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NFL Wildcard Recap and Offseason Preview for Wildcard Losers

No celebrations for the Saints on Bourbon Street this year.

Seahawks beat Saints 41-36:

Why did Seattle win?

1. Matt Hasselbeck played the best game of his 13-year career. Hasselbeck completed over 60% of his passes for 272 yards and 4 TDs, including this one to Mike Williams in the 2nd half. Although he’s been to 3 Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl, it’s hard to remember a better performance in a game like this for Hasselbeck.

2. Marshawn Lynch might have had the greatest run in recent memory on his game clinching 67 yard run in the 4th quarter. Lynch ran 19 times for 131 yards in helping the Seahawks outgain the Saints on the ground 149-77.

3. One year after surprising the Colts with an onside kick to begin the 2nd half of the Super Bowl, the Saints attempted the worst onside kick I’ve ever seen after scoring the final points of the game.

Why did the Saints lose?

1. Their secondary was unimpressive. While the Seahawks didn’t reach 300 yards passing, numerous coverage breakdowns highlighted the Saints top offseason priority in addressing their pass defense. They fell for the receiver falling down trick and it seemed like the stop-and-go double move was there all game.

2. Julius Jones scored twice, but he fumbled and he only carried 15 times for 59 yards. When going on the road in the playoffs, a good running game and solid defense are usually required. The Saints had neither.

Offseason Preview

New Orleans Saints

Head Coach: Sean Payton

  • He’s fine.

Quarterback: Drew Brees

  • Outside of needing to cut down on his picks, Brees is still almost elite.

Other: The rest of the Saints need some tinkering as losing to the Seahawks was not indicative of a team that just needs one or two changes. Their running game was inconsistent all season thanks to injuries and that played a major role in Brees’ increased interceptions. A solid running game will return this offense to elite status. Look for a first or second round pick to be used on a multi-purpose back with size as they will be looking to move on from Reggie Bush in a year or two. As seen on Saturday, their secondary needs to be better. Look for a replacement for the old Darren Sharper and they could also need an impact outside linebacker or defensive end. Their first two picks should be on RB and pass rusher. If they address these issues, it’s back to the playoffs and another run towards the Super Bowl next season.

Jets beat Colts 17-16:

Rex Ryan hasn't been this excited since his wife's last pedicure

Why did the Jets win?

1. The Jets took a dominating running game on the road with them. They ran 38 times for 169 yards and held the ball for 33:07. If they do that against the Patriots, the Jets might win. Included with that was the 17 play, 87 yard drive that took 9:54 and ended with about 10 minutes left in the game.

2. Defense: The Jets held the recently resurgent Colts running game to only 93 yards on 27 carries. As for Peyton Manning and the passing game; Manning threw for only 225 yards and completed only one pass to Reggie Wayne.

3. Special teams: Punter Steve Weatherford average over 50 yards per punt and Antonio Cromartie returned the final kickoff 47 yards to the Jets’ 46 yard line. Needing only a field goal, that return left the Jets only 20 yards or so from Nick Folk’s range. Folk was able to easily convert the eventual 32 yarder for the win.

Why did the Colts lose?

1. In addition to the final kick return, head coach Jim Caldwell decided to call a timeout with less than 30 seconds left and the Jets presumably ready to kick a 50 yard field goal. With another play, the Jets completed an 18 yard pass to Braylon Edwards to set up that 32 yarder. Does Folk make that 50 yarder? I’ll bet that doesn’t come up in Indy during the offseason…

2. One catch for one yard for Reggie Wayne and Wayne let it known afterwards that he wasn’t happy. Whose fault is it? Manning for not targeting Wayne? Wayne for not getting open on Revis Island? The Offensive Coordinator for not lining Wayne up in different positions to change the matchups? It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Offseason Preview

Indianapolis Colts

Head Coach: Jim Caldwell

  • He’s fine. But another egregious display of game management to end next season will turn up the heat on Caldwell.

Quarterback: Peyton Manning

  • Manning will be 35 when next season begins. Statistically, he’s going to be the best ever. It seems like he’s able to carry the Colts to the playoffs, but that’s when his teammates are exposed for not being good enough. Manning is also a free agent and will be receiving a landmark contract.

Other: The Colts had a rash of injuries to many of their skill position players not named Manning. The Wayne issue in the Jets game is also worth keeping an eye on. With the 22nd pick in the draft, would the Colts shop Wayne and pick one of the top receivers in the draft to replace him? If they can get a 2nd rounder for Wayne, they would have to look into it. Wayne is 32 years old and his best days have to be behind him. As for the rest of the offense, the O-line needs work as their running game was nonexistent for most of the season and some key players, like Jeff Saturday, are getting up there in age. Defensively, has the time to break up Freeney and Mathis come? Neither are particularly good against the run, which is their annual Achilles heel. A pass rusher of their ability would no doubt garner interest close to a first round pick. In fact, their Super Bowl opponent from last season, the Saints, need to improve their pass rush and might swap their first for Mathis and a second rounder. Bob Sanders doesn’t look like he’ll ever play a 16 game season and the time has probably come to move on from him. With that in mind, their secondary could probably use a corner as well as a replacement for Sanders. The Colts are playoff good, and will be a contender as long as Manning suits up. But it’s going to take some creativity and guts to reshape this roster to give Peyton an opportunity to play for Super Bowls in the final years of his career.

Ravens beat Chiefs 30-7:

T-Sizzle has Big Ben in his sights now

Why did the Ravens win?

1. Domination: The Ravens outgained the Chiefs 390-161 and forced 5 turnovers compared to 2 for the Ravens. When Matt Cassel only completes 9 of 18 for 70 yards while losing most of the game, that is the definition of dominance. Time of possession: Ravens 41:44, Chiefs 18:16. Need anything else?

 2. Joe Flacco completed 25 out of 34 for 265 yards and 2 TD’s with 10 completions to TE Todd Heap for 108 yards. Does anybody on the Chiefs want to cover Heap?

3. The defense led by Terrell Suggs. Somebody needs to block this guy as he sacked Cassel twice and knocked him down all day. The Ravens wear purple and black and Cassel has to be purple and black today.

Why did the Chiefs lose?

1. Matt Cassel and the lack of a passing game, despite trailing for the entire second half. Did Dwayne Bowe play? Get this, Bowe and the Colts’ Reggie Wayne combined for 1 catch for 1 yard. Guess where they’re playing next? Hawaii, not Pittsburgh or New England.

2. Less than 100 yards passing, 5 turnovers, and 8 first downs is not the formula for victory in the 21st century NFL.

Offseason Preview

Kansas City Chiefs

Head Coach: Todd Haley

  • Playoff coaches typically don’t get fired, but Haley is going to have to make sure the “voluntary” departure of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis doesn’t setback the offense. There were reports that Haley stripped Weis of his play calling duties at halftime. I wouldn’t want that second half game plan on my resume if I were Haley.

Quarterback: Matt Cassel

  • This was only the second season that Cassel entered training camp as the starter and played the season since high school. Cassel should be fine, but Weis’ replacement will play a critical role in his continued improvement.

Other: The Chiefs are young and talented with breakout years out of Cassel, RB Jamaal Charles, and WR Dwayne Bowe. Getting an offensive coordinator to continue to guide their improvement is priority #1 in this offseason. As for the players, they could use a pass catching tight end to give Cassel some more weapons in the passing game. Defensively, the Chiefs had trouble against the run at times during the season. With the super running game in Oakland, improving their run defense up the middle needs to be a priority. Jovan Belcher might not be big enough to play inside linebacker in Romeo Crennel’s defense. He needs to add 20 pounds or he could be targeted to be replaced. Nose tackle Ron Edwards will be 32 when training camp opens and they could probably get younger there. Overall, the Chiefs made the playoffs and should contend with their current team next season. If they can improve their offensive consistency and get stouter against the run, they might have a playoff run in them next year.

