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Quick-Hit Reactions from Week 13 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…

Green Bay Packers Aaron Rodgers is chased out of the pocket by New York Giants Jason Pierre-Paul in the first quarter in week 13 of the NFL season at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on December 4, 2011. The Packers defeated the Giants 38-35 and remain undefeated for the season at 12-0. UPI /John Angelillo

- I’ll write this every week until somebody proves they can beat them: When it comes to the power structure in the NFL, it’s the Packers and everyone else. Outside of maybe the Saints, any other team would have tried a few feeble pass attempts at the end of that game today in New York and then settled for overtime. But not Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who glided down the field in 14 seconds, got into field goal range and kicked a game-winner at the end of regulation. Teams will continue to move the ball on Green Bay’s defense but give Rodgers an inch and he’s going to take 80 yards (and six points). I’ve written this several times on this site: Ted Thompson built one hell of a team because while Rodgers is unbelievable, he has a slew of weapons at his disposal. I just don’t see how this team loses at home in the playoffs.

- Tim Tebow made some great throws today, which of course is a noteworthy because Tim Tebow rarely makes good throws. That said, he might as well have been throwing against air because Minnesota’s secondary let Denver’s receivers run wild the entire game. It was almost as if the Vikings gave Demaryius Thomas a free one-day pass to tour their defensive backfield. And boy did he take advantage of it.

- The Texans will be fine with T.J. Yates under center. He was fortunate that his biggest mistake (an interception return for touchdown by the Falcons’ Mike Peterson) was wiped out by a holding penalty on cornerback Dunta Robinson. But even if that play stood ,Yates played well enough to win. In fact, he outplayed a mistake-prone Matt Ryan. That said, with Andre Johnson scheduled to undergo an MRI on his hamstring, you have to wonder if the Texans will just be happy to make the playoffs if/when they do. They’ve played some gritty football this season but they’re going to be awfully worn out come January.

- The Giants deserve credit for showing up today after being humiliated by the Saints on Monday Night Football. But it’s startling how easy it is for offenses to move the chains on their defense. Granted, New York is dealing with a ton of injuries on that side of the ball but it took Aaron Rodgers just 14 seconds to get into field goal range for the game-winner today. Fourteen seconds! It takes me longer to speed dial my mother.

- The Raiders deserve a lot of credit for overcoming injuries on both sides of the ball in order to win three in a row coming into this week. But a big part of me wondered if they were winning with smokes and mirrors. Michael Bush has been outstanding but was the defense as really as good as it seemed or was its play a product of the offenses they were playing (i.e. San Diego, Minnesota and the Jay Cutler-less Bears)? That question may have been answered today. Miami racked up 362 yards of total offense, including 209 yards on the ground. Oakland’s run defense has been Jekyll and Hyde all year and today they were more Jekyll than Hyde. Now that they’re tied with the Broncos atop the AFC West it’ll be interesting to see how Oakland responds to this loss, especially with a trip to Green Bay coming up next week.

- How did so many teams miss Antonio Brown in the 2010 draft? It’s not like he didn’t tear it up at Central Michigan and clearly he has the speed to be an effective return man yet he lasted until the sixth round. He only made two catches today but his 45-yard catch-and-run was a display of pure speed. It’s almost unfair for defenses to that Big Ben is always able to break out of would-be tackles and throw to speedsters like Brown and Mike Wallace.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith pitches the ball out against the St. Louis Rams during their NFL football game in San Francisco, California December 4, 2011. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- They played the Rams so take this for what it’s worth: The Niners showed today that they have more than “just” Frank Gore on offense. Alex Smith (17-of-23 for 274 yards and two touchdowns) had his best game of the season, while receivers Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams flashed a good deal of playmaking ability themselves. Given how good the defense is, if some of San Fran’s other weapons step up offensively, there’s no reason to think the Niners can’t make it to the NFC title game or beyond.

- The Falcons’ offense was completely out of sync today in Houston. Part of the reason for that was because Michael Turner was dealing with a groin injury and ran like he had four tons of cement tied to his legs. Wade Phillips’ defense also constantly harassed Matt Ryan, who wasn’t on the same page with his receivers (who kept dropping the ball). But the bigger issue is that Mike Smith and Mike Mularkey blew it by not running the no-huddle at the start of the year. It’s the offense that Ryan is most comfortable and most successful running but because the Falcons are trying to iron out kinks in live games, it’s no surprise that they sputtered against a good defense. Had Smith switched to the no-huddle months ago, the Falcons may be firing on all cylinders right now. Regardless, it’s clear that Atlanta isn’t good enough to beat the top teams in the league. They’re a classic second-tier team and I don’t see them getting over the hump this season.

