by NFL Gimpy
Don’t call it a comeback!
Well, at least that’s what the Bucs, Steelers, Colts, and Lions would want you to believe. After rough starts for all 3 teams, each have won their past 2 games to vault themselves back into relevance. They aren’t just winning games either, they’re playing better football. The Lions were struggling on offense and defense their first 4 games (1-3). Matt Stafford wasn’t connecting consistently, especially for touchdowns, the running game was non-existent, and the defense couldn’t make crucial stops. It’s the exact opposite now. The Bucs are on a roll offensively with Doug Martin making a strong case for Rookie of the Year. The Steelers finally got their defense to show up and got the running game going. The Colts are mastering close wins with solid defense and clutch offense.
Teams need to improve as the season goes on. Some peak early then struggle later (2011 Green Bay Packers) and some peak late (2011 New York Giants) after a rough start. Is it possible one of these late bloomers makes the playoffs? The AFC is full of mediocrity, meaning the Steelers and Colts could easily get wild card spots. In fact, if the playoffs started today, they would be the 5 and 6 seeds. They’re a combined 6-0 in their last 6 games.
In the NFC, the 2nd place finisher in the NFC North, Packers or Bears, is a virtual lock for the 5 seed. But the 6 seed? Right now the Seahawks have it at 5-4, but the Bucs and Lions are only half a game behind at 4-4 respectively. The 6 seed in the NFC will be very interesting to watch going forward and most likely will come down to Week 17. Let’s take a look at both conferences to see who will come out smelling roses.
The AFC is a lot easier to predict than the NFC. There are only 4 non-division leaders with 4 or 5 wins, the aforementioned plus the Dolphins and Chargers. No one believes in the Chargers. The Dolphins are the only other player for the 2 wild card spots and their loss to the Colts more or less puts them 2 games behind the Colts because of the head to head tiebreaker (if 2 teams are tied for a playoff spot, the first tie breaker is head to head winning percentage). I apologize for not stressing the importance of this game last week.
Each team has some challenges. They all face their division leaders twice. The Dolphins have to fly to San Francisco to face the 49ers and the Colts fly to New England for the Patriots. The Steelers don’t have a single opponent other than the Ravens with a winning record right now. The schedule benefits them tremendously with 5 home games and only 3 road games as well.
What do you think? Can the Dolphins overcome the 2-game deficit to the Colts or will their tough schedule be too much to overcome? Will the Steelers take advantage of 6 mediocre opponents? Can the Colts continue to be the feel good team of 2012?
I’ll start with the Bucs in the NFC, more specifically the absurd stats of Doug Martin. In the past 2 games, Martin has had 386 rushing yards, 100 receiving yards, and 6 touchdowns. Nearly 500 yards from scrimmage and 6 touchdowns in 2 games. I want to keep repeating that in a slightly different manner because every time I type it I can’t believe it’s real. Even better, Martin’s incredible play has made life very easy on QB Josh Freeman. Freeman had a great season in 2010. He followed it up with an awful 2011 and continued with a bad start in 2012. Freeman’s first 4 games gave him less than 200 yards per game passing with 5 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. In his past 4 games, Freeman has thrown 11 touchdown passes and only 1 interception. He’s averaging 314 yards per game in the air. After a 1-3 start, the Bucs are 4-4 with an offense that’s performing at a very high level.
The big problem with the Bucs right now is their defense. They’ve given up 32 and 35 points in their past 3 games. They’re dead last in the NFL in passing yards allowed. They’re first in rushing yards allowed, but that could be a product of how easy it is to pass on them. They still have to face Atlanta twice, the Broncos, and another matchup with the Saints. If their defense doesn’t step up and stop the pass, that’s 4 losses right there. The Bucs overachieved in 2010, underachieved in 2011, and I think they’ll level off about what they are, a 7 to 9 win team. That pass defense is too porous to get them into the playoffs.
