At some point Sunday night, long after Tyler Palko lulled my eyes closed, I realized something the rest of you probably already came to grips with: the 2011 NFL season truly boils down to the Packers and everybody else.
No matter who wins their division in the NFC, what are the odds they beat the Pack at Lambeau in January? If the Niners get a bye and win their first game, can they do it in 30-degree weather against one of the best regular season teams of all-time?
There are still five weeks to determine if the Pack is truly that. And much like we found with the Bears and Jay Cutler, an injury can derail any team, even the mighty Packers. While they survived many such calamities last season, winning without Rodgers would be harder than watching those State Farm Discount Double Check commercials 50 times. Oh wait. I do that every Sunday.
There are some other teams dealing with injuries, starting with a Texans team that's now two quarterbacks down. OK, maybe a QB and a half down. Houston is at seven this week. So let's get to it, and let the dissension festerâ¦
I hate to put my foot down, but if the defense creates turnovers like it did in Detroit this team truly will be unbeatable. In case you're wondering, the greatest Packers team was arguably the 1962 club, which went 13-1. Its only loss? To Detroit, on Thanksgiving Day. The game was known to fans at the time as the " Thanksgiving Day Massacre," as the Lions jumped to a 26-0 lead en route to a 26-14 win. The only team getting massacred these days is the one Green Bay plays.
Man, if that
Ted Ginn touchdown hadn't been called back, one can only wonder what would have happened last Thursday night. Maybe the
49ers hit a roadblock, but here are the facts:
a. The Niners are winning the NFC West and getting a bye.
b. The defense still is ridiculously good, good enough to win in the playoffs.
c. The loss in Baltimore cost nothing as no one is catching the Packers for the No. 1 seed.
All that aside, Thursday night's game was the worst performance by Jim Harbaugh's offensive line all season (nine sacks allowed.)
The Steelers stay put at three, even with the Niners' loss and the Patriots and Saints breathing down their necks. Pittsburgh took care of New England a few weeks ago, however, this team hasn't played with the consistency the Niners have. The two will meet in San Francisco in Week 15. Back to Sunday night's game for a moment: Steelers at Chiefs in Arrowhead was a fantastic uni matchup.
New England inched ever closer to securing the AFC East title with its easy win over the Eagles. Tom Brady continued his ridiculous play since the back-to-back losses to the Steelers and Giants. It seems every week Brady unveils a new weapon, with the Week 12 projectile being an old option: Deion Branch, who had six receptions for 125 yards with most of the second half still to play. His fellow wideout was even better: Wes Welker ended a mini-slump with 115 yards and two touchdowns. And that's not counting the tight ends, who caught 10 balls for a touchdown. Give me a break.
If the Ravens can create the kind of pressure they did Thursday night, they'll go to the Super Bowl. That's no exaggeration. The corners have long been considered a weakness on John Harbugh's team. They'll get far less exposure with the kind of collapsing pocket Niners QB Alex Smith faced Thanksgiving Night. Of course, Joe Flacco's inconsistent play is always a concern. He was solid in Week 12. How will he fare next week at Cleveland? Don't snicker. The Browns have the top pass defense in football.
Good comeback performance by the Bengals Sunday at home. It's not always pretty in the NFL, but that's life with a rookie quarterback and inexperienced receivers. Last week on NFL.com Live, our Thursday Night online coverage, I put myself out there on the Bengals, saying they would get the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs. I'm sticking with it. Marvin Lewis' club has two very winnable games versus the Rams and Cardinals, and another against the Matt Schaub-less Texans. Ten wins should be enough.
Holy cow, Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler are good. The latter booted a punt 80 yards in the fourth quarter of a one-score game so that Devin Hester couldn't make a play. Meanwhile, since some readers hate fantasy updates regarding my team, I won't delve into Sebastian Janikowski's 23 fantasy points scored Sunday. Janikowski kicked a franchise-record six field goals in the Raiders' big win. Power Rankings side note: the Bears- Raiders contest featured the only first-round picks from 2000 still with their original team -- Janikowski and Brian Urlacher.
