By Jeff Risdon
Only two weeks of regular season football left. Enjoy it while it lasts, even if you’re a fan of a hopeless team like the Houston Texans.
Last Week: 10-6, which I’ll take on a topsy-turvy weekend of games. The overall season mark is now 146-78, counting the tie as a loss.
Gambling Update: To quote Glenn Quagmire, “Oh yeah, all right!” I went heavy on the Chiefs and cashed in on the Steelers and Seahawks as well. I returned a cool 2000 som profit on the week. The Uzbek bookies are off my back as I inch ever closer to my original starting point of 10,000 som, the official currency of that Central Asian nation. I now hold 9000 and I’m looking to get back in black.
New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers (-3): The NFC South title is on the line in Charlotte, and the Panthers sure appear to be in a very favorable position to seize the division. New Orleans made a couple of stunning personnel moves this week, cutting longtime kicker Garrett Hartley and benching left tackle Charles Brown.
Veteran Shayne Graham takes over for Hartley, who had missed several kicks under 50 yards this season. He shanked one and had another blocked in the humbling loss to St. Louis last week, and coach Sean Payton had seen enough. Graham is a competent replacement who might even have better range.
The more serious move is benching Brown in favor of rookie Terron Armstead. Brown has not been good, but Armstead has yet to play as a second-round pick out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. He makes his debut on the road against the talented Greg Hardy, who notched four QB hits last week while facing the decent D’Brickashaw Ferguson and the Jets.
I liked Armstead in the draft process, I really did. He was easily the best player regardless of position during Shrine Game week last year, and he was demonstrably better than Lane Johnson (the fourth overall pick) during his time at Senior Bowl week. But this is trial by fire with dire implications; if the Saints lose they’ll likely wind up as the fifth seed, which means a Wild Card trip to either Philadelphia, Chicago or Green Bay. They’re not winning any of those games. That’s a lot to put on a rookie making his debut.
Panthers 30, Saints 25
Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (-10.5): I was talking to a buddy of mine the other day (hi Rico!) and he’s a conspiracy theorist as well as a 49ers die-hard. His contention is that the Seahawks will lay down to let the Cardinals win, which sets up a Week 17 game in Arizona between the Cardinals and 49ers for the final NFC Wild Card spot. Yes, he actually believes Pete Carroll loathes Jim Harbaugh that much.
I think Rico is crazy, but there’s just enough method to his madness that I cannot rule out the possibility of the Cardinals dialing up the improbably upset. I wouldn’t wager even one Uzbek som, which is worth less than a penny, on his inkling, but it does intrigue me. Carroll is absolutely that petty.
Seahawks 24, Cardinals 18
Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs (-7): This is almost certainly a preview of the fourth seed vs. fifth seed AFC playoff game in a couple of weeks, though that game will be in Indianapolis. The Chiefs still have visions of overtaking the Broncos and seizing the AFC West, and that carries the day over the Colts, who are pretty much locked into the four seed. The ever-improving Chiefs offense continues to roll.
Chiefs 27, Colts 20
New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens (-2): Here’s what we learned about the Ravens on Monday night--they’re going to win a battle of field goals, period. Baltimore has a lot of confidence against New England, and their strong special teams give them just enough of a boost to overcome New England. Tom Brady will really miss Rob Gronkowski in this one, particularly in the red zone. Hence the battle of the kickers, and Justin Tucker wins that battle.
Ravens 19, Patriots 16
Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles (-3): The overwhelming thought I have with this game is Chicago’s truly laughable run defense trying to contain LeSean McCoy and the very solid Eagles offensive line. They steamrolled a very good Lions run defense for over 200 yards, and these Bears might be the worst run defense of the last 20 years. They rank dead last in yards per carry (5.2), yards per first-down carry (5.6) and most yards allowed--by almost 300.
The good folks at Pro Football Focus grade every play of every game, and they have scored the Bears run defense at -113.3 (subscription required to view advanced stats). The next-worst team is Dallas at -61.9. In short, the Bears are almost twice as bad as any other team, and the Dallas defense is abominable. Until last week, the Eagles led the league in rushing attempts per game, and they still lead the league in yards per carry.
Matching one team’s league-leading strength against the other’s league-worst weakness is pretty powerful. I know the Bears offense is going to have some success, but I cannot get past what McCoy and the Eagles offense are going to do to Major Wright and the rest of the Bears defense. Shady could get 250 yards and three TDs here, I’m not exaggerating at all.
