When Derek Carr didn't get up from a hit late in the Oakland Raiders' 33-25 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday, aside from the disdain for seeing a star down, my initial thought was something I've been thinking for a while:
The New England Patriots will have an easy run through the AFC playoffs.
The Patriots, who can lock up the top seed Sunday by beating the Miami Dolphins in Miami, have looked like the best team in the conference all season, and nothing that happened over the weekend changed my mind. Losing Carr is almost a damning blow to the Raiders.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, in my mind, are the one team that can match up with the Patriots, but history bucks thinking they can go into Foxborough and win in late January. The Steelers impressed in beating the Ravens 31-27 on Sunday, their explosive offense rallying for the winning touchdown in the final seconds to win the AFC North.
With Ben Roethlisberger, they have the star passer you need to win in the playoffs. Look around at the rest of the potential AFC playoff quarterbacks. The other four are Matt McGloin (Raiders), Tom Savage (Texans), Alex Smith (Chiefs) and Matt Moore (Dolphins). Oh, boy.
The Steelers seem to be the best threat, but are 1-4 at New England since Tom Brady became the starter and the Steelers have won only 3 of 11 games vs. the Patriots with Brady as the starter. In those games, Brady has 26 touchdown passes and only three interceptions.
The Patriots beat the Steelers 27-16 on Oct. 23 in Pittsburgh, but that was without Roethlisberger.
As the Steelers showed Sunday against the Ravens, they have the offensive firepower to keep up. The issue is whether they have the defense to slow down Brady.
The Patriots lead the NFL in scoring margin with a point differential of plus-170 (11.4 points per game). Atlanta is second at 8.5 points.
The Patriots also have the league's top-ranked scoring defense but haven't played a lot of high-octane offenses. Of their 15 games, they only faced top-10 offenses in the opener at Arizona and against the Big Ben-less Steelers.
Even so, New England's defense is good enough to win in concert with Brady and the offense. The Patriots enter the final week as the team to beat in either conference, and certainly the AFC front-runner.
Who else can challenge them with Carr done for the season? Who?
Maybe the Steelers, but that's it -- and history says that's not going to happen.
More musings from around the NFL:
While I think the Steelers are the AFC's most dangerous team, the Packers are that team in the NFC. If they beat the Lions this week, they are the NFC North champs. I think they will do that, which means at least one playoff game at Lambeau Field.
The Packers have won five straight mainly because Aaron Rodgers has been on fire. In his past 10 games, he has thrown 26 touchdown passes to run his season total to 36 and put him in the MVP discussion. He threw four TD passes vs. the Vikings and ran for another.
All that talk that he wasn't the same passer earlier this season seems like a long time ago and really looks foolish. Rodgers is still Rodgers, which is why the Packers will be a dangerous playoff team.
One of the strangest things coming out of the weekend was the poor play of Seattle's defense in a 34-31 loss to Arizona. Russell Wilson threw for 350 yards and four touchdowns, but the Seahawks lost because the defense was bad. After tying the score with a minute left, it appeared Seattle would win, but Steven Hauschka missed the extra point.
All Arizona did was move 50 yards to set up a winning 43-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro as time expired. The Cardinals had 370 yards of total offense, but it was the late-game drive to the field goal that summed up Seattle's defense Saturday. That must improve come playoff time.
The Seattle offensive line isn't good either. Wilson was sacked six times and ran away from a bunch more. That unit has been dreadful all season.
The Seahawks also blew a chance to lock up the NFC's second seed. That would go to the Falcons if they win at New Orleans on Sunday. That means the great home-field advantage the Seahawks have could be in play for only one game.
Defying a coach might be the worst on-field transgression any player commits. Yet the Minnesota Vikings secondary did that in Sunday's 38-25 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
I would fine them all. I would sit some of them. I would send a message, and Mike Zimmer has to do that.
Zimmer, who has endured as trying a season as any coach could, with a ton of on-field injuries and missing a game because of eye surgery, wanted corner Xavier Rhodes to shadow Packers receiver Jordy Nelson.
The Vikings decided something else was better, so they stayed on their sides. There were some reports it was for the first half, but there was another that said it was only for the first series. Corner Terence Newman covered Nelson some early on, and so did Rhodes. In the second half, Rhodes matched up on Nelson after the staff told him to do so. Rhodes tweeted that there was more to the story and said he obeys authority. Time will tell. The tape will tell the full story.
Why would players overrule a pregame plan during the game anyway? And get away with it for however long they did it?
It's not a good look for Zimmer or the players. That should never happen. In the past two games, which eliminated Minnesota from the playoffs, the Vikings gave up 72 points to Andrew Luck and Rodgers. While they are good quarterbacks, that's absurd.
The defense had to carry this team much of the season because of all the offensive injuries, but this latest incident of we'll-do-what-we-want defense is not a good look.
Houston beat the Cincinnati Bengals 12-10 to clinch the AFC South, but do they scare anybody in the playoffs? With that offensive line, they will have major issues against the pass-rush heavy teams like the Chiefs. They are one-and-done again.
Bills coach Rex Ryan complained that he should have been awarded a timeout before Miami's tying field goal in the Dolphins' 34-31 OT win. But why would he want one? The Dolphins were scrambling to get that unit on the field with no timeouts left. Why give them a chance to regroup? Do theses coaches think at all?
Andrew Franks drilled the 55-yard field goal to give Miami a tie before another Franks field goal sealed victory in the extra session. Even so, Ryan was off base even thinking about the timeout. It made no sense.