October 19, 2017

They Bent, They Broke, They Sucked!

Week five for the Oakland Raiders had them back at home to face the Ravens.  After losses to the Redskins and Broncos, Jack Del Rio was hoping to get his team back on the right track against a team that had been struggling.  I thought it would be a tight game with the Raiders pulling out a win by maybe seven points.  Silly me.  What the hell was I thinking?  This game got off to a terrible start as Joe Flacco went deep on the first play and connected with speedy Mike Wallace for a 54-yard gain.  Guess who was “covering” Wallace?  It was the incomparable Sean Smith.  It’s become painfully obvious that Smith can’t cover anyone.  That was just the first of many blunders made throughout the game by the defense.

Most of the blame goes on the defense.  But not all of it.  Backup quarterback E.J. Manuel tossed a short pass to Jared Cook.  He caught the pass, looked to gain yardage and had the ball knocked from his hands.  It was picked up by Jimmy Smith and returned 47 yards for a touchdown.  The protection for Manuel was decent.  He was sacked three times and that seems about the norm for the once heralded offensive line.  Manuel completed 13 of 26 passes for 159 yards and one touchdown.  Despite being not nearly 100 percent, Michael Crabtree had himself a nice game with six catches for 82 yards and a touchdown.  I guess it is time for the obligatory mention of how Amari Cooper was once again invisible.  He was targeted twice and caught one pass for eight yards.  When it comes to him, I am beyond words.  I simply do not understand why he’s not getting more passes thrown his way.

When it comes to a defensive scheme, it looked like something that was drawn up in the dirt in Ken Norton Junior’s backyard.  There was no blitzing.  No pressure on Flacco at all as he was hit a grand total of two times.  Even though Flacco has a good arm, he is not mobile at all.  Where were all the safety blitzes we saw against the Titans and Jets?  I guess this scheme is called “bend but don’t break.”  Well, they bent, they broke and they sucked!  Flacco completed 19 of 26 for 222 yards.  Wallace was the leading receiver with 133 yards on three receptions.  On one occasion, Flacco took the snap, fell down, quickly got to his feet and was sandwiched in between two Raiders.  But he managed to toss a wounded duck to the right sideline.  A pass like that usually has interception written all over it.  Instead, it was caught by Jeremy Maclin for a first down.  Maclin was just standing by himself with no defensive backs around him.  After five weeks, the Raiders still have yet to pick off a pass.

After Terrance West left the game with an injury, the Ravens turned the running duties over to Javorius Allen.  He had a good game with 73 yards on 21 carries and one touchdown.  All totaled, the Ravens rushed for 143 yards on 39 carries.  On the other hand, the Raiders rushed for a grand total of 108 yards on 25 carries.  Marshawn Lynch was the leading rusher with 43 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown.

This game was a mess from the start.  The Raiders basically gave the Ravens 14 points before the crowd had time to get a drink and find their seats.  But there was what I would call a “small glimmer of hope.”  The defense stepped up their game early in the third quarter.  After Lynch scored from three yards out to make the score 24-17, all they had to do was stop the Ravens and give the ball back to the offense.  That sounds like a really good idea doesn’t it?  The defense had other ideas.  Flacco completed several short passes to keep the ball and the clock moving.  Then came the dagger.  On third and eight from the Baltimore 47, Flacco went deep down the middle for Wallace.  Why does the Raider defense freak out every time they get in a third and long situation?  It’s like a Chinese fire drill.  “Everybody back up! Back up!”  Screw that backing up crap.  Bring some pressure!  Apparently they didn’t back up far enough.  Wallace got behind two defenders and hauled it in for a gain of 27 yards.  The Ravens would add a field goal.  That put the Raiders down 27-17.

With a little under nine minutes to go in the game, the Raiders had a fourth and three at the Baltimore 44-yard line.  What’s the big deal?  It’s only three freaking yards.  My jaw dropped when Del Rio sent in the punt team.  That was it.  They basically just said “Baltimore, you’re better than us.  We don’t have Derek Carr today, so you can go ahead and try to add to your lead.”  That’s precisely what they did as they added another field goal and came away with a 30-17 win.

This loss was the third straight for the Raiders and their record is now 2 and 3.  Rumor is that Carr will return next week to face the Chargers.  That should give the offense a spark.  Hopefully the offensive line will provide ample protection.  But that’s not really what concerns me.  My concern lies with the defense.  They will be facing another immobile quarterback.  However, everyone knows that if Philip Rivers is given time to find a receiver, he’ll find him and it will go for a big gain.  If the Raiders use the same defensive scheme they did against the Ravens, their record will be 2 and 4.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy

Seahawks 30, Raiders 24

The eighth game on the schedule for the Oakland Raiders was a trip up to Seattle to face the Seahawks.  The Raiders were coming off a 23-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns and the Seahawks were coming off a tough 13-9 win over the Carolina Panthers.  The Seahawks won the toss and deferred to the second half.  Kicker Steven Hauschka sent the opening kick deep into the end zone for a touch-back and the Raiders started at their 20.  Like usual, they started out running the ball up the middle.  Running back Darren McFadden carried the ball twice for a gain of one yard.  But completions from quarterback Derek Carr to wide receiver Andre Holmes and tight end Mychal Rivera got the Raiders going in the right direction.  On third and eight from the Seattle 37,  Carr completed a pass good for 16 yards to Rivera.  He was hit by cornerback Richard Sherman and the ball came loose.  Luckily for the Raiders, it rolled out of bounds.  They would get as far as the 30 and the drive stalled there as Carr’s pass to Rivera on third and three fell incomplete.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski made an appearance and his 48-yard field goal attempt was good.  The Raiders led 3-0 with 9:10 to go in the first quarter.

The Seahawks took over at their 28 and three carries by running Marshawn Lynch quickly moved them to the 40.  A short scramble by quarterback Russell Wilson and completions to wide receiver Doug Baldwin and Lynch put the Seahawks in Oakland territory.  On second and four from the 42, Wilson threw deep up the right side for wide receiver Jermaine Kearse.  The pass was incomplete, but a flag appeared and the call was defensive pass interference on cornerback DJ Hayden.  Really?  THAT was interference?!?!  I thought both players had a right to the ball.  I found that to be highly sickening.  That gave the Seahawks a first down at the six.  On first down, Lynch ran up the middle and was greeted rudely by defensive tackle Justin “Jelly” Ellis and thrown for a loss of three yards.  But while Ellis was in the process of throwing Lynch to the ground, he also had a handful of facemask.  That brought out another flag and moved the ball to the three.  Lynch got the call again and took it up the middle.  It looked like his forward progress was stopped, but he kept pushing and eventually found the end zone.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks led 7-3 with 4:07 to go in the first quarter.

Each team punted on their next possession and with two minutes remaining in the quarter, the Raiders took over at their 15.  McFadden ran up the middle again and guess how many yards he got?  That’s right!  No gain.  Got to love the imaginative play calling by offensive coordinator Greg Olson.  He’s truly an amazing kind of guy with a future as bright as a dark room.  On second and ten, Carr found wide receiver Brice Butler for a gain of 12.  Then the impending disaster happened.  Carr looked for wide receiver James Jones on the right side and the pass was picked off by linebacker Bruce Irvin and returned 35 yards for a touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks were now up 14-3 at the end of the first quarter.

What’s one of the rules you should follow when you play the Seahawks?  Don’t throw on Richard Sherman.  Well, on third and five from his own 25, Carr did just that.  I don’t know what he was thinking.  The pass was up the right sideline intended for Holmes.  First, Holmes was not open.  Second, he wasn’t even looking for the ball.  Sherman picked it off and ran it back to the Oakland 18.  But the Raider defense only allowed them to go two yards on three plays.  Hauschka came into the game and his 34-yard field goal was good.  The Seahawks were now up 17-3 with 12:15 to go in the second quarter.

Neither team did much with the ball until the 3:50 mark of the second quarter.  The Seahawks were backed up at their 12-yard line.  A nine-yard run by Lynch and a three-yard completion to Lynch netted a first down at the 24.  That was followed by a 16-yard pass to tight end Luke Willson.  A holding penalty on the Seahawks moved them back ten yards.  But a taunting penalty on Hayden gave the Seahawks a first down at the Oakland 34.  What the hell are you taunting for?  You’re on a winless team and you’re down 17-3.  It was a nice tackle, but there’s no reason to stand over a player and taunt him.  I’m not sure what he said, but it was within earshot of a zebra and he promptly threw the flag.  Completions to Baldwin, running back Robert Turbin and some scrambling by Wilson moved the ball to the five.  From there, Lynch took it the rest of the way for another Seahawk touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks led 24-3 at halftime.

