by Ryan Meehan
It began snowing in the Midwest this week, a sure sign that for the next few months at any moment we could all slide into oncoming traffic because our local municipalities can’t figure out how to effectively plow the roads and use salt. The good part about this otherwise dismal time of year is that the NFL playoff race is heating up, and while visibility outside might not be top-notch the visibility inside the FOH postseason crystal ball is getting much clearer. That being said, I was wrong about a lot of this week’s games. There were a couple of very puzzling upsets, and that’s precisely why this business isn’t an exact science. Let’s take a look at how it all went down in week eleven of the 2014 NFL season.
Dolphins 22, Bills 9
I’m all about the Dolphins right now. I said some horrible things on this website about Ryan Tannehill before he was drafted. I thought there was no way that he was ever going to work in the NFL, and I couldn’t believe that a guy who only started nineteen games his entire life at quarterback was going to get first round money. He’s proven me and everyone else that felt the same way wrong as hell, and Miami is in great shape heading into an AFC East where Tom Brady is going to retire soon. I want to communicate that if we’re going to sit here and blow smoke up Kansas City’s ass even though we know the bottom is going to fall out of that thing Wild Card weekend, the same should be said about the Dolphins whom I believe are every bit as good as the Chiefs. I can’t say those same nice things about Kyle Orton. It’s hard to get behind a guy who was essentially dumped in favor of Jay Cutler, but even when you look at all of the stats about how Orton has performed well against top-tier defenses it’s hard to ignore one fact: He sucks. I kind of feel bad for Bills fans because the sad part about this whole thing is that when push comes to shove, Buffalo could actually be a really good team but it’s hard to get there without a quality quarterback. If I were them at the end of the year, I’d be in serious talks with the Giants to see what they can do to get Eli Manning. He might be in the twilight of his career, but at least he knows how to shave and people respect his command in the huddle.
Texans 23, Browns 7
I had Houston keeping this one close, but I had no idea they’d dominate the game in the fashion which they did. The thing about having a guy like Brian Hoyer is if you end up having a bad day overall, a guy like Ryan Mallett could step up and steal the thunder that had previously belonged to you in a heartbeat. J.J. Watt did just about everything he was asked to do in this one, and lining up on the offensive side of the ball is becoming commonplace for him given the Texans’ lack of weapons when Foster isn’t playing. He caught Ryan Mallet’s first NFL touchdown pass, so maybe we have a new signal caller in Houston. Maybe not, but he had a much better chance starting for the Texans than he did for the Patriots so good for him at the moment. As for Hoyer he had 330 yards, but he was 20 for 50 and that’s a pretty serious indication that they are having problems scoring points. They should be back on track next week where they’ll play Atlanta, whom I unfortunately have to talk about next.
Falcons 19, Panthers 17
This has to really, really hurt for Carolina. Not only are they not the playoff team that got a first round bye last year, not only is their quarterback not the superstar he dreams he is every single night, but they couldn’t even close the deal against the lowly Falcons. The lowly Falcons who – if I may bring light to a tense subject – are now in first place at 4 and 6 in the NFC Slouch. Cam Newton has been picked off seven straight weeks in a row, and although he was sacked less than the previous week he still turned the ball over twice. I’m not going to polish Atlanta’s rod here, because they’re still not a very good football team at all. Their current position in the standings is due to nothing else but the fact that everyone else around them is so bad. Cleveland is in town next, and they’ll be mad so the Falcons “reign” atop that pathetic foursome may soon come to an end.
Bears 21, Vikings 13
Let’s not all throw a party here, after all it’s just Minnesota. And after all of the people calling for Jay Cutler’s head this week, it’s unlikely that one three touchdown performance will result in the entire city of Chicago changing their opinion on a guy they very clearly want nothing to do with. They only won by a measly eight points over a bad team, and had it not been for a very poor pass from Teddy Bridgewater that was intercepted by Ryan Mundy the Vikings could have forced overtime and easily won. After two of the worst losses in the history of the Bears’ storied (but dated) franchise, Jared Allen was able to get the better of his old team without too much effort. I don’t have a lot more to say about this one – it doesn’t mean much at all.