Great throw on the touchdown to Johnny Knox, Caleb Hanie. Beautiful ball on the 81-yarder to Knox in the fourth quarter, as well. But Hanie made too many mistakes, mostly in the decision-making area. The defense consistently was put behind the eight-ball by an offense that either turned the ball over or couldn't get much going. Despite all the yardage allowed, the defense did a pretty good job shutting down the Raiders in the red zone. Coming up are two very manageable games versus the Chiefs and Broncos. The key is for Hanie not to turn the ball over, and for offensive coordinator Mike Martz to create opportunities in the running game.
Dallas got outplayed much of Turkey Day, but the defense showed up when it counted. In five trips into the Dallas red zone, the Dolphins only came up with one touchdown. Offensively, some of the plays Tony Romo made in the second half only Ben Roethlisberger could make. The same streetball style of play that fans everywhere love to criticize him for won the game. How about some of the hits he took? One wonders when Romo will start getting credit for his toughness.
If I were a Lions fan, I'd be stomping mad about Kevin Smith's injury and the lack of a ground attack in Detroit. The Lions are in serious danger of missing the postseason and must develop some balance on offense to keep Stafford upright the next several weeks while decreasing how much defenses play nickel against them.
What about Monday night's game said "playoff team" to you? The only guy more embarrassed than defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was the dude who green-lit Gigli.
Mark Sanchez played some ball Sunday. He still made it interesting with an interception, but oh well. While his erratic play has been discussed in this space, it sure would assist the Jets quarterback if his receivers could get more separation. On too many plays, Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress appear bottled up. Gang Green has to capitalize on its next games at the Redskins and versus the Chiefs to make a legit playoff push.
Lost in Tebowmania is the continued play of Von Miller. The rookie linebacker out of Texas A&M made an incredible play to shoot the gap and tackle Mike Tolbert for a huge loss, causing the Chargers to attempt a 53-yard kick instead of a 49-yard kick. Miller had jumped offsides earlier, and atoned for it with the clutch stop on what Norv Turner surely thought was a safe play call. Denver's defense as a whole has played so much better as of late, as evidenced by the 188 passing yards allowed to Philip Rivers.
Nice bounce-back win for Matt Hasselbeck and the Titans. Hasselbeck made the plays when it mattered, and now that Matt Leinart is hurt in Houston, the AFC South might be there for the taking. Week 17 pits those two teams together in what could be a winner-take-all scenario. Tennessee just needs to make up a game between now and then. It could be this coming weekend, as the Titans play a Bills team that's dropped four straight, while Houston hosts the streaking Falcons.
It's over for the Eagles. Even winning out probably won't save this team, as the Cowboys only need to go 3-2 to finish with 10 wins. The two wild-card entrants likely are going to hit 10 wins as well. Granted, the Lions and Bears both fell this week, but right now Philadelphia has to try to get just one win on the board as well as evaluate who fits in the team's plan and salary cap come 2012.
Interesting to hear Dan Fouts doing color analysis for Broncos- Chargers on a day when Philip Rivers averaged just more than five yards per attempt, which is close to awful. Rivers is in his eighth year. After doing some quick math on a TI-81 graphing calculator, I found that Fouts would have thrown for 288 yards on 36 pass attempts in his eighth year, 1980. It must have been painful for the Hall of Famer to take in Sunday's game versus the Broncos. Especially when a glorified tailback playing the quarterback position walks out of San Diego with a win. Tebow, by the way, threw for 143 yards -- just 45 less than Rivers -- in half the throws (18).
Would you believe Sunday's 23-20 loss in Cincinnati was the third 23-20 contest those two teams have played since 2009? Prior to the season, I felt Peyton Hillis would be the biggest disappointment, and he hasn't disappointed in that regard. At least he's been consistent. Hillis came into Week 12 averaging 3.5 yards per carry, and he went for 3.4 in Cincy.
The Bucs looked terrible Sunday. Their loyal fan base, as well as Atlanta's, has been the most vocal in its displeasure for where the Bucs rank. But what about the performance in Tennessee was impressive? Certainly not Josh Freeman, whose regression almost has gone unnoticed nationally. The run defense makes up for Freeman's woes by not stopping anybody. They even succeeded in making Chris Johnson look like CJ2K again.
Miami appeared to outplay the Cowboys on Turkey Day, but two things deep-sixed their opportunity to win a fourth straight: The offense's ineffectiveness in the red zone, and the pass rush not being able to get Tony Romo's butt on the ground. But let's get to the positive: Mike Nolan's secondary has done a 180 since the beginning of the season when Tom Brady was playing nerf football versus the Fins. If Matt Moore can give this team a little more, Miami can play with anyone right now.
