By Jeff Risdon
Last Week: 12-4, a good Thanksgiving weekend all around. 125-67-1 on the season.
Gambling Update: Yeah, about that…I wagered 1500 Uzbek som across four games over the weekend. Every single one of those was a loser. Fortunately a recent hot streak had given me enough bankroll to keep my kneecaps intact, but it remains a harsh lesson that my gambling strategy just isn’t working out too well.
Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars (+3): This game serves as a reality check for the Case Keenum advocates in Houston. Many in my former domicile really like the UH Cougars product, but he’s yet to win a game this year. If he cannot lead the Texans to a win here, there’s really no question that he’s never going to be more than a backup. Methinks the locals love him because he’s not Matt Schaub. Well, indeed he is not. As much as Houston fans have completely turned on the deposed starter, he did lead the team to the playoffs two years in a row. Now you’re cheering for a backup playing out the string for a team that has lost 10 in a row.
The Jaguars have won three of the last four, somehow. They have yet to throw for 300 yards in a game, and they remain 32nd in both scoring offense and point differential. One of those wins came in Houston, holding the punchless Texans to 218 total yards. Houston played its best game of the year last week in nearly beating New England, but I’m not sure they have another effort like that in them. However, I think JJ Watt can win this game by himself. He might have to.
Texans 17, Jaguars 16
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (-3.5): Even though this game is a critical NFC South matchup between two Super Bowl hopefuls, the biggest key to this game is the Seattle Seahawks. Why? Well, consider that opponents who faced Seattle the week before have not won a single game this year.
You might recall Monday night, where the Seahawks absolutely destroyed the Saints 34-7. Now New Orleans has to travel back home on a short week, made shorter by their team plane being delayed out of Sea-Tac. The Seahawks are so physical that it lingers for teams. Now the Saints have an abbreviated recovery time to play another very physical team in Carolina.
I’m going to ride this angle all the way home. The Saints at home deserve to be favored, and I actually expect them to win. But I’m siding with the bizarre intangible.
Panthers 27, Saints 24
Detroit Lions at Philadelphia Eagles (-2.5): The playoff implications are huge in this meeting of 7-5 teams. With a win, the Lions go a very long way towards wrapping up the first NFC North title in franchise history. Meanwhile, the Eagles are on the outside looking in right now. They are tied with the Cowboys atop the NFC East but Dallas holds the tiebreaker as of now, though those teams meet in Week 17 in what sure seems like a winner-take-all game. But the Eagles also can improve their Wild Card chances with a win.
I broke this game down for Bleacher Report, and in my extensive studying for this matchup I can honestly say this game is a tossup. I suspect that if these teams played 100 times they would split the wins at 50, I really do. Turnovers and red zone conversions figure to be the deciding factors, but those are darn near impossible to forecast. I lean towards the Eagles at home, in no small part because Detroit’s inconsistency scares the hell out of me.
Eagles 37, Lions 33
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers (-2.5): After taking down the mighty Saints, the Seahawks head south to try to wrap up the NFC West title. It will not be easy, as the Niners are playing better recently.
The key to beating Seattle is to make them one dimensional on offense, and if the Niners can jam up Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin they have a chance. Russell Wilson continues to astonish with his ability to pull rabbits out of hats, but the San Francisco defense can snuff those bunnies.
I think we're going to see the reigning NFC Champions show their cliched "heart of a champion." I think the Seahawks are the better overall team, but the best team doesn't always win.
49ers 26, Seahawks 24
Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals (-5.5): Welcome to the Jungle, Andrew Luck. It’s not going to be fun and games for you, certainly not when the random accurate passes you actually throw bounce off Darrius Heyward-Bey or TY Hilton. But the bigger issue for Indy here is that they do not match up well with the Cincinnati defensive front. Even without Geno Atkins in the middle, the Bengals front seven remains formidable. The Colts OL is average on its best day, and the running game puts too much in Luck’s basket. There’s only so much he can do.
