Tuesday, October 27, 2009

NFL Winners and Losers -- Week 7

As expected every week in the world's greatest sport, Week 7 in the NFL saw some individual breakout performances, a couple of huge team comebacks, and a whole slew of blowouts. And yet somehow, I just keep chugging along with my picks against the spread, posting a 4-1 week this week, and raising my overall 2009 season record against the spread to 20-10.


1. The New York Jets win this week's Back From the Dead Award after going into Oakland and opening up a massive can of whoopass on the AFC's biggest shitpile to the tune of a 38-0 smackdown of the Raiders. Just one week after the sky was falling, the team had lost three straight and a quarterback controversy suddenly seemed to be brewing, the Jets bounced back with another huge game controlling the ball on the ground, grinding out 300+ yards rushing for the second straight week and completely dominating all aspects of the game. Rookie quarterback sensation Mark Sanchez threw the ball only 15 times on the day, so it is less clear whether he has really broken out of his personal slump, but as far as the team goes, the season is back on track. At least until the Dolphins come to town next Sunday for another divisional matchup.

2. Dallas Cowboys receiver Miles Austin. Former Cowboys kickoff returner Austin is really having his coming out party as a wideout this season, in particular over the past two games which have now seen him record 10 catches for 250 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Chiefs, followed by this weekend's 6 catches for 171 yards and 2 more td's vs. Atlanta. All of a sudden, Austin rockets from kick returner to clear #1 option for Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, and you can be sure that defenses, starting with the Seattle Seahawks next week, will be focusing on him as a wide receiver for the first time in his three-year NFL career.

2a. Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys team, who are now back from the dead with the re-emergence of a true downfield threat in Miles Austin to replace Terrell Owens who was cut during the offseason. The Cowboys looked strong in handling a good Falcons team, with Romo looking particularly sharp as compared to recent weeks in going 21 for 29 for 311 yards, 3 touchdowns and no picks. This is clearly Romo's best game since at least Week 1, and arguably his finest effort of the entire season so far, which bodes well for Dallas as they head into a stretch that includes games against Seattle, Philadelphia and Green Bay over the next three weeks in what may prove to be a key 3-game set in terms of NFC playoff implications.

3. The Cincinnati Bungles and Cedric Benson. If this keeps up, I may have to stop calling the Bungles the Bungles! After the Bungles lost by 9 at home to the Houston Texans in Week 7, the Chicago Bears and their quarterback Jay Cutler walked into an absolute bee's nest in Cincinnati this weekend, and the Bungles commenced the balls-kicking. This game was 31-0 at one point and long over at 31-3 by halftime, on the strength of four 2nd-quarter touchdown passes from Carson Palmer who ended the day 20-24 for 253 yards and five touchdowns. But the real story for the Bungles, other than another strong defensive effort, was runningback Cedric Benson getting his chance for revenge against the team that refused to re-sign him, as Benson took major advantage of the opportunity by running for 189 yards and a score on 37 carries as he helped his team just all over the Bears right from the getgo. The Bungles now move to 5-2, their best start in several years, and good for first place in a hotly-contest AFC North that is just packed with some of the best defenses the NFL has to offer so far in 2009.

4. The Buffalo Bills. The Bills aren't going to make many appearances on my Winners list this season, but I figured this was as good a time as any to give props to a team that tries real hard despite some serious shortcomings in the talent arena. The Bills' defense has not been so bad this season actually, giving up 6, 13 and 9 points over their last three games, and the team has managed to find a way to win 3 of its first 7 games so far despite facing serious struggles to make plays each time they go on the field. This weekend in beating the Carolina Panthers 20-9, the Bills made enough plays to win despite being outgained 425 yards to 167 yards and giving up 20 first downs while making only 9 of their own, relying heavily on three interceptions and four overall turnovers to nab their third win of the year. Considering the complete lack of quarterback skill, wide receivers, tight end, and really much else on the Bills' offense these days, 3-4 is pretty respectable for this point in the season IMO in a year when so many other teams seem to have rolled over and given up already.


1. Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears. For the first time since Week 1 of this NFL season, Jay Cutler once again looked absolutely, utterly lost in a game against the Bungles this weekend, and Bears fans have got to be getting pretty upset at the former Broncos quarterback's inconsistent play through six games so far this year. After throwing three more key picks against the Bungles, Cutler's raised his season interception total to 10 picks in 6 games, and for a guy who has yet to throw more than 300 yards in a game all season, 10 picks is just not cutting it for the former all-pro qb in Denver. After the crushing loss that was 45-3 at one point in the 4th quarter, the Bears drop to 3-3 on the season, now looking up in the division at both the Packers with one more win and the Vikings with already three more wins on the year, not to mention the 9 out of the other 15 NFC teams with equal or better records than the Bears'. Do you hear that, Mr. Anderson? It is the sound of inevitability...it is the sound of your playoff hopes being doomed.

