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The NFL’s Good, Bad and the Ugly: Week 13
NORTH CAROLINA — The Giants continue to dominate, the stock goes up on the Steelers, Broncos and Falcons, and down on the Jets, Patriots and Packers.
Let’s examine these teams plus news and notes — on and off the field — in the Good, Bad and Ugly for this past week.
Giants: No Plaxico, no problem. In the midst of turmoil, off the field controversy, key injuries to some of their best players and an emotional game and ceremony, New York remained focused on winning football games, and did easily, on the road against the Redskins beating them 23-7 at FedEx Field in the nation’s capital. The Giants came into the game with injuries to some of running backs and without Burress catching balls. They used the arm of Eli Manning to pass their way to their seventh straight victory. Defensively, the Giants continue to shut down opposing offenses, holding Jason Campbell to 232 yards and an interception while holding the very emotional Clinton Portis to a season low 22 yards for the game. It will be interesting to see what happens to Plaxico Burress after all of his legal issues and team problems. I personally think he will not be back as a Wide receiver of the Super Bowl Champs.
Steelers: Pittsburgh traveled to their own personal “house of horrors” — Foxboro, Massachusetts, to face the New England Patriots, but this time they left with a win. Big Ben Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes and the defense shut down the Patriots completely in the second half leading to a 33-10 rout of the Patriots on Sunday. After a shaky start where Roethlisberger threw a poor pass intercepted by Patriots’ linebacker, Mike Vrabel, that led to the Patriots only touchdown of the game; Big Ben settled down to lead the offense to 33 points. The Patriots led 7-0 and 10-3, but after the Steelers tied the game at 10, the Patriots failed to score a touchdown inside the ten of the Steelers and then missed a chip shot field goal before the half, so the score remained tied at the half.
The Steelers then stepped up the pressure on Matt Cassel and the Patriots’ offense, forcing five straight turnovers on the Patriots’ first five possessions of the second half, while scoring 23 unanswered points in the second half. James Harrison led the league’s best defense with nine tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles that led to points for the offense. The Steelers’ defense continues to dominate their opponents. The Steelers held the Patriots to under 300 yards of total offense and only one of thirteen on third down conversions. This against a Patriots’ team that compiled incredible yards and points the last two weeks, including back-to-back 400-yard passing games for Cassel.
The win was a statement game for the Steelers who have gone under the radar a little with most people talking about the Giants, Titans, Jets and others when it comes to the league’s best teams. If the defense continues to dominate the way they have over the last month, Roethlisberger can continue to be mistake free, and they can get a healthy Willie Parker back in the lineup, the Steelers can fly under the radar all the way to the Super Bowl.
Titans:Wait a minute. Listen. Can you hear that? It’s the sound of Tennessee scoring another touchdown against Detroit. The Titans got back into the win column with a convincing and dominating win over the winless Lions 47-10 on Thanksgiving. Chris Johnson ran for 125 yards and LenDale White ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns as the Titans bounced back in a big way from their 21-point loss to the Jets the previous week. Tennessee got back to the basics of running the football successfully and stopping the run, holding the Lions to only 23 yards rushing for the game. This is a balanced, focused and confident Titans team who will be tough to beat in the playoffs. Those who doubt the Titans because they feel they are not dominant in any part of their team, but it’s because they are a team and they are consistent that makes them dangerous and will make them a tough out in the playoffs, especially if they get home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Buccaneers: Another team that doesn’t seem to get much attention is Tampa Bay. The Bucs moved their record to 9-3 after a hard fought win at home against the Saints 23-20. The Bucs cover two defense confused and frustrated Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees, forcing him to throw three interceptions, including a crucial pick late in the game to seal the deal. Bucs’ quarterback Jeff Garcia struggled in the game, completing only 9 passes, but made key plays down the stretch to get the victory over another one of their divisional rivals. The Bucs remained tied with the Panthers and have another tough task ahead of them this week as they travel to Carolina to face the Panthers, with the winner in the driver seat to win the division. The Bucs are a solid, well-coached team and to me, are the second best team in the NFC behind the Giants.
