1. Seattle (10-1). The Seahawks, who haven’t played in about three years, were supposed to be all healthy and happy entering December. Now Percy Harvin’s likely out tonight. His ailing hip is acting up. As every hour passes before this game for likely NFC home-field advantage against the Saints tonight, the worry beads get rubbed a little harder in the Pacific Northwest.
2. New England (9-3). Bill Belichick set the record for “Most Times Over-Praising a Team On a Nine-Game Losing Streak, 21st Century Category” last week in advance of the Patriots’ game against the Texans. Whatever works. Turns out he was halfway right, as the 34-31 survival show illustrated.
3. Denver (10-2). After playing three Sunday night games out of five, the Broncos saw daylight Sunday afternoon in Kansas City. They liked it. With a sweep over the Chiefs, the Broncos would have to collapse in the last four games to blow a first-round playoff bye now.
4. New Orleans (9-2). The Saints haven’t won outdoors in seven weeks. They’re playing outdoors tonight, in Seattle. Earplugs optional.
5. Carolina (9-3). After Week 5, the Saints had five wins and Carolina one. This morning, the Saints have nine wins and Carolina has nine. It’d be one thing if the Saints had been stinking up the joint, but they haven’t been. Carolina’s on fire. As big as this game is tonight for the Saints, imagine winning the game, getting on the plane tonight, taking a deep breath and congratulating everyone for such a great win, and thinking, “Our reward is getting home at 5 a.m. Tuesday … and having the Panthers, the hottest team in football, coming to town Sunday.”
6. San Francisco (8-4). Niners versus Rams, 2012: St. Louis wins the series, 1-0-1, by a composite score of 40-37. Niners versus Rams 2013: San Francisco wins the series 2-0, by a composite 58-24.
7. Cincinnati (8-4). In a field-position game, it’s always good to have a great punting day. Kevin Huber, who entered with a bad ankle, punted four times for a 55.5-yard average—and zero yards returned. That means, of course, he had a 55.5-yard net. Which is quite fantastic. Included a 75-yard punt.
8. Detroit (7-5). Based on the 40-10 win over Green Bay, the Lions should be higher. Based on the previous two weeks—losses to Tampa and Pittsburgh—the Lions should be lower. I guess we ought to wait to pass judgment on the Lions until we see whether they can wipe the butter off their fingers.
9. Philadelphia (7-5). Week 17, Eagles at Cowboys. Flex, anyone?
10. Indianapolis (8-4). Well, the last month of games in the AFC South now has no meaning, with the Colts building a four-game lead over Tennessee with four to play. (Four, because the Colts swept the Titans this season, making a three-game lead in the standings beefier thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker.)
11. Kansas City (9-3). Reeling. A trip to Washington Sunday should help.
12. Dallas (7-5). For years, some in the league have grumbled that the Cowboys have an unfair advantage by playing on Thanksgiving at home every year. That’s true; playing at home in an exceedingly short week when the other team always travels is a big edge, as is what Dallas has now: the ability to give its players four full days off, plus an extra day before playing a Monday-nighter next week at Chicago.
13. Baltimore (6-6). Current sixth seed in the AFC. My only question about the Ravens this morning: In the last two games, Torrey Smith has eight catches for 20.9 yards per catch, and Jacoby Jones eight catches for 19.5 yards per catch. Can you explain to me why Baltimore has run 124 plays in the last two games and attempted only 27 throws to these two deep threats?
14. Arizona (7-5). Gotta be better than that, Carson Palmer. Much better.
15. Miami (6-6). Hesitant to give the Dolphins that much due … yet. But the defense was very good, albeit against the Jets, on the road in a smothering at the Meadowlands.
The Award Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Eric Decker, wide receiver, Denver. Wonderful receiving symmetry on the Broncos’ receiving corps, after Decker’s eight-catch, 174-yard, four-touchdown job in Kansas City. Now the TD scoreboard in Denver is Demaryius and Julius Thomas 10 apiece, Wes Welker 9, Decker 7. Decker’s last three came in a bunch. Denver trailed 21-14 early in the third quarter, and over a 13-minute span he caught 37-, 15- and 1-yard touchdown strikes from Manning to give Denver a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver, Chicago. The Bears have been alive for 94 seasons, and never has a Chicago receiver had a day like Jeffery did in a loss at Minnesota Sunday: 12 catches, 249 yards, two touchdowns. He’s becoming a terrific physical complement to Brandon Marshall. With those two, plus Jay Cutler likely back a week from tonight against Dallas, it’s unlikely but not out of the question the Bears can run the table and get back in the pennant race.
