NFL Preview 2012: NFC

5 09 2012

Co-writer: Josh McSwain

 

NFC east

1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)

Offense — (B+).       With a healthy Michael Vick, they clearly possess one of the most lethal and deep offenses in the league. The problem is this is an enigma of a request; he is hurt a lot of the time, missing several games in the last two seasons. He may be praised for his diverse skill set that always keeps defenses scrambling, but it always seems to hurt his team in the long-run with his absences. LeSean McCoy is one of the best running backs in the game – he is a scoring machine. Last season he led the league in touchdowns with 20, failing to score a touchdown in only three games. DeSean Jackson returns healthy and motivated – we think – this season to lead a deep receiving corps with Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper and tight end Brent Celek. The issue is, as it was last season, how will the offensive line perform, which is even more important now with the season ending injury to Jason Peters, their all pro left tackle.

Defense — (A).      Don’t let what the media said about this defense early last season fool you. This is one heck of a unit with multiple playmakers. Jason Babin and Trent Cole form the best 4-3 pass rushing duo in the league, and the DT position was fortified with the addition of Fletcher Cox from Mississippi State. Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans gives them a legitimate rock in the middle of the defense, but he has had issues with injuries throughout his career as well. Outside Akeem Jordan, Brian Rolle and others will compete for the starting spots, solid players and depth will be there. That’s the key here that many others don’t have – depth. This could prove to be a huge advantage as they should be able to fight off any form of adversity. In the secondary, Asante Samuel is gone, but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha form a very good duo of cornerbacks. These two should be put in more man coverage rather than zone, which they struggled with last season. Safety Kurt Coleman will be able to hold his own and Nate Allen is rapidly becoming one of the best safeties in the league. This secondary could become very opportunistic similar to the Saints defense from their championship run a few years ago.

Special teams — (B).      Chas Henry had a decent year in year one as he took over the punting duties, averaging 42.9 yards per punt. Alex Henery replaced David Akers about as well as anyone could, making 24 of 27 attempts last season. DeSean Jackson is always a threat to take it back while returning punts, but the kick returner spot is still up for grabs.

 

2. New York Giants (9-7)

Offense — (B).      Eli Manning has finally cemented his status as one of the top QBs in the game, and he has a bevy of weapons at his disposal with Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, rookie Rueben Randle and his tight ends. Finding a running game will be the challenge. They were the worst in the league at running the ball last season – but obviously found a way to win when it mattered most… to the extreme. Ahmad Bradshaw will return to carry the load, with David Wilson, the first rounder out of Virginia Tech, contributing as well. The aging line is another concern that could hold these Giants back from respectfully defending their title.

Defense — (B-).      Their defense was among the worst in the league during the regular season last year. Outside of their pass rush, most of the unit was pretty dreadful. Getting CB Terrell Thomas back from an injury that kept him out all of last season will help, and the continued development of Prince Amukamara could give them not just a duo but a good trio of corners. They will need that to be successful in a division with three talented quarterbacks. The safeties are still subpar, and the LBs are patchwork with Mathias Kiwinuka, Michael Boley and perhaps Keith Rivers starting.

Special teams — (A).      Lawrence Tynes is one of the more efficient kickers in the game, and Steve Weatherford is one of the most unhearlded punters. With Domenik Hixon and Jerrel Jernigan as options at returner, they will be fine there.

 

3. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)

Offense — (B+).      If they stay healthy and all get on the same page, they could be a dangerous team. However, that has been the case since Romo began his time in Dallas, and that has only produced one playoff win. DeMarco Murray showed that he can be great when he is healthy and be the opposite of Marion Barber by picking up substantial yards per carry. Durability has always been his achillies heel, dating back to college. Tony Romo is a fine QB with bad luck. Last year, he had the fourth best passer rating (102.5), third best passing percentage (66.3) and a joke of a reputation. While he has come up small in some games, they don’t compare to all the games in which he plays well. His luck is already turning against him this year, with Miles Austin and Jason Witten having injuries and Dez Bryant having embarrassing off the field issues. Losing Laurent Robinson will hurt as well. He was Romo’s go to guy last year, so it is unknown who will be getting the majority of the throws early on this season. But over all of this, the most glaring problem is the front line. Will they finally protect Romo and give him the time any elite quarterback needs? We will soon find out.

Defense — (B-).      Not sure exactly where to rank this D. If they play up to their potential with a defensive coordinator like Rob Ryan, they could be one of the better units in the conference – maybe even league. I have a feeling a lot of this will depend on Morris Claiborne. They traded up to get the former LSU shutdown corner, and brought in Brandon Carr from Kansas City to be their No. 2 cornerback. What might have been a weakness last year now may be a strength, and since Ryan does his magic best with quality cornerbacks, it could be a huge strength. But who will play at safety alongside Gerald Sensabaugh is still a question. Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher and Marcus Spears are a relatively good line, and DeMarcus Ware has clearly established himself as a force at rushing the passer year in and year out. Getting Anthony Spencer to play up to his potential is key. This team has been waiting for that to happen. Sean Lee looks as if he will be taking on more of the leadership this year and will be solid on the inside.

Special teams — (C-).      Dan Bailey had a good year last year, but when was the last time any Dallas kicker had any sustained success? The fact that the Cowboys practically let long-time Cowboys punter Mat McBriar simply walk over to the Eagles is foolish. Just because the punter doesn’t get much attention doesn’t mean he can’t play an integral role in the team’s success. Now, the team has Chris Jones – an unproven punter. Who will take care of the returns? Felix Jones? Dez? They need to find a guy they can rely on. Soon.

 

4. Washington Redskins (7-9)

Offense — (C).      RG3 is a name. While he already seems like a professional, it will take some time for him to get used to the pro game just as is the case with almost every college quarterback. But the guy has all the talent in the world. Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson and TE Fred Davis give him a lot of options. Unfortunately Davis is suspended for 4 games, as is OT Trent Williams. Their line is weak. RG3 better be ready to run.

Defense — (C+).      I feel like they could be better than this, but for now I just don’t see it. Not until they prove everybody and their perception wrong. Barry Cofield is a solid NT in their 3-4 defense, and Stephen Bowen will be a force. DE Adam Carikker has been a bust at the pro level which isn’t looking like it will change anytime soon. They better hope Jarvis Jenkins grows quickly and can replace him. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are as good as they come with 3-4 outside rushers, but they need to be utilized more often. Their secondary remains an issue with DeAngelo Hall still giving up as many big plays as he makes, and Brandon Merriweather making as many dumb penalties as big hits. Josh Wilson should be respectable and Reed Doughty and Madieu Williams, whomever wins the job at the other safety spot, is just a stopgap.

