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!
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, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, Indianapolis Colts, IQ
By Jeff Risdon
Last Week: Into every life a little rain must fall. On this life, it poured. The worst week in over 10 years of picking games wound up 4-10. 98-61-1 on the season.
Gambling Update: The yearly profits were washed away in the deluge of bad picks. I lost all $2000 wagered on three games, putting me $500 in the hole on the season. Anyone want to lend me a debit card?
- Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders (+8): The wider world of football fans gets to see a winless Raiders team in prime time going against a Chiefs team that just beat the defending champion Seahawks. I know the marketing gurus will trumpet the intensity of the rivalry and the Marcus Allen saga, but the plain fact is this won’t be a very entertaining football game. The Chiefs still haven’t thrown a touchdown pass to a wide receiver, not exactly the kind of sizzle to sell a stinker of a game. The Raiders do play hard, and rookie QB Derek Carr has shown real promise. They’re just not talented enough to compete without the other team playing poorly.
Chiefs 24, Raiders 16
- Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans (-1.5): Echoes of past playoff failures haunt the Bengals in Reliant, where the Texans notched the only two postseason wins in franchise history at their expense. Andy Dalton was worse than awful in those two contests: 41-of-72, barely five yards per attempt and four INTs to zero TDs.
Those Texans teams were a lot better than the current incarnation, however. Dalton, a native of nearby Katy, is due for some vengeance. I think he got his legendary bad game against Cleveland out of his system. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before climbing to greater heights. Having Jeremy Hill and a return by Giovani Bernard to run the ball to balance the offense sure helps. I’m banking on at least one dumb penalty from safety D.J. Swearinger to help extend a drive, too. Ryan Mallett was decent in his first game, but now opposing teams have game film to evaluate and plan around. Cincinnati takes advantage and exorcises some recent playoff demons.
Bengals 24, Texans 20
- Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (-6.5): I don’t care that this game is in Seattle, where the Seahawks are a significantly better team. No way is any team deserving of being a touchdown favorite over these 9-1 Arizona Cardinals, not with the way their defense can cover and create havoc up front. Not with their bevy of outside weapons and aggressive tactics. Not with the runaway coach of the year in Bruce Arians plotting out another masterful game plan. Will Seattle win? Maybe. Will they win impressively by more than a touchdown? I wouldn’t bet on it.
Seahawks 19, Cardinals 17
- Miami Dolphins at Denver Broncos (-7.5): Prevailing wisdom is that the Broncos will be howling mad after their embarrassing performance last week. But I’m not so sure their angst will lead to success here. Miami has a very good defense, able to consistently get to the QB by rushing just four and dropping seven into coverage. They’re very good at bottling up the run, too. With all the missing or walking wounded Broncos offensively, Peyton Manning could very well struggle once again. Don’t forget they were sluggish for most of the game against lowly Oakland the week before St. Louis smothered them.
It’s Denver’s defense that will lead them to victory over the inconsistent Miami offense. I don’t trust Ryan Tannehill in the cold against his old Texas A&M teammate Von Miller, and Miami’s dink-and-dunk offense will not create the big plays necessary to attack the questionable Denver back end. The Dolphins will keep it close and low-scoring, but in the end Denver is the more trustworthy and proven team in these sorts of situations.
Broncos 21, Dolphins 16
- Detroit Lions at New England Patriots (-6.5): The Rob Gronkowski touchdown catch and run last week is one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen on a football field. Going against NFL players, Gronk looked like the roller coaster crashing through the shaving cream at the bottom of the hill. He was not going to be denied.
The Lions have the best chance of anyone to slow down Gronk and the high-flying Patriots offense. And I think that’s exactly what Detroit will do--force Tom Brady to beat them with someone else besides the All-World tight end. If you’re one of the suckers who picked up Jonas Gray for your fantasy team, you’ll be dribbling the drool of remorse into the pillow of regret for starting him against this defensive front. Nobody runs on the Lions, period. Detroit has the ability to make the offense one-dimensional and also to limit Gronk. I think Brady will find some success against the league’s stingiest defense, but no more than two TDs and two field goals.
