Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NFL Winners and Losers -- Week 9

Week 9 was an extraordinary week in the NFL, one that saw all but three underdogs cover while nearly every favorite was unable to win at all or to win by the required number of points to cover the spread coming out of Vegas. In a year when the sportsbooks are taking an absolute bath with all the favorites consistently winning regardless of how large the oddsmakers can set the spreads, Week 9 will go down as the week when the books finally made some of that hard-earned dough back. I was lucky enough to be in on two of those dogs with my picks for the week -- Miami +10.5 at the Cheatriots (the Dolphins covered, ever so barely) and Houston +9 (they covered easily in a game they probably should have won against the Colts), although my other three picks all failed in my first sub-.500 week since Week 2 of the NFL season at 2-3. But hey, am I beating myself up because the Buccaneers came out of nowhere and beat the weakass Green Bay Packers? Because the Titans came out of nowhere and beat an allegedly hungry 49ers team? Because the Saints once again gave up a 17-point lead before they decided to start playing in the second half at home against Carolina? Nope. With all the 3-2 and better weeks I've had in a row so far this season, some 2-3's thrown in here and there for good measure has to be expected, especially when picking against the spread.

Here is Week 9's Winners and Losers report.

Winners:

1. The Dallas Cowboys. Another week, another receiving touchdown for Miles Austin. Austin didn't play huge at Philadelphia on Sunday night as the Eagles really seemed to cue on him throughout the game defensively, but he did just enough to make the go-ahead touchdown he scored in the 4th count in a 20-16 victory over a key divisional rival. Coming in to Philadelphia and beating the Eagles is a huge move for the Cowboys, a team that has had trouble during the current regime winning big games on the road, and Dallas now moves to 6-2, a full game up on the Eagles in the division and in the driver's seat to take down their first NFC East since going 13-3 in 2007.

2. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs are off the schneid! The Bucs are off the schneid! I had to get them in here this week because the Buccaneers went out and beat down on the Green Bay Packers this Sunday afternoon in Tampa. And they did so in the first career start for rookie and Kansas State alumni Josh Freeman at quarterback. Freeman did the job on the day, tossing three td passes while throwing for over 200 yards and taking care of the ball with just one interception on the day of his first pro start, while Green Bay simply could not score enough thanks in no small part to three picks from their quarterback Aaron Rodgers (more on that later).

3. The Cincinnati Bungles. OK, this time I mean it for real -- one more win next weekend against the Steelers, and I will officially stop calling this team the Bungles. At least for the remainder of the 2009 NFL season. Because at 6-2, having beaten the Steelers, the Browns and now having swept the tough Ravens on the year, the Bungles are most assuredly for real. A rejuvenated Cedric Benson is blowing up at runningback, now with 837 yards and 6 touchdowns in 8 games for the Bungles, and Carson Palmer and another rejuvenated skill guy in Chad Ochocinco are leading the way in the passing game, but it continues to be the Cincy defense that impresses me the most. In eight games so far in 2009, only two teams have scored more than 20 points against the Bungles, both strong offensive teams in Green Bay and Houston, and Cincinnati has held Baltimore, Chicago, and Baltimore again to 14, 10 and 7 points in three of their last four weeks, all wins for the surprising AFC North leaders at the halfway point.

4. Michael Turner. The Atlanta Falcons' starting runningback has really been rebounding these past few weeks after a tough start to the 2009 campaign. In the Falcons' first six games this season, Michael Turner recorded just one 100-yard game, a 105-yard effort in Week 2 at home against Carolina. Now, however, Turner has to be considered among the hottest backs in the NFL, putting up 151 and 166 yards over 38 carries for three rushing touchdowns in his last two starts, while his team went 1-1 during that time including a close loss to the NFC's best New Orleans Saints. With 166 yards and two touchdowns on just 18 carries on Sunday against the allegedly solid defense of the Washington Redskins, Turner has now served notice to the rest of the NFL that he is back and better than ever as his team readies for another strong second half after ending their first eight games at a 5-3 clip.