Special teams — (B).      Their kicker situation is a nightmare. Graham Gano needed to be replaced, but Neil Rackers wasn’t good enough, so they settled for Ravens castoff Billy Cundiff. Somehow I don’t see that ending well. Saverio Rocca is a serviceable punter. Finding return guys will be their biggest concern, something that shouldn’t simply be ignored.

 

 

NFC west

1. San Francisco 49ers (10-6)

Offense — (B).      All the pieces are in place. Alex Smith must show he can deliver. He doesn’t have to be a superstar quarterback; he just needs to fit into Harbaugh’s system. They have an SEC like stable of running backs with Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Brandon Jacobs and Anthony Dixon. Wow. At WR, Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, and first rounder A.J. Jenkins will give Smith his best group of wideouts yet. On top of all of them, they have the best TE in the league in Vernon Davis. This guy has the power and speed that any QB would want in his TE. He is simply a monster when he gets the ball in his hands.

Defense — (A).      What a unit. Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Isaac Sopoaga and others lead a DL that shuts down the run and still can apply pressure on the QB. Aldon Smith was a terror his rookie season, and Parys Harrelson complements him very well. Inside Patrick Willis is second to none, and Navarro Bowman is a wrecking ball. Their secondary was the only chink in the armor last season, with Tarell Brown being exposed at times. Carlos Rogers was a pro bowler at the other corner, though. At safety, DaShon Golston and Donte Whitner form a very good duo. There is no reason this defense that didn’t allow a rushing touchdown in the first 14 games last season shouldn’t be commanding once again.

Special teams — (A-).      David Akers and Andy Lee are the two best at their position in the NFC. Kyle Williams likely won’t be back returning punts again. Hopefully for them, Ginn stays healthy and they can have a very good returner for punts and kicks, as he does both.

 

2. Arizona Cardinals (7-9)

Offense — (C+).      They have all the pieces to be a very good offense except the most important one – QB. While I have believed for a long time that John Skelton (5-0 at home last season) was better than Kevin Kolb, particularly in the leadership department, and will start, it looks like the coaching staff is finally starting to see it. He will have the luxury of throwing to Larry Fitzgerald. He is the best in the league at making any QB look better than he is. With Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams in the back field, they will have a very good run game that they can rely on. Finding a LT is crucial, particularly with Levi Brown potentially out for the season with injury.

Defense — (B+).      They were one of the pleasant surprises of the second half of the season. Darnell Dockett is still an excellent player, and Dan Williams from Tennessee will come back from injury this season, and Calais Campbell is 6’8″ of hell. O’Brien Schofield and other LBs really were what drove the sudden improvement. The secondary is fine with Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes, Patrick Peterson and Greg Toler starting.

Special teams — (B+).      Jay Feely had a down year, kicking under 80% last season. Dave Zastudil has a huge leg and should be just fine at punter. Patrick Peterson is always a threat to take it all the way back, and Larod Stephens-Howling has made his share of highlight returns.

 

3. Seattle Seahawks (6-10)

Offense — (C).      Marshawn Lynch is a great back who has really taken off since coming over from Buffalo. They will need to lean on him big time again this season because they are running a who’s who of WRs, with Sidney Rice, Braylon Edwards, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and others competing for time with an inexperienced quarterback in Russell Wilson. The offensive line will need some time to gel. Unger, Okung, Moffitt, Carpenter and J.R. Sweezy are all young and talented, but need to develop chemistry and an understanding of each others strengths.

Defense — (A-).      One of the most underrated units in the league – no doubt.  Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman and others lead a no-name secondary that rivals the best in the league. Earl Thomas will be great – the next great safety after Ed Reed is gone. Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, Alan Branch, Chris Clemons and first round pick Bruce Irvin lead a deep and formidable D-line.

Special teams — (B).      Leon Washington is a premiere return man. He doesn’t get quite as much attention as some of the other guys like Peterson, Hester or Cribbs, but is still always a threat. Steven Hauschka is a serviceable kicker but nothing special. Jon Ryan is a good punter, averaging almost 47 ypp last season.

 

4. St. Louis Rams (6-10)

Offense — (C).      They could have a really good offense if Sam Bradford can stay upright. Danny Amendola comes back from injury, and Steven Jackson is still Steven Jackson. The problem remains with the offensive line. Roger Saffold needs to step up at LT and protect Bradford’s blind side. With this type of protection, Bradford has the change of leading this team have a more respectable season. Jason Smith was a bust on the right side, so they sent him away for a guy who looked just as bad in Wayne Hunter; he will battle Barry Richardson for the job. The interior of the line is decent with journeyman Quinn Ojinakka, ex-Packer Scott Wells and the road blocking Harvey Dahl.

Defense — (C+).      Chris Long is a great, young talent. When put beside Robert Quinn, those two form a good pass rushing duo. However, the interior of their line is weak and teams gauged them with the run last season as they ranked second to last in rushing yards given up (2433). They will need to hope Michael Brockers and free agent acquisition Kendall Langford can fix that. James Laurinitis is a serviceable linebacker, but they need to improve around him. Rocky McIntosh could do just that. Adding Cortland Finnigan will help the secondary, but around him the rest of the secondary is uncertain. Quintin Mikell is not what he was in Philadelphia, Darian Stewart and Janoris Jenkins are young guys they are hoping do well. This team had the chance to add some quality defensive pieces in the NFL draft, but kept trading down and missed many opportunities.

Special teams — (C).      Greg Zuerlin comes from Missouri Western University all the way to the big stage. Johnny Hekker is a rookie from Oregon State who takes over the punter spot. Danny Amendola returns from injury and Isaiah Pead is an explosive rookie who can help out the return game.

 

 

NFC north

1. Green Bay Packers (13-3)

Offense — (A).      Aaron Rodgers is the best player in the league (along with the fantasy league), and has excellent WRs at his disposal. Jennings, Nelson, Finley, Cobb, James Jones… I think I’ve made my point. Donald Driver has most likely reached the end. Adding Cedric Benson could be one of the more underrated pickups of the offseason if he runs anything like he did in Cincinnati. He gives them a tough runner that can get them 1,000 yards. After an embarrassing loss at home in last year’s playoffs, this offense and team will be ready to establish themselves as the best team in the league once again.

Defense — (C+).      They upgraded their unit with a defense heavy draft, getting Nick Perry to upgrade the pass rush, Jerel Worthy to upgrade the line (a steal in the second round) and Casey Heyward to upgrade the secondary. Charles Woodson will shift to safety, but either way, they need to upgrade a secondary that was historically bad last season, being dead last in passing yards given up (4796). Getting another pass rusher to go alongside Clay Matthews (hopefully Perry can provide that) will certainly help. If they want to get back to the Super Bowl, some solid defense will need to come along with them.

