Tuesday, November 17, 2009

NFL Winners and Losers -- Week 10

Another week, another 3-2 for my picks, and really that's more like 3-1-1 as my Lions +16.5 was actually Lions +17 which all of those who bet it know, making that my first push of the NFL season in actual practice for anyone who is actually betting these games. This week in my picks started off solid with the 49ers winning by just enough against the Bears on Thursday night, then saw me lose two of two in the early games on Sunday with the Lions (really the push) and the Broncos who somehow managed to lose to the Redskins. But then the late games brought me back over .500 for the week as my Packers call was right on, as was the Kansas City pick at the Raiders, and that brings my posted season record to 28-17, back to a season-high 11 over .500. Even though I normally find these games easier to pick as the season wears on, this year it seems to be the opposite as many of these weeks are a real chore to pore through the games and find the five I like the most.

With that, here is the Week 10 Winners and Losers report.


1. The Cincinnati Bengals. That's right, these are not your father's Bungles anymore, at least not this year. This weekend the Bengals completed a season sweep of division rival and defending superbowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers by clamping down the defense and refusing to give Steelers qb Ben Roethlisberger any breathing room at all. And this comes one week after the Bengals completed a season sweep against also tough division rival Baltimore, leaving the Bengals now 5-0 in the AFC North for the first time in franchise history. As much as the offense is finding ways to score enough to win these games, it's the defense that's leading the way as I've been saying here for weeks, and Week 10 was no different as the Bengals held the Steelers to just four field goals on the day while the Bengals chipped in with four fg's of their own in addition to a kickoff return in the first quarter that was the difference. With their next three games lined up to include the Raiders, the Browns and the Lions, there is a good chance we could be looking at a 10-2 Bengals team heading into the key Week 14 matchup at the Minnesota Vikings.

2. Vince Young and the Tennessee Titans. Say what you want about the lack of oomph in Vince Young's numbers, but his team is now 3-0 since VY took the helm after starting off 0-6 under last year's quarterback Kerry Collins. Not that all of this is directly attributable just to Vince Young, who himself has thrown for just two touchdowns with one pick in three starts this season, but the bottom line is that Young has clearly improved in all three games, and his efficiency at the position has helped lead the team down the field both through the air as well as on the ground. Since Young took over at qb, the Titans are not only 3-0 but they are averaging 35 points per game after managing to exceed 17 points only one time in six games prior to Young becoming the starter. Chris Johnson, the explosive runningback in Tennessee, has had three out of three huge 100+ yardage performances on the ground with Young running the show, after just two triple-digit games in six tries to start the season with Kerry Collins at qb, and even the defense has responded in a big way to the switch, ceding just 19 points per game in three wins under Vince Young after allowing 33 points per game over their first six games of 2009, all losses. For whatever reason, the change from Kerry Collins to the highly efficient, nearly 100-qb-rating Young has clearly energized this team, and there is no doubt that nobody really wants to play them on their schedule late in the year in a game that might really count for something.

3. The Carolina Panthers. The Panthers are another team with a not-so-great record overall at 4-5 but who nobody really wants to play right now if they can help it. After starting off the season with three losses, losing by an average of around 17 points per game in their first three, the Panthers have now run off four wins in six games with this past weekend's 28-19 victory at home over divisional rival Atlanta. What's more, the Panthers have been playing well against and beating some tough competition these past few weeks, taking down Arizona by nearly two touchdowns on the road in Week 8, losing a close game to the Saints after holding a 17-point lead in the second half in Week 9, and now handily beating the Falcons this past weekend who also have playoff hopes. Along with that pounding running game that has seen DeAngelo Williams go for 150 yards on the ground in three of his last five games, Jake Delhomme has now gone three straight without an interception as he bids to keep his job running John Fox's offense, and now the team gears up for games at home against the Dolphins, at the Jets, and the Buccaneers at home in a winnable stretch of games that could bring the Panthers back into the NFC playoff picture in a hurry.

