A group of teenagers poured beer into a sick dolphin’s mouth, and then took photos of themselves posing with the animal.
The photographs of two boys and a girl eventually ended up on the Facebook page of the Blue Planet Organisation, an animal rights group, who is now issuing an appeal for help in tracking down the culprits, the Daily Mail reports.
The Paita-based organization in northern Peru said no matter what the condition of the dolphin was, the teens’ behavior violated its animal rights.
One of the photos shows the boys pouring a bottle of beer down the dolphin’s mouth.
Then another picture shows one of the boys posing with a girl holding the young dolphin.
“We are definitely against these inhumane acts towards the dolphins, which are the masters of the seas,” the animal rights group said on its Facebook page where it posted the photos. “While many people are fighting to conserve and preserve their lives, others believe the animals are just a thing to play.”
It is not known whether the dolphin is now alive or dead, but the group said it wanted to find out what happened to the animal after the three teenagers were done taking their pictures.
The 2009 Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove exposed the slaughter of wild dolphins and orcas in Japan.
The film stars Ric O’Barry, the man who captured and trained dolphins used in the 1960s television series Flipper. He became an animal activist after claiming one of the Flipper dolphins “committed suicide” in his arms.
Now that the Super Bowl and the 2013 season are in our rearview mirror, it’s time to turn our attention to the 2014 season and the NFL offseason that’s just getting underway. The first step is to examine the offseason needs of each to team to see where they need to focus their efforts in free agency and the draft. We’ll start today with the teams of the AFC East.
Buffalo Bills – Much of the Bills’ 2014 season will hinge on the development of quarterback E.J. Manuel and the team’s young wide receivers, but there are several areas where they can improve their roster. A pass-catching tight end and an improved offensive line could go a long way toward helping Manuel make big strides in 2014, so those are two areas for the Bills to address. Buffalo does have one of the strongest defensive lines in the NFL, but they need to add one, if not two, quality linebackers to play alongside Kiko Alonso. The team also needs to re-sign safety Jairus Byrd, and if they can’t do that they’ll need to find a way to adequately replace his presence in their secondary.
Miami Dolphins – For a team that was so close to reaching the postseason, the Dolphins have a lot of work to do this offseason. Miami may need to completely overhaul its offensive line, which is a task that could take up a majority of their time and resources during the offseason. Adding help at running back could also be a part of Miami’s plans this offseason. Defensively, Miami could stand to make improvement at all three levels, although the interior of the defensive line and the secondary are their most pressing needs.
New England Patriots – The Patriots making it to the AFC Championship Game this year with a watered down set of skill players shows that the window to get to the Super Bowl is still open if they can make some improvements. Tom Brady can still do a lot, but he needs more support. New England would be wise to bring in the best wide receiver they can find, while also acquiring a tight end to both guard against another injury to Rob Gronkowski and give them a two tight end attack, which has worked well for them in the past. Help along the offensive line is also a must for the Patriots, as they need to keep Brady healthy for as long as possible. Defensively, New England has some good young talent, although they could use some more depth in their secondary.
New York Jets – Before they do anything else, the Jets need to find some offensive playmakers. New York needs to add at least two, perhaps three, quality wide receivers that they know will be productive in 2014. Adding a tight end would also be beneficial for their offense. The offensive line could use some help as well, but it’s not as much of a priority as the skill positions. Defensively, the Jets are in good shape under Rex Ryan, although they are in need of a safety after their mid-season signing of Ed Reed didn’t work out and they’re also going to need some reinforcements at linebacker, specifically an outside pass rusher.
Who doesn’t love dolphins? Seriously. Throughout my entire life, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone say something negative about a dolphin. They’re cute, curious, and incredibly smart. What’s not to like?
Spectators at the Rincon Classic surfing competition in Santa Babara, California were treated to an awesome surprise last weekend when a pod of dolphins showed up and started cruising the waves alongside surfers. The crowd watched and cheered as nearly a dozen dolphins reminded us that not everyone needs a board to ride a wave.
Dolphins are reportedly common in the area, but it is rare to see them interacting so comfortably with humans in the wild. Luckily, a few opportunistic spectators had cameras ready and caught the pod's cameo appearance on video.
Check it out:
It was not a good week for the top teams in the AFC, as three division leaders all suffered a loss. Let’s see if it makes a difference in this week’s power rankings:
1. Denver – Let’s not overreact too much to Denver’s loss last Thursday. If it were easy to control the clock and keep the ball away from Peyton Manning, more teams than the Chargers would have done so. The Broncos are still in position to have home field advantage in the playoffs, and they should still be seen as the favorites in the AFC.
