TMD-B (Late Edition)

We’re still experiencing technical (sleeping) difficulties here at KTNFL, your patience is appreciated.

No Fins No!

Well, this one stung. I didn’t expect it to be as competitive, for starters. Once I was invested in the possibility (and eventually, the high probability) that we would win, what occurred in the last few minutes of this game blew my mind. Blown coverages. A patented Dan Marino fake-spike play by Aaron Rodgers (the insult!), the last-second winning touchdown…

This one stung. But it brings me closer to accepting something that part of me is still reeling against; we need to change the scenery on the sidelines. Joe Philbin is most likely on his way out. In his place? I’m prepared to go on the recruiting trail for Bill Cowher. Who’s with me?

Smile Like You Mean It

Plenty of teams (and/or players) who aren’t the Dolphins have reason to smile after week six. Not one as much as the Dallas Cowboys, who undeniably just put their “for real” stamp on the NFL by beating the defending NFL Champion Seahawks in their own home. The 12th man were stunned by the outcome, even if it was a closely fought contest throughout. This is the house where Russell Wilson isn’t supposed to be frustrated, where Marshawn Lynch isn’t supposed to be limited, where the defense isn’t supposed to be exposed. All of that happened, though, and in the process the people who were living under a rock while Dallas rolled are finally catching on: these Cowboys are for real, and they might be the team to beat in the NFC going forward.

If you’re the Colts, you’re smiling. If you’re J.J. Watt, you’re smiling somewhere down below the frustration of having to play on a team that has too many question marks and too many expiring stars to really compete. Why Ryan Fitzpatrick is still the starting QB is either an indictment on Ryan Mallet or Bill O’Brien, and none of us can know which it is while Fitz continues to start, and struggle.

The NFL experts are, once again, praising the Browns. Why? They beat a Pittsburgh team that can’t get out of their own way offensively and are so unbalanced defensively that the stereotypical “Steel Curtain” mentality we all have regarding the unit simply doesn’t apply anymore. The Browns beat an average team, proving themselves above average: which is where they’ve been since the middle of last year. I do believe they’re on the upswing, but in the AFC North, they’re lucky to not be basement dwellers.

Speaking of that illustrious division, are the Bungles back? It certainly seems so. Vontaze Burfict has some ‘splainin’ to do. Twisting people’s ankles on purpose, bro? You should be ashamed. Cincinnati? I feel for you. I thought this was the best team in the NFL but, after being blown out by the Patriots and dropping the ball (or missing the kick of the ball) against the Panthers, I’m having doubts.

Oh, the Ravens are looking good. Really good. The Buccaneers are occasionally a good scrimmage for opposing offenses, and Joe Flacco took advantage with four (!) first quarter touchdown passes, and five in the first half.

Smile, Joe. You earned your pay check for a change.

In my primer for this week, I made a bit of an off-hand comment about Tony “We Want Field Goals!” Sparano not being able to change the direction of the cellar-dwelling Raiders. Well, he stripped things back and allowed the young talent on his team to shine. Even in defeat, a close game against an opponent like San Diego has to be something to at least subtly grin about.

Who is smiling in New York? We both know I’m referring to both teams here. First, the Jets? I can’t help but enjoy the collapse, but in all fairness, it’s hard to watch. This is a team with zero identity, few emerging prospects and so many glaring holes on their roster that nobody not named Rex Ryan has to be sick to their stomach when they see this team take the field.

And the Giants? How do you get shut up by the Eagles? That’s not a defense capable of shutting anyone out, but they did, and Tom Coughlin, Ben McAdoobeedoo and Eli “Afraid Of Birds” Manning should be ashamed.

Get well soon, Victor Cruz. Nothing left more of a mark this weekend than watching his injury, and his reaction to it. I have literally felt that pain, and it’s not pretty.

Don’t Talk To Me About These Teams

Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Minnesota, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington, St. Louis.

While I never thought all of them would be able to compete for a playoff spot this year, I certainly expected more from each after six weeks. Perhaps not even in terms of wins and losses, just general competitiveness. The Steelers are losing games on their own, the Bills are still in the hunt but look to be trending in the wrong direction. The Vikings are building something special, but 2014 isn’t going to be the year it all comes together, while the Bears have built something great that doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. The Falcons are 90/10 offense/defense, a recipe for failure. The Redskins are…god, what are they? How can a team have so much talent and so little to show for it? And St. Louis? Jeff Fisher is turning them into the Tennessee Titans of the NFC; a nondescript team with decent expectations, the ability to live up to them once a month, and no actual identity or name power. The defensive line that was supposed to be their foundation? What’s been happening there?

Don’t talk to me about these teams. Posers in contender’s clothing.

Hey, Lions Fans, R.E.L.A.X.

I doubt Aaron Rodgers would extend to you the same courtesy he did to Packers fans, you need to understand that, barring something unforeseen, your kicking issues have been solved. Matt Prater is one of the best, he just needs to regain his form. Nobody seemed to notice the 50-something yarder he hit between his deep misses. I doubt Alex Henery could even have hit the upright on that last miss.

So, relax about your kicking. You’re in good hands. You’d better start worrying about your offense, though. There’s no reason why Calvin Johnson should be the catalyst for all their other talent to succeed, but somehow he is. Until they learn to live without him, or with a lesser version of him, the Lions are going to struggle to keep up when their defense can’t do what they’ve been doing. It’ll happen sooner or later.

Either that, or they’ll be winning 16-10 games until they find themselves in the playoffs.

Weekly Awards

QB Of The Week: He put on one of his once-every-blue-moon clinics, so Joe Flacco has to take this however much I hate to give any overpaid player props. Kudos to Kaepernick’s big game, as well.

RB Of The Week: Welcome back, Shady. Welcome to the NFL, Brandon Oliver.

WR Of The Week: Lots of outstanding performances this week, but if you tuned in Thursday Night, you already had your winner. T.Y. Hilton, if you weren’t aware. You should have watched it.

Offensive Line Of The Week: This is at least the second time they’ve won it, but never have they deserved it as much. The Dallas Cowboys kept DeMarco Murray rolling, kept their pocket clean and basically held their own against one of the toughest fronts in football, in the toughest place to communicate in football. No unit in the league had a better performance this week than the Cowboys’ O-line.

