Monday, December 27, 2010

Eli Manning's Inconsistent Season Puts New York's Playoff Hopes on Life Support

After Green Bay's 45-17 shellacking of Eli Manning's G-Men yesterday at the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, Tom Coughlin's crew may need a little help to make the postseason this year.

The loss allowed the Eagles, before even playing their week 16 game against the Minnesota Vikings (postponed yesterday and rescheduled for tomorrow night in Philly), to clinch the NFC East title. The loss also puts New York behind New Orleans (10-4) and Green Bay (9-6) in the race for the two Wild Card spots.

Not only will the Giants have to beat their NFC East counterpart Washington Redskins this coming Sunday to have a shot, but they will also need help from numerous teams.

Eli's four interceptions in yesterday's matchup has been the story of their season thus far. At 29 years old, Eli has set a couple of career highs--touchdown passes: 30, completion %: 63.1, and is 263 shy of setting a career-high in passing yards--but the most important stat this season has been interceptions. Yes, that's right, Eli Manning has thrown a career-high, and league-leading, 24 interceptions through 15 games.
There's no question that Eli has had plenty of time to get rid of the football, either, considering he has been sacked by the opposition just 16 times this season. And as a team, New York is averaging 141.2 rushing yards per game, good enough for fifth in the league.

Eli had a tough time adjusting and bouncing back after New York's defense allowed 28 fourth quarter points and watched Philadelphia steal one from them in their own house. That loss snapped New York's three-game win streak and shifted the momentum in Philly's direction.

Over that three-game stretch, New York's defense allowed a total of 30 points (average of 10.0/game), but allowed 38+ in each of the next two games for a total of 83 points.

New York has proven that they can put up points (have had six games with 30-plus points, and two games with 40-plus points this season), but the defense has also been inconsistent, allowing 30 or more points on four separate occasions this season.

One thing is for certain, if New York manages to squeeze in to the NFC playoffs, they will definitely have to step it up on the defensive side of the ball and will need to be dependent on the run game so they can limit Manning's interceptions. What do I think about all this? New York will beat the Skins in the finale, but miss the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Sorry Giants fans.

Photo Credit
Eli Manning: AP Photo/Morry Gash

Niners Fire Head Coach Singletary

Last night's firing of Niners' head coach Mike Singletary should tell us one thing: If you don't deliver results in the NFL, you wont be sticking around long.

Singletary, the former Chicago Bears linebacker who was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1998, worked as the 49ers assistant coach from 2005-2008 after a short stint (2003-04) as Baltimore's assistant. Once San Francisco fired head coach Mike Nolan (18-37 in four seasons, never finished better than third in division) halfway through the '08 season, Singletary took over as interim coach.

After going 5-4, and finishing in second in the NFC West at the end of the '08 regular season, Singletary was named head coach.
In his only full season in 2009, Singletary's Niners, who were said to be on the rise after being replenished with younger players, finished the season 8-8 and again placed second in the division. San Francisco were crowned division favorites by plenty of analysts and writers this off-season, but his job appeared to be up for grabs after a slow start, and finish.

Just last night, after San Fran was eliminated from playoff contention with a 25-17 loss to St. Louis and a heated argument with quarterback Troy Smith (who was benched mid-game by Singletary) on the sidelines, owner and team president Jed York fired Singletary with just one week in the season remaining.

Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula was named the team's interim coach for the final week of the season against the Arizona Cardinals.

Why York decided to go through with the firing now instead of waiting one more week until the end of the season is beyond me, but the fact is that it happened and that Tomsula has a shot at impressing his boss against the Cards.

Photo Credit
Mike Singletary: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Chiefs Clinch First AFC West Title Since 2003

With a convincing 34-14 victory over the struggling Tennessee Titans earlier today, the Kansas City Chiefs  (10-5) capture the franchise's first division title since 2003, back when Trent Green, Priest Holmes and Dante Hall were household names for Kansas City's then-head coach Dick Vermeil.

The Chiefs' division rival San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders both suffered defeats to top off a near-perfect day for Kansas City.

Kansas City's run game, tops in the league, has been the key factor in most of their games this season, but not this week against Tennessee. Quarterback Matt Cassel led KC's offense with a 300 yards passing performance, including a 75-yard TD pass to Pro Bowl-bound receiver Dwayne Bowe, and two more TD tosses to running back Jamaal Charles.
In his sixth professional season, Cassel has set career highs in passing touchdowns (27) and QB rating (98.8) with just five interceptions. Cassel's top target, receiver Dwayne Bowe, has set several career highs this season as well, including yards (1,094) and TD catches (15). In fact, his 15 touchdown receptions leads the league, three above top-tier receivers Greg Jennings and Calvin Johnson.

Now, as for Kansas City's running game, the duo of the young speedster Jamaal Charles and veteran Thomas Jones has led the league's top running game to 2,360 rushing yards, nearly 100 more than KC's division rival Oakland. It's expected that they are the No. 1 running team in terms of yards, because they are also the leader in rushing attempts with 487, and are last in pass attempts with only 403.

The fact that Cassel is tied for sixth in the league with 27 touchdown tosses is really say something when you realize that he has attempted 417 passes compared to Peyton Manning's 638 and Drew Brees' 571.
Coach Haley sure has the correct ingredient to win in the playoffs once you add on a top 10 defense in terms of both yardage and scoring. Cassel leads a very efficient offensive attack through the air and has two dependable backs who can run out the clock in the second half, if they hold a comfortable lead. If Kansas City can capture the third seed in the AFC playoffs this coming weekend (by beating Oakland at home), I expect Kansas City to make a solid run in the playoffs. They are surely capable of doing so, especially if they get a matchup with New York, because I think they have the ability to put up decent numbers against Rex Ryan's run defense.

