December 22, 2014

Behind The Star: The Latest on the Dallas Cowboys

It certainly has been an interesting off-season for the Cowboys.  We have already discussed the coaching changes and wondered how those changes will affect the defense.  The Cowboys have done little to upgrade the defense but are counting on the injuries that ravaged the D last year not to happen again.  Not the best plan in the world but one that could bear fruit if it comes to fruition.  Franchising LB/DE Anthony Spencer looks to have been a mistake.  First you have the issue of having no idea how he will perform as a DE in a 4-3 defense.  Second, the Cowboys misread the market and grossly overpaid Spencer, even if it is for one year.  This may make signing Spencer to a long term deal problematic.  He has 10+ million guaranteed this season, seems unlikely to take less annually.

 

The offense however seems to be a revolving storyline.  First there was QB Tony Romo’s contract extension.  Yeah, he has $55 million coming to him in guaranteed money and could make as much as $108 million over the life of the contract.  Not sure where all the hatred is coming from.  Is he worth that contract?  No, of course not, but almost no quarterback is, but that is what the market will pay, and you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think anyone of a dozen other organizations would be watering at the mouth to sign Romo had the Cowboys let him play out his deal.  Plus, Romo had all the leverage, the Cowboys were up against the cap and needed to sign him to a long term deal in order to not only get under the cap, but sign a free agent or two.  Owner and General Manager Jerry Jones didn’t help matters any by stating that because of the amount of the contract that Romo will need to spend more time helping with the game plan.  Problem is Jones made it sound like Romo wasn’t studying enough, wasn’t helping the team enough before the contract.  Of course this isn’t true but the media ran with it, there looking for any story at this time of year and Jones should’ve known better.  Romo is a lightning rod for criticism and Jones pretty much served him up on a silver platter.  Would be nice if he just kept his mouth shut for once.

 

The other headache has been what to do with RT Doug Free.  Any way you slice it Free has been terrible the past two seasons.  Now maybe you can give him a pass because he switched from LT to RT but that should have helped him as theoretically he is facing a lesser player.  Didn’t really seem to work out that way last year as Free was pushed around like he was a blocking sled.  Just like Jones however, he didn’t want to admit he made a huge mistake when he signed Free to a four-year $32 million contract.  Listen, Jones can’t be criticized for that contract, Free once again had leverage, came off a good year, and played that into a good contract.  He just went belly up, that happens, time to move on.  Problem is they let the saga of whether to cut him or re-negotiate his contract go on for months.  This cost them any chance at signing an upgrade at RT.  Someone who won’t get Romo killed, and let’s face it, without a good OL, it doesn’t matter how potent your skill players are.  Free agreed to a cut his salary in half, that may save room against the cap, but it won’t protect Romo any better or open up holes in the running game.  They should have cut him and moved on to Tyson Clabo or Eric Winston, either one of which would be an upgrade and would’ve cost the same.

 

As for the draft.  Plenty of controversy there as well.  Everything went the wrong way for the Cowboys in the first round.  Every player they really wanted at #18 was taken before they were on the clock.  They decided to trade down, no shock, Jones loves to do this.  They passed up on taking DT Sharrif Floyd, someone who could’ve given them immediate help at DT.  Floyd was a consensus top 10 pick by most pundits and fell to #23 so Dallas was far from the only team that seemed to have their doubts.  The trade they made with San Francisco netted them an extra third-round pick.  Depending upon which chart you go by, Dallas probably didn’t get enough in return, and the trade looked even worse later when Minnesota gave up a boatload to get back into the first-round.  As for their picks, they chose to surround Romo with even more talent but probably needed to pick another OL to make sure he stays upright this season.  Here is a look at the Cowboys draft.

 

Round 1 (31)  C  Travis Frederick:  The worst kept secret was that Dallas would take an offensive lineman in the first round.  Frederick may have been a reach to be taken here, but he was the consensus top C in the draft.  Should be a day one starter.

 

Round 2 (47)  TE  Gavin Escobar:  Seems to be a luxury pick as Dallas already has a possible future Hall of Famer in Jason Witten and James Hanna also looked promising last season.  Dallas seems to want to copycat the New England offense and go with at two TE formation the majority of the time.

 

Round 3 (74)  WR Terrance Williams:  Could be a steal and if he can pick up the offense right away, yet another day one starter.  He will more than likely start on the outside, allowing Miles Austin to line up in the slot.

 

Round 3 (80)  S  J.J. Wilcox:  They do like to gamble on safeties in the middle of the draft.  Jury is still out on Matt Johnson who missed all of last season.  Wilcox is as raw as they come, but does have upside.  Best case scenario is he can watch and learn for most of this season.

 

Round 4 (114)  CB  B.W. Webb:  With this being a passing league you can never have enough cover corners and Webb looks like he could be a replacement for Orlando Scandrick at some point this year.

 

Round 5 (151)  RB  Joseph Randle:  Insurance in case DeMarco Murray gets hurt again.  Also a good back in his own right that could carve out some playing time for himself.

 

Round 6 (185)  OLB  Devonte Holloman:  Depth signing who could provide help on special teams.

 

The last bit of news would be the schedule.  Finally looks like Dallas received a favorable one and I’m not talking about who they play.  There really is no way to determine how good or bad a team will be until sometime in August.  The reason the schedule is good, they both open and close the season at home.  Critics love to point out that Dallas has lost make or break games in Week 17 in three of past four seasons, but what they don’t say is that all of those games came on the round (at Philadelphia, at Giants, at Washington).  So this is good news.  There bye week is also after Week 10.  Teams generally prefer a bye later in the season because this is when injuries build up.  They also only play two road games in a row, once, the bad news however is that they may have to play in three cold weather games, at Giants 11/24, at Chicago 12/9, and at Washington 12/22.  All in all not bad though.

 

 

Feel free to follow me on twitter, @georgeKurtz

 

Behind The Star: The Latest on the Dallas Cowboys

I wasn’t really planning on writing another column about the Cowboys until after free agency had started in March and before the draft in April, but with all of the changes on the coaching staff in the last three weeks I just couldn’t wait to add in my two cents.

 

Really didn’t believe they needed to fire defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.  Sure his defense hasn’t performed up to standards the last two seasons but you really can’t penalize someone when half of his starting unit was on IR before Week 8.  Think about the injuries Dallas had on defense.  Middle linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter were both lost to toe and elbow injuries respectively. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff was never placed on IR but missed approximately half the season.  Free safety Barry Church missed just about all of the season with an Achilles tear.  Slot Cornerback Orlando Scandrick broke his hand forcing him on IR.  Defensive tackle Josh Brent was of course arrested for manslaughter in the deal of teammate Jerry Brown.  Even the best player on defense this season, linebacker Anthony Spencer, missed two games due to injury.  This doesn’t even take into account that future Hall of Fame linebacker DeMarcus Ware played all season with elbow and shoulder injuries that probably should have landed him on IR also.  I’m not getting on Jerry Jones for firing Ryan, but don’t place the blame at Ryan’s feet either.  Just one of those years where the injury bug reached up and took a big bite.

 

So who do the Cowboys hire to replace Ryan?  Monte Kiffin, 72 year old, Monte Kiffin.  Really don’t think this hiring makes much sense at all.  Kiffin runs a 4-3/Tampa 2 defense.  Dallas currently has a 3-4 defense.  Obvious problems exist.  Does Dallas have enough lineman to run a 4-3.  Answer, no.  How will Ware do lining up with his hand in the dirt, directly taking on a tackle?  His body is already breaking down.  This can’t be a good thing for him at this point in his career.  Does this mean that Spencer, who has had back to back big seasons, will be let go to free agency?  An even bigger question is how the secondary responds.  Tampa 2 is designed to have two ball hawking safeties play well off the line of scrimmage and take half the field  each.  The idea is to prevent the big play, force teams to dink and dunk.  Why you ask?  It’s hard to have 10+ play drives without making a mistake that short circuits the possession.  Sacks, penalties, or turnovers would theoretically get the ball back to the offense.  Once again the problem is the Cowboys don’t have the correct personnel to run this defense.  Everyone knows the safeties are subpar.  Have been since Darren Woodson retired.  The cornerbacks in this defense are also asked to play more zone than man.  This directly contradicts what Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne do best, play man to man defense.  Doesn’t make much sense when you just paid Carr a boatload of money and traded up in the 2012 draft to get Claiborne.  all of this may not matter if Dallas didn’t have other needs to fill on the team or if they had a ton of cap room, but Dallas also needs to address the offensive line in a big way, and they will be approximately $18-$20 million over the cap heading into free agency.  By the time Dallas is successful in the defense, Kiffin could easily be in his mid 70s.  Once again it looks like Jones wanted a name coach, wanted to make a splash instead of doing what was best for the team.

 

The good news about the hiring of Kiffin was that Dallas was able to hire Rod Marinelli to coach the defensive line.  Marinelli should instantly make the line better and could also take over the defense if/when Kiffin retires.

 

On offense Jerry Jones has basically neutered head coach Jason Garrett.  When Jones hired Garrett he stated that he wanted someone who would call their own plays, not wanting a stand around coach.  Well that didn’t work out now did it.  Although Garrett did seem to get better this season in that department it seemed pretty clear that he couldn’t call the plays and run a game at the same time, so those duties will now fall to offensive line coach Bill Callahan.  So let me get this straight.  Jones just gave a promotion to a coach, whose unit was the worst on the team.  So much for accountability.  Jones also forced the ouster of tight ends coach John Garrett, yeah, Jason’s brother.  To recap, he takes away the play calling responsibilities from his head coach, forces the head coaches brother to find employment elsewhere, changes the defense completely, and hires a coach (Marinelli) that could easily be the next head coach of the team.  You can write this in stone, Garrett is as good as gone if the Cowboys don’t win 10+ games or make the playoffs next season.

 

Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis is also no longer with the team, accepting a similar position with the Bears.  Running backs coach Skip Peete and kicking coach Chris Boniol are gone as well.  Didn’t kicker Dan Bailey just finish off the best two seasons any Cowboy kicker has ever had?  Oh well, maybe this is reverse accountability.  Do your job poorly, Marinelli, you get a promotion, do it well, Boniol, and you are let go.  This seems to be how things go in big D.

All Out Blitz: NFL News & Notes

Arizona Cardinals:  Well the axe fell on head coach Ken Whisenhunt on Monday.  Can’t really blame the Cardinals for wanting to change the direction of their franchise but also can’t blame Whisenhunt either.  It all comes down to the quarterback position, and the Cardinals don’t have one right now.  Is Kevin Kolb the answer?  The Cards didn’t seem to think so when they went after Peyton Manning in the off-season.  Makes you wonder if they think so now.

