Dec 202012
 

christmas-treeMy goodness, Widows. We are nearing the end of the road on this year’s regular NFL season. I am sure that your fan is eagerly awaiting the most exciting day of the year. The day that fills a football fan’s home with sounds of cheer and delightful smells of food from the kitchen. The day when friends and families gather to celebrate that which is truly important…FOOTBALL! Oh, wait…did you think that I meant Christmas? Sorry, Widows. I meant the Superbowl.

Just so all of you know that I have not been truly converted from Widow to Fan, I turn to one of my tried and not-so-true methods of choosing my teams for this week. Quarterbacks. In particular, which one that I would rather see in my stocking this year if Santa were giving me a cute Quarterback for Christmas. To be short, sweet and to the point so that I can get back to wrapping presents and baking cookies- I appreciate the ability to see nice looking young men when I watch the games and if you can’t be grateful during the holiday season, when can you?

This week, due to the way the holiday falls, we have no Monday night game. In fact, no more Monday night football until next fall. (pausing for any shouts of joy…). Instead we have a Saturday matchup between the Falcons and the Lions. I find Matt Ryan more aesthetically pleasing, so I choose a Falcons win.

Here’s the rest. Happy Holidays to all three of my readers!

Week 16 Widow’s Picks

Falcons over Lions (see above)

Packers over Titans (Locker is cute. Rodgers is cuter)

Panthers over Raiders (I love a Cam Newton smile)

Dolphins over Bills (Ryan Tannehill…and his wife is gorgeous too)

Bengals over Steelers (I usually don’t go for red heads like Andy Dalton, but I can’t wrap my head around finding Ben Roethlisberger the slightest bit attractive and I certainly don’t want to wake up Christmas day and find him under my tree.)

Patriots over Jaguars (Probably not a surprise, but I NEED Tom to come through for me this week and show us that is a far more than a pretty face.)

Colts over Chiefs (Two nice looking quarterbacks, chosen by likelihood of actual winner)

Cowboys over Saints (Tony Romo over Drew Brees)

Redskins over Eagles (I am a big RG III fan)

Buccaneers over Rams (Freeman over Bradford)

Ravens over Giants (I don’t find Eli attractive. At all.)

Texans over Vikings (Matt Schaub over Christian Ponder. I just prefer his looks)

Browns over Broncos (Sorry Manning…See comment above re: Eli…)

Cardinals over Bears (I like the Cardinals’ new guy)

Seahawks over 49ers (Tough call. Colin Kaepernik is a cutie. In the end, I opted for less ink.)

Chargers over Jets (I had to change this one 6 times during the season due to the Jets quarterback crisis.)

Week 15 Recap

 Posted by
Dec 182012
 

Brandon CarrWhat did Week 15 teach us? For starters, it taught us that the AFC North is a mess and the Bengals might be the best team in the division. We also learned that the Redskins can function pretty well even without RG III, that Seattle’s offense may need to be taken seriously, and that the New York Jets are in fact what we thought they were. Finally, we learned that the Patriots can make mistakes just like everyone else, and that a New England – San Francisco re-match in the Super Bowl just might be a hell of a game.

Here is our Week 15 recap.

Dec 122012
 

This week the New England Patriots reinforced why we moved them into the top spot two weeks ago, with a solid 42-14 thrashing of the Houston Texans. Coupled with the Falcons falling to the Panthers, and there is some shifting at the top of our rankings this week. With three weeks to go, some teams appear to be emerging from the pack, and the AFC is faring surprisingly well, given the dominance of the NFC in inter-conference play this season.

Here are our rankings through Week 14.

1. New England Patriots (10-3, U, W7) – First #2 Houston and now #3 San Francisco; can the Pats hang on to the top spot?

2. Denver Broncos (10-3, +3, W8) – They look ready for the post-season, but face a tough test against the Ravens this week

3. San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1, +1, W1) – The Patriots offer some challenges for the new 49ers phenom

4. Houston Texans (11-2, -2, L1) – So how did those letterman jackets work out?

5. Atlanta Falcons (11-2, -2, L1) – Matt Ryan wasn’t telling anyone to get the $#%$ off the field in Charlotte

6. New York Giants (8-5, U, W1) – Osi thinks they are the best, but had to qualify it with “if we play the way we are capable of playing”; Talk is cheap, Osi… consistency is better

7. Green Bay Packers (9-4, +1, W2) – The Packers have a running game? Who knew?

8. Indianapolis Colts (9-4, +1, W3) – They don’t have to win pretty as long as they keep winning

9. Baltimore Ravens (9-4, -2, L2) – Jim Caldwell has never called plays; is he really the answer for the struggling offense?

