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Ten Observations from Week 17 in the NFL

1. Adrian Peterson is this year’s MVP.
It wouldn’t be a travesty if Peyton Manning were to claim this year’s MVP award. It wouldn’t be a crime, an injustice, or a mockery for the NFL. Having said that, Adrian Peterson is so clearly this year’s most valuable player that it’s almost not even worth discussing. The Vikings went 3-13 last year and owned the third overall pick in the draft (later traded to Cleveland for the fourth overall selection, which was used on outstanding left tackle Matt Kalil). Nobody expected them to finish third in a competitive NFC North, nevertheless winning 10 games and clinching a playoff spot. And with all due respect to Minnesota’s offensive line and underrated defense, without Peterson accomplishing what he did this season, the Vikings may not have won half of the games they did. Opponents put together game plans solely to stop Peterson and often dared second-year quarterback Christian Ponder to beat them, which he rarely did. Yet Peterson did the extraordinary by amassing 1,598 yards over the final 10 games, a number still good enough to lead the league in rushing this season. He finished with a 6.03 yards per carry average, totaled over 100 yards rushing in nine of his final 10 games, and rushed for over 200 yards on two separate occasions. Had there been one more minute left in Sunday’s contest versus the Packers, there is a good chance Peterson would have broke Eric Dickerson’s single-game rushing record as well. All this despite suffering an injury at the end of last season that usually takes players two full seasons to recover from. Consider this as well: Peterson rushed a career-high 34 times in the Vikings’ 37-34 win over the Packers, who oh-by-the-way needed a win to clinch a first-round bye next week. Most running backs wear down throughout an entire season – “All Day” seemingly got stronger. He’s a remarkable player who just put the finishing touches on one of the most remarkable seasons in NFL history. If that doesn’t net him the most prestigious individual award in football, what will?

2. Peyton Manning is deserving of Comeback Player of the Year.
Without Adrian Peterson having a season for the ages, the Vikings would have likely missed the playoffs. Without Peyton Manning, the Broncos may have still been good enough to beat the toilet water in the AFC West thanks to their stout defense. Granted, Denver wouldn’t have clinched the No. 1 seed without Manning but you get the point. Those are just a few reasons why Peterson should be considered the most valuable player in the NFL this season. (The other reasons are detailed above.) But at this time last year, people wondered whether or not Manning would, or better yet, should retire after not taking a single snap in 2011. And all he’s done this year is put together one of the finest seasons of his illustrious career. He finished the regular season with 4,659 yards passing, 37 touchdowns, a 68.6 completion percentage and a 105.8 QB rating, which were all Denver Broncos records. His three-touchdown performance against Kansas City on Sunday was also the 73rd of Manning’s career and gave him yet another NFL record. As mentioned in “Observation No. 1,” it wouldn’t be a farce if Manning were named MVP. But considering his road back to the gridiron was paved with multiple neck/back surgeries, an entire season spent on the sidelines, and a change of cities, Manning’s “comeback” was more impressive than Peterson’s. Either way, both players should be properly recognized for their impressive feats this season.

3. The Texans’ collapse is nearly complete.
On December 2 the Texans were 11-1 having just beaten the Titans to earn their sixth-straight victory. At that moment it seamed unimaginable that Houston wouldn’t have home field advantage throughout the postseason. But the Texans, losers of three of their last four games following their 28-16 defeat in Indianapolis on Sunday, have completely collapsed. Injuries on defense have turned a once top-5 unit into one susceptible of big plays. (See Andrew Luck’s 70-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton as proof.) But there are no excuses as to why Houston’s offense has become punchless over the past month. At the root of the issue is quarterback Matt Schaub, who threw two ugly interceptions to Indy cornerback Vontae Davis on Sunday. Despite completing a high-percentage of throws, Schaub was ineffective for the second straight week and for the third time in his last four games. Remember, Schaub doesn’t have a postseason start under his belt. It would have been nice for the Texans if their playoff-inexperienced quarterback could have built a little momentum heading into next week. Instead, the Texans enter the postseason as one of the coldest teams in the field of 12. And while the Bengals are the least imposing team in this year’s playoffs, their underrated defense is certainly good enough to hold Houston’s struggling offense in check. The Texans now have less than a week to figure out how they’ve gone from Super Bowl favorites to title pretenders.