Atlanta Falcons:  Everything is set up nicely for the Falcons.  They have home field advantage once again in the NFC.  They don’t want to blow it this time around.  The NFC seems to be wide open with no truly dominant team, but a matchup in the second round against the Seahawks wouldn’t be a good thing.  Seattle has two really good corners to match up against WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones, and Marshawn Lynch may run all over that defense.  If Atlanta were to lose their first playoff game, they are going to be put in the same class as the Dallas Cowboys, can’t win the big one under this regime.

Baltimore Ravens:  Baltimore will play Indianapolis in the wildcard round of the playoffs.  probably not the greatest of matchups for the Ravens as Colts head coach Chuck Pagano is very familiar with the Baltimore team, having coached there for so many year.  The Ravens have looked like a shell of themselves this season.  Do they have a big game in them?  Possibly, but they need to have RB Ray Rice touch the ball 25+ times, take the pressure off of QB Joe Flacco, and the defense can’t let up the big play, put pressure on Colts QB Andrew Luck, he is still a rookie after all, he will make mistakes.

Buffalo Bills:  No big shock that head coach Chan Gailey and his staff were let go on black Monday.  Question now is, who takes over?  What does the new staff do with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick?  What do they do with RB Fred Jackson?  Even the owner, Ralph Wilson may have had enough as he has ceded control of the team to Russ Brandon.  Wouldn’t say the team is a mess, but they are not all that tidy and clean either.

Carolina Panthers:  Having a hard time wondering why everyone is penciling in QB Cam Newton in the number four spot in fantasy rankings for next season.  I like him as a top 10 but can’t put him above someone like Peyton Manning.  He’s in that next tier for me, would like to see Carolina surround him with a few more weapons as well.

Chicago Bears:  The Bears were yet another team to dismiss their head coach Monday as Lovie Smith was let go.  When you start off a season 8-1 and then fail to make the playoffs, well the writing is kind of on the wall, now isn’t it…..Wide receiver Brandon Marshall had 188 targets this season.  That’s almost 12 a game.  Bears have to find a complementary receiver next season or pray that Alshon Jeffery becomes that player.

Cincinnati Bengals:  Can the Bengals do this year what they couldn’t last year?  Beat the Texans in the playoffs.  Would seem unlikely.  The Bengals as a franchise have never won a road playoff game.  One has to believe that Houston will do all they can to take WR A.J. Green out of the game plan and force Cincinnati to find an alternate means of winning the game.  Do the Bengals have another way?  Their defense is good, front seven may be one of the best in the game, but can it be dominating enough to keep the score down?  Have a feeling this is a 20-17 type of game.

Cleveland Browns:  Pat Shurmur is done as head coach of the Browns.  I’m not surprised, a new owner usually does want his own personnel and that extends to the coaching staff.  Still believe the Browns are on the right path but they play in a rough division and will need a couple more productive drafts and free agent signings to compete with the Steelers, Bengals, and Ravens…..First order of business should be getting RB Trent Richardson healthy.  Richardson admitted after the season that he played most of this season with broken ribs, ouch.

Dallas Cowboys:  The Cowboys are certainly disappointed with how their season ended.  They once again lost a win and get in game.  Granted it was on the road once again, but still, a disappointing loss none the less.  Quarterback Tony Romo had a miserable game anyway you look at it.  I know he played with a cracked rib and that didn’t help matters, but three interceptions, all of which look to be his fault, that just can’t happen.  Dallas will re-sign him, he’s still a top eight QB in the NFL, but they need to build a better supporting cast around him.  Specifically they need to address the offensive line, all three of those picks were on blitzes.

Denver Broncos:  From missing the entire 2011 season to the top seed in the AFC, pretty incredible season for QB Peyton Manning…..Are the Broncos the best team in the AFC?  They did play the easiest schedule, seemed to lose to every good team they faced, still though, don’t see anyone anxious to travel to Denver to play them…..Running back Willis McGahee can return from the IR if the Broncos make the AFC Championship game.

Detroit Lions:  Jim Schwartz is one head coach that has survived the chopping block and should continue to do so.  His contract still has a few years left on it which should allow him to get at least one more season to put things together in Detroit…..Schwartz did come out and say this week that there is still a place on the team for WR Titus Young.  A little surprising seeing as how the season ended with those two but probably the right thing to do as Young does have upside, but almost zero trade value right now.

Green Bay Packers:  Bewilders me how the Packers defense knows the run is coming, is playing the run, yet still gets gashed over and over again by Vikings RB Adrian Peterson.  That’s 409 yards he has gained against them in two games this season.  Packers defense can’t be looking forward to the third game Saturday night…..Cornerback Charles Woodson should finally make his return to action in this game…..WR Greg Jennings could be playing his last game in Green Bay.

Houston Texans:  What a terrible ending to the regular season for the Texans.  They peaked to early and stumbled to the end.  Not having a first round bye more than likely cost them any chance at reaching the Super Bowl this year, just don’t see them beating Denver and New England both on the road…..Head coach Gary Kubiak stated this week that the offense needs to get TE Owen Daniels more involved once again.  Against that Bengals defense, it might come down to the passing game as the front seven could make things difficult for RB Arian Foster.

Indianapolis Colts:  What a great game for the Colts last week.  Not only did they welcome the return of their head coach, Chuck Pagano, back to the sidelines, but they defeated a division rival, a rival that needed to win the game in order to secure home field advantage in the AFC…..The Colts still have issues, this is a young team now that will make mistakes, but they also can be fun to watch and will grow and get better because of what they went through this season.

Jacksonville Jaguars:  What is there to say about the Jaguars?  They picked the wrong year to bottom out and get a top two pick in the draft.  There is no franchise QB worthy of being picked in that spot.  Will they sign QB Tim Tebow if he is released by the Jets, maybe.  Is he worth it, probably not.  He will sell tickets and is probably better than Chad Henne or Blaine Gabbert, but is that really saying all that much?

Kansas  City Chiefs:  I think we all knew that head coach Romeo Crennel was going to get canned Monday, but it was a little surprising that general manager Scott Pioli wasn’t let go as well…..Andy Reid is being mentioned as a possible candidate for the job.  If he were to go there, does QB Michael Vick follow?  Reid certainly won’t live with Brady Quinn and Matt Cassel and like Jacksonville, there just isn’t an Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III to take with the first overall pick.

Miami Dolphins:  The Dolphins have already let it be known that they will be interested in Mike Wallace and/or Greg Jennings should they become available on the free agent market.  Jennings would seem to be the favorite as he is well known to head coach Joe Philbin from his time with the Packers.  Miami needs a number one receiver badly in order to continue the development of QB Ryan Tannehill.  Funny thing about Tannehill, he had an okay season, but if he were to come out this season, he’d be the top QB taken.

Minnesota Vikings:   What a season RB Adrian Peterson has had.  Can’t believe he is able to gash all of these defenses when they know the run is coming.  The fact that he is doing it with virtually no passing game and coming off of ACL surgery just adds to the lore…..Can the Vikings beat the Packers in back to back games.  Would seem unlikely, but they are built to win games on the ground outdoors in cold weather with AP.  Saturday night in Green Bay, supposed to be a balmy 24 degrees.

New England Patriots:  Is there anyone that really doesn’t want to see QBs Tom Brady and Peyton Manning hook up in the AFC Championship game?  I know I do…..Tight end Rob Gronkowski returned last week in a limited variety and caught a couple of passes, one for a TD.  With a week off thanks to the bye Gronk should be at full strength in the divisional round of the playoffs.

New Orleans Saints:  No big surprise that Sean Peyton will return as head coach of the team.  Eight million per year will keep him, the offense, and the fans pretty happy…..We’re hearing plenty of rumors that a few of the players believe defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo should be fired.  Apparently he didn’t mesh well with the players and we all know they didn’t perform for him.  Saints need to fix that defense or else next season will be another one where the offense will need to bail them out time and time again.

New York Giants:  The Giants went out with a bang this season, obliterating the Eagles on the final Sunday, but it wasn’t enough as the Bears victory over Detroit sent them packing for the off-season.  When the Giants watched the Cowboys and Redskins play Sunday night for the NFC East division crown, they had to be thinking  we are a better team than both.  Truth is, they probably are, but were so inconsistent that they played down to their level of competition…..Word came out Monday that WR Hakeem Nicks came back in about half the time that he should’ve from his knee injury, this does explain quite a bit…..DE Osi Umenyirora has more than likely played his last game in a Giants uniform.

New York Jets:  What a mess it is in Jets’ land.  The Tim Tebow experiment blew up in their faces.  It cost GM Mike Tannebaum his job, probably OC Tony Sparanos also.  Head coach Rex Ryan has survived for now, but he will be on the hot seat from training camp on next season…..The Jets need playmakers, anywhere and everywhere.  What will they do at quarterback.  Can’t really go into next season with Mark Sanchez as your number one.  They could be in a position to draft Matt Barkley out of USC, but his status has taken a huge hit this year.  Barkley may have cost himself millions by not coming out last year.

Oakland Raiders:  Terrelle Pryor did okay in his first NFL start.  Still not sure that he is the long term answer as a starter for Oakland, but a good backup is a possibility…..The Raiders have some cap problems, but nothing that can’t be fixed.  They need to fix the defense badly and an upgrade on the offensive line wouldn’t hurt either…..By firing their offensive coordinator the Raiders have admitted that a zone blocking scheme is not what’s best suited for RB Darren McFadden, then again with the amount of games he missed due to injury, the NFL may not suit him either.

Philadelphia Eagles:  Head coach Andy Reid is gone, will QB Michael Vick be next?  One has to think so but that also could depend on whether the new coach wants a veteran or a second year QB that the jury is still out on…..One has to believe that a new coaching staff will use RB LeSean McCoy next season more than Reid ever did, especially with Bryce Brown to back him up…..As mentioned earlier, wouldn’t it be kind of ironic if Vick ends up with Reid in Arizona, replacing Kevin Kolb once again?

Pittsburgh Steelers:  Will the Steelers franchise or re-sign WR Mike Wallace?  Probably not.  With Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders in the fold Pitt would seem to have more pressing needs than signing another high priced receiver…..What the Steelers end up doing at running back should also be interesting.  Who comes back out of Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, and Jonathan Dwyer?

