Five Questions for Week 15 in the NFL

Every Tuesday I’ll take a look at the five biggest questions surrounding NFL teams for that week. This week I take a look at the Broncos-Patriots showdown, the Giants’ important divisional game against the Redskins plus Big Ben’s injury situation.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger surpasses former Steelers Terry Bradshaw mark of 2026 pass completions today during the 35-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 4, 2011. UPI/Archie Carpenter

1. Can the Broncos really do the unthinkable?
At this point it might be foolish to doubt what the Broncos can do. They’ve won six in a row and seven of their last eight, which includes comeback victories in either the fourth quarter or overtime of five games. Tim Tebow has received most of the attention but if not for Denver’s stingy defense or kicker Matt Prater it’s safe to say that Tebow wouldn’t have had the chance to turn in so many clutch performances. But can the Broncos really do the unthinkable? Can they knock off Tom Brady and the Patriots? If they can, they might as well punch their ticket as AFC West champions because they face beatable Buffalo and Kansas City in the final two weeks. But first things first: they must beat New England. That’s obviously easier said than done but if the Broncos come up victorious this weekend they’ll send a message to the rest of the league that they should be taken seriously. (Of course, one could say that they’ve already sent that message over the past six weeks.)

2. Can the scrappy Redskins halt the Giants momentum?
With the Giants’ wild 34-31 win over the Cowboys on Sunday night, things are all tied up again in the NFC East. New York is technically in first place by virtue of its head-to-head tiebreaker, but Dallas will have its shot at revenge in Week 17. In the meantime, there’s no more room for letdowns. The Cowboys travel to Tampa Bay on Saturday night to take on a Bucs team that is coming off a 41-14 spanking at the hands of the lousy Jaguars while the Giants host the 4-9 Redskins. For all intents and purposes, Dallas and New York should emerge from Week 15 with identical 8-6 records. That said, let’s not forget that Rex Grossman and Co. knocked off the Giants all the way back in Week 1. Granted, that game was also played in Washington but the Skins have nothing to lose at this point and they’re playing decent football of late. They’ve dropped three of their last four games but outside of their 34-19 loss to the Jets in Week 13 (a game that didn’t get out of hand until the fourth quarter), they’ve been competitive over the past month. The Giants have a habit of playing down to their competition and if they do it again this week the Mike Shanahan’s could nip them again.

3. How will Big Ben’s ankle injury affect his play?
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the high ankle sprain that Ben Roethlisberger suffered last Thursday against the Browns was the least damaging type of sprain. That’s obviously good news for the Steelers and considering Big Ben was able to return to the Cleveland game, he shouldn’t miss Monday’s game versus San Francisco. That said, how effective will he be is the question. Roethlisberger has played through various injuries all season and has played quite well. But he said this latest injury was “one of the most painful things I ever felt.” With the Steelers still battling with the Ravens for first place in the AFC North, they can ill-afford to have Roethlisberger sit if he says he’s able to go. But considering they all but have a playoff spot locked up, at what point does Pittsburgh decide that the risk isn’t worth the reward? This will be an interesting storyline to follow the next three weeks.

4. Can the Falcons find some consistency?
The Falcons have seemingly been on a roller coaster all season and you don’t know whether they’re going to finish the ride with their hands raised in jubilation or if the damn thing is going to go spiraling off the tracks. On paper they should be dominating but one moment they’re scoring 20-plus points in a half and the next they look completely hopeless offensively. One moment Roddy White and Julio Jones are catching everything in site and the next the ball might as well be a greased pig. One moment the offensive line is allowing Matt Ryan to pick defenses apart and the next they’re constantly helping him off the turf. This team is maddening to watch but maybe their impressive comeback against the Panthers last Sunday was just the thing they needed to wake them up. Yes, they were expected to beat Carolina. But anyone who watched their mistake-filled loss to the Texans the week before realized that the Panthers had a very realistic shot of beating the Falcons at home. And for one half of football, it looked like Carolina would beat Atlanta. But the Falcons finally found their groove in the second half and completely dominated the Panthers in the final two quarters. The question now becomes whether or not the Falcons found whatever has been missing this season. If they have, they’ll be a dangerous team from here on out. If not, well, strap in tight.

