Third Quarter Power Rankings

This edition of our Power Rankings is special in that it encompasses a few extra games than the first two rankings did. By that, I mean the Thanksgiving games. Read on, enjoy, and if your team isn’t where you think they should be, tell me about it. I’ll tell you why I think you’re wrong.

NFL Power Rankings – Third Quarter

1 – Seattle Seahawks

I’m finally ready to admit it; the Seahawks are the best team in the NFL. They have been for awhile now, but I wasn’t ready to unseat the Broncos from this spot until they gave me a reason to. As far as that goes…

2 – Denver Broncos

They’ve given me multiple reasons to drop them out of the top spot. No shame in losing to the Patriots, but the manner in which it took place was ugly. And two weeks prior, allowing an inferior Chargers team to keep pace for most of the game was a bit disheartening. They’re still the class of the AFC, but this week’s road contest in Kansas City will say more about this team than any other game has this year.

3 – New Orleans Saints

They’ve officially pulled away from the rest of the NFC, and with their game in Seattle this weekend, they have a chance to prove even more. This offense is a nightmare to combat, and the defense is no mirage.

4 – Kansas City Chiefs

That loss to San Diego stings, but this is still a great football team, coached well and winning with fundamentals and boring stuff like defense and special teams. That’s sarcasm; I love the way the Chiefs are playing, and wish them continued success. Can they beat the Broncos? Yes. Will they? No better time than this, in chilly Arrowhead.

5 – New England Patriots

Throughout the injuries and the spurts of inconsistency, throughout the turnovers and the turn over at most positions, these Patriots under the Hoodie continue to fight, and to fight well. Sandwiched around a close loss to the Panthers, they bullied the Steelers and got away with a close call against Denver, the type of wins that show Championship caliber.

6 – Carolina Panthers

This spot was closely contested with the next team on my list, a team whom the Panthers ironically beat a couple of weeks ago. That made this decision for me. Winners of six in a row, the Panthers are the hottest team outside of Seattle in football right now, and if they can maintain the momentum, may turn some heads and break some hearts come January.

7 – San Fransisco 49ers

After a couple of narrow losses, the 49ers might have jumpstarted their late-season run with a win against the hapless Redskins. With Michael Crabtree back on the field and Aldon Smith returning to form, this good team could be ready to take that step back up to great at just the right time of the season.

8 – Arizona Cardinals

I know. You don’t have to scream it. This doesn’t make sense. Yes, they’ve won four straight, but who were they playing? The Jaguars? Texans? The Falcons, for crying out loud? These are teams a good team should beat. The Cardinals beat every one of them, proving they’re a good team. Then they absolutely crushed the Colts, a team most people think are a notch about good. So, what does that say about the good Cardinals team? That they’re at least capable of being better than ‘good;. This is the time to be showing that.

9 – Cincinnati Bengals

Two narrow losses to the Dolphins and Ravens bumped them down some, but if Andy Dalton can limit his mistakes, there is no reason (not even the major injury hits the defense has taken) this team cannot run the table going forward. They’ve given themselves a good push-start with a blowout win over their interstate rival Browns, that’s for sure.

10 – Indianapolis Colts

Now, more than ever, I wonder about this team. I don’t think their recent struggles, including a shameful rout at the hands of the Rams and the blowout in Arizona, are a phase; this is a team that has holes yet to fill. Their late-game heroics are absolutely thrilling, but if a team has to consistently count on coming from behind to win games, they’re going to have a hell of a time winning the games opposing teams want, and are capable of taking, just a little bit more than the Colts are.

11 – Dallas Cowboys

Now the rankings start to get tricky. In my mind, this spot is occupied by the next two teams, as well, but I’m not going to give out any confusing ties in my power rankings. Nobody likes confusing ties. Especially confusing polka-dotted ties. The Cowboys deserve this spot, but we’ll see how well they can hang on to it down the stretch.

12 – Detroit Lions

Wrapped around a couple of unfortunate losses, the Lions beat the only two teams in their division that are (or perhaps, were) in contention for the playoff bid. Routing the Packers, even without Aaron Rodgers, has to be a major confidence boost going forward. Like Dallas, I’m wary about their ability to maintain, but the rest of their division is either falling behind or were lapped a month ago.

13 – Philadelphia Eagles

Who isn’t impressed with Nick Foles these days? Chip Kelly is making things work in Philly, with one of the best running games in football and a steadily improving defense the real keys to their recent success. Like the two teams above them, I’m not sure they can keep it up, but if I’m banking on either the Eagles or Cowboys going forward…I’m going to start stashing my opinions in a mattress.

14 – Baltimore Ravens

Hey, who knows? This team hasn’t looked right all year, and I can’t say they looked all that great in their recent victories, but they’re starting to do the things that won them a Superbowl last year. Not as consistently, and they aren’t going to convince me otherwise until they’re in the playoffs. It’s a long road, but this team is full of the kind of experience you want in a close fight.

15 – Chicago Bears

The road ahead looks as bleak as the road behind, the path that is littered with injuries and a defense that has done a 180 since last year. They have to pick up their game in a hurry to catch up with the Lions, but Detroit could be gracious enough to give the division up. You just never know with them, do you?

16 – Tennessee Titans

A sadder tale is hard to find in the NFL this year. The Titans have narrowly lost almost all of their games, and are still somehow in a position where they could win their division given an inspired effort against a struggling Colts team this week. At this point, however, the “what could have been” feeling in Tennessee is hard to shake.

17 – St. Louis Rams

Quite the journey for this team in 2013. Hopeful after showing heart and determination along with budding skill in 2012, they struggled to find an identity for the first quarter of the season, and have spent the next two quarters trying to adapt to a run-first, defensively aggressive approach. They’ve notched back-to-back victories, and while they’re going nowhere in the stacked NFC West, they’re not going to be an easy out for anybody going forward.

18 – Miami Dolphins

Should they be ranked lower? I cannot see the argument for it. Besides a colossal rout at the hands of the Saints, the Dolphins have been in a position to win every single game they’ve played this year. All that despite a QB playing his 4th year at the position (in his lifetime), an offensive line that has been swallowed whole by injury, poor play and ridiculous off-the-field nonsense and a running game that was last seen when Tony Sparano was the head coach. Still, their defense is the most underrated unit in the NFL, and they keep them in games. They’re still right in the middle of the mix for the final wildcard spot in the AFC, but they’ve got a tough hill to climb.

19 – San Diego Chargers

They’re bumped a spot behind the Dolphins because they lost to them, but from a distance, it appears the Chargers have a better chance at making a run at the postseason. They’re a better team where it’s obvious, but a lesser team where it’s not; a great QB can only take you so far. This team has some growing to do, but the pieces are there, for sure. It’s a shame they play in the same division as the Broncos and Chiefs…well, maybe not the Chiefs, who the Chargers upset last week, but you catch my drift.

20 – Pittsburgh Steelers

Way down, small steps forward, a big step over the Lions and then right back down, losing to the Ravens, whom the Steelers have gotten the better of for years. While technically still in the mix in a crowded AFC wildcard picture, I highly doubt this team is going to make it past 6 wins. 6 wins will be an accomplishment in itself considering how their season began.

21 – Green Bay Packers

Somewhere underneath all of their exposed flaws is a team that, with a different QB on the field, somehow plays better in all three phases. Aaron Rodgers is a legitimate MVP candidate whether he’s healthy or not, and lately this season has proven the latter to be as true as the former.

22 – New York Jets

One dimensional offense is an understatement; Geno Smith has a long way to go, and so does this team’s corps of receivers. While I was surprised by their handful of upset victories and less surprised by their toughness in the face of huge odds, the eventual collapse they’re in the midst of doesn’t surprise me at all. Now, if they beat the Dolphins this week, I can enjoy the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach Rex Ryan must feel every time the Jets call a pass play.

23 – Cleveland Browns

If ever a team was a QB away from contention…well, a QB, a RB, a few more offensive lineman, maybe another receiver and some special teams help…you get the picture.

24 – Buffalo Bills

In two years, this team might be at the top of the division. Right now, they’re near the bottom of the NFL. Growing pains.

25 – Oakland Raiders

In two years, this team might….sike. I don’t care what they do, this team is going to be dwelling at the bottom of the AFC West until Peyton Manning retires, the Chiefs stumble and the Chargers stop improving at a better clip.

26 – New York Giants

After deep consideration of putting them about three places ahead, I looked back and realized that their victories, while counting as victories, didn’t exactly show a team that was headed towards something bigger and better than the terrible mess they found themselves in after a couple of months of football. They had a chance to prove it wasn’t a mirage last week, and couldn’t do it.

27 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There’s a brief glimmer. A quick glimpse you can get, rarely, of a team that could be serious. But there are one too many question marks, including at the pivotal position of head coach, to see this team as much better than what their record says they are.

28 – Washington Redskins

See above.

29 – Minnesota Vikings

This spot is theirs by default. That default’s name is Adrian Peterson. His backup isn’t half-bad, either. He should be some other team’s starter next year, in fact.