Bengals 24, Colts 17
Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3): The NFL fined Steelers coach Mike Tomlin $100K for his (alleged) unintentional interference with Jacoby Jones’ kick return up the sideline in Pittsburgh’s Thanksgiving night loss. I think the NFL got this right, and it should be the end of the story. There is no need to dock the Steelers any draft picks. This error was on Tomlin and Tomlin alone. It’s not the team’s fault that he ignored the “get back” guy that every team employs to keep coaches and players from venturing too close to the field of play. It didn’t ultimately impact the outcome of the game. Ball don’t lie, and the Steelers lost. That and the monetary fine on Tomlin is enough punishment.
Steelers 23, Dolphins 10 for 500 som
Cleveland Browns at New England Patriots (-10): Ah yes, the whole “Belichick in Cleveland” era revisited. Those were some good times. Metcalf up the middle. Dumping local legend Bernie Kosar and his “diminishing skills” for Vinny Testaverde. Kicking a late field goal against Miami to close the gap to two touchdowns, instead of going for the touchdown to close it to a touchdown and a field goal. Trumpeting Touchdown Tommy Vardell as a top 10 pick, and then giving him the ball about six times a game.
One of the forgotten figments of that time is that Cleveland’s defensive coordinator for some of Belichick’s tenure was none other than Nick Saban. The best coach in the NFL over the last 15 years had the best college coach of the last 25 years on the staff and yet the Browns still struggled to four losing seasons in five years.
Patriots 21, Browns 13
Buffalo Bills at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2.5): Just when everyone thought the Bucs were on the rise, they get unceremoniously thumped by the Panthers. Just when everyone thought the Bill might have some playoff vitality, they get trumped by the 2-9 Falcons in front of a half-filled stadium in Toronto. Tis better to lose to a good NFC South team than a bad one. Also, look for a huge day from Gerald McCoy rushing the passer between the tackles for Tampa.
Buccaneers 27, Bills 17 for 250 som
Oakland Raiders at New York Jets (-2.5): Why is it that these teams seemingly meet every season? I realize this is a perceived sexy matchup because of the legendary “Heidi” game. Here’s another matchup that was once incredibly sexy--Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. The ‘70s seem so very long ago…
Raiders 16, Jets 12
Kansas City Chiefs at Washington Redskins (+3.5): This game will be a great litmus test for the Chiefs. They’ve lost three in a row since their 9-0 start, and they have to hit the road. They should beat up the Ethnic Slurs, but their defense has got to play better than it has recently.
I do think the Kansas City offense will find more success than they have in the losing streak. Washington’s defense, while improving, is still closer to the fire hydrant than the pit bull. If Andy Reid cannot guide his team past what appears to be a vastly inferior opponent, it is certain that the Chiefs peaked early. They’ll still make the playoffs even with a loss here, but if they can’t win in Washington, there’s no way the Chiefs can win a game in January.
Chiefs 24, Ethnic Slurs 20
Minnesota Vikings at Baltimore Ravens (-7.5): Do not sleep on the Minnesota Vikings in this one! They are playing well lately, going 2-1-1 in the last month. The Minnesota offense appears best in the hands of Matt Cassel, who will start in Baltimore. Adrian Peterson is still awesome and amazingly looks fresh this late in the season.
The Ravens are also playing their best football, however, having won three of four to vault themselves into the final Wild Card spot in the AFC. Their offense has been freakishly consistent; in the last three weeks they have gained 317, 312 and 311 yards. The Vikings are surrendering 433 yards per game over the same time, and they give up the big plays that Baltimore thrives on in the passing game.
Ravens 30, Vikings 24
Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers (-7): This one is real simple. If Aaron Rodgers is not playing, and all the signs are pointing to him missing another week with his broken collarbone, the Green Bay Packers are not seven points better than anyone. Not even the downtrodden Falcons, who strangely are getting healthier as Sean Weatherspoon, Steven Jackson and Roddy White all look closer to 100 percent than at any point so far. The cold weather is probably enough to allow the Packers to squeak by, but it’s not a given.
