Fade Material: 2011 NFL Week 17 Predictions

A trainer works on the hands of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Kyle Orton (8) after he was injured during the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 4, 2011 in Chicago. Orton only played one snap before being injured. UPI/Brian Kersey

This is it: Week 17. This is for all the marbles. Everything is on the line. My back is against the wall. Time to put up or shut up. It’s now or never. One last time for glory.

Have I hit on most of the clichéd sports phrases yet? No? Well post your favorite phrase in the comments section and have it mentioned the next time I do my predictions!

After my 3-1 effort in Week 16 (the Panthers, Vikings and Eagles all covered while the Chargers laid an egg in Detroit), my record this season is now 30-31-2 against the spread. As I noted last Sunday, my goal is to finish above .500 and save what’s left of my dignity, which means I need to go 4-0 or 3-1 this week in order to accomplish the feat. That’s no hill for a climber…

Jets @ Dolphins, 1:00PM ET
Stick a fork in the Jets – they’re done. Their defense and running game hasn’t been as good this season as they’ve been the previous two years under Rex Ryan, which means Mark Sanchez’s awfulness isn’t been covered up. The Dolphins proved last week in New England that they still have plenty of fight left in them, even though they’re head coach-less and are looking at a major offseason overhaul. With their season slipping away in the fourth quarter, Sanchez puts a bow on things by throwing one last pick-six as Ryan looks dumbfounded at the scoreboard.
THE PICK: DOLPHINS –3

Chiefs @ Broncos, 4:15PM ET
I have a hunch that things will end very poorly for the Denver Broncos this season. It’s almost like they’ve spent all of their Tebow bucks just getting to this point (i.e. knocking on the door of a division title and a playoff berth) and now that they’re out of loot, they have no money to pay back the creditors. Romeo Crennel is auditioning for another NFL head coaching job, so you know Kansas City’s underrated defense will be prepared to play tomorrow. And would you look at who the Chiefs quarterback is this week, why it’s none other than Kyle Orton! The man who was benched for Tebow and then jettisoned out of town when the youngster started winning. I envision Orton running off the field at Sports Authority Dick’s Sporting Goods UnderArmor Field at Mile High tomorrow with a big, goofy grin on his face as the Denver crowd weeps in the background.
THE PICK: CHIEFS +3.5

Lions @ Packers, 1:00PM ET
This one is tricky because Green Bay essentially has nothing to play for after already wrapping up the No. 1 seed in the NFC last week. Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Packers’ starters will only see a few series, if they even play at all. That means Matt Flynn will have a turn to drive the Cadillac for a week, and there’s no telling how Mike McCarthy will call this game. Will he keep things basic and vanilla or will he toss in a couple of trick plays for craps and grins? Either way, the Lions haven’t won at Lambeau since 1991 so I look at that line and something just doesn’t sit right with me. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Detroit will win easily and head to either New York or Dallas next week, but I just can’t pull the trigger on Lions –3.5. (Even with Flynn and the boys playing the majority of the game for Green Bay.)
THE PICK: PACKERS +3.5

Bucs @ Falcons, 4:15PM ET
If the Lions beat the Packers at 1:00PM ET then the Falcons essentially can rest their starters in preparation for next week because they’d be guaranteed the sixth seed in the NFC. But if Detroit loses than Atlanta can improve its playoff positioning and avoid possibly going to New Orleans again next weekend. But even if the Lions win, the Falcons still have something to prove to themselves following their horrendous effort last Monday night versus the Saints. If you read the local papers, the Atlanta players have said to a man that they want a rematch with New Orleans but the seed of doubt has been planted following their 45-16 loss. They need a strong showing this weekend against a hapless Buccaneers team that quit weeks ago before they head into the playoffs. Thus, whether Matt Ryan and the rest of the Falcons starters play a half or the full game, they need a strong effort tomorrow.
THE PICK: FALCONS –11

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Henne, Wildcat help Dolphins beat Jets in thriller

It’s usually wise to expect the unexpected in the NFL. That’s why I’m not going to act the least bit surprised that Rex Ryan’s defense looked befuddled on Monday night while trying to defend second year quarterback Chad Henne and the Dolphins’ Wildcat formation.

Thanks to Henne’s surprising accuracy (he completed 20 of his 26 pass attempts for 241 yards and 2 touchdowns) and the combination of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams running the Wildcat, the Dolphins topped the Jets 31-27 in one of the more entertaining games of the year.

All right I admit – I’m a little surprised that Ryan’s defense was little match for the Wildcat. After all, if there were one defensive mind in the NFL that could shut down that formation, it would be Ryan right? Then why whenever the Dolphins needed a big play in the fourth quarter to keep the chains moving did they successfully use the Wildcat? Why can no defensive guru figure this formation out?

The short answer is that Miami runs the Wildcat so well that even the stingiest of defensive coordinators can’t slow them down. Brown has been the perfect fit for the formation and even though he’s on the wrong side of 30, Williams still displays good burst when he runs. Simply put, the Dolphins have mastered the formation and will still give teams (any team, including Ryan’s Jets) fits while using it.