30 – Jacksonville Jaguars

This spot is theirs because the last two teams are on nearly impossible to believe losing streaks. Congrats, Jacksonville; you’re the worst team in the NFL, but at least you don’t play like it. Sometimes.

31 – Atlanta Falcons

At least they have their QB.

32 – Houston Texans

At least they have their defense.

Week Twelve Primer

We here at Kevbo Industries (me here? I here? What.) are often asked: ‘Hey, how do you pick the games? What goes into your analysis, what leads you to your decisions?”

We’re not big on giving out our secrets, but I suppose it’s not too harmful to let you know. What we do is, for each game, we play a best-of-three game of rock-paper-scissors.

Of course, this isn’t true, but it is as effective as the usual studying, analyzing and poring over injury reports, weather conditions, etc that go into our picks. We might adopt the rock-paper-scissors approach in 2014.

Week 12 Picks

Baltimore 19 – New York 13

This is it. Proving time for these two inconsistent playoff hopes. My nod towards Baltimore is not only due to home field advantage, but also to the fact that, when it gets down to crunch time, with their backs against the wall, the Ravens have proven to be a better team than the Jets when they’re put in similar circumstances.

Pittsburgh 27 – Cleveland 17

Crunch time once again, and once again the nod goes to the team that has proven themselves capable in do-or-die situations. Despite the score, I’m less certain about this one, considering the Steelers have taken themselves out of a handful of games this year. I just don’t think they’ll let this one get away from them. Ben Roethlisberger, by the way, has only lost to the Cleveland Browns once in his entire career.

Detroit 24 – Tampa Bay 14

The NFC North is a logjam of three teams that have yet to truly separate from one another, and beating this improving Buccaneers team isn’t going to suddenly make the Lions front runners for the division. It isn’t going to hurt, either. They cannot lose this game and remain a legitimate threat down the stretch.

Minnesota 24 – Green Bay 20

Without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers are somehow more vulnerable in all three phases. It doesn’t compute, but the numbers don’t lie. As bad as the Vikings have been, they are always a different, more competitive team when they travel to Wisconsin. The stars align for Minnesota, Adrian Peterson plays above his groin injury and the Vikings find a way to stick a pin in the Packers’ bid for the division.

Houston 31 – Jacksonville 24

Three wins between these teams? I’m sorry, but Houston’s struggles are still confounding me this far into the season. If they lose this game, it’s time to seriously consider jettisoning a good portion of their roster and coaching staff. They’re playing for pride now, and if they can’t win for that, they can’t win for anything.

Kansas City 26 – San Diego 17

The Chargers are headed to a cold Kansas City to play a team that is far more equipped to play in cold weather. Hell, the Chiefs are just flat-out better, and the matchup is very favorable for their defense to harass Phillip Rivers out of his game while Alex Smith does his boring, vanilla, 5-8 yard completions thing. You know, the thing that works.

Miami 26 – Carolina 23

This one is going to seem like a total homer pick, but hear me out. I’m not saying the Panthers have less to play for, because each game won is another step closer to where you want to be. I just think, when you stack the chips, you realize Miami has to play with every last bit of their desperation in order to simply stay in the hunt for a wild card spot, while the Panthers can afford to let one slip by. That’s my rationalization, and if it doesn’t make sense to you, it might be because you’re not a Dolphins fan. There, I said it. I’m a homer this week….but there IS more to it than that.

St. Louis 33 – Chicago 27

Whaaaat? Yeah. I’m smelling Zac Stacy, Tavon Austin and a Bears defense that is going to be on the field just a little too long for Chicago to win this game. Of course, if the Bears can get Matt Forte going, this game could easily tip in the Bears’ favor. It’s a close matchup, and the pick goes for the home team.

Arizona 28 – Indianapolis 24

With time ticking away, Andrew Luck will have a chance at yet another last-minute dose of heroics. Meanwhile, the underrated, underappreciated, underdog Arizona Cardinals’ defense won’t let Luck have another last laugh. I like Carson Palmer to build off of a solid performance last week as well.

Oakland 28 – Tennessee 24

First throw: Scissors beats paper (for Oakland).
Second throw: Rock beats scissors (for Tennessee)
Third throw: Scissors beats paper (for Oakland. I was sure I’d go back to rock on that one, but I was wrong. But also right.)

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New York 38 – Dallas 30

Unimaginable. A team who lost their first six games beating their division favorites? Well, this is the Giants we’re talking about, winners of four straight and playing inspired football. This is also the Cowboys we’re talking about, who are doomed to mediocrity and to losing games like this because of…well…what does the why matter? The results speak for themselves.

Denver 31 – New England 27

Brady Vs Manning? No. Bellicheck Versus Manning is more like it. Unbeknownst to many, the Hoodie’s defensive schemes are constantly in flux with his opponent on a weekly basis, and when it comes down to it, it will be his mind and his defensive players’ ability to execute versus maybe the sharpest offensive mind in the history of NFL quarterbacks. Peyton’s history in the Patriots’ hometown has been rough, but this is a different team, with a different skill set…and Manning is older, wiser, and better than he ever was because of it. Perhaps wiser than the Hooded Genius.

San Fransisco 38 – Washington 24

No, I don’t think the cross-country trip is going to stop Colin Kaepernick from switching the lights back on against the Redskins’ porous pass defense. Not at all. Not even a little bit.

Fantasy Start ’em/Sit ’em

Start ’em

Colin Kaepernick – QB – San Fransisco 49ers
Alex Smith – QB – Kansas City Chiefs
Zac Stacy – RB – St. Louis Rams
Andre Brown – RB – New York Giants
Dwayne Bowe – WR – Kansas City Chiefs
Larry Fitzgerald – WR – Arizona Cardinals
Garrett Graham – TE – Houston Texans
Delanie Walker – TE – Tennessee Titans
Justin Tucker – K – Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh Steelers D/ST

Sit ’em

Ben Roethlisberger – QB – Pittsburgh Steelers
Josh McCown – QB – Chicago Bears
Ryan Matthews – RB – San Diego Chargers
Eddie Lacy – RB – Green Bay Packers
Keenan Allen – WR – San Diego Chargers
T.Y Hilton – WR – Indianapolis Colts
Heath Miller – TE – Pittsburgh Steelers
Charles Clay – TE – Miami Dolphins
Adam Vinatieri – K – Indianapolis Colts
Green Bay Packers D/ST

Tuesday Morning Double-Back

Robbery, assault and other forms of mayhem highlight our latest edition of the TMDB. Still tinkering with the format, as you’ll notice. My goal is to streamline it for maximum readability and enjoyment while still leaving room for the hard facts and stats that you crave.

And away we go.

Indianapolis Struggles, Tennessee Lacks Ability To Capitalize

The Recap:

After digging into the Colts with two first quarter touchdowns (props to Chris Johnson giving me 20 fantasy points, a legitimate performance for a change), the Titans proceeded to take their foot off the pedal and let the Colts pull up, and away, with the last game Tennessee needed to win before their season was tanked. Lack of talent, lack of effort, lack of whatever; this Titans team is lacking something, and it needs to be looked at very closely in-house if they’re going to stay competitive.

The Colts, meanwhile, came into the game the favorites, and didn’t really play like it. Their penchant for come-from-behind victories is great for headlines, but it signifies a team that can’t pull away from teams that flat out aren’t their equal talent-wise. They’re destined for the playoffs with the AFC South a mess behind them, but how far they go once they’re there depends a great deal on their ability to attack early and stay consistent.

The Numbers: Adam Vinatieri, the oldest active player in the NFL at 40 years young, hit three field goals, including one from 48 and one from 50 yards out. I realize kicker isn’t exactly a position where age takes its toll, but in the end, his field goals proved the difference in a 3-point outcome and it was his most clutch performance since the glory days of kicking the Patriots through the playoffs.

The Next Steps: The Titans get to test their meddle against a beatable Raiders team (which means the Titans will probably lose), and the Colts have a much more formidable test as they fly out to the desert to take on the Cardinals. Neither game looks promising for the road teams, to be sure.

Jets Aim For Postseason, Forget They Still Had To Play On Sunday

The Recap:

It seemed like a juicy bit of steak to the outsider looking in; a Bills team struggling to put it all together, weather conditions that dictated a run-first, defensively dominated approach, and the Jets coming off of a solid win. Knowing their playoff destiny hung in the balance of divisional games first and foremost, the Jets, almost without a second thought, proceeded to lay an unbelievable egg. From the first play, where Bills DT Marcel Darius hit Geno Smith hard enough to knock the wind out of him, the tone was set; Buffalo were on a mission, and the Jets were thinking about week 12 at halftime.

It’s hard to put a finger on how inconsistent this Jets team is. They got decimated by the Bengals in week 9, only to turn around and best a superior Saints team. Coming off a bye, they apparently didn’t realize they had a challenge waiting for them in Buffalo. The Jets aren’t a playoff team, plain and simple. Playoff teams don’t overlook anybody. The news that HC Rex Ryan spent the night before at a local Dave And Buster’s instead of running through the final preparations probably had little or nothing to do with the loss, but it’s downright laughable considering the outcome on Sunday.