Bengals 27, Saints 10
And with that, the NFC South sinks even further into relative obscurity, its only saving grace being that one (and in this year’s case only one) team will have to represent the Slouch in the postseason this year. That team still may be New Orleans, but if they continue to let teams go into a house that they used to own and beat up on them in the manner that the Bengals did on Sunday they might not even have a fighting chance in this division. The worst part about the outcome of this game is of course the fact that with the loss, this drops New Orleans to second place in the division behind (wait for it) the 4-6 Falcons. The second worst part about the result is that now with the tie Cincinnati is 6-3-1 when they really don’t deserve it. Sure their defense is playing much better, but they are hardly a three loss team at this point in the year. They were still shut out in one game, and I can think of a whole playoffs’ six-pence of AFC teams right now that I wouldn’t trust them in a winner-take-all game.
Additional Note: Memo to the other 52 players on the Saints’ roster: Drew Brees can no longer do everything by himself. The magic and the vibrancy that stadium held after the hurricane has completely disappeared, and he needs other guys to step up and it just isn’t happening. Much like the rest of us, he ain’t getting any younger either.
Rams 22, Broncos 7
If you were to tell me when I woke up this morning that Peyton Manning was outdueled by Shaun Hill, I’d probably put fifty bucks on a bet that would have me sticking an eggplant up my butt if I was on the losing end. Well, get the lube because the guy who is eventually going to hold an unbreakable record for the most touchdown passes in history only managed one against the last place St. Louis Rams. Dubsism posted an interesting status update on Facebook that pretty much sums up how difficult it is to predict games in this league. “The Rams have four wins, and two of them are over last year’s Super Bowl teams. I’m done trying to figure out who is any good in the #NFL anymore.” It’s stressful – true indeed – but there is a possibility that the Rams may be in a transitional period in their franchise’s story line. The first step in changing from a team that is a perennial doormat to a legitimate playoff contender is to beat good teams, and this year they’ve beaten the Broncos, 49ers, and Seahawks. Sure, they have a huge question mark at QB going forward because Bradford’s health will always be in question, but the rest of this team looks pretty damn good. As for Denver, they couldn’t run the football at all here and with the way New England looked against the Colts – combined with the 22 point beatdown the Pats put on the Broncos a couple of weeks back – I can’t see any grid which would rank Denver at number one in the AFC. Reality has to be sinking in pretty hard for Peyton and Co. right now.
Chiefs 24, Seahawks 20
As someone who appears on a radio show based out of the Pacific Northwest, I’ve come to learn the ins and outs of being a Seahawks apologist at times. I really, honestly love the show, but I just don’t know how much longer I can continue to tell myself that the Seahawks have what it takes to be given the opportunity to defend their Super Bowl title this year. What’s even more strange is the one thing they needed to happen in order for them to do that was to have San Francisco come out weak in the regular season. (More on that in a minute) 6-4 is a little bit less than what I expected out of the Niners by this point, so you would have to imagine Seattle would have them exactly where they would want them – except for the Seahawks are right there too. And both teams are currently three games behind Arizona at the moment, so this puts the Hawks on ice and makes it difficult to not have playing in the back of their minds when they play teams like Kansas City and end up losing. We know damn well what the Chiefs are going to do: They are going to give the ball to Jamaal Charles so he can rack up 159 yards and two TDs and make sure Alex Smith’s arm is no more beat up than your average regular season MLB middle relief pitcher by Sunday night. On the other side of the ball, Marshawn Lynch had another good performance that made his fantasy owners happy, but he failed to convert twice on fourth down late in the game. I’m still apprehensive about calling the Chiefs elite – They might be in that conference, but when you consider the strengths of other teams in the league overall I still can’t trust them to make a deep playoff run.