Packers beat Eagles 21-16:

Why did the Packers win?

1. The Packers defense kept the Eagles from running the football. The Eagles RB’s ran 13 times for 49 yards and Vick only ran for 33. As for their pass rush, Clay Matthews seemed unblockable at times. There’s a reason why Vick was hobbled at the end of the game.

2. Aaron Rodgers was practically flawless. Rodgers completed 18 of 27 for only 180 and 3 TD’s. He would have had another one at the end of the first half if James Jones caught that deep ball. Mistake free football is paramount to winning on the road in January and Rodgers was solid.

3. Rookie RB James Starks caught the team bus to Lincoln Financial on Sunday. Because of that, he was able to run 23 times for 123 yards after running only 29 times for 101 yards in his career. To win on the road, make sure you take your running game and defense with you. The Packers did and won.

Why did the Eagles lose?

1. David Akers missed two field goals, 41 and 34 yards. While the 41 yarder was in a swirling wind, the 34 yarder was inexcusable and forced the Eagles to go for a touchdown at the end. Akers will probably return for his 13th season, but you never know.

2. The Eagles were undisciplined all season and couldn’t develop a traditional running game. Yesterday was no different as the Eagles RB’s couldn’t crack 50 yards rushing and the Eagles were penalized three times as much as the road team Packers. Despite that, they still could have won if Akers had made one of those field goals to set up another one on the final drive.

Offseason Preview

Philadelphia Eagles

Head Coach: Andy Reid

  • Going nowhere after another playoff season. But Reid doesn’t have McNabb to deflect the postseason flameout criticisms anymore.

Can free-agent-to-be Vick stay healthy enough for the Eagles to re-sign him and trade Kolb?

Quarterback:

Michael Vick

  • Vick is a free agent after his comeback season and Kevin Kolb wants to start here or somewhere else. Expect Vick to get the Franchise tag and for Kolb to only get traded if the Eagles can land a very good backup to play behind the always hurt Vick. With that in mind, don’t expect Kolb to be traded since Vick has only played 16 games once in his career and always seems to have some injury.

Other: This was supposed to be a transition year for the Eagles and they came through pretty well. But the QB position wasn’t the only reason this was a transitional year and those issues are still there. They have the Vick/Kolb situation and also a new contract for DeSean Jackson coming. Jackson is like Vick, explosive and oft-injured. The Eagles would be wise to cover themselves with any new contract for him. Right tackle William Justice was abused to the point of being benched yesterday so that should be an area to upgrade. There’s no shortage of high motor pass rushers in the NFC East. As for their defense, CB Ellis Hobbs had his season end early due to a neck injury and says he will retire. They will need to replace him at one corner. The rest of the defense was middle of the pack against both the run and the pass. That can turn into a disaster if they don’t improve at least one aspect of that defense. They could use some improvement along the defensive front and their linebackers are average at best. Outside of Asante Samuel and Quentin Mikell, they could use upgrades in the secondary as well. The Eagles usually draft well, which is why they are always competitive and they should target that right tackle and improvement in their defensive front seven. Pending free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is the type of player that can help improve everybody on the defense and could be targeted to team with Samuel to face the high powered receiving corps in Dallas and New York next season.

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NFL Week 16 Preview

December 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Here are my thoughts on this week’s NFL slate of games while I wonder where TO will be keeping it real next year…

Cowboys at Cardinals: Tonight’s game is the first of a group of “who cares” games. Both teams are positioning for a top 10 pick on draft day 2011. The Cards know they need a QB and the Cowboys fans know they need a new QB. Unfortunately for Cowboys fans, the owner/president/general manager doesn’t know this yet. The Cowboys have been winning some ugly football games with Garrett and should continue tonight.

Patriots at Bills: The Pats just need a win to clinch the division and home field throughout the AFC playoffs. The Bills have won 4 of 5 and are taking themselves out of position for a top 10 pick. This week should get them back on track as the Pats clinch.

Jets at Bears: The good news for the Jets is that it looks like Mark Sanchez will start. The good news for the Bears is that it looks like Mark Sanchez will start. Why? Sanchez has thrown for only 4 TD’s and 17 INT’s in games played in less than 45 degrees. Guess how cold it’s supposed to be in Chicago for this one? Add in the Bears stifling run defense and you can imagine Sanchez running from Defensive POY candidate Julius Peppers frequently. The Bears have won 6 of 7 and the key has been Matt Forte and the ability to protect the football. After breaking 45 yards just once in his first 7 games, Forte has gone over that total in 6 of the last 7. The only game Forte didn’t run that well was against the Patriots. He’s averaged over 81 yards per game in those 6 victories. The Bears have also taken care of the football by winning the turnover battle by 8 in their 6 wins. The Jets win this one and they’re in the playoffs. The Bears need this to keep ahead of the Eagles for the NFC 2 seed and a wild card round bye. Look for the Bears defense to force 3 or more turnovers and either score on defense or special teams to give them the win at Soldier Field.

Ravens at Browns: The annual Art Modell Hate Bowl is being held tomorrow in northeast Ohio. The Ravens need to win and they’re in. If they win out they can win the division if the Steelers lose next week.

Titans at Chiefs: The Titans broke their losing string last week, but that was more of a win for the man who pays the checks as they beat Bud Adams’ hometown team. This week, they face the Chiefs who are 6-0 at Arrowhead. The Chiefs are playing well with Cassel at QB and Jamaal Charles might win the rushing title. The Chiefs need to win out with two home games. This will be the first of two needed wins.

49ers at Rams: My favorite division. The Rams control their own destiny and the Niners control theirs if the Bucs beat the Seahawks. Got that? The Niners go back to Troy Smith this week but are still 1-6 on the road. The Rams get the win and play for the division next week in Seattle.

Lions at Dolphins: The Lions broke their NFL record 26 game road losing streak last week in Tampa and stay in Florida to play the Fins. The undercard might be Ricky vs. Gunther. Pedro Martinez against Don Zimmer, football style. The Dolphins are 1-6 at home and heading for 1-7. Lions win.

Redskins at Jaguars: MJD is doubtful, heading towards out. That leaves Rashad Jennings to attack the worst defense in the league. The Skins are slightly better against the run at 27th in the league. The Jags need help to win the division or get a wildcard. But they don’t have a chance if they don’t win this one. The Rex Grossman era started with a 4 TD game in a loss last week for the Skins. Look for bad Rex to show up and the Jags keep their playoff hopes alive.

Chargers at Bengals: The Chargers are 2-4 on the road and need two straight and a Chiefs loss to win the division. They also have a long shot at the wildcard. The weather in Cincy is sure to be un-San Diego like as they expect a wintry mix. This was the site of one of the coldest games in NFL history when the Bengals beat the Chargers on their way to Super Bowl XVI. It’s been over 20 years now since the Bengals appeared in the Big Game. The Bengals broke a 10 game losing streak last week, but will get back into the loss column against the Chargers.

Texans at Broncos: This is the Gary Kubiak Bowl where the winner might have Kubiak as head coach next season. Why? Because he keeps his job by winning and he’s reportedly the favorite in Denver if he’s available. Tim Tebow starts for the second time. Let’s go with the Broncos in this one.

Colts at Raiders: The Colts now control their own destiny after running and stopping the run last week for the first time all season. Can they keep this up? The Raiders have a great running game as they have run for over 239 yards in 4 games already this season. If the small Colts defensive front can’t handle the physical Raiders front, the Jags are back in it. The Raiders are also 5-2 at home and are starting to make the Coliseum a tough place to play for the first time in years. The Raiders have a solid defense and Peyton Manning might need to find somebody besides Reggie Wayne if Asomugha is covering him. This might be the best matchup of the day and the Raiders get a win to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.

