Tuesday, November 24, 2009

NFL Winners and Losers -- Week 11

NFL Week 11 will probably go down as the week that killed the Survivor pools, as a surging Bengals squad lost to the lowly Raiders in a shocker that saw the Raiders score 10 points in the final 1:22 of the game, while the defending champion Steelers also lost a close one to the 3-6 Chiefs thanks to a field goal from Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop in overtime. Lucky for me I managed to avoid taking either of those favorites with my weekly picks, with the result being another 4-1 week to raise my season record against the spread to a lofty 32-18 overall, for 14 games over .500 in 10 weeks of making picks. As usual, there were a lot of good stories and a number of bad ones as well, so without further delay here is this week's Winners and Losers report.


1. Brett Favre. All I can say is "wow" to what is without a doubt the greatest story in the NFL this year. After Week 11, we're now looking at 21 touchdowns against just 3 interceptions through 10 games for Favre, a decidedly un-Favre like season as compared to his recent years' problems with throwing accuracy. After going 22 for 25 on Sunday against the Seahawks, Favre now sickly owns the top two completion percentage starts in Minnesota Viking history (minimum 20 attempts). After just ten total starts. Favre is now the NFL's highest-rated quarterback in 2009 with a rating of 112.1, and when I take everything into consideration I am definitely seeing Favre as the MVP of the NFL at this point in the season.

2. Matt Stafford and the Detroit Lions. What a game for Lions' rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford, who got the win in what was easily the best game of the NFL schedule after all was said and done on Sunday, despite being roundly laughed at heading into the Week 11 slate as the worst NFL game in years. Not only did Stafford throw for 422 yards on the way to a last-second (literally!) victory, but he set the all time qb record for the youngest man ever with five touchdown passes, and to boot the guy just generally came out looking like a badass after he seemingly had his non-throwing shoulder separated on the second to last play of the game but then insisted on coming back in for the final play to chuck the game-winning touchdown with the bum shoulder and give his team the one-point victory.

3. Brady Quinn and the Cleveland Browns. In a lot of ways it's a damn shame that the Browns had to lose their game against the Lions on Sunday afternoon, because buried in the loss is the fact that the Browns basically busted out with an entire season's worth of offense in just one game on the day. One week after making headlines for becoming the first team since 1933 to score just five offensive touchdowns over a 15-game span, the Browns exploded under new old quarterback Brady Quinn, who chucked four touchdown passes and threw for over 304 yards without throwing a single pick in the loss, easily outdoing his previous season best performance, and in fact more than doubling his lifetime career TD total of 3 with his 4 touchdown tosses in Sunday afternoon's game.

4. Vince Young and the Tennessee Titans. I thoroughly enjoyed watching young Titans quarterback Vince Young take over the ball at the 2-minute warning in a 17-17 game on Monday night against the favored Houston Texans, and do what he had to do yet again, leading the team right down the field in a highly efficient march right into field goal range for kicker Rob Bironas to boot the game-winning field goal with still 47 seconds to spare. Vince Young is everything for the Titans that Ryan Sanchez has not been so far this year for the Jets -- a guy who manages the game well despite not innately having all the top weapons, someone who doesn't turn the ball over, and someone who can lead his offense down the field and who can inspire confidence in the players around him. After starting off 0-6, this Titans squad has now rattled off four straight wins and has become the team that nobody wants to see on their schedule heading down the home stretch into the 2009 NFL playoffs.

5. The San Diego Chargers. The Chargers rode the confidence stemming from a 4-game winning streak into AFC West co-leader Denver on Sunday afternoon, and they proceeded to administer one of the worst thrashings of the 2009 season against Josh McDaniel's formerly high-flying Denver squad. After McDaniel started Chris Simms at quarterback due to a Kyle Orton injury, the coach then pulled Simms after just two offensive series and put back in aching Kyle Orton, but nothing could get even the remotest thing going points-wise for the Broncs, who finished the day with just 22 minutes of possession vs. nearly 38 minutes for the Chargers. Even on the defensive side of the ball -- which had been Denver's strength earlier in this season -- the Broncos gave it up, allowing the Chargers to dominate the ball with more than 200 yards on the ground on 43 rushing attempts as compared to just 17 for the Broncos. In all, the Chargers have absolutely rocked the AFC West over the past month, surging from 3 1/2 games behind the Broncos just five weeks ago to now a full game ahead, and leaving the Broncos seriously in search of some answers.


1. Ryan Sanchez and the New York Jets' defense. Forget the fact that the Jets lost another game and slipped ever further out of the playoff race with a blowout loss to the Cheatriots in Week 11. Forget about that stuff because it's official -- the Jets are no longer in the playoff conversation. But once again it was Ryan Sanchise stepping down in the clutch, and the Jets' defense getting rolled, that led to the team's downfall, and I continue to wonder when supposed defensive wunderkind Rex Ryan is going to get called on the carpet for his defense's lack of performance week after week after week. Sanchez had probably his second worst game of the season, throwing multiple foolish interceptions under the Cheatriots' relentless pressure, and the team allowed the Pats to make 278 first downs and gain 410 yards of total offense while holding the ball for an astounding 40 minutes of game time. It should be noted that, since nose tackle Kris Jenkins went down for the season with a leg injury in Week 6, the Jets are 1-3, with a win only against the hapless Raiders, and the team has given up an average of over 28 points per game in their last three outings, all losses for a reeling Gang Green. With games against Carolina, Buffalo and Tampa Bay in the next three weeks, we are likely looking at Sanchise's and the defense's last good chances of turning things around and ending what is otherwise going to be viewed as a fairly negative season on some kind of a positive note.

