December 16, 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.

 

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.

All Out Blitz

Arizona Cardinals: Safety Adrian Wilson has started practicing on a limited basis and will continue to try and play through a torn biceps. I have a hard time seeing that last all season…..Great news for the Cardinals and their fans that WR Larry Fitzgerald signed an eight-year, $120 million contract…..RB Beanie Wells will once again get another shot at proving to Arizona that he deserves the full-time gig with the season ending injury to RB Ryan Williams.

Atlanta Falcons: DE Ray Edwards has been battling knee problems this training camp but will play this weekend…..RB Michael Turner revealed this week that he played last season with a special wrap to protect his groin. The injury has healed now and Turner is expected to get back that burst he didn’t have last season…..Some scouts believe WR Julio Jones may be ready to play a major part in the Falcons offense this season, not just take away coverage from WR Roddy White.

Baltimore Ravens: WR Lee Evans has made his presence known for Baltimore. Perhaps, he can be that deep threat the team has been looking for…..OT Bryant McKinnie was signed to provide depth along the offensive line. It’s a gamble, but if McKinnie is in shape and wants to play, he can still help a team…..Big things are expected of RB Ray Rice this season with FB Vonta Leach leading the way.

Buffalo Bills: While LB Shawn Merriman has looked like his old sack machine self at times, he is still getting nicked up more than one would like…..LB Kirk Morrison signed with the Bills this week. It is hard to see where he fits in with this defense, but he does have experience playing both the inside and outside…..RB Fred Jackson is getting frustrated with his role in the Buffalo offense, as he is not sure why he isn’t the starting back.

Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton may have been the first overall pick in the draft this past April, but anyone who watches him play can clearly see that he is not yet ready to play in the NFL as a starting QB. Problem is though, the Panthers don’t have anyone else on the roster who is…..WR Steve Smith hasn’t come out publicly and stated anything, but you have to wonder if he is a powder keg ready to explode and would prefer to get out of Carolina and play for a contending team.

Chicago Bears: I’m still bewildered that the Bears somehow think they will be okay at WR with Devin Hester and Roy Williams. They need an upgrade there…..LB Lance Briggs is out for the remainder of the preseason with a knee injury. As of right now, he is not expected to miss any regular season time…..Have a feeling the Bears won’t be in the playoff hunt this season.

Cincinnati Bengals: Speaking of a feeling, one of the two Ohio teams should be in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes come the end of the season…..The Bengals offense showed some signs of life this week as RB Cedric Benson and rookie WR AJ Green looked good during their preseason game versus Carolina. Problem will be during the regular season.  Weeks like this may be few and far between…..The Bengals traded for S Taylor Mays from the 49ers. Well someone had to trade for him! It shows that Mays was literally one and done for San Francisco.

Cleveland Browns: QB Colt McCoy continues to impress for the Browns. He’s never going to be a gunslinger in the pocket, but rather someone you can count on to lead the team and find a way to win…..Smart move by Cleveland in locking up OT Joe Thomas. He’s one of the best and they don’t want to lose him…..RB Brandon Jackson is out about six weeks with turf toe.

Dallas Cowboys: If the Cowboys offensive line can hold up and give QB Tony Romo time, Dallas is going to score quite a few points this season…..Problem though, unless their secondary improves an awful lot, they are going to give up quite a few points as well…..RB Felix Jones is having a monster preseason. If he can just stay healthy, he could have a monster regular season, as defenses will more than likely be  more worried about the Dallas passing game.

Denver Broncos: The Broncos finally made it official that Kyle Orton will start at QB. Not really a shock considering how poorly Tim Tebow has played. He might be lucky to be the backup and not third string…..WR Brandon Lloyd has missed some practice time this week with some swelling in his knee…..RB Knowshon Moreno looks to be the starting back, but remember, coach John Fox likes to use more than one back and Willis McGahee was a touchdown vulture last year with Baltimore.

