By Jeff Risdon
Last Week: 9-5-1. In past years I’ve counted a tie as a loss, but this year I’m more of an optimist so I’ll do like the NFL and register it as a tie. 58-32-1 on the season
Gambling Update: Only one of my three wagers hit, but thankfully it was the big one. Denver earned me $3000, overcoming the $1500 I lost on Atlanta and San Diego. After starting at $10,000 I’m now up to $16,000. And no, I’m not actually wagering this kind of cash. My wife would kill me in my sleep.
- New York Jets at New England Patriots (-10.5): Thursday night games have become rather notorious for being uncompetitive blowouts; every game has featured a margin of at least 21 points during the game. Last week the Texans rallied back strong against the Colts but came up short because of inadequate QB play.
Speaking of inadequate QB play, have you seen the New York Jets lately? While Geno Smith had a few positives last week against Denver, don’t forget his late pick-six to former Patriot Aqib Talib. Bill Belichick certainly won’t. The Jets do have a chance if they can manufacture some turnovers and keep Tom Brady guessing on the pressure points, but even then they still have to score against New England’s talented defense. Having the NFL’s worst pass offense doesn’t engender much confidence in that happening for New York. Although the Pats are never a good bet as a double-digit favorite, they are an easy pick here.
Patriots 20, Jets 10
- San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos (-6): The marquee matchup is an attractive one for the stylistic divergence of the two teams. Denver has Peyton Manning and the precise, methodical air attack with his impressive cadre of weapons. San Francisco has Colin Kaepernick, at his best on the move and supported by a nasty running attack and offensive line.
One of the keys here is Denver’s underrated run defense. The Broncos allow just 3.3 yards per carry, and they’ve been improving that number lately at just 2.8 over the last three games. Their gap integrity and tackling are both very good, presenting a real challenge to Frank Gore and the 49ers offense. San Francisco runs for a lot of yards but they aren’t great at rushing efficiency. They rank 3rd in attempts per game but just 18th in yards per attempt. They’re actually much more efficient throwing the ball than running, yet they’re 30th in the league in pass attempts per game. The numbers say they need to throw more to beat the Broncos.
Of course that’s a double-edged sword. Throwing more means more incompletions and more time for Manning to have the ball in his hands, more opportunities for the Broncos to score. Giving extra shots to the best marksman is never a good idea in a shootout. The Niners will have to create a turnover margin of at least +1 to win. Issues at running back for Denver do create some opportunity for a fumbled exchange or a missed blitz pickup, but it’s hard to have confidence in any team led by Peyton Manning being careless with the ball as a predication of a road victory.
Broncos 28, 49ers 20
- Atlanta Falcons at Baltimore Ravens (-7): The Baltimore Ravens are the best team in the NFC South. They’ve beaten Tampa Bay and New Orleans by a combined 86-27 margin, with almost 1,000 yards of offense in those two games. The Falcons defense is 31st in yardage allowed, giving up 420 per game but 450 on the road, as well as 28 points per game. They’re coming off a discouraging trip to Chicago, not playing well against a lesser defense than what they’ll see in Baltimore. If the Falcons offense can’t do more, this one could look a lot like Baltimore’s other NFC South games. #FreeAntoneSmith
Too bad for the Ravens they’re an AFC North team…Ravens for $1000.
Ravens 30, Falcons 20
- Arizona Cardinals at Oakland Raiders (+4): Carson Palmer makes his return to Oakland, leading the impressive, well-rounded Cardinals against the winless Raiders. The Black Hole will no doubt be hostile towards Palmer, even though it was management who bungled his situation far more than the quarterback’s fault. I like the opportunistic Arizona secondary to score a touchdown here. Derek Carr has proven he’s worthy of building around in Oakland, but he’s a rookie without much weaponry who is going to make mistakes.
Cardinals 27, Raiders 17
- New Orleans Saints at Detroit Lions (-2.5): The Lions defense is playing consistently outstanding football, but the Saints offense will be a real test. Or will it? No Jimmy Graham and a suspect offensive line make this New Orleans team a little less ominous. Drew Brees’ play has suffered as a result. His Detroit counterpart Matthew Stafford isn’t playing to expectations either, with similar causes: the Lions OL has badly regressed, and they’ll be without Calvin Johnson once again.
