NFL

NFL AM: Texans Take Control Of The South

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Brandon Weeden helps Texans take control of AFC South:

Whether you’re Brandon Weeden, the Houston Texans team he helped take control of the AFC South, or the Indianapolis Colts team they defeated, this season has been a bizarre one.

Weeden finished Sunday’s 16-10 victory over the Colts after T.J. Yates was forced to leave with a knee injury, leaving Texans’ punter Shane Lechler as the teams back-up for the remainder of the game.

Ironically enough, after some Dallas Cowboys’ fans may point to Weeden as one of the reasons their team had an awful season after Tony Romo broke his collarbone (the first time) earlier this season, he is now in a position where Texans’ fans could end up crediting the embattled former first-round pick for helping them win the AFC South.

The Texans moved ahead of the now 6-8 Colts after trailing much of the game after Weeden found rookie receiver Jaelen Strong for Houston’s only touchdown of the game. Houston got another break when the third place Jacksonville Jaguars fell to the Atlanta Falcons, ending the team’s hopes of sneaking up and stealing the division late.

Sunday’s loss puts Indianapolis in a lot of trouble, as now they’ll have to hope that the Texans stumble when wrapping their season up against the Tennessee Titans and Jaguars.

It’s been a crazy football season in the state of Texas, and after Weeden started the year for one of the Lone Star State’s disappointing teams, he may end up lead the other disappointing Texas-based team to a playoff spot.

Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown take over second half to lead Steelers over Denver Broncos:

A week after a disappointing 15-12 loss to the Oakland Raiders, the Denver Broncos had to be feeling much better about themselves heading into the half with a 27-13 lead over the red-hot Pittsburgh Steelers.

After Ben Roethlisberger failed to throw a touchdown in the first half, things turned around in the second half as the Steelers quarterback and Antonio Brown connected time and again, with Brown finishing yet another game with video game like statistics. While it wasn’t quite the 284 yards that the Steelers all-world receiver put up against the Oakland Raiders, he finished Sunday’s game with 16 receptions for 189 yards and two touchdowns. To make the day even more impressive, the Steelers’ wide out was targeted 18 times, meaning that only two of the passes headed in his direction fell incomplete.

The day was a mixed bag for Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler, who led his team into the half with that 27-13 lead after throwing for three first half touchdowns. In the first half, Denver looked like a team that had figured things out a week after a demoralizing loss to a young Raiders team. The defense held Roethlisberger and Brown down, and the offense had three passing touchdowns in a half. Suddenly, the Broncos were once again looking like Super Bowl contenders during the first 30 minutes of the game.

After halftime the game was flipped on its head, as the Steelers outscored Denver 21-0 in the second half to pull out a 34-27 victory. After a half that seemed to legitimize Osweiler, who threw three touchdown passes in what was a huge start for the young quarterback, the wheels fell off and Osweiler and the Broncos offense was held scoreless in second half, for the second consecutive week.

While losing to Pittsburgh isn’t something to be ashamed of, neither the Steelers nor the Raiders have the kind of defenses you should be getting shut down by in big situations.

For the Broncos and their fans, Osweiler’s second-half struggles these past two weeks has to be more concerning than his first half against Pittsburgh is encouraging. For a Denver team with a championship level defense, finding a way to be consistent offensively is going to be paramount come playoff time.

To make things worse, it looks like it’s going to have to be Osweiler the rest of the way for the Broncos. While there’s been no announcement from the team about Peyton Manning’s status, his missing practice Friday after returning Wednesday has to be alarming. At this point, it would be surprising to see Manning again this season.

Arizona Cardinals clinch NFC West, others clinch playoffs:

The Arizona Cardinals put a whooping on the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday to clinch the NFC West, joining the New England Patriots and 14-0 Carolina Panthers as division champs.

With two weeks left in the season, the NFC playoff picture is all but wrapped up. While two of the four divisions are still in play, five of the six playoff representatives are all but determined.  The Panthers and Cardinals have clinched their divisions, and while the Green Bay Packers haven’t clinched their division, they have clinched a playoff spot.

While the Seattle Seahawks won’t be winning the NFC West this year, they have clinched a playoff spot, leaving two open spots in the NFC. At 9-5, the Minnesota Vikings have all but clinched the second wild card spot, as they hold a head to head victory over the Atlanta Falcons who are the only other NFC playoff hopeful that can reach nine wins. The Vikings can still win the NFC North, but they’ll need a lot of help.

The other NFC playoff spot will go to whichever lowly team slides away with the NFC East. With the Washington Redskins being the only NFC East team to pick up a victory this weekend, they are in the driver’s seat with two to play, and the rest of the division floundering around finding every way possible to lose.

The AFC is a very different and much more wide open situation than the NFC. The New England Patriots have won their division and clinched a first-round bye, but then it gets very interesting. The Cincinnati Bengals and Broncos who both once looked destined to run away with their divisions are now both faced with trying to hold off one of the hottest teams in football in the Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs.

While the Bengals have clinched a spot in the playoffs, they still need a victory or a Steelers loss to clinch the division. The Broncos on the other hand are losers of two straight, and now hold just a single game lead over the Chiefs in the West. Denver has a huge game against the Bengals Monday night, and then finish with the San Diego Chargers while Kansas City, who has won eight straight, finishes with the Cleveland Browns and Raiders.

The two teams that fall short in the West and North will be part of a three team race for the wild card spots with the New York Jets, who like the Chiefs and Steelers, enter the final two weeks at 9-5.

Lastly, just like in the NFC, the AFC will have a lowly division winner enter the playoff fray as someone will come out of the messy AFC South. As is detailed above, Houston put themselves in the driver’s seat for that honor Sunday.


About Pat Donovan

Pat Donovan

Pat Donovan has covered the NFL for almost a decade and is a host and producer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers radio flagship 620WDAE/95.3FM. Pat covers the NFC South and NFC East for Football Insiders. Follow him on Twitter, @PatDonovanNFL.