Detroit Lions: The Lions are playing it cautious and smart with RB Javhid Best and his concussion, holding him out of this weekend’s game. One has to wonder if this will hinder him as the season rolls along, not like a RB can avoid contact to his head…..WR Calvin Johnson is also dealing with an injured shoulder, although his injury shouldn’t be of any concern once the season starts.

Green Bay Packers: There are rumblings that RB Ryan Grant could lose his starting job to James Starks. Neither one had a great game Friday, although neither one touched the ball all that much. It doesn’t seem like the coaching staff is all that concerned, and who could blame them with QB Aaron Rodgers and the plethora of targets he has to throw to each week. I wouldn’t want to take it out of his hands either.

Houston Texans: The Texans are looking more and more like the team to beat in the AFC South…..RB Steve Slaton is still battling a hamstring injury and is unlikely to make the final roster. This is not a surprise, but his injury has made it highly unlikely that the Texans could trade Slaton for a draft pick…..LB DeMeco Ryans could miss the remainder of the preseason with an elbow injury.

Indianapolis Colts: The signing of QB Kerry Collins tells you two things; first, there is a pretty good chance that Peyton Manning is going to miss a game or two, and second, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky aren’t the answer…..The Colts are built to win with Manning at QB. I’m not sure it would matter who was behind center, without Manning, they are a considerable underdog.

Jacksonville Jaguars: As if there was any doubt, David Garrard was named the starting QB. Blane Gabbert is going to be a good one, but it’s best that he learn behind a veteran for now…..The Jags coaching staff believes Rashard Jennings is ready for a bigger role in the offense this season. This is also not a surprise, as we started to see that last season.

Kansas City Chiefs: Kind of surprised that the Chiefs announced that Dexter McCluster will only be used as a running back this season. I’m not sure you want to feed any mouths other than Jamaal Charles in that backfield…..LB Derrick Johnson looks like he might be ready to take that next step this season…..TE Tony Moeaki still hasn’t fully recovered from off-season surgery. It might be time to get a little worried with the season just two weeks away.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins are growing more and more concerned with RB Daniel Thomas’ unwillingness to hit the line of scrimmage hard in practice, so much so, that Reggie Bush may become a bigger part of the offense than first thought…..The Dolphins haven’t named a starter opposite WR Brandon Marshall. In other words, they aren’t very happy with Brian Hartline and have even given Davone Bess reps on the outside in practice even though he excelled last season in the slot.

Minnesota Vikings:  QB Joe Webb, who is listed 2nd on the depth chart, has also been taking reps at wide receiver…..It looks like DT Kevin Williams will only be suspended two games instead of four in the StarCaps case…..WR Percy Harvin returned to practice this week. He still has bruised ribs, but that shouldn’t hinder him in the regular season, and at least it’s not migraines.

New England Patriots: The Patriots have come out this season like they are on fire, dismantling teams in the 1st quarter. They are already regular season ready…..Rookie RB Stevan Ridley missed practice this week with an undisclosed illness and won’t play this weekend….DT Albert Haynesworth returned to practice this week. One still has to wonder if he has the will to play football at the level he is capable of, even for Bill Belichick.

New Orleans Saints: Saints are dealing with some injury issues; RB Mark Ingram has a knee problem, WR Lance Moore a groin, and WR Marques Colston has knee issues of his own…..Like Kevin Williams of Minnesota, there is a chance that Will Smith’s suspension will be reduced to two games…..I would love to grab TE Jimmy Graham late in my fantasy drafts.

New York Giants: The Giants are being crushed with injuries to their secondary, suffering four season ending injuries so far. They did sign Brian Williams for depth purposes this week…..RB Ahmad Bradshaw is dealing with a back injury that is starting to worry the team. They believe it might linger into the regular season…..Speaking of RBs, Brandon Jacobs stated this week that he would like to play another 3-4 seasons; good news for the G-men who can always use a battering ram in the backfield.

New York Jets: WR Plaxico Burress made his presence felt in his first game for the team with a touchdown reception. If he is actually back to the player he used to be before ending up in jail, the Jets could have a dangerous offense…..With Hurricane Irene threatening the east coast this weekend, the Jets and Giants moved their game to Monday night, which means these two teams will play their final two preseason games in four days.

