Goal Line Stand: Chiefs are the hottest team in the AFC

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Updated: December 10, 2015
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Only four weeks remain in the 2015 NFL season, and the playoffs are slowly approaching. But there’s only one team who has clinched a postseason birth thus far, and that’s the undefeated Carolina Panthers. At 12-0, they’ve already wrapped up the NFC South, which guarantees them a home playoff game — for the third consecutive year.

However, there are a number of teams still jockeying for position in both conferences. Some have been decimated by injuries, causing a drop-off in the team’s production, while others have just simply been up and down all season long. There are only 11 teams with a winning record through 13 weeks, with 21 teams having a record of .500 or below.

This week on the “Goal Line Stand,” we discuss the flaming hot Kansas City Chiefs, the messy NFC East, the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals and the Seattle Seahawks, who seem to be flying under the radar this season.

 

First-and-Goal: The Chiefs could be a legit threat in the AFC 

It was Week 5, and they were coming off an 18-17 loss to the Chicago Bears — dropping their record to 1-4. Not only did they lose the game, but they lost their best player, in running back Jamaal Charles, to a season-ending ACL tear. They were immediately counted out, but they’ve rebounded and gotten into a groove on both sides of the ball.

After starting the season just 1-5, the Chiefs have won six games in a row and have positioned themselves to make a run at the playoffs. During the streak, they’ve beaten some teams who are also in the postseason discussion — in the Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills and most recently, the Oakland Raiders.

Alex Smith continues to be solid from the quarterback position. He has thrown 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions on the season. He has also developed some chemistry with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who has five touchdown receptions on the year. Maclin is the team’s leading receiver, with 66 catches for 867 yards, while Travis Kelce remains productive from the tight end position, with 56 catches for 731 yards and four touchdowns.

The defense is only giving up 20 points per game, which is tied for seventh in the NFL. And they’re only surrendering 96.2 rushing yards per contest, which ranks eighth. They’re the only team in the AFC who has won more than three games straight, and only the Arizona Cardinals (six straight) and the Panthers (12 straight) in the NFC have matched their recent success. They’ll still have to fight for a playoff spot due to their sluggish start, but they’re playing as good as any team in the NFL right now.

 

Second-and-Goal: Which team will eventually win the NFC East?

Well, does anyone know the answer to that question? Probably not. The Washington Redskins had an opportunity to take a comfortable lead in the NFC East this past week, as they faced their arch rival in the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night. The Cowboys came into the game with a 3-8 record, including seven straight losses this season without Tony Romo at quarterback.

Easy win for the Redskins, right? Wrong. Matt Cassel and the Cowboys found a way to get a victory at FedEx Field to make things even more interesting in the NFC Least — I mean, East. Washington is now 5-7, as well as the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. And the Cowboys, who are currently tied for the worst record in the NFC at 4-8, are suddenly just one game out of first place in the division.

The Giants blew another fourth-quarter lead against the New York Jets Sunday, leading to their third consecutive loss. The Eagles were able to get a much-needed victory over the New England Patriots, something no one saw coming. They forced Tom Brady into an interception on the goal line, and Malcolm Jenkins returned it for six. They also scored two special teams touchdowns, one on a blocked punt and another from a Darren Sproles punt return.

It will come down to the wire in the NFC East. All four teams face one another during the final week of the season, and that’s where it’ll ultimately be settled. This week, the Redskins travel to Chicago to take on the Bears, the Cowboys will play the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, the Eagles host the Bills and the Giants will head down to Miami to face the Dolphins on Monday night.

 

Third-and-Goal: Is this the season where the Bengals will finally win a playoff game?

With the Patriots losing their second straight game on Sunday, the Bengals jumped up to the top of the AFC standings. They’re 10-2, and currently own tiebreakers over both the Patriots and the Denver Broncos. They’ve consistently gotten to the playoffs over the past five seasons, but they usually find themselves in a wild card game. This is their best opportunity to head into the postseason with a bye week, while also having home-field advantage.

Andy Dalton is playing better than ever, as he’s evolved into one of the best quarterbacks in the game. A.J. Green continues to dominate on the outside, while the emergence of tight end Tyler Eifert has given them a huge red-zone target — as he leads the NFL with 12 touchdown receptions.

They face the Steelers this week, a team that has somewhat had their number since Dalton and Green arrived in Cincinnati. They were able to beat them the first time around this season, in a low-scoring 16-10 game. If they’re able to complete the sweep this Sunday, they’ll clinch the AFC North title for just the third time since 2005.

Even though they’ve been a winning franchise as of late, the doubt will remain unless Marvin Lewis and company are able to win a playoff game. This just may be the season where they’ll make that happen. But, we won’t know for sure until January arrives.

 

Fourth-and-Goal: The Seahawks have been the NFL’s best-kept secret this season

They aren’t dominating the way they did the past two seasons, but they’re still a team to be reckoned with. The Seahawks are quietly 7-5 after starting the year with a 2-4 record. They’ve won five of their last six, and are starting to peak at the right time — like they always seem to do these days. They were 3-3 last season, before winning nine of their last 10 to finish the year with a 12-4 record — which, eventually, led to a second straight trip to the Super Bowl.

The current run they’ve been on, seems very similar to last year. Their defense hasn’t been as stout, but Russell Wilson is playing the quarterback position as well as anyone in the league right now. He isn’t turning the ball over, with just seven interceptions compared to 21 touchdown passes this season. He’s also rushed for another three touchdowns. Even without his most valuable receiving threat last week, in tight end Jimmy Graham, Wilson went out and completed 21-of-27 passes for three touchdowns and zero interceptions against the Minnesota Vikings. He rushed nine times for 51 yards and another score. The Seahawks beat the Vikings 38-7 and sent a reminder to the world how dominant they can be at times.

They limited Adrian Peterson, who leads the league in rushing yards, to his worst performance of the season: just eight carries for 18 yards. And speaking of running backs, Thomas Rawls, who is an undrafted rookie out of Central Michigan, is approaching a 1,000-yard season. He has 786 yards on just 141 carries, which is good for an average of 5.6 yards per rush.

They’re starting to control the line of scrimmage, like they’ve done in the past, and they’re winning the games that they’re “supposed to win.” They finish the season with matchups against the 4-8 Baltimore Ravens, the 2-10 Cleveland Browns, the 4-8 St. Louis Rams and the 10-2 Cardinals. They could very well win out, or at least win three of those final four games. The Cardinals may end up winning the NFC West, but the Seahawks won’t be an easy out if they enter the postseason as a wild card team.

Josiah Turner

Josiah Turner

Josiah is the founder and editor-in-chief at Sideline Sports Report. He is a writer for ESPN, and has written for Rant Sports and FanSided covering the Washington Redskins. He's also covered high school basketball for Virginia Preps (Rivals.com). Josiah is from Chesapeake, VA and a college graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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