Don't overlook the Chiefs in the playoffs just because they are coming out of the West. That's the biggest mistake a team could make.

Photo Credit
Eric Berry: AP Photo/Ed Zurga
Dwayne Bowe: AP Photo/Ed Zurga

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Season that Could Have Been...

The Houston Texans entered the 2010 season with so much hope. A top ten quarterback, All Pro receiver, top ten tight end and revived ground game. Not to mention several playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, including two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Mario Williams. Head coach Gary Kubiak seemed to have his work cut out for him over the off-season. The pieces to a playoff run were all there.

That was, until catastrophe struck in Houston.

On May 7, several months before training camps were to kick-off, Houston found out they would be without the 2009 Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing for the first four games of the 2010 campaign. Cushing was suspended by Commissioner Roger Goodell after it was found out he failed a drug test in September of '09.

That was just the first of many blows the Texans would take this season, on the defensive side of the ball in particular.
After taking Auburn running back Ben Tate in the second round (58th overall) in this past April's draft, hoping to make up for Steve Slaton's inconsistent play, Houston thought they had it made on offense. They finally had a guy they could count on in tough situations. As it turns out, Tate didn't even complete his first pre-season game before breaking his ankle and being placed on the injured reserve, ending his season before it even got started.

Before the season had gotten underway for Houston, they already had five guys on the injured reserve (DT Tim Bulman, LB Darnell Bing, WRs Trindon Holliday and Andre' Davis being the other four). Throughout the season nine more were placed on the list, two of them being Houston's top defenders in LB DeMeco Ryans and DE Mario Williams.

Because of the losses on the defensive side of the ball, Houston has lacked consistency and therefore is currently ranked 30th in total defense (dead-last against pass, ninth against run).

Nevertheless, Houston has fought its way through the tough times, starting the season with a big 34-24 victory against defending division champion Colts, and a 3-1 record after the first four weeks of the season (Colts-w, Redskins-w, Cowboys-L, Raiders-w). For their fifth game, against the New York Giants, Houston got tackling-machine linebacker Brian Cushing back in the lineup, but still allowed 30-plus points in each of the next three games (1-2 record over that stretch).
With questions surrounding the running game at the start of the season, the 24-year old second year RB out of Tennessee, Arian Foster, stepped up and made a huge impact right away. He caught the attention of fans right off the bat with a 231-yard, three TD performance against the Colts in the season opener. Throughout the next 13 games Foster would continue his success, putting up six 100-yard performances and scoring touchdowns left and right. At the current moment, Foster has accumulated 1,345 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground, both of which are good enough for first in the league.

Unfortunately for Gary Kubiak, having the best back in the league doesn't necessarily translate in to wins. There has to be consistency at the quarterback position as well, and we have not seen that with Matt Schaub this year. I mean, sure, he's had some great games (passing yardages of 497, 305, 314, 337, 393 and 325), but he's made quite a few mental mistakes and has been known to throw interceptions at very inopportune times. Great statline for 2010, but he hasn't been able to finish a couple of costly games, which has certainly helped lead Houston to some of these losses.

If it wasn't for injuries to key players and inconsistency and inability to play football all sixty minutes, just think at where they could be right now. Looking at their schedule and how close some of these games have been (some have had unlucky endings going against Houston, as well), they very well could have a 9-5 record, instead of a 5-9 record. And with how the South has been playing out this year, they would have a great shot at capturing the division and heading to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Photo Credit
Joel Dreessen: AP Photo/Stephen Morton
DeMeco Ryans: AP Photo/Dave Einsel

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Week 16 Results According to, Including my Picks

With two weeks left to play I used

Thursday December 23, 2010

Steelers 28, Panthers 6

Carolina rookie Jimmy Clausen was only sacked and picked off once by Pittsburgh's top-tier defense, but were kept to just 49 yards on the ground on 32 carries. Clausen completed about half of his passes (14/32) for 167 yards and no touchdowns while Ben Roethlisberger threw for two touchdowns, one to each of his favorite targets--Hines Ward and Mike Wallace. The key to the game proved to be Pittsburgh's running game with 252 yards (6 YPA) on the ground. Rashard Mendenhall ran for 128 yards and a touchdown and Mewelde Moore finished with 66 yards and a touchdown. My Pick: Steelers

Saturday December 25, 2010

Cardinals 22, Cowboys 10

Merry Christmas, Arizona! Kitna's two interceptions were huge, and gave Arizona too many chances to not take advantage of. Steve Breaston, WIS's player of the game, caught four passes for 75 yards, giving Derek Anderson a dependable target to rely on in key situations. Two 52-yard field goals kicked by Jay Feely gave Arizona confidence as they came out with a 12-point victory in the end thanks to mistake-free football played on offense. My Pick: Cowboys

Sunday December 26, 2010

Bears 14, Jets 0

Nearly a week after Chicago clinched the NFC North title for the first time since 2006, Cutler was near-perfect yet again and the defense was perfect against New York's 18th-ranked offense. Chicago didn't even allow a field goal attempt in this shutout at home, as Brian Urlacher recorded a sack and Julius Peppers had an interception for the second consecutive game, one of two Sanchez interceptions in the game. More inconsistency from New York's Sanchez. My Pick: Bears
Bills 20, Patriots 10

Wow, Santa must've put Buffalo on the nice list, because there was no way they'd pull this win off if they weren't. New England's 30th-ranked passing defense finally caught up to them as Buffalo signal caller Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 187 yards and two first half scores on his way to victory. No interceptions in the game, either. If Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles can pull off a solid victory, Vick may surpass Brady in the MVP race after Brady's 10-point performance against Buffalo's 25th-ranked defense. My Pick: Patriots