The Seahawks started the second half at their 34-yard line.  Three plays gained three yards and punter Jon Ryan was brought into the game.  The punt was blocked by defensive end Denico Autry.  The ball bounced backward and was recovered by Butler in the end zone for a Raider touchdown.  That was a nice start to the second half for the Raiders.  Janikowski made the point after and the Seahawks lead was cut to 24-10 with 13:52 to go in the third quarter.

After that, both defenses were playing very well.  The Raiders forced the Seahawks to punt on their next two possessions.  The Seahawks looked good too.  But they had it much easier because they knew half the plays were going to be runs up the middle by McFadden.  With a little under five minutes to go in the third quarter, rookie return man TJ Carrie fielded a punt at the Oakland 43 and returned it back to the Seattle 30-yard line.  This was a golden opportunity for the Raiders to put some more points on the board.  Carr completed a screen to McFadden and he took it up the right side for a gain of 23 and a first down at the seven.  Then came the obligatory McFadden run that gained two yards.  That was followed by an incomplete pass to forgotten wide receiver Denarius Moore.  On third down, Carr found Jones for a gain of four.  He was brought down just short of the goal line.  With the ball so close to the end zone, head coach Tony Sparano opted to go for it.  Carr took the snap and was immediately flushed out of the pocket.  He regained his composure long enough to loft a pass to the right side of the end zone and Rivera was able to haul it in for a touchdown.  Janikowksi made the point after and the Seahawks now led 24-17 with three minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Seahawks started at their 20 and on second and ten, Wilson completed a 19-yard pass to wide receiver Kevin Norwood.  Two runs by Lynch and a defensive holding penalty on the Raiders gave the Seahawks a first down at the Oakland 49-yard line.  From the 49, Wilson tossed a short pass to the left that was caught by Lynch.  He turned on the speed and took it up the left sideline for a gain of 39 yards.  They wouldn’t get any farther than that and Hauschka came on for another field goal attempt.  The kick was good and the Seahawks led 27-17 with 14:50 to go in the game.

The Raiders needed to get moving and they went nowhere.  Three plays netted six yards and punter Marquette King got off a nice 59-yard punt that was fielded at the Seattle 15 by Baldwin.  He proceeded to take it straight up the middle for a gain of 38 yards.  From the Oakland 47, Wilson scrambled up the middle for a gain of 19.  They got as far as the 22 and it was time for another field goal attempt.  Hauschka made his 40-yard attempt and the Seahawks went up 30-17 with 9:19 to go in the game.

The Raiders managed to get a first down on their next possession, but that was it.  King punted again and seven plays later, the Seahawks punted right back to the Raiders.  With 4:14 to go in the game, the Raiders needed a quick score.  On first down, Carr was sacked for a loss of seven by defensive end Michael Bennett.  But Bennett was flagged for a facemask penalty and that gave the Raiders a first down at the Seattle 49.  Passes to Rivera, Holmes,  Butler and running back Maurice Jones-Drew quickly moved the Raiders down to the seven-yard line.  Three plays later, Carr rolled to his left and it looked like he was going to run it in.  Instead, he tossed the ball to the back of the end zone where Rivera hauled it in for his second touchdown of the game.  Janikowski made the point after and the Seahawks now led 30-24 with 52 seconds to go in the game.

We all knew what was next.  It was time for an onside kick.  With the rain coming down, I thought maybe a slippery ball would give the Raiders an advantage.  The kick was a good one and it looked like the Raiders may come up with it.  Teams that have no wins don’t get that kind of break.  The ball was recovered by Kearse at the 50-yard line.  And that was that.  Final score: Seahawks 30 Raiders 24.  The loss dropped the Raiders to 0-8 and the win improved Seattle’s record to 5-3.

For the Raiders, Derek Carr completed 24 of 41 for 194 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.  Mychal Rivera led the team in receptions with eight and two touchdowns.  Darren McFadden had the most receiving yards with 47.  The ground game continued to be anemic as the Raiders rushed for a grand total of 37 yards on 18 carries.  Ten of those yards came on one play.  I find that to be truly pathetic.  Defensively, linebacker Sio Moore led the team in solo tackles with eight.  He was the only Raider with a quarterback sack.

For the Seahawks, Russell Wilson completed 17 of 35 for 179 yards.  Marshawn Lynch and Doug Baldwin led the team in receptions with five and Lynch had the most receiving yards with 76.  On the ground, Lynch led the way with 67 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns.  Defensively, linebacker K. J. Wright led the team in solo tackles with ten.

Despite trailing 24-3, I liked the fight the Raiders showed in this game.  They didn’t give up.  I firmly believe that if Dennis Allen were still the coach, the Seahawks would have won 51-10.  Sparano has his players playing hard.  Unfortunately, Greg Olson is still the offensive coordinator.  If he continues with his predictable and unimaginative play calling, the team will continue to suffer.  Up next on the schedule is a visit from the Denver Broncos.  They’ll be looking for a win after getting thrashed by the Patriots.  It could get pretty ugly if the defense is unable to stop Peyton Manning and his weapons.  Until then, take it easy.

The Frustrated Raider Guy

Super Bowl XLVIII

This Super Bowl matched up the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos and I for one thought this was going to be a great game.  There was lots of speculation leading up to this game as far as the weather was concerned.  Will it snow?  Will it rain?  Will a huge snowstorm hit the area and force the game to be rescheduled?  The answer to those questions was a resounding “NO!”  The temperature was in the 40s and there was just a slight chance of precipitation.

Seattle won the toss and deferred to the second half.  Kicker Steven Hauschka hit the opening kickoff six yards deep into the end zone and return man Trindon Holliday returned it to the 14.  Quarterback Peyton Manning led the offense on to the field and started in the shotgun formation.  As he called the signals, center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball over his head and it rolled toward the end zone.  A mad scramble ensued and running back Knowshon Moreno fell on it for a safety.  Well that most certainly was an original beginning to the Super Bowl.  A grand total of 12 seconds had run off the clock and the Seahawks were already up 2-0.

Denver punter Britton Colquitt hit a 64-yard punt that was fielded by return man/wide receiver Golden Tate at the 16.  He returned it to the 36 and quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense went to work.  Running back Marshawn Lynch got the call on first down and was brought down after a gain of three yards. From the 39, wide receiver Percy Harvin ran up the left side for a gain of 30.  That put the Seahawks at the Denver 31.  A false start penalty moved them back five yards and that was followed by an incomplete pass to tight end Zach Miller.  That was followed by a six-yard completion to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse.  On third and nine from the 30, Wilson fired a bullet to Kearse and he caught it for a gain of 12 yards and a first down at the 18.  The next two plays gained four yards and on third and six from the 14, Wilson ran up the left side and was pushed out of bounds just before he got to the first down marker.  Head coach Pete Carroll challenged the spot, but it was ruled that Wilson was still just short of the marker.  Instead of going for it, Hauschka came into the game and his 31-yard field goal attempt was good.  With 10:21 to go in the first quarter, the Seahawks led 5-0.

Hauschka sent the kickoff through the end zone, but the Seahawks were penalized for unnecessary roughness.  That put the Broncos at their 35.  But three plays gained just eight yards and they were forced to punt.  The punt was fair caught by Tate at the Seattle 28-yard line.  On third and seven from the 31, Wilson threw to his left and the ball was caught by Tate for nine yards and a first down at the 40.  From the 40, Wilson found fullback Michael Robinson for seven yards.  Lynch was stuffed for a loss of one on the next play, but Wilson found wide receiver Doug Baldwin across the middle for a gain of six.  That was good enough for a first down at the Denver 48.  From the 48, Harvin caught another pass for a gain of five.  Then the Seahawks decided to get fancy and tried a crazy flea-flicker play that didn’t work.  On third and five from the 43, Wilson floated a deep pass up the left side for Baldwin who hauled it in for a gain of 36 yards.  A holding call moved them back ten yards and Lynch continued to struggle to get positive yardage.  On third and 14, Wilson looked for Kearse in the back of the end zone.  Kearse had possession of it for a second, but the ball was knocked out by linebacker Nate Irving.  That meant it was time for another field goal.  Hauschka made his 33-yard attempt and the Seahawks led 8-0 with 2:16 to go in the first quarter.

Aside from a five-yard completion to wide receiver Wes Welker, the Broncos still couldn’t get going.  On second and five from the 25, Moreno ran up the left side and the ball came loose.  The Broncos recovered it at the 23 and that set up a third and seven from the 23.  Manning looked for tight end Julius Thomas and the pass was picked off by safety Kam Chancellor at the 39.  He returned it two yards and the Seahawks set up shop at the Denver 37.  Another end around to Harvin gained 15 yards and tight end Luke Willson caught a five-yard pass.  Lynch ran up the middle for a gain of six and a first down at the 11.  Lynch was thrown for a loss of one on the next play, but Wilson found Baldwin for a gain of seven on second down.  That set up a third and four from the five-yard line.  Wilson threw to the back corner of the end zone for Tate, but the pass was incomplete.  Then a flag appeared.  Cornerback Tony Carter was flagged for pass interference and that gave the Seahawks a first down at the one-yard line.  Two plays later, Lynch ran it in for the first touchdown of the game.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks led 15-0 with 12 minutes to go in the first half.

