NFL Week 14

NFL Week 14: Good, bad and ugly

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Week 14 brought us more exciting action, blown calls, and big performances. Here are my observations:

The Good

-Behind a rookie third string quarterback Devlin "Duck" Hodges, the Pittsburgh Steelers are now 8-5 after their 23-17 win over the Cardinals and are the sixth seed in the AFC playoff picture. But most of the credit to how the Steelers have maintained their level of success goes to head coach Mike Tomlin. Tomlin has been the Steelers head coach for 13 years now and has not had a losing record. This season is perhaps his best coaching job and he should be coach of the year.

-Props to Falcons' quarterback Matt Ryan for becoming the 10th passer in NFL history and second fastest to amass 50,000 passing yards. At 4-9, the Falcons are in full-blown draft preparation mode with their playoff chances long down the drain. However, when history is made, we should all appreciate it. Ryan has been one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the league for years now and may have cemented his Hall of Fame bid.

-The Titans have been on a roll lately. They've won four in a row and are on the verge of making the playoffs. While the switch to Ryan Tannehill from Marcus Mariota at quarterback will be credited with the bulk of the success of their turnaround, running back Derrick Henry should get some as well. In that win streak, Henry has 599 yards rushing and seven rushing touchdowns. His 103 yards in their 42-21 win over the Raiders was his lowest output of the streak.

The Bad

-Bucs quarterback Jameis WInston could be the first quarterback in NFL history to lead the league passing yards, touchdowns...and interceptions. He's currently second, tied for second, and first respectively in those three categories. He's having an awesomely terrible season.

-I mentioned earlier how the Steelers beat the Cardinals earlier, I didn't mention a key play that led them to that win. Early in the 4th quarter down by 10, Cardinals' rookie quarter back Kyler Murray had a 4th&2 on the Steelers' six yard line. He more than likely could've run for a 1st down, but instead opted for a pass that was picked off by Steelers' outside linebacker T.J. Watt. here's to hoping Murray will learn from his rookie mistakes.

-The refs have made tons of poor calls this season. Another contender for the most egregious was a personal foul on Ravens' safety Earl Thomas. He was flagged after a teammate pushed him causing him to fall over Bills' quarterback Josh Allen. Sometimes, there's judgement needed when making certain calls. The refs should've known and seen the circumstances here and swallowed the whistle. Good thing it didn't cost the Ravens the game.

The Ugly

-The 49ers beat the Saints in one of the year's best games so far. However, they lost three key starters: center Weston Richburg is done for the year with a torn patellar tendon, while outside linebacker Dee Ford and corner Richard Sherman are out multiple weeks with hamstring injuries. For a team currently in control of the top spot in the NFC, these injuries couldn't have come at a worse time.

-The Patriots have long been seen as cheaters who've mostly skated away from significant punishment. They even had Spygate 2.0 come up this week, but it lasted maybe an hour or so and was simply a mixup. However, they had three calls go against them in their 23-16 loss to the Chiefs: a fumble return for a touchdown that was blown dead, a potential touchdown taken off the board after being wrongly ruled out of bounds, and a blatant pass interference not called. The funniest part: seeing all the Northeastern media cry for them after they routinely tell others to shut up for the same thing.

-In a scene reminiscent of the band being on the field during an early 80s Cal-Stanford game, the Rams' cheerleaders and mascot had to be told to exit the field of play just before halftime of their game versus the Seahawks. Not sure who's at fault here, but this should never happen in an NFL game. There's a guy on the sideline with a spotter and their job is to enter the field of play when there's a commercial timeout and leave when it's over. They have gloves and a vest to signal everyone that needs to know when play should be stopped and started. Perhaps the Rams' cheerleaders should pay better attention.

If we were to judge the Super Bowl contenders like books in a spades game, I'd say the NFC has three (49ers, Saints, Seahawks) and a strong possible (Packers); while the AFC has one (Ravens) and three possibles (Chiefs, Patriots, Bills). While some may laugh at the Bills being a possible, I'd argue to look at their defense. Some may also think the Seahawks and/or Packers aren't true contenders, but they have players at the ultimate position that'll always keep them in the conversation. While the Saints may have lost a shootout at home to the 49ers, that game was so close, it's hard to say one should be considered a strong favorite over the other. The Ravens have arguably the league MVP, a playoff ready run game, and a salty defense that'll keep them as the favorite until proven otherwise. These last three weeks of the regular season will serve as a playoff audition. It may also serve as a peacock ceremony for those that are in but want to flex their muscle and jockey for positioning. Either way, we have meaningful football left in the regular season.

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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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