Tuesday, December 15, 2009

NFL Winners and Losers -- Week 14

My winter of discontent continued with my NFL picks in Week 14, as I followed up Week 13's season-worst 1-4 record with a 2-3 performance as I opted for the wrong underdogs in three of the five games I had going on. The Broncos basically hung with the Colts as I suspected, but their defense was a little bit soft and as a result they lost by 12 instead of the 7 that Indy was laying. Bruce Gradkowski messed up first one knee and then the other and was soon replaced by the dreaded JaMarcus Russell in Oakland, dooming my chances on picking them as a home dog to a bad team. And I was totally wrong about the Bengals, who got thumped in Minnesota as the Vikes got back on track while the Bengals fell to 9-4 with a very half-hearted effort on both sides of the ball. After going an abysmal 3-7 over the past two weeks, the overall season record now sinks to 38-27 over 13 weeks of picking five NFL games a week against the spread. And I am left looking for answers as I felt very confident in mostly all of my picks for the second straight week, and normally in the past I've been comically bad at picking NFL games early in the season but generally very strong at the end.

OK enough whining from me. On to this week's Winners and Losers report, on a weekend with a lot of fun stories both on the individual and team level.


1. Brandon Marshall. Not sure how I can't start with this guy, who posted an incredible 21 catches for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns, breaking TO's NFL record of 20 receptions in a single game. Amazingly, you'll never believe whose name is at #3 on that all-time list of most catches in a single game. Brandon Marshall! Yep, B-Marsh now holds the #1 and #3 spots all-time with 21 and 18 catches in NFL games over the past two seasons. Unfortunately his efforts came in a 28-16 loss to the undefeated Colts on Sunday, but anything that unseeds TO from the record books is ok with me.

2. DeSean Jackson. After his 72-yard punt return for a touchdown in the 2nd quarter and a 60-yard touchdown reception in the third against the Giants on Sunday night, Eagles' second-year playmaking wideout DeSean Jackson now has an NFL record 8 touchdowns of 50+ yards this season. In the Giants game on Sunday, Jackson absolutely tore up the opposition, ending with 6 catches for 178 yards on the day, plus the punt return to power the Eagles to their 45-38 victory. DJ has not-so-quietly established himself as the premiere deep threat in the NFL today. Can you imagine this guy with Peyton Manning throwing to him and all day to wait DJ's routes out? Scary.

3. Wes Welker. After torching the Panthers' defense for 10 catches and 105 yards in the Cheatriots' key win on Sunday, Cheats' wide receiver Wes Welker reached 100 receptions on the season for the third straight year. Only Marvin Harrison, Jerry Rice, and the less famous but still potent Herman Moore have accomplished this feat before Welker, moving himself into some serious company in terms of all-time NFL wideout consideration, made even more impressive by the fact that Welker missed Weeks 2 and 3 to injury in compiling those 100 receptions so far here in 2009. In Sunday's win against Carolina, Welker accounted for well more than half of Tom Brady's 192 total passing yards, and he goes into Week 15 as the player with the most receptions (105) through 11 games in a season in NFL history.

4. Peyton Manning and Drew Brees and the March to 16-0. As both the Saints and the Colts moved to 13-0 this weekend, I figure it is time to start showing a little love to these guys among the other weekly Winners. I mean, we probably should have foreseen this early in the 2009 season when it became obvious very quickly that a good quarter of the total teams in the NFL this year are absolute horseshit. Other than the Titans, that hasn't really improved throughout the season so far, and one of the unexpected but directly related results is we are looking at a very real possibility of not just one but two undefeated teams over the regular season. And this time, teams that don't even cheat! Both the Saints and Colts are led of course by their awesome quarterbacks -- Drew Brees and his 3832 yards, 32 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a qb rating of 112.3 and perhaps the single worst hair in the history of sports, and of course Peyton with his 3905 yards, 29 tds, 14 picks and 98.9 qb rating (and perfectly normal hair, although kind of a funny accent now that I think about it), and each one is looking good to captain his respective team to football immortality, joining the 1972 Dolphins as the only teams to go undefeated for an entire NFL regular season without brazenly cheating every other team in the league. The Colts' final three games on their march to 16-0 are at Jacksonville this Thursday night, then the Jets at home and finally at Buffalo to end the season, certainly all winnable games and ones in which the Colts are sure to be solid favorites. Meanwhile, the Saints have a similarly mediocre schedule the rest of the way out, with games at home against Dallas and Tampa Bay before ending up in Week 17 at Carolina, also all surely winnable games for the class of the NFC. The likelihood in my view that we have at least one undefeated team in the NFL this season has risen to around 75%, with the possibility of both teams going the whole regular season without losing also inching upwards into the more-likely-than-not camp with every passing Sunday.