The Broncos started at their 16 and Manning went to the air immediately.  Two completions to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and a short run by Moreno finally got the Broncos a first down at the 30.  Two more passes to D. Thomas and another carry by Moreno netted another first down at the 40.  On third and nine from the 41, Manning found Welker across the middle for a gain of 16 and the Broncos found themselves in Seattle territory.  Another catch by D. Thomas and a short carry by running back Montee Ball moved them down to the 32.  A holding penalty moved them back ten yards and a pass to tight end Jacob Tamme went for a loss of two yards.  From the 44, Moreno ran for a gain of nine.  That set up a third and 13 from the 35.  The Seahawks brought some pressure and defensive end Cliff Avril got to Manning just as he let the ball go and it was picked off at the 31 by linebacker Malcolm Smith.  That was bad for the Broncos and it got worse as Smith returned it all the way for a touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks went up 22-0 with 3:21 to go in the first half.

Holliday managed to return the ball to the 33 on the ensuing kickoff.  It looked like he fumbled, but he was ruled down before the ball came loose.  With time running short and knowing the walls were closing in, Manning knew he had to get his team into the end zone.  He spread the ball around to three different receivers and they quickly moved down to the Seattle 27.  An incomplete pass to J. Thomas, a six-yard catch by Moreno and a false start set up a third and nine from the 26.  Manning dumped a short pass to Moreno that came up two yards short of the first down.  What do you do now?  Go for the field goal?  No.  Head coach John Fox decided to go for it and Manning looked for D. Thomas.  The pass was incomplete and the Seahawks took over at their 19 with one minute to go in the half.  Two carries by Lynch ran out the clock and the Seahawks led 22-0 at halftime.

For once, I actually enjoyed the halftime show.  Good sound, good lighting and it was good to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers for a few minutes.  Back to return the kickoff to start the second half was the dangerous Percy Harvin.  Instead of trying to kick it through the end zone, kicker Matt Prater sent a knuckle-ball down the middle to keep the ball away from Harvin.  Nice try, but Harvin still got his hands on it.  He headed straight up the middle and returned it for an 87-yard touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks now led 29-0 with 14:48 to go in the third quarter.  To open the game, the Seahawks scored 12 seconds into the first quarter.  Then, they scored 12 seconds into the third quarter.  Interesting.

It was officially time for the Broncos to get into “panic mode.”  They went from their 23 to the Seattle 38 with little trouble.  But the Seahawk defense stiffened and forced another punt.  The punt was downed at the eight and on first down, Lynch got loose, but was tripped up at the 26.  If he had broken one more tackle, he likely would have scored.  That was the only eventful play of that possession and punter Jon Ryan got off a 45-yard punt that was fielded at the Denver 36 by return man/wide receiver Eric Decker.  He returned it to the 45 and the Broncos had yet another opportunity to put some points on the board.  On second and nine from the 46, Manning hooked up with D. Thomas for a gain of ten and a first down at the Seattle 44.  From the 44, Manning hit D. Thomas in stride across the middle.  As Thomas ran up the left side, the ball was knocked loose by cornerback Byron Maxwell and recovered by Smith at the 20 and he returned it seven yards.  The Broncos were also flagged for unnecessary roughness and that gave the Seahawks a first down at their 42-yard line.

A short carry by Lynch and a 12-yard completion to Willson moved them to the Denver 43.  From the 42, Wilson found wide receiver Ricardo Lockette for a gain of 19 and a first down at the 23.  On the very next play, Wilson found Kearse on the right side and he was the recipient of some very poor tackling.  That enabled him to find the end zone for another Seahawk touchdown.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks were now up 36-0 with three minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Broncos started at their 20 and had no choice but to throw the ball on every down.  Judging by the looks on their faces, they looked like they would rather not even finish the game.  But completions to Welker, J. Thomas and Moreno had them moving in the right direction.  A pass interference call gave them a first down at the Seattle 41.  Two more catches by Welker and one by Tamme got them a first down at the 14.  With the final seconds of the quarter ticking away, Manning took the snap and fired a strike to the end zone that was caught for a touchdown by D. Thomas.  They decided to go for two and it was good as Manning hooked up with Welker again.  At the end of the third quarter, the Seahawks led 36-8.

The Broncos tried an unsuccessful onside kick that was recovered at the Denver 48 by Miller.  From the 48, backup running back Robert Turbin rumbled up the left side for a gain of 33 yards.  But that was brought back by a holding call and it moved the Seahawks back to their 42-yard line.  Miller caught a pass for ten yards and Tate added eight more to set up a third and two at the Denver 40.  From the 40, Baldwin caught a six-yard pass for a first down at the 34.  Then Kearse got in on the action again and made a nice catch for a gain of 24 yards.  That set up a first and goal from the ten and Wilson found Baldwin who bounced off a couple of defenders and dove into the end zone.  Hauschka made the point after and the Seahawks led 43-8 with 11:45 to go in the game.  That 11:45 was also known as “garbage time.”

Neither team scored again and the Seattle Seahawks came away with a 43-8 thrashing of the Denver Broncos for their first Super Bowl win.  Malcom Smith was named MVP as he had a great game with an interception for a touchdown, a fumble recovery and six solo tackles.  Their defense as a whole played very well.  Although they registered only one sack, they pressured Manning throughout the game, forced four turnovers and rarely let the Denver receivers get loose for big gains.  All in all, it was a very impressive performance by the Seahawks and the Broncos are now the only team to lose five Super Bowls.  Their overall record in Super Bowls is 2-5.

For the Seahawks, Russell Wilson completed 18 of 25 for 206 yards and two touchdowns.  He also had 26 yards rushing on three carries.  Doug Baldwin led the team in receptions with five and receiving yards with 66 and a touchdown.  On the ground, Percy Harvin had the most rushing yards with 45 on two carries.  The Broncos did a good job of containing Marshawn Lynch as he finished the game with 39 yards on 15 carries.  18 of those yards came on one carry.  All totaled, the Seahawks rushed for 135 yards on 29 carries.  Defensively, Kam Chancellor and Malcolm Smith tied for the lead in solo tackles with six.

For the Broncos, Peyton Manning completed 34 of 49 for 280 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.  Demaryius Thomas set a Super Bowl record with 13 receptions and he also had the most receiving yards with 118 and a touchdown.  There isn’t much to talk about when it comes to the Denver ground game.  Knowshon Moreno led the team in rushing with 17 yards on five carries.  They finished the game with a total of 27 yards on 14 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Danny Trevathan led the team in solo tackles with seven and he had one tackle for a loss.

And that’s that.  I enjoyed writing these playoff articles and I’ll be returning as the Raider Guy later in the year.  Up next is the combine, then free agency starts and then the draft will take place in May.  Until then, take it easy.

 

Falcons 30, Seahawks 28

The third playoff game on the schedule had the well traveled Seattle Seahawks heading down south to take on the Atlanta Falcons.  The Seahawks were coming off a 24-14 win over the Washington Redskins and the Falcons had a first round bye.  The Falcons won the toss and elected to receive.  Return man Jacquizz Rodgers fielded the kick three yards deep in the end zone and returned it to the 25.  Running back Michael Turner got things off to a good start and rumbled up the right side for a gain of 15 yards.  Turner got the call again and got a short gain.  Quarterback Matt Ryan then hooked up with tight end Tony Gonzalez for nine yards and a first down at the Seahawk 49.  A couple of carries by Rodgers and a 13-yard completion to wide receiver Roddy White put the ball at the 28.  Turner and Rodgers gained seven yards on the next two plays and that brought up a third and three at the 21.  Ryan threw for White in the end zone, but the ball was knocked away by cornerback Richard Sherman.  That brought in kicker Matt Bryant to attempt a 39-yard field goal and the kick was good.  The Falcons took an early 3-0 lead with 9:40 to go in the first quarter.

Two carries by running by Marshawn Lynch and an incomplete pass from quarterback Russell Wilson to wide receiver Sidney Rice forced the Seahawks to punt.  The Falcons started at the 50 and on third and three from the Seahawk 43, Ryan’s pass intended for Gonzalez was picked off by linebacker Bobby Wagner.  That gave the Seahawks the ball at their 33-yard line.  A scramble by Wilson got them to the 50.  From the 50, Lynch ran up the middle for a nice gain, but the ball was knocked loose by linebacker Sean Witherspoon.  There was a mad scramble and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux came up with it at the Falcon 39.