2. Kansas City – Giving up 31 points to the Raiders is a major red flag. The Chiefs won’t be scoring 56 points against any team they’ll meet in the postseason, so they need to find a way to get their defense back on track. This week’s game against the Colts will be an interesting test for Kansas City, as it’ll be their first game against a playoff-caliber team other than Denver since September.
3. Baltimore – Despite being kept out of the end zone, the Ravens pulled out a huge road win on Monday night. The Baltimore defense is looking like the Baltimore defenses we’ve seen in years past, and it’s delivered the Ravens four straight wins, control of their own destiny in the wildcard race, and a shot at winning the AFC North. The Ravens will be challenged the final two weeks, but they’re playing good football and finding a way to win close games, which makes them a dangerous team right now.
4. Miami – Just about every game they play is close, but after a rough patch earlier in the season and plenty of drama off the field, the Dolphins are coming on strong late in the year. The eye test says that they’re a playoff team, and they could be a tough team to face if they’re able to get there.
5. Cincinnati – The Bengals take a big hit in the power rankings after their poor effort Sunday night. Special teams was their biggest problem in their loss to the Steelers, and as solid as they’ve been on offense and defense this season, they need to be good in all three phases when they get to the postseason. The Bengals also hold a 3-5 record on the road, and those three wins are by a combined 13 points, so they haven’t been great away from home, which would be another problem if they want to go deep in the playoffs.
6. San Diego – The Chargers get a big boost in the power rankings for figuring out and executing the formula for beating the Broncos, doing so in Denver nonetheless. They’ll need a lot of luck to reach the postseason, but they’ve played good football for the past month, and that deserves some recognition.
7. Pittsburgh – If only the Steelers hadn’t gotten off to that 0-4 start, because they look like a playoff-caliber team after manhandling the Bengals on Sunday night. If Pittsburgh were to make the playoffs, they’d be a team that nobody wants to play, which means something, even if their postseason hopes are slim.
8. New England – This is just not the same team without Rob Gronkowski, as they don’t have the red zone target they need in clutch situations, and that was evident at the end of the game on Sunday against the Dolphins. The Patriots barely got past Houston and Cleveland, and without Gronkowski beating playoff-caliber teams is going to be a real struggle, which is why they don’t look like a big threat in the AFC.
9. Indianapolis – Even after a comfortable win over the Texans, the Colts still look very pedestrian. They haven’t beaten anybody outside of Houston and Tennessee in two months and they’re one of the least feared teams in the AFC right now. The Colts will travel to Kansas City this week with a chance to make a statement and pick up some momentum heading into the postseason, which is something they need because they won’t survive in the playoffs unless they start playing better.
10. Tennessee – The Titans nearly pulled out a win against a quality team on Sunday, but they found a way to lose the game in overtime. Of course, Tennessee still has a chance to finish the season strong and avoid a double-digit loss total.
NFL Week 15 Preview: Redskins-Falcons, Bears-Browns, Patriots-Dolphins, Packers-Cowboys, Bengals-Steelers
We’re getting down to the nitty gritty with just three weeks left to play, and the playoff picture in both conferences is still far from decided. Things are bound to start taking shape after this weekend’s games, so let’s take a closer look at the week 15 schedule:
Washington at Atlanta – This game is meaningless playoffs wise, but it does have draft order significance, although the Redskins won’t have their first round pick anyway. Kirk Cousins is taking over at quarterback, so it’ll be interesting to see if he moves the ball any better than Robert Griffin III did. Of course, Cousins will have little affect on Washington’s defense, which will have to stop an Atlanta offense that is capable of scoring points against a weak defense.
Chicago at Cleveland – The Browns let one slip away last week, but they’ll have another chance to play spoiler this week, as the Bears can’t afford to lose another game the rest of the season. Chicago was lightning in a bottle offensively Monday night, but that won’t be so easy against a tough Cleveland defense. Despite winning one game in the past two months, the Browns have a solid defense, and with Jason Campbell at quarterback, Cleveland’s offense is capable of scoring points against a questionable Chicago defense, which means a win is far from a certainty for the Bears, whose defense needs to play with a sense of urgency on the road in order to win.
Houston at Indianapolis – The Colts have already locked up the division, but they need to start playing better down the stretch or their postseason will be brief and disappointing, and this is a game the Colts should be able to win in order to get back on track. As for the Texans, they are still riding an 11-game losing streak, but they’ve lost plenty of close games during that stretch and looked better with Matt Schaub back at quarterback last week, so this is a game they can steal if Indianapolis continues to struggle and doesn’t play a complete game.
