December 14, 2017

49ers 28, Falcons 24

Up first on the schedule was the NFC Championship game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons.  The 49ers were coming off a dominant 45-31 win over the Green Bay Packers and the Falcons were coming off a game in which they blew a 27-7 lead, but managed to pull out a 30-28 win over the Seattle Seahawks.  49er kicker David Akers kicked the ball deep for a touch-back and the Falcons started at their 20-yard line.

A three-yard run up the gut by running back Michael Turner and a 13-yard completion to Julio Jones got the Falcons a first down at the 36.  On third and nine from the 37, quarterback Matt Ryan completed a pass to wide receiver Roddy White for a gain of 16 and a first down at the San Francisco 47.  Two plays later, Ryan went deep for Jones who had gotten by safety Dashon Goldson and hit him in stride for a 46-yard touchdown.  Kicker Matt Bryant made the point after and the Falcons had an early 7-0 lead with 11:24 to go in the first quarter.

The 49ers netted exactly one yard on their first possession and punter Andy Lee nailed a 62-yard punt that was fielded at the Falcon 17 and returned to the 18 by return man/wide receiver Harry Douglas.  Completions of eight and six yards to Jones were followed by a five-yard catch by tight end Tony Gonzalez and a ten-yard catch by White.  That made it first down at the 50.  Then Ryan found Jones for 27 more.  However, a two-yard loss on a run by running back Jacquizz Rodgers and an eight-yard completion made it third and four from the 17.  Ryan looked for Rodgers on the right side and the pass was incomplete.  That brought out Bryant for a 35-yard field goal attempt.  His kick was good and the Falcons led 10-0 with 3:12 to go in the first quarter.

The 49ers followed with another three and out and the Falcons took over at their 43.  Rushes of ten and four yards by running back Michael Turner and a 23-yard pass to White made it first and ten from the San Francisco 20-yard line.  Ryan wasted no time in looking for the end zone.  He put one up the left side and Jones did an excellent job of keeping his feet in bounds for another Falcon touchdown.  Bryant made the point after and they went up 17-0 with 14:54 remaining in the second quarter.

It was time for the 49ers to get something going and they did just that.  They started at their 20 and two runs by running back Frank Gore got them a first down at the 30.  Two more carries got ten more yards and another first down at the 40.  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick looked for wide receiver Randy Moss from the 40 and found him for a gain of eight.  Two completions to wide receiver Michael Crabtree, a short one to running back LaMichael James and a 27-yard pass to tight end Vernon Davis gave them a first down at the Falcon 15.  From the 15, James ran off right guard for an easy touchdown.  Akers made the point after and the lead was cut to 17-7 with 8:08 to go in the first half.

This time, it was the Falcons who went three and out.  Punter Matt Bosher punted the ball away and it was fair caught at the San Francisco 18 by return man Ted Ginn Jr.  With just under six minutes to go in the half, the 49ers went to work.  A short run by James and a 19-yard completion to Davis  had them headed in the right direction.  On second and ten from the 31, Kaepernick showed off his scrambling ability and took off up the left side for a gain of 24 yards and a first down at the Falcon 47.  After a short gain by Gore, Falcon linebacker Stephen Nicholas was flagged for unnecessary roughness.  That gave them a first down at the 29.  Next, Kaepernick hit Davis who was wide open for a gain of 25 yards.  He was open again on the next play for a four-yard touchdown.  Akers made the point after and it was now 17-14 with 1:55 to go in the first half.

1:55 was plenty of time for the Falcons to get some more points.  Ryan found White for 15, Gonzalez for 16 and White for 13 more.  Jones caught another one for 16 and the Falcons called a timeout.  On first down from the 16, Ryan hooked up with Gonzalez for a gain of six.  On second and four from the ten, he found Gonzalez in the end zone for a touchdown.  Bryant made the point after and the Falcons took a 24-14 lead into the locker room.

The 49ers started the second half from their 18-yard line.  A 21-yard pass to Moss and two runs by Gore got them to the Falcon 44.  On second and eight from the 42, Kaepernick completed a 20-yard pass to tight end Delanie Walker.  On first down from the 22, Moss caught another one and was brought down at the five.  Gore got the carry on the next play and easily made it into the end zone.  Akers made the point after and that made it 24-21 with 10:47 remaining in the third quarter.