As for the issue of whether the Packers should shut Rodgers down for the season, I say heck no! To quote Herm Edwards from before we all realized he’s a slogan-shouting lunatic, “You play to win the game”. Considering Green Bay hasn’t won without Rodgers, it’s pretty clear they’re not playing to win games if they sideline him after he’s ready to return. Collarbones are six week injuries, always have been and always will be. This is the last week he should miss, Green Bay fans. Keep your fingers crossed that the team around him plays better than they did against Detroit.
Packers 23, Falcons 21 for 250 som
Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos (-13): This game is a stinker, so I’ll talk instead about something else that appears to be an impending stinker. "Anchorman 2". No movie that tries this hard to promote itself has any chance of being good. I thought the first Anchorman tried way too hard and is terribly overrated. The contrived plot--if you can discern an actual plot--and the egregious overacting washed out the handful of humorous moments. I’ll admit that some of Ron Burgundy’s prodigious promotional spots are funny, but why pay to watch the movie when you’ve already seen Will Ferrell at his best? Burgundy’s spontaneity is his best quality, but that will be lost in what figures to be an overwritten, overwrought script. At the minimum, save it for home viewing instead of forking out $12 to see it in a crowded theater three months after the promotions began.
Broncos 38, Titans 23
New York Giants at San Diego Chargers (-3): A savvy reader (Hi Jacob!) emailed me to point out that I’m now 2-10 in picking Chargers games this year. I don’t have the time to verify that inglorious statistic, but I don’t doubt it; these Chargers have me completely flummoxed. So in that vein, I’m making this pick as a contrarian. My initial inclination for this game was that the Giants passing offense will overwhelm San Diego’s leaky pass defense, and Andre Brown would put up more yards on the ground than the Danny Woodhead/Ryan Mathews duo. In my mind, New York wins 28-20.
Chargers 28, Giants 20
St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals (-6): This is an under-the-radar matchup that deserves more prominence. The Cardinals remain very much alive in the NFC playoff race even after the tough loss to Philadelphia, and their defense at home is very tough. In the last four home games, the Cardinals have given up an average of 277 yards and have forced 8 turnovers.
On the flip side, the St. Louis pass rush is outstanding and the Cardinals offensive line, not so much. Carson Palmer is not nearly as effective when under pressure, and he figures to have Robert Quinn and Chris Long in his face a lot. The problem for the Rams is that the vaunted corner duo of Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins is not playing well this year. They seem to alternate good games between them, but the guy on the bad week is often really bad. I like the emergence of Michael Floyd opposite Larry Fitzgerald to exploit the one having a bad game. I do think the Rams get a defensive score in this one, but I also think the Cardinals defense can hold on just enough to secure the win.
Cardinals 24, Rams 21 for 250 som
Dallas Cowboys at Chicago Bears (-1): Three reasons I like the Cowboys to win on the road:
1. Getting Sean Lee back in the middle of the defense is huge. He’s one of the best inside backers in the game, and his ability in coverage helps take away the middle of the field.
2. The Bears offensive line is declining week by week. Even though the Dallas front four isn’t great as a whole, one quarter of that front is Demarcus Ware. That’s a problem.
3. There is no way on God’s green Earth that Chris Conte and Major Wright, the Chicago safeties, have any prayer of handling Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Demarco Murray.
Cowboys 33, Bears 27
Pittsburgh -3 for 500
Atlanta +7 for 250
Tampa Bay -2.5 for 250
St. Louis +6 for 250
This is championship weekend in college football, with a great slate of games to watch. They will be heavily represented in this week’s $.10.
MAC Championship: Northern Illinois 30, Bowling Green 27
B1G Championship: Michigan State 20, Ohio State 17
Pac-12 Championship: Arizona State 24, Stanford 21
SEC Championship: Missouri 32, Auburn 20
CUSA Championship: Rice 33, Marshall 28
ACC Championship: Florida State 30, Duke 10
Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, IQ
By Christopher Reina
Our NFL Team Rankings are based entirely on the The Trench Counter, which is an objective formula measuring average yards per pass and run on both offense and defense, along with first downs registered and given up, turnovers for and against, and total penalty yards.
