NFL Week 13: Five things we learnt

A look back at Sunday's action

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The Independent Online

Just a few weeks until the seasons’ end and the play-off race is heating up nicely. Zander Swinburne examines the key talking points of Week 13.

The Johnny Football era in Cleveland may have just started

With all the hype surrounding Cleveland this season, it would be easy to forget that Johnny ‘Football’ Manziel was quietly sitting on the sidelines cheering his team with a clipboard in hand. As Cleveland have gradually faltered, so has their quarterback Brian Hoyer and it seemed at last Manziel would be given his chance to prove he could make it as an NFL quarterback.

With the Browns losing 20-3 in the fourth quarter, head coach Mike Pettine turned to the fan favourite Manziel to keep the team’s play-off chances alive. Manziel calmly led a superb 80 yard drive that saw the quarterback scamper into the endzone with emphatic speed and agility. Alas, the comeback was not to be, with the Browns losing 26-10 to end the week with a 7-5 record and an outside view of the play-off bracket. The loss did at least have a silver lining as Manziel’s debut showed signs of promise for the rookie quarterback. Only time will tell whether Pettine makes the move that all expected would happen at some point, that is to see Manziel carry the Browns franchise into a new era.

San Francisco no longer the dominant team of the past three years

Thanksgiving threw up plenty of talking points, and the collapse of the 49ers was one of them. In what was a stunning defensive performance, the Seattle Seahawks conquered the 49ers 19-3, severely denting San Francisco’s chances of making the post-season. The thanksgiving showdown may well be the beginning of the end of a dominant 49ers team.

It has been no secret that San Francisco has been in decline this season. Colin Kaepernick has noticeably regressed ever since he signed his whopping $126 million extension. Thursday’s match-up with a dominating Seahawks defence only highlighted Kaepernick’s weaknesses this season as he completed barely over 50 per cent of his passes, much to the displeasure of an impatient San Francisco crowd.

Their head coach, Jim Harbaugh has even seen elements of his locker room criticise him as his team have slipped from three straight NFC championship games to the possibility of not making the play-offs. A record of 7-5 in the NFL is not one that signals abandon ship, but as San Francisco’s post-season ambitions were cruelly hindered in front of the nation, it is clear the 49ers have fallen from the very high perch they have sat this past three years.

Have we just seen the Super Bowl?

There are only a few teams in the NFL who appear to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders, those that convincingly beat the weaklings of the league whilst always competing with the tougher opponents. The New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers are two of those teams, and are both considered franchises that could win it all.

With Brady and Rodgers meeting on the field for the first time, the pair didn't fail to impress, combining for over 600 yards passing between them. Rodgers got the better of Brady, leading his team to a 26-21 victory and a 9-3 record. With the Packers virtually unbeatable at home as well as the Patriots a team that rarely slips up, it’s very possible that these are the two teams we’ll see playing in Arizona in February.

Both Rodgers and Brady are making very good cases for MVP whilst their supporting acts have consistently outdone opposition secondaries. Plenty can change between now and February, just don’t be surprised to see these two teams duelling for a second time later in the season.

The Bills can still make the play-offs

Every year there’s one outsider who manages to surprise all by threatening to leapfrog the more favourite play-off teams into the fifth or sixth seed. This year, that looks set to be the Buffalo Bills.

Following a 26-10 win over the Cleveland Browns, the Bills have propelled themselves back into contention, equalling Kansas City’s 7-5 record in the sixth seed position. Buffalo do have some talent on their team, in particular their defensive line, led by Mario Williams. For this team to make the play-offs however it will take a Christmas miracle of the kind the Bills have rarely been blessed with.

Buffalo’s schedule going into the last four games of the season is one of the toughest in the league. With away trips to both the Patriots and Broncos as well as a home encounter with the dominant Packers, Buffalo will be hard pushed for a play-off spot. Although a victory against the lowly Oakland Raiders is imperative, Buffalo will need to win at least two of their other games, a feat that just might be a step too far for the New York state franchise.

Tom Coughlin’s future with the now Giants up in the air

New York has not enjoyed a successful football season this year. Whilst the Jets disappeared from all meaningful conversation weeks ago, serious questions are now being asked of their cross town rivals. The Giants, Super Bowl winners less than three years ago, have seen their season crumble around them, with this week’s 25-24 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars among the worst of their 2014 campaign.

After blowing a 21-point lead, the Giants have now lost seven consecutive games and no doubt questions regarding the job status of their coaching staff will grow in volume. Head coach Tom Coughlin will miss the play-offs for a third straight season, having finished 9-7 and 7-9 the previous two years and his Giants now have the joint second worst record in the NFC.

2014 will be the fifth time in the last six seasons that the Giants fail to make the post-season and it is becoming more apparent that Coughlin’s Super Bowl rings may just be saving him from the sack. Yet as the losses pile up, a major overhaul in New York looks inevitable.

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