Giants at Packers: There isn’t a game with more on the line than this one this week. The Giants win and they’re in. The Packers win out and they’re in. Aaron Rodgers returns after missing last week with his second concussion this season. The Giants have knocked out 6 QB’s already this season and an already woozy Rodgers in their sights. The Giants shouldn’t be in this position as they have blown some games (last week) with careless turnovers and play calling. The Packers have to feel the same as they’ve lost 4 games by 3 points and two others by 4. So expect a close game at Lambeau. Matt Flynn showed that he can play with a solid performance last week and could be called on again. If Eli can limit his turnovers, the Giants win. Look for a steady dose of Brandon Jacobs in the cold and short passes to Kevin Boss to keep the chains moving. A screen pass to Ahmad Bradshaw will break this open in the second half and the Giants win by 3 or 4.

Seahawks at Buccaneers: Seattle is home of the 12th man and the Buccaneers are just looking for 12 fans. Expect a post Christmas crowd of less than 50K again in the worst sports region in North America. The Seahawks win out and they’re in the playoffs. The Buccaneers can win out and get in with a Saints loss on Monday and a little more help. The Bucs are 8-1 against teams with sub .500 records. With the Bucs still playing for something expect them to win.

Vikings at Eagles: It looks like the Favre era might finally be done. But he does like the primetime spotlight. The Eagles win and they are in, but they need to beat out the Bears to get a bye. Otherwise they might be seeing a ticked off Giants squad bent on revenge in two weeks. Look for this to be a game for a quarter or two before the Eagles break it open. The Vikings haven’t put together a full game defensively in weeks (months?). Mike Vick continues his MVP march with another big game Sunday night and the Eagles are NFC East champions.

Pro Football Week 15 Sunday Recap

December 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Bengals beat the Browns 19-17: Well, the Bungles blew their chance at the #1 pick in the 2011 draft with this win. Does anybody else find irony in both Ochocinco and Owens not starting, with Owens season also ending on an injury? Classic. Just keeping it real.

Cowboys beat Redskins 33-30: Late field goal by the Cowboys beat Rex and the Skins. Grossman had 4 TD passes in his first game replacing Donovan McNabb. I guess the Shanahan’s might have been right after all. And they also lost, which keeps their hopes for a top 5 pick alive. They might not get Lucky, but they might get a Mallett.

Titans beat Texans 31-17: Another Titans-Texans matchup; another fight…. between Texans’ teammates! Brian Cushing and Antonio Smith went at it. In an awesome gesture, Jeff Fisher awarded offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger the gameball following the game. Heimerdinger is fighting cancer and still performing his coaching duties. Next week the Texans road show goes to Denver. Does the winner get Kubiak for next season?

Colts beat Jaguars 34-24: The Colts stepped up and won a big game running the ball and stopping the run. The Colts outrushed the Jags 155-67 and were up 254-84 in total yards at the half. The Colts came out and took the Jags out of their game and the “bad” Peyton Manning from their losing streak of a few weeks back didn’t show up. The Colts were plus 2 in the turnover battle and their only mistake was on the controversial punt return Mike Thomas in the second quarter. Jags coach Jack Del Rio made some questionable coaching decisions, almost as if they weren’t confident, nor, expected to win. That seemed uncharacteristic for the normally solid Del Rio. They are both now tied at 8-6 and the Colts hold the current tiebreaker. That could change, but the Colts just need to win out. The Jags are lucky that they host the Redskins (tanking games??) on Sunday. The Colts travel to the Bay Area to face the Raiders. They better bring their run stuffers next week as well.

Chiefs beat Rams 27-13: The Chiefs needed a win to stay in front of the Chargers, and Matt Cassel returned and delivered. The Chiefs outrushed the Rams 210-69 and were plus 1 in the turnover battle. Sam Bradford had a dreadful day, throwing for 2 INTs and a 40.9 rating. The Chiefs had been a question mark on the road until recently winning two of three. The 9-5 Chiefs can eliminate the Raiders next week by winning against the Titans at home. The Rams are still tied with the Seahawks for first and try to finish off the 49ers at home next Sunday.

Bills beat Dolphins 17-14: Give the Bills credit for not quitting as they’ve won 4 out of their last 6, including a loss to the Steelers when Steve Johnson dropped the game winning TD pass in overtime. Prediction time: The Bills will draft Cam Newton and Chan Gailey will use him similarly to how he used Kordell Stewart in Pittsburgh. The Dolphins have been eliminated and the Tony Sparano watch is on. The Fins are 1-6 at home and Bill Cowher is making eyes at his job. Not a good combination for the coach that engineered the greatest turnaround in NFL history two years ago. Either the Dolphins will give him a chance or forget that they haven’t given him a good quarterback without a trick shoulder. It will be interesting to see if Cowher is the next person to “bring his talents to South Beach.”

Eagles beat Giants 38-31: Just in case you want to see it again, here’s THE punt return. Here’s the Original Miracle at the Meadowlands with Herm Edwards. It’s ridiculous that this happens again. I was expecting Tom Coughlin to go Woody Hayes on the punter. First, Cliff Lee goes to the Phillies instead of the Yankees and now this. Don’t forget Michael Vick running 10 times for 130 yards and a TD. It reminded me of using him in Madden when he was with the Falcons. This wasn’t a good week for the Giants to choke either, with Billy the Chin making eyes at Coughlin’s job as well.  The Eagles win the division now with a win or Giants loss. The Eagles might need to win out to get a bye since the Bears hold the tiebreaker. The Birds host the Vikings next Sunday night. The Giants try to get off the psychiatrist’s couch to play the Packers in Green Bay. They can make the playoffs with a win.

Lions beat Buccaneers 23-20: The Lions broke their NFL record 26 game road losing streak by going to empty Raymond James Stadium and beating the Bucs in overtime. But like a tree falling in the woods, if nobody saw this game, did it really happen? Just kidding Detroit. The Bills and Lions have continued to play hard and have to be considered dark horses to contend next season. If Matthew Stafford can’t ever get healthy, the Lions might have something with Drew Stanton. The Bucs ride virtually comes to an end as they need to beat the Seahawks at home next week and win in New Orleans to have a chance. Even then, they need help.

Panthers beat Cardinals 19-12: The Panthers retain the #1 pick with the Bengals loss. The Cards move up to a tie for 4th. I wonder if Shanahan can get them to swap first rounders and give them McNabb in the deal. That would be interesting.

Ravens beat Saints 30-24: Ray Rice finally came through with a big game as he ran 31 times for 153 yards and caught 5 balls for 80 yards and he scored twice. On the other side, the Saints ran 14 times for 27 yards. Add in a plus 2 in the turnover battle and it’s pretty easy to see why the Ravens won yesterday. With the Steelers loss, the 10-4 Ravens are now tied for first, but losing the tiebreaker and need help. They play at Cleveland next week in the annual Art Modell Hate Bowl. The 10-4 Saints go to Atlanta where they will need to win and hope that Atlanta loses against Carolina in their last game.

Falcons beat Seahawks 34-18: With the Saints loss, the Falcons only need a win or Saints loss to clinch the South. A win would also give them home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The 6-8 Seahawks are still in first and play at Tampa next week.

Raiders beat Broncos 39-23: The Raiders overcame Tim Tebow parting their defense and running 40 yards for a TD early in the game. Darren McFadden went over 1,000 yards for the first time with 20 carries for 119 yards as the Raiders ran for 264 yards. For those counting at home, that’s 98 points and 592 yards RUSHING in two games against the Broncos. The Raiders have now gone over 250 in rushing yards in 3 games, with another game of 239. Until yesterday, next week’s opponent, the Colts, were having issues against the run. They better bring that “A” game next week as well.