Broncos:Will the real Denver Broncos please stand up. After playing one of the worst games of the season against the hated Oakland Raiders the previous week, Denver traveled to “Gotham City” and pounded the Jets 34-17 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score would lead you to believe. Jay Cutler threw for 357 yards and two touch downs and Peyton Hillis rushed for 129 yards and a touch down as the Broncos moved closer to winning the AFC West title. The Broncos lead the Chargers by three games, with four games remaining after the Chargers lost at home to the Falcons. If the Broncos can copy the game plan they had against the Jets and execute it the rest of the regular season and take it into the playoffs, they can be a dangerous opponent to play, especially since they showed they can play well in cold weather.
Falcons: Atlanta continues to march towards the playoffs with another solid win, this time on the road at San Diego, beating the Chargers 22-16. It was a nice return to San Diego for Falcons’ running back Michael Turner who served as LaDanian Tomlinson’s backup for years, before signing with the Falcons as their starting running back. Turner rushed for 120 yards on 31 carries, while rookie quarterback Matt Ryan was solid once again, throwing for 207 yards and two touchdowns in leading the Falcons to their eighth win of the season. Atlanta has already doubled their win total from last year and remain only a game behind Carolina and Tampa Bay in the NFC West. The Falcons have a legitimate shot at the playoffs and even the division crown if they continue to play sound mistake-free football in their remaining games. In the meantime, look for Turner and Ryan to get votes for league MVP and Rookie of the Year, respectively.
Patriots: New England and their offense came crashing down to earth after the beat down they suffered to the Pittsburgh Steelers and their defense 33-10 at home last Sunday. Matt Cassel, who threw for over 400 yards against the Jets and Dolphins, was kept in check by the league’s number one defense, throwing for only 169 yards, two interceptions and no touch downs. Cassel was also sacked five times and fumbled twice as the Patriots gave up 30 unanswered points, including 23 straight in the second half in losing to the Steelers. Defensively, the Patriots got little pressure on Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, which speaks to how weak their defense and pass rush is, considering the Steelers gave up the third most sacks in the league coming into the game. With the loss, the Patriots put themselves in a tough position to make the playoffs, due to their conference record and other teams with better records.
Patriot fans and Patriot lackey’s like Chris Berman of ESPN, would lead you to believe that the Patriots “average” season is solely because they don’t have Tom “overrated” Brady, but they still have the same coach, receivers and defense so Brady wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Brady can’t play defense, catch the ball, coach and run the ball. He is one player on a team of 53 and is average at best. Let’s not go back to blaming Matt Cassel either, Patriot fans, because this is the same player that put up great numbers the previous two weeks. Consider this, the Patriots are the same team, the Steelers are just better.
Jets: Another team in the “overrated” category are the New York Jets, who were exposed as an average team in losing at home to an up and down Denver Broncos team 34-17. The once thought of “dominating Jet defense”, was shredded by the Broncos to the tune of 484 total yards, this coming after New York shut down Tennessee’s offense the previous week. Offensively, the Jets moved the ball well, but turned the ball over, including a pick and fumble by Brett Favre. Despite the loss, the Jets still hold a slim one game lead over the Patriots and Dolphins with four games remaining. The Jets have little room for error and losses if they want to win their division and challenge the Titans and Steelers for the top or second seed in the playoffs and with two west coast games remaining, and a showdown with the Dolphins the last game of the season, it will be tough to get the top seed or second seed in the playoffs. Another performance like last Sunday and they will be lucky to make the playoffs.
Packers: Can anyone tell me what happened to Green Bay? Their once promising season has gone off track after a tough loss at home against the Panthers 35-31. The Packers controlled the ball on offense for over 37 minutes in the game, but their defense allowed too many big plays to the Panthers particularly late in the game that led to their demise. The Packers’ defense couldn’t hold leads of 28-21 and 31-28 late in the game with the last big play coming from Jake DelHomme to All-Pro receiver Steve Smith down the field, setting up an easy first and goal at the Packer one yard line. From there, De Angelo Williams ran the ball for his fourth one-yard touchdown and the winning score for the Panthers. Once again, Packer fans want to blame Aaron Rodgers for their 5-7 record, but I don’t think it’s his fault. Rodgers was 29 of 45 for 298 yards and three touchdowns in the game, and led the comeback in the second half when the Packers were down at half time. So it’s the Packers secondary that led the team down and led to another loss. Down two games to the Vikings in the NFC North with four games to go, makes it extremely difficult for the Packers to win their division or make the playoffs, so the Packers need to go back to the basics and figure out how to get back in the win column before it’s too late.
