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Home-field advantage in the NFL is dead, at least for 2020. Maybe it returns when fans come back, but it doesn’t exist now.
Going into Monday night’s game, road teams were 103-103-1. Home field has been dwindling for a while, and it was erased during the pandemic.
Yet it seems like there’s still one home-field advantage remaining. Ask the rest of the NFC teams if they want to play at Lambeau Field in January. A lack of fans won’t change the weather.
The Green Bay Packers had a huge Week 14. They beat the Detroit Lions and caught a big break when the New Orleans Saints were upset by the Philadelphia Eagles. Due to a win over the Saints early in the season, the Packers took over the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The Saints play the Kansas City Chiefs this week and if they don’t beat them, the race for the top seed might be all but over.
The No. 1 seed has never been more important. The expanded playoffs means only one team gets a bye. The No. 2 seed is going to have to play on wild-card weekend. And by now we all know the win percentages for teams with a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
As important as the No. 1 seed is for any team, it seems especially important for Green Bay. Consider the other likely NFC playoff teams (let’s not worry about the NFC East yet). Tampa Bay is a warm-weather team. New Orleans, Arizona and the Rams are warm-weather teams and play in domes. Seattle isn’t exactly a frigid climate.
There’s a reason Green Bay didn’t lose a home playoff game until the end of the 2002 season. It could be snowing. The temperature could be below zero. Maybe both. None of the other teams in the NFC playoff field are going to want to deal with that.
That’s what makes the final three weeks so important for Green Bay. The Packers host the Panthers and Titans, and then finish the season at the Bears. If the Packers win out to hold off the Saints and the NFC West winner, they’ll turn into a huge favorite to make a Super Bowl.
The stakes are high for the last three weeks. It’s not easy to win three in a row. The Packers understand what’s in front of them. If they have the No. 1 seed, maybe this can be Aaron Rodgers’ long-awaited return to the Super Bowl. Lambeau Field in January might be the only home edge left for this weird 2020 season.
Here are the NFL power rankings after Week 14:
32. New York Jets (0-13, Last Week: 32)
Sam Darnold said he wants to be a “Jet for life.” That seems highly unlikely. The Jets would have to win out to fall out of the top two of the draft, and that’s not happening. Given how bad Darnold has been, it would be crazy for them to pass on Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields or any other top QB. The only question is what happens to Darnold. It’s not like his trade value is very high.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-12, LW: 31)
The Jaguars beating the Colts in Week 1 is probably the oddest result of the season, and one that had much bigger implications than anyone knew at the time. If the Jaguars finish one game out of the No. 1 pick and Trevor Lawrence lives up to the hype in the NFL (and Justin Fields doesn’t), then the Jaguars’ win will end up costing themselves a future star. Much like the Packers’ final couple wins in 1988 cost them Troy Aikman.
30. Cincinnati Bengals (2-10-1, LW: 30)
The Bengals lost fumbles on each of their first three possessions, which hadn’t been done in the NFL since 2013. There are a few teams that want the season to be done, and the Bengals might be atop the list.
29. Dallas Cowboys (4-9, LW: 29)
Cowboys EVP Stephen Jones said Mike McCarthy will be back next season. Teams don’t want to go one-and-done at head coach for many reasons. Still, has there been anything tangible in 2020 that indicates to the Cowboys that they made the right hire?
28. Carolina Panthers (4-9, LW: 22)
The Panthers were 3-2, but have lost seven of eight since. Losing to the shorthanded Broncos at home, with Drew Lock throwing for a career-best four touchdowns, was confirmation that the Panthers’ hot start was fool’s gold. This team has a lot to work on in the offseason.
27. Houston Texans (4-9, LW: 26)
Don’t forget, the Texans traded their first-round pick to the Dolphins as part of the Laremy Tunsil trade. That pick would be eighth overall if the season ended right now. It wouldn’t take much for the pick to move up to No. 4 by season’s end. The DeAndre Hopkins trade gets all the jokes, but don’t forget how bad the Tunsil trade was.