- Considering Percy Harvin has been the Vikings’ entire offense the past two weeks while Adrian Peterson has been out, I don’t blame Christian Ponder for looking his way with Minnesota needing a big play with under two minutes remaining in a tied game. But in the name of Tim Tebow that was a horrible decision by Ponder on Andre Goodman’s interception. Harvin had coverage in front of him, behind him, and to the side of him. He might as well been wearing a Denver uniform he was so covered up.

- Jets, Bengals, Falcons, Lions, Bears, Giants. Nice Wild Card teams this year. Not a flaw in that group.

- Rob Gronkwoski is only 22 and he’s already the GREATEST TIGHT END TO HAVE EVER PLAYED THE GAME. Just ask his fantasy owners.

- Tyler Palko’s first career touchdown pass was even more improbable than his first career win. On a day when the 4-7 Chiefs knocked off the 7-4 Bears, Palko’s first TD as a pro came on a fluke Hail Mary to Dexter McCluster right before half. Brian Urlacher leaped into the air and batted the ball perfectly into McCluster’s hands. Who would have thought that score would be all the Chiefs needed to win?

- You heard it here first: The Panthers will beat the Falcons next Sunday in Carolina. The records say different but there’s not that big of a gap between Carolina and Atlanta right now. And with two of the Falcons’ top three corners out with injuries, Cam Newton should have a field day throwing the ball. (On a related note, that pitch-back to Newton that the Panthers ran today in their win over the Bucs was sweeeet.)

- Every team has to deal with injuries. It’s the ones that draft well and build depth through free agency that can overcome the inevitable bumps and bruises. But what’s a team to do when it losses it’s quarterback and star player in a three-week span? You almost have to feel for the Bears, who lost Matt Forte to a Grade 2 MCL sprain today. For those that watched Chicago’s loss to Kansas City, you saw a Bears team that had absolutely nothing offensively. Even though they currently own the fifth seed in the NFC, the Bears aren’t making the playoffs with a backfield tandem of Caleb Hanie and Marion Barber. It’s an unfortunate situation for a team that looked like it was postseason bound just three weeks ago.

- Following Cleveland’s loss to Baltimore, Browns coach Pat Shumur said that Peyton Hillis is dealing with an undisclosed injury and his status for Week 14 is uncertain. I’m not suggesting he’s a bad player but what team in their right mind would give Hillis a huge contract? The guy just can’t stay healthy. (Although if you’re the Browns, what choice do you have? That team has zero offense.)

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is seen on the sidelines before the Cowboys game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland on September 12, 2010. The Redskins defeated the Cowboys 13-7. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

- Classic Cowboys. They scratch and claw their way up the NFC East standings and with a golden opportunity to take a two-game lead over the Giants in the division, they lose to the Cardinals while scoring only 13 points. Oh, and after Jason Garrett freezes his own placekicker. Even though New York lost to Green Bay and remains one game behind Dallas with four weeks left to play, the race in the East is far from over. As Arizona proved today, that’s a very flawed team that Jerry Jones owns.

- The fact that the Cardinals continue to fight despite the fact that they have basically nothing to play for is a credit to Ken Whistenhunt. Some were suggesting that he be fired at the start of the season but he’s clearly still the right man for the job. One strong offseason and I envision the Cards challenging the Niners in the division next year.

- The Ravens have gone run-heavy the past three games following an ugly loss to the Seahawks in which they tried to win by being aggressive through the air. That makes me wonder what John Harbaugh said to Cam Cameron the week after the Seattle loss. “Hey Cam, come on in. As you’ll see behind me, Ray Rice is standing to my left and to my right is the door. It’s up to you which one you want to use from this point forward but it will be one or the other.”

- The Bengals have been one of this year’s biggest surprises and nobody thought they’d win five games nevertheless seven. But their performance today in Pittsburgh proved just how far they have in their maturation process. Andy Dalton looked like a deer caught in the headlights and if it weren’t for A.J. Green (who at this point is clearly better than Julio Jones), Cincinnati may not have cracked 100 yards of offense. The fans in Cincinnati have suffered long enough and they deserve to watch their team in the playoffs but it’s hard to imagine the Bengals winning a postseason game on the road.

- That’s almost kind of like a win for the Colts, right? Twenty-one point dog and they lose by seven. Not bad considering.

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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Fade Material: NFL Week 13 Predictions

Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (C) works against Denver Broncos J.D. Walton (L) and guard Chris Kuper at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on October 30, 2011. Detroit crushed Denver 45-10. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

If it weren’t for a Jets-Bills “shootout” I would have went 4-0 last Sunday. But seeing as how I’ve struggled all year with my NFL picks, I’m grateful for a 3-1 week. The Browns, Falcons and Broncos were my winners, while the under in the Jets-Bills contest was the lone loser. That puts me at 21-24-2 on the season.

