BEHIND THOSE EYES: One of the top teams in the NFL has hit a bit of a slump, and the squad’s biggest stars seem helpless to stop it. Photo courtesy Scott Halleran/Getty Images

A fumble. A blown call. A clutch touchdown. Every week the action in the NFL forces the headlines around the league to change. To evolve. A cold team becomes a hot team. A hot team slips up. Someone one is one game closer to the playoffs and someone is one game closer to their season being over. These are the weekly notes on the trends and other happenings from around the league after every weekend.

Houston, We (Might) Have a Problem

Don’t look now, but those mighty Texans — yes, the ones yours truly picked to win it all — have all of the sudden lost two of three games.

This wasn’t just the case of a desperate wild card team scrapping out an upset through sheer determination, Houston has failed to show up in a second game this December. From the get-go, the Texans looked flat-footed and uninspired. I don’t know if Gary Kubiak took cinching the division as a sign to let his foot off the pedal, but now is not the time for his team to be letting up.

Sure, Houston has already taken care of Indy once this season (last week), but Week 17′s duel will be AT Indianapolis. And, for a franchise that has had historically bad success against the Colts, I for one would not necessarily handicap the Texans as the favorites.

Look, we’ve known for quite some time that Houston has an offense. But what was supposed to be special about this season was the defense was now up at a higher level, one capable of winning the tough, ugly games in December and January. Well, all three losses have come during some of the games where the offense has had their worst day. The most points they put up during any of the losses was 24 against Green Bay. In their 12 victories, their three lost point totals were 13, 21, and 23, with 24 being the fourth.

What does it really say about the progress of this franchise if they still need to score 25 or more points to consistently win games?

 

YOUTH IN REVOLT: If the NFL believed the young, unproven Redskins were done at 3-6, someone forgot to tell the likes of Ryan Kerrigan, RG3, and breakout sensation Alfred Morris. Photo courtesy Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

Beasts of the East?

How funny is it that the Washington Redskins, the only team in the division without any real playoff expectations, is now leading the quartet? And it’s no longer just a tiebreaker.

Granted, a loss next week can completely change that story. But the Redskins haven’t lost since the first week of November when everyone and their brother in the media jumped down Mike Shanahan’s throat for “giving up” on the season.

Now the Redskins are not only in it, but they’re LEADING it. Think about it. I mean really think about it. Heading into the season, the Giants were the defending WORLD CHAMPIONS, the Cowboys pretty much bought themselves a competent defense to go along with their already-established offense, and the Eagles’ owner said publicly 8-8 was no longer going to cut it.

Face with ALL that, how could you possibly predict the Redskins would be where they are today without sounding like a lunatic.

If they make the playoffs, which’ll likely depend upon winning Sunday against Dallas, it’ll be because they ran the gauntlet against their own. Were St. Louis and Carolina bad losses? Yes, absolutely. But they’re not in the East where those losses can do real damage. Instead, the Redskins through five division games have only one division loss.

If the Mayans had banked on all THIS happening, not even the craziest of people would’ve believed them.

The Real Falcon Test is About to Begin

Lost in Megatron’s historic, record-breaking game was the little fact  that the Falcons won, securing the top seed in the NFC and leaving them with absolutely nothing to play for against Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Any way you slice it, Atlanta’s regular season was a complete success. The last team to lose, guaranteed to be at least tied for the best record in football, and home field advantage sewn up, the Atlanta Falcons were the best team in Weeks 1 through 17. There’s just no arguing that fact.

But if you ask Falcons fans, the real test is about to begin. All those regular season  accolades, they mean squat come January. And if we’re talking about January, that embarrassing loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants last season is still a tough pill to swallow.

There are different tiers of success in the NFL, and the Falcons have been so good for so long that simply making it to the postseason is starting to be no longer good enough. Atlanta is craving a Super Bowl in a way that they haven’t since before Michael Vick’s downfall.

So forget all those regular season accomplishments. If the Falcons lose in three or four weeks, it will all have been for not. And all those questions Atlanta couldn’t believe they were being asked whenever they appeared to be struggling? Those will look like softballs compared to what people will be throwing at them if they’re upset in the offseason.

 

SHERMAN’S MARCH TO THE D: Richard Sherman and the Seattle Seahawks have gone from that team that robbed Green Bay of a win to possibly the NFC West champions. Photo courtesy Otto Greule, Jr./Getty Images

Surprise, Surprise, Seattle

The dynamic play of RG3 makes the Redskins the go-to team when the subject is surprise division contenders, but how about these Seattle Seahawks?

After Week 8, the Seahawks were 4-4 (3-5 if you don’t count the infamous Green Bay game) and the 49ers, at 6-2, looked like they were going to run away with the division. Then, Seattle caught fire and San Francisco acted like the Rams were the 2000 Super Bowl squad.

But even as they cooled off, all San Fran had to do was win this week and the division was theirs. No, one said it was going to be easy. The Seahawks seem to be three or four times tougher at home, but this 49ers squad was supposed to be SPECIAL.

If you had told me they were going to lose, I probably wouldn’t have been surprised seeing as, well, I picked Seattle to win. But if you told me I would witness the pounding — the ugly thrashing — that I witnessed last night courtesy of the Seahawks, I would’ve laughed you out of the room.

How bad was it? Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll looked like a kid Christmas morning. The jubilation, nay, the pure, unadulterated enjoyment on Carroll’s face Sunday night wasn’t even shown when he was back at USC and his Trojans were walloping the occasional FCS doormat.

Now — as crazy as it seems — the Seattle Seahawks have a chance to win the NFC West. The math is simple: they need to win and San Francisco needs to lose. While it means the Seahawks don’t exactly control their own destiny, the road is far less than impossible.

The Seahawks will play the Rams in Seattle, so let’s just mark that a ‘W’ now. The 49ers play Arizona, a game they SHOULD win. But they SHOULD have beat Minnesota back in Week 3 and they SHOULD have beat St. Louis TWICE! This is a team that has a habit of dropping the easy games. Next Sunday, Pete Carroll and co. will be counting on that.

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NOTE: This story was originally published on SportsHead. To read this article and others click here.
When Bryan isn’t writing, he is on Twitter! Make sure to give him a follow @bclienesch for NFL updates and other shenanigans.

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