October 19, 2017

Super Bowl XLVIII

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Broncos 24, Chargers 17

The final game on the schedule was a battle between AFC West rivals as the San Diego Chargers headed to Denver to take on the Broncos.  The Chargers were coming off a 27-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals and the Broncos were coming off a bye week.  Denver kicker Matt Prater sent the opening kickoff through the end zone and the Chargers started at their 20.  Running back Ryan Mathews got things off to a decent start with a five-yard carry.  Short passes from quarterback Philip Rivers to running back Ronnie Brown and tight end Ladarius Green got the Chargers a first down at the 33.  After a short run by Mathews, Rivers was sacked for a loss of nine on the next play.  On third and 17, running back Danny Woodhead ran up the middle for eight yards.  But they got a break as the Broncos were flagged for a facemask penalty.  The drive stalled at the 43 and punter Matt Scifres got off a 51-yard punt that was fielded at the Denver six by return man/wide receiver Eric Decker.  Decker returned the punt six yards and the Broncos went to work from their 14-yard line.

The Broncos brought out the no huddle offense and passes to tight end Julius Thomas, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and Decker already had the Chargers looking baffled.  Another completion to wide receiver Andre Caldwell set up a first down at the San Diego 29.  On third and one from the 21, running back Montee Ball ran off right tackle for a gain of five yards.  A seven-yard pass to D. Thomas and a four-yard run by Ball made it first and goal from the three.  Two plays later, Manning looked to his left and hooked up with D. Thomas for a touchdown.  Prater made the point after and the Broncos led 7-0 with 2:25 to go in the first quarter.

The Chargers ended up getting a grand total of minus two yards on their next possession.  Scifres punted again and the Broncos took over at their 42.  On third and two from the 50, Manning completed a short pass to J. Thomas who fumbled at the 45.  The ball was recovered at the 43 by cornerback Richard Marshall.  That was a good break for the Chargers and on the strength of some good running by Mathews and Woodhead, they moved down to the Denver 30.  On third down, Rivers was sacked for a loss of five by defensive end Malik Jackson.  That brought kicker Nick Novak into the game for a 53-yard field goal attempt.  On the attempt, his plant foot slipped and the kick sailed wide left.

The Broncos had dodged a bullet and started with good field position from their 43.  A holding call moved them back ten yards, but they got 12 of it back as Manning hit running back Knowshon Moreno out of the backfield.  This is when the offside penalties started occurring.  As usual, Manning would do his usual long counts and yell “Omaha” over and over again.  On second and eight from the 45, the Chargers jumped offside and that gave the Broncos five free yards.  On second and three, Moreno burst up the middle for a gain of 11 and a first down at the San Diego 39.  Two more carries by Ball got them another first down at the 22.  From the 22, Ball got the call again and gained four yards.  From the 18, the Chargers fell for the Omaha call again and jumped offside.  From the 13, Moreno ran up the middle for five more yards and a first and goal from the eight.  Moreno got yet another carry and gained five more yards.  Two plays later, Manning fired a pass to wide receiver Wes Welker on the left side and he took it in for the score.  Prater made the point after and the Broncos led 14-0 with six minutes to go in the first half.

The Chargers gained 14 yards on their next “drive” and Scifres punted again.  Decker fielded the punt at the Denver 23 and returned it straight up the middle for a gain of 47 yards.  If he hadn’t tripped over his own feet at the 30, he would have scored.  On first down, Manning hooked up with D. Thomas for nine yards.  On second and one, Moreno was stuffed for no gain.  The Broncos really needed to keep this drive going.  A 21-0 lead just might be insurmountable for the hapless Charger offense.  That’s when Manning used the magic word.  He screamed “Omaha!” again and sure enough, the Chargers jumped offside.  That made it first down at the 16.  Moreno got the call two more times and gained 12 yards for a first and goal at the four.  Moreno was stopped for no gain on first down and a pass to Decker fell incomplete.  On third down, Manning looked for Decker again, but the pass was intercepted by linebacker Donald Butler in the end zone.  The Chargers took a knee and the first half ended with the Broncos leading 14-0.

A decent kickoff return by return man Trindon Holliday gave the Broncos the ball at their 36.  A nine-yard pass to D. Thomas, two carries by Moreno and yet another nine-yard pass to D. Thomas netted a first down at the San Diego 41.  From the 41, Manning fired a strike to J. Thomas for eight yards.  On third and one from the 32, Manning found Welker at the 26 for another first down.  After that, they went nowhere and Prater came on for a 45-yard field goal attempt.  It was good and the Broncos were now up 17-0 with 9:35 to go in the third quarter.