Oakland Raiders: Someone has to explain to me the Raiders philosophy of running a football team. You let your two best players leave in free agency (Nnamdi Asomugha and Zack Miller) but then spend a 3rd round pick in the supplemental draft on Terrelle Pryor, a player who may be a great athlete, but who no one believes will be a top NFL QB. They don’t have a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th round pick in next year’s draft. Exactly how is this team going to get better?

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles may have defeated the Browns in their preseason game Thursday and put 24 points up on the scoreboard, but they are going to get QB Michael Vick killed if they don’t fix that offensive line. I believe last week I put the over/under of Vick’s games played at 13.5. I’m starting to think double digits might be a more accurate line. I can’t see how anyone in fantasy leagues can take Vick as the number one QB, more or less the 1st player taken overall.

Pittsburgh Steelers: I’m a big Cowboys fan, but the game I am looking forward to seeing most on the first Sunday of football is definitely Pittsburgh-Baltimore. The hatred these two teams have for each other is for real, and a joy to watch…..The Steelers would like to see a big game out of QB Dennis Dixon on Saturday, possibly to showcase him for a trade as they have plenty of backup QBs on the roster…..The Steelers have also let it be known to teams not to salivate over the possibility of S Troy Polamalu becoming a free agent next season. They will franchise him if they can’t come to an agreement on a new contract.

San Diego Chargers: WR Malcolm Floyd, who did suffer a concussion last week, returned to practice this week, so all seems to be well there…..RB Ryan Matthews has redeemed himself in his coach’s eyes but may still share the spotlight with Mike Tolbert…..Fantasy wise, I think I’d rather have Tolbert. Sure, Matthews will catch more passes out of the backfield, but Tolbert is more than likely to be the man at the goal line.

San Francisco 49ers: RB Frank Gore is getting more and more frustrated with his contract situation and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if this comes to a head before the season starts…..WR Michael Crabtree seems more and more unlikely to play in Week One as he is not running yet. However, he is out of the walking boot…..The back to watch if Gore were to miss any time is Kendall Hunter. Even if Gore plays, Hunter should have a few plays designed just for him.

Seattle Seahawks: Kicking news, it looks like Jeff Reed has won the starting job for the Hawks…..LB Aaron Curry agreed to restructure his contract this week. So far Curry has looked like a pretty big bust in the NFL…..Still no word on the severity of TE John Carlson’s shoulder injury, although initial word is that the injury could be pretty severe.

St. Louis Rams: It seems TE Lance Kendricks has quickly become a favorite target of QB Sam Bradford, so much so, that he could be Bradford’s favorite target on 3rd downs and in the red zone…..RB Steven Jackson no longer looks like a top NFL back as he no longer possesses the elusiveness he once had. Oh he can still be productive, but it’s more of a hit the hole and then run over someone type.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Aqib Talib met with the commissioner this week to discuss his run in with the law this past offseason. Depending on whom you believe, the commissioner may have his rulings challenged by the union once he doles out what he considers is the proper punishment…..WR Arrelious Benn is scheduled to play this week. It seems he will likely open the season as the number three WR as Dezmon Briscoe has looked awfully good in camp.

Tennessee Titans: WR Kenny Britt is in the same situation as Aqib Talib and could face a suspension. He is also dealing with a hamstring injury that has cost him most of the preseason so far…..RB Chris Johnson met with Titans officials this week to discuss a new contract. No dice! Both sides still seem to be pretty far apart on what his next contract should be worth. If this heads into the regular season, Tennessee is in deep trouble.

Washington Redskins: John Beck and Rex Grossman are still battling for the number one job. The Skins know what they have in Grossman, a gambler who will either hit big or miss big. Beck may be the one that requires less Pepto Bismol on a regular basis…..RB Tim Hightower has looked nothing short of awesome so far this preseason leaving some to predict that a huge season is on its way.