Over time, The Trench Counter rankings begin to closely resemble the standings but goes even further to determine which teams are truly the best when on the line of scrimmage.
We are also including the Bill Parcells/Michael Lombardi stat that we modified called Total Rushes/Completions, which is listed as the second set of rankings below.
The chief aim of the Trench Counter is to take the subjective out of the equation and even the somewhat fluky nature of teams actually scoring points, which is of course the whole point on a game-by-game basis.
In Week 13, the Seattle Seahawks both delivered a statement on why they're clearly the best team in the NFL while also essentially securing homefield advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs. It is hard to remember a team with a better shot at reaching the Super Bowl so early in the season based on Russell Wilson's 15-0 record at home.
The Philadelphia Eagles have ascended to No. 3 in our rankings despite having their playoff chances in serious doubt as they battle the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East. The Cowboys, however, are ranked 25th despite having a better point differential. The Eagles have a more difficult schedule remaining and also must travel to Dallas for Week 17.
Click here to see the game-by-game results for Week 13.
Trench Counter (TC) Rankings
1. Seattle Seahawks: 8.7
2. Carolina Panthers: 6.8
3. Philadelphia Eagles: 5.0
4. New England Patriots: 4.6
5. San Francisco 49ers: 4.5
6. New Orleans Saints: 3.9
7. Denver Broncos: 3.1
8. Kansas City Chiefs: 2.8
9. Cincinnati Bengals: 1.6
10. Detroit Lions: 0.8
11. Indianapolis Colts: 0.6
12. Green Bay Packers: 0.2
13. Miami Dolphins: 0.1
14. Arizona Cardinals: -0.3
15. St. Louis Rams: -0.4
16. Chicago Bears: -0.4
17. Baltimore Ravens: -0.7
18. Buffalo Bills: -0.9
19. Pittsburgh Steelers: -1.0
20. San Diego Chargers: -1.3
21. Cleveland Browns: -1.4
22. Tennessee Titans: -1.4
23. Atlanta Falcons: -1.6
24. Dallas Cowboys: -1.7
25. Houston Texans: -1.9
26. New York Giants: -2.3
27. Washington Redskins: -2.5
28. Minnesota Vikings: -3.0
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -3.8
30. Oakland Raiders: -3.9
31. New York Jets: -4.3
32. Jacksonville Jaguars: -9.8
Total Rushes/Completions (TRC) Rankings
1. New Orleans Saints: 7.4
2. Detroit Lions: 7.3
3. Denver Broncos: 6.8
4. Carolina Panthers: 6.2
5. San Diego Chargers: 5.5
6. Houston Texans: 4.8
7. Seattle Seahawks: 4.3
8. Cincinnati Bengals: 3.7
9. Washington Redskins: 3.6
10. Buffalo Bills: 2.8
11. Kansas City Chiefs: 2.6
12. Baltimore Ravens: 2.4
13. New England Patriots: 2.0
14. Green Bay Packers: 1.3
15. Tennessee Titans: 1.2
16. Arizona Cardinals: 0.2
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: 0.1
18. Chicago Bears: -0.8
19. San Francisco 49ers: -1.1
20. Indianapolis Colts: -2.0
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -2.1
22. St. Louis Rams: -3.1
23. New York Jets: -3.2
24. Atlanta Falcons: -3.6
25. Oakland Raiders: -4.0
26. Philadelphia Eagles: -4.7
27. New York Giants: -4.8
28. Cleveland Browns: -5.2
29. Miami Dolphins: -5.6
30. Minnesota Vikings: -6.7
31. Jacksonville Jaguars: -7.4
32. Dallas Cowboys: -7.8
Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, IQ
By Jeff Risdon
$.01--The Denver Broncos erased any doubts about who the best team in the AFC West is, defeating the Kansas City Chiefs on the road by a final score of 35-28. At least that is what the scoreboard would have you believe, but the truth is a little more complicated.
