By David McDonnell
We are almost half way through December, so from now I will begin to focus more on the teams threatening the top seven in both the NFC and AFC as the NFL begins to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Lets talk through the current playoff scenario starting with the NFC.
One of the most interesting stories from Sunday was the performance of Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy, who beat out Tom Brady and his Buccaneers in the first start of his NFL career.
Last week, the rookie QB came on after Jimmy Garoppolo broke his leg and was very impressive. From what I saw last night, 49ers fans should be greatly encouraged by Purdy.
I realise I am going by a small sample size but Purdy’s remit is to not turn over the ball and make the throws when asked by Kyle Shanahan. On Sunday, the 49ers rushing offence had over 200 yards on the ground with Purdy throwing to eight different receivers. His throws were on point and he completed 16/21 throws against the Bucs and seemed very comfortable in this offence.
I didn’t see any step down from anything Jimmy G has shown this season.
Purdy has a very calm demeanor under centre and comes across a very cool customer whether he is under pressure from pass-rushers or being asked questions on national television in the after match interviews. There may be a fun personality behind that calm façade he is showing presently, and I am sure I am not the only one to notice the Shooter McGavin pistol celebration whenever he throws a touchdown pass.
The 49ers have now won six games in a row and are genuine contenders to win the NFC Championship. Although Deebo Samuel was carted off with an ankle injury, it is not suspected to be serious.
The 49er main rivals for the NFC crown are the Eagles, who went 12-1 on the season thus becoming the first team to secure their NFC playoff spot after making light work of the Giants.
The Eagles run game was dominant throughout as the Eagles rushed for over 250 yards and four touchdowns.
It was all too easy for Philly who went 21-0 up when AJ Brown caught his 10th touchdown of the season. Not to be outdone, Jalen Hurts ran in his 10th rushing TD in the second half.
It leaves the Giants in seventh spot in the NFC rankings with a record of 7-5-1, just one place behind the Commanders, who with the same record somehow jump two places to sixth seeds despite being on their bye week.
The Commanders and Giants are set to renew acquaintances on Sunday Night Football in Week 15, which is next weekend, which should open the door to the Seahawks and the Lions to stake a playoff claim.
The Seahawks lost their play-off positions for now after falling to the Carolina Panthers who took an early 17-0 lead in the contest. Seattle replied and Tyler Lockett did well to tow-tap his way at the back of the endzone for his first touchdown.
Smith also found DK Metcalf for a touchdown and also connected with Terrace Marshall for a memorable catch.
Although Geno got his side close, they found it difficult to stop the Carolina run game, who had over 220 yards, while the Seahawks could only amass 48 yards from their rushing attack.
After starting the season 1-5, coach Steve Wilks has the Panthers at 5-8 and only a game behind the Bucs who sit top of the NFC North with six wins. With both teams lined up to face each other in Week 17, this division is still there to be won.
Another team that started 1-5 and are on the edge of a playoff position are the Detroit Lions, who lived up to their billing as favourite to turn over the 10-2 Vikings.
The Lions are littered with young talent across their roster and former Alabama star wideout Jamison Williams opened the scoring with a touchdown on the first reception of his career.
Dan Campbell has his charges on a roll and with their high powered offence could surprise a higher seed in January. The Lions kept the Vikings at arm’s length throughout and sealed victory when they threw to tackle Penny Sewell to pick up a late first down.
Another team with their playoff prospects almost secure are the Dallas Cowboys who were pushed all the way by the one-win Houston Texans.
They needed a stop from Dexter Laurence on fourth and goal from the one yard line which was then followed by a late 98-yard drive from Dak Prescott which ended with an Ezekiel Elliot TD for a 23-27 win.
The Tennessee Titans dropped their third straight loss as Trevor Laurence continues to build on his recent good form. Derek Henry had a great first quarter running for 96 yards and a touchdown but Laurence led the Jags to 26 unanswered points in the second and third quarters.
It leaves the Titans looking over their shoulder but with a two game lead and four weeks left to play in the regular season, they still should represent the AFC South in January.
Joe Burrow got his first win against his Ohio neighbors, the Cleveland Browns, with a routine victory. Burrow opened the scoring in the second quarter when he found Ja’Marr Chase with an accurate pass for his seventh touchdown of the season to go with 119 receiving yards.
Further scores from Samaje Perine and a flea-flicker pass to Trenton Irwin to extend the lead in the third quarter.
Staying in the AFC North the Ravens won the battle of the backup QBs after both Kenny Pickett and Tyler Hunt had to leave the game injured. They were replaced by Mitch Trubisky and Anthony Brown.
Although a late Pat Friermuith touchdown left just two points between the teams, Baltimore saw the game out without any drama.
It means the Bengals and Ravens are both 9-4 and they still have to meet later in a few weeks.
Patrick Mahomes took the Chiefs into a 27-0 lead against the Broncos during which he threw a nonchalant touchdown pass to Jerrick McKinnon.
Another piece of magic in the second half saw Mahomes find Juju Smith-Schuster in the endzone as he added more highlights to his MVP candidacy.
The Kansas City QB wasn’t perfect and threw three interceptions and the Broncos narrowed the gap to a one-score game after receiver Jerry Jeudy scored a hat-trick of touchdowns.
The Buffalo Bills got their season back on track after a recent dip in form by overcoming the New York Jets. The Bills defence turned up this week and landed some big hits on Mike White.
The Bills led throughout after a memorable score by Dawson Knox, whose landing in the endzone resembled that of an Olympic gymnastic fail for six points.
Josh Allen continues to put his body on the line with ball in hand on most third down situations and as big and athletic his frame is, in my opinion, it is only a matter of time until he picks up a significant injury.
The Bills are currently top of the AFC standings at 9-4 and are ahead due to their head-to-head win over the Chiefs earlier in that epic game earlier in the season.
The Bills win leaves the Jets outside the playoff positions, although with the same 7-6 record as the LA Chargers, who overcame the Miami Dolphins in the late kick-off on Sunday Night: https://tinyurl.com/4c9r3h6j and the New England Patriots, who won on the road against the Cardinals on Monday Night Football: https://tinyurl.com/4cr8p8ct .
It leaves the Pats as seventh seeds in the AFC with four games left to play. Of the three, my two-cents would be on the Chargers and because of Justin Herbert, who in my book is already an NFL superstar.
Don’t worry the rest of you will catch up soon enough.