4. RGIII, AP and the Hawks – the bottom of the NFC is dangerous.
Try as they did, the Cowboys didn’t have much of an answer for Robert Griffin III on Sunday night. As he’s done to opponents all season, RGIII forced Dallas’ defense to play back on its heels, which in turn made Alfred Morris more effective. The Packers also had a hell of a time trying to corral Adrian Peterson, whom they’ll see again in less than a week. The Seahawks, meanwhile, have won five straight games and are arguably the hottest team in the NFC…as the fifth seed. Granted, the media always tries to over hype the lower seeds in the playoffs. That’s probably because we spend an entire season pointing out flaws in the higher-ranked seeds (it’s human nature). But in the case of the Skins, Vikes and Hawks, there’s no downplaying how dangerous they are on any given Sunday. Granted, either the Redskins or Seahawks will be finished next weekend because they play each other in the first round, but would anyone be surprised if any one of these teams wind up in the NFC title game? Thanks to all six teams winning at least 10 games this season, the NFC playoff field is highly intriguing this year.

5. Romo once again saves his worst performance for last.
Heading into Sunday night’s NFC East title tilt between the Redskins and Cowboys, no quarterback in the league was hotter than Tony Romo. In his previous eight games he had thrown 17 touchdown passes to just three interceptions and thanks to plenty of help from Dez Bryant, was practically willing Dallas to a division crown and a playoff berth. But in typical Romo fashion, he saved his worst performance for the biggest moment of the season. He did toss two touchdown passes, which included a crucial 10-yard completion to Kevin Ogletree midway through the fourth quarter to cut the Redskins’ lead down to three with a 2-point conversion. But he also threw three brutal interceptions, the final one coming late in the fourth quarter after the Dallas defense gave its offense a chance to at least tie the game following a punt. Romo wanted to dump the ball off to his running back in the flats and was instead intercepted by linebacker Rob Jackson, who read the play perfectly. It was one of those all-too-familiar moments for Romo, who never saw Jackson retreat to the flats as he lobbed the pass to the sidelines. And thanks to a brutal roughing the passer penalty on Washington’s next drive, the Skins were able to put the game away with a touchdown under two minutes to play. The 32-year-old Romo has once again left Jerry Jones in an unenviable situation. He once again posted great numbers while throwing for over 4,600 yards but the Cowboys will once again be at home for the playoffs. The question is, does Jones still believe he can win a Super Bowl with Romo under center? When his team absolutely had to have a win, Romo didn’t deliver. Again.

6. The Bears have nobody to blame but themselves.
Chicago fans will undoubtedly blame Green Bay’s inability to beat Minnesota as the reason why their beloved Bears missed the playoffs despite finishing with a 10-6 record this season. And technically, they’re right. With Chicago’s season hanging in the balance, the Packers never led in Minnesota and turned in their worst defensive performance in over a month. But from Weeks 11 through 16, Chicago only won one game over a six-game stretch. They also lost three in a row to start the month of December and couldn’t produce against playoff qualifiers Houston, San Francisco, Seattle, Minnesota and Green Bay. It’s a shame that a 10-win team missed the postseason but the Bears did themselves in by leaving their fate in another team’s hands (specifically their most hated rivals.)

7. Falcons’ Smith still can’t gauge risk vs. reward.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith is conservative by nature. He’s been criticized for playing not-to-lose, especially in the postseason where he’s 0-3 over the past four seasons. And yet, when he does decide to gamble, it comes at the most inopportune times. Take Week 13 of last year for example. His decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 in overtime cost his team a potential victory versus the Saints. He also went for it on fourth down on multiple occasions during the Falcons’ embarrassing 24-2 loss to the Giants in the wild card round, none of which were successful. Fast forward to Sunday when, in a meaningless game, he played his starters in a lackluster loss to the Bucs. The decision could prove to be costly too, as Dunta Robinson (concussion) and John Abraham (ankle) left the game with injuries. Abraham is the bigger concern, as he had to be helped off the field by trainers. Why, with nothing to gain, would Smith risk injury to one of his starters? What was he and the Falcons hoping to prove by going through the motions versus a Tampa Bay team looking to end the season on a high note? If anything, it planted the seed of doubt in a team that had built up some momentum the past two weeks. If Abraham’s injury proves to be serious, then Smith should be questioned for why he can’t manage simple risk versus reward.