Bears: Chicago continues to struggle on offense and continue to lose opportunities to take over the mediocre NFC North division. The Bears were a touchdown away from taking an 11-point lead against the Minnesota Vikings, but a goal line stand by the Vikings defense, gave the Vikings the momentum and the eventual lead and victory going away against the Bears 34-14. The Vikings grabbed control of the NFC North and Chicago home with another tough division loss. Seconds after the Bears were stopped four times at the 1, Bernard Berrianwas wide open up the sideline for a 99-yard touchdown pass from Vikings’ quarterback Gus Ferrotte. Kyle Orton struggled to make plays and turned the ball over too many times for the Bears. Orton threw three interceptions in the second half after not throwing an interception in his previous 206 passes. The Bears are one dimensional on offense and their defense hasn’t been playing well since their Super Bowl season two years ago. They have too many holes on both sides of the ball to be a contender, and will not make the playoffs this season.
Browns: Well another week at home and another loss at home for Cleveland. Lack of offense and play calling led to the Browns 10-6 loss at home to the Indianapolis Colts. Consider this: the Browns led most of the game against the Colts, they intercepted Peyton Manning twice, forced three turnovers, held the Colts offense to under 300 yards of total offense and held the Colts offense without an offensive touch down and yet they still lost their six home games in seven tries. To add insult to injury, Brady Quinn had season-ending finger surgery, and the one time starter, Derek Anderson, was sacked and tore his MCL, so he is out for the rest of the season, which means little used, Ken Dorsey, will be the starter the rest of the season (unless he stinks or gets hurt).
The Browns will definitely shake things up, but hopefully by some miracle, that will not include Romeo Crennel, who undoubtedly screwed up the quarterback situation, but has done a good job overall. The Browns are struggling, but they have talent; they just need a few more pieces and some team chemistry. They also need an offensive coordinator with some creativity. Brown fans are quick to criticize Crennel this year, but seem to forget about the 10 victories he led them to last year which almost got them in the playoffs. The worst thing he’s done isn’t any coaching decisions he’s made or didn’t make, it was having the kind of success they had last season, which set some unrealistic expectations this year. Let’s hope he isn’t the next “brutha” who gets the boot.
Cardinals: Arizona continues to struggle on the road especially against Eastern Time zone opponents, this time losing to the struggling Eagles 48-20 on Thanksgiving. The team looked flat and were dominated by Philly in every phase of the game. I continue to say the Cardinals are a nice story and they will win the NFC West, because it’s the worst division in football, but until they prove they can beat a winning team on the road especially in bad weather, it will be an early exit for them in the playoffs.
Bengals: Another loss for Cincinnati, this time to the Baltimore Ravens losing 34-3, as they continue to steal money from the owner of the team by playing out the rest of the season with no pride and eagerness to win football games. The Bengals can’t score on offense and can’t stop anyone on defense, as evident in the start to finish domination on both sides of the ball by the Ravens. The Bengals’ defense makes rookie quarterbacks like Joe Flacco look like a veteran, just like they make average/mediocre quarterbacks like Derek Anderson look like pro bowlers. It’s obvious this team chemistry will have to be blown up for a new recipe of winning, which includes everyone from the general managers, coaches, right down to the players. The Bengals are hoping a healthy Carson Palmer (next season) will get them back on the winning track and maybe the playoffs, but like other bad teams, they need much more than a healthy quarterback.
Rams: Looks like the honeymoon between Jim Haslett and St. Louis is over. Like the previous coaching regime, the Rams don’t seem to be responding to Haslett and his coaching style and philosophy, as evident in their loss at home to the Miami Dolphins 16-12. The loss to the Fins is the team’s fifth consecutive and drops Haslett’s record to 2-5 since he took over the head coaching duties. The Rams have a lot of work to do in the off-season to improve. They are inconsistent on offense and old at the skill positions. Their defense doesn’t get pressure on the quarterback and they can’t cover in the secondary. They need a quarterback, younger receivers, linebackers, secondary help and a solid backup running back in case the often injured, Steven Jackson, gets hurt during the season. The biggest addition the Rams need is a head coach. They need a head coach that is a football guy with a proven track record as a coordinator or head coach and there are a lot of qualified guys out there especially African American candidates (hint-hint) although that is highly unlikely, because the Rams were going to try and sign Haslett as the head coach after their brief two-game winning streak.
