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Quick-Hit Reactions from Week 15 in the NFL

Every Sunday throughout the 2011 NFL season I’ll compile quick-hit reactions from the day that was in football. I vow to always overreact, side with sensationalism over rationalism, and draw conclusions based on small sample sizes instead of cold, hard facts. It’s the only way I know how to write…

- It’s ironic really. Three weeks ago every NFL talking head said that if the Packers could get past the Lions in Detroit and the Giants in New York that they’d probably go undefeated. And after Green Bay mopped the floor with Oakland last Sunday, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Pack would finish 16-0. Then the Chiefs, led by a chewed up and spit out Kyle Orton, go out and pull off the upset of the year by knocking off Green Bay, 19-14. Everyone will analyze this game to death but there’s not much to dissect. The strength of Kansas City, its defense, once again stepped up and played incredibly well. Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, did not as the usually explosive Green Bay offense fizzled for the first time all year. Romeo Crennel didn’t pan out as a head coach but there’s no doubt the man knows how to run a defense. He put together a scheme today that will be studied, picked apart and emulated by every defensive coordinator that may face the Packers down the road. To hold Rodgers and Green Bay to just 14 points is truly remarkable.

- When you think about it, it makes more sense that an inferior team like the Chiefs were the ones to knock off the Packers instead of a playoff contender like the Lions or Giants. The Packers will always see Detroit or New York coming, so theoretically they should play their best football. A team like Kansas City, however, has a better chance of sneaking up on Green Bay (again, theoretically). Still, the Chiefs have nothing offensively so for them to pull off an upset like this was almost flabbergasting.

- The talk this week leading up to the Patriots’ clash with the Broncos was how Tim Tebow needed to step up in order to match Tom Brady. But in the end, Brady essentially made Tebow a non-factor by craving up a Denver defense that has the biggest reason for the Broncos’ success these past six weeks. One of the many things that make Brady so great is that he usually doesn’t force his hand when he doesn’t need to. For example, with Deion Branch out with an injury and Wes Welker and Rob Gronkwski drawing double teams, Brady simply keyed on Aaron Hernandez, who shredded the Broncos for 129 yards on nine catches. Even though New England’s defense was shaky at times (especially in the first quarter), the Pats proved how difficult it’ll be for Denver to match up with the elite teams in the AFC come playoff time.

- There’s no reason to devote 150 words to how the Saints beat the Vikings today in Minnesota. The Vikings’ secondary resembles a revolving door to the end zone, so it wasn’t surprising to see Drew Brees throw for 700 yards and 19 touchdowns versus a bad Minnesota defense. But it must be a little unnerving to fellow NFC contenders that the Saints finally looked good on the road. They haven’t played well away from the Superdome this season and quite frankly, they’ve developed a reputation of being more conservative on the road than at home. But today they went out and made it look easy. With the Packers falling for the first time all season, maybe the power structure in the NFC has shifted ever so slightly in New Orleans’ favor. If you were to pick one team and one team only to beat Green Bay, it has to be the Saints, who are the only NFC team that can match up with Green Bay in a shootout.

- If I’m a team like the Falcons or Lions, I’m praying that the Giants make it into the playoffs. Because right now they’re about as dangerous as a roll of Tollhouse cookie batter. In the last six weeks the Giants have wilted against good competition (San Francisco, New Orleans and Green Bay) and floundered against inferior division rivals (Philadelphia and Washington). The only reason they’re still alive in the NFC East is because the Cowboys crap themselves whenever they’ve expected to rise to the challenge and make a stand. As I noted in my predictions piece this week, I expected Washington to hang with the Giants. But I even wrote that I didn’t expect the Skins to win. Instead, they absolutely dominated the Giants from the opening kickoff and somehow managed to sweep New York for the first time since 1999. Given how Dallas had already won, how first place was on the line in the division, and how they were at home, it was inexcusable for the Giants to lose to the Skins. But why be shocked given how poorly New York has played the past month and a half? We should be long past expecting this team to dominate an opponent just because it’s better on paper, especially considering how the Giants have played down to their competition all season long.