New England at Miami – The Patriots are lucky to have won the last two weeks, and they won’t have much margin for error this week down in Miami against a team that needs to win to stay in the playoff hunt. Despite some deficiencies, the Dolphins are playing good football and always put themselves in position to win in the 4th quarter; Ryan Tannehill and company need to make sure they’re the ones making the game-winning plays late, especially against a team that has a history of making key plays when it matters the most. Miami is tied with Baltimore for the last playoff spot, but the Ravens own the tiebreaker between the two teams, so there is no margin for error down the stretch for the Dolphins, as they have to finish ahead of Baltimore to make the postseason, and that’ll be tough to do if they lose this game.
Philadelphia at Minnesota – The Eagles are really rolling right now, and their offense should be tough to stop inside a dome, where there’s no chance of the weather becoming a factor. The Vikings are a little better than their record indicates, and they’ll put up a fight against a contending team, but if Adrian Peterson doesn’t play, or isn’t 100%, it’ll be difficult to keep up with Philadelphia’s offense.
Seattle at New York Giants – The Giants put up a fight after starting the season 0-6, but after their performance last week in San Diego it looks like their season is over. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are comfortably in first place, but they won’t be happy about last week’s loss, which means they’ll be motivated to play on the road, whereas the Giants may have resigned themselves to just playing out the season.
San Francisco at Tampa Bay – The 49ers made a statement by beating Seattle last week, but their playoff spot is not yet secure, so they need to bring that same intensity with them to Tampa Bay. We know the Bucs are going to play hard, and they’re just good enough to take advantage of teams that aren’t at the top of their game, especially on defense. The San Francisco offense needs to do a better job of finishing drives in the end zone than they did last week, because if they don’t the Bucs will hang around and have a chance to pull off the upset.
Buffalo at Jacksonville – Nothing much to see here, although the recent resurgence by Jacksonville is a pleasant surprise for a team that some had pegged as a one or two win team this season. The Bills embarrassed themselves last week in Tampa, and they need to avoid repeating that this week and at least play with some pride.
Kansas City at Oakland – There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned AFC West rivalry. The Raiders are out of contention, but they’re going to play hard and look to knock off the Chiefs on their way to the postseason. If the Oakland offense can get it going like they have the past couple of weeks, this game could get interesting, although the Chiefs can lock in a postseason birth with a win, so they won’t be taking the Raiders lightly, while also hoping that their recent offensive surge will continue.
New York Jets at Carolina – The Panthers had a rough time last Sunday night and they need to respond well this week or speculation will start to grow that they peaked too early. Of course, the Jets may be the best team for them to play right now. New York had a nice game offensively last week against Oakland, but that’ll be tough to repeat against Carolina’s defense. As long as the Panther’s defense gets back on track, winning shouldn’t be an issue and they can go back to setting their sights on the postseason.
Green Bay at Dallas – It doesn’t look like Aaron Rodgers will play in this one, but that doesn’t mean the Packers won’t be able to score against the Dallas defense, which was atrocious Monday night and now has a short week to prepare for the Packers. If Green Bay can establish their running game early, it could soften up the Cowboy’s back-seven and create some space in the secondary for Matt Flynn to get the ball downfield. If the Packers are anywhere close to as efficient on offense against Dallas as the Bears were Monday night, once again all the pressure will be on Tony Romo and the offense, which is not where Dallas wants to be. The Cowboys can score on offense, but it won’t matter unless their defense can get some stops.
Arizona at Tennessee – This could be a tricky game for the Cardinals, but with Seattle and San Francisco on the schedule the final two weeks, it’s a game they need to win. Arizona has built up a lot of momentum over the past month and a half, and they need to keep that going into the final three weeks. In this game, the Cardinals need to start fast and take an early lead. The Titans would like to win and play spoiler, but if Arizona gets up early, it’ll be easier to take care of business against a team that’s just 2-4 at home this season.
New Orleans at St. Louis – The Saints were quite impressive last week at home against the Panthers, but now it’s time to show everybody that they can just as impressive on the road. The Rams haven’t looked all that threatening the past couple of weeks, but they’re capable of pulling of a surprise, so the Saints need to make sure they’re crisp and efficient on offense by controlling the St. Louis pass rush, which could pose some problems for the Saints. For now, New Orleans has a strong hold on the NFC South, but a loss in St. Louis could cause some problems for them heading into their road trip to Carolina next week.