The Numbers: If you needed proof of the Jets’ inconsistency: they are the only team ever to alternate wins and losses throughout their first ten games of a season.

The Next Steps: The Jets take a small trip south to Baltimore, where they’ll be playing a team almost as inconsistent as they are, while the Bills get a week off to celebrate a nice divisional massacre.

The Football Gods Continue To Ice The Ravens

From the power outage in last year’s Superbowl to the weather delay in their opening game against the Broncos, it seems the powers above have it out for the Ravens. After taking an early 10-0 lead, a fierce storm caused a delay of over two hours. When play resumed, the game turned into a back-and-forth struggle to do anything at all. The Ravens botched several opportunities to take the game, letting the struggling Bears take it to overtime, collapsing defensively on the last drive and setting up a chip shot field goal and a disheartening loss.

Both teams are still firmly in their respective playoff pictures, but you get the sense that the Ravens are a step behind after this loss, and not just because of the loss. Their play for the majority of the season has been suspect, starting with a poor offensive line and shaky play from Joe Flacco and Ray Rice. Their defense is maintaining, but it doesn’t have the firepower to carry this team to yet another championship. The Bears are tough, no matter how a game turns out, but toughness isn’t going to get you much further if your talent is on the sidelines instead of on the field.

The Numbers: Ray Rice’s first carry, a burst of 47 yards, exceeded the total amount of yards he’d gained in any game this year except for week 5 against the Dolphins.
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The Next Steps: The Ravens host the Jets, who will probably continue their win-loss-win-loss streak regardless of the matchup. The Bears are on the road, traveling to St. Louis to a play a Rams team that has the ability and the fight to make this somewhat of a “trap” game for Chicago. While Josh McCown/McNown/McNabb has been playing solid in Jay Cutler’s place, the Bears have already ruled Cutler out for week 12, and this gives a solid Rams defense the extra time to prep for the backup QB.

Jason Campbell Attempts 56 Passes, And…You Know The Rest

The Summary: Why is Jason Campbell attempting 56 passes? Because the Browns feature back is…Willis McGahee, one the last bit of his last leg. Regardless, the Bengals defense dictated the Browns offense, and took advantage of it for four disastrous quarters. Andy Dalton is still a mess, despite three touchdown passes, and it’s starting to become more and more transparent that there isn’t a team in Ohio that has their QB position solidified.

I had high hopes for the Browns in this game, and they took a major step in the wrong direction. They’re still a decent team, and I think they finally have a head coach that knows what he’s doing and how to get it done, but they’re a year or two of development away from competing consistently.

The Numbers: Browns CB Joe Haden caught as many of A.J. Green’s targets as Green did; Green caught two passes for 7 yards, while Haden intercepted Green’s other two targets in a game where the star WR was absolutely shut down. Joe Haden is an elite CB, and I feel like not enough people understand that.

The Next Steps: The Bengals get a bye week, which could benefit them in the injury department while gearing them up for their inevitable playoff run. The Browns get to host a Steelers team coming off of a huge upset win over the Lions, and had better come up with a gameplan that doesn’t involve Campbell throwing 50+ passes if they want to pull out the ‘W’.

The Score Is Not The Score In Philadelphia

The Recap: 24-16? No, 24-0. The Eagles absolutely owned the Redskins for three quarters, but were hesitant to close the game out, something that has become a bit of an issue for first-year HC Chip Kelly. It wasn’t all that surprising to see the Redskins pull within a score by the end; it was surprising that the Eagles had stopped scoring at all.

Regardless, the Eagles are now sitting atop the pile of trash that the NFC East has represented for most of the season, while the Redskins most likely just saw their last hope at consecutive playoff berths die. The salary cap penalties, the inexperience and total lack of everything a defense needs in order to be effective, and perhaps just some old-fashioned bad luck have left Washington with a season they’re going to want to forget the day it’s finished.

The Numbers: Nick Foles didn’t throw a TD pass…but he also didn’t throw an interception, bringing his streak of passes without a turnover to 199. There is no way Chip Kelly can even consider Michael Vick after looking at that number. None whatsoever.

The Next Steps: The Eagles are off, while the Redskins are in the unenviable position of having to play a primetime game, in front of their disappointed home crowd, against a 49ers team that is going to be chomping at the bit after what took place this week in their game against the Saints.

The Steelers Steal One, The Lions Won’t Be Sleeping Tonight

The Recap: This game had it all. Big Ben playing his best game of the year, Calvin Johnson being Chris Johnson, a 2nd quarter run of 27 points by the Lions (which, oddly enough, would be all of their points for the game), and an absolutely laughable fake field goal attempt by the Lions. That play didn’t exactly lose the game for them, but it didn’t help matters at all.

It’s hard to say this game means much of anything for the Steelers, beyond proving to themselves they’re capable of beating a good team when they’re not playing at their best. It was more telling about a Lions team that, despite carrying over the same ultra-talented roster for several years, and adding good pieces to it along the way, cannot win when they’re expected to. They just can’t, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

The Numbers: Megatron’s 179 yard first half was the 10th highest game total of receiving yardage for any wideout this year. Once again…
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The Next Steps: The Steelers have a good chance at putting together a winning streak against a reeling Cleveland team. The Lions are hosting the Buccaneers. If Detroit somehow, in some unimaginable way, loses this game, their bid for NFC North supremacy will either be ruined or, if they turn things around and manage to take it anyway, should have an asterisk put next to it.

The Buccaneers Are On A Winning Streak. What.

The Recap: I can’t say I didn’t see it coming, but the Falcons have seemingly lost all pride for the game outside of Tony Gonzalez’s unwavering positive approach to each and every week. The Bucs never were in a position to lose, and the Falcons now have the same record as a team that hadn’t won a game before last week.

It isn’t just the lack of Julio Jones. Any idiot can see that. What it is, and what the Falcons need to address with the utmost seriousness in the offseason, is ridiculously poor line play on both sides of the ball. The decision to let Brent Grimes walk (from this Miami Dolphins fans, my heartfelt thanks to the Falcons for this) and their replacing John Abraham with John Abraham (I mean Osi Umenyiora…I think) as their primary pass rusher did their defense no favors. They’d better start doing themselves some favors, or Matt Ryan is going to be the next Dan Marino. Not that that’s a bad thing…unless you want to win a Superbowl with a QB that is good enough to win one, you know.

The Numbers: Tony G passed the 50-catch mark once again this year, which is his 16th with at least that many. There’s only been one other man in the NFL to hit that number more often: Jerry Rice (17).

The Next Steps: The Buccaneers take a trip up to Detroit for a game that I’m going to end up picking on a coin toss, while the Falcons will have to follow up their embarrassing loss with a trip to the Superdome, where embarrassment is something the Saints seem to have a supernatural way of dishing out. At least it’s a Thursday game. Best to pull the band-aid off fast, right?

The Jaguars Make Carson Palmer Look Like Carson Palmer

The Recap: I mean the old Carson Palmer. You know, the one that spent his first few seasons being a great quarterback in Cincinnati? That guy. 419 yards, two scores and (gasp!) no interceptions is a stat line that Palmer will never see again. Mark my words.

The Cardinals had no business losing this game, and they didn’t, which in this season’s landscape is enough to make them playoff favorites if you narrow your focus down to one week. The best part of the game for the Jaguars? DE Jason Babin ripping out a chunk of Cardinals RB Andre Ellington’s dreadlocks, holding them up like a hunting trophy, and then tossing them on the ground. Entertainment at its finest, folks.

The Numbers: Danny Noble’s (who?) big touchdown catch was the first time the Jaguars have scored a touchdown at home this year. Technically, they played a “home” game in England and scored there, but that doesn’t really count, does it? Nope.

Raiders, Texans, A Quarterback Free-For-All

The Recap: Case Keenum gets benched for seemingly no reason, Matt Schaub does nothing to justify it, and some undrafted guy named McGloin (McNown/McCown/McNabb?) leads the Raiders to a pretty decent win against a team that has stepped on their own toes enough to leave shoe imprints across their feet.

While the Raiders get to celebrate a victory, you almost have to pity the Texans, who came into this season with Superbowl aspirations. They’re 2-8, just like the Falcons. These teams need hugs.

The Numbers: Here’s a stat that makes no sense regardless of how you look at it: the Raiders have scored an opening-drive TD in five games this year, which is the same amount as the Broncos, and the highest amount in the league.

The Next Steps: The Raiders host another coin-toss of a game against the up and down Titans. The Texans should talk to the Jaguars about maybe working out a deal where they don’t play the game at all, and just call it a tie. Nobody wants to see Houston lose to the Jaguars outside of Jacksonville, do they? Hell, I’m sure there are some truly compassionate souls in Jacksonville who don’t want to see it, either.

Robbery.

The Recap: The 49ers were most likely robbed. We’ve all seen the play. We all know the only reason a flag was called is because Drew Brees happens to be short (for a QB). No guarantee the 49ers win after the turnover, but there wasn’t much time at all left on the clock, and they would have had the ball in decent enough position to push forward enough for a field goal.