All Out Blitz

Arizona Cardinals: Good news to every Cardinal fans ears, WR Larry Fitzgerald stated that with the improvements the team made on the field in free agency, he is more likely to sign long term with Arizona…..Coach Ken Whisenhunt stated on Thursday that Beanie Wells will start at running back to begin the season…..The addition of TE Todd Heap gives the Cardinals a solid pass catcher, but remember, Heap is nowhere near the player he used to be; however in the red zone, he’s a nice tall target for QB Kevin Kolb.

Atlanta Falcons: We learned recently that RB Michael Turner underwent groin surgery in the off-season; an optimist thinks this is the reason for Turner’s mediocre 2010 and a pessimist thinks this season won’t be any better…..Tony Gonzalez, 35, recently stated that he could play another three seasons if he wanted to; you have to wonder if Tony is starting to realize just how good this offense can be with the addition of WR Julio Jones.

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens are one of the teams that are rumored to be interested in the services of Giants DE Osi Umenyiora, as if that defense isn’t scary enough…..The loss of TE Todd Heap to free agency means we will find out if Ed Dickson is the real deal or not…..A couple of the Steelers have had some unflattering things to say about QB Joe Flacco this week. Seems they forget that if not for a couple of key drops by Raven WRs in the playoff game last season, the Steelers wouldn’t have even made the Super Bowl.

Buffalo Bills: The Bills signing of LB Nick Barnett gives them a quality player who can range from sideline to sideline. The only reason he is still not a Packer is because of salary cap reasons…..With opposing teams having to respect the deep threat of WRs Steve Johnson and Lee Evans, RB CJ Spiller could have plenty of room to operate underneath.

Carolina Panthers: Linebacker Jon Beason was placed on the non-football injury list with tendinitis in his Achilles but it’s not considered anything serious…..One would have to think that Cam Newton will start at QB for the Panthers as Jimmy Claussen was nothing short of awful last season. But even if he doesn’t, the Panthers have stated that they will have plays designed for him each week…..Speaking of QBs who were awful last season, the Panthers signed Derek Anderson.

Chicago Bears: The Bears must be in love with former Cowboys, having signed WRs Roy Williams and Sam Hurd, along with RB Marion Barber so far in free agency…..Williams could be the ball possession type of receiver the Bears need. Hurd is probably still best suited for special teams. Barber looks to be the goal line back…..The Bears will be looking for another center after Olin Kreutz has decided to test the free agent market. Not good for a team whose biggest weakness may have been the offensive line last season.

Cincinnati Bengals: Cedric Benson is back in the fold after signing a one-year deal. One has to wonder if his market dried up because of his off field problems…..Andy Dalton will be given every chance to win the starting QB job this season. This promises to be a pretty ugly situation as Dalton would almost certainly be better off sitting behind a veteran to at least start the season…..Those of you who think Carson Palmer may change his mind and come out of retirement to play again for the Bengals, forget about it! There is a better chance of Boomer Esiason putting the pads back on.

Cleveland Browns: QB Colt McCoy is struggling so far in camp with the new West Coast offense, but that’s to be expected since there weren’t any off-season mini-camps to work on things…..You know you may not be in for a good season when you lose your punter for the year with a torn Achilles tendon.

Dallas Cowboys: There were many questions when Dallas didn’t try to upgrade their secondary via the draft, but the Cowboys kept insisting they trusted Terrance Newman and Mike Jenkins. The Cowboys were all of a sudden in late on the Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes, but lost out, and now the news that they have lost Newman for 4-6 weeks with a groin injury. Even if Newman comes back before the season opener, it seems unlikely that he would be at 100%, and all the top CBs are off the market…..On the flip side, they did solve their safety problems with the signing of Gerald Sensabaugh and Abram Elam.

Denver Broncos: Kyle Orton has clearly outplayed Tim Tebow in the battle for the starting QB job. Not a shock as Orton may not be a sexy QB, but still much better than an average one…..The Broncos signed ex-Patriot Ty Warren to help with their run defense…..WR Brandon Lloyd has looked good in camp once again, and if Orton does indeed start, could once again put up a big season.

