By Jeff Risdon
It’s Thanksgiving, which is one of the marquee weeks on the football calendar. Three games on Thursday are followed by most of the best rivalry games on the college front on Friday and Saturday, capped off with a Sunday full of NFL matchups.
Last Week: 13-2, a nice rebound from the prior ugliness. 111-63-1 on the season. Booyah!
Gambling Update: A split decision on the week, but the loss was on a bigger bet than the win. Another $1000 lost, down to $8500 on the season after starting at $10K.
- Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (-7): Detroit looks to snap a two-game losing streak that has dropped them out of first place in the NFC North. The Lions haven’t scored a touchdown in those two losses, smothered by strong defenses in Arizona and New England.
Chicago’s defense isn’t anywhere close to what Detroit has seen lately. The Bears rank 28th or worse in QB Rating allowed, yards per attempt and yards per play defensively. Their undermanned secondary is exactly what the doctor ordered for Matthew Stafford and his cadre of underperforming weapons.
The offensive line will have to play much better for that to happen. Undrafted rookie Cornelius Lucas will man left tackle for the injured Riley Reiff, and he’s tasked with blocking Jared Allen. Expect lots of tight end help and quicker passes, forcing the linebackers and safeties to make quick decisions and open field tackles. Neither of those are strengths of Chris Conte & Co. Golden Tate could have a monster game working the intermediate level of the defense and breaking into the free with a forced missed tackle, something he does as well as anyone.
Lions 30, Bears 17
- Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys (-3): Tony Romo doesn’t lose in November, not even to the Eagles. Put this game even one weekend later and I would strongly take Philadelphia, but at home on Turkey Day I’m going to take the Cowboys. Also helping sway the decision is the balance of the Cowboys offense, with playmakers in both the rushing and passing attacks. The Eagles tend to be good at stopping one or the other, but not both in the same game.
Cowboys 27, Eagles 24
- Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers (-1): Both these teams trail Arizona by two full games in the difficult NFC West. One of them is not likely to make the playoffs, so you can imagine the importance of this game. Factor in the long-simmering beef between the head coaches, and this one could be a dandy of a nightcap on turkey day.
Seattle’s win over Arizona showed me the Seahawks can handle a physical, aggressive defense. San Francisco struggled against a Washington defense that blitzed like they were trying to be at the front of the line at Wal-Mart for the Black Friday specials…which start before this game even kicks off. Seriously Wal-Mart, stop destroying the holiday by making your hard-working associates abandon their families on Thanksgiving, or dragging folks like my sister-in-law (hi Chanon!) out for hours and hours shopping for deals. But I digress…
Back to the game. The quarterback who makes the fewest mistakes is likely to win, and I trust Russell Wilson more than I do Colin Kaepernick. San Francisco’s rookie phenom Chris Borland could change that with a clutch pick or forced fumble, but I like that Seattle got their own dynamic linebacker back on the field in Bobby Wagner.
Seahawks 23, 49ers 20
- New England Patriots at Green Bay Packers (-3): Nobody sums up situations quite like Bill Belichick. The good folks at ESPN documented his unique, peculiar hilarity:
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was at the tail end of his Wednesday morning news conference as there was a call for one last question.
Turns out Belichick saved his best answer for last. When asked if he sees any similarities between quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, Belichick was quick with the response.
"They both wear number 12," he deadpanned, before walking off.
That is the ultimate mic drop. He who drops the mic rules the mic. I know Rodgers is playing at an unbelievable level at home, but New England’s secondary is far better in coverage than anyone the Packers have seen during this run. The Packers don’t really have an answer for Gronk, and if they do try to take him away they can’t cover the other receivers, or backs or tight ends.
Patriots 39, Packers 31
- San Diego Chargers at Baltimore Ravens (-5.5): Both teams enter at 7-4 in the very crowded AFC Wild Card race. The winner here picks up both a game in hand as well as a key AFC win.
The Chargers have been a streaky team over the last two seasons. After a five-game winning streak, they dropped 3 in a row before their bye week. Now they’re back on the upswing with a 2-game positive trend.
