NFL Quick-Hits: 10 Observations from Week 3

1. No sense debating the Lions’ fourth down gaff – it wasn’t supposed to happen.
One of the hot topics around your water cooler this morning will be the Lions’ decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 in overtime instead of attempting a game-tying field goal from the Titans’ 7-yard line. But there’s no sense debating the decision because the play was never supposed to happen. Following the game coach Jim Schwartz said that Detroit was trying to draw Tennessee offsides. Whether or not the Lions would have still gone for it had the offsides attempt not worked is unknown, but the most controversial play of the day wasn’t controversial at all. Shaun Hill (who came into the game after Matthew Stafford suffered a leg injury) and the Lions just blew the task at hand. The bigger worry for Schwartz should be the fact that his team has yet to play well. The Lions arguably should have lost Week 1 to the Rams, were dominated by the 49ers in Week 2, and allowed 44 points to a Titans team that had been outscored 72-23 coming into Sunday’s action. For a team coming off a postseason berth a year ago, the Lions look every bit a sub-.500 team.

(For what it’s worth, I thought the Lions should have gone for it on fourth down in that situation. Their defense and special teams were brutal all afternoon and they were playing on the road. But you don’t put the ball in the hands of Hill with the day Mikel Leshoure was having.)

2. So far the NFL’s gamble hasn’t paid off.
One of the biggest reasons why Roger Goodell and the NFL hasn’t given in to the demands of the locked out officials is because the league assumed that the replacements would get better each week. But just six nights after the replacement officials contributed to a first quarter between the Broncos and Falcons that took over an hour to complete on “Monday Night Football,” this was the scene on Sunday night: Baltimore’s Ladarius Webb throwing his helmet in disgust, New England’s Vince Wilfork screaming at an official in the end zone following Justin Tucker’s game-winning field goal, and Bill Belichick angrily chasing down line judge Esteban Garza and yanking his arm as he tried to run off the field. Following the game, you had linebacker Brandon Spikes tweeting, “Can someone please tell these f****** zebras foot locker called and they’re needed Back at work !!!!” It wasn’t just the Baltimore-New England game either. The Detroit-Tennessee contest was a mess as well, as the replacement officials gave the Titans an extra 12 yards following a penalty in overtime (which eventually led to the game-winning field goal). Is this the vision that Goodell has for his league? The fans, which allow the NFL to be the most popular game in America, deserve better than this. It’s not like the regular officials don’t blow calls, make mistakes, or factor into wins and losses. But the NFL has become a punch line because of these replacements.

3. The jury is still out on the Cardinals, but not their defense.
Are the Cardinals for real? Even after they crushed the Eagles 27-6 on Sunday, skepticism remains. They’re essentially two plays away from being 1-2 instead of 3-0, so let’s wait a few weeks before we assume we misjudged Ken Whisenhunt’s team in preseason. But one thing’s for sure: The Cardinals’ defense is for real. Players were confused and often caught out of position when Ray Horton took over as defensive coordinator last season. He runs the same defensive scheme that Dick LeBeau uses in Pittsburgh, which means every player has a specific role that must be executed or the entire defense may struggle. But in Year 2 of Horton’s scheme, his defenders have a firm grasp on what their responsibilities are and at least three through weeks they’re thriving in their roles. They held Michael Vick to just 217 yards passing, sacked him five times and forced three fumbles on the day. Daryl Washington is becoming a star, Patrick Peterson is on the fast track when it comes to his development, and Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett and Kerry Rhodes are steady veterans. The offense remains a huge concern thanks to one of the worst offensive lines in football, but Horton’s defense is going to keep Arizona in most games going forward.

4. The Vikings’ upset of the 49ers was easier to spot than you think.
The biggest shock of Week 3 came in Minnesota where the Vikings upset the 49ers, 24-13. The Vikings, who barely got by the Jaguars at home in Week 1 and who were beaten by rookie quarterback Andrew Luck in Week 2, were 7-point home underdogs against a San Francisco team that was regarded as the class of the NFC – if not the entire NFL. But the 49ers were also coming off wins against the Packers and Lions and were due for a letdown. Their offense is also very methodical and lacks explosion, so once they get behind by a couple of scores they’re not prone to stage comebacks. Now, did I see Christian Ponder completing 21-of-35 passes for 198 yards with three total touchdowns (two passing, one rushing)? No. But his ability to scramble proved to be a major weapon against a stingy San Francisco defense, which couldn’t limit the big play. Throw in the fact that Minnesota won the turnover and time of possession battle and it all adds up to one of the bigger upsets of the year thus far.