On the strength of two more receptions by Gonzalez and a couple of runs by Turner and Rodgers, the Falcons found themselves in San Francisco territory again.  On the play after a short run by Rodgers, Ryan couldn’t get his receivers set and was forced to waste a timeout.  On second and ten from the 47, Ryan looked to his right and fired a pass that was picked off by cornerback Chris Culliver at the 38.  He returned it to the 44 and the 49ers were in business.  They got down to the Falcon 20 and on third and five, Kaepernick looked for wide receiver Chad Hall.  The ball was knocked away by safety William Moore.  That brought Akers out for a 38-yard field goal attempt.  His kick hit the left upright and it was no good.

With Michael Turner out with a sore ankle, the running chores now belonged to Rodgers and running back Jason Snelling.  The two of them combined for 30 yards on four carries and the Falcons moved into San Francisco territory again.  On third and ten from the 42, Ryan completed a 13-yard pass to Jones for a first down at the 29.  On second and nine, the 49ers showed blitz and Ryan bobbled the snap.  It rolled to the left side of the field and was recovered by linebacker Aldon Smith.

That gave the 49ers the ball at their 37.  On third and seven from the 40, the Falcons were flagged for a personal foul and that set up the 49ers with a first down at the Falcon 45.  On second and eight from the 43, Kaepernick found Crabtree again and he got loose for a gain of 33 yards.  On second and goal from the five, Crabtree caught another one and headed for the end zone.  He was flattened by Moore just short of the goal line.  Cornerback Dunta Robinson knocked the ball loose and it was recovered at the one-yard line by Nicholas.

From their one, Ryan looked for White on first down and the ball was knocked away.  On second down, fullback Mike Cox took it up the middle for four yards.  That made it third and six.  On third down, Ryan found Gonzalez on the left side, but he was brought down short of the first down.  Bosher punted and the ball was returned 20 yards by Ginn to the Falcon 38.  That gave the 49ers excellent field position and this time they would take advantage of it.  Gore capped off a six play, 38-yard drive with a nine-yard touchdown run.  Akers made the point after and the 49ers now led 28-24 with 8:23 to go in the game.

Starting at the 20, Ryan went to work and found White for a gain of nine.  Rodgers netted a first down at the 31 with a two-yard run.  A six-yard pass to Douglas and a five-yard pass to Jones moved the ball to the 42.  A three-yard scramble by Ryan, a five-yard completion to Jones and a 22-yard completion to Douglas had the Falcons at the San Francisco 28.  On the pass to Douglass, cornerback Carlos Rogers fell down and Douglas was wide open with no one around him.  Unfortunately for him, he also lost his balance and fell down after making the catch.  The initial ruling was a catch, but it looked like the ball may have come loose.  49er head coach Jim Harbaugh challenged the play, but the ruling was upheld.  A nine-yard run by Rodgers and another short completion to Douglas got them a first down at the 16.  From the 16, Rodgers was stuffed for a gain of one by linebacker Patrick Willis.  On second down, Ryan completed a five-yard pass to Snelling.  After he got rid of the ball, he was brought down hard on his left shoulder and was in obvious pain.  That made it third and four from the ten.  White was open on the next play, but the ball was knocked down by Brooks.  It all came down to this play.  On fourth and four, Ryan threw a pass down the middle of the field for White and it was broken up by linebacker NaVorro Bowman.  There was definitely some contact going on, but no flag was thrown.

The 49ers took over at their ten with 1:09 remaining in the game.  Gore ran for three yards and the Falcons called their second timeout.  If you recall earlier in the game, Ryan had to waste a timeout.  They sure could have used it now.  Two more runs by Gore didn’t get a first down and Lee punted with 13 seconds on the clock.  The Falcons took over at their 41 and Ryan completed a 24-yard pass to Jones.  He was brought down by Rogers and that ended the game.  Final score: 49ers 28 Falcons 24.  The 49ers came back from a 17-point deficit and held the Falcons scoreless in the second half.

For the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick completed 16 of 21 for 233 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions.  Unlike last week where he ran all over the Packers, he only had 21 yards rushing on two carries.  Michael Crabtree led the team in receptions with six and Vernon Davis had the most receiving yards with 106 and one touchdown.  Frank Gore led the ground game with 90 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns.  As a team, they racked up 149 yards on 29 carries and three rushing touchdowns.  Defensively, Patrick Willis was the leader in solo tackles with 11.  He also had one tackle for a loss.