With Mathews out with an injured ankle, Woodhead and Brown would get the carries for the rest of the game.  Of course, if you’re down by 17 midway through the third quarter, the running game probably won’t be of much value.  On third and three from the 27, we finally had a Keenan Allen sighting.  The rookie wide receiver hauled in a pass from Rivers for a gain of 19 and a first down at the 46.  Denver cornerback Chris Harris was injured on this play and would not return.  He was later diagnosed with a torn ACL.  But they wouldn’t get much farther and they were forced to punt again.  Scifres had the heavy wind at his back and he hit a 62-yard punt through the end zone.

From the 20, Manning found Decker on the right side for a gain of 19.  He used that magic word again and the Chargers jumped offside.  That moved the ball to the 44.  Ball ran up the middle for eight and Manning completed an eight-yard pass to Welker.  Ball carried again up the middle for four more yards and a first down at the 36.  Then the Chargers jumped offside again.  This is a recording.  Despite the lack of discipline, the Chargers tightened up and the drive stalled at the 29.  The normally automatic Prater had some trouble with the windy conditions and his kick sailed wide left.  With one minute to go in the third quarter, the Chargers got the ball back at their 37.

On second and ten, Rivers “scrambled” for six yards.  That’s something you don’t see every day.   That set up a third and four from the 43.  Rivers had time and found wide receiver Eddie Royal across the middle for a gain of 30 yards.  With Harris out, he was replaced by former Charger Quentin Jammer.  On the pass to Royal, Jammer looked totally lost.  An illegal use of hands penalty on Denver moved the Chargers five yards closer to the goal line.  Woodhead ran up the middle for six yards, but a completion to Woodhead was quickly snuffed out by the Denver defense.  On third and four from the 16, Rivers floated one up the right side and Allen came down with it in the end zone for a touchdown.  Novak made the point after and the Broncos led 17-7 with 13 minutes to go in the game.

Holliday had another good kick return, but it was brought back to the 19 because of an illegal block in the back penalty.  On third and seven, Manning went deep down the middle for Welker and the pass was incomplete.  But the Chargers were flagged for pass interference.  That gave the Broncos a first down at their 45.  From the San Diego 47 on third and two, Manning completed a 17-yard pass to J. Thomas.  This was a recurring theme in the game.  Whenever third down came up, Manning always seemed to look for J. Thomas.  The Chargers were unable to address that problem.  Manning found Welker again for six yards and Moreno ran up the left side and was pushed out of bounds at the ten.  Two plays later, Moreno took it up the middle for a score.  Prater made the point after and the Broncos led 24-7 with 8:12 remaining in the game.

The Chargers started out at their 20 and three plays gained five yards.  On fourth down, they had no choice but to go for it.  Rivers took the snap and fired a pass to Allen that was good for a gain of 49 yards.  On first down from the Denver 26, Rivers ran for a gain of five yards.  A short pass to Brown got them another first down at the 16.  From the 16, Rivers hooked up with Allen again and this time it was good for another touchdown.  Novak made the point after and we had the makings of a close game.  With 5:43 to go, the Broncos led 24-14.

The Chargers tried an onside kick and Marshall came up with the ball.  Rivers and the offense went to work from their 40-yard line.  On second and 14 from the 36, Rivers tossed a 17-yard completion to Allen for a first down at the Denver 47.  Allen wasn’t done and on second and five, he caught another pass for 25 yards and a first down at the 17.  The drive stalled at the 12 and Novak was brought into the game for a 30-yard field goal attempt.  He split the uprights and that made the score 24-17 with just under four minutes remaining in the game.