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh – A couple of close losses the past two weeks have all but ended Pittsburgh’s postseason hopes, but they’ve playing much better than they were early in the season, and they’ll have a chance to knock off the Bengals at home Sunday night. The Steelers are going to have to clamp down defensively and force Andy Dalton into making bad decisions and bad throws because playing from behind against the Cincinnati defense will be a difficult task for them. If the game stays low scoring, the Steelers will have a good chance of winning, but if Dalton plays mistake free football the Bengals should score plenty of points, making it hard for the Steelers to keep up.
There are just three weeks left to play in the season, and the picture in AFC isn’t getting any clearer. Let’s try to make some sense of everything with this week’s power rankings of the top-10 teams in the AFC.
1. Denver – The injuries and the personnel turnover in the secondary are definitely a concern, but the Broncos played in freezing temperatures on Sunday and Peyton Manning looked as sharp as ever, proving that he is capable of playing in cold weather. There’s no reason why the Broncos shouldn’t be able to win their final three games and close out home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
2. Kansas City – The Chiefs accomplished two things in week 14: they put a stop to their three-game losing streak, and they continued to look impressive on the offensive side of the ball. The Kansas City defense may not be the same as they early in the season, but if the offense continues to score at a high rate, they’ll be a more balanced team and a dangerous team down the stretch and in the postseason.
3. Cincinnati – When the good Andy Dalton shows up, this team is dynamic offensively and is tough to beat. They’ve won three in a row, and if not for a pair of overtime losses, they could have nine straight wins. Not enough people are talking about them as a viable contender, but if Dalton plays well, they’re definitely a threat in the AFC.
4. New England – The Patriots are a bit lucky to have won their past two games against inferior teams, and on top of that, they’ve now lost Rob Gronkowski for the season, which will weaken their offense, much like the beginning of the season. They should be able to wrap up the AFC East at some point, but they have two road games against teams with a lot to play for coming up, so they’ll be challenged even more so than they have in their narrow wins against inferior teams the past two weeks.
5. Miami – Even in the games they’ve lost, the Dolphins have been close and competitive with everybody they’ve played this year. Miami has been both lucky and good, and now they have a real chance to win out and finish the season with 10 wins; they can also put some pressure on the Patriots if they can beat New England at home this weekend.
6. Baltimore – The Ravens survived a rough stretch in October and November, and now they are winners of three in a row, although those three wins haven’t been pretty. There are signs that Baltimore is starting to put things together at the right time, and make a late-season push for the playoffs. Of course, they face a tough schedule the rest of the way, which means Joe Flacco will have to be at the top of his game, whether he gets help from his surrounding cast or not.
7. San Diego – The Chargers have been the victims of a tough schedule and being in a division with the AFC’s two best teams, but on any given day, they can play with anybody. They won’t factor into the playoff picture, but they’re on a level playing field with the teams that still have a realistic chance of claiming the final wildcard spot in the AFC.
8. Indianapolis – They may have clinched their division, and they may be hosting a playoff game, but this is not a good team. They have a lot of injuries, and they tend to start slow, which has hurt them time and time again this season. The Colts have alternated wins and losses for the last six weeks, and that inconsistency is not becoming of a top team that will be a threat in the postseason.
9. Pittsburgh – The Steelers are mere inches away from still being in the midst of the playoff race. Despite their record, they’ve played good football for the past month and have done well to shake off a bad September. It might be too little too late, but expect Pittsburgh to finish the season strong.
10. Tennessee – Somebody’s got to round out the top-10, and unfortunately it’s the team that has lost four of their last five and surrendered 51 points this past week. Aside from their game against Denver, the Titans have hung tough during the past month, and lost a lot of close games, and for now that’s enough to make them 10th in the AFC.
We got a nice head start on week 13 on Thursday, now let’s take a look at all of the NFL games on the slate for Sunday:
Jacksonville at Cleveland – The season is over for both these teams, but the Jaguars are continuing to play hard and have won two of their last three games, while the Browns are spiraling out of control, and now have to go back to Brandon Weeden at quarterback. Don’t expect too many points in this game, although if Weeden plays well, Jacksonville could struggle against Cleveland’s top receivers Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron.
Tennessee at Indianapolis – We saw this game a couple weeks ago, with the Colts coming back from an early deficit to steal a win on the road. Last week, Indianapolis continued to struggle while the Titans pulled out a late-win against the Raiders, giving the Colts a two-game lead in the division, a lead that could be in jeopardy if they lose this game. If the Colts get off to another slow start, the Titans are good enough to take advantage, and confidence is running high in Tennessee this week after a 300-yard passing game from Ryan Fitzpatrick last week. The Titans are fighting for their playoff lives, but considering how Indianapolis has played the last few weeks, all the pressure is on the Colts.
