The Saints and Chiefs have clinched their spots in the postseason already, but most of the league is still in the hunt for a playoff berth.
The Steelers had a chance to punch their ticket against Washington on Monday night but were upset by the Football Team 23-17. That allowed the Browns, who are currently sitting in the top spot for the AFC Wild Card, to draw within two games in the AFC North. The Bills picked up an important win over the 49ers to keep a slim one game lead over the Dolphins in the AFC East. The Titans and Colts are in a tight race for the AFC South, both with an 8-4 record but Tennessee holds the tiebreaker.
In the NFC there are two teams running away with their divisions in the Packers and the Saints who both hold at least a three game advantage over their nearest competition. The NFC East and West, however, should go down to the wire as virtually every team in those divisions still have a chance to finish with a division title.
As we start to see more teams secure their postseason spots, others will continue to be eliminated from contention. Let's take a look at the power rankings for Week 14 based on what we've seen so far this season.
32. New York Jets (0-12, Last Week 32 +/- 0) - Gregg Williams called an all-out blitz against the Raiders which resulted in cornerback Lamar Jackson being left on an island with Henry Ruggs III and got beat for the game-winning TD with 5 seconds left. That's so Jets.
2020 Jets Mood Ft. Bill Parcells #Jets #TakeFlight https://t.co/JeXbX4p5eb— NYJ Matt (@NYJ Matt)1607552081.0
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-11, Last Week 31, +/- 0) - 11 game losing streak, and nearly caught a break as the Jets looked primed to get their first win of the season. But unfortunately for the Jags, the Jets lost in dramatic fashion keeping them one step ahead of Jacksonville in the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes.
30. Cincinnati Bengals (2-9-1, Last Week 28, - 2) - Outside of a 72 yard strike to Tyler Boyd for their lone score, the Bengals were smothered by Miami in a bad loss in Week 13. Without Joe Mixon they only accounted for 40 rushing yards in the game.
29. Dallas Cowboys (3-9, Last Week 26, - 3) - Zeke turned in an OK performance, but the Cowboys were handled easily by the Ravens on Tuesday evening 34-17.
28. Chicago Bears (5-7, Last Week 29, + 1) - Somehow the Bears move up a spot this week following their sixth straight loss. It's only due to the four teams behind them are in such a mess. David Montgomery turned in his second consecutive strong performance with over 100 yards of total offense and two touchdowns. Mitch Trubisky looked slightly better than Mitchell Trubisky.
Chicago Bears QB Mitch Trubisky understands the storylines about him, Mahomes, and Watson. Trubisky: "It's always… https://t.co/gxFWrEWlFK— Daniel Greenberg (@Daniel Greenberg)1607552226.0
27. Denver Broncos (4-8, Last Week 27, +/- 0) - With Drew Lock, the Broncos looked like an NFL team again, but not a good one. 131 yards from Melvin Gordon in a losing effort was the lone bright spot.
26. Los Angeles Chargers (3-9, Last Week 24, - 2) - Officially eliminated from playoff contention with loss last week. Justin Herbert appeared to be human for the first time in his rookie campaign.
25. Philadelphia Eagles (3-8-1, Last Week 25, +/- 0) - Jalen Hurts has been announced as the starting quarterback for this week. Doug Pederson knows that his job is on the line, this move is going to determine a lot about the future of this franchise.
Fletcher Cox on liking Tweet that supports Carson Wentz starting for Eagles over Jalen Hurts: "Carson is my best f… https://t.co/Cbruk4Kt1u— Barstool Philly (@Barstool Philly)1607560512.0
24. Detroit Lions (5-7, Last Week 30, + 6) - Interim coach, Darrell Bevell, got the W Week 13 v the Bears. Getting good performances from vets Matt Stafford (402 passing yards, 3 TDs) and Adrian Peterson (57 rushing yards, 2 TDs). With the win they draw even with Chicago T-3 NFC North.
23. Carolina Panthers (4-8, Last Week 23, +/- 0) - The Panthers are coming off a bye week and are hoping to get some players healthy for the home stretch in Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore.