Detroit Lions: The loss of DT Nick Fairley for most, if not all, of training camp with a foot injury is certainly not good news. But if he can get close to 100% before the start of the regular season, then it’s not a devastating loss…..The Lions did a great job of waiting out LB Stephen Tulloch. There wasn’t a big market for his services and they were able to get him at a much more team friendly contract.

Green Bay Packers: The re-signing of WR James Jones is great for the Packers but not good for those fantasy owners who grabbed Jordy Nelson thinking this would be his breakout season…..It’s also not good for their 2nd round pick Randall Cobb, who now will only get on the field in the event of an injury to one of the top four wideouts…..For those of you who are worried, DB Charles Woodson is practicing fully in camp.

Houston Texans: WR Andre Johnson dislocated a finger in practice Tuesday, nothing to worry about as he will be back in a matter of days. This reminded me of the days where John Elway and Brett Favre would repeatedly break or dislocate their receivers fingers because they threw the ball with such velocity…..RB Steve Slaton will be traded as long as Ben Tate shows he is healthy and can handle the backup RB job.

Indianapolis Colts: QB Peyton Manning was spotted throwing the ball in practice and looked good doing so, but is still on the PUP list…..WR Austin Collie is also practicing fully, but one has to wonder if he can make it through a full season after multiple concussions last season…..The Colts re-signed Joseph Addai to a three-year, $14 million contract. Not sure if it’s just me, but that seems a bit high.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew is being limited in training camp after coming off meniscus surgery. If there is one top RB that I’m staying away from in fantasy leagues, it would be Jones-Drew. He’s an injury risk and the Jaguars might use Rashad Jennings in a bigger role in order to keep Jones-Drew as fresh and healthy as possible…..I’m not a big fan of the passing game either and wonder if teams stack the line of scrimmage and force QB David Garrard to beat them.

Kansas City Chiefs: Head Coach Todd Haley has stated that once again the Chiefs will be a run first team this season. If RB Jamaal Charles can stay healthy, he is going to have a big year…..TE Tony Moeaki has missed the first couple of days of camp with a knee injury. He may not be a household name, but he is a good blocker in the run game and can surprise some people in the passing game.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins have announced that RB Reggie Bush will have pretty much the same role with them that he had with New Orleans, touching the ball about 10-12 times a game…..There were some rumblings that Miami is interested in QB Brett Favre (can’t he just go away), but apparently this is nothing more than internet rumor…..Tiki Barber had a tryout with the Fish this week. Pretty much shows you how desperate they are right now.

Minnesota Vikings:  WR Percy Harvin is looking forward to a breakout season after not having suffered from a migraine since last year…..Of course with Bernard Berrian starting opposing you, Harvin is going to have the attention of all of the pass defenses…..Tackle Byrant McKinnie showed up at camp close to 300 pounds and was promptly released…..Anyone who hasn’t seen the video of what P Chris Kluwe asked of Donovan McNabb in order to give up jersey #5 should check it out. Pretty funny!

New England Patriots: The Patriots and Jets are gearing up for what should be an interesting battle in the AFC East…..If WR Chad Ochocinco can’t be a deep threat, one has to wonder if the Patriots can be the high scoring offense they were in the past…..DT Albert Haynesworth passed his conditioning test without any problems for those of you who are wondering.

New Orleans Saints: RB Mark Ingram has looked great early on in camp and could be another dangerous weapon in the Saints offense…..DE Will Smith will finally be suspended four games for using performance enhancers; the courts finally upheld the NFL’s right to suspend Smith…..If you’re looking for a TE late in your draft, look no further than Jimmy Graham. He is going to have a big year.

New York Giants: The saga between the Giants and DE Osi Umenyiroa promises to last all season long. In a nutshell, Osi believes he was promised a new contract if he performed well and now wants to be traded. The Giants did give his agent permission to seek a trade for about 48 hours before rescinding it. They then told Osi to take the day off and he refused. It is going to be an interesting soap opera all training camp.