Lions: Surprisingly, Detroit didn’t play as hard as they could against Tennessee, losing 47-10 Thanksgiving Day, and time is running out before they can finally get in the win column. With remaining games at home against the division leading Minnesota Vikings, at the Colts, home against the Saints and at Green Bay, the Lions are staring a 0-16 record square in the face. Talk about changes that need to be made.
Raiders: In a battle of bad vs. worse, K.C. got their second win of the season by beating Oakland 20-13 in a thrilling game (NOT). In a battle of two horrible teams, the Chiefs capitalize on a botched fake field goal by the Raiders that led to the winning score. The Raiders showed promise last week in beating the hated rival Broncos in Denver 31-10, but turned back into a pumpkin once again against the Chiefs. These are the Oakland Raiders. A team that makes lots of mistakes, bad draft picks, bad trades and bad free agent signings. As long as the “grim reaper” is running the show, the “commitment to mediocrity” will continue.
Chargers: San Diego loses again at home to the Atlanta Falcons 22-16 to drop their record to 4-8, and are out of the playoff hunt. NORV TURNER. Enough said.
Bills: After stopping a four game losing streak with a win over the woeful Chiefs last week, Buffalo is determined to start another one with a bad home loss against the pathetic Niners 10-3. Once again the offense can’t run the ball, can’t score and makes entirely too many mistakes to be competitive and get victories. The Bills let a west coast mediocre team beat them up in their house and dominate both lines of scrimmage. San Francisco was more physical and finally scored a victory for west coast teams traveling east to win a football game (although Denver beat the Jets coming from the Mountain Time zone). Like the Chargers, I think the Bills need a new head coach that has a proven and consistent winning record not a re-tread coach who was okay as a coordinator, but lousy as a head coach(Dick Juron).
Games to watch week 14:
1. Tampa at Carolina
Key match-up: The Bucs cover 2 defense vs. Jake DelHomme. The Bucs will try to stop the running attack of Stewart and Williams of the Panthers and force quarterback Jake DelHomme to beat them down the field. Look for the Bucs to blitz a lot, especially on third and long against the Panthers and double, even triple team the Panthers’ Steve Smith. The Panthers will try to put lots of pressure on Jeff Garcia, especially since he’s coming off a sub-par passing game against a mediocre Saints pass defense. The Panthers are undefeated at home so far this season.
2. Dallas at Pittsburgh
Key match-up: Tony Romo vs. the Steelers’ blitzing defense. In the Steelers three losses this season, their attacking and blitzing defense didn’t get much pressure on the opposing quarterbacks, including no sacks against Giants in a home loss. If Dallas is going to pull off an upset, they must protect Tony Romo and roll him out to stay away from the Steelers’ swarming defense. The boys will also have to run the ball, which will not be easy against the best defense in football. Look for the Steelers to double cover Terrell Owens and give Troy Palamalu the task of covering all-pro tight end Jason Whitten in the seam down the field. The Steelers offensively MUST protect Ben Roethlisberger and allow him time to throw the ball down the field to Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward and company. The team that successfully executes their game plan and wins the turnover battle, will win the game.
3. Atlanta at New Orleans
Key match-up: The Falcons’ secondary vs. Drew Brees. The Falcons must keep Drew Brees under 300 yards passing and force him to throw interceptions in order to get a win on the road. If Brees has the kind of game he had against the Packers where he threw for nearly 400 yards a couple of touch downs, the Saints will win. If Brees has the kind of game he had last week against the Bucs where he threw three interceptions and looked confused and frustrated, the Falcons should win. The Falcons also need Michael Turner to have a monster game in order to get a big road victory.
4. Philadelphia at Giants
Key match-up: The Eagles’ offensive line vs. the Giants’ defensive line. Simply put, if the Eagles are able to control the line of scrimmage, open up the running game and give Donavan McNabb time to throw the football, they win the game. If the Giants continue to dominate defensively, stop the run and are able to get after McNabb and force him to turn the ball over, the Giants will win easily. So far, no one has been able to stop the Giants and their pass rush this season. It’s a tough task for an Eagles’ offensive line that has trouble getting just a yard for a first down.