4. The San Diego Chargers. After starting off an inconsistent 2-3, with particular weakness on the defensive side of the ball, the Chargers have been looking good as they rattled off their fourth consecutive win this past Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. After tiny sparkplug type of back Darren Sproles seemed to be stealing the lead runningback job away from incumbent LaDainian Tomlinson earlier in the season, LT has reasserted himself over the past few weeks, all wins for the Chargers, as his scoring abilities combined with a really strong and fun-to-watch passing game centered on Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates make the Chargers a hard team to outscore, and an even harder team to play catch-up against. And as has been the case with Vince Young in Tennessee, even the defense seems to be keyed on to LT's re-emergence in the Chargers backfield: after allowing over 27 points per game over the first five games of the 2009 season (team went 2-3), the last four games have seen former defensive mvp Shawne Merriman recapture some of his former glory as his defense has allowed just over 16 points per game, all victories for SD. With the total collapse of Denver as an AFC power over the past month, this sets up next week's matchup in Denver as one of the best games of the year as the two 6-3 powers will meet to decide first place in the suddenly hotly-contested AFC West.

5. The Arizona Cardinals. You gotta give the Cardinals credit, as they have really overcome the last-decade history of superbowl losers having a real problem even returning to the playoffs in the following season. After just a few games in 2009 I was sure my prediction for the Cardinals to be the latest victim of the superbowl slump was coming true, as the team opened the season losing at home to division rival San Francisco and started off the year 1-2 overall with several tough-looking road games coming up on their schedule. But since Week 4, it's like a different team has been playing -- much more like last year's team -- and what has ensued has been five wins in six games to leave the Cards now with a full two-game lead over the 49ers to take down their second consecutive NFC West title. Although the running game remains the weak link of the offense, Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner is the constant, always slinging the ball with a high efficiency and keeping his team moving down the field with the help of all-pro wideouts Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, and it's been this team's road performance that has really been the most impressive aspect of their success so far in 2009. The team is 4-0 on the road this year so far, including big wins at 5-4 Jacksonville and the 5-4 New York Giants as well as beating the Seahawks in the division and the Bears as well on the road this year. And that road record is likely to improve before all is said and done for Arizona, as still on the schedule are games at the Rams, at the Titans, at the 49ers and at the Lions to close out the team's away schedule for the season. Until the playoffs, anyways, where it is increasingly obvious the Cardinals will be come season's end, despite the streak that has plagued so many superbowl-losing teams before them.


1. Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears. What can you say about a guy who throws five interceptions in a 10-6 loss? I mean, any one of those picks could possibly have won the game for the Bears, and in Cutler's case this is especially true as two of his picks came in the red zone, one of them on the 49ers' 1-yard line. Cutler moved the ball ok as usual, ending up with 307 passing yards on the day, but after throwing his league-leading 6th and 7th red zone interceptions in the game, his team was simply not able to overcome their quarterback's penchant for big mistakes so far in the 2009 campaign. With a running game that still has generated just one 100-yard day for fantasy bust Matt Forte now in nine games, and a defense that has allowed more than 40 points in two of their last four, the Bears are indeed on the precipice at 4-5 after last weekend, and they're looking at games at home against an angry Eagles squad next Sunday night followed by a trip to Minnesota the week after, so it is clearly time for Cutler to put up or shut up for the season here heading into Week 11.

2. The Denver Broncos. After a 6-0 start, the Broncos have come crashing down to earth in a big way, culminating in an extremely shocking 10-point loss to the utterly hapless Washington Redskins on Sunday afternoon at FedEx field that can probably best be described as embarrassing more than anything else. This once-proud team a month ago has now given up more than 28 points per game over their last three games, all losses, after allowing just 11 points per game over their first six outings, all wins. In the end, let's not forget that this team was simply not supposed to be a good team at all before this season began, and that might be what we're seeing here as Kyle Orton seems to be getting exposed, the running game is slipping away to almost invisibility, and the defense has nearly tripled what it has been allowing other teams to score over the past few weeks. And the schedule doesn't get any easier for the Broncos either, as they are looking at a key divisional matchup with the 6-3 Chargers next Sunday, followed by a super-short week and then a Thanksgiving night game at home against a hungry New York Giants squad who are likely to be desperately in need of a win.