Browns 20, Ravens 17

Cleveland didn't seem to have any problem with ruining Baltimore's chances at a division title, allowing Pittsburgh to clinch the AFC North with the Baltimore loss. Quarterback Colt McCoy only completed half of his 16 pass attempts, but his touchdown pass to Josh Cribbs ended up making a huge difference in the game as Cleveland's 25th-ranked run defense shut down Baltimore's run attack (34 attempts, 80 yards). A mistake-free McCoy allowed Cleveland to hold off Joe Flacco and Co. My Pick: Ravens

Rams 13, Niners 9

Coming in to this matchup, the Niners were one game behind the leading Rams (and Seahawks) and were fighting for a chance at the division title despite the 5-9 record. After Alex Smith's poor passing day (9/21, 85 yards, 1 INT), the Niners have been eliminated from contention. A solid running day from Anthony Dixon, who ran for 124 yards, but the rookie Sam Bradford, who threw three interceptions for the Rams, relied heavily on Steven Jackson to take them to victory. Jackson's 132 yards rushing was the icing on the cake in this game. My Pick: Rams

Titans 30, Chiefs 24

Both teams ran for over 200 yards but turned the ball over in the passing game. Titans' quarterback Kerry Collins threw for just 82 yards and two interceptions, but Javon Ringer's two touchdowns were enough to cancel out Matt Cassel's solid day through the air (18/30, 187 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). Thomas Jones ran for 144 yards and a late fourth quarter touchdown to tie the game at 24 and send the game in to overtime. But, Ringer's second touchdown, a 56-yard run halfway through overtime, handed Kansas City its sixth loss of the season. Now all Cassel and Co. can do is pray for a San Diego loss so they can keep sole possession of the AFC West. My Pick: Chiefs
Dolphins 14, Lions 10

If only Miami hadn't fallen to teams such as the Browns and Bills within the last four weeks. Instead of being 7-7 coming in to this matchup with the now 4-11 Lions, they would be 9-5 and have a legitimate shot at a playoff spot. Instead, this meaningless victory puts them just one game over .500 and still at least two games behind the second wild card spot. Inconsistency has been the name of the game for Miami this season, which explains why they were up 14-0 at the half but nearly spoiled the lead by allowing Detroit back in the game with 10 third quarter points. A scoreless final quarter allowed Miami to squeeze out the win, but it was certainly a close call. My Pick: Lions

Jaguars 24, Redskins 18

Thanks to an 11-yard Ryan Torain touchdown run and a Graham Gano 41-yard field, Washington led 10-7 at the half. But, knowing they were fighting off Indianapolis for the AFC South, Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew came out in the second half with two third quarter touchdown runs. Down 21-10 late in the fourth quarter, Rex Grossman threw a 10-yard scorcher to Anthony Armstrong in the corner of the end zone. The two-point conversion was successful, but kicker Josh Scobee sealed the deal for Jacksonville with a 22-yard field goal with under a minute to play. Jacksonville is still alive in the race for the division after the victory. My Pick: Jaguars

Texans 31, Broncos 14

This wasn't even close. With Tebow making his second career start as an NFL quarterback, Denver threw for 250 yards, but miraculously enough had just five yards on the ground on, yes you heard it right, 22 carries. Houston's ninth-ranked run defense made Tebow and the offense one dimensional, allowing just two touchdowns, both of which were passing plays from under five yards out. Houston's four touchdowns, one coming in each quarter of play, came mostly on the ground with Arian Foster running for two (accumulated 117 yards on ground in game) and Derrick Ward running for one. With just six wins, Houston is obviously out of the playoff race, but that doesn't take away from this solid W. My Pick: Texans

Chargers 45, Bengals 20

San Diego quarterback Phillip Rivers continues his MVP campaign with a spectacular performance against Cincinnati's 17th-ranked passing defense (20/26, 327 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT). Without Terrell Owens in the lineup, Carson Palmer's struggles continued against San Diego. Cincinnati was more effective on the ground when it came to yardage (132-91), but San Diego's backs got the ball in the end zone three times, including two by third down and short yardage RB Mike Tolbert. Overall, San Diego's offense is clicking, and the victory ties them with Kansas City atop the AFC West heading in to the final week of play. My Pick: Chargers
Raiders 20, Colts 10

This loss for Peyton Manning (15/26, 162 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT) and his Colts basically opens the gates for the Jags to take the division, and allows them to control their own destiny in the final week of play. Jason Campbell didn't look too great (10/22, 130 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) but it was enough to get the job done and keep the 8-7 Raiders alive. Darren McFadden proved to be the deciding factor, being a threat in both the run game and pass game (67 rushing yards, 3 Rec., 35 yards). My Pick: Colts

Seahawks 26, Buccaneers 17

Josh Freeman's two interceptions led to Seattle touchdowns and put the Bucs out of the playoff race. The Seattle victory is certainly a good thing for NFL fans, though. It means that week 17's Rams/Seahawks matchup has a lot riding on it, the winner of the game will capture the NFC West division and host the sixth seed in the playoffs. It also means that the winner of the division will be a .500 team, which is good news considering many of us thought the winner would be a team with a losing record. Freeman and Tampa head coach Raheem Morris are sure to be disappointed with the loss, but no one else should be too disappointed with the outcome. My Pick: Seahawks

Giants 40, Packers 0

Luckily for Green Bay Aaron Rodgers was cleared to play this week. But, he must have still been affected by the big hit he took two weeks ago in this game because he stunk up the field with just 145 yards and two interceptions. He completed less than half of his passes, too, as Eli Manning and the G-Men scored four offensive touchdowns and four Lawrence Tynes field goals. Green Bay's ground game was just as ineffective as the passing game as they were outrun 202-47. In all, New York's offense converted 20 first downs, totaled 347 yards and no turnovers while Green Bay's stat line looked like this: 11 FDs, 176 total yards, two turnovers and three allowed sacks. R.I.P. Green Bay's playoff hopes. My Pick: Giants
Vikings 30, Eagles 22