Unfortunately for San Diego, Baltimore is also playing good football right now. Coming off a big win in New Orleans, the Ravens are doing a great job controlling the game with rushing offense and rushing defense. The early East Coast start time is an extra advantage for the Ravens in a game rife with playoff implications. I believe Baltimore can make Philip Rivers and the San Diego offense one-dimensional. The problem is that the Ravens back-end coverage is shaky and vulnerable. This one could wind up being a shootout, and I’ll take Flacco and Smith over Rivers and Allen. Barely.
Ravens 33, Chargers 30
- Cleveland Browns at Buffalo Bills (-1.5): Every time you start to believe in the Cleveland Browns, they break your heart. That’s what my mother, a lifelong Browns fan old enough to remember when they were winning multiple NFL Championships, told me. I think the Bills will provide a triumphant return to Buffalo, a city that needs as much good fortune as it can get.
I’ll play along with WKNR’s “call your shot” segment, which mildly entertained me as I drove into Cleveland on Wednesday.
Josh Gordon gets 89 yards receiving. The Brown I would most like to invite to Thanksgiving dinner is Johnny Manziel, because who wouldn’t want to hang out with Johnny Football at a time when gluttony is acceptable?
Bills 20, Browns 17
- Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs (+1): I know there are many more angles to this game, but I cannot get past the concept of Alex Smith trying to outgun Peyton Manning. No matter what other factors there are in KC’s advantage--the strong running of Jamaal Charles, the pass rush, the emotions of losing Eric Berry, playing at home with the division lead on the line--I just can’t escape the extreme advantage Manning & Co. have over Smith and the toothless Chiefs passing offense.
Broncos 28, Chiefs 24
- Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons (+2.5): The Cardinals are 9-2 and in first place. The Falcons are 4-7 and in first place. Therein ends the similarities between these two teams.
Atlanta does have a fighting chance here, thanks to Drew Stanton’s relative ineffectiveness as Arizona’s quarterback. The Cardinals have gone seven quarters without a touchdown. Part of the problem has been a decided lack of ability to run the ball; Arizona has just 138 rushing yards in the last three weeks. Even Atlanta’s anemic pass rush can operate effectively when the opponent can’t run the ball to ease pressure.
The problem for the Falcons is that Arizona’s defense is one of the best in the league at covering down the field. Even when the blitzkrieg isn’t sacking the QB, Antonio Cromarite, Jerraud Powers and the rest of the Arizona back end is very savvy and aggressive in coverage. And when the pass rush is getting home, nobody plays the ball better in the air than Arizona. A defensive TD will win the game for the visiting Cardinals. Fret not, Atlanta fans, because you will still be in first place in the NFC South when the weekend ends.
Cardinals 23, Falcons 21
- Carolina Panthers at Minnesota Vikings (-3): Minnesota’s defense is the difference in this one. The Vikings are able to generate pressure adeptly, while the back end does well against teams that don’t have outside speed. Perhaps no team is slower on the outside than Carolina. I’m not sure Minnesota will score much, but they’ll score more than Cam Newton and the sluggish Panthers.
Vikings 16, Panthers 10
- New Orleans Saints at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5): The Steelers are perfectly suited to exploit New Orleans’s issues in the secondary. Remember, the Saints have lost four safeties and the corners are not good. Kenny Vaccaro and Jamarca Sanford aren’t a bad duo, but there is so little depth. Pittsburgh’s passing attack is too diverse, too strong, too much to handle.
Steelers 34, Saints 27
- Washington at Indianapolis Colts (-10.5): Before you write off the visitors here, keep in mind they had a real chance to win against San Francisco last week. The Colts were flat in a middling win over the terrible Jaguars, too.
That was last week. Washington’s defense will find this game quite different, as Andrew Luck and the Colts offense operate quite differently than the 49ers. The precision passing game and the tight ends are going to be a big problem for Jim Haslett’s high-risk defense. Then there’s the Washington offense, which will look a little different…
Jay Gruden has opted to start Colt McCoy over the struggling Robert Griffin at quarterback. I agree that McCoy does give them a better chance to win this particular game, but for a 3-8 team to bench the designated franchise messiah sends the message that management is not seeing the forest for the trees. At least they’ll ascertain if McCoy is worthy of being the long-term backup, to whomever might wind up being the starter.
