Random Rumblings on NFL Week 14: Bad Officiating Again and Updated Playoff Picture

Week 14 of the NFL season produced some great games and helped clear up the playoff picture a bit. However, bad officiating once again was on full display in the high profile games. Did the New Orleans Saints get shafted again with a no-call on the fake punt? See below on Youtube.

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Ok, I understand that there can’t be pass interference on a fake punt. But the studio NFL rule expert went on and on about this but evaded another issue: how is grabbing hold of a player’s jersey and throwing him to the ground still not defensive holding?

Section 4, Article 6 – Defensive Holding

It is defensive holding if a player grasps an eligible offensive player (or his jersey) with his hands, or extends an arm or arms to cut off or encircle him.

The New Orleans Saint player was an eligible player as he has a right to catch the pass or on an actual punt, down the ball or recover a possible fumble on a misplayed ball.

The Chiefs-Patriots game had several bad calls or no calls. The fumble by Travis Kelce, where he was erroneously ruled down by contact, prevented a scoop and score. But what comes around, goes around as they say. The Jacksonville Jaguars had a fumble ruled down by contact that prevented a scoop and score in the AFC Championship game two years ago.

There was also an illegal hands to the face penalty called on the Chiefs that was marked off as a 5 yard penalty that should have been a 10 yard penalty. Then Patriots wide receiver N’Keal Harry was ruled as stepping out of bounds at the 3-yard line when replays show he did not step out and should have been ruled a touchdown. 

I think no matter what side you are on, you just want a well officiated game and it seems that the NFL still has issues getting calls right in key games.

The Playoff Picture

It seems very apparent by now that the San Francisco 49ers are for real. The way the came back in the New Orleans game and putting 48 points on the board vs a good Saints defense surprised me. The Niners are in the driver’s seat for the #1 seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The final hurdle for the 49ers will be the last game of the season at Seattle.

Overall, here is how I think conference seeding will play out:

American Football Conference

  1. Baltimore
  2. New England
  3. Kansas City
  4. Houston
  5. Buffalo
  6. Pittsburgh

National Football Conference

  1. San Francisco
  2. New Orleans
  3. Green Bay
  4. Dallas
  5. Seattle
  6. Minnesota

Note that the last six Super Bowls were comprised of #1 or #2 seeds from each conference. So securing a bye-week in the first round of the playoffs is very important. Over the past ten years, only three teams made it to the Super Bowl as a #3 seed or worse. This works out to be 15%. Surprisingly, all three of these teams went on to win the Super Bowl (Green Bay as a #6 seed in 2011, New York Giants as a #4 seed in 2012 and Baltimore as a #4 seed in 2013).

Since 1990, when the NFL adopted the expanded playoff format of two wild card teams in each conference, there have been 29 Super Bowl Champions crowned. Here are the breakdown on seeds of the champions:

  • #1 Seed – 14 (48.3%)
  • #2 Seed – 7 (24.1%)
  • #3 Seed – 1 (3.4%)
  • #4 Seed – 4 (13.8%)
  • #5 Seed – 1 (3.4%)
  • #6 Seed – 2 (6.9%)

So, 72.4% of Super Bowl champions were either a #1 or #2 seed in their respective conference.

Super Bowl Favorite

Really, I think that there are only four teams now that could win the Super Bowl this year: the Baltimore Ravens, the Kansas City Chiefs, the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints. The New England Patriots don’t appear to me to have enough weapons offensively to win it this year. I know you should never count out Bill Belichick and Tom Brady come playoff time but this season doesn’t have the same feel as others have with the Patriots. Tom Brady has looked pedestrian the past month or so. I really feel that the Chiefs could beat the Patriots again in Foxboro. The Chiefs defense has improved enough over last season under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Spagnuolo blitzed and threw off Brady’s timing.

From the AFC side of the playoff bracket, I think the Baltimore Ravens will likely be the AFC representative in the Super Bowl this year. But I wouldn’t call them a lock just yet. It is kind of concerning that the Ravens high-powered offense has been held to 24 points or less the past two weeks. The Ravens only managed to put 20 points on the San Francisco 49ers great defense but the Saints offense hung 46 on them one week later. If the Kansas City Chiefs get to another AFC Championship game vs the Ravens, the Chiefs have already beaten them once this year. It will be a taller order to do so in Baltimore.

On the NFC side, it is going to come down to San Francisco and New Orleans with the Saints likely playing the Niners in San Francisco on grass instead of a turf surface that their offense was built around. The key question becomes: Can the New Orleans Saints win the rematch? Yes. But this will depend if Sean Peyton can make defensive adjustments and get his defense in shape by playoff time. Really, nobody expected Jimmy Garoppolo to win a shootout against Drew Brees. Giving up 48 points to any team is not Super Bowl caliber.

My feeling is that experience in the playoffs often is a difference maker. Jimmy Garoppolo has never started a playoff game. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has no playoff experience as a head coach although he was the Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator for Super Bowl 51.

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