8. Vick’s football career reaches a new low.
Michael Vick has been adamant that he’s still a starter but he’ll be fortunate that some team even views him as a capable backup heading into 2013. All you need to know about Vick’s performance on Sunday versus the Giants was that he was pulled in favor of Trent Edwards for the final drive of the game. Over the past two seasons he’s gone 10-13 as a starter while throwing 33 interceptions to go with his 32 touchdowns. He also hasn’t played a full season since 2006 and his threat to run has been neutralized by his inability to take a hit. He may still fancy himself as a starter but even quarterback-hungry teams like the Cardinals, Chiefs and Jaguars will be weary of handing the reigns to a 33-year-old quarterback who is turnover prone, has never been an accurate passer and who can’t stay healthy. Considering many believed he would revolutionize the quarterback position when he came into the league in 2001, Vick may go down as one of the most overrated players in NFL history.

9. Fisher’s first season in St. Louis can only be described as a success.
Success can be defined in different ways. Some people probably read the title of this observation and scoffed. Some believe that because the Colts and Vikings surprised by making the postseason, the Rams should have pulled off the same feat. If only life were that black and white. What could posses someone to have such lofty expectations following a 2-14 season and a complete turnover of the roster is beyond me. It wasn’t logical that they would make the postseason this year. Hell, it wasn’t logical that they could win 8 games, at least not to those outside of St. Louis that weren’t mentally and/or monetarily invested in the team. But thanks in large part to Jeff Fisher, 2012 was a success. Free agency was a success. The draft was a success. Winning 80-percent of their games against a tough division was a mark of success, as was learning how to win on the road. Having said that, does Sam Bradford need to make longer strides in his development? That’s not even an argument – of course he does. But he also deserves an opportunity to compete in a stable environment. Quarterbacks that are forced to learn three different offenses under shoddy tutelage is a recipe for failure. There are some people that have already convinced themselves that he’s nothing more than a marginal quarterback capable of only being a Brad Johnson-type game manager. And that’s fine – we all don’t need to agree. But here are the facts: He threw for a career-high 3,702 yards and 21 touchdowns while managing to start every game of the season (a feat he couldn’t accomplish in 2011). Those are signs of improvement. It might not be the improvement that many had hoped, but the bottom line is that he’s a better quarterback now than he was in 2010. More importantly, the Rams are a better team than they were two years ago when they walked out of CenturyLink Field. Only this time nobody should have false hope about the direction the franchise is headed in.

10. Quick-Hits…
The pass that Andrew Luck made when he looked off the safety and hit T.Y. Hilton perfectly in stride for a 70-yard touchdown was one of the prettiest throws by any quarterback this season. He’s a special player and NFL fans are more enriched by the fact that he and the Colts are in the playoffs…Speaking of which, would anyone be surprised if Indianapolis beat Baltimore next week? The Ravens aren’t exactly sprinting into the postseason…Peyton Manning continued to make his case for NFL MVP by throwing another three touchdown passes on Sunday, but did you see the catches that Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker made? The catch by Thomas was one of the best of the year…Don’t be surprised if the Panthers make the postseason next year. They finished 2012 as one of the hottest teams in the leageu and scored at least 30 points in three of their final four games…2012 turned out to be a lost season for the Saints but it doesn’t take away what Drew Brees accomplished. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 5,000 yards in back-to-back seasons and with Sean Payton back in the fold next year, the Saints will remain explosive…It’s funny, the NFC South was viewed as one of the best divisions in football at the start of the year. By midseason it was viewed as a joke but all four of the division’s inhabitants could be playoff contenders next year…If I’m Jets owner Woody Johnson I’m keeping Rex Ryan in place for his defense and finding both a new quarterback and a new GM for 2013…Credit the Lions for playing with pride. That’s more than anyone can say about the Eagles…The Steelers’ season turned out to be a major disappointment but for the 12th time in 13 years they avoided having a losing season. That’s sustained success right there…Congratulations to the Chiefs for notching the No. 1 overall pick in next April’s draft. It was well earned…Terrelle Pryor is hardly the answer at quarterback for the Oakland Raiders but if nothing else, he gave them something to think about with his two-touchdown performance on Sunday…One of the broadcasters made a good point following the Seahawks’ hard-fought 20-13 win over the Rams on Sunday. After steamrolling opponents the past couple of months, it’ll serve Seattle well to have fought through a little adversity…If Michael Crabtree plays as well as in the playoffs as he did on Sunday then the Niners aren’t going to miss Mario Manningham…RGIII vs. Russell Wilson? Can’t wait.