Special teams — (A).      Mason Crosby has a very strong leg, and Tim Masthay has gotten better ever since he started for the Packers two seasons ago. Randall Cobb is another guy who can take one the other way at any given moment.

 

2. Chicago Bears (12-4)

Offense — (A-).      With Brandon Marshall finally giving them a true #1 receiver, they will be good. Considering Marshall has previous experience with Jay Cutler in Denver, they already have the experience that will make them lethal early on. That would be enough to carry some teams to the top of their division. But then opposing defenses have to deal with Matt Forte, one of the best multi-purpose running backs in the league. It will undoubtedly be a handful. As long as the offensive line holds up, they could be one of the best offenses in the league and make some noise once the playoffs roll around.

Defense — (B+).      They are getting older, but they might have one last run in them. Urlacher and Briggs can still hold their own, and Peppers can still rush the passer with the best of them. They might not be in their prime, but they certainly know this system and how to turn this into one of the top defenses. The key will be how well the DTs, led by Stephen Paea, Henry Melton and others, play. The secondary, led by veteran corner Charles Tillman, will need to play better than 28th best if they are going to try to slow down Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford. Tim Jennings, Major Wright and Chris Conte will be under the microscope this season.

Special teams — (A).      Hester is still great, and can flip field position at any time. Robbie Gould, who made all six of his field goal attempts from 50+ yards last season, has been one of the most underrated kickers in the NFL for years. Adam Podlesh is a solid kicker, averaging 44 ypp over each of the last 2 seasons. The fact that this team has a solidified special teams could be the difference in how far this team can go – which is far.

 

3. Detroit Lions (7-9)

Offense — (A-).      Matthew Stafford was great last season, but he needs to prove that he can stay healthy over the long haul. This has stunted many young quarterback’s growth early on and could be the case with Stafford.  They still need a running back. Jahvid Best has not stayed healthy, Kevin Smith is nothing special and Mikel LeShore needs to find a way to lay off the drugs. Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew are two of the best at their position in the league. But can Johnson avoid the Madden Curse? Can the line hold up? Questions still linger for this unit as they could very easily head in the wrong direction this season.

Defense — (C).      Ndamukong Suh had a sophomore slump last season (at least by his standards), and an embarrassing moment where he couldn’t seem to control his emotions on the field. He needs to be sure that he can get back to the level at which he played during his rookie season. They have a great defensive line with Suh, Corey Williams, KVB, Cliff Avril, Lawrence Jackson and last year’s first rounder Nick Fairley. Their back seven are somewhat of a concern. The linebackers are serviceable with Tulloch, DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant, but they are going to need a makeover in the secondary to compete in this pass happy division. Louis Delmas will need to stay healthy for that to have any chance of happening.

Special teams — (B).      Jason Hanson isn’t what he used to be, but he is still a solid kicker. The Aussie Ben Graham is a solid punter, averaging over 44 ypp. Stefan Logan and Titus Young will split the return duties, and both are explosive.

 

4. Minnesota Vikings (3-13)

Offense — (D+).      Christian Ponder looked very average last season, though, with all due respect, he didn’t have anyone to throw to besides Percy Harvin. Kyle Rudolph is a young TE who has potential to grow, and John Carlson will be an upgrade. Adrian Peterson will have to get back, but in the meantime Toby Gerhart will carry the load. He is a solid runner. Matt Kalil will improve the line, and the line needs to improve if Ponder is to have any chance of not becoming the next David Carr. This team might be fighting for the top pick of the 2013 NFL Draft.

Defense — (C-).      They long had one of the premiere D-Lines in the NFL, but without Pat Williams and Ray Edwards, those days are over. They did lead the NFL in sacks, with Jared Allen being the sole owner of 22 of them. Nearly half. Nobody else had more than eight. Jasper Brinkley has now taken over for E.J. Henderson, and Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson on the outside form a solid trio. But the secondary remains an issue, as it has been for years. Winfield is continuing to get older, and with Chris Cook gone, things only figure to get worse. Raymond and Sanford need to get really good quickly to give them any chance.

Special teams — (B-).      Rookie Blair Walsh takes over for the departed Ryan Longwell. Chris Kluwe has long been a solid punter, averaging almost 46 ypp. Harvin is another one of the guys in the NFL that could take any kickoff back the other way.

 

 

NFC south

1. Atlanta Falcons (12-4)

Offense — (A).      All around, this is one of the most explosive units in the league. Matt Ryan has always been a solid QB, and now there are no more excuses for him not to win a playoff game. The weapons are there. He has deep threat Julio Jones, good all around receiver Roddy White, one of the best TEs of all time in Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner in the backfield. The line is still a work in progress (as seems to be the case with many elite teams), but it should hold up well enough for Matt Ryan to take that long awaited next step and win a postseason game.

Defense — (B).      I think they are better than most people give them credit for. Jonathan Babineaux is one of the most underrated DTs in the league. But they need for Ray Edwards to become the complementary rusher they need alongside John Abraham. Kroy Biermann is a good third end, and they better hope is doesn’t have to start by default. Sean Weatherspoon is a rapidly improving LB, and Stephen Nicolas and Akeem Dent are serviceable starters. They have a very good trio of CBs with Grimes, Robinson and Samuel. William Moore and Thomas DeCoud are good safeties and veteran Chris Hope will provide leadership as well.

Special teams — (B).      Matt Bryant is one of the best kickers in the league, missing only two FGs last season, but Matt Bosher struggled in his rookie season, averaging less than 43 ypp. Losing Eric Weems may hurt their return game, but Jacquizz Rogers and Harry Douglas have what it takes to make up the difference.

 

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)

Offense — (B-).      Josh Freeman looked like he had arrived in 2010, as did Mike Williams. But they both regressed in 2011. Freeman should be better this season, and with Dallas Clark in the fold it helps Freeman that much more. Vincent Jackson gives them the necessary deep threat they have lacked for so long. Now they can take advantage of Freeman’s big arm. Picking up Doug Martin in the draft to push LeGarrette Blount for playing time. Losing Davin Joseph along the offensive line will certainly hurt. But they should be a much improved unit.

Defense — (C-).      These aren’t your dad’s bucs. Ten years ago they were led by Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice, John Lynch, Derrick Brooks, and others. Among those others is the only player still on the team from the Super Bowl 37 team, Ronde Barber. But they have used a lot of early draft picks on defense over the last three seasons, with Gerald McCoy, Adrian Clayborn, Da’Quan Bowers (if he ever plays), Mark Barron and Lavonte David. Those guys need to stay healthy, and come of age quickly. If they do and the offense performs up to their potential, they could be yet another NFC south worst to first.