You're probably thinking, 'why did he start Favre in this game? There's no way he'd play after this past Monday's game.' And, you're wrong, I did not start Favre in this simulation, but the rookie Joe Webb, who replaced Favre after he sustained a head injury against Chicago. And, despite Vick's great efforts (17/27, 191 yards 1 TD; 28 rushing yards), Webb prevailed with an eight-point victory over the NFC East's top team. Webb threw for 269 yards on 28 pass attempts and two touchdowns, both to Percy Harvin. Adrian Peterson's 111 yards and touchdown certainly helped the cause. After leading with 2:50 to play, Philadelphia was on the wrong end of a comeback, unlike last week's come-from-behind victory over the Giants. Webb's second TD pass (a 3-yarder) came with :56 to play, they then were successful on an onside kick and Adrian Peterson ran for a game-winning 44-yard score with :05 to play. What a game. My Pick: Eagles

Monday December 27, 2010

Saints 35, Falcons 21

The score doesn't tell the whole story. With division rival Saints and Falcons, the top two teams in the NFC, going head-to-head there's sure to be a fight. Drew Brees vs. Matt Ryan, Thomas/Bush vs. Michael Turner, Marques Colston vs. Roddy White. Can't beat this offensive heavyweight bout. The two went in to the tunnel at the half all knotted up at 21 points apiece. The two offenses came out in the second half struggling early on, with a scoreless third quarter. But, Brees' offense broke out for two fourth quarter touchdown passes, one to Thomas and the other to Devery Henderson. Both Atlanta's Roddy White and New Orleans' Henderson had great games through the air, but Reggie Bush, 102 yards and a touchdown on the ground, was the only player on either side to break 100 rushing yards. The win puts New Orleans (11-4) within a game of the 12-3 Falcons with one more game to play in the regular season. My Pick: Falcons
Standings after WIS's Week 16 Match-ups:

AFC North
z-Steelers 11-4
Ravens 10-5
Browns 6-9
Bengals 3-12

AFC East
*Patriots 12-3
Jets 10-5
Dolphins 8-7
Bills 5-10

AFC South
Jaguars 9-6
Colts 8-7
Titans 7-8
Texans 6-9

AFC West
Chargers 9-6
Chiefs 9-6
Raiders 8-7
Broncos 3-12

NFC North
z-Bears 11-4
Packers 8-7
Vikings 6-9
Lions 4-11

NFC East
y-Eagles 10-5
y-Giants 10-5
Redskins 5-10
Cowboys 5-10

NFC South
Falcons 12-3
Saints 11-4
Bucs 8-7
Panthers 2-13

NFC West
Rams 7-8
Seahawks 7-8
Niners 5-10
Cardinals 5-10

AFC Wild Card Race
Ravens 10-5
Jets 10-5
Chiefs 9-6
Raiders 8-7
Colts 8-7

NFC Wild Card Race
Saints 11-4
Giants 10-5
Packers 8-7
Bucs 8-7
Seahawks 7-8

y-playoff berth
*-home-field advantage

Photo Credit
Corey Wootton: AP Photo/Andy King
Javon Ringer: AP Photo/John Russell
Vincent Jackson: Ben Liebenberg/NFL
Lance Moore: AP Photo/Rob Carr

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The "Return King" Helps Chicago Capture First Division Title Since 2006

Before the season, knowing that Brett Favre would be in a Viking uniform, this matchup was supposed to be heavily favored in the opposite direction. Towards a Minnesota blowout.

But, instead, the now 10-4 Chicago Bears clinched the NFC North division with their 40-14 blowout of the Minnesota Vikings.

The game was played in the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium rather than Minnesota's Metrodome since the Dome had yet to be repaired after snow damaged the roof two weeks ago. Minnesota players had been complaining about the poor conditions all week long. As for Chicago? They are used to playing football in wintry conditions, and we didn't hear a peep from them all week.
The hard ground did prove to be a factor throughout the game, though, as Brett Favre left early in the second quarter with an apparent head injury after rookie defensive end Corey Wootton, out of Northwestern, slammed Favre to the turf for his first NFL sack.

He did not return and was replaced by rookie Joe Webb, the former UAB signal caller, who was named tonight's starter earlier in the week before Favre suddenly decided to tough it out despite the bad conditions. Favre was 5/7 for 63 yards, 1 TD and an INT with Minnesota trailing 10-7 when he left the game.

Minnesota was without All Pro running back Adrian Peterson, who sat out because of lagging leg injuries sustained in previous weeks. Yet another rookie, RB Toby Gerhart, got his chance to shine in the spotlight. It was his first career start, and he sure did show he can tough it out in the cold, running for 77 yards on 16 carries. It was actually Webb who got the ball in the end zone using his legs, though, as he used his speed to hit the corner of the end zone on a 13-yard run early in the second half.
Despite great efforts, Webb's two interceptions became too costly for Minnesota's offense, and Cutler's offense really showed up to play as he threw for three touchdowns.

Other than another spectacular defensive performance put up by Chicago, I think the real headline here may have to do with special teams.
Devin Hester, A.K.A. the "Return King," set an NFL record after he ran back a Minnesota punt 64 yards for a touchdown just three minutes in to the second half. The significance? It was Hester's 14th career kick/punt returned for a touchdown, setting the all-time NFL record for return touchdowns (punt/kick), breaking Brian Mitchell's record of 13. What I think is so great about this, is that Hester hasn't even completed his fifth season in the league yet, and it took Mitchell 14 years with the Eagles, Redskins and Giants to run back 13 kicks.

This truly is a spectacular feat, and although this is certainly a breakable record, I don't think it will ever be achieved as quick as Hester did this season. Funny thing is, Minnesota's fans were booing punter Chris Kluwe for continuously punting out of bounds in his previous punts. Well, Minnesota fans, you got what you want. I hope your happy now.

