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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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2011 NFL Week 16 Primer

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett smiles on the sideline while playing against the Philadelphia Eagles during the fourth quarter of their NFL football game in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, January 2, 2011. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

MARQUE MATCHUP: Falcons vs. Saints, 8:30PM ET, Monday
From Giants-Jets to Chargers-Lions, there is no shortage of solid matchups on the Week 16 schedule. But it doesn’t get any bigger than Atlanta-New Orleans on Monday night. With a victory, the Saints will clinch the NFC South and keep themselves in contention for the No. 2 seed in the conference playoff picture. With a victory, the Falcons would clinch a playoff berth and remain in contention with the Saints for the NFC South crown. But for Atlanta, this game means much more than clinching a spot in the postseason. If they lose, they could accomplish the same thing next week at home against the hapless Buccaneers. No, a victory over the Saints in New Orleans would prove that the Falcons have the pieces in place to take down one of the elite teams in the conference. A win would also go a long way in instilling confidence in a Falcons team that has been inconsistent all season. Beat the seemingly unbeatable Saints on their home turf and the sky is the limit when it comes to the playoffs. Lose and have doubts remain about whether or not you can beat any of the top teams in the NFC. With cornerbacks Brent Grimes (knee) and Kelvin Hayden (toe) expected to return this Monday, the Falcons should be at full-strength defensively. And given how good Matt Ryan has looked running Atlanta’s no-huddle attack recently, the Falcons certainly have the weapons to pull off the upset in New Orleans. But whether or not they can do it is another question, especially considering the Saints are averaging nearly 40 points a game at home this season.

THE POTENITAL (NOTEWORTHY) UPSET: Eagles over Cowboys, 1:00PM ET, Saturday
Three weeks ago the Cowboys had a golden opportunity to take a two-game lead over the Giants in the NFC East and they went out and lost to the Cardinals in overtime. The following week, they blew their one-game lead over the Giants when they lost to New York at home, 37-34. My point is that the Cowboys have been in these positions before, when they’ve had chances to improve their standing in the division only to choke the opportunity away. They now have a one-game lead over the Giants again after New York inexcusably lost to the Redskins at home (a game in which I highlighted in this section last week). Now Dallas has a chance to either hold onto its one-game lead or win the division outright with a victory and a New York loss to the Jets. But something tells me Jason Garrett’s squad could choke on applesauce again. Philadelphia has been the most inconsistent team in the league this year but Andy Reid’s team is certainly capable of going into Dallas and knocking off the Cowboys in grand fashion. And if the Giants beat the Jets earlier in the day, the ‘Boys are even more likely to succumb to the pressure.

THE GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY: GREEN BAY PACKERS (vs. Bears, 8:20PM ET, Sunday)
It doesn’t get any easier for the Packers to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC. All they have to do is beat the rudderless Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on Christmas night and then they can rest their starters for two weeks if they choose to. Of course, they just lost to a rudderless Kansas City team a week ago so it’ll be interesting to see how Green Bay responds on Sunday. The Bears have looked completely inept offensively since Jay Cutler and Matt Forte went down with injuries (and justifiably so), but their defense has be known to keep Green Bay’s offense in check. Just last year, the Bears held the Packers to 10 points in Green Bay on a cold January afternoon at Lambeau and if Josh McCown can somehow revive Chicago’s dead offense, the Bears could pull off the upset. (Hey, crazier things have happened.) That said, this is a game the Pack should win. Again, it doesn’t get any easier for them to clinch the No. 1 seed in the conference.

PUT UP OR SHUT UP: DETROIT LIONS (vs. Chargers, 4:15PM ET, Saturday)
It’s been over a decade since the Lions made an appearance in the playoffs and it’s been nearly two decades since they won a postseason game. But they have a chance this Saturday to do something they haven’t done since 1999: Play past Week 17. All they have to do is beat the suddenly surging San Diego Chargers at Ford Field. Granted, even if the Lions lose they can still win next week and clinch a playoff spot. But next week they play at Green Bay and there’s no telling what the Packers will do in terms of resting starters. Thus, it’s best if Detroit handles its own business this weekend by knocking off San Diego, but it won’t be easy. Over the past three weeks the Bolts have played like everyone expected them to at the start of the year. Suddenly Philip Rivers has stopped turning the ball over, Ryan Mathews is running like a man possessed, and the defense has been lights out. Not that they would but if the Lions think the Chargers are going to waltz into Ford Field and lie down, than Detroit has another thing coming. Keep in mind that the Lions’ secondary is still banged up, which obviously plays into the hands of Norv Turner and his vertical passing attack. It’ll be interesting to see if Jim Schwartz’s squad can rise to the challenge and play with a little composure for once. If not, the Lions will put a ton of pressure on themselves to beat the Packers next week and end their horrific playoff drought.

Five Questions for Week 16 in the NFL

Every Tuesday I’ll take a look at the five biggest questions surrounding NFL teams for that week. This week I take a look at the huge Monday night matchup in the NFC South, the “Battle for New York” and the late-pushing Chargers.