Special teams — (B-).      Connor Barth is a fine kicker. He made 26 of 28 FGs last season, almost 93%. Michael Koenen was an expensive free agent acquisition at punter before the 2011 season, but he averaged 45 ypp. Preston Parker averaged almost 10 yards per punt return and 22 yards per kick return. Those numbers need to be better.

 

3. New Orleans Saints (7-9)

Offense — (A-).      Drew Brees. One of the best QBs of this generation. But without the play calling of Sean Payton, how will Brees be affected? Will there be a major difference? Little difference? No difference? I think it will be at least somewhat of a factor that Payton isn’t there. I do imagine Brees having a very good season though- mainly because they will be behind a lot and have to throw a lot. He has very good weapons with Darren Sproles, Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, etc. Remarkably, they do have a running game, even without a #1 RB. But they get it done.

Defense — (D+).      They are really going to struggle this season. The negative stigmas hanging over the team will affect them, and losing the QB of the defense, Jonathan Vilma, for the year, will do them no favors. Steve Spagnuolo will take over this unit, but I don’t know if he will have the talent up front to duplicate the success he had with the Giants, particularly with Will Smith out for four games.

Special teams — (B).      Garrett Hartley is an average kicker. He only made 80% of his attempts last season. Thomas Morestead though, is one of the finest punters in the league. Darren Sproles is one of the most consistent returners in the league, not as explosive as guys like Hester, but very consistent and versatile.

 

4. Carolina Panthers (7-9)

Offense — (B).      Cam Newton had an excellent rookie season, but will he be able to avoid the sophomore slump? That remains to be seen. With him, Stewart, Williams and Tolbert, they have four productive runners. Unfortunately, they only have one ball. Also, will Steve Smith have the same production this year? Newton will struggle throwing if he doesn’t. For an again WR with his injury history, I wouldn’t bank on it.

Defense — (C+).      Getting Jon Beason back from injury will be a tremendous boost. Adding Luke Keuchly in the draft to hold down the middle so Beason can play outside will also help the unit as a whole. But questions still remain if the linemen can play at a high level. Charles Johnson needs to play better to live up to his contract, and they need to find a solid second starter, whether than be incumbent Greg Hardy or someone else. The secondary is led by Chris Gamble, and they need to play better themselves to make the team championship level.

Special teams — (C).      They are not looking good in this area. Justin Medlock failed in KC after being drafted relatively high for a kicker, and Brad Nortman is their new punter. Will they have beginners luck or become a liability for the team?

 

 

 

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NFL Nutshell: Week 14

12 12 2011

 

Houston 20, Cincinnati 19

Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates drove the Texans down the field at the end of the fourth quarter, and with 2 seconds left, he threw a touchdown which gave his team the win and sent the franchise to the playoffs for the first time ever. Houston is in a relatively weak division this year, but major injuries have made people question how they might fare the rest of the season. A win like this will go a long way toward boosting their confidence.

 

Chicago 10, Denver 13

Well, Tim Tebow and the Broncos aren’t only making a habit out of winning, they’re making a habit out of winning in the most dramatic fashion possible. Kicker Matt Prater was the star of the game as his 59-yarder sent the game into overtime, and his 51-yarder gave his team the victory. The Broncos have now won 7 of 8 since Tebow became a starter, and interesting QB decisions are going to have to be made in the mile-high city when this offseason comes around.

 

San Francisco 19, Arizona 21

On Arizona’s third play from scrimmage, QB Kevin Kolb took a blow to the head and had to leave the game. Backup quarterback John Skelton took his place and actually ended up having a decent day throwing for 282 yards and three touchdowns. Even though he accounted for three turnovers, he did his job well enough to help his team to victory. The Cardinals started off the season a dreadful 1-6, but have now won 5 of 6 and are almost back at .500. Also, during the game, Larry Fitzgerald passed the 1,000 yard mark for the 6th time in his NFL career.

 

NY Giants 37, Dallas 34

In a game that went back and forth all night, the Giants ended up grabbing the win, and the Cowboys still have yet to beat their hated rivals in Cowboys Stadium. Tony Romo had a terrific night throwing for 319 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions, but the Dallas defense was porous giving up 510 yards, 400 of which came from Eli Manning’s arm. Jerry Jones couldn’t even swallow this loss as he refused to talk to the media for the first time all season. Excluding the Philadelphia game, the Cowboys’ losses have been by 3, 4, 4, 6, and 3 points. Both the Giants and Cowboys have problems, but now the season ending game in the Meadowlands might determine who is going to the playoffs.

 

Monday Night Football:

St. Louis vs. Seattle – 7:30 p.m. CT

In the second straight MNF game between two teams below .500, this match-up has little significance for the end of the NFL season. However, there is a lot at stake for one Seattle Seahawk – Tarvaris Jackson. Seattle picked up the 28-year-old this offseason in hopes that he might blossom when he is put on a team where he isn’t constantly being thrown in and out of the starting lineup because of Brett Favre’s ability to constantly get injured. However, as I suspected, Jackson has shown an inability to lead his squad. Completing drives with touchdowns hasn’t happened that often for the 6-year-veteran, and he has also been prone to interceptions. (Jackson has thrown 12 picks compared to only 10 touchdowns.) Unless he changes his act quickly in these last few games of the regular season, the Seahawks will most likely call Charlie Whitehurst’s number or search for another starting quarterback next season. The Rams have had an even worse season – only picking up two wins so far – but should have an asterisk by their record. A team filled with hype prior to this NFL season has had the injury bug all year and just can’t seem to get any type of rhythm going with the constant injuries. Two men, specifically, have unavoidably hurt the team’s chemistry because of their injuries: Stephen Jackson and Sam Bradford. When one of the best running backs in the league – Jackson – has to be taken out of an offensive game plan, struggles are bound to occur. Bradford missing games due to injury obviously brings tribulations since he led this team back to an 8-8 record last year with his stellar play. This will be the second week in a row where Bradford and Jackson finally get to play on the field at the same time. However, the other Jackson will be getting the victory in this game. The Seahawks had a huge Thursday Night Football win over the Eagles two weeks ago, and Marshawn Lynch pounded the ground for 148 yards along with two touchdowns. Momentum will be a huge contributor to a Seattle win tonight as Lynch will carry (literally and figuratively) this team to a victory. Pick: Seahawks.