From the 39, Ryan connected with wide receiver Julio Jones for 13 yards.  Turner then got another carry for a gain of four.  The Seahawks were flagged for a horse collar tackle and that moved them down to the Seahawk 29.  A short run and a false start made it third and 14 from the 33.  Ryan calmly stood in the pocket and completed a 16-yard pass to White for a first down at the 17.  From the 17, Ryan floated one up the right sideline for tight end Chase Coffman.  He was ruled out of bounds at the one-yard line.  From there, Gonzalez made a nice catch in the back of the end zone for a Falcon touchdown.  Bryant made the point after and the Falcons went up 10-0 with 3:10 remaining in the first quarter.

The Seahawks started at their 20 and on the strength of two receptions by tight end Zach Miller, got down to the Falcon 44.  On third and eight from the 42, Wilson’s pass to wide receiver Golden Tate was incomplete.  They punted again and the ball was downed at the 13-yard line.  From the 13, Rodgers burst up the middle, bounced off a big hit and ran 45 yards to the Seahawk 42.  Completions to Jones and White netted another first down at the 30.  The drive came to an end at the 19 and Bryant made his 37-yard attempt to put the Falcons up 13-0 with 9:13 to go in the first half.

Passes to Miller and Tate put the Seahawks at the Falcon 20.  A three-yard gain and a six-yard catch by Lynch made it third and one at the 11.  For me, the answer to getting a first down on third and short is to give it to Lynch.  He was standing on the sideline and the carry went to Robert Turbin for no gain.  Seahawk head coach Pete Carrol decided to go for it on fourth and short.  This time, Lynch was back on the field.  But he didn’t get the ball.  Fullback Michael Robinson did and he was stuffed for no gain.  I honestly don’t understand why Lynch wasn’t used to get the first down.  The Seahawks turned the ball over on downs.

With 5:33 to go in the half, the Falcons looked to increase their lead.  A 33-yard run by Turner on second and seven from the 15 got them off to a good start.  A defensive holding call on the Seahawks got them into Seahawk territory.  On first down from the 47, Ryan went deep down the middle of the field and the pass was caught by White for a 47-yard touchdown.  Bryant made the point after and the Falcons now led 20-0 with 4:16 to go.

The Seahawks got the ball at their 20.  Some scrambling by Wilson and passes to Tate, Rice and Miller had them at the Falcon 19 with time ticking away.  A nine-yard pass to Miller and a four yard-pass to Tate made it first and goal at the nine.  That was followed by a three-yard pass to Rice, a false start and an incomplete pass to Tate.  On third and goal from the 11, Wilson was sacked by Babineaux.  With no timeouts, Wilson tried to get his offense set for one more play.  Time ran out and they didn’t get the play off.  The Falcons took a 20-0 lead into the locker room.

The Seahawks knew they really had to get something going quickly or this game may end up being a blowout.  Another touch-back meant they would be starting at their 20 again.  An 11-yard completion to Rice, a short gain by Lynch and a 17-yard scramble by Wilson had the Seahawks at midfield.  Carries by Lynch, Wilson and Turbin netted another first down at the Falcon 40.  Wilson was sacked on the next play for a loss of eight by defensive tackle Vance Walker.  But, on second and 18, he hooked up with Miller again for 19 yards and a first down at the 29.  Tate took it the rest of the way as he caught a pass on the left side and weaved his way into the end zone for a touchdown.  Newly acquired kicker Ryan Longwell made the point after and the Seahawks now trailed 20-7 with 9:47 to go in the third quarter.

Rodgers returned the kickoff to the 20 and the Falcons went looking for another score.  A five-yard carry by Turner and a six-yard pass to Gonzalez moved them to the 31.  Ryan then spread the ball around to Rodgers, Jones and wide receiver Harry Douglass for a first down at the Seahawk 44.  On second and ten from the 44, Ryan tossed a short pass to Jones who turned it into a 21-yard gain.  On third and nine from the 22, Gonzalez caught another pass for a gain of 11 and a first down at the 11.  On first down, Rodgers caught a pass for six yards to make it second and goal from the five.  From the five, Ryan completed a pass to running back Jason Snelling who took it in for the score.  Bryant made the point after and the Falcons now led 27-7 with 2:11 to go in the third quarter.

The Seahawks were now officially in “panic mode.”  Lynch ran up the right side for five yards and Tate caught another pass for a gain of 24 yards.  That was followed by a 12-yard pass to Rice and a 26-yard pass to Miller.  All that passing got them down to the Falcon 13.  From the 13, Wilson threw a short pass to the right side that was caught by Turbin for a gain of seven yards.  A carry by Turbin moved the ball to the one-yard line and made it first and goal.  On second down, the Falcons brought the pressure up the middle, Wilson faked the hand-off to Lynch and took the ball in for a touchdown.  Longwell made the point after and it was now 27-14 with 13 minutes to go in the game.

I was thinking the Falcons may want to take some time off the clock on their next drive.  They had the ball for exactly one minute and 58 seconds.  That’s because on second and 11 from the Falcon 32, Ryan went deep into double coverage looking for White.  White fell down at the Seahawk 39 and the ball was easily picked off by safety Earl Thomas.  That gave the Seahawks another chance to close the gap.  They went 62 yards in four plays with the big plays being a 24-yard pass to Rice and a 30-yard catch and run by Turbin.  That got them a first and goal from the three.  From there, Wilson found Miller wide open for a touchdown.  Longwell made the point after and it was now 27-21 and there was an eerie hush over the Atlanta faithful.

Again, I thought the Falcons would pound the ball with Turner and Rodgers to take the clock down.  But, with 9:13 to go, they called three pass plays that got them exactly three freaking yards and took only 1:50 off the clock.  They punted the ball back to the Seahawks who took over at their 40.  The Falcon defense rose up this time and forced a punt.  The ball hit the goal line for a touch-back and the Falcons went to work from their 20.  This “drive”  got them a grand total of 14 yards (12 came on a carry by Turner) and took 2:32 off the clock.

So, with exactly three minutes to go in the game, the Seahawks found themselves at their 39 with a chance to take the lead.  A three-yard run and a seven-yard catch by Lynch got them a first down at the 49.  Tate was wide open in the middle of the field on the next play and Wilson connected with him for a gain of 19.  That made it first down at the Falcon 32.  Wilson scrambled for a gain of five and on third and five from the 27, Wilson was flushed out of the pocket and looked for a receiver.  He found Lynch and he took the ball down to the three-yard line.  The Falcons were flagged for 12 men on the field and that moved the ball to the two.  From the two, Lynch ran off right guard for a touchdown.  Or was it?  The ball came loose as he entered the end zone, but replay showed it had crossed the plane before it came loose.  Longwell made the point after and that put the Seahawks up 28-27 with just 31 seconds to go.

The Falcons started at their 28 and Ryan quickly hooked up with Douglass for a gain of 22 yards.  Just like that, they were at midfield and called their second timeout.  From the 50, Ryan completed a pass to Gonzalez at the 31.  In two plays, the Falcons went 41 yards.  What kind of defense was that, Seattle?  With 13 seconds remaining, the Falcons called their final timeout and Bryant came on for the crucial field goal attempt.  The Seahawks called timeout, but Bryant kicked the ball anyway.  It sailed wide right.  But, with Seattle calling that timeout, Bryant had another chance.  This time, his kick was good and the Falcons led 30-27 with eight seconds to go.

The ensuing kickoff was very short and the Seahawks recovered it at their 46.  Wilson completed a pass to wide receiver Doug Baldwin and he ran out of bounds at the Falcon 46 with two seconds to go.  So, what do you do?  Try a 64-yard field goal?  You’re in a dome, why not give it a shot?  Longwell was standing on the sideline waiting for a chance.  That chance never came.  Wilson threw a deep pass for the end zone that ended up being picked off by Julio Jones.  That’s how the game ended.  Final score: Falcons 30 Seahawks 28.  The Falcons will go on to face the 49ers in Atlanta for the NFC championship.

For the Seahawks, Russell Wilson completed 24 of 36 for 385 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.  Zach Miller had a stellar day and led the team in receptions with eight and yards with 142 and one touchdown.  Wilson was also the leading rusher with 60 yards on seven carries and one touchdown.  All totaled, the Seahawks rushed for 123 yards on 28 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Bobby Wagner led the defense with seven solo tackles, an interception and one pass defensed.

For the Falcons, Matt Ryan completed 24 of 35 for 250 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.  Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones tied for the lead in receptions with six and Roddy White had the most receiving yards with 76 and a touchdown.  Michael Turner rumbled for 98 yards on 14 carries and as a team, the Falcons racked up 167 yards on 26 carries.  Defensively, Sean Witherspoon and cornerback Asante Samuel led the team in solo tackles with five apiece.  Witherspoon also forced a fumble.