Congratulations, Chicago.

Photo Credit
Minnesota Fans: AP Photo/Hannah Foslien
Devin Hester: AP Photo/Andy King

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who's the Favorite?: AFC and NFC Playoff Pictures

Each week of play has told us something different. Last week I got the idea that maybe, just maybe, this Minnesota Vikings team has a chance to excel without Brett Favre in the lineup.

Right away I have discovered that that's not necessarily true, as the Giants man-handled Tarvaris Jackson and the Vikings' offense on Monday night.

This week, the clear-cut favorites have been discovered. New England's offense racked up 36 points on Chicago's stellar defense, clinching the league's first playoff berth with the victory (11-2). Atlanta extended its win streak to seven games with a 31-10 victory over Carolina. Both teams are Super Bowl favorites coming out of their respected conferences, but Atlanta has a little more competition than New England.
With Seattle, New Orleans and Carolina still left on their plate this season, Atlanta has the potential to snag the NFC South title. New Orleans (10-3) and Tampa Bay (8-5) are both battling for Wild Card spots, but next week's New Orleans/Atlanta showdown on Monday Night Football may end up being the game of the year, and will without a doubt be pivotal in the race for the division title.
_ _ _ _ _

The NFC West continues to be the laughing stock of the National Football League, with both St. Louis and Seattle at a deadlock for the division lead, both at 6-7. As insane as this sounds, San Francisco is still very much alive in the chase, just one game behind at 5-8. Arizona isn't statistically eliminated, either, with a record of 4-9.

The battle for the Wild Card will be a wild one for sure, with New Orleans (10-3) Philadelphia/New York (both 9-4), Green Bay (8-5) and Tampa Bay (8-5) all jockeying for two spots.
_ _ _ _ _

The AFC playoff picture isn't much clearer than the NFC's, as the second-place teams in all four divisions are just a game behind the leader as we hit the final three weeks of the regular season.

The Colts and Jets continue to crumble: Indy is 2-3 in their last five games, New York is on a two-game losing streak. New York, 9-4, is still very much in the Wild Card hunt as long as they win two of their final three games, but Indy will be battling for their playoff hopes against Jacksonville this Sunday. If the Jags--current AFC South leader with 8-5 record--defeat Peyton and Co., they will likely end the season with their first division title since 1999.

After a quick start to the season, Kansas City has hit a few bumps in the road. At 8-5, they are still the West's leader, but San Diego (4-1 in last five games) is breathing down their necks, just one game behind Kansas City. Matt Cassel's appendectomy, which caused him to miss last week's game against San Diego, was a huge setback, but if he's back in the lineup this week expect the Chiefs to recover.
Miami (7-6), Oakland (6-7) and Houston/Tennessee (5-8) shouldn't be ruled out of the playoff hunt, either.
_ _ _ _ _

Lucky for us, all four of the AFC's divisions will likely be decided in the final week. If we're lucky, maybe the NFC will turn out that way as well.

Photo Credit
Brian Urlacher and Tom Brady: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
Maurice Jones-Drew: AP Photo/Stephen Morton

Monday, December 13, 2010

Rodgers' Concussion puts Green Bay's Playoff Hopes in Jeopardy

In the middle of a heated NFC North battle with the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers experienced a setback in yesterday's game.

Star quarterback and the team's "face of the franchise" Aaron Rodgers suffered a concussion in the second quarter of a showdown with the Detroit Lions. Before leaving the game, Rodgers was 7/11 for 46 yards and an interception.

Third-year quarterback Matt Flynn, an LSU alum, was forced to step in immediately. Flynn didn't do too bad (15/26, 177 yards, 1 INT), but led Green Bay on only one scoring drive, which added just three points to the scoreboard.
In the end, a superb defensive performance (two sacks, two INTs, 3/15 on third downs, 7 points) was put to waste as the Detroit Lions--with third string QB Drew Stanton making his second consecutive start--came away with its third win of the season, 7-3.

The only touchdown of the game came midway through the final quarter of play as Stanton hit 29-year old tight end Wes Heller from 13 yards out. It was Heller's only catch of the game.

Luckily for Green Bay, Chicago was stomped by the New England Patriots, meaning the Pack are still only one game behind Da Bears for the division lead. Green Bay's matchup with the New York Giants next week is very crucial. Rodgers will likely be able to play, but if he isn't able to lead his Pack to the victory, they may not get the chance to snag a playoff spot.

Hopefully, it will all come down to week 17's Chicago/Green Bay game in Lambeau. Those are always fun, especially if they are both fighting for the division title.

Get ready for a crazy, final two weeks in Lambeau.

Photo Credit
Aaron Rodgers: AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lebron "King" James Backs Peyton up, Bashes ESPN's Trent Dilfer

It's amazing what you learn from Twitter.

As a Twitter member, and Lebron follower, I witnessed--first hand--what the Miami Heat forward thinks of ESPN's NFL analyst and former quarterback Trent Dilfer's criticism of the way Indianapolis Colts' star quarterback Peyton Manning has been playing these past few weeks (the four-time MVP has thrown an astonishing 11 INT's over the last three games).
Here's what James tweeted yesterday (taken right from his Twitter page):

Watching SC and Trent Dilfer is talking bad on how Peyton Manning is playing as of late! In his wildest dream could never ever do the things
And later on that day:

Peyton does on the field. Good or bad! People get on TV and think they can say whatever they want! And it's always former players! Crazy!! 
Some of these athletes have trouble making complete thoughts while tweeting. So he skipped a few words in that second sentence. But basically what he is doing is backing up Peyton, who has a championship ring (unlike Lebron), and is trashing Dilfer's subpar career...despite his Lombardi winning season with Baltimore in 2000.