22. Atlanta Falcons (4-8, Last Week 21, - 1) - With a loss in Week 13 the Falcons are all but mathematically eliminated from contention in a most disappointing 2020 season. Raheem Morris has made a case however to be retained as HC next season.
21. Houston Texans (4-8, Last Week 19, - 2) - Houston, like Atlanta, lost this past week and with that loss are virtually out of the running for a wildcard spot as the Titans and Colts have a significant lead for the top two spots in the division.
20. San Francisco 49ers (5-7, Last Week 20, +/- 0) - Lost Monday night to Buffalo, but didn't look bad in doing so. They're a much better team than their record indicates, and when healthy they're easily in the top 10.
19. New York Giants (5-7, Last Week 22, + 3) - The Giants have won four in a row and are positioning themselves to win the NFC East without Saquon Barkley.
Coach Judge is 'optimistic' about Daniel Jones, but his game status is still TBD 📰: https://t.co/noq6qBQdkd https://t.co/a6FNqC8h9C— New York Giants (@New York Giants)1607560233.0
18. Arizona Cardinals (6-6, Last Week 11, - 7) - The third consecutive loss by the Cardinals see their playoff hopes slipping away. The 49ers' loss to Buffalo helped the Cards avoid falling into a tie for last place in the NFC West, but it's on Kyler Murray to get this team back on track with only four weeks to go.
17. Las Vegas Raiders (7-5, Last Week 18, + 1) - The Raiders got a last second win on a Derek Carr to Henry Ruggs connection to keep them in the Wild Card race in the AFC. Darren Waller has been spectacular again this year elevating himself to the level of Travis Kelce in the realm of fantasy tight ends.
16. New England Patriots (6-6, Last Week 16, +/- 0) - Winners of two straight and back in contention for a postseason spot. Winning boring is still winning.
"Let me get this goddamn smile out of the way because I'm going to joylessly destroy everyone for the next 30 years… https://t.co/OwjJVd4DEd— Super 70s Sports (@Super 70s Sports)1607286909.0
15. Washington Football Team (5-7, Last Week 17, + 2) - The Football Team knocked off the previously undefeated Steelers on Monday night in one of the biggest surprises of the season! One thing is for sure. This Washington squad plays some great defense. I hope we can keep moving them up this list.
14. Baltimore Ravens (7-5, Last Week 15, + 1) - A much needed matchup against Dallas allowed the Ravens to get back on track with a win after a three game slide. Cleveland has done them no favors as they keep winning and creating more separation between the Ravens and a playoff spot.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5, Last Week 9, - 4) - Coming off a bye week, Tampa Bay benefitted from losses from Seattle, Arizona, Atlanta, and Carolina. We can't imagine a season where Tom Brady isn't in the playoffs, and the Bucs enjoy a soft schedule to end the year as they'll get the Falcons twice along with Detroit.12. Minnesota Vikings (6-6, Last Week 14, + 2) - A two game win streak calls for a two position jump in our rankings this week. Still in the hunt for a WC spot. Justin Jefferson became the second rookie Minnesota wide receiver to eclipse 1,000 yards.
11. Indianapolis Colts (8-4, Last Week 10, - 1) - The Colts picked up a division win over the Texans last week and gained valuable ground on Tennessee to draw even in record (8-4), but will need to pick up a win on them as the Titans hold the tiebreaker.
10. Los Angeles Rams (8-4, Last Week 13, + 3) - We spent the first half of the season wondering how good the Rams really were after a weak early season schedule. Now atop the best division in football, they should be questioning us.
9. Miami Dolphins (8-4, Last Week 12, + 3) - Whether it's Fitz or Tua, the Dolphins keep winning games and have closed the gap with Buffalo to the slimmest of margins. Maybe Tua should grow a beard to see if he can create some Fitz-Magic of his own.