Well, after years of frustration and saying he was 95% sure he was going to retire, Tony Gonzalez finally got his first playoff win.  Hey it had to happen eventually, right?  It was fitting that his catch on the final drive put the Falcons in position for the game winning field goal.  They’ll have their hands full next week against the 49ers.  One game remains on the schedule and that’s the Texans and the Patriots.  I’ll be back at the conclusion of that game for a recap.

 

Mitchell’s Fantasy Football Notes: Week 10 (2012)

While week 9 in fantasy football was a scoring explosion compared to past weeks, week 10 for fantasy football was one known more for who was carted off the field than its performances on it.  RG3 and Aaron Rodgers had the entire week off while Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Alex Smith and Jay Cutler took half days for health reasons, three concussions and one shoulder separation.  These injuries will impact week 11 and potentially the fantasy playoffs, especially in the case of Vick and Big Ben.  This new weekly column will address the relevant activity and it’s impact in every game on the weekend’s calendar for week 10 in the NFL so let’s get right to it.

Colts 27, Jaguars 10
In this game the lack of stats tells us more than the productive ones.  Vic Ballard and Donald Brown both had disappointing yardage totals and no TD’s but the split carries is the story here.  The wide receiver position is where we see reasons to be optimistic if not outright bullish.  For Jacksonville, Michael Spurlock was productive with minimal targets while both Cecil Shorts III and Laurent Robinson were productive and more importantly, targeted significantly.  All good signs for teams slogging through a 2-QB league with Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne or for owners that took a shot on Cecil Shorts III or Laurent Robinson.  For Indianapolis, T.Y. Hilton’s emergence looks to be a bit premature with Donnie Avery being the #2 guy in this offense behind Reggie Wayne and even Avery only got 6 targets.

Bengals 31, Giants 13
Disappointing once again for Eli Manning and his “tired” arm.  TD’s are king in fantasy football and that anoints Andy Dalton into royalty in week 10 with four scores with only seven weeks to go.  Hakeem Nicks seems to be back and productive while Andre Brown and Ahmed Bradshaw both ran well in limited carries.  The big fantasy story for the Giants is TE Michael Bennett and RB Andre Brown being targeted significantly in the passing game as well as news that Ahmed Bradshaw is battling an injury going into week 11.

Titans 37, Dolphins 3
Ryan Tannehill took a step back this week with three INT’s while Chris Johnson took another step closer to solidifying himself as the stud RB he once was and people thought he might never be again.  Brian Hartline stepped up big as well in a pathetic overall offensive effort by Miami.

Vikings, 34 Lions 24
There were big fantasy stats in a losing effort for Matthew Stafford and the revitalized Megatron.  Adrian Peterson once again shows that he is a beast no matter what else is going on in Minnesota.  Concerning Mikel Leshoure, you better hope he gets some goal line carries because he doesn’t do much else well.  A monster day for AP.  The story here that matters most is when Percy Harvin sits, Kyle Rudolph matters and when Harvin plays, Rudolph seems to disappear.  This is one to watch more closely in coming weeks.

Patriots 37, Bills 31
The big story here is that YES, the Patriots pass defense is THIS bad.  They are second worst defense in the NFL on 3rd down ahead of only… yes that’s right…BUFFALO.  Start every wide receiver you can find when facing the Patriots.  Can Talib turn things around??  Seems unlikely.  Mount up WR’s.  Spiller owners should be excited with the news that Fred Jackson will miss week 11 if not more.

Saints 31, Falcons 27
Matt Ryan may end up being the highest scoring QB in the NFL which means a lot of targets to go around and the player with the biggest upside for the remainder of the season on this team is Jacquizz Rodgers.  His targets can go nowhere but up and with the Falcons essentially in the playoffs there is no reason not to continue to expand his role.  From the Saints, Chris Ivory and Mark Ingram are gaining steam and may be becoming fantasy relevant.

Buccaneers 34, Chargers 24
This Bucs offense is a juggernaut, second only to the Falcons in the NFC.  Surprisingly, week 10 was not an explosive week for the Bucs versus a mediocre Chargers defense in what appeared to be a great match up.  With San Diego, a lot of passing attempts to go around but nobody to bet heavy on to catch them consistently.  Malcolm Floyd and Antonio Gates seem to be the safe bets but not enough consistent production for me to be excited.

Broncos 36, Panthers 14
It was a high scoring fantasy week for Carolina players that didn’t translate into a W for the Panthers who can probably be eliminated from the NFL discussion officially after losing to the Broncos.  Denver players didn’t produce enough and didn’t score enough to make their fantasy owners happy.  Willis McGahee seems to be a flex RB at this point and a mediocre one at that while Daniel Thomas looks to be elevating himself into the upper tier of WR’s with the help of Peyton Manning in Denver.  MORE TOUCHDOWNS DENVER.  WE NEED MORE SCORES.  Carolina’s running game appears to be non-existent which bodes well for Cam Newton, Brandon LaFell, Steve Smith and Greg Olsen owners.

Ravens 55, Raiders 20
On the two podcasts that I host on the Leatherheads National Podcasting Network (The Monday Rundown at 7:00 P.M. EST on Mondays and The Leatherheads Fantasy Football Show at 9:00 P.M. EST on Wednesdays), I have time and time again made the point that Ray Rice is not getting enough touches and in a big win versus the lowly Oakland Raiders, we once again saw or better said, didn’t see Ray Rice toting the rock.  In winning big, they didn’t need Rice but for one of the best all around RB’s and a top five fantasy draft pick in the game to only touch the ball 17 times, I wonder if this signals a transition from a trend to a fundamental offensive shift of focus by John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens.  With more of the Raven’s offense highlighting the passing game, Joe Flacco’s role was expanding and we knew this coming into 2012, but to see the significant reduction of Ray Rice’s touches is beyond what anyone would have ever expected.  As far as the Raiders go, Carson Palmer and the WR’s are becoming legitimate and must starts.  With the Raiders likely to be behind in almost every second half the remainder of this season, there is no reason not to be upset if you own Darren McFadden and you should be elated if you own Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey or tight end Brandon Myers who all have been consistently targeted on this hot fantasy run by the Raiders offense.

Seahwaks 28, NY Jets 7
The Jets don’t have much fantasy relevance unless Tim Tebow can somehow tear the starting QB job from the cold, dead hand of Rex Ryan.  Shonn Greene appears to have the RB carries almost completely too himself but the production from those carries is miserable.  Jeremy Kerley is getting some targets and he has some big play ability, but how do you make big plays when your QB can’t throw the ball well enough to get it to you?  As for Seattle, it is all about  Marshawn Lnynch.   If Lynch can manage to survive the season, he is going to be one of the hardest worked RB’s in the game–if not the history of it.  Only Arian Foster has more carries this season and may pass him by season’s end.  Ride Lynch to the ground and ignore the horrible Jets all together.  Oh, and maybe you may want to claim Golden Tate because he throws the ball better than Russell Wilson.

Cowboys 38, Eagles 23
In a game that saved the Cowboys season and officially ended the Eagles one, we saw what many fans were hoping for and what most fantasy owners dreaded, Nick Foles in and Michael Vick out.  An offensive line that singlehandedly can be blamed for the abysmal Eagles season in this fantasy expert’s opinion, finally got Michael Vick knocked out and it could be awhile before we see Vick play again–and it may be with another team next season.  Nick Foles made one play, a 44-yard TD on a broken coverage, while Tony Romo, who didn’t sparkle, did make a few highlight reel plays and was able to get it done for the Cowboys.  Felix Jones seems to be finding his groove and Jason Witten is officially the only true, reliable player to catch Romo passes.  For the Eagles, Jeremy Maclin was targeted over and over, which is normally a good thing, but for me its a mirage.  This offense can’t overcome an offensive line that leaks like a swiss cheese built boat and refuses, not unlike the Ravens, to get its superstar RB the ball.  If your thin then Maclin seems to be a consistent play, but I rank him as a WR3 at best.  I would downgrade him from there with Foles at the helm.

Rams 24, 49ers 24
In a rare tie in the NFL, this was a game where an injury was possibly the best thing that could happen to a struggling fantasy owner.  Alex Smith looks to be sidelined due to a concussion which opens the door for the fleet afoot Colin Kaepernick.  The issue here is that the 49ers have a tough matchup versus the Bears in week 11 (a team who also lost their starting QB in week 10) and this may be the only week Alex Smith misses.  So the one week where a fantasy team owner that picked Kaepernick has a chance to start him, it may be better to sit him due to the matchup and then lose the upside to a returning Alex Smith.  I can’t even recommend holding on to Kaepernick even if you have the roster space because it seems unlikely he gets any playing time.  He is an intriguing guy if you are desperate.  As for the Rams, Stephen Jackson had a big game versus one of the best run defenses in football and that may give some breathing room to Jackson owners who can feel the footsteps of Daryl Richardson right behind them.  Danny Amendola came back from a life threatening injury to have a big game and it looks like he is a reliable WR3 if not even a WR2 in the right matchups.  Oh, and if you are truly desperate make a claim on Rams punter Johnny Hekker who was 2-2 for 40 yards passing.  Who knows how often he throws the ball but he is still a better play than Mark Sanchez so keep that in mind.

