This week in: The NFL – Week 14 2012

The Chiefs take a moment of silence before their game against the Panthers
The Chiefs take a moment of silence before their game against the Panthers

Tragedy struck the NFL one again last Saturday, when Kansas City Chief’s linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend, before taking his own life at the team’s stadium complex in front of three of his coaches, after thanking them for their contribution to his career. How this traumatic experience will affect the lives of those who witnessed Belcher commit suicide – as well as his teammates who may feel culpable for failing to notice warning signs or help their friend – will take a long time to ascertain, and there is an obvious concern for the fate of his three-month old daughter, who is needlessly left without either of her parents. The event brings into focus once more the mental health issues of the professional athletes who are cheered on by fans, but receive very little support in dealing with issues such as depression. More needs to be done to ensure that sportspeople are able to deal with not only physical issues they suffer in the course of the game – especially those that result from concussions, the effects of which are still not fully understood – but also that they get help with any mental difficulties they face, without there being a stigma attached to it as is currently the case. Ultimately, the decision was made for the Chiefs to fulfill their fixture which was scheduled for the following day against the Carolina Panthers, a game that was not only utterly irrelevant under the given circumstances, but also to the playoff picture. In their best performance of the season, Kansas City triumphed 27-21 and did not give up a turnover for the first time all year – every single fan, player and coach would give back that victory however, if it could undo the senseless loss of life that had happened the day before.

The Falcons sealed the NFC South division title by beating the Saints on Thursday night, 23-13, then seeing the Buccaneers lose in Denver on Sunday, 31-23. That victory for the Broncos confirmed their playoff spot as AFC West champions, while Atlanta’s success over New Orleans was aided by five interceptions off Drew Brees, who failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 55 games, ending his record streak. New England confirmed themselves as winners of the AFC East by beating the Dolphins in Miami, 23-16; whereas, although Houston confirmed a playoff spot by defeating the Titans, 24-10, they are yet to be sure of taking the AFC South crown. The delay is because Andrew Luck led the Colts to an improbable comeback in Detroit against the Lions – trailing 33-21 with less than 4 minutes remaining, the rookie QB took his team on 85 and 75 yard touchdown drives to move Indianapolis to an 8-4 record and, while they are unlikely to overhaul the Texans in the South, they are in prime position to claim one of their two AFC Wild Card spots.

Another first year quarterback also brought his side from behind to claim a win on the road, as Russell Wilson drove the Seahawks 97 yards down the field to take the lead late in the fourth-quarter, then another 80 yards in overtime to beat the Chicago Bears, who slipped into a tie for first in the NFC North with the Packers, who defeated the Vikings, 23-14, in Green Bay. Meanwhile, the Rams and the 49ers came within 26 seconds of tying for the second time this season, but a 54 yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein secured a victory for St. Louis, dropping San Francisco to 8-3-1 for the year, just a half-game ahead of the Packers in the race for the second seed in the NFC. The race for the NFC East title tightened thanks to Dallas’ 38-33 success over the Eagles; while the current leaders of the division, the Giants, lost in Washington on Monday night, 17-16. In the AFC North, Baltimore’s recent fortune ran out, as they lost at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had their third string QB – Charlie Batch – as their starter, but still triumphed 23-20 over the Ravens.

Elsewhere, Mark Sanchez was benched but the NY Jets still managed to send the Arizona Cardinals to their eighth consecutive defeat, winning 7-6 at the MetLife Stadium; Cincinnati kept their playoff hopes alive with a 20-13 success in San Diego; Cleveland won in Oakland, 20-17; and the Bills beat the Jaguars in Buffalo 34-18. This weekend, the games with playoff implications include the Patriots hosting the Texans; the Cowboys face the Bengals in Cincinnati; Chicago travel to Minnesota; Washington entertain the Ravens; the Lions are in Green Bay; and the Giants have a home game with New Orleans. San Francisco play the Dolphins; the Falcons have a road matchup with the Panthers; the Buccaneers meet the Eagles in Tampa Bay; Indianapolis are home against Tennessee; Pittsburgh face the Chargers; the Seahawks will try to maintain their 100% record in Seattle when they play the Cardinals; and the Raiders take on the Broncos on Thursday night in Oakland.

Predictions

Last week, 7-9; Season, 101-90

Home teams in bold

Broncos -10.5 over Raiders

Bills -3.5 over Rams

Bengals -3.5 over Cowboys

Chiefs +5.5 over Browns

Colts -5.5 over Titans

Vikings +2.5 over Bears

Steelers -6.5 over Chargers

Buccaneers -7.5 over Eagles

Redskins -0.5 over Ravens

Panthers +3.5 over Falcons

Jaguars +2.5 over Jets

49ers -10.5 over Dolphins

Giants -5.5 over Saints

Cardinals +10.5 over Seahawks

Packers -6.5 over Lions

Texans +4.5 over Patriots

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