Here's a look at Tua Tagovailoa from #Dolphins practice today. He's no longer wearing the tape/brace on his thumb. https://t.co/bNqls7oyur— Ruthie Polinsky (@Ruthie Polinsky)1607541217.0
8. Seattle Seahawks (8-4, Last Week 5, - 3) - DK Metcalf stiff-arming the Giants' James Bradberry was a highlight play, but New York walked away with the win, and the lead in their division. Seattle lost the game and the division lead they entered Week 13 with. Another shaky performance from Russell Wilson, but the return of Chris Carson helped a struggling running game in his absence. Ultimately the Seahawks need to improve on defense if they have championship aspirations.
7. Tennessee Titans (8-4, Last Week 7, +/- 0) - Even with a loss and Indianapolis picking up a win to draw even in season record, the Titans still hold the tiebreaker advantage and maintain a small margin of error over the final four weeks of the season. Derrick Henry will be the key to how far Tennessee can go. Ryan Tannehill has played all-pro caliber football at times this season, and that's the guy they'll need if teams are able to put the clamps on Henry the way Cleveland did for most of the game in Week 13.
6. Cleveland Browns (9-3, Last Week 8, + 2) - Cleveland guaranteed their first winning season in over a decade with their win over Tennessee and also helped to silence some of their critics that have knocked their weaker schedule. They're currently holding the top WC spot in the AFC and have a favorable schedule to end the year before meeting Pittsburgh in Week 17.
The Dallas Cowboys are being replaced with the Cleveland Browns for a Primetime game... Only 2020. https://t.co/Tx7j1I10w9— NFL Memes (@NFL Memes)1607568086.0
5. Buffalo Bills (9-3, Last Week 6, + 1) - Beat the 49ers on Monday to stay a game ahead of Miami and they lead the league in 3rd Down Conversions. The Bills will be a tough matchup for anyone in the playoffs.
4. Green Bay Packers (9-3, Last Week 4, +/- 0) - Aaron Rodgers tossed 3 TDs in an easy win over the Eagles on Sunday. Rodgers is now 5th in the NFL in passing yards (3,395) and first in passing TDs (36). Aaron Jones had a breakout game, his first since returning from injury a couple weeks back.
"Whoever catches Aaron's next [TD], keep the ball." It was destiny for @tae15adams to catch @AaronRodgers12's 400t… https://t.co/T2Wjc8GKpF— NFL (@NFL)1607574600.0
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-1, Last Week 1, - 2) - Washington handed the Steelers their first loss of the season, but the Steelers are still a legitimate threat to beat anyone. They have the pedigree to make a deep playoff run, getting James Conner healthy will be key in just how far they go.
2. New Orleans Saints (10-2, Last Week 3, + 1) - The Saints keep winning and have clinched a playoff berth riding a nine game win streak. Taysom Hill has been excellent during Drew Brees' absence, but the future hall-of-famer is close to making a return. New Orleans can now be conservative about bringing him back to make sure he's ready for playoffs.
Taysom Hill https://t.co/EEWC2vN9mK— ⚜️Mook☃️ (@⚜️Mook☃️)1607279112.0
1. Kansas City Chiefs (11-1, Last Week 2, + 1) - The Chiefs reassume the top spot in our rankings. Even though it's felt like they should've been here for a few weeks now, we simply couldn't disrespect the Steelers during an undefeated streak. Until further notice, the Chiefs are your Super Bowl favorites.
He was still in college. 🤯 https://t.co/J2xGEftbxZ— Arrowhead Pride (@Arrowhead Pride)1607623260.0
In a must win game for the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul George was finally able to look like the best player on the floor in a playoff game.
After a slow start, George poured it on in the second half on his way to a game high 41 points in Game 5. The performance elevated the Clippers over strong outings from the likes of Devin Booker and Chris Paul as L.A. outlasted Phoenix 116-102.
The Clippers don't have much time to bask in their win however as they have to turn around and play two more elimination games just to make it out of the West. The Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead as Los Angeles struggled to find their identity without Kawhi Leonard. If the Clippers are to stave off elimination any longer, George has to continue this level of play.
It should also be stated that Reggie Jackson has been really good for Los Angeles throughout the playoffs and is someone that the team leans on to take and make tough shots in crunch time. His fearlessness attacking the rim provides a lot of space for his teammates.
