By Jeff Risdon
Last Week: 10-6. That makes the overall season forecast 156-84, counting the tie as a loss.
Gambling Update: I wagered 2,250 Uzbek som across five games. Three came back winners, returning 2500. The 250 som profit gets me back to 9,250 after starting the season with 10,000.
This is the final week of the regular season. With so many teams having so little to play for, this is annually the toughest week to forecast. There are varying motivations and loads of reserves that wind up seeing unprecedented reps. As a result, my gambling days are pretty much over, except for one tantalizing matchup to go out big.
With that in mind, instead of trying to break down the matchup I’ll give each team’s MVP and unsung player.
Games that really matter
- Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
Ravens MVP--Terrell Suggs. He turned it up when the rebuilt defense needed him to, and had the biggest impact of any player on the team.
Unsung--Jimmy Smith. The young corner took the next step towards fulfilling the first-round status he earned back in 2011. A rising star.
Bengals MVP-- Andrew Whitworth. The left tackle moved inside to stabilize the left guard spot, where he’s arguably the best pass-blocking guard in the NFL. He’s the heart and soul of the offense.
Unsung--Marvin Jones. He emerged as the secondary receiving target the Bengals needed to balance with A.J. Green. His nine TDs blew away projections.
The game--The Ravens have to win and have Miami lose to get into the playoffs. The Bengals lock up the #3 seed in the AFC with a win. I like Cincy’s lines to control the game at home.
Bengals 27, Ravens 21
- Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
Packers MVP--Eddie Lacy. The rookie RB carried the offensive load while a troika of inept QBs desperately filled in for injured Aaron Rodgers.
Unsung--Sam Shields. Without his steady presence at corner, a very bad defense would have been much, much worse.
Bears MVP--Alshon Jeffery. Brandon Marshall had a handful more catches, but Jeffery topped him in yards and degree of difficulty. His emergence made a good offense great.
Unsung--Matt Slauson. Left guard problem solved. Enough said.
The game--Aaron Rodgers returns just in time to give the Packers a lift to the NFC North title. I’ll take him in a shootout over either Cutler or McCown. Bet the over.
Packers 37, Bears 35
- San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals
49ers MVP--Navorro Bowman. His signature pick-six to wipe out the Falcons guaranteed a playoff berth. This year he definitively passed teammate Patrick Willis as the best 3-4 ILB in the game.
Unsung--Tramaine Brock. The more the corner played, the better he played. Arguably the best cover man in the secondary.
Cardinals MVP--Karlos Dansby. Not many inside LBs lead a team in PDs, INTs, and also scores twoTDs. He’s been phenomenal.
Unsung--Andre Ellington. The rookie RB provided a major spark on offense, giving them a big-play threat as both a runner and receiver.
The game--The Cardinals need the game to have any prayer (Saints' game will take place simultaneously), and being at home after the Niners come off an emotional win. Coin-flipper goes to Arizona.
Cardinals 19, 49ers 16
- Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Eagles MVP--LeSean McCoy. Even though Nick Foles ripped off an impressive string of starts to salvage the messy QB issue, McCoy singlehandedly dominated critical wins over Detroit and Chicago.
Unsung--Brandon Boykin. His five INTs and 14 PDs leads the team, and he also contributed as a return man for a time.
Cowboys MVP--Dez Bryant. Tough call here as Tony Romo had another strong season, but Bryant largely handled being the focal point of the defense in impressive fashion.
Unsung--George Selvie. Seven sacks and a forced fumble are fairly modest totals for a defensive end, but without his effort the historically bad Cowboys defense would have been much worse. Scary thought.
The game--With Romo out, I think the pressure might actually be off the Cowboys. But their defense has no answer for McCoy, Desean Jackson and the Philly offense.
Eagles 44, Cowboys 33
Games with some implications
- Kansas City at San Diego Chargers
Chiefs MVP--Jamaal Charles. The RB carried the offense when the passing game lacked punch. He’s a threat to score on any play.
Unsung--Alex Smith. It’s not often the starting QB can qualify as unsung, but Smith’s game management skills were exactly what this team needed.
