By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
You gotta believe.
The Oakland Raiders lead the AFC West, haven’t lost a road game this season, have an MVP candidate in quarterback Derek Carr and just ran their winning streak to six straight. So how soon before they clinch the division? My guess: They don’t, and look no farther than the schedule for the reason.
Next game: Kansas City … at Kansas City … this Thursday.
I know, the Raiders have momentum., and that's great. But so does Kansas City. The Chiefs won seven of their last eight, including another come-from-behind road victory Sunday over a division leader.
So let's face it, people. They're the team to beat Thursday; not Oakland. Not only have the Chiefs beaten the Raiders this year, but they're where they lost just once in the past 11 games.
The Chiefs have all their bases covered. They play solid defense. They create turnovers. They score off of turnovers. They rarely make mistakes on offense. And their return man, Tyreek Hill, is one of the best in the game.
So what's not to like?
Critics contend that coach Andy Reid is too conservative with his play calls and that quarterback Alex Smith checks down with his passes too often and too early. But riddle me this: If that’s the case, why did the Chiefs have five of the six longest plays in their game Sunday? They were playing Atlanta, and nobody has a more potent offense.
And why were they able to overcome second-half deficits of 17 points against San Diego and Carolina? And why were they able to catch defending Super Bowl champion Denver at the wire … in Denver?
All I know is that Kansas City won 19 of its last 22 regular-season games and is home for its showdown with the Raiders. Better yet, it stays there for the next three weeks. Granted, the only opponent left on the Chiefs' schedule that's .500 or below is San Diego, but that’s their only road game left. And it’s the last one of the season.
Bottom line: I like their chances.
(Andy Reid, Alex Smith photos courtesy Kansas City Chiefs)
HERE COME THE STEELERS
Here's why you should start paying attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers: Defense. They're starting to play it. Yeah, I know, the Steelers and defense go together like Dolce and Gabbana ... except not this season. In fact, if there was a knock on the club early it was that there were holes galore in a unit that once was the backbone of the franchise. But look what's happened the last three weeks: Not only have the Steelers won all three; they allowed just 30 points ... total ... including 14 Sunday against a Giants team that was on a six-game tear. Significant? You bet. We always knew the Steelers could put up points ... at least as long as Ben Roethlisberger was healthy ... but that defense? It was a question mark. Well, it's not now, not with Pittsburgh producing six takeaways and nine sacks the past three games. Maybe it's not Blitz-burgh, but the Steelers seem to have found a defense to make a deep playoff run. Again.
(Ben Roethlisberger photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Steelers)
SEATTLE, DALLAS ON COLLISION COURSE
After watching Seattle destroy defending NFC champion Carolina, it's hard to imagine the Seahawks not pushing for another Super Bowl. One problem: Dallas is in the way. In fact, the Cowboys could ... and probably should ... gain home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs, and that's significant. The last three top seeds in the NFC -- including Seattle twice -- have gone on to play in the Super Bowl. However ... you should never, ever, underestimate the Seahawks. Quarterback Russell Wilson is playing his best football of the season. Thomas Rawls is back. So is pass rusher Michael Bennett. And the Legion of Boom looks like the Legion of Boom again. Granted, the loss of safety Earl Thomas is a blow, but look at what's left of Seattle's schedule. You can't find an opponent with a winning record, which means the Seahawks may not lose again and that Dallas should expect to see them in January.
(Photo courtesy of Seattle Seahawks)
- Forget passer ratings and touchdown numbers, yardage numbers and completion percentages. Bill Belichick is right when he said of Tom Brady's record-breaking 201st career victory: "That’s what it's all about – winning games."
- The AFC North won't be decided until Christmas ... or when Pittsburgh and Baltimore meet in Pittsburgh as part of a can't-miss doubleheader. And the other game? Try Denver at Kansas City. Looks like the NFL office will get its Christmas wish: A TV ratings boost.
- For the first time this year the AFC North did not lose a game. Reason: Cleveland had the weekend off.
- Earlier this season Atlanta's Dan Quinn insisted his Falcons would not ... could not ... pull another el foldo. Really? After starting 4-1, they're 3-4 and headed in reverse. So what's new? A year ago, they lost seven of their last nine.
- But here's why Quinn might be right: Nobody left on the Atlanta schedule has a winning record, with his next two opponents a combined 5-19. And Tampa Bay? The Bucs have to go to Dallas on Dec. 18. Goodbye.