3. The New York Jets. Let's forget for a minute that Ryan Sanchez threw a couple of bad picks in the second half at home against the 4-4 Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, and instead focus on the real problem with Gang Green here in 2009: the defense. You can quote me all you want about the Jets' scoring average against, yardage, whatever numbers you want to use to make the team look better than it is. But the bottom line remains that, basically through each of the team's now five losses in 2009, the opposition has essentially moved the ball at will when it counts the most against this team. After yet another go-ahead touchdown to take a 1-point lead with just five minutes to go in the fourth-quarter against the Jags, for what seems like the umpteenth time this year to disgusted Jet fans, the Jets defense proceeded to come out and lay down for their opponents, allowing the Jags to drive down the field about 85 yards over the span of just two and a half minutes or so. In the end Maurice Jones-Drew "pulled a Westbrook" and laid down on purpose at the 1-yard line with open field to the end zone, selflessly giving up his personal stats for the sake of ensuring that the Jets did not get the ball back with more than a minute to go and a chance to do something crazy. The bottom line is that, with a rookie quarterback and rookie head coach at the helm for this team, the defense simply cannot let itself get walked all over while relying on the reputation the team built up in the preseason and the first few games that they are some kind of defensive mavens. This is no Baltimore Ravens defense, and importantly these aren't offensive juggernaut teams they are facing -- it's the Dolphins, Bills and now the Jaguars who are cutting through the Jets' D like a hot knife through butter late in the 4th quarter to snatch victories away from the Jets late in these games. The state of football in New Jersey York is severely in doubt these days, Yankees or no Yankees.

4. NFL head coaches.

4a. Bill Bellicheat of course makes the headline in this category after his very questionable decision with two minutes to go and a 6-point lead against the Colts on Sunday night football. On his own 30 yard line, Bellicheat did the unthinkable and actually opted to go for it -- yes, with a 6 point lead and yes on his own 28 yard line -- on 4th down and 2, in a situation where he could have easily punted the ball away like everyone in NFL history has figured out is the proper move in this spot, and forced the Colts to drive some 70 yards or so in a spot where they had to score a touchdown to mean anything, and do so in under two minutes. While it's true that Manning had already led two sub-two-minute td drives in the fourth quarter of this game, and I have no doubt that Peyton Manning and the potent Colts offense would have put up a tremendous onslaught in the no-huddle offense to try to get that touchdown, the bottom line is that, across the NFL this year, fewer than 30% of drives that begin on the opponents' 30 yard line or earlier result in touchdowns. Yes, that number is probably higher where Peyton Manning in concerned, but it's not like the guy scores touchdowns in 75% of his drives where he has two minutes and 75 yards to go and has to score a touchdown. And the Pats had already created two interceptions off of Manning in the game, and the Colts only managed to score on five of their 14 positions overall in the game, so it's not like the Patriots hadn't done at least a serviceable job against the Pats on the game overall. Bellicheat's downfall with this decision was that he opted to pick a play that had probably a 60% chance of winning him the game outright by making a first down, but he failed miserably in completing the expected value calculation by working out the effect of the 30-40% chance of his team losing the game outright if they missed, plus the long-term effects of screaming out to the world that he, Bill Bellicheat, has absolutely zero confidence in his own defense. It's no wonder that it took Peyton Manning all of two plays to get to the 1-yard line before punching in the winning touchdown on the night -- once Bellicheat told his defense that he didn't think they could prevent the Colts from scoring a touchdown within two minutes when starting from their 30 yard line, obviously they knew he knew they couldn't stop the Colts from scoring when starting from the Pats' 30. This might be the worst decision ever made by the biggest cheater among the NFL head coaches in the league today.

4b. Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio had Maurice Jones-Drew take a knee on the 1-yard line with about a minute to go in a 22-21 game against the Jets, a game in which the Jags were losing at the time. Then the Jags hiked the ball for two separate plays, with quarterback David Garrard just taking a knee twice in a row to set up for a last-second chip-in field goal attempt for the win. Let me repeat: the Jaguars were losing the game at the time. Of course Jags' inconsistent kicker Josh Scobee made the kick and his team won, but to think that they would not even attempt to run that ball into the end zone from the 3-inch line in three separate attempts in the final minute, when they were going ahead and hiking the ball anyways already as it was, is so indefensible that you can only laugh. It's just too bad that they didn't muff the snap on that field goal and then watch hopelessly while the clock expired and they took the 1-point loss on the game. I mean, I'm all for unselfish play, but this wasn't unselfish; it was stupid.

