Six-Pack of Questions for Week 12 in the NFL

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) is sacked for a five yard loss by Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in third quarter of a NFL football game at Lambeau Field Green Bay, Wisconsin October 3, 2010. REUTERS/Allen Fredrickson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

What are some of the big questions heading into this week’s action in the NFL?

1. Can the Bears survive without Cutler?
In a word, yes. Remember, this was the same team that once went to the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman at the controls. They have a physical, unrelenting defense led by Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers, a star at running back in Matt Forte, and the most dangerous returner in the league in Devin Hester. But the biggest question is whether or not Mike Martz will adjust. Leopards don’t change their spots and Martz is a leopard thru and thru. If he wants to run his offense with Caleb Hanie the same as if Jay Cutler were under center then the Bears are going to die a very quick death. But if Martz relies on Forte and the running game and allows Chicago’s defense and special teams to win games, then there’s no reason the Bears can’t still make the playoffs with Hanie under center.

2. Can the Lions bring down the Pack?
This is the moment the Detroit Lions have been waiting for all season: To finally be able to punch the bully back. The Packers have been abusing the Lions for years but now Detroit is bigger, better and meaner. The way to beat any elite quarterback is to pressure him using only the front four because it allows a defense to drop the rest of its defenders into coverage. And thanks to guys like Ndamukong Suh, Willie Young and Cliff Avril, the Lions have one of the best pass rushes in the league. Aaron Rodgers will make plays; that’s just what he does. But the Lions certainly have the pass rushers to make his Thanksgiving a little uncomfortable if the secondary can hang with guys like Jordy Nelson in coverage. The biggest question is whether or not Matthew Stafford can avoid mistakes. Turnovers will kill the Lions but otherwise, they have the tools to slay the dragon. Now they just have to go out do it.

3. Can Leinart keep the Texans moving ahead?
The Texans own a two-game lead over the Titans in the AFC South but Matt Leinart hasn’t taken a snap in a regular season game since 2009. And when he did have his opportunities to start, he flubbed things up pretty good. But from Kurt Warner to Rich Gannon to Kerry Collins, there have been plenty of quarterbacks who prospered after first facing adversity in their careers. Leinart has first-round talent but. he wasn’t ready to lead in Arizona. That said, he’s older, wiser and hopefully more mature. Armed with a great running game and a defense playing at the top of its game, the Texans are playoff-ready. All Leinart has to do is manage games and not muck things up but can he do it?

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Sunday Evening Quick-Hitters: Reactions from Week 6 in the NFL

Every Sunday evening 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…

DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING…

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) is congratulated by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) on the Bucs’ victory after their NFL football game in Tampa, Florida October 16, 2011. REUTERS/Pierre DuCharme(UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

– A week after the Bucs were absolutely embarrassed by the 49ers in San Francisco, they turn around on Sunday and dominate the Saints to even things up in the NFC South. Granted, this was the Saints’ third-straight road game and their head coach had to call plays from the bench and from up in the booth after tearing his MCL and fracturing his tibia in a nasty first-quarter collision with his tight end on the sidelines. But still, you can’t take anything away from the Bucs today. They picked off Drew Brees, forced four turnovers and got a 300-yard performance out of Josh Freeman. They were also without promising runner LeGarrette Blount, but Earnest Graham filled in admirably with a 109-yard effort. Suddenly the NFC South is once again tight, as the Saints and Bucs are both 4-2 and the Falcons are only one game behind at 3-3.

– Who would have thought that the midfield handshake would provide more action than the actual game between the 49ers and Lions today? I’m sure plenty of Lion fans were upset with Jim Harbaugh’s excitement following the Niners’ win in Detroit, which is understandable. Considering Harbaugh didn’t have his finest coaching performance of the year, he probably could have toned down his exuberance while heading out to midfield to shake Jim Schwartz’s hand. But let’s make one thing clear: If you’re going to dish it out, you better be willing to take it. And Schwartz has been dishing it out all year in the form of taunting opposing players and nearly knocking himself out with hay-maker fist pumps. In fact, as my good buddy Drew (a huge Lions fan) pointed out following the game, Schwartz gave Harbaugh guff in the first quarter after the San Fran coach challenged a touchdown. Schwartz seemingly shouted “No the rules!” at the 49er sideline. The Niners won and Harbaugh has every right to be excited. Schwartz should have kept his composure.