Defensive Performance Of The Week: You want to give this to the Eagles, don’t you? They really did play inspired against an offense that, before Sunday Night, had put up at least 30 in three straight contests. But, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding performance of the Houston Texans’ D, which is also known as J.J. Watt.

Goat Of The Week: Mike Nugent, dig a hole and don’t come out until your next in-game kick. Even then, come out slowly, asking everyone around you “is it safe?” and “are you still mad at me?”

Coaching Performance Of The Week: Jason Garrett? Sure. Rod Marienelli? Oh, yeah. The Cowboys’ new defensive coordinator is the unsung hero of this powerhouse team. This guy is on his way to a head coaching job.

What’s Next

Thursday Night gives us the Jets and Patriots, a game where the unfortunate trend of early-week blowouts should continue. I’ll watch it, of course. I rarely miss a game regardless of the teams playing. But I’d be lying if I said the real draw here is to see the Jets fall a little deeper into a pit of despair…muahaha.

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Come Sunday, we’ll have a bounty of intriguing matchups to observe. Some that are less obvious than others.

At one, the Titans travel to Virginia in a battle of incompetency and lowered expectations. Should make for a close one, at least. The Seahawks have a road game that, even against the Titans of the NFC, might be tough on them. Actually, what am I saying? This team isn’t going to take losing too lightly. If you have Seahawk offensive players on your fantasy team, start them. Start all of them.

The true highlights of the early games are the Colts hosting the Bengals, the Bears hosting the Dolphins and the Lions hosting the Saints.

The Colts have started to cement their “for real” status, but beating the Bengals will be their biggest achievement so far this year. Cincinnati needs to get themselves back on track now, or their hopes at another divisional crown might slip away.

I’m not promoting the Bears-Dolphins game out of simple fandom: these two teams match up extremely well and both have struggled despite having a solid base of talent to work with. Miami’s rushing attack may control the game, but the quick-striking Bears could run away with this in their own way. It’s going to be an exciting game for any football fan.

I think it’s going to happen, and if it does, I’m afraid of what might start happening behind closed doors with the Saints. They’re already a step or two from a failed season; this game is going to be one tough nut to crack, against a Detroit defense that is suddenly capable of dominating at will.

Later on Sunday, the Chiefs and Chargers will meet up and try to lay claim to which team is the 2nd best in the AFC West. But, later that night, the best team in the AFC West will have their work cut out for them when they host the 49ers.

Monday Night’ game has little intrigue, but the possibility has been talked about in regards to Jadaveon Clowney returning to Houston’s lineup. With or without him, watching J.J. Watt dominate opponents never gets old, and I honestly believe he can tip the scales of games by himself. He shouldn’t have to against the Steelers, but with Pittsburgh at home and Houston’s ineptitude elsewhere, he might have to.

Enjoy the games! And remember, when in fantasy doubt, start any defense playing the Jets, any QB playing the Jaguars, and any kicker not playing for the Lions.

I know, I know. Just kidding. Only about the last bit, though.

TMD-B (Late Edition)

Okay, now it’s all starting to make sense.

No, really. It is. The picture is coming into focus. The fog is clearing. The light is rising.

Just don’t think about Tampa Bay. Or New Orleans. Or New England, Buffalo, Washington, Carolina, Philadelphia.

Ignore all that.

Go Fins Go!

Far above my expectations, the Dolphins were at home in London and the Raiders were…well, there. I can’t take too much from this game beyond the W and some renewed confidence in Ryan Tannehill. Also a nice little caveat that we were the team to force the first head coach firing of 2014. Too bad that doesn’t count in the standings, too.

It Makes Sense

So, these apparent upsets? These games where the better team isn’t better for a game? Well, I’m starting to figure them out. After four weeks of truly unexpected outcomes in around half of the games, I’m on the case. Here’s how this week’s ‘upsets’ break down:

Pittsburgh Loses, Buccaneers Can’t Refuse Win

Head honcho Mike Tomlin summed it up perfectly during his post-game press conference. You cannot expect to beat anyone when you’re penalized so often. This only tells a small part of the story, however. This is a team in Pittsburgh, much like all the good-but-not-great teams that make up the vast middle of the pack of the NFL, that has a hard time balancing themselves out from one week to the next. Riding the high of the victory over Carolina, the Steelers were not only undisciplined, but simply unprepared to take a game they held by a thread for 58 minutes. The great teams will seal that deal, even if it is at the last second. The good teams will often find a way to lose their grip. I love the look of the Steelers right now, but I would expect them to lose four or five more games in similar fashion before the year is out. They’re getting there…

…and the Buccaneers are getting nowhere. Despite my claim of them being as bad as they appeared, they managed to win against a superior opponent. But, mark my words, this team is a handful of plays from disaster every single week. The margin for error is so slim that, save for a few pivotal defensive plays, they would have lost whether or not Pittsburgh tried to hand it to them.

Missing Pieces For Panthers, One Fits Nicely In Baltimore

First, and as usual, I’d like to admit I was wrong about Steve Smith this week. I couldn’t look past my gut feeling when it comes to hype and how it almost always leads to a letdown.

If, by ‘blood and guts’, Smith meant ‘yards and touchdowns’, he delivered both in ample quantities.

Smith’s invaluable assistance in balancing the Ravens’ offense is just one piece of their overall improved team this season. Likewise, Smith’s absence, while visible in a receiving corps that features rookie Kelvin Benjamin and not much else, is just one factor of the Panthers’ decline.

Looking at it in-depth, the defense just isn’t the same without The Kraken (Greg Hardy) on the line. I think the gaps in their defense run deeper, but they’ve been out-muscled and outplayed the past two weeks on that side of the ball, and you can only look at what they’re missing from last year to explain why this year is any different. Still might be an illusion, a hiccup, but I’m starting to doubt it.

The Saints…or the Aints?

This is tough to figure out. I predicted an upset at the hands of a Cowboys team who, I assumed, hadn’t forgotten the shelling they took in New Orleans last year. But, by the end of this game, it didn’t feel like an upset.

It felt like the better team had won.

