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Quick-Hit Reactions from Week 17 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…

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow loses the ball while tackled by Kansas City Chiefs safety Kendrick Lewis during the second quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 1, 2012 in Denver. Denver still makes the playoffs despite losing to Kansas City 7-3. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

- Good luck, Broncos. You may have backed into the playoffs because the Raiders just happened to catch the Chargers on one of San Diego’s good days, but don’t make any travel plans for New England or Baltimore. You’re not going to win with a quarterback who can‘t even complete 10 passes in the biggest game of the year. I thought the Tim Tebow storyline was pretty fun for a while but at the end of the day it’s just bad football. The Steelers are severely banged up and their offense is in a major funk, but they only need about 10 points to beat the Broncos next week in the Wild Card round. If Denver somehow finds a way to pull off the upset then I’ll eat as much crow as Broncos fans want to dish out. But with a division title and a playoff berth on the line, Denver managed just one field goal at home against a Kansas City team that had nothing to play for. Thus, I don’t think I’ll have the taste of crow on my lips any time soon.

- Has any team lost three starting quarterbacks to injuries in one season and still host a playoff game? That must be some kind of record. Some kind of cruel, horrific record for a Houston Texans team that must feel like its cursed. The Texans finally make the playoffs and they have to start Jake Delhomme at quarterback because their fifth-round rookie T.J. Yates, who was subbing for the injured Matt Leinart, who was subbing for the injured Matt Schaub, separated his shoulder in the final game of the season. At this point all Houston can do is laugh because really, what else could go wrong? I mean, they’re about to start Jake freaking Delhomme in a playoff game and the guy was signed off the streets about an hour ago. How unfortunate for a Houston franchise that has been waiting a very long time for this moment.

- I was prepared to rip the Bengals after backing into the playoffs and for going 0-4 against the Ravens and Steelers this season. But what does Cincinnati have to be ashamed of? Nobody thought the Bengals would win five games this year, let alone nine and qualify for the playoffs in a tough conference (with a rookie second-round pick starting at quarterback, no less). And seeing as how the Texans will start Jake Delhomme at quarterback next week, the Bengals could advance to the Divisional Round! There’s no sense ripping a team that has a very good chance of winding up among the final eight this season.

- When Eli Manning takes care of the football, the Giants usually win. It’s as simple as that. The G-Men were 4-0 this season when Eli didn’t turn the ball over at all and 5-2 when he “only” turned the ball over once. They were 0-5 when he had multiple turnovers in one game. Granted, I imagine that if I did the same study on all the quarterbacks in the league, I’d probably get similar results. Turnovers are a huge part of the game whether it’s a quarterback, running back or receiver coughing the ball up. But when Eli turns the ball over it seems to have a trickle-down effect that hurts the entire New York team.

- Tony Romo comes up short again in a playoff-type situation. Who would have saw that coming?

- The Lions really blew it today. All they had to do was beat Green Bay’s backups and they would have clinched the fifth seed in the NFC. Instead, their defense couldn’t stop Matt Flynn from doing whatever he wanted and now the Lions will have to play in New Orleans next weekend instead of traveling to New York or Dallas. Granted, if they want to advance to the Super Bowl then they’d have to play beat the Saints or Packers at some point anyway. But it would have been nice to let the Falcons try and deal with the Saints right out of the gates instead. Furthermore, even if Detroit does upset New Orleans next week, the Lions haven’t beaten the Packers in Green Bay since 1991. How much confidence do they have heading into the playoffs knowing that they couldn’t even beat the Packers’ JV squad? (Of course, with ultra-sick Calvin Johnson lining up at wide receiver, I still wouldn’t count the Lions out against anyone.)

- Good for the Ravens. This is a Baltimore squad that has looked like a completely different team on the road this year than at home, but it went into hostile territory today and took care of business. Now that they have home field advantage for at least one playoff game, you have to like the Ravens’ chances of making a Super Bowl run. The AFC is incredibly flawed this year and New England’s defense is Charmin Extra Soft. Thanks to the incredible Ray Rice, the Ravens have as good as shot as the Patriots of playing for a NFL title.

- How f’n good are the Packers that they can score 45 points with Flynn as their starting quarterback and several of their starters resting on both sides of the ball? If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times: Ted Thompson has done one hell of a job building the best depth in football.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn (2nd L) passes against the Detroit Lions during the second half of their NFL football game in Green Bay, Wisconsin January 1, 2012. REUTERS/Darren Hauck (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- Speaking of Matt Flynn, I’m torn. I wouldn’t blame a quarterback-needy team for trying to acquire him next offseason after what he did today against the Lions, but how much of his success is because of Green Bay’s offense? Everyone looks good driving a Cadillac, know what I mean?