10. Seattle Seahawks (8-5, +2, W2) – Let me get this right… the Seahawks ran up the score? The Seahawks?

11. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6, -1, L1) – So they get Ben back and lose? Quarterback controversy! (just kidding)

12. Washington Redskins (7-6, +3, W4) – Now we know why they drafted Kirk Cousins too

13. Cincinnati Bengals (7-6, -2, L1) – That wasted opportunity may come back to bite them in Week 16

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7, -1, L3) – We wanted to believe, but three straight losses has this team on the outside looking in

15. Chicago Bears (8-5, -1, L2) – You knew it was just a matter of time before Jay Cutler stated getting beat like a drum again

16. Dallas Cowboys (7-6, U, W2) – Emotional win doesn’t make up for the Cowboys weaknesses

17. Minnesota Vikings (7-6, +1, W1) – Just when we thought they were done, they find a way to become relevant again

18. St. Louis Rams (6-6-1, +1, W3) – Jeff Fisher has his team believing; if they win out that tie could be the deciding factor

19. New Orleans Saints (5-8, -2, L3) – It took about twenty minutes for Brees to come out with a snarky statement about the bounty decision as he continues to defend the indefensible; just shut up already, Drew

20. New York Jets (6-7, +4, W2) – Beating the Jaguars doesn’t exactly cure their ills, but it gives Rex another week to pretend that they don’t exist

21. Cleveland Browns (5-8, +2, W3) – Any more wins this season, and Fat Jesus is going to have to write a retraction piece about Pat Shurmer

22. Buffalo Bills (5-8, -2, L1) – Remember when some of us thought the Bills might be a playoff contender? Yeah, we’re trying to forget that too…

23. San Diego Chargers (5-8, +2, W1) – If Norv sells that game ball, he might get enough to cover his moving expenses

24. Miami Dolphins (5-8, -2, L2) – The Dolphins find it ‘disrespectful’ when a team successfully runs the same play over and over; this isn’t Madden – if you don’t like it…. stop it

25. Detroit Lions (4-9, -4, L5) – Whether or not Ndamukong Suh is a dirty player, he certainly has exhibited punk behaviors both on and off the field

26. Carolina Panthers (4-9, +1, W1) – Greg Hardy returned the favor to the Falcons this week; this team could close at 7-9

27. Tennessee Titans (4-9, -1, L3) – Remember when some of us thought the Titans might be a playoff contender? Yeah, we’re trying to forget that too…

28. Philadelphia Eagles (4-9, +2, W1) – Is Gruden a possibility for the Eagles? And by Gruden, we mean Jay…

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11, U, L2) – So the Jags lost twice in the Timmy Sweepstakes

30. Kansas City Chiefs (2-11, +1, L1) – Anyone else think that Dwayne Bowe is excited to be headed to the IR?

31. Arizona Cardinals (4-9, -3, L9) – And suddenly Brian Hoyer is the best quarterback on the roster

32. Oakland Raiders (3-10, U, L6) – Can a visit from the Chiefs help them escape from our basement?

Nov 282012
 

There’s a shake up at the top of the Power Rankings this week, as our contributors seem to have had enough of the narrow victories coming from both the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans. Yes, they keep winning, but the victories themselves raise questions as to whether either team will survive the divisional round of the playoffs.

Our new Number One? It’s the New England Patriots, who have now won five straight and seem to be pulling away from the pack as we hit the home stretch of the regular season. The Patriots’ consecutive beat downs of both the Colts and Jets (teams that they should beat down), have us believing that the team is starting to peak at exactly the right time. The bigger question is whether the Patriots can sustain that into February, and tough home tests against both the Texans and the 49ers in the next three weeks will help us gauge whether or not they really deserve the top spot. The 49ers come in second this week, and might have come in first, save for the uncertainty surrounding Jim Harbaugh’s creation of a quarterback controversy in the City by the Bay. We like Colin Kaepernick and think the offense is more dynamic with him on the field, but Alex Smith has done nothing but win in his last 26 contests (20-5-1). So exactly why is Kaepernick starting? Having him start in the post-season would be an invitation to destruction as top teams begin to scheme on how to beat the developing star. The team’s consistency has improved of late, but playing quarterback games doesn’t seem like a recipe for success.

Here are our Week 12 rankings:

1. New England Patriots (8-3, +3, W5) – The Patriots are still fighting for a first round bye, but seem poised to make another of their late season runs; will it net Super Bowl success this time around?

2. San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1, U, W2) – Kaepernick is the future, but why isn’t Smith the present?

3. Houston Texans (10-1, -2, W5) – Will Gary Kubiak be sending Jim Schwartz a pack of red hankies for Christmas?

4. Atlanta Falcons (10-1, -1, W2) – OK, we’re pretty sure they’ll score more than two points in the playoffs, but why are they feeling like a one and done team?

5. New York Giants (7-4, +3, W1) – Is it that time of the year again?

6. Baltimore Ravens (9-2, -1, W4) – Will gifts like last Sunday keep happening, or is this team’s luck about to run out?

7. Denver Broncos (8-3, U, W6) – Is Peyton Manning simply changing where he has great regular seasons, only to flame out in the playoffs?

8. Chicago Bears (8-3, +1, W1) – Nice win against the Vikings, but are we the only ones waiting for this team to collapse?

9. Green Bay Packers (7-4, -3, L1) – And if the Bears collapse, can the Packers catch them?

10. Indianapolis Colts (7-4, +5, W1) – They responded well to a blowout loss, now can they take control of a playoff spot?

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5, +1, L1) – With a tough loss out of the way, can they bounce back like Indy and nudge the Seahawks out of the way for a playoff spot?

