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 Neil Reynolds' Week 14 Wrap Up

We didn't have the most competitive of games on Sky Sports NFL last night, but we did see the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers deliver clear messages during their emphatic victories.

The Eagles ran out – quite literally – as comfortable 48-22 victors over an over-matched New York Giants team. Philadelphia were in total control from start to finish with the highlight of the performance being their 253 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 31 team carries.

But this was another total performance from a team that must be considered a true heavyweight now. Jalen Hurts threw for 217 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for a score and the defense produced another four sacks and dominated until the contest was way beyond doubt.

This victory surely made a statement to the rest of the NFL that the Eagles are not going to be burdened by what is a growing expectation that they will be in Super Bowl contention at the very end of the year. The Eagles would be the Super Bowl favourites of a lot of people right now – me included - and they are happy to wear that particular crown.

The Eagles have been very good all season, hence having just one defeat to their name, but they are now playing their best football in December and became the first NFL team to clinch a playoff berth in Week 14. It's hard to see them being de-railed come January and February.

One team hoping to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl will be the San Francisco 49ers. And even though they are now being led by their third starting quarterback of the season, the Niners made it clear they are going to remain competitive with rookie Brock Purdy at the helm.

Sunday's 35-7 beatdown of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers kept the 49ers in control of the NFC West. But it was as much about telling the rest of the NFL that San Francisco are going to remain a dangerous opponent the rest of the way, even while being led by a seventh-round draft choice whose first career start came against none other than Tom Brady.

It was Hollywood movie stuff for Purdy, who was the last player taken in the 2022 NFL Draft. He out-duelled Brady with his proud parents and family members looking on from the stands. Purdy completed 16 of 21 attempts for 185 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. He also rushed for a score.

He won't have to do it alone. Head coach Kyle Shanahan will scheme open opportunities for him and the defense is the best in the NFL. That unit can shoulder a lot of the load. San Francisco forced three Tampa Bay turnovers, limited the Bucs to 322 total yards and just one meaningless touchdown when the game was already put to bed.

San Francisco seem built to stick around in the NFC playoff race.

Who's Hot…

The Detroit Lions… The leading contenders for the final playoff spot in the NFC currently have seven wins. Don't look now, but the Detroit Lions have six victories and way more momentum than the likes of the Seattle Seahawks, the Giants and even the Washington Commanders. The Lions sent a message of their own during Sunday's 34-23 win over the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings. Detroit have now won five of their last six games and are being powered by an offense transformed from the unit that has bored us for so many years. The Lions have now scored 30 points or more in seven contests this season – that's the most in the NFL – and they have notched 25 points or more for five games in a row. That's the first time the Lions have done that since 1954! They are being led by Jared Goff, who also looks re-born. He threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns and it is now no longer a given that Detroit will pick a new quarterback in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. I think Goff is playing himself into a long-term role with the Lions.

Trevor Lawrence… Jacksonville's young quarterback is growing into everything we expected him to be when he came out of college as the most anticipated and hyped passer in a generation. Trevor Lawrence is thriving under Doug Pederson's tutelage after almost being broken by the ridiculously-bad leadership of Urban Meyer. Lawrence threw for 368 yards and three touchdowns while running for another score in a 36-22 win over the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans. It was the latest in a string of excellent performances from the former first overall draft pick. And Lawrence's impact on the Jaguars is clear to see – when he tops a passer rating of 100 in a game this season, Jacksonville are 5-2. And they are alive in the AFC playoff picture in mid-December. That's progress.

Baker Mayfield… The former Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers quarterback has a very interesting month ahead of him as he takes charge of the Los Angeles Rams. I was in SoFi Stadium for Thursday's game against the Las Vegas Raiders and felt Baker would have no chance as he trotted onto the field early in the contest. His plane had landed in Los Angeles at 9.15pm on Tuesday night and he entered the game a little after 5.15pm on Thursday. Not enough time, surely. And while Baker was creditable, the opening 57 minutes of the contest saw the giant scoreboard offer up more entertainment. And then Mayfield came alive, leading two late touchdown drives to serve up one of the stories of this NFL season. The 98-yard march saw Mayfield make some giant-sized throws, including the game-winner to Van Jefferson with 10 seconds remaining. With Matthew Stafford's future clouded by a spinal cord injury, could Baker force his way into the picture in LA? He's had some false dawns before, but it's clear Mayfield has something inside him that Sean McVay might be keen to unlock.

Who's Not…

The Tennessee Titans… Mike Vrabel's team has gone into freefall at the worst possible time of the year. The Week 13 loss to Philadelphia was followed by the rare in-season firing of a general manager in Jon Robinson and then came Sunday's reverse at the hands of the Jaguars. The Titans have now lost three in a row. They hold a two-game lead over Jacksonville with four to play, so the AFC South is very much up for grabs. I think the Titans will have just enough to cling on and take the division crown, mainly based on the belief that the Jags will likely drop another couple of games between now and the regular season's end. But I won't have much faith in this Titans team once the playoffs begin. They are limping to the finish line.

