There are only three weeks of NFL games remaining this season. Playoff seeding is starting to get into better shape while we get more explicit pictures of the teams who are legitimate playoff contenders and those who were just mirages.
This is a huge weekend coming up for a lot of teams but four storylines stand out the most. Here they are.
Will the Carolina Panthers’ Season Get the Nail in the Coffin?
Just five weeks ago, the Carolina Panthers were sitting at 6-2 and creeping into the Super Bowl discussion. Five weeks later, their season is on the brink of a complete meltdown. They lost five straight games in a disappointing fashion and now find themselves on the outside looking in.
During this stretch, they scored just 22.2 points-per-game while allowing their opponents to put up 30.4 points-a-contest. They lost all the mojo they had at the beginning of the season.
While Christian McCaffery is starting to come on in a big way, Cam Newton is going in the opposite direction. The quarterback has thrown an interception in the five losses and has a total of eight picks during this stretch.
Maybe this was expected, as their strong start to the season was predicated on their success from a home-heavy early schedule. Four of the Panthers’ last five games have been on the road, where they’ve been a completely different team.
Now they face off against the New Orleans Saints, who have a claim being the best team in the NFL, this weekend, and again in two more weeks. And sandwiched in between those two meetings is a matchup with division rivals Atlanta Falcons, who would beat Carolina early in the season and would love nothing more than to play spoiler.
If the Panthers lose a sixth straight, their season is more than likely over, as 8-8 would probably not be enough to make the second wild-card. And 8-8 would be the absolute best they can do if they drop this weekend’s matchup.
Will the Pittsburgh Steelers Turn Their Season Around Against a Familiar Foe?
The Steelers are reeling once again. After starting the season with numerous problems, they righted the ship, winning six straight to push their record to 7-2-1 and among the best in the AFC.
But they have lost three in a row, including a surprising loss against the lowly Oakland Raiders last week on a blocked field goal. And they have an all-important meeting with the New England Patriots coming up, which can ultimately decide the Steelers’ playoff seeding or worse-lead to missing the playoffs altogether.
The matchup with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick became something of an annual event. This is the fourth straight regular-season matchup between the two historic franchises and third straight meeting in Pittsburgh. And no matter where they play, the Patriots always had the Steelers’ numbers.
Including the playoffs, Pittsburgh has lost five in a row to New England, and are 2-9 overall since 2005. But no matter the Steelers’ record, we all know the talent they possess, and a meeting with the Patriots is always must-watch television.
Can the Dallas Cowboys Continue Their Hot Streak?
All hope was seemingly lost when the Cowboys dropped to 3-5 after losing 28-14 at home to an average Tennessee Titans team. Even the biggest Cowboy fans believed the season was over. But how much of a difference five weeks can make.
Dallas is a winner of five straight contests, and contrary to what the media would lead you to believe, it isn’t because of quarterback Dak Prescott. Instead, it is because of their running game and defense- a formula that gives them their best, and only chance of winning.
They’ve limited their opponents to just 19 points-per-game, which is in line with their second-ranked scoring defense. In addition, they are controlling the clock by running the ball to a tune of 138 rush yards per game.
It’s because of this that Prescott is having success. He is a glorified game-manager at best. The third-year passer needs an elite running game and defense to support him and cover his flaws. And nothing is wrong with that. We just have to realize that he needs as much support as possible to be successful.
And now “America’s Team” has a huge test ahead of them as they go on the road to Indianapolis to face off against Andrew Luck and the Colts. It’s another test for their defense. It’s one thing to surprisingly limit the New Orleans at home, but it’s another challenge when the unit is away from their comfort zone, Dallas.
Pushing the streak to six games would all but lock up the NFC East. A loss would leave a glimmer of hope for Washington and Philadelphia. But one thing to take into account is the style of victory or loss.
A win or loss similar to the 13-10 game with the Saints would reaffirm that the offense is limited. If they can’t limit the Colts’ offense, then maybe they aren’t equipped to go on the road to beat the high-powered Los Angeles Rams or New Orleans Saints.
The Green Bay Packers’ Playoff Lifeline
Believe or not, with all the turbulence that has gone on during the Packers 5-7-1 season, they are only one game out of a playoff spot. Because the Minnesota Vikings have the tie-breaker over Green Bay, it’s technically two. But the Packers still have a chance.
They face a road test against the Chicago Bears but a Bears team who Aaron Rodgers lit up in the second half of the teams’ first meeting. And a team against which the superstar quarterback has 45 touchdowns to just nine interceptions in 20 career games.
If they can get a tough-fought victory, then the path to an 8-7-1 finish becomes that much easier with a road matchup versus the New York Jets and a remaining visit from the Detroit Lions.
The other thing to keep an eye on is how the teams Green Bay is chasing are faring. The Vikings have been extremely overrated all season and sit at 6-6-1. They have remaining matchups with a 7-6 Miami Dolphins team and the division-leading Chicago Bears, and with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, the Packers should like their chances there.
Then you have the Washington Redskins who are down to their fourth-string quarterback. Scratch them off. The Carolina Panthers? Their season is on the brink of collapse, as mentioned earlier, and expecting them to win out is asking for a lot. Even if the Panthers were to win two of their next three, Green Bay would still overtake them if the Pack won out because of percentage points.
Oh, and the defending Super Bowl champs? They are 6-7 with a road game against an angry Los Angeles Rams team Sunday Night. Not to mention, starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, is out for the season.
Things are lining up for Aaron Rodgers to pull off another miracle. Realistically, they probably won’t get in. And if the Vikings weekend, it makes things that much harder for Green Bay. But there is a clear path to get in. And as long as number 12 has a chance, you can’t write anything off.
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