Neil Reynolds says Joe Flacco must step up if he wants to keep his big-money deal with Baltimore.
Last Updated: 17/12/12 2:37pm
Week 15 in the NFL threw up some massive clashes which gave us some indication as to who the serious contenders are going to be when the playoffs begin in January.
There were big wins for the San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans and Denver Broncos, but the New England Patriots, New York Giants, Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens were ultimately found wanting on a big weekend of action.
For the record, I still think that last night's showdown between the 49ers and Patriots - which San Francisco won 41-34 - was a dress rehearsal for the Super Bowl to be played in New Orleans on Sunday February 3.
But there is a lot of American football to be played between now and then - and this is what caught my eye this past weekend...
Manning shows Flacco the way
The Baltimore Ravens hardly ever lose at home. But, to be fair, they hardly ever play Peyton Manning at home. He has owned the Ravens during his career and took his record against Baltimore to nine wins and two losses (including the playoffs) with a comfortable 34-17 victory for the Denver Broncos on Sunday night.
Manning was not spectacular but he made very few mistakes for the in-form Broncos, who have now won nine games in a row. He has been very good throughout this 2012 campaign and has proven that he is still one of the best in this modern era and in NFL history. By contrast, Joe Flacco fell flat on his face in a big game.
His numbers were not disastrous as he completed 20 of 40 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns. But he did not step up and win the big game as the elite quarterbacks tend to do in the NFL. And he really hurt his team with a silly interception right on the stroke of half-time that Chris Harris returned 98 yards for a Denver touchdown.
With his current deal with the Ravens up after this season, Flacco has still not consistently shown he is worth a new big-money contract heading into the 2013 campaign.
Running to the record
I'm not a defensive coordinator in the NFL but I would know what to do if I faced the Minnesota Vikings. I would load up to stop the run and put eight or nine of my 11 defenders within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
I would dare the Vikings to beat me deep with the long throw that quarterback Christian Ponder has yet to show he can make in the NFL. But it probably still wouldn't be enough - Adrian Peterson (pictured) would still run through, over and around my defence.
That was certainly the case on Sunday as Peterson carried 24 times for 212 yards and one touchdown as the Vikings romped to a 36-22 win over the St. Louis Rams that keeps them in the thick of the NFC playoff race.
Peterson is enjoying a season for the ages and leads the NFL with 1,812 rushing yards through 14 games. He needs 294 rushing yards to break the 28-year-old single season record of 2,105 set by Eric Dickerson, of the Los Angeles Rams, in 1984.
Peterson needs to average 147 rushing yards per game against the Houston Texans and then the Green Bay Packers. I think he can do it. Over the past five weeks of this season, the greatest running back of his generation has averaged 171 rushing yards per contest.
49ers win a wild one
In beating the Patriots on Sunday night, the San Francisco 49ers not only emphasised their class as a genuine Super Bowl contender, they also highlighted why we should never criticise NFL teams for running up the score on an opponent.
The Niners had opened up a 28-point lead over the Patriots but it was not enough. Tom Brady brought New England storming back and tied the scores at 31-31. The 49ers then responded very well to that shock to their system and emerged victorious in one of the games of the year that I cannot wait to watch.
These are two true NFL powerhouses and I would quite happily watch them play for all the marbles on the first weekend in February.
Falcons record statement win
This is the kind of game we have been waiting for the Atlanta Falcons to produce - a dominant win against a quality opponent with playoff ambitions of their own. In romping to a 34-0 defeat of the New York Giants, the Falcons recorded their 11th straight win on home soil.
And that number is significant because if they maintain their NFC-leading pace, the Falcons are going to book home-field advantage and will not have to venture outside the Georgia Dome once the playoffs begin. That will make Mike Smith's men very difficult to beat in the Super Bowl knockout tournament.
Matt Ryan (pictured) teamed up well with Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez but I was also impressed with the Atlanta defense, which has played pretty well in recent weeks. I still think the 49ers are the class of the NFC but I certainly have more belief in the Falcons now following this impressive victory.
Rodgers tames the Bears
Aaron Rodgers was in sublime form as the Green Bay Packers recorded a 21-13 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday. The win was enough to clinch the NFC North title for the Packers, who now have 10 wins and just four losses.
Rodgers was accurate throughout the contest and proved tough to bring down due to his mobility. He threw for 291 yards and three touchdowns and while the Packers are far from perfect, he gives them a puncher's chance to win every time they step on the field.
The Packers are not as dominant as they were this time last year, but they will prove to be a dangerous opponent for whoever they meet in the playoffs.
Redskins keep rolling
Pundits around the United States mocked the Washington Redskins when they selected rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins (pictured) out of Michigan State in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft having already grabbed a high-profile passer at the top of round one.
They're not laughing now.
Cousins led Washington to an all-important 38-21 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday and that has moved Mike Shanahan's men to the top of the NFC East with their fifth win in a row.
With star passer Robert Griffin III sidelined with a knee injury, Cousins kept the Redskins rolling with 26 completions from 37 attempts for 329 yards and two touchdowns.
That performance alone is worth a fourth round draft choice given the importance of the game in Cleveland. And now the Redskins have two young passers to build around for the next decade.