Another week down, just one more to go ... for the regular season, that is.
So what was the biggest surprise of Week 16? How about Indy winning its second in a row on the wares of Dan Orlovsky? The Chargers having an epic fail in Detroit? Perhaps the Bills coming out of nowhere to cease playing like a USFL team?
Buffalo was a shocker, at least to this humble writer. Tim Tebow hadn't thrown four interceptions all season, while the Bills scored a whopping three return touchdowns: two courtesy of Tebowmania, the other off a punt return.
I love what's happening in Detroit. I mentioned in a previous column some fans have been negative nancyies about the team this year, but didn't mean it as an insult. Rather, the intention was to convey the lack of trust in a franchise that has let its fan base down time and again in the past decade, much like George Lucas.
Well, those days are gone, at least for Detroit. The Lions are in, as are this week's rankings. Let the dissension commenceâ¦
Will Mike McCarthy actually rest his guys against Detroit? That's the question on a lot of people's minds. For a coach who seems awfully aggressive and has very little let-up to him, sitting the Packers stars seems a little out of step. But let's hope McCarthy is true to his word. We saw what happened to Aaron Rodgers when he got Discount Doublecheck'd in Detroit last year. And we saw what happened to Greg Jennings against Oakland. Need I type more?
The yardage allowed (469) may not have looked great on paper, but the key is how many points New Orleans gave up: 16. That will win games in the NFL and, more importantly, the playoffs. Classy performance by a class act in Drew Brees. It's impossible not to like the guy. That said, Dan Marino's '84 campaign is still the best offensive performance I've ever seen.
Here's the problem with facing New England in the playoffs: You hold down the offense, hold down the offense, then BAM! -- twenty-seven second-half points. Tom Brady went 20-for-27 for 217 yards in the money half. As I wrote late last week, this might end up being one season in which unstoppable offense overcomes crappy defense.
Close call up in the vortex that is playing in Seattle. The Niners finally gave up a rushing touchdown. As long as they don't allow any more, they'll set an NFL record that has stood the test of time. The benchmark is currently at two, set by the 1935 Lions, 1968 Cowboys and 1971 Vikings. Of more importance is the pressure put on New Orleans to keep winning, i.e., securing the second seed and a first-round bye.
The Ravens rebounded somewhat nicely from last week's debacle in SoCal, but there remain some concerns. The Ravens couldn't hold their 20-point lead, and Joe Flacco went a pretty lame 11-for-24 for 132 yards. That's all his team needed, as the defense stepped up once again. A Ravens' win next week gives them both the AFC North and a bye. A Pats loss on top means home-field for John Harbaugh's club.
Denver and Atlanta losses keep Houston in place, despite its surprising loss to Indy. Now that the ranking is explained, it's time to address the fact that J.J. Watt is a freaking beast. He was all over the field last Thursday. Check that. He was the best player on the field last Thursday. While Watt wouldn't say it straight up, some of those calls on him -- especially the helmet-to-helmet -- were straight baloney. Houston might be reeling after the loss, but considering they played without their top two quarterbacks, best offensive player, best defensive player, and their defensive coordinator, not to mention some ticky-tack officiating, I'm cutting this team some slack.
Atlanta stays a notch above the Lions due to the head-to-head win earlier this season, and the fact that the Saints easily disposed of the Lions, too. The Falcons defense was undressed Monday night, no doubt. But with Chicago's loss, it didn't much matter. The Falcons are in the playoffs and now must try to work out some defensive kinks versus Tampa. That's OK, the Bucs are good for that.
I remember the game like it was yesterday. It was my first year in Los Angeles (2000) and, sans a team, I really wanted the Lions to make the playoffs. That's when the feisty Bears, with a rookie stud linebacker named Urlacher, beat the 9-6 Lions to keep them out of the playoffs. The game-winner was a 54-yard field goal by Paul Edinger. Strange myth about that era of Lions' teams, one that centered around how Barry Sanders delivered this "awful" franchise to the playoffs every year. In truth, Detroit missed the postseason in Sanders' last season (1998) by winning only five games. Yet Detroit made it in 1999, and narrowly missed a berth again in 2000. Now the Lions are back, and it's a great thing for the franchise.
Win and in. Can't ask for a better situation for this team, a group which has struggled against good teams. Well, they'll have to beat the Ravens to get 'er done. What more can a Bengals fan ask for? Beating what's considered the best team in the division in the Ravens, and possibly the best in the AFC, rubber stamps the postseason approval for Cincy.
