By David McDonnell 

Along with the Buffalo Bills, in my opinion the Chiefs and the Bengals make up the three best teams in  the NFL.

So the best place to start this week is when Kansas City visited Cincinnati for an exciting and very informative AFC matchup. 

What puts these three AFC sides on top of my board ahead of the Eagles or the 49ers is at quarterback, and I would put Joe Burrow in the MVP conversation just behind Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen in that order as we approach the business end of the season. 

Last night Burrow led his team to a third consecutive win over Mahomes. After a poor start to the season, the Bengals are now 8-4 and only one game behind both the Bills and the Chiefs for top seeding and home advantage in the play-offs. 

The game finished 24-27 to the home side, coincidentally the same scoreline that the Bengals  beat Chiefs in the AFC Championship early this year.

This is a much better Cincinnati side from what we saw earlier in the season and I believe they are are a stronger team from when they reached the Superbowl last season. Their main upgrade during the off-season was to their offensive line and although this unit struggled early on, they are now fulfilling their potential. 

The knock on effect is that Burrow is getting a cleaner pocket and more time to pick his passes. It has also helped develop a run game in recent weeks, which could be significant. A few weeks ago Joe Mixon got five touchdowns in one game and recently Samaje Perine has been a major contributor on offence. 

Yesterday, Perine was Burrow’s safety blanket and got 27 touches to accumulate 106 yards on the ground and another 50 in receiving yards. Perine wouldn’t be in the upper echelons of running backs either in size or speed but has good hands and is a tough runner. He has been largely successful in my opinion because his offensive line is playing well and this run game is helping extend drives and taking huge pressure off Burrow’s shoulders.

Over the last few weeks, Tee Higgins had to step up as the number one receiver in Ja’Marr Chase’s absence through injury and showed himself to be a number one receiving talent in his own right. He had the speed and a massive catch radius and Burrow often went in his direction on important third downs. He also found Higgins who trucked a defender and reached successfully for the endzone for a second quarter touchdown.

Yesterday, Chase returned to the fold and was terrific. He did not miss a beat with seven catches for 97 yards. Since he was drafted no wideout in the NFL has more plays over 50 yards and more touchdowns over 20 yards. If he is not there already, he is on his way to being the best receiver in the NFL.

It is  no surprise that the Bengals are statistically the best third-down team in the league with the passing options Burrow has.

Another reason why the Bengals are up there in the Super Bowl mix is that they have an excellent defence and the highest ranked team in the NFL at not missing tackles. This is an indicator of good coaching and I believe being able to lean on the experience of getting to a Superbowl is a huge advantage for the squad, compared to a team like the Bills, who have yet to cross that Rubicon.

The Chiefs are still my favourite for the Super Bowl. Having home advantage in the playoffs could make the difference so the next few weeks continue to be important. 

Where I think the Chiefs can improve is their run game to give Mahomes what Burrow has in Cincinnati and I believe Andy Reid is trying to do this.  Yesterday Isiah Pacheco had 66 yards on 14 carries and McKinnon had another 51 on eight. 

However, just like Allen in Buffalo, when the game is in the balance Mahomes trusts himself over everyone to make a play and he did just that at the end of the third quarter when he ‘Michael Jordan’d’ himself into the endzone for a touchdown. 

However, a fourth quarter Kelce fumble was punished when Burrow found sophomore running back Chris Evans for a touchdown. It gave the Bengals a fourth quarter lead and although Mahomes did get one chance to respond, he didn’t get a second. 

The Bengals have their fate still in their own hands to finish on top of the AFC North, as they still have to meet the Ravens again and there is the possibility of getting a bye in the playoffs when they meet Buffalo in a few weeks. 

With Lamar Jackson possibly out with an ankle injury, it could make a home play-off game in Cincinnati all the more probable. 

Yesterday, Jackson limped off in the first quarter but they managed to earn a 10-9 win against the Broncos when Caleb Huntley led a 16 play 91-yard drive and ran it in for the only TD of the contest with only 30 seconds remaining.

Dolphins v 49ers

The 49ers have been getting very healthy in recent weeks, which has helped resurrect their season. However, they were hit by a body blow after quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was ruled out of the season after breaking his foot on the opening drive against the Dolphins. It is a wicked blow for Jimmy G as he was playing the best football of his career in recent weeks. 

Top of the QB depth chart now is Brock Purdy, who was the last player picked in the NFL Draft last April, to be given the title of Mr. Irrelevant.

Purdy has certainly now become relevant to San Francisco’s title hopes and I was impressed with how comfortable he looked on his NFL debut. He was measured in the pocket throwing 25 of 37 for 210 yards and two touchdowns. He also leaned on Cristian McCaffery, who had 146 all-purpose yards.

The 49ers defence was also in top form and in the final quarter dominated proceedings with sacks, turnovers, forced fumbles and a touchdown which added a lot of gloss to the scoreboard.