Colts 31 Ethnic Slurs 20
- Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans (-6): The Texans are forced to change Ryans at quarterback, going back to Fitzpatrick after Mallett suffered a torn pec. Fitzpatrick was Tennessee’s replacement killer last year, so the Titans know what to expect. Texans fans do too--sporadic pluckiness and scattershot effectiveness tied to catastrophic errors. That might still be better than Zach Mettenberger, who seems to be able to play one good quarter every game. Unfortunately for the Titans, NFL games last four quarters. J.J. Watt will get a couple of chances to take fake selfies over top the crumpled heap of a quarterback, and the Texans eke out a close win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
Texans 20, Titans 17
- New York Giants at Jacksonville Jaguars (+2.5): The Giants as road favorites scares the stuffing out of me. Then again, they’re pretty good when playing other sub-.500 teams. The Jaguars are the weakest overall squad in the league. They played arguably their best game of the season last week and still got smoked by 20 points in Indianapolis. New York has a pair of close losses to San Francisco and Dallas, and the reshuffled offensive line is paying dividends. Jacksonville’s 24 giveaways and New York’s 18 takeaways make me confident in the G-Men covering on the road.
Giants 30, Jaguars 21
- Cincinnati Bengals at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3.5): The Bengals wrap up a three-game roadie by being favored in Tampa Bay. Getting Gio Bernard back to near-full strength will help hammer a Bucs defense playing without Lavonte David. Andy Dalton seems over his midseason slump, too. This one could get out of hand quickly if the Bucs don’t start strong.
Bengals 27, Buccaneers 17
- Oakland Raiders at St. Louis Rams (-7.5): The Raiders picked up their first win last week. This is actually the game I circled on my hypothetic calendar for Oakland to break the win seal, but now that they’ve accomplished the feat I don’t feel the same way. Shaun Hill, aside from the game-losing interception, gave the Rams offense enough flow and potency to handle a hit-and-miss Raiders defense. Aaron Donald quietly continues his defensive rookie of the year campaign, and he gets a chance to pick up a couple of sacks of fellow rookie Derek Carr in this game. The Rams are just good enough to not be bad, if that makes sense. Oakland is just bad enough to not be good. Wow, that’s a terribly pedantic assessment. Sorry, I’m still trying to get over my recurring childhood nightmare of running through underwater caverns with Lamont from Sanford & Son while being chased by Godzilla. I wish I was making that up.
Rams 22, Raiders 16
- Miami Dolphins at New York Jets (+5.5): I’ll leave this commentary to my virtual friend Alen Dumonjic, one of the smartest football minds I know even though he hails from a country where football means something decidedly different:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Look, I'm not saying Geno Smith is the answer. But you're kidding yourself if you think Michael Vick is a better option. He doesn't care.</p>— Alen Dumonjić (@Dumonjic_Alen) <a href="https://twitter.com/Dumonjic_Alen/status/537271243129376768">November 25, 2014</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Well said, my friend. Rex Ryan saw the light and is switching back to Geno Smith, but I’ll say it for Alen: he’s not the answer either, not this year anyway.
The Dolphins care very much, and a win here really helps bolster their playoff surge. This is the week’s biggest wager, putting $1500 on the Dolphins to cover.
Dolphins 32, Jets 13
Miami -5.5 for $1500
Bonus college picks
Ohio State 37, Michigan 16
Auburn 24, Alabama 20
Florida State 20, Florida 12
Arizona State 38, Arizona 29
Georgia Tech 27, Georgia 21
My son Layne is a huge TCU fan. He predicts his Frogs win over Texas 39-21.
Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, 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, 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.
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.
The Dolphins, Packers, Ravens and 49ers remained in the top-4 in that order, while the Broncos, Seahawks, Patriots and Browns moved up.