San Diego Chargers:  We all knew HC Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith were as good as gone, I’m a little bit surprised they aren’t interested in Andy Reid, but perhaps they want a new head coach rather than a recycled one…..Running back Ryan Matthews has to be one of the biggest busts this NFL season.  Think he had more broken clavicles than touchdowns…..Tight end Antonio Gates came on at the end of the season, but still think he’s going to fall off a cliff as far as production.

San Francisco 49ers:  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick may not have any chemistry with TE Vernon Davis, making him pretty irrelevant in the passing game, but he certainly knows where WR Michael Crabtree is.  Crabtree and Kap could be quite the combination for years to come…..I truly have no problems with the 49ers signing another kicker as David Akers has struggled all season, but Billy Cundiff, really.  When did this guy become mister accurate?  Do you really want him making a game winning or tying kick in the fourth quarter?  Ask the Ravens how that worked out.

Seattle Seahawks:  Now I have Green Bay and New England reaching the Super Bowl, but if you were asking me to pick an undergo, Seattle would be it.  They match up pretty well against Washington.  They will run the ball with RB Marshawn Lynch, and there defense is good enough to keep RB Alfred Morris in check.  I also like their probable matchup against the Falcons should they win.  Cornerback Richard Sherman and company can cover WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White, and Atlanta has a poor run defense.

St. Louis Rams:  The Rams will look to improve their offensive line in the off-season.  They also need to find a true number one receiver and decide what to do with RB Steven Jackson.  Jackson can become a free agent in March but has stated that he would like to return to the team…..Kicker Greg Zuerlein started off looking like the second coming of Nick Lowery, but struggled as the season went along.  He ended up with a 70.1%, not good enough.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  What to think about the Bucs?  They looked good for about the first two thirds of the season before once again falling apart at the end.  Will they bring in a veteran QB to challenge Josh Freeman next season?  When his play fell off, so did the teams.  Head coach Greg Schiano also needs to fix the defense, a defense that looked terrible down the stretch outside of DT Gerald McCoy.  McCoy made his first Pro Bowl this season and could be a fixture in the middle of their defensive line until the next decade.

Tennessee Titans:  Wide receiver Kenny Britt believe he will be at full strength next season, good news for an offense that needs all the help they can get…..Running back Chris Johnson could be released by the team for cap reasons, but that is unlikely to happen.   Would also be good to see what Johnson could do behind an average to good offensive line…..For now it looks like Mike Munchak will remain as head coach, but he’s yet another HC that will be on the hot seat next season.

Washington Redskins:  Who would’ve ever thought the Redskins would win the NFC East after starting the season 3-6, just incredible.  The hit gold with QB Robert Griffin III but did even better with RB Alfred Morris.  Morris won’t win rookie of the year because of the seasons that Andrew Luck and RGIII had, but he is the MVP in fantasy leagues.  Morris was either drafted late or not at all in most leagues due to fantasy owners not trusting Mike Shanahan, but if you drafted him or claimed him off of waivers, you hit the jackpot.  Still think the Skins season comes to an end Sunday.

 

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, @georgekurtz

Behind The Star: The Latest on the Dallas Cowboys

Happy New Year everyone.  It won’t be for the Dallas Cowboys as their loss to the Redskins on Sunday officially ended their season.  Certainly wasn’t the way the Cowboys wanted to go out.  Losing 28-18, allowing well over 200 yards rushing, more questionable decisions from Jason Garrett, and three more interceptions by QB Tony Romo.

 

We’ll start with Romo and beat the dead horse.  Romo had a terrible game, no ifs ands or buts about it.  All three of those picks seem to be on him.  Sure WR Kevin Ogletree might not have run as hard as Romo expected on the first pick and WR Miles Austin once again let a cornerback win a jump ball, but both throw were pretty horrible.  It might be nice if Cowboy receivers could break up a pass every now and again, but in the end, Romo has to make better throws.  For the sake of honesty, I’ll let it be known that I’m a believer in Tony Romo.  I believe he is a top eight quarterback in the NFL, but his numbers in games in win or go home games are terrible.  I can make excuses for most of those games.  Against Philly when they lost 44-6, the whole team was pathetic.  Same against the Vikings in the playoffs.  Last year versus the Giants he was playing with a banged up thumb that certainly looked to hinder his abilities.  Now we do know that Romo cracked a rib during the game Sunday, if it occurred early in the game, than perhaps he has another excuse, but after a while, it just doesn’t matter, you have to win the game.

 

As for Jason Garrett, he deserves props for how he handled a season that began with a 3-5 start, the death of LB Jerry Brown, the indictment of DT Josh Brent in that death, and the loss of over 100 man games due to injury on defense, but in the end, he still has problems with game management and makes to many questionable decisions.  Not going for a 51-yard field goal with under a minute left in the first half with a slight wind at your back made no sense.  Kicker Dan Bailey had only missed one FG all season, granted, it was a 52-yarder against Baltimore, but still, you have to trust him there.

 

As for the defense, it wasn’t a shock that Washington was able to run the ball down the throat of the Cowboys.  They were missing their top three defense tackles, top two inside linebackers, and top safety, not to mention OLB DeMarcus Ware was basically playing with one arm and probably shouldn’t have been playing at all.  The defense did the best they could and in the end it wasn’t enough.  A turnover or two would be nice but this defense hasn’t been able to do accomplish that feat all season.  They did a great job early on of holding the Redskins in check after two early turnovers by the offense and were in position to give the ball back to the offense only down six points (assuming the Skins kicked the field goal) before a roughing the passer call against DE Jason Hatcher.

 

I took some heat on twitter for questioning the call on the Hatcher penalty.  Sometimes it’s hard to explain in 140 characters or less what you’re talking about.  Technically the call was correct.  Hatcher did hit Washington QB Robert Griffin III in the head when he came down after jumping to try and knock the pass down.  The hit was not malicious, didn’t even knock RGIII down.  What really bothered me however was that the officials had decided to let both teams play throughout the entire game, basically throwing the flags away, keeping them in their pocket.  Then to call that penalty, thus for all intensive purposes, ending the game, just really bothered me.  Once again, I’m not blaming the referee for the Cowboys’ loss, that squarely falls on Romo, but when you don’t call penalties all game, then you can’t call that penalty in that situation either.

 

As for Romo, he had a terrible game.  Perhaps the cracked rib played a part of it, perhaps not.  That being said, this is who Dallas will ride with for the next 3-4 seasons.  Is he going to get better at this point in his career.  Unlikely, he is 32 years of age.  He does need however to make smarter throws.  He also needs receivers however that will be where they are supposed to be.  Ogletree needs to go.  Dwayne Harris deserves the number three role.  Austin needs to stay healthy for the entire season and live up to the big contract that he signed a few years back.  Running back DeMarco Murray also needs to stay healthy.  Murray is a quality back, but you can’t keep missing half the season.  Would also be nice if Murray would use his vision to avoid defenders rather than just run them over.

 

One final thought on the Skins game.  Even if Dallas had won, they would be playing Seattle on Sunday either without Miles Austin (ankle), Dez Bryant (back, finger), and Romo (rib), or they would be severely hindered.  Their execution would’ve just been delayed a week.

 

As for the off-season.  Dallas is approximately $20 million over the projected 2013 salary cap.  So they have decisions to make.  NT Jay Ratliff, RB Felix Jones, and DB Mike Jenkins are probably gone.  Romo will need to be re-signed.  Is Austin asked to take a pay cut, possibly even released (unlikely) because of the cap issue?  Any chance they hire an offensive coordinator or at least a top QB coach for Romo?  The team needs players on both lines, a pass rusher, and a safety.  If they would’ve stayed healthy (many teams could say this) they would’ve had a 10+ win season.  Problem is, injuries are part of the game, you need to have depth, and the Cowboys don’t have much, and with their salary cap situation, it’s hard to see that changing next year.  Keep in mind Dallas also will be penalized $5 million for trying to circumvent the cap during the uncapped season.  Might be hard to see this team doing much better next season.

 

See you in the spring.

 

Feel free to follow me on twitter, @georgeKurtz

All Out Blitz: NFL News & Notes

Arizona Cardinals:  Well RB Beanie Wells will more than likely play his last game with the Cardinals this Sunday.  His comments regarding playing for 31 other teams this Sunday may see to that…..The Cards are so desperate at quarterback that they are going to start Brian Hoyer this week.  Good luck to the offense going up against San Francisco this Sunday…..One piece of good news I suppose is that RB Ryan Williams stated this is the best he has ever felt,  not sure that means anything though.

Atlanta Falcons:  Big question for fantasy owners this week is how much playing time the likes of QB Matt Ryan, WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones, and TE Tony Gonzalez will get.  Head coach Mike Smith has stated that he is playing to win.  That’s all fine and good, but once an injury or two happens or the game dictates, you have to figure that Smith will pull his starters.  Falcons have nothing to play for and regardless of what commissioner Roger Goddell wants, no reason to risk your most important players in a game that just doesn’t mean anything.

Baltimore Ravens:  The Cowboys should send a big thank you note to the Ravens.  Once Dallas lost to New Orleans on Sunday they lost control of their playoff destiny.  They needed Baltimore to wake up and beat the Giants.  Baltimore had come off three straight losses.  Losses that led to the dismissal of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.  Well the Ravens woke up just in time not only to help the Cowboys, but to clinch the AFC North as well…..Linebacker Ray Lewis will be activated before Sunday, but won’t play, but will be available in the playoffs.

Buffalo Bills:  Been quite a bit of speculation about what the Bills will do with RB Fred Jackson next season.  Clearly they need to go with C.J. Spiller as the lead back.  Some think the Bills should just release Jackson.  Have no problem going with Spiller, but I’m not just releasing Jackson.  You should be able to get some value for him…..Ryan Fitzpatrick may not be the starting quarterback next season either.  At the very least he is going to face some competition for the job.

Carolina Panthers:  Like the Bills one has to think that either DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart won’t be back with the team next season.  Williams’ contract is the easier one to trade so he may be the more likely candidate to be dealt…..Linebacker Luke Kuechly has had an incredible rookie season, 151 tackles, wow.

Chicago Bears:  Does anyone remember that the Bears started this season 8-1?  Now they are on the verge of missing the playoffs unless they defeat Detroit Sunday and Minnesota losses to Green Bay, unbelievable.  Fair to wonder if head coach Lovie Smith could be dismissed if they miss the playoffs…..Matt Forte is dealing with an ankle injury and practicing on a limited basis this week, best guess is that he gives it a go Sunday.