Jets beat Steelers 22-17: The Jets went to Pittsburgh and gutted out a very good win. They just need one more win to get the wild card. Special teams were the key as Brad Smith took the opening kickoff the distance to provide the margin of victory for the Jets. This was a pretty well played, tough game as there were no turnovers. Although the Steelers didn’t play bad, the return put them behind and the safety kept them from being able to kick a game-tying field goal at the end. The Steelers get to recover quickly when they host the Panthers on Thursday night. The 10-4 Jets get a trip to Chicago for another warm weather game against the Bears.

Patriots beat Packers 31-27: If the game was 60 1/2 minutes long, the Pack might have won. The Patriots came out flat against the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers and needed 2 turnovers and a 71 yard return from guard Dan Connolly on a kickoff to win this game. But that’s what good teams do and the Pats have now gone an NFL record 6 straight games without a turnover. The 8-6 Packers still have a chance as they host the Giants next week in a must win game for their playoff hopes. The Pats can clinch the AFC East and the home field next week with a win at Buffalo or a loss by the Jets.

Tonight I like the Vikings and their fans. As I’ve been late and seen the first drive, the fans look ecstatic that this game is outdoors and it would be great if the Vikings could get that ridiculous home field advantage back in the Arctic region of the US. They would have NO problem selling premium seats and luxury boxes with at least 2-3 games being played in freezing conditions. Those would be the “hottest” selling premium seats in the league.

Post Week 14 MVP ballot (If I had one):

1. Michael Vick QB Eagles: Flip-flopping Brady and Vick again, as yesterday put Vick on top. Is it appropriate to call this MVP race a “dogfight”?

2. Tom Brady QB Patriots: It’s amazing that Brady is only second on this list because Brady has been historically good for the past 7 weeks.

3. Minnesota Fans: It’s going to be in the single digits with snow tonight in Minnesota.

My Super Bowl pick, this week, is the Patriots to beat the Eagles. That’s changed from the Falcons because the Eagles karma is tough to ignore.

NFL Week 15 Preview

December 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Here are my thoughts on this week’s NFL slate of games while I continue to keep it real…

Thursday’s review first:

Chargers beat 49ers 34-7: Vincent Jackson imposed his will on the Niners defense scoring 3 times and a great challenge by Norv Turner that overturned a 49er TD that would have tied the game early in the second quarter were the keys to this Chargers victory. The Chargers didn’t turn the ball over, didn’t give up a big play on special teams (that wasn’t called back) and almost doubled the yardage of the 49ers. This was simply a dominating performance by the team that nobody in the AFC wants to see in January. The Chargers need help to catch the Chiefs and they need to win out. Good news for the 8-6 Bolts is that they finish at Cincinnati and at Denver.

Sundays Games:

Browns at Bengals: The Battle of Ohio will not be shown in Cincinnati as the game is blacked out. But, just keeping it real, the hometown fans won’t miss anything because the Browns will win anyway.

Redskins at Cowboys: Usually it’s Jerry Jones who would do something ridiculous to attract attention to an upcoming Cowboys game. Not this time. Mike Shanahan decided to create a controversy by benching Donovan McNabb for Rex Grossman, with an emphasis on “gross”. Evidently McNabb was supposed to lead the long suffering Redskins to the Super Bowl this season with Division I-AA receivers and a UFL offensive line. What’s the Redskins running back’s name again? Right. It’s Donovan’s fault. This game does remind the Redskins of the highlight of their season in the opener against the Cowboys. Right before halftime, weeks before asking the “dog fighter” for his autograph after the game, Tayshard Choice caught and fumbled an ill-advised pass at the end of the first half that DeAngelo Hall returned for a touchdown. The Cowboys never recovered from that and Wade Phillips was fired five weeks ago. While Tony Romo can’t make the poor decision of throwing a screen pass in the waning seconds of the first half this week, he did what he should have done in that situation. He took a knee (and proposed to his girlfriend). Good “Choice”, Tony. Oh, let’s go with the less dysfunctional Cowboys in this one.

Texans at Titans: Time for Finnegan v. Johnson II. Or, you can tune in to see how many catches “Woody from Nashville” gets. Or maybe the Texans will lose another heartbreaker. The Texans are the pick this week over the Titans.

Jaguars at Colts: The battle of past and present Houston is the AFC South undercard to this one in Indy. The Jaguars can clinch the AFC South with a win. The Colts haven’t missed the playoffs since Jim Mora’s last year in 2001. Peyton Manning needs 972 yards (324/week) to eclipse the 5,000 yard mark for the first time in his career. He only needs 530 yards passing to set his own personal mark (4557 in 2004). Both MJD and Garrard are banged up for the first place Jags, but expected to play. The Jags won the first matchup in J’ville in week 4 on Josh Scobee’s 59 yard field goal at the gun. Both Joseph Addai and Dallas Clark played for the Colts that week. Clark is now out for the season and Addai is questionable after missing the past 7 games with a neck injury. The Colts offense has been completely one dimensional since Addai’s injury and that could repeat itself this week. The Jaguars figure to run, run, and run some more with MJD and 2nd year back Rashad Jennings. The Colts will have to prove that they can stop the run to win this game. But it just seems like it’s the Jags year, so that’s the pick.

Chiefs at Rams: The Battle of Missouri at the Ed. Matt Cassel is questionable for the game, but the thinking here is that he’ll go. If he doesn’t, the Rams should win easily. Either way, this game will feature two good RB’s in Steven Jackson and Jamaal Charles. Both are already over 1,000 yards rushing and will be the keys to taking the pressure off their respective QB’s. Assuming Cassel plays, this one should be close throughout. The Chiefs are in a must-win situation with the Chargers nipping at their heels and the Rams control their own destiny, but need to win. The Rams are 4-2 at the Ed, while the Chiefs have struggled on the road, going 2-5. Expect Cassel to struggle a bit because of his situation and the crowd to be fired up. The Rams win by less than a touchdown.

Bills at Dolphins: The Dolphins are at home (1-5) and need a win to keep their faint playoff hopes alive. The Dolphins are in a decent position if they win out, because the Jets have a tough remaining schedule. It looked like it was over two weeks ago when they gave away the game to the Browns at the end, but last week’s win over the Great Wall of Alosi kept them alive. Let’s assume there will be some good karma for the Dolphins in relation to the Jets and go with the Fins this week.

Eagles at Giants: Picture this: Michael Vick goes on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno with the Lombardi Trophy after winning the Super Bowl and he walks in with his new beautiful Golden Retriever, Redemption. Wouldn’t that be a great story? Now imagine this: Michael Vick drops back to pass and coming around the left tackle is Osi Umenyiora and as Vick is backing away Justin Tuck blindsides him with a vicious hit. Quarterback #7 was just knocked out by the Giants this season. The Giants do seem to be getting healthier, Steve Smith notwithstanding (out, torn ACL). The Eagles are hopeful that DeSean Jackson and Asante Samuel will be able to go. Don’t expect Jackson to get the “kid gloves” treatment that he got from the Dallas secondary last week. And he won’t dare try to pull that celebration stunt in Jersey. He’d have the whole Giants defense going after him. The Giants roughed up Vick last time out. It wasn’t good enough as LeShon McCoy broke a 50 yard run with 4:25 remaining to give the Birds the lead. Eli Manning threw 3 picks and lost a fumble. The Giants weren’t dedicated to the run, 19 for 61. This week should be different as the Giants defense roughs up Vick a little bit and the two-headed RB monster of Bradshaw and Jacobs runs for over 130 yards. Manning will limit his turnovers to only 1 or 2 and the Giants will win by a touchdown. Expect a rematch in the Wild Card round.