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NFL Nutshell: Week 13

5 12 2011

 

Kansas City 10, Chicago 3

I don’t think the city of Chicago has ever longed to see Cutler on the field as much as they do right now. Caleb Hanie had a 23.8 passer rating on 11/24 passing, 133 passing yards, no touchdowns, and three interceptions. This game epitomizes one team losing the game rather than the other winning it. The second-string quarterback is a piece of a football team that can be completely useless or unexpectedly vital. The Bears’ management has some heated seats right now with the way their back-up plan is going. In addition to these dreadful stats, Matt Forte left the game in the first quarter to an MCL sprain. With the red-hot Broncos up next for the Bears, this season might end much sooner than last year’s NFC championship run.

 

Oakland 14, Miami 34

If the Dolphins didn’t have such a dreadful start to their season, and Reggie Bush didn’t wait so long to begin playing, Miami might be one of the scariest teams in the league right now. The Dolphins pounded the ground with 209 rushing yards led by Reggie Bush with 100 of his own. The Raiders could only manage 46 rushing yards; since Darren McFadden got hurt, Michael Bush handled the load for a couple of games, but now he looks to be unable to sustain any form of consistency. With the Broncos charging quickly from behind, the Raiders look destined to be overcome by those Tebows for the divisional lead.

 

Denver 35, Minnesota 32

Maybe I need to give in to the fact that Tim Tebow might just be a young Ben Roethlisberger with much more hype. Tebow did complete two-thirds of his passes, but he only had to throw fifteen times. Christian Ponder played a solid game with 381 passing yards and three touchdowns, but one of his two interceptions cost his Vikings the game. As long as Willis McGahee doesn’t mind receiving little credit for the Broncos success (111 rushing yards and a touchdown in their victory yesterday), John Fox’s plan to rely heavily on the run game while sporadically letting Tebow pass has them on a five-game winning streak and sitting atop the AFC West. After playing a riddled Bears squad next week, the Broncos will finally face a legitimate NFL squad – the New England Patriots.

 

Atlanta 10, Houston 17

Last week I made the point that T.J. Yates would not work for the Texans as they make a push for a deep playoff run. Well, today both Yates and Gary Kubiak proved me wrong with a game in which Yates was used just enough to snatch a win against the off-and-on Falcons. The Texans ran the ball 44 times, with Arian Foster collecting 111 rushing yards and the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. As long as Houston can hold off the Titans, who are two games behind them, I believe Kubiak would be deserving of Coach of the Year with the way he has handled all of his major injuries. Matt Ryan has been a reflection of his team and how they can look like a contender one week and an Andrew Luck bidder the next. If Ryan doesn’t get his act together, I expect either the Lions or Giants to pass Atlanta for the wild-card spot.

 

Green Bay 38, NY Giants 35

16-0? The only team that will stop these Packers from reaching this goal is themselves. Even though you can point out that the Packers’ defense allowed 35 points or that the Packers struggled to finish off this shaky Giants team, they are doing the one thing that matters in the standings – winning. With his 369 yards and four touchdowns, Aaron Rodgers has now had a 100+ passer rating in every game this season so far. I feel very good about this team making it all the way to 16-0; furthermore, if they can just get Ryan Grant going, then I will have complete faith in these Cheeseheads. As the Giants continue to fall in the standings, if they end up missing the playoffs again this year, I don’t believe this Eli Manning-Tom Coughlin tandem will last much longer.

 

Dallas 13, Arizona 19 (OT)

Icing your own kicker is seldom seen in the football world. It’s difficult to understand the reasoning behind Jason Garrett’s decision… but he just added his name to the “C’mon Man” segment of Monday Night Football with his timeout that prohibited the ‘Boys from defeating the Cardinals 16-13 in the waning seconds of the game. With two last second wins against the subpar Redskins and Dolphins and now a loss to the Cardinals, the NFL nation needs to be wary of putting their eggs in this team’s basket. Kevin Kolb decided to hook up with not Larry Fitzgerald but with Andre Roberts, who collected 111 receiving yards – easily his career-high. Even though the Cardinals’ season is all but over, Kolb is providing the Cardinals’ management with his own argument that he can possibly turn his play on the field around and be their franchise quarterback.

 

Detroit 17, New Orleans 31

If there is one thing to take from this game, it’s this: the Lions are young. Even though the Lions provide a lot of excitement and are very close to a playoff spot, they are immature and still have a lot of growing to do as a team. They pick up a lot of penalties out of frustration that elite teams just don’t do. The Saints, on the other hand, showed poise throughout this game, holding the lead wire-to-wire. “Gunslinging” depicts this game perfectly as these teams combined to rack up 750 passing yards compared to only 187 rushing yards. Darren Sproles has to be the unsung hero for the Saints because he truly does it all. Specifically in this game, he rushed (28 yards), received (46 yards), returned kick-offs (74 yards), and returned punts (13 yards). He leads the league in total yards and will be an integral part of this team as they look to make another deep playoff run.

 

Monday Night Football:

San Diego vs. Jacksonville – 7:30 p.m. CT

Looking over this match-up, I find it difficult to pick a team that will decide to win this game. Phillip Rivers has picked up a lot of yards throughout this season, but he has matched that with a league-leading 17 interceptions. San Diego’s defense sits at the bottom of the league, giving up 25 points a game. The only positive for this 4-7 ball club is Ryan Mathews, who rushed for 137 yards in last week’s loss to the Broncos. The Jaguars have only one positive this year, and that was a 12-7 Monday Night Football victory over the Ravens. (I still don’t know how that happened.) Other than that, they have no quality wins and eight losses. Blaine Gabbert – as many expected – has a lot of potential but just isn’t ready to lead an NFL team yet. Maurice-Jones Drew still has found a way to pick up a good amount of yardage during this season, but just can’t seem to find the end zone as he has only crossed the goal line five times all year. This could be bad red zone blocking or bad calling, but either way, he isn’t finishing off drives. When it comes down to who will win this battle-of-the-bads, I think I have to go with the quarterback that has more potential to have a break-out game and more years in the NFL under his belt. The Jaguars do not have the firepower to keep up with this Chargers team. This will be a pride win for Rivers, who might need to hang his hat on many of those as a ring looks less and less likely. Pick: Chargers

 

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NFL Nutshell: Week 12

28 11 2011

 

San Francisco 6, Baltimore 16

You shouldn’t pick on your little brother, but John Harbaugh did just that by means of his football team. The Ravens’ defense was stifling, to say the least, holding the young 49ers to only 170 total yards. Alex Smith and Frank Gore were never able to get into a solid rhythm as the Ravens continue to battle the Steelers and Bengals for the top spot in the AFC North.