The Saints, hopefully, realize the Football Gods were shining on them this week. The NFL, meanwhile, needs to pull their collective heads from their collective asses and realize they’re a multi-billion dollar enterprise that can afford to let its grinders get ground up. These guys know what they’re signing up for, believe me. There’s no need to baby them. We, as football fans, couldn’t care less if Tom Brady or Drew Brees or anyone else is hurt for a week or a season. We’re going to watch the game anyway, because it’s the GAME we love, the GAME. Backups play the game, too.

The Numbers: Robbery.

The Next Steps: The Saints get a gimme with the Falcons coming to town, while the 49ers get to take their rage out on a Washington team that is staggering like Joe Frazier after a big right from George Foreman.

Quick, Somebody Put A Starting QB In Against The Giants

The Recap: The Football Giants’ winning streak has come at the hands of a series of backup/third string/McCown/McNown/McNabb-like QBs, but I’m not going to take too much from them. Tom Coughlin has these guys playing like they’re going to the Superbowl, for the most part (Eli is still struggling some). The defense has taken big strides. Jon Beason deserves recognition as an MVP candidate even if his arrival just coincidentally woke up a stagnant defense.

As long as we’re talking about MVPs, the past two weeks have proven to us, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Aaron Rodgers should be in consideration for the award whether he’s playing or not. The Packers are going in the wrong direction, and are going to kill somebody (figuratively speaking…and that was a line from “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”. Just wanted to squeeze it in somewhere.)

The Numbers: During the Giants four-game winning streak, their defense has allowed the 2nd-least amount of yards per play in the NFL. Quite an accomplishment when you recall how bad they were a month ago.

The Next Steps: No word yet on Rodgers’ possible return this week when Green Bay hosts Minnesota, which makes it yet another coin-tosser. The Giants are hosting the Cowboys, coming off a bye week where they most likely spent their time listening to Jerry Jones quote inspirational movie lines as a motivational tactic.

Seattle Wins The Games They’re Supposed To

The Recap: Even though they’re known to do it with a flair for the dramatic, late-game heroics, they still do it. No dramatics this week, though, which is what putting up 41 points will typically do for you. I had higher hopes for the Vikings at the beginning of the season, and looking at how they’ve been playing, I’m almost ashamed of myself.

Adrian Peterson is in the prime of his career, but at some point in the next two or three seasons, he’ll most likely hit that wall that most RBs hit in their early 30’s. That’s going to be the common consensus amongst football fans. Me? He’s going to be playing, and at a consistent level, as long as Emmitt Smith did. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. People call him All Day. I call him the Manimal. I like mine better.

The Numbers: More proof that the Seahawks’ defense is ridiculously good: they cut Adrian Peterson’s YPC and yards after contact numbers for his first nine games of the year nearly in half.

The Next Steps: This Vikings team is bad. It is. But they have at least a fighter’s chance of pulling off a win in Green Bay, so long as Aaron Rodgers is holding a clipboard. The Seahawks end up being the biggest benefactors of having the latest available bye week, as they can rest, recuperate, heal up a bit and prepare themselves for what could very likely be a winning streak that ends with them holding the Lombardi trophy.

I Love Brent Grimes

The Recap: I’m not naive; I realize Grimes wasn’t the sole reason the Dolphins beat the Chargers to the tune of 23-20 this week. In a game we absolutely had to win, we found a way to do it, but man do I love me some Grimes. Almost as much as I love me some Cam Wake.

This one has to be a killer for the Chargers, who cannot seem to get out of their own way long enough to be considered a legitimate contender. I rarely pick against my own team, but I had the Chargers taking this one in a close fight. The fact that they didn’t certainly makes me happy, but at the same time, it makes me wonder just what San Diego has to do to turn things in their favor moving forward. Running the ball might help, but I could say the same thing about the Dolphins.

The Numbers: Not a number, but did you see that catch-and-run TD by Charles Clay? The man he ran over must have owed him money.

The Next Steps: The Dolphins are going to have to reach down even deeper, with a Panthers team on a 6-game winning streak coming to town. The Chargers have a decent chance to beat the Chiefs, as they match up favorably, but the likelihood of that actually happening in Arrowhead is slim to none.

Now I Eat My Own Words, Enjoy

The Recap: The Broncos laid the blueprint for beating the Chiefs; play decent defense and have the Broncos’ offense. Honestly, I know I called this one the other way, but I don’t think there’s another team in the league that can beat these Chiefs when they’re on their game.

There, the words have been eaten. Happy? Not as happy as the Broncos are, I’m sure. They’re now in prime position to take the division, and most likely will, as the Chiefs’ homefield advantage in their rematch two weeks from now probably won’t make a bit of difference in the end.

The Numbers: Coming into the game, the Chiefs’ defense was the best 4th quarter D in football, allowing a paltry 15 total points over nine games. True to form, they held the Broncos to 3 in the 4th, but by that point, it didn’t quite matter.

The Next Steps: Tom Brady Vs. Peyton Manning. Another classic in the making. Alex Smith Vs. Phillip Rivers. Another…well, the Chiefs have a better chance at a win next week, but I expect both teams to keep pace with one another until they meet again in an even bigger week 13 matchup.

Robbery? You Be The Judge

The Recap: I won’t take a single thing from the Panthers. They played the Patriots extremely well all game, but what happened at the end of the game was, to my eyes at least, an absolute travesty. The Pats should have had one more shot after a blatant pass interference/holding on LB Luke Kuechly. He was all but giving Rob Gronkowski a hug. The worst part of the entire thing was that no explanation was given for the initial flag being overturned, which left millions of people absolutely baffled. Their initial explanation of the pass being uncatchable is, once again from my perspective, laughable.

But it is what it is. The Panthers are playing the kind of football, at the time of year, that nobody playing against them wants to see. Great defense, unpredictable offense. A recipe for success. Let’s see if they can maintain it.

The Numbers: 3rd Downs win games. The Panthers were 8-of-11 on converting third downs, including 2-of-2 on their last drive. That’s the 2nd-best rate for any team in any game this year. That’s clutch.

What’s Next: The Panthers head down to Miami to play a desperate Dolphins team, which could give them even more of a fight than the Patriots did. The Patriots are probably the most unfortunate team at the moment, having to face the Broncos after losing in such gut-wrenching fashion. At least they don’t have to travel for it.

Final Thoughts

This will be the first week I skip my awards, simply because I just scrolled up and realized how long this post is. I’m going to have to keep fiddling with the format, I think…unless you like it this way? Feedback is highly appreciated.

My fingers hurt.

ROBBERY.

Week Eleven Primer

How many of us have had this week’s big matchup circled for a month or so now? You know the game. Now, know the way things will (should, could, might, maybe) play out.

Week 11 Picks

New York 27 – Buffalo 13

The up-and-down Jets have to begin solidifying their bid for a postseason berth, and winning divisional games is the absolute best way to do it. In the back of my mind, I can easily envision the Jets letting the Bills past them in Buffalo. But logic mostly dictates that the better team, and the team that has played better so far this year, will win this game. That’s the Jets.

Chicago 24 – Baltimore 21

This matchup is more even than you might expect, with both teams dealing with their share of problems. For Chicago, injuries are starting to take their toll, with CB Charles Tillman done for the rest of the year and QB Jay Cutler out at least another week with an ankle sprain. In Baltimore, the issue is less one of health and more about consistency, which they’ve lacked since the end of last season. When it’s right down the line, I tend to give the nod to the home team.

Cleveland 30 – Cincinnati 24

The Battle of Ohio is once again upon us. Earlier in the year, the Browns defense stifled the Bengals in Cleveland to the tune of 6 points, taking the win. I don’t think they do the same to the Bengals on their home turf, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the Cincinnati team we’ve seen the past couple of weeks is the team we’ll see from here on out. That team that was lighting up the scoreboards and playing top notch defense? A mirage. At least offensively.

Houston 33 – Oakland 16

I was picking Houston anyway, but the news that Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor will be held out of this game due to injury doesn’t sway the odds any better for a struggling Oakland team. While we all know this season has been a huge letdown for the Texans, they’ve been competitive and should continue to be so, with solid veteran leadership willing them to a few more victories before they close the book on a disappointing 2013.

Arizona 31 – Jacksonville 10

The Cardinals are improving, particularly in the running game, which might be the elixir for Carson Palmer’s struggles getting the ball down the field. Jacksonville is coming off of their first win of the season, but traveling across the country to play a team hunting for a playoff spot won’t equal win #2.

Philadelphia 38 – Washington 30

They haven’t won at home since September of 2012, but the cards are stacked in the Eagles’ favor this week. Nick Foles has been playing almost perfect football since taking over for Michael Vick, and the Redskins defense has been plagued with inexperience and underachievement all year. If the Eagles were to lose this game, something would have to go seriously wrong…kinda like it did when Foles put up 90 yards against the Cowboys a few weeks back.

Detroit 34 – Pittsburgh 20

The writing on the wall for the Steelers hasn’t stopped them from showing up on Sundays, but this Lions team is on a mission and, for the first time in quite some time, I’m buying into their bid for the NFC North crown. It won’t be all that easy, but the Steelers will find ways to make it easy for the traveling Lions.