There would be no onside kick this time as Novak kicked the ball deep in hopes that the defense could stop the Broncos.  From the 27, things didn’t get off to a good start for the Broncos as they were flagged for a false start.  Then Moreno was thrown for a loss of two yards.  On second and 17, Manning looked for D. Thomas and the pass fell incomplete.  That brought up third down.  Who do you think Manning will look for?  Welker?  Decker?  Moreno?  Shannon Sharpe?  None of those choices are correct.  The answer is Julius Thomas.  Out of the shotgun, Manning threw a deep ball to the right and sure enough Thomas grabbed it for a gain on 21 and a first down at the 41.  That was a damaging blow to the hopes of Charger fans.  Moreno ran up the middle for a short gain and the Chargers called their second timeout.  Moreno got the call on second down and was held to a minimal gain.  The Chargers called their final timeout.  Uh-oh.  It’s third down again.  You don’t think that evil #80 is going to get the ball again do you?  It was third and six and Manning knew a first down would get them a win and a ticket to the AFC championship game.  He calmly took the snap out of the shotgun and completed a nine-yard pass to J. Thomas yet again.  That did it.  The Chargers couldn’t stop the clock and a couple more runs by Moreno and a kneel down by Manning ended the game.  Final score: Broncos 24 Chargers 17.

For the Chargers, Philip Rivers completed 18 of 27 for 217 yards and two touchdowns.  Keenan Allen led all receivers in receptions with six and receiving yards with 142 and two touchdowns.  As a team, the Chargers rushed for just 65 yards on 18 carries.  Danny Woodhead was the leading rusher with 29 yards on nine carries.  Their longest gain on the ground was a 16-yard carry by Ryan Mathews.  Defensively, cornerback Marcus Gilchrist led the team in solo tackles with seven.

For the Broncos, Peyton Manning completed 25 of 36 for 230 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.  Demaryius Thomas had the most receptions with eight and Julius Thomas had the most receiving yards with 76.  The Broncos had a good day on the ground as they totaled 133 yards on 34 carries.  Knowshon Moreno was the leading rusher with 82 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown.  Defensively, cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Champ Bailey tied for the lead in solo tackles with four apiece.  The Broncos sacked Rivers four times and defensive end Shaun Phillips led the team with two.

Well, the road to the Super Bowl goes through Denver.  Tom Brady and the Patriots will be in Denver on Sunday and I look forward to what should be a high scoring game.

 

Patriots 41, Texans 28

The last game on the playoff schedule had the Houston Texans heading up to New England to take on the Patriots.  The Texans were coming off a 19-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals and the Patriots had a first round bye.  These teams met in week 14 of the regular season and the Patriots shredded the Texans by a score of 42-14.  The Texans won the toss and elected to receive.  That was a good idea as return man Danieal Manning fielded the kick six yards deep in the end zone and returned it to the Patriot 12-yard line.  From the 12, running back Arian Foster ran up the left side for a modest gain of three yards.  On second down, quarterback Matt Schaub threw a pass to fullback James Casey and the ball went right through his hands and fell incomplete.  On third down, Schaub looked for wide receiver Andre Johnson and that pass was also incomplete.  With such great field position, the Texans had to settle for a field goal attempt from kicker Shayne Graham.  His 27-yard attempt was good and the Texans had an early 3-0 lead.

After that possession, the Patriots punted twice and the Texans followed suit.  But with 4:29 to go in the first quarter, the Patriots put together a nice drive on the strength of running back Stevan Ridley from their 35.  Ridley had two carries for 12 yards and caught a pass for 13 more yards.  From the Texan 40, quarterback Tom Brady threw a short pass to running back Shane Vereen and he took it 25 yards down to the Texan 15.  Brady then hooked up with tight end Aaron Hernandez for a gain of 14 to set up a first and goal at the one.  Vereen took it in from the one for a touchdown.  Kicker Stephen Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots led 7-3 with 1:28 remaining in the first quarter.

The kickoff went nine yards deep in the end zone and the Texans got the ball at the 20.  Completions to Johnson and Foster moved the Texans quickly to their 47.  But the next three plays gained exactly zero yards and they punted again.  The punt was fair caught at the 16 by wide receiver/return man Wes Welker.  Speaking of Mr. Welker, on third and eight from the 18, he caught a pass for a gain of 30 yards.  Then Vereen ran off left tackle for 22 more and a first down at the Texan 30.  Two more carries by Vereen got them another first down at the 16.  But, an unsportsmanlike penalty on wide receiver Brandon Lloyd moved them back 15 yards.  They managed to get down to the 19, but the drive stalled there.  Gostkowski made his 37-yard attempt and the Patriots now led 10-3 with 10:16 to go in the first half.

