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Ten Observations from Week 13 in the NFL

1. Quinn’s words on Belcher were inspirational.
I can’t imagine the pain that Romeo Crennel, Scott Pioli, and the entire Kansas City Chiefs organization is going through right now. And it’s fruitless to talk about whether or not the game should have been played because the moment that Jovan Belcher took two lives (his own and the life of his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins), the only people that could answer that question was Crennel and his players. And as I sat in my office trying to gather my thoughts on what transpired over the weekend, Brady Quinn flashed across my TV screen and managed to put many things into perspective: “I know when it happened, I was sitting and, in my head, thinking what I could have done differently,” Quinn said following the Chiefs’ emotional 27-21 victory over the Panthers. “When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it? When you answer someone back how you are doing, are you telling the truth? We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that’s fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us. Hopefully, people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the side than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis. The one thing people can hopefully try to take away, I guess, is the relationships they have with people.” It’s unlikely that Belcher would have changed his course had he received more warmth and attention from those around him. Sometimes the demons that we battle are too strong for outside forces. But in a society dominated by cynicism, disconnect, and snark, we could all stand to be more genuine with the people we come in contact with. As Quinn stated, let’s not lose focus on the relationships that are right in front of us.

2. The 49ers were out-coached.
It was only a matter of time before Colin Kaepernick played like a second-year quarterback with fewer than five starts under his belt. In the 49ers’ 16-13 overtime loss to St. Louis, Kaepernick took a safety, foolishly ran out of bounds when his team was attempting to drain the clock late in the fourth quarter, and botched a pitch to receiver Ted Ginn Jr. with 3:04 remaining in the game and the Niners up by a 10-2 score. (The result of the play was disastrous for San Francisco, which watched Janoris Jenkins score his third touchdown in two weeks and turn the entire game on its head.) But second-year quarterbacks are expected to be both brilliant and maddening. Despite the miscues, Kaepernick was poised in the pocket, accurate with his throws, and flashed his mobility on a 50-yard run that nearly put the Niners up for good following Jenkins’ touchdown. The biggest issue for the 49ers wasn’t Kaepernick, but Jim Harbaugh. It was an arrogant play-call to have his first-year starter run a toss sweep with his back to the goal line. The Rams offense did nothing against San Francisco’s stout defense the entire day, but St. Louis turned two massive mistakes into 10 points and eventually won because of Harbaugh’s gamble. Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Eugene Sims, William Hayes and the entire Rams defense was also seemingly inside San Francisco’s offensive huddle the entire day. Outside of their lone touchdown drive, Harbaugh’s offense did nothing against a St. Louis defense that had an answer for everything the Niners were doing. In a game they dominated for 57 minutes, San Fran somehow found a way to lose. While Kaepernick certainly shares in the blame, this loss falls on Harbaugh, who has now been out-coached by Jeff Fisher on two separate occasions this season.

3. Luck was good when it mattered.
The media is trying its best to put Andrew Luck in the Hall of Fame following the Colts’ stunning 35-33 come-from-behind victory in Detroit on Sunday. And if you were to only look at his final stat line (391 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs), one could surmise that he had another brilliant performance. But the fact is he was brutal through three quarters while misfiring passes to open receivers and perhaps turning in his worst performance of his outstanding rookie campaign. That said, he was good when it mattered, as he caught fire in the fourth quarter. Down 33-21 with eight minutes remaining, he connected on a 42-yard strike to LaVon Brazill to get Indy within striking distance, and then capped off a game-winning touchdown drive by finding Donnie Avery on a 14-yard dump pass as time expired. Luck now has six 300-yard passing efforts in 12 games and he’s starting to grow a reputation as a clutch performer. Granted, if the Lions weren’t devilishly preoccupied with torturing a fan base that has absorbed more beatings than a toilet seat, the Colts would have lost on Sunday. Instead, thanks in large part to Luck, they’ve become one of the most must-watch teams of 2012.