Cincinnati Bengals:  Big win by the Bengals last week over Pittsburgh.  The Steelers and Ravens for that matter were the two teams in the AFC North they haven’t been able to beat.  You can cross Pittsburgh off that list, certainly a step in the right direction…..For those of you wondering who will be kicking for the Bengals this week, it’s still going to be Josh Brown as it looks like Mike Nugent may have suffered a setback in practice Wednesday.

Cleveland Browns:  Quarterback Brandon Weeden has had an okay rookie season.  The jury is still out on whether or not Weeden will be the franchise QB the Browns have been looking for, but that is more than likely a problem for a new coaching staff as Pat Shurmur is not expected to return…..Running back Trent Richardson has seen his yards per carry take a nosedive, now he’s still a franchise back, but he has taken a beating this season, should be even better next year.

Dallas Cowboys:  Pretty simple for the Cowboys, for the third time under QB Tony Romo, if they win their last game, on the road, against a division foe, they make the playoffs.  They failed miserably against the Eagles, lost last year to the Giants (although Romo was playing with a swollen thumb) and now get to take their chances against the Redskins.  Now everyone will blame Romo if they lose, but this defense is being held together by scotch tape and puts an enormous amount of pressure on the offense to outscore the opponent…..Running back DeMarco Murray may be more important to the Cowboys winning than Romo.  Dallas needs to keep their defense off the field as much as possible, and the way to do that is in the running game.

Denver Broncos: Is Denver the best team in the AFC?  Maybe, but the truth is there really is no great team in that conference.  Denver and New England do seem to be on a collision course however and I really want to see that….. A Broncos win Sunday assures them no worse than the second seed in the playoffs.  Look for Denver to play all their regulars at least until the game against KC is out of hand.

Detroit Lions:  Congratulations to WR Calvin Johnson for setting the record for most receiving yardage in a season.  You can look at this record in one of two ways.  Positive, teams knew there was only one true threat in the Lions aerial attack and would double if not triple cover Megatron, yet he would still get the ball.  Negative, the Lions were behind in most games by more than one score that it forced the team to throw over and over again in an attempt to get back in the game, thus the yardage added up.

Green Bay Packers:  The Packers really need to win this week and get that extra week of rest a bye would give them.  Wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are banged up.  They are both practicing somewhat this week and should play Sunday, but could certainly use the time off to get back to 100%…..That extra week of rest would even mean more to CB Charles Woodson who still has yet to be medically cleared to play after breaking his collarbone earlier this season.

Houston Texans:  The Texans blew a chance last week against the Vikings to wrap up home field advantage in the AFC and are now forced to play their regulars against the Colts this week.  The Texans seem to be playing their worst football at an inopportune time and will need the advantage that comes with playing at home to advance deep into the playoffs…..Running back Arian Foster was taken out of the game last week with arrhythmia but has practiced all week and should be good to go Sunday versus the Colts.

Indianapolis Colts:  The Colts have an interesting dilemma this Sunday versus Houston.  They are locked into their playoff seeding but could still play spoiler to a division rival.  This game also marks the return of head coach Chuck Pagano to the sidelines, he has been out since late September with leukemia, so emotions will certainly be high for both the players, coaches, and fans.  Will they play their starters the entire game?  Have to think they will unless the game gets out of hand one way or the other.

Jacksonville Jaguars:  Running back Maurice Jones-Drew has been declared out for this week’s game.  This shouldn’t come as a shock, still don’t know why MJD wasn’t put on the IR weeks ago…..Wide receiver Cecil Shorts and RB Rashard Jennings were both put on IR this week, just a lost season for Jacksonville, and they still don’t have a franchise QB.

Kansas  City Chiefs:  Someone has to explain to me how a 2-13 team that is the odds on favorite to get the first overall pick in the 2013 draft can have five players selected to the Pro Bowl.  I’m one of those that believe this game should be done away with, certainly the voting system, really just a joke…..Assuming the Chiefs do get the number one pick in the draft, they will have some decisions to make, there is not a clear cut number one, and there certainly isn’t a QB that should be drafted first overall.

Miami Dolphins:  The Dolphins seem to have done an about face on RB Reggie Bush.  Earlier this season it seemed a foregone conclusion that Bush would go elsewhere in free agency but now we are hearing rumblings that the team will make an attempt to sign him.  Perhaps they are not all that thrilled with the idea of Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller taking over the running duties.  Thomas can’t stay healthy and just hasn’t done anything, and Miller is nothing more than a promising talent.

Minnesota Vikings:   Hard to believe the Vikings are in position to make the playoffs with a win Sunday over Green Bay.  With an offense that pretty much consists of RB Adrian Peterson left, AP right, and AP up the middle, they won’t go far even if they do get in…..Would really like to see AP get the all time rushing record, but unless he is able to rip off a couple of big runs, I don’t see how he will get enough carries to rush for over 200 yards, Green Bay is going to score points, and Minnesota may have to throw to keep up with them.

New England Patriots:  The Patriots may have beaten the Jaguars last week but QB Tom Brady still came down hard on the team for the performance, seems Brady doesn’t want the team to let the foot off the gas.  Probably not good news for the Dolphins this week as the game is still important for the Patriots, a loss by either Denver or Houston and New England could get a bye in the first round…..Tight end Rob Gronkowski is questionable at best to play this week, the Pats may just hold him out until the playoffs begin.

New Orleans Saints:  The Saints season is over for all intensive purposes but they are going out on a high note.  They shutout the Buccaneers, beat the Cowboys in overtime, and now will look to light up the scoreboard against the Panthers.  In fantasy leagues I’m starting all of my Saints this week…..RB Mark Ingram now has a touchdown in three of his past four games and seems to be getting more and more of the carries, although the team hasn’t forgotten about Pierre Thomas.

New York Giants:  Didn’t the Giants have a three game lead in the NFC East just a little while ago.  Now they need to beat the Eagles and have a slew of other games go their way just to make it as a wildcard…..Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks will more than likely miss the game because of his knee, a knee that really hasn’t been right all season long…..Ahmad Bradshaw should be healthy enough to at least split the rushing duties with David Wilson.

New York Jets:  Head coach Rex Ryan has been taking a ton of heat for starting Greg McElroy over Tim Tebow once he decided to bench Mark Sanchez.  Can’t really blame him though.  If he knows that Tebow won’t be with the team next season, then there really is no reason to play him this year, might as well see what McElroy can do.  McElroy won’t play this week however, seems he suffered a concussion last week on one of his 11 sacks, Sanchez get to go again.  Merry Christmas to the Buffalo Bills.

Oakland Raiders:  Quarterback Carson Palmer’s season came to a crashing end as he suffered broken ribs during the game against Carolina.  Matt Leinart and Terrelle Pryor will share the QB duties this week, yippee…..Defensive tackle Richard Seymour was put on IR with a hamstring injury.  He will be a free agent next season.

Philadelphia Eagles:  Just when you thought QB Michael Vick had played his last game in Philly, along comes a broken hand for Nick Foles and a chance for Vick to audition for a new team.  The Eagles better hope that Vick doesn’t get hurt, if he does, the Eagles will have to give him $3 million as a going away present…..Vick won’t have WR Jeremy Maclin to throw to as he looks unlikely to play due to a knee injury.

Pittsburgh Steelers:  Never thought the Steelers were all that great a team, but still surprised they won’t be in the playoffs this season.  Steelers are also one of those teams that will have to cut a few players or restructure a few contracts as they will be way over the salary cap for next season…..Couple of other things the Steelers need to figure out before next season.  Repair the relationship between OC Todd Haley and QB Ben Roethlisberger, fix the OL, find a running game, and decide if you want to hand out a big contract to WR Mike Wallace.

San Diego Chargers:  Here is hoping whomever takes over the reins in San Diego can surround QB Phillips Rivers with a solid offensive line, this would also help RB Ryan Matthews as well…..For those of you wondering who is going to start at running back this week, with Ronnie Brown most likely to miss the game due to a hamstring injury, Curtis Brinkley looks like he could start for the bolts.

San Francisco 49ers:  Not sure why the 49ers came out so flat against the Seahawks last Sunday.  It was an important game as they could’ve secured a bye in the first round with a win against the Hawks and Cardinals this week.  Now they will need the Vikings to beat Green Bay…..Wide receiver Mario Manningham has been lost for the season due to a torn ACL/PCL, tough way to end your first season with a new team, could Randy Moss take on a bigger role in the playoffs than first thought?

Seattle Seahawks:  The Hawks received a last Christmas present on Thursdays when it was announced that CB Richard Sherman had won his appeal and won’t be suspended.  Sherman won on a technicality, seems the tester mishandled his specimen.  In other words, Sherman was lucky, very very lucky…..Now the Hawks more than likely won’t have a home game in the playoffs, but they may be the hottest team going in.  Not only do we know they have a really good defense, but there offense has become a threat as well, this will not be a fun team to play once the playoffs begin.

St. Louis Rams:  Rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins is making the most of his interceptions.  He has four on the season, and has returned each one for a touchdown.  He is making the Rams look pretty smooth for taking him in the second round of the 2012 draft.  He was a first round talent who only slipped to the second round due to some concerns about his personality.  Still think the Rams should’ve drafted Robert Griffin III though.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  The Bucs had better hope that the late season regression of QB Josh Freeman is just a blip on the radar and not a sign of things to come…..The Bucs seem to be set offensively with Freeman, RB Doug Martin, and WRs Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, they need to spend a good deal of time however fixing the defense, specifically the secondary.

Tennessee Titans:  Have to wonder if head coach Mike Munchak will make it another season, owner Bud Adams is none to happy about how this season went…..Seems WR Kenny Britt is still having problems with his surgically repaired knee and will seek medical opinions after the season as to what is going on.  As of right now, more surgery is not expected.

Washington Redskins:  The Skins have won six straight games, a seventh would mean their first division title since 1999.  Amazing what QB Robert Griffin III has done for this team.  Also amazing what a good QB can do for an offensive coordinator.  Kyle Shanahan has gone from nepotism to genius in one short year…..RGIII did not look anywhere near 100% last week versus Philly.  His knee is obviously still bothering him.  Big a big boon for the Dallas defense if he can’t escape the pocket as easily as he normally would.

 

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, @georgekurtz

Behind The Star: The Latest on the Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys should send a big thank you note to the Baltimore Ravens.  Once Dallas lost to the Saints in the early game last Sunday, their playoff chances certainly looked bleak and they lost control of their own destiny, but then the Ravens completely wrecked the Giants, thus putting destiny back in Dallas’ control.  Beat the Redskins Sunday night in Washington and you win the NFC East and will more than likely host the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs.  So yeah, that was a tough loss versus the Saints, but in the end, it pretty much didn’t mean anything.  Even with a victory over New Orleans, Dallas would not have clinched a playoff spot, they just would’ve had a better chance at getting a wildcard spot if they lost this week.  So in the end, no harm, no foul, beat the Redskins in Washington and all is well in the world.

