The NFC has the best playoff chase going in years

Another week in the books and the NFC continues heating up this holiday season. With a pair of 10-win teams and two more division leaders with nine wins each, the stakes are getting higher and higher each passing week. And there are a couple of teams still in the playoff hunt to watch out for in the NFC. But expect Monday’s news to be focused on some discipline from the league office for one Rob Gronkowski.

The NFL has to suspend Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski drove himself into the back and head of Tre’Davious White, giving the Bills player a concussion in a dirty move after the play. Credit: CBS

For the second year in a row, a Buffalo Bills fan threw a dildo on the field during a game against the New England Patriots, but it was Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski with the ultimate dick move on Sunday.

Gronkowski says he let emotions get to him in the heat of the moment, but that is a lame excuse for making like a WWE wrestler and diving on top of a defenseless opponent laying on the ground at the end of the play as he did to the back of Tre’Davious White.

Dean Blandino took to Twitter to explain why Gronkowski should have been ejected from the game. Expect a suspension coming from the league office this week, and Gronkowski should be gone for one game at the absolute minimum.

Anyway, the Patriots won the game, 23-3, to keep their streak of holding opponents to fewer than 20 points for an eighth-straight game. The Patriots remain in the running in a two-team race with the Pittsburgh Steelers to get the top spot in the AFC Playoffs, and their regular season head-to-head meeting is coming up in two weeks.

Seahawks bring Eagles down a peg

The Philadelphia Eagles had been riding high atop the NFL with the league’s best record, but those winning ways were tossed aside by the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night as the Eagles played their worst game of the year. Against a team like Seattle and on the road, no team can survive committing as many penalties and breakdowns in protection as the Eagles had. Carson Wentz fumbled into the end zone for a Seattle touchback and Doug Pederson had a shaky performance coaching the game.

Russell Wilson really frustrated the Eagles defense in key moments, and getting away with an obvious forward lateral and following it up with a touchdown pass to extend a lead in the fourth quarter really didn’t help Philly’s cause.

Seattle made a statement with their 24-10 victory over the Eagles and it was a solid one. The Seahawks are still dangerous in the NFC, even though they were outgained by 115 yards and gave up five more first downs. But no turnovers and the benefit of Wilson drawing out plays long enough to draw some penalties was a major difference in the game Sunday night. The win gives Seattle’s playoff push a boost with a month to go, while the Eagles fell out of the top spot in the NFC playoff picture with the loss.

The Race for No. 1 Draft Pick

Another week, another loss for the Cleveland Browns. This week, it happened on the road against the San Diego Chargers (who I said a couple weeks ago are probably going to win the AFC South). The 19-10 loss and the fate of the Browns was pretty much summed up in one sequence with Joey Bosa doing his thing against a team that passed on him a year ago.

DeShone Kizer was 15-of-32 for 215 yards and a score with an interception and three sacks in the game. It is the third straight week the Browns have failed to score 20 points and Cleveland is now 0-12 with four games to play.

The Browns are still in firm control of the No. 1 draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft as they close in on a possible 0-16 season, but there was a significant change in the draft order after that on Sunday.

The New York Giants dropped a game on the West Coast (which was not kind to the NFC East on Sunday) against the Raiders, dropping the G-Men to 2-10 on the year as the post-Eli Manning Era appears to be underway. The 24-17 setback in Oakland dropped the Giants to the bottom of the NFC because the San Francisco 49ers managed to kick their way out of Chicago with a 15-14 victory, thanks to former Bears kicker Robbie Gould (and hey, first win of the Jimmy Garoppolo era with the 49ers!).

The 49ers defeated the Giants a few weeks back, which means San Francisco now moves down to third in the NFL Draft order while the Giants wiggle up to the No. 2 spot. The Giants should seriously be thinking about getting a quarterback because they have already moved on from Eli Manning, which is something I speculated would happen earlier in the season.

The 49ers better be careful not to win too many more games down the final stretch, otherwise, they may elevate themselves right out of a top three pick!

Current top five draft picks in 2018:

  1. Cleveland
  2. New York Giants
  3. San Francisco
  4. Denver
  5. Indianapolis

AFC West Meltdown update

The Chargers’ win at home against the Browns on Sunday pushed them to an even 6-6 and a tie for the AFC West division lead. Phillip Rivers and company have done their thing to get into this position, but it is also fascinating to watch the disintegration of the Kansas City Chiefs on a week-by-week basis.

The Chiefs dropped their fourth consecutive game and sixth in their last seven with a 38-31 setback on the road against the New York Jets. It is the second time in three games the Chiefs lost in the Meadowlands, but this freefall from being regarded as one of the top teams in the NFL is mesmerizing.

Even when the Chiefs finally got the offense back in gear by breaking out of their scoring slump, it was the defense that couldn’t hold down the Jets. The Jets! Alex Smith passed for 366 yards and four touchdowns and had a team-high 70 rushing yards. (Rookie running back Kareem Hunt continues to be just effective enough after a great start to the year with 40 rushing yards and 20 receiving yards.)

While imploding in the standings, the Chiefs had an in-game meltdown as well, including Marcus Peters deciding to pick up a penalty flag and toss it into the stands.