12. Cincinnati Bengals (6-5, +4, W3) – They are making noise now, but can they beat the Steelers and Ravens in Weeks 16 and 17, when things really matter?

13. Seattle Seahakws (6-5, -2, L1) – Are they ever going to win again outside of Seattle?

14. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5, -4, L2) – Do they really have any chance without a healthy Ben?

15. New Orleans Saints (5-6, -2, L1) – Is the offensive line really as bad as the defense, or did it just look that way?

16. Minnesota Vikings (6-5, -2, L1) – They really were just pretending this year, weren’t they?

17. Washington Redskins (5-6, +3, W2) – Have the Redskins finally left the NFC East basement for good?

18. Dallas Cowboys (5-6, -1, L1) – If the Cowboys got diagnosed for collective Schizophrenia, would the medication get the team in trouble for using performance enhancing drugs?

19. Detroit Lions (4-7, -1, L3) – Are the Lions victims of bad luck, or are they their own worst enemies?

20. St. Louis Rams (4-6-1, +4, W1) – Will that tie cost the Rams a shot at a wildcard?

21. Buffalo Bills (4-7, +1, L1) – Is Chan Gailey preventing the offense from performing better?

22. Miami Dolphins (5-6, +3, W1) – Will the Patriots crush the Fins wildcard hopes this weekend?

23. Arizona Cardinals (4-7, -4, L7) – Is this team only a quarterback away, or do seven straight losses signify a much deeper problem?

24. Cleveland Browns (3-8, +3, W1) – Did the Browns just cost themselves a top five draft pick?

25. Tennessee Titans (4-7, -2, L1) – Do you think Peyton knew this was coming when he decided to play in Denver?

26. San Diego Chargers (4-7, -5, L3) – 4th and 29? Seriously? Exactly why does Norv Turner still have a job?

27. New York Jets (4-7, -1, L1) – Between the “butt fumble” and refusal to make personnel changes, why do Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez still have jobs?

28. Carolina Panthers (3-8, +1, W1) – Is Cam Newton really handling adversity well, or do things just always look better after a win?

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9, +1, W1) – How eager do you think Shahid Khan is to start cleaning house?

30. Philadelphia Eagles (3-8, -2, L7) – Exactly why does Andy Reid still have a job?

31. Oakland Raiders (3-8, U, L4) – Did Al Davis’ will require that the Raiders keep playing the way they did when he was alive?

32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-10, U, L8) – Exactly why do Romeo Crennel and Scott Pioli still have jobs?

Nov 272012
 


Well, Widows, last week I took on the coin toss to see if I am actually able to do better than chance when I make my weekly picks. Even though I am ahead of the Idaho Quarter (IQ for short) over all, this week the quarter and I were tied. Incidentally, so was Ghost Rat, so I have earned the distinction of being as right as he is!

Last week, I neglected to award my Widow’s Scorn award. It wasn’t for lack of inappropriate behavior, but rather due to disorganization on my part. This week’s award goes to…drum roll please…Ndamukong Suh of the Detroit Lions! On Thanksgiving, he unceremoniously kicked Matt Schaub in the, shall I say, “groin”. I saw the replay and it looked very intentional to me, and to most who saw it. This isn’t Mr. Suh’s first offense. Last year on Thanksgiving he stomped on the shoulder of a Green Bay Packer. Earlier this year, he temporarily rendered Bears quarterback Jay Cutler unconscious, even though the play was deemed “clean”. Again I am convinced that the rules of Kindergarten apply to the gridiron. In this case, don’t kick boys in the nuts and don’t lie and pretend it was an accident when it was clearly on purpose. He is high on the list of the dirtiest players in the NFL.

As the old saying goes, behind every great man is a great woman. In the case of the NFL, this comes in the form of the wives and girlfriends of the players who are the ultimate football widows. I think I have it bad when it comes to losing my husband every Thursday, Sunday and Monday to the flat screen, but I got nothin’ on these ladies. In fact, I have developed a list of reasons why it is better to be the widow of a fan versus the widow of an NFL quarterback.

10. 300 pound men don’t get paid to try to knock my husband down.
9. No one rates my level of “hotness” among football widows on the internet. (True story. Google it!)
8. Screaming fans don’t yell at my husband when he has an off day.
7. I get to sit inside where it’s warm to watch football games in support of my husband.
6. At half time, my husband can carry on a conversation with me instead of his coach.
5. After a win, I don’t have to worry about my husband fending off hot football groupies.
4. After a loss, my husband doesn’t ever embarrass himself at a press conference.
3. My husband only gets a little bit sweaty during games.
2. Two words: NO CHEERLEADERS!

And the #1 reason why it is better to be the football widow of a fan…
Ndamukong Suh never gets close to my husband’s groin.

This week, I am paying tribute to the ladies who stand behind the quarterbacks. They are the REAL football widows. I’m not gonna lie – I’d love to have a quarterback’s paycheck to spend on all manner of shoes and purses, but I wouldn’t trade places with any of them.

When I did my research, which is as exhaustive as I have patience for and may not be flawless, I found some interesting stories of high school and college sweethearts, women who join their husbands in charity work, mothers of multiple children, and women who are stars themselves.