The Lions were a playoff team last year but poor defense and the lack of a running game were big problems last year and those problems have show up this year as well. In the past four weeks, we’ve seen a huge improvement on both fronts. On defense, they held the Bears to 13, the Jaguars were scoreless until the 4th quarter, and forced 3 turnovers against the Eagles. Running the ball, they have averaged 4.8 yards per carry over the past 4 games. They added 4 rushing touchdowns yesterday as well. The running game is clicking right in time to make a run.
The big problem for the Lions is that their schedule is quite difficult the rest of the way. They still face Green Bay twice, Chicago, Houston, Indianapolis, Atlanta, and Minnesota. They’re currently winless in the division with losses to the Bears and Vikings. I’ll be blunt. I doubt they win the minimum 5 games in order to make the playoffs. If they somehow win 5 with that schedule, it’ll be incredible and I’ll call them a legitimate Super Bowl contender. But 7/8 games against legit playoff contenders plus a tough Cardinals team won’t be easy.
Be thankful, Seattle. Tampa and Detroit have a lot of reasons they won’t make the playoffs. Don’t let other teams into the running by dropping 3 straight or anything.
Year of the Rookie QB
Andrew Luck: 30/48 433 yards (rookie record!!) 2 touchdowns. 1 run for 5 yards and 1 sack for 14 yard. QB Rating of 105.6 and a win!
Robert Griffin III: 23/39 215 yards. 11 rushes for 53 yards and 4 sacks for 29 yard. QB Rating of 74.2 and a loss.
Ryan Tannehill: 22/38 290 yards 1 touchdown. 2 sacks for 9 yards. QB Rating of 90.9 and a loss.
Brandon Weeden: 20/37 176 yards 2 interceptions. 1 sack for 2 yards. QB Rating of 44.4 and a loss.
Russell Wilson: 16/24 173 yards 3 touchdowns. 9 rushes for 27 yards and 1 sack for 8 yards. QB Rating of 127.3 and a win.
Luck is really starting to separate himself. RG3’s lack of WRs and TEs is killing him right now. They’re dropping passing at an alarming rate. Tannehill is doing exactly what he needs to be as a rookie: efficient, very few mistakes, and playing well enough not to lose. He isn’t able to consistently win games on his own like Luck and RG3 have, but he’s showing a lot of promise.
Wilson is actually leading the pack with 13 touchdown passes. I’ve figured Wilson and the Seahawks out: great at home, struggle on the road. At home, Wilson has 9 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 8.12 yards per attempt, and a QB Rating of 120.2 On the road? 4 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 6.28 yards per attempt, and a QB Rating of 65.8. The Seahawks are 4-0 at home at 1-4 on the road.
Weeden appears to be regressing. This could be a scenario where with more tape, teams have figured him and the Browns passing offense out. Once your tape shows tendencies teams can game plan much more effectively. That’s not good for a 47 year old rookie. Weeden needs to be ahead of his fellow counterparts and halfway through the season he’s the only one who hasn’t shown signs of progression. Not good Browns fans, not good.
The day belonged to Andrew Luck. He set the rookie record for passing yards in a game (breaking Cam Newton’s record from last year), beat fellow rookie Ryan Tannehill in a close, exciting game, and has his team in a solid spot to make the playoffs. This is even more impressive given that this is simply not a playoff caliber team. An NFL record, a game winning drive in the 4th quarter, and setting up your team for playoff success? That’s how you get yourself an MAQB Rookie of the Week Clipart Certificate.
Overpaid/Underpaid Players of the Week
Overpaid: Tennessee Titans “skill” players
The Titans offense had 5 turnovers on Sunday against the Bears. Sure, the Bears are great at forcing turnovers, but 5? Chris Johnson had 2 lost fumbles, Kenny Britt and Jared Cook each had one, and Matt Hasselbeck threw a pick-6 to a LB so slow you’ll find defensive tackles faster than him. I’m still trying to figure out how Hasselbeck threw a ball that Brian Urlacher managed to jump. The very next offensive play for the Titans? Chris Johnson fumbles the ball. With 2 turnovers that led to 14 points in the 1st quarter, plus a blocked punt and a long return by Hester, the Titans were down 28-2 thanks to 28 points allowed in a span slightly longer than 7 minutes.
