by NFL Gimpy
I’d like to extend my personal thanks to the Bears and Giants for making the NFC playoff race much, much more interesting. The Giants are 2-4 in their last 6 after a 6-2 start and the Bears are 1-5 after a 7-1 start. 6 weeks ago they looked like playoff locks. If the playoffs started today, they’d be on the outside looking in. For the Giants, they’re in a lot of trouble. Why? With both the Cowboys and Redskins holding tiebreakers over them currently, if both win in Week 16, their division hopes are pretty much gone (unless they tie). The Redskins play the lowly Eagles, but the Cowboys do get a tough draw with the Saints. Basically, the only hope the Giants have at winning the division is if both teams go 1-1 and they win their final 2 contests, against the Ravens and Eagles. So, if you’re a Giants fan, go Saints then go Cowboys!
If the playoffs started today, the Vikings would have the 6 seed. However, if the Giants win out, the Giants would have the tiebreaker. The Vikings drew the short straw with their schedule too. Their final two games are against the Texans and Packers. The Texans are fighting for home field advantage and if the Vikings somehow pull off the upset, they still have to face the Packers. Ideally for the Vikings, the Packers have nothing to play for (locked into 3 seed if both they and the 49ers win in Week 16) and Minnesota is able to upset the Texans. If they lose one of those two (which is likely), it opens up the window for the Bears and Giants. I already mentioned the Giants get the flailing Ravens and lowly Eagles, so 2 wins and a Vikings and Bears loss puts the Giants in the 6 seed where you immediately have to consider them a Super Bowl contender. The Bears? They get the Cardinals and Lions. They need a lot of help and it looks like they’ll get it…in the offseason with a new head coach.
The Seahawks are in very good shape at 9-5. I can’t find a scenario where the Seahawks win one of their last two and then miss the playoffs. The Seahawks beat the Cowboys, Vikings, and Bears head to head. If they win one of their last two, they’ll have a 7-5 conference record, which only the Redskins can top. If the Redskins top that, it means they’re NFC East Champions. The Seahawks still have an outside chance at winning the division, but it would require the 49ers to lose back to back games for the first time under Jim Harbaugh and while losing to the Seahawks on the road is certainly possible, does anyone think the Cardinals could beat them in Week 17? I’m pretty sure the 49ers could take a knee on every offensive snap and the defense alone wins it.
If I were going to make a bet, I’m assuming it’ll be Falcons, 49ers, Packers, Redskins, Seahawks, and Giants. That’ll set up back to back years where rookie QBs face off after last year’s Bengals (Dalton) vs. Texans (TJ Yates) game. It’ll also give the entire NFC a heart attack realizing that you never know when the Giants are going to make a run. I’m sure Green Bay fans will be nervous with the Giants coming to town again.
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I’m going to do the AFC a little bit differently. 5 of the 6 teams are pretty much locked. 4 teams have already clinched (Patriots, Texans, Broncos, Ravens) and it’ll take some crazy scenario for the Colts to miss the playoffs. Given that they play the Chiefs and a Texans team who will most likely have nothing to play for in Week 17, you can put ink to paper for their spot.
The 6 seed will more or less be determined at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Sunday. It is possible that the Bengals still get in with a loss, but if the Bengals win, the Steelers are done. So instead of going over the crazy playoff scenarios that could get the Jets or Dolphins into the playoffs, I’m going to do a little preview of the game!
Bengals: 8-6, 1-3 in the division, 5-5 in the conference.
Steelers: 7-7, 2-2 in the division, 4-6 in the conference.
The one thing that jumps out is that both have done well against the NFC. They’re both 3-1. The only other AFC teams with a winning record against the NFC are the Texans, Broncos, and Colts. Only 5 out of 16 teams. It shows that the NFC top to bottom is better than the AFC. The Patriots, whom many consider to be the best in the AFC, went 1-3 against the NFC West.