Week 12 Rankings
1. Miami Dolphins: 7.2
2. Green Bay Packers: 6.8
3. Baltimore Ravens: 5.1
4. San Francisco 49ers: 4.7
5. Denver Broncos: 4.4
6. Seattle Seahawks: 4.3
7. Arizona Cardinals: 4.0
8. New England Patriots: 2.9
9. Dallas Cowboys: 2.9
10. Cleveland Browns: 2.5
11. Indianapolis Colts: 2.4
12. New Orleans Saints: 2.4
13. Kansas City Chiefs: 2.2
14. Houston Texans: 1.1
15. Philadelphia Eagles: 1.0
16. Buffalo Bills: 0.7
17. Cincinnati Bengals: 0.4
18. San Diego Chargers: 0.4
19. Detroit Lions: 0.2
20. Washington: -0.4
21. Pittsburgh Steelers: -0.6
22. Chicago Bears: -1.0
23. Minnesota Vikings: -1.9
24. Atlanta Falcons: -2.9
25. Carolina Panthers: -3.9
26. New York Giants: -4.3
27. Jacksonville Jaguars: -5.0
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -5.6
29. Tennessee Titans: -5.8
30. New York Jets: -7.5
31. St. Louis Rams: -7.8
32. Oakland Raiders: -8.8
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, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, IQ
By Jeff Risdon
$.01--Power polls are always a fluid and subjective river of judgment. Yet I have absolutely no qualms in proclaiming the New England Patriots the best team in the NFL through 12 weeks.
Their 34-9 pounding of the Detroit Lions was an emphatic bullet with their name on it shooting to the top of the league. The Patriots offense carved up the league’s best defense as Tom Brady consistently fond holes in coverage and kept pushing on the bruises. New England set opponent highs against the Detroit Lions in points, first downs (29), passing yards (349), total yards (439) and fewest punts (5). After the Lions forced a quick 3-and-out on the first two drives, New England ripped off three TDs in a row.
Detroit couldn’t match the scoring bonanza. The Lions failed to find the end zone for the second game in a row as Matthew Stafford completed just 18 of his 45 passes. At least 8 of those incompletions were dropped, including three potential TD passes that all should have been caught. When left tackle Riley Reiff went down on the game’s first play, the Lions were playing undrafted rookie Cornelius Lucas at one tackle and a UDFA from last year in LaAdrian Waddle on the right side.
Brady had no such problems. He found Lions killer Tim Wright for two TDs, including one where I’m not sure Detroit’s defense knew he was an eligible receiver. This was Brady at his best, taking what the defense gives him and beating them over the head with it until they overcompensate and then leave another area exposed. Bill Belichick and his staff thoroughly outcoached Jim Caldwell’s group, too.
The Patriots have now won seven in a row. They’ve scored at least 30 in all but one of those games, and the last three wins have been by at least three touchdowns against teams entering the game as division leaders (Denver and Indy are the other two). There is no denying the Patriots are the best team in the league right now.
$.02--One of the reasons I’m confident in putting the Patriots atop the league is the Arizona Cardinals’ loss to Seattle. Arizona was the only real contender for the top spot, but the Seahawks knocked off some of the luster from the 9-1 start. The 19-3 defeat, when coupled with the scoreless final three quarters a week ago in the 14-6 win over Detroit, proves that the fall from Carson Palmer to Drew Stanton at quarterback is significant enough to raise questions about their playoff viability.
Arizona is still a very good team, notably on defense. They did sack Wilson seven times. Yet on this day, Seattle was quite a bit better. Both defenses outplayed the opposing offenses, but Russell Wilson and the Seahawks were more efficient and less error-prone. A blocked punt in the third quarter resulted from Arizona having just 10 men on the field. Jaron Brown dropped an easy touchdown pass. Chandler Catanzaro missed a 49-yard field goal. Drew Stanton misfired on several downfield throws.
The lack of offensive punch is a growing issue for the Cardinals. While there’s never any shame in losing on the road to the defending champs, Arizona’s offense offered little chance to win on Sunday. Instead of burying the Seahawks and going a long way towards clinching home field throughout the playoffs, now the Cardinals see their NFC West lead cut to two with a return visit from Seattle and two games against the surging 49ers on the slate. Stanton must play better or else the impressive early season goes to waste.
