Are the Carolina Panthers the most dangerous team in the NFC?

Carolina PanthersAnybody catch the Panthers’ 38-23 win over the Buccaneers on Monday night? If you didn’t, you missed ESPN’s Monday Night Football crew waxing poetically about how Carolina could wind up being the No. 1 seed in the NFC. (Seriously, I know it’s their job to create storylines but I thought the trio of Mike Tirico, Tony Kornheiser and Ron Jaworski were going to fall out of the booth trying to make love to the Panthers.)

Carolina’s win over NFC South Division rival Tampa Bay was impressive. They ran the ball extremely well (like, 299 yards well) against one of the best defenses in the NFC, Steve Smith made big plays and for the most part, the defense was solid.

But before we even remotely toy with the idea that the Panthers will leapfrog the New York Giants in the NFC, maybe we should slow down and take dose of reality.

Yes, the Panthers’ win over the Bucs to capture first place in the NFC South was imposing and dare I say, dominant. But NFC South teams are now 0-10 on the road against other NFC South teams, so while Carolina’s victory was a nice statement, it wasn’t necessarily shock.

Tampa has often struggled on the road throughout this season. If it weren’t for double-digit come from behind wins against Kansas City and Detroit, the Bucs would be 7-6 right now. They’re currently allowing close to 24 points a game on the road this year, compared to just 12.6 at home. For as good as Monte Kiffin’s defense has looked this season, it’s simply been a different unit on the road than it has been at home.

But let’s get back to Carolina. The Panthers are currently atop the exciting NFC South at 10-3 and are home against the Broncos this Sunday, then at the Giants and at the Saints to end the year. Those are three winnable games, but a daunting final stretch to say the least. Assuming they can beat the Broncos this week (which won’t be easy coming off a short week and with Denver trying to clinch the AFC West), does anyone see this team beating both the Giants and Saints on the road? New Orleans might be knocked out of the playoff race by then, but they would certainly love the opportunity to play spoiler against a division rival.

The Panthers are definitely a playoff team and one that could make noise when the postseason starts. They have a veteran quarterback, an unbelievable playmaker in Smith and a running game that could shred any opponent. But let’s relax a little on the idea of them earning home field advantage throughout the postseason. The Giants are still the best team in the NFC (if not in the league) and the Bucs and Falcons still have a shot to upend Carolina in the division. And teams can look vastly different from game to game in the NFL.

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Keep the bench warm Brady – Derek Anderson is on fire

Derek AndersonThey’ve only played one half of football in Cleveland, but so far Derek Anderson is rewarding Romeo Crennel and the Browns for sticking with him as their starting quarterback. DA is 11 of 16 for 225 yards and a touchdown at the half, and outside of a couple of misfires on their first drive of the game, he’s played flawless.

Anderson found Darnell Dinkins for a 22-yard touchdown pass before half and Cleveland has built a rather shocking 17-14-halftime lead. The deficit should be more, but the Browns continue to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties, including one that negated a fumble recovery that eventually led to a Plaxico Burress 3-yard touchdown reception.

One thing to note is how well Cleveland has played defensively to this point. Shaun Rogers has been a beast in getting pressure on Eli Manning, while Brodney Pool came up with a huge interception when New York was driving for a score in the first quarter.

It’ll be interesting to see if Anderson cancels out his first half performance with a second half collapse as Cleveland fans cry out for Brady Quinn. If the Browns can’t hold on to the lead, surely Crennel will have played into it somehow.

Brad Childress owes Martin Gramatica a huge thank you

Martin GramaticaIf the clock strikes Noon on Tuesday and Saints’ kicker Martin Gramatica still has a job, I’ll be shocked. Not only did the elf-like kicker shank a 46-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter to aid the Vikings in their 30-27 victory over New Orleans Monday night, but the guy also had one blocked and returned for a touchdown in the first quarter because he didn’t get enough air under the kick.

In fairness to Gramatica, the Saints made a ton of mistakes in the loss, including racking up 102 yards on 11 penalties and turning the ball over four times. But considering M-Gram missed a FG earlier in the year that could have won a game in Denver, the guy has to be out of chances to play in this league. Morten Anderson may be 100 years old, but he proved last year that he’s still accurate – maybe Sean Payton needs to pick up the phone and give the ageless one a call.

Of course, if it weren’t for Gramatica’s missed field goal, the real buffoon from this game would have been Minnesota head coach Brad Childress. This genius allowed his punter and special teams coach to kick to Reggie Bush not once, but three times on returns, two of which were returned for Saints’ touchdowns. The Vikes had a 10-point third quarter lead evaporate when Bush took a 71-yard punt return to the house, cutting the deficit to 20-17. Two punt returns later, Bush returned another kick for a touchdown, this one from 64-yards out. And both times Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe kicked a low line drive to give Bush plenty of space to make a return. Now maybe I’m casting the blame on the wrong person, but Childress is the man in charge. How the hell could he allow Bush the opportunity to make multiple momentum shifting plays on special teams? Just dumb decisions all he way around.