2. The Dallas Cowboys offense. Three weeks ago, Tony Romo was coming off his third 300-yard performance in four games and had just won a huge intra-divisional matchup on the road at the Philadelphia Eagles. Miles Austin had suddenly emerged as the downfield threat that this team had been missing since the departure of Terrell Owens in the offseason, and the Cowboys were looking like the clear team to beat in the NFC East. Since then, however, it's like a completely different team on offense. Although the 'Boys managed to eke out a 1-point victory over the Redskins this week on a late touchdown pass from Romo, the team is 1-1 in its last two games, and, more concerningly, the offense has scored just 7 points in each of its last two. This, after running up 26, 37, 38 and 20 points in their previous four games before those, all victories. Now the Cowboys will have to re-find that offense at home against the Bruce Gradkowski-led Raiders next week, because after that it's tough games at the Giants, vs. the Chargers and then at the Saints to kick off what has historically been this squad's December swoon.

3. Joe Flacco. I don't want to kill the guy and I am actually a fan of his ability to manage these games and even throw the ball well on occasion, but Flacco did what I call "pulling a Romo in December" this weekend by throwing a pick on the Colts' 13 yard line with his team down just two points with under three minutes to go against one of the last two undefeated teams in the NFL this year. With his team well in kicker Billy Cundiff's field goal range, Flacco forced the action and ended up giving up the ball -- and his team's chances for a huge, key win -- by making a poor decision that he has generally not been known for doing in his two years at the helm in Baltimore. For the game Flacco finished 3 for 7 for just 27 yards in the red zone -- a quarterback rating of 14.1 in an area where it is most easy to throw touchdown passes -- and will need to work on his finishing skills if the Ravens are to have any chance at all of climbing back into the AFC race with games coming up against Pittsburgh and Green Bay in the next two weeks.

4. The Seattle Seahawks. I haven't made much mention of the 'Hawks this year -- mostly because I've thought they sucked all season -- but at this point it is beyond official. This team is worthless. Former fantasy stud Matt Hasselbeck continued his mediocre-at-best 2009 on Sunday in a 35-9 crushing by the Vikings, as Hass fell to 3-5 in his starts this season, with the only wins coming at home against the eminently beatable Rams, Jags and Lions. Seattle has also shown themselves to be utterly worthless on the road, dropping this weekend to 0-5 away from home, where they really haven't even been close except for in Week 3 at the Bears when Hasselbeck didn't even play due to some broken ribs. And the Seahawks' defense has been doing their best New York Jets impression this year, allowing 30+ points this week for the 4th time in 10 games, and raising their average margin of defeat over their last five losses to 19.8 points per game. Ugh.

TO Watch: Out of nowhere, Terrell Owens busted out with far and away his biggest game of the season, a 9-catch, 197-yard outburst that included a 98-yard touchdown reception on a bomb deep down the right sideline from Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick that represents the longest receiving touchdown in Bills franchise history. TO's huge Week 11 dramatically improves his season numbers, now sitting at 35 catches for 563 yards and two receiving touchdowns in 10 games so far in 2009. Oh, and TO's big performance still came in a loss, an 18-15 beating at the hands of the upstart 6-4 Jacksonville Jaguars.

The JaMarcus Russell award: With the Raiders going with Bruce Gradkowski at qb in nabbing a rare win against the Bengals this week, I had to look elsewhere other than The Namesake for this week's award to celebrate the week's most worthless quarterback. Fortunately I did not have to look far, as Jets rookie Mark Sanchez put up numbers bad enough to make head coach Rex Ryan consider giving Vinny Testaverde a call to see if he happens still to be in football shape. Sanchise's final line in his team's 31-14 loss to the New England Cheatriots: 8 for 21 for 136 yards, one touchdown, four interceptions and one lost fumble. Sanchise's qb rating for the game: 37.1. It's enough to make JaMarcus proud.

NFL's best team: This one doesn't change this week as the Saints pounded out a blowout 29-point victory at the Buccaneers, cementing their spot at the top of the list in the NFC, while Indy also protected its undefeated season record by holding off a tough Baltimore Ravens team on the road. The bigger news on this front is probably the Vikings, as Minnesota's nearly 30-point beatdown of the Seahawks is a clear statement that they belong in that list of the three elite teams in football this year. It's hard to take anything away from any of the Colts, Saints or Vikings as we head into the stretch run of the 2009 NFL season.

NFL's worst team: This one is a lot tougher all of a sudden, as the Browns put up the huge performance in the crazy last-down loss at Detroit, the Chiefs beat the Steelers in overtime and even the Raiders beat a playoff team in the Cincinnati Bengals. After much deliberation, I don't think I have any choice but to look back to the Rams, a previous winner of this weekly award. At 1-9, the Rams are tied with the Bucs and the Browns for the worst record in football, but after last week's offensive outburst by the Browns, St. Louis now joins 3-7 Oakland at the bottom of the points scored list in the league this year, with the Rams tallying just 113 total points over 10 games, for a measly 11+ points per game. And although Detroit, Tampa Bay and Tennessee have given up more points than the Rams have allowed so far in 2009, the overall point differential of -157 in St. Louis is far and away the worst in the NFL. Yeech.

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