Eagles 34, Bears 31
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins (+2.5): I’m taking the Ethnic Slurs in this one, and here are three reasons why:
1. This Dallas defense is overmatched, both schematically and personnel-wise. There’s a reason defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was let go by his own son at USC, beyond Lane being a complete jackass.
2. Kirk Cousins has reinvigorated the Washington offense, and the Cowboys cannot match it, not with Tony Romo in December.
3. This is almost certainly London Fletcher’s last home game. The venerable veteran is beloved by the fans, but just as importantly he’s feted in the locker room. The Slurs rise up for their leader one last time.
Ethnic Slurs 33, Cowboys 31
Cleveland Browns at New York Jets (-2.5): This one is a total gut hunch. I really think the Cleveland defense creates major problems for Geno Smith and the New York offense.
Browns 19, Jets 17
Denver Broncos at Houston Texans (+10.5): Peyton Manning has too much to play for to let up against the Texans, who turn back to Matt Schaub in Houston’s home finale. It’s going to be Schaub’s last game in Houston, and he’ll demonstrate why as the Broncos roll. Reliant Stadium could resemble a mausoleum by the end of the game, as the Texans faithful flock to the nearby Galleria for good tidings and great joy…once they survive the 45 minute, 3-mile commute to snare a precious parking spot.
Broncos 36, Texans 16 for 500 som
Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals (-8): The Vikings rose up last week and stunned the Eagles despite a massively depleted roster. It was one of those “any given Sunday” shockers, and that’s exactly how it should be perceived. They are extremely unlikely to replicate that kind of outcome once again. The weather in Cincinnati will provide a real home advantage as well.
Bengals 23, Vikings 13
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills (+2.5): With rookie E.J. Manuel out once again, the Bills turn back to Thad Lewis at quarterback. That might actually give them a better chance against Miami, as Manuel continued to prove not quite ready to lead a NFL team just yet.
There is some concern that the young Dolphins could choke away their opportunity here. They desperately need a win to stay in the playoff hunt. Buffalo’s pass rush presents real problems, too. And Lewis already has one win over the Dolphins this year, leading the Bills to a 23-12 win in Miami back in October. I’m just not sold that the Dolphins are ready to take that next step yet, and Buffalo is never an easy place for them to play.
Bills 20, Dolphins 17 for 250 som
Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars (+5): The battle for second place in the AFC South is a tough call. It speaks volumes that the 4-10 Jaguars can seize second place. They’re going to miss Cecil Shorts, but probably not as much as his fantasy owners as they play for league titles.
Jacksonville already won in Tennessee this year, and the Titans continually lay eggs in divisional games. I do think they’re the better team and a pretty solid choice to win this game, but I don’t believe the Titans merit being 5-point favorites on the road against anyone.
Titans 24, Jaguars 20 for 500 som
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at St. Louis Rams (-4.5): Robert Quinn continues his quest for Defensive Player of the Year votes. Pray for Mike Glennon. Enough said.
Rams 26, Bucs 16
New York Giants at Detroit Lions (-9): This is going to be the last home game for longtime Lions center Dominic Raiola. He’s been the man in the middle since 2001, and while he’s never been more than an average player, he’s respected in the locker room. He’s also having his best year, and I think the strength of the Detroit lines is a major advantage in this game. Detroit is due for a big game and clutch performance, if only so they can blow the chance to get into the playoffs in humiliating fashion in Week 17.
Lions 34, Giants 17 for 500 som
Pittsburgh Steelers at Green Bay Packers (-7): The mysterious status of Aaron Rodgers really complicates the forecast here. As of Friday morning he still has not been officially cleared for a return, but there are still 48 more hours for the Green Bay doctors to decide his fate. They are also deciding the Packers’ playoff fate, because there is no way Matt Flynn leads the Packers to a victory over the Steelers, not even this substandard Pittsburgh edition.
Here’s one reason why I really like the Steelers, courtesy my Bleacher Report colleague Zach Kruse:
Steelers 28, Packers 24, but if Rodgers plays the Packers win the game but still fail to cover
Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers (-10.5): In years past, during the tortuous Norv/AJ years in San Diego, this is a game you could count on the Chargers to blow. Heavy home favorites against a clearly inferior opponent in a game that San Diego desperately needs to win? Yeah, that was an easy loss in years past.