5. Washington at Baltimore
Key match-up: Jason Campbell vs. the Ravens’ defense. Lately, the Redskins have struggled offensively and I believe it’s because their offense is predicated on having a lead, not coming from behind. Playing on the road against a defense like the Ravens will be a tough task. The Redskins have to get Clinton Portis to open up the passing game for Campbell and his receivers. Campbell will also have to make smart decisions with the ball, read the defense of the Ravens, know where Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are on the field at all times and don’t force the ball into tight coverage. Defensively, the Redskins must pressure Joe Flacco into playing like a rookie quarterback and force him to turn the ball over. The defense that can set up their offense up with good field position will probably win the game.
My top 15 teams after week 13:
1. Giants 2. Pittsburgh 3.Tennessee 4. Indianapolis 5. Tampa Bay 6. Jets 7. Dallas 8. Atlanta 9. Carolina 10. Denver 11. Minnesota 12. Baltimore 13. Washington 14. Arizona 15. Miami
Best performance a Division I college football team:
The University of Oregon: With nothing to play for, except to win the last game for an outgoing coach, the Ducks played with passion and emotion and destroyed Beavers 65-38. The mild upset cost Oregon State a possible shot at a trip to the Rose Bowl and a rematch with Penn State, who beat them convincingly, early this year. Oregon State now has to hope that UCLA can somehow upset USC this Saturday, in order to have a shot at redemption against the Nittany Lions. Oregon’s offense was explosive, not only scoring 65 points, but racking up 694 yards of total offense. It was a balanced offense that made it so impressive. They passed the ball for 309 yards and rushed the ball for 385 yards against the Beavers. The Beavers had a nice season and a big win over USC, but clearly have some work to do in becoming one of the country’s elite football programs.
Worst performance by a Division I college football team:
Notre Dame: Well the fighting leprechauns did it again……….losing that is. Notre Dame took their overrated program on the road to face the “men of troy”, and the beat down was early and often for the leprechauns. Mark Sanchezpassed for 267 yards and two touchdowns, USC ‘s hard-hitting defense thoroughly dominated Notre Dame, and the fifth-ranked Trojans rolled to an easy 38-3 victory over the Irish and their beleaguered coach Charlie Weis. USC finished with 22 first downs and 449 yards of total offense, while Notre Dame had four first downs and 91 yards. The Irish didn’t get a first down until the last play of the third quarter on a 15-yard run by James Aldridge. They had run 30 plays for 23 yards before Aldridge broke loose, drawing a sarcastic cheer from the partisan crowd of 90,689 at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
After it was over, Weis patiently answered questions about his future. Apparently his future is no longer in doubt. According to published reports, Weis will return as head coach of the fighting leprechauns next season. If nothing else, Weis is the ultimate salesmen if the reports are accurate, and he will return next season, because he certainly hasn’t done anything to deserve another year. It’s okay though because that will only expose Weis as the fraud that he is, and further set back the fighting leprechauns in their growth and progress as a football program.
Best HBCU football team of the week:
Grambling State: The Tigers clinched a spot in the SWAC title game with a 29-14 victory over Southern in Saturday’s Bayou Classic. The Tigers scored 29 unanswered points after trailing early in the game. If Southern had won, it would have forced a three-way tie between Grambling, Southern and Prairie View atop the West Division. The Tigers trailed early to Southern 14-10, but came back and took the lead on a 25-yard field goal by Luis Leal, giving them a 15-14 lead they never gave up. A coin flip was tentatively scheduled Sunday to help decide the division winner in the case of a three-way tie, but Grambling negated the need for it by winning the division outright, and will meet Jackson State in Birmingham on Dec. 13.
Best HBCU football player of the week:
Greg Dillon of Grambling State- Dillon accounted for 287 yards and two touchdowns in helping Grambling State defeat Southern in Saturday’s Bayou Classic. Dillon was 9-of-13 for 151 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to Nick Lewis. Dillon also rushed for 136 yards on 26 carries, including his 14-yard score. His performance helped second-year Coach Rod Broadway win his first Bayou Classic and his second SWAC West Division title.
Until next week…….Stay positive, be safe and enjoy the games!
And don’t forget to check out my sports show “The Batchelor Pad” on www.blogtalkradio.com.