Lions at Buccaneers: Guess what? The Bucs home game is blacked out in the Tampa Bay area for the 7th straight game. Great fans on the west coast of Florida. When the Vikings or Chargers relocate to LA, the Bucs will be the team that replaces them within five years with this kind of support. This is a matchup between two QB’s picked in last year’s first round and two DT’s picked in this year’s first round. The problem is that QB Matthew Stafford is hurt for the Lions and DT Gerald McCoy is hurt for the Bucs. It will be interesting to see who does better with those similar picks as the years go by. Hopefully injuries don’t play a role, especially with Stafford’s shoulder. The Lions are 0-6 on the road. Make that 0-7 as the 8-5 Bucs stay alive for a wild card spot in the NFC.

Cardinals at Panthers: I hope Jay Feely scores again this week. That was cool. One question for each team: Will Donovan McNabb end up in Arizona next season? Why has Steve Smith put his $2.7 million home up for sale in the Charlotte area? Another question: Who do the Panthers select with the #1 pick in the 2011 draft? If they haven’t Lucked into a great quarterback, then they’re something that rhymes with that. Cards win this week to, um; stay alive in the NFC West.

Saints at Ravens: The weather looks clear and not too cold. Advantage Saints as they travel north trying to extend their winning streak to seven games. The Ravens won that exciting Monday night game against the cursed Texans on the interception return in overtime by Josh Wilson. The key for the Ravens will be establishing that running game with Ray Rice. Rice has been down this year, averaging less than 4 yards per carry, and only ran for 100 in a game once, against the Broncos. The Saints have a good defense, but are average against the run. Rice will have to have his second 100 yard game if the Ravens are to win. This game should be harder hitting than one would expect with the Saints, but they can play pretty physical on defense as well.  Expect Drew Brees and company to take advantage of the mild weather conditions and the 10-3 Saints win this game over the Ravens to go to 11-3 into their week 16 showdown in Atlanta.

Falcons at Seahawks: The Jim Mora Jr. Bowl should go to the Falcons, unless the Seahawks special teams come to the rescue. Look for the Falcons to get ahead early and pound Michael Turner against a mediocre Seahawks run defense. Falcons will go to 12-2 for their big game next week against the Saints.

Broncos at Raiders: Tim Tebow meet Violator. The week 7 matchup in Denver was 59-14 in favor of the road team. Records were set on both sides between teams that have played twice a year since 1960. There should be some sort of “pride” showing this time by the Broncos. The Tebow factor adds a little intrigue to a game that most would expect to be one-sided. Look for Tebow to run for a few first downs, make some decent throws on the move, and walk on water. But don’t expect him to beat the soon to be 7-7 Raiders this weekend.  

Jets at Steelers: With special teams coach Sal Alosi suspended for the rest of the season, the Jets have turned to Yankees fan Jeffery Maier to do their dirty work. Just kidding. The Jets have to find a way to get Mark Sanchez comfortable throwing the ball because the Steelers defense will not let the Jets run. No way. They could have LT in his prime and not have a chance of running the ball on this historically good run defense. But the Steelers can be beaten through the air and former Steelers WR Santonio Holmes is the perfect player to exploit that defense. The Steelers secondary has problems covering quick receivers who catch the ball at the second level as well as the tight ends in the seam. Great safety Troy Polamalu is out for the remainder of the regular season as well. If Sanchez can get the ball to Holmes in space and Dustin Keller in the soft spot of that zone, then the Jets can get back into the win column. Its gut check time in Gotham as the Jets have lost two straight and their once promising season could be heading down the toilet. This should be another physical game for the Jets. One wonders if the weekly physical grind is catching up to this team. The Steelers haven’t lost since the Patriots game five weeks ago. A win here and they should win out. While the Jets will have the microscope on them, still expect them to take a few borderline shots at Big Ben. I usually don’t make an actual score prediction, but here it is: Jets 17-Steelers 16.

Packers at Patriots: Aaron Rodgers is officially out for the Pack in Foxborough. Expect backup quarterback to be near the top of the Packers to-do list in the offseason. The weather should be really nice for the inexperienced Matt Flynn. Snow is expected and the wind should be swirling. The last time Charles Woodson played in the snow in Foxborough was….. Oh that’s it. Surely some great memories for Woodson against his former Wolverine teammate. This one should be less painful, as the Pats should get out early and play ball control throughout. Don’t expect a lot of big plays this week out of the Pats as they will try to wait on Flynn to commit mistakes for them to capitalize on. Flynn and the Packers will turn it over at least 3 times, Brady and Pats will break their turnover streak at 6 games without one. The Pats should win this one by 10 or more.

NFL Week 14 Preview

December 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Here are my thoughts on this week’s NFL slate of games while I wonder if Jenn Sterger will be able to extort anything from the ‘Ol Gunslinger…

Thursday’s review first:

Colts beat Titans 30-28: Peyton Manning got well against the tanking Titans. He had no interceptions and two TD passes as the Colts won a lot easier than the final score indicated. Javarris James wasn’t exactly Edgerrin, but he provided some quality runs late in the third quarter when the Colts were looking to run clock and work their way down the field. On the other side, the Titans didn’t look like they were willing to establish their running game. In fact, faced with a 4th and 1 from their own 34 late in the 4th down by 6, they punted instead of giving it to 2,000 yard rusher Chris Johnson. Tough running football teams don’t just punt the ball back to Manning there. One wonders if Jeff Fisher is beginning to grease the skids for his departure at the end of the season. The 7-6 Colts can still win the division if they win out. They get extra rest to prepare for first place Jacksonville next weekend.

Sundays Games:

Browns at Bills: The Battle of Lake Erie doesn’t mean anything. Jake Delhomme is playing QB for the Browns and the Bills are at home. Bills are the pick.

Packers at Lions: The Lions have been so close, losing four games by 3 points or less. They have also lost three more by a touchdown (8 pts.) or less. The Packers won the first meeting in Lambeau by 2. The injured Shaun Hill threw for 331 and 2 TD and also ran for 53. Noted end zone dancer, Drew Stanton, takes the reins this week in Motown. This is what would be called a “trap” game for the Pack. With the Patriots, Giants and Bears remaining after this, the Packers can’t afford to let up here. If the Packers are a legitimate Super Bowl contender (I think they are), then they’ll win. Packers will win this by less than a touchdown.

Giants at Vikings: Gee, what’s the word on Favre’s status this week? He might not play. The streak may end. He can barely throw a football, let alone send a text. Puhleeeeeze! If he doesn’t play, he might not play again. The Giants have been up and down as they’ve won the past two weeks. Their season will ride on these next three games as they need 2 out of 3. The Vikings need to win out and get help. Unfortunately for them, the Packers’ sweep provides them with little margin for error. There is an outside chance at the wild card as they play the Giants, Eagles, and Bears in the next three games. The final wild card might be 9-7 and the Vikings could hold the tiebreaker should they win out. As for the game, if Favre doesn’t play, Adrian Peterson is going to need to dominate, because Tarvaris Jackson struggled last week and the Giants pass rush can fluster the best quarterbacks. The line play in this game will determine the winner as the Giants O-line is still banged up, only David Diehl returns this week, and the Vikings defensive front can be dominating at times. Eli Manning should have Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks back even though they’re listed as questionable. The Vikings have been the best soap opera in the league this season and if they lose this week, it’s over. That and Adrian Peterson are the two reasons to like the Vikings, now to be played on Monday night. This game will be on in New York and Minnesota on the local Fox station.

Bengals at Steelers: The Bengals haven’t played a full game in months and you shouldn’t expect them to this week. It should be cold in Pittsburgh and bad teams with nothing to play for usually don’t bring a complete effort to these types of games. The Steelers won a tough, gritty game last week in Baltimore. This one should be easier. Steelers win by double digits.