- Should the Patriots be concerned that they’ve spotted opponents double-digit leads in each of their last two games before rallying in the second half? Considering how explosive Tom Brady and the New England offense has looked, I guess not. But if they spot Baltimore a 21-0 lead in the playoffs then the Pats may have some issues staging more comebacks.

- It seems like nobody has mentioned his name among the head coaches that could be fired on “Black Monday” (at least from a national perspective), but what about Chan Gailey? What has he done in Buffalo that merits him keeping his job? That team took a 21-0 lead today in Foxboro and then stood back and admired its work as the Patriots scored the next 49 points. Why should Buffalo be convinced that Gailey is the right man for the job after the way the Bills crashed and burned this season?

- Even though the Steelers have morphed into a passing team over the past couple of years, losing Rashard Mendenhall (knee) for the playoffs would be a crushing blow. They’ll likely get past the punchless Broncos in the Wild Card round, but Mendenhall allows Pittsburgh to stay balanced offensively and gives defensive coordinators something else to think about when game planning to stop the Steelers. With Mendenhall out for at least one week and Ben Roethlisberger hobbled, there’s no doubt the defending AFC champions are limping into the postseason.

- ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports that the Rams will fire GM Billy Devaney and head coach Steve Spagnuolo this week, as well they should. St. Louis was absolutely decimated by injuries and it didn’t help that Sam Bradford had little time to learn Josh McDaniels’ offense during the lockout-shortened offseason. But Devaney had a horrible draft and failed to build roster depth, while Spagnuolo made questionable in-game decisions week after week. It’s rumored that Spags will wind up in Philadelphia next season as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, which makes a ton of sense. As of right now it’s clear he isn’t ready to be a head coach in this league.

- The 49ers have had a hell of a season but even their most diehard fans have to admit that there’s something a little off about this San Francisco tea. Maybe it’s because they clinched early and they’ve just been waiting for the postseason to start but this doesn’t seem like the same dominant squad that it was about a month ago. Granted, the Niners did beat the Steelers handily in Week 15, but Pittsburgh is in the midst of a major offensive funk and Ben Roethlisberger played hurt in that game. I’m not suggesting that the Niners won’t reach the NFC Championship Game but compared to the Saints and Packers, this feels like a very beatable San Francisco team.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones runs in for a touchdown in the first half of their NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Atlanta, Georgia January 1, 2012. REUTERS/Tami Chappell (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- It’s too bad the Falcons are so intimidated by good competition (they’re 1-4 against playoff teams this year), because they certainly have the weapons on both sides of the ball to make a serious postseason run. Matt Ryan has looked very sharp in the second half of the season, Julio Jones has emerged as a dangerous playmaker the past five weeks and Sean Weatherspoon, John Abraham, Brent Grimes and William Moore are playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. The Falcons clearly aren’t better than New Orleans or Green Bay, but when the offense is firing on all cylinders and the defense plays like the relentless, confident unit that it did today against Tampa Bay, then Atlanta could certainly give the Saints and/or Packers a game. But I know what will happen in the playoffs: The coaching staff will play things conservatively, the players will all wait for the next guy to make a play, and the Falcons will once again be left searching for answers for why they came up short. (See the New Orleans game last Monday night as an example.) It’s frustrating really, because if the Falcons really turned things loose then they could be that dangerous Wild Card team that Green Bay was a year ago. (Or at least a poor man’s version of Green Bay.)

- The Jets’ season ends as Mark Sanchez throws three interceptions – what a shock. For the past two seasons, the Jets’ defense and running game has compensated for Sanchez’s horrendous play, and he fooled people into thinking he was better than what he was because he played well in the postseason in front of a national audience. But now he doesn’t have the playoffs to redeem himself, so maybe the Jets will seriously consider other quarterback options this offseason. They would be foolish not to.

- Great effort by your team over the past three months, Raheem Morris. Job well done.

- Jared Allen is worth the price of admission for Minnesota Vikings fans. Whether the Vikings are 3-13 or 13-3, dude never lets up.

- The Indianapolis Colts are now on the clock. Let the 24/7 Andrew Luck discussion begin.