5. The Miami Dolphins, the New York Jets, and the Philadelphia Eagles. These three teams were each effectively one game out in their respective divisional races in the AFC East and the NFC East, and each found a way to win a crucial matchup here in Week 14 to require the team ahead of them in the division to stay on track and keep winning in order to remain out in front. If you don't put the pressure on the teams close ahead of you -- see the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos this weekend -- then obviously you've got no chance of passing them, and with just four games left in the NFL's 2009 regular season before this past weekend's games, trading losses is not a viable strategy either if you're one game out. The Dolphins came up with a big win -- one of the underdogs next on my list for this past weekend who I opted to avoid -- at 7-5 Jacksonville to remain alive in the AFC race, and the Jets' defense beat the crap out of an inexperienced Tampa Bay offense to also claw their way back to 7-6 and again just one game behind the Cheatriots who have yet to win a true road game this season. And the Eagles meanwhile came out on fire, scoring almost immediately on their first drive of the game, running back a fumble, running back a punt, scoring on a 60-yard bomb to DeSean Jackson, and even getting Mike Vick another touchdown run in a play well designed for him to roll out and take it in to the corner himself from deep inside the red zone in their super-entertaining 45-38 victory to sweep the Giants and take their fifth straight game from the G-Men, the third straight in New Jerseyork.


1. The Pittsburgh Steelers. Wow. I mean, wow. Talk about a team that just shut it off in a hurry. Five weeks ago the defending superbowl champion Steelers were sitting at 6-2, with the best defensive player in the game and one of the best quarterbacks in the league as well, and looking like a solid bet to make a run at defending last year's title. But what's happened since then in the Steel City is enough to make even Mike Rowe yak in the bushes. In their last five games, the Steelers are 0-5, and have found a way to lose to the Raiders, and Chiefs and now the Browns within that 5-game span, an unthinkable trio of suckitude that certainly no other team in the NFL can claim this season. On Thursday, the Steelers could not get into the end zone against the Browns as Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger picked up his first loss in 12 games against the Browns, and the Browns' defense repeatedly threw Ben Roth to the carpet in what was a pretty thorough beating at the line by the fired-up Browns on the day. At 6-7, the Steelers are effectively eliminated from playoff consideration in the AFC absent a modern day miracle.

2. The Dallas Cowboys and head coach Wade Phillips. Wade Phillips inched ever closer to his own firing this weekend as his Cowboys lost another crucial game in December, this one at home, as his team fought back to tie the game in the fourth quarter before allowing the Chargers to march up and down the field for two fourth-quarter scoring drives before another meaningless trash time touchdown for Dallas qb Tony Romo made the score look a lot closer than it really was. The Cowboys, who are quickly becoming the story of the NFL here in December, lost their second straight game to also drop out of first place in the NFC East for the first time in over a month, slipping to 0-2 in December yet again this year while their opponent the Chargers improved to 16-0 in the final month of the year since Phillip Rivers became the team's starting quarterback. With their final three games now at the Saints, at the Redskins and finishing at home against the Eagles, the Cowboys' flagging playoff hopes are in doubt since they need to finish a full game ahead of the Giants due to having already been swept by the Giants this season.

3. The New York Giants. Talk about stepping down in a big way in a huge spot. Here the Giants are fighting for their literal playoff lives, finding themselves in a situation where a win at home against bitter rival Philadelphia in Week 14 would almost assure the Giants of first place in the NFC East due to their favorable tiebreaker positioning. Win one game on Sunday night against the Eagles at home, and they basically win the NFC East. And how do the Giants react to the enormity of this game for their entire season? They let the Eagles storm down the field unchecked for a quick score, and then immediately fumble on a rushing play and give up a defensive touchdown, going down 14-0 within the first 6 minutes of game time. Later in the first half they again allowed the Eagles to march down the field before an uncalled blatant pass interference in the end zone caused Philly to have to settle for a field goal, they gave up a punt return touchdown to Eagles' spark plug DeSean Jackson, and then they allowed the Eagles to march down the field in the final 1:23 of the first half for yet another touchdown. Thanks to a missed extra point, the Eagles tallied 30 points by halftime in New York on their way to a 45-38 rout which seriously hurts the Giants' playoff hopes in 2009. As I've been saying here for weeks, that Giants' defense is an abomination, giving up 40+ points on Sunday night for the third time this season, twice to the rival Eagles, and they have now allowed at least 21 points in eight straight games once they got through the pancake part of their regular season schedule after the Raiders in Week 5. The Giants can still make the playoffs, though, if they can pick up just one game on the Cowboys over the teams' final three games, since the Giants own that tiebreaker thanks to sweeping the Cowboys in the regular season this year.