5. The Dallas Cowboys. Dallas once again showed their inconsistency this week, coming out after four straight wins and laying a complete egg against the Packers this past weekend at Lambeau field. In the end, the thing that bothers me the most about this loss is that the team simply didn't seem like they gave a crap about it all during the game. And head coach Wade Phillips is to blame, I solemnly guarantee you that. After winning four straight games, including key wins over NFC hopefuls with Atlanta and at Philly last weekend to give the 'Boys sole possession of first place in the NFC East, you can be confident that this team didn't do shit in practice for a week heading up to the Packers game. In the end, this game clearly went to the team that wanted it more, and in this case that was the Packers by a factor of about a thousand. The Cowboys are not likely to break their streak of no playoff wins in 13 years while Wade Phillips remains at the head coaching helm. Shanahan or Cowher, that's the big question that will remain on Cowboy fans' minds for the next several months as we get to watch "America's Team" implode yet again down the stretch.

6. The Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons are slumping. Big time. Second-year quarterback Matt Ryan is mired in a real-life sophomore slump, leading his team to three losses in their last four games after starting off the 2009 season winning four of their first five games. Not only are the Falcons now 1-4 on the road this season, something that's just not going to work if they have any real postseason aspirations at all, but Matt Ryan has now thrown 7 interceptions in his last 3 games, a problem he has not generally had in his year and a half as a professional starting quarterback in this league. With games over the next four weeks at the Giants, and later at home against the Eagles and the Saints, we're going to find out in a hurry if the Falcons plan to make a run at the playoffs this year or whether Matt Ryan's sudden penchant for poor decision-making is going to cost his team a spot in the 2009 NFL post-season.

TO watch: TO actually had his first big play of the 2009 season this weekend in Week 10, catching a 40-something yard pass in stride down the right sideline from qb Trent Edwards but stepping out of bounds at the 3 instead of finding a way to pound it in like the old TO would have. In fact, TO's 85 yards on Sunday in a blowout by the Titans represent the best single game for any Bills wideout so far in 2009. But still, TO's overall numbers outside of that one reception were not inspiring, as he ended the game with just three catches for the 85 total yards, another big drop, and of course, no touchdowns. On the season, in nine full games so far this year, TO's totals include just 26 catches for 366 yards, and one touchdown catch. That's fewer than three catches and 41 yards per game. Pathetic.

The JaMarcus Russell award: Glad to see this one back where it belongs this week, with the person who graciously gave this award its name. Before being benched early in the 4th quarter at home against the 2-6 Chiefs on Sunday afternoon, Russell managed to put up some startling numbers: 8 of 23 for 64 total yards. And no touchdowns, of course. But hey, at least he didn't throw any interceptions, right? And at least his quarterback rating of 43.6 for the game isn't his lowest for the season! Sadly, it's not even his second-lowest rating of the season, as in nine games overall in 2009, Russell has gone 96 for 205, for 1064 yards, two touchdowns and nine interceptions. That under 47% completion percentage helps Russell secure a season 47.7 qb rating so far as a starter in all nine games his team has played, and is nearly 30 percentage points below the Peyton Mannings, the Kurt Warners and the Brett Favres of the NFL, with Russell's only consistency being his total lack of consistency in any aspect of quarterback play.

Best team in the NFL? I think this one still comes down to the two unbeatens -- the 9-0 Colts and the 9-0 Saints. In my heart of hearts I still think the Saints might be the best in the NFL, although for three straight games they aren't playing like it. Once the Saints get a nice, fat loss under their belts though -- and believe me, a loss is definitely coming for this team -- then they will probably get a lot tougher, and I still have a hard time picturing any other team in the NFC coming to the dome in New Orleans in January and beating this Saints squad.

Worst team in the NFL? Let's keep this title where it's been for the past couple of weeks: in Cleveland. After Monday night's dismal performance, it is clear that nothing is happening whatsoever with the Browns franchise, from the ownership who hired Eric Mangini within seconds of his firing from the Jets, to the GM who allowed offensive players like Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards to leave the team for very little in return over the past year or two, and on down to the coach in Eric Mangini who is now under investigation by the NFL Players' association for the length of his practices being too tough for NFL standards. What a joke of a franchise. And how about picking a quarterback and sticking with him, or just going out and getting someone from outside the team that you can trust to start a few games in a row? So far this year, last night's starter Brady Quinn has gone 0-4 in four games for under 500 yards, one touchdown and five picks for a qb rating of 51 flat. Ugh. And the backup? Derek Anderson went 1-5 in his six starts, which have included going 66 for 154 overall -- a completion percentage that even JaMarcus Russell must sit around laughing at -- for 681 total yards, two touchdowns and nine INTs. You just can't win with either of these clowns and that offensive system, which probably explains why the Browns have become the first team since 1933 to score just five offensive touchdowns over a 15-game span. P.U.!

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