The Wildcat also helped open things up for Henne in the passing game. He wasn’t asked to do too much, but he came up with a couple of huge completions when Miami needed them, specifically on a 53-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. early in the fourth. It’s still early, but the Dolphins may have found their franchise quarterback.

On the other side, Mark Sanchez turned in his second poor outing in consecutive weeks. He certainly wasn’t as bad as he was last week in New Orleans, but he was shaky to say the least. He finished with only 172 yards on 12 of 24 passing, although he did throw a touchdown pass to the newly acquired Braylon Edwards, who looked like a player with a new lease on life while hauling in five receptions for 64 yards.

Sanchez was far from the reason the Jets lost, but it has been clear the past two weeks that defensive coordinators are starting to figure out how to game plan for him. This is when it’s important for a young quarterback to learn from what he’s seeing on the field and not lose confidence in his abilities. He didn’t turn the ball over tonight, which was big considering he threw three interceptions and lost a fumble against New Orleans last week. But Sanchez needs to continue to learn from his mistakes and move forward in his development.

Monday night to serve as test for youngster Sanchez

Brady

For all intents and purposes, last week was an utter disaster for Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. He threw for only 138 yards, was intercepted three times and had a fumble recovered for a touchdown in the Jets’ 24-10 loss to the Saints in New Orleans.

Simply put, the kid looked like a rookie.

One of Sanchez’s many issues last week was that he tried to do too much when plays broke down. Instead of chucking the ball out of bounds when he was in trouble, he forced passes into coverage and paid for it. Credit the Saints for generating a consistent pass rush throughout the game, but Sanchez needs to learn how to get rid of the ball and live to fight for another play.

But the growing pains he suffered last week weren’t anything that Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger didn’t go through early on in their development. In fact, Manning threw so many picks his rookie year that fans used to hold up signs mocking him to remember that his team wore blue jerseys and white helmets.

It’s what Sanchez does tonight against the Dolphins that I’m most interested in, because he was bound to suffer a let down eventually. He wasn’t going to walk through an entire season playing as well as he did the first couple games and not be exposed for the inexperienced player he is. In fact, it’s better that he got his first ass-kicking of his career early in the year rather than later on at a crucial moment in the season. He can learn from the beating he took last week in New Orleans.

Pundits like to marvel at how calm and cool Sanchez has looked so far leading the Jets’ offense. Well, let’s see how he reacts after suffering his first loss. Let’s see if he can learn from what happened last weekend and turn it into a positive for he and his team. He was eventually going to be exposed and he was, but now let’s see how he responds.

I think he’ll respond favorably. He has a great defense at his disposal, a solid running game, an excellent offensive line and now a No. 1 receiver in Braylon Edwards (when he’s not dropping passes that is). Sanchez doesn’t need to do too much; he needs to let the game come to him and rebound from his first defeat as a pro. That said, it’ll be interesting to see how he does playing in his first prime time game of his career.

2009 NFL Week 5 Odds & Point Spreads

Here are odds and quick-hit previews of all the action in Week 5 in the NFL.

Vikings -10 over 41
Rams +10 under 41

Fresh off their impressive Monday night win over divisional rival Green Bay, Minnesota travels to St. Louis to take on the worst team in football. The Rams’ woes are primarily in the passing game, where they’re averaging a measly 139.5 yards per game. Steven Jackson won’t find much running room in this one, so look for Jared Allen to have another monster performance against St. Louis’ collection of weak offensive tackles. Brett Favre probably won’t need to display the magic he did Monday night against the Packers because Adrian Peterson should have plenty of running room.

Cowboys –9 Over 42.5
Chiefs +9 Under 42.5

Dallas has had issues the past two weeks moving the ball offensively, but they have played better on defense. Tony Romo continues to regress in his decision-making and he hasn’t had much help from his two star backs Marion Barber and Felix Jones, who have each battled injuries. The ‘Boys shouldn’t get much of a challenge against a Chiefs team that is still struggling in their transition to the 3-4 defensive scheme, although you never know with the way Romo and company have looked the past two weeks. (Even in their win over the Panthers, Dallas struggled offensively.)

Redskins +3.5 Over 37.5
Panthers –3.5 Under 37.5

Carolina had a much-needed bye last week and John Fox hopes the team ironed out some of its issues. The Panthers are averaging less than a touchdown per game and quarterback Jake Delhomme has often killed scoring drives with turnovers and poor decision-making. Carolina will face a Washington team this weekend that needed two third quarter touchdowns to squeak by Tampa Bay last Sunday. The Redskins have racked up plenty of yards offensively, but usually come away with nothing to show for it, as Jim Zorn’s playcalling has gotten ultra-conservative.

Bucs +15 over 43
Eagles –15 under 43

Donovan McNabb should be back under center this weekend for the Eagles after suffering a rib injury in the opening week of the season. With McNabb, Philly looked potent offensively against the Panthers and the Eagles could destroy a Tampa team that is allowing 393.5 yards per game. The Bucs will start Josh Johnson under center again, although he could have issues moving the offense against a tough Philly defense.

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