The Oakland Raiders are a game out of a playoff spot.
That has only a little to do with the Raiders. No offense. They're 4-6. They've used three starting quarterbacks this season. They've been blown out at home by Philadelphia and lost to the Redskins and Giants too. In many other years, the Raiders would be worried about draft positioning and tee times.
But, they play in the AFC. Everyone with a pulse (sorry Jacksonville and Houston) is alive for the playoffs because nobody wants the conference's No. 6 seed.
The Jets seemed like the most likely suitor for the final AFC playoff spot, but that was mostly because they had a bye last week and we could forget how mediocre they are. But they reminded everyone on Sunday, getting blasted 37-14 by Buffalo. The Jets are 5-5, but no team with a minus-85 point differential should be taken seriously as a playoff contender.
There are five near playoff locks in the AFC: Patriots, Bengals, Colts, Broncos and Chiefs. Outside of that, the Jets, Bills, Dolphins, Ravens, Browns, Steelers, Titans, Chargers and Raiders all have four or five wins. Every one of those teams has significant flaws, but all nine are alive for one playoff spot.
The sixth through 14th best teams in the AFC aren't producing great football and the No. 3 vs. No. 6 playoff game will probably be a dud no matter who gets the last spot, but it'll be an interesting December at least.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Sunday's action:
Bengals defense: When Andy Dalton threw a pick-six to give the Browns a 13-0 lead, the Bengals defense and special teams knew what it had to do.
James Harrison's interception set up a touchdown, the Bengals forced a three-and-out on Cleveland's next drive to set up another score, then they returned a blocked punt and a fumble for touchdowns.
Game over, and AFC North race most likely over.
The Bengals would have been in some trouble with a loss to the Browns, but after the 41-20 win they're 7-4 and two-and-a-half games ahead of the rest of the division. Barring a monumental collapse, the Bengals will host just their third playoff game since the 1990 season. Credit the defense and special teams for turning the tide of a huge game on Sunday.
Bobby Rainey: Did you pick up Rainey in your fantasy team this week? If not, it's too late now.
Rainey had an unbelievable game for the Buccaneers in a 41-20 win against Atlanta. He had 30 rushing attempts for 163 yards, and three total touchdowns. When Mike James broke his ankle on Monday night, Rainey had 13 carries for 34 yards in his NFL career and was on his third professional team.
Nobody wants to see injuries happen, but Doug Martin and James went down and the speedster from Western Kentucky took advantage of his chance. He showed he can be a viable NFL back.
Arizona Cardinals: Scoff at a road win against the Jaguars, but it's not always easy to escape a trap game with a win. Ask Detroit about that.
The Cardinals could have let down against the Jaguars, who were 1-8 coming in. Arizona actually fell behind early, but rallied to get a 27-14 win.
The Cardinals are now 6-4, and even though the schedule gets tough down the stretch, they can't be ruled out of the NFC playoff race.
Or maybe they can apply for a transfer to the AFC and become the immediate favorite to get the sixth seed there.
New York Giants, I guess: The Giants are on a four-game winning streak, and technically that means they're back in the NFC East race. They have just one more loss than first-place Philadelphia. But feel free to be skeptical.
The Giants have beat teams quarterbacked by Josh Freeman, Matt Barkley (who relieved an injured Michael Vick), a significantly banged-up Terrelle Pryor and on Sunday they knocked off Scott Tolzien and the Green Bay Packers. Huzzah.
Maybe this will be the greatest comeback from an 0-6 start in NFL history and the Giants will (gulp) host a playoff game as NFC East champs in January. They can't be ruled out, which is impressive for any team that started a season with six straight losses.
But don't expect me to be excited. This is still a team with plenty of issues. We can talk again after they get a decent win.
Percy Harvin and the Seahawks' offense: Harvin played 16 snaps, according to Seattle coach Pete Carroll, and caught one pass. The only important part of that is that Harvin was back.