I’m not sure I believe that, but what other choice do we have but to? Dallas is playing smart, efficient football, a revelation that suddenly seemed to dawn on them. The truth is actually much more simple: they’ve drafted and cultivated a formidable offensive line, which in turn is allowing DeMarco Murray to shine and Tony Romo has more room to operate. It’s a beautiful domino effect that may or may not be allowing the previously suspect defense in Dallas to play far above expectations so far.

Take all that, and compare it to what the Saints have done.

For starters (and perhaps in closing, too), Rob Ryan’s defense is not what it was last year. It isn’t even close. Why? I don’t know. Overcomplication, more of the same, new pieces not coalescing, young players not maturing. The reasons are not evident, but the results are plain as day depressing. On the other side, Drew Brees has no excuses. The offense looks almost exactly the same as 2013 (minus Darren Sproles, which I don’t think is enough of an excuse to justify their recent struggles). The running game is there, the offensive line is decent enough, just…I don’t know. It’s starting to make sense that the Saints are a poor road team. Hell, we’ve seen that for years now. But they can’t expect to be blown out of the water when they’re away from home and still achieve their long-term goals.

Doug Marrone Plays Politics, Achieves Nothing

There is zero justification for the benching of E.J. Manuel for Kyle Orton. Zero. In his second year, Manuel has made his share of mistakes…but he’s also made some excellent plays as well. This sort of balancing act is what most teams come to accept from young signal callers, as long as they see progress. We see progress, and so do they.

New ownership is shaking the system up at the worst possible time for Buffalo: when they’re close to being relevant again.

Marrone has taken responsibility for the QB change, but his reasons are ridiculous. Behind the scenes, I can only assume that Marrone and the management are concerned about their jobs, believe that winning now is the only way to keep them, and think Orton has more potential to make that happen. I think he does, too, but what happens when/if he doesn’t?

This is a bad situation that just didn’t need to happen. They’ve lost two in a row, but they’re still growing. They may have just stopped the growth of their most crucial piece.

Kirk Cousins…Cam Newton…Nick Foles…Oh no.

Three young, promising, talented QBs.

They all lost this week. Their teams helped, but not one of them helped tip the scales in the opposite direction.

Cousins looked the worst, throwing four interceptions, three of which were blatantly his fault.

Foles and the Eagles offense did less against the 49ers’ banged up defense than anyone could have predicted. It brought to mind last year’s shaky performance from Foles against Dallas. It’s something you don’t expect to trend, but hate to see. Unless you’re a 49ers fan.

Newton is so banged up right now, especially after this week’s game, that I’m not sure he should be taking the field. If the RB corps wasn’t a M.A.S.H. unit, I think the Panthers would be able to win without him. As it is, I don’t know if they can win much either way.

Patriots. Haha.

Let’s just hope it continues this way, shall we?

Alright. All bias aside, what’s going on in New England needs clarification. A week or two more of similarly terrible performances will clear things up. As it stands, I’m not ready to sign off on this team, and nobody else should be, either. They’re the high standard of NFL adaptability, and until they show otherwise, you can’t count them out.

But you can want to. You might have even wanted to for the past thirteen years of your life. Like some of us…

😦

First Quarter Power Rankings Coming This Week!

Yep, it’s that time already. First month of the year is in the books, and now we take stock of where the teams sit based strictly on what they’ve done so far. So, just for clarification and also an early taste of the rankings, don’t expect to see the Seahawks sitting at #1. They haven’t been the best team in the NFL so far this year. That much should be clear to anyone.

Oh, and kudos to the teams that won this week. Particularly the Packers, who needed it in the worst way and got it in the best way; within their division. R.E.L.A.X.

Weekly Awards

QB Of The Week: The NFC North doesn’t like to share, but Aaron Rodgers and Teddy Bridgewater both deserve it this week. The young Bridgewater looked excellent in his debut start, and Rodgers looked like Rodgers; the best QB in the NFL.

RB Of The Week: Welcome back, Jamaal Charles. It’s amazing how one man can plug a leaking ship, isn’t it?

WR Of The Week: Mr. Blood and Guts. Good show, old man.

Offensive Line Of The Week: The Cowboys might have the best offensive line in football. They certainly continue to put their stamp on opponents, doing it in particularly efficient fashion against the Saints this week.

Defensive Performance Of The Week: Many teams won on the strength of their D this week, but no team needed a better performance, and received it, than the 49ers. The Eagles went nearly the entire game without a single offensive snap on their opponent’s side of the 50 yard line.

Goat Of The Week: As if it was all Dennis Allen’s fault. He left the team in better shape than they were when he arrived, and sitting at 0-4, that’s saying something. Tony Sparano is going to celebrate field goals until he’s out on his ass, and if anyone actually thinks Jon Gruden is coming back to town at this point, they’re as delusional as Mark Davis is in not firing his GM.

Coaching Performance Of The Week: The Brothers Harbaugh share it this week. John laid out the perfect plan against the Panthers, and Jim inspired his team to a huge victory. The fact that Jim is actually being accused by some idiot who used to be a great football player (unnamed source who I can only refer to as “21”) of losing his locker room, after that kind of victory, is so laughable that I cannot believe media outlets have run with the story and were dumb enough to start questioning Niners players about it.

Who’s got it better than Jim? Noooooo….uh….somebody. Or somebodies. I don’t like the guy, but please, do us all a favor and…

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What’s Next?

Tomorrow, the Vikings and Packers will meet up for the year’s best NFC North divisional matchup to date. Believe me, it’s going to be a good one.

Can the Panthers right the ship with the Bears coming to town? Can two ships be righted in one game?

Philadelphia should be able to bounce back smoothly against a struggling Rams squad. They damn well better, because my plate is full trying to figure out all these upsets and poor performances from (apparently) strong teams.

Same deal with New Orleans hosting the Bucs. You don’t lose at home against lesser talent, New Orleans. Don’t you dare…

I’m somewhat intrigued by the Texas bowl, being played in Jerryworld. I want to see if J.J. Watt can single-handedly stop what has been the best offense in the NFL for the past few weeks.

I don’t doubt it.

Ravens. Colts. Big stuff. Tune in.

Cardinals. Broncos.
Bengals. Patriots.

The winners of these two will instantly change perceptions and/or cement their standing. Bigger stuff.

