Every team in the league -- except the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals -- have played 12 games in 2017. That means we’re already three quarters of the way through the season. As the calendar is now in December, the playoff push is officially underway. Divisional matchups will pick up as will meetings between some of the league’s best teams and we had some of those on Sunday.
Let’s start with a double take from the Sunday Night Football game. Philadelphia hadn’t lost a football game since a Week 2 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs. There were a few close calls in there, like somehow needing a 61-yard field goal to beat the Giants in Week 3, but the Eagles still pulled out the victories in route to the league’s best record and best point differential, which the team still holds now.
But all the little things that broke for the Eagles in previous games didn’t go their way against the Seahawks on Sunday. Carson Wentz had an awful first half -- 3.5 yards per attempt -- before he turned it around in the second half. Aggressive defensive gambles -- like Cover-0 blitzes (no deep safeties) -- didn’t pay off, either. The 24-10 loss Sunday night wasn’t so much a blueprint of how to beat the Eagles, but moreso a showing that the Eagles can be knocked off their game.
It’s not a blueprint to defeat because the Seahawks are still quite a unique team. There’s no worse duo to run Cover-0 on than Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin. Wilson’s mobility also gives him the ability to neutralize Philadelphia’s pass rush, which had the fifth-highest defensive pressure rate per Sports Info Solutions charting from Football Outsiders heading into the week. And despite the losses of Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril, and Kam Chancellor, there’s still a lot of defensive talent in Seattle. Michael Bennett, Sheldon Richardson, and Frank Clark still make up one of the most dangerous defensive lines in the league. Earl Thomas is still doing Earl Thomas things as the league’s best safety. Rookie Shaquill Griffin has already become a rising star in that secondary, a new member worthy of the Legion of Boom moniker like a new superhero brought in to join the Avengers. Entering Week 13, Griffin was 12th among 69 qualified cornerbacks in yards allowed per pass (5.6) and seventh in Success Rate (64 percent).
At 10-2, the Eagles dropped to the No. 2 seed in the NFC for the time being. At 8-4, the Seahawks are the fifth-seed and are a game behind the Los Angeles Rams for the NFC West lead with a game between the two in Seattle Week 15.
Vikings are for real
The new top seed in the NFC is the Minnesota Vikings. With a 14-9 win over the Atlanta Falcons, who had been surging of late, the Vikings took control of the path to home field advantage in the playoffs, which for them could also mean the Super Bowl.
What really stood out for the Vikings in the win over the Falcons is that nothing really stood out. It was just solid football all around. Case Keenum only threw for 227 and 7.6 yards per attempt, Adam Thielen led the team with only 51 receiving yards, and the defense didn’t force a sack or interception from Matt Ryan. Still, the defense was able to knock Atlanta off its game by clamping down and not allowing big plays against them. Julio Jones was held to just two receptions and 24 yards on six targets and maybe more impressive was how the linebackers held the running backs in check in the passing game. Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman combined for just four catches and 34 yards receiving out of the backfield.
Minnesota might not be the clear best team in the NFC, but they have the easiest path to that No. 1 seed. The Vikings’ remaining schedule features a road game against the Carolina Panthers, home for the Cincinnati Bengals, a road game against the Green Bay Packers who may or may not have Aaron Rodgers back, then finish the season home against the Chicago Bears.
Feel good for Josh Gordon
Josh Gordon has been through a lot in his career. He just played in his first regular season game since 2014 and put up four catches for 85 yards. Gordon and quarterback DeShone Kizer weren’t always on the same page -- those four receptions came on 11 targets -- but when they were, Gordon showed off some of what made him the NFL’s receiving leader in 2012.
There’s still a lot left in the Gordon story, but if he can manage a way to keep himself on the right path, the talent is clearly there. He’s still only 26 years old. With more practice and development time, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of the most fun receivers in the league return to his peak form. Sunday, hopefully, was just the beginning.
Alex Smith is not the problem
The Kansas Chiefs are 6-6 after a 5-0 start. They’re now tied in the AFC West with the Los Angeles Chargers and Oakland Raiders. There’s been calls for Patrick Mahomes to start at quarterback even at times during the hot streak to start the season. But Alex Smith is not what’s wrong in Kansas City. Sure he might not be the highest upside choice, but he’s had more positives than negatives, especially this season.
In Kansas City’s 38-31 loss to the New York Jets, Smith three for 366 yards, 11.1 yards per attempt, and four touchdowns. He even added a 70-yard run. The option offense and downfield attempts opened up again with offensive coordinator Matt Nagy taking over play calling for Andy Reid. But on the other side of the ball, the Chiefs allowed 38 points, 157 yards on the ground, two rushing touchdowns from Josh McCown, and 9.2 yards per attempt through the air.
Kansas City was 24th in defensive DVOA before the Jets game. That ranking will drop and the Chiefs will have to figure out a way to fix that side of the ball if they don’t want to be sitting home in January.