26. Detroit Lions (5-8, LW: 27)
Matthew Stafford hurt his ribs running for a first down, and while he’s tough and presumably wants to play, what’s the point? It might be best to make sure Stafford has a healthy offseason.
25. Philadelphia Eagles (4-8-1, LW: 28)
Doug Pederson’s lack of praise for Jalen Hurts got attention in Philadelphia (“He obviously was a part of the win, but my hat’s off to a lot of guys in this football game,” was among Pederson’s lukewarm statements). Why? It’s a guess, but it probably has to do with not wanting to put Carson Wentz in a worse place than he already is. The Eagles know they might not be able to move on from Wentz in 2021. His contract might preclude that. Fueling the hype on Hurts probably wouldn’t help Wentz’s confidence. Also, the Eagles know that while Wentz has struggled, it’s not all his fault.
24. Atlanta Falcons (4-9, LW: 24)
Matt Ryan has a $40.9 million salary-cap hit next year. We can make all the excuses for Ryan, but the fact is he has two elite receivers and an offensive line with multiple first-round draft picks. Plenty of other quarterbacks have a far worse situation. And Ryan has been mediocre at best. There’s no guarantee he’ll get it back either.
23. San Francisco 49ers (5-8, LW: 20)
It’s not like anything would save the 49ers, but it is weird that they won’t try C.J. Beathard over Nick Mullens at quarterback while Jimmy Garoppolo is out. Mullens has turned the ball over way too much. Beathard has played twice in relief this season and was decent both times. What does Kyle Shanahan have to lose?
22. Los Angeles Chargers (4-9, LW: 25)
The Chargers tried to blow it against Atlanta. They had a maddening clock management problem at the end of the first half, running up the middle for no reason and running out of time to kick a field goal. Justin Herbert threw an interception in the final minutes at midfield that should have cost them the win. But they were facing the Falcons, who are just as bad at blowing games.
21. Denver Broncos (5-8, LW: 23)
Drew Lock played a patient game Sunday, picking his spots and setting up a couple long touchdown passes to K.J. Hamler. That doesn’t mean he has changed his game and won’t fall back into reckless throws into coverage. At least it was a step in the right direction after most of his season has been a mess.
20. New York Giants (5-8, LW: 18)
The Giants made a mistake starting Daniel Jones before he was healthy. Jones was terrible and the Giants couldn’t move the ball. The Giants have the tiebreaker over Washington, so they can still win the NFC East, but they made the job a lot tougher with Sunday’s loss.
19. Chicago Bears (6-7, LW: 21)
For anyone who wants to cite a quarterback’s “record” as a real stat, just know that Mitchell Trubisky (.574, 27-20) has a better career winning percentage than Deshaun Watson (.560, 28-22). A reminder: QBs shouldn’t be assigned individual records.
18. Washington Football Team (6-7, LW: 19)
The way NFL Coach of the Year is given out is flawed. If the award is supposed to go to the best coach, why wouldn’t Andy Reid win? Since the honor is usually based on narratives, Ron Rivera should get a look. Rivera has gone through three quarterbacks, had a long rebuild ahead of him and still has his rapidly improving team in first place ... all while battling cancer. He’d be a great pick.
17. New England Patriots (6-7, LW: 16)
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge an impressive streak that ended with the Bills on Sunday night. The Patriots’ string of 11 straight division titles ended. Considering how hard it is to build a dynasty in the NFL — and that no other team has ever won more than seven division championships in a row — it’s likely we’ll never see that record matched.
16. Las Vegas Raiders (7-6, LW: 14)
Firing defensive coordinator Paul Guenther might not fix much, but the Raiders had to try something. Their season is fading fast. The Raiders’ playoff chances were down to 19.2 percent after Sunday, according to Football Outsiders. Unless Las Vegas can turn things around fast, this will be a heartbreaking end to a season that had a lot of promise.
15. Minnesota Vikings (6-7, LW: 15)
Dan Bailey’s four missed kicks and a baffling pass interference call on a Hail Mary sunk the Vikings. They had a shot to win if Bailey made a kick and the officials hadn’t handed the Bucs a free field goal. Instead, they probably need to win out to be in the playoff mix, and even that might not be enough.