After another Texan punt, the Patriots started from their 20.  A 13-yard pass to Welker on third and 11 kept the drive alive and Brady found Lloyd for seven more yards.  A six-yard carry by Ridley and a 47-yard pass to Welker made it first and goal from the eight-yard line.  On first down, Brady tossed a pass to his left and Vereen caught it for an eight-yard touchdown.  Gostkowski made another extra point and the Patriots went up 17-3 with 3:38 to go in the half.

On the kickoff, Gostkowski was penalized for a horse collar tackle and that set up the Texans at the Patriot 47.  Two carries by Foster set up a first and goal from the seven-yard line.  Three more carries got them six points as Foster found the end zone from the one-yard line.  Graham made the point after and the Texans now trailed 17-10 with 1:15 to go in the half.

The Patriots netted exactly four yards on their next drive and punted.  With 24 seconds remaining, the Texans had the ball at their 38 and three timeouts.  A nine-yard pass to Casey and an 11-yard pass to Daniels had them in Patriot territory with precious seconds ticking away.  From the Patriot 42, Schaub found Daniels for a gain of five and they called their final timeout with two seconds left.  Graham came on and his 55-yard field goal was good.  That made it 17-13 as the half came to a close.

The Patriots got the ball to start the second half and started their next possession at their 31.  Two passes to Welker and two to Hernandez had them rolling into Texan territory.  From the 12, Ridley ran for a gain of four yards.  Ridley got the call again and this time he crossed the goal line for another Patriot touchdown.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots went up 24-13.

The teams punted on their next possessions and the Texans took over at their ten with just under nine minutes to go in the third quarter.  A false start penalty pinned them back to their five.  Schaub tossed a short pass to Foster who took it up the left side for a gain of 28 yards.  A short run by Foster and a loss of nine on a sack made it third and long again.  On third and 16, Johnson caught a pass at midfield for another first down.  If the Texans wanted to stay in this game, they had to get some points on this drive.  Foster ran for seven more yards and Casey caught a pass for five yards and a first down at the Patriot 39.  On third and eight from the 37, Schaub had time and threw a pass right down the middle that was caught by Rob Ninkovich at the 31.  There’s only one problem with that.  Ninkovich is a Patriot.  He returned the ball to the 37.  Three carries by Ridley, and passes to Hernandez and Lloyd put the ball at the Texan five-yard line.  On first down, Brady looked for Lloyd and found him for another touchdown.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots now had a very comfortable 31-13 lead.

The Texans found themselves with terrible field position again as they started at their 14-yard line.  An eight-yard pass to tight end Garrett Graham and two short runs made it fourth and one from the 23.  When you’re down big in a playoff game, desperate times call for desperate measures.  They went for it on fourth and the zebras ruled Foster made it.  The Patriots challenged the ruling, but it was upheld and the Texans had a first down at the 24.  Three plays later, they had another fourth and one from the 33.  This time, Schaub threw it deep and it was incomplete.  The Patriots will make you pay if you turn the ball over in your own territory.  Sure enough, from the 33, Brady took the snap, looked to his left and threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Lloyd.  That was entirely too easy.  Gostkowski made the extra point and the Patriots now led 38-13 with 13 minutes to go in the game.

Manning got loose on another kick return and was finally brought down at the Patriot 37.  A couple of runs by Foster got them down to the 25 and from the 25, wide receiver DeVier Posey caught a pass on the right side for a touchdown.  Initially it was ruled incomplete, but the Texans challenged the ruling and it was overturned for a touchdown.  Graham made the point after and the score was now 38-20 with 11:35 left.

The Patriots netted a grand total of minus five yards on their next possession and Mesko blasted a 64-yard punt that was downed at the Texan 21.  Completions to Johnson and Daniels and a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on the Patriots gave the Texans a first down at the Patriot 48.  A pass to Foster and two more to Daniels made it first and goal at the four.  It took four plays to go four yards, but Schaub hit Foster with a one-yard touchdown pass.  They decided to go for two and Johnson caught the pass and the two-point conversion was good.  That made it 38-28 with 5:11 to go.

The Texans tried an onside kick and it was recovered by Ninkovich.  The Patriots stuck to the ground game to kill the clock and Gostkowski ended up making a 38-yard field goal to make the final score 41-28.  That win propels the Patriots to yet another AFC title game.