 

As for the Saints game, it turned out pretty much the way most pundits thought it would.  Lots of offense with very little defense.  The Cowboys came out playing mostly a two deep zone coverage, and Saints QB Drew Brees picked them apart.  Dallas once again had little to no pass rush allowing Brees plenty of time to find receivers wide open underneath the coverage.  Defensive coordinator was trying to protect his secondary from the deep ball, force the Saints to drive the length of the field, problem is Brees isn’t greedy, he had no problem doing that.  On offense the Cowboys scored 31 points so it would seem to be cruel to knock them but they had one huge problem, time of possession.  The Saints thoroughly dominated TOP, holding the ball almost twice as much as the Cowboys.  Why you ask?  First, they went on long drives.  The Dallas defense could not get off the field on third down.  Brees constantly converted over and over, keeping drives alive.  Dallas on the other hand seemed to strike quickly when they scored as WR Dez Bryant had two 58 yard touchdown receptions.  The scores are great, but the quick strikes along with the lack of a running game kept the Cowboy defense on the field.  Eventually this caught up to the Cowboys.  The other problem, turnovers.  For the second straight week RB DeMarco Murray fumbled the ball away in the red zone, this time his own RZ, giving the Saints an easy six points.  Dallas needs to re-establish their running game, not so much to score points, they can do that in the passing game, but because they need to keep their defense off the field as much as possible.

 

Now onto Sunday night’s game.  This is pretty simple for Dallas.  Win, and you claim the NFC East title.  Lose, and it’s yet another long off-season.  Washington played Dallas on Thanksgiving and pretty much had their way with the Cowboys, eventually winning 38-31.  Game wasn’t really as close as the final score would indicate.  Washington was up 28-3 at halftime before a furious second half comeback by the Cowboys.  Dallas actually did come within one score of tying the game, but the defense couldn’t come up with a key stop late in the fourth quarter to get the ball back to the offense for a chance to tie the game.  There is a chance the Redskins could have a playoff spot locked up before the game if a couple of earlier games go their way, but even so, they will still want a win here so that they can play at home on Wildcard Weekend.

 

The big question for the Redskins will be the health of QB Robert Griffin III.  RGIII played last week after missing a week with a sprained knee.  Now he beat the Eagles but he did so with his arm, not his legs, only rushing for four yards.  This would seem to tell you that the knee is still bothering him.  If he is forced to stay in the pocket against Dallas and not be a running threat on the outside, this would certainly play into the Cowboys favor.  Even as a pocket passer though, RGIII shouldn’t have much problem avoiding a Dallas pass rush that has been absent for most of the season.  Linebacker DeMarcus Ware is pretty much playing with one arm as he has elbow and shoulder problems.  It’s unlikely he makes it through the entire game.  His partner Anthony Spencer has had a better all around year, but has always played the run better than the pass.  The Dallas cornerbacks match up well against the Skins receivers, but the safeties don’t match up with anyone when it comes to the deep ball.  There is a reason DC Rob Ryan played a two deep zone last week versus Brees and the Saints.  He was afraid of getting beat deep down the middle.  RGIII can also take advantage of this.  Much has been made of what the weather might be like Sunday night in D. C.  As of this writing it looks like it will be cold, around freezing, but with no precipitation.  Could be windy at times though.  This is more than likely good news for Dallas because if this game turned into one that had to be won on the ground, I like the Skins and Alfred Morris more than I like the Cowboys and DeMarco Murray.  Not that I don’t like Murray, I do, but Morris has had an All-Pro year, and it’s hard to trust the Dallas defense to stop him.

 

In the end this game will more than likely come down to who plays better, Tony Romo or RGIII.  Romo is as hot as they come and is more than capable of putting up 30+ points, but in the end, as we saw at home last week against New Orleans, that just may not be enough.  Washington 31  Dallas 27

 

Happy Holidays

All Out Blitz: NFL News & Notes

Arizona Cardinals:  The Cardinals know by now that they may not have a starting quarterback on their roster, just a collection of backups.  John Skelton has proven that’s all he is and Ryan Lindley is nothing more than a project at this point in time.  That leaves us with Kevin Kolb.  Kolb can be somewhat of a caretaker, a dink and dunker who will have a good completion percentage, but not someone who is going to light up the scoreboard, not sure an Alex Smith type of QB would be all that much of an upgrade.

Atlanta Falcons:  The Falcons made quite a statement last week with their 34-0 destruction of the Giants.  Are they the best team in the NFC, possibly, but still don’t trust them in a big game against a team like the Packers…..Biggest flaw for the Falcons seems to be in the running game.  Michael Turner is really nothing more than a plodder now, a short yardage back that might break a decent run every now and again.  Jacquizz Rodgers is a more explosive back, but do they trust him in big time situations/games?

Baltimore Ravens:  The Ravens seem to be the definition of a dying team.  They don’t seem to have much of an identity right now.  They fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron because he doesn’t seem to know how to use RB Ray Rice, then new OC Jim Caldwell has the same exact problem.  The Ravens clinched a wildcard berth even though they lost last Sunday, but they look like a team that is one and done…..WR Torrey Smith suffered a concussion last week and had to leave the game, but it looks like he will return for the game this week.

Buffalo Bills:  The Bills have already gone on record as saying they will be in the market for another quarterback.  Now that’s not to say Ryan Fitzpatrick’s days as the number one QB in Buffalo are over, but they will certainly bring in some competition next season either in the form of a free agent or through the draft…..The Bills placed CB Leodis McKelvin on IR this week.  McKelvin had an average season at corner, but did return two punts for touchdowns this season.  Those in IDP leagues may want to remember his name next season if those leagues count return yardage.

Carolina Panthers:  Running back DeAngelo Williams has actually returned to prominence over the past couple of weeks.  With Jonathan Stewart still not practicing due to the ankle injury, Williams makes for an interesting start during your fantasy playoffs…..All in all this season has been a bust for Carolina, but the hierarchy has to be encouraged by the progress QB Cam Newton made after a rough start.  Future is still incredibly bright for Cam and the Panthers.

Chicago Bears:  What is happening to the Bears.  Jay Cutler looks like all the hits he has taken all season are adding up.  He’s getting jittery in the pocket and it doesn’t help that he only has one reliable receiver to throw to in Brandon Marshall, and teams are doing all they can to take him out of the game plan, thus forcing Cutler to throw somewhere else.  Problem is, there is no one else.  Alshon Jeffery had three catches last week versus Green Bay, yet all three were called back because of offensive pass interference.  Not what Cutler and the Bears had in mind.

Cincinnati Bengals:  Don’t look now but the Bengals actually control their own destiny as far as a wildcard spot and could actually win the division by winning out and if Baltimore loses to the Giants on Sunday.  Now the road is not all the easy for the Bengals.  They play Pittsburgh this week, a team they have had a tough time playing the past couple of years.  With the Bengals defensive line though, they will stop the running game, question is can they stop the big plays in the Steelers passing game.  Then can they make their own big plays in the passing game.  Quarterback Andy Dalton has had an up and down season, especially lately, he will need a big game this week and next to secure a playoff berth.

Cleveland Browns:  Seems a foregone conclusion that Pat Shurmur won’t be back as head coach next season.  Don’t really think that Shurmur has done a bad job, but a new owner has the right to choose the coach he wants.  Hear they are interested in Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.  If he were to take the job, could Jets QB Tim Tebow be far behind?  Running back Trent Richardson looks like he has hit the proverbial wall as his yards per carry have fallen off a cliff of late.

Dallas Cowboys:  How bout them Cowboys?  Once again they figured out a way to win a close game against the Steelers last week.  These past two wins on last second field goals versus Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have been impressive, not so much for the victory itself, but because these were games Dallas would usually find a way to lose, not pull out the victory…..Any chance of head coach Jason Garrett being fired have more than likely disappeared with the way the team has played of late and how he has handled the death of LB Jerry Brown.  Garrett still has some issues with his play calling and time management, but the team has bought into his system and is playing incredibly hard for him despite missing half of their starters on defense.

Denver Broncos:  Anyone who doesn’t think this is a quarterback league just needs to take a look at what a difference Peyton Manning has made to the Broncos.  Sure Tim Tebow took this team to the playoffs last season, and even won a playoff game, but on one thought they were a Super Bowl contender, now we are all wondering when the Broncos get to the big game, not if…..Speaking of Manning, is there anyone not wanting another match that pits Manning up against Tom Brady and the Patriots, bring it on.

Detroit Lions:  Now we all know about Vikings RB Adrian Peterson and his pursuit of the rushing record, well Calvin Johnson is also chasing the record for most receiving yardage in a season.  Now Megatron only needs 182 yard total in his last two games to achieve the record.  The good news, the Lions have nothing else to play for, so you know they will do everything they can to get him the ball.  The bad, teams know the same thing, the Lions have no other weapons on offense, and will do all they can to prevent Johnson from achieving that record versus them.

Green Bay Packers:  Remember that slow start the Packers got off to this season?  Forget about it.  They won the NFC North with their victory over the Bears last week and they could get a bye if they win out and the 49ers were to lose one of their final two games.  With CB Charles Woodson and WR Jordy Nelson due to return to the team before the conclusion of the regular season, am I crazy to think this may be the team to beat in the playoffs?  Unless they play the Giants of course, G-men seem to have their number right now.

Houston Texans:  Really can’t remember another season where the teams with the best record in either conference (Atlanta) are just so unimpressive.  I love the Texans running game with Arian Foster, who doesn’t, and WR Andre Johnson has had a really good season, but that defense has suffered since the loss of LB Brian Cushing.  Not sure they have a long playoff run in them.

Indianapolis Colts:  Well, so much for the Colts winning the division, Houston took care of those thoughts last week…..Head coach Chuck Pagano who has missed the entire season due to cancer has been medically cleared to resume his duties starting Monday.  Pretty good story there, but if you’re the Colts, do you automatically give Pagano back the reigns or ease him back in?  Vick Ballard has had a nice season at running back but probably drives fantasy owners crazy with his inability to get into the end zone.