This time I’m not so sure. The Raiders are really languishing with Matt McGloin, who threw four INTs last week in a game that otherwise marked his best performance. San Diego’s offense is really humming along, and the Raiders offense will not be able to keep up in a shootout.
Then there is the Ron Burgundy factor. After months of ceaseless promotion, his new movie is finally out. San Diego gets a bounce from Anchorman 2, a movie you could not pay me to see. Go away, Will Ferrell, you’re the new Paris Hilton, an overexposed celebrity with little to offer other than pointless drivel and casual nudity that nobody really wants to see.
Chargers 32, Raiders 20
Atlanta Falcons at San Francisco 49ers (-13.5): It doesn’t get much worse than this for ESPN. What looked like a marquee matchup when picking games for the MNF schedule last spring turned into a sick puppy with the collapse of the Falcons. The fact the Niners need the win for playoff purposes makes this even uglier. This sure looks like another game where you can safely go to bed at halftime. San Francisco closes down Candlestick Park in glorious fashion.
I have but one Candlestick experience, and it was not football. In the Giants’ last season in that stadium (3Com Park at the time IIRC), I saw them lose to the Florida Marlins with about 5,000 others on a beautiful but windy evening on April 20, 1999. That date is better-known for being the day of the Columbine shooting. I was in the Bay Area on a business trip and I’ll never forget the somberness and aghast horror of that entire week. The very next night I was blessed to score tickets and got to see Metallica record their S&M record with the symphony. It’s one of the more memorable weeks of my life. Thanks for that, Candlestick.
49ers 30, Falcons 13 for 500 som
Detroit -9 for 500
Denver -10.5 for 500
Jacksonville +5 for 500
San Francisco -13.5 for 500
Buffalo +2.5 for 250
The Bowl season kicks off on Friday with a couple of good ones. The Las Vegas Bowl might be one of the five best games of the entire bowl slate.
- New Mexico Bowl: Washington State 26, Colorado State 24
- Las Vegas Bowl: Fresno State 36, USC 30
- Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Buffalo 28, San Diego State 20 #MACtion
- Beef O’Brady’s Bowl: East Carolina 39, Ohio 16. Sorry to my fellow Bobcat nation, but we’re the worst bowl-eligible team in the country,
- Hawaii Bowl: Oregon State 33, Boise State 31. The Broncos miss Chris Peterson here.
- Little Caesar’s Bowl: Bowling Green 23, Pittsburgh 21. #MACtion
- Poinsettia Bowl: Northern Illinois 44, Utah State 35. #MACtion
Can you tell I’m a proud MAC grad?
Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, 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, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, 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.
With their impressive win over the Oakland Raiders, the Kansas City Chiefs climbed to fifth overall and are now the highest rated team in the AFC in the Trench Counter.
Trench Counter (TC) Rankings
1. Seattle Seahawks: 8.8
2. Philadelphia Eagles: 5.9
3. Carolina Panthers: 5.8
4. San Francisco 49ers: 5.1
5. Kansas City Chiefs: 4.6
6. New England Patriots: 4.2
7. New Orleans Saints: 3.2
8. Denver Broncos: 3.0
9. Indianapolis Colts: 1.6
10. Chicago Bears: 1.0
11. Cincinnati Bengals: 0.9
12. Arizona Cardinals: 0.8
13. San Diego Chargers: 0.7
14. Green Bay Packers: 0.5
15. Miami Dolphins: 0.0
16. Baltimore Ravens: -0.3
17. St. Louis Rams: -0.6
18. Pittsburgh Steelers: -0.6
19. Buffalo Bills: -0.9
20. Cleveland Browns: -1.6
21. Atlanta Falcons: -1.7
22. Minnesota Vikings: -1.9
23. Detroit Lions: -1.9
24. Dallas Cowboys: -2.4
25. Tennessee Titans: -2.5
26. Washington Redskins: -3.0
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -3.5
28. Houston Texans: -3.9
29. New York Jets: -4.2
30. New York Giants: -4.5
31. Oakland Raiders: -4.7
32. Jacksonville Jaguars: -8.1
Total Rushes/Completions (TRC) Rankings
1. San Diego Chargers: 7.5
2. New Orleans Saints: 7.3
3. Denver Broncos: 7.1
4. Carolina Panthers: 5.8
5. Detroit Lions: 5.6
6. Seattle Seahawks: 4.2
7. Houston Texans: 4.1
8. Cincinnati Bengals: 3.8
9. Kansas City Chiefs: 2.8
10. Baltimore Ravens: 2.6
11. Buffalo Bills: 2.6
12. Green Bay Packers: 2.6
13. New England Patriots: 2.2
14. Arizona Cardinals: 1.9
15. San Francisco 49ers: 1.9
16. Washington Redskins: 1.9
17. Chicago Bears: 1.5
18. Pittsburgh Steelers: 0.7
19. Tennessee Titans: -1.6
20. Indianapolis Colts: -2.1
21. Oakland Raiders: -2.9
22. New York Jets: -3.2
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -3.5
24. Atlanta Falcons: -4.1
25. Philadelphia Eagles: -4.3
26. St. Louis Rams: -5.1
27. Cleveland Browns: -5.3
28. Miami Dolphins: -5.4
29. Minnesota Vikings: -5.4
30. New York Giants: -6.9
31. Jacksonville Jaguars: -7.8
32. Dallas Cowboys: -8.4
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, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Dallas Cowboys, IQ
By Jeff Risdon
$.01--The biggest news in football from the weekend came off the field when the University of Texas parted ways with head coach Mack Brown after a prolonged period of angst and speculation.
