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The NFL’s Good, Bad and the Ugly: Week 14
NORTH CAROLINA – We now have two teams ready to battle in the National Championship game although the questions and demands of a playoff system continue.
The Eagles win and wonder “what if”, the Cowboys and Steelers staged an epic battle with an exciting fourth quarter, the Colts and Ravens continue to win, while the AFC is up for grabs.
Let’s examine all of the exciting plays and games in this week’s good, bad and ugly.
Eagles: It’s been a while since Philly has been in this column. The Eagles, for some reason, discovered if they run the ball and have a balanced attack, along with solid defensive play, they can win football games, as evident of their 20-14 win over the Giants in a game that wasn’t as close as the score may indicate. Donovan McNabb was solid in his quarterback play and Bryan Westbrook was dominant with over 200 yards of total offense in the victory. Defensively, the Eagles shut down New York’s running game and forced Eli Manning to speed up his progressions and reads with lots of pressure in his face. Andy Reid has finally realized over the last two weeks, if they run the ball and have better balance in their offense, they can win football games. Too little too late to make the playoffs this season and who knows what the off season will bring, because they don’t.
Steelers: Pittsburgh showed poise and character in rallying in the fourth quarter, coming back to beat Dallas 20-13 at Heinz Field. The Cowboys had 10 days to prepare for the Steelers and they really did their homework, blocking the Steelers’ pass rush, and mixing up their offensive plays to take a 13-3 lead into the fourth quarter. The Steelers however, didn’t give up thanks to Ben Roethlisberger and the number one defense in football. “Big Ben” was 6 of 8 for a touchdown, Jeff Reed kicked a field goal and Deshea Townsend intercepted Tony Romo and ran the ball into the end zone from 26 yards out, to seal the deal for the Steelers. Despite playing an average performance by the defense, the Steelers intercepted Romo three times, sacked him four times and once again held another opponent under 300 yards of total offense in a game. Pittsburgh was challenged and look beaten especially after Dallas stopped them on the one-yard line on fourth down with the Steelers down ten. The win keeps the Steelers a game ahead of the surging Baltimore Ravens, setting up a huge game in Baltimore Sunday between the two teams. Meanwhile the Cowboys travel home knowing they let the game get away and knowing they will face an angry New York Giants’ team that was embarrassed by the Eagles at home.
Titans: Congratulations to Tennessee for winning the AFC South, after demolishing the Browns 28-9. The Titans continue to run the ball exceptionally well, thanks to the tag team of Chris Johnson and LenDale White, who both rushed for over 100 yards against Cleveland in the win. Defensively, the Titans didn’t allow a touch down, and never allowed the Browns to get any rhythm offensively in the game. The Titans continue to play well on both sides of the ball and can clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win this week and a Steelers’ loss, which would be huge for them since they’ve only lost one game at home so far this season. At 12-1, Jeff Fisher could get strong consideration for coach of the year.
Panthers: Run, Run, Run said Carolina Head Coach, John Fox, and that’s exactly what Panther running backs, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, did in thumping the Bucs 38-23. The 1-2 punch of Williams and Stewart compiled over 300 yards on the ground against a defense that came into the game in the top ten against the run. Defensively, the Panthers played a “bend but don’t break” defense, and came up with big plays against the Bucs’ offense, specifically in the fourth quarter. The win propelled the Panthers into sole possession of first place in the NFC South, and puts them in a position to run the table and have home field advantage in the NFC throughout the playoffs, if they win their last three remaining games, which will be tough when the remaining games are at home against Denver, at the Giants and at New Orleans. The outcome of the game between the Bucs and Panthers was misleading, because the Bucs, despite how bad they played, are not that bad and the Panthers are not as good as their record would indicate.
Cardinals: Congratulations goes out to Arizona after they won their division, like the Tennessee Titans. The Cardinals dominated the Rams on both sides of the ball en route to a 34-10 win, clinching the NFC West division. The Cardinals won the NFC West for the first time since 1975 going back to the glory days of quarterback Jim Hart and wide receiver Mel Gray. Congratulations also goes out to Edgerin James who became only the 13th player to rush for at least 12,000 yards in a career. Kurt Warner continued to play well, throwing for 279 yards and a touchdown, but it was Arizona’s defense that surprisingly came up with the big plays against the Rams. The Cardinals scored two touchdowns in the second half, both by the defense, including a 99-yard interception return by Domonique Rogers-Cromartie, with just over three minutes remaining in the game. The win assures the Cardinals will play at least one home game as a division winner in the playoffs for the first time in over 50 years. I still have concerns about west coast teams playing on the road against teams that play in cold temperatures during the playoffs, especially since the Cardinals have struggled to play well against cold weather teams during the regular season.
