Column

On the NFL: While some teams surge, others are running out of power

With five weeks of games remaining, the NFL is all about bubbles and troubles.

Teams all over the league are fighting to stay in the playoff race, among them surging clubs such as Kansas City, Houston, Seattle, Chicago and Tampa Bay.

Then there are the teams that started fast but now are taking on water. Atlanta, for instance, won its first five games but since has lost five of six. The Falcons will look to stop the slide Sunday at Tampa Bay, which is coming off a loss to Indianapolis but has played well with No. 1 pick Jameis Winston at quarterback.

"I believe in what we got," said Falcons running back Devonta Freeman, who returned to practice this week after missing nearly two full games because of a concussion. "I believe in the game plan. I believe in every man on this team. We all understand what we're facing. We just got to be all in on each other."

It would take a bizarre string of events for anyone in the NFC South to catch the Carolina Panthers, who at 11-0 are the NFL's only undefeated team.

In the NFC West, the Arizona Cardinals have a three-game lead over Seattle, the two-time defending conference champion. The Seahawks have a huge challenge Sunday at Minnesota, the NFC North leader at 8-3. Both teams are hot, with Seattle winning four of five, and the Vikings six of seven.

Just as the Seahawks were gaining some offensive momentum, with running back Thomas Rawls and receiver Doug Baldwin hitting their stride, the team lost tight end Jimmy Graham to a season-ending knee injury.

The theme in Minnesota this week has been these 6-5 Seahawks could easily be 8-3, seeing as they have lost four close games — two in overtime, one by four points and another by seven.

Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll bristled at the suggestion his team is better than its record.

"I don't know how you can ever say that," Carroll said. "You are what you are."

Kansas City and Houston are definitely better than they were earlier this season. The Chiefs have won five in a row after stumbling to a 1-5 start. Four consecutive victories have lifted the Texans from 2-5 to 6-5, putting them in position for the AFC's last wild-card spot.

Then again, there are five games to go, and if they are as unpredictable as the past five weeks, then most everything remains up in the air.

Three's a charm

The last three prime-time games have all been decided with a huge final play.

Last Sunday, Denver handed New England its first loss of the season, when C.J. Anderson broke loose on a 48-yard touchdown run in overtime, clinching a 30-24 victory.

On Monday night, Baltimore beat Cleveland, 33-27, on a wild play. The Ravens' Will Hill returned a blocked field goal 64 yards for a touchdown as time expired.

And Green Bay kicked off Week 13 on Thursday with a finish for the ages. Aaron Rodgers threw a 61-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to Richard Rodgers with no time left, giving the Packers a 27-23 victory at Detroit. That came on an extra play, because the Lions were flagged for a facemask on the previous play.

The Soprano

Even though he's the NFL's oldest active non-kicker, Indianapolis quarterback Matt Hasselbeck doesn't lack for energy. In fact, at 40, he gets as pumped for games as players half his age.

Hasselbeck used to get grief about that from his coach, Mike Holmgren, when they both were with the Seahawks. Holmgren wanted him to dial down his excitement for games, or maybe just act more like a cool, collected quarterback than a hyped-up linebacker.

Former Seahawks center Robbie Tobek remembers playfully teasing Hasselbeck about that in the huddle.

"I remember when we finally got over the hump and beat the 49ers at their place," Tobek recalled this week. "Matt comes in the huddle and he's got this high-pitched scream, he's jumping around and everything. He gets in the huddle and I go, 'Matt! Cut it out, man! You're embarrassing the team the way you're screaming like that. Put some bass in your voice!' We used to have a lot of fun like that."

In other words, Hasselbeck had to go deep.

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on December 06, 2015, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Postseason candidates will run on their records" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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