After Week 9, the Detroit Lions were in great shape to win the NFC North crown.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone that week. The 5-3 Lions were on a bye, then went and beat the Chicago Bears a week later.
After Week 9, the Baltimore Ravens were 3-5 following a loss to the Cleveland Browns. The offense was an absolute mess. The Super Bowl champs were struggling badly, and seemed irrelevant to the 2013 season.
It's Week 15 and both teams are in the middle of a tight playoff race. That's a positive for one of them.
The Lions have lost three of four since that win against the Bears seemed to put them on a fast track to the North title. They're 7-6, tied with the Bears and just a half game clear of the Packers, with the possibility of Rodgers' return hanging over the division race. Detroit isn't a franchise known for success, and they seem insistent on making the road to the division title much tougher than it should be. Now they have to deal with a tough Ravens team and don't know yet if running back Reggie Bush, who injured himself in snowy pregame warm-ups last week, will be available.
The Ravens aren't favored in Monday night's game at Detroit, but it's hard to count them out at this point.
Baltimore has won four of their last five, and the only loss came in a weird overtime game at Chicago that featured a long weather delay. The Ravens are playing well, something few other teams in the AFC wild-card race can say. Baltimore actually leads the race for the final playoff spot at 7-6 because of a head-to-head tiebreaker against fellow 7-6 contender Miami.
This matchup of 7-6 teams isn't the battle of the titans we've seen in some of the past few weeks, but it's going to have huge implications in the AFC and NFC playoff race.
Here are the other NFL games this week, from best to worst (all times Eastern, all games Sunday unless noted otherwise):
2. New England at Miami, 1 p.m.: The Dolphins have done a heck of a job to stay in the playoff race. Seeing how the Patriots react to being without Rob Gronkowski makes this a fascinating game for both sides.
3. San Diego at Denver, 8:25 p.m. (Thurs.): Peyton Manning needs five touchdowns to tie Tom Brady's single-season record. San Diego has the 28th-ranked pass defense in the NFL. Keep those two things in mind.
4. Green Bay at Dallas, 4:25 p.m.: If Aaron Rodgers plays, this game is probably No. 1 on the list. If he doesn't, it will be fascinating to watch the Packers try to remain afloat in the NFC North race until he can come back, against a Cowboys team trying to stay within striking distance of the Eagles.
5. Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, 8:30 p.m.: The Bengals can take a big step towards a AFC North title with a win on Sunday night. The Steelers are pretty much dead in the playoff race, but should give a good effort.
6. New Orleans at St. Louis, 4:25 p.m.: This seems like a sneaky tough game for the Saints, who can't afford to drop any games with the Panthers just a game behind in the NFC South.
7. San Francisco at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.: This is the kind of game that, if the improved Buccaneers can pull off an upset, could mean Greg Schiano can officially start making plans to coach Tampa Bay in 2014.
8. Chicago at Cleveland, 1 p.m.: The Bears really need this road win to keep their NFC North (and their playoff) hopes alive. They'll need to stop Browns star receiver Josh Gordon. But, the Browns will have to slow down Bears receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.
9. N.Y. Jets at Carolina, 4:05 p.m.: The thought of Geno Smith against that Panthers defense is frightening, but maybe New York's defense can keep the Jets in the game.
10. Philadelphia at Minnesota, 1 p.m.: There are a lot of "good team at bad team" games this week. There's gonna be some surprisingly competitive games and a few upsets, folks.
11. Arizona at Tennessee, 4:25 p.m.: Remember, a lot of "good team at bad team" potential pitfalls ...
12. Houston at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.: Neither of these teams is very good right now. But one is in line to get the first pick, the other has already clinched a division title.
13. Kansas City at Oakland, 4:05 p.m.: The Chiefs have gotten the job done against every bad team they've played this year, so they should be fine here.
14. Seattle at N.Y. Giants, 1 p.m.: This might be an interesting game if the Giants were any good.
15. Buffalo at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.: The four teams in the AFC that have won at least four of their last five games: New England, Baltimore, Denver and ... yep, Jacksonville.
16. Washington at Atlanta, 1 p.m.: At least you get to see stars like Robert Griffin III and Julio Jones ... standing on the sideline.
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Welcome to the Fifth Quarter, the only NFL recap column you’ll ever need. It’s the only one to provide a full day’s supply of Vitamin C, after all. Here’s what was going on around the rest of the league while you were selfishly focused on your home team and your fantasy players.
The NFL needs the Cowboys to be a relevant team. So do you. And the Cowboys are not holding up their end of the bargain.
Why, pray tell, would the rest of us need that team of long-gone glory hounds with their insufferable fans to be good again? Because Cowboys football, played right, is everything that is right and wrong with the NFL all at once. Ambition, acclaim, bravado, ego ... they're even more fun to hate than they are to love, and that's why we need Dallas to be ... something.
You've heard the stats about Dallas having an almost perfect .500 record since their Aikman-Emmitt-Irvin heyday. It encapsulates the entire mediocrity of this franchise under Jerry Jones, the way that Dallas is that worst of all sports phenomena: the afterthought.
Monday night's game against Chicago was a perfect metaphor for this entire organization. The Cowboys had a chance to keep pace with the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East lead. Tony Romo, riding a wave of positive let's-reassess-him press, had an opportunity to burnish his resume against Josh McCown. Naturally, the Cowboys defense decided to keep pace with the Redskins and surrender 45 points. It wasn't Romo's fault; he played well enough not to lose but, as has so often happened during his tenure, his supporting cast steered the back half of this firetruck-on-fire right off a bridge.