Dolphins: Miami continues to play well and stay in the hunt for a playoff spot after winning their eighth game of the season. The “Fins” did enough offensively and played solid defense in beating the slumping Bills 16-3 in Buffalo’s “home away from home”, Toronto, Canada. The Dolphins used a balanced attack on offense and their defense held the Bills offense to less than 200 yards of total offense, and one field goal, and now sits in a three-way tie with the Jets and Patriots for first place in the AFC East. With remaining games at home against the 49ers, on the road against Kansas City and at the Jets, the Dolphins have a legitimate shot at going from 1-15 last season, to making the playoffs this season.
Jets: New York continues to play like a team playing out the remainder of the season, rather than a team playing to try and win a division and make the playoffs. Shaun Hill threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns and the Niners defense held the Jets’ offense to under 200 yards of total offense, and San Francisco won their third game, under Mike Singletary, 24-14 over the visiting Jets. Brett Favre was ineffective, throwing for only 137 yards and one interception, and Thomas Jones was held to only 52 yards on the ground. New York is now 0-2 on the west coast, after losing 16-13 in overtime to the pathetic Raiders back in October, and still have one more road game against the struggling Bills. The fallout of “Gang Green” comes at a time when the Patriots and Dolphins are playing well and are now tied for first place with the Jets. The once thought of “best team in the AFC” better get it together fast or they will find themselves on the outside looking in at a division crown, not to mention making the playoffs.
Giants: Well, it’s been a while since the “G-MEN” took a step back and dropped into the “bad” category, but they did after they struggled to move the ball and score offensively and defensively. They looked lost and out of position especially when trying to defend Bryan Westbrook, in losing at home to the Philadelphia Eagles 20-14. New York didn’t seem to be enthusiastic, but I think it was a product of so many tough games, they had to get mentally prepared for week-after-week, and the fact they were playing a divisional foe in the Eagles, not because some alleged distraction by the Plaxico Burress situation, so don’t believe the mainstream media hype. The Giants are fine and despite the loss should still finish with the best record in their conference and home field, throughout the playoffs. If they struggle in Dallas or at home the next couple of weeks, then Giant fans may have reason to be concerned.
Bills: I told you guys weeks ago, Buffalo would fade after their 5-1 start, and they have, after losing to the Miami Dolphins 16-3. The offense is inept and can’t run the ball, their quarterback play is inconsistent and the defense gives up too many big plays. It’s time to say the reason they will not make the playoffs, in two words: Norv Turner……..Just kidding………..Dick Jauron.
Redskins: After getting off to a 6-2 start, Washington converted back to the “Dead Skins”, after yet another loss, this time to the Baltimore Ravens in the I-95 showdown, 24-10 in Baltimore. The offense continues to sputter, largely because the Redskins refuse to commit to running the football. When the Redskins began the season 6-2, Clinton Portis averaged 23 rushes for 118 yards per game and had 7 touch downs, since then, the Skins are 1-4, with Portis averaging only 16 rushes per game for a little over 60 yards per game and 1 touchdown, and in the one win in that span, he rushed the ball 24 times for over 100 yards. I know Portis is banged up but he is a gamer, a team player, and if he can walk on the field, he will play in the game. Portis and Head Coach, Jim Zorn got into a war of words, when Zorn questioned Portis’ manhood by making reference to Portis skipping practice during the week. Needless to say Portis was angry and called Zorn out on a local radio show in D.C. The Redskins have lots of problems and they start with Zorn and his inability to be flexible on offense, in particular at half time when they are trailing in games. If Zorn continues to call plays like he has on the field and handle his players the way he does off the field, the Redskins will not make the playoffs and Mr. Zorn will not be around too long.
Packers: Green Bay is officially out of playoff contention. After getting off to a great start in the first half of the season, the Packers have lost their way in the second half, after another home loss, this time to the mediocre Texans 24-21. Once again Aaron Rodgers played well and once again the defense couldn’t hold a lead, as the Texans won on a last-second field goal by Kris Brown, giving them their fourth straight win, and sending the Pack to their third straight loss. Houston’s offense had success both in the air and on the ground. Matt Schaub returned from injury to scorch the Packers’ secondary for 414 yards and two touchdowns, while Steve Slaton killed the Packers’ defense on the ground with 120 yards. Aaron Rodgers and Ryan Grant did their part to keep the Packers close in the game. Rodgers threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns, while Grant ran for 104 yards and a touchdown, but it wasn’t enough. Two things have let the Packers down this season: their defense and the weather. The defense, which was thought to be a strong point for the team, has given up too many big plays and too many yards especially at home. The cold temperatures in Green Bay this time of year has little or no affect on two teams from the south over the last two weeks. The Panthers and the Texans.
Buccaneers: Tampa should absolutely be ashamed of themselves after that pathetic performance Monday night against the Panthers. They allowed two running backs to get well over 100 yards each, and were physically man handled in their 38-23 loss to Carolina in Charlotte. The once proud defense, under Monte Kiffin, with it’s signature “Cover 2″ scheme, was shredded, and great players like Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber and others were run through, over, and around, all evening. The offense played okay, but didn’t have the fire power to stay with the Panthers and their power running attack. Some questioned if Kiffin had his mind on joining his son at the end of the season at the University of Tennessee, acting in the same role, but I just think the Bucs’ defense is overrated and they missed a lot of tackles. The loss could very well cost them the division, but they are still in the driver’s seat as the top wild card team.