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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Falcons’ Mike Smith long overdue to unleash Matt Ryan, passing game

First came the decision to trade five selections in order to move up in the 2011 NFL Draft for receiver Julio Jones.

Then players and media members used words like “explosiveness” to describe their offense.

Then came the fizzle.

Mike Smith is 43-21 as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. With the exception of Dan Reeves, who led the Falcons to their first and only Super Bowl appearance, Smith is the best coach the team has had in its 46-year history. His players love to play for him and he’s brought stability to a franchise that has long lacked consistency at the head coach position.

But if he doesn’t tweak his overall philosophy when it comes to the Falcons offense, he will become the modern day version of Marty Schottenheimer – if he hasn’t already.

Like Smith, Schottenheimer used to stockpile victories during the regular season. But because he was unwilling to change his style when it came to coaching in the postseason, he never won anything of substance. He was 5-13 in the postseason with no Super Bowl appearances and nary a conference title to call his own.

Smith is 0-3 in the playoffs with two utterly embarrassing performances by his team the last two years. The Packers drubbed the Falcons 48-21 at the Georgia Dome two seasons ago and the Giants shut Atlanta down 24-2 on their way to a Super Bowl victory last year.

At the root of the Falcons’ postseason failures is a lack of creativity on Smith’s part. Some have suggested Matt Ryan doesn’t have what it takes to win in big games but the fault doesn’t lie in the quarterback, it lies in the overall mentality of the head coach.

The Falcons wanted to beat the Giants on the ground last year because New York was brutal against the run during the regular season. It wasn’t a bad idea but when the Giants bottled up Michael Turner, the Falcons didn’t have a Plan B in place. That falls on Smith, who remains hamstrung by his philosophy that in order to win the NFL, you must grind down the clock, keep the game close, and win in the end. That ideology may work in the regular season against inferior opponents but when a team like the Packers doesn’t mind throwing the ball 40 times in order to beat you, being able to run the ball becomes irrelevant.

Part of the Falcons problem was former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, who is now the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Ryan has developed into a slow starter over the years but Mularkey was hesitant to put his quarterback in the no-huddle, which often got Ryan into a good rhythm. Mularkey would waste a full quarter of ineffective play from his offense before he got into his no-huddle attack. Whether that was because of Smith’s conservatism or Mularkey’s unwillingness to allow Ryan to call the shots is not known outside of Atlanta. But either way, it was shocking that the Falcons didn’t use the no-huddle more last season.

In steps new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who was limited in Jacksonville because of the lack of weapons at his disposal (save for Maurice Jones-Drew, that is). Koetter is a gifted playcaller and has already said that he will install the no-huddle for Ryan, who could benefit from having someone other than Mularkey put game plans together. The hope is that a creative play-caller like Koetter is the missing piece.

But everything comes back to Smith, who ultimately decides what kind of philosophy his team will have on Sundays. The Falcons ranked eighth in the league in passing yards per game last season so this isn’t about stats – it’s about a mentality. Will Smith allow Koetter to design his game plans around Ryan instead of Turner? Will he allow the Falcons to actually use the assortment of weapons (Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Harry Douglas, etc.) that they have in their arsenal? Will Smith finally allow the Falcons to shake hands with the present day NFL and become a team that beats opponents through the air?

If he doesn’t, Smith’s list of critics will grow by leaps and bounds. His job is safe for now but he must change his ways in order for this talented Falcons team to reach its full potential. Ryan was maxed out in Mularkey’s run-first offense but he still has untapped potential as the architect of a fast-paced attack. It’s just a matter of whether or not Smith will take the chains off.

If he doesn’t, the new “Martyball” will become entrenched in Atlanta.

2012 Kentucky Derby Predictions

The 138th running of the Kentucky Derby takes place today, Saturday, May 5. If you’re looking for some guaranteed winners to pay off the mortgage and set up the kids’ college funds, they’re below.

WIN: Dullahan (8/1)
Apparently Dullahan likes the synthetic surfaces better than dirt but I like the trends attached to this contender. Three-time Derby winner Kent Desormeaux will have the mount today and the No. 5 post position has produced 12 Kentucky Derby winners since 1900, which is tied with the rail for most victories. Dullahan is also coming off a victory at the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass and finished second at the Grade III Palm Beach on March 11. The fact that he doesn’t have six career races under his belt scares me a little, but Dullahan has displayed great closing speed in recent races and I like him to at least finish in the money.