The question then becomes if the Lions can outscore that. Unless Matthew Stafford plays significantly better behind his patchwork OL, the answer is a resounding no. The underachieving unit continues to be the Achilles heel of what is otherwise an outstanding overall team. The Patriots ability in coverage will do enough to fluster Stafford, and his propensity to stick to his primary read will lead to an untimely turnover that puts the game away for the home team. Good game to take the “under”, currently at 48.5. I’ll be surprised if it gets within a touchdown of that number.
Patriots 20, Lions 15
- Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings (+10.5): Lead pipe lock of the week. No reason to dwell much on what should continue to be Aaron Rodgers’ strong campaign to seize the MVP once again.
Packers 35, Vikings 12
- Tennessee Titans at Philadelphia Eagles (-11.5): Tough task for the Titans to travel on a short week and face an Eagles team licking its wounds from being blown off the (almost) frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. Yet if both teams play this week the way they did last week, the visitors can absolutely pull it off.
One of the lessons from this unpredictable season is that what happened last week doesn’t necessarily impact what happens this week. In fact, teams often completely reverse their fates from one week to another for no particular reason. The Eagles are too talented and well-coached to get rolled at home, especially by the Titans. Gunslinging rookie QB Zach Mettenberger has provided a nice spark, finally unleashing the deep ball against Pittsburgh after slogging through a pathetic yards per attempt in his first two starts. The Eagles are vulnerable to breakdowns on the back end, so Tennessee could keep this game closer than expected. It’s extremely unlikely they win, however.
Eagles 30, Titans 20
- Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts (-13.5): Back when Peyton Manning was running the Colts and Jack Del Rio was coaching the Jaguars, this was always a much closer contest than the records of the two teams would indicate. Even in their down years those Jaguar teams were always a handful for Manning and the Colts.
The Patriots exposed the blueprint for attacking the Indy defense: punch them in the mouth and run around them while they look for their teeth. Judiciously sprinkle in smart passes and the occasional shot down the field between the safeties. Unfortunately the Jaguars don’t have Tom Brady or Jonas Gray or Rob Gronkowski to do those things. The Colts are angry and motivated to redeem themselves after their prominent national whooping by New England. This is not apt to be pretty for the Florida visitors.
Colts 36, Jaguars 17
- St. Louis Rams at San Diego Chargers (-6): It’s hard to ignore what St. Louis did last week in upending the mighty Broncos and Peyton Manning. They got consistent pressure and the back end played aggressively smart and tackled well. Meanwhile the Chargers sputtered once again in barely edging out the winless Raiders. The Chargers have trouble in pass protection, while the Rams pass rush has finally heated up. San Diego cannot run the ball at all, averaging a league-worst (tied with Arizona) 3.1 yards per carry. It sure seems like the Rams ought to have a great chance to win, even on the road.
Flash to the Allstate Mayhem ad where he’s a cheap bungee cord holding a grill and various other loosely-tethered objects in the back of a pickup truck. Mayhew casually utters “Nah” and the road is strewn with debris. A car crashes into it, but Mayhem isn’t done. He flings a giant tub of cheese puffs into the air in celebration. St. Louis, you are the car behind Mayhem.
Chargers 27, Rams 10
- Washington at San Francisco 49ers (-8.5): Can’t help but to be impressed with how well the 49ers have turned the tide after such a fractious, uninspiring start. One underexposed reason: penalties. No team was whistled for more flags in the first eight weeks than San Francisco. But in the last three games they rank eighth in the league with just five accepted penalties per game. That’s shaving more than three per week off their early-season average. They’re not beating themselves anymore. Washington stands little chance in pulling off the road shocker, and the Niners’ uptick in discipline makes it even more unlikely.
This is a critical game for RG3, who was unexpectedly slammed by his own coach before Jay Gruden went back to his characteristic fence-straddling self. Griffin has not been good, but more importantly he doesn’t appear to be getting any better. Progress against Chris Borland, Aldon Smith & Co. will be hard to come by, though finding Desean Jackson would be a good place to start. $1000 on the home team.