Rams: St. Louis is just bad. Enough said.
Raiders: Oakland is the only team that can makes K.C. look good. Enough said.
Browns: No offense, no quarterback and coming soon, no GM or head coach.
Bengals: See the Browns and add NO DEFENSE.
Chiefs: See the Rams, Raiders, Browns and Bengals.
Games to watch week 15:
1. Pittsburgh at Baltimore
Key matchup: The Steelers’ defense vs. the Ravens’ defense. This will be the most physical game of the week. Both teams have defenses that pressure the quarterback and have players in the secondary that make big plays. Simply put, the defense that forces the opposing team’s quarterback to make mistakes and creates the most turnovers wins the game. The Steelers’ offensive line has the most pressure, because Ben Roethlisberger has been beaten up all year and any significant injury could severely hurt their chances of going deep into the playoffs.
2. Giants at Dallas
Key matchup: The Giants’ defense vs. the Cowboys’ running game. Last week the Steelers did a good job in stopping the run, which forced Tony Romo to try and do too much in the passing game. Results: three interceptions. If the defending Champs stop the Cowboys’ running game with or without Marion Barber, I think they can intercept Romo at least twice and maybe one of the picks will go for six. The Giants have to be concerned with their own running game against the Cowboys as Brandon Jacobs may not play due to injury.
3. Tampa Bay at Atlanta
Key matchup: Jeff Garcia vs. Matt Ryan. This is a must-win for both teams. I think both teams will be able to run the ball, so the came will come down to quarterback play. The quarterback that makes the most big plays in the passing game, limits his mistakes and converts on third down will win the game. I like Garcia more than Ryan in this game, because he can improvise, he is much more mobile, he has a lot of experience and he plays exceptionally well in these types of games.
4. Minnesota at Arizona
Key matchup: Adrian Peterson vs. the Cardinal defense. This is a must-win game for the Vikings, in taking another step towards winning the NFC North and making the playoffs. The Cardinals’ defense will try and stop Peterson and force Tarvaris Jackson to throw the ball and make mistakes, which is why the Vikings must have success in the running game to take the pressure off Jackson. The Vikings are hoping the Cardinals will have a let down, because they’ve already won their division and are in the playoffs.
5. Denver at Carolina
Key matchup: The Denver defense vs. the Panthers’ running game. This game is simple. The Broncos will try to exploit the Panthers’ secondary, which has struggled over the last few weeks, while the Panthers will try to use DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to control the ball and keep the Broncos’ offense off the field. If the Broncos’ defense can somehow stop the Panthers’ running game, they can pull off the upset in Charlotte, but if their defense plays like the Bucs did last week– giving up 300 yards on the ground–the game will be over early. I know the Broncos defense has been playing better lately, but this will be a very tough task.
My top 15 teams after week 14:
1. N.Y. Giants
6. Tampa Bay
11. N.Y. Jets
Best performance a Division I college football team:
The University of Buffalo
What a job Turner Gill has done in a short time. The Bulls forced four fumbles and scored off each fumble in routing the previously undefeated Cardinals of Ball State 42-24, to win the Mid-American Conference Championship. The Bulls returned two fumbles for touchdowns, on the way to their first MAC Title. Josh Thomas took one fumble back 92 yards and Sherrod Lott took another fumble down the field 74 yards for another touchdown. The win capped the school’s first bowl appearance since they stepped up to the Division I level. Buffalo will now face the UConn from the Big East in the International Bowl in Toronto, Canada. The game could be the last for Gill as Buffalo’s Head Coach, because he’s been contacted by several schools to fill their coaching vacancies, including Syracuse and Auburn. The Bulls won only ten games over a seven year span, before Gill became Head Coach in 2006.
Worst performance by a Division I college football team:
What a horrible performance by the Eagles against the Hokies of Virginia Tech. Tyrod Taylor scored two touchdowns in the first half and Darren Evans ran for 114 yards and a touchdown, as Virginia Tech routed Boston College 30-12 in the ACC Championship. Boston College could only manage 13 first downs, had the ball for only 24 minutes, was 3 of 15 on third down, 0 for 2 on fourth down, managed only 45 yards rushing and turned the ball over four times. Since betraying the Big East and joining the ACC, Boston College still seeks its first outright title. The best they have done was a four way tie for the Big East Championship back in 2004.
Don’t forget to check out my show, on blogtalkradio.com, called “The Batchelor Pad”, which airs Monday through Friday, 6pm-8pm EST. We discuss the world of sports from a social, economic and racial standpoint. Just go to the site and type “Batchelor” in the search section.
Until next week…….Stay positive, be safe and enjoy the games!