One reason to like the Lions here is the Ryan factor. Stafford had his best outing of the season against Rex Ryan and the Jets. Rob Ryan’s Saints defense is similar to his brother’s, though less talented up front. As long as the Lions can make more field goals than they miss--something they have yet to do in over a month--the home team is the better team.
Lions 26, Saints 24
- Miami Dolphins at Chicago Bears (-3): I’ll be in Chicago this weekend, though I will not be at this game. If you’re in the area, I’ll be at the Park Tavern in Rosemont on Saturday watching college football with a couple of my favorite draftniks. Come join us for a day of football, food, beer and draft talk. My presence in Chicago portends very good things for the Bears. The last five times I’ve visited Chicago on a football weekend, the Bears have come up victorious. I like them a lot in the chilly, damp weather against the inconsistent Dolphins.
Bears 20, Dolphins 17
- Carolina Panthers at Green Bay Packers (-7.5): Green Bay’s defense has been vulnerable to mobile quarterbacks in recent times. Enter Cam Newton fresh off a game where he rushed for over 100 yards as well as throwing for almost 300. The problem for Newton and the Panthers is that he is the entire offense; the other Carolina rushers netted just 40 yards on 18 carries. A week earlier the RBs had 59 yards on 19 carries. Newton is playing very well, but he cannot outgun Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay by himself. Rodgers reinserted his name into the MVP conversation with his brilliant comeback drive in Miami, and he keeps the train rolling here against a shaky Panthers secondary.
Interestingly (to me anyways) is that as of Thursday morning over 65% of the action on this game has flowed to Carolina. That’s an awful lot of confidence on the visitors to keep it close. Frankly I don’t understand that logic, and I sense an opportunity to capitalize on what I think is a solid matchup for Green Bay. I’ll put $500 on the home team to cover the 7.5 points.
Packers 36, Panthers 27
- Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills (-6): Last week the Vikings couldn’t win at home despite Detroit missing both Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, missing two field goals and the Lions offensive line playing poorly. The 17-3 score reflects how dominant Detroit’s defensive front was against the horrific Vikings offensive line. Buffalo is one of the few teams that can bring the same amount of pressure and aggression. The Bills completely snuff out the run with just the front four, and that’s a serious problem for rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater. I like the Bills to bounce back from a disappointing loss to New England in a big way. They are my survivor fantasy pick, and I’m still very much alive:
Bills 24, Vikings 6
- Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars (+6): The Browns as road favorites by almost a touchdown? Seriously? Even though the Browns have been impressive, never more than in pounding Pittsburgh last week, it’s hard to have confidence in them being a touchdown better than anyone on the road. Then again, these Jaguars are a complete train wreck playing in a stadium where fans are more interested in the swimming pools and world’s largest video panel than the action on the field.
Cleveland wins thanks to its outstanding special teams and ball security, having turned the ball over just twice in five games. They’re also protecting Brian Hoyer well, allowing just 6 sacks. On the flip side, Jacksonville has just one takeaway in the last five weeks. Bad matchup for the home team, which is so bad they need the other team to make mistakes to win. Cleveland doesn’t make mistakes.
Browns 29, Jaguars 24
- Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams (+7.5): Not to beat a dead horse, but many very intelligent people thought the Rams would be a playoff contender thanks to a dominant defensive front. I begged to differ and suffered the scorn for it all summer. Yet even this avowed skeptic is stunned at how bad this team is, and the vaunted defense has not recorded a sack in a month. They’re also near the bottom in yards per rush allowed. Even playing with an early 14-0 lead wasn’t enough to help them last week at home against San Francisco. They’re not going to get that chance against the angry Seahawks. This one is going to be ugly, folks. $1500 on the visitors.