The timeline of this story is all over the place. At various points, based on who was speaking at the moment:
- Brown was set to resign his position
- Nick Saban was mulling the move to Austin from Alabama, for a reported $10M per year
- Jim Harbaugh and Mike Tomlin were alleged “interested candidates” despite currently holding NFL jobs
- Brown was safe because the ample Texas boosters weren’t sure what to do
As late as Saturday morning, Brown remained employed amidst a Sharknado of inaccurate reporting, shrewd leveraging, and outright incompetence by the Longhorn administration and boosters. The myopic arrogance of the Longhorn nation, who have no concept of why anyone would think the Texas head coaching job is the best job in America, burned them. I’m not just talking best football job either; these folks vapidly believe the only more prominent position in all of the United States is being governor of Texas.
Yet a few hours later, Brown resigned his coaching position. This came after Saban used them like a redneck uses a spittoon, leveraging the completely unsubstantiated rumors to extract a few more millions from Alabama. It became painfully obvious to everyone that the Texas football program makes Obamacare seem running smoothly by comparison.
Before I moved to Texas, I was only somewhat aware of the UT football craziness. I didn’t really hold an opinion one way or the other about the Longhorns other than respecting the heck out of Colt McCoy. The arrogance and condescension of everything else in the world by Longhorn faithful was immediately obvious, and disgusting. It’s in your face, it’s omnipresent, and it’s ceaseless. The closest parallel I can come up with for people outside the region is that they believe they are China and the rest of the college football landscape is Laos, the Phillipines, and North Korea.
Watch their insulated fantasy world continue as they float every big-name coach in America as possible replacements. Never mind that those will be completely fabricated by megalomaniac Longhorns with enough money to fund a private space program who vainly believe “if they say it, it will come true.” And when the 15th big name shoots them down, after the Jon Grudens and David Shaws and Sean Paytons and Kirby Smarts of the world all laugh at their suitcases of cash, maybe then they will realize that it’s not everyone’s dream to lead what is easily the most delusional fan base and hyper-scrutinized program in the nation.
$.02--The dysfunction in Texas extends north up I-35 from Austin to Dallas, where the Cowboys managed to blow a game as only the Tony Romo-led Dallas Cowboys can do.
How bad was this one? Consider this:
The backup QB in question is Matt Flynn of the Packers. Green Bay beat writers were openly calling for his benching at that point, wanting to go back to the flaming sack of quarterbacking incompetence that is Scott Tolzien. Instead of simply running the ball against a leaky Packers defense, Dallas kept throwing the ball. Never mind that they were averaging over seven yards per carry. Never mind that Romo has a lengthy history of throwing games away in December.
Throw it away he did. His first fourth-quarter INT, with just under 3:00 remaining and the Cowboys still ahead 36-31, is the play that will forever live in infamy. On 2nd-and-6, the Packers were not the enemy for Dallas. The clock was the only thing that mattered. Yet the Cowboys called a pass. Romo dodged a quick rush and had a chance to run a little. Remember, the clock is the enemy. Yet he foolishly threw the ball over the middle, and the ball was picked off. Word came out in the postgame presser that Romo checked out of a run play.