1a. Matt Forte. After 6 carries for 24 yards and 0 touchdowns in the crushing by the Bungles this weekend, the guy who I might have picked as the #2 overall fantasy runningback if I were donk enough to still play fantasy football coming into this season continued his hideous performance so far in 2009. On the season, Forte has 92 carries for 318 yards and one score over 6 games. Gross for all you fantasy donks out there. But if the Bears keep being forced to play from behind in games and keep giving up the turnover via thoughtless interceptions from Jay Cutler, prospects do not look good for Forte to resume his studliness from last season in the NFL.

2. Brett Favre / Minnesota Vikings. This is the first time the Vikes have appeared on my Losers list so far in 2009 thanks to their 6-0 start, but I did call this game and picked the Steelers even minus the points as one of my games this week so it's not like I didn't see this coming. The bottom line is that the Vikings have been in position to lose a couple of their games so far this year, in some cases (San Francisco) requiring truly miraculous plays to somehow find a way to win, so having their offense reined in so well by a truly great Pittsburgh defense should not really come as that much of a surprise to the real football fans out there. Sure Brett Favre ended the day with 334 yards passing, but when he's doing that on 34 receptions then you know he's not exactly pounding the ball downfield. What's more, Favre was forced to throw 51 times on the day, thanks to an ineffective running game that saw league-best runningback Adrian Peterson garner only 69 yards in the game, and when Favre's attempts get up like that, he ends up throwing interceptions like the pick-6 he busted out with during a drive to take the lead with just minutes remaining in the 4th quarter on Sunday. The ball did scoot through AP's hands, but the bottom line is that Favre just yukked it up there, off his back foot and under pressure, and the throw came out a little bit high and a little bit hard, just enough for the deflection from AP that led to the Steelers' final score and the icing of the game for the defending superbowl champions. Not the worst game Favre is capable of by a long shot, but the Vikings showed today that a potent defense with a solid game plan can for sure dampen the floodgates of the Vikings' previously impenetrable offensive attack.

3. The New York Giants. Now this one really surprised me, I have to say. In losing 24-17 to the Arizona Cardinals at home this Sunday evening, the Giants simply could not stop Kurt Warner and the defending NFC champs when they needed to on defense. And, although bruising runningback Brandon Jacobs seemed to come out of his funk a little bit with a 76-yard, 1 touchdown rushing performance, Eli Manning was held under 50% completions and to 243 total yards on the night, including just one passing touchdown. Most harmful were Manning's three picks in the game, including one in the final drive of the game to try to tie things up, as Eli looked a lot more mortal in this game's fourth quarter than he has several other times this year and over his short career so far. In dropping to 5-2, the Giants now fall even in the loss column with the Cardinals, as well as the Eagles and Cowboys in the division, and the Packers and Falcons elsewhere in the early NFC playoff picture, while they are a game behind the Vikings and two games behind the NFC-leading Saints, who crushed the Giants last week as it is. With matchups against the Eagles, the Chargers, the Falcons, the Broncos, the Cowboys and then the Eagles again coming up over their next six games, this was a game at home that the Giants could ill afford to lose and will probably end up impacting their playoff position as a result.

4. Competitive balance in the NFL was the real loser in Week 7 of the NFL, that is for sure. Just take a look at these scores from the Week 7 games: 31-3 Packers over Browns. 37-7 Chargers over Chiefs. 42-6 Colts over Rams. 35-7 Cheatriots over Bucs. 38-0 Jets over Raiders. 45-10 Bengals over Bears. In fact, over the 13 games on the schedule in Week 7, only the Cardinals (7) and the Texans (3) won their games by fewer than 10 points. Only two single-digit games out of 13, including six of those 13 games decided by four touchdowns or more? Something is definitely up with the bad teams this year in the NFL. I wonder if it is somehow related to the economy or something else external?


New Worst Team in the NFL award: Even after turning the ball over repeatedly in a 27-17 loss to the Eagles on Monday Night Football, the Redskins proudly pass this baton back to the St. Louis Rams after this weekend's 42-6 shelling at he hand of the Colts. So far this season, the Rams have lost 28-0, 9-7, 36-17, 35-0, 38-10, 23-20 (OT), and now 42-6. That's two shutouts by at least four touchdowns, six of seven games giving up at least 23 points, and five of seven games scoring 10 points or fewer. There are some really awful teams in the NFL this year to be sure, but right now the Rams seem to really be distinguishing themselves from the rest of the crowd.

TO Watch: 3 catches for 27 yards and 0 touchdowns in the win this weekend over the stinky Carolina Panthers. TO's 2009 season stats so far: 18 catches for 242 yards and 1 touchdown, in 7 games. Har har har.

The JaMarcus Russell Award for this week goes to...JaMarcus Russell! JR finished his performance on Sunday going 6 for 11 for 61 yards, 0 tds and 2 interceptions. It got so bad that head coach Tom Cable actually replaced Russell for Brad Gradkowski (!!) around halfway through the game, a move which the team has been clear it did not want to make all season long so far. Finally. Mercifully.

World Series prediction, coming tomorrow right here.

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