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.

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