Now obviously Dilfer loses some credit for that Super Bowl winning season because of the fact that Baltimore had arguably one of the best defenses in league history that season. But, despite his disappointing 13-year career with five different teams after being picked with the sixth pick in the 1994 draft, Dilfer knows the mechanics and "x's and o's" well enough to breakdown what Manning has been doing wrong this season, because obviously he is doing something wrong.

I'm not a Lebron hater whatsoever, in fact my NBA fantasy team was named "Lebron's Kings" last season. But I don't agree with him bashing Dilfer. Especially when Dilfer is just doing his job, and didn't even say anything about Lebron. Instead, he was just letting us viewers know what is up with Peyton this season.

Note: Photo does not belong to me.

Injuries, Struggling Offense Make for Shocking 2010 Campaign in Carolina

With quarterback Jake Delhomme struggling mightily after throwing just eight touchdowns and 18 interceptions in 11 games, Carolina let him go after the 2009 season. In the draft this past April Carolina used its second round pick to snag Jimmy Clausen, quarterback out of Notre Dame, to try and turn things around in 2010.

The plan was to ease Clausen in to the league with a run-heavy offense, like usual, led by Pro Bowlers DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Both Williams and Stewart eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground in the 2009 season, teaming up to create the league's best rush attack (18 combined touchdowns between the two).

Despite the porous 4-7 record with Delhomme as the starter, Carolina made a late run--won four of the last five games--and was looking good heading in to 2010.
Unfortunately for head coach John Fox, in his ninth season at the helm for the Panthers, the injury bug hit the Carolina run game, and the quarterback position as well.

Williams has been ruled out for the rest of the season (foot) after just 361 yards and a touchdown in six games. Stewart has played in ten of the Panthers' 12 games, but his performance has obviously been effected by a the concussion he suffered early on in the season. Stewart appears to be healthy again, though, as he ran for 98 and 92 yards in consecutive weeks now.

While Williams and Stewart sat, second-year back Mike Goodson stepped in and done well, recording back-to-back 100-yard games against tough opponents: Tampa Bay and Baltimore. Both were career-highs at the time.

It's a good thing Stewart seems to be at full health, because Goodson has reportedly sprained his AC joint in Carolina's 11th loss of the season (against Seattle) this past Sunday. Goodson says he'll be fine, but either way it's surely to affect his overall play.
It's likely that, at the quarterback position, rookie Jimmy Clausen will make his third consecutive start this Sunday against NFC South rival Atlanta, whom happens to be one of the top teams in the league. Clausen began the season on the bench, with Matt Moore--last year's quarterback when Delhomme wasn't under center--taking the starting position. Clausen made a couple in September and October after Moore was benched, but Clausen was later demoted again (poor play). Moore suffered a shoulder injury in a week nine loss to New Orleans and was shortly after placed on the injured reserve.

Clausen has just one touchdown this season, compared to his six interceptions, so don't expect anything spectacular this weekend. Especially against these Atlanta Falcons.

Carolina is, by far, the lowest-scoring offense this season, with just 154 points scored and has allowed the seventh-most points on defense (307).

With six defensive players on this week's injury report, it seems like that is one of the few things stopping Fox's defense from winning a few more games. When it comes to total yards, Carolina is a middle-of-the pack kind of defense with the one thing they've struggled at this season is stopping the run.  The two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason has had a bit of an off-year in 2010, but still provides Carolina's young defense with the leadership it needs.

NFL Network's Albert Breer answered my question on Carolina's 2010 struggles very well in today's live chat on In his opinion, the lack of a rushing attack, and John Fox himself, are not to blame for the struggles. He says it all has to do with financial troubles in the front office.

Photo Credit
Jimmy Clausen: AP Photo/Amy Sancetta
Jonathan Stewart: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

What Week 13 has Taught us...

When it's crunch time, the great teams always find a way to get it done. That's why when the month of December rolls around, the boys are separated from the men.

Now, some say it's too early to look at the playoff picture, and I say that's bull. The biggest games of the regular season are played around this time and last night the New York Jets showed me that they are not Super Bowl contenders this season.

They have always been able to talk the talk (dates all the way back to Joe Namath's famous guarantee, and yes he even managed to back that talk up). But were not able to walk the walk last night as Rex Ryan's top-tier defense was scorched for 45 points against the now-AFC East leading New England Patriots.

To make matters worse, New York managed just three points against New England's 31st-ranked total defense. The supposedly matured second year quarterback Mark Sanchez managed just 164 yards and three interceptions against New England 31st-ranked pass defense, as well.
He made rookie mistakes, and he's got an entire year on this year's rookie quarterbacks.

Teams are only as good as their leader, and Sanchez didn't do much to help his team out. Embarrassing.

Obviously with a 9-3 record they are almost certain to get a playoff seed as long as they win about half of their remaining four games, but they haven't been able to handle themselves against the better teams (Baltimore, Green Bay, New England). So how do they expect to make a run to the Super Bowl, especially when competing with teams such as Pittsburgh, New England, Baltimore and even the struggling 6-6 Colts?

More things I learned this past weekend:

*Atlanta is the best team in the NFC, if not the entire NFL. They became the first team to 10 wins (New England was the second after the beating they put on New York last night) with a victory over NFC South rival Tampa Bay.
*If the playoffs were to begin this week, like most fantasy leagues, then Atlanta and New England would most definitely be the favorites to be in the Super Bowl.

*New Orleans has made a quiet return to the elite this season after Drew Brees led a fourth quarter come-from-behind victory over the Bengals.

*Chicago and Green Bay may be the division race to watch, with the regular season finale coming in Lambeau between these two teams.