Seahawks 33, Rams 10
- Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts (-3.5): The Battle of I-74 features two first-place teams in a game that could wind up deciding home field in an eventual playoff game. If the Bengals are even to make it that far their defense must play better than it has the last two weeks. Heading to Indianapolis won’t make that an easy task. Andrew Luck is in the midst of one of the most impressive strings any quarterback has ever had:
That’s an awful lot of yards and touchdowns. The gambling community has noticed; an astonishing 96% of all bets on the +/- 48.5 line have been on the over. Andy Dalton and the Bengals are not going to outscore the Colts in a shootout, not without A.J. Green on the field.
Colts 33, Bengals 28
- Tennessee Titans at Washington (-5.5): The battle of the backup quarterbacks is the least appealing game on this week’s docket. As such, I shall write no more about it.
Okay, I lied. If you are hard up in a survivor fantasy game, this is the only time all year you should even consider using Washington. I’m not saying you should, but if you’re full of derring-do this is the time to show it.
Ethnic Slurs 31, Titans 27
- Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers (-4.5): Looking for an early front-runner for defensive rookie of the year? While Kyle Fuller in Chicago gets most of the attention, don’t sleep on talented Chargers CB Jason Verrett. My friend Kyle Posey from BoltBlitz wrote an excellent piece about the diminutive wonder, who was my top-rated CB in a pretty skilled draft class. The resurgent San Diego secondary is a challenge for Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense, who lack a viable field-stretcher to open up space against the good coverage. If Eric Weddle--arguably the best safety in the game--doesn’t have to worry about the deep part of the field, he’ll make life miserable for Smith on the short and intermediate routes. The Xs and Os favor the home team in what should be a defensive struggle, as the teams rank 2nd (SD) and 5th (KC) in points allowed. The line is a little big for a low-scoring affair, so if you’re tempted I would encourage a conservative sum on the underdog Chiefs to cover, but a win outright seems a real stretch.
Chargers 17, Chiefs 15
- New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-6.5): Can the surprising Cowboys handle their good fortune and abundant media attention? That’s really the question here, because they are the better football team. In the past, that has been a very legit problem for Tony Romo & Co. This Dallas team does appear different, not relying on Romo to win games but rather manage them as a devastating rushing attack and smart defense leads the way. We’ll find out if they truly are different with the rival Giants visiting Jerry World.
Humble prediction: if the Giants score on their opening drive, they will win the game. Otherwise the Dallas defense will remain confident and prevail. Losing Victor Cruz after already losing Jerrel Jernigan is a real blow for the New York passing attack, and they’re without top RB Rashad Jennings to boot. They’re not going to come from behind here, so getting out in front and shaking Dallas’ confidence is imperative.
Cowboys 27, Giants 20
- Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers (-4): These are two of the stranger 3-3 teams in the league. It’s easy to see where both teams win and lose, yet they somehow remain unpredictable. Pittsburgh leans heavily on a diverse offense featuring LeVeon Bell and LeGarrette Blount running and Antonio Brown receiving. They have almost nothing else, and when a team can shut down one (or both) the Steelers offense really bogs down.
Houston wins with Arian Foster running and J.J. Watt scoring defensive touchdowns. Sure, Ryan Fitzpatrick can run a drive here and there where he feeds Andre Johnson and Nuk Hopkins, but it’s unreliable. I’m more confident in Pittsburgh’s offense than Houston’s defense behind Watt. The Texans are bad up the middle, where ILB Brian Cushing is now a detriment instead of a Pro Bowler and D.J. Swearinger gives up two big plays for every one he makes. Teams have to tackle well to slow down the Steelers, and the Texans rank near the top in missed tackles.
Foster will get his yards and perhaps a touchdown or two, but it won’t be enough unless Fitzpatrick plays four quarters of solid football. This is one of those games where if they play 100 times I would venture that Pittsburgh wins 51 to 49, so it’s a very low confidence pick.
Steelers 21, Texans 17
Seattle -7.5 for $1500
Baltimore -7 for $1000
Green Bay -7.5 for $500
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, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, IQ
By Christopher Reina
Our NFL Team Rankings are based entirely on the The Trench Counter, which is an objective formula measuring average yards per pass and run on both offense and defense, along with first downs registered and given up, turnovers for and against, and total penalty yards.
Over time, The Trench Counter rankings begin to closely resemble the standings but goes even further to determine which teams are truly the best when on the line of scrimmage.