5. Will the Jets rise to the challenge?
The sixth seed in the AFC now belongs to the 8-5 Jets, who have won three in a row after losing back-to-back games to the Patriots and Broncos in Weeks 10 and 11. But the Jets don’t have the luxury of enjoying the moment because the Titans, Bengals and Raiders are still hot on their heels at 7-6. With upcoming games against the Eagles, Giants and Dolphins, the Jets could easily find themselves on the outside looking in if they slip up over these final three weeks. Their running game finally got going last week against the Chiefs, which is a good sign seeing as how poorly Philadelphia’s run defense has been this season. But can Mark Sanchez continue to stay out of the way and allow Shonn Greene and the defense to win games? Better yet, can he raise the level of his play so that the Jets soar into the postseason instead of limp to the finish line?

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

Quick-Hit Reactions from Week 14 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…

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joe Webb celebrates his touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles during the third quarter of their NFL football game in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 28, 2010. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

– Holy facemask, Batman – why wasn’t a penalty called on linebacker DeAndre Levy when he grabbed Joe Webb’s facemask on that crazy final play in Detroit today? Granted, the game should have never come down to that play for the Lions, who were up 31-14 at one point. But how do you miss that if you’re the refs?

– Speaking of Webb – dude was fun to watch today. The Lions didn’t prepare for a running quarterback in practice this week so it’s not surprising that Webb was able to burn Detroit with his legs. But he nearly led Minnesota to the most improbable win of the day. I feel like I’m back in 2010 when Webb was starting for that perv Brett Favre.

– It’s hard to criticize the effort that Jake Locker put in today while replacing the injured Matt Hasselbeck (calf). For three and a half quarters Locker went toe-to-toe with Drew Brees and nearly willed the Titans to a huge come-from-behind victory. He flashed his athletic ability on a 6-yard touchdown run that gave the Titans a brief lead in the second half, and threw a couple beautiful passes in the fourth quarter to put his team into scoring range. That said, THROW THE BALL, KID! Anything but take a sack in that situation.

Tim Tebow: Five fourth-quarter or overtime wins this season. That’s amazing. The guy won’t complete a pass for the first quarter and a half (although his receivers didn’t help him today), will look completely horrendous until the fourth quarter and then pull some miraculous victory out of his backside. He’s a mixture of luck, clutch play and pure disaster but Denver now owns the AFC West with three games remaining. Think about that for a second.

– What’s the big deal? So Tom Brady got yelled at. Stop the presses. He threw an ugly interception midway through the fourth quarter and it pissed off offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. Even Super Bowl MVPs deserve a tongue-lashing from time to time. Neither Brady nor O’Brien will let this dustup affect their relationship moving forward.

Rob Gronkowski is essentially uncoverable one-one-one. Washington’s defensive backs were draped all over him on several of his catches and he/Brady still made plays. Gronk has some big-time mitts.

– I’m done doubting the Texans. That’s the grittiest team I’ve seen play in a long time. Without its top two quarterbacks, its top defensive player and its top offensive weapon, Houston just keeps plugging along. I keep waiting for the Texans to eventually come up short and it looked like they would today in Cincinnati. Then all of a sudden T.J. Yates is throwing a game-winning touchdown pass as time expires. Tim Tebow lovers may disagree but Houston is the best story of the season.