- So that’s what happens when the Lions have a fourth-quarter lead. OK, I believe.
- Hello, Chip Kelly? Just a reminder: The Oregon job is still open.
- Look at Colin Kaepernick's benching this way: At least he's used to sitting down.
- Congratulations to Jeff Fisher. He just completed his seventh consecutive non-winning season … and gained a two-year extension? We don't make 'em up. In my next life, I want to work for Stan Kroenke.
- CBS's Dan Fouts says its "puzzling" why the Redskins won't give Kirk Cousins a long-term contract. No, its not. It’s the middle of the season. Wait until it ends. Then he gets one.
- It's not the season finale vs. New England that should concern Miami. It’s the Dec. 24 date in Buffalo. The Dolphins haven’t won there since 2011.
- I thought Rex Ryan's strength was defense. The Bills blew a 24-9 second-half lead to Oakland. Worse, they surrendered 29 straight points.
- Maybe the Chargers and Raiders should threaten to move to Mexico. They might force our next President to find a way to prevent them from moving.
- There was more than Joe Flacco and an air-tight defense in Baltimore's landslide defeat of Miami. There were two early John Harbaugh gambles on fourth down, both of which the Ravens converted.
- Donald Trump says NFL ratings are down "because of us." No, they're not. They're down because of the NFL. Officials have taken over the game, tackling is a lost art and there are too many deficient teams.
- Julius Peppers ranks fifth in career sacks, just ahead of Michael Strahan. People will tell you he's a future Hall of Famer, and they're probably right. But remember this: It took Kevin Greene, who ranks third all time in sacks, 12 years to get to Canton.
- Larry Fitzgerald just became the NFL's third-leading receiver in career catches, and this one is easy: He makes the Hall early, probably as a first-ballot choice.
- The NFL should reconsider Thursday Night Football games, and it should do it like this: Schedule them for teams coming off byes. That way they have considerable time going into ... and out of ... the game.
- If I were Rams' offensive coordinator Rob Boras, I'd update my resume. The Rams have 10 or fewer points in seven games this year, including five of the last six.
- Khalil Mack just became the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year.
WHAT WE LEARNED …
Never trust Miami in December.
Why the Giants paid Olivier Vernon the big bucks.
Baltimore is a legit playoff threat … especially if Joe Flacco continues to convince coaches to open up the playbook.
The Rams don’t need a quarterback; they need a pulse.
Why Trevor Siemian won the job over Paxton Lynch.
Ladarius Green was worth the wait.
Stick a fork in Carolina.
… AND WHAT WE DID NOT
What to make of that Earl Thomas in-game tweet suggesting he's considering retirement.
Why extra points are such an ordeal for Mike Nugent. That’s five misses in the past five weeks.
Who's worse: San Francisco or Cleveland.
Who's better: Von Miller or Khalil Mack.
What the Broncos would do if they had a quarterback.
Why Eli Manning self-destructs in the Red Zone. He has 32 career interceptions there.
Why Tampa Bay thought kicker Roberto Aguayo was a second-round draft pick.
SUNDAY'S HALL OF FAMER
(Joe Flacco photo courtesy of Baltimore Ravens)
Baltimore QB Joe Flacco. Apparently, Ray Lewis, he does have emotion. In fact, he had a lot of it last week when he met with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and complained that the offense was too conservative and that the Ravens had to open things up ... or else. Mornhinweg relented, and you saw what happened. Flacco on Sunday was no ordinary Joe for the first time in a long time, throwing for 381 yards and four touchdowns in the Ravens' demolition of Miami. The victory taught us two lessons: Never lose faith in Flacco, especially when it's December, and keep your eyes on the Ravens. Their weakness has been offense. They haven't produced enough of it ... until now.
SUNDAY'S HALL OF SHAMER
(Matt Ryan photo courtesy of Atlanta Falcons)
Atlanta QB Matt Ryan. He usually makes the plays that matter … and Sunday was no different -- that is, except for one thing: He made them for Kansas City. The Chiefs' Eric Berry returned an interception for a touchdown and returned a two-point attempted pass for a two-point decisive score. That’s eight points he put up for the Chiefs, and that kept the Chiefs squarely in the AFC playoff picture. Thank you, Matt Ryan.