4. The Falcons defense is underrated.
As Matt Ryan and the offense took most of the night off, the Falcons defense put on a show Thursday night in a 23-13 victory over the Saints. Atlanta hired Mike Nolan this past offseason in hopes that he would install a scheme that would beat pass-happy teams like New Orleans. And while the Falcons rank 26th overall in pass defense, the numbers don’t tell the entire story. In two meetings with the Saints this season, Atlanta has intercepted Drew Brees a total of six times. They also picked off Peyton Manning three times in one quarter in a Week 2 victory over the Broncos, held Philip Rivers to 173 passing yards on 38 attempts in Week 3, and kept a red-hot Josh Freeman out of the end zone in Week 12. Atlanta’s run defense remains a work in progress and somebody other than John Abraham and Jonathan Babineaux need to boost the pass rush. But Nolan has confused some of the best minds in football by varying his looks and disguising his coverages, as well as playing to the strengths of ball-hawking safeties William Moore and Thomas Decoud (who have combined for nine interceptions this year). He’s also getting the most out of multi-faceted players like Sean Weatherspoon, Kroy Biermann, and Stephen Nicholas, who have lined up all over the field this season. The numbers don’t support the notion that this unit is dominant, but the defense has been the most underrated aspect of the 11-1 Falcons thus far.

5. Flacco isn’t doing himself any favors.
Not to bury the headline in Baltimore (which was soon-to-be 38-year-old Charlie Batch leading the Steelers to a 23-20 overtime victory over the Ravens), but Joe Flacco is playing his way out of a huge payday at the end of the season. Flacco becomes a free agent next offseason and if he continues to put together efforts like the one he did on Sunday, the Ravens are going to have plenty of leverage come contract time. The fifth-year quarterback completed just 16-of-34 passes for 188 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also lost a fumble and was out-dueled by Batch, who completed 25-of-36 passes for 276 yards with one TD and one INT of his own. The pick that Flacco threw was mind-numbingly bad, as he tossed a pass into the waiting arms of Ryan Clark while trying to throw the ball out of bounds. The fumble also came following an Ed Reed interception in the end zone, and set the Steelers up for a game-tying touchdown with just over seven minutes to play in the game. Much like his entire career, Flacco has been widely inconsistent this season. And while fellow 2008 first-round pick Matt Ryan is having an MVP-like year, Flacco continues to leave doubt on whether or not he can get Baltimore over the hump. Granted, the Ravens are still likely to pay Flacco rather than starting from scratch. But with every turnover and poor performance, Flacco is costing himself next offseason.

6. Despite the win, the Packers remain in flux.
The Packers may have earned their eighth victory of the season by beating the Vikings 23-14 in Green Bay, but Mike McCarthy’s team can’t catch a break. Outside of a four-game stretch when they scored 42, 30, 24 and 31 points from Weeks 6 through 9, the Packers offense can’t establish any kind of a rhythm. The blame falls equally on a porous offensive line and injuries, which have sidelined Greg Jennings, Cedric Benson and Jordy Nelson for part or most of the season. Nelson was forced from Sunday’s win in the first quarter after he suffered a hamstring injury, and if he’s out for an extended period of time Green Bay may never find consistency offensively. Rodgers remains one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL but there’s only so much he can do with shoddy pass protection and a depleted stable of weapons. This isn’t the same Packer offense that burned defenses the past three seasons. Not even close, in fact.

7. Russell Wilson was brilliant in Chicago.
It’s not often the Bears lose a game in which Brandon Marshall catches 10 passes for 165 yards and Jay Cutler throws for over 9.0 yards per attempt. But that’s exactly what happened Sunday as the Seahawks stunned a Solider Field crowd that watched its usually stout defense unexpectedly wilt to Russell Wilson. The rookie signal caller completed 23-of-37 passes for 293 yards with two touchdowns and also ran for 71 yards on nine scrambles. He engineered a 97-yard touchdown drive that should have been the game-defining moment but his defense inexplicably allowed Marshall to snag a 56-yard pass to set the Bears up for a game-tying field goal. In overtime, Wilson was brilliant on a 12-play, 79-yard drive that was capped off by his 13-yard touchdown pass to Sidney Rice (who took a shot while crossing the end zone). Throughout the day, Wilson flashed his athleticism and arm strength, and not once did he seem intimidated by Chicago’s defense. The Seahawks did a nice job rolling the pocket for their rookie QB, which allowed for open throwing lanes down the field. Perhaps what was most remarkable was the fact that Seattle didn’t shy away from Charles Tillman, who was repeatedly burned throughout the day. Toss in some shoddy tackling by Major Wright and the Seahawks were able to pick up their second road victory of the season.