PLACE: Bodemeister (13/10)
Bodemeister is the favorite to win Saturday’s race, although Union Rags has the exact same odds. Either way, what attracts me most to Bodemeister is the winning combination of trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith. Baffert has won three Kentucky Derby races in his career (2002, 1998, 1997), while Smith won the 2005 Derby aboard Giacomo. Bodemeister only has four career races under his belt but he finished second at the Grade II San Felipe on March 10 and won the Grade I Arkansas Derby on April 14. No horse has won the Derby that has not run as a 2-year-old since 1888 but I like Bodemeister to finish in the money.

SHOW: Take Charge Indy (11/1)
Considering he’s 5-0 in his career, I thought long about putting Gemologist in the money. But at the end of the day, how can you go against Calvin Borel? The man has won three of the last five Kentucky Derby races and he’ll be coming out of the No. 3 post position, which means he’ll be able to get to the rail faster. Take Charge Indy is also coming off a victory at the Grade I Florida Derby in which he went wire-to-wire.

Other contenders that caught my eye: Gemologist (8/1) and Went The Day Well (25/1)
As previously mentioned, Gemologist hasn’t lost in his five-race career, while Went The Day Well is trained by H. G. Motion and ridden by John Velazquez, who were the winning pair for Animal Kingdom last year.

Sunday Evening Quick-Hitters: Reactions from Week 10 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…

- Carlos Rogers is having a resurgence in San Francisco? People left this guy for dead coming out of Washington and all he’s done this year is be the Niners’ best cornerback. He clinched the Niners’ win over the Giants in my eyes. San Francisco had just taken a 20-13 lead early in the fourth quarter when he picked off Eli Manning (his second of the day) deep in Niner territory. A couple plays later Kendall Hunter raced 17 yards for a touchdown in order to give San Fran a 27-13 lead in an eventual 27-20 victory. The Niners have been getting big plays like that out of their defense all season. They obviously proved today that they’re for real.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (L) and head coach Chan Gailey talk on the sideline against the Dallas Cowboys in the second half of their NFL football game in Arlington, Texas November 13, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- Do you know who’s not for real? The Buffalo Bills. I have zero confidence that they’ll turn things around, party because of their defense and partly because of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Everyone knew Buffalo’s defense would be overmatched most Sundays and they have been. And everyone knew Fitzpatrick was only going to lead the Bills so far. He was brutal last week and even worse today. It’s struck midnight on this fairytale, which is a shame because I could watch Fred Jackson run all day. Dude is siiiick.

- The Cardinals parted with a starting cornerback in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a second-round pick in 2012, and $65 million in order secure Kevin Kolb as their starting quarterback this season. And John Skelton has two of their three wins on the season. Incredible.

- If you looked hard enough, you probably saw the Ravens’ loss to Seattle coming. Baltimore just swept Pittsburgh and had to travel cross-country to play a Seahawks team that is usually competitive at home. I figured the Ravens would suffer a letdown but the fact that they didn’t lead at any point today was a little jarring. With losses to Tennessee and Seattle as well as a near loss to Arizona at home, it would appear as though John Harbaugh’s team plays down to its competition.

- Speaking of the clock turning Midnight, it’s probably about time the Bengals come back to earth. Don’t get me wrong: they fought hard today against Pittsburgh and gave the Steelers a game until the end. But cornerback Leon Hall looks like he’s out for the season and I just don’t see Cincinnati being able to finish this race on top. That said, the Bengals certainly have something to build off of. Andy Dalton was poised today and A.J. Green is a freaking star in the making.

- Does anyone else feel like the Houston Texans are the NFL equivalent to the Clemson Tigers? You keep waiting for both teams to eventually crash and burn and yet, both keep winning. Granted, Clemson did lose to Georgia Tech a couple of weeks ago and almost dropped its second game to Wake Forest on Saturday but still, you get the point. I keep waiting for the Texans to eventually stumble and they keep racking up double-digit wins without Andre Johnson. Finally, it would seem, we’ll get to see Houston in the postseason.

Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith coaches from the sideline during 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)

- If you’re one of the people who is defending Mike Smith’s decision to go for it on fourth and one from his own 29-yard line in overtime, let me remind you that it’s simple risk vs. reward. If the Falcons pick up that first down, they still have at least 40 yards to go to get into field goal range to possibly win the game. If they don’t pick up the first down, well, we saw what happened when they didn’t. It was a stupid call by a head coach that was simply trying to get lucky. Smith and Mike Mularkey played not to lose the entire game and all of a sudden they decide that they’re going to take a big risk. It was just a stupid decision by a team without a true identity.