Jacksonville Jaguars:  In case there was really any doubt, Chad Henne is not the answer at quarterback, the Dolphins could’ve told Jacksonville that…..Still don’t know why the Jags haven’t put RB Maurice Jones-Drew on IR.  They continue to list him as questionable even though he has yet to practice.  He has been running on the sideline, but it would be an upset to see him play in an actual game again this season…..Rashard Jennings still hasn’t been cleared from his concussion and is out this week as well.  It will be the Montell Owens show once again.

Kansas  City Chiefs:  I’m watching the fourth season of ‘Breaking Bad’ while writing this, and I’m trying to figure out what, if anything, broke right for Kansas City this season?  Well, RB Jamaal Charles did return from a serious knee injury to prove that he is the same breakaway player he used to be.  Eric Berry also returned from injury although he hasn’t had as many big plays this season as he did last, and hey, they Chiefs are in the running for the first overall pick in next year’s NFL draft.

Miami Dolphins:  Actually heard someone out of Miami state this week that if not for the won-loss record, QB Ryan Tannehill would be right there in the Rookie of the Year competition with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, yeah, not so much.  Tannehill has looked good at times, terrible at others, but he is most certainly a work in progress.  Not every rookie QB hits the ground running, let’s give him some time.  Running back Daniel Thomas was placed on IR Thursday, ending his season.  Has he shown enough to prove to the Dolphins that he is ready to take over the starting role next season?

Minnesota Vikings:   Seems that one of the reasons that the Vikings may have put WR Percy Harvin on season ending IR was that because he had another heated exchange with head coach Percy Harvin, his third such confrontation. Harvin is an extremely talented player, but one with plenty of issues, mainly health wise.  One has to wonder if the Vikings will look to cut bait with him eventually rather than continue to put up with his antics…..Can RB Adrian Peterson break Eric Dickerson’s in season rushing record?  He would have to average close to 150 yards a game to do so.  One has to think this would be next to impossible with the Vikings still in the playoff race and with opposing teams stacking the box with eight and nine men to force QB Christian Ponder to beat them, but that’s been the case now for weeks, and it hasn’t slowed AP down yet…..The reason I bring up the playoff implications as bad for AP is since Minnesota needs to win out to make the playoffs, it’s not like they can just give the ball to AP 40 times to make sure he gets the record, they need to win first.

New England Patriots:  Even though the Pats lost to the 49ers on Sunday night, still think they are the best team in the NFL, but that being said, they can obviously be beat, and that loss could cost them a bye in the first round.  Now I’m not all that worried about them losing in the first round, although a date with Pittsburgh or Cincinnati won’t be day in the sun, but more importantly, in the divisional round of the playoffs, they now will have a date at Denver and Peyton Manning.  That’s a matchup that seemed to be one of destiny, but playing in Denver makes it a little tougher than having the Broncos at Foxboro.

New Orleans Saints:  Now we know why tight end Jimmy Graham isn’t having the type of season most of us expected from him, apparently his wrist has been bothering him so much that he will have off-season surgery on it…..All of this talk about suspended coach Sean Peyton and whether or not he will sign a  re-worked contract with New Orleans seems to be a little silly.  The Saints want him back, that’s his offense that isn’t going to slow down anytime soon, and with Jason Garrett doing a better job in Dallas (the only team I can see him leaving New Orleans for), be hard for me to see him going anyplace else.

New York Giants:  Giants are trying to do their little trick again of squeaking into the playoffs and going on a run.  Now they don’t control their own destiny as far as winning the NFC East, Washington and Dallas do, but they do control it as far as winning a wildcard spot.  Win their last two games versus Baltimore and Philadelphia, and they are in the tournament, and right now they will more than likely face one of the two teams they dispatched last season on the way to winning the Super Bowl, Green Bay or San Francisco…..RB Ahmad Bradshaw could return to the lineup this week but don’t look for him to get the full-time role back, David Wilson has earned at least a time share in the Giants backfield.

New York Jets:  Shocking that the Jets quarterback decision has come to a crash and burn scenario.  Who didn’t see this coming?  Mark Sanchez has regressed terribly this year and seems to have almost no confidence under center.  After his five turnover performance versus the Titans on Monday, coach Rex Ryan has finally decided to bench him, but not for Tim Tebow, apparently Ryan never had confidence in him, and Greg McElroy will start the next two games to see what kind of future he has.  I’m betting not one as a starting QB.  As for Tebow, he’s as good as gone next season, Sanchez might be also.  Time for a good old house cleaning.

Oakland Raiders:  For those of you in your fantasy championship game that are planning on using QB Carson Palmer this week, Terrelle Pryor could be in store for a descent amount of playing time.  Guess the Raiders figure they might as well figure out what they have in Pryor, if anything…..Running back Darren McFadden had a solid game last week, but he could easily be a boom or bust play this week, he did gain 110 yards, but that came on 30 carries, not exactly a great YPC.

Philadelphia Eagles:  LeSean McCoy returns to the lineup this week versus the Redskins.  Now technically he is the starter, but it really is anyone’s guess as to how many touches he will get.  The Eagles aren’t playing for anything and won’t want to risk McCoy, plus they aren’t just going to forget about Bryce Brown…..For those of you worried about the Eagles offense Sunday, WR Jeremy Maclin and TE Brent Celek both practiced and will play, so did QB Michael Vick, but he will backup Nick Foles.

Pittsburgh Steelers:  Not only did the Steelers lose a game in overtime to the Cowboys last Sunday but QB Ben Roethlisberger then came out and pretty much blamed offensive coordinator Todd Haley for the loss.  Haley and Ben are never going to have a harmonious relationship, Haley was brought on board to run the ball more, throw short passes, and keep Ben upright.  This goes against Ben’s playing style.  He likes to run around in the pocket and buy time to make the big play, especially now that the running game isn’t doing all that well…..Steelers still control their own destiny though, win their last two and they are in the dance.

San Diego Chargers:  Rumors are circulating now that head coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith have already been told that they won’t be back next season, another house cleaning…..Running back Ryan Matthews, perhaps the most disappointing player both in fantasy and reality this season broke his other collarbone, he’s officially done for the year, some might say, put out of his mercy…..WR Malcolm Floyd was also put on IR with an ankle injury.

San Francisco 49ers:  The game we all saw QB Colin Kaepernick play against the Patriots Sunday night is the reason I believe head coach Jim Harbaugh made the decision to bench Alex Smith even though he was having a good season.  Kaepernick has the ability to win a shootout, he may be inconsistent at times, he is still after all pretty much a rookie (first year starting games), but he’s not a check down type of QB, he’s someone that will only get better, and someone who may be able to keep up with high scoring offenses like the Patriots, or the Packers.

Seattle Seahawks:  Cornerback Richard Sherman’s suspension appeal will be heard Friday.  Assuming he loses, the Hawks will be without their top two CBs for the 1st round of the playoffs.  Certainly good news for the winner of the NFC East, be a shame if the Hawks season comes crashing to an end because of a pair of suspensions, makes you wonder if both players shouldn’t have appealed this way they would’ve been eligible once the playoffs begin.

St. Louis Rams:  Running back Steven Jackson, who can be a free agent after the season, stated that he wants to be back with St. Louis next season.  Not sure I see this happening, although Jackson has had a good season when rotated regularly with Daryl Richardson…..Rams still need to find a number one WR, can’t say that enough.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  Quarterback Josh Freeman, who looked had looked like the player who showed a ton of promise in 2010 has looked awful the past two weeks, seemingly throwing more passes to the opposition than to his teammates.  What makes this even worse is that these games have come against the defenses of the Eagles and Saints, not exactly the Steel Curtain…..The Bucs have stated that they are worried that RB Doug Martin has hit the “rookie wall”, but they still plan to have him carry his normal work load the last two weeks.

Tennessee Titans:  The Jets Mark Sanchez wasn’t the only QB who looked terrible Monday night, Jake Locker has some issues as well, tough choices need to be made here as well…..Wide receiver Kendall Wright was originally thought to be gone for the season with cracked ribs, and won’t play this week, but could play in the season finale…..Running back Chris Johnson did run for over 100 yards against the Jets Monday, but a majority of those yards came on one carry.  Johnson has had an up and down season, broken some big runs, but been highly inconsistent.  Is he worth the $10 million coming to him next year?

Washington Redskins:  Should the Skins start QB Robert Griffin III this week if he’s not 100%?  If the Skins win the next two games, they win the NFC East.  They play Philly this week which should mean a win no matter who starts at QB, but they will need a healthy RGIII to beat the Cowboys in Week 17, assuming Dallas wins this week and the Giants don’t lose.  As long as Griffin can protect himself in the pocket, I’d play him, no football player is 100% at this point in the season.  If he can run around, he should be good to go.

 

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, @georgekurtz

Behind The Star: The Latest on the Dallas Cowboys

Big win for the Cowboys last week versus the Steelers.  Cornerback Brandon Carr may have justified his contract with that interception in overtime.  What exactly does the win mean?  Well, it means Dallas actually controls their own destiny.  Win their last two games versus New Orleans and at Washington and they win the division and would in all likelihood host Seattle in the first round of the playoffs.  There are also scenarios in which Dallas could win the division with a loss to the Saints, but that would require the Giants to lose one of their last two games and still requires a win versus Washington.  Dallas can also secure a wildcard berth but that means they would need to see quite a few losses by the Giants, Bears, and Vikings.  What this comes down to is that when Dallas was 3-5, they would’ve been overjoyed to be in this position.  Now let’s see if they can take advantage of it.

 

As for the game against Pittsburgh.  The good news was once again that RB DeMarco Murray looked good.  It’s pretty amazing how much more confidence the offensive line seems to have when they realize that there is a legitimate threat in the backfield.  They block better and the play action pass now has to be respected by the opposing defense.  The defense didn’t play great.  Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger did throw for over 300 yards, but they came up big when they had to.  Stopping the Steelers from driving for the winning score late in the game, and coming up with the interception in overtime to setup the game winning field goal by Dan Bailey.  The pass rush is still inconsistent at best.  Linebacker DeMarcus Ware is pretty much playing with one arm but LB Anthony Spencer is having a career season, one that will see him get paid handsomely in the off-season.  He is providing the pass rush opposite Ware that the Cowboys have been waiting for since they traded up to grab him in the 2007 draft.  The secondary was pretty thin in this game as CB Morris Claiborne missed the game with a concussion (Orlando Scandrick is already on IR).  Claiborne should return for this week’s game versus New Orleans.  Sterling Moore who was claimed off the practice squad of the Patriots a few weeks ago has provided the team with much needed depth in the secondary and could fight for a role in the nickel or dime defense next season.  Secondary isn’t the only area of concern as the Cowboys are also without their top two inside linebackers in Sean Lee and Bruce Carter (both on IR).  Things didn’t look any better Sunday when Ernie Sims went out early with a concussion, but Alex Albright came in to take his place played well enough where he could keep the job for the remainder of the season regardless of Sims’ health.  Still, if you count as Scandrick as a starter (covers the slot in passing situations), that’s six of 12 defensive starters that are on the IR for Dallas.  When you think about it, it’s kind of amazing what defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is doing with this defense.  They are held together with duct tape.