Reggie Jackson after getting his free agency bag this summer https://t.co/kgR7AUeQZ5— Josiah Johnson (@Josiah Johnson)1624936925.0
The Suns have dropped two of the last three games, and their win came in Game 4 which saw a final tally of 84-80 so it's tough to gauge how much stock to take in that victory. What I'm trying to say is the Clippers have definitely looked the part of a Western Conference Champion the past three games, and the Suns are at risk of flaming out.
Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac (MCL sprain) will not play tonight in Game 5 of the WCF against the Phoenix Suns.— Chris Haynes (@Chris Haynes)1624923130.0
The Clippers' starting big man, Ivica Zubac, was out with a knee injury while Los Angeles out scored the Suns by 26 in the paint. So far in every game but one (Game 3 when L.A. beat Phoenix 106-92) the team that has scored the most points in the paint has ended up winning. Both teams are good from the free throw line and it gets the opposition into foul trouble so it is a sound strategy for either side. But Deandre Ayton wasn't able to get much going offensively in Game 5 finishing with only 10 points in 37 minutes.
For the Suns, they were quick to point out their own shortcomings following the loss. Coach Monty Williams noted, "It's just unacceptable the way we started the game," he continued on to compare the Suns and Clippers in Game 5, "We showed up in the first quarter, and they played with desperation."
Monty Williams: “Leadership is tricky - if you can’t get people to follow you, you’re just walking by yourself”— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel Nichols)1624922492.0
Chris Paul who had 22 points and eight assists talked about Phoenix's inability to hold onto advantages, "We've got to close quarters better," Paul goes on to say, "that's been a problem for us all series long."
Paul has been a leader both on and off the court helping this young team to play far above the level anyone expected them to this season, but he's also been a part of many teams that fell short in the playoffs.
A championship run is the one knock on his hall of fame resume, and it seemed destined to happen this year especially after the Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead. But he isn't the only player who has had their reputation affected by playoff performances.
The nickname Playoff P isn't an endearing one. It has become synonymous with Paul George and his failures in the postseason up to this point. Any success that the Clippers were going to have this year was always likely to be attributed to Kawhi Leonard, but now that he is sidelined it's all on PG to carry the load.
George entered rarified air Monday night joining the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant as players who scored 20 or more points in each of the first 18 games in a postseason. All of their teams reached the Finals. George is hoping to follow suit as the Clippers are headed back home to host Game 6.
Following a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Philadelphia 76ers and coach, Doc Rivers, are questioning if Ben Simmons is the right guy to be running their offense through moving forward.
Offense being the key word here.
Simmons is an all-world defender possessing the ability to guard virtually any opponent on the court from the perimeter to the rim. But it was his lack of offensive help throughout this playoff season that stood out beyond any accomplishments this year. Simmons joined Rudy Gobert as unanimous selections for the NBA's All-Defensive First Team this year and also finished fifth in the NBA in assists per game with 8.8 per contest.
For a player that relies so heavily on driving to the basket to get shots off close to the hoop, it's expected for that player to draw plenty of contact resulting in a lot of free throw opportunities. That was certainly indicative of what we saw from Simmons in the first two rounds of the 20-21 playoffs.
He got to the line 45 times against the Hawks in their second round matchup, but only converted 15 freebies which equates to a 33% free throw percentage in the series. Simmons shot just 34.2% from the stripe if you include their first round games against the Wizards, which accounts for the worst free throw percentage by a player with at least 70 attempts in a postseason in NBA playoff history.
With a minimum of 70 attempts, Ben Simmons' 34.2% free throw percentage this postseason is the worst in a postseaso… https://t.co/EvEcQxEe8m— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPN Stats & Info)1624244835.0
In the four games that Atlanta beat Philly in this series, they lost by a combined 17 points. If Ben Simmons shoots just 70% from the line and makes 31-45 during this series, that adds 16 to Philadelphia's series point total. Obviously, the attempts might not directly impact the losses, but from a very broad overview, it would draw the series significantly closer — especially taking into account that three of the four losses the 76ers took in the series were lost by four points or fewer.