- Saint Peters of Joseph, Chris Johnson is alive.

- Huge win for the Saints today but there’s still something off with the boys from Naw’lins. They managed to squander a 10-point lead in under five minutes and if it hadn’t been for Mike Smith’s stupid decision to go for it in overtime, who knows if they would have walked out of the Georgia Dome with a victory. I have no doubt that they’ll win the NFC South because the Falcons still don’t know what they are offensively. But I’m not sure if the Saints can go into Green Bay in the playoffs and win a huge game on the road. Again, there’s just something off.

- You can always count on Michael Vick to mail it in when his team is seemingly out of playoff contention. Granted, his receivers didn’t do him any favors by dropping the ball multiple times in the first half and he was without DeSean Jackson, who was benched after missing a team meeting. But Vick looked completely turned off by the thought of playing football today. In a lot of ways, he is the exact same player as he was in Atlanta and Philadelphia is now paying for his shortcomings as a player. (UPDATE: Apparently Vick played with two broken ribs, which he sustained on the game’s second play. Thus, I take back what I said about him mailing it in. Any player that stays in a professional football game with two broken ribs has a bigger pair than I do. Well done, Mike.)

- Tim Tebow threw eight passes, completed just two of them and was the winning quarterback today in Kansas City. I don’t even care what his numbers are outside of the fact that he’s now 3-1 as the starter. I just want to sit back and watch guys like Phil Simms’ head explode that Tebow keeps winning. These talking heads want to debate about whether or not Tebow will ever be a good passer. That was never a debate. People have said from the start that his motion is too funky for him to be a good passer and yet these media members keep boasting about how he’ll fail. And yet…3-1 as a starter. I love it. Nobody can explain how the dinosaurs became extinct and how Tebow is winning. Tim Tebow: #winning.

- I realize the Niners are a very good football team but leave it to the Giants to beat the Patriots on the road and then erase a lot of the good vibes that have surrounded New York the past week by losing today. Freakin’ Giants.

- The NFC South is now a one-team race. The Saints are clearly the best team in the division, as the Falcons are still suffering an identity crisis and the Bucs are just plain bad. Tampa Bay’s front office thought it could get by without making any significant upgrades in the offseason and figured the team would just win 10 games again. Whoops. Turns out Josh Freeman is going to need more help, Bucs.

- This comment was made by one of our regular readers, Jester of the Apocalypse, earlier this week. He’s a huge Browns fan and was commenting on my Week 10 preview in which I wrote, “this is a game [vs. the Rams] the Browns should win.” Said Jester: You underestimate my Brownies knack for clutching defeat out of the jaws of victory . . . How absolutely, positively appropriate given the debacle that happened in Cleveland today.

- Even after their performance today I’m still not sold on the Cowboys. Outside of their miraculous victory against the Niners in Week 2, they still haven’t beaten a team of substance. I realize the Bills have a winning record but they’re on a downslide. Three weeks ago the ‘Boys were pummeled by a Philadelphia team that has clearly given up on the season and their other losses have coming against New England, Detroit and the Jets. That said, Dallas still has games against Washington, Miami, Arizona, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia and thus, the playoffs are still well within their reach. I’m just sayin’ I’m not sold. And this is coming from a guy who predicted them to win the NFC East this year.

Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings (26) runs with the ball after intercepting a pass thrown by Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford during the fourth quarter at Soldier Field on November 13, 2011 in Chicago. The Bears won 37-13. UPI/Brian Kersey

- Wow Matthew Stafford was bad today. Granted, he was playing with a fractured index finger and 25-30mph wind gusts but still – wow. Two of his four interceptions were taken back for touchdowns by the Bears, who are now suddenly 6-3 on the season following two huge wins. If Chicago’s offense line can continue to play as well as it has, there’s no reason to believe Lovie Smith’s team won’t make it as a Wild Card.

- All I want for Thanksgiving is for Larry Fitzgerald to have a quarterback willing to throw him the ball every down. Because his seven-catch, 146-yard, two-touchdown performance today proved once again that he can completely take over a game if he gets enough opportunities.

- One week later, the Steelers finally get their big defensive stop to preserve a win.

- Two of the Seahawks’ three wins this year have come against the Giants and Ravens. And yet, they lose to the Browns, 6-3. The NFL is a funny league.

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.

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