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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2011 NFL Week 11 Primer

San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) gets up offf the field after being sacked by the Oakland Raiders during their Thursday Night NFL football game in San Diego, California November 10 , 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Jets @ Broncos, 8:20PM ET, Thursday
Tim Tebow will have a hard time winning another game this season in which he only completes two passes, especially this one tonight against the Jets. I know – I’m going out on a limb with that statement. I fully expect an angry Rex Ryan defense to shut Tebow down but then again, who knows? Maybe Tebow has another surprise up his sleeve. Denver’s defense is certainly good enough to keep this one close and if Mark Sanchez starts turning the ball over and making boneheaded decisions, the Broncos are certainly capable of pulling off the upset.

Eagles @ Giants, 8:20PM ET, Sunday
Last week I saw a team in Philadelphia completely give up. But they always seem to give the Giants problems, especially in New York. If Vince Young (assuming he plays for the injured Michael Vick) comes out motivated, then there’s no reason the Eagles can’t pull off the upset. But Eli Manning is playing some of the best football of his career and Philadelphia’s defense has looked lost under coordinator Juan Castillo. This game could really go either way. The G-Men could roll to an easy victory and keep Dallas at bay in the division, or Philly could surprise and turn the NFC East completely on its head.

Bengals @ Ravens, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
The Ravens have been playing up or down to their competition all year. One week they’re beating the Steelers (twice), Texans and Jets, while the next they’re losing to the Jaguars and Seahawks, or nearly losing at home to the Cardinals. Thus, it’ll be interesting to see how Baltimore comes out for this one. The Ravens blew it by not showing up last Sunday in Seattle and while Cincinnati is banged up, the Bengals have been competitive all season (as evidence in their 6-3 record). Will the real Ravens show up or will they view Cincinnati as an inferior opponent and once again take their foot off the gas?

Chargers @ Bears, 4:15PM ET, Sunday
The Chargers’ loss last week to the Raiders was pretty jarring, even for an underachieving San Diego bunch. Oakland has been competitive all year but the Raiders were banged up on both sides of the ball, were without Darren McFadden and were playing on the road. The Chargers needed to win that game. Instead, they lost for the fourth week in a row and now they have to travel to Chicago to play a red-hot Bears team playing with a ton of confidence right now. With Oakland in Minnesota this Sunday, it’s entirely feasible that the Bolts could be staring at a two-game deficit in the AFC West with six games to go. Philip Rivers has to step up at some point and stop making so many mistakes.

Titans @ Falcons, 4:15PM ET, Sunday
Here are the Falcons’ next five games: home against Tennessee and Minnesota, on the road against Houston and Carolina, and then back home against Jacksonville. There’s no reason Atlanta can’t be 10-4 when it travels to New Orleans for a Week 16 rematch against the Saints, but at some point its offense needs to put it all together. Matt Ryan has to be better, offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has to be better and Roddy White definitely has to be better. Julio Jones or no Julio Jones, this Falcon offense has too much talent to be this inconsistent. There’s not a doubt in my mind that if Atlanta doesn’t play to its absolute full potential that Tennessee could win this Sunday. The Titans have an extra spring in their step following the news of Matt Schaub’s season-ending injury and their defense could definitely shut the Falcons down if it plays as well as it did last Sunday in Carolina.

Cowboys @ Redskins, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
The Giants sometimes have trouble with the Eagles so this is a prime opportunity for the Cowboys to pick up a big road win and then sit back and see if Philly can knock off New York on Sunday night. If that happens, both New York and Dallas would be 6-4 atop the NFC East. But the ‘Boys can’t get caught looking ahead. The Redskins have been abysmal offensively over the past month but Rex Grossman nearly led Washington to a win in Dallas earlier this season. Of course, that was when the Cowboys couldn’t even snap the ball and had several no-names at receiver, but still – take heed Dallas.

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2011 NFL Week 6 Primer

San Francisco 49ers new Head Coach Jim Harbaugh makes a point to officials during play against the Oakland Raiders at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 20, 2011. UPI/Terry Schmitt

49ers @ Lions, 1:00PM ET
Neither of these teams has to prove anything this weekend. Both the Lions and 49ers are legit and if you disagree then you really haven’t been paying attention lately. No team in the league is playing better defensively right now than San Francisco and Detroit’s passing game is only overshadowed by the league’s elite (i.e. New England, New Orleans and Green Bay). This is the most intriguing matchup in Week 6 and I can’t wait to see the result.

