By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
BASN’s NFL Sunday Preview: Week 14
PHILADELPHIA — I am calling week 14 of the NFL season “Do or Die Weekend” as several “bubble” teams can either join the push toward the playoffs or start planning for off-seasons this weekend. “It’s all about the month of December,” says New York Giants offensive tackle David Diehl. He added, “Every game in the NFL is important, but when you get to this point, every game is even more important because this is make-or-break for people.”
With all of the division titles either wrapped up or expected to be sealed this week — the Patriots already clinching the AFC East and the other seven division leaders have a two game or more lead entering this week — NFC East (Dallas, 2 games), NFC West (Seahawks, 2 games), NFC South (Buccaneers, 3 games), NFC North (Packers, 4 games), AFC North (Steelers, 2 games), AFC West (Chargers, 2 games), AFC South (Colts, 2 games) — everyone is focused on the remaining four wild card spots.
It currently looks like the AFC and NFC both have distinctive leaders in the race for the final four playoff spots with Giants and Jaguars sporting 8-4 records, but we all know that until spots are “officially” clinched anything can happen. In the AFC the Titans (7-5), Browns (7-5), and Bills (6-6) will definitely have a strong say on the last spot with the (5-7) Texans and Broncos gripping to the playoff ledge by their fingernails. In the NFC, we all know the erratic Giants are leading the race, but they are struggling once again to finish strong.
However (6-6) teams the Lions, Cardinals, and Vikings will be attempting to catch the Giants with (5-7) teams the Eagles, Vikings, Saints, Panthers, and Redskins (6-7 after Thursday night’s win over the Bears) hanging to playoff dreams by a thread. For the record I like the Browns — strong running game, improving defense, and hungry coach — and the Vikings — NFL’s best running back tandem, opportunistic defense, and a four game winning streak – to claim the last two spots joining the Jaguars and Giants in the big dance.
Some key games that will either make or break a team’s playoff hopes include:
– Jaguars (8-4) hosting the Panthers (5-7) – The Jags cannot sulk, because they couldn’t capitalize on a beat up Colts team last week. Led by an efficient David Garrard the Jags can inch closer to joining the AFC’s elite (Colts, Patriots, and Steelers). The Panthers are just trying to continue moving forward, but the task will be difficult as 44-year-old quarterback Vinny Testaverde can’t keep turning back the clock and John Fox appears to be out the door.
– Buccaneers (8-4) at the Houston Texans (5-7) – The Bucs have shown me a ton by winning with quality depth. When a starter goes down Gruden always seems to have an answer and now NFC South seems in the Bucs pocket. The Texans have been competitive all season, but I think 2008 might be the year GM Rick Smith’s team makes the leap fully into the playoff picture.
– Chargers (7-5) at the Tennessee Titans (7-5) – This game seems more important to the Titans, who are fighting for their playoff lives. The Chargers have a two game lead in the AFC West (NFL’s worst division) so they could afford to lose this game, but don’t tell LT that as he appears to be in December form. We will have to see if V.Y can be efficient and protect the ball for the second week in a row.
– Arizona Cardinals (6-6) at the Seattle Seahawks (8-4) – The Cardinals probably cannot catch the Seahawks for the NFC West belt, but they can take a major step to joining the playoff fray by beating the perennial divisional champions. The Cardinals will have to lean on RB Edgerrin James as WR’s Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald are injured.
– New York Giants (8-4) at the Philadelphia Eagles (5-7) – Plain and simple the Eagles’ season is on the line as they host their hated rival the New York Giants. The Giants have a good record, but questions linger about whether they are poised for a second half swoon similar to the past three seasons. Quarterback Donovan McNabb will be back for this must-win game and it maybe the last time the home crowd sees him at Lincoln Financial field as an Eagle. The Eagles record at home is a surprising 2-4, so they need to show they can still get it done in front of their boo-bird fans.
For the third week in a row the NFL schedule for this week kicked off on Thursday as the NFL Network showed the Bears versus the Redskins, in the battle of desperate (5-7) teams. In the game the Redskins prevailed 24-16, only days after the emotional funeral of tragically murdered player Sean Taylor on Monday. The win ended a four game losing streak for the drained ‘Skins and veteran head coach Joe Gibbs said of the win, “It seems like it’s been forever since we won a game”. He added “This team’s overcome so much. It’s been an emotional roller coaster for us.”
Both teams lost their starting quarterbacks, probably for the season as Bears quarterback Rex Grossman hurt a knee in the first quarter and Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell was carted off in the second quarter with a dislocated knee cap. Backup Todd Collins came off the bench for the ‘Skins leading them on four scoring drives. Collins finished with numbers of 15-for-20 for 224 yards and throwing two touchdowns in his first action since 2002, when he played for Kansas City.
The win puts the Redskins back in the playoff hunt and they now have another key game next week as they travel to New York to face the Giants. The Bears now at 5-8 have to face the cold hard reality that their season is relatively over barring a miracle. After the game Bears head coach Lovie Smith was visibly distraught and look for changes in his team’s lineup next season (new quarterback ??? — McNabb maybe).