And how about Ed Hochuli’s crew blowing another call? That was a brutal missed call in the first half when Bush fumbled, but clearly had his facemask yanked by a Vikings’ defender. He wasn’t the one that missed the call, but Ed has had a rough start to the year.

On a less critical note, Gus Frerotte was gritty Monday night. He took a vicious hit in the fourth quarter but still managed to stay in the game and squeeze a 33-yard pass into Bernard Berrian despite two defenders in the area to tie the game at 27 all. Childress at least deserves praise for going to the veteran Frerotte a few weeks ago, because he has given the Vikes’ passing game a much-needed boost.

Steelers edge out Ravens in overtime

Steelers-RavensIt was a tale of two halves Monday night in Pittsburgh as the Steelers slipped past the Ravens 23-20 thanks to Josh Reed’s 46-yard field goal in overtime.

Baltimore took a 13-3 lead deep into the third quarter but following a Nate Washington 8-yard reception on a 1st and 10 play from Pittsburgh’s 33-yard line, LB Jarret Johnson was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty that set up the Steelers at the Raven 44-yard line.

Up until that point, Pittsburgh was lifeless and Heinz Field resembled a morgue. The Steelers wound up scoring three plays later on a Santonio Holmes 38-yard touchdown reception, which trimmed Baltimore’s lead to 13-10. Then on the Ravens’ first play following the kickoff, Pittsburgh LB James Harrison crushed rookie QB Joe Flacco, causing a fumble that was scooped up by LaMarr Woodley at the 7-yard line and taken into the end zone for a Steelers’ touchdown. Suddenly, two and a half quarters of solid play went out the window for the Ravens and they found themselves trailing 17-13.

After the Steelers pushed their lead to 20-13 on Reed’s second field goal of the night with just under 10 minutes to play, Flacco led Baltimore on a nine-play, 76-yard drive which ended with Le’Ron McClain scoring on a 2-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 20. It all went for naught, however, as the Steelers forced the Ravens to punt on their opening possession of overtime, then won the game seven plays later on Reed’s third field goal.

Baltimore flat out blew an opportunity for a big win. Before Johnson gift-wrapped momentum for the Steelers thanks to his penalty, Pittsburgh looked lost. For the second straight week Ben Roethlisberger was playing like crap, they had no running game and outside of finding some success running the no-huddle, the Steelers’ coaching staff appeared befuddled on how to move the ball on the Ravens’ nasty defense. But that’s why teams have to play all 60 minutes, especially when they’re on the road and playing in a tough environment. There’s no doubt Baltimore will look back at this game and think about what could have been.

Side Note: Is it just me or did anyone else get the impression that ESPN commentator Ron “Jaws” Jaworski was flat out rooting for the Ravens during the game? I know Tony Kornheiser mentioned that Jaws’ son went to Delaware (same school as Flacco), but man, most of his comments seemed aimed at how good Flacco is/could be. I like Jaws, but he seemed a little biased tonight.

Also, it was great to hear that Andre Frazier was up and walking around the Steelers’ locker room after the game. Frazier was taken from the field on a stretcher after injuring his spine on the opening kickoff of the game.

No Monday night magic for Favre as Chargers pick up first win

Brett FavreIt was only the first quarter and things already looked incredibly bad for the San Diego Chargers.

After forcing the Jets to punt on the first possession of the game, Chargers’ QB Philip Rivers lined up in the shotgun formation on a 3rd and 5 from San Diego’s 20-yard line. Then he handled the snap poorly, rushed a pass and threw a strike to Jets’ DB David Barrett, who returned the miscue 25 yards for a touchdown. Just like that it was Jets 7, Chargers 0.

But Rivers and the Chargers eventually settled down, got the offense rolling and harassed Jets’ QB Brett Favre. The end result was a 48-29 beat down in which the Chargers scored 31 points in the first half alone. Rivers finished 19 of 25 for 250 yards and three touchdowns, while LaDainian Tomlinson bounced back from a poor outing last week to rush for 67 yards and two scores. It was obviously a huge win for the Bolts because not only was it their first of the season, but it also showed that they have some fight left in them after two emotionally-draining losses in previous weeks.

As for Favre, his final numbers (30 for 42, 271 yards, 3 TDs) weren’t bad, but he threw two interceptions (one was returned for a touchdown by Antonio Cromartie, who had two INTs on the night) and could have been picked off at least twice more. He also often held on to the ball too long and took sacks because his receivers either couldn’t get open or he wasn’t making quick enough reads. At one during the first half, the ESPN commentators mentioned that Favre’s poor play was partly due to him still being unfamiliar with the Jets’ offense. Considering it might be his last season and Jets’ head coach Eric Mangini’s job is on the line, Favre better become real familiar with the offense, real quick.

Side Note:
Check out these Monday Night scores so far this year:
Packers 24, Vikings 19
Broncos 41, Raiders 14
Cowboys 41, Eagles 37
Chargers 48, Jets 29

Does that not scream for bettors to take the “over” next week or what? (And now that I’ve poured a big cup of jinx on the over bet for next week, I’d like to release my early prediction for next Monday night’s game: Steelers 3, Ravens 2.)

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