5. The Texans and Falcons look like the class of each conference.
With all due respect to the 3-0 Cardinals, the Texans and Falcons look like the class of the AFC and NFC through the first three weeks of the season. Houston has outscored opponents 88-42 and its first trip out West proved to be a successful one, as the Texans beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos 31-25 on Sunday. The Falcons, meanwhile, are 2-0 on the road and had no trouble with previously unbeaten San Diego despite coming off a short week of rest and preparation following their Monday night win over Denver. No quarterback has been more efficient than Matt Ryan through the first three weeks of the season and Mike Nolan has transformed Atlanta’s defense into a top 10 unit. One other thing the Falcons have done well is blend Mike Smith’s philosophy on ball control and Dirk Koetter’s desire to throw the ball vertical. Atlanta’s offense is still very methodical but the difference now is that the scheme is built around Ryan and the no-huddle, compared to Michael Turner and the ground-and-pound philosophy that Mike Mularkey implemented the past four years. Both Atlanta and Houston play keep-away better than any team in the league, with the only difference being that the Texans have a legit running game to compliment their passing attack. Both defenses are also built to confuse opposing quarterbacks and force turnovers, which the Falcons and Texans have been able to do thus far.

6. The Ravens come up huge.
The Ravens exacted a small measure of revenge last night on the Patriots, who beat Baltimore in the AFC title game just a few months ago. The replacement officials marred an otherwise terrific night for the heavy-hearted Torrey Smith, who played less than 24 hours after the death of his younger brother. He caught six passes for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a beautiful 25-yard grab in the second quarter. Joe Flacco also impressed one week after struggling against the Eagles, as he completed 28-of-39 passes for 382 yards and three touchdowns. The win was huge on a couple of different levels for Baltimore. First and foremost, the Steelers lost to the Raiders earlier in the day so the Ravens and Bengals are now tied atop the division at 2-1. The victory also guaranteed Baltimore a leg up against New England when it comes to tiebreakers at the end of the year. Even though they’re 1-2, Bill Belichick’s Patriots will bounce back and be in the playoff mix at the end of the year. So it’s huge for the Ravens to have a head-to-head win over a team that they always seem to meet in the postseason.

7. There’s a good chance the Saints will head into their bye week winless.
I guess we all should have seen this coming. No team could have gone through what the Saints did in the offseason and now suffer any residual affects. Not only was New Orleans marred in the bounty scandal, but don’t forget that Drew Brees missed significant offseason time while battling with the front office over his contract. In losing Sean Payton the Saints not only lost their head coach but their playcaller as well. Talk all you want about Pete Carmichael being a reliable fill-in but through three weeks the Saints’ offense has yet to develop consistency. The biggest problem, of course, might be on the defensive side of the ball as Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme has yet to sink in. In their 27-24 victory on Sunday, Kansas City was able to play keep-away with Jamaal Charles, who rushed for over 200 yards on the maligned New Orleans defense. Through three weeks Spagnuolo’s unit has allowed 40 points to Washington, 35 to Carolina and 27 to Kansas City. And with Green Bay and San Diego coming up, there’s a very realistic chance that the Saints will be 0-5 heading into their Week 6 bye.

8. The Steelers’ defense is getting exposed.
We’ve reached a point when it’s no longer surprising that Pittsburgh’s defense allows a 100-yard rusher, isn’t able to generate pressure, and allows big plays when one of Dick LeBeau’s zone blitzes backfires. The problem is that James Harrison and Troy Polamalu can’t stay healthy. The bigger problem is that the Steelers haven’t drafted well on that side of the ball in a long time. Younger players have failed to step up and there’s no new wave of brilliant Pittsburgh defenders coming down what used to be an endless pipe of production. The unit is old, tired and now, underperforming. The Steelers’ defense used to dictate games and now opposing quarterbacks are outsmarting them, even aging signal callers like Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer. If you’re expecting the Steelers’ defense to all of a sudden flip the switch and go back to being the dominate force that it’s been for over a decade, you might be waiting awhile. Re-enforcements are not on their way.

9. The Jets are in trouble.
A team source told Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports! that Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis “probably” has a torn left ACL. If “probably” turns into “confirmed,” New York is in major trouble. Revis means everything to Rex Ryan’s defense, so much so that the Jets’ entire season could be lost without him locking down one side of the field. Mark Sanchez completed 21-of-45 passes for 306 yards with one touchdown but his numbers are misleading. Against Miami’s weak pass defense, Sanchez routinely missed open receivers, struggled under pressure and threw two interceptions. If Revis is indeed lost for the season, the Jets will quickly find out what they have in Sanchez, who doesn’t handle pressure very well (on or off the field). It could wind up being a long year in New York.