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 San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers continued their fastmoving upward trajectory from Weeks 4 and 5 by moving into the top-3.
With a +11.7 against the Seattle Seahawks, the Dallas Cowboys entered the top-10, while Pete Carroll's team fell from No. 1 all the way down to No. 9.
The Baltimore Ravens scooted up from No. 2 to takeover the No. 1 spot, though it is difficult to gauge the true quality of this team due to their blowouts in Weeks 2, 4 and now 6. The Ravens' Week 8 game at the Cincinnati Bengals very well may decide the NFC North, but this team has a soft enough record to comfortably get to 12 wins regardless of how legitimate they are as a contender.
Week 6 Rankings
1. Baltimore Ravens: 7.2
2. San Diego Chargers: 6.2
3. San Francisco 49ers: 5.6
4. Chicago Bears: 5.1
5. Miami Dolphins: 4.9
6. Cincinnati Bengals: 4.4
7. New Orleans Saints: 4.3
8. Dallas Cowboys: 3.7
9. Seattle Seahawks: 3.5
10. Green Bay Packers: 3.3
11. Detroit Lions: 3.3
12. Denver Broncos: 2.4
13. Cleveland Browns: 2.2
14. Indianapolis Colts: 2.1
15. Arizona Cardinals: 2.1
16. New England Patriots: 1.0
17. Philadelphia Eagles: 0.7
18. Kansas City Chiefs: -0.3
19. New York Giants: -0.9
20. Houston Texans: -1.3
21. Washington: -1.4
22. Pittsburgh Steelers: -1.8
23. Carolina Panthers: -1.9
24. Tennessee Titans: -3.0
25. Minnesota Vikings: -3.1
26. Buffalo Bills: -3.1 27. Atlanta Falcons: -3.6
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -7.2
29. Oakland Raiders: -7.3
30. New York Jets: -8.0
31. Jacksonville Jaguars: -8.1
32. St. Louis Rams: -10.2
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, 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, IQ
By Jeff Risdon
Sunday provided one of the more entertaining days of NFL action in a long time. Several games came down to final possessions, including one where neither team won.
$.01--Probably the most noteworthy of Sunday’s slate of games took place in Seattle, where the defending Super Bowl champs hosted the upstart Dallas Cowboys. The visitors silenced the crowd and vanquished Russell Wilson & Co. 30-23 in a game that highlights the new and improved Cowboys.
Once again, Dallas won thanks to the strong running game and a better-than-expected defense. Demarco Murray became the first runner since Jim Brown (!!) to notch at least 100 rushing yards in each of his team’s first six games. While his workload is extreme--he’s on pace for a ridiculous 425+ touches in a league where few top 250 anymore--there is no doubt he’s been unstoppable thus far. A lot of credit goes to the great line in front of him. Dallas took a lot of grief for picking center Travis Frederick and guard Zack Martin in consecutive first rounds, but both are already among the better run blockers in the league.
The Cowboys' defense cemented the win. They held on a late fourth down as Russell Wilson misfired towards a well-covered Jermaine Kearse, then picked off his very next pass after Dallas extended its lead with a field goal. Rolando McClain dropped perfectly into coverage and snatched the ball. You might as well end any voting now; McClain will be the league’s comeback player, and his climb back from being a major draft bust and retiring at 25 is a great story. Dallas was desperate when it signed him, and it has really paid off.
Good teams always wind up with an unexpected major contributor. Dallas found one in McClain, and they’re also getting better-than-expected play from cornerback Orlando Scandrick. The entire defense did a great job anticipating Wilson’s every move and dominating the line of scrimmage.
It’s pointless to argue about the validity of Dallas’ impressive 5-1 start. If you’re still doubting that this Dallas team is different, you’re either not watching or blindly hating on them. The latter is easy to do--I’m often guilty of it myself--but their accomplishments so far this year speak for themselves, and they do so with an emphatic positivity long absent in the land of Jerry Jones.
$.02--What looked like a promising Sunday night game turned into a laugher. The Philadelphia Eagles completely dominated the visiting New York Giants 27-0 in a game where the final score makes the game seem much closer than the actual on-field action would indicate.