- Between the Jets, Titans and Bengals, I don’t know which team I want to see in the postseason less. The Jets were absolutely manhandled by the Eagles from start to finish in Philadelphia, the Titans couldn’t muster more than 13 points in a loss to the previously-winless Colts, and the Bengals were in a 6-6 deadlock with the powerhouse Rams before finally shaking loose in the second half. At this point the NFL should just give the No. 3 seed in the AFC a bye and save itself the embarrassment of a Mark Sanchez v. T.J. Yates battle royale.

- I shudder to think how good the Detroit Lions could be if they had even an ounce of discipline and/or composure. As they showed today in Oakland, the Matthew Stafford-Calvin Johnson connection is electrifying, the front four will give most offensive line fits and the linebacker corps continues to overachieve. That was a great come-from-behind win for Jim Schwartz’s squad but this is a team that lacks the fundamentals (see tackling and not committing stupid penalties). Still, at 9-5 the Lions look like a lock for one of the two Wild Card spots in the NFC and after a decade of miserable football, it’s all smiles right now in Detroit…

- …of course, the Raiders really handed the Lions that game today. Had Oakland stuck with Michael Bush and the running game instead of getting cute with shotgun formations late in the fourth quarter, the Raiders probably win today and make things interesting again in the AFC West. (It also didn’t help that Carson Palmer missed a wide open Chaz Schilens on a third-and-three that could have sealed the game for Oakland.) For all intents and purposes Hue Jackson has done a great job for the Raiders this season, especially considering all the injuries Oakland has suffered through. But he could have managed the fourth quarter better today.

- The Texans were due for a game like they had today against the Panthers. They deserve all the credit in the world for persevering through injury after injury after injury, but T.J. Yates is their starting quarterback. At some point he was going to turn in an ugly performance and he certainly did today. Even with Arian Foster and that powerful rushing attack, it was only a matter of time that the defense would falter and Yates would stumble trying to make plays. That said, seeing as how they’re already in the playoffs this loss will actually serve Yates and the Texans well in the end. It’ll be a good learning experience for the rookie.

Chicago Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie celebrates a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers during the fourth quarter of the NFL NFC Championship football game in Chicago, January 23, 2011. REUTERS/John Gress (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- Why again did the Bears not reach out to Donovan McNabb a few weeks ago? Because Mike Martz’s offense is too complicated to learn in a short period of time? That makes sense. Far be it for me to question Jerry Angelo but the odds were rather high that Hanie would struggle as a full-time starter. I would have rather given McNabb a shot to learn a scaled back version of Martz’s offense than allow Hanie to piss away a potential Wild Card spot. Granted, McNabb has shown nothing in two years that would make you think he could have saved Chicago’s season but at least with him there was a chance to catch lightning in a bottle.

- The Seahawks have been pretty fun to watch these past few weeks. Disagree with me and I’ll remind you that they had a fat guy score a touchdown today. Fat guy + touchdown = fun. It’s science.

- I would hate to play the Panthers if I were a team fighting for a playoff berth right now. They pulled off a “fumblerooski” with Richie Brockel in their 28-13 win over the Texans today. There’s no telling what else they’re capable of.

- Next Monday night in New Orleans is going to be f.u.n. – fun. The Falcons have finally found some consistency on offense and if they’re firing on all cylinders out of their no-huddle attack, they can hang with the Saints. New Orleans has been unstoppable at home this year but if the Falcons can get Brent Grimes (knee) and Kelvin Hayden (toe) back from injuries then the Atlanta defense is capable of slowing Brees and Co. down. The defense has quietly been the strength of the Falcons team this season.