Early condolences to Redskins fans.

kirkmanning

TMD-B

The “R” in RG3 now stands for Rubber Legs. Rubber Legs Gimp the Third.

No Fins No!

As you may have seen in my primer, I predicted this loss, but I certainly didn’t predict the ineptitude of the Dolphins. We showed up like a high school team whose best players were sleeping on the bus. The injury to Knowshon Moreno? Just mixing that with the insult of a pathetic showing. This team has, after two weeks, looked exactly like their 2013 version: capable of beating anyone, capable of beating themselves just as often.

Ambulance!

The early games on Sunday looked like a fast-paced run through a hospital ward. Griffin’s gumby-legged pogo jump that dislocated his ankle, while certainly disappointing for Redskins’ fans and Griffin himself, was hilarious. Watching Moreno’s elbow dislocate wasn’t funny. Desean Jackson’s shoulder is now located somewhere near his esophagus.

Then the injuries continued.

A.J. Green stubbed his toe on his other toe, or something. Jamaal Charles’ high ankle sprain is the latest in a series of injuries that, if I had to venture a guess, have come due to the Football Gods decreeing last year’s Chiefs to have been too big for their britches.

What are britches?

Anyway, there were a lot of high-profile players wearing braces, walking boots, Ace bandages, ice packs, toe slings and riding golf carts. But that didn’t get in the way of some good football…

Why Should I Care About Johnny Manziel? Why Shouldn’t I Care About Kirk Cousins?

Honestly, folks. Let’s start with number one:

Manziel, the offseason equivalent of a Paris Hilton sex tape (back when she didn’t have a collection of them), was put into a close game against one of the best teams in the NFL (not that their record shows it so far, but still, they’re good) for no apparent reason. Comments from coaches and starting QB Brian Hoyer lead you to believe that the team has such packages in place “in case they’re needed”. Why, Cleveland, did you deem it “needed” to put in your rookie, backup QB for a few plays when the balance of a pivotal game had yet to be decided? Even if Johnny-College-Football made something happen (which he didn’t, handing off twice and throwing a short and very poorly timed pass before riding the pine again), you’re essentially asking for a mistake. That the Browns managed to win, on the quick eyes of Hoyer and a well designed pass play, might be a sign that the aforementioned Football Gods are done with their childish bullying of Cleveland.

At least for one week.

Now, on to Cousins. The Redskins’ offense, with Rubber Legs Gimp, is a stagnant, uncoordinated thing. He’s still playing scared or at the very least tentative about his prior injuries, and now you’re adding another leg issue to the mix. Right now, especially after seeing the results the Kirk Cousins-led offense had (Jaguars comments notwithstanding), I have to say that Captain Kirk is the man for the job. Whether or not Rubber Legs is healthy.

Also, can someone please remind the offensive coaches that they have one of the best and most durable running backs in the league on their roster? You know, in case they forget again in the future? Maybe stick a post-it to Rubber Legs’ helmet.

These Games Showed Me Things…

The Ravens went from lost to found quicker than the eye could really process, but I have to remember that Joe Flacco looks pretty damn good at home. The whole team does; but they need to improve their overall consistency. Such a key word in football, consistency. No wonder I use it so much.

Pittsburgh will still be trouble.

The Panthers just won back-to-back games I didn’t think they had it in them to win. I won’t be underestimating them anymore, but that doesn’t mean I think they’re a great team. Close enough, though. Close enough.

And with the Saints sitting at 0-2, the Falcons unable to beat a good defense and the Buccaneers not realizing the preseason is over, Carolina has a fast track to the division title.

Cincinnati would look to be the team to beat in the AFC North. They are, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the rest of the division manages to beat them at least once this year. Still, awesome job shutting down Matty Ice and the Falcons.

No amount of Adrian Petersons saves the Vikings from the wroth of a 0-1 Patriots team. Well, maybe 53 of them might have, but cloning isn’t legal. Yet.

53 Adrian Petersons. Hide yo kids…

…I’m kidding. Leave Adrian alone.

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The Chargers beat the Seahawks. Doesn’t Richard Sherman owe a team a steak dinner or a bunch of medals or something? Oh, and let’s stop this “Sherman was exposed” nonsense, shall we? He’s not good enough to be talked about in such ways. Good, damn good, but his mouth is what you’re all attacking. Have the common sense to say so, hmm?

How about them Chargers, though? Antonio Gates, father time is on vacation.

The Broncos are concerning me. They let a dying Chiefs team stay in the game. These aren’t the world-beaters we saw last year.

Wes Welker will be back soon, though. Oh my.

Too many pundits have been claiming the Packers as one of the best teams in the league. They’re not. Not even close. But they can be. They just need to, you know, win games more convincingly. A win is a win is a win, but the Jets were rolling over the Pack for much of the game. Too-smart-to-be-wrong ‘experts’ need to lower the Packers in their power ranking. Just a little bit.

What the hell happened in San Fransisco? I watched it, but I’m still not sure. Is Brandon Marshall just that good? Yeah, he is. But the Bears defense? That isn’t supposed to happen, is it?

The Colts were robbed, but they still look suspect, giving the slow-start Eagles a chance to lift off in the second half. Chip Kelly is starting to look like the NFC’s version of Bill Belichick, with savvy halftime adjustments and instilling the will to win in his players. It’s impressive, without a doubt. Imagine what they’re going to look like when they start playing four quarters…

Weekly Awards

QB Of The Week: Philip Rivers. Legion of Boom? Meet the Boomstick.

RB Of The Week: Darren Sproles. When LeSean McCoy says he’s been the 2nd best back on his team this year, you look at the other guy and you say, “you must be good”. Sproles is more than good, and he just showed that last night.

WR Of The Week: Sammy Watkins, welcome to the NFL. You’re going to be one of the best. Antonio Gates, keep on keeping on, old-timer.

Offensive Line Of The Week: Chicago Bears. Give Cutler time, and he will prosper. Good showing also by the Chargers and Browns. This one can easily be split three ways.

Defensive Performance Of The Week: The Lions were one Jed Collins’ broken tackle from possibly being shut out. That doesn’t happen. None of it, not even Jed Collins catching the team’s only touchdown. Who is Jed Collins? Doesn’t matter. Props to the Panthers defense, who might actually be better than they were in 2013. Scary stuff.