5. The Tennessee Titans and Vince Young. Tennessee quarterback Vince Young's passing numbers don't look all that intimidating on paper, but behind the scenes VY has been fairly instrumental in managing the game and in scoring when it counted in his two starts this season, both wins for the Titans after an 0-6 start with veteran Kerry Collins at the helm. The Titans moved to 2-6 this weekend after Young led the team on a go-ahead drive in the 4th quarter, capped off by Chris Johnson's second rushing td of the day, sealing Young's second straight start without an interception as compared to 49ers qb Alex Smith's three picks on the day, two in the final seven minutes of play. The Titans won't be going to the postseason after Week 17 is finished this year, but they might just have found their quarterback of the future right at the back of their own bench, with Young's qb rating over his two starts this season now sitting at over 100.

6. Troy Polamalu. Simply put, Polamalu is the best football player in the game today IMO. It's always hard to compare a defensive guy to a player of Peyton Manning's or Purple Jesus's caliber, but when I watch Troy Polamalu pull a guy down 20 yards downfield after a full sprint for 40 yards from the opposite sideline, when I see him break in behind the line out of nowhere and drop a back untouched for a 5-yard loss, and when I see him read the quarterback's eyes and pick off a pass with an incredibly athletic vertical leap and some of the best hands in the NFL, it just feels like I am watching pure greatness in action. With Polamalu on the prowl in the backfield, the Steelers can automatically handle facing any team in the league and still be extremely dangerous even when they don't have the ball.

Losers:

1. The New York Giants. The Giants are, in a word, a mess, and they are easily the biggest losers of the NFL Week 9. With the Week 9 last-minute loss to the San Diego Chargers, the Giants have become the first team in 20 years to start off an NFL season 5-0, only to lose its next four games. Quarterback Eli Manning's foot is still hurting him, and the running game is more or less nonexistent, despite the presence of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, the same 6 foot 4 stallion that loved to bust into opposing linebackers all last season to the tune of nearly 1100 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns in 2008. But it's the Giants' defense that has really up and disappeared like a fart in the wind, as Warden Norton is so fond of saying. The G-Men's defense was highly touted earlier this season, in particular following a three-game stretch against the Buccaneers, Chiefs and Raiders that saw the team give up a total of 23 points over those three games, but when this team has faced actual good players on the opposing offense, the defense has been total trash this year. In five games against teams with formidable offenses, the Giants have allowed 31 points to Dallas in Week 2, 48 points to New Orleans in Week 6, 24 points to Arizona in Week 7, 40 points to the Eagles in Week 8, and now 21 to the Chargers this past weekend. And 33 points per game allowed is just not going to be enough in this league to get you into the playoffs. The Giants will now have to find a way to bounce back after a bye week in Week 10, and they will focus on the Falcons coming in to town on Sunday the 22nd as their chance to start righting the ship.

2. The Green Bay Packers and qb Aaron Rodgers. I mentioned above that Tampa Bay managed to nab their first victory of the season in a 38-28 shocker over the Packers in Florida. Most people heard about this at some point over the weekend as it is always big news at this point in the season when a team finally gets off the schneid for the first time. But what you may not have heard is that Aaron Rodgers took six sacks in the game, meaning that he has now been sacked an NFL-worst 37 times in eight games, and if you watch Green Bay play, it is clear that much of the blame for these sacks falls on Rodgers' own shoulders as he simply sits back there and looks, and looks, and looks, and looks, and holds the ball, and looks some more, and on and on until someone finally gets to him. Rodgers, who has a great arm when given the time to find his open receivers, needs to learn to move a little bit in the backfield, try to avoid the pressure and focus on throwing on the run a little bit to keep the defenders off balance. Anything to prevent him from another 6-sack, 3-interception performance that basically made it impossible for his team to beat a winless opponent this past weekend on the road. And let's also not forget that the Pack allowed the Bucs to score 21 points in the final 12 minutes of the game on Sunday, which equals the maximum number of points that the Buccaneers have managed to string together against any other team in the NFL in an entire game at any point in the 2009 NFL season prior to this weekend. That kind of defensive incompetence is nothing short of impressive, and it easily earns the Packers -- now at 4-4 and three full games behind the North-leading Vikings -- a prominent spot on the Week 9 Losers list.