*Michael Vick and Phillip Rivers continue to head the MVP candidate list, with Vick possibly edging Rivers at this point considering San Diego's win streak, and December win streak, abruptly ending against the Raiders on Sunday.
*Minnesota may be better off with Tarvaris Jackson in the lineup at this point, rather than have Brett Favre's gunslinging style making numerous mistakes a game. With Jackson in the lineup, the Vikings can control how many times they throw the ball a game a little bit easier than they would if Favre was under center. That way, they can get back to letting Adrian Peterson run freely like they did in the pre-Favre era. Go home, Brett.

*Jason Garrett has turned the Cowboys around. Perhaps they should have fired Wade Phillips sooner. Under Garrett the 'Boys are 3-1 and just recently upset Peyton Manning and the Colts in overtime. The firing allowed for a more player-friendly head coach to step up and let players do what they do best.

*Jacksonville has a good chance at beating out the Colts for the South division title. With a two-game lead on the struggling Texans and Titans, it looks like Indy is the only threat to the Jags (Jags 7-5, Colts 6-6). If Peyton continues to throw as many interceptions as he has been this season (15 in twelve games; had 16 all last season), then Jacksonville have a good shot at defeating Indy in their week 15 matchup as long as they go run-heavy with Maurice Jones-Drew against Indy's 29th-best run defense. The winner of that game will likely be the division winner by season's end, in my opinion.
*One more thing I learned? Pittsburgh has a great shot at taking the AFC North crown after Troy Polamalu stripped Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco of the ball late in the game, allowing the battered (broken nose, foot and all) Ben Roethlisberger and short-distance back Isaac Redman to put the Steelers ahead. The final was 13-10 as Tomlin's crew took sole possession of the division.

What's on our plate for tomorrow: hopefully a much-needed great matchup between two rivals--Indy and Tennessee--whom are both battling for their playoff hopes.

Photo Credit
Deion Branch: AP Photo/Charles Krupa
Eric Weems: AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
Tarvaris Jackson: AP Photo/Hannah Foslien
Emmanuel Sanders: AP Photo/Nick Wass

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Nine Division Match-ups Headline Week 13

Here we are, week 13, with the playoff race getting tighter by the minute. This is when teams have to start proving themselves a contender. What better way to do that then with divisional showdowns. Between today and tomorrow night we will get to see nine of them.

Chicago at Detroit

Cutler and his Bears are just trying to extend their lead in the NFC North and, as long as the offensive line can contain rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, they shouldn't have much trouble in doing so against the 2-9 Lions.

Denver at Kansas City

Josh McDaniels' squad has been perhaps the most inconsistent club all season long. Kansas City, on the other hand, has been going strong all season at 7-4. Kansas City is the league's top rushing team and is 5-0 at home. I don't see any reason why they wont put Denver in their place today and hand them their ninth loss of the season.

Washington at New York

Game No. 1 against the G-men this season, McNabb and the Skins (5-6) are just a couple of big plays away from being contenders in the NFC East. Despite all this talk, Washington is 2-3 in its past five games and have struggled to finish games. Giants take this one with a solid day from Eli Manning.

Jacksonville at Tennessee

Kerry Collins will finally make his return today after leaving week 10's loss against the Dolphins with a calf injury. This should hopefully limit the turnovers to a minimum and allow Nate Washington and Randy Moss to make some plays. Chris Johnson should have a nice return as well, Tennessee takes this one.

Oakland at San Diego

The MVP front-runner (Phillip Rivers) has turned around San Diego's rough season, taking them on a four-game win streak, and has them above .500 at 6-5. Oakland, however, has hit a cold streak with two straight losses and is now back under .500. No way the Oakland defense will manage to contain Rivers, especially with the possibility of Vincent Jackson getting some looks.

St. Louis at Arizona

The Sam Bradford-led Rams, along with Seattle, are the only teams leading a division with a losing record (both Rams and Seahawks currently sit at 5-6), so winning this game against Derek Anderson and the 3-8 Cardinals is a big game. St. Louis is 1-4 on the road, but I expect them to pull out a victory and improve to 6-6.

Atlanta at Tampa Bay

Two games behind Atlanta in the NFC South, this is certainly Tampa Bay's chance at proving they belong in the playoff talk. But Atlanta, currently on a five-game win streak, is on fire and I doubt Josh Freeman will be able to out-gun the fiery Matt Ryan. Atlanta wins big as Tampa further hurts its playoff hopes.

Pittsburgh at Baltimore

Perhaps one of the biggest games of the entire weekend, along with Monday night's game. Ben Roethlisberger was still serving his four-game suspension when the two met earlier in the season, with a Baltimore victory. Baltimore looks to be the more complete team at this point, and Joe Flacco's offense will pull together a victory to break the two-way tie in the North. First Baltimore sweep of Pittsburgh since 2006, but don't be surprised if they meet again in the postseason.

New York at New England

The hyped second match-up between Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick is finally here, and what better time to watch it play out then on national television in primetime. You can't get any more even in this matchup, either. Both hold win streaks of three and four games and are 4-1 in their last five games. New England is 5-0 at home, New York is 5-0 on the road. Something's gotta give, and I think New England will pull ahead in this one with the help of Tom Brady's right arm.

Other game predictions:

Saints over Bengals
Packers over Niners
Browns over Dolphins
Vikings over Bills
Colts over Cowboys
Panthers over Seahawks

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Must-win for Houston Tonight at Lincoln Financial

Houston has been very lucky this season? If Peyton Manning wasn't having an off year they would not have a shot in hell to make the playoffs right now with a 5-6 record (2-2 in division). But, coming off a 20-0 defeat of division rival Tennessee, Houston seems to be on track to put themselves in the middle of the playoff hunt in the South.