The Steelers have a big problem with playing down to their competition. They have losses to the Raiders, Titans, Browns, and Chargers, 4 of the worst 9 teams in the NFL. The Bengals on the other hand appear to be a slightly above average team who struggles against good opponents, but doesn’t lose to awful ones. 4 of their 6 losses are to teams currently in the playoff hunt, yet only 2 of their 7 wins are against playoff contenders. The Bengals are a team that 90% of the time don’t make the playoffs, but the mediocrity of the AFC is allowing it.
Kevin Zeitler and Andre Smith vs. Steelers front 7. This combination may be the best run blocking duo in the NFL. Zeitler and Smith have a basic run blocking set-up mastered. Zeitler and Smith will combine to attack the 3-4 DE, normally Ziggy Hood. Then, based off of a few factors, one of the two will peel off to go after a LB, typically Larry Foote or Jason Worilds. In the first matchup, the Steelers held Bengals RB Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis (the Lawfirm) to 69 yards on 18 carries. The running game was struggling at that point, with only one game where the Lawfirm had more than 3.9 yards per carry. The Bengals running game has taken a significant step forward in the past 5 weeks, with the Lawfirm averaging 5.1 yards per carry. If they can continue to run the ball effectively, it’ll be due to the combo blocking of Zeitler and Smith and the Bengals will be in great shape on offense.
AJ Green vs. Steelers secondary. The Steelers are banged up in the secondary. Ike Taylor will likely be out again. Tony Romo tore the Steelers secondary a new one yesterday completing 71% of his passes for 341 yards and 2 touchdowns. If the Bengals are going to put up yards through the air, they’ll go to AJ Green. I imagine the Steelers will game plan to double cover Green, but if I’m Andy Dalton, with the drastic talent difference between Green and the entire Steelers secondary, I’m forcing the ball to Green any time I see single coverage.
Bengals DL vs. Steelers OL. The Bengals lead the NFL in sacks and 25.5 of them are from their starting 4. The Steelers are middle of the road in terms of sacks allowed, but a lot of that has to do with Big Ben’s pocket presence and mobility. He is not easy to take down. The Cowboys got 8 hits and 4 sacks on Big Ben and those numbers are probably doubled with an inferior QB. Big Ben was running for his life almost the entire game. If the Bengals are kept in check on the DL, Big Ben will find open receivers and move the ball against an average Bengals secondary. Let’s just hope they catch them this week. If the Bengals get pressure with their front 4 and they wrap up Ben, it’ll take a herculean effort from their overrated defense to pull off the win.
Turnovers. The Bengals are 5th in the AFC with a +3 turnover ratio. The Steelers are 14th with a -14 ratio. Granted, their 8 turnover game against the Browns skews that number, but they’re still negative on the season, mostly due to the inability to force turnovers. The Bengals have forced 26, the Steelers only 13. The teams aren’t that different in terms of turnovers allowed, the Bengals with 23 and the Steelers with 27. The inability of the Steelers to force turnovers has killed them in close games (5 losses by 1 score). If that trend holds, I don’t see a Steelers victory.
The Bengals get the running game going early on and AJ Green makes two or three big plays that put the Bengals over the top. Bengals win 24-20 and essentially clinch a playoff spot.
MAQB Year of the Rookie QB
Andrew Luck: 13/27 186 yards 2 touchdowns. 2 rushes for 10 yards and 5 sacks for 38 yards. QB Rating of 95.6 and a loss.
Robert Griffin III: Best cheerleader of the week for fellow rookie QB Kirk Cousins.
Ryan Tannehill: 22/28 220 yards 2 touchdowns. 8 rushes for 52 yards 1 sack for 11 yards and a lost fumble. QB Rating of 123.2 and a win.
Brandon Weeden: 21/35 244 yards 1 touchdown 2 interceptions. 1 rush for 9 yards and 2 sacks for 11 yards. QB Rating of 66.8 and a loss.