This was Kansas City’s game to lose, and lose it they did. Even though they led 21-7 early, it could have been more. Alex Smith threw a bad red zone interception. They also had a late chance when their defense rose up and forced a quick three-and-out, but once again Smith was unable to get the ball into the end zone.
If they would have been able to cover Eric Decker they still might have won. Alas, Marcus Cooper was no match for the Broncos' wideout, and Peyton Manning exploited him early and often. Decker caught four touchdowns, scoring on half his receptions while bagging over 170 yards. They also couldn’t stop Montee Ball, who ran for 117 yards on just 13 carries while last week’s hero, Knowshon Moreno, managed just 18 yards on 15 carries.
It’s that sort of versatility and ability to coax major production from lesser players that separates these two teams. The Chiefs were game, but they don’t have enough to compete with teams like the Broncos or Patriots without the other team helping them with turnovers or mistakes. They are indeed close, but that’s not likely to be good enough in January.
$.02--Mike Tomlin is in a lot of hot water after his Thanksgiving performance.
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost 22-20 to their bitter rival, the Baltimore Ravens, in a must-win game to stay within striking distance of both the Cincinnati Bengals and the final Wild Card spot in the AFC. They fell behind early and couldn’t quite catch up after their flat, sloppy start.
Tomlin tried his best. By now you’ve seen his questionable infamy. On a Jacoby Jones kick return down the Pittsburgh sideline, Tomlin was watching the game on the scoreboard and claims he was unaware when Jones nearly ran into him. Worse, Tomlin veered into the field of play instead of deeper onto the sideline where he belongs.
In a week where the NBA fined Nets coach Jason Kidd $50K for intentionally spilling a drink to try and get a bonus timeout, the NFL needs to come down ever harder on Tomlin. As a head coach, “being unaware” is not an acceptable excuse. Jones could have been injured, but beyond the hypothetical injury, Tomlin directly interfered with the play on the field.
This is not all that different from Woody Hayes punching a Clemson player running up the sideline. It’s worse than the New York Jets’ little stunt a couple years ago that did actually hurt someone. Tomlin is the head coach; the buck stops with him. If he cannot be trusted to uphold the rules and integrity of the game, how is he supposed to control his team?
Here’s what Tomlin, whom I like very much, needs to do: even if it was an honest accident, he needs to publicly and vociferously apologize with genuine contrition. He needs to be fined at least twice as much as Kidd was fined by the NBA. If he continues to play this shady non-denial denial game, the NFL needs to hit even harder.
As a side thought, if the coach on the field would rather watch the game on a big TV because he can see it better that way, what does that say about the stadium experience?
$.03--The New York Jets lost to the Miami Dolphins 23-3, an affair that highlights all that has gone wrong in a wildly up-and-down season.
In the midst of the lifeless loss, Rex Ryan benched both the first and second round picks from April’s draft. Ryan replaced (again) quarterback Geno Smith, the second rounder, with Matt Simms after an ineffective first half (again). First round pick Dee Milliner, a cornerback from Alabama, was benched (again) for simply being awful (again). Ladies and gents, we have ourselves a power struggle!
Ryan did not make those picks; new GM John Idzik selected the disappointing talents. The recent collapse of competitiveness has forced a desperate Ryan to find anyone to help deflect the blame, and by benching the two centerpieces of Idzik’s draft plan, he’s found a worthy scapegoat. Neither player is ready for starting duty in the NFL at this point. They are indeed costing the Jets games with inept play.
Still, they represent the future. Ryan may or may not be a part of that future, but if he cannot coax tangible improvement from these players he is even more likely to be a figment of the Jets past than their leader going forward. Smith and Milliner play the two toughest positions to transition from college to the pros, and both were more than a little overrated and overhyped by fans and most draftniks. That raised expectations far higher than they could ever reasonably accomplish. Still, it’s Ryan’s job to help mold these players into functional contributors, and thus far he and his staff have failed in that capacity. Smith has shown promise and played well in spurts, but Milliner has been an unmitigated disaster.