Here are some of Lloyd’s Leftovers before we head to our featured game.
– The New England Patriots will be attempting to become only the fifth team in history to start a season with a 13-0 record when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Patriots who are chasing the 1972 Dolphins “Holy Grail” of an undefeated season would join the 1934 Bears (13-0), 1998 Broncos (13-0), 2005 Colts (13-0), and 1972 Dolphins (14) with the distinction. I think the Steelers have the best chance of beating the Pats as they have all the intangibles — a power running game, a blitzing defense, efficient quarterback and a “no fear” attitude — we saw in the Patriots last two squeaky wins over underdogs the Eagles and Ravens. If the Steelers can’t get it done, the NFL has a good chance of seeing their first 16-0 regular season team as the Pats face the hapless Jets and Dolphins next. But they will still have one final hurdle with a tough game at the Giants in week 17.
– A player that knows the significance of December and is making a final push into the playoffs is reigning MVP LaDainian Tomlinson. LT says he likes running in December because it is “championship” weather and every year he seems to heat up like a furnace as temperatures fall throughout most of the country. He began this December with 177 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in Week 13 and he leads all active running backs with 3,083 career-rushing yards in December (106.3 rush yards per game).
– I wanted to remind fans to vote for their favorite players as balloting for the 2008 Pro Bowl will conclude December 11th. The selected players will be announced on Tuesday, December 18 at 4:00 PM (ET) on NFL Network (NFL Total Access) and the game will be played on Sunday, February 10 (FOX, 4:30 PM ET). No big surprise, Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre leads all voting with 842,167 votes.
Featured Game and Other Games
VIKINGS (6-6) AT 49ERS (3-9) @ 4:05 PM EST
Broadcast Team: Matt Vasgersian, JC Pearson
This game may look like a blowout on paper, but the Vikings will be cautious of a Niners team that is dangerous at home. The Vikes have won three in a row and last week they rode their power running game to a big win over the reeling Lions in a must-win game. The series is tied 18-18-1 between these two teams and the Vikings need the victory to keep up momentum toward the playoffs. Earlier I told you I liked the chances of the Vikings to make the playoffs and I am not alone as NFL Network Steve Mariucci said “I like Minnesota because they run the ball, the quarterback is getting better and they play good defense stopping the run and rushing the passer. Running the ball and stopping the run bodes well for a playoff run.”
The game will feature a match-up of almost assuredly the NFL’s Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year as Vikings RB Adrian Peterson takes on 49ers tackling machine LB Patrick Willis. Peterson despite missing two games with a knee injury leads the NFL in rushing with 1,197 yards and he is second in rushing touchdowns. The miraculous rookie has teamed with Chester Taylor to give the Vikings the NFL’s most lethal backfield (Lead the NFL in rushing yards (176.8 ypg) and rushing touchdowns). After a week of carry in the ball less than 18 times, look for Peterson to get close to 25 carries as he attempts to break Eric Dickerson’s rookie record of 1,808 yards in 1983 for the Rams.
Willis under the tutelage of hall of fame linebacker coach Mike Singletary has been a one man wrecking crew (Leads the NFL with 128 tackles). When I watch Willis play it seems he is everywhere on the field. Last week in a 31-14 loss to the Panthers, the first rounder from the University of Mississippi used the Panthers as a tackling dummies accruing 18 tackles and a half of a sack. and game like he had last week. The only problem for Willis is that it seems he is the only person still playing for a team limping home after high expectation.
The other story of this game are the quarterbacks as Vikings quarterback Tavaris Jackson has continued his maturation weekly and seems to finally understand hand the ball off and pass efficiently. The 2006 second round pick has compiled numbers of 96-168, 1,104 yards, 5 TDs, and 7 Ints while showing why Vikings coach Brad Childress moved up in the draft to select the former Alabama State star. The Niners on the other hand have no idea who will be their starter. Recently veteran Trent Dilfer has been an okay caretaker of the position, but everyone want to know about the future of former 2005 NFL draft first overall pick Alex Smith. Smith’s career with the Niners may be ending soon as he has been a disappointment on the field and he currently has a bad shoulder injury.
Week 14 Schedule
CHI 16 @ WAS 24
SD @ TEN 1:00 PM CBS
NYG @ PHI 1:00 PM FOX
DAL @ DET 1:00 PM FOX
MIA @ BUF 1:00 PM CBS
CAR @ JAC 1:00 PM FOX
OAK @ GB 1:00 PM CBS
STL @ CIN 1:00 PM FOX
TB @ HOU 1:00 PM FOX
ARI @ SEA 4:05 PM FOX
PIT @ NE 4:15 PM CBS
KC @ DEN 4:15 PM CBS
CLE @ NYJ 4:15 PM CBS
IND @ BAL 8:15 PM NBC
NO @ ATL 8:30 PM ESPN