Drew Brees’ wife, Brittany, was his college sweetheart. They have 3 sons, the middle of which was named with assistance from Drew’s Twitter followers. That makes the woman a saint (no pun intended) in my book. The couple does charitable work in New Orleans, San Diego where they make their home in the off season, and near Purdue where they went to college. Russell Wilson, Chad Henne, Joe Flacco, Matt Moore, Alex Smith, Andy Dalton and Carson Palmer are all married to women that they have been with for many years.

Among the ranks of the NFL women-behind-the men are athletes in their own right. There are softball, soccer, tennis and golf standouts from their respective colleges, as well as a Czech national gymnast and a US gymnastic medalist in the Beijing games.

Ryan Fitzpatrick proposed to his wife, Liza Barber at McDonald’s over Chicken McNuggets. It doesn’t get any more down to earth than that. There were married in 2006 and have 3 children. Melanie Weeden has been through not one, but two professional sports careers with her husband. He spent 5 years playing professional baseball prior to coming to the NFL. The brothers Manning both have wives and children, including a set of twins for Peyton and Ashley.

Tom Brady is married to supermodel Gisele Bundchen.  Since 2004, she has been the highest paid model in the world, is a former Victoria’s Secret model, and was the 16th richest woman in the entertainment industry, with an estimated $150 million fortune in 2007. In this case, and in spite of his greatness, perhaps the great man stands behind a greater woman.

Tiffany Rivers wins the Ultimate Widow award. The couple began dating in the 7th grade and married after their freshman year of college, with the blessing of his football coach. They have 6, count ‘em, SIX children! She wins the prize!

Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger are newlyweds. Robert Griffin III is engaged. Among the girlfriends, there is a reality tv actress, an ESPN reporter, actress Eva Longoria, and R&B star Ciara. Matt Stafford continues to date his college girlfriend. It is a classic case of quarterback and cheerleader. What makes her noteworthy is that she plays fantasy football!

This week, my picks are based on my personal assessment of the widows that sit on the sidelines while their husbands entertain the football fans that we know and love. We’ll see if that is a good basis for choosing winners.

Widow’s Week 13 Picks

Saints over Falcons
Seahawks over Bears
Packers over Vikings
49ers over Rams
Cardinals over Jets
Chiefs over Panthers
Lions over Colts
Bills over Jaguars
Patriots over Dolphins
Texans over Titans
Broncos over Buccaneers
Ravens over Steelers
Browns over Raiders
Chargers over Bengals
Cowboys over Eagles
Giants over Redskins

Nov 212012
 

This week’s power rankings show some stability at the top of the rankings, with the exception of the Bears taking a dive after getting pounded by the 49ers on Monday night. We expect that even the most fervent Bear’s fan would recognize that Jay Cutler would have made little difference on Monday and, given the performance of the Bears’ offensive line, he might well have left the field on a stretcher. The bottom of our rankings saw some shifting, thanks to a gutsy Jacksonville performance  against Houston, another poor performance by the Chiefs, and another lousy outing by the Raiders. As always, feel free to heckle or agree below.

Week 11 Power Rankings

1. Houston Texans (9-1, U) – That may have been a little close for comfort on Sunday, but the Texans gritty comeback win keeps them atop our rankings this week

2. San Francisco 49ers (7-2-1, +1) – Up one spot after dominating the Bears on Monday night; the Niners appear to have a keeper in Colin Kaepernick

3. Atlanta Falcons (9-1, -1) – They overcame six turnovers to win against the Cardinals, but that was not their most impressive outing of the season

4. New England Patriots (7-3, U) – It’s amazing what a fine line it is between a close game and a 35 point blowout; handling the loss of Gronk will determine their playoff seeding

5. Baltimore Ravens (8-2, U) – We’re not sure that anyone should be overly impressed with beating a Ben-less Steelers squad

6. Green Bay Packers (7-3, U) – Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have to have gaudy statistics to lead the Packers to a win; this team could be dangerous in the playoffs

7. Denver Broncos (7-3, +1) – Speaking of dangerous in the playoffs, watch out for this team

8. New York Giants (6-4, +1) – Does the players-only meeting signal a turning of the corner, or is this team lacking the magic?

9. Chicago Bears (7-3, -2) – They were the worst one loss team in the league, then the worst two loss team; are they now the worst three loss team in the league as well?

10. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4, U) – Barely hanging on in our top ten after a dismal outing against the Ravens; is Plax the answer?