10. Cowboys once again disappoint.
They may have earned a hard-fought victory but the Cowboys didn’t exactly send fear into the hearts of the NFC elite with their 16-10 win over the Bucs on Sunday. Dallas only racked up 297 yards of total offense, which featured six false start penalties and a couple of Jason Witten drops (including one would-be touchdown). Credit Tampa Bay’s defense for coming to play but 2.1 yards per carry out of DeMarco Murray isn’t going to cut it either. Through three weeks the Cowboys have one impressive performance (the opening win against the Giants), one dud performance (the Week 2 loss at Seattle) and one blasé performance (Sunday vs. the Bucs). We’ll find out a lot about Jerry Jones’ team when it hosts Chicago next week before visiting Baltimore following a bye in Week 6.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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.

Five Questions surrounding Week 13 in the NFL

Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak coaches against the Cleveland Browns in the second half at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas on November 6, 2011. The Texans defeated the Browns 30-12. UPI/Aaron M. Sprecher

What are some of the biggest questions heading into Week 13 of the NFL season?

1. Can the Texans survive with T.J. Yates at quarterback?
And by “survive” I mean win enough games to clinch the AFC South and make their first ever playoff appearance in franchise history. Apparently Gary Kubiak and his staff worked out Jeff Garcia and Jake Delhomme but for the moment, the starting job is firmly in the hands of Yates, who has zero experience outside of the two and a half quarters he played on Sunday. Now, Yates did have an impressive Pro Day back in April and does come from a pro style offense under North Carolina offensive coordinator John Shoop and head coach Butch Davis. He also impressed the Houston coaching staff this offseason and was considered a “sleeper” but some in the draft. But he’s a fifth-round pick and a developmental quarterback. He was never supposed to see the field this year and now all of a sudden the Texans’ playoff hopes are on his shoulders (for the moment, at least). Talk about pressure. This weekend the Texans play the Falcons, who have a solid run defense and who will certainly challenge Houston’s tough defense, unlike Jacksonville did last Sunday. It’ll be interesting to see how Yates on the Texans fare this week.

2. Can the Giants hand the Packers their first loss?
“Detroit and New York” were the two games most people pointed to as the games in which the Packers could suffer their first loss of the season. But after Green Bay somewhat easily disposed of the Lions on Thanksgiving Day, and following the Giants’ pitiful effort in New Orleans on Monday, it’s likely that there are less people on the New York bandwagon this week. If Aaron issues getting past New York. Granted, the Giants usually play better when their backs are against the wall but their backs were pressed firmly against the wall in New Orleans and they didn’t bother showing up. Thus, it makes you wonder if this isn’t another one of the G-Men’s late-season collapses under Tom Coughlin and Green Bay is just going to burn house down. We’ll find out soon…

3. Can the Bengals knock off the Steelers?
Just when you thought they would go quietly into that good night, the Bengals pulled off a come-from-behind victory last Sunday against the Browns and remain in Baltimore and Pittsburgh’s rearview mirror. That said, Cincinnati has to beat Pittsburgh this weekend if the Bengals are going to have any chance of making the playoffs this season. They’re not mathematically out if they lose but they have to prove to themselves that they can beat one of the two best teams in the AFC North. They fell to the Steelers by a touchdown at home three weeks ago but if they can win in Pittsburgh this weekend then the Bengals must be viewed as a legit contender.

4. Will the Cowboys seize control of the NFC East?
With the Giants’ loss to the Saints on Monday night, the Cowboys now have sole possession of first place in the NFC East. And seeing as how the Giants host the undefeated Packers on Sunday and the Cowboys play the 4-7 Cardinals, Dallas has a great opportunity to take a two-game lead in the division. But this is the Cowboys – the same team that needed overtime to beat the hapless Redskins in Week 11 and who were taken to the brink by the three-win Dolphins on Thanksgiving Day. (In defense of Dallas, Miami was on a three-game winning streak.) My point is that the ‘Boys have yet to put together that one signature win of 2011 and haven’t played a team with a winning record since Week 6 at New England. I wouldn’t be shocked if Arizona gives Dallas a game on Sunday.

5. The Broncos can’t keep winning this way, can they?
Actually yes, they probably can. At least this Sunday they can, because they travel to Minnesota to play a Vikings team that may or may not have Adrian Peterson (ankle) for a second straight week. There’s certainly no reason to believe that the Broncos can’t come away with another 16-13 victory as Denver’s defense stymies another opponent and Tim Tebow rushes for the game-winning score as time expires. Whatever “it” is, Denver has it as all of the players believe in Tebow despite his massive shortcomings as a passer. If the Vikings can’t figure the Broncos’ defense out then it’s going to be another long afternoon for Christian Ponder and Co.

Fade Material: Week 11 NFL Predictions

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton warms up at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 18, 2011 in Denver. The Broncos try to avoid their first 0-2 start in 12 years. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

Why do you smite me NFL prediction Gods? WHY! WHY I ASK!