Chargers MVP--Philip Rivers. I’ll freely admit to thinking he was done and needed replacing. Rivers proved me wrong, and he’s the reason the Chargers still have playoff life.
Unsung--Marcus Gilchrist. Eric Weddle gets all the glory, but fellow safety Gilchrist also provided strong coverage help behind some truly lousy corner play.
The game--San Diego has to win and get some help, while the Chiefs are locked in as the fifth seed. Motivation at home wins.
Chargers 26, Chiefs 24
- New York Jets at Miami Dolphins
Jets MVP--Muhammad Wilkerson. After J.J. Watt, he’s the best all-around 3-4 defensive lineman in the league and proves it on a weekly basis.
Unsung--Damon Harrison. He’s quickly become one of the best run stuffers in the league and puts real teeth in the middle of the Jets defense.
Dolphins MVP--Cameron Wake. The ringleader of the defense proved he’s one of the best pass rushers in the league.
Unsung--Brent Grimes. He stepped up with his best season when the Dolphins really needed a corner to provide strong coverage.
The game--For some reason I really like the Jets as playoff spoilers here.
Jets 20, Dolphins 17. I wager 1,250 som on the Jets at +5.5 points.
- Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders
Broncos MVP--Peyton Manning. Setting the single-season TD record and running away and hiding with the league MVP honor.
Unsung--Knowshon Moreno. After seemingly falling out of favor, Moreno churned out a strong season in a backfield-by-committee.
Raiders MVP--Kevin Burnett. Because someone has to be MVP and he played the best on the Raiders sometimes-tough D.
Unsung--Rod Streater. The speedy receiver was better than his stats (55 catches, 848 yards) indicate.
The game--Denver doesn’t let up as they seek home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Broncos 40, Raiders 20
- Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons
Panthers MVP--Luke Kuechly. The tackling machine spearheaded the Panthers defensive revitalization.
Unsung--Travelle Wharton. His takeover at left guard coincided with the Panthers turning around their shaky early start. A rock in pass protection.
Falcons MVP--Matt Ryan. Matty Ice didn’t get to deliver in many clutch situations, but he still gave the Falcons some hope amidst injury and OL issues.
Unsung--Matt Bosher. The punter and kickoff specialist was outstanding despite the lost season.
The game--The Panthers can sniff a division title and they’re not letting the Falcons stand in their way.
Panthers 33, Falcons 21
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Buccaneers MVP--Lavonte David. Tough call over Gerald McCoy, but David had more responsibility in the middle of the defense and carried them out with rare awesomeness.
Unsung--Tim Wright. The undrafted rookie tight end emerged as a surprising receiving threat, both now and moving forward.
Saints MVP--Drew Brees. He remains the ringleader of one of the most explosive offenses in the league and is the unquestioned leader of the team.
Unsung--Cameron Jordan. He’s a leading candidate for Most Improved Player, really stepping up as a pass rusher in Rob Ryan’s more aggressive defense.
The game--New Orleans has to win to make the playoffs. It’s at home and the Bucs cannot match the offensive firepower.
Saints 34, Buccaneers 26
- Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots
Bills MVP--Mario Williams. Forget the narrative; Williams has been a dynamic pass rusher for a very underrated defensive front 7.
Unsung--Scott Chandler. Every young QB needs a reliable tight end, and Chandler led the team in receiving yards and plays of 20+ yards.
Patriots MVP--Tom Brady. As if there’s any debate…
Unsung--Rob Ninkovich. Seriously folks, you need to watch him play a lot to appreciate just how important and reliable he is to the defense.
The game--Patriots show the Bills who is boss in the AFC East. Again.
Patriots 28, Bills 16
Games for draft position only
- Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Lions MVP--Calvin Johnson. When he was out (vs. GB) or limited (vs. NYG) the Lions offense was putrid.
Unsung--DeAndre Levy. The linebacker deserves strong consideration for Most Improved Player, and his 6 INTs was a huge boon for the defense.
Vikings MVP--Adrian Peterson. Despite a carousel of crap at QB, AD showed why he’s the reigning NFL MVP. Will top 1300 yards despite missing time with injuries.
Unsung--Brian Robison. The defensive end notched nine sacks, broke up three passes and scored a TD on a fumble return.