– That’s a blow that I don’t think the Bengals will be able to come back from. Wowzers. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

– If Shonn Greene continues to run as hard as he did today, the Jets will be dangerous again if/when they make the playoffs. New York’s entire success offensively revolves around its running game. It has to with Mark Sanchez at the helm.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) calls out the play against the Carolina Panthers during their NFL football game in Charlotte, North Carolina December 12, 2010. REUTERS/Chris Keane (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

– Down 23-7 at halftime, the Falcons looked like a team that didn’t deserve to be a playoff team. They had zero urgency or energy, their offensive line looked like a complete mess and the defense couldn’t tackle a soul. Then they came out in the second half and played like the team people thought they would at the beginning of the season. Matt Ryan threw four touchdown passes, including two to Julio Jones (who had a case of the drops earlier in the game) and one beautiful rainbow to rookie Jacquizz Rodgers. It appears as though the Saints will win the NFC South but the Falcons are in great shape assuming they don’t crap the bed from here on out. They have a very winnable home game against the Jaguars this week before heading to New Orleans for a rematch with the Saints and hosting the Bucs in Week 17. There’s no reason Atlanta shouldn’t get to 10 wins and secure the fifth seed in the NFC (assuming the Saints keep winning, that is). Had the Falcons lost today in Carolina, they would have been on the outside looking in. Good thing they woke up.

– All that crap the Bears talked about this week regarding the Broncos’ style of play and they go out and cough up a potential victory. That soft Tampa 2 the Bears run on defense makes it awfully easy for even a guy like Tim Tebow to complete passes with the game on the line.

– Was today’s loss to the Cardinals the product of their division-clinching win last Sunday against the Rams, or are the Niners starting to show some cracks? I think a little bit of both. Clearly San Francisco was out of whack and it wasn’t surprising that the Niners came out flat after securing a playoff berth last weekend. But they’re susceptible to the deep pass defensively, which isn’t a good sign considering San Fran could eventually play Green Bay or New Orleans in the playoffs. Starting left tackle Joe Staley was also hurt, which is a huge problem considering Alex Boone is his replacement. Hopefully for San Fran’s sake, this loss will serve as a wakeup call for the Niners.

– The Cardinals have six wins on the year and John Skelton is essentially responsible for four of them. (He didn’t start today but he essentially won the game for Arizona once Kevin Kolb was forced to leave with a head injury.) Oh those scrappy John Skelton-led Cardinals…

– I truly didn’t expect the Raiders to beat the Packers today at Lambeau but what an ugly performance by Oaktown. For entertainment sake, here’s hoping Tebowmania keeps rolling and the Broncos make the playoffs over the Raiders, who have looked completely lethargic the past two weeks.

– Whistlegate? Titans’ offensive linemen Jake Scott and Michael Roos said that a whistle was being blown in the area of the Saints’ bench late in New Orleans’ 22-17 victory in Tennessee. My question is, wouldn’t the ref on the New Orleans’ sideline hear the whistle? This story ranks right up there with “Tripgate” from last year.

– It’s amazing how Raheem Morris has gone from being one of the league’s brightest young coaches to being on the hot seat. The organization will have to figure out whether or not it wants Morris to be a lame duck in 2012 or fire him this offseason, because clearly the Bucs can’t give this guy an extension. That was an ugly performance by Morris’ Bucs in Jacksonville today.

– Somehow, the Chargers are still alive…

Green Bay Packers’ Greg Jennings fails to catch a pass while playing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second half during their NFL football game in Green Bay, Wisconsin November 20, 2011. REUTERS/Darren Hauck (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

– While watching the Packers absolutely destroy the Raiders today at Lambeau, I thought to myself, “Why even have a playoff? Just hand the ‘Discount Double-Check’s’ the Lombardi.” Then Greg Jennings left the field on a cart after suffering a leg injury that obviously left him in a ton of pain. Green Bay overcame a slew of injuries to win the Super Bowl last year and the Pack certainly have enough weapons to keep terrorizing opponents on a weekly basis. But losing Jennings would be a massive blow.

Santana Moss won’t sleep well tonight. With the Skins knocking on the door of a potential game-tying score against the Patriots in the closing minutes, he was flagged for offensive pass interference, which moved Washington back to the 15-yard-line. Then he had a Rex Grossman pass bounce off his hands and into those of linebacker Jerod Mayo, which ended the Skins’ comeback attempt. You have to hand it to Washington though. They keep fighting no matter who the opponent is.

– Just think if the Philadelphia defense played that well every week. Given how shaky the rest of the NFC East is, they’d probably be closing in on a playoff spot right now.

