Monday, December 19, 2011

NFL Thoughts -- Week 15

Cardinals' QB John Skelton: 5-1. Kevin Kolb: 2-5. 'Nuff said. Given the young man a chance.

Tony Sparano is gone, but the Dolphins just keep on playing every game like it's their Superbowl. Miami beat the formerly high-flying Buffalo Bills on Sunday 30-23, behind Matt Moore's best game of the season and Reggie Bush's first 200-yard rushing game in as long as I can ever remember in the pros.

Sticking with the newly-departed coaches' teams, it's hard to read too much into the Chiefs ending the Packers' bid at a perfect season. But, I have to say that as I watched Aaron Rodgers over the past few weeks and certainly in his post-game presser on Sunday afternoon, he seems to have had a lot more invested in this run at perfection than he is letting on. It will be interesting to see if there are any long-term effects for the Packers who might have just lost the #1 thing that they as a team were keying on for most of 2011.

It's hard to get excited as an Eagles fan when the team's limited playoff hopes are based on Philly winning at Dallas next Sunday in a must-win game for both teams, and then beating the Skins at home to close things out. With the way this team has played in the 2011 regular season, anyone who looks at that and sees 2-0 just hasn't been watching this team this year, in particular on defense.

Nnami Asomugha was called for yet another holding penalty late in the first half as the Jets were trying to mount a comeback against an early Eagles onslaught on Sunday. That makes at least half a dozen times this year that Asomugha has blatantly held a receiver who had beaten him and was about to make an easy touchdown score. As much as getting value for Kevin Kolb is proving to have been a steal of a trade this past offseason, the Asomugha signing is without a doubt the Eagles' brass's worst move of 2011.

The NBC Sunday night coverage continues to be the worst commentating available on any major sports network. Especially painful continues to be the in-studio guys, with Tony Dungy seeming more suited for missionary work or possibly religious oration than commenting on NFL games, the Rich Eisen-like banality of Dan Patrick, and the contrived too-cool-for-school attitude of Rodney Harrison. These guys even make Chris Collinsworth's one-sided commentary seem professional and riveting.

Lesean McCoy punched in his 15th, 16th and 17th rushing touchdowns of the season this weekend, solidifying his spot atop the list of best non-quarterback fantasy football players in the NFL in 2011. McCoy's 20 total touchdowns now puts him comfortably ahead of Patriots' breakout tight end Rob Gronkowski's 15 receiving plus one rushing td, and even with Calvin Johnson's huge performance this weekend against the Raiders, Megatron remains a distant third with 14 total touchdowns. To think that this team with McCoy, Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson on offense, plus Jason Babin and his 17 sacks on defense to go along with Asante Samuel and big-name additions Asomugha and Dominick Rodgers-Cromartie at corner, would be sitting at 6-8 and hoping for a mathematical miracle to sneak into the postseason with a .500 record in an uncharacteristically weak NFC East, this is just everything that makes the NFL so great for all of us.

Speaking of great offensive threats in the league today, I think it's fair to say that Aaron Rodgers officially has competition for the league's MVP. While I think Rodgers would have won it walking away if the team went undefeated for the season given the year he is having, now that the Packers have fallen back down to the realm of mortal NFL teams, I don't see how what Drew Brees is doing right now can be ignored any longer. While Rodgers has thrown for 4360 yards (4th in the NFL), an NFL second-best 68.1% completion percentage, and an eye-popping 40 touchdowns vs just 6 interceptions through 14 games in 2011, Brees has been up to the task, posting 4780 passing yards -- on pace next week to break Dan Marino's all-time single-season passing yards record with a full game to spare -- and a mind-numbing 71.5% completion percentage. Though not as amazing as Rodgers' here through Week 15, Brees' touchdown to INT ratio is also a very impressive 37 touchdowns to just 11 picks. Each player has some areas where they are clearly the best, and I guess I might lean ever so slightly towards Rodgers if I had to pick at this moment, but in my mind with the Packers' loss, this race just got officially up for grabs thanks to the Chiefs on Sunday afternoon.

I thought Tim Tebow played pretty well -- for Tim Tebow -- against the Cheatriots on Sunday. In the end it was a big double-digit loss for the Broncos, but Tebow ended the day a robust 11 for 22 for a 50% completion percentage (his highest of any game this year), and with 194 total passing yards -- also, amazingly, his highest for the year. I imagine that John Elway was fairly unsure of how he should be reacting to his quarterback's performance against the AFC's best-looking team at the moment, but Tebow did run the ball well, and Tebow started off very strong before his team got bit by the turnover bug and gave a great team in New England too many chances to build up a lead.

That New York Giants loss this weekend at home to the hapless Redskins has got to go down as the most gutless performance of the entire NFL season so far. I mean, the Giants are at home in New York Jersey and playing the Redskins who just gave up 34 points at home to the Cheatriots last week and 34 also at home to the NY Jets the week before, and they manage to put a straight-out bagel until the final minutes of a game that was already long since over? I betcha Bill Cowher is on a plane out to Westchester County right now to look for a new house to buy. What an utter collapse.

It's a shame that right now the Bengals and Jets would play down to the third tiebreaker if each team wins out over its last two efforts in the 2011 regular season. With identical records of 8-6 overall, and identical conference marks at 6-5, the decision would turn on better overall winning percentage over common opponents, with the two teams even having performed identically there, but with the Jets being 2-0 against the Bills while the Bengals are only 1-0. Though it certainly feels like the wrong team and the wrong quarterback in Mark Sanchez are ahead in that seemingly silly category, this one really should still be decided on the field as the Jets are fixing to face the crosstown rival Giants in a do-or-die game at home followed by traveling to the keyed-up Dolphins in Week 17 who you know would just love to ruin the Jets' season (again), while the Bungles have on top the beatable Cardinals at home, followed by an end-of-season home-game clash with the Ravens, who might not be playing for anything that week after Baltimore's crushing by the Chargers on Sunday night.

Even with all the shenanigans and mathematical possibilities in the NFC East, the AFC West might be the most interesting division race in all of football here as we enter the home stretch. With the Broncos' loss to the Pats this weekend, and the Raiders failing to capitalize on last-second drive against the Lions, while the Chargers stepped up and crushed the AFC-North leading Ravens, and even the Chiefs sneaking a win against the heretofore undefeated Packers, things just got a whole lot narrower over there with two games still to play. Denver is still one game up with 2 winnable games left to play -- at Buffalo and at home against Romeo Crennel's rejuvenated Chiefs -- while, just one game behind at 7-7, Oakland (at Kansas City, and home vs. the Chargers) can obviously take care of its two closest rivals head-to-head, and San Diego faces the toughest path (at Detroit, and at Oakland) to finish the season. Even the Chiefs bringing up the rear still have games left against the Raiders at home and then at Denver to finish the regular season off, so what happens in that division is very much up in the air, especially if the Tebow magic fails to come back next week against a finished Bills squad.

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