The game--Minnesota closes out the Metrodome, while the Lions close out the Jim Schwartz era.
Vikings 30, Lions 26
- Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans
Texans MVP--J.J. Watt. This might be the easiest choice of any team. He remains the best defensive player in the NFL today.
Unsung--Brandon Brooks. The big right guard took over the starting role and acquitted himself nicely. He’s one of the better run blockers at the position in the league.
Titans MVP--Jurrell Casey. The best player you’ve never heard of, the Titans defensive tackle has quietly become one of the best interior pass rushers in the game.
Unsung--Michael Roos. The hulking, consistently effective left tackle could probably win this honor for every year in Tennessee.
The game--The Matt Schaub era ends for Houston with a 14th straight loss.
Titans 20, Texas 17
- Washington at New York Giants
Ethnic Slurs MVP--Trent Williams. For a team where not much went right, the offensive line was the exception. Williams wasn’t outstanding, but he was still a strong point.
Unsung--Tyler Polumbus. Sticking with the offensive line, the journeyman right tackle played his best season.
Giants MVP--Antrell Rolle. He came up with six INTs while also leading the team in solo tackles by a wide margin.
Unsung--Rueben Randle. The young receiver stepped up with 41 receptions and a team-leading sixTDs, as well as leading the team in downfield targets.
The game--I think the Washington defense has perked up enough that it gives real trouble to the New York offense in London Fletcher’s last game.
Ethnic Slurs 23, Giants 16
- Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
Browns MVP--Joe Thomas. He doesn’t put up stats, but without the game’s best left tackle the Browns wouldn’t get near the statistics they do.
Unsung--Billy Cundiff. The kicker wasn’t perfect (20-24) but he was solid, and his kickoffs were fantastic in preventing returns.
Steelers MVP--Antonio Brown is perhaps the most anonymous 100-reception receiver in NFL history. He’s also in the top 5 in catches of 20+ yards, first downs and the top ten in yards.
Unsung--Cameron Heyward. He finally showed the first-round promise in his third season, generating a lot of pressure and providing strong run defense from his DE position.
The game--Pittsburgh always beats Cleveland. It’s really that simple.
Steelers 24, Browns 14
- St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks
Rams MVP--Robert Quinn. He’s the most explosive pass rushing force in the league, with 18 sacks and 7 forced fumbles.
Unsung--Kellen Clemens. The fact the Rams offense was almost exactly the same with Clemens as with Sam Bradford kept the Rams afloat in a brutally tough NFC West.
Seahawks MVP--Russell Wilson. The second-year QB might is a legit contender for league-wide MVP honors. Richard Sherman is 1A.
Unsung--Cliff Avril. He led the team with eight sacks in situational duty and also forced five fumbles.
The game--Seattle at home against a non-playoff contender is a given.
Seahawks 27, Rams 6
- Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts
Jaguars MVP--Cecil Shorts. Because someone has to be MVP, and the wideout maximized his opportunities.
Unsung--Alan Ball. The journeyman corner played surprisingly well in coverage
Colts MVP--Andrew Luck. His ability to pull fourth-quarter rabbits out of hats turned a shaky team into a division champ.
Unsung--Anthony Castonzo. A lot of what Luck did was facilitated by strong protection from his left tackle.
The game--The Colts have a chance to win the No. 2 or No. 3 seed with a win, so this game is probably mislabeled as meaningless. The Jaguars always play Indy tough, but the Colts prevail.
Colts 29, Jaguars 27
Have a very happy and safe New Year’s!
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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.
With just one week remaining in the 2013 regular season, the second ranked team still needs to win in Week 17 to even qualify for the playoffs. The Philadelphia Eagles have been enigmatic with several blowout wins, yet also losing 48-30 in Week 15 to the Minnesota Vikings. The Eagles have won six of seven and appear to be the one team outside of the NFC West and NFC South that can play spoiler in the playoffs.
The New England Patriots have a slight edge in the Trench Counter for AFC supremacy, even though it is likely that the Denver Broncos end up with homefield advantage in the playoffs.
Trench Counter (TC) Rankings
1. Seattle Seahawks: 7.7
2. Philadelphia Eagles: 7.1
3. Carolina Panthers: 5.5
4. San Francisco 49ers: 5.5
5. New England Patriots: 4.9
6. Denver Broncos: 4.3
7. Kansas City Chiefs: 3.7
8. New Orleans Saints: 2.9
9. Indianapolis Colts: 2.2
10. Cincinnati Bengals: 1.9
11. San Diego Chargers: 1.4
12. Arizona Cardinals: 1.1
13. Buffalo Bills: 0.8
14. Green Bay Packers: 0.2
15. St. Louis Rams: -0.3
16. Pittsburgh Steelers: -0.4
17. Chicago Bears: -0.7
18. Baltimore Ravens: -1.2
19. Miami Dolphins: -1.6
20. Detroit Lions: -1.7
21. Tennessee Titans: -1.9
22. Dallas Cowboys: -2.0
23. Cleveland Browns: -2.1
24. Atlanta Falcons: -2.3
25. Minnesota Vikings: -2.8
26. Washington Redskins: -3.0
27. New York Jets: -3.3
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -3.5
29. New York Giants: -4.3
30. Oakland Raiders: -5.0
31. Houston Texans: -5.1
32. Jacksonville Jaguars: -8.0
Total Rushes/Completions (TRC) Rankings
1. New Orleans Saints: 8.5
2. Detroit Lions: 8.1
3. San Diego Chargers: 7.9
4. Carolina Panthers: 7.7
5. Denver Broncos: 6.8
6. Seattle Seahawks: 4.3
7. Arizona Cardinals: 3.4
8. Baltimore Ravens: 2.9
9. Washington Redskins: 2.9
10. Houston Texans: 2.5
11. Green Bay Packers: 1.8
12. New England Patriots: 1.7
13. Cincinnati Bengals: 1.6
14. Kansas City Chiefs: 1.5
15. Buffalo Bills: 1.4
16. Tennessee Titans: 0.4
17. Chicago Bears: -0.9
18. Pittsburgh Steelers: -0.9
19. San Francisco 49ers: -1.1
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -2.0
21. Indianapolis Colts: -2.2
22. Oakland Raiders: -2.4
23. Atlanta Falcons: -2.5
24. St. Louis Rams: -3.7
25. New York Jets: -4.1
26. Philadelphia Eagles: -5.3
27. New York Giants: -5.4
28. Cleveland Browns: -5.9
29. Miami Dolphins: -6.1
30. Jacksonville Jaguars: -6.2
31. Minnesota Vikings: -6.7
32. Dallas Cowboys: -7.3
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By Jeff Risdon
In lieu of writing about NFL games I didn’t get to see due to my family celebrating Christmas early, I decided to get into the giving spirit and hand out some NFL gifts. Players, teams, coaches and even a couple of owners all made the gift list, even though some were pretty naughty.
Pour yourself a glass of eggnog, cuddle up under an officially licensed NFL blanket, and share in the spirit of the season.
To the Houston Texans: healthy 2014 returns by Duane Brown, Brian Cushing, Owen Daniels, Arian Foster and Johnathan Joseph. Five of the seven best players on the roster either missed significant time or were clearly hampered by injuries. If Santa brings them good health--and a quarterback--the Texans will be right back in the playoff mix.
To Rob Gronkowski: A bottle of Osteum and a suit made of bubble wrap. It’s amazing a guy that hulking and athletic can be so darn fragile.
To Jim Schwartz: Newfound success as the new Defensive Coordinator for the St. Louis Rams. He sure won’t be back in Detroit after blowing yet another close game where the Lions led in the fourth quarter.
To the Miami Dolphins: A new right guard with a better grasp of human decency and a new right tackle with more of a football mindset. Hopefully at least one of them is good at pass blocking.
To Jeff Triplette: Laser eye surgery and a copy of the Official NFL Rule Book. Because officials should be able to see and also know what they’re supposed to be looking for…
To Dez Bryant: A pacifier and a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People.
To Aaron Rodgers: A time machine to an era when his mustache would actually be considered fashionable instead of ironic and ridiculous.
To London Fletcher: The best watch that Rolex makes, because he’s been the most durable linebacker in NFL history and deserves a nice going-away present.
To Tim Tebow: A divine intervention to convince him to completely give up football as a vocation.
To Peter King: The ability to edit unfortunate Tweets. Minutes after calling out Cam Newton for doing nothing all day (twice), Newton masterminds a drive which seizes a victory for the Panthers over the Saints.
To the Chicago Bears defense: Eleven copies of Tackling for Dummies, along with some actual tackling dummies to practice upon. They need it.
To Commissioner Goodell: Avenged Sevenfold’s Hail to the King as his ringtone, because he clearly likes the fealty. Plus, the song conveys toughness without being dirty, the way football should be played.
To Rob Ryan: His first-ever playoff berth as a coach. Of course the Saints’ Defensive Coordinator will watch his team lose on the road in the Wild Card round, but it’s better to be invited to the dance than sitting at home eating piles of McDonald’s in grief and shame.
To Paul Allen: The Seahawks owner has more money than just about anyone, but I suspect he could use a nice Mont Blanc pen to write all those extra zeroes into Russell Wilson’s next contract.
To Andy Reid: A tall glass pitcher and a wooden spoon, so that he might completely morph into Kool-Aid Man.
To Colin Kaepernick: A San Francisco 49ers' hat, so he doesn’t have to wear those of opposing teams anymore.
To Eli Manning: A better offensive line to protect him and a giant eraser to help wipe away his dismal 2013
To Adrian Peterson: A big bottle of pain medication. All those hits he takes are really going to hurt more in the cold when the Vikings move outside next season. Come to think of it, opposing linebackers might need it more than he does.
To Mike Ditka: A shuffleboard stick and several packs of chewing gum. Please use them in retirement in lieu of yelling at everyone on the ESPN set.
To Mario Williams: An oversized key, so that he might finally unlock the shackles of being falsely labeled a bust. He’s better than advertised, folks.
To Andrew Luck: An alarm clock set automatically set two hours early. That way he plays awesomely for a full game instead of just the second half after stinking in the first.
To Troy Polamalu: A giant hair net and a fulltime move to linebacker.
To Matt Flynn: A team that actually wants him to be their backup quarterback. It might not be Green Bay after Sunday’s latest disaster.
To Luke Kuechly: Some really cool and catchy nickname to help him get more recognition as one of the best players in the NFL. The only thing I can come up with is “The Force”, as in “the force is with you, Luke”.
To Cleveland fans: One giant fluffy pillow to help keep on dreaming of next year. Again.
To Daniel Snyder: A bag of Redskin potatoes. Unless your team is named after the tubers, you might as well call them the N-words.
To Gus Johnson: Audio tapes of Pat Summerall and Al Michaels doing play-by-play. They augment the action instead of overwhelming and dominating it like he does.
To Andy Dalton: A big bunch of bananas, to help get the playoff monkey off his back.
To Peyton Manning: Some Vaseline to help his helmet slide on and off without leaving such distinct indentations in his forehead.
To Geno Smith: Legitimate and healthy NFL talents at all his fellow offensive skill positions with the Jets. He’ll never get much better without it.
To Keenan Allen: The presumed NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year gets a pair of Ray Bans, because his future is so bright.
To Tony Romo: A brimless Cowboys hat, so that he doesn’t have to keep wearing his backwards. Actually a nice Cowboy hat would be a refreshing change.
To the city of Oakland: A priest to exorcise the spirit of Al Davis from continuing to haunt the Raiders.
To all who take the time to read my weekly offerings here: A very heartfelt thank you for your support and precious attention!
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On the Panthers/Saints for the NFC South, Cardinals' chances at Seattle, Colts at Chiefs in a playoff preview and the rest of the Week 16 games.
The Chiefs are now the highest rated team in the AFC in the Trench Counter.
On the mess and dysfunction in Texas with the Longhorns and Cowboys, Arizona's playoff chances, Broncos' defense issues, Leslie Frazier and more.
Nine home underdogs this week, a truly astonishing number, including Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins against the Patriots.
The Eagles climbed to No. 2 with their huge win over the Lions, while the 49ers elevated into the top-5.
Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Brett Hundley and Johnny Manziel are four of the first six picks in this mock.