NFL News & Notes: One GM calls Mallett “Charlie Sheen” of NFL draft

University of Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett (15) scrambles away from the University of Florida’s Christopher Coleman during the secopnd quarter of their NCAA football game in Gainesville, Florida October 17, 2009. REUTERS/Scott Audette (UNITED STATES SPORT FOOTBALL)

Here are some interesting NFL reports via Rotoworld:

GM calls Ryan Mallett the “Charlie Sheen of the NFL draft
According to FOX, at least one NFL GM doesn’t buy into how Mallett is being billed as Tom Brady’s eventual successor in New England. “Just knowing Bill, I can’t see him truly believing Mallett is their future,” the annaoymous GM said. “I can see them getting him right off the field, showcasing him in the preseason for a couple of years and then getting some trade value for him and stock-pile more picks.” Because of Mallett’s alleged drug and alcohol issues, another GM went as far as to say: “We thought he was the Charlie Sheen of this draft.” Ouch.

Reid denies that there’s an offer for Kolb
Andy Reid is denying reports that the Eagles have an offer on the table for quarterback Kevin Kolb. This comes a day after’s Peter King said the exact opposite and wrote that an “unnamed team” has offered a first round pick in exchange for the QB. The Cardinals, Dolphins and Seahawks still remain possibilities for Kolb once the lock ends (and assuming the Eagles and Reid are willing to part with Kolb).

Vikings want to bring in veteran to compete with Ponder
Even though head coach Leslie Frazier told the media following the draft that Christian Ponder will have the opportunity to start as a rookie, he also confirmed on Tuesday that he’s looking to add a veteran to come in and compete with the first round pick. “If we went that route, we’d probably want a guy that could compete to start,” Frazier said. “I don’t know if I’d want a ‘coach-type’ guy.” There’s still a possibility that Donovan McNabb could wind up in Minnesota for a year or two while Ponder learns Bill Musgrave’s offense.

L.T. concedes starting RB job to Shonn Greene
LaDainian Tomlinson conceded that Shonn Greene is ready to take over as the Jets’ feature back. L.T. noted that he’s been the best running back in the league and now wants to be the best third-down back in the NFL. He still figures to have a predominant role in the Jets’ offense.

Eight key players to watch in the NFL Divisional Round

This series is brought to you by T.G.I Fridays®, encouraging you to Rush in and Tackle their new Game Time Menu!

It’s the playoffs, where team matters more than individual players. But there are several key players that hold their team’s hopes in their hands this weekend and we’ve listed eight of them (one for each team) below.

In no particular order…

1. Terrell Suggs, Ravens
The Ravens have been waiting for this guy to return to form and he finally has. Suggs looks hungry, motivated and determined to get the Ravens to a Super Bowl. If Baltimore’s front seven is able to take away Rashard Mendenhall and force the Steelers to be one-dimensional this Saturday, then Suggs needs to get after Ben Roethlisberger. Mike Wallace is a true homerun threat and can score from anywhere on the field, so Suggs and Co. can’t give Big Ben time to throw. Getting pressure on the quarterback is always vital in football, especially in the postseason where one or two plays can decide the outcome of a game.

2. Troy Polamalu, Steelers
I realize this is an obvious one but I don’t care: Polamalu is the key to whether or not the Steelers will be playing in the Super Bowl in a couple of weeks. He’s vital to their defense because when he’s not on the field, it’s a completely different unit. When the Steelers and Ravens met in Pittsburgh late in the season, it was his forced fumble of Joe Flacco that set up Pittsburgh’s offense to score the eventual game-winning touchdown. He’s a playmaker in every sense of the word but he’s also been battling an Achilles/ankle injury so he’s not 100 percent. If he’s able to fly around the field and create havoc like he normally does, then Baltimore will have a tough time moving the ball this weekend.