8. It might be time for the Bolts to completely clean house.
That final drive by the Chargers in their 20-13 loss to the Bengals was a microcosm of their entire season. Trailing 20-13 with just over two minutes to play, Philip Rivers drove San Diego down to Cincinnati’s 17-yard line and instead of testing the middle of the field with two timeouts, Rivers threw three passes that had only a small pray of being completed. Then on fourth down he whipped a pass to Bengals’ safety Reggie Nelson for a fitting, last-second turnover to cap San Diego’s loss. Even if Nelson didn’t intercept the pass, there was no way that Malcolm Floyd had a chance to catch it because his back was essentially turned. It was a brutal display of football and it has to be asked: Should Rivers follow Norv Turner and A.J. Smith out the door this offseason? It’s incredibly difficult to find quality starting quarterbacks in the NFL and Rivers has proven that he can win when he has a strong cast around him (which Smith has slowly depleted over the years). But it’s fair to wonder whether Rivers has met his ceiling in San Diego and if a mutual parting wouldn’t be beneficial to both parties.

9. The Bengals are winning with balance.
A month ago the Bengals were left for dead and now they’re one of the hottest teams in the NFL. That’s thanks in large part to their offense, which has finally found balance late in the season. BenJarvus Green-Ellis didn’t rush for 100 yards once in the first 10 games of the season, but he’s now rattled off three straight 100-plus yard efforts the past three weeks. In turn he’s made Andy Dalton and the passing game more potent, as defenses now have to worry about committing extra defenders to the run. Cincinnati’s defense has also risen to the challenge of late, yielding just 13, 6, 10, and 13 points in four consecutive victories. Of course, now the hard part comes. After feasting on the Chiefs, Raiders and Chargers these past three weeks, the Bengals will host the Cowboys next Sunday before traveling to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and then back home to host the Ravens in Week 17. Until it proves it can beat Pittsburgh and Baltimore, Cincinnati will remain a Super Bowl pretender. But thanks to a newfound running game and a red-hot defense, the Bengals aren’t likely to fall out of the playoff mix over the last month of the season.

10. Quick-Hits.
Rex Ryan declined to name his Week 14 starting quarterback following the Jets’ 7-6 victory over the Cardinals on Sunday but it’s a joke if Greg McElroy doesn’t start the final four games. That’s not to suggest that McElroy is the team’s future by one thing’s for sure: Mark Sanchez isn’t either…It’ll be interesting to see where Michael Vick winds up next season. Andy Reid is rolling with Nick Foles the rest of the year and if the rookie plays well, he may convince the Eagles’ next coach that he can be the starter. If that’s the case, Vick will be looking for work and it’ll be interesting to see if teams view him as a backup or a starter next offseason…Dez Bryant (6 catches, 98 yards, 2 TDs) once again proved on Sunday night that he’s not lacking for talent. But has he finally matured or is he only teasing Cowboy fans?…If Bryce Brown learns how to hold onto the football he could be one hell of a player…Too bad Mike Holmgren won’t see the fruits of his labor in Cleveland. That Browns team isn’t without talent, especially on offense where Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon have put together solid seasons…I would pay to watch Peyton Manning play Andrew Luck in the wild card round. What a storyline-driven matchup that would be…Heath Miller continues to be one of the steadiest tight ends in the league. Another five catches for 97 yards and a touchdown in Pittsburgh’s win, and he was often Charlie Batch’s savior on third down.

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 6 MVP, COY and ROY Power Rankings

Every week we have different candidates here, because the 2010 NFL season has been wacky. And that’s okay, as it makes ranking MVP, Coach of the Year and Rookie of the Year candidates more fun. Anyway, here we go….

MVP Power Rankings

1. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts—Okay, so Philip Rivers and Kyle Orton have more yards per game, but they play for 2-4 teams. Manning’s Colts are 4-2, and check out these numbers through six games—1916 yards, 67.3 completion percentage, 319.3 yards per game, 13 touchdowns (leads NFL) and just 2 interceptions, for a QB rating of 103.4. As usual, Manning sort of defines what the term MVP is all about.

2. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers—I heard someone on NFL Network the other day call Matthews the “best defensive player in the NFL.” Not bad for a linebacker in his second year, who was selected after 25 other players in the 2009 draft. Anyway, Matthews has 9 sacks to lead the NFL, and 21 tackles through five games…and the Packers sorely missed him last Sunday in a loss to Miami when Matthews sat out with a hamstring injury.

3. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers—We’re leaving Antonio on here this week because he left the game against the Rams last Sunday with an ankle injury, leaving Philip Rivers without his favorite target. And then the Chargers lost the game. To the Rams. Gates only had 2 catches for 12 yards in that one, but on the season he still has 31 receptions for 490 yards and 7 TDs (which leads all tight ends and receivers).

Honorable mention: Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles (thanks to Kevin Kolb’s performance last Sunday, Vick got bumped off the list); LaDainian Tomlinson, New York Jets; Brandon Lloyd, Denver Broncos; Kyle Orton, Denver Broncos; Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers; Osi Umenyiora, New York Giants; Arian Foster, Houston Texans

Coach of the Year Power Rankings

1. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers—If you start the season without your star quarterback for four games, and have the likes of Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon, and Byron Leftwich at the helm, coming out of that 2-2 would be a huge moral victory. Well, Tomlin came out of that stretch 3-1 and it could have been 4-0 if not for that last-gasp drive by Joe Flacco and the Ravens a few weeks ago. Of course, the D led by a healthy Troy Polamalu and hard-hitting-to-a-fault James Harrison, has helped, but let’s give Tomlin some huge and well-deserved props here.

2. Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis Rams—Has anyone noticed that the Rams are 3-3, having already equaled their win total from 2008 and 2009 combined. And they’re giving up less than 19 points per game after allowing 27 per game last year—something that has much to do with the Rams’ defensive whiz of a coach.

3. Tom Coughlin, New York Giants—How do you go from the scorching hot hot seat to a coach of the year nomination? Ask Tom Coughlin, who the New York media had being replaced by Bill Cowher a few weeks ago when they lost badly to the Colts, and then beat themselves badly in a loss the Titans at home. The Giants rallied around Coughlin and squashed the previously unbeaten Bears, then crushed the upstart Texans in Houston 34-10, before not allowing the dreaded trap game against Detroit ruin his team’s winning streak. So from 1-2 to 4-2, and tied with the Eagles for the division lead. That’s why Tom Coughlin is on here.

Honorable mention: Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks; Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay Bucs; Todd Haley, Kansas City Chiefs; Rex Ryan, New York Jets; Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles

Rookie of the Year Power Rankings

1. Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions—Suh leads all NFL defensive tackles with 5 sacks, and he also has 21 tackles through six games, plus an interception—a pretty rare feat for a DT. Is there any doubt that this young big man is the real deal?

2. Jahvid Best, Detroit Lions—Injury may have slowed Best down, but how about the fact that to go along with 249 rushing yards, Best has 31 catches for a league-high 285 receiving yards among running backs. That’s 534 all-purpose yards through six games.

3. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams—He’s way down the list of quarterbacks stat-wise, but Bradford is averaging 226 yards per game and has 7 TD passes. We’ll let the 8 picks slide for now, because let’s face it—the kid is helping to lead the Rams to respectability.

Honorable mention: Max Hall, Arizona Cardinals; Rolando McClain, Oakland Raiders; Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys; Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati Bengals

2010 NFL Week 4 Predictions

BALTIMORE - SEPTEMBER 26: Joe Flacco  of the Baltimore Ravens hands off against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium on September 26, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens lead the Browns at the half 14-10. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

I had a brutal day in college football last weekend and it carried over into my NFL predictions on Sunday. The Bucs, Broncos and 49ers were all losers, while the Cowboys turned out to be my own winn-ah.

Oh, the horror.

I’ve got a new attitude, a new perspective and a new lease on life this week. I smell a 0-4 4-0 day…

Ravens +1 at. Steelers, 1:00PM ET
At some point, the fact that the Steelers don’t have a quarterback has to catch up with them, right? Well, if it doesn’t this week then it won’t matter because Big Ben is set to return next Sunday. I’m fully aware that Charlie Batch threw for three touchdowns last weekend in Tampa, but I think John Paulsen started at free safety for the Bucs. Baltimore’s defense took a step back in the win over Cleveland last Sunday, but the offense showed signs of life for the first time all year. Ray Rice is banged up, but he wasn’t going to find much running room this week anyway. No defense is playing better than Pittsburgh’s is right now, but I still think the secondary can be had outside of Troy Polamalu (the best, hands down, overall defender in the league in my estimation). Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin win this one through the air, while the Ravens’ D finally makes things miserable on a Steelers’ backup quarterback.
THE PICK: RAVENS +1