Goat Of The Week: Richard Sherman. He really didn’t give up much at all, but when your mouth writes checks…you know the rest. Dude needs to be publicly humble every so often. His behavior after this game was not an example of such.

Coaching Performance Of The Week: It would be easy to give this to Mike McCoy. So easy, in fact, that I’m giving it to him. He figured out the Superbowl champs and put his team in position to do the rest. But, kudos to Doug Marrone (Buffalo) for sitting at 2-0 and beating two good teams in the process.

What’s Next

I know the Dolphins can beat these Chiefs. I know it. But will they? Oh, will they? Somebody say yes.

The Redskins found their stride against the team everyone finds their stride against, but will that stride match the Eagles’? I doubt it, but it should be fun to watch either way.

I know they just got blown up, but the Vikings-Saints matchup has intrigue written all over it. Peterson will most likely be playing, and if Cassel can avoid throwing four more interceptions…well, the Saints haven’t beaten anyone yet.

Ravens-Browns. Packers-Lions. San Fransisco-Arizona. Divisional fun. These games will be close ones, and worth keeping an eye on constantly.

Oh, I heard the Seahawks are playing the Broncos, too. I think it’s a rematch of last year’s Superbowl or something. Should be decent.

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TMD-B

Your friendly neighborhood Tuesday Morning Double-Back is…back. Huzzah!

Go Fins Go!

As is tradition here at KTN (or at least it was until I stopped doing it last year. Never again.), we’ll start the proceedings with a few words on my favorite team, the Miami Dolphins. I proclaimed they would win and take no credit for the prediction as I felt our chances were as slim as Tom Brady’s significant other. Alas, after a porous first half that our defense managed to keep from turning into a total rout, Knowshon Moreno took the team on his back, Cameron Wake made two pivotal strip-sacks and Ryan Tannehill found his stride in a 33-20 victory of momentous proportions. This is the type of win, against your most difficult division rival, to open your season, that teams can use as fuel for a notable fire going forward. The Dolphins, after one game, are better than they were at any point in 2013.

Catching Our Collective Breath

There wasn’t a game (okay, maybe the Jets-Raiders didn’t exactly burst off the screen) that didn’t grasp my attention on Sunday.

Since so much took place (and when doesn’t it seem like so much on kickoff weekend?), I’m going to break down the performances in tiers from “outstanding” to “time to worry”, in terms of how well (or not so well) the teams did in their victories (or defeats).

Outstanding

Not to continue to toot my own horn, but it cannot be overstated that the Dolphins, in beating the Patriots, started the season on an unbelievably high note. Losing Dannell Ellerbee for the season is probably going to hurt, and losing fellow LB Koa Misi for an unknown length of time won’t help either, but the backups played soundly and the confidence level of this team has to be high after one game.

It was a few days earlier, but the Seahawks simply manhandled one of their toughest conference foes on Thursday night. The Packers had moments, but so few and far between that the Seahawks looked like they had actually improved since winning the Superbowl last year. Frightening.

I made mention of the Buffalo Bills being a breakout candidate this year, but I simply didn’t see it coming in Chicago against a Bears team that has as impressive of an offensive arsenal as any team not playing in Denver. Buffalo’s overtime victory came from a team effort, which is exactly what has been missing from the Bills for the past…20 years? If they can maintain this level of play, no one on their schedule will be unbeatable.

This is borderline outstanding, but the Steelers are working with a somewhat fresh slate from 2013, despite many of the same names across the roster. Their disappointing campaign last year led many to believe them in a decline, while the Browns, with big offseason/draft acquisitions and a new coaching staff, seemed to be in an upswing. Pittsburgh controlled most of the 60 minutes in this game and should only be concerned with allowing the Browns to make a game of it down the stretch. No small concern, but still, a big divisional statement for a team many had written off before the first whistle blew.

Considering what they had to work with, and lacking their superstar QB, the Carolina Panthers went back to basics against an improved Tampa Bay squad on Sunday. Relying heavily on their stable of running backs and a potent defense, Carolina maintained ball control, got some solid work from backup QB Derek Anderson and continuously disrupted the Bucs’ offensive plans. The score doesn’t quite tell the story of this game, but like the aforementioned Steelers, the Panthers cannot allow their competition to stick around after tossing them around for the majority of a game. Hopefully the return of Newton and their dedication to full balanced football can keep that from happening with regularity.

 

Oh, and the Falcons beating the Saints? Biggest upset of the week. Hell of a game, great outcome for Atlanta, and that’s all I have to say about that. For now…

Solid

It had the potential to separate two good teams into one very good team, but last night’s Chargers-Cardinals bout ended up asking more questions than it answered for either squad. Still, despite the struggles of two potent offenses, the Cardinals proved they could stay efficient and still play solid defense despite the offseason losses, suspensions and injuries. They’re still in play in the NFC West so long as they can close out games like this, but some more punch would be nice to see.

The Rams’ inefficiencies on offense kept me from including the Vikings’ blowout victory in the ‘Outstanding’ category, but I do believe this is an excellent taste of what their future opponents are going to have to deal with. A much more stout defense under the wing of head coach Mike Zimmer, and an explosive offense directed by OC Norv Turner. Very early, it seems that Minnesota has a real shot at taking the NFC North.

This goes to both teams, as the Broncos managed to stifle any last-second Luck Magic while the Colts managed to keep the game respectable towards the end when it was anything but for three and a half quarters. Indianapolis has an uphill climb with the recent news of Robert Mathis’ torn Achilles, but they showed heart on defense and held a powerful offense within range of their own. That counts for something. The Broncos, on the other hand, should have played better, and get this spot mostly for the win and also for the potential that their new defensive acquisitions showed. Once that defense comes together, it might be game over for the rest of the AFC.

They Were Who We Thought They Were

In victory, the Bengals, Texans, Titans, Jets, Eagles, 49ers and Lions won games they should have won, so nothing overly spectacular there. In the case of the Bengals and Titans, their opponents were worthy on paper but simply didn’t show up to offer much competition.