Tampa Bay 28 – Atlanta 24

Much like the Chicago-Baltimore game, this one is actually a lot more balanced than one would expect at first glance. Even with their struggles, both teams have found a bit of consistency from unexpected sources: a stable of capable backs in Tampa Bay and a mostly effective rookie in Mike Glennon gave them their first win last week, and the Falcons have gotten some decent production through the air despite big injuries. In the end, the home advantage and improving defensive play favor the Buccaneers.

San Diego 24 – Miami 21

Cross-country trips are rough on west coast teams, that’s a fact. But the Dolphins are a gracious host in their home stadium, and the Chargers, despite having the same record, have their arrow pointed significantly more in the right direction than the Dolphins do at the moment.

New Orleans 31 – San Fransisco 16

After managing three field goals against an attacking Carolina defense last week, I can hardly expect the struggling 49ers offense to improve much going into New Orleans, one of the toughest places to play in the NFL. The Saints should be able to wear down the opposing defense with their unrivaled depth of weapons, running and passing their way to a big win.

New York 33 – Green Bay 24

The Giants have their running game. The Packers have their running game. The difference? No Aaron Rodgers, and Eli Manning is healthy as can be. Also worth noting is that these two defenses seem to be heading in different directions, as the Giants have been steadily improving in the department since acquiring LB Jon Beason, while the Packers have been giving up too many yards and too many points due to injuries and lack of effort. Outside of Lambeau, the Packers are far more vulnerable.

Seattle 31 – Minnesota 10

In a matchup of the biggest, baddest running backs in the NFL, Adrian Peterson will no doubt be perceived as the loser of the duel despite playing for a team that has no possible chance of besting the Seahawks. Not in Seattle, not at all. But AP is still half again more of an effective back than Marshawn Lynch is, and Lynch is one of the best in the business. Just sayin’.

Kansas City 30 – Denver 24

Yeah, this game. It won’t disappoint, I know that much. What I’m not sure on is how the Broncos plan to attack the best defense in the NFL. It would seem logical that Wes Welker gets double-digit catches, as Denver’s M.O. has to be to get the ball out of Peyton Manning’s hands as fast as possible. But there are going to be moments when Manning has to take his shots, and he’s going to take some shots, too. I’m talking hits. And with each hit, each sack, each pressure, the Chiefs will pull further and further away until finally, by the end of the game, the entire football world finally admits that the praise they were hesitant to give to the Chiefs was “their bad”. I won’t be one of them.

New England 26 – Carolina 24

After Sunday Night, this one is like the icing on the icing of the cake. Carolina is coming off what has to be their biggest win since drafting Cam Newton, while New England is coming off a bye. The rested Patriots will give the Panthers a much harder time than the 49ers did, simply because, offensively, New England is far more patient and practiced at finding ways to win games. The key to the Patriots taking this one will be an inspired defensive performance, something I’m 50-50 on happening. This is going to be a close one. A good one.

Fantasy Start ’em/Sit ’em

Start ’em

Russel Wilson – QB – Seattle Seahawks
Carson Palmer – QB – Arizona Cardinals
Andre Brown – RB – New York Giants
Darren Sproles – RB – New Orleans Saints
Riley Cooper – WR – Philadelphia Eagles
Keenan Allen – WR – San Diego Chargers
Jordan Cameron – TE – Cleveland Browns
Rob Gronkowski – TE – New England Patriots
Josh Brown – K – New York Giants
Tampa Bay Buccaneers D/ST

Sit ’em

Colin Kaepernick – QB – San Fransisco 49ers
Andy Dalton – QB – Cincinnati Bengals
Lamar Miller – RB – Miami Dolphins
Ray Rice – RB – Baltimore Ravens
A.J. Green – WR – Cincinnati Bengals
Eric Decker – WR – Denver Broncos
Tony Gonzalez – TE – Atlanta Falcons
Brent Celek – TE – Philadelphia Eagles
Sebastian Janikowski – K – Oakland Raiders
Carolina Panthers D/ST

Tuesday Morning Double Back

I’m going to toy with a new format for this week’s edition of TMDB. I know my readership is slim right now, but any feedback would be appreciated. Instead of focusing on each day and jumping from game to game, I’m going to run down the performance of all 32 teams, with grades and summaries. This might be a one-off idea, or I might do it every week..

The main idea behind this format is to give each team some deserved attention, and also to add some focus to Thursday night games, which I haven’t been too apt to cover in past articles.

Minnesota 34 – Washington 27

What it means: Not much more Minnesota, beyond proving they can still win a game from time to time. With all the QB talk, it seems that Christian Ponder, as bad as he can play sometimes, gives the Vikings the best chance to win. He had a solid game, Adrian Peterson did the rest and the defense took over the 2nd half of the game in surprising fashion.

Vikings Grade: B

For the Redskins, this loss hurts just as much as any other…perhaps a little more considering the poor team they were matched up against. The NFC East is still wide open, and mediocre could be the formula for success in the league’s worst performing division. The Redskins played mediocre on a night the Vikings weren’t going to settle for mediocre, and took a loss because of it.

Redskins grade: C

Seattle 33 – Atlanta 10

What it means: After several weeks of playing somewhat lackluster football and allowing opponents chances to win up until the 4th quarter, the Seahawks made a solid statement by wiping the floor with a Falcons team that has absolutely lost its way. It was a game they were supposed to win, and to see them do it in convincing fashion strengthens their claim as the best team in the NFC.

Seahawks grade: A

Injuries have taken their toll on Atlanta perhaps more than on any other team, but good teams find a way to succeed and push through them. No, the real issue with the Falcons isn’t so much that Julio Jones is missing and Roddy White is hobbled; it’s the simple fact that, defensively, they’re a lackluster unit. 2014 may look brighter for this team if their inevitably high draft pick turns into a defensive playmaker. They’re also going to have to start looking for a replacement for Tony Gonzalez, whom they should have had the decency of trading before the deadline.

Falcons grade: D-

Baltimore 20 – Cincinnati 17

What it means: When ugly doesn’t lose you a game, you have to thank the opposing team for playing worse. That was the case in Baltimore this week, as the Ravens made about six plays that won them a game over a team that has been so overhyped it’s actually starting to be funny again…you know, like all those other years people hyped the Bengals.

Ravens grade: C-

The Bengals (we’re one more bad game away from referring to them as the Bungles again) found a way to lose despite one of the year’s most memorable plays, the hail mary at the end of the game that ended up tipped into A.J. Green’s hands to force overtime. Andy Dalton has thrown six interceptions in his past two games, and all the people saying he had finally clicked the ‘On’ switch were dead wrong. I wasn’t one of them, and I won’t be until he puts together an entire season of consistent play…which I’ll go on record as saying will never happen. Ever.

Bengals grade: D

Detroit 21 – Chicago 19

What it means: With significant injuries to the only other competitive NFC North team’s starting QBs, the Lions took a big jump towards taking the division by beating the Bears, watching Jay Cutler injure another part of his body and generally playing outstanding defense, limiting Matt Forte and giving Cutler/McCown/McNown/McNabb/McWhoEver little to work with. Still, that they couldn’t pull away with a bigger margin of victory is a bit curious against a Bears defense that has been playing poorly of late.

Lions grade: B

For the Bears, this is a step in the wrong direction, and as long as Jay Cutler isn’t 100%, their chances at a postseason berth appear limited. Their defense played inspired football, holding an explosive Lions offense to three scores, but the obvious dimension Cutler gives this team is going to hold them back until he returns.

Bears Grade: C+

Philadelphia 27 – Green Bay 13

What it means: Nick Foles has thrown 16 TDs without an interception this year, which would be a much bigger deal had Peyton Manning not gone to 20 TD tosses before throwing a pick. It’s still a really big deal when you consider how adamant Eagles HC Chip Kelly has been towards keeping Michael Vick on the field when he’s healthy enough. The real story of this game, which many people overlooked, is the defensive performance of the Eagles, who, despite not facing Aaron Rodgers and half of the Packers WR corps, still managed to hold a good offense to 13 points.

Eagles grade: A

The Packers story is similar to the Bears in that, without their signal caller, they’re not the same team. It’s doubled in Green Bay, however, as Aaron Rodgers means more to his team than maybe one or two other players in the NFL. The Packers ended up with their third-string QB playing in this game, and have brought back highway robber Matt Flynn as a potential insurance policy. All this signals one thing; Aaron Rodgers isn’t coming back anytime soon.

Packers grade: D+

St. Louis 38 – Indianapolis 8

What it means: How? Just…how? It isn’t enough that Tavon Austin finally made me regret benching him in my fantasy league; the Rams had to ruin what appeared to be one of the surest locks in terms of picks this week as well. Major kudos to their defense, who, despite giving up some yards in the passing game, frustrated Andrew Luck enough to ensure he had no chance of pulling off one of his 4th quarter miracles.