 

Miami 19, Dallas 20

The Cowboys have indeed won four straight and look to be one of the hottest teams in the NFC, but their ability to play up or down to their opponent’s level is worrisome. To add to that, they really enjoy playing close games for some odd reason; if you take out Weeks 7-10, the Cowboys are winning or losing their games by a net average of 2.8 points a game. If they truly are a 7-4 ball club, I feel as though a Dan Bailey last second field goal in each of the wins against the Redskins and Dolphins should not be happening.

 

Green Bay 27, Detroit 15

Aaron Rodgers is usually the sole reason for the Packers’ victories; however, in this Turkey Day showdown, the defense’s addition of three interceptions heavily influenced the Packers’ ability to stay undefeated. Ndamukong Suh’s ejection in the third quarter for simply a dumb move on his part also helped the Packers rack up 17 points once he was removed. The Lions looked immature and frustrated during this game, so we’ll see how they bounce back against the New Orleans Saints next week.

 

New England 38, Philadelphia 20

Even though Vince Young had his career high in total passing yards with 400 yards through the air, the Patriots’ 17-point blitz in the 3rd quarter all but dashed the “Dream Team’s” playoff hopes. Tom Brady has been lights-out during the Patriots’ current three game winning streak; he has thrown for 308 yards per game, connected on eight touchdowns along with no interceptions, and holds an average passer rating of 120.73.

 

Denver 16, San Diego 13 (OT)

Tim Tebow did in fact lead his team to this overtime win to give the Broncos their fourth straight win; however, the defense has played an even larger role during this streak, holding their opponents to only 12 points a game the past three games, which has given Tebow the opportunity to win the game on the last drive.

 

Chicago 20, Oakland 25

In a game in which quarterback play was subpar from both sides, Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski made a lot of fantasy football owners happy by converting 6 of 6 field goals to give the Raiders this odd win where they only had one touchdown but 25 points. The Raiders will need to continue to win to keep the charging Broncos away from the divisional lead.

 

Carolina 27, Indianapolis 19

Standing all tied up at ten points apiece in the second quarter, it was conceivable that Indianapolis could finally pull off a win; the Colts had even scored their first touchdown of November. However, Cam Newton and DeAngelo Williams pounded the ball on the ground for three rushing touchdowns combined to keep the Colts on track toward a 0-16 season.

 

Buffalo 24, NY Jets 28

Ryan Fitzpatrick has had some problems during the Bills’ recent struggles, but yesterday’s loss was not on him; he finished with 264 passing yards, three touchdowns, and a 111.5 passer rating. However, his defense was unable to contain Sanchez, who threw four touchdowns, three being for more than ten yards. With Tennessee (6-5), San Diego (4-7), Miami (3-8), and Denver (6-5) next on the Bills’ schedule, they have one last chance to salvage any hope of a playoff spot.

 

Houston 20, Jacksonville 13

The two Matts (Leinart and Shaub) standing on the sideline, one in a sling and one in a boot, epitomized this injury-derailed football team. Texans’ 152nd pick, T.J. Yates, finished this game off (luckily it was only the Jaguars he had to deal with) and will have to stay at the helm unless something changes. Sitting at 8-3 and first in the entire AFC, the Texans have a huge opportunity to do something substantial this year. Maybe Skip Bayless isn’t that crazy with his idea to (make sure you’re sitting down for this) bring back… Brett Favre.

 

Monday Night Football:

NY Giants vs. New Orleans – 7:30 p.m. CT

These two teams have solid records, but they have been difficult to figure out thus far. The Giants have big wins against the Bills and the Patriots but bad losses to the Redskins and Seahawks. The Saints handed Houston one of their three losses and defeated the Bears, but they let the Buccaneers beat them and allowed the Rams to pick up their first win of the season. However, if the Giants continue with their inability to get anything on the ground as in the past two games, Eli Manning will be hurt because he needs a solid running game to have a chance to play efficiently. Drew Brees will throw for over 300 yards, collect three touchdowns, and the Giants will continue to be pushed farther away from a divisional championship. Pick: Saints

 

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NFL Nutshell: Week 11

21 11 2011

 

San Diego 20, Chicago 31

This was a fairly evenly matched game with the score remaining in reach for the Chargers throughout the game. However, another Phillip Rivers’ interception in the red zone during the fourth quarter when the Chargers were closing in on making the deficit four points brought this game to a close. The Chargers’ 2-4 red zone efficiency could not hold up against the Bears’ 3-3 efficiency. Counting Rivers’ two interceptions from last night, he now sits atop the league with an alarming 17 total interceptions. These two teams couldn’t be headed in more different directions; the Bears have now won five straight games and are becoming a solid, balanced offensive club without Matt Forte having to do all of the work while the Chargers are on a five game losing streak and are creating doubt in the minds of all the San Diego fans as to whether this Norv Turner and Phillip Rivers duo has run its course (if you ask me, I say it has).

 

Buffalo 8, Miami 35

Buffalo actually had more total yards (247) than Miami (242). In fact, Matt Moore threw the ball 20 times and racked up only 160 yards. There are some glaring aspects to this game that explain why it was a 27 point blowout. To put it simply, the Bills could not make a play when the pressure was on. They were 0-12 on 3rd down, 0-2 on 4th down, and were a horrid 0-3 in the red zone. Fitzpatrick’s two interceptions occurred right in their own red zone, leading to easy Dolphins’ touchdowns. The Dolphins couldn’t have been more efficient. While the team was perfect in the red zone (4-4), Matt Moore almost matched that perfection, completing 70% of his passes, producing three touchdowns, and throwing no interceptions. To a lesser extent, these two teams are headed in directions similar to the Chargers and Bears. Even though the Dolphins are most likely out of playoff contention, their three game winning streak has allowed Reggie Bush to show his value and has given the fans a reason to show up to their home games. The Bills, on the other hand, continue to give us the impression that “they are who we thought they were.”

 

Dallas 27, Washington 24 (OT)

No matter where these two teams sit or when the game takes place, a Cowboys-Redskins match-up always finds a way to be a great game. With neither team gaining more than a seven point lead and an early fourth quarter field goal putting the score at 17-17, this game called for some clutch play from Romo and Grossman. Both men stepped up and made some big plays. Romo started it off with a great 59-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten, which is the longest touchdown reception of Witten’s career. That gave Romo his eighth touchdown in the last three games. Grossman wasn’t down and out yet though. The Redskins’ final drive started at 5:35 on the clock before Grossman decided to take his game to another level. He went 8-11, converted three third downs, and threw a perfect fade ball for Donte Stallworth to go and get. This left only 14 seconds on the clock and forced the game to go into OT. Overtime consisted of a Graham Gano missed field goal followed by a Dan Bailey just-made field goal to give the Cowboys their third straight win and the Redskins their sixth straight loss. The Cowboys now lead the NFC East with two easy Miami and Arizona games coming up, while the Giants have to take on the Saints and the undefeated Packers before facing the Cowboys on December 11th.