Seattle had a real opportunity to take three in a row, but the 'Hawks couldn't close the door on the legendary passing connection, Rex Grossman-to- Anthony Armstrong. Next in town are the struggling Eagles, losers of three of the past four. The Seahawks effectively could close the door on Philly's playoff hopes, much like they did the Rams and Saints last year. If Michael Vick comes back, Seattle must put together some long scoring drives to keep the Eagles' offense off the field. Tarvaris Jackson and company did just that late in the third quarter versus Washington, but not often enough. Seattle ranks 32nd in 10-play drives. That means dead last.
Squeaker of a victory for the Cardinals in St. Louis. Yet, a win is a win. Easily the story of the day was one Beanie Wells. How he went for 228 on a team that just a few weeks ago he sucked against (at home no less) makes no sense. Where has that been all season? Even after all these years, it was hard not to think of O.J. Anderson running, considering the Cardinals were playing in St. Louis. Like most of Anderson's and Neil Lomax's old Cardinal teams, the 2011 rendition is out of the playoff hunt. Still, there's not much give-up in this group.
The Skins have played a lot better the past two Sundays, thus the move up. On another note, Roy Helu's first career touchdown was about as cool as it gets. What a weird rookie season for the kid. He was an afterthought early on, then caught a franchise-record 14 passes a few weeks ago. Rotating with Tim Hightower and Ryan Torain, his upside has been quelled by indecision on the part of his head coach. Still, he came up big Sunday in Seattle. Nice road win in a place that often is a trap for even superior teams.
Top six reasons
Dwayne Bowe didn't stick his hand up for Tyler Palko's final throw of the game Sunday night:
a. He could see the trajectory of the ball better with his arms out of the way.
b. He was a big fan of Ricky Watters as a youngster ( "for who? for what?").
c. He refused to upset one of Tyler Palko's few spirals.
d. He likes when every sportscaster refers to Ben Roethlisberger warmly as "Ben" after a Steelers' win.
e. He didn't want to create a quarterback controversy between Palko and Kyle Orton by catching the ball, because Orton should be starting next week.
f. He thought the ball was intended for a receiver behind him.
The Panthers finally closed out a game. Of course, it came against the winless Colts. But who cares? The defense picked Curtis Painter twice in the end zone. Cam Newton was Cam Newton. Of more significance: we had a DeAngelo Wiliams sighting. The $43 million man had his first two-touchdown performance since the 2009 season. He was even kind enough to add 69 yards rushing.
You know it's bad when the Jags lose to a Matt Leinart-T.J. Yates conglomerate at quarterback. That's not exactly Montana-Young. Or even Leinart-Warner. Tebow-Quinn would merit consideration. Once again, Maurice Jones-Drew played his guts out (166 scrimmage yards.) And once again, the Jags quarterbacks gave little. Blaine Gabbert, before getting benched, was 13 of 29 for 136 yards and an interception. Jack Del Rio can't win anything with that kind of production at quarterback. Well, Jack Del Rio can't win anything anymore, period.
Without Adrian Peterson for another week, this team is hurting. Still, the Vikings showed some character getting back in the game versus the Falcons after being down 17 points. Christian Ponder's 39-yard throw to Percy Harvin on fourth-and-13 was nothing short of spectacular. Good signs all around, but right now -- especially without Peterson -- the Vikes don't have the horses to win many games with a rookie quarterback in tow.
The losses keep piling up, with Week 12's being the second straight at home to a less-than-stellar division opponent. There's no question the Rams are the worst team in the NFC, but the surprise is that Sam Bradford is playing like one of the worst quarterbacks in the conference. He's not getting much help from new OC Josh McDaniels, either. For the second straight week, the once controversial head coach called a pass (from an obvious passing formation) on third-and-one. This time, it was in the fourth quarter. If he's going to call a pass in that situation, in a one-score game no less, could it at least be on play-action? Maybe create some deception? By the way, isn't Steven Jackson back there playing tailback? Just a thought.
All season we've been hearing that you can't pin losses on Curtis Painter. Well, two end-zone picks in a 27-19 loss sure merits consideration. Indy, sad to say, is going 0-16.