Chicago at Minnesota – The Vikings should be excited about the possibility of playing spoiler against the division rival Bears, who need to keep pace with the Lions atop the NFC North. Chicago’s defense has been a disaster recently, and that could be a serious problem as they try to stop Adrian Peterson, not to mention that Christian Ponder played well in Minnesota’s tie last week. The Bears have the weapons to score points on offense, but it may not be enough if their defense can’t play better.
Miami at New York Jets – This may be the most important game in the AFC Wild Card race left in the season, at least until these two teams meet again the final week of the season. The race for the final postseason spot in the AFC remains cluttered, and neither team can afford to lose this game. The Jets have been pitiful the last two weeks, and they could be on the verge of completely collapsing if they can’t get their act together this week, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Meanwhile, the Dolphins seemed to have weathered the storm of off-field controversy and are playing well, as they’ve been in close games each of the last four weeks, winning two of them. The Jets may get blown out, but there’s no way the Dolphins aren’t in the game in the 4th quarter, but if they don’t find a way to win in the final minutes, they could be done, as their schedule is difficult the final four weeks.
Arizona at Philadelphia – These are two of the hottest teams in the NFL over the past month, and both need to keep winning to remain on the right side of the playoff bubble. This game could come down to a matchup of strength vs. strength, as the Eagles are the top rushing team in the NFL, while the Cardinals boast the second best rush defense in the league. If the Cardinals can slow down Philadelphia’s running game, they should be able to outscore the Eagles, but if not, expect both teams to put a lot of points on the board.
Tampa Bay at Carolina – With seven straight wins, the Panthers own the top wild card spot in the NFC and may be making a push for first place in the NFC South. However, they can’t sleep on the Bucs, who have won three in a row. Carolina isn’t explosive offensively, which means Tampa’s defense should be able to keep them in the game, giving rookie Mike Glennon a chance to lead the Bucs to their fourth straight win if he can outplay Cam Newton.
New England at Houston – The Patriots are starting to click on offense, and after last week’s win against Denver, they are still in contention for the top spot in the AFC, so they won’t be taking the Texans lightly. With nine straight losses, things can’t get much worse for Houston, who will be lucky to stay competitive with the Patriots this week.
Atlanta at Buffalo – The Bills are still alive for the postseason if they can take advantage of a weak schedule the next three games, beginning with the Falcons this week. Buffalo has a strong defensive line that should keep Atlanta’s running game contained and put pressure on Matt Ryan, which will force the Falcons to play good defense if they expect to stay in the game. If E.J. Manuel plays well, he’ll keep Buffalo’s slim playoff hopes alive.
St. Louis at San Francisco – The San Francisco defense has been exceptional lately while the offense is getting some key players back, which bodes well for the 49ers moving forward. However, the Rams are a lot better not than they were when the 49ers beat them early in the season, and St. Louis is ready to put up a fight. Both teams have a strong defensive front-seven to stop the run and pressure the quarterback, and because the Rams are limited throwing the ball, the key to this game will be the play of Colin Kaepernick, who can carry the 49ers to victory if he can regain the form he had last year.
Denver at Kansas City – The winner of this game will have the inside track on winning the division and having home field throughout the AFC playoffs, while the loser will likely have to settle for the wildcard. Kansas City’s defense hasn’t been the same over the past couple of weeks, and it’ll be difficult to regain their early-season form with injuries to Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, regardless of whether they’re able to play or not. The Chiefs need to keep this a low-scoring game, and it’ll be hard for them to keep up with the Broncos if they have to score more than 20 points, even at home.
Cincinnati at San Diego – A win over the Chiefs last week kept the Chargers in the playoff hunt, but they need to keep on winning in order to get to the postseason, even against a talented Cincinnati team. If Andy Dalton can shake off his recent problems with turnovers, the Bengals should be able to score against San Diego’s defense, which means it’ll be up to Phillip Rivers to have another exceptional game and lead the Chargers to victory, much like he did last week against Kansas City. As Rivers goes, so do the Chargers, and he’ll have to be significantly better than Dalton this week in order for San Diego to keep their playoff hopes alive.
New York Giants at Washington – Both teams are out of playoff contention, but these two division rivals should find a way to keep this game interesting. Both teams would like to finish strong, and both coaches could be on the hot seat this offseason if they don’t win a few games down the stretch, especially against division foes, so this game does carry some importance for both sides.