Chris Johnson is a strong contender for overpaid player of the year for his ability to absolutely vanish for long stretches of time. He threw a bone to those who still have him on their FF team with an 80 yard touchdown run. How nice of your Chris.
The Titans should pool all of their overpaid salaries, mostly Johnson and Britt, and buy themselves plane tickets out of town, because that’s where they should be going in the offseason.
Underpaid: Armanti Edwar…just kidding Tommy. Just wanted to mention an App. State player in the column. The real underpaid player is Ryan Clady LT, Denver Broncos. Clady didn’t have some spectacular, eye popping game or anything against the Bengals. But at $2.5M for the season, Clady is due for a raise and it’ll be coming shortly. Clady has allowed 0 sacks and only been called for 2 holding penalties. Clady is the LT for Peyton Manning, aka a guy slower than Urlacher on one leg and still recovering from multiple neck surgeries. (Ed. Note – former App State star Armanti Edwards doesn’t need this little award…he’s busy thinking about his speech for Canton)
The good news for Clady is that he turned down a pretty good contract extension already. Protecting Peyton Manning’s blindside this effectively is going to force the Broncos to up that offer or risk losing him. Stay healthy, Ryan, you’ve earned your money.
-That Pitt loss to Notre Dame is killing me. I would like to point out what I said last week though:
Notre Dame goes into their game with Pitt way too cocky after beating Oklahoma and blows their national title hopes. Ray Graham or Rushel Shell will be the first RB to get a rushing touchdown against their defense. Pitt will be the first team to score 20 on them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Pitt is a better team. If ND plays like they did against the Sooners, Pitt loses by at least 2 scores. But, Pitt will come into this game with a lot of confidence and ND could easily overlook them.
I didn’t technically say Pitt would win. So technically I could be right. Semantics aside, Pitt should have won that game. They blew it with a lot of help from the zebras. I won’t dwell on the officiating calls here (I’ve done enough of that in other places) but boy was I right about everything. Pitt was the first to score more than 17 (they had 20 in regulation), Ray Graham tore them a new one, and Notre Dame needs some help in order to get into the top 2. The progress my guys have made this season is incredible. Now, just win out and if they make the Pinstripe Bowl, yours truly should be there cheering them on in NYC.
-Speaking of NYC, the devastation left by that old hag Sandy on the East Coast was devastating. A few friends of mine who live in NYC just got back to their apartment on Saturday and they’re some of the lucky ones. Condolences to everyone for their losses.
-Aqib Talib was the only player traded at the trade deadline last week. It just barely made it through. It’s not a surprising move but no one speculated on it. Talib has some gigantic character issues and inconsistent play, but he’s an incredible talent. The Patriots are awful in the secondary and Talib could be the difference in a Super Bowl run.
-The Walking Dead is some high quality television. If you aren’t watching, start. It’s so good I stop watching football for an hour on Sunday night. It’s DVR’d and I catch up, but still, that says a lot.
-Mike Tomlin, WTF was that fake FG? Also, how awful were the refs in the Giants-Steelers game? They were heavily slanted in the Giants favor. Almost too heavily. It was suspicious.
-I put a missing persons report out on twitter for Christian Ponder. If anyone finds the QB who led the Vikings to a 4-1 start, please return him to Adrian Peterson, his shoulders are getting tired carrying the Vikings offense.
-The Redskins were so bad on Sunday I think they must have thrown the game to get Mitt Romney elected. For those not aware of what I’m talking about, I believe 17 of the past 18 elections have coincided with how the Redskins do in their last home game before the Presidential election. Redskins win=incumbent party win, or Barack Obama. Redskins lose and the challenger wins. It’s a stupid coincidence and I’m not sure why people bother. I just wanted to say the Redskins sucked in my column and somehow make it relevant.
-To my American readers (shoutout to my Scandinavian fans!!) go out and vote today. I’m not a fan of the “most important election EVER!!!” hyperbole because every election is called more important than the last. One thing I will say to insert my political opinions: don’t lock yourself into Republican or Democrat. Look at third party platforms. A vote for what you believe in is never a wasted vote.
Monday Night Prediction
I’m just going to leave it at that.