- Hello, George Wilson? Yes, this is the grounds crew at Ralph Wilson Stadium. One of our employees retrieved your jockstrap following today’s game. We went back and watched the film and we can pinpoint the moment you lost it. Do you remember when Reggie Bush did that spin move on you in the second quarter? Right, well he spun you right out of them. You can come pick it up at lost and found at your earliest convenience.

- I would love to be a fly on the wall whenever Buffalo’s front office gets together to watch Ryan Fitzpatrick play. There must be a ton of, “Dear God what…were…we…thinking!” after they handed him that seven-year, $62 million contract back in late October. Dude has been brutal ever since. Don’t be fooled by his stat line (31-of-47, 316 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs) from today’s loss to the Dolphins. He was awful, posting his two touchdowns and the majority of his yards when the game was pretty much out of reach in the fourth quarter.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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NFL Week 15 Point Spreads & Odds

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (7) looks to pass against the Washington Redskins before pulling the ball down and running during the second half of their NFL football game in Landover, Maryland, October 16, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Four spreads of note:

Seahawks +3.5 @ Bears, 1:00PM ET
The Seahawks, winners of two in a row and four of their last five, are a 3.5-point underdog versus a Bears team that has lost three straight and has scored just 13 points in their last two games? Something smells like baby diapers here. Oddsmakers are probably basing this line on the fact that the Seahawks haven’t been a strong road team this year (or in year’s past, for that matter) but the Bears have been a mess with Caleb Hanie under center the past three weeks. One would think that the 3.5 points are a gift but then again, if it looks too good to be true then it probably is.

Panthers +6.5 @ Texans, 1:00PM ET
Carolina choked away a potential victory last Sunday versus the Falcons and Houston is on a seven-game winning streak but 6.5 points seems like a lot. Granted, the Texans beat the Falcons by seven at home two weeks ago but Atlanta had two defensive touchdowns wiped away due to penalties in that game. The Panthers have the capability of scoring points in bunches thanks to Cam Newton, who could lead Carolina to an upset victory if he would bother to play four quarters instead of just two or three. I don’t doubt that Houston will win this game but again, 6.5 points seems a little high.

Lions –1 @ Raiders, 4:05PM ET
This feels like a trap. The Lions moved into the sixth spot in the NFC with their win over the Vikings last Sunday (plus a Chicago loss to Denver), while the Raiders have looked hideous the past two weeks. The line is probably set right given how Oakland is at home and Detroit is the better team at the moment, but the Lions seem like too easy of a pick. Granted, the Lions will have Ndamukong Suh back from suspension, which certainly helps along the defensive line. But their secondary is still banged up and the Raiders are now fighting for their postseason lives. Call it a hunch but I think the Raiders may pull off the small upset.

Jets +3 @ Eagles, 4:15PM ET
The Eagles haven’t been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs (yet) but there’s no doubt that this game means more to the Jets, who are the current owners of the sixth and final seed in the AFC. Thus, it wouldn’t be surprising to see New York win this game outright given how much trouble Rex Ryan’s defense could cause for Michael Vick. In his first game back since suffering a rib injury in a loss to the Seahawks a couple of weeks back, Vick was shaky against the Dolphins last Sunday. Granted, he did pick up the win but he faces an uphill climb against the best secondary in the league this weekend. The three points seem like a gimmie.

NFL Week 15 Odds:

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Five Questions for Week 14 in the NFL

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett (L) talks with quarterback Tony Romo in the second half of their NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks in Arlington, Texas November 6, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Every Tuesday I’ll take a look at the five biggest questions surrounding NFL teams for that week. In Week 14 I tackle the decimated Bears and their quarterback situation, the race in the NFC East and of course, the Tim Tebow-led Broncos.g

