By Gimpy  (follow him on Twitter – @NFLGimpy)

To the three people who have read my column every week (hi wifey!), they’ve seen me talk a lot about the Houston Texans and their QB situation. When Schaub and Leinart went down, I said the Texans were good enough to still win their division. When I said that, I didn’t mean “TJ Yates would execute a fantastic 2 minute drill Tim Tebow would be jealous of and throw the game winning touchdown pass with mere seconds left on the clock.” I watched that 2 minute drill and all I could say was “wow.” On a day where everyone in the media is worshiping at the altar of Tebow, Yates, a 5th round rookie, was far more impressive and less hyped.

Yates’ stat line: 26/44 (59%), 300 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception. Throw in 5 carries for 36 yards to counter 5 sacks for 32 yards and those even out. Not many players lead a 2 minute drill to clinch a playoff spot in their 2nd start. I’m not sitting here saying Yates is anything special but you can’t help but be impressed by a QB in his 2nd start doing far more to help his team win than Tebowmania.

Let’s go over his stat line on that 2 minute drill.5/8 for 51 yards and a game winning touchdown pass (and 2 spikes but I don’t count those as incomplete passes). He also ran 17 yards on 3rd and 15 to get his offense into scoring range. He was sacked once for 5 yards and that was really is only mistake on the drive. His performance was more than you could ask from any 5th round rookie.

Now, the Texans are 10-3, AFC South champs, and in the drivers seat for home field advantage. They have 3 very winnable games to close out the season. Home vs. a “better than their record” Carolina Panthers, @ Southwestern Missouri Valley Tech (Indianapolis Colts, the NFL’s tune up game), and finishing the season vs. a Titans team that may be playing for nothing but pride.    

How incredible would it be to see the Houston Texans a team that is making the playoffs for the first time in their history, starting their third string, rookie 5th round pick at QB at a home playoff game? Granted, they’ll be facing either the Steelers, Ravens, or Patriots and probably get beaten pretty soundly, but it’ll still be neat, right?

* * * * *

When the Atlanta Falcons traded a king’s ransom for Julio Jones this past April, many people (myself included) questioned the decision. While the decision is certainly debatable, especially due to inconsistent play by Jones this season, Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff scored a win on Sunday. Jones caught 2 passes for 92 yards and 2 touchdowns in the 4th quarter. The first one gave the Falcons the lead after being down 23-7 at halftime and the 2nd one (a 75 yard catch and run) gave the Falcons a critical 8 point lead, meaning the Panthers needed a touchdown and a 2 point conversion to tie it, instead of only a FG to win it.

The logic of Dimitroff when he traded up for Julio Jones was that the Falcons needed a deep play threat in the passing game. Michael Turner is a great grind it out RB. Tony Gonzalez is a HoF TE but not a deep threat at this age and Roddy White is one of the best possession WRs in the game, but not a consistent deep threat. Jones is averaging 18.1 yards per catch, a whopping 5.1 yards more than White.

The explosive passing game is something that the Falcons have desperately needed in the Matt Ryan era and they have yet to win a single playoff game with Matt Ryan at the helm. Maybe the deep threat provided by Jones is what they need to get them over that hump…and by get them over that hump, I mean win a playoff game and the right to lose to Green Bay later.

* * * * *

One of the purposes of this column is to address stories around the NFL that aren’t being beaten into the ground. It’s why I didn’t talk much about Ndomakong Suh’s stomping incident, why I’ve avoided talking about Tebow very much, and why I keep talking about the Texans and before this week the Bengals. There is one story that I can’t wait to see come to fruition this offseason, one that I’m going to talk about now before it’s ESPN’s only NFL story for an entire month.

Peyton Manning’s contract.

I’ll go over the background a little for those who don’t know. Peyton signed an extension before this season and in March he is due a $28 million bonus. What’s the problem? The Colts have to be unsure if Peyton will ever be 100% again after 2 neck surgeries in the past year. He’s getting up there in age (he’ll be 36 at the start of the 2012 regular season) and the Colts are virtually a lock for the 1st overall pick and the ability to draft Andrew Luck (or Robert Griffin III if they so choose).

While in an ideal world, you could let Luck ride the bench for a year or two to learn under one of the best minds the NFL has ever seen at QB, is it really worth it to pay Manning a $28 million bonus for 1 or 2 seasons worth of work? Not to mention that $28 million could be used to upgrade a team that will likely go winless without Manning at the helm. Imagine if the Colts finally add a good RB for the first time since Edgerrin James left for Arizona.

The ball is in Peyton’s court. If he wants to stay in Indianapolis, he’ll agree to make a few changes to his contract so the Colts can properly evaluate his future with the team. If not, the Colts will be faced with a question unthinkable a mere 3 or 4 months ago: should they cut Peyton Manning? If they do cut him, will he sign back at a lower rate or will he tell them to forget it and go elsewhere?

Manning will likely have a list of suitors waiting for him, starting with the Miami Dolphins. With any FA, obviously the Redskins will be involved, but will a Peyton-Shanahan marriage work? Peyton would need a coaching staff that lets him run things his way and I’m not sure if he’ll get that under Mike Shanahan and son. I could see Pete Carroll and Seattle giving Peyton the freedom he wants.

Like I said, this one story could be the most interesting offseason story, well…ever. As an Eagles fan, I am eager for the offseason. I miss being champions, even if it was free agency champions.