This loss really hurt, because it puts them behind the Dolphins in the strangely tight Wild Card race in the AFC. It was an embarrassing home loss to a division rival which entered with serious issues of its own. Nobody knows who the starting quarterback will be for New York when they host the Raiders next Sunday. Given the Jets haven’t scored a touchdown in over two full games, it doesn’t really matter all that much. If they lose that one, and they might, Ryan had better start calling in favors to execute his offseason job transition to another team.
$.04--Somebody apparently wants to win the NFC North, and that somebody is the Detroit Lions. My beloved played arguably its most dominant game in my four decades on this earth on Thanksgiving, slaughtering the inept Packers 40-10. It really, really wasn’t that close.
The Lions’ dominance of the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball was stunning. Fox flashed a graphic during the game that illustrated the defensive pressure: Matt Flynn had dropped back 21 times. He was sacked six times, knocked down nine times, and hit 14 times. Because hits do not count as sacks, that means the Lions got to Flynn on 20 of his first 21 attempts at throwing the ball.
Detroit outgained the Packers 561-126, the largest such margin by any team since 2005. Had the Lions not turned the ball over four times, including twice inside the Green Bay red zone, it very well could have been 56-0. Green Bay ran for 24 yards on 15 carries, and the Lions have now allowed just 124 rushing yards on 86 carries in the last four games.
Green Bay might be the worst team in the NFC without Aaron Rodgers. They have not won in his absence, and it’s truly amazing how heavily reliant they are on him to cover for so many glaring deficiencies on the rest of the roster. Mike McCarthy can sleep safe and sound, but legendary defensive coordinator Dom Capers probably needs to gracefully bow out before he’s fired.
Do I trust the Lions to carry this magical performance over to next week in Philadelphia? Hell no. But when the Chicago Bears lost to the Minnesota Vikings in overtime, thanks in no small part to some ponderous decision by head coach Marc Trestman, the Lions have a little breathing room in the division. They also have the three final games of the season against teams with losing records, two of those at home. They might only need to win one more to clinch the playoffs.
$.05--In a very strange Sunday night game, Justin Tuck’s dominant performance for the New York Giants defense is likely to be forgotten. Tuck sacked Robert Griffin III four times and thoroughly embarrassed both Chris Chester and Tyler Polumbus on the Washington offensive line.
He played an outstanding game, one which has to have Giants fans wondering where in the world that effort has been all year. Eli Manning was pretty strong in his own right, an efficient 22-of-28 for 235 yards with one TD and a matching INT.
Yet the hatchet job by noted inept official Jeff Triplette will be all anyone takes away from this game. If you didn’t see the sequence of events at the end of the game, it’s hard to describe and give it justice. Essentially it comes down to this: the Ethnic Slurs thought they had achieved a first down, and the chain crew moved the sticks to indicate as such. But Triplette thought it was still third down for some reason. The Slurs (theoretically) called a play designed for first down when it was really third down. That’s a major league gaffe by Triplette, one that deserves serious recriminations for a man who is perennially the weakest link of the officiating chain.
Of course, the play call matters not when you fumble the very next play. As my Bleacher Report colleague Michael Schottey summated:
Really, Washington can blame just about anyone except RG3 for this loss. He was almost perfect in the first half, missing just one throw. In the second half he was plagued by drops on well-thrown balls and some awful protection. He wound up 24-of-32 for 206 yards and a TD, plus 88 yards rushing. That’s pretty solid production given the overall context. Yet he didn’t throw them under the bus for the bad drops or stupid penalties (Pierre Garcon and Santana Moss both were guilty) in his postgame presser. If people blame RG3 for this latest loss, they’re trying too hard to find fault.
$.06--The Carolina Panthers keeps rolling, and with San Francisco’s recent revitalization, it appears the NFC Wild Cards are pretty locked in heading into the final quarter of the season.
The Panthers, of course, still harbor visions of catching the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South. They sit at 9-3, a half-game behind New Orleans as the Saints play on Monday night. Those two teams square off two times in the next three weeks, which will settle that division. It’s hard to see both teams not winning more than one game left on their respective dockets, and that will comfortably put them both in the playoffs.
