Monday 18 December 2017 / 03:20 PM

Airing it Out: Week 14 – The champs are here

I’m as giddy as a schoolgirl.

Three weeks ago, after my Hawks had fallen to the Chiefs, they were (6-4) and in serious jeopardy of becoming yet another victim of the Super Bowl curse. I had already come to accept the fact that perhaps all the preseason dynasty talk was nothing but wishful thinking, and that I might well be spending the postseason putting my energies into rooting for the weekly underdog.

But after three straight dominant defensive performances over the Cardinals, Niners and Eagles, Seattle has got their mojo back and the league has been put on notice.

Linebacker K.J. Wright expressed the locker room’s newfound confidence after this weekend’s game by saying, “I don’t think we’ll lose another game,” and Michael Bennett took the smack talk to Richard Sherman-esque levels.

After the game, Bennett suggested the Philly P.D. might want to pick up Mark Sanchez for impersonating a quarterback – the defensive end went on to apologize after the fact for his disparaging remarks.

Bottom line, the Hawks dismantled the Eagles’ high-flying offense and held them to a paltry 139 total yards, the lowest ever under Chip Kelly – and there seems to be a pattern developing.

Bottom line, the Hawks dismantled the Eagles’ high-flying offense and held them to a paltry 139 total yards, the lowest ever under Chip Kelly – and there seems to be a pattern developing.

Next Sunday in Seattle, Pete Carroll and co. will try for their first sweep of the San Francisco 49ers during the Russell Wilson era.

Of course the Packers, who survived a late 4th-quarter surge to beat the Falcons 43-37 on Monday Night Football, still look like the most dangerous team in the NFC.

Green Bay and Seattle faced off to kick-start the season – could it be that they’ll meet again in Lambeau to fight for the right to represent the conference in Phoenix?

Break out the spotlights

It’s finally happening, football freaks. Johnny Football will be suiting up for his first NFL start on Sunday against the Bengals.

What can we expect? Your guess is as good as mine.

All I know is that this bloke is totally stoked:

Yes, I know we posted that video before – but it’s just that good.

Cleveland spoiled an incredible defensive performance last week by allowing the Colts to mount a last-second comeback, but who knows, perhaps a little Manziel magic is just what this club needs.

Team on the Rise

The Atlanta Falcons gave Aaron Rodgers and the Packers all they could handle last night – and while a loss is still a loss, I think it’s safe to say that the performance was good enough to slide them in as the favorite to win the NFC South.

Laugh if you will, but Atlanta is (3-2) over their past five games, while the rest of their division is (1-4) over the same time period. They currently hold the tie-breaker over the Saints and would probably clinch the division should they win in New Orleans in week 16.

The Panthers looked good this week, laying a 41-10 smack-down on those same Saints, but I believe this is more indicative of the implosion in the Big Easy than it is a sign of a resurgence in Carolina.

If the Falcons do wind up winning the division at (6-10) or (7-9) they’ll be just the second team to get in with a losing record since Seattle won the NFC West at (7-9) in their first season under Pete Carroll.

As a divisional winner, Atlanta would enjoy a home playoff game at the Georgia Dome in the Wild Card round. Perhaps they’ll play this clip as a reminder that losing record or not, it’s a whole new season once the playoffs set in:

If the season ended today the Falcons would play the Super Bowl champion Seahawks – a little déjà vu anyone? New Orleans were the defending champs when they lost to a sub .500 team in the Wild Card round.

Team on the Decline

We talked about the Chiefs last week in this space so there’s no need to fully elaborate, but it is worth noting that Kansas City lost their third straight on Sunday to Drew Stanton and the Cardinals despite getting 111 total yards and two touchdowns from Jamaal Charles.

The Chiefs will most likely have to win out in order to have any chance of qualifying for the playoffs.

Another team that’s left with three must-win games? The 49ers.

After three straight seasons of reaching the NFC Championship game, the Niners’ run may finally be over.

The Raiders won their second game in three weeks and will enjoy Bay Area bragging rights until the next time these two clubs meet. It’s not worth much, but with a (2-11) record you look for reasons to celebrate wherever you can find them.

AFC Playoff Picture

No team in the NFL has clinched a playoff berth but Denver and Indianapolis are two games up in their respective division and New England is up by three. Barring an absolute implosion, the Pats and Broncos will be resting during Wild Card Weekend with a first-round bye.

From there it gets sticky.

Out of all the teams in the hunt, Baltimore has the easiest schedule, facing three teams that combine for just sixteen wins.

Next weekend, two games involving playoff contenders should help to clear up this crowded field. Houston travels to Indy and Cleveland takes on Cincy at home.

And unless Miami can find a way to pull off another upset of the Patriots, it could be time to say goodbye to the Fins in 2014.

NFC Playoff Picture

While San Francisco is still mathematically alive, they won’t be for long. Realistically, the only teams that are currently on the outside looking in that have a legitimate shot at breaking through are the Dallas Cowboys and the Saints or Panthers, who both play the South-leading Falcons once more.

The Cowboys are currently (9-4) along with Seattle and Detroit at (9-4), but since it is a three-way tie their head-to-head win over the Seahawks is irrelevant and they’d wind up as the odd man out should the season end today.

It’s more than conceivable that all three of these clubs could easily get in as the Cardinals and Eagles are still very vulnerable as division leaders, in particular since they both must face the second-placed team one more time before the season ends.

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