Russell Wilson: 14/23 205 yards 1 touchdown. 9 rushes for 92 yards 3 touchdowns and 2 sacks for 9 yards. QB Rating of 104.4 and a win.
Nick Foles: 16/33 182 yards 1 touchdown 1 interception. 1 sack for 9 yards and a lost fumble. QB Rating of 62.9 and a loss.
Kirk Cousins: 26/37 329 yards 2 touchdowns 1 interception. 3 rushes for 22 yards and 2 sacks for 21 yards. QB Rating of 104.4 and a win.
Ryan Lindley (finally worthy of being discussed!!!!): 14/21 104 yards 1 interception. 2 rushes for 8 yards and 1 sack for 7 yards. QB Rating of 58.4 and A MOTHER #$%&IN’ WIN BABY!!!!!!!!!!!
Here’s the big deal about this week for rookie QBs. With wins by Cousins and Lindley, 8 rookie QBs have won a game as a starter in 2012. 7 teams have started a rookie QB and won. Broncos, rest Peyton in Week 17 so Brock Osweiler can make it 8 teams and 9 winners. When I first started this section of the column, it was to highlight how incredible it was that 5 rookie QBs were opening day starters. 3 of them are probably going to start playoff games. One of them is the QB for a team whom I would consider a legitimate Super Bowl contender, the Seahawks. Let’s take a look at some individual game notes.
Luck is frustrating me immensely lately. Too many forced throws. I don’t know if he’s cocky or if he’s trying to do too much, but I see too many “whooooa there Lucky boy” throws. Too often he does nothing early on and has to claw his team back into the game. If playoff seeds hold, they’ll face the Ravens in the first round and I’d like to retract last week’s statement that they won’t win a playoff game the way they’re playing. The Ravens are awful right now and I think the Colts would have a reasonable shot at beating them.
Tannehill had a superb game, albeit against one of the worst defenses in the NFL, the Jaguars. The Dolphins offense started off a bit slow, but once they got it going Tannehill was on fire. WR Brian Hartline went over 1,000 yards for the season, an impressive accomplishment with a rookie QB. The Dolphins have a lot of positive momentum to build on headed into 2013 and for the first time in a long time, Dolphins fans have a right to be optimistic.
When I saw Brandon Weeden’s first interception, I said to myself “there’s that crucial mistake he seems to make every week.” Weeden tried to force the ball over the middle and a LB made an impressive catch, but it’s a throw Weeden shouldn’t make. Given the success of Russell Wilson, if Weeden doesn’t have a superb 2013, Browns fans will look back on the Weeden selection as another missed opportunity. Imagine if they took Morris Claiborne at 4, Doug Martin at 22, and Wilson with their 3rd round pick (traded back with Denver). Ouch.
I saw a tweet from Mike Florio of PFT that made me laugh, then cry a little. He said (paraphrasing) why can’t Dave Wannstedt (current Bills DC, former Pitt head coach) stop the read option? He saw WVU run it with Pat White and Steve Slaton for 4 years. It’s so true. Wilson and Marshawn Lynch owned the Bills D. Wilson’s Seahawks scored 50 points in back to back games for the first time in the Super Bowl era. He was decisive throwing and running. I’m still seeing rookie mistakes from Luck, Tannehill, Weeden, and the other non-first round QBs. RG3 and Wilson? I’m not seeing them anymore. These two are seasoned QBs and at the moment, the two best rookie QBs. RG3 doesn’t surprise anyone, but Wilson? He has 2 turnovers in the past 6 weeks. He has 11 passing touchdowns and 3 rushing touchdowns. Over 2 touchdowns per game and only 1 turnover every 3 games? Tom Brady is happy if he has those numbers. Incredible.