Nice rebound after a flat performance against the Redskins in Week 15. Eli Manning was just good enough, while Perry Fewell's defense delivered one of its better performances of the year against the Jets. Surprising that Brandon Jacobs said after the game that he would punch Rex Ryan in the face. He's always been one of the classier players in the league. Except not at all.
For all of those league observers who thought the Raiders were mailing it in the rest of the year, think again. Oakland blew a late lead against the playoff-bound Lions in Week 15, but certainly showed up in that game. On Saturday, the Raiders beat a fired-up Chiefs club in front of a road crowd fresh off of one of the biggest upsets in recent years. Oakland needs a Denver loss and a win at home versus the Chargers to win the AFC West.
Like Cincy, it's win and in for the bruised knuckle'd Cowboys. Dallas isn't bruised from hitting anyone hard last Saturday, as this club performed like it had nothing to play for against the Eagles (which it didn't). Still, what a turd of a performance by Rob Ryan's defense. But Tony Romo's knuckle is all the news in Dallas after the QB hit it on a helmet. He's practicing, but one wonders how effective he'll be in the biggest game of the year for the Cowboys.
Probably the most under-the-radar game last Saturday was Titans-Jags. While the sexy quotient was low, the Titans don't do sexy. At the end of the day, the aim is to finish 9-7 in a season with a new head coach, new quarterback, and with the club's two best offensive players either inconsistent ( Chris Johnson) or injured ( Kenny Britt). Even the playoffs are still possible: if the Bengals lose, Jets win, and Broncos lose. If Tebowmania resurrects, then the Chargers would have to beat Oakland.
Seahawks fans, and Tarvaris Jackson, will be replaying the Larry Grant sack in their head all offseason. Frankly, the fate of Seattle's playoff hopes was sealed in a 2-6 start, not in the loss to San Francisco. There is solace to be taken in winning five of the past seven, as well as losing by two points to what could be the NFC's second seed.
Michael Vick doesn't want the 2011 Eagles broken up, but that would be tough not to do. No one wanted Guns 'N' Roses to break up because they were good. The Eagles aren't really good. Despite a dominating 20-7 over a completely unmotivated Dallas team Saturday, it would be tough to qualify this Eagles group as quality. They've had a nice run over the past three weeks, but the taste of a 7-9 or 8-8 record for a team expected to win at least 11 games will be tough to swallow. Most people feel Juan Castillo will be first to go, but there exists far more blame to go around than that assigned to the first-year defensive coordinator.
Despite beating Philly earlier in the year, the Eagles' improved play and the Cards' minus-39 point differential keep them one shade over Arizona. On another note, I'm sure Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington has been schooled before -- maybe at Nerf basketball, a little Golden Tee at the Boar's Nest, or possibly even during a heated gameturn of Dungeon & Dragons. But what Jerome Simpson did to him Saturday just wasn't cool. Still, what a comeback. Had Early Doucet not tripped on his own feet on a play in which the Cardinals handled an all-out blitz in the red zone, the game would have been tied at 23. Playoffs just weren't in the cards for Ken Whisenhunt's club, who can at least go 8-8 with a win next week.
Oh, those maddening Chargers. This team has as much in-season continuity as Arnold's hair in the first "Terminator." First it was long and parted, Norv Turner-style, then it was spiked like Iceman in Top Gun. How do the Chargers linebackers and secondary play that well against the Ravens, then forget how to cover anybody in a game with so much on the line? Matt Stafford was 29-for-36 for 373 yards and three touchdowns. These in fact may be the last days of the A.J. Smith administration. Methinks few tears will be shed around the league, especially by prospective free agents.
Interim head coach Todd Bowles almost pulled off an unlikely upset and a second division road win in as many weeks. Unfortunately, the secondary could not contain Tom Brady in the second half, while the Patriots converted five of their final six third downs. Miami can eliminate the visiting Jets from playoff contention this Sunday in Miami.
The Jay Cutler and Matt Forte injuries loom like a rain cloud over the 2011 season, at least to these eyes. Ever since getting hammered in Detroit, Chicago's defense has been solid. Considering the way Cutler and Forte were playing before their injuries, the Bears could have challenged anyone in the NFC. Yes, including the Packers. Sunday night's game brought the reality home that we lost some luster to the playoffs when those two guys went down.