For the Texans, Matt Schaub completed 34 of 51 for 343 yards, two touchdowns and one very bad interception.  Owen Daniels led the team in receptions with nine and Andre Johnson had the most receiving yards with 95.  Although he didn’t get loose many times, Arian Foster managed to gain 90 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown.  He also had seven receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown.  The only other player credited with rushing yards was Schaub and he had one yard on one carry.  So that gives the Texans a total of 91 yards on 24 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Connor Barwin, cornerback Danieal Manning and cornerback Johnathan Joseph tied for the lead in solo tackles with three.  Barwin also had one tackle for a loss and two quarterback hits.

For the Patriots, Tom Brady completed 25 of 40 for 344 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.  Wes Welker led all receivers in receptions with eight and yards with 131.  Stevan Ridley had a good game on the ground with 82 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown.  All totaled the Patriots ran for 122 yards on 24 carries.  Defensively, cornerback Aqib Talib led the team with nine solo tackles.

Up next for the Patriots is a rematch of last year’s AFC title game as the Baltimore Ravens will be coming to town.  In the NFC, the 49ers will be heading to Atlanta to play the Falcons.  Both games are scheduled for next Sunday and the NFC title game will kickoff at 3 eastern time.  The AFC title game will start at 6:30 eastern time.  Until then, take it easy.

 

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: Not that this should come as a shock to anyone, but RB Ryan Williams was officially placed on IR this week…..The Cardinals may be paying the price now for trading away CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as Greg Toler’s knee sprain may force the team to bring along 1st round pick Patrick Peterson faster than the team would like…..QB Max Hall will miss the season after undergoing shoulder surgery.

Atlanta Falcons: WR Julio Jones is my pick for offensive rookie of the year in the NFC…..The reason I make that statement, QB Matt Ryan threw the ball an amazing 42 times last week. That’s unheard of in the preseason. The Falcons seem to be trying to make a statement to opposing teams: don’t load up at the line of scrimmage to stop the run or you will get burned by the passing game. RB Michael Turner has to like this as the safeties can’t play too close to the line of scrimmage anymore.

Baltimore Ravens: WR Lee Evans was still in a protective boot earlier this week, but the injury is still not considered serious and he should be good to go for Week One…..Coach Cam Cameron came out this week and stated that tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta are pretty much running neck and neck for the starting job. Dickson is a much better athlete and has the higher upside, but needs to display that upside on a more consistent basis before he is handed the starting job.

Buffalo Bills: Linebacker Shawn Merriman looks to be ready to play in Week One. Merriman can certainly help the pass rush if he’s healthy, but he can’t seem to remain so for any length of time…..RB Fred Jackson was upset last week for not knowing what his exact role is in the offense. He did receive the start last week and is the odds on favorite to begin the season as the starting back with CJ Spiller playing more of a 3rd down role and being lined up in the slot on occasion.

Carolina Panthers: I believe the Panthers are going to be an improved team over last season. It is hard not to be, but they are still going to be lucky to win 10 games. I still believe they would benefit by having a veteran quarterback tutor Cam Newton who has looked awful throwing the ball so far this preseason…..Fantasy wise, it will be next to impossible for me to draft any Panther in re-draft leagues.

Chicago Bears: RB Chester Taylor looked like he was going to be released this week. He was told as much, but the injury to Marion Barber gave him a reprieve–although that may be short lived…..I have the Bears third in the NFC North…..LB Lance Briggs may have three years left on his contract and be north of 30 years old, but he still wants a new contract and may demand a pay raise if he’s not given one.

Cincinnati Bengals: We learned earlier today that QB Carson Palmer had a face to face meeting with GM Mike Brown in late July about his situation. Palmer is still demanding a trade. However, he could really force the Bengals hand by reporting to camp late this week or next, thus forcing the Bengals to either pay him or trade him…..RB Cedric Benson elected to serve his 20 day prison sentence immediately instead of during his bye week. He will only be required to actually serve seven days, so he should be ready for Week One.

Cleveland Browns: Each and every week I’m more impressed with QB Colt McCoy. Once again, he’s never going to be a stud who puts up big numbers, but he has the look of a QB who will do whatever it takes to get the job done…..RB Montario Hardesty is finally starting to look healthy after tearing his ACL last season. He has the talent to be a starting back, which will give the Browns a strong 1-2 punch between himself and Peyton Hillis.