Defensive Players of the Week
Justin Tuck, defensive end, New York Giants. Entering play Sunday night with 2.5 sacks, he trapped Robert Griffin III four times and had five tackles. The impressive part of his sacks: Two came from interior rushes, where he beat/overpowered guards, and two came from the edge. On one of them, Tuck sprinted and caught Griffin from behind. On nights like this Tuck still looks like one of the best defensive linemen in football.
Jurrell Casey, defensive tackle, Tennessee. As dominant as Ndamukong Suh was on Thanksgiving (see the next paragraph), Casey was that good in Indianapolis in the 22-14 loss to the Colts. Continuing a season-long trend of dominance, Casey had a stunting 10-yard sack of Andrew Luck, and on the Colts’ very next offensive play, busted through the line to tackle Darrius Heyward-Bey on a reverse for an 11-yard loss. He also knocked Luck down an additional three times. If you didn’t know Casey better, you might confuse him with …
Ndamukong Suh, defensive tackle, Detroit. Amazing looking at his stats for the game: four tackles, a sack, one additional quarterback hit, one pass deflected. After watching the Lions’ 40-10 trouncing of Green Bay, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d have told me his numbers were triple that. The sack of Matt Flynn was for a safety, and he had at least five pressures/hits that I saw. His brute strength inside destroyed the integrity of the Green Bay line.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Stephen Gostkowski, kicker, New England. You want your kicker to be good from the outer limits, and you want your kicker to be good from the outer limits in clutch situations. With the Patriots trailing Sunday at Houston, 31-28, midway through the fourth quarter, Gostkowski drilled a 53-yard field goal to tie. Then, with 3:15 left, Gostkowski drilled a 53-yard field goal for the winning points. When New England chose not to pay Adam Vinatieri, it hoped to replace him long-term with a kicker just as good when it matters. That’s what Gostkowski is.
Coach of the Week
Bill Musgrave, offensive coordinator, Minnesota, and Jedd Fisch, offensive coordinator, Jacksonville. This is not about winning. This is about being creative when your offense is struggling — which both of these offenses are. Musgrave and Fisch created touchdowns out of whole cloth on Sunday. Fisch called an end sweep-turned-halfback-pass for a touchdown, an eight-yard strike from Maurice Jones-Drew to Marcedes Lewis to tie the Browns at 14 in the second quarter at Cleveland. In Minneapolis, Musgrave lined up wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson as the I-back in a two-back formation, a fullback in front of him, and had Christian Ponder hand the ball to him as if he were Adrian Peterson. Patterson zoomed through the hole and scored on a 31-yard gallop. Smart coaches improvise when their players are stuck in neutral. That’s what Musgrave and Fisch did Sunday—and it helped their teams win.
The Jags play:
Goats of the Week
Stevie Johnson, wide receiver, and Scott Chandler, tight end, Buffalo. Madness in Toronto. In a 31-31 game with 20 seconds left, Johnson fumbled at the Atlanta 30, foiling what would have been a 47-yard field-goal try for the win. On the second play of overtime, Chandler caught a pass from E.J. Manuel and coughed it up, with Atlanta recovering at its 40. The second fumble led to a 36-yard field goal by Matt Bryant for the 34-31 Falcons win.
Rhett Ellison, running back, Minnesota. The Vikings won, but that doesn’t take away two brainlock plays from Ellison. With 4:40 left in the fourth quarter and the Bears up 20-17, Matt Cassel put a perfect throw on Ellison at the goal line, and the ball bounced off Ellison into the hands of Bears linebacker Khaseem Greene. Interception. Seven minutes into overtime, Blair Walsh kicked a 39-yard field goal to win it … But wait. Ellison grabbed a facemask on the field-goal try, pushing the Vikings back 15 yards. Since it was still third down, Minnesota ran a play to try to regain some of those yards but instead lost another three. On fourth down Walsh missed the 57-yarder. He eventually kicked the winner later in overtime, but no thanks to Ellison.
CEO of the Week
Laura Sen, chief executive officer, BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc. Bucking the trend of monster stores opening on Thanksgiving, Sen was one of a few executives who chose to shutter her 201 stores in 15 states until Friday at 7 a.m. “Call me old-fashioned,” Sen told The Boston Globe. “But I think Thanksgiving is a lovely holiday and not the time to be shopping.” You are old-fashioned, Ms. Sen, and kudos to you for it. Family time on Thanksgiving. What a concept. Is that new?