Also let's not allow people to say that the free throw stat is overblown and out of context. It's not. Shaquille O'Neal, who is notoriously one of the worst free throw shooters in league history, still managed a career playoff free throw percentage of 50%. That's why we saw the conception of "Hack-a-Shaq" where teams would intentionally foul O'Neal to put him on the line rather than allowing him to hurt them in other ways.
We've begun to see teams adopt this practice now with Simmons, which is just flat out embarrassing for a player of Simmons' pedigree. We have seen what he's able to do with the ball. He flies down the court on fast breaks, is a brilliant creator for teammates, and is one of the better finishers at the rim that we have in the league today.
We've already touched on his defensive prowess that has elevated him to becoming NBA All-Defense multiple times and a three time All-Star. But what do the Sixers do with Simmons before next season?
The 24-year-old point-forward still has plenty of time to work on his game. We've seen other players add a jumper later in their careers to great success; just ask Vince Carter how that works. But, usually, in order to develop a perimeter shot, there is at least a solid foundation to build on — that being the ability to consistently hit free throws.
Simmons is a career 60% free throw shooter, and he shot right around the mean during the regular season. The decline in made shots from the charity stripe in this postseason is cause for concern that this isn't the beginning of a trend.
Add to that Simmons' reluctance to take shots further away from the basket, and defenses have the luxury of ignoring Simmons in the half court set. We have seen teams (like the Jazz and 76ers) that rely heavily on the pick and roll get shut down in these playoffs, and it's teams like Atlanta and Phoenix that are able to spread defenses thin by putting multiple shooters on the court at one time succeed.
In 34 career playoff games, Ben Simmons has made 5 shots outside of 10 feet (from the basket).— Paul Hembekides (@Paul Hembekides)1624277710.0
Joel Embiid was phenomenal in the postseason, so let's not ignore that fact. Also, he was playing on one knee and still almost willed the Sixers to a win. But again, Embiid was not 100% in the playoffs, which limited his abilities.
Doc Rivers answers a question whether Ben Simmons can be the point guard of a championship team https://t.co/8xL35u98RC— Rob Perez (@Rob Perez)1624244460.0
Following their loss, Doc Rivers was asked if he thought Ben Simmons could be the point guard of a championship team, to which he responded, "I don't know that answer to that question right now," which doesn't provide a whole lot of confidence in Simmons' status with the team next year. Trade rumors have already begun to circulate, and it would make sense for this Philly team to hit the reset button now.
If Simmons continues to be exploitable in big moments, as we've seen him be so far in his career, his value is only going to go down. Adding further complications into the situation is the team just agreed to a new contract extension with Simmons and is due to make between $33 and $40 million per season over the next four years.
As the two cornerstone pieces of The Process appear to be two Scotties without a Mike, the early departure for the East's top seed will likely mean a big shakeup in the near future. If Embiid is healthy, he is elite without question. Maybe Philadelphia will go out and add around their two stars, but unless the organization is confident that Simmons can avoid another atrocious offensive performance in future playoff series, all they have is a really good regular season team.
The Phoenix Suns are just a win away from sending LeBron James home in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in the King's illustrious career.
After stating that "These shoulders were built for a reason," James referring to facing the challenge of taking on added responsibilities after Anthony Davis was ruled out for Game 5, the Lakers and LeBron disappointed in a big way Tuesday night. L.A. started off hot jumping out to a 10-5 lead behind a couple shots from James and a three from Davis' replacement Markieff Morris. But it didn't take long for the wheels to completely fall off for the defending champion Lakers as they spent most of the first half trying to remember how basketball works.
LeBron looking on during Game 5Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Two numbers stick out in the Game 5 loss for the Lakers and those are 34.5 and 12. Los Angeles shot 34.5% from the field on Tuesday night and were minus 12 in turnover ratio. No matter who's on your team, if you can't shoot and you can't protect the ball, the outcome is already determined.