Buccaneers at Redskins: The Redskins are losers of 4 out of 5 and this week ended superstar Albert Haynesworth’s season. How could they? They should’ve known that he was a 4-3 tackle, not a nose tackle. Anyway, the Bucs lost a heartbreaker at home last week to the Falcons and look to get back on track at FedEx. The Bucs are 7-0 against teams .500 and under. They are 0-5 against teams with winning records. This is easy folks. The Redskins are 5-7 and will be 5-8 after the Bucs beat them despite the cold weather. Josh Freeman is a Kansas City native, so he knows cold weather.

Falcons at Panthers: The only easy pick every week is, “Who is playing the Panthers?” This week it’s the Super Bowl bound Falcons.

Raiders at Jaguars: This game could have the least amount of plays in an NFL game this season. Both teams like to run the ball and the one who is most effective, will win. The Raiders come of their most surprising win of the season, at San Diego. They were only 1-4 away from the Bay before that game. The Jags will play in front of their 6th sellout of the season. Take that Tampa Bay. The Jaguars need to win out to ensure a playoff berth. The Raiders need to win out and get help. But they might get that help this week in San Diego. Jacksonville is a tough place to play, but it’s going to be even tougher this week as the Raiders will play at 10 AM PST. They get brunch with MJD, which is fitting, because their fans usually have brunch with MGD. The venue is probably the difference in this one, which is why the Jags are the pick.

Rams at Saints: The Rams have won two straight on the road and are looking for three in a row. Screeeeech! That’s the Rams’ train coming to a dead stop on Sunday. The Saints are not the hapless Broncos or Cardinals. They have that Lombardi Trophy from last year and they’re looking for another one. The Saints have won five straight and trail the first place Falcons by a game. They need this and should be focused. The Saints have the 3rd ranked pass defense, 15th ranked run defense and 9th overall defense. Sam Bradford is in the stretch run of his rookie season and will need Stephen Jackson to carry a heavy load. The Rams are 19th against the pass and Drew Brees is still the QB in New Orleans. If the Rams can’t run the ball, this could be over quickly. Expect the Rams to keep this close for the first half and into the 3rd quarter, but the champs will be too much in the end and win by double digits.

Seahawks at 49ers: The Seahawks are 6-6 and have a chance for first all by to their own if they win and the Rams lose. The Niners are tough to figure and this week they turn back to Alex Smith. Seattle’s defense isn’t good against the pass and that should help Smith get going with Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. But the key for Smith might be Brian Westbrook out of the backfield. Westbrook is getting a lot more playing time with Frank Gore out for the season. Westbrook is a top pass receiver at running back and if Lofa Tatupu can’t cover him, the Seahawks could be 6-7 at the end of the day. Here’s guessing that is what happens. Niners win and get within a game of first. Prediction for the NFC West: Niners go 3-1 the rest of the way and win the West at 7-9.

Patriots at Bears: The Pats once again put together the best game of the season on Monday night. If you thought their dismantling of the Steelers a few weeks ago was impressive, the Pats one-upped themselves with the 45-3 whipping of the Jets. This week will be different. Soldier Field is a tough place to play usually, but the weather is expected to be a “factor”. With the cold temperatures and the wind blowing, whoever can run the ball and not turn the ball over will win this game. Devin Hester might be a difference maker with his returns as field position will be at a premium. The Pats defense, except last week, hasn’t been that great. They are 19th against the run and 31st overall. The good news is that their 31st ranked pass defense has a 12th man with that blustery wind. But the weather is going to work both ways and the Bears rush defense is dominating (2nd in NFL) and their running game has been better than the Pats since they committed to the run about a month ago. If the Pats didn’t play Monday night, weren’t on the road, and didn’t look so good last week, there would be more of a debate on who would win. But with all of those factors in play, the Pats are due; maybe overdue for a letdown after this tremendous run they’ve been on since losing to Cleveland five weeks ago. The Bears are the pick because of all those reasons, especially being at home.

Dolphins at Jets: So are the Jets frauds? They are 1-3 against teams with winning records and 8-0 against teams .500 and below. That stat doesn’t mean they’re frauds, just that they win the games they are supposed to and struggle, like everybody against the good teams. The Jets are a good team; the Dolphins just haven’t gotten going this season as they’re 1-5 against those teams with a winning record. The Jets get back on track this week as the Dolphins don’t have anything to play for after last week’s final minute loss to the Browns.

Broncos at Cardinals: This game’s in the desert, but I nominate this game to be snowed out, with no makeup date. The Broncos have a new coach after firing Josh McDaniels on Monday. The difference between the Broncos and the two other teams that fired their coaches is that the Broncos are not, and were not expected to be a playoff team. But owner Pat Bowlen is looking for a spark (and a few wins) to give the fans hope for next season (and a desire to renew season tickets). The Cardinals stink and will start rookie quarterback John Skelton. Heads, Broncos, Tails, Cardinals. Heads. Broncos are the pick.

Chiefs at Chargers: This should have been a great matchup, but breakout star QB Matt Cassel is out for the Chiefs after an emergency appendectomy earlier this week. He didn’t even make the flight to San Diego. That means Brodie Croyle, with his 0-9 starting record, takes the reins this week for the first place Chiefs. The good news for the Chiefs is that this game isn’t for first. The Raiders took care of that by running over the Chargers last week. This could be the secret to the Chiefs success this week. Newly signed RB Jamaal Charles (5 yrs/$32.5mil) must be licking his chops after the Raiders ran for 251 yards against the top ranked Chargers defense. The first matchup between these two in KC was a hard hitting affair on the opening Monday night. This one should see much of the same type of physical play. The Chiefs can make a statement that they are a legitimate contender in the AFC, not just the West, with a sweep of the preseason favorite Chargers. Brodie Croyle or not, the Chiefs go in and smash the Chargers to end the Chargers season. Expect 125+ out of Charles on the ground.

Eagles at Cowboys: Michael Vick in Primetime in Jerry’s World. This could get ugly. The Eagles sent the Cowboys packing with a blowout win to end the 2008 season. The Cowboys returned the favor last year, winning in week 17 and in the wild card round of the playoffs against the Eagles to end their season. The Cowboys are 3-1 with Jason Garrett as interim coach. They’ve beat both Mannings and Detroit, while losing to the Saints in a game they should have won. The Eagles and Vick are rolling along, with wins in 4 out of their last 5 games. They also beat both Mannings. This is the first of two between these two teams in the final four games. The Bears showed how to “contain” the Eagles and Vick with Julius Peppers chasing Vick all over the field. The Cowboys have a similar talent in DeMarcus Ware. If Ware can get after Vick continuously, the Cowboys could have some defensive success. The Cowboys are without super rookie wide out Dez Bryant, who broke his ankle last week. But the Eagles pass defense is hurt as well, with Asante Samuel listed as questionable and likely to miss the game. If Samuel doesn’t play, the Cowboys passing game could be more effective. Overall, this should be a shootout, much like the Cowboys game at Indy last week. If their defense can turn Vick over a few times, they will win. But expect Vick to run for over 60 yards and pass for over 350 as the Eagles end the Cowboys ultra-faint playoff hopes of this season.

NFL Week 14 Thursday’s game preview, Albert Haynesworth, and the upcoming labor fight

Thursday Night NFL Football:

Colts at Titans: Peyton Manning has thrown 11 interceptions, including 4 pick 6’s, over the past 3 games. Mike Hart and Joseph Addai are both out, but the Colts brought back old friend Dominic Rhodes. Rhodes is back because Donald Brown has been mediocre and is also doubtful. Any kind of running game for the Colts will help ease the pressure on Manning to carry the team. The Titans look like they’re about to implode as they are now 5-7 and looking at a must win game tonight to save their season. Jeff Fisher always seems to get his team to play, but there have been a few games, including the past two weeks, that the Titans haven’t shown up. Neither team has a chance to go to the playoffs if the Colts don’t beat the Jags next week. But you can definitely count out the Colts if they don’t win tonight. This doesn’t feel like it’s the Colts season and sometimes, good teams need a down year to recharge their batteries and rebuild their talent base. Nothing helps a playoff-ready veteran team like a top 15 pick, especially when you have glaring needs like the Colts. The Colts have had problems running the ball and stopping the run. That will be the key in frigid Nashville (in the 20’s) tonight as Chris Johnson has his game of the year and could break 200 tonight. He’ll score twice and lead the Titans to, possibly, Jeff Fisher’s last win as Titans coach.