New York’s rhythmic offense had been humming the last few weeks, but the Eagles silenced them quickly and repeatedly. Their line dominated the Giants’ young offensive line, continually disrupting Eli Manning’s timing and vision. With no viable rushing attack with Rashad Jennings out, it was easy for the Eagles to tee off on poor Eli. He was sacked six times before being mercifully pulled on New York’s last drive. They managed just 9 first downs with Manning, who was sacked 6 times. Just for good measure Philly brought down backup Ryan Nassib twice on the final drive, including the final play of the game.
I thought Cris Collinsworth was spot on when he stated “it just looks like the Eagles were a step faster all night long”. When Eli or Nassib did deliver the ball the New York receivers were often met by Eagles defenders just as it arrived. There were several drops, some of which were forced by excellent timing by the Philly defense.
One drop could prove very costly. Manning had Victor Cruz open in the corner of the end zone on a brilliant route. As Cruz planted to leap up to make the catch, his knee buckled and he collapsed in agony as the ball glanced off his hands. He was quickly diagnosed with a torn patellar tendon, an injury which surely ends his season. He was in tears as he was carted off, and even the notorious Philly fanatics showed him respect. It’s a terrible injury that robs Manning of his go-to receiver just as he finally got first-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. into the lineup.
Just as encouraging for the Eagles was the breakout running game from LeSean McCoy. After frustrating fantasy owners for weeks, McCoy erupted for 149 yards on 22 carries. More importantly, he ran with confidence and acceleration that hadn’t always been present this season. The offensive line looked better, too. This win should give them ample confidence as they enter their bye week, with two tough defenses (Arizona and Houston) on the road docket after next week.
$.03--The only team in the AFC North to lose was the Pittsburgh Steelers. And the Steelers didn’t just lose; they were blown out 31-10 in Cleveland.
After a slow start in which the visitors outgained them 73 to -8 in the 1st quarter, the Browns were definitively the better overall team. The next six cumulative drives decided the contest.
5 plays, 68 yards, TD
3 plays, 60 yards, TD
11 plays, 85 yards, TD
3 plays, -1 yards, punt
4 plays, 24 yards, punt
6 plays, 34 yards, punt
Cleveland’s offensive line bullied the Steelers defense all over the field, even after losing Pro Bowl center Alex Mack to a nasty injury. They ran the ball 38 times for 158 yards after netting -1 yards on their first four efforts. Brian Hoyer completed just eight of his 17 throws but managed 210 net passing yards on those throws. Compare that to Ben Roethlisberger netting 221 on 42 attempts and you get a good picture of the efficiency divergence between these two offenses.
I think former Steelers coach (and Browns linebacker) Bill Cowher nailed his old team when he called them “a soft bunch” on defense and “finesse” on offense during CBS’s postgame show. They are unrecognizable as what we’ve come to expect of Pittsburgh teams of the last 20 years other than the yellow and black colors. They are indeed soft on defense, lacking any true difference-makers. Granted some of that is injury related, but they’ve made it a custom to overdraft suspect defensive talent in the last few years. Their scheme has been figured out to a large extent, and as much as Mike Tomlin thinks he can coach them out of it, it’s not working.
Now the Steelers are 3-3 and looking up at every team in the division. The way the Browns have played in five of the last six quarters, and how well they protect the football, Pittsburgh might not escape the cellar anytime soon. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: I really like and respect Mike Tomlin, but he might not deserve to survive what appears to be a prolonged plunge for the once-proud Steelers.
$.04--Thursday night finally brought a competitive game, though it sure didn’t start that way. The Indianapolis Colts raced out to a 24-0 lead in the first quarter and a half, including a gutsy onside kick beautifully executed by Pat McAfee.
A funny thing happened on the way to a blowout. The Texans didn’t panic. Houston stuck to the running game with Arian Foster, who kept ripping off chunks of yardage. That allowed the offensive line to settle down and the defense to catch its breath. Andrew Luck cooled off, a temperature change coinciding with the red hot play of J.J. Watt.