The Miami Dolphins… It's not a great time for the Miami Dolphins to have their free-scoring offense hit the skids but that is exactly what has happened in back-to-back west coast losses to the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Chargers. For the second week in a row, defenses dropped their linebackers deeper into coverage to take away some of Miami's passing lanes and Tua Tagovailoa struggled in a 23-17 loss to the Chargers, throwing for just 145 yards and one touchdown. The Dolphins are still in the wild card picture in the AFC but to have any hope of getting back in the race for the AFC East division that they led two weeks ago, they will need to beat the Bills in Buffalo on Saturday night. On the evidence of the past two games, I cannot see them doing that. Mike McDaniel needs to get his team and his offense back on track.

Seattle's running game… Rookie running back Kenneth Walker was one of the stories of the first half of the season but with injuries having halted his progress, the Seattle Seahawks are threatening to slide out of the NFC playoff race. Seattle's 30-24 home loss to the Carolina Panthers was their third defeat in the past four games and their balance has disappeared. Too much is on Geno Smith now and he has been having some ups and downs in the past month. During Sunday's loss, the Seahawks rushed for just 46 yards on 14 carries. Seattle better find themselves in a hurry and it should start with their ground attack.

The Fast Five…

  • When the New York Jets defeated the Buffalo Bills in Week 9, it was a victory produced off the back of the defense as Robert Saleh's unit sacked Josh Allen five times. On Sunday, the Jets played really well on that side of the ball once again, sacking Allen three times and holding Buffalo to just 232 total yards. But Buffalo's Von Miller-less defense also stepped up in a big way and that unit – which had probably heard about the Jets defense all week – powered a 20-12 revenge victory that keeps the Bills as the AFC's top seed.
  • Patrick Mahomes had a weird day at the office for the Kansas City Chiefs, who were made to wait another week to secure the AFC West division following the Chargers' win over Miami. There were times when Mahomes was sensational. His under-hand touchdown lob to Jerick McKinnon was ridiculous and he backed it up with another special scoring throw to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Mahomes threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-28 win that moves him to 10-0 in his career against the Denver Broncos. But he was also far too sloppy with the football, throwing three interceptions in a game for the first time since early 2020. The Broncos were not good enough on offense to truly make Mahomes pay, but others could come playoff time. That has to be cleaned up.
  • The Carolina Panthers are sneaking up on the rails in the division that nobody wants to win. With four weeks to play, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lead the NFC South with a 6-7 record. But Carolina are now just one game back at 5-8 after Sunday's 30-24 win in Seattle. While the hometown Seahawks struggled on the ground, the Panthers thrived as they rushed for 223 yards and two touchdowns on 46 attempts. They've actually been a very decent running team since trading away Christian McCaffrey and are very much alive given the all-around failings of every team in their division.
  • Josh McDaniels has to be feeling some pressure in Las Vegas right now. Last Thursday's loss to the Rams marked the fourth time this season that the Raiders had blown a lead of at least 13 points to lose the game. But McDaniels was not helped by a silly throw from Derek Carr that led to an interception in the end zone at the end of the first half. Not for the first time this season, the Raiders had a team dead to rights and they let them claw and scrap their way back into the contest. That has been a shocking aspect of their season to date.
  • You just never know where those trap games might lie in the NFL. That's why they are trap games! The Dallas Cowboys had one of those on Sunday against the lowly Houston Texans and needed an Ezekiel Elliott two-yard touchdown run with 41 seconds to escape with a 27-23 victory. At this time of the year, the contenders have to be viewed with the bigger Super Bowl picture in mind. And the Cowboys need to clean things up, even though they have now won six of their last seven. If they turn the ball over three times in the playoffs, with two Dak Prescott interceptions, their season could screech to an abrupt halt.

Fact of the Week

In Week 14, both the Cowboys and the Rams drove 98 yards to score game-winning touchdowns in the final two minutes of regulation. It was the first week in 45 years in which there were two game-winning drives covering at least 95 yards inside the final two minutes of regulation. Further proof that it is never over until it's over in the NFL.

Final Thought…

As Christmas approaches, we will enter the final four weeks of the regular season when Week 15 kicks off on Thursday night. And outside of the Eagles, this is a tough one to call. I think Philadelphia will make their way through the NFC playoffs but who is going to survive what should be a Royal Rumble-style brawl in the AFC? Buffalo, Kansas City and Cincinnati all look very good and capable of going all the way and then there are dangerous on-their-day teams to consider like the Miami Dolphins and perhaps even the Los Angeles Chargers or the New York Jets, if they can get in. It's going to be a fascinating playoff series come January.