For those that continue to fade me, I say nice work. I’m now 17-23 on the year after another 2-2 week (the Steelers and Patriots covered while the over in the Saints/Falcons and under in the Giants/49ers games did not) and chances are I’ll either go 0-4, 1-3 or 2-2 again this Sunday. Winning would be too much to ask apparently.

WHY!

Bengals @ Ravens, 1:00PM ET
When Baltimore jumps out to a 42-point lead in the second quarter I’ll say to myself, “Yep, that makes sense.” But for now, I think Cincinnati is being undervalued while Baltimore is being overvalued. Seven points is a lot in a divisional game, especially considering how the Bengals have played all season. Yes, I know that Leon Hall and A.J. Green are out with injuries but Andy Dalton has made plays all year. Plus, and this is a biggie, Baltimore has been so inconsistent on offense that the Bengals could feasibly win this game outright. I don’t think that’ll happen, but I do like Cincy to keep it close.
THE PICK: BENGALS +7

Raiders @ Vikings, 1:00PM ET
Oakland really needs this game after Denver beat New York on Thursday night making the AFC West race even tighter. The Raiders are banged up but they were banged up last week in San Diego and beat the Chargers by a touchdown. Carson Palmer needs to play mistake-free football, especially considering Minnesota’s run defense isn’t going to allow Michael Bush to run all over them like he did versus San Diego. With the spread sitting so low I like Palmer’s chances of beating the rook Christian Ponder, even through this game is at the Metrodome.
THE PICK: RAIDERS –1

Titans @ Falcons, 4:15PM ET
Six points is way too much to lay with an Atlanta team that likes to keep things conservative by staying on the ground and eking out victories instead of stomping on their opponents’ chests. The Titans should be extra motivated to win now that Matt Schaub is out for the season and they have a realistic shot of winning the AFC South. With Chris Johnson coming alive the past two weeks, I think Tennessee will stick with Atlanta throughout and maybe even win outright.
THE PICK: TITANS +6

Eagles @ Giants, 8:20PM ET
The Eagles are 4-0 against the spread in their last four trips to East Rutherford but I don’t trust Philly as far as I can throw Andy Reid. And I cannot throw him very far. He’s a very large man and I just can’t seem to get the leverage. Vince Young is likely starting tonight for the injured Michael Vick, which means a quarterback with zero experience running Reid’s offense during the regular season will be counted on to win the most important game of Philadelphia’s season. I don’t like the Eagles’ chances. Eli Manning is playing the best fourth-quarter football of any quarterback in the league and I like the Giants to rise up against a Philadelphia team that looked as if it quite last Sunday versus the Cardinals. Let’s up that same Eagle team shows up again tonight.
THE PICK: GIANTS –4.5

Sunday Evening Quick-Hitters: Reactions from Week 8 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…

St. Louis Rams Steven Jackson looks downfield after making a reception in the second quarter against the Carolina Panthers at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on October 31, 2010. St. Louis won the game 20-10. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

– “If only the Rams could now somehow beat the Saints on Sunday, this would be the greatest sports weekend EVER,” uttered the random St. Louis fan on Friday night after the Cardinals defeated the Rangers in Game 7 of the World Series. How do the previously winless Rams defeat a team in the Saints that just racked up 62 points on the Colts? Well, that’s pretty easy. When you can’t stop Steven Jackson even though you know he’s going to get the ball every down, you lose two turnovers over on your side of the field, and you don’t protect your quarterback, you’re going to lose to most opponents regardless of whether or not they have any wins. The Rams won this game because of Jackson and their defense, which sacked Drew Brees six times and returned one of his passes for a game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. Chris Long absolutely abused Charles Brown, who should have been given more help because he clearly needed it. The Rams clearly haven’t checked out and they’ll continue to fight every Sunday. That was apparent for anyone who saw Jackson flip out on his offensive line late in the second half following yet another false start penalty. What a sweet first win this was for a city that is on cloud nine right now.

– It’s not really shocking that the 2-6 Panthers lost another game. But considering whom they were playing and given that they were 3.5-point home favorites, it was a little surprising to see Carolina go down in flames to Minnesota on Sunday. Christian Ponder’s 102.7 passer rating and 8.4 yards per attempt were both season-highs for the Vikings, who apparently just should have started the kid from Week 1 and bypassed acquiring Donovan McNabb altogether. Ponder threw for 236 yards and a touchdown on 18-of-28 passing while earning his first career win thanks in large part to Olindo Mare’s inability to hit a 31-yard chip shot. The miss, which came with under a minute left to play, cost the Panthers an opportunity to force overtime. Good thing Carolina GM Marty Hurney spent so much money on Mare this offseason. Dude was totally worth it.

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