The Suns weren't simply beneficiaries of a poor performance however as the Suns put it on the Lakers early and often and they never let their foot off the pedal for 48 minutes. Phoenix ended with 15 more assists, had seven more combined steals and blocks, and outscored L.A. in the paint by 12 points. Devin Booker and Cameron Payne were spectacular and they seemed to hit big shots every time the Lakers appeared to threaten a comeback. Mikal Bridges was effective on both sides of the ball adding three steals and two blocks to help electrify his team with the defensive effort.
🗣 DEVIN BOOKER— Phoenix Suns (@Phoenix Suns)1622601795.0
The idea of effort is something that was lacking on the purple and gold side last night though. It didn't take long after Booker started hitting everything that the Lakers team started playing sloppy and launching up bad threes in a failed attempt to not let the game get out of hand. Well it did.
The two teams were among the best defensive teams in league this season, the Suns finished seventh in overall team defensive rating and the Lakers first. The Lakers typically like to use their defensive prowess to control pace and work in the half court with their combination of speed on the wings and their combination of big men down low that includes Andre Drummond, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis (when healthy), and former Sixth-Man of the Year winner Montrezl Harrell. Incase you forgot Harrell does in fact still play for the Lakers, but before last night if you blinked for too long you would've missed him on the court.
WHY ISN’T MONTREZL HARRELL GETTING PLAYING TIME?????@MONSTATREZZ #FreeMontrezl https://t.co/j55u9zg9kN— NBALakersReport (@NBALakersReport)1622603465.0
For some unknown reason Trez has been an afterthought in Frank Vogel's rotations, not only in this series, but throughout parts of the regular season. With AD being ruled out for Game 5, it would've been logical to think that we'd see an uptick in minutes for the high energy reserve, and we did. But not until the game was far out of hand in the second half. While the Suns were building a 30 point lead we saw Phoenix's guards cooking the slower big men of the Lakers off pick and rolls.
30 points is the largest lead at half in Suns playoff history. 🔥🔥🔥 https://t.co/UoozhMf6Io— Phoenix Suns (@Phoenix Suns)1622604230.0
It's understandable to want some size to limit Deandre Ayton, but when it's Booker, Payne, and Bridges hurting you offensively why not see how a quicker and more agile defender like Harrell might fare slowing down the pick and rolls? We saw Jae Crowder having success doing that on the other side for the Suns all night!
It's not fair to just talk about how bad the Lakers were, in fairness it looked like they were getting open looks and were just collectively having an unlucky shooting night. Maybe they all got it out of their system now? But the Suns would have beat anyone on that home court last night. Let's give all credit to them by playing one of the best games ever seen against a LeBron James-led playoff team. Devin Booker is an absolute star and this team plays with a very focused chip on their shoulder which has been manicured by Chris Paul. His leadership has made ALL the difference for this Phoenix team and it can be seen most on the defensive side of the ball. The Suns players have adopted Paul's attitude and intensity on that end and it all paid off last night.
We've seen LeBron actively frustrated during playoff games on the court, and last night is one of the most cringe-worthy to have seen. James spent way too much time talking to officials about calls, and not just between whistles. It would be interesting to know how many possessions the Lakers played four on five because James never made it back on defense before the Suns put more points on them. LeBron was seen leaving the court with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter, and sure it could be to start receiving treatment on the injured ankle. But we know the real reason he left. We can only hope he didn't punch anything on the way to the locker room.
While the teams will travel back to L.A. for Game 6, the Lakers know they are in a must-win situation. We saw the rest of the team around LeBron scrambling because they felt the pressure. James was the only Laker in the second half that kept the team functioning. When we've seen a visibly dejected James like we did last night, it's been because he knew his team didn't have it. I don't think that's the case with this Lakers team.
There's plenty of talent on the roster even without Anthony Davis. Maybe Game 6 is when we get to see Harrell getting some meaningful minutes. Maybe Vogel can devise a way to get Andre Drummond more involved offensively. Maybe AD plays and isn't slowed by the groin injury. Or maybe you should've listened to us back in January when we told you the Suns were a pretty good basketball team.