 

Things certainly won’t get any easier this week as the Saints come to town.  New Orleans boasts one of the best passing games in the NFL, led by QB Drew Brees.  They may not have the best running game on the planet but it’s respectable enough where you can’t just forget about it either.  That being said, it’s Brees that is most dangerous.  He played back to back subpar games versus the Giants and Falcons, but picked it up again versus Tampa Bay last week.  He will look to attack the Dallas secondary, especially the safeties (Danny McCray and Gerald Sensabaugh), who can be had in the deep game.  This game has shootout written all over it as the Saints, with the exception of last week, have pretty much been a sieve on defense.  Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense shouldn’t have any problems moving the ball up and down the field.  Wide receiver Dez Bryant will play in this game as he did versus the Steelers.  He did drop three passes last week, so the finger is giving him problems, but hopefully another week will allow to get more acclimated with it.  Miles Austin also had a solid game versus the Steelers.  Pittsburgh’s game plan last week was to double Dez, even with the bad finger, and play off of Austin.  This allowed Austin to run plenty of underneath routes.  New Orleans could try a similar tactic.  This game could come down to turnovers.  Which team will make the least amount of mistakes should go on to post the W.  Have to think Dallas wins this game.  They are at home, playing well, and it means everything to them, nothing to the Saints.  They seemed to have exercised their December woes from the past posting a 3-0 record this month.  They more than likely will need to make it 5-0 to get into the playoffs.  Dallas 34 Saints 27.

 

As for the Josh Brent situation.  Those who don’t know, Brent was on the sidelines for the game last week even though he has been charged with vehicular manslaughter in the death of his teammate Jerry Brown.  This started a controversy as people wondered whether or not he should be there.  Apparently the Dallas brass didn’t realize he was there until the game started.  His teammates were trying to show support by asking him to attend the game (he left at halftime when he realized his presence was becoming a distraction).  The Cowboys and the NFL issued a statement that Brent will not be allowed on the sidelines for the remainder of the season.  I applaud the sentiment from his teammates, his mother also wanted him to be there, but in the end, this was a bad decision.  I wasn’t all that thrilled with how the Chiefs handled the Jovan Belcher situation either.  Memorializing a player who just murdered someone seem quite a bit over the top even if he was a teammate.  Let’s hope this is the last time we need to talk about this.

 

I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the unspeakable tragedy at the Sandy Hooks Elementary School in Newtown CT.  As a father of two young girls, one in kindergarten, I can’t imagine what the parents of those slain children are feeling and hope I never have to.  My heartfelt condolences go out to those families and to the school staff that gave up their lives so that more children weren’t murdered.

 

Happy Holidays.

 

 

Feel free to follow me on twitter, @georgeKurtz

All Out Blitz: NFL News & Notes

Arizona Cardinals:  That was a pretty pathetic performance put forth by the Cardinals versus the Seahawks last Sunday.  58-0, really, are you kidding me.  This is a quarterback driven league and it’s clear as day the Cards don’t have one.  John Skelton has regressed to the point now where he may not even be a reliable backup and Ryan Lindley has certainly proven he is nowhere near close to being ready to start in the NFL.  Now you know why the Cardinals were so desperate to sign Peyton Manning last off-season.  Have to wonder if coach Ken Whisenhunt will survive the season.

Atlanta Falcons:  That was a pretty good spanking put on the Falcons by the Panthers on Sunday.  The Panthers also should’ve won the first game.  The Falcons have been crying about a lack of respect all season long, but it’s hard to believe this is the best team in the NFC with the way they have been playing.  They have struggled of late even with below average teams.  Perhaps they peaked to early…..It looks like the Falcons are moving on from RB Michael Turner as Jacquizz Rodgers is getting more playing time each and every week.

Baltimore Ravens:  Can’t say that I was shocked about the firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, it seemed to be only a matter of time, but to do it at this point in the season is curious.  It’s Week 15, you’re in first place in your division, ninth in the league in points scored, and average 25.5 points a game.  Granted Cameron never seems to know how to use RB Ray Rice and certainly has his difference with QB Joe Flacco, but those numbers are pretty solid and a change at this point in the season smells like a panic move, and let’s face it, this may be the Ravens, but the offense really hasn’t been the problem, the defense has let this team down.

Buffalo Bills:  Running back Fred Jackson is hurt once again, injuring his knee during the game Sunday, he will miss the rest of the season.  This should be a boon for C.J. Spiller who for some reason wasn’t being used as much as Jackson over the past couple of games.  Now I know you need to watch Spiller’s touches and can’t overuse him, but he’s your best playmaker, get him the ball…..Keep hearing rumors that QB Michael Vick could be the next starting QB for Buffalo, they did make a play for him when he was released from prison, and Ryan Fitzpatrick is far from a franchise quarterback.

Carolina Panthers:  It took the Panthers long enough, but the offense finally seems to be humming, especially QB Cam Newton.  They still need to surround Newton with more talent especially at receiver, but this team is not that far behind the others in what is going to be a really tough division for year to come, the NFC South…..Running back DeAngelo Williams had a big game Sunday with over 110 total yards, but only 56 of which came on the ground, hard to believe with their stable of RBs, that Carolina doesn’t have much of a rushing attack.

Chicago Bears:  Are the Bears in the middle of another late season collapse.  A loss to the Packers this weekend and they can kiss their division title hopes goodbye, not to mention they could be in a flat footed tie with any one of a number of teams…..Quarterback Jay Cutler is taking a beating behind that offensive line.  Cutler has always thought of himself as a tough guy, but he needs to get rid of the ball quicker and stop taking so many hits…..Running back Michael Bush is battling bruised ribs and may not be the battering ram the Bears were hoping for over the next game or two…..Kicker Robbie Gould injured his calf during pre-game warm-ups Sunday.  Olindo Mare will kick for the remainder of the season.

Cincinnati Bengals:  The Bengals gave away that game to the Cowboys on Sunday.  Wide receiver A.J. Green had several dropped passes including one that would’ve gone for a touchdown.  Play calling also left something to be desired as they offense kept running pass plays even though they were gashing the Cowboys on the ground, not to mention running the ball takes time off the clock, time that would’ve prevented Dallas from being able to mount the game winning drive as time expired.

Cleveland Browns:  Don’t look now, but the Browns are on a roll, that’s three straight games they have won, when was the last time we could say that?  Really do like the direction this team is heading in, but I’ll keep on saying it, they need to decide if Brandon Weeden is the future at quarterback.  Still wouldn’t be a bad idea to sign a veteran in free agency in the off-season or even spend a draft pick on one.

Dallas Cowboys:  Wide receiver Dez Bryant is seeing a doctor Wednesday to determine if he can play the rest of the season with a broken finger.  He wants to play but the questions comes down to whether or not permanent damage will be done by waiting until after the season for surgery.  If he waits, there is a chance he could lose some mobility in the finger…..Defensive tackle Josh Brent was placed on the non-football injury list Wednesday.  Brent was arrested for being under the influence in the tragic accident that killed LB Jerry Brown.  An accident that could’ve easily been avoided had Brent called the car service available to each and every NFL player.

Denver Broncos:  Hard to believe, but Denver is one of the  top two or three teams in the AFC, and will be a tough out come playoff time…..Could LB Von Miller be the defensive player of the year?  He already has 16 sacks this season and could threaten the NFL record…..Speaking of awards, would be really amazing if QB Peyton Manning wins MVP this season.

Detroit Lions:  Starting to look like Joique Bell has taken over the role of running back in Detroit.  Mikel Leshoure just seems to be a guy who can plow into the line, while Bell has a little juke to him and may be more of a big play threat…..Even though he is the only true threat in the Lions passing game, Calvin Johnson still had 10 receptions versus the Packers Sunday.  Mike Thomas is overmatched as the second option in the passing game.

Green Bay Packers:  A win by the Packers on Sunday over Chicago all but wraps up the NFC North, only Minnesota could catch them and that assumes the Vikings win their last three and the Packers lose their last two…..Green Bay is also getting healthier.  Wide receiver Greg Jennings returned two weeks ago and is slowly getting back in the flow of things.  Linebacker Clay Matthews looks like he will return this week (not what Bears QB Jay Cutler wants to hear).  WR Jordy Nelson and CB Charles Woodson won’t play this week but should return before the end of the season.   A win by the Pack this week and a loss by the 49ers (they play at the Pats) would also put Green Bay in the driver’s seat for a first round bye.

Houston Texans:  Did Houston peak to soon?  They are having massive problems in their secondary, even with the return of cornerback Jonathan Joseph.  This has to be fixed as there is a pretty good chance they will have to get through the Patriots Tom Brady and the Broncos Peyton Manning to reach the Super Bowl.  Right now it’s safe to wonder if they can beat the Colts and Andrew Luck this week just to secure the division title…..Ben Tate has once again proved himself healthy and taken over the backup role to Adrian Foster once again.

Indianapolis Colts:  Here is a little tidbit that not to many people realize.  If the Colts win out, they win the AFC South.  They still have to play the Texans twice.  Now it’s unlikely they can win both games, but the Colts do excel at throwing the ball, and throwing it deep, something the Texans have been unable to defend of late…..It’s amazing what a franchise QB can do for an organization.  Still not sure who I would vote for, Rookie of the Year, Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin.

Jacksonville Jaguars:  Anyone want to tell me why the Jags haven’t put RB Maurice Jones-Drew on IR already?  There are only three games left in the season, you’re not in playoff contention, what’s the point?  The team is being careful however with WR Cecil Shorts.  He is practicing this week but is still questionable this week to play.  No reason to mess around with a concussion at this point in the season…..Running back Rashard Jennings (concussion) has not been cleared to practice.

Kansas  City Chiefs:  This has been nothing short of a disaster of a season for the Chiefs.  Hard to believe some thought they may actually be the best team in this division during the off-season…..The Chiefs are likely to have a top three pick in the 2013 draft, but there is no RGIII or Andrew Luck to save their bacon…..The season is likely over for WR Dwayne Bowe who has broken ribs.  Bowe doesn’t look like he is interested in playing for KC anymore anyway.  He is more than likely gone after the season.

