WEEK 13 REPORT CREDIT CARD: Only one squad makes an ‘A’
Would someone please knock Russell Wilson and Co. off their path to Super Dish XLVIII now that their 11-1 record has just about wrapped up the NFC West title and home-field advantage?
Here’s a closer consider the nine teams with realistic expectations of claiming the other five NFC playoff spots.
New Orleans Saints (9-3) – NFC South leader
It might be tough to imagine the Saints plus QB Drew Brees playing worse than they did in Seattle. But the Saints are strong across the defensive front and have a coach and quarterback to contend with – particularly at the Superdome, where they will just don’t lose when Sean Payton’s on the sideline. Two games in 15 days against Carolina will sort things out.
Remaining schedule: Panthers, with Rams, at Panthers, Buccaneers. (Combined record: 26-22)
Detroit Lions (7-5) – NFC North leader
There’s no doubt they have an explosive offense that’s more balanced than ever before, with RBs Reggie Bush plus Joique Bell exploiting the space created by WR Calvin Johnson’s presence. A talented defensive line is more self-disciplined, too. But the back seven is vulnerable, and QB Matthew Stafford is still prone to give away the basketball, with seven turnovers in the past two games.
Remaining timetable: at Eagles, Ravens, Giants, with Vikings. (21-26-1)
Dallas Cowboys (7-5) – NFC East leader
The sporadic production of an offense led simply by QB Tony Romo and WR Dez Bryant is maddening. However the NFL’s 32nd-ranked defense has done Dallas no favors, allowing an average of 35. 4 points in their five failures. The Cowboys’ only victory over a team that currently has a successful record came Oct. 20 with Philadelphia.
Remaining timetable: at Bears, Packers, at Redskins, Eagles. (21-26-1)
Carolina Panthers (9-3) – Number 1 wild card
They’ve found the balance within the running game to take a load away from QB Cam Newton’s shoulders, as well as the defensive front seven is one of the NFL’s best with MLB Luke Kuechly, SLB Thomas Davis, LE Charles Johnson, RE Greg Hardy plus rookie NT Star Lotulelei. That will group covers up for a secondary that does not scout well individually.
Remaining schedule: at Saints, Jets, Saints, at Falcons. (26-22)
San Francisco 49ers (8-4) – No . 2 wild card
A talented defense will usually give them a chance, and getting back WRs Michael Crabtree plus Mario Manningham helps the criminal offense. But the o-line is unusually banged up, TE Vernon Davis could be the only weapon who really frightens defenses downfield and QB Colin Kaepernick has struggled when the hurry has gotten him off his spot.
Remaining timetable: Seahawks, at Buccaneers, Falcons, with Cardinals. (24-24)
Philadelphia Eagles (7-5)
QB Nick Foles is up to 19 touchdown passes without an interception and is 4-0 since returning to the lineup in place of QB Michael Vick, whose superior athleticism and poor accuracy gave Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense a one-dimensional identity. Foles spreads the ball around and has weapons to spare. The defense will get a major test this week from your Lions.
Remaining timetable: Lions, at Vikings, Bears, with Cowboys. (23-24-1)
Arizona Cardinals (7-5)
ILB Daryl Washington, CB Patrick Peterson and DE Calais Campbell are among the best at their own positions. The offensive line remains a weakness, QB Carson Palmer commits too many turnovers and explosive RB Andre Ellington remains on a limited snap count. But benefits over the Lions, Panthers and Colts showed they can compete with some of the best.
Remaining schedule: Rams, with Titans, at Seahawks, 49ers. (29-19)
Chicago Bears (6-6)
Back-up QB Josh McCown has held the season from derailing in QB Jay Cutler’s absence. They have two big threats on the outside in WRs Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. But a defense that’s depleted at defensive tackle, young with linebacker and aging in the supplementary isn’t what it used to be, particularly contrary to the run.
Remaining timetable: Cowboys, at Browns, at Eagles, Packers. (23-24-1)
Green Bay Packers (5-6-1)
An 0-4-1 slide shows how much they revolve around QB Aaron Rodgers, who still hasn’t been cleared from his broken collarbone. If Rodgers earnings this week, running the table isn’t out of the question. If he doesn’t, a defense that appears headed for an offseason overhaul figures to disaster the Packers.
Left over schedule: Falcons, at Cowboys, Steelers, Bears. (21-27)
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