Weekly Notes:

Albert Haynesworth suspended for remainder of the season by Redskins

Coach Mike Shanahan has had enough and Albert’s done for the season. There were calls for the Redskins to just dump Prince Albert, but a more creative approach is needed. Most trades are straight up for a pick and/or conditional pick(s). Haynesworth has been the runner-up for NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice (2007-2008) and the Redskins have paid a king’s ransom for him already. But the contract is now, relatively, reasonable, especially for a player of Haynesworth’s ability. If the Redskins can’t get the on-field performance from him, they need to at least get compensation that is comparable to his future performance.

Most interested teams will want to lowball the ‘Skins. That’s alright, except if I’m Bruce Allen; I’m making any compensation conditional, based on Haynesworth’s performance and his new team’s performance. If Haynesworth goes to a team, say the Colts, and they go to and win the Super Bowl AND Haynesworth is one of the top 5 defensive players in the league, I would want a #1 pick for him. Would the Colts and their fans trade a #1 pick, which would be the 32nd pick in round 1, for Haynesworth and a Super Bowl? I’m sure the answer is yes. How about a #2 pick if Haynesworth is performing at an elite level (Defensive POY votes) and his new team improves by 3 or more wins and/or plays in their league championship game? A third round pick for any team that makes the playoffs. If Albert stinks or causes more trouble, then the base pick would be a 4th or 5th rounder, depending on the demand. Get creative, Bruce, and get the ‘Skins are rare second first round pick. Don’t get stuck with just a potential 3rd rounder.

NFL labor negotiator says 18-game season is the starting point in talks

The problem with the 18 game schedule is the potential for more injuries. The NFL is inconsistent in its weekly charade to “protect the players”. How does playing two more games increase safety? How does inept performance enhancing drug testing increase safety? How does fining, but still not suspending players, despite that threat, increase player safety? How does playing seven straight weeks of 9 different Thursday games increase player safety?

These player safety issues are legitimate and the NFL needs to really get serious about this issue. If they are going to add another bye week, they need to relate it to the Thursday games that come way too soon at the end of the season for these banged up players. Depth is a problem on opening day, but it sometimes reaches critical mass deeper into the season and the NFL will have to relent on expansion of the game day and regular roster. Currently game day rosters are 45 active players and 8 inactives. Twenty years ago teams suited up 49 players. Why can’t they do that now? How much do those bottom of the roster guys make? What would expanding the active game day roster to 51 cost? Around $2 million per year? What will those two extra games make each team? About $20 million per year? Cut the profit to $18 million and give these guys rest.

The PED issue is the white elephant in the room. Nobody wants to talk about it, but they know it exists. Think how the violence of these open field hits would decrease, albeit slightly, if the average player was 15 pounds lighter and .1-.2 seconds slower in their 40 times. Bigger, faster players colliding can’t be safer than smaller, slower players colliding, can it? Take the PED issue seriously as well by including blood testing in the new CBA.

Pro Football Week 13 Sunday Recap

Some thoughts on yesterday’s pro football games while wondering if the Bengals would fall for the fake throw to third, throw to first pickoff play if they played baseball…

Saints beat Bengals 34-30: Really. That stupid play where the quarterback gets under center with the only objective being to get the opposing team to jump offside actually worked? Only the Bungles would fall for that one. In a game that the Saints should have lost, they pull it out because of the lack of discipline and complete ineptitude of the Bungles. The good news for Coach Marvin Lewis, Carson Palmer, and Chad Ochocinco is that they all will most likely not return to the Queen City next season. Lewis’ contract is up and the two players have expensive contracts and a severe drop-off in production. From the playoffs to 2-10 is impressive. The lack of winning problem in Cincinnati won’t be fixed until Owner/General Manager Mike Brown steps aside. The Saints do what good teams do. They win games that they have no right to win and keep moving towards another playoff berth. Carson Palmer actually played a pretty good game for the Bungles, but their defense literally gave away this game. The 9-3 Saints continue their drive to the playoffs next week against the Rams at home.

Bears beat Lions 24-20: The Lions just can’t get a break. They continue to be in almost every game they play and they play hard, but they’re now 2-10. Drew Stanton played fairly well, not turning the ball over and running for a touchdown for the Lions. The Bears keep winning, period. The defense came up big at the start of the 2nd half after Turk McBride strip-sacked Jay Cutler and recovered the ball at the Bears’ 9 yard line. The Bears defense stiffened and held the Lions to a field goal and what turned out to be the margin of victory. Other than the fumble, Cutler was really efficient despite being sacked four times. No interceptions and he completed over 80% of his passes. If Cutler can continue to play this way, their running game continues to be effective, and their defense maintains their elite play, this team could make noise in January and ruin another Super Bowl. At least it won’t rain inside Jerry’s World in February. The 9-3 Bears schedule gets tougher. In fact, their remaining schedule is the most difficult in the league. They play the Patriots at home next week, followed by at Vikings, Jets, and at the Packers.

Packers beat 49ers 34-16: The Niners kept it close for the first half but the Pack pulled away in the 3rd quarter to go to 8-4. I’m guessing the Packers had to get used to wearing those ridiculously ugly uniforms. Aaron Rodgers continues to impress, almost reaching 300 yards and throwing for 3 TDs. The Donald Driver touchdown reception was one for the ages, as football fans had to flashback, NFL Films style, to Mark Bavaro carrying a bunch of 49ers on a Monday night game in the 80’s. Troy Smith isn’t the answer for the Niners who dropped to 4-8. The Packers go on the road next week to face the hard luck Lions.

Jaguars beat Titans 17-6: The Jags keep rolling as MJD ran for 186 yards. It didn’t look like the Titans got the wake-up call for the noon start. They didn’t start playing until 1 CST, and the Jags were already up 14-0. The Titans have the short week as the struggling Colts come to town on Thursday. Another effort like yesterday and the Jeff Fisher watch will begin. The Jags are in first place by themselves and get the Raiders at home next week. Jack Del Rio is accumulating those “Coach of the Year” votes.

Chiefs beat Broncos 10-6: Yesterday was not a good day to be a Chiefs season ticket holder, except for the win. What an ugly, unexciting game in KC yesterday. But a win is a win and the Chiefs now stand at 8-4 with an outside shot a gaining the bye in the AFC playoffs. Unless the Raiders can put together a run, the Chiefs game at San Diego next week can effectively give the Chiefs the division if they win. The rest of the Chiefs’ schedule is winnable.

Browns beat Dolphins 13-10: The Dolphins are finally done after they lost to the Browns yesterday. The killer play pretty much summed up their season as Chad Henne threw a pass that was picked by the Browns’ Mike Adams with a minute remaining and returned to the Dolphins’ 2 yard line. The Browns ran the clock and kicked the winning field goal. The headline stat of this game is the Dolphins cumulative record at home this season; 1-5. How is a 6-6 team 1-5 at home? If they only took care of half of those home games they would be 8-4 and competing for a playoff berth. Now they look at a pick in the 14-18 range.