49ers 34, Ethnic Slurs 19
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Chicago Bears (-5.5): It’s Lovie Smith’s return to Chicago, the city where he was a mediocre-at-best coach for far too long. The Bears replaced him with another apparently mediocre-at-best coach in Marc Trestman, unfortunately. It’s also the homecoming for Bucs QB Josh McCown, who was better than Jay Cutler in relief of the injured Bears QB a year ago. McCown won’t be fazed by the cold and wind, or the toothless Chicago back seven. Even though Lance Briggs played well last week, this Bears unit still has major holes all over the place. They’re going to have serious problems with dynamic rookie wideout Mike Evans, who looks like he fits right in with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery physically.
The problem for Tampa is that their own defense also stinks. Trestman will be able to easily pick up on Smith’s predictable tendencies, and the Bears also have the virtue of Matt Forte and a running offense. The Bucs don’t have that amongst their meager list of assets. $500 on the Bears to cover.
Bears 30, Buccaneers 17
- Cleveland Browns at Atlanta Falcons (-3.5): This game marks Josh Gordon’s return to the Browns lineup after his most recent drug-related suspension. The NFL’s leader in receiving yards last year, it remains to be seen how quickly he can get back to his old self. It was encouraging to hear he took his car sales job seriously during his mandated time away, and he’s had quite a bit of time to get over his chronic stoner physiological addiction.
He gets a favorable matchup in his first game back. In fact, he could be poised for a big day because this game could wind up being a “last score wins” kind of affair. The first-place (at 4-6) Falcons have major issues in pass coverage. They rank 29th in Pro Football Focus pass coverage rankings and they get little help from an anemic pass rush. Brian Hoyer can’t look nearly as bad as he did in last week’s putrid loss…right?
I really like the message Browns coach Mike Pettine sent by dismissing perennially disgruntled RB Ben Tate. I think it will resonate in the locker room, where Tate had few advocates. Remember, this is a guy who openly complained about being behind Arian Foster in Houston when Foster was leading the league in rushing. Browns players will respect the smart decision, and I think between that and the Gordon bump they pull off the road win. Atlanta is never an easy place to visit but these Falcons just aren’t that good.
Browns 27, Falcons 24
- New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (-4.5): The story here isn’t the game, it’s the snow. As of Thursday morning Ralph Wilson Stadium was filled with more than six feet of snow, and more was on the way. If the community can get this stadium ready for Sunday’s game, the Bills deserve to win.
Bills 14, Jets 9
- Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants (+3): The rested Cowboys have a chance to pick up a critical NFC victory as they jockey for playoff positioning. The Giants have not quit on Tom Coughlin, but they’re not exactly crashing through cement for the venerable old coach either. Sometimes it can come down to something as simple as the date of the game, and I think that matters here: Tony Romo is 27-6 in November, while Eli Manning is 16-23. Romo finds ways to win in this month, while Manning is at his worst. I smell a big fantasy week for Dez Bryant. I also smell one for New York’s Odell Beckham, but he might be the only Giant to find the end zone in this one.
Cowboys 29, Giants 13
- Baltimore Ravens at New Orleans Saints (-3): Somewhat surprisingly the Baltimore Ravens have quietly accrued the AFC’s second-best point differential at +80 on the season. They’ve accomplished much of that by pounding NFC South opponents. Baltimore is 3-0 against the NFL’s weakest division, beating Carolina 38-10, Tampa Bay 48-17 and Atlanta 29-7. That’s +81 in three games, meaning the rest of their season is pretty much a wash. I have a hard time seeing the Saints play so poorly once again under the spotlight at home in a game they really need to win, but Drew Brees is really going to miss Brandon Cooks. Baltimore’s defense will give Brees enough problems that Joe Flacco can outgun him.
Ravens 33, Saints 28
49ers -8.5 for $1000
Bears -5.5 for $500
Arizona Cardinals, 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, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, IQ
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.
Saints host the 49ers, the Sanchize takes on Cam on MNF, Packers get Chicago at home, Dolphins/Jets and the rest of the Week 10 schedule.