By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Once upon a time nobody cared what happened in the AFC South because once upon a time there was no one in that division that could cause a ripple in the playoffs.
The Tennessee Titans not only are pushing Houston for first in the AFC South; I'd make them the favorite based on what happened this weekend.
And what happened was this: First, Tennessee came out of nowhere to beat Kansas City at Arrowhead … at the wire. And, second, while Houston won again, it had to stage a fourth-quarter rally to beat 99-pound weakling Jacksonville … in Houston, no less … after changing quarterbacks.
There's no way of overstating the importance of Tennessee's win. Kansas City was the second-best team in the AFC. The Chiefs don't blow leads ... especially at home. And they know how to close out opponents.
Except they didn't. Not Sunday they didn't.
And so the AFC South almost surely comes down to the season finale in Houston, and how can you not like the Titans? They have momentum. They can run the ball. They can play defense. And they don’t have Tom Savage or Brock Osweiler at quarterback.
(Marcus Mariota photo courtesy of Tennessee Titans)
SORRY, WRONG NUMBER
Please tell me that ends the Dak Prescott speculation ... once and for all.
To those who clamored for Tony Romo, sorry, but you won't get your wish. Nor should you. Prescott not only is the quarterback of the future for the Cowboys; he's the quarterback of the present, too, and Dallas fans should be grateful -- a guy who not only missed four of 36 passes in Sunday's defeat of Tampa Bay but who has Dallas 12-2 and on top of the NFC.
So he didn't play well vs. the Giants a week ago. It happens. But he's been awfully good most of the season, with 11 passer ratings of 100 or better, 12 wins in his last 13 starts and support outside the 214 area code for league MVP. Now let me ask you: Is that someone you bench?
You gotta be kidding.
Plus, there's this: Why would you want to undermine his confidence? You wouldn't. He's young ... so he's impressionable. But he wins. A lot. And his teammates seem energized by him. So let's enforce a statute of limitations on the Tony Romo questions, and while they should have been enforced a week ago they weren't. So let's enforce them now.
Enough is enough.
(Dak Prescott photo courtesy of Dallas Cowboys)
HERE COME THE G-MEN
Better include the New York Giants in your Super Bowl field. Not only can they beat Dallas (they're the only ones); they can play defense. Damned good defense.
Wonder why they won eight of their last nine? Start there. In three of their last four games no opponent scored more than 13 points, and in their last two victories – defeats of opponents (Dallas and Detroit) that entered their games vs. Big Blue with a combined record of 20-5 – they allowed a total of 13 and haven’t allowed a touchdown the last seven quarters.
What's more, against Detroit they recovered a fumble in the end zone, and they intercepted a Matt Stafford pass in the end zone. In short, defense dominated. Again.
That, of course, is the area where the Giants cratered last season, with GM Jerry Reese spending nearly $200 million to rehab a unit that hemorrhaged yards, points and losses. Result: The Giants no longer blow fourth-quarter leads as they did with regularity a year ago, and don’t look now, but, at 10-4, they have the second-best record in the NFC … and the attention of the Dallas Cowboys.
If there's a concern, it's this: They lost cornerback Janoris Jenkins Sunday, and nobody knows how serious the injury is. The good news: Philadelphia is next on the schedule. At worst, the Giants finish 11-5 entering the playoffs and become a threat to everyone.
(Photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)
- So Gus Bradley gets fired. That should happen when you're 14-48 as a head coach. But why now? Somebody tell owner Shahid Khan there are two games left.
- Consider that Pittsburgh-Baltimore game next Sunday a belated Christmas present. The AFC North is decided then and there.
- So Denver is still alive for the playoffs. Big deal. The Broncos are on life support, and there's no way they beat the Chiefs and Raiders in consecutive weeks. Bottom line: Fork, please. They're done.
- Next guy on the firing line should be Jacksonville GM Dave Caldwell. He's the guy who drafted Blake Bortles.
- Here's why Sunday's game was so critical to Detroit: It goes to Dallas next Monday before finishing the season vs. Green Bay … at home. Uh-oh.
- Brandin Cooks was right. Open mouths do get fed.
- Good to know the Bengals' defense learned absolutely nothing from that playoff loss to Pittsburgh. For those keeping score at home, yes, there were four straight penalties vs. the Bengals on the Steelers' game-winning touchdown drive.
- Um, tell me again why Arizona was the league's top-ranked defense.
- Maybe Jim Irsay should give his head coach and GM a vote of confidence every week.
- Houston doesn’t have a quarterback controversy. It has a quarterback problem.
- Maybe the Raiders should move to San Diego after the Chargers leave. They found out Sunday what it's like to be the home team there.
- If Ezekiel Elliott really wants to show the Salvation Army "some love," as he said afterward, he ... and/or the Cowboys ... should jump in with a substantial donation.
- Bad enough that Cleveland is 0-14 and on course for a winless season. But check this out: The Browns haven’t had a lead for 17 straight quarters and, going back to last season, dropped their last 17.
- Nope, I have no problem with what Philadelphia Doug Pederson did. In fact, I give the guy credit for trying to close out the Ravens with a two-point conversion.
- Well, that’s one way to make sure the Bengals aren't asked about choking in the playoffs.
- Jeff Fisher says he can't wait to return to coaching, but quick question: Who would hire him? He hasn’t had a winning season in seven years, and try selling that to a fan base.
- With that loss, Mike McCoy is now 1-10 vs. the AFC West the past two seasons. Just sayin.'
- That was some boost Adrian Peterson gave the Vikings. Look, it doesn’t matter if Barry Sanders is carrying the ball. You can't run through holes that aren't there. Let's face it: Minnesota's offensive line stinks.
- Let's just put it this way: Nobody makes better one-handed catches than Odell Beckham Jr.
- Yep, I've seen enough. Make Matt Barkley Chicago's starter for 2017.
WHAT WE LEARNED …
Minnesota is toast.
Tampa Bay is not ready for prime time.
Matt Stafford's MVP campaign just took a hit.
San Francisco is every bit as dreadful as Cleveland.
Never bet against Ben Roethlisberger in Cincinnati. He's 11-2 there.
When Aaron Rodgers says he plans to run the table you'd better pay attention.
There is only so much the Denver defense can do.
… AND WHAT WE DIDN’T
How Chicago let Jordy Nelson get behind the defense on that last drive.
Where Demaryius Thomas went. He disappeared Sunday.
What's next for Rex Ryan.
Who's the best in the AFC West.
Why Jacksonville waited this long to fire Gus Bradley.
Who is David Irving and where did he come from.
What happened to the home-field advantage in Arrowhead.
Why Houston thought Brock Osweiler was worth $72 million.
SUNDAY'S HALL OF FAMER
NEW ORLEANS QB DREW BREES. I guess this is what happens when Brees goes two weeks without a touchdown and with six interceptions. He plays the league's top-ranked defense, throws for four touchdowns and 389 yards and leads New Orleans to a rare road victory. Yeah, I know, we've seen a zillion performances like this from Brees but seldom have they come against a top-ranked defense on the road.
SUNDAY'S HALL OF SHAMER
CINCINNATI CB DRE KIRKPATRICK. Everything that was wrong with the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday ... especially in the second half ... can be found here. Too many stupid penalties and not enough big plays. In fact, the Bengals had more second-half penalty yardage than they did offensive yards, with Kirkpatrick guilty of three … count em, three … holds vs. Antonio Brown. You'd think these guys would learn from what happened vs. Pittsburgh the last time they met in Cincinnati. But you would be wrong.