Texans 13, Bears 6
The biggest story of this game was defense.  Both that Chicago’s didn’t score and that it suffocated scoring with the exception of Arian Foster and Brandon Marshall who both hit the century mark.  From an NFL matchup perspective, this was the game of the week.  From a fantasy perspective, it was almost entirely irrelevant.  The Bears lost Jay Cutler before halftime to a concussion and Jason Campbell will have to lead the Bears in week 11 vs San Francisco.  A tough loss for the Niners both in week 10 and week 11.

Steelers 16, Chiefs 13
Perhaps, the biggest fantasy story in week 10 was all the injuries with the Steelers potentially losing Big Ben Roethlisberger for the season as possibly the biggest one.  The Steelers continue to mess with fantasy ballers heads by playing musical carries.  Is it Rashard Mendenhall?  Is it Jonathan Dwyer?  Is it Isaac Redman?  Week 10 predictors say Dwyer, but with Mendenhall coming back the picture remains muddled.

Time for Week 11!!!

 

All Out Blitz

Arizona Cardinals: That’s back to back upsets for the Cardinals of division leaders. Good to see they still have some fight left in them…..Unfortunately, QB Kevin Kolb didn’t play long as he suffered a head injury early in the game and did not return. He has yet to practice in full this week and seems certain to be a game time decision this week…..Everyone thought WR Larry Fitzgerald would be the happiest guy in Arizona when the Cardinals signed Kolb, but he has had his best games this season with John Skelton under center.

Atlanta Falcons: Big comeback win by the Falcons over the Panthers last week. The Falcons are unlikely to catch the Saints in the NFC South, but are looking pretty solid to take one of the wildcard spots…..Although the Falcons keep stating it’s a minor injury, RB Michael Turner just hasn’t been the same since suffering a groin injury. He hasn’t missed any game action, but isn’t putting up his typical numbers either. If it is not the groin, maybe the long season is catching up with him.

Baltimore Ravens: It looks like LB Ray Lewis will be back in the lineup this week. The Ravens played it smart and kept Lewis out of the lineup until he and the team were sure he was ready to return…..WR Torrey Smith has been getting a bigger and bigger role in the Ravens offense each and every week. If he continues to develop, the Ravens may have an offense that can at least rival their defense, but more importantly it will take some of the opposing defense’s attention off of RB Ray Rice.

Buffalo Bills: The Bills came out and stated this week that they won’t take a QB in the first round of next year’s draft. Once again reinforcing their faith in Ryan Fitzpatrick. I have a feeling that’s a mistake. Fitzpatrick can look good at times, but still doesn’t have the look of a franchise quarterback…..The Bills will also have a big decision to make with WR Steve Johnson. Contract talks have broken off, so they may have to figure out if they want to use their franchise tag on him.

Carolina Panthers: QB Cam Newton finally played like a rookie last week, throwing two interceptions to open up the second half and with his team up 16 points in what eventually became a loss. Oh well, growing pains are a part of the job…..It looks like the only thing that may be keeping K Olindo Mare on the roster would be his four-year, $12 million contract. The Panthers brought in Adi Kunalic and promised he will kick Sunday if he outperforms Mare this week in practice.

Chicago Bears: If not for the injury to RB Matt Forte, Marion Barber may have been released before the plane hit the ground after failing to stay inbounds to keep the clock running on the Bears final drive of the 4th quarter; thus giving the Broncos the chance they needed to tie the game and send it to overtime. He than fumbled on the first drive of overtime when it looked like he was breaking into the clear, allowing Denver to win the game.

Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals are quickly blowing what was a good start to the season. They have had trouble beating winning teams all season and it is quickly catching up to them. At this point they may have to win out to make the playoffs…..This all being said, the Bengals do get a layup this week in St. Louis, than Arizona, and even the last game versus Baltimore could be in their favor if the Ravens don’t have anything to play for with their playoff picture solidified.

Cleveland Browns: The Browns are catching plenty of heat for their handling of the concussion suffered by QB Colt McCoy versus Pittsburgh. Apparently no one on the Cleveland medical staff saw McCoy get hit by the oncoming truck that was LB James Harrison, and when they did check him out they were worried about his finger, not his head. Now apparently Browns players suffered multiple concussions during this game which may have spread the medical staff kind of thin, but still someone had to see that hit and say “Hey, you may want to check Colt out.”

Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory Sunday night, blowing a 12-point lead with five plus minutes left in the game…..Everyone seems to want to blame QB Tony Romo for missing WR Miles Austin with a pass that would have gone for a touchdown late in the 4th quarter, but Austin admitted that he lost the ball in the lights and that’s why he didn’t catch it. Criticizing K Dan Bailey for the block seems to be off base also since the kick wasn’t low. It was much more of a blocking problem or maybe it was just a great play by Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul.

Denver Broncos: QB Tim Tebow is starting to make a believer out of me. This guy finds a way to win every game, even if he did have a tremendous amount of help from the Chicago offense in this one. Now if the Broncos and Tebow are able to beat the Patriots on Sunday, I might be a true believer…..With Tebow being 7-1 as a starter, now the Broncos have little choice but to anoint Tebow as their starting QB next season.

Detroit Lions: Not sure what to make of the Lions who almost blew that game to Minnesota last week and if not for a missed face mask penalty on the final play of the game, may have blown it indeed…..The Lions right now are in a playoff spot but have an interesting schedule over the remainder of the season. They play an Oakland team that is fighting for their playoff lives, a San Diego team that may be doing the same next week, than a Green Bay squad that could be playing for a perfect season. It should be fun times in Motor City.

Green Bay Packers: The Packers can clinch home field throughout the playoffs with either a win or a San Francisco loss. Than the big question would remain, do you play your starters and go for a perfect season, or rest them and make sure you are completely healthy for the playoffs? Now the injury to WR Greg Jennings last week, which will keep him out for the remainder of the regular season, could push the Packers towards playing it safe. But they know that an undefeated season would be immortality, plus they did win the Super Bowl last season which should make going for 19-0 even more of a must.

Houston Texans: You just can’t stop these Texans no matter who is at the wheel. QB Tyler Yates led an impressive comeback over the Bengals last week, a game that was in Cincinnati and much more important to the Bengals than the Texans, but still Yates led them to a game winning drive. Impressive indeed, still though, I’m having a tough time seeing the Texans winning more than one game in the playoffs…..Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will be away from the team for the next 7-10 days as he will have a procedure to deal with a kidney ailment. Good luck Wade.

Indianapolis Colts: QB Peyton Manning has started throwing again. The question is, does he have the same zip on the ball that he did before the surgery? Next question still remains, what will the Colts do with Manning after the season and are they still planning on having Manning get in some game action before the end of the season?…..TE Dallas Clark did indeed return to action and didn’t suffer any setbacks with the leg, but did suffer a stinger that has kept him from practicing this week.

Jacksonville Jaguars: The NFL officially ratified Shahid Khan as the owner of the team, and Khan for his part stated once again that he is not planning on moving the team. Now moving the team would be hard anyway as they do have a lease through 2029, but there is an out clause if the Jags lose money for three straight seasons…..RB Maurice Jones-Drew is having an incredible season for a bad team. The numbers he is putting up for a team that has no other offensive weapons is unbelievable.

Kansas City Chiefs: So much for the Todd Haley era as he was fired this week. At least he won’t be around for the beating that the Chiefs are going to take from Green Bay this week. Look for the Chiefs to hire former Broncos head coach and current Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for the top job once the season concludes. He is the man they wanted instead of Haley in the first place, but Denver offered him the job first…..QB Kyle Orton has recovered from his dislocated finger and will start for KC this week.

Miami Dolphins: Head coach Tony Sparano was put out of his misery this week as well. The team certainly played hard for him even though we all knew he was a walking dead man. He won’t have any problems getting another job, either at the head coach or coordinator level…..QB Matt Moore left the game last week with a concussion and hasn’t practiced yet, but should be available to play this week against Buffalo.

Minnesota Vikings: Tough loss for the Vikings last week but some good did come out of it. QB/WR Joe Webb played pretty well after taking over for Christian Ponder and may be able to handle that role in the future. The problem is Minnesota also likes what he can do as a receiver. You really can’t have your backup QB playing receiver, too good a chance of an injury. Maybe you can have your third string QB play receiver though…..Ponder is expected to start this week even though Webb was more effective than he was last week.

New England Patriots: That was some pretty funny stuff watching QB Tom Brady and the Pats offensive coordinator yelling at each other on the sideline after Brady threw an interception last week. Seems though if any of the Pats coaches were going to yell at any of the players, it should be on the defensive side of the ball…..If that was the funny part of the game, than the ridiculous part was watching the Redskin defense trying to tackle TE Rob Gronkowski. It looked like a high school team trying to tackle a top college player–just a joke.