1. Which team will step up in the NFC East?
Last week I wrote that it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Cowboys choke with a golden opportunity to take a two-game lead over the Giants in the NFC East. They were on their way to Arizona to play a very beatable Cardinals team while New York hosted the undefeated Packers, so naturally the Cowboys lost (when Jason Garrett essentially froze his own kicker) and didn’t create more separation between them and the Giants. That’s okay though, because the Sunday Night Football tilt this week becomes an even bigger affair because if the Giants win, then things will be tied again in the division. It’s tough to know what to make of either team. The Cowboys are healthier and have a slew of explosive weapons on offense to exploit a banged up New York defense. But Dallas always seems to kill itself with dumb mistakes and penalties. For all intents and purposes, they should beat the Giants at home this weekend and build a two-game cushion with just three games left to play. But it’s always a crapshoot when it comes to the ‘Boys.

2. What will the Bears do at quarterback?
Following Caleb Hanie’s brutal performance against the Chiefs on Sunday and the injury that will sideline Matt Forte for the next 2-3 weeks (if not the rest of the regular season), the Bears are now entertaining the idea of signing a free agent quarterback. Donovan McNabb is available and Brett Favre seems ready to whore himself out again, but will Chicago actually pull the trigger? The terminology in Mike Martz’s system is supposedly hard to grasp in a short amount of time so it would appear as though Hanie is still the Bears’ best option under center. But Chicago can’t keep rolling him out there every Sunday only to watch him produce a field goal worth of offense. It would, at the very least, make sense to sign McNabb and see how much he can learn in a week. Maybe he can produce just enough points to win while the defense and Devin Hester does the rest. Nobody is saying McNabb is a shoe-in to save Chicago’s season but if the playoffs started today the Bears would own the fifth seed in the NFC. GM Jerry Angelo owes it to his team to at least see if he can catch lightning in a bottle.

3. Will the Broncos take control of their own destiny?
As noted in question No. 2, the Bears are in serious trouble. Not only is Jay Cutler out for the rest of the year, but Matt Forte won’t play this Sunday and might miss the remainder of the season as well. Caleb Hanie couldn’t generate more than a field goal last week against Kansas City, which has an underrated defense but zero offense. Denver has an even better defensive unit and an offense that has made clutch plays with the game on the line for the past four weeks. Thus, the Broncos should win this week at home against Chicago. But there are many people that are still waiting for the wheels to fall off the Tim Tebow joy ride. It doesn’t seem that long ago that Detroit traveled to Denver and absolutely harassed Tebow into huge mistakes in a blowout victory. The Bears still own a relenting defensive unit that’s capable of putting its beleaguered offense in good field position, or scoring themselves with opportunistic plays. Thus, it’s important for Denver to continue to take things one game at a time. With Oakland in Green Bay this Sunday taking on the undefeated Packers, the Broncos have a massive opportunity to control their own destiny from here on out with a victory over the Bears.

4. Which Wild Card hopefuls will start to emerge from the pack?
Outside of the Steelers who seemingly have the fifth seed in the AFC sewn up, there are a lot of flaws when you look at the Wild Card contenders in each conference. In the AFC, the Bengals were just trounced by the Steelers and still have to play the Ravens one more time. Although the Titans have won two in a row, they nearly lost to the hapless Bucs two weeks ago and host powerhouse New Orleans this Sunday. Miami proved last week that Oakland has a couple of underlying issues, namely its run defense and lack of explosives offensively. The Jets have experience making late-season runs but it’s hard to trust Mark Sanchez not to muck things up over these next four weeks. In the NFC, the Bears’ issues are well documented and the Lions look like a team ready to implode thanks to a lack of composure and injuries. The Falcons have more than enough talent on both sides of the ball to secure a postseason berth but their offense has been stuck in mud all season and if the Giants can’t beat the Cowboys this Sunday, then it’s hard envisioning them playing past Week 17. Will somebody please step up?