Bills @ Giants, 1:00PM ET
What a great test for both of these teams. The Bills are 4-1 but in their two road games this season, they crushed a bad Kansas City team and lost to the Bengals after squandering a double-digit lead at halftime. The Giants, meanwhile, were playing with loads of confidence until they overlooked the Seahawks last week at home. Focus won’t be an issue for either of these teams as they both look to use this game as a measuring stick.

Eagles @ Redskins, 1:00PM ET
It’s funny, the Eagles haven’t played a full four quarters since Week 1 and have dropped four straight and yet, you get the feeling that people still expect Andy Reid and Co. to figure it out. Well, it’s now or never. If the Eagles can get to 2-4 with a bye week coming up, maybe they can put a little run together in the second half. But if they lose this week to another divisional foe then Reid and his coaching staff will have to sit on a five-game losing streak for two weeks. With their backs against the wall, if the Eagles can’t win this Sunday their deficit in the NFC East may be too much to overcome.

Panthers @ Falcons, 1:00PM ET
People are attempting not to break their necks jumping off the Falcons bandwagon – and for good reason. Their offense is broke and coordinator Mike Mularkey keeps trying the same conservative tactics to try and fix it. He’s either unable or unwilling to change and either way, the Falcons keep losing. Even though Atlanta owns the better record coming into this NFC South showdown, it’s Carolina that’s covered in optimism right now.

Rams @ Packers, 1:00PM ET
The mini scare they received last week in Atlanta may have proven to be great for Green Bay. Before the Falcons built a 14-0 lead on the Packers, Green Bay may have believed it was invincible. But they quickly got things corrected, won the game, and now they can get re-focused with another inferior team in the Rams coming to town this weekend. Two weeks ago the Packers crushed the Broncos and if they want to keep firing on all cylinders, Green Bay needs to rout a bad St. Louis team as well.

Jaguars @ Steelers, 1:00PM ET
I guess all those claims that the Steelers’ run was over after they lost to the Texans were a tad overstated, huh? The Steelers looked like their dominant selves last Sunday against the Titans and now get to feast on a rookie quarterback in Blaine Gabbert this weekend. The Jaguars haven’t had much offense since Gabbert took over the quarterback reins and they could once again struggle at Heinz Field this Sunday. That’s not an easy place to play when your resume is lacking experience.

Colts @ Bengals, 1:00PM ET
The Bengals have a golden opportunity to get to 4-2 on the season but they face a huge test this Sunday. No not on the field, as the Colts are less fearsome than a box of puppies. But mentality this is a prime opportunity for Cincinnati to be overconfident. They know they should beat the Colts and that’s often how NFL teams get burned. If anything, Marvin Lewis and his team should remember how overconfident the Bills were coming into Cincinnati a few weeks ago. Buffalo believed it had a win locked up after knocking off the Patriots the week before and the Bills squandered a double-digit lead at halftime. Beware the letdown, Cincinnati.

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Jared Allen One-on-One: Vikings DE talks lockout, Brett Favre & “Homes 4 Wounded Warriors”

Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen stands on the field during warm-ups before the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago on November 14, 2010. UPI/Brian Kersey

Even if you’re a Green Bay Packer fan, it’s hard not to love Jared Allen.

That’s because the Minnesota Vikings defensive end plays with a fierce relentlessness, isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and is a guy that if you spent an hour with him you wouldn’t have the slightest idea he was a million dollar athlete.

Jared will be hosting his 2nd annual charity golf tournament called “Night-Ops II” on Saturday, June 18, which is an event that benefits his foundation “Homes 4 Wounded Warriors.” As Jared explains in the interview, the root of the foundation is that you “should feel your most comfortable at your most vulnerable state.” Thus, “Homes 4 Wounded Warriors” is about helping wounded soldiers by remolding their homes so that they’re handicap accessible. For someone who also has family members and friends that have served in the military, it’s a truly touching cause.

Jared also shared his thoughts on the lockout saga, whether or not Brett Favre’s situation was a major distraction for the 6-10 Vikings last year, and what quarterback he loves drilling the most. It would be an understatement to say that his answers weren’t entertaining.

For more on Jared Allen, including details and information on his “Homes 4 Wounded Warriors” foundation, check out his official website.

Jared Allen: Hey Anthony!

The Scores Report: Hey Jared! How are you?

JA: I’m doing well.

TSR: Is your schedule busy today?