Rams grade: A

The Colts are an enigma; this is the same team that beat the Broncos. Only, today the Mr. Hyde to their Dr. Jekyl showed up. You know, the same team that lost to the Chargers. It’s hard to point fingers, but the gameplan and general lack of a running game doesn’t exactly fare well against teams that play the pass well, which the Rams do. This is a bump in the road, one the Colts should overcome on their way to an AFC South crown…but it’s also a very dangerous sign of how this team can be exploited by the right matchup…or the wrong playcalling.

Colts grade: D-

New York 24 – Oakland 20

I caught most of this game and, to be honest, it wasn’t much of a game at all. The Raiders managed to keep it close, mainly due to the Giants’ inability to get their passing game going except in spurts. Andre Brown had a decent comeback performance from his broken leg, with 30 carries for 115 and a score. Workman numbers, but the sort of grinding that, along with a more effective defense, could end up meaning the difference in a bad division down the stretch.

Giants grade: B

For Oakland, to stay competitive up until the end after traveling across the country was a solid showing for a young team. Still, a loss is a loss, and as Jerry Jones taught us what we already knew, moral victories don’t exist.

Raiders grade: C


Pittsburgh 23 – Buffalo 10

Similar in a way to the Giants-Raiders game, two bad teams met to prove which was going to let the other one win. Honestly, that’s what happened. How else to you explain the Bills removing C.J. Spiller from the injury report during the week only to give him 11 total touches on Sunday? It’s almost like…almost like they let the Steelers win.

Steelers grade: C+

Not to harp on it, but whatever the Bills are thinking, they need to keep thinking until management and coaches find a different way to maximize the considerable talent on their roster. Ten points with one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the NFL and a solid spell back? Against a defense that can’t follow their own assignments half the time and are slower than molasses? Please.

Bills grade: D

Jacksonville 29 – Tennessee 27

The only two teams without a win both beat a 4-4 team this week to ensure they won’t end up 0-16. Both won their respective games by a field goal or less, as was the case in this one. I haven’t been able to say one good thing about Jacksonville all year…and despite playing some rather sloppy football for much of this game, they stepped up when it mattered and got the big ol’ proverbial monkey off of their collective back.

Jaguars grade: B

The Titans are still in the hunt for a playoff spot. Much like my Dolphins, however, losing to a team who hadn’t won a game in nine weeks doesn’t bode well for their postseason prospects. Neither does losing Jake Locker, again. This time for the rest of the year. Ryan Fitzpatrick has the ability to win some games, but he’s never been a QB that could be leaned on to carry a team. With the way the Titans are running the ball this year, he’s going to be leaned on, and he’ll most likely collapse under the pressure. Hell, at least he’s not the Bills’ problem anymore.

Titans grade: D

Carolina 10 – San Fransisco 9

This was one of those games that was hard to watch, and hard to really digest in retrospect, but the ‘W’ is the stat that you aim for. The Panthers played as sloppy, uncoordinated and confused on offense as their counterparts, but defensively proved (finally) to the fairweather NFL fans that they’re not to be taken lightly. This was a huge win, even if they didn’t win huge.

Panthers grade: B

It’s hard to size up the Niners after a loss like this; their defense played inspired, holding an explosive offense to 10 points. Whatever ills the offense has seem to start up front, with interior pressure being an issue they need to shore up, to say nothing for the unfortunate injuries and lack of quality play from their skill position players. Colin Kaepernick never looked comfortable, and I think that’s as much a nod to the Panthers’ D as it is a knock on a young man who has, for the most part, always been comfortable enough to either stand tall in his pocket or escape and make something happen.

49ers grade: C

Arizona 27 – Houston 24

For as bad as they’ve been, the Texans are never an easy out. The Cardinals proved more in this win than they had in any prior this year, although I’m still not convinced they have their act together offensively. Carson Palmer is still throwing one too many bad passes, and their running game can grow dormant when Andre Ellington isn’t finding lanes. Still, a tough defense can carry you into the postseason, and the Cardinals have that going for them. And a winning record to boot.

Cardinals grade: B-

Another loss, another step further from what most of us expected the Texans to be in 2013. Gary Kubiak’s health, Ed Reed’s release (which actually just happened) and a host of injuries and inexplicably bad play has left this Superbowl hopeful looking up at almost every team in their conference after 10 weeks.

Texans grade: F

Denver 28 – San Diego 20

If the Chiefs were watching this game, they should be absolutely thrilled. After taking a 28-6 lead, the Broncos hit the brakes and allowed the Chargers to get back into the game. Peyton’s injury is being downplayed, but his already lackluster mobility will take a hit, rest assured. In Kansas City, Justinn Houston and Tamba Hali are licking their chops.

Broncos grade: B-

It’s been an up, down, up and back down kind of year in San Diego, and they’ve yet to truly separate themselves from the middle of the AFC pack. I’d bank money on them being in the playoff mix down the stretch, but with two teams in their own division who are going to be eating up playoff spots, they’ll be hunting for a wildcard spot with quite a few other teams. Can they step up?

Chargers grade: C

New Orleans 49 – Dallas 17

This was fairly close to the score I felt was coming, and the way it took place was almost as I scripted it in my head. Rob Ryan, whether he admitted it or not, wanted to prove a point that his old team made a mistake in letting him go. He did. When he wasn’t doing that, the Saints were doing what they do at home: racking up numbers that make the Broncos look like the Jaguars. Seriously. 40 first downs, 600+ yards of offense. Unbelievable.

Saints grade: A+

On the other side of the field, the Cowboys played the worst game I can remember them playing since…since they lost to the Redskins in the last regular season game of 2012. The absolute definition of mediocre, the overrated Cowboys are going to be feeling this loss for the rest of the season. Not just the sting of embarrassment, mind you: linebacker Sean Lee is likely out for the rest of the year with a hamstring injury. In every way possible, the Cowboys were outplayed on Sunday Night.

Cowboys grade: F

Tampa Bay 22 – Miami 19

No, Fins. No. Forget all the Incognito-Martin bull for a minute, and realize that what happened last night was nothing short of an average team playing average football, against an average team that played inspired football. It was a see-saw type of game, but never did the Dolphins really give you the impression they were the better team. And when you’re playing a team that hasn’t won a game, that’s a bad sign. Kudos to the Bucs, though, who finally figured out how to close a game.

Buccaneers grade: C+

Out of all the teams vying for a wildcard spot, the Dolphins honestly look furthest from prepared for it. Losing 2/5 of their offensive line to some ridiculous locker room shenanigans is one thing, but when your offensive line was terrible to begin with? What’s it really matter? Ryan Tannehill is still learning, the running game doesn’t exist, and the defense, however good, cannot carry this inept offense much further. Joe Philbin is supposed to be an offensive whiz. I want to see what he does with this bunch next, because it’s going to take magic to make turn them around.

Dolphins grade: D-

Weekly Awards

QB Of The Week: Cam Newton. The numbers aren’t going to show it, believe me. If you watched the game, however, you know he deserves it.

RB Of The Week: Adrian Peterson. The Manimal was on his game Thursday night. Honorable mentions to Marshawn Lynch, Rashad Jennings and some guy named Bobby Rainey who made people forget about Doug Martin for a day.

WR Of The Week: Tavon Austin. The world (and myself, owning him in a fantasy league) has been waiting for this explosive young man to do something explosive. Well, he almost single-handedly beat the Colts. That’s explosive enough for anyone.

Offensive Line Of The Week: New Orleans Saints. Hey, you don’t put up 600+ yards of offense playing behind a line that’s not going above and beyond their job. You just don’t.

Defensive Performance Of The Week: Carolina Panthers. The 49ers had scored at least 30 points in each of their wins this year. They managed three field goals in their loss on Sunday. Advantage: Carolina.

Goat Of The Week: I’m sorely tempted to go with Andy Dalton again, just to rub it in to those know-it-alls who thought he had finally figured the NFL out, but it wouldn’t be fair when every decision Jerry Jones made this offseason suddenly turned against him in the most in-his-face manner possible on Sunday Night. Monte Kiffin for Rob Ryan? Tony Romo and Bill Callahan calling plays? Who are these winners you’re drafting? The Cowboys will never be anything better than what they are right now until Mr. Jones lets go of the team.

Coaching Performance Of The Week: Jeff Fisher. However he convinced his team they could beat the Colts, major kudos. Don’t think I forgot about you, Rob Ryan. I hate you and your entire family (the coaching members of it, of course), but damn fine show nonetheless.

What’s Next?

Broncos and Chiefs. Broncos and Chiefs. Broncos. And. Chiefs.

Oh yeah, the 49ers play the Saints and the Patriots play the Panthers, too. These three games would be enough for an entire week’s worth of football in my book.

Redskins and Eagles is always a fun game, and the Jets and Bills will have some playoff implications. If the Jets can beat the Saints…they can lose to the Bills.

Final Thoughts

Stop talking about Incognito-Martin until there’s actually something to talk about.

Stop talking, Warren Sapp.

Chris Collinsworth and Jon Gruden are detriments to their Sunday and Monday night broadcasts, respectively, and both need to go. Gruden, in particular, pisses me off with his unwavering enjoyment of every single thing he sees and is inability to pronounce at least one person’s name each and every Monday. Collinsworth is just a giant bird in human disguise. Al Michaels has forgotten more about football than Collinsworth seems to know.

