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There is now only a quarter of the regular season left and week thirteen saw the Bengals win their first game, the Panthers part with one of the longest tenured coaches in the league, and Jason Garrett looks to be heading the same way at the end of the season after the Cowboys loss on Thanksgiving so let’s take a look at a busy week in the NFL.

What I Saw

The first Thanksgiving game saw the Chicago Bears take on a struggling Detroit Lions team who were down to their third starting quarterback, but after a successful first defensive drive – David Blough completed a deep pass to Kenny Galloday for a seventy-five yard touchdown and for most of the game the Lions were able stay ahead or level with he Bears but ultimately the Lions couldn’t hold on and the Bears won 24-20. Things are still not great for the Bears but this was a decent performance whilst the Lions have lost a fifth straight as things are just not working, and not getting pressure on Mitch Trubisky was enough for him to have a three hundred yards passing day, a rare thing for the Bears this year.

Next up the Buffalo Bills rolled into Dallas and ground out a win against the Cowboys to take themselves to 9-3, which gives them a two-game lead against any other second placed team in the AFC. The Bills took the chance to demonstrate the tough defence and steady progress of their second-year quarterback Josh Allen on the national stage. The Cowboys meanwhile continue to confound, and whilst this is not the first time there has been talk about Jason Garrett losing his job it definitely feels like the problems with the Cowboys have become too much for Jerry Jones.

The final Thanksgiving game was a strange contest that saw the New Orleans Saints out-gained by the Atlanta Falcons but ran out winners thanks to some steady kicking and the Falcons three turnovers. The Falcons mini-recovery was not sustainable whilst the Saints are still looking very competitive in what is a loaded NFC. The fact that the Saints managed to get to 10-2 without Drew Brees for five games is a demonstration of how good their coaching staff is and should not be forgotten amongst the other outstanding performances this season.

The first Sunday game I’m going to write about was a match-up of another pair of outstanding 2019 teams as the San Francisco 49ers traveled right across the country and played an early game against the Baltimore Ravens. The 49ers defence were helped by the rain and managed to contain the Ravens all game but lost to a last second Justiun Tucker forty-nine yard field goal from one of the best kickers to play the game. It’s almost unfair for a team who has one of the most explosive offences in the league to have such a good kicker, but the 49ers looked to be every bit as good in this game and I think people would be very happy to see this match-up again in a Super Bowl.

The other Sunday game I watched was the Cincinnati Bengals proving me wrong on Sunday and comfortably beating the New York Jets. The Bengals defence seems to have come on in the last few weeks whilst the injuries have caught up with the Jets who struggled to move the ball all game whilst the Bengals got lots of pressure and Carlos Dunlap racked up three sacks. On offence, Andy Dalton threw for two touchdowns to break the franchise record for passing touchdowns on his return to the starting line-up and looked solid in distributing the ball getting help from some impressive catches. I’m really pleased for the Bengals as no one wants to be another team to go winless and what I liked was the talk about not being satisfied but trying to build good habits and momentum for next season. We shall have to see. As for the Jets, they really struggled and I’m really not sure what they will do in the off-season given the disappointment this season has been given the investment over the summer.

The final game of the week was a great contest between the Minnesota Vikings and the Seattle Seahawks where the Seahawks were able to withstand a late game comeback from the Vikings a finish the game 37-30 winners. There will be a lot of talk about Kirk Cousins’ 0-8 Monday night record and I certainly had more faith in Russell Wilson but the injury to Dalvin Cook and a couple of drops by the normally reliable Stefon Diggs didn’t help Cousins. Given the quality of the Vikings’ defence you would expect to score thirty points and win a game but they were competitive and I would imagine they feel like they could still win against any team going forward. The Vikings fell a game behind the Green Bay Packers at the top of the NFC North, but with three divisional games their fate is very much in their own hands. As for the Seahawks, they have the same number of wins as the 49ers in the NFC West and are looking to kick on into the playoffs and see just how far they can get.

What I Heard

There has been plenty of talk about the Cowboys as there always is, but Jason Garrett is not the only coach to be under scrutiny. The LA Chargers found another way to lose a close game, this time not ensuring their opponents had to return a kick off and eat up clock so there was just time for the Denver Broncos to try a deep pass that drew a pass interference penalty and Brandon McManus to hit a fifty-three yard field goal in the thin Denver air to clinch the game.

There had already been speculation around Ron Rivera given the Panthers current losing streak so when the Panthers lost to Washington this Sunday, new owner David Tepper decided he wanted to get an early start on finding a successor and fired Rivera on Tuesday. The two time NFL Coach of the Year who took the Panthers to a Super Bowl stated his desire to get straight back into coaching today and it would not surprise me at all to see him in charge of a different team next season.

What I Think

I have gone through multiple games this week and still the headlines come. The New England Patriots are having problems in the passing game and weren’t helped by an illness running through the team that saw them take two planes to Houston, but segregating the ill players didn’t help them stay in the game against the Texans. I don’t know if the problems the Patriots have are solvable, but I don’t think anyone doubts that if there is a solution, the combination of the coaches and Brady will find it. However, with the Ravens marching on and the Chiefs looking like they are coming into form at the right time it could be a new team representing the AFC after a hat-trick of appearances from the Patriots.

There looks to several strong teams at the top of both conferences and if everyone can stay healthy in the last month we could have an exceptionally good series of playoff games. I don’t want to wish away the season, and there’s plenty of interesting match-ups to come but it does feel like we have a bumper crop of teams with realistic shots at playoff success.

What I Know

There are only four games left and whilst many teams are gearing up for a playoff run, there are also a lot of teams who will be looking at players at the bottom of the roster as they try to evaluate who they think will be the cornerstone of turning things round next season. It seems crazy to be thinking about that already, but this is the reality of the NFL.

What I Hope

I really do hope that the teams at the top of the divisions stay healthy so the outcomes are determined on the field and not in the training room.