 

NY Jets 13, Denver 17

As an avid sports fan, I am continuously bewildered at Tim Tebow’s complete transformation when the last drive comes along. It’s not simply “clutch” play; he turns into an entirely different player. Tim Tebow was 4-6 with 46 passing yards and 50 rushing yards on the winning drive of this game. Prior to that drive, he was 5-14 with 58 passing yards and only 18 total rushing yards – matching Willis McGahee’s total rushing yards to finish the game. (That tells you something about the balance of their offense….) What happens when the Broncos face a team that puts up more than 13 points and Tebow has to play like he does in the waning minutes for the entire game? I don’t have an explanation for his baffling statistics, but Tebow and his Broncos are winning, which is all that matters in the standings.

 

Monday Night Football:

Kansas City vs. New England – 7:30 p.m. CT

It has been difficult to get a grip on where these two teams are headed. The Chiefs have a four game winning streak sandwiched between a bunch of losses. During those wins, they looked like the team that won the AFC West last year. During their five losses, it looked like they were regressing to their 2007-2009 football days. Matt Cassel has had as high of a passer rating as 138.9, but also as low as 38.3. The Chiefs’ main running back, Jackie Battle, has been the closest thing to consistency since his 119 rushing yard burst against the Colts. Even though the Patriots sit at a much better 6-3 and lead the AFC East, many questions are still revolving around this ball club. Tom Brady has put this team at the top of the league in passing yards per game (326), but the defense is counteracting that by being dead last in passing yards given up per game (308.9). When you have Golden Boy, many times simply out-throwing your opponent can be a reasonable option. However, this reliance on their offense might hurt the Patriots in the long run. Even though both of these teams come in to this conference showdown with their own problems, I can’t see the Patriots dropping a game like this. They are 13-5 on Monday Night Football under Bill Belichick and get to play on their own turf. BenJarvus Green-Ellis will go back to his early season form and attack the Chiefs 27th ranked rushing defense, while Tom Brady will… well, be Tom Brady. Pick: Patriots

 

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NFL Nutshell: Week 9

7 11 2011


NY Jets 27, Buffalo 11

The Jets extended their winning streak to three as all aspects of their game looked very solid. Their defense held the Bills to only three points until a touchdown at the very end of the game, but by then the outcome had already been determined. Mark Sanchez held his own with 230 passing yards and an efficient 71% passing rate; however, he still found a way to throw an interception – something he’s done in all but two games this year. The Bills and Jets now both sit at 5-3, and it will be interesting to see where each team goes from here.

 

Miami 31, Kansas City 3

Something happened in this game that many were beginning to feel would not happen this year: the Dolphins won… and won handily at that. Scoring his first rushing touchdown and actually making an impact to the game’s outcome with 92 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards, Reggie Bush offered Stephen Ross hope that his signing might not have been a total bust after all. Kansas City continues to confuse us. When they were 0-3 and Jamaal Charles went down, many marked off their season as a bust. However, fighting back against San Diego last week to make their record 4-3, the Chiefs’ bandwagon fans began to reemerge. With this crushing loss to the Dolphins and their inability to score in the endzone, it is hard to know which Chiefs will show up from week to week. If there’s any silver lining to their inconsistency, it’s that no team in their division has a record above .500.

 

San Francisco 19, Washington 11

Even though Alex Smith will never be a “must have” fantasy quarterback, he continues to play his role effectively and efficiently. He was 17/24 with 200 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions. He has the fewest number of interceptions (2) among quarterbacks that have started every game this season. The 49ers took care of business in this game and showed America that, yes, there are college coaches out there that can transition to the NFL and be successful. Jim Harbaugh has his team sitting at 7-1 and 4-0 in their division, with the 2-6 Seahawks being their closest competition. Harbaugh and his coaching staff are changing the way this football team plays; they are creating a team where the players understand their roles and play for the benefit of the team. Even though this franchise provided some heartbreak for my hometown Cowboys in the past, I’m excited to see what this young team likely has in store for the playoffs.

 

NY Giants 24, New England 20

While the Eagles and Cowboys receive their usual media attention, the Giants have quietly put themselves at the top of the NFC East with a 6-2 record. Tom Brady did his usual thing and took his team down the field for what was thought to be a game-winning touchdown. However, Eli Manning took his team 80 yards down the field in 1:21 to leave 15 seconds on the game clock. Even though Manning failed to dominate the offensive side of the field for the majority of the game, he carried the team on his back when the game was on the line and put the Patriots in a three-way tie with the Bills and Jets for the AFC East. The Patriots have been AFC East Champions eight of the last ten seasons; however, if they want this trend to continue, Tom Brady – who has already thrown twice as many interceptions as he did for the entire 2010 season – will need to be more accurate with his throws, and the secondary will need to be better than dead last in the league with 323.1 passing yards given up per game.

 

Green Bay 45, San Diego 38

The Packers have now had two victories in a row decided by less than double digits, but a win is a win. It doesn’t matter if the game becomes a grind-it-out or air-it-out style of match, Aaron Rodgers and his Packers just find a way to win and have a certain sense of determination every time they step on the field. Phillip Rivers did have 138 more yards than Aaron Rodgers and was able to match his four touchdowns, but there was one glaring difference that has been a problem for Rivers – he had three interceptions compared to Rodgers’s none. To add insult to injury, two of these interceptions were returned for touchdowns in the first quarter that put the Chargers at too large of a deficit against too good of a team. There was a silver lining for the Chargers as Vincent Jackson collected 141 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Similar to the AFC East, the Chargers are also in a three way tie with the Chiefs and the Raiders. Their Thursday Night Football game against the Raiders will break this tie.

 

Baltimore 23, Pittsburgh 20

In a game I would say was more exciting than the previous night’s LSU-Alabama contest, the Steelers and Ravens had another classic match-up with a down-to-the-wire finish. These teams were very evenly matched throughout the game, but the Ravens had 19 more plays and eight more minutes of possession. Watching Joe Flacco take his team 92 yards in 2:09, leaving only eight seconds on the clock, I was reminded of Eli Manning’s game-winning drive against the New England Patriots earlier in the day. However, there was one major difference: Flacco was going up against a dominant Steelers secondary that is first in the league and is giving up only 171.6 yards passing per game. It’s amazing that this is the same Ravens offense that looked absolutely lost during their 12-7 defeat to the Jaguars on Monday Night Football a few weeks ago. With Cincinnati’s emergence (6-2) as a playoff contender, this AFC North will undoubtedly have an interesting finish.