– For about the 9,000,000 time in my career, I was wrong about the Bears. They screw me at every turn. When I predict that they’ll win, they don’t. When I say they’ll lose, they completely dominate a divisional opponent 39-10 on national television. I don’t understand them and quite frankly, I don’t want to understand them. I have zero clue when it comes to predicting the success or failures of the Chicago Bears, whom I predicted would beat Peyton Manning in the 2006 Super Bowl. (We all know how that turned out and I think it’s fitting that I mention that game on the same day Rex Grossman throws four interceptions.) Tonight I thought Jared Allen and Adrian Peterson would take over the game in Chicago and instead, Jay Cutler and Devin Hester put on a clinic. They were masterful against a Minnesota team that I thought was a tad better than its record indicated. Thus, I humbly eat crow, as I was once again was wrong about Chicago. Congrats, Bears – you mother…

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NFL Week 17 COY power rankings

It’s best to do this now, because surely our opinions will be skewed watching the playoffs.

1. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots—The Pats just kept getting better as the season wore on, save for that hiccup against Cleveland. This is actually one of Bill’s best coaching jobs.

2. Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay Bucs—From 3-13 to 10-6. But what might be most impressive is that Morris told everyone this team would win 10 games when he may have been the only one who believed it.

3. Todd Haley, Kansas City Chiefs—The AFC West winner has a home game Sunday. Did anyone pick KC to finish above third?

4. Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears—Kudos to Lovie for sending his A-team out there last Sunday, and either way it’s surely been quite a year for his Bears, especially with that defense.

5. Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles—He hasn’t hung around the city of Philadelphia for 11 years for no reason. The man just knows how to win with the talent he’s given.

6. Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis Rams—So close to grabbing that last playoff spot, but regardless, this is a team that will be reckoned with, maybe as soon as next year.

7. Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons—The 13-3 Falcons are sharp heading into the big dance.

8. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers/John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens—Without Big Ben for four games, and still grabbed the 2-seed in the tough AFC. The Ravens, meanwhile, snuck up on everyone by winning 12 games too.

9. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers—His team was in every single game and could just as easily be 16-0 than 10-6. Keep an eye on these guys, they could win it all as a 6-seed.

10. Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints—You just can’t forget about the defending champs and that win in Atlanta a few weeks ago proved it.

NFL Week 16 COY power rankings

The way things are looking, you’re on this list if you still have your job or expect to at the end of the season, because lots of heads are rolling already.

1. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots—The model of efficiency, and despite mediocre team stats (11th offense, 27th defense), the number that matters is 13 wins.

2. Todd Haley, Kansas City Chiefs—Who didn’t think the Chargers would trip the Chiefs up from behind?

3. Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears—Nobody picked the Bears to finish higher than third in the NFC North, did they? And yet they have a shot at the #1 seed in the conference.

4. Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles—So his team had a bad game against Minnesota. Big Andy stays on this list for his handling of the QB situation alone, but also for winning big games despite injuries.

5. Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay Bucs—When Raheem said he wanted to win 10 games, everyone laughed, and now he is laughing at them. Well, almost.

6. Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis Rams—Even though they lead the crappy NFC West at 7-8, this is just a remarkable story. You think the Giants had wished they didn’t let this guy go?

7. Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints—Started slowly, but you know nobody wants to face these guys in January.

8. Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons—Still sitting pretty for the #1 seed in the NFC.

9. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers/John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens—No reason to take either guy off the list.

10. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers—All those injuries and a late-season resurgence have the Pack in prime position.

NFL Week 15 COY power rankings

December is when coaches lose jobs or gain big contract extensions for winning big games. And it’s crunch time for coach of the year hype…..

1. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots—Sure, the Pats were exposed against Green Bay. But like usual, the Hoodie’s teams find a way to win.

2. Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles—He almost dropped five spots for not throwing that challenge flag on an obvious reversal, but he’s still here for two reasons—his teams know how to win, and he had the balls to name Mike Vick as his starting QB.

3. Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons—No reason to move Mikey from the 3-spot after disposing of the Seahawks in hostile Seattle.

4. Todd Haley, Kansas City Chiefs—Now the Chargers are breathing down his neck; but hey, he probably feels good that Josh McDaniels is watching games from his couch now.

5. Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears—Did anyone think the Bears could score 40 points against the Vikings on a frigid December night? Lovie’s defense and Mike Martz’ offense continue to gel and look scary.

6. Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis Rams—Yes, they are 6-8 and might win a division. But the fact remains the Rams have equaled their win total from the past three seasons combined, and Spags told his team they can win the Super Bowl if they reach the playoffs. Ridiculous, but true.

7. Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay Bucs—Still hanging on to a possible playoff berth, but either way, a huge turnaround in 2010.

8. Jack Del Rio, Jacksonville Jaguars—Gambled and lost in Indy, but still tied for first in the AFC South.

9. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers/John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens—Two hard-hitting teams are two of the best teams in the NFL

10. Rex Ryan, New York Jets—Backs up against the wall? No problem for this brash leader, whose team did what few teams do—win in Pittsburgh in December.

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