The win leaves both the 49ers and the Dolphins in the play-off hunt on records of 8-4, with San Fran reeling off five wins in a row. 

The big question is whether Jimmy G’s injury will scupper San Fran’s title aspirations and it could very well be the case. But going on what I saw last night, I would be hopeful that Purdy will do better than expected. 

Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa had a poor game and was unusually inaccurate, completing just 54.6% of his throws. Coincidentally, he also had to leave the field before the end with an ankle injury, despite flashing with two big plays touchdowns to Tyreek Hill and Trent Sherfield,

Washington v Giants 

Terry McLaurin continues to be the Commanders’ most important weapon and he finished the game with 105 yards and an early touchdown. The Giants have needed the rushing capabilities of Sequon Barkley all season and he doubled up with Daniel Jones for 134 yards and a touchdown. 

Trailing by seven, with less than four minutes remaining Heinicke led a 90-yard drive. First he linked up with Curtis Samuel for 25 yards and then he found rookie Jahan Dotson, who turned a catch into an impressive 28-yard touchdown with a wonderful spin to bring the game to overtime. 

The Giants had a chance to break the tie with a walk-off field goal but Graham Gano’s 58-yard effort came up short.

The results leaves the Commanders a win behind the Giants on a record of 7-5-1 after 13 games. They also lost their play-off berth to the Seahawks who have a record of 7-5 after 12 games, thus giving them a better win percentage. With Washington heading to their bye week, the teams will have the same amount of games played. 

In two weeks, it’s the Commanders versus the Giants once again and this should give the victor an advantage in head-to-head should they finish the season with the same record. 

Unless of course, it ends up in another draw.

Round Up 

The Seahawks are now the seventh seed in the NFC after a late win against the Rams in an ill-tempered affair between divisional rivals. 

Most of the beef throughout came from the matchup between DK Metcalf and Jalen Ramsey. Both players were playing well and at one stage DK waved at Ramsey to come follow him to the other side of the field where he made a catch.

It didn’t go down well on the Rams sideline and Bobby Wagner, playing against his old side, made sure to let his teammates know the importance of the game to him on the sideline. 

The Seahawks responded and Pete Carroll became part of the mosh pit as the Seahawks showed they were up for the fight.  However, former Seahawk Wagner then made a play to turnover the ball.

Cam Akers gave the LA franchise a three-point lead with three minutes to go, but Geno Smith fizzed a late pass to Metcalf who caught ahead of Ramsey for the game-deciding score and the bragging rights.

Another team in the play-off hunt are the LA Chargers but they took a loss in an entertaining matchup against the Raiders. Justin Herbert had another strong showing despite being under pressure throughout as the Raiders defence dominated the Chargers O-line for most of the contest 

Derek Carr found Devontae Adams for two sensational touchdowns including this one-handed grab. 

Adams had 177 yards on eight receptions and got a second TD from a flea-flicker. This is starting to become a signature move between Derek Carr and Adams.

It leaves the Chargers one game behind the Jets, who could not improve their 7-5 record after a loss to the Vikings. The Vikings gave up over 500 yards of offence to the Jets but managed to win the turnover battle to earn a late win. 

Deshaun Watson had a poor first day back at the office with no offensive touchdowns but the Browns still beat the Texans comfortably with a pick-six interception and a forced fumble, both returned for touchdowns and Donovan Peoples-Jones also added this effort from a punt return. 

The Packers came from behind and scored 18 unanswered points in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field to continue their dominance over the Bears 

Justin Fields was back with a bang when he scored a terrific touchdown in his first game back from injury. 

However, the man of the moment in Green Bay, rookie Christian Watson continued on his scorching form of late adding two more touchdowns to make it eight in his last four games. That Watson has eight touchdowns on just 15 receptions over the last four games is just mesmerizing.  

First Rodgers found him with this pass.

And then he added his first rushing touchdown of his NFL career inside the last two minutes for the game-winning score.

The Dallas Cowboys ended up hammering the Colts 19-54 in the late game on Sunday night.

This was a close game in the first half as Dallas led by only a score at halftime. However, in the second half the Dallas defence took over and the Cowboys helped themselves to 33 fourth-quarter points as they showed no mercy to the Colts. 

In the NFC East, Philly made light work of the Titans to go 11-1 on the season. Their best score of the contest was when Jalen Hurts found AJ Brown for a touchdown against his former team.

Lastly, the Steelers beat the Falcons 19-16 in Georgia. 

It was a big day for the Hayward family as both Connor and Cameron Hayward visited their father’s grave pre-game in Atlanta. Their father played for the Falcons for three seasons and it was fitting that Connor Heyward scored the first touchdown of his career as a Steeler against his father’s old team. 

I will post our Monday Night Football preview as the Bucs visit the Saints in the NFC South soon. 

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