 

Note: The away team won in every game I discussed, and only 4 of 13 teams at home won yesterday.

 

Monday Night Football:

Chicago v. Philadelphia – 7:30 p.m. CT

The Bears are coming off their first bye week and are currently in their first winning streak of the season while the Eagles have now won two divisional games in a row and look to be meshing quite well. Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy have found a rhythm and a nice balance with each other. Matt Forte continues to play a huge role on the offensive side of the field, being the sole owner of 672 of the team’s 803 total rushing yards – that is 83.6% of the team’s yardage. This heavy reliance will hurt the Bears when they go up against teams that know how to handle the run. With the current groove the Eagles are in and the fact that they’ve only given up 142 yards rushing in their past two games, I believe Forte will be unable to carry the load for Chicago like he usually does. Without Forte dominating the ground game, the Bears will struggle to move the ball in this game, and the Eagles will finally be back at .500, inching closer to a possible run for the AFC East title. Pick: Eagles.

 

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NFL Nutshell: Week 5

10 10 2011

Philadelphia 24, Buffalo 31

What a terrible weekend to be a sports fan in Philadelphia. On Friday night, the Phillies, who had been built to win the World Series, were knocked out in the divisional round by the Cardinals. Then, on Sunday, the “Dream Team” Eagles came up just short again and fell to an unthinkable 1-4. Michael Vick threw four interceptions, and the Philly defense was having all sorts of trouble. To cap off their turnover-filled defeat, Juqua Parker had a critical offside called against him on a 4th-and-inches for the Bills that sealed the deal. Who knows if it’s the coaching or if it’s just lack of focus from the players, but this Eagles team just doesn’t know how to close out games. Meanwhile, this is a good bounce-back win by Buffalo after last week’s tough loss to Cincinnati. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson have been consistent through these first five games and look to be confident in themselves and in their teams.

NY Jets 21, New England 30

The Jets are another team that had a lot of preseason hype but aren’t living up to expectations. (I recall someone in that organization saying they were the only team that could beat the Patriots….) After starting 2-0, New York has now lost three in a row. Mark Sanchez avoided costly mistakes but only accounted for 166 yards in the loss. Furthermore, the Patriot defense outperformed the Jet defense holding New York to 255 total yards (compared to 446 for New England). The Patriots finally had a strong running game with BenJarvus Green-Ellis running for 136 yards and two touchdowns. If Ellis can provide Brady with anything close to this type of run support, the Patriots are going to look very scary.

San Diego 29, Denver 24

Every week the Broncos have a home game, the crowd chants Tim Tebow’s name as they are tired with the current direction of their team. Well, this Sunday, John Fox finally listened to them, pulled the ineffective Kyle Orton, and put in the Heisman winner. Denver still came up short, but this guy really excites the fans with his style of play. However, if efficiency does not become a consistent characteristic to Tebow’s game, we might start hearing Brady Quinn chants from the stands. On the Chargers side, the two big stars were Nick Novak who kicked 5 field goals, and Ryan Matthews who rushed for 125 yards. Matthews having a game like this is most likely very exciting for the city of San Diego, who has lost LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles each in the past two years.

Oakland 25, Houston 20

Oddly enough, the Texans out gained the Raiders 473 yards to 278 yards and almost had the ball an entire ten minutes more than them, too. The Raiders fell into a hole early but battled back to take the lead in the second half. Michael Huff intercepted Matt Schaub in the end zone on the last play of the game to preserve the victory. Furthermore, the Raiders were able to pull off this victory with only 51 yards from Darren McFadden, showing they don’t solely rely on his play. Whenever a tragedy befalls a sports organization, the next few games are usually full of emotion. Al Davis was a key component of the Raiders organization and the NFL itself. His legacy can’t be denied and won’t be forgotten.

Monday Night Football:

Chicago vs. Detroit – 7:30 p.m. CT

Ironically, the last time the Detroit Lions lost a football game was on December 5, 2010, to the Chicago Bears 24-20. This loss created a five-game losing streak. Since then, they have bounced back and won eight games in a row. During their 4-0 start to the 2011 season, they have created a resilient nature to their play. After taking care of Kansas City 48-3 in week 2, they came back from a 20-0 deficit to the Vikings and a 27-3 deficit to the Cowboys. I don’t care what team you’re playing (even though the Vikings like to stop playing offense in the second half), to come back two weeks in a row from that far behind shows determination and heart. Period. Someone I believe that has gone unnoticed on this squad is kicker Jason Hanson. Not only has he made every single field goal and extra point he has attempted, but he has also made three 50+ yard field goals. I doubt the Lions would be where they are right now without his sturdy foot. Even though they are 4-0 and are receiving loads of praise from the media, they do have an aspect of their game they can improve on – running the ball. They are dead last in total rushing yards (298), even with potential-filled Jahvid Best. If they can help him get more than only 3.2 yards per carry, the Lions will be running on all cylinders. Now the Bears are still working the kinks out. They have two losses to some high-quality opponents – New Orleans and Green Bay – and two wins against some sub-par teams – Atlanta and Carolina. This is the epitome of being mediocre: beating those you’re supposed to beat and losing to those you’re supposed to lose to. Even with this decent 2-2 record, I don’t like what I’m seeing with this ball club. In addition to the team being in the bottom third of the league for total passing yards (24th), total rushing yards (23rd), opponent total passing yards (30th), and opponent total rushing yards (25th), ex-Cowboys Marion Barber and Roy Williams have been unable to provide any sort of spark whatsoever. This lack of offense has lead to running back Matt Forte having a phenomenal season yet carrying too much of the load, both in running and receiving the ball. He has 49 more rushes and 14 more receptions than the second-highest producing Bear in each of those fields. This reliance on one guy won’t work when stronger teams show up to play. Adrian Peterson is a prime example; he had two strong games with a lot of carries to start the season but was unable to get anything going against the Lions in week 3. Furthermore, I feel as though this Cutler-era is coming to a close (similar to how Kyle Orton – the player he was traded for – is becoming unwelcome in Denver). He doesn’t seem very motivated on the field, and Chicago doesn’t seem very motivated to help him out. With the surging momentum in Detroit and this static state the Bears are in (once again), I see this as a game in which Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson continue their dominance on the offensive side of the field, and Ndamukong Suh and his defensive squad shut down Forte on the ground. The Lions will become 5-0 for the first time since 1956, and they will do so with dominance. Pick: Lions.

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