Green Bay parlayed that into the go-ahead score, as Flynn fired a strike to James Jones. It was his fourth TD pass of the second half, which says a whole lot more about the Cowboys defense than it does Matt Flynn’s skill. Yet in this game, Flynn was more reliable in the clutch than Tony Romo. The Cowboys QB threw another interception on the ensuing drive, a fantastic catch by Tramon Williams on a bad read and throw by Romo.
I’ve defended Romo in the past, but this loss is on him. Strangely this isn’t even the worst comeback loss on his hands; he blew an even bigger lead in shorter time against Detroit a couple years ago. They also squandered late leads against Denver and Detroit this year thanks to untimely turnovers and horrifyingly inept clock management by Jason Garrett and his coaching staff. If the Cowboys miss the playoffs, losses like these are ample cause for firing Garrett. They are also more than enough evidence that the Cowboys need to at least begin grooming Romo’s successor this offseason.
$.03--Green Bay wasn’t the only team with a monstrous comeback on Sunday. The Tennessee Titans trailed by 17 with less than four minutes to go in the fourth quarter against Arizona and somehow tied the game in regulation. Ryan Fitzpatrick found Michael Preston for a pair of TDs, and the Titans recovered an onside kick when Larry Fitzgerald of all people couldn’t haul it in.
Alas, the fantastic comeback wound up for naught, as the Cardinals prevailed in overtime after Antoine Cason, who had the game of his life, picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick on Tennessee’s first drive in the extra stanza. Arizona drove down and left Nashville a lucky victor when Jay Feely nailed a 41-yard field goal.
To say the win was critical for Arizona is an understatement. They improved to 9-5 to stay within a game of the Wild Card, and they get a shot at one of the teams they are chasing, San Francisco, in Week 17. For all intents and purposes, the win eliminated any chances for any other teams to catch them from behind. They also showed their mettle as a team, winning a tough game on the road.
Poo-poo the Titans all you want, but they are a talented team. Unfortunately they do not always play to that talent, in part because of chronic QB issues. Rumors abound that coach Mike Munchak will be fired at season’s end, but his team played hard for him on Sunday. They lost to a more talented team that needed the win more.
It could be a costly win for Arizona, however, as Fitzgerald suffered a concussion on that aforementioned onside kick. Without him, they are unlikely to win against both Seattle and San Francisco in the final two weeks. The schedule makers did Arizona no favors, but don’t count them out just yet.
$.04--Week 15 kicked off with a surprise on Thursday night, as the San Diego Chargers bolted into Mile High and shocked the Broncos. San Diego was the crisper, more focused and tougher team despite being on the road against the AFC’s presumable No. 1 seed.
It was an impressive display on both sides of the ball by the Chargers. Heck, even punter Mike Scifres had an outstanding night. He punted three times and the Broncos took over at their own six, 11 and 3 after those boots. Philip Rivers was okay, while his receivers were fantastic. So was RB Ryan Mathews, scorching the depleted Denver defense for 124 yards and a touchdown.
Ah yes, the Denver defense. They really miss Kevin Vickerson and Derek Wolfe up front, not to mention Champ Bailey in the back. They’re not a very physical unit. As skilled as Von Miller is, and as well as Danny Trevathan plays in space, the Broncos don’t get off blocks well. When they do, they’re not a punishing group. They struggled to stand up to impressive rookie RT D.J. Fluker and a vastly improved San Diego line. Keenan Allen’s ability to outfight defenders for both his touchdowns proves it’s not just the front.
That’s a very real problem moving forward for Denver. The Bengals and Patriots are both physical teams up front on both sides, and they are the most likely challengers to Denver in the playoffs. The Chargers could be a problem if they make it too, but when Miami beat New England their chances took a big hit.
$.05--I don’t know whether or not Leslie Frazier is going to keep his job as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, but I know this: what’s left of his team continues to play very hard for the embattled coach.
The Vikings stunned the visiting Eagles 48-30 despite missing several key pieces. Most notable is Adrian Peterson, the reigning MVP. Also out was his backup, the competent Toby Gerhart. Both starting tight end Kyle Rudolph and backup John Carlson missed the game. Corners Chris Cook and Xavier Rhodes, who sit atop the depth charts at Ourlads.com, were both inactive. Top safety Harrison Smith returned from an injury but didn’t play a lot.
