The 9-4 Ravens were, improbably, underdogs at home in a mid-December game. But that's because Peyton Manning was coming to town. But things got so ugly for Baltimore that it wasn't Manning lining up in the victory formation in the fourth quarter Sunday -- Brock Osweiler got handed that mop-up duty.
Denver's evisceration of Baltimore was, certainly, an indictment of the Ravens right now. (And it should make Cam Cameron rest his feet a little easier this evening.) But it's also about the Broncos and answering critics who say they haven't beaten anyone.
Yes, they lost to Atlanta, Houston and New England. Those are good teams and that was early -- the last time Denver lost a game was in October! That's impressive, and I don't care who you're playing.
And it's hard not to like the fact that Denver can beat a bad team when they don't bring their best game, while also seeing Peyton getting stronger as the year goes on. Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are legit weapons, folks. They're not Marvin Harrison/Reggie Wayne back in Manning's Indy heyday, but they're quite good.
Knowshon Moreno, who was literally running over people on Sunday, suddenly looks like a first-round pick again after being inactive for most of the season. Denver won't get credit for being the best team in the NFL, but there's a reasonable case to be made that they are the most complete team in the NFL. Going into Baltimore -- a place where the Ravens dominate teams -- and pantsing Joe Flacco and Co. only furthers that notion.
The Broncos are growing as a team and getting better as the year goes on. If they keep peaking at the right time, there really isn't a limit to how far they can go in the postseason.
|Bengals 34,Eagles 13|
|C-||Don't be fooled by the score: This wasn't a good game for the Bengals. Andy Dalton held the ball too long and turned it over multiple times. The offensive line was dominated by the Eagles (Dalton was sacked six times!), as was the defensive line. Brandon Tate caught a ball on the one-yard line and Adam Jones headbutted someone in the end zone. But Cincinnati turned a lot of freebies from the Eagles into points, and that resulted in a pretty huge win.|
|D||This grade would be much higher if it was just based on the Eagles defense. It actually did a good job shutting down the Bengals on offense, but Nick Foles and Co. just gave up way too many turnovers to make this a reasonable game. They gave up four turnovers in SIX MINUTES. It looked like Cincy wanted to give this game over to an inferior team, but Philly just refused to take it.|
|Texans 29, Colts 17|
|C+||Indianapolis blew a pretty good shot at making the AFC South spicy. Big mistakes -- a Mewelde Moore fumble on the goal line, a blocked punt for a touchdown, a penalty on an Andrew Luck to Reggie Wayne TD throw -- doomed them though. It's clear that Houston's still the class of the division, and Indy's been lucky a lot this year, but this game was a lot closer than the final score indicates.|
|B||Houston ended up winning by double digits, but it didn't dominant the way many folks expected. The Texans are a superior team, and they finished with big numbers (Arian Foster had 165 rushing yards, Andre Johnson had 151 receiving yards, J.J. Watt had three sacks), but they didn't dominate, if that makes sense. Still, they clinched the division, and they've got a chance over the next two weeks to tweak things for the playoffs.|
|Falcons 34, Giants 0|
|F||What. A. Freaking. Egg. It's a regular-season egg, so Falcons haters will point that out. But it's still an egg -- Eli Manning looked horrible from the get-go, David Wilson didn't produce any big plays, and the Giants defense was absolutely shredded by Atlanta. A loss is understandable, but an embarrassment to potentially boot them from the playoffs? There's no logic behind that.|
|A||Hello, statement game. Everyone's been beating on the Falcons the past few weeks for not being an elite team. But that wasn't the case Sunday, when they beat the Giants in every facet of the game. The defense snuffed out Eli Manning and David Wilson, and Matt Ryan looked like a high-end quarterback, tossing three touchdowns and only missing on five passes.|
|Saints 41, Buccaneers 0|
|F-||It's one thing to get shut out. It's another for the Saints to win by shutout in the Superdome for the first time since 1991.They got up too early for Doug Martin to be a factor, but Josh Freeman ended up with four picks, none of which were anything other than his fault. The pass defense is bad, so Drew Brees shredding them wasn't surprising, but, mercy, try to do something.|
|B+||It's almost a shame to see the Saints destroy a team like this, because their playoff chances are already shot. But this was New Orleans at its finest, brow-beating a division opponent by blowing up on offense with Drew Brees executing perfectly and using all of the dangerous weapons at his disposal.|
|Vikings 36, Rams 22|
|B+||Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson.|
|C-||St. Louis did a quality job of bottling up Adrian Peterson ... for about five minutes. Then the running back destroyed the Rams defense. Sam Bradford ended up having a pretty good day, but it was mostly during garbage time with the Rams being destroyed.|
|Packers 21, Bears 13|
|B||Without one of their best weapons (Jordy Nelson) and best defenders (Charles Woodson), Green Bay casually strolled into Chicago and beat the Bears to lock down an NFC North championship. Aaron Rodgers was typically awesome, James Jones caught three touchdowns and Randall Cobb made plays (although his pass on the punt reverse late was, um, interesting). How is Mason Crosby still on this roster though?|
|C-||Matt Forte didn't run particularly well (or get enough carries), Jay Cutler wasn't good and the offensive line let him get beat up. Green Bay tried to let Chicago hang around in this game and come back, but the Bears are in full collapse right now and in serious danger of not making the playoffs, somehow.|
|Broncos 34, Ravens 17|
|B+||Everyone likes to say the Broncos haven't beaten anyone, but they just went into Baltimore and PADDLED the Ravens. 34-17 would indicate this game was close at one point, but it wasn't: Peyton Manning was sharp, Knowshon Moreno continued to run well, Eric Decker was outstanding, and the Broncos destroyed an AFC rival.|
|F||Good thing Baltimore fired Cam Cameron, huh? Or not: the Jim Caldwell-run offense didn't produce a first down in the first quarter and Ray Rice ended up with 12 carries on the day. Joe Flacco did some horrible things, including an inexplicable throw that led to a pick-six. The Ravens are reeling right now.|
|Dolphins 24, Jaguars 3|
|D||Is Mike Mularkey going to keep saying Chad Henne could win the starting quarterback job in Jacksonville next year? Because, like, um, no, man. Justin Blackmon's emerging a bit and Cecil Shorts is a pleasant surprise, but you can't get paddled like the Jaguars get paddled routinely and not think some things need to be changed.|
|B||Never would've thought the 2012 Dolphins would be 7.5-point favorites in mid-December ... and cover. But they did. Ryan Tannehill was efficient, Brian Hartline passed 1,000 yards on the season, Reggie Bush ran well and the defense snuffed out the Jaguars. Miami continues to impress this season.|
|Redskins 38, Browns 21|
|B||Washington got panned by lots of folks (including myself, guilty as charged) when they drafted Kirk Cousins early the same year they took Robert Griffin III. When they took over the NFC East lead (!!!) behind a great game from Cousins Sunday, well, that doesn't look like quite so bad a move, does it now? Well played, Shanaclan.|
|D||Why did Trent Richardson only get 11 carries? Perhaps the answer is similar to the one you'd get if you asked Brandon Weeden why he threw it out of bounds on a fourth down and three. Bad game for Weeden, bad game for the Browns defense against a backup rookie quarterback.|