Quick Hits

* The Ravens should refund their fans for about 60% of their game on Sunday. After The Ravens took a 17-0 lead both teams put on autopilot. I know the Colts are bad, but you owe it to the fans who shell out hundreds of dollars to go to at least play 3 quarters.

* It’s a good thing Minnesota spotted the Lions 21 points because without it they easily lose to the Vikings. It took a blatant 15 yard facemask penalty being missed for the Lions to hold on. On a sidnote, Joe Webb deserves better than he’s getting in Minnesota. Obviously Ponder is the future there, but I think Webb deserves a shot to be more than a career backup.

* Jake Locker made some plays on Sunday and came close to pulling off the upset vs. the Saints after Hasselbeck went down, but you saw the exact reasons why many scouts were nervous in that game. Sure, he can make incredible plays, but can he ever be consistently accurate? Will he ever stop relying heavily on his feet to make plays and be a solid passer in the pocket? You cannot play at a consistent, high level in the NFL at the QB position without the ability to pass in the pocket. Just ask Steve Young and John Elway.

* New England has no prayer at a Super Bowl unless that defense plays better. Tom Brady is putting up amazing numbers, but mostly out of necessity. When Aaron Rodgers is relaxing in the 4th quarter, Brady is wondering if 34 points is enough for his defense to hold on.

* Blaine Gabbert’s best game of the season was yesterday: 19/33 217 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 picks, and the win. Both touchdown passes were to Maurice Jones-Drew and his defense spotted him 14 points and 7 forced turnovers. If I’m the new coach of the Jaguars next season, I’m considering at least someone who could push Gabbert for playing time immediately. Every other starting rookie QB has shown at least flashes. I’ve seen nothing from Gabbert to give him the reigns unquestioned next season.

* Halftime score in Green Bay: Packers 31, Raiders 0. Carson Palmer threw 4 interceptions. I’ll keep pushing this: The Carson Palmer trade will go down as one of the worst trades in years, possibly since the infamous Herschel Walker trade.

* Get well soon Big Ben. The Steelers can make the playoffs without you, possibly even beat the 49ers next Monday, but they will do nothing in the playoffs without you. You’re probably the only QB in the NFL who can survive, much less produce, behind that putrid OL.

* I’m pretty sure Rob Ryan isn’t actually a Ryan. I bet if you look at his birth certificate you’ll see “Juan Castillo’s fatter paler brother.” Could your defense be any worse at critical moments? Your offense scores 34 points and gives you a 12 point lead halfway through the 4th quarter. What do you do? Allow 2 scores in the last 4 minutes of the game. Sure, everyone is talking about another missed FG, but you put your team in that situation. If your team wins that game, the division race is virtually over. Now even the Eagles are mathematically in it.

Underpaid/Overpaid player of the week

Underpaid: John Skelton, QB Arizona Cardinals.

Skelton was thrown to the wolves against the division champion San Francisco 49ers after a Kolb injury early in the game. He received no support from the running game (17 carries for 30 yards) yet he still pulled off the Cardinals’ biggest win of the season. Skelton made mistakes (2 interceptions, 1 lost fumble, but he also threw 3 touchdowns and 282 yards against a very good 49ers defense. Skelton probably isn’t going to get a chance to start after the huge investment the Cardinals made in Kevin Kolb, but Skelton has the physical tools to be a very good NFL QB. You don’t play at Fordham and still get drafted unless you’re a talented player. Skelton is now 4-1 in games he has played in and outplayed Mike Vick, Sam Bradford, and Alex Smith in 3 of those wins. In a season where we have watched QB injuries completely derail the Bears, Chiefs, and Colts, Skelton would be a welcome addition to numerous NFL teams.

Overpaid: Marion Barber, RB Chicago Bears.

I know a lot of people are piling on Barber and I even stated earlier in this column that I don’t want to talk about widely discussed NFL topics, but what the hell were you doing Marion? First you run out of bounds, essentially giving the Denver Tebows an extra 40 seconds to work with WHEN YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE RUNNING THE CLOCK DOWN!!! It is better to take a 5 yard loss and stay in bounds than it is to gain 5 and step out of bounds in that scenario. The clock is your friend when you have a small lead and the opposing team has no timeouts. A veteran like Barber made an unforgivable mistake that let the Denver Tebows tie it up.

Then, you’re given the opportunity to make up for your mistake. The Bears get the ball first and march down the field, closing on FG range. What does Barber do? He fumbles the ball at about the Denver 30, in FG range, giving Denver the ball. If Barber simply holds on, he likely has a first down and more, giving the Bears a very makeable FG. Nope, he blows it. Marion should donate his paycheck this week to charity because those 2 mistakes are so boneheaded that every penny he received is one too many.

Week 15 predictions

San Diego: 24
Baltimore: 13

The Chargers continue their “too little too late” season with a great win over the Ravens. I still don’t know what’s wrong with Philip Rivers, but he has looked better the past 2 weeks (6 touchdowns, no picks; 3 straight games without a pick after throwing a pick in 9 of his first 10).

New England: 38
Denver: 17

Denver’s defense has been great since Tebow took over, but they have faced a very favorable schedule in terms of the opposing offense. The only team they’ve played that most would consider to have a good offense was the Detroit Lions. Final score? Lions 45, Broncos 10. I predict a similar result. New England’s defense may be terrible right now but New England will get up early and force Tebow to throw and that won’t go too well.

Pittsburgh: 17
San Francisco: 13

Add another touchdown if Big Ben starts. San Francisco peaked too early but thanks to the worst division in the NFC they’re a lock for the 3 seed.

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