Bengals @ Steelers, 1:00PM ET
If the Bengals lose today their playoff hopes certainly won’t be dashed. But if they can’t beat Pittsburgh or Baltimore in the regular season, what makes them think they can beat either team in the playoffs? Or beat New England in the playoffs, for that matter? The Bengals have the revenge factor on their side after the Steelers beat them just three weeks ago in Cincinnati and have played hard all season. I think the Bengals, at the very least, will keep things close today in the “Steel City.”
THE PICK: BENGALS +7

Falcons @ Texans, 1:00PM ET
With T.J. Yates under center and the Falcons on a mini-roll, Atlanta would seem like a great bet at -1. But the Falcons have a couple of injury issues that are worth noting. First and foremost, their top corner Brent Grimes is out following knee surgery and their starting nickel back Kelvin Hayden is out with a toe injury. Thus, the inexperienced Christopher Owens will start for Grimes and the extremely inexperienced Dominique Franks (a fifth-round pick from 2010) will fill in for Hayden at the nickel. Granted, even if I were starting at corner for Atlanta the Texans aren’t going to be throwing much with Yates. Houston will rely on its running game and defense to win this one and with Michael Turner and Julio Jones banged up, I like the Texans to pull off the small upset.
THE PICK: TEXANS +1

Chiefs @ Bears, 1:00PM ET
I was shocked when I saw the opening line for this game, which was Bears -9. The spread is down to 7, which makes more sense, but I still think it’s too high. I don’t trust Mike Martz to put Caleb Hanie in successful situations and furthermore, to revolve his offense around Matt Forte, which is what he should do. The Chiefs are extremely limited offensively with Tyler Palko under center but at least this will be his third consecutive game as the starter. He should be more comfortable and confident in his abilities and I expect Kansas City’s defense to keep this game close, just like it did last week versus Pittsburgh.
THE PICK: CHIEFS +7

Lions @ Saints, 8:20PM ET
This one could get ugly quickly. The best way to beat an elite quarterback like Drew Brees is to pressure him with your front four and then drop the back seven into coverage. That’s hard to do on its own and it gets to be an even bigger challenge for a team like Detroit that will be without its best defensive tackle in Ndamukong Suh. The Lions also have a slew of defensive backs out with injury and just don’t have the offensive firepower to keep up with the Saints. I like New Orleans to roll.
THE PICK: SAINTS -9

Check out the most current NFL Football Betting odds.

2011 NFL Week 12 Primer

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) leads his team on the field before their game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field on November 14, 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. UPI/Brian Kersey

Packers @ Lions, 12:30PM ET, Thursday
I truly believe that it’s Green Bay and then everyone else when it comes to the power structure of the NFL. But don’t think for a second that the Lions can’t beat the Packers on Thanksgiving Day. They’ve been waiting a long time to be strong enough to finally punch the bully back and they’ll have their opportunity tomorrow. The key for Detroit is its front four. If they can rush Aaron Rodgers with only Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril, Corey Williams and Kyle Vanden Bosch, then they’re going to be fine. And with how suspect Green Bay’s defense has been this year, if its still a game in the fourth quarter then the Lions have a shot to pull off the upset.

Dolphins @ Cowboys, 4:15PM ET, Thursday
This is definitely the weakest of the Thanksgiving matchups but this game still offers plenty of intrigue. The Cowboys are now tied with the Giants for first place in the NFC East but they’ve turned in inconsistent performances all season. And during Miami’s three-game winning streak, the Dolphins haven’t allowed a touchdown in 12 quarters. This is going to be a bigger challenge for Tony Romo and Co. than people think.

49ers @ Ravens, 8:20PM ET, Thursday
Forget the Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh stuff – this is a great matchup between two physical teams that will fight for four quarters. The Ravens have been playing up and down to their competition all season and their offense has sputtered at times. On the other side, San Francisco’s defense has been a rock for nine straight weeks but Baltimore’s run defense is outstanding so it’ll be interesting to see how the Niners fare when they have to lean on Alex Smith and the passing game. There doesn’t figure to be much scoring in this game but if you like hard-nosed football, then it doesn’t get better than this.

Vikings @ Falcons, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
This isn’t a very exciting matchup with Adrian Peterson out with an ankle injury but it’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons stay with their no-huddle attack on offense. They ran the no-huddle exclusively in their 23-17 win over the Titans last Sunday and had great success with it (outside of settling for field goals when they reached the red zone, that is). Matt Ryan looks most comfortable running that offense but will OC Mike Mularkey make it Atlanta’s identity on offense? He’s been hesitant to ditch his “smashmouth” approach but at some point the Falcons need to develop more consistency on offense. Maybe running the no-huddle full-time is the answer.

Texans @ Jaguars, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
It’s time to see if Matt Leinart has matured as a quarterback. He failed in Arizona because he wasn’t ready to lead a young team with potential (unlike Kurt Warner, who prospered in the situation). Now Leinart is at the controls of a veteran club that has an outstanding running game and a sound defense. Can he manage games and make plays when his number is called or will he crumble under the pressure? In Jacksonville’s defense, he’ll face a stiff test right out of the gates.