Despite their losses, the Packers, Saints, Patriots, Browns, Colts and Chargers are very much capable of bouncing back. The Browns in particular showed incredible resiliency for a young squad, and should continue to improve going forward.

Time To Worry

The trouble in Baltimore doesn’t begin and end with the Ray Rice fiasco, as anyone who watched their stumbling effort against their biggest divisional threat can attest. The Bears need to be concerned about the potency and mistakes of their offense under Jay Cutler, who still seems to be able to look elite and horrible in the same game, sometimes in the same offensive series. The Redskins have no excuses for their embarrassing efforts against Houston, and if they’re going to turn it around, it has to start with Robert Griffin III not playing scared. Because he still is.

The Chiefs are literally falling apart before our eyes. It’s going to take some very crafty coaching from Big Red to keep that ship afloat.

The Raiders kept it respectable, but the Jets did them some favors, and neither team can count on such things every week to help them along.

The Jaguars looked incredibly sound for two quarters, and then reverted to their old selves in a 34-0 second half. It’s hard to be optimistic when you perform a 180 of that magnitude.

The Rams are offensively challenged.

The Cowboys are just challenged. In every way imaginable.

The Bucs were playing against a great defense with a new offensive scheme and new pieces, but something about their performance over 4 quarters rubbed me the wrong way. It was almost as if they couldn’t decide how, or why, they wanted to win…until it was too late.

The Giants, after one game’s worth of ineptitude, have the look of a 2-win squad.

Weekly Awards

QB Of The Week: Matty Ice is back in black…and red.

RB Of The Week: Knowshon Moreno. Put his offense on his back and willed them to victory. Miami hasn’t had a running back do that since Ricky Williams wasn’t sampling the world’s varieties of marijuana.

WR Of The Week: I’m giving this to Megatron because, well, he deserves it. But a very honorable mention to Percy Harvin, who is still as terrifyingly good as he was a couple of years ago.

Offensive Line Of The Week: Minnesota Vikings. You mean, nobody on the Rams recorded a sack? That doesn’t happen much these days. Kudos to the league’s most underrated O-Line.

Defensive Performance Of The Week: Buffalo Bills. Holding the Bears to 20 is no small feat, and the Bills’ defensive line were everywhere, while their secondary came up big when it counted.

Goat Of The Week: RG3. Watch him, and realize, he’s tentative, indecisive, and at this point, the 2nd best QB on the Redskins roster. When you were paid for with three years’ worth of top-tier draft prospects, that is 100% unacceptable.

Coaching Performance Of The Week: Chip Kelly. Totally manhandled after one half, Kelly, I imagine, instilled calm, confidence and an entirely new gameplan for his Eagles and the results were on the scoreboard by the final whistle. With Chip, you feel the Eagles can never fall too far behind as long as there’s time on the clock.

What’s Next

The Ravens have a fast turnaround against another divisional foe as Pittsburgh comes to town on Thursday night. With all the Ray Rice drama swirling, coach John Harbaugh is going to have to get his team centered and forgetful about their disappointing loss on Sunday…fast.

The Dolphins are going to face a test against a Bills team they’ve struggled against in recent years.

The Jaguars and Redskins will compete to see who can make the most mistakes and still win a football game.

In possible bounceback game, can the Cowboys, Patriots, Saints, Chargers, Packers and Bears rebound against solid competition?

Answers: No, Yes, Yes, No, No, No. Check the schedule for all the reasons you need.

Falcons and Bengals is going to be a good one.

Eagles and Colts should be even better.

Final Thoughts

I’ve seen many, many things in my years of watching NFL football, but I’ve never seen someone get kicked in the face. At least, not in the way Antonio Brown kicked Browns’ punter Spencer Lanning while returning a kick. It looked like a scripted scene from an action movie, and it will be thankfully revisited by multiple sports media outlets for weeks.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh SteelersFLAWLESS VICTORY.

The first week of an NFL season tells us things. Some of these things are sweet lies, some are bitter truths, and some are just simple facts that you have to accept. You know how to figure out which is which?

You watch 15 more games.

Let’s see what happens, shall we?

TMD-B

I officially hate the Lions.

Tucker Rule(s)?

It’s rare that a kicker can be called “clutch”. That’s why teams that find such players rarely let them go. That’s why a guy who is on the field about 10% of the game is paid as much as guys who play twice as much (and twice as hard) as they do.

I’ve seen some of the greats, from Morten Anderson to Gary Anderson, from Martin Gramatica to Adam Vinatieri. Rarely have I seen a kicker as undeniably “clutch” as Baltimore’s Justin Tucker.

If the Ravens are headed to the playoffs, shades of the 2000 team are evident in their offense’s ability to get far enough downfield to give their ace kicker a chance to put points on the board. I still hate the Lions for losing a game they should have won and keeping the last wildcard spot in the AFC away from the Dolphins, but kudos to Justin Tucker, the definition of “clutch”. That 61-yard game winner was something to remember.

Gotcha!

A handful of playoff-bound or -hopeful teams were dealt surprising defeats this week, and it all started in Denver. The Broncos were about as flat as they’ve been all year, and the lack of Wes Welker surprisingly seemed to affect their entire offense. I say surprisingly because this team seemed to get by just fine without him in 2012. Props to the Chargers, who played a solid game, but the Broncos gave this one away.

Just like the damn Lions.

Just like the Cowboys. This game will be the most talked about all week, if for no other reason than the media loves it when the Cowboys falter. Everyone who isn’t a Cowboys fan likes this, believe me, but let’s face facts:

You can’t blame Tony Romo. Or, if you do, do it in the same breath when you’re also mentioning how embarrassingly bad their defense is right now.

You can’t blame Jason Garrett. Or, if you do, blame Romo and the defense, too.

You can’t blame Dez Bryant for leaving the game a little early. Or, if you do, blame Jason Garrett, Romo and the defense, too.

Blame the Cowboys as a whole, because they’re all responsible.

But who do you blame for what happened in Philadelphia? This was the most mind-numbingly confusing game of the week to me, as the Eagles have consistently shown improvement over the last two months only to lay an egg against a very beatable (and beat up) Vikings team. Just when the division was within reach, the Eagles show they’re not quite there yet. Their defense isn’t even on the road to being quite there yet.