Dallas Cowboys: I was a little bit surprised by the release of C Andre Gurode this week. Gurode can still play but Dallas didn’t think he was worth the five plus million he was owed in salary…..By cutting Gurode, Dallas is now a little over $11 million under the salary cap. Remember, the dollar amount a team is under the salary cap this season, it can be added to next season’s cap. So even though Dallas may not have been big players in the this year’s free agent crop, don’t expect the same next season…..The release of Gurode also means that Dallas’ offensive line went from old and slow to extremely young and athletic. If QB Tony Romo can withstand the hits he is going to get, he will have a big season.

Denver Broncos: DE Elvis Demervil looks to be fully recovered from last year’s surgery. He and first round pick Von Miller should give the Broncos a pass rush that has to be game planned for by the opposition…..QBs Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn are still battling for the backup job to start the season. One has to wonder, if and when the Broncos are out of playoff contention, will they decide to make a switch to Tebow just to see what he can do, regardless of how well Orton is playing.

Detroit Lions: The reason I picked the Bears for third in the north is that I’m hopping on the Lions bandwagon and predicting a second place finish for them. Granted though, this all depends on QB Matthew Stafford and RB Javhid Best remaining healthy–two big ifs…..Best has already had a problem this preseason with a concussion suffered early on. He is expected to play in the last preseason game and be ready for Week One.

Green Bay Packers: TE JerMichael Finley won’t play in the final preseason game due to an ankle injury, but this injury is not considered to be serious and he should be good to go for Week One…..WR Randall Cobb returned to practice this week. Cobb has plenty of talent, but he will make the most noise for the Packers on special teams as they are loaded at WR…..Speaking of WRs, Donald Driver had a cortisone injection in the same foot he injured in the Super Bowl. It would seem to be a red flag to me. Have to think that Driver will slowly be phased out of a starting role as the season rolls along.

Houston Texans: RB Arian Foster’s hamstring injury has to worry fantasy owners. He was considered to be a top three back heading into the season, and now some believe he could miss up to a month. Of course, Foster and the Texans deny that he will miss any time, but one would have to think he won’t be at full speed and could re-injure the hamstring at some point during the season…..If you do draft Foster, better grab Ben Tate as his handcuff.

Indianapolis Colts: QB Peyton Manning was taken off the PUP this week, but still won’t play in the final preseason game. He is still questionable to play in Week One. Without Manning, the Colts are a bad team. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team so reliant on one person…..Fantasy wise, Manning would scare me. I couldn’t take him as one of my top five QBs anymore, but top eight is not out of the question.

Jacksonville Jaguars: RB Rashard Jennings was seen on crutches this week after suffering a knee injury. Jennings was expected to become more than just a backup to Maurice Jones-Drew this season. The Jags don’t want to abuse MJD, but if this injury is serious than Jones-Drew may get more carries per week than first thought…..RB Fred Taylor signed a contract with the Jags Thursday for the sake of retiring as a Jaguar.

Kansas City Chiefs: WR Jonathan Baldwin is running routes but not catching passes yet as he still has pins in his thumb after his fight with RB Thomas Jones…..I have the Chiefs finishing second in the AFC West this season. Not because they are not a better team than last season, but because I don’t believe the Chargers will have as many problems on special teams as they did last season. Chiefs will battle the Jets for that final wildcard spot.

Miami Dolphins: RB Daniel Thomas has aggravated the Dolphins coaching staff so much that he may no longer be the main ball carrier for the team. Reggie Bush could get more touches than first thought. Don’t be surprised if the Dolphins reverse their thinking. However, the more Bush touches the ball, the more likely he is to get hurt…..QB Chad Henne has actually looked good so far this preseason. This is a make or break year for Henne. Perhaps the light bulb has finally turned on for him.

Minnesota Vikings: I’m not sure anyone in the NFL was happier for the contract that RB Chris Johnson received than Adrian Peterson–cha ching…..Speaking of Peterson, he’s not expected to come off the field in passing situations anymore. He is in store for a massive season and should be the first RB off the board in fantasy leagues.

New England Patriots: WR Wes Welker injured his neck making a tackle last week. Although he doesn’t remember the play, he doesn’t have a concussion. Once again, he should be good to go for Week One…..RB Kevin Faulk still isn’t fully recovered from ACL surgery and is likely to begin the season on the PUP list…..WR Brandon Tate has not impressed this season and could be the odd man out in the Pats WR corps.