Buccaneers @ Titans, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
One of these teams will keep its playoff hopes alive on Sunday while the other could be looking at a long offseason. The Titans remain two games behind the Texans in the AFC South but with Matt Schaub out for the season, Tennessee has a golden opportunity to get back into the divisional race if it can string some wins together. On the other side, the Bucs continue to fall further behind the Saints and Falcons in the NFC South. In some respects, this might as well be an elimination game for these two teams (although more so for the Bucs).

Cardinals @ Rams, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
Steve Spagnuolo and Billy Devaney’s jobs seem safe for now in St. Louis. But any more displays like last Sunday and the Rams could be searching for a new head coach and/or general manager this offseason. Sam Bradford and Co. were pitiful on offense in their 24-7 loss to Seattle last weekend.

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2011 NFL Week 11 Primer

San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) gets up offf the field after being sacked by the Oakland Raiders during their Thursday Night NFL football game in San Diego, California November 10 , 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Jets @ Broncos, 8:20PM ET, Thursday
Tim Tebow will have a hard time winning another game this season in which he only completes two passes, especially this one tonight against the Jets. I know – I’m going out on a limb with that statement. I fully expect an angry Rex Ryan defense to shut Tebow down but then again, who knows? Maybe Tebow has another surprise up his sleeve. Denver’s defense is certainly good enough to keep this one close and if Mark Sanchez starts turning the ball over and making boneheaded decisions, the Broncos are certainly capable of pulling off the upset.

Eagles @ Giants, 8:20PM ET, Sunday
Last week I saw a team in Philadelphia completely give up. But they always seem to give the Giants problems, especially in New York. If Vince Young (assuming he plays for the injured Michael Vick) comes out motivated, then there’s no reason the Eagles can’t pull off the upset. But Eli Manning is playing some of the best football of his career and Philadelphia’s defense has looked lost under coordinator Juan Castillo. This game could really go either way. The G-Men could roll to an easy victory and keep Dallas at bay in the division, or Philly could surprise and turn the NFC East completely on its head.

Bengals @ Ravens, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
The Ravens have been playing up or down to their competition all year. One week they’re beating the Steelers (twice), Texans and Jets, while the next they’re losing to the Jaguars and Seahawks, or nearly losing at home to the Cardinals. Thus, it’ll be interesting to see how Baltimore comes out for this one. The Ravens blew it by not showing up last Sunday in Seattle and while Cincinnati is banged up, the Bengals have been competitive all season (as evidence in their 6-3 record). Will the real Ravens show up or will they view Cincinnati as an inferior opponent and once again take their foot off the gas?

Chargers @ Bears, 4:15PM ET, Sunday
The Chargers’ loss last week to the Raiders was pretty jarring, even for an underachieving San Diego bunch. Oakland has been competitive all year but the Raiders were banged up on both sides of the ball, were without Darren McFadden and were playing on the road. The Chargers needed to win that game. Instead, they lost for the fourth week in a row and now they have to travel to Chicago to play a red-hot Bears team playing with a ton of confidence right now. With Oakland in Minnesota this Sunday, it’s entirely feasible that the Bolts could be staring at a two-game deficit in the AFC West with six games to go. Philip Rivers has to step up at some point and stop making so many mistakes.

Titans @ Falcons, 4:15PM ET, Sunday
Here are the Falcons’ next five games: home against Tennessee and Minnesota, on the road against Houston and Carolina, and then back home against Jacksonville. There’s no reason Atlanta can’t be 10-4 when it travels to New Orleans for a Week 16 rematch against the Saints, but at some point its offense needs to put it all together. Matt Ryan has to be better, offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has to be better and Roddy White definitely has to be better. Julio Jones or no Julio Jones, this Falcon offense has too much talent to be this inconsistent. There’s not a doubt in my mind that if Atlanta doesn’t play to its absolute full potential that Tennessee could win this Sunday. The Titans have an extra spring in their step following the news of Matt Schaub’s season-ending injury and their defense could definitely shut the Falcons down if it plays as well as it did last Sunday in Carolina.

Cowboys @ Redskins, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
The Giants sometimes have trouble with the Eagles so this is a prime opportunity for the Cowboys to pick up a big road win and then sit back and see if Philly can knock off New York on Sunday night. If that happens, both New York and Dallas would be 6-4 atop the NFC East. But the ‘Boys can’t get caught looking ahead. The Redskins have been abysmal offensively over the past month but Rex Grossman nearly led Washington to a win in Dallas earlier this season. Of course, that was when the Cowboys couldn’t even snap the ball and had several no-names at receiver, but still – take heed Dallas.

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