It didn’t surprise me as much that the Saints struggled against the Rams; St. Louis are constantly in the fight, even if their record doesn’t reflect it. But there’s something to worry about come playoff time when the Saints look like the Falcons when they’re not in a dome. Any dome will do.

Damn Lions.

Let Me Make A Big Deal About This, Please

I could have thrown this into the last section, but the Dolphins were destined to beat the Patriots this week. How do I know? Let me count the ways:

-I bought a single pack of football cards on Friday. I opened them, and the card that was sitting on top was of Ryan Tannehill.

-Because I said so.

I’m desperate for the playoffs, but I’m growing more and more confident that my Fins are truly headed in the right direction. For the first time since Chad Pennington teased me for one fantastic season, I’m confident in my quarterback. Not since #13. Not since #13.

#13. God, I’ll never stop missing him. A void that can’t be filled by any amount of Ryan Tannehills or even an Aaron Rodgers or the like.

“They Are Who We Thought They Were?”

The Browns had the Bears right where they wanted them. Then they lost.

The Redskins have two starting caliber quarterbacks. The only answer is to keep both of them until one of them shows he’s just a backup in disguise, and then you trade that guy for a 6th round pick. That’s Dan Snyder at his best.

Can’t even beat the Falcons. C’mon, man.

The Texans want to know why, after getting blown out by the Colts, they have to turn around and play Peyton Manning next week. Shell shock can cause memory loss.

The Bills and Jaguars played a game, apparently.

The Seahawks held a scrimmage against Eli Manning and some Giants fans that won a contest and were allowed to suit up.

Colin Kaepernick is coming for you, Seattle.

A defensive line coaching job in Oakland is coming for you, Rex Ryan.

Recent reports say Raiders coach Dennis Allen is on the hot seat. Yes, he is. He’s the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. That seat hasn’t been cool since Jon Gruden was in the building.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is a lesser version of Tony Romo, who is a lesser version of Brett Favre. Fitzpatrick is a gunslinger with a blunderbuss. Still, nice almost-win, Tennessee.

How about then Bungles?

Damn Lions.

Weekly Awards

QB Of The Week: Colin Kaepernick. He’s baaaaaack. I think.

RB Of The Week: Jamaal Charles. Five touchdowns, almost 200 yards receiving, and I heard he also saved a baby from a burning building.

WR Of the Week: Greg Jennings. Good show, old man. Damn good show. I almost don’t want to give him this, considering I could have probably shredded the Eagles’ secondary on my one good knee, but he deserves some credit for a change.

Offensive Line Of The Week: Carolina Panthers. So much for the dominance of the Jets front four, huh?

Defensive Performance Of The Week: Seattle Seahawks. A shutout is a shutout, and five interceptions are five interceptions. That it all happened against the Giants is just circumstance. Pure, unrelated circumstance.

Goat Of The Week: Tony Romo. The Cowboys’ Defense. Jason Garrett. Jimmy Johnson. Emmitt Smith. Roger Staubach. Hell, the city of Dallas and anyone who has ever stepped foot within its boundaries.

Coaching Performance Of The Week: Mike McCoy. I have a feeling he’s going to be in San Diego for a good long time. Of course, that isn’t much consolation to Chargers fans, who had to deal with Norv Turner for a good long time.

What’s Next?

The Dolphins can probably beat anybody, but they’ll give me a heart attack this week in Buffalo. Wait and see.

At 1:00 this Sunday, all eyes will be on the Saints and Panthers, which should be the best game of the week. It’s all on the line, and if the Panthers can win (and they can, so long as they’re not in New Orleans), the changing of the guard in the NFC South will be official.

Colts-Chiefs will be intriguing, and the Redskins and Cowboys always make for enjoyable football regardless of where they are in the standings.

Later on, the Cardinals will have an excellent opportunity to go into Seattle and prove themselves in the toughest stadium in football, against the best team in football. I wish them all the luck in the world. The Seahawks secondary is looking forward to another five interceptions.

Speaking of five interceptions, I’ll predict that Eli does it again, along with a couple of fumbles, a safety and close to a dozen sacks. The Giants will then beat the Lions. Because they’re the Lions.

They’re the damned Lions.

Patriots-Ravens. Justin Tucker kicks seven field goals. Patriots win.

Sunday Night will be pivotal for the Eagles and the Bears. Whomever wins is in the driver’s seat for their division crown going forward.

Monday Night will be more competitive than you might think at first glance. Of course, the Falcons aren’t playing the Redskins again, so they’ll lose.

Final Thoughts

Leave Tony Romo alone. LEAVE HIM ALONE!

Damn Lions.

I miss you, Dan.

Nndamukong Suh karate chopped a ball boy in Detroit last night. True story. He also pulled a fan from the stands, gave him a piggy-back ride, and then proceeded to drop him off of his back and stomp his arm until a piece of his cleats lodged into the poor fan’s forearm.

Okay, so I’m lying. The point is, you can close your eyes, see all that happening, and not be the least bit surprised.

Damn Lions.

TMD-B

Late edition. All apologies for the delay, folks.

Jacksonville Juggernauts, Houston Horrors

If somebody were to have tapped you on the shoulder in August and said something to the effect of “The Jaguars will be riding a four-game winning streak come December, have a better record than the Houston Texans, and that the Texans would have been out of playoff contention since November”, you might have felt an urge to direct them to the nearest psychological treatment center.

I guess we’re all crazy, because all of that has happened and I still can’t wrap my head around any of it. You’re looking at the same Texans team with the same weapons that have threatened to take the AFC for years, suddenly lined up for the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. Injuries have played a part, for sure, but that’s the tip of the melting iceberg of Houston.

The Jaguars, on the other hand, seem to be pointed in the right direction. At least, that’s what people will say, without realizing that teams that get hot at the end of a bad season are usually doing so for reasons such as:

-Playing for jobs (coaches and players included)
-The lack of quality opposition (The Jaguars have beaten nobody of consequence this year)
-They’re still the Jacksonville Jaguars

That last statement can be summed up by their aging halfback, their quarterback situation, and a defense that features nobody.

Still, they’ve got heart. Jerry Jones would be proud.