3. James Starks (Packers)
The football world is now enamored with this young man – and for good reason. The past two games, Starks has given Green Bay something it’s been searching for all year: balance. The Packers have already proven that they can win when Aaron Rodgers has to throw the ball but it’s much tougher on a defense when they can’t sit back in coverage on most downs. In the first meeting between the Packers and Falcons, Atlanta didn’t have to respect the run. But after Starks rushed for 123 yards on 23 carries last weekend against the Eagles, the Falcons may not have the luxury of dropping extra defenders into coverage.

Read the rest of this entry »

Five Questions: Jets vs. Patriots

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) calls a play in the huddle in the first quarter against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts on December 6, 2010. The Patriots defeated the Jets 45-3. UPI/Matthew Healey

Matchup: Jets (11-5) @ Patriots (14-2)
Kickoff: 4:30PM ET, Sunday

1. Can the combination of Sanchez and Schottenheimer top Belichick?
Earlier this week, Jets’ coach Rex Ryan essentially told the media that this game will come down to whether or not he can raise his level of coaching to match that of Bill Belichick. I understand what he was saying, but I disagree with him. This game won’t come down to Ryan – it’ll come down to whether or not Brian Schottenheimer can raise his game. While Ryan certainly has his hands full trying to figure out a way to slow the Patriots’ offense, Schottenheimer must design a game plan that will top Belichick’s defense. Outside of a couple of throws, Mark Sanchez did not play well last weekend in Indianapolis. It was the Jets’ running game and defense that propelled them to victory. So first off, can Sanchez play better? If he can, will his offensive coordinator put together an intelligent game plan so that he can exploit the very few weaknesses that the Patriots have?

2. Will the Pats overlook the Jets?
There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Patriots are the better football team in this matchup. They have a tremendous coaching staff, they’re always prepared and they have the best quarterback in the league in Tom Brady. But in Week 9, the Pats were beaten by the Browns because they started reading their own press clippings. They did it again in Week 15 after rattling off five in a row and were set to face an Aaron Rodgers-less Packers team at home. Matt Flynn nearly beat them that night, as New England’s defense looked flummoxed in a narrow 31-27 victory. With all the trash talk the Jets have been doing this week, it’s highly unlikely that the Patriots will overlook their most hated rivals. But they also beat this team 45-3 just over a month ago and it’s human nature to think that things will play out the same way. Belichick needs to remind his team that the Jets have already beaten them once this season and they’re not going to be caught unprepared like in the last meeting.

3. Can the Jets get their running game going again?
The Jets beat the Colts last week because they were able to run the football in the second half and leave Peyton Manning on the sidelines. They have to do that again if they’re going to pull off another upset. It’s a pipedream to think Sanchez will out-duel Brady, so the Jets need their defense and running game to be as good, if not better than they were against the Colts. A couple of costly turnovers by Sanchez hurt the Jets in their 45-3 loss to the Patriots in December. He must protect the football so the Jets don’t fall behind early and are forced to throw in order to get back into the game. New England has given up 108.0 yards per game this year and an average of 104.0 YPG over the past three weeks. LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene won’t be able to run all over the Pats this weekend, but they might be able to control the tempo again like last Saturday.

4. How will Woody’s injury affect the Jets?
Damien Woody was arguably the Jets’ best run-blocker, so losing him for the season could be catastrophic. New York needs to be able to run the ball on Sunday if it’s going to pull off an upset and without Woody that could be difficult. Plus, you have to figure that Belichick will figure out a way to exploit the injury and cause some havoc for Sanchez. There’s no other way to put it: Wayne Hunter (Woody’s replacement) must step up this weekend.

5. Can the Pats stop Keller again?
I the Jets’ 28-14 victory over the Patriots in Week 2, Dustin Keller caught seven passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns. In the teams’ second meeting, he caught just three passes for 27 yards and was only targeted four times. You can probably bet that Sanchez will look his tight end’s way more this weekend in effort to spread the ball around and keep New England’s defense guessing. Keller has long been a hidden weapon in the Jets’ passing game and he’s killed teams over the middle this season. New England can’t fall asleep on this guy because he can hurt defenses.

Related Posts