The Niners have recovered nicely from losing to both New Orleans and Carolina in consecutive weeks. With wideout Michael Crabtree back and the passing offense finally looking credible, the 8-4 Niners are getting stronger for the stretch run. They have a critical game with Seattle next week, but after that epic battle they draw the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The dregs of the NFC South both sit at 3-9, not exactly a rough road to double-digit wins for the Niners.
Really the only team with any realistic chance at catching San Francisco is Arizona, but the Cardinals blew a great chance in Philadelphia to stay with their NFC West rivals. Carson Palmer turned the ball over three times, and untimely penalties set up one Philly TD and erased a rare Nick Foles interception. The Cardinals still have life because they host the Niners in the season finale, but they have to stick within one game in the standings heading into that matchup. Their road is not easy. This coming Sunday they host the hyper-physical Rams, who struggle on offense but are no picnic with their outstanding pass rush. Then comes a trip to Nashville to play the Titans in what could be inclement weather. The final two games are as rough as they can get--a trip to Seattle and then the aforementioned Niners game. Because San Francisco holds the division and conference tiebreakers over Arizona, the Cardinals really need a lot of help to turn their good season into a playoff season.
As for the other teams with remaining mathematical life, the road to 10 wins seems highly improbable at best. Chicago lost to Minnesota and their defense is a major problem. Their next game is with Dallas, which is 7-5 and could pound the final nail in Chicago’s coffin. The Cowboys are in a dogfight with the Eagles to win the NFC East, and they play in Week 17 in what appears to be a winner-take-all game. That ensures that the loser of that game will have at least six losses, and that’s not likely to catch the Niners for the final Wild Card.
$.07--The Iron Bowl is the very definition of an instant classic. In one of the most thrilling finishes in American sports history, Auburn stunned top-ranked Alabama 34-28. The final margin came on the game’s final play, one which will haunt Nick Saban as long as he lives.
Saban elected to attempt a 57-yard field goal with his backup kicker, a decision fostered because his regular kicker missed three earlier attempts. The kick was on line but about three yards short, and the ball fell into the waiting arms of Auburn’s Chris Davis. The Tiger did not hesitate, immediately darting towards the left sideline. Alabama was either caught unaware or just flat-out inept, as plodding linemen tried in vain to slow Davis down. He nearly stepped out of bounds but veered inside and ran all the way to SEC Title game. What’s even more crushing for Bama fans is that the play resulted only because of a lengthy review that put one second back on the clock, which sent the Crimson Tide fans into smug optimism.
I watched the game at a bar in Brighton, MI, which is between Ann Arbor and Lansing. The scene there was uncomplicated and unanimous; every single person in the popular, packed establishment was rooting against Nick Saban. I ascertained that the enmity was almost completely directed at the Alabama coach, not the Tide per say. When the play unfolded, even the aging hipsters on an intentionally ironic date behind me were screaming at the top of their menthol-infused lungs. People around these parts recall Saban’s ruthless ego when he coached both Toledo and Michigan State, alienating everyone he touched with his soulless vapidity.
Saban’s regrettable decision cost his team any legitimate shot at a third consecutive national title. He has only himself to blame. Here’s hoping Florida State and Ohio State both win their conference title games and keep Alabama far away from the BCS Championship.
$.08--5 NFL Quickies
1. Atlanta beat Buffalo in Toronto in front of maybe 30,000 people at Rogers Centre. Granted it was a terribly unappealing matchup, but I guarantee that same pairing would have drawn 100K in Monterey. Perhaps the NFL needs to look at a different border for potential franchise relocation.
2. The Houston Texans now own the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Yet trying to figure out what direction they turn is complicated, because they will almost certainly have a new coaching staff next year. They might also have a new GM, though I think the failures are far more on Gary Kubiak than Rick Smith.