Jets at. Bills +5, 1:00PM ET
The Jets are coming off back-to-back wins and while Mark Sanchez has been solid, I still don’t entirely trust the little bugger. Make no mistake – the Bills aren’t a good football team. But they’re being undervalued by odds makers this week and I’ll gladly take the five points with the home team. Ryan Fitzpatrick breathed some life into Buffalo’s offense last Sunday in New England and while he’ll face a much better defense this weekend, divisional games are generally pretty tight.
THE PICK: BILLS +5

Bengals at. Browns +3, 1:00PM ET
Neither of these teams is any good, even though the Bengals are currently sporting a winning record. Carson Palmer’s game is shaky at best right now and I don’t think a turnaround is coming. Peyton Hillis was an absolute beast last Sunday in Baltimore and if he runs like that again this weekend, he may open things up for Seneca Wallace in the passing game. I always see value in the home team getting points and seeing as how the Bengals aren’t a very scary 2-1, I like Cleveland to get its first win of the year.
THE PICK: BROWNS +3

Colts at. Jaguars +7, 4:05PM ET
For some reason, no matter how good or poorly they’re playing, the Jaguars always seem to give the Colts issues. Last year, the Jags hung with Indy twice and while David Garrard is playing like the second coming of Joey Harrington, the key is Maurice Jones-Drew. We all remember what Arian Foster did to the Colts’ defense in Week 1 and if Jones-Drew can have even half the amount of success as the Texans’ back did that day, then Jacksonville will be able to keep the game close this Sunday. This is also the second time in as many weeks that the Colts have to travel and they’re coming off a game in which they allowed Kyle Orton to throw for 476 yards. I don’t think the Jags win, but I could see a 24-20 finish, or somewhere around there.
THE PICK: JAGUARS +7

2010 NFL Week 3 Predictions

DENVER - SEPTEMBER 19: Tightend Demaryius Thomas  of the Denver Broncos makes a reception as cornerback Kelly Jennings  of the Seattle Seahawks tries to make the tackle at INVESCO Field at Mile High on September 19, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Seahawks 31-14. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

After picking all the games in Week 1, last week was the first time I limited my predictions to only four games. And after a 2-1-1 Sunday – I’m hot! On fire, really…

The Packers and Bengals were winners in Week 2, while the Raiders (thanks to a backdoor cover by the Rams) were losers and the Redskins (thanks to being jerk-faces and blowing a lead against the Texans) were a push.

Here are my top 4 predictions for Week 3 in the NFL:

Steelers at Buccaneers +1.5, Sunday, 1:00PM ET
This game looks a little too good to be true. The Steelers’ defense has been lights out early in the season and despite their 2-0 record, the Bucs still have plenty of issues offensively. So take the Steelers and lay the measly 1.5 points right? Well first of all, don’t tell me what to do. Second of all, something smells funny to me. For the third week in a row the Steelers will try to run the ball 60 times out of the 60 offensive plays they run and lean on the defense to create turnovers so they can eek out another field goal-riddled victory. The problem is that Tampa is playing with a ton of confidence right now and are catching Pittsburgh at the right time. For starters, Charlie Batch will once again start under center, limiting the Steelers’ effectiveness on offense. This is also the second time in as many weeks that Pittsburgh has to play on the road and also has a huge divisional game coming up next week against Baltimore – which oh-by-the-way is a week before Big Ben returns from his suspension. This is a classic look-ahead game for the Steelers, who get caught with their pants down. (Uh, okay that was probably in poor taste given the Roethlisbathroom situation. My apologizes.)
THE PICK: BUCCANEERS +1.5

Cowboys +2.5 at Texans, Sunday, 1:00PM ET
This is another game people are probably licking their chops at: a 2-0 Texans team playing at home against a pitiful 0-2 Cowboys team? And I only have to lay 2.5 points? Sign me up. The problem is that the Texans are another team (kind of like the Steelers, but even more so) that is due for a letdown. They’re coming off two emotional wins (one over their biggest bully and the second in come-from-behind fashion) and now come home to face a Cowboys team that is reeling. And the problem with reeling teams is that you’re probably going to get their best effort because they’re desperate for a win. There’s no doubt the Cowboys should be focused and with Houston missing left tackle Duane Brown (suspension), it could come this weekend. I don’t expect the Texans to score over 30 points again like they did the last two weeks and DeMarcus Ware could have a huge day pressuring Matt Schaub with Brown out. I like Dallas to get the straight up win.
THE PICK: COWBOYS +2.5

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