JA: Not really – I’m actually just being lazy. I was supposed to play some golf and go for a mountain bike ride, but I’ve got the wrong size tube on my tires so…you know. (Laughs)

TSR: So here you are stuck talking to me. (Laughs)

JA: (Laughs) Yeah!

TSR: Your annual charity golf tournament goes to a fantastic cause. Can you fill readers in on how your foundation “Homes 4 Wounded Warriors” got started and what it’s all about?

JA: Absolutely. First of all, my family is all military. My grandfather spent 26 years in the Marine Corps, is a retired Marine Corps Captain, and my little brother is in the Marines. I think two of my uncles were Marines in ‘Nam and another one was in the Air Force for 30-some-odd-years. So I have a family lineage of military members, but I got to go on the USO tour and while it wasn’t exactly what my grandfather or uncles went through, I got a look into what our military services go through during the time of war. To be able to see first hand the sacrifices that they make on a daily basis was so humbling. It makes you realize how much we take for granted. After hearing about the multiple trips that these guys have made overseas, when I got back from the USO tour I realized I wanted to do more. I wanted to help and give back to our men and women that serve in the military. So I talked with an Army buddy of mine that’s been over to Iraq three times and we came up with the Jared Allen’s “Homes 4 Wounded Warriors” foundation. We based it on the idea that when you’re at home, you should feel your most comfortable at your most vulnerable state. I know that when I come home from a bad day, a tough practice or whatever it may be, I can breathe a sigh of relief. I know that I’m home and for that time, I’m relaxed and everything like that. So the one thing that we thought of was that the last thing that these soldiers should have to worry about is not being able to get around their house because they’re missing an arm, or a leg, or are blind, or whatever it may be. So that’s where we come in. We remodel an existing home or, if necessary, we completely build a new home so that it’s handicap accessible and fits the specific needs of our wounded vets. So that’s how we started and we just finished our first house in Minnesota for a staff sergeant up there. Now we’re focusing on building a couple of homes for some people down here in Arizona. We work directly with the V.A. so everyone is 100-percent medically discharged and I’ll tell you what, it’s been a cool thing.

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Vikings vs. Saints: Sizing up strengths and weaknesses

NEW ORLEANS - AUGUST 27: Drew Brees  of the New Orleans Saints throws a pass against the San Diego Chargers at the Louisiana Superdome on August 27, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

One of the many things that is intriguing about football is that the game can often be decided by just one facet of the contest, whether it be a team’s running strength verses its opponents weak run defense, or an elite quarterback being able to pick apart a porous secondary.

With that in mind, here are two key factors that could determine who gets the edge in the much-ballyhooed matchup between the Vikings and Saints tonight.

Saints’ strength vs. Vikings’ weakness
Seeing as how Brees usually beats teams with his arm, many people assume that the Saints’ strength is their passing game. But their true strength is in their balance and Sean Payton’s ability to adjust his game plan to take advantage of an opponent’s weakness. Minnesota’s weakness defensively is in its secondary, where injuries have left the unit thin as a whole. Antoine Winfield can certainly hold his own on the left side, but Lito Sheppard is often inconsistent in coverage, which isn’t good considering the two safeties (Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams) had trouble in pass defense last year. Brees knows how to beat teams up the seam and has plenty of weapons to attack the Vikings’ soft secondary. That said, it’s vital that he has enough time to throw or else his timing will be thrown off and Minnesota will be able to keep the game close. Jared Allen and Ray Edwards are the strength of the Vikings’ defense and the biggest weakness the Saints have offensively is left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who was exposed last year by DeMarcus Ware in a loss to the Cowboys. However, if Brees has time to throw, expect some big plays tonight for New Orleans.

Vikings’ strength vs. Saints’ weakness
It was interesting to watch the Vikings transform from a balanced squad last year to a team that predominantly relied on the pass with Brett Favre under center. But seeing as how Sidney Rice is out and questions remain about Favre’s ankle, the key for Minnesota tonight will be Adrian Peterson. Everyone knows what the Saints’ offense is capable of, which is why Minnesota needs to rely on AP to chew up the clock and keep Drew Brees and Co. on the sidelines. If they can’t establish the run against a soft New Orleans’ run defense (especially at defensive tackle), then don’t expect Favre to be able to attack the Saints’ secondary without his No. 1 wideout from a season ago. Brad Childress’ overall game plan tonight should be to control the tempo on the ground, control the clock and escape New Orleans with a victory.

Game time is set for 8:30PM ET on NBC.

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