Just one game behind the first place Colts and Jags (both 6-5), the Texans have the ability to put themselves atop the division--temporarily, at least--with a convincing win over Michael Vick and the high-flying 7-4 Eagles.
Tonight, at 8:20 on NFL Network, Michael Vick will test the Texans' 28th-ranked defense in front of NFL fans all over the country. This is Houston's chance to show the nation that they truly do deserve to be considered a playoff contender coming out of the South. Whether they will manage to beat out Indy for this division title is yet to be seen, considering they still have Baltimore, Denver and two more divisional matchups (TEN, JAC) left on their schedule.

Despite having the seventh-best offensive attack in the league (seventh in rushing, 15th in passing) and one of the game's best runners in Arian Foster, I really don't think Houston will manage to contain Vick.

Unfortunately for Houston, Philly is poised to put a beating on Houston. This is actually unfortunately for me as well--I had Houston making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history this offseason.

Vick puts the ball in the end zone four times tonight, three through the air and one on the ground. Philly wins the game 38-17. That's my prediction. Bold, I know, but hey someone's gotta do it. says...

Philadelphia 21, Houston 18

Not quite as big a margin as I was predicting, but same outcome nevertheless. Vick didn't have any rushing yards on five attempts (Houston did manage to contain him), but threw for 198 yards and tossed two TDs. LeSean McCoy ran all over Houston for 112 yards and a score.

Jeremy Maclin's 15-yard catch and run from Vick, which he put in the end zone, allowed Philly to extend its lead to 21-10 early in the fourth quarter. Foster ran the ball in from 13 yards out with four and a half minutes to play, but Philly's defense stopped Matt Schaub's late-game surge.

This loss may be the end to any playoff run Houston was hoping to make this season, putting to waste their solid 4-2 start this year.

Photo Credit
Arian Foster: AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

This is Why We Love the Game: Includes Famous Quotes from Current and Former Players, Coaches

American football is pure beauty. Everything about it.

Blistering cold and windy Sunday afternoons with 200-300 pound men beating the snot out of each other in front of millions of fans. Each team has the same goal: winning the Super Bowl at the end of the year. This could only mean one thing, every team is on its own, there's no allies in the game of football. Beating the other three in the division race is goal No. 1 on every coaches' list of things to accomplish. After that? Destroy every man in its path, giving us fans a great spectacle to watch every Sunday (or Thursday, Saturday and Monday in some cases).

If you're truly a fan of football, specifically the National Football League, you should not only follow your favorite team, but every aspect of the game, league, and all 32 teams. I am not a huge fan of "fair-weather" fans or "bandwagoners." If you're gonna categorize yourself with every other guy out there, "die-hards" especially, then actually know the players and keep up with everything. One of my many pet peeves is what I call fake fans. They're there when the team is winning, but when the team is in the dumps they are no where to be found. To call yourself a fan I'd like to think that you'd at least have an idea of what's going on.

My other major pet peeve? When people refer to the men in stripes as referees or refs. No, I'm sorry, but there's only one referee on the field and he's the head honcho of the group of seven officials. If you're going to referee to the zebras at all, please call them "officials" like you're supposed to. The referee is the one wearing the white cap and is the one who does the talking over the intercom every time he, or one of the other six officials, throws a penalty flag.
What's with all this nonsense about boring games? There really isn't such thing as a boring NFL game, I can at least never recall a time when I was truly bored while watching a game. Yes, there's such thing as a sloppy game in which one, or both, teams make mental and physical mistakes, including but not limited to too many penalties (I'd say around seven or eight is a bit too much for one team) and turning the ball over three to four times. But a boring game? No way.

If there isn't enough hard hits, or the scoreboard doesn't read 42-35 then it seems as though fans are disappointed and say "they suck."

That brings me to another pet peeve of mine. Yes, the Lions had an 0-16 season back in 2008, but I would still be highly offended--if I was on the 2008 Lions squad--if a lame, 5'6'' 160-pound middle-aged man said I "sucked at football." These are professionals out there, they are there for a reason. Scrubs are not allowed in the professional football industry, meaning these guys are the cream of the crop. The reason they failed to win the game was because there were other professionals that outplayed them....just so happened to happen every week. Saying a team that about a team whom wins the Super Bowl that season, too, is a big no-no in my book. Stop being jealous of a team that outplayed yours and get off others' backs about it. Please. You are taking away from the joy others get from the game.

I apologize that this turned in to an article in which I announce just a couple of my pet peeves about the fans of the National Football League. It had to be said. But with all of that being over with, here are just a handful of entertaining/funny/famous/motivating quotes from current and former coaches and players that I have stumbled upon, enjoy:

"Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence." --the oh-so-wise Vince Lombardi (former Green Bay Packers' head coach; more to come from him).

"I approach you from the front and you're like 'wow this guy is pretty serious' but then I walk away and you're like 'damn, he likes to party.'" --Jared Allen talking about his mullet in 2009.

"If you don't pick me I'm going to kick your butt for the next 15 years." --Peyton Manning on draft day in 1998.

"If winning isn't everything then why do they keep score?" --Vince Lombardi

"If I needed someone to give me advice then I'd have a second brain to tell me what to do." --Randy Moss in 1997 (Minnesota drafted him out of Marshall in 1998).

"If my mother put on a helmet, shoulder pads and a uniform that wasn't the same as the one I was wearing, I'd run over her if she was in my way. And I love my mother." --former running back Bo Jackson...Bo truly does know best.

"I may be dumb, but I'm not stupid." --Terry Bradshaw; Hall of Fame QB, Super Bowl champion and 1970s pretty boy.

"I've got news for you. We're gonna win the game. I guarantee it." --Joe Namath's famous guarantee before Super Bowl III. New York, of course, followed through and defeated Unitas' Colts.

Several of these allow us younger kids truly appreciate the rich history the National Football League holds, as well as look in to the present-day game of football and clearly see that there are just as many entertaining and important figures in today's game as there was 10, 20 even 30 years ago.

Just another reason to absolutely love "America's Game."

(Side Note: Photo does not belong to me).