With apologies to Philip Rivers, the two leading MVP candidates both demonstrated why they deserve the honor in this game. Luck was fantastic, throwing for over 370 yards and making some outstanding throws on the move. His deep balls are the best in football and he can deliver them while being flushed or sliding in the pocket.
Watt very nearly willed the Texans to a win all by himself. He batted down three passes. He bagged two sacks, one of them chasing down Luck in the open field and getting a giant paw on his foot to trip him up. But the coup de grace was his fumble recovery of an unexpected (to Luck) snap, which he raced 45 yards into the end zone for his third touchdown on the young season.
Even though Luck won this battle and elevated the Colts to first place in the AFC South, Watt earned my hypothetical vote for MVP with his unbelievable performance. He’s the best player in the NFL regardless of position, and he doesn’t have near the help around him Luck does, relatively speaking. Without him Thursday night, the Texans could very well have lost 70-0. Instead they lost 33-28 because they don’t have a quarterback worthy of backing up Luck.
$.05--The Detroit Lions boast the league’s No. 1 defense. Seriously.
Technically that was true even before Detroit stormed into Minnesota and preyed upon the Vikings. Sunday’s suffocating performance will only bolster the Lions position atop the league’s defensive ratings. Detroit allowed just 212 yards and forced three turnovers in a 17-3 victory, a game Detroit won despite playing without both Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush.
At least seven Lions had half a sack or more, including 2.5 from Ziggy Ansah, who also forced a fumble and blew up a screen pass for a 4-yard loss. Vikings rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater dropped back to pass 45 times. He was sacked on 8, hit on 12, and hurried on 14 as the Lions feasted on a tentative quarterback behind a leaky line.
It’s time for the national media to finally catch up on the narrative about my Lions. This is a team built around a great defense, not a high-powered offense. In fact, the offense has sputtered even with Johnson and Bush in the lineup, as the offensive line has regressed and Matthew Stafford continues to put out C+ performances with his A+ arm. The kicking is historically bad, as new kicker Matt Prater missed two of his three attempts to leave the Lions 5-for-15 on the season in field goals. Yet the Lions are 4-2 and tied atop the NFC North with Green Bay (a team they’ve beaten) thanks to a defense with impact talent at all three levels. It’s hard to believe, I know, but it’s 100% true.
The Vikings missed Adrian Peterson, but they’re going to have to get used to life after AD. He just might be too stupid to stand trial for his child abuse allegations, proving so after admitting he smoked “a little weed” just before a drug test. That gaffe could cost him his freedom. Moreover, it demonstrates his utter lack of common sense. How can he possibly defend his actions in giving his son an Old Testament-style whipping for interrupting a video game when Peterson isn’t even smart enough to not admit to violating the terms of his bond, or even just not violating them in the first place? On the flip side, it’s scary to ponder what someone with such limited brain capacity is going to do with his life now that football appears to no longer be an option.
$.06--The biggest surprise, to me anyway, came in Atlanta. The visiting Bears pawed down the Falcons 27-13, grounding Matt Ryan and the vaunted Atlanta passing attack. Chicago gave up just 12 first downs after averaging over 22 in the last three weeks.
Atlanta has now gone scoreless in three straight 4th quarters. Right after FOX displayed that informative graphic, the Falcons next two offensive plays were a Willie Young sack and an interception by Demontre Hurst. That sort of punchless attack in crunch time is a serious problem, particularly when facing a Bears defense missing all three starting linebackers…none of whom are very good to begin with. Young bagged yet another sack on Atlanta’s next play for good measure. Credit goes to the heretofore underachieving Bears defense.
Many thought the Falcons were poised for a big turnaround after their injury-ravaged 4-12 collapse from being a perennial contender. Now Atlanta sits at 2-4 and behind all but three teams in a deep NFC playoff race. One of those teams they are looking up at is Chicago, now 3-3 and eminently dangerous when Jay Cutler and the offense don’t turn the ball over. They didn’t give up any on Sunday, riding strong performances from Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte and avoiding the key mistakes that often dog them. It’s hard to trust the Bears, who are inconsistent on offense and often overmatched on defense. Yet winning in Atlanta is an impressive feat even if the Falcons are apparently going to suffer another disappointing season.