Seattle had to have this one. While they are still technically on the outside of the NFC playoff window, they’re very much alive. A loss here would have been devastating beyond the playoff implications. Seattle needed a big win over a strong competitor to prove they could still rise up and bring the pain. They accomplished that mission against a very good Arizona defense, maybe saving their season in the process.
$.03--The only other team meriting consideration for the top spot are the Green Bay Packers. The Packers seized first place in the NFC North with a hard-fought but not necessarily well-played win in Minnesota, besting the Vikings 24-21.
Aaron Rodgers had a ho-hum day in his pursuit of another MVP trophy as 19-for-29 for 209 yards is pretty pedestrian, though the two TDs to no INTs upgrades the impression. He was silky smooth on play action, something the Packers used more in this game than they have been lately. It suits them well, because it helped spring Eddie Lacy to a strong 125-yard rushing game. That’s right--the play action pass set up the run success.
Here’s why: the Minnesota linebackers and safeties were mortified of Rodgers pulling the ball out and burning them over the top or out to the far sidelines. Instead of charging forward to snuff out Lacy, they had to wait a count to make sure he actually had the ball. That’s an extra step for Lacy, who runs with great momentum but terrible initial vision, to find his way and get himself launched forward. It’s counterintuitive but lethally effective for the Packers, masking the biggest weakness in their running back.
Minnesota played well in the loss. Rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater had a steady hand despite facing serious heat behind what might be the worst offensive line in football in pass protection. Bridgewater had some clutch throws and demonstrated excellent field vision under duress.
It’s easy to see why the Vikings feel good about him. They have a lot of work to do to build around him, notably at left tackle and wide receiver. Rodgers doesn’t have those problems, and that’s a big part of why the Packers have won 6 of 7 since their sputtering start.
$.04--The New York Giants gamely battled the Dallas Cowboys in the Sunday night game.
This game will forever be remembered for one shining moment. It’s almost inarguably one of the greatest catches in NFL history, courtesy Odell Beckham Jr. of the Giants. The first-round rookie made this unbelievable touchdown stab with just three fingers…while being interfered with on the play:
Beckham was phenomenal beyond that catch. He caught all eight targets in the first half for 125 yards and two touchdowns in leading the Giants out to a surprising (to some) 21-10 lead. No matter what Dallas tried, OBJ was open and making things happen. Tom Coughlin noted to Michelle Tafoya at halftime that Beckham’s spectacular play “inspired” the Giants, and Tafoya also noted Cowboys coach Jason Garrett made stopping the rookie from LSU the focal point of his halftime adjustments.
Those adjustments worked…kind of. Beckham snared a couple more passes and left briefly with a back injury. The Cowboys offense got untracked too. Tony Romo threw three TD passes after halftime, two to Dez Bryant and one to Cole Beasley on a play where it looked like he was shot out of a cannon. Dallas’ offensive line gave Romo enough time to save 15% or more on his car insurance on some of his throws, including the go-ahead TD to Bryant late in the fourth quarter. The banged-up Dallas defense held on, tackling Rashad Jennings just shy of the conversion on 4th down to end the game.
Dallas is now 8-3, tied with the Eagles atop the NFC East. The Giants fall to 3-8 and are quietly one of the bigger disappointments in the league. I thought Romo surmised them well in his postgame interview when he stated the Giants look like a great team at times, but not often enough to get them wins. That was the story Sunday night for New York, spectacular at times but not long enough to snatch a victory.
$.05--Congrats to the Oakland Raiders for avoiding the ignominy of a winless season. Their Thursday night win over the Kansas City Chiefs ensures that the 2008 Detroit Lions will remain the only team to ever go 0-16.
It wasn’t easy. Oakland tried its damnedest to let the Chiefs seize the win on a soggy night by the Bay. The Raiders took the late lead on a nice touchdown drive engineered by rookie QB David Carr after they had blown a 17-3 lead. One of the most ridiculous sack celebrations in NFL history nearly cost the Raiders as the Chiefs were driving with under a minute left, but Justin Tuck sagely called a timeout while Sio Moore continued to dance behind Alex Smith as the Chiefs were about to snap the ball.