11. Seattle Seahawks (6-4, U) – Winning on the road at Miami would help separate Seattle from pretenders

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-4, +2) – Doug Martin is doing wonders to revitalize Josh Freeman’s young career

13. New Orleans Saints (5-5, +2) – Can the Saints’ defense stop enough teams to make their way to the playoffs? The 49ers promise a stiff challenge on both sides of the ball this Sunday

14. Minnesota Vikings (6-4, -1) – They might be visiting Chicago at just the right time to steal a win

15. Indianapolis Colts (6-4, -3) – After allowing 59 points to the Patriots and executing poorly in all three phases of the game, a visit from the Bills might be just what the doctor ordered

16. Cincinnati Bengals (5-5, +3) – Contests against the Chiefs and the Raiders promise to get the Bengals back into the hunt

17. Dallas Cowboys (5-5, +1)– If the Cowboys were playing anyone but the Browns, they lose that game

18. Detroit Lions (4-6, -2) – At the beginning of the season I thought their lack of discipline on defense would set them back, but a lack of consistency on offense isn’t helping either

19. Arizona Cardinals (4-6, -2) – Linebacker Daryl Washington thinks they can win six straight; try one in a row to start

20. Washington Redskins (4-6, +1) – Impressive win over the Eagles has the Redskins hopeful they can stay out of the NFC East’s basement

21. San Diego Chargers (4-6, -1) – Norv Turner is changing his resume paper from powder blue to more of an earth tone; he’s also leaving off the past several seasons as Head Coach of the Chargers

22. Buffalo Bills (4-6, +4) – Our big mover of the week after a good showing against the Dolphins

23. Tennessee Titans (4-6, +2) – There is still time for Jake Locker and the Titans to make it an interesting wildcard race

24. St. Louis Rams (3-6-1, -2) – After a good showing against the 49ers, they didn’t show at all against the Jets

25. Miami Dolphins (4-6, -2) – Miami fans need to come to terms with the fact that their team is more than just a quarterback away

26. New York Jets (4-6, +1) – Once again, the Jets do just enough to convince their fans that all might be ok, at least for one week

27. Cleveland Browns (2-8, +1) – Fat Jesus is right; Pat Shurmer needs to be fired

28. Philadelphia Eagles (3-7, -4) – Speaking of coaches that need to be fired…

29. Carolina Panthers (2-8, U) – And speaking of teams that are more than just a quarterback away…

30. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9, +2) – Another moral victory helps a team escape from our basement

31. Oakland Raiders (3-7, -1) – Is Al Davis still running this team? Is it too soon to ask?

32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-9, -1) – Let speculation begin that Romeo Crennel will be the Patriots’ defensive coordinator next season

Nov 142012
 

Through ten weeks, there is one thing for certain; there is no dominant team in the NFL this season. Just when we thought the Falcons might make it a couple of more weeks without a loss, they fall to the Saints. The Texans took care of business against a tough Bears team, but the 49ers flopped against the Rams, salvaging a tie in a game they should have lost. The Patriots won, but not without great drama, and the Steelers struggled against the hapless Chiefs, escaping only because of a penalty. The Giants look pretty bad at this point in the season, but they always look bad at this point of the season. As a result, our power rankings fluctuated mightily this week.

Here are our Week 10 Rankings:

1. Houston Texans (8-1, +1) – The Texans rolled into Soldier Field and took care of business; how will they do against a team with a better offense?

2. Atlanta Falcons (8-1, -1) – It was a game they could have won, but no real harm done to the Falcon’s ambitions

3. San Francisco 49ers (6-2-1, U) – The Niners are still a favorite in the NFC, but they need to demonstrate some consistency; Quarterback Concern #1 of the week, though Alex Smith might be ready to return

4. New England Patriots (6-3, +2) – The win over the Bills was not an impressive win by any stretch of the imagination, but the Patriots are on a three game winning streak and now hope to improve their beleaguered secondary with the move of McCourty to safety and the acquisition of Aqib Talib

5. Baltimore Ravens (7-2, +3) – Still not convinced their defense will hold up against better offensive teams, but their schedule makes the division title looking like a good bet

6. Green Bay Packers (6-3, +1) – Can they play the second half of the season the way they finished the first?

7. Chicago Bears (7-2, -3) – Quarterback Concern #2 of the week; even though the Bears would rather have their defense on the field all game, the Bears with Jay Cutler are better than the Bears without Jay Cutler

8. Denver Broncos (6-3, +2) – Manning and the Broncos getting better every week; this is a dangerous team if their defense holds up

9. New York Giants (6-4, -4) – The Giants are just out of sorts right now and Eli is playing without confidence; is this is this a real problem or do they just have the rest of the league exactly where they want them?

10. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3, -1) – Quarterback Concern #3 of the week; the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger are better than the Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger

11. Seattle Seahawks (6-4, U) – This team just stubbornly refuses to go away

12. Indianapolis Colts (6-3, +1) – Playoffs? You’re talking about playoffs? Yes, they really are

13. Minnesota Vikings (6-4, -1) – Solid win over the Lions means the Vikes are legitimate playoff contenders; that will hold up as long as Adrian Peterson does

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-4, +4) – Doug Martin looks like a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate; Bucs looking like a legitimate threat

15. New Orleans Saints (4-5, +8) – They probably should have been ranked higher last week, but we will correct that now that they took out the Falcons; playoffs still appear unlikely

16. Detroit Lions (4-5, -2) – Just when the offense starts waking up, the defense lets them down

17. Arizona Cardinals (4-5, -2) – You know what a bye week is? In this case, it could just be a week between losses

18. Dallas Cowboys (4-5, +3) – Another team trying to steer its way back into the playoff race; beating the Browns would help, though it’s exactly the kind of game they are capable of losing