New Orleans Saints: K Garrett Hartley will miss at least the next six weeks with a hip injury. Jon Kasay has been signed to take over the kicking duties…..I like the Saints again this season, but also believe they finish behind the Falcons in the NFC South…..Big things seem to be expected from WR Lance Moore this season, but don’t forget he has a nagging groin injury and RB Darren Sproles will also take some of the snaps that would’ve previously gone to Reggie Bush.

New York Giants: In order for the Giants offense to work this season, WR Mario Manningham is going to have to have a good season to take the defensive pressure off of Hakeem Nicks. Not to mention QB Eli Manning is going to have to play better and limit his mistakes…..Third round pick WR Jerrel Jernigan, who was the leading candidate to take over punt returns, blew that opportunity with four fumbled punts versus the Jets Monday.

New York Jets: K Nick Folk won the kicking battle over Nick Novak…..WR Plaxico Burress and QB Mark Sanchez clearly weren’t on the same page in last week’s game versus the Giants. This is clearly a work in progress…..Jets finish behind the Patriots in the AFC East.

Oakland Raiders: TE Kevin Boss has yet to practice since injuring his knee a couple of weeks ago. He’s questionable to play in Week One…..QB Terrelle Pryor reportedly scored a seven on the Wonderlic Test. That’s incredibly low. The test has nothing to do with his ability to play football, but does show you that he is probably not the sharpest pencil in the box.

Philadelphia Eagles: WR Steve Smith is unlikely to play in Week One, and could miss most of September. This is why the Giants didn’t sign him…..WR DeSean Jackson could be the next player on the Eagles to sign a big contract after the Eagles rewarded QB Michael Vick with a $100 million contract this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers: LB James Harrison is still not at 100% after undergoing off-season back surgery and may get fatigued as games get into the fourth quarter during the regular season…..Due to the foot injury that has cost WR Emmanuel Sanders a good portion of training camp, Antonio Brown may be the Steelers 3rd WR to open the season.

San Diego Chargers: TE Antonio Gates practiced all week and will be ready to go for Week One….. The Chargers offense looks explosive and could put up a bunch of points week in and week out…..They are going to win the AFC West…..I love the trio of QB Phillip Rivers, WR Vincent Jackson and TE Antonio Gates, not to mention the RB duo of Mike Tolbert and Ryan Matthews–just scary.

San Francisco 49ers: RB Frank Gore also signed a new contract this week. It’s good that he received a lot of upfront money because that offensive line is going to get him killed…..As good a preseason as Kendall Hunter has had, he still hasn’t passed Anthony Dixon on the depth chart…..WR Michael Crabtree is still not practicing at full strength and is unlikely to play in Week One.

Seattle Seahawks: The signing of TE Zach Miller is all the more important now with the loss of John Carlson for the season with a torn labrum…..The Seahawks are still going to roll with Tavares Jackson as their starting QB even though the offense has looked abysmal so far this preseason and Charlie Whitehurst has outplayed him…..RB Marshawn Lynch has an ankle injury that will keep him from playing this week but he is expected to play in Week One.

St. Louis Rams: LB James Laurinaitis is still battling a pectoral muscle that he injured in the early days of camp and may not be at 100% when the regular season starts…..The Rams signed WR Mark Clayton to a one-year contract this week but he still might begin the season on the PUP. He is still recovering from a torn patellar.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs remind me of the Chiefs in that they may be a better team this season but it won’t show in their record. Not to mention, it certainly doesn’t help playing in the same division with Atlanta and New Orleans…..RB Earnest Graham is expected to be the Bucs third down back this season, at least at the beginning…..TE Kellen Winslow hurt his ankle in his preseason debut last week. It didn’t look to be a major injury, but the Bucs haven’t talked much about it this week.

Tennessee Titans: Everyone in Tennessee had a big sigh of relief today when RB Chris Johnson finally signed his new contract and reported to camp. The Titans don’t have the best of offenses to begin with, and without Johnson it would be non-existent…..More good news for the Titans, WR Kenny Britt is feeling close to 100% and expects to be so before the season opener.

Washington Redskins: I know RB Tim Hightower has had a great camp and is climbing up fantasy draft boards, but does anyone really think it’s going to last all season. What happens when he starts to fumble the ball or the Shanahans want to see what rookie Roy Helu can do? Plus the Skins don’t have a QB and teams may sell out to stop the run…..S Laron Landry has injuries to his Achilles and hamstring, but isn’t expected to miss more than a couple of games at this point in time.