5. Can the Chargers get back into the AFC West race?
The focus in the AFC West has largely been on the Broncos and Raiders, which makes sense given how their odds of winning the division are the best among the four teams. But while everyone continues to analyze, dissect, and agonize how Tim Tebow continues to win despite usually only playing one quarter of good football, I have a sinking suspicion that the Chargers aren’t finished quite yet. Maybe that’s because we’ve seen Norv Turner’s teams underachieve before, only to swoop in during the final weeks and pull a postseason berth right out from under someone. Granted, it came against a decimated Jacksonville secondary but Turner’s offense was firing on all cylinders Monday night. For the first time in over a month Philip Rivers played with confidence and was making throws that he used to make on a weekly basis in 2010. Winning breads confidence and when a team plays with confidence it becomes dangerous. Given how the Chargers still have to play Baltimore, Detroit, and Oakland to finish out the season, it’s probably too little too late for Rivers and Co. But if their defense overachieves and the offense finally starts playing with some consistency, you never know how things will play out down the stretch.

Fade Material: NFL Week 13 Predictions

Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (C) works against Denver Broncos J.D. Walton (L) and guard Chris Kuper at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on October 30, 2011. Detroit crushed Denver 45-10. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

If it weren’t for a Jets-Bills “shootout” I would have went 4-0 last Sunday. But seeing as how I’ve struggled all year with my NFL picks, I’m grateful for a 3-1 week. The Browns, Falcons and Broncos were my winners, while the under in the Jets-Bills contest was the lone loser. That puts me at 21-24-2 on the season.

Bengals @ Steelers, 1:00PM ET
If the Bengals lose today their playoff hopes certainly won’t be dashed. But if they can’t beat Pittsburgh or Baltimore in the regular season, what makes them think they can beat either team in the playoffs? Or beat New England in the playoffs, for that matter? The Bengals have the revenge factor on their side after the Steelers beat them just three weeks ago in Cincinnati and have played hard all season. I think the Bengals, at the very least, will keep things close today in the “Steel City.”
THE PICK: BENGALS +7

Falcons @ Texans, 1:00PM ET
With T.J. Yates under center and the Falcons on a mini-roll, Atlanta would seem like a great bet at -1. But the Falcons have a couple of injury issues that are worth noting. First and foremost, their top corner Brent Grimes is out following knee surgery and their starting nickel back Kelvin Hayden is out with a toe injury. Thus, the inexperienced Christopher Owens will start for Grimes and the extremely inexperienced Dominique Franks (a fifth-round pick from 2010) will fill in for Hayden at the nickel. Granted, even if I were starting at corner for Atlanta the Texans aren’t going to be throwing much with Yates. Houston will rely on its running game and defense to win this one and with Michael Turner and Julio Jones banged up, I like the Texans to pull off the small upset.
THE PICK: TEXANS +1

Chiefs @ Bears, 1:00PM ET
I was shocked when I saw the opening line for this game, which was Bears -9. The spread is down to 7, which makes more sense, but I still think it’s too high. I don’t trust Mike Martz to put Caleb Hanie in successful situations and furthermore, to revolve his offense around Matt Forte, which is what he should do. The Chiefs are extremely limited offensively with Tyler Palko under center but at least this will be his third consecutive game as the starter. He should be more comfortable and confident in his abilities and I expect Kansas City’s defense to keep this game close, just like it did last week versus Pittsburgh.
THE PICK: CHIEFS +7

Lions @ Saints, 8:20PM ET
This one could get ugly quickly. The best way to beat an elite quarterback like Drew Brees is to pressure him with your front four and then drop the back seven into coverage. That’s hard to do on its own and it gets to be an even bigger challenge for a team like Detroit that will be without its best defensive tackle in Ndamukong Suh. The Lions also have a slew of defensive backs out with injury and just don’t have the offensive firepower to keep up with the Saints. I like New Orleans to roll.
THE PICK: SAINTS -9

2011 NFL Week 13 Primer

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees take the ball up the middle for 8 yards and a touchdown during second half action against the New York Giants at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome November 28, 2011. UPI/A.J. Sisco

Eagles @ Seahawks, 8:20PM ET, Thursday
Philadelphia is just the latest example of what usually happens to everyone’s preseason chic pick. Granted, there’s still time for the Eagles to turn things around and if they win out, there’s a chance they could sneak in the back door of the postseason. But I’m not so sure they’ll even win tonight against the Seahawks. Although they lost to Washington last Sunday, Seattle is usually tough to beat at home and the Eagles have been sleepwalking all year. That’s a very undisciplined, unfocused team that Andy Reid is running these days.