NFL Week 12 Preview: Steelers-Browns, Vikings-Packers, Chargers-Chiefs, Panthers-Dolphins, Cowboys-Giants and More
The playoff race is heating up in the NFL, and with six weeks left to play almost every team is still alive, but many face must-win situations this week in order to keep their hopes alive. Let’s take a closer look at every game on the week 12 schedule:
Pittsburgh at Cleveland – Both teams need this game, as the winner will be in the midst of the wild card chase while the loser will be a long shot to get there. The Steelers have come on strong as of late, winning four of their last six and looking real good the past two weeks. Meanwhile, the Browns shot themselves in the foot last week with turnovers, and that’s a problem they’ll have to get under control this week against a Pittsburgh defense that will be looking to force turnovers. If Jason Campbell can take better care of the ball Cleveland will have a chance to get back on track; if not, expect the Steelers to keep their momentum going.
Tampa Bay at Detroit – The Bucs look like a real NFL team after winning their last two games, and they have a real chance to make it three in a row this week. Look for Tampa to continue feeding the ball to running back Bobby Rainey, although the Lions are one of the best teams at stopping the run, and if they force Mike Glennon to beat them they should be in good shape. On the other side of the ball, the prolific Detroit passing attack that got shut out in the second half last week by Pittsburgh will be challenged again this week by Tampa’s talented secondary. Expect this game to be a lot closer than the team’s records on paper would indicate.
Minnesota at Green Bay – Aaron Rodgers still isn’t back, but with or without him this is a game the Packers need to win after losing three straight. Green Bay’s defense has allowed 27 points each of the last three weeks, and despite some key injuries on that side of the ball, they can’t afford to allow that many against Minnesota, a team that scored 31 points against them a month ago. Scott Tolzien has been decent, but he’s not going to be able to climb out of a hole if he faces a double-digit deficit, so this game will come down to the Packers keeping Adrian Peterson contained and keeping the Vikings out of the end zone.
San Diego at Kansas City – If the Chargers are going to make the playoffs, they’ll need to find a way to beat either Kansas City or Denver down the stretch, and while winning in Arrowhead is difficult, it’s certainly possible for Phillip Rivers and company, despite three straight losses. San Diego has had some success this season with a short, quick passing attack, which could help them take Kansas City’s pass rush out of the game. If the Chargers can control the clock and avoid turning the ball over, they should be able to keep the game close and give themselves a chance to win in the 4th quarter.
Chicago at St. Louis – The Bears enter this game tied atop the NFC North, but beginning a stretch of four road games in five weeks, although the Rams have struggled to win at home this year. Last time out, St. Louis hung 38 points on the Colts and if the Bears don’t play better on defense, there’s a chance something like that can happen again this week. In a battle of backup quarterbacks, Chicago should have the advantage with Josh McCown, but they can’t ask him to do too much on the road, which means their defense better come to play, or their playoff hopes could start to slip.
Carolina at Miami – By now, just about everybody should be convinced that the Panthers are for real, and now they’ll put their six game winning streak on the line down in Miami. Ryan Tannehill has played well the past few weeks, but he’ll have his work cut out for him against Carolina’s defense, and the Dolphins shouldn’t count on scoring too many points. If Cam Newton and the offense can get it going and find the end zone a few times, the Panthers should feel good about getting their seventh straight win.
New York Jets at Baltimore – Based on their pattern of alternating wins and losses this year, the Jets are slated to win this week, but that won’t be a given against the Ravens. Baltimore ran the ball better last week, and their defense has also played better of late, so it’ll be tough for Geno Smith to find a groove and get back on track this week. Of course, the Jets boast the top rushing defense in the NFL, and they’ll be looking to bounce back after last week’s embarrassment against the Bills. If you like stout defenses and futile offenses, this is the game for you, as the first team to reach 20 points should win, assuming either team is even able to score that much.
Jacksonville at Houston – There’s not much at stake here except for positioning in next year’s draft. If the Texans lose at home to Jacksonville, things will get real ugly for Gary Kubiak, although the Texans have been a lot more competitive this year than the Jaguars, as Houston has lost its last four games by less than a touchdown, so the Texans should be clear favorites despite having just two wins on the season.
Tennessee at Oakland – Both teams need to win this game if they expect to remain in contention in the AFC wildcard race. Ryan Fitzpatrick was solid last week against the Colts, but the Titans have yet to win a game that he’s started. On the other sideline, the Raiders will start Matt McGloin for the second straight week after he helped lead Oakland to a win last week. Both teams are desperate for a win and forced to go with a backup quarterback, so whichever defense does a better job of making things difficult for the opposing quarterback will have the advantage.