For the Falcons, Matt Ryan completed 30 of 42 for 396 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and one lost fumble.  Julio Jones caught two of those touchdown passes, had the most receptions with 11 and the most receiving yards with 182.  The ground game never really got going for the Falcons.  Jacquizz Rodgers had the most rushing yards with 32 on ten carries.  As a team, the Falcons rushed for a grand total of 81 yards on 23 carries.  Defensively, safety Thomas DeCoud and linebacker Akeem Dent tied for the team lead in solo tackles with five apiece.  Dent had one tackle for a loss and DeCoud had one pass defensed.

So, the NFC champion has been crowned.  The 49ers will meet the winner of the Ravens-Patriots game in the Super Bowl on February 3rd.  I’ll be back tomorrow morning with a recap of that game.



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.


Giants 24, Falcons 2

The beginning of this game was like a chess match.  A very boring chess match.  After two three and outs by each team, the Giants were the first team to get a first down with just under nine minutes to go in the first quarter when quarterback Eli Manning completed a pass to tight end Jake Ballard for a gain of 13.  After that, the chess match continued as they couldn’t get another first down.  With six minutes to go in the first quarter, the Falcons finally got a first down when quarterback Matt Ryan found wide receiver Julio Jones for a gain of 20. The Falcons would drive all the way to the Giant 24, but Ryan was stopped when they decided to go for it on fourth and one.

The Giants took over at the 24 and a holding penalty backed them up ten yards.  On second and 21 from the 13, the Falcons would put the first points on the board when safety James Sanders forced Manning to throw the ball out of the end zone.  Manning threw the ball to the right side of the field and there wasn’t a receiver in sight.  He was called for intentional grounding and that gave the Falcons a 2-0 lead.

The Giants managed to get the ball rolling mid way through the second quarter with a 13 play, 85-yard drive that took 7:32 off the clock.  The drive was highlighted by a 14-yard scramble by Manning on third and two and a 34-yard run up the right side by running back Brandon Jacobs that moved the ball deep into Falcon territory.  On first and goal at the four, Manning found wide receiver Hakeem Nicks for a four-yard touchdown to make it 7-2 at halftime.

The second half began and it was the same old thing for the Falcons as they were forced to punt on their first possession.  A field goal by Giant kicker Lawrence Tynes made it 10-2 with eight minutes to go in the third quarter.  The Falcons moved the ball down to the Giant 21 and were forced into another fourth and one situation.  Once again, they didn’t convert as Ryan was stuffed by the Giant defense.  This has been a recurring theme for the Falcons and I’m not sure why they didn’t try a field goal.  At least that would have put some points on the board.  That was the turning point of the game.

The Giants took over at the 21 and on third and three from the 28, Manning found Nicks across the middle.  Nicks weaved his way around the Falcon defense and bolted up the left side for a 72-yard touchdown to make it 17-2.

After another Falcon punt, it was time for the Giants to put the nail in the coffin.  On third and six from the Giant 34, running back Ahmad Bradshaw got loose for an 18-yard gain to move the ball into Falcon territory.  On first and ten from the 27, Manning hooked up with wide receiver Mario Manningham for a 27-yard touchdown to make it 24-2.  That was all they needed as the dominant Giant defense rose up to the challenge and shut down the high powered Falcon offense.

For the Falcons, Matt Ryan completed 24 of 41 for 199 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.  Julio Jones and Roddy White combined for 12 catches for 116 yards.  Michael Turner was held in check as he ran for 41 yards on 15 carries.  The Falcons had a total of 64 yards on the ground.  Linebacker Curtis Lofton led the team with nine solo tackles.

For the Giants, Eli Manning completed 23 of 32 for 277 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.  Hakeem Nicks led all receivers with six catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns.  Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw combined for 155 yards on 28 carries.  As a team, they had 172 yards on the ground.  Antrel Rolle led the team with six solo tackles.

It was a great day to be a Giant fan.  The defense allowed only 14 first downs, had two sacks, five tackles for a loss and allowed just 247 yards.  They also stopped the Falcons on three fourth down attempts.  The offense held the ball for 34 minutes, went eight for 15 on third down conversions and racked up a total of 442 yards.

Up next for the Giants is a trip to the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers.  The game will be on Sunday at 4:30 P.M. Eastern time.  They met in week 13 and the Packers came away with a hard fought 38-35 win.  It should be a great game on a cold night and I’m looking forward to the re-match.




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.