49ers 16, Giants 10
Pardon my French, but the San Francisco 49ers are going to need to creatively come up with some ways to get into the fucking end zone if they want to view any part of the upcoming NFC playoff picture. Had Eli Manning not thrown five interceptions in this game, the Niners probably wouldn’t have left with a win and hardly played to the best of their abilities. I would think that the energy surrounding Aldon Smith returning to the defense after having such personal problems recently resolved would spark some kind of fire in Colin Kaepernick, but I’m not so sure about where his head is at lately. This is yet another game that the Niners barely squeaked out: Other examples would be last week’s overtime victory against the Saints, the five point victory over the Chiefs that could have easily gone either way, and the win of the same margin at home against the Eagles. These are all decent teams, but if it’s happening against the Giants then it’s an issue all around. The way that the Giants have been playing defense, there isn’t any reason SF shouldn’t have scored 35 points in this game. I don’t want to hear how cold it was out there, I don’t want to hear excuses – There are too many excuses floating around this football team at the moment. Because their recent success has allowed for them to get to one Super Bowl and come within a catch of reaching another, they have been able to use that as a lillypad to land on when they get beaten by a team like St. Louis at their own brand new stadium. But the possibility of them missing the playoffs this year is very real, much like another possibility that could become a reality shortly. My father brought this up while watching highlights, and I can’t say that I disagree with him: Eli Manning might be out of football next year. This will be his second straight year of putrid passing, and outside of Buffalo I can’t really think of a single team that would want him whom he’d be willing to play for. A lot can happen in the two years since a last-minute Super Bowl victory. Also, how bad is your running game that you can’t punch the ball in from the eight with the game on the line?
Buccaneers 27, Redskins 7
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved to within two games of first place in the South, and the Washington Redskins sunk to last place behind the New York Giants due to an early season loss in head to head combat. But I’m not going to sit here an discuss this contest to any extent. This was more than likely a poor football game between two teams who (with the exception of Alfred Morris) may be changing all of their position players over the next 8 months. There’s no pleasure in seeing that, it’s just depressing. Thanks to free agency, these aren’t the beds that they’ll die in.
Chargers 13, Raiders 6
And so the pursuit of Jameis Winston as the next quarterback to lose his mind in a Raiders uniform continues. It’s crazy how I was so pumped about the Chargers just a few weeks back that I left Duncan’s house after an awesome day to watch them get worked by Denver, and now even writing a few sentences on this game feels like an endless chore. Rivers was on his way to being in the MVP conversation, but the second that three game losing streak started everybody had questions and those questions were well warranted. Questions like “Why weren’t they able to work things out with Vincent Jackson three years ago, and how bad were things that he ended up having rather play in Tampa?” and “What the hell happened to the relationship he once had with Antonio Gates?”. Or other more larger-scale questions like “Why can’t he beat teams like the Raiders by more than seven points?”. One reason might be that San Diego’s offensive line is in bad shape. The second they end up being eliminated from postseason contention, they are going to want to take a good, long, hard look at what’s available at the tackle positions in the 2015 NFL draft.