Romo can't overcome his wretched defense, which surrenders a league-worst 426.8 yards per game. The offense is sliding, too, with passing ranked 12th as part of an overall 22nd-place ranking. It's not just that the pieces don't fit, it's that Dallas is trying to assemble a puzzle with pieces from seven different boxes.
The Cowboys aren't bad enough to laugh at and aren't good enough to appreciate. Their window for making any kind of noise this season is rapidly closing now that Philadelphia and Nick Foles appear to have found their footing. Even if Dallas is somehow able to reach the playoffs, would you give this team a chance against San Francisco or Carolina? Yeah, us neither.
Dallas has to get better ... or worse. Romo deserves better, and we want to have a quality Dallas team to loathe again. We're all sick of hating on the Patriots.
In which we recap every game in seven words. Ready ... go!
Jacksonville 27, Houston 20. Rock bottom? Nope. Houston finds more layers.
Baltimore 29, Minnesota 26. Four more scores since you started this.
Cincinnati 42, Indianapolis 28. "Bad" Luck showing up at wrong time.
Green Bay 22, Atlanta 21. Falcons now definitely going down-y for Clowney.
New England 27, Cleveland 26. Don't breathe on Patriots. It's a penalty.
New York Jets 37, Oakland 27. Rex Ryan, grinnin' his Geno-starting grin
Philadelphia 34, Detroit 20. Eagles now own the East; Lions spinning.
Miami 34, Pittsburgh 28. Steelers and sidelines are an uneasy match.
Tampa Bay 27, Buffalo 6. Thanks for playing, Buffalo. Seeya in 2014.
Kansas City 45, Washington 10. Worst game in Redskins history? Yeah, probably.
Denver 51, Tennessee 28. Peyton Manning can't play in cold? Sure.
Arizona 30, St. Louis 10. Too little, too late for the Cardinals?
San Diego 37, New York Giants 14. Replace "Cardinals" with "Chargers" in line above.
San Francisco 19, Seattle 17. Seattle lost, but 49ers remain the underdogs.
New Orleans 31, Carolina 13. Let's see how Carolina rebounds from beatdown.
Chicago 45, Dallas 28. Ditka makes us all feel like Chicagoans.
Champ: LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles. What a game from Shady. A franchise-record 217 yards rushing in the snow against Detroit, including two monstrous touchdowns, might just have propelled the Eagles into the playoffs. And with any luck, they'll get snow in the first round of the playoffs, too; that's the only way the Eagles are going to slow down their likely first-round opponent of San Francisco.
Chump: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins. Washington-Kansas City was quite possibly the worst game of the entire season, and in a year where we've had the atrocities of the Buccaneers and Jaguars, that's saying something. Griffin looked completely lost against the Chiefs, completing less than half his passes and pairing his lone touchdown with an interception, and as a result got benched for Kirk Cousins.
Welcome to a look at the future. The NFL's new helmet, while fashionable and media-friendly, really doesn't look like it's going to solve the concussion crisis.
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There's plenty of good writing every day on the NFL. Here are a few choice reads to keep you busy while there's no football. Because the other alternatives are talking to your family or doing chores, and nobody wants that. (Send us your favorite words of the week.)
• Best of the week: Yahoo's Les Carpenter on Chuck Hughes, the only man ever to die on an NFL field. (Yahoo Sports)
• This was the wildest NFL week ever, and Sunday might just have been the best end-to-end day of football in the league's history, argues Eric Adelson. (Yahoo Sports)
• Sports Illustrated's Peter King spent a week embedded with NFL refs, and came out with some revelations about this much-maligned crew. (The MMQB)
• What books are the hardcore football statheads reading? Smart Football has the scoop for you. (Smart Football)
• A Seattle Seahawks player imitated Russell Wilson to get better reservations at restaurants. Sound plan. (Deadspin)
• Why Tom Dempsey's 63-yard field goal remains the gold standard for record-setting distance, regardless of whether it still holds the record. (Sports On Earth)
Each week, we’ll make a random Super Bowl pick based on trends, stats or general nonquantifiable gut feelings. One of these weeks, we’ll be right. Probably right after both conference championships.
New England vs. Seattle. Even when you beat Seattle, you come out feeling like you've just gotten whipped. By all rights, San Francisco should've rolled on Sunday, but it took a last-second field goal to hold down the Seahawks even playing at home. That's very, very bad news, since the Seahawks aren't going to be playing a road game in the playoffs until they travel to New York. As for the Patriots? Well, the NFL is totally rigging things for them to win again, so we'll pick 'em here.
Super Bowl picks, full season: Denver 5x, New England 4x, Seattle 3.5x, New Orleans 3.5x, Carolina 2x, San Francisco 2x, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Kansas City.
And that's a wrap for this week's edition of Fifth Quarter. Got a question? Comment? Concern? Rant? Hit me up at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee. We’ll run your words here or in Thursday’s weekly letters column. For now, enjoy the week. It's not long 'til more football!
Your open thread for today.
This week's installment of Mike Glennon vs. Game Film.
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Another 11-5 week for DLT as he hopes to close out the last few weeks on a roll!
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