Indianapolis at Arizona – The Colts have survived a slow start in two of the last three weeks, but they’ll be playing with fire if they start out sluggish again this week, as the Cardinals are a team that can run them out of the building if they start slow, as Arizona comes in with a three-game winning streak. Arizona has a stout run defense that should be able to slow down Indy’s inconsistent running game and put all the pressure on Andrew Luck, who will at least need to get some help from his defense, with Carson Palmer is coming off a game in which he threw for over 400 yards. If the Colts allow him to do that again they could be in trouble. There’s a good chance that this game turns into a shootout between Luck and Palmer, and it could go either way.
Breaking Down the AFC’s Final Wildcard Spot: Ravens, Browns, Dolphins, Jets, Raiders, Steelers and More
Down the stretch they come. With six weeks left to play in the NFL season the playoff race is heating up in both conferences. There is chaos in the NFC, while the AFC playoff race is slightly more settled, except for one spot: the second wild card spot. Three of the four divisions in the AFC appear to be all but spoken for, while both Denver and Kansas City both look destined to make the playoffs out of the AFC West, despite the fact that the division winner is yet to be determined. This leaves the rest of the teams in the AFC scrambling for one, and only one, wildcard spot. Nine teams can make the argument that they’re still alive to win that postseason spot, so let’s look at each team’s journey to the last playoff spot over the final six weeks of the season and try to make sense of the situation.
Baltimore – The defending Super Bowl champions are still in it at 4-6, especially with their next three games coming at home, where they’re currently 3-1 on the season. Baltimore’s next two games are against the Jets and Steelers, two teams their in competition with for the final playoff spot, and after that they host the lowly Vikings, so there is real opportunity to get hot down the stretch right now. However, they finish the season with Detroit, New England, and Cincinnati in the final three weeks, which will make things tough for them.
Buffalo – The Bills hit rock bottom a couple weeks ago, but E.J. Manuel is back and both he and the rest of the team looked sharp last week against the Jets. Buffalo has a bye this week, but after that their next three opponents have combined for just five wins this year, so the schedule sets up nicely for them to make a run. If the Bills can sweep those three games they’ll be back at .500 and be in the middle of the race the final two weeks of the season.
Cleveland – The Browns host Pittsburgh and Jacksonville the next two weeks, giving them ample opportunity to get back to .500. However, they’ll have to play three of their final four games on the season on the road, where they have just one win this season, with a home game against the Bears mixed in. Cleveland is clinging to hope despite losing four of their last five, but they have to win their next two to have a chance.
Miami – The Dolphins stopped the bleeding with a win over San Diego last week, but they still have a lot of work left to do, despite being currently tied for the final playoff spot with the Jets. Speaking of the Jets, Miami will see them twice before the end of the season, and needless to say those games will be critical for both teams. The Dolphins also have tough road trips to Pittsburgh and Buffalo in December, and they get difficult home games against the Panthers and Patriots as well, so the schedule is not kind to the fish down the stretch.
New York Jets – The Jets have alternated wins and losses all season, and if that continues it could get them into the playoffs, although it would mean dropping both head-to-head matchups with the Dolphins, which they can’t afford to do. Outside of two meetings with Miami, the Jets have winnable home games and Oakland and Cleveland, as well as road games with Baltimore and Carolina. If the Jets can find some consistency they should be considered favorites, but if they keep alternating wins and losses, they’ll be playing with fire down the stretch.
Oakland – The Raiders are in must-win mode this week against Tennessee, who hasn’t won with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starting quarterback. Of course, Oakland is unsettled at quarterback as well, and that could make things difficult for them with road games against the Cowboys, Jets, and Chargers on the horizon. The Raiders will also see the Chiefs and Broncos in two of the last three weeks of the season, and while those games are at home, it’ll make it tough for Oakland to win when it matters the most.
Pittsburgh – Four of the final six games the Steelers have down the stretch are against teams also fighting for a wildcard spot in the AFC, including two against the Browns and a Thursday night in Baltimore. The Steelers also have a road trip to Lambeau Field right before Christmas, and it’s hard to imagine Aaron Rodgers not being back by then. The next two games for Pittsburgh are both on the road against Cleveland and Baltimore, and if they can win at least one of them, they’ll finish with three of their final four at home and have a fighting chance.
San Diego – The Chargers are on thin ice after three straight losses, and a trip to Kansas City this week will make it hard for them to break that losing streak. San Diego will see the Chiefs twice and the Broncos once over the final six weeks, which will be a monumental challenge, especially since those teams are still competing for the division and will have plenty to play for down the stretch, meaning they won’t take their foot off the gas over the final few weeks. Four of their final five games are at home, but in addition to Kansas City, they’ll have to play the talented Bengals and the surging Giants, giving them a tough road ahead, even if they can upset the Chiefs on the road this week.
