If it's late enough to get reminders about Christmas-- and, oh boy, are they out there-- it's perfectly fine to start thinking about the NFL playoffs, even with only four games off the docket for most teams. However, one game could be the difference between playing for a Super Bowl trophy or watching it on TV. Thus, here are the four September matchups that may have defined what the field will look like come January.
Week 1: Lions 27, Cardinals 27
The Lions were one of the NFL's handful of unbeatens before they lost in a tightly-contested matchup with Kansas City last week. You'd be hard-pressed to call them "perfect", however, especially after Week 1's unusual case.
Even Detroit decency can't be unblemished by typical silliness. In an opening weekend visit to Glendale, the Lions blew a 17-0 lead before outlasting Arizona in overtime for a tie that felt more like a loss. They went on to make up for the Week 1 heartbreak with inspiring wins against contenders from Philadelphia and Los Angeles, and next find themselves in a head-to-head battle with Green Bay after a bye week.
Assuming they keep up the pace, how large will that tie loom in the future? Just last season, a tie kept the Lions' Northern brethren from Minnesota out of the wild card spot, as an 8-7-1 tally was no match for the 9-7 accumulated by Philadelphia. The Lions are already on the outside looking in of the current playoff picture, a half-game behind a group of 3-1 teams.
Week 2: Colts 19, Titans 17
A game that could well be better remembered for literally fiery antics, this game could end up mattering quite a bit when it comes to the jam-packed AFC South race. It also may have been the kick the shellshocked Colts needed to know they could contend in the wake of Andrew Luck's sudden departure.
Indianapolis had previously kept pace on the road with the Chargers, and earned their first win of the season against the Titans. Offense was at a bit of a premium, as neither team eclipsed 300 yards, but a strong defensive effort from Indy picked up the key victory. Tennessee had just 243 yards and allowed four sacks in defeat.
The AFC South is currently in a state Thanos the Mad Titan would love: perfectly balanced. Each team sits at 2-2, and the Colts were able to pick up a big win against one of those squads, which could come up pick as the playoff picture only gets more convoluted the deeper we go.
Week 3: Chiefs 33, Ravens 28
Two weeks ago, the Baltimore Ravens appeared to be on cruise control when it came to the AFC North. They were sitting at 2-0 after taking care of business against Miami and Arizona while the rest of the division was imploding. The Browns and Bengals were doing Browns and Bengals things, and the Steelers had lost Ben Roethlisberger for the season.
One loss was all it took to narrow the division up.
Lamar Jackson looked human after two weeks of strong play, completing only 22-of-43 passes. The Ravens led 6-0 after the first quarter, but 23 unanswered Kansas City points put them in an unescapable halftime hole. It was at least encouraging to keep pace with the mighty Chiefs on the road, but the exposed Ravens defense then went on to allow 40 more points in a loss to Cleveland the week after. The Chiefs, meanwhile, kept pace in the race for conference and league supremacy with New England.
The Ravens now sit in a first-place deadlock with the Browns, and the Steelers are only one game back. Moral victories are nice, but they don't go in the win column.
Week 4: Eagles 34, Packers 27
Thursday Night Football games are kind of like packs of Starburst: you deal with a lot of unsavory yellow or orange pieces before you get a tasty pink one. This game indeed was a pink one, and could wind up playing big dividends for the victorious Eagles.
Surprisingly sitting at 1-2 early in the year, the Eagles got themselves right back into the playoff picture with this win. Say what you will about the team, but when led by Doug Pederson, they take advantage of opportunities when given to them. They won their first games when Nick Foles took over for Carson Wentz in 2017 and went on to the Super Bowl. Despite a dire situation leading into the final games of 2018, and Wentz injured again, they won their final contests to go back to the playoffs and even won a game.
Adding to the importance of the win is the fact that the New York Giants have enjoyed a resurgence with rookie quarterback Daniel Jones. Dallas also dropped to 3-1 with a loss to the Saints to keep the division race close. On the other side, the Packers missed a golden opportunity to end September with a multi-game lead on their Northern foes with a goal line interception.