New Orleans Saints: If you’re not a fan of any team in the NFC, you have to be rooting for a Green Bay-New Orleans rematch in the championship game, hopefully in good weather. Now that would be entertainment….TE Jimmy Graham is dealing with a bad back that almost kept him out of the game against Tennessee. He was able to play and has also been able to practice this week so this may not be as serious as it once looked…..RB Mark Ingram has yet to practice this week and may yet miss another game due to turf toe.

New York Giants: What a win for the Giants over the Cowboys on Sunday. They are now in control of their own destiny in the NFC East, but things could get testy. They have what should be a gimme versus Washington this week, although the Skins played the Pats tough. They than have to play the Jets and then Dallas once again. Here’s hoping that last game is a winner take all…..The most impressive thing to me about the Giants’ win wasn’t the 37 points they scored but that they didn’t give up a sack.

New York Jets: The Jets have come alive once again and look like a team that could be dangerous come playoff time. They have a strong running game with Shonne Green and LaDainian Tomlinson, and QB Mark Sanchez has been more careful with the football in the past couple of games. The loss of S Jim Leonard is a blow to the defense, but he missed the playoff run last season as well due to injury.

Oakland Raiders: Not that the Raiders had much of a chance of beating Green Bay anyway, but that is back to back weeks that they virtually didn’t get off the plane. The team certainly has dealt with its share of injuries. Their receiving corps has been decimated and losing their biggest playmaker in RB Darren MacFadden has been huge, but that’s still no excuse for their play of late.

Philadelphia Eagles: QB Michael Vick had a successful return to action last week, but WR Jeremy Maclin did not as he had to leave the game early when his hamstring tightened up on him. He might give it a go once again this week but there is no way of knowing if he will be able to finish the game…..WR DeSean Jackson actually showed up last week and had a big game. The question is, can he do it again, especially with the games becoming more and more meaningless?

Pittsburgh Steelers: It seems unlikely that QB Ben Roethlisberger will play Monday night after suffering a high ankle sprain, an injury that looked pretty ugly when it happened. The Steelers need to think about the future. Sure they would like to win the division, but they have a wildcard spot all but locked up and need to make sure Ben is as close to 100% as possible for the playoffs…..C Maurkice Pouncey also suffered a high ankle sprain. He wants to play, but once again the Steelers may play it safe and hold him out.

San Diego Chargers: Can the Chargers make another miracle comeback in the division? Probably not, but they are once again giving it a go. If only Tim Tebow would stop pulling out these miracles…..With the rash of coaching changes that have been going on, it’s fair to wonder if Norv Turner could be let go when the Chargers next lose a game and are officially eliminated from playoff contention.

San Francisco 49ers: That’s two losses in a row for the 49ers and now they have the Steelers coming to town. Now they have a firm grip on the NFC West but that first round bye might be slipping away…..I still can’t see how this team can win a playoff game. They need to score points. Their defense is good, but not great…..RB Frank Gore is certainly beat up and the 49ers admit that he’s not 100%. But what running back is at this point in the season? The real question is, how far from full health is he?

Seattle Seahawks: RB Marshawn Lynch has set himself up to make a ton of money next season, assuming the Seahawks don’t franchise him. He’s as tough a runner as there is to bring down. Inconsistent, sure, but once he’s in the secondary he’s a runaway train. The Hawks must retain his services next season.

St. Louis Rams: It’s hard to believe that OC Josh McDaniels will be in high demand next season with the way the Rams offense has been this season. Of even more importance is that QB Sam Bradford has certainly regressed this season. Still look for McDaniels to be the Chiefs first choice…..If McDaniels were to leave, would free agent WR Brandon Lloyd leave with him?….Speaking of Bradford, his ankle seems to have taken a turn for the worse and as of now he is unlikely to play Sunday.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs look to be out of control and it seems unlikely that coach Raheem Morris keeps his job…..QB Josh Freeman stated that he still doesn’t have the same zip on his fastball due to injury. That could explain the problem he has had with interceptions this season. Freeman has to be one of the more disappointing players this season…..Freeman should be licking his chops at facing the Dallas secondary Saturday–Lord knows everyone else has this season.

Tennessee Titans: Tough loss by the Titans versus the Saints. They had a chance to beat them at the end. They might have had an extra play had rookie QB Jake Locker thrown the ball on the final play. He had time. Even if he throws the ball away, he still would have had another play. Then he could have run around forever and tried to make a play. You can’t take a sack, even if you just heave it up for grabs. Give your team a chance.

Washington Redskins: On that great run by TE Rob Gronkowski last week, did anyone notice CB DeAngelo Hall observing the play while two of his teammates were being dragged by Gronk? Way to get involved…..Coach Mike Shanahan stated this week that QB Rex Grossman is auditioning for the starting job next season. While that may be true, the Skins are sure to use their first-round pick on a rookie quarterback.

All Out Blitz

Arizona Cardinals: QB Kevin Kolb returned last week and the Cardinals won, but Kolb still didn’t play all that well. He was constantly throwing passes into the ground…..RB Beanie Wells is battling knee, thumb and hamstring injuries which has limited his practice time this week, but he still should play versus the 49ers on Sunday.

Atlanta Falcons: QB Matt Ryan has just not been able to take that next step this season. For the Falcons to advance deep into the playoffs, they will need him to do so or they will have no chance of beating the Packers or Saints…..RB Michael Turner is dealing with a groin injury that certainly seemed to slow him down last week, but the Texans’ defense may also have had something to do with his performance. This week he gets the Panthers, a much better matchup.

Baltimore Ravens: Some consider the Ravens to be the best team in the AFC, but I’m just not feeling it. I’m not sure I trust QB Joe Flacco to raise his game to an elite level when it matters. Even though the Ravens beat the Steelers twice, I still think the Steelers may be the best overall team…..LB Ray Lewis still isn’t practicing due to turf toe and is unlikely to play once again on Sunday.

Buffalo Bills: The injuries just keep coming for Buffalo as TE Scott Chandler won’t play this week due to an ankle injury and K Rian Lindell was officially placed on IR, ending his season…..LB Nick Barnett has had a very good first season for the Bills, already racking up 97 tackles. He would seem to be a must play in IDP leagues.

Carolina Panthers: WR Steve Smith’s production has been down of late even though the Panthers running game has picked up. Smith could certainly use some help to take the defense’s attention off of him. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to give QB Cam Newton another target to throw to, not to mention Smith is getting up there in age and could see a drop off in his numbers at any time.

Chicago Bears: Things just keep getting worse and worse for the Bears. First they lose QB Jay Cutler with a thumb injury, now they may have lost RB Matt Forte with a knee injury…..What makes the Forte injury even more interesting is that this is the last year of his contract as he and the Bears have been at odds all season long on an extension. It would seem business wise that it would be a good decision for Forte not to rush himself back, making sure he’s 100% healthy next season.

Cincinnati Bengals: It seems the sand may be running out in the hourglass for the Bengals as they were wrecked last week by Pittsburgh. They’re going to be a good team, but they still need time…..RB Cedric Benson is dealing with a foot injury that caused him to miss practice Thursday. He could still play though as he missed practice last Thursday as well.

Cleveland Browns: The Browns are going to have to make a decision this off-season. Do they believe in QB Colt McCoy, or do they draft a QB in the first round of April’s draft? They should have a top ten pick and could select one of the more highly rated quarterbacks that will be available. Of course they still need WRs and may need a RB also if Peyton Hillis leaves. Yeah, they don’t have many playmakers on this team.

Dallas Cowboys: Head coach Jason Garrett has been lit up this week for “icing” his own kicker. That isn’t actually what happened. You can clearly see special teams coach Joe DeCamillis and kicker coach Chris Boniol ask Garrett to call timeout…..What Garrett should be taking criticism for was not calling a timeout after WR Dez Bryant caught the pass at the Cardinals 32-yard line with 26 seconds left. Dallas had two TOs left and should have used one there so they could run a couple more plays to get in better FG range. It wasn’t like K Dan Bailey was having a great day. He missed a FG earlier in the game from 50+ and banked another one off the goalpost, not to mention the league percentage on 50+ yard FGs is 50.2. This is the reason why it’s extremely bewildering that Garrett keeps insisting that he didn’t make an error. Garrett has cost the Cowboys two games this season with conservative play calling (New England). If they miss the playoffs, the blame should fall squarely on him…..The good news is that WR Miles Austin should return this week as should FB Tony Fiammetta.

Denver Broncos: It is hard not to be a believer in QB Tim Tebow after last week’s performance. I know it came against a terrible secondary in Minnesota, but still this was the first game that Tebow had to win with his arm and not his legs…..The Broncos have to be considered the favorite to win the AFC West. Scary I know, but I still think they are one-and-done as they will most likely play Pittsburgh or Baltimore in the 1st round.