This is a sweet victory for the Raiders, but a crushing defeat for the Chiefs. Their lowly rivals completely exposed their punchless offensive game plan. Kansas City almost never throws the ball beyond about 12 yards, and even less frequently targets the wide receivers. That might be smart when the wideouts are enigmatic Dwayne Bowe and a bunch of practice squad refugees, but Smith has to at least call the defensive bluff every once in a while. He never did, not when it mattered anyway. Oakland’s corners sagged inside and helped cluster the middle of the field, while safety Charles Woodson never had to even contemplate providing deep cover help. There were plays where he lined up in front of the linebackers, daring Smith to try and throw over the top. The Chiefs hyper-cautious QB just cannot make himself break character and try to do something radical, like perhaps loosening up the defense with a deep incompletion.
I’ll say this right now: if the Chiefs somehow sneak into the playoffs--and they still have a fair chance to do so--they are an opponent worthy of jockeying to face in the Wild Card round. There is ZERO chance Alex Smith outguns any other playoff-caliber team. On Thursday he couldn’t even outgun a rookie with the league’s 29th-ranked QB Rating, and the Raiders defense also ranked 29th in QB Rating allowed. Jamaal Charles is a great running back and the Chiefs defense is better than they showed in this game, but without any threat of a vertical passing game the Chiefs have a lower ceiling than any other AFC playoff aspirant.
$.06--The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets were scheduled to play at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, but a week of massive amounts of lake-effect snow forced the NFL to postpone and relocate the game. The Bills will now play a home game at Ford Field in Detroit on Monday night.
The NFL did the right thing here. Buffalo and the surrounding area of Western New York was devastated with as much as eight feet of snow during the week. Roads were buried. People were stranded for days along the interstates, including the Niagra women’s basketball team. The snow finally stopped, but rapidly warming temperatures and rain created ideal conditions for major flooding. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo smartly advised the NFL that preparing for a football game was not as important as preparing for the recovery from the snowy deluge and watery hell hitting the region.
This is the second time the NFL has moved a game from another locale to Detroit. They did the same when the Metrodome roof collapsed under the weight of snow back in 2010, moving the Vikings/Giants game to Ford Field. The Giants won that game 21-3 in front of a half-full stadium. Buffalo is hoping for a better fate.
They should at least have a full house. In a great PR move, the Lions issued free tickets on their official website at 10 AM Saturday. They were all gone within 15 minutes. I tried desperately to score some to take my kids, but the Flash Seats app kept denying my attempts at their nearly illegible verification letters. Hopefully all of those fortunate enough to secure tickets actually attend and don’t let them go to waste, or worse, try and scalp them. Anyone trying to profit off the misfortune of the people of Western New York and the generosity of the NFL and the Lions deserves to have a turkey stuffed where the sun doesn’t shine. At least the NFL also did the right thing in allowing the game to appear on the NFL Sunday ticket even though it’s on Monday and ostensibly competing with the flagship Monday Night Football.
The Bills already have one win in Detroit this year, knocking off the Lions 17-14 in Week 5. Former Lions coach Jim Schwartz, now the defensive coordinator in Buffalo, demanded his players carry him off the field to celebrate his win over the team that fired him after five middling years. We’ll see if the negative karma from that little stunt comes back to bite the Bills.
$.07--On a week where chronic drug abuser Josh Gordon returned to action for the Cleveland Browns (8 catches, 120 yards), child abuser Adrian Peterson was suspended for the entire 2014 season. Peterson has appealed the ruling, and that hearing takes place on Dec. 2nd in front of someone other than Roger Goodell.
The commissioner has been the be-all, end-all arbiter of Peterson’s fate thus far, much to the consternation of many NFL players and national media. Yet the players have only themselves to blame. In the last CBA negotiations, this was allegedly one of their major points. They wanted independent arbitration on disciplinary issues above Goodell, who has taken his broadsword of punishment and taken the legs out from under many players. Yet the players meekly acquiesced, once again ceding every other point of contention in order to make more immediate cash.
