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Quick-Hit Reactions from Week 16 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…

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez looks at the scoreboard after throwing an interception against the New York Giants in the fourth quarter during their NFL football game in East Rutherford, New Jersey December 24, 2011. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- There aren’t many quarterbacks I wouldn’t take over Mark Sanchez right now. I would take Matt Moore over Sanchez. I’d take Rex Grossman over Sanchez, too. Hell, I’d even take Christian Ponder over Sanchez and I wasn‘t high on Ponder coming out of Florida State. I would rather direct snap the ball to Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson 75 times a game than allow Sanchez to throw the ball even once. His performance today in the Jets’ 29-14 loss to the Giants was brutal – Joey Harrington brutal. He makes horrendous decisions, he has zero confidence, and I’m not entirely convinced that he knows where he’s throwing the ball half the time. And at 6’2” he shouldn’t have so many passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage either. For the first time in three years the Jets’ defense isn’t good enough to bail Sanchez out so it appears as though he may have to watch the playoffs from his couch in two weeks.

- That was obviously a huge win for the Giants today but Eli Manning wasn’t much better than Mark Sanchez. I realize the Jets have the best pass defense in the league and pressured Eli relentlessly, but this is the second straight week that he was off his game. If it weren’t for Victor Cruz breaking a tackle along the sideline and racing 99 yards for a touchdown, Manning’s numbers would have been even uglier than they were. (He was 9-of-27 for 225 yards with one touchdown and one interception., although the interception was Hakeem Nicks’ fault as it bounced off his hands.) Again, if Romo doesn’t play next Sunday then Manning and the Giants will host a playoff game in two weeks. But if Eli doesn’t shake out of the two-week funk that he’s been in, then the Giants are prime upset candidates in the first round of the playoffs.

- Obvious statement alert: The Cowboys are in major trouble if Tony Romo can’t go next week. The Giants clearly aren’t intimidated by the Cowboys’ defense, which allowed 34 points to New York three weeks ago. Thus, if Romo isn’t healthy enough to go toe-to-toe with Eli and Co, then it’s going to be a very long offseason for Dallas. Get ready for ESPN to transform into the Tony Romo update network for the next seven days, although it sounds like the injury wasn’t serious.

- I could hammer the Chargers for their lackluster play in today’s 38-10 loss to Detroit but that wouldn’t be fair to the Lions, who put together their most complete game of the season. They absolutely dominated San Diego in all facets of the game and that may have been Matthew Stafford’s (29-of-36, 373 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) best performance as a pro. For the first time in 15 weeks the Lions played with composure, discipline, and urgency. If they play like this in two weeks then they’re going to be a tough out in the first round. Even though it played great today, their secondary is still a concern but there’s no reason to think the Lions couldn’t travel to New York, Dallas, or even San Francisco and win in the first round of the playoffs. But hey, for now, let’s just congratulate Detroit for making the postseason for the first time since 1999. Their fan base deserves this one…

- There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to describe Jerome Simpson’s acrobatic 19-yard touchdown in the Bengals’ 23-16 victory over the Cardinals. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and seek the highlight out on ESPN, NFL.com or YouTube. It’s well worth the watch, trust me. While the Bengals tried to give away today‘s game, they hung on for the win and are now in the driver’s seat for the sixth and final seed in the AFC. Considering most people didn’t think they’d win five games this season, Cincinnati’s effort this year has been rather remarkable.

- Even when they were down 17-0 at halftime did anyone actually believe that the Patriots wouldn’t come back and beat the Dolphins today? I blinked and the Patriots were in the red zone in the third quarter. I sneezed and the game was tied 17-17. I ordered another adult soda at the bar and the game was over. Miami gave it hell but New England’s offense is surgical when it wants to be. If the Pats don’t beat themselves they should represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this year, although Bill Belichick’s defense isn’t going to scare anyone (especially Baltimore or Pittsburgh).

REFILE – CORRECTING TYPO IN NAME Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (R) is sacked by Buffalo Bills linebacker Arthur Moats (C) and linebacker Chris Kelsay (C) in the first quarter of their NFL football game in Orchard Park, New York December 24, 2011. REUTERS/Doug Benz (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- Tim Tebow must have left his magic juice back in Denver because he played like the lovechild of Mark Sanchez and Jake Delhomme today. Thirteen of 30 for 185 yards, four interceptions and two pick-sixes? Freaking brutal. I’m torn right now on whether I’d rather see the Broncos or Raiders in the playoffs. Is it worth it to see Tebow go 2-of-11 in the first three quarters only to pull off some stunning fourth-quarter comeback? Or would I rather see something resembling a football game for more than a quarter? It’s a coin flip, it really is. Plus, you never know when Tebow’s going to throw in a stinker like today, or his atrocious effort versus Detroit about a month ago. Well…six-in-one. Something tells me neither Denver nor Oakland will be advancing to the AFC title game so I guess there’s no use babbling about it.

- How could the Chiefs get that burned by Darrius Heyward-Bey on that over route in overtime? Kansas City didn’t bother rushing Carson Palmer on the play so one would have thought the Chiefs would have had about nine guys in coverage but nope – there was Heyward-Bey, running wide open and about two steps in front of a trailing defender. Thanks to Heyward-Bey’s big play, Richard Seymour’s blocked field goal at the end of regulation, and Denver’s atrocious performance in Buffalo, the Raiders are still alive in the AFC West.

- Baltimore is going to be tough to beat at home come playoff time. But suddenly the Ravens don’t look as dangerous as they did just a few weeks ago. They were shredded by San Diego last Sunday night and nearly blew a 20-14 lead against Cleveland today. Even if they thought the game was in hand versus the Browns, now isn’t the time to let your foot off the gas with the playoffs right around the corner – especially after you played so poorly last weekend.