Kirk Cousins didn’t exactly have an ideal start. Here are his first 7 dropbacks: Incomplete, Incomplete, Interception on a throw into triple coverage, completion for 4 yards, sacked by Jabaal Sheard for a loss of 9, incomplete, incomplete. He went 1-6 for 4 yards and an interception that setup an easy touchdown plus a sack for a 9 yard loss. It pretty much couldn’t have gone worse. The next 35 times he threw or ran went slightly better. He was 25/31 (81%) for 325 yards 2 touchdowns passing, 3 rushes for 22 yards passing and only 1 sack for 12 yards, leading his team to 38 points on the road. If I sat down and rated every single rookie QB performance, this one would end up in the top 10 easily.
It was a must win game for the Redskins to remain in the playoff hunt and it was his first career start. After a disastrous beginning, he could not have possibly played any better. His play set the Redskins up to control their destiny after the Giants lost. Win their next 2 games and the Redskins, after a 3-6 start, will be NFC East Champions. 7 straight wins. Kudos to the Shanahans.
Ryan Lindley finally gets mentioned in a non-insulting manner. Don’t get me wrong, his play wasn’t any good. His defense forced 4 turnovers and turned 2 of them into touchdowns on their own. Those scores on their own were enough to win the game since the Lions only managed 10 points. But, Lindley only had 1 interception and managed to not suck as much as Matt Stafford did. He didn’t do anything at least 70 other NFL QBs couldn’t do, but he didn’t lose the game after his defense set them up for victory. Good job on accomplishing the bare minimum Ryan!
But, I have to give my MAQB Rookie of the Week Clip Art Certificate to Kirk Cousins. A huge win after a disastrous start. I’d like to congratulate the Redskins for being the first ever team to win 2 MAQB Rookie of the Week Clip Art Certificates in one season. Mr. Snyder, I’ll email you my address so you can send your private jet to pick me up so I can hand deliver this prestigious award to you in person. Don’t skimp on the champagne.
Overpaid/Underpaid Players of the Week
Overpaid: The entire Kansas City Chiefs offense
10 rushes for 10 yards. 36 passing attempts for a total of 109 passing yards. 0 points. That’s 2.6 yards per play. 119 total yards. Adrian Peterson had more yards on 2 carries. My underpaid player of the week, a man considered a bust a mere 3 weeks ago, had more yards from scrimmage. Calvin Johnson had more receiving yards than that yesterday. What makes it worse is that the Raiders are the 24th ranked defense in the NFL. It’s not like the 49ers did this. They didn’t have a bunch of turnovers or get down by a large margin early and have to alter their game plan. The final score was only 15-0. All in all, just a pathetic game from a team who has a bunch of quitters on the offense. Romeo Crennel has shown he should never be a head coach.
Underpaid: Knowshon Moreno
Keep in mind this is an award based off of short term performance. Up until 3 weeks ago, Moreno was a guy I was surprised still had a job. His first 3 years in Denver were a disaster and he was inactive a majority of the season until Willis McGahee got hurt. Moreno has stepped up and played like he should have been the past 4 seasons. Yesterday, Moreno had 22 carries for 118 yards and a touchdown. Factor in his previous week, which was 32 carries 119 yards and a touchdown plus 48 yards through the air and you’ve got a 1st round RB playing like the workhorse he should be. The yards have come at a critical time with the Broncos fighting for a first round bye. At the moment, they’re in the 2 seed with an easy schedule to lock it up the next 2 weeks.
I’m well aware of Moreno’s performances because in my one fantasy league, it’s a 2-week matchup. 4 weeks of playoffs, 2 matchups. My opponent had Moreno. I lost by significantly less than Moreno’s 2 game contribution.
Knowshon, take your meager $855k salary and see if you can bribe someone to give you a contract in the offseason hoping you’ll repeat your performance the past 2 weeks.
-It’s no longer a question of if Adrian Peterson breaks 2,000 yards. He’s at 1,812. No way in hell does the guy who has had 1,313 yards in his past 8 games get less than 200 yards the next 2 games. The question is if he gets more than 293 to break Eric Dickerson’s single season record of 2,105 yards. One thing is for sure. He’ll get at least 25 carries both games as long as he is still in possession of 2 legs and 1 arm.