3. Bears wideout Alshon Jeffery had yet another very strong game. 12 catches, 249 yards and two touchdowns. One of those belongs in the “catch of the year” consideration, an acrobatic snag over Chris Cook along the sideline. He’s a perfect No. 2 receiver in a perfect situation for his skills, and he’s made life a lot easier for Josh McCown in Jay Cutler’s latest absence.
4. One big highlight from the Buffalo/Atlanta game was Falcons coach Mike Smith pulling aside rookie Robert Alford after he recovered an overtime fumble and then lateraled the ball to a teammate. You could read Smith’s lips quite clearly, “That’s a great play but don’t ever do that again!”
5. Jacksonville won in Cleveland. That’s three wins in four weeks for the Jaguars, and they’ll be favored over Houston next week at home. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that they win their next three games, home dates with the Texans, Bills, and Titans. Those teams are a combined 4-20 in the last eight games for each team. So much for a top three pick in Jacksonville…
--I was in the Big House for Ohio State/Michigan. To keep this in the spirit of “quickies”, here are two thoughts. First, the Ohio State team that played in Ann Arbor will get trounced by Michigan State in the B1G title game next week. Second, I love the decision to go for two by Brady Hoke. Devin Gardner was hobbling and the kicker was real shaky in second-half warmups, missing from both 30 and 40 at that very end zone. They weren’t going to win in overtime, period. The play call itself was lousy, but the decision to go was the correct one. I will have extensive notes on the game posted at DetroitLionsDraft.com on Monday night, please check them out.
--I can’t make sense of the BCS bowls just yet, but my way of evaluating rankings of teams is that I hypothesize them playing three games on a neutral field. The team I believe would win two goes higher. With that as the basis, my top five in order: Florida State, Missouri, Auburn, Alabama, Oklahoma State. I think Ohio State and Baylor would both mightily struggle playing better opponents every week.
--Congrats to the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, who beat UAB 62-27 on Saturday. That was their first win since the 2011 Hawaii Bowl, when they beat Nevada in longtime coach Larry Fedora’s swan song. The 23-game losing streak ends courtesy of the worst defense in the country, as SoMiss’s own escaped the cellar in the win. Not a lot of defense in Conference USA…
--Nebraska is apparently retaining coach Bo Pelini even though he essentially dared the school to fire him. Ironically, I agree with Pelini’s argument that he’s done well at Nebraska; they’re a solid 25-40 overall program and that’s about as best as they can hope for in Lincoln anymore. Yet he’s greased the skids to get whacked with even the slightest of disappointments going forward.
$.10--In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’ll go with a positive message. I got to spend my Tuesday with my wife’s grandmother. Virginia, or Grandma G as we call her, is in her mid-90s but remains vibrant and vivacious. We had a great time talking about our childhoods, our religious upbringings, the joys of being married, the evils of subsidized healthcare, the decline of Detroit and various other things as we drove across the Mitten State.
I don’t have any of my own grandparents left. Three of them died within a year of my marriage in 1996, and my remaining grandfather passed away this last January. I am very thankful to have Grandma G in my life, and even more thankful that my children have gotten to know her and spend a lot of time with her. My daughter’s middle name is Virginia in her honor and the bond between them is very real, even though they were born 88 years apart.
Be thankful for the family you have, and take time to let them know you appreciate them.
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The Saints travel to Seattle with control of the NFC on the line, a quick rematch of Broncos/Chiefs, Thanksgiving's tripleheader and more.
The 49ers reestablished as a contender with their convincing victory over the Redskins, while the Patriots have a great argument as the best team in the AFC.
Another victory for Tom Brady over Peyton Manning, a late comeback by Tony Romo, disarray in the NFC North and the bottom of the AFC picture, and more.
Jadeveon Clowney, Jake Matthews, Teddy Bridgewater and Marcus Mariota comprise the top-4, while D'Anthon Thomas drops significantly.
Breaking down Wes Welker's return to New England, an important matchup for the Cardinals against the Colts, Giants/Cowboys and the rest of the slate.
Percy Harvin made his debut on Sunday, improving what is already the best team in the NFL in the Seahawks.