$.07--Carolina and Cincinnati played to a 37-37 tie, the first deadlock in the league this year. The Bengals had a great chance to win, but Mike Nugent badly missed a 36-yard field goal as overtime expired. The 74 points marked the highest total in a tie game in the overtime era of NFL history.
It was quite an offensive display by both teams.
- Both teams had 29 first downs, including 18-of-33 on 3rd downs
- 944 combined yards
- Gio Bernard’s 89-yard TD scamper
- Adam Jones’ 97-yard kick return
- Cam Newton rushing 17 times for 107 yards and a TD
It’s always hard to judge the impact of a tie on the teams. Carolina has to feel good about escaping The Jungle without a loss, yet this game exposed their ongoing defensive issues. Cincy hung 37 on them despite being without its three best receivers in A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert, while the venerable pass rush brought Andy Dalton down just once in 44 dropbacks.
The Bengals have some defensive issues of their own, giving up 80 points in the last two games. After seven takeaways in the first three games, Cincinnati has just one in the last two games, an alarming drought for their big-play defense. They also failed to record a single sack, and it wasn’t just because of Newton’s athleticism.
One nice thing about the tie: it sure makes figuring out playoff scenarios and (ironically) tie-breakers much simpler. Both these teams remain very much in the thick of those races.
--Washington turned the ball over four times in the 4th quarter of a 30-20 loss in Arizona. The final one was a pick-six that Kirk Cousins threw right to Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson, who was nowhere near any Skins receiver. I mean nowhere near anyone; no Washington player was even in the wide camera shot. For those who play weekly fantasy or salary cap games, you want the defense going against Cousins and the Ethnic Slurs. They might score more points than Tampa Bay or Jacksonville’s inept offenses, but they’re more apt to turn the ball over. Repeatedly.
--New England knocked off the Bills in Buffalo, but they likely lost LB Jerod Mayo and RB Stevan Ridley for the season with injuries. While they’re now atop the AFC East and extremely unlikely to give up that perch, they’re not close to being as talented as Denver, San Diego or Indianapolis in a playoff matchup. Those injuries certainly won’t help.
--Miami defeated Miami in Miami, with Green Bay only being incidentally involved in the Packers’ comeback victory before a decidedly partisan Cheesehead crowd. I don’t know which is worse, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin’s end-of-game management or the fact the stadium was at least 75% Green Bay fans. Looking for a team to move to Los Angeles? How about the Dolphins, as the hometown clearly doesn’t care.
--On Aaron Rodgers’ cute fake spike play: it was effective only because Miami CB Cortland Finnegan allowed Davante Adams to get out of bounds a little too easily. Finnegan is a veteran who should know better. If he makes the tackle inbounds, the Packers would have been in a mad scramble to get another play off.
--Great feature on the CBS pregame show on Panthers TE Greg Olsen and his adorable son, who has battled serious heart issues for his young life. Genuine tear jerker.
--I didn’t see a lot of the Raiders/Chargers game, but in the 4-5 drives I watched it looked like Oakland raised its level of play rather than San Diego playing down to them. If that holds true on further review, that’s a very good sign for the Raiders. They’re going to win a couple of games at some point, and it sure looks like they found their QB in Derek Carr.
--He’s not going to get the notoriety of a quarterback, but there might not be a bigger non-QB draft bust in recent times than Vikings LT Matt Kalil. He went fourth overall in 2012, one spot behind Trent Richardson. As maligned as TRich has been, he’s a much more viable NFL talent than Kalil. He might be the worst starting tackle in the league, and there are some really bad tackles out there. If he doesn’t improve soon, he won’t be starting. Kalil could very well be Jason Smith 2.0.
--One of the best parts of watching about 40 hours of football in the last 48 hours is the almost complete absence of political ads. Even the super-PACs cannot afford prime CFB and NFL ad rates. Thank God.
--Watched Stanford vs. Washington State on Friday, and I’m now more convinced than ever that Cardinal QB Kevin Hogan is not a legit NFL prospect. His long, low windup and deliberate delivery echo of Tim Tebow, except Hogan doesn’t have that kind of arm strength. He’s got another year of eligibility and I would strongly suggest he use it.