14. Arizona Cardinals (7-6, LW: 17)
Haason Reddick had 12.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in his first 60 NFL games. He had five sacks and three forced fumbles on Sunday. Was that the sign of a breakout or a fluke performance?
13. Miami Dolphins (8-5, LW: 11)
The Dolphins had practically no running backs, were thin at receiver and lost tight end Mike Gesicki to an injury during Sunday’s game. Given all that, Tua Tagovailoa’s 316-yard passing game was impressive. The Dolphins are going to find out a lot about their rookie quarterback the rest of the season.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5, LW: 13)
Season stats for Scotty Miller, whose playing time got reduced when the Bucs signed Antonio Brown: 45 targets, 28 receptions, 462 yards, three touchdowns. Brown’s stats this season: 34 targets, 25 receptions, 217 yards, no touchdowns. What’s keeping Brown in the lineup aside from name value and the hope that he can find his old form?
11. Cleveland Browns (9-4, LW: 6)
The Browns acquitted themselves well on Monday night. Baker Mayfield came up with a ton of huge plays. It wasn’t fun to lose like they did but they should feel good coming out of that game. Someone had to lose.
10. Baltimore Ravens (8-5, LW: 12)
It was one of the classic “Monday Night Football” games of all time. Lamar Jackson’s heroics in the final two minutes, after being in the locker room the whole fourth quarter with cramps, was amazing. That game had it all.
9. Seattle Seahawks (9-4, LW: 10)
Jamal Adams set an NFL record for defensive backs with 8.5 sacks in a season. He had 6.5 sacks last season. You don’t think of safeties being great pass rushers, but it’s a nice skill for the Seahawks to utilize.
8. Tennessee Titans (9-4, LW: 9)
The Titans were never threatened against the Jaguars, leading 31-3 at one point. Derrick Henry still had 26 carries. It might be wise to scale back on Henry’s usage when they don’t need him. They will need him in January.
7. Indianapolis Colts (9-4, LW: 8)
If we remove a lopsided loss to the Titans, the Colts have been very good lately. They’ve won four of their past five, with victories over playoff contenders like the Packers, Raiders and the first meeting against Tennessee. Philip Rivers is playing well, Jonathan Taylor and T.Y. Hilton have come alive and the defense is still quite good. Don’t sleep on the Colts.
6. Los Angeles Rams (9-4, LW: 7)
The Rams get the Jets this weekend, which is a nice bye week before the likely NFC West championship game against the Seahawks. If the Rams beat the Jets and Seahawks, they clinch the division.
5. New Orleans Saints (10-3, LW: 3)
Taysom Hill is going to have good games and bad ones. He has four career starts at quarterback. The problem is the Saints can’t afford his inconsistency. One loss after nine wins in a row dropped them out of the No. 1 seed in the NFC. They’re now looking at another season of a gaudy record and a game on wild-card weekend.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2, LW: 2)
We need to slow down just a little on the Steelers’ backlash. It’s still an 11-2 team. They lost a game on the road to a 10-3 team. Yes, the offense needs to be adjusted, but to hear the Monday overreactions, you’d think the Steelers were in the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. They’ll be fine.
3. Buffalo Bills (10-3, LW: 5)
The Bills defense played its best game of the season on Sunday night. We all know that side of the ball has talent, and has probably underachieved this season. If the performance against the Steelers was a sign that the Bills can play like a top-10 defense the rest of the way, look out.
2. Green Bay Packers (10-3, LW: 4)
One more note on the Packers’ advantage at home in January: Aaron Rodgers has played 49 career games in which the temperature was 40 degrees or less. In those games he has 104 touchdowns, 18 interceptions and a 104.3 passer rating. That’s better than his overall career passer rating of 103.6.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (12-1, LW: 1)
Travis Kelce leads the NFL in receiving yards. A tight end has never finished the season leading the league in that category. Many others will be in the mix for Offensive Player of the Year, like Derrick Henry and whoever finishes second in the MVP voting, but maybe Kelce needs a second look too.
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