Joining the Chargers and Chiefs in the AFC West’s three-way tie is the Oakland Raiders, who evened their record at 6-6 with a home win against the Giants. I think I may stick with my call of the Chargers pulling this division out somehow, but these next two weeks could still salvage the year for Kansas City. The Chiefs host Oakland next week and then the Chargers after that.

The Denver Broncos were blown out on the road by the Miami Dolphins, 35-9. At 3-9, the Broncos are firmly in position to tank the rest of the season and go to the draft board to put together a plan of attack to turn this franchise around.

NFL Blitz

Other NFL goodies from Sunday.

Vikings 14, Falcons 9: Following yet another standout defensive effort, the Minnesota Vikings left Atlanta with their 10th win of the season. Coupled with the Eagles losing Sunday night, the Vikings are the new No. 1 team in the NFC playoff standings. Nobody saw this coming, but you have to wonder if this offense can continue rolling. They keep winning big games, and this was a tough loss for the Falcons as well.

Right now, the Vikings are just looking to seize an NFC North that is just waiting to be won this season.

Saints 31, Panthers 21: A week after taking a loss on the road against the Rams, the Saints used their running combo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara to overpower the Carolina Panthers to stay on top of the NFC South. Ingram and Kamara combined for three touchdowns and Drew Brees passed for 269 yards and a score.

Cam Newton did what he could with 183 passing yards and two scores and a team-high 51 rushing yards, but the Panthers just did not have enough to get out of New Orleans with a win.

And how about the Saints using backup quarterback Taysom Hill on special teams? Sean Payton loved it.

It will be a short week for the Saints and Falcons. They square off in a key division battle this Thursday night. Matt Ryan vs. Drew Brees. Buckle up.

Rams 32, Cardinals 16: With the Saints and Vikings each winning (and the Eagles losing later), the Rams picked up an important road win in Arizona to stay ahead of the Seahawks and in the running for a top seed in the NFC. Jared Goff passed for 220 yards and two touchdowns in the win, while Todd Gurley accounted for 74 rushing yards and 84 receiving yards. The Rams defense also forced two turnovers in the pivotal win.

The Rams return home for a big game next week with the Eagles heading to town. Philadelphia will be staying on the West Coast this week rather than flying home from Seattle then flying back across the country a second time. Sammy Watkins will also get to go up against his brother, Jaylen Watkins.

Packers 26, Buccaneers 20 (OT): Aaron Jones took off for a 20-yard touchdown run in overtime to lift the Green Bay Packers to get back to .500 on Sunday against Tampa Bay. With the win, the Packers remain on the playoff radar, and they are still hoping to get Aaron Rodgers back soon for a possible late-season playoff push.

That wasn’t bad, but the touchdown of the game had to be the 62-yard fumble return by Dean Lowry.

Titans 24, Houston 13: Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry each had a touchdown to help keep the Titans rolling to a possible AFC South division title. There are still some issues that Tennessee should be alarmed by, but when they needed to make a play to slam the door shut on the Texans in a division game, handing the ball off to Henry seemed to work just fine.

Jaguars 30, Colts 10: If it’s not going to be the Titans, it will be the Jaguars in the AFC South. The Jags picked up their fifth win in the last six game sot keep up the pace with Tennessee as the two are tied for the division lead. Don’t forget the Jaguars and Titans square off in Tennessee in the last game of the regular season.

Ravens 44, Lions 20: The Lions are spending a big chunk of change on Matthew Stafford but at 6-6, it is becoming evident the team may need to invest in a few other positions as well. Detroit’s road trip to Baltimore resulted in a 24-point loss to Joe Flacco and the Ravens, dropping them to .500. The win was a critical one for Baltimore, keeping them in the mix for a playoff spot in the AFC.

All your rowdy friends are coming over tonight

The NFL has three 10-win teams with the Eagles, Vikings, and Patriots. Tonight, the Pittsburgh Steelers look to become the fourth. The Steelers cross the border to take on the Cincinnati Bengals. The emotions will be heated in this one as the nastiness between these teams has been a recurring theme in recent years. Keep a close eye on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, because he has a knack for getting mixed up in some nastiness with the Steelers.

Playoff Picture Update

After Sunday’s action, here is a look at the latest NFL playoff picture, starting with the AFC. The Patriots have the edge on the Steelers for the moment, but a Steelers win tonight would move Pittsburgh into the No. 1 seed. So just keep that in mind when reviewing this playoff picture. Basically, the Patriots and Steelers are the top two teams. It’s just a matter of who will end the year in the first spot.

AFC PLAYOFF PICTURE

  1. Patriots 10-2
  2. Steelers 9-2
  3. Titans 8-4
  4. Chiefs 6-6
  5. Jaguars 8-4
  6. Ravens 7-5Chargers (6-6)
    Bills (6-6)
    Raiders (6-6)
    Bengals (5-6)

NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE

Things are really getting good in the NFC in the final month of the season. The competition for those first-round byes could go down to the wire, meaning no team can take their foot off the gas in the final week.

  1. Vikings (10-2)
  2. Eagles (10-2)
  3. Rams (9-3)
  4. Saints (9-3)
  5. Seahawks (8-4)
  6. Panthers (8-4)Falcons (7-5)
    Lions (6-6)
    Packers (6-6)
    Cowboys (6-6)

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to NBCSports.com's College Football Talk, Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Host of the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher Radio and iHeart Radio. FWAA member and Philadelphia-area resident.