Atlanta Falcons Matt Ryan throws in the second half of their NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in Atlanta, Georgia November 13, 2011. REUTERS/Tami Chappell (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

1. Can the Falcons be the team to slow the Saints?
The Saints have looked unbeatable the past six weeks. If there’s one team that could knock off the Packers in the playoffs, it’s universally believed to be New Orleans . While they’ve been inconsistent and conservative on the road at times, they’ve been unstoppable on their home turf. Considering they already knocked off the Falcons in Atlanta earlier this year, what makes anyone think the Saints will lose on Monday night when they host their biggest rivals on primetime? For starters, the Falcons have looked like a completely different team since they faced a 23-7 deficit in Carolina two weeks ago. They scored 24 unanswered points to beat the Panthers and then turned around four days later and humiliated the Jaguars in every facet of the game last Thursday. Granted, beating Carolina and Jacksonville is a little less daunting than bringing down the Saints in New Orleans . But if Matt Ryan and the Falcons have finally found some consistency offensively thanks to their no-huddle attack, then there’s no reason to believe Atlanta can’t go score-for-score with the Saints on Monday. Remember, this isn’t the same opportunistic defense that the Saints had in 2009 when they won the Super Bowl. The Falcons should be able to move the ball with their assortment of weapons. But again, beating Brees on his home turf will be Atlanta ’s toughest task of the year. If they can pull it off, the Falcons won’t just have a shot to win the NFC South – they’ll have confidence that they can beat anyone.

2. Which New York team will rise to the challenge?
Despite their epic fail in Philadelphia over the weekend, the Jets are still in good shape in the AFC (where they’re currently the sixth seed in the conference). But considering Rex Ryan’s defense just allowed 45 points to the Eagles and Mark Sanchez is still their quarterback, the Jets can’t feel too good about their present situation. The same can be said for the Giants, who failed to show up last Sunday against the Redskins. Their 23-10 loss to Washington came just seven days after their huge 37-34 win over the Cowboys (a win that allowed them to temporarily claim first place in the NFC East), so it was more than a little surprising that the G-Men didn’t bother to get up for Rex Grossman and Co. Searching for answers, the Giants will now put their playoff hopes on the line against a Jet team in a similar boat. At this point, it’s hard to figure out which team has an advantage, or if there’s even one to be had. If Eli Manning takes care of the football and the Giant defense shuts down Shonn Greene, then the G-Men shouldn’t have any problems collecting a huge victory. But the Giants never make anything easy, so flip a coin when it comes to which team will show up on Saturday. Whichever one does is going to have a shot at playing beyond next week, while the loser is potentially looking at a long offseason.

3. Can the Chargers make things really interesting in the AFC West?
The Chargers, those sand-bagging sons of bitches, are now just one game behind the Broncos in the AFC West after rattling off three consecutive wins. Just a few weeks ago Norv Turner looked like he was heading for the unemployment line and now San Diego has a legitimate shot of catching Denver in the division. That said, the Bolts have a tough task this Saturday. They play a Lions team with playoff aspirations of its own, and even if the Bolts can take care of their own business they still need Denver to lose in Buffalo. But we’ve seen a run like this before out of San Diego. In 2008 they were sitting at 4-8 before rattling off four straight wins to sneak into the playoffs and wound up upsetting the Colts in the Wild Card round before losing to the Steelers the following week. Thus, if there’s a team that could make things interesting not only in the AFC West but in the entire conference, it’s the Bolts. So strap in tight: Turner’s boys still have life.

4. Will the AFC North crown be decided in the final week?
To answer my own question, I’m sure it will. The Steelers host the hapless Rams this Saturday while the Ravens host the punchless Browns. Neither Pittsburgh nor Baltimore are expected to lose, so first place in the division will come down to the final week. But something of note is how inept the Steelers looked offensively on Monday night. Granted, San Francisco has one of the top defenses in the league but Pittsburgh continues to struggle on the offensive side of the ball. Outside of a 35-point effort against the Bengals in Week 13, the Steelers have managed just 13, 35, 14 and 3 points in their last four games. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t look right against the Niners on that bad ankle, which could severely affect the Steelers’ chances of repeating as AFC champions. While their defense is still solid, there’s no denying that Pittsburgh’s offense is in a funk. And if they can’t wrangle home field advantage away from the Ravens these next two weeks then Pittsburgh has a tough roe to hoe come playoff time.

5. Will the top seeds in both conferences be decided after this week?
All the Packers need to do to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC is beat the Bears on Sunday night, which they should. But there could be some jockeying for the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the conference these next two weeks as the Niners and Saints are each tied at 11-3. While the Saints have a tough game against the Falcons on Monday night, the Niners play a rejuvenated Seahawks team in Seattle on Saturday. Thus, it’s possible that we could see a one-game separation between San Fran and New Orleans for the right to have home field advantage and a first round bye. In the AFC, the Patriots have moved ahead of the Ravens and Texans for the moment, but they still need to win out or have Baltimore or Houston lose. The Patriots host the Dolphins and Bills these next two weeks, so it’s very likely that New England will be the top seed. Baltimore hosts Cleveland and Houston plays at Indy so there may not be a change between the Ravens (who are the No. 2 seed by virtue of tiebreakers) and the Texans (who are the No. 3 seed) this week.

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