New York Jets: The Jets are taking a big gamble on WR Plaxico Burress. He hasn’t played in two years and had issues with both organizations that employed him. Now has a sprained ankle to begin camp…..It seemed the Jets were the favorites until the last minute to land CB Nnamdi Asomugha but re-signing Antonio Cromartie is still a good move. With Darrelle Revis on your roster, Asomugha was a luxury, not a necessity.

Oakland Raiders: If you’re the Raiders, how can you let TE Zach Miller leave during free agency, not to mention the aforementioned Asomugha?…..RB Darren MacFadden will be out of action for at least two weeks with a fractured orbital bone…..The Raiders have been working out TE Kevin Boss to replace Miller…..The Raiders are still hoping that WR Jacoby Ford will be ready for the regular season after having the cast taken off his broke hand on Tuesday.

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles are going for broke this season, signing just about every free agent imaginable…..CB Nnamdi Asomugha seems to be an answer to the multiple receiver sets that the Packers and Saints use as the Eagles now have three top flight CBs on their roster. Makes you wonder if they will try and trade Asante Samuel eventually…..The Eagles even tried to lure WR Randy Moss out of retirement…..If QB Michael Vick stays healthy, this is going to be a scary offense…..Speaking of health, DT Mike Patterson is probably out for the season after suffering a seizure in practice and needing surgery to fix the problem.

Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Emmanuel Sanders had another surgery on his foot and is no longer likely to begin the season as the Steelers #3 WR…..QB Dennis Dixon angered Pittsburgh management when he asked for a trade. He may get his wish though…..WR Hines Ward should be ready to come off the PUP list (thumb) in the next couple of days.

San Diego Chargers: In order to keep SS Bob Sanders healthy, they are thinking about replacing him in passing situations. That’s all fine and good, but Sanders usually gets hurt throwing his body around in the running game…..Another player who came off the PUP list was TE Antonio Gates. He practiced on Thursday. The Bolts have to be a little worried though about his foot. This injury looks like it’s never going to heal completely.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers signed WR Braylon Edwards. The loss of Michael Crabtree makes Edwards close to a necessity…..In somewhat of a shock, the 49ers sent out an email to all NFL teams that S Taylor Mays is available. It didn’t take long for Mays (2nd round pick last year) to prove to new head coach Jim Harbaugh that he can’t play at the NFL level, now you know why is college coach, Pete Carroll, passed on him.

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks signing of TE Zach Miller is somewhat surprising as they have a pretty good TE already on their roster in John Carlson. Miller just seems to be a luxury, not a necessity…..The Hawks also signed WR Sidney Rice earlier in free agency. Now if they only had a QB to get the ball to these two…..Yeah, I’m not a big fan of Tarvares Jackson or Charlie Whitehurst.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams finally found their backup to RB Steven Jackson in Cadillac Williams…..Michael Sims-Walker gives the Rams yet another WR who is maddingly inconsistent. QB Sam Bradford may not be able to make that jump to the next level without a true number one wideout.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: It would’ve been nice to see the Bucs spend some money in free agency this season. They are a strong young team with a ton of room under the cap. A couple of solid free agents here and there could make a big difference. Seems to be they are behind the Saints and Falcons at this time.

Tennessee Titans: It was bad news for WR Kenny Britt on Thursday when it was announced that commissioner Roger Goodell will still be judge and jury when it comes to player discipline. Oh and Britt hasn’t practiced yet due to a hamstring injury…..Chris Johnson still hasn’t reported to camp. He wants a new contract with around $30 million guaranteed. Cha ching!

Washington Redskins: A sleeper RB in your fantasy leagues could be Roy Helu. Tim Hightower has already proven he can’t handle a full-time role and Ryan Torrain underwent surgery to place four screws in his hand this week. Of course the problem is the Skins have no QB and coach Mike Shanahan is famous for driving fantasy owners crazy with his use of RBs…..The Skins did re-sign QB Rex Grossman. It’s either him or John Beck for the starting QB job, yippee.