Tennessee – If the Titans can prove they can win with Ryan Fitzpatrick this week in Oakland they’ll be able to stay in the race and give themselves a chance. However, they follow up their trip to Oakland with road games in Indianapolis and Denver, which won’t be easy. The Titans finish off the season with Arizona, Jacksonville, and Houston, with the Jaguars being their only road opponent. If they can remain in contention with three weeks to go, Tennessee will have a chance to finish strong and make the postseason, as they hold a tiebreaker with three other teams on this list. However, they have a few more “ifs” than most of their competitors, which is never a good thing.
So, what did we learn from all that? Well, this is bound to be a war of attrition, with several teams facing difficult schedules over the final six weeks. The AFC West teams should fall first, as they can’t count on getting wins over the Broncos and Chiefs. There is a lot of intra-division play among the AFC North teams, which means one team could emerge by beating the other teams in their division, but it could also lead to those teams cancelling each other out. With three straight home games upcoming, the Ravens are the most likely AFC North team to emerge and snag the final wildcard spot. However, the most likely scenario is for an AFC East team to grab it. The Jets should be the favorites, but they’ll have to win at least one of their games against the Dolphins, who may have to sweep the Jets to get to the postseason. The sleeper of this group to keep an eye on is Buffalo, who has the most favorable schedule of all the teams competing for the final wildcard spot, and that could be the difference in getting the Bills into the playoffs.
Let’s face it, many of this year’s Thursday night games haven’t been all that compelling, but this week we finally get one that looks interesting. Let’s take a closer look at the Bengals and the Dolphins.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Miami is in a must-win situation. After a promising 3-0 start to the season, the Dolphins have lost four in a row and desperately need to stop the bleeding. Miami does travel to winless Tampa Bay next week, but they’d like to use that game to build up momentum for the second half of the season and not break a losing streak that has doomed their season. Despite the losing streak, the Dolphins are just a half game behind the Jets for the final wild card spot in the AFC, so if they can get back in the win column they will be right in the middle of the playoff hunt.
The Bengals don’t have as much of a sense of urgency heading into this game, as they are in complete control of the AFC North division. However, as it stands now, Cincinnati is fighting with New England and Indianapolis for the second seed in the AFC, which would mean a first round bye in the postseason. The Bengals come into this game with a ton of momentum, as they’ve won four in a row and a coming off a 40-point thrashing of the Jets, their most impressive win of the season.
CINCINNATI OFFENSE VS. MIAMI DEFENSE
Andy Dalton has really stepped his game up and is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league over the last three weeks, throwing for over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns in wins over the Bills, Lions, and Jets. A.J. Green is still the primary target, but Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Tyler Eifert, and Jermaine Gresham are all getting plenty of touches as well, and Dalton has not been afraid to spread the ball around if teams try to clamp down on Green. The running game still isn’t great, but the Bengals are balanced enough on offense to make them really dangerous, which means the Dolphins will have their hands full tonight. Miami is average at best defensively, and lacks standout players on that side of the ball. The Dolphins haven’t held an opponent under 20 points since week 1 against the Browns, and that’s not a trend that’s likely to end, as the Bengals have the kind of offense that could put up 30 points or more against Miami.
MIAMI OFFENSE VS. CINCINNATI DEFENSE
A major trend during Miami’s four-game losing streak has been critical turnovers by Ryan Tannehill, which is something that has to stop if the Dolphins are going to put an end to their losing streak. The Dolphins have run the ball better the last two weeks, which is something that needs to continue, as it helps to take some of the pressure off Tannehill. However, the Bengals are holding their opponents under 100 yards rushing per game, and they generally have no trouble putting pressure on the quarterback, which will be two stiff challenges the Dolphins will have to overcome. When Tannehill has avoided turnovers, he’s played well this season and Miami has been a steady and consistent offense. However, despite having four solid receiving options, the Dolphins have struggled to create explosive plays in the passing game this season, something that has also contributed to their four-game losing streak. If Miami is going to keep up with Cincinnati’s offense, they’ll have to find a way to create some big plays.
Usually, in games between two close teams the advantage goes to the team that needs the win more, which in this case would by Miami. However, these two teams are not that close. Cincinnati’s weaknesses are difficult to find and hard to take advantage of, which isn’t the case with Miami. The Dolphins don’t have the caliber of defense that can slow down the Bengal’s balanced offense for four quarters, and they’ve been too turnover prone, which will be a problem against a solid Cincinnati defense that knows how to take advantage of other team’s mistakes. The Dolphins will keep it close for a while, but things will start to fall apart towards the end of the 3rd quarter: Cincinnati 34, Miami 21.