The Snowglobe Game and MNF Make Divisional Races Fascinating

Anyone who got to watch the Eagles-Lions playing in conditions that closely resembled the end of that Old Spice commercial with Wes Welker in a snowglobe (in a dollar store) saw one of the most enjoyable games of 2013. They also saw the Lions continue to fumble with the idea that, with the rest of their division vulnerable, they have a great chance to win the NFC North. Like dangling a carrot in front of a carnivore.

The next night, the Bears took it to the Cowboys in a way only the Cowboys could let happen, allowing Chicago to score on every offensive possession besides their last (which involved kneeling to kill the clock and the game).

The Bears and the Eagles are taking their divisional races seriously. The Lions and the Cowboys are lost children in a mall looking for their parents.

Oh, and the Packers won, too. If Aaron Rodgers can get back, they just might have a chance. So long as the Bears put Jay Cutler back on the field, of course.

Bengals Give Colts A Taste Of Their Playoff Future

I’m not sold on either team, regardless of the outcome of this game, but I do know this much; Indianapolis isn’t ready for a postseason run. No amount of come-from-behind heroics is going to matter when the team they’re facing is simply better in all three phases. Any team the Colts end up playing in the postseason (beyond whomever ends up with the final wildcard spot, at least) will be superior to them.

Same goes for the Bengals.

Speaking Of That Last Wild Card Spot…

The Dolphins can’t win without putting me on the edge of cardiac arrest. Antonio Brown was one step away from pulling off one of the most amazing (or amazingly depressing, if you’re a Dolphins fan) comebacks in NFL history. But the call was right (for a change), and the Dolphins are keeping pace.

Of course, the Ravens need to lose a game or two if Miami has a chance at the playoffs. They hold the tiebreaker over the Fins having beaten them earlier in the season, and really aren’t playing any better or worse than Miami are right now. That back and forth and back again win over Minnesota was straight out of the Dolphins’ playbook of how to win a football game. It’s going to be an exciting three weeks watching these two teams try to one-up each others bouts of ineptitude and moments of flawless execution.

The AFC’s Top Three Dominate…Oh Wait…

The Broncos just had their way with the Titans. It wasn’t a surprise.

The Chiefs just had their way with the Redskins. It wasn’t a surprise, but it has to give them a much-needed boost of confidence going forward.

The Patriots just…almost lost to the Browns. At home. In the process, they lost Tom Brady’s best offensive weapon for the rest of the year (Gronkowski is now damaged goods, and I wouldn’t expect to see him playing for the Patriots again in his career). There were some questionable calls that went in New England’s favor, but this was most likely retribution for the calls that gave the Panthers a win over them earlier in the year.

The Broncos and Chiefs are looking up. The Patriots are looking and not liking what they’re seeing.

The Games That Don’t Matter

The Jets beat the Raiders. Fantasy players everywhere cursed the name of Michael Fabiano, who has insisted that fantasy players simply play any defense the Jets are facing on a weekly basis. Good call, genius. One I would have made too. Meh.

The Buccaneers beat the pants off of the Bills. They’ll need those pants back; it gets awfully chilly in Buffalo this time of year.

The Chargers reminded us of how inept the New York Football Midgets are right now. San Diego still has a legitimate chance at making the playoffs, but plenty has to go their way while they continue to win. They’re playing the Broncos tomorrow night. Don’t expect a miracle.

The NFC’s Best Are Humbled. Or They’re Vindicated. One Of Those.

Amazing to me that, after San Fransisco pulled a big win out against the Seahawks, most notable pundits still think Seattle is invincible. Any given Sunday, geniuses.

Meanwhile, the Panthers, no doubt the story of the year in the NFC, were beat to a pulp by the Saints, no doubt the real story of the year in the NFC.

While not exactly in the same class, the Cardinals continue to win, even if the Rams don’t exactly qualify as a measuring stick for greatness. Regardless, they could do some damage come playoff time. By damage, I mean Carson Palmer’s interception ratio spiking.

Weekly Awards

QB Of The Week: Drew Brees. Plenty of QBs had a solid week, but how many did it against the vaunted #1 defense in football?

RB Of The Week: LeSean McCoy. I’m still not sure how he was making those cuts in a half foot of snow. Barry Sanders part II.

WR Of The Week: Keenan Allen. This guy is going to be something special. He already is, to be honest. Phillip Rivers is no longer writing Vincent Jackson “I Miss You” cards.

Offensive Line Of The Week: Philadelphia Eagles. McCoy was running from the second level of the Lions’ defense by default, as the Eagles’ front five (their interior in particular) absolutely dominated Nndamukong Suh (I saw him kick the Eagles center, and I don’t care if nobody else did) and the overrated Lions defensive line.

Defensive Performance Of The Week: San Fransisco 49ers. They’re every bit as good as Seattle’s defense, and I would like to think they proved that this week.

Goat Of The Week: Mike Shanahan. Unless you’re living under a rock, you should be aware of all the reasons why this is a clear-cut pick. If not, get out from under your rock. The weather is fine.

Coaching Performance Of The Week: Sean Payton. When he and Drew Brees get to scheming in the Superdome, who honestly has a chance?


What’s Next

Will Peyton Manning Tie Tom Brady’s Record by throwing 5 TDs against the Chargers? It could happen.

Will the Seahawks and 49ers, both traveling across the country, be upset by lesser teams? It could happen.

Can my Dolphins beat the dreaded Patriots? It will happen.

Packers at Cowboys should be interesting. Nothing like two train wrecks meeting head-on.

Bengals and Steelers is going to be a grudge match, one I expect the Steelers to win. The way of the Bungles cannot be explained, it can only be witnessed in sheer confusion.

Monday night provides perhaps the best matchup of the week, as the Ravens will have to fight hard to keep their playoff hopes alive against a Detroit team that seems to play their best football in their dome. Who’s stopping Calvin Johnson?

Answer: Matthew Stafford.

Final Thoughts

I haven’t been this excited about the Dolphins since Tom Brady was rehabbing a torn ACL.

I haven’t been this puzzled by Texas since the fiasco In Waco.

I haven’t been this happy with a season of football since 2012.

What can I say? I love the game, even when the matchups are meaningless to playoff contention. Every game is a possibility for great things.

Don’t miss any of them.

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.