- 2011 couldn’t end fast enough for the Minnesota Vikings. They finally win a game but Adrian Peterson tears his ACL (or at least that‘s what guys like Jay Glazer are reporting). Considering there’s only one more game left and the Vikings have been out of contention for about a month, this injury obviously doesn‘t mean anything to Minnesota’s current season. But because the injury happened now, Peterson may not be fully recovered by time training camp opens next year. And seeing as how ACL tears are usually a two-year injury, this is a devastating situation for a Minnesota franchise that thought the worst was over.

- I don’t care how bad the Browns are, I’d pay the price of admission just to watch Joshua Cribbs return kicks. Dude’s awesome.

- Well done, Josh Brown. As if the Rams’ season isn’t bad enough, you’re missing chip shot field goals as your team posts another goose egg. Talk about rubbing salt in the wounds.

- How about the “OT” on FOX? The Lions make the playoffs for the first time since 1999 and all they talk about is the Dallas Cowboys. The network even showed the Eagles’ (a team that was eliminated today, mind you) locker room celebration and then, in passing as the credits were rolling, finally said, “Congratulations to the Detroit Lions for making the playoffs today!” Granted, CBS had the coverage of the Chargers-Lions game so FOX wasn’t going to be able to do any live looks from Detroit’s locker room. But FOX still could have talked about the Lions more than it did. The media’s infatuation with the Cowboys continues to be nauseating for non-Dallas fans.

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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Carson Palmer to return?

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer (9) gets off a pass as Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson (95) is blocked by Bengals offensive tackle Anthony Collins during the second quarter of their NFL football game in Baltimore, Maryland January 2, 2011. REUTERS/Joe Giza (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Marvin Lewis seems to confirm Palmer’s return in an interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Will Carson Palmer be back? Barring a major change in heart, which looks unlikely to happen, one of Lewis’ major priorities will be finding complementary parts for Palmer.

“It’s important to recapture the spirit of our football team,” Lewis said. “I told him (Palmer) yesterday privately that it’s important to me that I will help him be the player that I know he is and I believe in him and he’s important to me.”

This is good news for a few of my early sleepers heading into the 2011 season: WRs Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell, Jordan Shipley and TE Jermaine Gresham, who is just the 7th tight end in league history to catch 50+ passes in his rookie season. Palmer played pretty well with this group over the final two games, throwing for 574 yards and five TDs against two pretty good defenses (San Diego and Baltimore). It appears that he may be better off if he doesn’t have his wideouts chirping in his ear.

I’m not sure how much longer Simpson will be a sleeper after the third-year wideout caught 18 passes for 247 yards and three TDs over his final two games of the season. If both Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens are gone next season, Simpson is a good bet to finish as a top 15 or 20 fantasy WR. Caldwell and Shipley are going to hold more value in PPR leagues, and they could cancel each other out if the Bengals go to a more run-oriented attack.

Looking ahead to the 2011 fantasy season

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 23: Jonathan Stewart  of the Carolina Panthers runs with the ball during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 23, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

I know, I know, with championship games still hanging in the balance, it may be a little early to start looking forward to next season, but there were a few late-season performances that got me thinking about 2011. After all, it’s never too early to find a few sleepers.

Jonathan Stewart
All right, he doesn’t qualify as a sleeper, but with DeAngelo Williams’ future in Carolina in doubt — he’s a free agent and the Panthers may not want to pony up to keep him — Jonathan Stewart could emerge as a first- or second-round fantasy RB next season. “The Daily Show” was handed the keys in Week 8 and really disappointed fantasy owners with just 30 yards on 14 carries against the Rams. He looked pretty good on just five carries (for 30 yards) against the Saints before being knocked out for two games with a concussion. But after returning in Week 12 against the Browns, he rattled off five quality rushing performances, averaging 106 rushing yards and an eye-popping 5.5 yards per carry over the last five games. Granted, the Seahawks, Browns and Cardinals were all in the bottom third against the run, but the Falcons were 13th and the Steelers were 1st, and Stewart averaged 7.4 and 3.9 ypc, respectively. (The Steelers only gave up 3.0 ypc on the season, so 3.9 is actually impressive.) The fact that Stewart was able to run like this despite zero threat of a passing attack is also encouraging. If the Panthers can find a QB (or the light goes on for Jimmy Clausen), and Williams is elsewhere next season, Stewart could be in for a big 2011.

Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell, Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham
There’s a lot of talk about the Bengals cleaning house this summer, and that includes Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. Both guys can still play, but the spend-a-lot-of-money-on-receivers strategy hasn’t worked in recent years and the franchise might do well to start fresh with Simpson, Caldwell and Shipley, who have all performed well in stints during their short careers. Simpson and Caldwell are both third-year players, while Shipley is a rookie. After getting the start against a good Chargers pass defense, Simpson caught six passes for 124 yards and two TDs. He has great size and could be a solid starter if given the opportunity. Caldwell had a good sophomore season (51-432-3) as the de facto WR2 in 2009, when Laveranues Coles’ production was less than expected. His targets fell off a cliff when Owens came to town. Shipley seems destined for a long career in the slot a la Wes Welker or Danny Amendola. As for Gresham, the rookie has quietly put together a really solid first season. His 52 receptions mark just the seventh time in league history that a rookie TE has caught 50+ passes. The Bengals can save $2.5 million if they cut ties with Ochocinco and T.O. is a free agent, so the Cincinnati receiving corps could look very different next season. Of course, these wideouts aren’t going to have much success if there isn’t a good QB throwing the ball The franchise has to decide what it wants to do with Carson Palmer, who has had his ups and downs this season (but looked awfully good throwing to this crew against the Chargers on Sunday).

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