The home loss to the Raiders was a small-time shocker. It seemed the Chiefs, with the home crowd, new coach, momentum, and a non-Palko at quarterback, would take care of the Raiders and make a late push for the AFC West. It wasn't to be. Kyle Orton played relatively well, but two huge interceptions kept the Raiders afloat. One of the picks came in the end zone, while the other came with the Chiefs driving in the fourth quarter. Orton, it should be noted, is one of several Chiefs who are playing for a contract ... somewhere.
While Tim Tebow has been all the rage this season, the exciting tailback got outplayed by the Michael McDonald of NFL quarterbacks Saturday. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been terrible for the better part of two months, but was calmly effective at Ralph Wilson Stadium, averaging more than 13 yards per completion and seven yards per attempt. The story here though has been the emergence of C.J. Spiller. I was wrong about Spiller, as was most of the media, and perhaps even the Bills staff, who were very reluctant to use him last season, or prior to Fred Jackson's injury this season. Word was that he couldn't grasp the offense. Well, he's grasped something .. like 306 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns the past two weeks.
Tough to figure the Redskins and Shanahanigans. The latter destroys fantasy teams far and wide, with Evan Royster's insertion in the lineup the latest in a long line of running back moves that leave fantasy owners who relied on Roy Helu or Ryan Torain scrounging for big-time backs like Kahlil Bell, Chis Ogbonnaya, or Isaac Redman on the waiver wire. Royster, who put up 132 yards rushing, wasn't the problem in Week 16. The defense was. Washington couldn't contain Joe Webb, who threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another in limited action. The loss to the Vikings made it five straight at home for the 'Skins. How patient will this fan base be with Mike Shanahan?
Bungled clock management, questionable calls, and more indecision than the Imperial commanders in "Star Wars" -- that's the over-arching theme from the loss in Baltimore, as well as the season as a whole. Browns fans don't have a lot of faith in coach Pat Shurmur right now. Offseason plans have to include Mike Holmgren evaluating his head coach's performance from a distance, as Shurmur was Holmgren's hand-picked successor to Eric Mangini. That's the obvious part. The more intriguing issue is what to do in the draft. If the Rams end up with the top pick, do the Browns junk the Colt McCoy experiment and pay a king's ransom to get St. Louis' pick? Do they take Robert Griffin III, if he comes out early?
Adrian Peterson has run so hard for one of the worst teams in the league, piling up 970 yards and a very impressive -- considering the front line -- 4.7 yards per carry average. To see him tear his ACL and MCL in the second-to-last game of the season, a contest in which he was already playing hurt, sucks. Great win for the team versus the Redskins, terrible blow for the franchise. Peterson likely will not be ready for the start of the 2012 season.
Much like in Cleveland, some hard evaluation has to take place in Jacksonville regarding the quarterback. Whoever is coaching in Jacksonville is not going to be desirous of the Blaine Gabbert show. While the idea of spending back-to-back top 10 picks on a quarterback seems insane, it's not when you've viewed the former Missouri quarterback's play this season. There's no sense spending good money after bad. Make that valuable time as well. Maybe Gabbert turns it around, but he seems a little too jittery around contact, particularly for an NFL quarterback.
Never thought I'd say this, but when are Craig Erickson and Errict Rhett coming back? Can it get any worse down in Tampa right now? The defense is awful, while
Josh Freeman can't get any help. Speaking ofâ¦
Freeman in 2010: 25 TDs, 6 INTs
Freeman in 2011: 14 TDs, 19 INTs.
They finally did it. It took the better part of an NFL season, but the Colts are no longer 32nd. Mazel tov. The giant leap in rank comes courtesy of Dan Orlovsky, who showed more pocket awareness in one drive than Curtis Painter did all season. The former Lion and Texan was resilient as could be facing a relentless pass rush named J.J. Watt. After all the banter about a certain West Coast college quarterback, the Colts may not even be in position to draft him if they make it three in a row against the Jags.
For all those who think the Rams might be inclined to take a quarterback with what could be the first overall pick, think again. Sam Bradford still has tremendous upside, and the Rams didn't pay the kid $50 million guaranteed to give up on him after 26 games. Rather, if the Colts win, and the Rams get the top pick, they'll be more inclined to make a Ricky Williams-esque deal. Remember that one?