19. Cincinnati Bengals (4-5, +3) – Just when we get ready to write them off, they spank the Giants and thrust themselves back into the playoff picture

20. San Diego Chargers (4-5, -4) – The Norv Turner watch is now officially on; a loss to the Broncos just might be the end of his run

21. Washington Redskins (3-6, -4) – They are building a good base for the future; but it’s not a team that is going to make waves this season

22. St. Louis Rams (3-5-1, +4) – What a difference an Amendola makes

23. Miami Dolphins (4-5, -4) – At least when they got pummeled by the Titans they didn’t have Tony Sparano fist-pumping after the field goal like it was a major accomplishment

24. Philadelphia Eagles (3-6, -4) – Quarterback Concern #4 of the week, though in this case Nick Foles looks like an improvement over Michael Vick; the Reid and Vick eras are coming to a close in Philly

25. Tennessee Titans (4-6, +4) – Jake Locker and Chris Johnson are doing their best to try and get this team back to respectability

26. Buffalo Bills (3-6, -1) – This team is its own worst enemy

27. New York Jets (3-6, -3) – If the Jets are lucky, they can put themselves in a position to draft Matt Barkley, another USC quarterback who is less accurate and less athletic than Mark Sanchez

28. Cleveland Browns (2-7, -1) – They even lose ground in a bye week

29. Carolina Panthers (2-7, -1) – Who would have thought that offensive production was going to be their primary problem this season?

30. Oakland Raiders (3-6, U) – They are one Carson Palmer away from being hapless

31. Kansas City Chiefs (1-8, +1) – They finally got a lead against the Steelers, and should have had a victory; moral victories don’t count for much, but this was a huge improvement

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8, -1) – It’s like they’re not even trying; expect some big-time house cleaning in the off-season

Nov 022012
 

The New England Patriots enter the bye week at 5-3, a mildly surprising development that is made more surprising by the teams that the Patriots have lost to so far. While the thought of a loss on the road to the Ravens at the start of the season would have been considered a “quality” loss, the fact that the Patriots should have put that game away makes the loss a tough one to swallow even weeks later. Such was also the case in the Patriots’ effort against the Seattle Seahawks, where the Patriots had control of the game and allowed the Seahawks the opportunity to pull off a dramatic come from behind win. The loss to the Cardinals would be the one game that most could swallow, given that the Cardinals outplayed the Patriots for much of the contest. But the Patriots had their opportunity to pull out the win at the end, only to be held back on two calls against Rob Gronkowski and a missed field goal that sealed the deal.

Three of the Patriots’ five wins have been dominating performances (Titans, Rams, and second half against the Bills), but the two others have left Patriots’ fans just as frustrated as with the losses. The win over the Denver Broncos was a decisive victory in terms of the Patriots outplaying the Broncos, but a game effort by Peyton Manning made the game much closer than it should have been. Even worse, the Patriots struggled mightily at home against the Jets, allowing the Jets to hang in the game long enough to nearly pull off a comeback win. Only late heroics from Tom Brady and Stephen Gostkowski saved the day for the Pats, while the secondary continued to struggle. Although the win over the Rams was a well needed boost going into this week’s bye, the secondary remains a huge question mark for the second half of the season.

With all of that said, the signs are present that the Patriots could well be primed for a second half run that would result in their sixth appearance in the Super Bowl in 12 years. Let’s take a look at the factors that might give Patriots’ fans cause for hope in the second half of the season.

History of second half runs

Looking back at the Patriots’ history since their run of Super Bowls began, New England has a history of making improvements over the course of the season, often despite significant injury concerns. Here is a look at their records since 2001:

2001 – 4-4 in first half, 7-1 in second half (Super Bowl Champions)
2002 – 4-4 n first half, 5-3 in second half (no playoffs)
2003 – 6-2 n first half, 8-0 in second half (Super Bowl champions)
2004 – 7-1 in first half, 7-1 in second half (Super Bowl Champions)
2005 – 4-4 in first half, 6-2 in second half (Lost in Divisional Round)
2006 – 6-2 in first half, 6-2 in second half (Lost in AFC Championship)
2007 – 8-0 in first half, 8-0 in second half (Lost in Super Bowl)
2008 – 5-3 in first half, 6-2 in second half (no playoffs)
2009 – 6-2 in first half, 4-4 in second half (Lost in Wildcard Round)
2010 – 6-2 in first half, 8-0 in second half (Lost in Division Round)
2011 – 5-3 in first half, 8-0 in second half (Lost in Super Bowl)

In total, during this time the Patriots have gone 61-27 (.693) in the first halves of seasons and 73-15 (.830) in the second halves. In addition to its mastery of making adjustments during the course of a season, Bill Belichick’s squad also has a schedule that lends itself to a string of Patriots’ wins. After the break, the Patriots face the Bills, Colts, Jets and Dolphins, a series of four very winnable games. Their next two games are against the Texans and 49ers, two very tough games, but both at home in prime time. The Patriots then wrap up the regular season with games against the Jaguars and Dolphins. Looking at the schedule, the improvements that can be expected in the second half (detailed below), and a history of strong second half performances, it is not a stretch to imagine the Patriots going 7-1 the rest of the way through the regular season, and finishing 12-4 with a first round bye.