4. Randy Moss. With just one catch for 16 yards on Sunday afternoon against the Carolina Panthers, this is now Moss's second game this season with fewer than two receptions. What's more, there was at least one occasion on Sunday where Moss clearly short-armed an open slant pass in the red zone with the game with Carolina still in doubt, and it stuck out enough that Brady was over on the sidelines clearly trying to talk Moss into getting his head back in the game just a few minutes afterward. People will be talking about him starting this week, just like the Panthers' backs were after the game, with multiple named Panthers explaining their strategy of hitting Moss hard early and then watching him stop trying, stop running routes when he was not in a given play, etc. With the Pats still not having won a true road game this season (their only win away from home came in England), they're clearly going to need Randy Moss at 100% if they expect to go to any of the AFC heavies' stadiums and win a key playoff game in January.

TO Watch: TO had just two catches for 15 yards in a 16-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday afternoon, but one of them did go for a touchdown, TO's fourth receiving td of the season to go along with his one rushing score as well. Still, TO's lack of real involvement with the team's passing offense persists despite a two-week push where he looked to be possibly breaking out, and TO's stats for the season so far through 13 games sit at a mediocre 45 catches, 704 yards and four touchdowns.

JaMarcus Russell award: Week 14 had by far more worthy competitors vying for the award going to the worst, least efficient, overall loseriest quarterback in the league for that week, as even the Namesake of the award came in due to injury and put forth a valiant effort. Some guy named Keith Null started for the Rams in place of the injured Kyle Boller and the injured Marc Bulger, going 27 for 43 for 157 yards, 1 touchdown and 5 INTs, for a final quarterback rating on the day of 37.8. In a bit of a blast from the past, Duante Culpepper took the snaps for the Lions and completed under 50% of his passes in finishing 16 of 34 for 135 yards, 0 tds and 2 INTs, for an even lower qb rating of 33.3. Chief's quarterback Matt Cassell continued with his disappointing season in Sunday's loss to the Bills, putting up numbers of 26 of 43 for 224 yards, 0 tds, and 4 INTs, for a similar 35.4 rating. Brady Quinn of the Cleveland Browns even found himself back on this list after two straight quality starts, going 6 of 19 for just 90 yards against the Steelers, but the lack of touchdowns was at least complemented by a lack on interceptions which combined for a less disgusting 48.1 qb rating. As I mentioned, Raiders qb Bruce Gradkowski got injured in the second quarter and JaMarcus Russell himself made an appearance in relief, going a shockingly efficient 10 of 16 (!!) although for just 74total yards, 0 tds and one interception, giving Russell a (for him) lofty 47.8 rating. But despite all of those very honorable mentions for the the Week 14 NFL JMA award, I think the winner has got to be Tampa Bay's rookie qb Josh Freeman, who faced the tough Jets defense and finished the day 14 of 33 for just 93 yards, meaning that Freeman completed a very inefficient 42% of his attempts, for an equally inefficient 6.6 yards per completion , 0 tds, and three interceptions. All of the above combined for Freeman to post a final qb rating for Sunday's game of 12.1, and basically anytime you can keep that rating below 20 for an entire game, even JaMarcus Russell thinks you deserve his award that week.

NFL's Best Team: Take your pick, Saints or Colts. Both are 13-0, the Vikings are still a step behind in my view despite a nice bounceback against the Bengals this weekend, and the Bengals too are still behind after letting Minnesota walk all over them in Week 14. If I had to guess, I am going to go with past history and my own observations of the teams and still lean slightly towards the Saints here, based on the Colts' recent history of losing to lower seeded teams and underdogs in the playoffs who play a hard-nosed, ball-possession type of game. This Saints squad continues to impress, and they still seem to be the best combination of a stellar passing game, a solid running game, and a very impressive team defense that makes them very hard to pick against when facing any other team in the NFL this season.

NFL's Worst Team: With the Browns' big step-up in Week 14 against the superbowl champs in the freezing cold, this leaves the Rams standing alone once again at the bottom of the pack. That 47-7 shelling by the formerly shitpiling Tennessee Titans on Sunday afternoon doesn't exactly help the Rams' case either.

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Blogger OES said...

completely unrelated but, i know everyone and their grandmother is talking about Mr. Woods, but what's your take?

1:33 AM  

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