Cardinals 14, Lions 6
It’s a shame that one of these teams had to lose here, but such is life in the cut-throat NFL. For the record, I want to clarify that the image above is not a file that is corrupted – I’m doing it to illustrate a point. The Cardinals are now 9-1 and although they have hardly been able to bury teams in potential statement games, they have the best record in the NFL. On Sunday Drew Stanton (who had a kid this week AND was named the starter for the remainder of the 2014 season) managed the game very well against a defense that was statistically ranked the best in the league. Their own defense held Matthew Stafford (who has a cannon for an arm) to not a single touchdown the entire game, yet the average football fan can’t tell you a damn thing about their squad at all. Here’s all you need to know: While the “next man up” philosophy seems to be the best way the media can explain Arizona’s not-so-expected-by-everybody-but-me success, this further infuriates guys like Patrick Peterson who have been busting their asses all year long without any sort of fair recognition. I’m using Peterson as an example because with all of the talk about Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas being “far and away” the best corners in the NFL, the Seahawks’ struggles to ride that defense to a .900 winning percentage has got a lot of people wondering why Patrick isn’t in every single one of those discussions. He’s made the Pro Bowl every single year, and also returns punts and kickoffs. I’m not sure that a cornerback is somebody that you can build a franchise around, but even if it isn’t that’s an awfully good place to start and it’s not like Arians doesn’t have a lot of the other pieces in place. The Lions will bounce back – or at least they would if they didn’t have to play the Patriots next week. At least they get the Bears at home Thanksgiving Day. Oy…
Packers 53, Eagles 20
Now that’s the Mark Sanchez that we’ve come to know and love so much…As poorly as the buttfumblemeister was in this game, the problems that have plagued the Eagles in key games really reared their ugly head on the road in this one: Poor tackling, awful pass coverage, and failure to keep the defense that does both of those things off of the goddamned field. But the Packers have scored 50 plus points in two straight games, and Aaron Rodgers is probably your league MVP if the season ended today. Jordy Nelson is one of the best targets in the league, and Rodgers isn’t worried about taking a solid hit at any given time. Right now I would have to say that even though Arizona looks like they are going to be able to pull a win out of anything, Green Bay would have to be your front-runner if we’re picking Super Bowl teams at the moment. Who do I think they’ll face? The team that won the Sunday Night game, and I’ll explain why right now…
Patriots 42, Colts 20
A lot is going to be made about Jonas Gray and his huge 199 yard/4 touchdown night. But to me, this game was about something else. It was about the torturous pace at which the New England Patriots torment their opponents when they’re up by three points or more. Even when Brady had two interceptions on two horrid passes by halftime, you just knew that the Colts still wouldn’t be able to pull it off. Only the Patriots would win a game 42-20 in a contest where Tom Brady went 19 for 30 and went into halftime looking like they were about to choke this one away. I watched this game with my pops from start to finish, and there’s so much to talk about but the one thing other than Gray which stood out to me was the fact that Rob Gronkowski was really talking a lot of shit here. Even more so than usual, and he got away with a couple of end-of play chokeholds in this game before they finally flagged him on it after a late touchdown. If you saw any of these plays, basically what happened is as Gronk was heading out of bounds he attempted to put the defender into a chokehold by wrapping that huge ass arm of his around the poor guy’s head. It wasn’t really that is was abrasive, I just thought it was unnecessary and probably not the best move to do against a team you might end up facing in the playoffs. I’m not saying that the Colts would specifically go after Gronk’s knee in order to deprive them of one less tight end, but I’m also not saying I wouldn’t put it past any of them in the heat of the moment after he’s been running his mouth all game. I would just think that with some of the injury problems he’s already had in his short career, he might want to back off a tad and let his play do the talking. There’s no reason to go out of your way to get hurt. Indianapolis is still an elite AFC team, but at the same time that fact is dwarfed by the harsh truth that New England is just so much better than they are right now.
Steelers 27, Titans 24
The biggest knock on the Steelers this year has been their lack of consistency. You never quite know what you are going to get from them until they step on the field. Are you going to get the team who only put up six points against the Ravens in week two, or are you going to get the team who put up 43 points in nine to the same franchise? The Steelers gave you the exact midpoint of those two feelings in an unconvincing manner on ESPN’s “Monday Night Dilfer” where they eeked by the Titans at just the right time. I’m not impressed by Pittsburgh. I think that they’re a fraud, and I don’t understand how after beating up on the Colts this is supposed to bowl me over. I just don’t get it. It’s going to be hard for them, what with all sorts of Kansas Cities running around, but I’m not worried about them in the long run.
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