Dynamic offense

While much of the early season struggling is due to a defense that is still learning to play together as a unit, not to mention the hesitancy of the coaches to allow the Patriots to blitz more given the porous secondary, a fair amount of the struggle can also be traced to an offense that has failed to put away games that they should have put away. I will attribute much of this to the play calling of Josh McDaniels, who it seems is still trying to figure out how to use all of the weapons at his disposal. Even though Stevan Ridley has established himself as the primary running back, McDaniels has gotten “cute” with play calls in key moments when the best option was to slam Ridley through the line. In other cases, McDaniels has gone to trickery such as end arounds and low percentage screen plays in situations where the best option was to stick with passes over the middle that put them in the position to win the game to begin with. While there is great value at the end of the season and in the playoffs to make sure that all of the players have contributed to the offense, crucial moments in the game are not times to start trying to pull rabbits out of hats.

The dominating 45-7 win over the Rams is exactly what the Patriots are capable of doing on a weekly basis. Not so much in score as in the method of staking the team to an early lead, giving the defense some room for error, and then putting the game away when the opportunity presents itself. Until the defense is capable of winning games, and we appear to be at least a season away from that, it is critical that the offense be exacting and unrelenting in pushing the ball down the field. While I could wax wishful and make the case that the Patriots “should” be 8-0 at this point, Tom Brady is right when he says that the Patriots are exactly what they are, a 5-3 club trying to get better every week.

It is often said that any team with Bill Belichick as the Head Coach and Tom Brady as the quarterback has a chance to win the Super Bowl. The truth is far more complicated than that. While NFL is widely regarded as a passing league, the 2012 Patriots understand the importance of offensive balance as a part of the equation for winning a Super Bowl. The Patriots possess the league’s top offense (440.8 yards per game and #1 in points scored), but are not just doing it through the air. While the Patriots have the 5th ranked pass offense (291.1 ypg), they also possess the game’s 5th best rushing attack (149.6 ypg). The Patriots’ use of the short yardage passing game over the middle, and in particular their highly disruptive tight ends, are a nightmare for opposing defenses, and keep opposing safeties and linebackers off balance throughout a game. Their offensive packages are designed to create and take advantage of personnel mismatches, while limiting the opposition’s ability to make substitutions; it’s truly an offense that gives opposing defensive coordinators nightmares, that is when they can sleep at all. Even in their losses this season, the Patriots have not struggled to move the ball down the field, but instead have struggled on occasion to produce touchdowns. Once McDaniels is fully proficient in his play-calling, look for the Patriots to start winning games in convincing fashion, as they did against St. Louis. We may well hear claims and complaints as the second half unfolds that the Patriots are running up the score, which would be a very positive development in New England.

Improving defense

Stopping the running game is still a key to defensive success, even in a passing league. The Patriots possess one of the league’s top rushing defenses, and have already shut down Chris Johnson (4 yards), Fred Jackson (29 yards), CJ Spiller (33 yards), Willis McGahee (51 yards), Marshawn Lynch (41 yards), Shonn Greene (54 yards), and Steven Jackson (23 yards). Only Ray Rice of Baltimore has eclipsed the 100 yard mark against the Patriots (101), who rank 8th against the run, allowing just 88.6 yards per game. The combination of possessing an explosive offense that stakes the team to a lead, coupled with a stout run defense, turns opponents into one dimensional teams.

The secondary remains the team’s greatest weakness, and the unit is still a work in progress. The Patriots ranked 31st against the pass in 2011, with only the Green Bay Packers faring worse. The Patriots aren’t a ton better in 2012, ranking 28th while giving up 281.1 yards per game through the air and, even worse, routinely giving up twenty or more yards in a single play. Although Bill Belichick is a fan of “not giving it all up on one play”, we may be seeing a shift in his reluctance to bring a blitz to apply quarterback pressure. The Patriots blitzed Sam Bradford last Sunday far more than they have blitzed in recent weeks, and the increased quarterback pressure led to mistakes by the Rams’ quarterback, missing open receivers and not being able to go through his progression of reads. Understanding that his secondary is giving up yards in chunks anyway, why not blitz and give his beleaguered secondary some assistance so that they can play tighter coverage and limit big play opportunities for opposing offenses? Additionally, the Patriots played a gamble this week and traded next year’s fourth round draft pick in order to acquire troubled cornerback Aqib Talib (and a seventh round draft pick in 2013) from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Talib is currently serving a four game suspension for taking Adderall without a prescription, and the 2008 first round draft pick has had a difficult history both in college and in his time in Tampa. However, there is no denying Talib’s talent, and he could be an instant upgrade in the secondary. Talib is known for great coverage and ball skills, and has recorded 18 interceptions so far in his NFL career. Talib’s addition could allow the Patriots to move Devin McCourty to safety, a position he seems to have a more natural talent for. The trade for Talib is not without risk, but has a high potential upside. There is little doubt that the Patriots will set a one-strike policy for Talib, and he will have to grow up if he wants to revitalize his career with the Patriots.