Harvin made his season debut after having hip surgery during training camp. The Seahawks beat Minnesota 41-20 with him having a small contribution, but now he has six weeks to gear up for the playoffs. The Seahawks have a three-and-a-half game lead in the NFC West and it would seem their only remaining challenge is securing the NFC's No. 1 seed. If Harvin is 100 percent by January, the Seahawks might be impossible to beat. They've gone 10-1 with him catching just one pass.
But the Texans are going to soon face a difficult decision about Kubiak's future with the team.
Sunday's 28-23 loss to Oakland was typical of the Texans' eight-game losing streak. The Texans let undrafted rookie quarterback Matt McGloin look like a longtime veteran in his first start. Houston pulled rookie quarterback Case Keenum even though he hadn't played that bad, which made no sense until you consider that Kubiak has to be getting desperate for wins.
Matt Schaub did get the team inside the 5-yard line at the end with a chance to win. But Houston used a predictable off-tackle run out of a jumbo set on third-and-1 that predictably got stuffed for a loss of 1, and then Schaub threw a terrible pass on fourth down that was broken up.
Kubiak is 61-61 with the Texans with two playoff wins in eight years. This season has been a fiasco and it might be time for a change.
Jim Schwartz's fake field goal, and the Lions in general: The Lions led 27-23 with less than 13 minutes left at Pittsburgh when they lined up for a short field goal.
And that's when it all started going downhill.
The Lions called a fake field goal and fumbled it away on a run. The Steelers took a 3-point lead on the ensuing drive. Matthew Stafford, playing from behind instead of in a tie game, forced a third-down pass that was intercepted, the Steelers turned that into another touchdown, and that how a 37-27 loss ended.
Schwartz on if he regrets the fake field goal: “I don’t regret anything that happens in a football game … they made the play, we didn’t.”
It wasn't just the fake field goal that turned a fourth-quarter lead into a momentum-sucking loss. The Lions' offense shut down after halftime.
Calvin Johnson had six catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns in the first half and finished with ... six catches for 179 yards. The Lions didn't score after halftime. Those two things are related.
The Lions went from the clear favorite in the NFC North at 6-3 to back in a tie for first place with the Bears, who won in overtime on Sunday.
It's just never easy with Detroit.San Diego Chargers: When the 2013 Chargers are done, people who didn't see their games will assume they were terrible. Because they're 4-6 and the schedule gets really tough down the stretch. But the Chargers would be a lot better if they could stay out of their own way.
The Chargers lost three heartbreaking games early in the season, and while Sunday wasn't exactly heartbreaking, it will go on San Diego's list of regrets.
The Chargers lost 20-16 at Miami, which is a huge blow to their wild-card hopes. Late in the game, they blew a chance. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers completed a pass to the Dolphins' 25-yard line with just under 30 seconds to go. And instead of spiking the ball with about 15 seconds left, giving enough time for three shots at the end zone, Rivers looked at the sideline and then ran a play. And it was a short out to Antonio Gates, which was nonsensical and dropped anyway. The Chargers had just seven seconds to go after that play. Rivers had one shot to the end zone, which was knocked away.
The Chargers aren't dead in the AFC race, but they could have had a playoff spot all but locked up already.
Steven Jackson and Tony Gonzalez: Jackson signed with the Falcons in hopes of finally playing for a winner after so many losing seasons in St. Louis. Gonzalez reconsidered his retirement and came back for a last chance at getting to a Super Bowl.
Now they're stuck on a horrendous team going nowhere, just hoping the season ends soon.
Atlanta, which came 10 yards from winning the NFC title last season, is 2-8 and gave up on Sunday. The Falcons might have officially given up last week when Seattle steamrolled them, but at least the Seahawks are good. The Buccaneers didn't have a win this season before last Monday night, yet they led the Falcons 38-6 in the third quarter. Atlanta has lost four in a row by a combined score of 135-61.
If you respect great football players, you have to feel for Gonzalez and Jackson. Gonzalez said he'll retire after this year, and it's a terrible way for the greatest tight end ever to go out. Jackson hasn't had a great season this year and after so much work with the Rams, one has to wonder how many productive years he has left.
It's sad to see both of them toiling away on a team this bad.
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