3. Sticking with the NFC North for a minute, let's not forget to mention the Chicago Bears, who outdid Week 7's 45-10 drubbing by the Bungles with an equally inept 41-21 loss to the West-leading Arizona Cardinals on Sunday afternoon. Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner finished 22 for 32 for just 266 yards against the Bears defense, but those 22 completions included five passing touchdowns for Warner. Yes, five, a career best for Kurt Warner. In addition to a formerly good defense that has given up more than 40 points now twice in three weeks, the Bears continue to have no running game whatsoever to speak of, as fantasy bust Matt Forte finished the Arizona game with just 5 rushes for 33 yards. At 4-4, the Bears are now also mired three games out of first in the NFC North, and, more disturbing to their chances of making it back to the playoffs after a two year absence, they are behind three other teams battling it out for two wildcard spots in the NFC playoffs.

4. The New Orleans Saints. It's a little bit tongue-in-cheek to include the 8-0 Saints on the Losers' side of the ledger this week of course, but there is some thought to what I'm doing here. For the second time in three weeks, the Saints -- easily the NFC's best team if not the NFL's best -- basically didn't give a rats' ass about their game until they were hopelessly behind and needed a true offensive outburst to get back into it. Of course, with Drew Brees at the helm, and with the receiving corps and the runningbacks this team has, they were in fact able to overcome the 17-point deficit they had allowed themselves to fall into early in the second quarter on Sunday afternoon against division rival Carolina, and the Saints eventually held on for a "mere" 10-point victory. But let's be honest here: the Saints have not looked like an undefeated team for much of their past three games against Carolina, Atlanta and Miami, and truly good teams would definitely not have allowed the Saints to come back and win in either the Miami or Carolina games. This team is starting to remind me of Jordan's old Bulls teams both before and after his retirement in the mid 1990s -- at some point they just got so good, and so sure that they would win, that they basically stopped trying very hard in their games until they either found that they could win anyways, or until they got down enough to make it interesting enough for them to try to come back. Just to see if they could do it from far down against an inferior team that thought it might actually be able to escape the United Center with a win. The Saints better be careful though, because unlike those Bulls teams of the 90s, this Saints squad hasn't proven shiat yet, and they do not want to start falling into bad, repeated habits of rolling over early as the season progresses and the playoffs start to loom.

5. The Denver Broncos. After a 6-0 start, the Broncos haven't just lost two games -- they've gotten pretty much demolished in both of them and have really allowed a blueprint to be created on how to beat the AFC West leaders. First Baltimore and now Pittsburgh have essentially stacked the box and brought the pressure against Denver qb Kyle Orton, forcing him to throw for just 7 yards per completion last week, and then to again throw for under 10 yards per completion this past Monday night in addition to Orton chucking three picks, two of which were returned for scores by the Steelers. The Broncos' opponents have also completely shut down Denver's running attack in the past two weeks, culminating last night with Correll Buckhalter leading the Broncos with just 29 yards on the ground against Pittsburgh. With home games against divisional rival San Diego as well as the hungry Giants over the next few weeks, the Broncos will have little time to figure out how to adjust before they are thrust back out onto the field and forced to defend their turf against opponents who now think of them as one of the last undefeated teams of the 2009 NFL season.

TO Watch: TO recorded zero catches for zero yards and no touchdowns this weekend for the Bills. What's that? No, this wasn't just a regular game for the Bills -- they were on a bye. But the fact that it could have been shows just how far TO has fallen over the past season or two.

There will be no JaMarcus Russell award awarded this week as again my go-to guy for this award -- JaMarcus Russell himself -- did not play this week as his Raiders were also mercifully on a bye week. And while there were some less than stellar performances out of other NFL quarterbacks on the day, none of them seem quite worthy to me of bespoiling with the name of the league's far and away worst starting qb.

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5 Comments:

Blogger The Thrill said...

I find it ridiculous that Aaron Rodgers isn't getting more love this year. He's the #1 player in fantasy and his offensive line can't block for crap.

I say Rodgers for MVP if the Pack make the playoffs!

6:01 AM  
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Blogger steeser said...

I've said it for a few straight weeks. The Titans were nowhere near as bad as their 0-6 record indicated. Their running game is untracked and their defense is playing much better...not to mention a pretty brutal starting schedule.

They are a strong go with for the near future.

8:29 PM  
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