NFL

Teams failed to capitalize on Sunday

The Panthers ruined the Falcons' chance to clinch a first-round bye.
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Brian Billick

Brian Billick served as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2007, winning Super Bowl XXXV. He has also authored books, including More Than A Game: The Glorious Present and Uncertain Future of the NFL. Follow him on Twitter.

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Entering the weekend, there were three teams (Broncos, Falcons, Patriots) that had already clinched their division and therefore a playoff berth and a fourth (Texans) that is guaranteed at least a wild-card spot in the postseason.

CRUNCH TIME

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There were at least four other playoff scenarios that could have been decided on Sunday, but as the games rolled on, the clinching scenarios went right out the door.

The Houston Texans maintain the best record in the NFL, but have yet to clinch the division, let alone a first-round bye or home-field advantage. In order to clinch the division, the Texans would obviously need to win or even tie in the Monday Night Football matchup against the New England Patriots tonight, but the Colts have already ensured at least another week-long delay in that process.

The Colts are now winners of seven of their last eight and eight of their last 10 games since head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia. With the come-from-behind victory over the Titans on Sunday, the Colts improved to 6-1 at home in a season that was tabbed a rebuilding year in Indianapolis. During the game, Andrew Luck moved into second place on the all-time passing yards list for an NFL rookie, jumping former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

It wasn’t all roses on Sunday as Luck added another two interceptions to his league-leading total of 18 on the season (Drew Brees would join him later in the day) and the Colts were outgained by the Titans 356 yards to 269 on the game. It took them outscoring the Titans 20-3 in the second half, a run kick-started by a third-quarter interception return for a touchdown, for the Colts to secure yet another come-from-behind victory and delay for another game the Texans hopes of clinching the division.

The Baltimore Ravens also had an opportunity to clinch a playoff appearance, if not a divisional title on Sunday. To win the division, both the Steelers and the Bengals would have to lose, but the Bengals were red-hot and riding a four-game winning streak and the Steelers would return a healthy Ben Roethlisberger while hosting a team that had never beaten them at home in 14 previous attempts. Well ... not so fast.

The Bengals, haunted by drops all afternoon, failed to put away the Cowboys despite holding a nine-point lead with just 6:36 remaining. One Dez Bryant touchdown later, the Cowboys capped off the 10-point comeback win with a 40-yard Dan Bailey field goal. With the Bengals loss, the Ravens had step one completed to clinch the division.

The Steelers, hosting the San Diego Chargers, started Roethlisberger for the first time in three weeks and he completed 22 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough. Philip Rivers matched those three touchdowns but the Chargers added a defensive touchdown and two field goals to win the game 34-24. With the Steelers loss, the Ravens had steps one and two in place to clinch the division.

Not so fast …

The beat-up Baltimore defense felt the wrath of the Redskins rookie quarterback. Not just Robert Griffin III, but Kirk Cousins too. RG3 was knocked out of the game with a knee injury in the fourth quarter, after completing 15 passes for 246 yards and a touchdown to go with 34 yards on the ground. Cousins came in and picked up right where Griffin left off with two quick completions, the second an 11-yard touchdown to Pierre Garcon to set up a game-tying two-point conversion attempt for the Redskins.

With just 30 second remaining in the game, the Redskins called on Cousins for a designed quarterback run up the middle and he plowed his way in for the game-tying points. He wouldn’t even need to attempt a pass in overtime after a long punt return set up the game-winning field goal for the Redskins. So even with all the necessary pieces falling into place, the Ravens loss meant they couldn’t secure the division. But because the other two lost as well, the Ravens still control their own destiny.

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Atlanta has already clinched the division title, but they could have added a first-round bye this weekend with a win and some help. They didn’t get either. Not only did they endure a loss that negated all the possibilities anyway, but they didn’t get the 49ers loss or the Green Bay loss they needed to complete one of three different equations. The first-round bye and home-field advantage is probably critical to the Falcons as they are looking for their first playoff win in the Matt Ryan/Mike Smith era, but both of their losses have come in road games this season.

Speaking of the 49ers, they could have clinched a playoff spot as well with a win and help. They got the win but needed a number of teams to lose to secure their postseason fate. That included losses by the Cowboys, Vikings, Buccaneers, Redskins and either a loss from the Rams or Seahawks. Well, all of those teams won except for the Buccaneers.

Four teams were in position to clinch some form of playoff scenarios this weekend, but after 15 games in Week 14, all of those scenarios were squashed, leaving Week 15 to potentially determine their postseason fate.

But that is what makes the NFL so fun to watch every week of the season.
 

Tagged: Falcons, Bengals, Cowboys, Titans, Colts, Saints, Redskins, Ravens, Steelers, Chargers, Texans, Ben Roethlisberger, Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins

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