Flawed AFC competition

Aiding the Patriots is that all of their competition in the weakened AFC is flawed. In the East, the Dolphins are performing admirably but have too many holes to make a serious run at the division title. The Ravens’ defense has suffered serious blows and looks incredibly vulnerable. There is strong doubt that the team can win the North after being staked out to an early lead. The Steelers are the prime competition in the North, but it seems we never know which Steelers team is going to show up. Truth be told, the Steelers don’t match up well against the Patriots; their revived defense will likely give up 30 or more if they face the Patriots in the playoffs, and their offensive line would struggle to open up running lanes or protect Big Ben. In the South, the loss of Brian Cushing is a serious blow to the Texans’ defensive unit. Houston remains the greatest threat in the AFC, but giving Bill Belichick a second look at a team like the Texans has me feeling pretty good about the Patriots’ chances. Finally, Denver is a real threat out of the West. As their earlier game demonstrated, there is a discernible talent gap between the two teams that favors the Patriots, but Patriot fans know all too well that anything can happen with Peyton Manning on the field, and the defense – while far from stellar – is disruptive enough to give the Patriots problems. Right now I’d have to give the “sleeper” nod in the AFC to the Broncos.

For their own part, the Patriots have been plagued by numerous minor injuries to players like Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Steve Gregory, Patrick Chung, Logan Mankins, and others. But they have so far avoided the season-ending crushers at key positions that they have had to deal with in years past. While the team needs to use its bye week to get its players healthy, the Patriots are in far better shape than some of their opponents. This could be a key ingredient in a deep post-season run.

Conclusion

There is no guarantee that the Patriots will go on a second half tear and end up as the AFC representative in the Super Bowl. But history tells us not to bet against it. The Patriots were one play away from winning the Super Bowl in two of the last five Super Bowls while possessing seriously flawed defenses. The question has always been, “how much does the Patriots’ defense have to improve for them to win it all again?” And we may get the answer to that question this season. The key for the Patriots is to put together a team that is in possession of the ball with two minutes left and with a lead in the Super Bowl, rather than having their secondary try to prevent a very talented quarterback from driving the field in the closing minutes. And in that respect, Patriots’ fans have to feel pretty good about their team’s chances.

Week 8 Recap

 Posted by
Oct 292012
 

Another Sunday, another wild slate of games in the NFL. The theme of this week’s outcome is job security, or in some cases the lack of job security for key coaches and players. There’s still half a season left to play, but some themes are beginning to take shape.

Here are your results from Week 8:

  • The Buccaneers whip the Vikings 36-17 and show that they may not yet be a serious playoff threat, but are a dangerous team to play; Doug Martin has a huge game with 135 yards rushing while Josh Freeman is effective in throwing for 262 yards and three touchdowns
  • Da Bears edge the Panthers 23-22 with late rally in ugly win on a game-winning field goal by Robbie Gould; Ron Rivera edges closer to the door depite a game effort from Carolina
  • Yes, it was played in the slop, but Norv Turner’s job security hangs by a thread after the Browns upset the Chargers 7-6; Trent Richardson runs for 122 yards in a solid outing
  • Matthew Stafford finally looks like Matthew Stafford for a week as the Lions edge the Seahawks 28-24 behind 352 yards and three touchdown passes by the Lions’ quarterback; Jim Schwartz moves off of the hot seat while Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch look good in last minute loss
  • The Packers struggle against the Jaguars’ defense but emerge with a 24-15 win; Blaine Gabbert outduels Aaron Rodgers but Rodgers earns the win
  • The Dolphins help edge Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez closer to finding a new color with a convincing 30-9 win; Reggie Bush wins the war of words and the game; perhaps the Jets should be apologizing to their fans
  • Andy Reid and Michael Vick updating their resumes after Matt Ryan and Julio Jones team up to whip the Eagles 30-17; Falcons now 7-0
  • Ben Roethlisberger, Jonathan Dwyer, and swarming Steelers defense halt RG3 and the Redskins 27-12
  • Patriots light up the Rams 45-7 as Brady is sharp and Ridley surpasses 100 rushing yards again; defense improved as both teams head into bye week
  • Andrew Luck and Vick Ballard connect for beautiful game winning touchdown in overtime as the Colts beat the Titans 19-13; so much for thinking that Matt Hasselbeck would claim the starting job back from Jake Locker
  • Raiders top the Chiefs 26-16; Brady Quinn’s reign lasts twelve and a half minutes while Darren McFadden rushes for 112 yards
  • Giants win a wild one as the Cowboys commit six turnovers in a 29-24 loss; Jason Garrett and Tony Romo now 3-4 and will no doubt evoke some reactions from Jerry this week
  • Broncos crush Saints 34-14 behind big performances from Peyton Manning, Willis McGahee, and DeMaryius Thomas; worst defense in the league just gets worse for the Saints
  • still to come: San Francisco – Arizona

Week 7 Recap

 Posted by
Oct 222012
 

There wasn’t much in the way of upsets this week, which will no doubt help our resident “experts” in our picks competition. The logjam in the AFC East was broken up for this week, the AFC North became competitive again, and the Saints continued to long path to recovery with their second straight win. Here’s how Week 7 unfolded: