridgewater. He had more touchdown passes (four) than incompletions (three) and finished with a season-best 151.3 rating. Oh, yeah, he also ran for a TD.
San Diego RB Danny Woodhead. It’s been a long time since any Charger found the end zone at The Q in San Diego, but Woodhead found it four times Sunday – once with a run; three times as a receiver. Thanks for the memory, Danny.
Arizona RB David Johnson. The Cardinals lose Chris Johnson, then turn to this rookie ... and presto! ... just like that, their rushing attack gets better. Johnson rushed for 187 yards, scored three times and compiled 229 yards in offense as Arizona improved its road record to 7-1.
SUNDAY’S HALL OF SHAME
(Rex Ryan photo courtesy of the New York Jets)
N.Y. Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. It’s not the loss that bothers me. It’s the loss of composure. The guy was out of control, and, yeah, I know, he made some big fourth-quarter catches. But before that he made a moron out of himself and should have been ejected.
New England special teams. Danny Amendola’s fumbled punt return marked the fourth straight week this unit committed a huge mistake. With so many players down with injuries, the Patriots have no margin for errors like these.
Buffalo coach Rex Ryan. It’s hard to argue with what Mario Williams said after the Bills’ latest loss. I mean, how does a defense get worse under Ryan? I don’t know, either, but seldom have the Bills looked more inept than Sunday. “If it don’t work,” Williams said, “then it needs to be a different change.” I'll second that.
Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles. He’s down 14-3. It’s first-and-goal at the Atlanta 1. And there are seconds left in the first half. So what does he do? Throw an interception that turns what could have been a 14-10 game into a 17-3 burial. Got to be smarter than that, Blake.
Denver TE Vernon Davis. One week after a critical fourth-down drop, he drops a third-down pass that would’ve extended a fourth-period drive. The way things are going, the poor guy would have a tough time catching a cold. Now I know why the 49ers didn’t think twice about letting him go.
Oakland QB Derek Carr. His first two interceptions turned into two Green Bay touchdowns, and when you consider that the Raiders lost by 10, yeah, I think he belongs here.
Philadelphia QB Sam Bradford. The more I watch this guy, the more I wish Donovan McNabb would un-retire.
THIS WEEK’S CANTON NOMINEE
(Cam Newton photo courtesy of the Carolina Panthers)
Carolina QB Cam Newton. He throws for 340 yards, runs for another 100 and throws for five touchdowns for the third time in the past six weeks. Over that period, he has 18 TDs, one interception and, of course, zero defeats. It’s crowded at the top of the MVP field, but Newton now assumes the pole position.
“My Mom’s got to keep coming back because we’re undefeated when she’s here.” -- Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer.
NUMBERS ON THE WALL OF FAME
0 – Second-half points for Denver the past three weeks
1 -- Chicago playoff appearance in the past nine years
3 – Straight 1,400-yard seasons for Antonio Brown
4 -- Teams to start 14-0
5 -- Baltimore home losses this season, the most in franchise history
6 – Straight seasons New England has had a first-round bye
10 – First-quarter yards for Chicago, its fewest this year
10 – Ted Ginn TDs this season
13 – Allen Robinson touchdown catches
13 – Straight non-winning seasons for Oakland
40 – Ben Roethlisberger completions, tying a career high