His counterpart in Stanford’s win, Cougars QB Connor Halliday showed much more pro potential. He’s got a very quick release and processes information on the fly. I like his arm strength, on great display on this TD pass. That play also shows his improvisational ability and decent athleticism. He gets infatuated with his arm at times, and his accuracy goes out the window for spurts as well. I’m hopeful he winds up at the Shrine Game and we get a chance to see him out of Mike Leach’s system.
--I was at the Penn State/Michigan game. Here are some thoughts on three Wolverines draft prospects:
Frank Clark had a great night, repeatedly getting into the backfield and showing strength and burst to finish plays. His hands and ability to shed blocks have improved. Biggest issue is that he’s a DE/OLB tweener, not strong enough to play end and not rangy or athletic enough to play OLB. He looks like a rotational contributor, albeit a valuable one for his motor and attitude. I have him pegged as a 5th/6th round pick right now. He’d look good coming off San Francisco’s bench.
Linebacker Jake Ryan was everywhere, demonstrating his nose for the ball and ranginess. When he avoids the initial block he’s very effective, and Ryan is a sure tackler with some pop to his pads. What I like is that he doesn’t take false steps or poor angles very often. It’s still early to project but I wouldn’t have a problem with him as a 4th round pick.
Devin Funchess is going to be the first Wolverine drafted, perhaps in the top 30. That is based on future potential and not what the former tight end offers in his first season or two. Two things here: he’s quite clearly not a tight end with his shrinking mass; he appears to be no more than 220 pounds and has visibly thinned out even since I saw him up close in person at Notre Dame. Yet he still runs routes like a tight end, leggy and round without a lot of precision. He’ll get better there as he gets used to playing split wide and at a lighter, lither physique. He’s also got a bad habit of not looking the ball all the way into his hands. The best comparison I can give for him right now is Dorin Dickerson. Funchess has a better chance of making it than Dickerson (now out of the league) because he’s more sudden with his speed and has a better football IQ, but don’t expect him to light the NFL on fire early on.
--Good job by the AP poll voters to get it right by placing Mississippi State atop the rankings for the first time in school history. I am not a Heisman voter, but Bulldogs QB Dak Prescott would have my vote after another impressive outing in thumping Auburn from the unbeaten ranks.
$.10--The tyrannical NCAA sunk its teeth into another victim this week. Okay, technically the University of Georgia was the acting authority in suspending star running back Todd Gurley indefinitely. But it was all about the NCAA’s asinine hypocrisy and yet another person that holier-than-thou organization is supposed to represent and protect whom they instead prey upon like the mindless jackals they truly are.
Gurley was suspended for selling autographs and memorabilia for personal profit. Never mind that the school, and the NCAA, makes millions doing the exact same thing--by selling Todd Gurley. If Gurley tries to capitalize and do exactly what the school does, he is treated like a shunned Amish.
This is the latest in the ridiculous nature of the NCAA’s iron-fisted, indefensible enslavement of student-athletes. Georgia can sell jerseys with Gurley’s number on them, use his likeness to sell programs, parade him out in front of boosters to coax an extra zero on the checks. But if Gurley himself accepts a taco from an alumnus, he’s subject to sanctions.
Obviously Gurley got more than a taco here. He should know better and he absolutely deserves some punishment for willingly violating the rules, ones which are clearly laid out to him. Georgia is acutely aware of these things after star wideout A.J. Green was suspended for the same thing a few years ago.
But if Gurley cannot profit from being Gurley, neither should the NCAA. Any college student can sell anything they own, and they often do just to get beer money. I once bought a Nintendo from a freshman dorm mate for $40 so he could buy some shrooms for the night. Why can’t Gurley sell socks he wore in a game against Georgia Tech so he can afford to splurge on the large drink with his combo meal instead of just the medium?
The more the NCAA keeps punishing those who bring in their income--the players and the schools who serve under them--for illogical inanities, the quicker the major football and basketball programs are going to shun the NCAA. And when that glorious day comes, and make no mistake it’s coming soon, the NCAA will be as fiscally bankrupt as they are morally right now.
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