Raiders @ Dolphins, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
Just when positive things start to happen in Miami, Brandon Marshall finds himself in handcuffs. Apparently police in Broward County, Florida briefly detained the receiver after he was accused of fleeing a $142 cab fee around 5:00AM on November 14. The rest of the details are fantastic. The cab driver said that Marshall “didn’t know where he wanted to go” and “When I woke him up and told him he had to pay, he said he wasn’t and started arguing for me to take him home.” Get this, Marshall blamed the “misunderstanding” on the cab driver’s “accent,” although it sounds as if he wouldn’t have understood anyone given the condition he was in. How good of shape are you when you’re falling asleep in the back of cabs at 5:00AM?

Broncos @ Vikings, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
Von Miller underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair torn ligaments in his thumb and may not play on Sunday for the Broncos. That’s bad news for a Denver team that has had to rely on its defense and the one-quarter of magic from Tim Tebow every week. Miller is a runaway candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and if he can’t go, the Broncos defense will be down one of its biggest playmakers (if not the biggest playmaker). Of course, if Adrian Peterson doesn’t suit up for Minnesota then Denver only really has to worry about Percy Harvin.

Falcons @ Texans, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
Don’t be surprised if T.J. Yates surprises this Sunday. First and foremost, he played in a pro-style offense under John Shoop and Butch Davis at North Carolina and Atlanta will be down two of its top three corners (Brent Grimes and Kelvin Hayden). Christopher Owens, who will start for Grimes (knee), was the poor lad that was repeatedly torched by Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Divisional Round last January and Dominique Franks (who will start at nickel in place of Hayden), has received very little PT the past two years.

Titans @ Bills, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
While I think the Texans can survive thanks to their running game and defense, this is the time for the Titans to take the governor off and amp things up. Tennessee has a legitimate shot of catching Houston in the AFC South because of T.J. Yates’ inexperience. But the Titans need to win, including this weekend against a struggling Buffalo team. The Bills are without Fred Jackson and Ryan Fitzpatrick is reeling right now. Tennessee has to take advantage.

Bengals @ Steelers, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
It’s put up or shut up time for the Bengals this weekend in Pittsburgh. If they can’t prove that they can beat the Steelers, then nobody is going to consider them legit contenders. On the flip side, if Andy Dalton and Co. pull off the upset then Cincinnati will very much remain in the thick of things in the AFC North. This game could provide a very clear picture of how the rest of the season will play out for the Bengals.

Panthers @ Bucs, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
What a complete role reversal for Tampa Bay. While the Saints and on a smaller scale, the Falcons, improved their rosters this offseason, the Bucs rested on their laurels outside of signing a punter (Michael Koenen). The Tampa front office, which has always been cheap anyway, figured it didn’t need to make any upgrades after the team won 10 games last year and now the Bucs are paying for it. They’re clearly overmatched and lack playmakers to compete with New Orleans and Atlanta in the division. If they lose at home to the upstart Panthers this Sunday, it’ll officially be the lowest point of the season for the Bucs.

Colts @ Patriots, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
There’s really not any point in breaking this game down, right? I mean, not even a little bit. The Colts haven’t played well all season and while a quarterback change may bring a little optimism to Indy’s locker room, the switch is Curtis Painter for Dan Orlovsky. That’s only about a droplet of optimism right there.

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