It would have been very easy for the Vikings to mail in this one. After all, the Eagles came in at 8-5 with a high-flying offense and the NFC East lead to play for. It certainly seemed as if the Eagles themselves expected the Vikings to be nothing more than a speed bump. To (mis)quote Ronald Reagan, “They counted on the Vikings to be passive. They counted wrong.”
The thing with Minnesota is, someone is going to pay for Josh Freeman. The team committed $3M to the ex-Bucs QB in early October. He started one game and was noticeably worse than either Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel, and he hasn’t been seen since. Depending on who has your ear at the moment, that is the fault of GM Rick Speilman or Frazier and his offensive staff. Owners don’t like setting millions of dollars on fire, which is what Zygi Wilf has done in paying Freeman. Consider this Washington Post piece about Wilf’s sketchy finances.
The easier answer is to can Frazier, whom is beloved by the players but is far from a tactical or motivational expert. The better answer might be to end Speilman’s star-crossed tenure. He added three first-round picks to a returning playoff team, and although Cordarrelle Patterson looks incredibly promising, the team has fallen off a cliff to 4-9-1. Speilman’s inability to solve the perennial QB issues could, and probably should, be his downfall. Of course a new GM would be inclined to bring in his own coach, so either way it doesn’t look good for Frazier. He’s a good coach who will land as a defensive coordinator right away.
$.06--Here’s a little peek into the writing process. It’s currently Sunday evening at around 9:30 PM ET and I’m watching the Steelers absolutely destroy the Bengals. It’s 21-0, the Cincy offense is flat, the Pittsburgh offense is unstoppable, and Cincinnati needs a new punter after Kevin Huber had his jaw broken on a clean hit. Andy Dalton looks off his game, and the Pittsburgh defense is doing a great job anticipating plays.
So I’m going to bed at halftime. I have to cover Monday Night Football for Bleacher Report and will be up all night into Tuesday morning, so I’m going to stock up on sleep. I will hit the cold other side of the pillow with supreme confidence that Pittsburgh is going to win this game. In fact, as I typed this very paragraph they scored again to go up 24-0.
Okay, it’s now halftime. The Bengals have shown a little bit of a pulse but it’s still 27-7 and I’m off to the theater of dreams. I’ll pick this up in the morning…
It’s now 6:26 AM and I just sat down with my first cup of coffee (black, of course). I see the Bengals mounted a slight comeback in the second half but came up short 30-20. Cue the narratives about the same old Bengals, wilting in the national spotlight and unable to play with big boys Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Cincinnati had a chance to move into position to secure a top two seed in the AFC and earn a first-round bye with both New England and Denver losing. Instead they fell tenuously into the third spot, with Indianapolis now having a chance to pass them for that spot.
I’m not sure which spot would be worse for the Bengals. If the Ravens hold onto the sixth seed, the third seed plays them and that’s obviously not good for Marvin Lewis & Co. But the fourth seed will mean the top Wild Card, which will either be Kansas City or Denver. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, better stop and put on a kind face, as Mick Jagger would say.
$.07--Florida State QB Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday. The redshirt freshman becomes the youngest winner in history, not yet even 20. He won fairly comfortably despite being left off of over 100 ballots altogether. His winning margin was the seventh-largest in history.
That is a testament to just how much better Winston was than anyone else in college football. Had it not been for his overpublicized legal issue, it’s a certainty he would have received every first-place ballot outside of SEC sycophants. But his brush with the law--he was not charged after an investigation into an alleged sexual assault--cost him a wider margin.
Thankfully it didn’t cost him the award. I cannot recall a more impressive, clearly superior performance over the course of a college football season since another Seminole QB, Charlie Ward in 1993. Runner-up A.J. McCarron wouldn’t have been in the top 15 of voting if he didn’t play for Alabama, as his was a career achievement vote for guiding the best program in the country.
Here is what my final ballot would have looked like if I had one:
1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
2. Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois
3. Andre Williams, RB, Boston College
4. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
5. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
Also, I was glad to see a lot of folks acknowledge just how special Archie Griffin truly was. He remains the only two-time Heisman winner after Manziel failed to repeat. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Archie Griffin several times and he remains a class act, humble and approachable.