One last thing: I didn’t see him do anything, but did anyone notice how Nndamukong Suh throat punched a Bears lineman in the second half of that game?

Neither did I. I’m starting to wish he’d keep kicking people just so my Suh Watch 2013 will be worth it in retrospect.

Week Ten Primer

Now we’re getting into the thick of things.

Week 10 Picks

Seattle 23 – Atlanta 20

Despite their 8-1 record, the Seahawks have been living on the edge lately, winning their past few games by increasingly narrow margins. I expect it to continue this week, as they travel to Atlanta to face off against half of the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year.

Cincinnati 24 – Baltimore 14

Injuries have been tough on the Bengals. Football has been tough on the Ravens. With Baltimore playing at home, and the Bengals’ performance last week, the potential for what can only be considered an upset is there; I just don’t see it happening.

Detroit 33 – Chicago 24

You’ll note a trend here, where I see a lot of road teams pulling off big wins this week. The situation in Chicago is a combination of disappointment (defense) and concern (Jay Cutler’s injury). The situation in Detroit? Hopeful. Their outlook in a logjammed NFC East should look better after this one.

Green Bay 27 – Philadelphia 17

All the talk is focused on Aaron Rodgers; when will he be back? Can they possibly go on without him? Well, the Eagles are a team they should be able to beat with or without their franchise quarterback. Dom Capers will have his defense zoned in (and by zoned in, I mean manned up) against Chip Kelly’s offense, limiting their production with Eddie Lacy takes the burden off of Seneca Wallace enough to allow the passing game a handful of game-changing plays.

Indianapolis 31 – St. Louis 20

The Rams have been playing better lately, despite the losses. The Titans weren’t exactly a team they couldn’t beat; the Colts, on the other hand, are…so long as the right Colts team shows up.

New York 30 – Oakland 20

What’s this? A revival, a run towards the playoffs for Big Blue? No, it’s the Raiders. The Giants are playing good enough to beat them, but I am hesitant to believe they’ll prove it. Regardless, I won’t pick against them when they face a young team traveling across the country.

Buffalo 24 – Pittsburgh 17

Paging C.J. Spiller, paging C.J. Spiller. You’re needed in Pittsburgh. Honestly, this is one of the toughest games to pick this week, and I’m only picking Buffalo because they’ve shown the kind of resiliency and commitment to winning that Pittsburgh used to be known for. About a year or two ago.

Tennessee 28 – Jacksonville 21

The Jaguars will finally do the unthinkable and not lose by 10 points or more for the first time this season. They’ll still lose, though.

San Fransisco 30 – Carolina 20

This one is going to be a great game, I can assure you of that. In the end, the cross-country trip, the 49ers homefield advantage and the Panthers’ general lack of experience will catch up to them in Candlestick Park.

Houston 31 – Arizona 30

Game-winning field goal, last seconds. As different as these appear record-wise, the Cardinals have simply been playing better defense than the Texans have. But there’s a new kid slinging passes in Houston, and he looks like he might be the real deal. The extra tape on him will help the Cardinals some, but the other 31 teams not called the Texans are still a week or two away from having Case Keenum’s tendencies and mannerisms down. In the meantime, he’ll help find a way to win a relatively big game in the desert today.

Denver 37 – San Diego 28

San Diego has the talent to beat the Broncos, make no bones about it. They won’t get a better chance than this, their home matchup for the year. I doubt they get it done, but this one could be very, very close if the Chargers muster up the extra effort necessary to beat the best team in football.

New Orleans 48 – Dallas 27

Yeah, that bad. The Saints are a different team at home. The Saints are a different team with Rob Ryan coaching the defense. His knowledge, and his bitterness, will have had him up extra hours all week licking his chops and preparing to take it to his old team. And take it to him he will, while Drew Brees puts up the stats and the Saints defense puts on the pressure.

Miami 31 – Tampa Bay 24

I refuse to buy into the notion that the whole Incognito-Martin fiasco is somehow distracting the Dolphins from their upcoming game. The whole left side of their offensive line being AWOL isn’t exactly a loss considering how shaky its been so far this year, but Bryant McKinnie has filled in well so far at LT. No, the media’s complete and total overblown coverage of the situation in Miami is only going to distract the questions being asked after Miami pulls off a decent win against a Buccaneers team completely at a loss for answers after allowing the Seahawks to overcome a 21-point deficit last week.

Fantasy Start ‘Em/Sit ‘Em

Start ‘Em

Andrew Luck – QB – Indianapolis Colts
Eli Manning – QB – New York Giants
C.J. Spiller – RB – Buffalo Bills
Giovanni Bernard – RB – Cincinnati Bengals
T.Y. Hilton – WR – Indianapolis Colts
Anquan Boldin – WR – San Fransisco 49ers
Garrett Graham – TE – Houston Texans
Charles Clay – TE – Miami Dolphins
Phil Dawson – K – San Fransisco 49ers
New Orleans Saints D/ST

Sit ‘Em

Tony Romo – QB – Dallas Cowboys
Nick Foles – QB – Philadelphia Eagles
Ray Rice – RB – Baltimore Ravens
Andre Ellington – RB – Arizona Cardinals
Mike Wallace – WR – Miami Dolphins
Riley Cooper – WR – Philadelphia Eagles
Heath Miller – TE – Pittsburgh Steelers
Tony Gonzalez – TE – Atlanta Falcons
Caleb Sturgis – K – Miami Dolphins
Carolina Panthers D/ST

Tuesday Morning Double-Back

Aaron Rodgers? Meet the ground.

Go Fins Go!

In a game I had low expectations going into, I was pleasantly surprised to find my defense playing the best game of the year against a hot Bengals offense. We gave up some plays, but we kept pace, driving it to overtime and then backing Andy Dalton all the way down to his own endzone…and down IN his own endzone, courtesy of Cameron Wake. I’m sure my neighbors were concerned about the screaming coming from my room after that play.

Now, if this ugly business with Johnathan Martin, Richie Incognito and others yet unnamed doesn’t derail us, we might actually get on a roll. One step forward…more than one step backwards?

What We Learned On Sunday

As we do every week, our expectations are met and dashed on a game-by-game basis. With plenty of matchups that didn’t scream “playoff implications”, a handful of teams made cases to the contrary.

No team made as big of a statement as the Jets. Coming off of a hideous performance against Cincinnati, this was a team who truly showed their grit by harassing one of the league’s best offenses for 60 minutes. It was close, always close, but you got the feeling in the early stages of the 2nd half that the Saints weren’t going to find a way past an inspired, previously embarrassed defense that were out to prove themselves. They did just that, but can they keep doing it and drag a still-progressing offense into the playoffs?

The Patriots took one of the best rivalries of the past decade and turned it on its head. What looked like a competitive game for about two quarters turned into a slaughter soon after, and the Patriots offense finally seemed to take flight while racking up 55 points, three receivers with over 100 yards and a TD apiece, and Tom Brady playing like the Tom Brady we’re more accustomed to seeing. This Steelers team, as I’ve been saying all year, simply doesn’t have the youth and the talent needed to compete with the big dogs. Their season is essentially over, despite a rather bland NFC North…

…where the Browns beat the Ravens for the first time in seven years. Whatever is wrong in Baltimore, it extends so far past the inconsistent play of big-money QB Joe Flacco that fans need to stop honing in on him as the scapegoat. This is a team that can’t block, can’t run the ball, and can scrape on defense but isn’t capable of winning games defensively like they once were. The Browns, on the other hand, have a defense that needs to be taken far more seriously than they are right now. Playoff-caliber, for sure. The offense? Not so much, but at least Jason Campbell isn’t as bad as Brandon Weeden.

The Chiefs continue to roll, despite a rocky offensive performance. Their defense is the best I’ve seen in a long, long time. Honestly, it is. You can’t point to a weakness, or a position group that doesn’t contain at least two players who are performing at an All-Pro level. So long as Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles keep the offense on the field long enough for the other half to catch their breath, this team can beat anyone.

Did the Cowboys really need a last-minute drive to beat the lowly Vikings? In typical form, Owner/GM/nitwit Jerry Jones was quoted after the game as saying “There are no 1-7 teams in the NFL”. Yes their are, Jerry, and your team almost lost to one. Denial isn’t going to change the fact that your squad consistently plays up and down to the level of their competition. The NFC East is still wide open, especially considering…

…that the Eagles and Redskins both won this week. The former won by absolutely decimating an Oakland team that seemed determined to ignore the man-coverage other teams have utilized to slow down Chip Kelly’s offensive attack. Nick Foles, technically speaking, had the best performance a QB has ever had, throwing seven touchdowns and posting a perfect QB rating in the process. Credit to him and his offense, but he should send a ‘thank you’ card to Dennis Allen for the poor defensive scheming.

The Redskins won a rather bizarre overtime game against the Chargers, who continue to lose games they should win and vice-versa. Or do they? This isn’t a bad team in Washington, not by a long shot, and their defense is slowly starting to figure things out while their offense is back at the pace they need to maintain going forward.