This is what the NFLPA does every time. Despite the immediate regret every single time, the players cannot help but sell themselves out on every single issue in order to get more immediate gratification. NFLPA leader DeMaurice Smith should be ashamed. But the players themselves should be even more ashamed they continue to permit this gross negligence on the part of their highly-compensated, elected leadership.
It’s time for NFL players to stop being sold out by their representation. It’s long past time, really. The accomplishments of the D. Smith regime are trivial: more days off during the summer, a rookie salary scale which hurts a select few but overall helps the masses, more restrictions on contact during the season. The three things the NFL players sorely need--independent contractual and disciplinary arbitration, more guaranteed money in contracts, better real benefits for retired players--are criminally ignored by the current NFLPA.
It’s hard to feel sorry for Peterson, who unapologetically caused serious bodily harm to his son for merely interrupting a video game. Even if you believe in corporal punishment, 20-something lashes with a switch for something as simple as losing a few seconds off a video game is far beyond reason. Yet the people who are charged with assisting Peterson in getting back on the field completely failed him, and that’s not right either.
--If you don’t find Colts WR T.Y. Hilton’s postgame interview touching, you have no soul.
--Philadelphia scorched Tennessee 43-24 in a game that was over almost before it started. Rookie Josh Huff returned the opening kickoff 107 yards for a touchdown. The Titans went -8 yards on 3 plays, then punted to the Eagles. Mark Sanchez quickly guided them into the end zone and it was 14-0 before any other early game had more than one drive complete. Sanchez wasn’t great, but he didn’t need to be.
--Cleveland beat Atlanta on a last-second field goal, elevating the Browns to 7-4. They haven’t had more than 6 wins since 2007. If Bruce Arians in Arizona isn’t coach of the year, Mike Pettine should get the award. Getting these Browns to 7 wins with the below-average QB play of Brian Hoyer is worthy of some recognition.
--Houston lost at home to Cincinnati, but they suffered another loss as Ryan Mallett is apparently lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. I’ve been an ardent and vocal critic of Mallett since he fled Michigan in a cloud of black smoke at RichRod’s arrival, but it always stinks to see someone lose his chance because of injury. Nice cathartic win for Andy Dalton in a place that has been a house of horrors for the Red Rifle.
--With Oakland’s win, the Jacksonville Jaguars are now the easy choice as the worst team in the NFL. A lifeless offensive performance scuttled a strong defensive effort in Indy and allowed the Colts to escape 23-3 on a day where Andrew Luck didn’t even have his “B” game. Rookie QB Blake Bortles appears to be getting worse the more he plays, and that’s very troubling.
--I laugh at your misfortune if you were gullible enough to claim Jonas Gray in fantasy football and count on him to get you quality points. As my friend Sean Baligian boldly proclaimed last week on his radio show (I appear as a guest every Monday and Friday at 3 PM as a disclaimer), Bill Belichick hates your fantasy team. Gray overslept for a practice and didn’t see the field. Instead, The Hoodie ran LeGarrette Blount as the feature back just three days after the Patriots signed him off the street. Don’t make the same mistake and rush to get Blount; Gray is likely to get more carries next week. Or maybe they’ll sign someone else and cut Gray.
--I offer this first one without comment other than to clarify that Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech and Alabama lost to Mississippi:
--Michigan lost at home to Maryland, thereby ensuring another non-winning season. It will be their fifth time in the last seven years since Lloyd Carr was fired for “only” winning nine games every year. I know UM faithful cringe at the notion, but that is not a marquee football school anymore. It’s far easier to rebound at Florida or Texas with the regional recruiting than it is for the Wolverines, who are definitively behind Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame in the regional pecking order. What’s scary is that it’s likely to get worse before it gets better; their returning talent is no better than perennial B1G bottom feeder Purdue’s.
--On the Wolverine front, senior wideout Devin Funchess had two critical drops on the final drive. Both hit him in both hands before falling to the turf. I’ve seen every Michigan game this year except one, including 3 in person, and I’ve now counted 16 drops for the converted TE. He’s an impressive athlete and has dramatically improved his footwork in his routes, but at this point he’s a far more unreliable target than Kelvin Benjamin was for Florida State. I know NFL scouts have questioned his hand/eye coordination, even asking the Michigan staff if laser eye surgery was an option to help. Consider his stock falling, and if you see anyone still calling him a tight end feel free to ignore anything they say about him.