1. Here’s a way to win a bet against a football know-it-all. Ask them to list players with double-digit sacks this year. Unless he/she is from Tennessee, or reading this column, most folks will never get one of the names. That would be Titans DT Jurrell Casey, a 2011 third round pick from USC. He’s barely six feet tall but has relentless energy and quickness, and it has translated to the NFL. Take note, Aaron Donald critics…
2. Matt Asiata. Kudos to you if you had the onions to pick him up in fantasy football. He had three career carries in three years prior to Minnesota’s game against Philadelphia. Against the Eagles he scored three touchdowns. Tip of the hat to Phil Loadholt and the Vikings offensive line, too.
3. There have been two shutouts in the NFL this year. Both times the team failing to score a point was the New York Giants. Eli Manning threw five INTs to make sure they didn’t scratch the Seattle end zone. I’d give Eli some credit in that one of the INTs was a Hail Mary at the end of the first half, but once you’ve thrown four, the fifth doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.
4. Dez Bryant leaving the field with over a minute left in the DAL/GB game is indefensible. So is Tom Brady’s truculent, profane quipping after New England’s loss. The NFL likes to hold itself up as a pillar of sportsmanship, but two of its more prominent players acted like eight-year old losers. Way to be role models, gents…
5. Once again the New Orleans Saints got beat up on the road in the NFC West. As much as Drew Brees wants to deny it, his Saints are quite obviously a vastly inferior team on the road. They will not win a road playoff game unless things change dramatically. Also from that game, Robert Quinn for Defensive Player of the Year?
6. Bonus one for this week, but he deserves it: Robert Mathis passed longtime teammate Dwight Freeney for most career sacks in Colts history. That’s an amazing accomplishment, getting 108 sacks in one uniform while lining up across from a Hall of Fame-caliber player for most of his career. Congrats, Mr. Mathis!
7. Second bonus, because I feel obligated to mention the train wreck that is the Washington Ethnic Slurs, who lost to 3-10 Atlanta when a 2-pt. conversion failed. I like the decision to go for the win. It might be Mike Shanahan’s only good decision of the last two months of his Washington coaching career. What a mess.
Because this is the first question most people ask me when I talk about a prospect, here are some relatable player comparisons for some of the notable young men who will be drafted in May. By no means are they perfect, but for a skinny description they (mostly) work. This edition has a decided West Coast bias.
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State--Matthew Stafford’s oft-lazy mechanics without quite the same arm talent
Trent Murphy, OLB/DE, Stanford--a slightly quicker Cliff Avril with a lesser bull rush
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon--Leon Hall with healthy legs, maybe a little better in space
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington--at his best, he’s what Brandon Pettigrew is for the Lions right now
De’Anthony Thomas, OW, Oregon--a more decisive Dexter McCluster with a little more lower body strength
Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford--Brian Cushing with less excessive testosterone rage, but not a lot less
And two for the East Coast…
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson--a smaller, less mechanically sound Troy Smith with a bigger arm
A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee--the later version of Jonathan Vilma’s post-Jets career
$.10--It’s Christmas season. If you’re reading this and haven’t yet finished your shopping, get out and wrap it up as soon as you can. Be thoughtful. Have a plan before you shop. There is nothing worse than the stereotypical 40-something man wandering aimlessly around a mall. Your wife or girlfriend doesn’t want a sports-logo Snuggie, or a remote-controlled helicopter, or cheese as a gift. Think about her favorite TV shows and use them as a template if needed. If you’re stuck for ideas, ask her friends. They’ll help you, trust me. If you don’t know any of her friends, no Christmas gift you can buy is going to help.
Ladies, I know there is temptation to try too hard. No man wants to smell like Axe, or even Tim McGraw, who apparently has his own cologne. We don’t want cream-colored cable-knit sweaters or electric wine openers, though those spatulas that emblaze logos on meat look pretty cool.
Enjoy the holidays and try and facilitate that enjoyment for others as well. I’m not suggesting breaking into spontaneous carols while in line for 35 minutes at the local Target, as I was Friday night. Instead, be polite to the bleary-eyed clerks. If you are able-bodied, leave the better parking spots for those who aren’t able to run a 5K. Let the idiot make the left turn out of a crowded parking lot. Smile at strangers, especially the children.
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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.
High-flying college championships set the table for a truly amazing Sunday. Snowy fields, crazy comebacks, prolific scoring, and some egregious officiating made this one of the most memorable Sundays in NFL history.
A hugely important NFC South showdown between the Saints and Panthers, playoff implications between the Lions and Eagles and the rest of the NFL slate.
The Seahawks delivered a huge statement with their win over the Saints while essentially locking up homefield advantage.