Notes, Insights & Commentary about the NFL
FOUR GAMES REMAIN AS NFL ENTERS FINAL QUARTER
It’s Week 14 of the NFL season and only four games remain to decide who advances to the playoffs. And who goes is anyone’s guess as 28 teams remain in contention for a postseason berth.
“It’s good to be 9-3 and our team is in a decent position here,” says New England Patriots head coach BILL BELICHICK. “Hopefully we can keep improving through the last quarter of the season.”
With four games to go, there are 22 teams either in or within two games of a playoff spot.
“This is the time of year where everything gets hard,” says quarterback MATT RYAN of the 7-5 Atlanta Falcons. “And this is the time of year where it gets fun too. We are right in the mix of things. We have everything we want right in front of us and it is going to be important for us to stick together.”
Two teams have already clinched spots in the 2011 playoff field – San Francisco and Green Bay.
The 49ers (10-2) claimed the NFC West division title for the first time since 2002 with a 26-0 win over St. Louis.
“It feels great,” says 49ers running back FRANK GORE, who became the team’s all-time leading rusher, passing Pro Football Hall of Famer JOE PERRY. “I’m happy that we get the opportunity to play in the postseason.”
The Green Bay Packers, who defeated the New York Giants 38-35, won the NFC North division and are the second defending Super Bowl champion (1998 Denver) to start the following season 12-0. The Packers have won 18 consecutive games (including the playoffs), tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history.
“We’re 12-0 but we need to get to 13-0,” says Green Bay head coach MIKE MC CARTHY. “We have other goals in front of us. When you play in this league, you better line up and get ready and have a good week of preparation to make sure you are on point.”
The Steelers are tied with Baltimore, Houston and New England for the best record in the AFC (9-3). Pittsburgh notched a 35-7 victory last week against division-rival Cincinnati.
“We have a short week and we have some more AFC North football waiting for us,” says Steelers head coach MIKE TOMLIN, who became the sixth head coach since 1970 to win at least nine games in each of his first five seasons. Some of the key games in Week 14:
Two teams in the middle of the AFC playoff race will meet on Sunday afternoon at Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium.
The Texans lead the AFC South by two games and improved to 9-3 with a 17-10 win over Atlanta. Houston running back ARIAN FOSTER leads the NFL averaging 142.6 scrimmage yards per game (1,426 yards, 10 games) and the Texans’ defense ranks second in the league (274.1 yards per game).
“Every game is going to get bigger and bigger from here on out,” says Houston wide receiver ANDRE JOHNSON. “We’re 9-3 and on top of the AFC. Hopefully, we can keep it rolling.”
The Bengals are tied for the final playoff spot with a 7-5 record and are gearing up for the final four games of the season.
“We’re going to play a really good team in Houston, so we’ve got to get ready to go,” says Bengals rookie quarterback ANDY DALTON, who has passed for 2,644 yards and 17 touchdowns this season.
The Saints have won four in a row and lead the NFC South by two games. Quarterback DREW BREES leads the NFL with 4,031 passing yards and is the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 4,000 yards in the first 12 games of a season. Last week, Brees completed 26 of 36 passes (72.2 percent) for 342 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 129.6 passer rating. He has completed at least 20 passes in an NFL-record 32 games in a row and has a TD pass in 39 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in league history.
“It’s one game at a time and the games don’t get any easier,” says Brees. “On the road at Tennessee is going to be a huge challenge. The Titans are playing very well right now. They’ve got some big-time players on that team.”
Among the big-time players on 7-5 Tennessee is running back CHRIS JOHNSON, who has rushed for 343 yards (171.5 per game) in the past two games. In last week’s 23-17 win at Buffalo, Johnson rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns, including a 48-yard TD run. He has nine career TD runs of at least 45 yards, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer OLLIE MATSON and PAUL LOWE for the fourth-most in NFL history. Johnson trails Pro Football Hall of Famers BARRY SANDERS (18), JIM BROWN (13) and O.J. SIMPSON (10).
“A lot of guys are growing confidence and we’re starting to realize we have a good chance at being a great football team here,” says Titans wide receiver NATE WASHINGTON. “Not just good, but great.”
The Raiders are tied with Denver for the AFC West lead and look to become the first team to defeat the defending Super Bowl champions. Oakland has won three of its past four games and is 4-2 on the road this season.
“It’s the NFL, so I think everybody is going to give you their best shot every week,” says Packers quarterback AARON RODGERS, who is one of three quarterbacks – Pro Football Hall of Famer JOHNNY UNITAS (1959) andPEYTON MANNING (2004) – to throw multiple touchdown passes in each of a team’s first 12 games. “Being undefeated and the defending champions, there might be an extra motivation at times. We’re looking forward to each challenge.”
Green Bay improved to 12-0 last week with a 38-35 win at the New York Giants when MASON CROSBY kicked a 31-yard field goal as time expired. It marked only the third time in NFL history that a team maintained a perfect record at least 10 games into a season by scoring the winning points in the final minute of the fourth quarter. In 1934, the Chicago Bears improved to 10-0 with a 10-9 win over the Giants on a 24-yard field goal with 50 seconds to play. In 2007, New England moved to 12-0 with a 27-24 victory at Baltimore on an eight-yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds remaining.
Entering Week 14, the Cowboys and Giants sit just one game apart atop the NFC East. The division rivals will meet twice over the final four weeks starting with this Sunday night’s matchup at Cowboys Stadium.
“It’s a playoff atmosphere the rest of the way and you want to play in must-win games,” says New York quarterback ELI MANNING, who leads the NFL with a 120.5 passer rating in the fourth quarter. “We know if we win out, then we’re in the playoffs. That’s exciting. It’s something to look forward to and it starts this week with Dallas. We have to get ready for them, play our best football and find a way to get a win.”
Dallas boasts a 5-1 record at home and the Cowboys have won four of their past five overall.
“We need to focus on what we need to do,” says Dallas head coach JASON GARRETT. “We need to play our best on Sunday against the Giants. They’re a good football team and we understand the challenge.”
In addition to NBC, the game will air on Telemundo in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco/San Jose and Washington, DC.
This is the second of three simulcasts on Telemundo during the 2011 season through a production partnership with NBC Sports. The final game will be Sunday Night Football in Week 15.
Carolina rookie quarterback CAM NEWTON rushed for three touchdowns and passed for another in the Panthers’ 38-19 win at Tampa Bay. Newton joined Pro Football Hall of Famer ERIC DICKERSON as the only players in NFL history to score a rushing touchdown in nine of his first 12 games in the league.