-If the Bills only draw 40,770 people to Toronto, it’s safe to say they have a lot of work to do if they’re going to make that a viable alternate site.
-On the final play of the Bears-Packers game where Jay Cutler was trying to complete a Hail Mary, he was sacked by a 2-man rush. 2-man rush. It was a 3-man line, but one Packer dropped into shallow coverage (most likely QB spy) and had 2 Bears OL standing there just in case he decided to rush. That left 2 on 3 and they still lost the battle. If the Bears end up missing the playoffs, poor OL play will be reason #1.
-Mason Crosby has missed 12 FGs on the season, including 2 under 45 yards yesterday. Yet, he’s keeping his job? A part of me wants to see the Packers lose on a missed FG because Crosby’s poor play is inexcusable. You cannot go into the playoffs with a FG kicker missing over 30% of his kicks.
-If I’m the Baltimore Ravens, I seriously consider letting Joe Flacco walk this offseason. You fired your offensive coordinator, but it’s pretty obvious that the reason the offense isn’t struggling is playcalling. It’s talent at QB. Teams aren’t afraid of Flacco. He doesn’t have the consistency to take advantage of Torrey Smith’s speed nor the accuracy to get yards after the catch from Boldin or their TEs. He’s in his 5th season and all he has shown is average. He’s consistently average. His stats the past 4 years are like mirror images of each other. A lot of QBs are late bloomers, but typically not after 87 career starts between regular season and playoffs. You’ve had playoff success because of the defense, not the offense.
-Colin Kaepernick is still a flawed player. He’s fumbling the snap under center a lot and has a few questionable decisions every game. However, he’s a playmaker. After the 49ers let the Patriots get back into the game, Kaepernick made things happen and ended up with 4 touchdown passes on the day. For a little perspective, Alex Smith has never thrown 4 touchdowns in a game. Not once in his 81 career starts. Kaepernick did it in his 5th start. The 49ers started Kaepernick so he could WIN them games, where Alex Smith can only be relied on to not lose them. The gamble might not pay off this season, but it will in the long term.
-Good news for all of my haters out there! This may be my last column if the Mayans are correct. Good news is I’m gone, bad news our entire planet has been destroyed by zombies, aliens, an asteroid, or Justin Bieber’s voice. I’ll let you weigh the pros and cons.
-I’m man enough to admit what happened in Connecticut caused me to shed a few tears. I hope you did too.
-Next week’s column will have less content, mostly because I’ll be attending the Eagles-Redskins game at the Linc. I should be easy to spot, I’ll be one of the 53 Eagles fans there. 2 of those are with me, so you’ve got a really good shot at finding me. I’ll be wearing my McCoy jersey (which surprises no one who reads this column) and hopefully Shady is healthy so I can see him in person for the first time since his game winning touchdown in the Backyard Brawl in 2008.
That day is still my favorite football moment. I had sideline passes so I was right behind the team the entire time. Pitt got the ball down 15-13 with 8:07 left on their own 41-yard line. Every single person in the stadium knew Shady was going to get the ball. He ended up carrying the ball 9 of 10 plays. On those 9 plays he ran for 61 yards and the game winning touchdown. The only play he didn’t get the ball lost 2 yards. I had gone down to the end of the field to watch the last run and Shady was no more than 10 feet away from me when it happened. The drive ate up all but 52 seconds and WVU didn’t have enough time to pull off the win.
Monday Night Prediction
Who’s excited for tonight’s Jets-Titans matchup, if so, raise your hand…anyone? Wait sir you in the back are yo…yeah you’re just scratching your head. Bueller? Bueller? No one? Alright then.
The Jets defense is still decent and the Titans are awful. Jets win an ugly one that no one watches. I’ll watch and take some notes, but it’ll be on a delay after I watch an hour long How I Met Your Mother episode.