Miami Dolphins:  The Dolphins finally figured out last week that RB Reggie Bush is a pretty good pass catcher out of the backfield.  They had been pulling Bush out of the game more often than not on third downs because they didn’t believe he is all that great at picking up the blitz.  That may be true, but this team needs their only true playmaker on the field at the most important time of the game.  Bush is more than likely heading elsewhere after the season.  Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller will handle the rushing duties next year.

Minnesota Vikings:   Running back Adrian Peterson is just having an amazing year.  Think about it.  He’s on pace to gain over 2000 yards rushing despite undergoing reconstructive knee surgery less than a year ago.  Despite not being used full-time for the first couple of games.  Despite the teams only true WR, Percy Harvin, missing most of the second half of the season.  Despite having a quarterback, Christian Ponder, that is no one’s definition of a franchise signal caller.  AP is just simply the best running back in the NFL.

New England Patriots:  Well any doubts about the Patriots being the best team in the NFL may have been eliminated with their destruction of the Texans on Monday.  The trade for CB Aqib Talib seems to have solidified the defense.  Not only do they have a solid cover corner in Talib, but it allowed Devin McCourty to move back to safety, a position he is much more suited for than corner…..TE Rob Gronkowski could practice this week, he didn’t Wednesday, but don’t look for him to play Sunday.

New Orleans Saints:  Well the Saints season pretty much came to an end with a thunderous loss to the Giants in Week 14…..The good news for the Saints was that the suspensions in the bounty scandal were rescinded.  The bad news is that although the players will not miss any games, they weren’t declared innocent by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.  Tagliabue decided that the organization deserved much of the blame for tainting the evidence and allowing the culture of bounties to continue.  I never believed LB Jonathan Vilma should’ve been suspended for a year.   Just didn’t think any player should get as much time as the head coach, but did think they deserved some kind of punishment, maybe 4-8 games.

New York Giants:  You have to hand it to the Giants, they are consistent.  Seems like every season they get off to a hot start, look like they are going to run away with the division, only to go into a slump, let the other teams catch up, then play lights out again as the season winds down and go into the playoffs on a hot streak.  Could they be on another one of those streaks?  Sure looks like it after beating both the Packers and Saints pretty convincingly the past two weeks…..Running back Ahmad Bradshaw could miss time with a sprained knee, good thing David Wilson looks ready for primetime.

New York Jets:  It’s hard to believe that the Jets are actually only one game out of the wildcard hunt.  Now they are still well behind the eight ball when it comes to gaining a playoff spot, Pittsburgh holds a tiebreaker edge and the Colts would have to lose out and the Jets win out to catch them, still though, after what seems to have been a terrible season, they actually have something to play for…..So let me get this straight, WR Braylon Edwards, lights up the Jets hierarchy, gets released by Seattle because of injury, then the Jets claim him off of waivers.  Desperate teams do desperate things.

Oakland Raiders:  Shocking, RB Darren McFadden left the game early with injury last week, very hard to trust DMC in fantasy leagues the rest of this season…..Defensive players S Tyvon Branch and DT Richard Seymour are both on track to play Sunday versus KC…..Linebacker Rolando McClain who has finished serving his suspension also practiced Wednesday and could actually be in the lineup this week.

Philadelphia Eagles:  The Eagles have announced that Nick Foles will remain at quarterback for the remainder of the season.  Not a shock, big question now is where does Michael Vick end up next season…..RB LeSean McCoy looks like he is on his way to recovery, but won’t play Thursday versus the Bengals, Bryce Brown is still the man this week but keep in mind that Bengals defensive front is pretty good.

Pittsburgh Steelers:  Steelers laid an egg against the Chargers last week.  Ben Roethlisberger certainly looked rusty until the fourth quarter and Chargers QB Phillip Rivers picked apart the Steelers secondary.  The Steelers play Dallas this week in what is a very important game, but not a must win for Pittsburgh, next week against Cincinnati is a must win…..Running back Rashard Mendenhall was suspended for this game after he didn’t show up for last week’s game.  Jonathan Dwyer will start the game with Isaac Redman getting a handful of carries as well.

San Diego Chargers:  If only the Chargers would’ve played as well all season as they did last week, might’ve been a different kind of season…..Danario Alexander has been a quite a find at receiver, he has brought the team the big play kind ability they thought they were getting when they signed Robert Meacham, remember him…..Running back Ryan Matthews and tight end Antonio Gates have also been big disappointments this season.   The injuries Gates has suffered over the years may finally be catching up with him and perhaps Matthews will just never be the player we thought he would be.

San Francisco 49ers:  This should be an interesting game Sunday night between the 49ers and Patriots.  Not because it’s a battle of two division leading teams but because this kind of game has to be why head coach Jim Harbaugh chose Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith as his starting quarterback.  He needs a QB capable of winning a game that could turn into a shootout…..Speaking of Kap, it looks like Michael Crabtree has turned into his favorite receiver, it’s certainly not TE Vernon Davis who no longer seems to be a part of the offensive game plan.

Seattle Seahawks:  In a normal year we would talking about how good QB Russell Wilson has been and how he might be a Rookie of the Year candidate, but this is not a normal year and Wilson is nothing more than an afterthought…..Wide receiver Sidney Rice’s foot is currently in a boot and his status for the game Sunday is questionable at best…..Not that we should look into this all that deeply, but RB Robert Turbin looked great last week coming in for Marshawn Lynch.

St. Louis Rams:  What few offensive playmakers the Rams have are a bit banged up.  Wide receiver Danny Amendola is limited in practice and RB Steven Jackson had the day off, they are both dealing with foot injuries…..By the way, Rams aren’t out of the playoff hunt either, pretty good job done their by head coach Jeff Fisher.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  You know your season has come to an end when you lose to the Eagles.  Tampa’s run defense was superb in stopping Bryce Brown, but they allowed a rookie QB in Nick Foles to throw the ball all over the field against them, cornerback will be a position of need next off-season.

Tennessee Titans:  Welcome to the 2012 NFL season WR Kenny Britt.  Britt finally had a big game last week with 143 yards receiving, although he didn’t score…..Tight end Jared Cook made a highlight reel touchdown reception last week but he also tore his rotator cuff during the game and is now done for the season…..WR Damian Williams is also done due to a hamstring injury.

Washington Redskins:  This is always going to be the scary part about QB Robert Griffin III.  He is an exceptional talent but is not built like a Ben Roethlisberger.  Now he’s not built like Michael Vick either, but somewhere in between, but every time he takes a hit, the chance for injury is there, and the Skins should be coaching him to either get out of bounds or slide as soon as possible.  That hit he took on Sunday looked much worse than it actually turned out to be, could’ve easily been a broken leg or a torn ligament, instead of just a sprained knee (although a sprain is actually a tear, just to a lesser degree).

 

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, @georgekurtz

Behind The Star: The Latest on the Dallas Cowboys

Can’t talk about the Cowboys without mentioning the tragic death of linebacker Jerry Brown in a car accident the night before the game.  If you haven’t heard, Brown was killed while being the passenger in a car driven by teammate, defensive lineman Josh Brent.  Brent has been charged with vehicular manslaughter in the accident as he got behind the wheel after a night of partying.  What really makes this a senseless death is that the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys have a program where any player can call a service that will drive the player home from anywhere, at anytime.  There is never a reason to drive under the influence.  The program is even free for the player.  Just no excuse.

 

As for the game last week.  I’m really not sure how the Cowboys won this game.  They really didn’t throw or run the ball well until the fourth quarter.  The offensive seemed to be doing their best to get QB Tony Romo carried out on a stretcher.  Dumb penalties again, including one by defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, not to mention a few dropped passes again.  So how did they win?  The Bengals pretty much handed this one away.  Wide receiver A.J. Green had several dropped passes including one that would’ve been a touchdown.  A defense that locked down Dallas for three plus quarters all of a sudden got soft when the game mattered most.  Questionable play calling by the Bengals may also have hurt the team as they kept trying to throw the ball instead of taking time off the clock with the running game.  This gave Dallas the time needed to secure the win.  If you’re a Dallas fan, you could look at it like this, they should have beat Baltimore and lost to Cincinnati, so now you’re even.

 

Head coach Jason Garrett deserves a good deal of credit for keeping the team together after the tragic death of Brown.   Dallas played hard throughout the game.  How they handle this week with the memorial and funeral for Brown will yet be another test for Garrett and the team.

 

Garrett did make one questionable decision however.  He settled for a game winning field goal attempt from 40 yards despite having around a minute of game time left and two time outs.  Dan Bailey made the kick but if had missed, there would be a good deal of criticism heading his way.  Not like trying to get a few more yards wouldn’t have been a bad idea.  In the end, it worked out, but Garrett needs to work on his end of half/game management, it’s not good.

 

Wide receiver Dez Bryant suffered a broken finger during the game and the fear this week is that it may be season ending.  As of this writing Dez has decided to try and play through the injury, but has stated that if doctors advise him against playing, that he would undergo season ending surgery.  The problem with the broken finger is that Bryant could lose mobility in the finger if he waits to long to have the surgery.  If the Cowboys lose Bryant, their season is more than likely done.

 

As it is the Cowboys more than likely need to win out to have a shot at the playoffs.  They are still a game behind the Giants in the NFC East and a game behind Chicago and Seattle for the final wildcard spot.  Problem is they already lost to both teams so would lose any tiebreaker.  They are also tied at 7-6 with Washington and Minnesota, so quite a lot has to go their way in order to make the playoffs.  The good news is that they do play the Redskins in Week 17, that could be a make or break game right now.

 

This week the Cowboys host the Steelers.  A team that is also badly in need of a victory and may need to win out to make the playoffs.  Pittsburgh has some of the same problems the Cowboys do.  An inconsistent running game, a poor offensive line, injuries on defense, and a quarterback who scrambles to keep plays alive.  Ben Roethlisberger is the key to this team.  His running game is so-so with Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman carrying the load, but the passing game is dangerous with Mike Wallace, Antonio Bryant, Emmanuel Sanders, and Heath Miller running loose in the secondary.  This game could end up being a shootout with whomever makes the least amount of mistakes the victor in end.  Whichever team can establish a running game could go a long way toward deciding a winner as well.  I’m always wrong on these predictions, so being a fan of the Cowboys I’m going to predict Pittsburgh 28 Dallas 23.

 

Feel free to follow me on twitter, @georgeKurtz