Detroit Lions: Head coach Jim Schwartz has done a great job of turning around the Lions, but he needs to get control of his team. They make way too many personal foul penalties and are playing way out of control which may be costing them games as well as yardage…..RB Kevin Smith is still being hampered by an ankle injury and is having a difficult time finishing games. He also hasn’t practiced this week which could lead to RB Maurice Morris having a bigger role this week.

Green Bay Packers: That’s 18 straight wins now for the Packers if you count the playoffs. The only team that I believe can beat them would be the Saints in a shootout. It might just come down to which team had the ball last or who had to kick a FG instead of a TD in a cold weather playoff game in Green Bay that hindered the passing attack (think Brett Favre versus the Giants when the G-Men last won the Super Bowl – it was close to zero degrees that night).

Houston Texans: The Texans just keep finding ways to win even without their best players. WR Andre Johnson’s return to the lineup was short-lived as his hamstring acted up once again and he had to leave the game last week. He has already been labeled as out for this week’s game. The Texans may want to keep him out multiple weeks to get him as healthy as they possibly can for the playoffs…..Another player who is really banged up is LB Brian Cushing who is dealing with injuries to various parts of his body. He’s not going to miss any game time, but certainly won’t be anywhere near full strength either.

Indianapolis Colts: I know the final numbers for QB Dan Orlovsky looked good, but keep in mind a good percentage of those numbers came when the game was out of hand and basically over…..The Colts have finally admitted that it is unlikely QB Peyton Manning returns this season. It seems we have known that for months, yet they still haven’t placed him on IR. It should be very interesting in early March when Manning is due a $28 million bonus. It will be decision time!

Jacksonville Jaguars: It is hard to believe that RB Maurice Jones-Drew leads the league in rushing on a team with virtually no passing game. QB Blaine Gabbert had what may be his best game of the season Monday night versus the Chargers yet was only 19 of 33 for 195 yards and two scores. That is hardly lighting up the scoreboard, but every journey starts with a first step. Hopefully, that’s what this is for the Jaguars and Gabbert.

Kansas City Chiefs: So much for QB Kyle Orton. He comes in for one play, a flea flicker, gets hit and dislocates a finger on his throwing hand. Now he is questionable at best to play this week…..My first question would be if Orton was mentally prepared enough to come in the game in the first half, why didn’t he start? Were the Chiefs really thinking Tyler Palko was going to improve?

Miami Dolphins: RB Daniel Thomas has played better of late, but RB Reggie Bush has so far proven that he can be an every down back. He’s not posting out of this world numbers, but they are solid numbers week in and week out…..LB Kevin Burnett is starting to justify his contract of late as his play has really picked up the past couple of weeks…..The Dolphins are playing great and are certainly one of the hottest teams in the NFL, but this still may not be enough to save Tony Sparano’s head coaching job.

Minnesota Vikings: RB Adrian Peterson is questionable to play Sunday versus Detroit, but Peterson came out Friday and said he is still having a difficult time cutting on that ankle. Assuming that’s true, I wouldn’t let Peterson play. He is your franchise player and you don’t need to be risking his health in a meaningless game…..WR Percy Harvin has picked up the offense with the absence of Peterson, showing why many people believe he is a threat to score anywhere on the field when he has his hands on the ball. He did however tear a ligament in his finger. He’ll play Sunday but could have a problem catching the ball.

New England Patriots: With the Patriots’ schedule for the remainder of the season, I still believe they end up with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs…..We’ve heard a lot of news this week concerning the health of WR Wes Welker as he is dealing with knee and wrist issues. He may be banged up, but it won’t keep him from any game action.

New Orleans Saints: You have to be rooting right now for a Saints-Packers NFC Championship game. If the weather was decent in Green Bay (big if), that could be a game for the ages. It would remind me of the Cowboys versus 49ers in the 90s…..RB Mark Ingram will miss this week’s game with turf toe. This guy just can’t stay healthy. What is even more annoying is that he comes off of two productive weeks where he was finally starting to show why the Saints drafted him so early.

New York Giants: You have to admire the bravado of S Antrel Rolle. After the Giants have lost four straight games, given up close to 80 points and 1,000 yards in the past two games, he still comes out and states the Giants have a great defense.  Yeah, not so much Antrel…..RB Ahmad Bradshaw returned last week. Although his numbers were not great, he should force defenses to respect the run again and not go all out to stop QB Eli Manning and the passing game…..The Giants seemed to have every call go against them last week, including a couple that maybe shouldn’t have. Even if that’s so, it just makes up for the Arizona game where a terrible call gave them the game.

New York Jets: I’m not a big Mark Sanchez fan, but you actually hear some of the talk shows in New York mention that the Jets should sign Peyton Manning (if he becomes available) in the off-season and trade Sanchez. It seems they forget that Sanchez is coming off back-to-back championship game appearances. He must have done something right and no one will know if Manning can truly come back from his neck surgery until he gets into a game, plus it’s not like he’s going to come cheap.

Oakland Raiders: The Raiders look like they are in the middle of a late season collapse. They barely showed up last week, getting crushed by Miami, and now they get the Packers. Sure they have injuries, maybe even more than most, but you still have to play the game…..Speaking of injuries, RB Darren MacFadden is out once again this week. This is longest day-to-day injury I’ve ever seen.

Philadelphia Eagles: QB Michael Vick and WR Jeremy Maclin are both expected to return this week. This should give the Eagles’ offense a boost, and it will certainly be interesting to see if Vick does play with more caution as he stated he will earlier this week…..How much money has WR DeSean Jackson cost himself with his play and attitude so far this season?  Jackson is still signed for another season, but the Eagles can’t go through this again. They either need to sign him to a long-term deal and make him happy or ship him to a team that will.

Pittsburgh Steelers: I wrote earlier in this column that Pittsburgh may be the best overall team in the AFC. Well that was before QB Ben Roethlisberger suffered a high ankle sprain in Thursday’s win over Cleveland. Ben probably won’t miss any game time as the Steelers don’t play again until a week from Monday, but Ben’s mobility will certainly be hampered…..Another concern for the Steelers is the health of C Maurkice Pouncey who also suffered a high ankle sprain in the same game.

San Diego Chargers: QB Philip Rivers looked real good Monday night. Granted it came against a Jaguars team that lacks a pass rush or a solid secondary, but it also shows what Rivers can do when all of his receivers are healthy…..Speaking of healthy, RB Ryan Mathews also looked good and could be a future star in San Diego…..I have a feeling the Chargers offense lights it up again this week against Buffalo, everyone else has of late.

San Francisco 49ers: Because of their record, the 49ers are listed as #2 in most power rankings. I just don’t see that and have a very strong feeling they are one-and-done in the playoffs. I think their record is more because of a terrible division and nice schedule. I love their defense, but in the playoffs you need to score points and I just don’t see QB Alex Smith being able to beat Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, their most probable playoff opponent.

Seattle Seahawks: You have to love the way RB Marshawn Lynch is playing of late. He’s actually making the Hawks offense somewhat interesting…..OT Russell Okung was placed on IR this week after tearing his pectoral muscle, a tough blow for Lynch and that running game…..QB Tarvaris Jackson reported this week that his arm strength is back to 100% after his pectoral injury earlier this year.

St. Louis Rams: As if the Rams offense isn’t bad enough, there is a pretty good chance that Tom Brandstater is going to start against Seattle on Monday Night Football. I’m sure ESPN is just thrilled with this game, not to mention RB Steven Jackson can’t be very happy with seeing what is sure to be an overloaded front to stop him…..WR Brandon Lloyd should probably be benched in fantasy leagues.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Here’s a stat I didn’t see coming–the Bucs have trailed for longer this season in term of minutes than any other team in the NFL, including the winless Colts…..QB Josh Freeman missed last week’s game with a shoulder injury. His replacement, Josh Johnson, suffered a dislocated shoulder on his non-throwing arm. Ouch! Now Freeman looks like he will start this week but how long he goes is anyone’s guess, not that it matters much right now.

Tennessee Titans: Tough game for the Titans this week as they host the Saints. I doubt the Titans would have a chance if this game were being played indoors, but in Tennessee in the elements and with RB Chris Johnson looking like he has returned to his normal self, stranger things have happened. Not to mention the Titans need the game much more than the Saints. Yeah, I’m not buying that either.

Washington Redskins: As if this wasn’t a dismal enough season for the Redskins, now they lose TE Fred Davis and OL Trent Williams for violating the league’s drug policy. Apparently they were supposed to be suspended for a year but were able to get it down to four games because of a technicality (the players thought there was a grace period after the lockout–like it’s even legal to do these drugs)…..Because of their dismal finish, the Skins should be in good shape to draft a franchise QB next year.