As I said, the Cowboys need to watch their backs. Hell, the Giants didn’t even play this week and somehow they’re still a threat.

I really, really like what the Panthers are doing. I don’t like that it took the Titans so long to beat a lesser Rams team. Why were the Seahawks down 21-0 early to the winless Buccaneers? If I were a man who believed such things, I’d almost say they did it on purpose just to prove a point. That point being? They can let a team beat them…and then turn around and beat them, all in the same game.

What We Learned On Sunday Night

What overshadowed an incredibly well played game by the Texans cannot be ignored: today it was confirmed that Houston head coach Gary Kubiak suffered a slight stroke while walking into the locker rooms at halftime. While the game’s outcome was less than the Texans wanted, I certainly wish Kubiak a full and healthy recovery.

The Colts are now the class of the AFC South. No disputing it, no ignoring it. Andrew Luck strolled down for another late win like he’s been doing most of his career. Dude has ice in his veins. This team is going places. Postseason places.

A personal thank you to Andre Johnson for the 40 fantasy points. 200+ yards and three touchdowns almost, ALMOST, makes up for a season of inconsistent play. But it got me a win in one of my leagues, and if I could, I’d send him a ‘thank you’ card along with a ‘get well soon’ card to forward to Kubiak.

Oh, and in case nobody has noticed, the Trent Richardson trade has been a 100% win for the Browns so far.

What We Learned On Monday Night

This game seemed to give us more questions than answers, the main one being ‘How bad is Aaron Rodgers’ shoulder?’. The hit he took looked fairly bad, being driven into the hard, cold Lambeau ground left shoulder-first. A dislocation, collarbone break, some sort of tear…we’ll know more later today, I’m sure, but as of right now, this team’s entire season is hinging on whether or not Rodgers comes back to his neighborhood before someone else in the NFC North gets too far ahead of them.

Will it be the Bears? I doubt it. Yes, they played a great game, maximizing their run game while giving Josh (Luke) McNown(McCown, or is that reversed?) enough space to work with. The defense had some key turnovers, and overall they put forth a solid effort in all three phases. But solid doesn’t quite match the level of play the Lions have been showing of late, does it? We’ll find out next week when the two teams clash. A healthy Matthew Stafford, a healthy Calvin Johnson and a healthy Reggie Bush, with an unhealthy Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, equals the best opportunity the Lions have had in a looooong time to take this division.

For some reason, I expect them to blow it.

It’s The Numbers, Stupid (Part 1)
For you down-on-your-luck Ravens fans out there, this might give you some comfort: since 2000, 30 teams have reached the playoffs after putting up a .500 or lower record after eight games played. Each of the past 12 seasons has had at least one team do it, and three teams did it in 2012: the Seahawks (4-4), the Redskins (3-5)….and the Bengals (3-5).

What Are You Doing, Nndamukong Suh?

You thought you were getting a bye-week pass, did you? Well…you are. You lucky devil, you. I just hope you spent your down time productively and not, you know, kicking anyone in the crotch.

It’s The Numbers, Stupid (Part 2)
Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 35 times in 7 games. Two of his starting offensive lineman are gone for indefinite amounts of time.

The solution? Run the ball. Over the past three games, Lamar Miller has averaged 5.5 yards per carry, and twice the Dolphins managed to gain over 150 total yards on the ground. Confidence in handing the ball off is the only way this team avoids sacks, as even their designed short routes are routinely disrupted by untouched rushers.

What Are You Doing, Richie Incognito?

Well, I wasn’t going to not dig into this a bit deeper. As a young man, I was a “victim” of bullying. Why put ‘victim’ in quotes? Because now, unlike then, I understand that there was no victim; I simply never chose to stand up for myself. There would have been consequences, sure, but it is the only real remedy for the emotional stress bullying puts on people. As a grown man, in a professional business, Johnathan Martin did exactly what he should have done; he stuck up for himself, and he did it in a way that was upstanding and intelligent of him. It may have been easy to simply get in a fist fight with Incognito and whomever else caused him to leave the team, but instead he went through the proper channels. Like a man. Many people will simply point the finger at him and attempt to belittle his choice. “Tattle-tale” will be a commonly used term. “Rat”, “Backstabber”, etc. But in the end, Incognito deserved it. He deserved it, and more, and the Dolphins are providing the more right now. Hopefully, the NFL provides the final dose of it and bans him from the league entirely.

This is coming from someone who actually believed Incognito had changed his ways, between his Probowl performance in 2012 and his piece earlier this year for ESPN that made him out to be a cleaner, more mentally balanced person. The talent has always been there; the trouble has never left him. Why not remove the trouble from the equation and remove this jerk from the league?

Weekly Awards

QB Of The Week: Nick Foles. Hey, perfect is perfect, and seven touchdowns are seven touchdowns. Perfect.

RB Of The Week: Chris Johnson. In a game where opposing running back Zac Stacy had a field day, it was Johnson’s suddenly improved performance that sealed the deal for the Titans. As one of his mostly unfortunate fantasy owners, I can only hope this is the beginning of a beautiful trend in Tennessee.

WR Of The Week: Andre Johnson. As I posted on the message board of the fantasy league I own him in, I almost want to believe that Calvin Johnson, on his bye week, snuck into the Houston locker room, donned Andre’s #80 and proceeded to put up 229 yards and 3 scores. It wasn’t, though. I think…

Offensive Line Of The Week: I’m tempted to give it to the Rams again, or even their opponent Titans, who both cleared nice lanes for their respective running backs to have huge days. Including the young Bears line, who essentially won the game for them (if you ignore what happened to Aaron Rodgers, of course), I think I’ll split the award three ways. I can do that because…because I can.

Defensive Performance Of The Week: How can it not be the Jets?

Goat Of The Week: Andy Dalton. Just when every expert was finally ready to acknowledge the next step the Red Rocket had taken, he threw three interceptions and took a game-losing safety he could have avoided. Well, actually, no, he couldn’t have avoided the safety, but take away one or two of those terrible interceptions and the Bengals probably win a game they should have.

Coaching Performance Of The Week: Rob Chunzinski. He knew it was going to take some risks to beat the Ravens, after the Browns had lost their last 11 to them, and he took some risks; two huge fourth down conversions, one for a touchdown, and the Browns got one huge monkey off their back. Their aggressive head coach is a big reason why.

What’s Next?

Thursday should provide the Redskins another win, another step towards defending their division crown. Unless, of course, they pull a Cowboys-type performance. You just never know in the NFC East this year.

Speaking of never knowing, the Cowboys and Eagles will face tough road games against the Saints and Packers, respectively. I don’t expect either team to walk away with a win, but if Aaron Rodgers doesn’t play? And the Saints take a step back after losing to the Jets?

Like I said, you never know in the NFC East.

The Ravens hosting the Bengals, and the Bears hosting the Lions, are divisional matchups that should clear up the playoff picture going forward. I don’t see how the Ravens beat the Bengals…but I can see how the Bengals can beat themselves. As for the Bears, they’d better hope their home field advantage holds up against a superior Lions team. Should be a close one.

The game I’m most looking forward to? Panthers at 49ers. This game is going to prove a whole lot for both teams, regardless of the outcome.

Oh, and Miami taking a small road trip to Tampa Bay for a Monday Night game. I have the strangest feeling that we’re going to lose…but we won’t. Put money on it.

Final Thoughts

As the season progresses, more and more attention is going to be paid to the conduct that takes place behind the scenes; in the locker rooms, training facilities and personal lives of NFL players. Johnathan Martin may be the first domino that falls in a long line of players who will use his courage to step up and admit that they’ve been burdened by bullying in the past or at the present time. Or, it may not, and this may just be an isolated incident. Something tells me, as time goes on, we’ll find a middle ground here where it happens more than we’d like, but not enough to consider it a league-wide dilemma.

If I’m in the Falcons personnel room right now, I’m punching whomever made the final call not to trade Tony Gonzalez. That man deserves a championship more than most players do, and regardless of how much you believed you could overcome a “slow start”, you couldn’t, you haven’t, and now he’ll most likely have to spend the rest of the year wondering why he ever decided to come back in the first place. But he won’t. He’ll gear up, take the field and play as hard as he does each and every week. He won’t complain, he won’t point fingers. Because Tony Gonzalez is a professional. And he deserves better.

On a closing note, if you support the league banning Richie Incognito permanently, let them know. The avenues for contact are not hard to find:

https://twitter.com/nflcommish (Roger Goodell’s Twitter)
https://www.nflplayers.com/About-us/Department–Contacts/ (Click on “Executive” for the right contact info).

I’m a Dolphins fan. Always have been, always will be. But that doesn’t, hasn’t, and never will mean I will blindly support my team or its members when an individual or a group of them somehow besmirch the good name of a quality organization such as the Miami Dolphins. I’ve had my issues with ownership, our GM(s), head coaches, punters, you name it. Richie Incognito doesn’t deserve to be a Dolphin. He doesn’t deserve to be an NFL football player. He deserves help, and he won’t find it until he’s away from the game that he cannot avoid getting into trouble playing.