Want a reason why the playoff races look so messy heading to the homestretch? Teams once again left opportunities on the table this weekend.
The Bears collapsed on the road against the Rams.
Jeff Curry / USA TODAY Sports
By Brian Billick
Week 12 of the NFL was highlighted by missed opportunities, both within the game and in the larger sense of the playoff picture. Take the Jets for example. Albeit on the road, they missed an opportunity to take hold of the final AFC wild-card spot with a win over the Ravens on Sunday. Instead, they lost their first back-to-back games of the season and enter a six-team stockpile sitting at 5-6 and all fighting for the sixth seed in the postseason.
The same could be said about the Dolphins. They, unlike the Jets, were at home on Sunday and enjoying a 16-3 second-quarter lead before blowing the game in the fourth quarter. Ryan Tannehill was sacked another three times and is now worst in the NFL with 44 sacks on the season. After starting 3-0, the Dolphins have now lost four of their last six, but a win would have pushed them to 6-5 and in control of the AFC's final wild card position.
The other four 5-6 teams in the AFC all won on Sunday.
The aforementioned Ravens, finally found an offensive rhythm to stymie the Jets. By beating the Browns, the Steelers have now won three in a row and five of their last seven to surge back into the playoff conversation. The Chargers snapped a three-game skid by putting up a season-high 41 points against an injury-depleted Chiefs defense. And finally, the Titans snapped a two-game losing streak to beat the Raiders in Oakland. As it stands now, the Titans hold the overall tiebreaker with head-to-head wins over the Jets, Steelers, and Chargers while the divisional tie-breaking rules eliminate the Ravens and Dolphins.
But the Jets and Dolphins weren't the only ones to blow an opportunity on Sunday. Basically every team in the NFC North joined them.
Heading into Week 10, the Lions were in sole possession of first place in their division for the first time since 1999 but lost to the then 3-6 Steelers and now the 2-8 Buccaneers in back-to-back weeks. They could be sitting with a two-game lead in the NFC North right now, but instead, remain at 6-5 after Matthew Stafford threw four interceptions and Kris Durham added a fourth-quarter fumble to make it five turnovers on the day. This was against a Buccaneers' defense that was without the suspended Dashon Goldson and then lost Darrelle Revis to a groin injury in the first quarter.
So the Lions blew a chance to pull away. But what's worse, the Bears, after gaining ground last week with a win over the Ravens, failed to take advantage of the Lions loss by putting up an equally disappointing loss to the Rams -- something they can't afford to do without any more head-to-head matches against the Lions and losing to them in the tiebreaker.
The Bears surrendered 42 points to a Rams team that was starting a back-up quarterback that hadn't even won back-to-back games in his entire career. The 42 points the Rams scored were the most they have put up since 2003 and while the Bears are playing with their own backup quarterback, it's the defense that has allowed 40-plus points in three games this season. For comparison purposes, Chicago only allowed 40-plus points four times during Lovie Smith's entire nine seasons in Chicago.
With a win on Sunday, the Packers could have joined the Bears and Lions at 6-5, but instead, tied the Vikings in overtime. And while you could certainly considered this a blown opportunity, the Packers must consider themselves very lucky to be just a game back in the division after Aaron Rodgers has missed the last three weeks with a shoulder injury. The Packers travel to Detroit next week, and while it is probably too soon for Rodgers' return, they should have him back by Week 14 and then most certainly for their final divisional game against the Bears in Week 17.
The Giants were the final team to miss an opportunity Sunday, snapping a four-game winning streak with a 24-21 loss to the Cowboys at home. With a win, the Giants could have tied the Cowboys at 5-6 and just a game behind the Eagles in the NFC East. After torching the Cowboys for 450 yards in Week 1, Eli Manning was only able to throw for 174 yards and it was almost as if he was trying too hard to avoid throwing an interception. The Giants must find a balance between being explosive but also maintaining possession.