Vikings beat Bills 38-14: Is the Brett Favre era finally done? Favre was knocked out on the first passing play of the game yesterday with a shoulder injury that ended up being intercepted. But Tarvaris Jackson didn’t take full advantage of the opportunity as he threw for three interceptions himself. Adrian Peterson ran for over 100 yards and the Bills run defense was ineffective again. This is the same team that started 3-7 for Chilly? Interim coach Leslie Frazier, now 2-0, says that Favre will play if he’s cleared by the docs. With three more starts needed for 300 consecutive starts; expect #4 in the lineup next week. The Vikings are mathematically still alive and play the Giants at home next week.

Giants beat Redskins 31-7: Yuck. Some people had this as their only viewing option at 1:00 EST on Sunday. What a nightmare. This game was over early, and was painful to even glance at every 10 minutes or so. The 8-4 Giants go on the road next week to play the Wrangler Man in the Twin Cities.

Raiders beat Chargers 28-13: This one was shocking as the Raiders ambushed the Chargers early and often. The sub-par special teams play reappeared for the Chargers as the normally reliable Darren Sproles fumbled a punt and the Raiders recovered on the Chargers’ 18 yard line. That led to a Jason Campbell naked bootleg run for a 7-0 lead. On the next series, AFC Offensive Player of the Month Jacoby Ford caught a Campbell pass for a touchdown to give the Raiders a 14-0 first quarter lead. But that wasn’t the entire story of this game. The Chargers came into the game with the best offense and best defense, yardage-wise, in the league. The Raiders ran 52 times for 251 yards. The Chargers ran 8 times for 21 yards. A third-grader could figure out why the Raiders won and the Chargers lost. Hey Norv, you can run the ball more than twice a quarter. Norv has his negatives, but typically, play calling isn’t one of them, until yesterday. I’ve mentioned this before, but that Raiders offensive line has been impressive and Darren McFadden has been the beneficiary. The fourth pick in the 2008 draft is now 130 yards from his first 1,000 yard season and the Raiders are now 6-6. Next week’s game at Jacksonville should be an interesting matchup as both teams will be focused on winning the ground game. The 6-6 Chargers are now up against the wall with the first place Chiefs coming to town next week. A loss and they can make vacation plans for January. A win and they still need help.

Cowboys beat Colts 38-35: Peyton Manning threw another two pick 6’s and the Cowboys go to 3-1 under interim coach Jason Garrett. Manning looks out of whack as he’s now thrown 11 interceptions in the last 3 games. Something has to be wrong here. He’s staring down receivers and there’s no real explanation for him forcing things. The 6-6 Colts are now a game behind the Jags and will have to beat them in two weeks. But they also have a short week this week and Jeff Fisher might be making his last stand as Titans coach on Thursday in Nashville. Another bad game by Manning and a loss by the Colts will most likely knock them out of the playoff hunt. If the Cowboys had beaten the Saints, they would have an outside chance at the playoffs. But it’s not meant to be this year for them.

Rams beat Cardinals 19-6: The Rams win another road game as they even their record at 6-6. Maybe they can go 8-8 after all. Next week they face a professional team in New Orleans.

Seahawks beat Panthers 31-14: This one was scary early as the hapless Panthers held a 14-0 lead. Alas, it wasn’t their day after all. Marshawn Lynch showed up and scored 3 times to help the Seahawks get to 6-6. They play at San Francisco next week. That week 17 matchup with the Rams might be to avoid a losing record AND the division. What an impressive division!

Falcons beat Buccaneers 28-24: 53,955 fans showed up for this one in Tampa. Yawn. If all of the professional sports teams in the Tampa Bay area moved, would anybody notice? Hey LA, we have your team and they’re young and exciting, but they won’t be bringing those bright orange unis. The Falcons continue to show why they have the best record in the NFL as they fended off the upstart Bucs once again. Did any defensive player have a better game yesterday than Brent Grimes? A cornerback, Grimes made 7 tackles, knocked away 6 passes and made the clinching interception of a Josh Freeman pass with less than 2 minutes remaining. The only person who couldn’t have been impressed was Freeman, who jacked smaller Grimes up with a hit out of bounds after the pick. That followed Matt Ryan orchestrating another fourth quarter drive to give the Falcons the lead. The 67 yard drive culminated with a 9 yard pass to Michael Jenkins for 6. The Falcons are in the driver’s seat, and are currently undefeated outside of Pennsylvania. That’s important because they don’t have any more games scheduled in the Keystone State. A win against the Saints in two weeks could give them the division and home field advantage in the NFC. It’s doubtful that anybody is going into the Georgia Dome this year and beating these guys. The 10-2 Falcons have a second bye week; no make that the Panthers next week.  The 7-5 Bucs still haven’t beaten a team with a winning record and try to revive their faltering playoff hopes against the ‘Skins at FedEx next week.

Steelers beat Ravens 13-10: I think the 90 players that suited up last night for this game all feel like they were hit by a freight train when they woke up today. What a hard hitting game, complete with a broken nose for tough-guy QB Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben is the embodiment of the city he plays for. Tough and resolute, he kept the Steelers alive with a gutty performance and delivered at the end when they needed him to. The stiff arm on Terrell Suggs on the first play after the Polamalu forced fumble was awesome. The Steelers figure out a way to win games, and Polamalu’s safety blitz and forced fumble of Joe Flacco was an example of the superior coaching that the Steelers have every year. Mike Tomlin empowers Dick LeBeau to coach the defense how he sees fit and he dialed up that great blind-side blitz that won the game. That might be the best defensive play call of the year as the Steelers now are in the driver’s seat in the AFC North. The 9-3 Steelers go home to face the Bungles next week. The 8-4 Ravens are now playing catch-up. They head to Houston for a game next Monday night.

Tonight’s game in Foxborough should be almost as intense as last night’s game. The Jets are talking it and if they walk it tonight, they effectively win the division since they would have swept the Pats. The Jets haven’t played aesthetically pleasing football to the eyes, but they continue to win. Their defense has made plays when they need it and Mark Sanchez has brought the Jets back from deficits three weeks in a row before their last game on Thanksgiving. The Pats are rolling since their week 9 loss in Cleveland. They hold all of the prospective AFC tiebreakers, except one. They already lost to the Jets in week 2 and they have one more AFC loss than the Jets. This week is a must win if they want to win the AFC East. If the Jets win, the Steelers would most likely control their own destiny since they get to play the Jets in week 15. There’s a lot on the line tonight for both teams, so expect some great plays on both sides. If you’re looking for a key player tonight, ex-Jet Danny Woodhead can add his name to the rivalry if he can score a few times. Woodhead began the season with the Jets, but was cut after the first game and picked up by the Pats. Woodhead has replaced the injured Kevin Faulk superbly in the Pats offense and he’s also playing well on special teams. This is the first matchup between these teams since Randy Moss was traded. It should be interesting to see how that affects the way the Jets play defense against the revamped Patriots offense. Tom Brady looked out of sorts during the week 2 loss in New Jersey and that performance most likely led to Moss’ departure as Brady was trying to force it to the wide receiver too much. As for the result, tonight I like the Patriots at home. This should be higher scoring than last night’s game, but it should have a lot of the same emotion and passion from both teams.

Post Week 13 MVP ballot (If I had one):

1. Michael Vick QB Eagles: He’s been too good to ignore. The Eagles might not even be a playoff team without him.

2. Tom Brady QB Patriots: The QB with the Bieber haircut is playing like he did from 2001-2004 and the Patriots might be headed back to their postseason dominance.

3. James Harrison LB Steelers: He’s been fined a king’s ransom, but he’s the best player on the most intimidating defense in the league. Most impressive stat: 6 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions. There isn’t an opposing receiver in the league that doesn’t know where Harrison is when they are crossing the middle of the field.

My Super Bowl pick, this week, is the Patriots to beat the Falcons. That’s sure to change, as usual.

And with that, I “Turn Out The Lights” on this week’s recap. RIP Don Meredith.