--I watched the USC/UCLA game Saturday night without surfing between other games, a rarity for my impatient attention span. After his first pass--a telegraphed out pattern--resulted in a pick-six, Bruins QB Brett Hundley demonstrated why many believe he can be a very good NFL player. He was crisp, he was accurate, he was poised and he was agile in picking apart the Trojan defense. It’s games like these that demonstrate why many NFL scouts believe he has the highest ceiling of any QB, including Marcus Mariota.
Also in that game, UCLA DE Owa Odighizuwa has a monster performance. His quickness off the snap and strong combination or leg drive and hand placement destroyed USC’s efforts to slow him down. He’s a 2nd or (more likely) 3rd round prospect with a polished all-around game. He will never be a double-digit sack guy in the NFL but can perennially get 5-8 sacks while also being an asset in the run game.
--USC and UCLA both wore their home uniforms and it was fantastic. Oregon and Oregon State did the same a year ago. This is a trend which needs to expand. Let’s see Ohio State in scarlet and grey against Michigan in the maize and blue. I want to see Florida in the blue jerseys and orange pants playing Florida State in the garnet tops and gold bottoms. Georgia and Georgia Tech, Ole Miss and Mississippi State and even my Ohio Bobcats going against the hated Miami RedHawks all need to adopt the home vs. home uniform tradition right away.
--Oklahoma freshman RB Samaje Perine broke Melvin Gordon’s week-old record for most rushing yards in a game by lighting up Kansas for 427 in the chilly rain. He did it on 34 carries. I don’t scout players until they are potentially draft-eligible, but Perine sure isn’t built like a freshman. Special mention to Sooner left guard Adam Shead, who was directly responsible for many of the gaping holes.
$.10--This coming week brings Thanksgiving. In the grateful spirit of the holiday, here are 10 things I’m thankful for in the last year:
--I’m thankful my son has landed with a very good basketball coach and group of teammates. He’s more thankful than I am. Go Zeeland 4th Grade Chix!
--I’m thankful for discovering new music like Thank You Scientist, In the Presence of Wolves and rediscovering Within Temptation and Slash.
--I’m thankful for Banana Republic making pants with a size 35 waist. You don’t know how maddening it is to find pants that fit when you’re a 35x35.
--I’m thankful for the guys I play basketball with most every weekday at lunch time. Y’all are my adult interaction and reality check I desperately need.
--I’m thankful for my two new nephews born in the last couple of months. Can’t wait to meet Augie and A.J.!
--I’m thankful to still have both my parents alive and well at a time when many of my friends are losing them.
--I’m thankful that the election season and ads are over, if only for a brief respite.
--I’m thankful for simple life hacks I learned, like cleaning the blender by filling it with soapy water and running it, or stuffing plastic bags inside paper towel holders for storage.
--I’m thankful my daughter is now in kindergarten and I get the house to myself from 8-4 every weekday…though I miss having my Lizzie around a lot more than I thought I would.
--I’m thankful that I still get to write about football for a living, and that if you’ve read this far you’re helping me to fulfill my dream. Thank you!
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On the Cardinals and Dolphins being better underdogs at the Seahawks and Broncos than Vegas thinks and the rest of the Week 12 slate.
The NFC has become extremely crowded with the Cardinals, Packers, Lions, 49ers, Eagles, Seahawks and Cowboys
The Packers improve playoff positioning, Seahawks in trouble, Rams get an "Any Given Sunday" win over Denver, Detroit's loss, the NFC South, college playoff jockeying and more.
The Lions and Cardinals battle for the inside track for homefield in the NFC, while the Eagles go to Green Bay, Seahawks at Chiefs, Colts at Patriots and the rest of the slate.
John Fox and the Broncos are now ranked No. 2, while Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are No. 4 in the Trench Counter.
On the Lions at 7-2 for first time since '93, the Browns at 6-3, Chicago in disarray, a bad loss by the Steelers, the 49ers salvage their season and more.