NFL: Week 12 Thoughts

12 down. 5 to go.  Divisions have tightened up, making for a fun last month of the season.

How do I sum up week 12? Big Losses, Bad Losses, and a tie… oh my god football is great.

NFC EAST (It’s Officially a Two Horse Race)

  • Eagles: Bye Week. (6-5)
  • Cowboys: Tony Romo has been exceptional in the 4th quarter this season, and showed it once again.  Big 3rd down conversions helped set up a Dan Carpenter game winning 35-yard field goal.  Romo finished with 2 touchdown passes, both to Jason Witten.  Dez Bryant finished with 102-yards, and DeMarco Murray ran for 86-yards on just 14 carries.  A big fumble recovery for a touchdown helped get the Boys the win.  Now the fate of the division lies in two match-ups with Philly starting next week.  (6-5)
  • Giants: A late second field-goal sunk any hopes they had of completing a huge playoff resurgence.  First half struggles included Victor Cruz’s first fumble returned for a score, and an inability to get into the end-zone.  They ran the ball effectively with Brandon Jacobs and Andre Brown combining for nearly 200-yards, but abandoned the run in the red-zone. Eli Manning finished completing just 50% of his passes, but threw 2 touchdowns and no turnovers.  They managed to score 15 unanswered to tie the score late at 21, but the defense struggled to stop Tony Romo on 3rd down in what became the Cowboys game winning drive.  Strange play-calling and penalties are the biggest reason for their 4 game win streak coming to end. They lost both games to Dallas by a combined 8 points. (4-7)
  • Redskins: He’s not the same guy as the Robert Griffin III that own rookie of the year last season. RGIII finished with just 127-yards on 17-27 passing.  THe offense couldn’t muster anything more than a couple Kyle Forbath field goals, both coming in the 2nd quarter.  There won’t be a 7-game win streak to propel them into the playoffs this season. Now they have to hope they can beat the giants to stay out of last place, and not go from first-to-worst. (3-8)

NFC NORTH (A Tie Means Nobody Won this week)

  • Lions: They had a chance to get a last second win, instead Matthew Stafford threw his 4th interception of the game, sealing their fate. Stafford threw 3 touchdowns to go with those 4 turnovers.  Calvin Johnson went over 100-yards again, while Nate Burleson had a good day in his return from injury, catching 7 passes for 77-yards and a score.  This team continues to show potential, then have let-down games like this against bad teams. (6-5)
  • Bears: Josh McGown passed for 352-yards and two touchdowns with an interception.  Chicago had a Devin Hester 62-yard punt return for a touchdown nullified by a holding penalty in the fourth quarter.  But it didn’t matter, since the defense couldn’t stop the Rams offense.  That’s nothing new for a defense that has struggled since their 3-0 start.  Lucky for them, Detroit couldn’t put any separation between them. (6-5) 
  • Packers: After an early touchdown, Green Bay couldn’t do anything on offense.  That is until Matt Flynn came to the rescue, bringing them back to tie the game at 23 in the 4th quarter.  But didn’t do it alone, getting a lot of help from running back Eddie Lacy, who got back over the 100-yard mark and found the end-zone. Scott Tolzien wasn’t horrible, scoring a touchdown on the ground, but he was just 7-of-17 before his benching. They forced overtime, and kicked a field-goal to take the lead, but because of the new overtime rules, Minnesota tied, and that’s how it ended.  It was the first tie in the league since November of last season. (5-5-1)
  • Vikings: For 3 quarters, they shined. Adrian Peterson led the way with 146-yards rushing and a score, though he did lose a fumble.  Blair Walsh continues to show why he’s one of the top kickers in the league, hitting on all four of his attempts.  Christian Ponder threw 2 touchdowns and didn’t turn the ball over.  But the defense wavered in the 2nd half, and nothing good happened in overtime.  A tie for this team is better than nothing, but they had a 3rd win in sight and let it slip away. (2-8-1)

NFC SOUTH (The Final 4 Weeks are Going to be Fun)

  • Saints: They weren’t sharp, but they made the plays when they had to in order to get the 4-point road win.  Drew Brees threw his two touchdowns to his tight-ends Jimmy Graham and Benjamin Watson.  Pierre Thomas led the way on the ground with 73-yards on just 10 carries.  All that damage came in the 1st half, with a Garrett Hartley field-goal the only New Orleans scoring of the 2nd half.  But the defense pitched a shutout in the 2nd half, giving this team just enough for the win.  (9-2)
  • Panthers: More late game heroics for Cam Newton, who engineered a game winning drive capped by a Greg Olsen touchdown with 43-seconds left in regulation.  It was a rare slow start, 16 points allowed in the 1st half that made the comeback necessary.  The game winner was Newton’s lone touchdown pass, though he did find pay dirt on the ground.  Other than that rushing TD, Carolina had no real success on the ground. But the defense showed up in the 2nd half, pitching a shutout.  The 7-game win streak is their longest in a decade.  They kept pace with New Orleans ahead of their first match-up of the season next week, a game that becomes a battle for first.  (8-3)
  • Buccaneers: Three straight wins, and they took down their best opponent in Detroit this time around. According to NFL.com, their 3 game win streak after losing the first eight of the season puts them in rare company, joining the 1978 St. Louis Cardinals as the only teams to do so.  Mike Glennon continues to show he can win in this league, completing 14-of-21 passes for 247-yards and 2 touchdowns.  Bobby Rainey didn’t come close to his break out performance from a week ago on the ground, but it didn’t matter.  It was Tiquan Underwood that had the break out week.  The 5th year wide-out went for 108 and 2 scores on the day. And obviously the defense did a good job turning Stafford over 4 times to help hold on in the end. (3-8)
  • Falcons: A loss on Thursday Night meant a lot of bad things for Atlanta.  Their 5th straight defeat ensured their first losing season since 2008, and eliminated them from playoff contention.  This is not how anyone saw a Superbowl favorite showing up this season.  Not saying much, but Matt Ryan had one of his best performances of the season, completing 30 of 39 passes for 292 yards with no interceptions, but no touchdowns either.  Steven Jackson ran one in for his first rushing score as a Falcon.  2 Matt Bryant field goals made up the rest of the lack luster offense.  The defense did a pretty good job holding a good New Orleans team to 17 points.  (2-9)

NFC WEST (The Race For 2nd is On)

  • Seahawks: Bye Week. (10-1)
  • 49ers: It’s always a good day when your defense holds the opponent to field goals.  And he wasn’t good last week, but boy did Colin Kaepernick look good this week. San Fran’s man under center threw 3 touchdowns, finished with a total of 255-yards and no turnovers.  Anquan Boldin was the recipient of two of those touchdown passes, with the other going to Vernon Davis.  The run game was lacking, but they did enough to win and keep pace with the cards.  (7-4)
  • Cardinals: This team continues to win, and this week they made a statement against a very good team. Carson Palmer threw for 2 scores and over 300-yards. Larry Fitzgerald caught five passes for 52-yards and 2 touchdowns, and according to NFL.com, become the youngest player in NFL history to reach 11,000 yards receiving.  Jay Feely added 4 field-goals to the 40-point effort. The defense shut down the Colts offense, including a Karlos Dansby pick 6 in their 20-point 2nd quarter.  Head Coach Bruce Arians beat the team that he was the interim head coach for a year ago when Chuck Pagano fought leukemia.  They’ve moved themselves into playoff contention. (7-4)
  • Rams: I’ve said it all year, this defense is for real.  And this week, the offense matched their greatness with a season high 42 points.  It’s their 2nd game in a row where they’ve looked unstoppable on offense, and against good teams.  21 in the 1st quarter made it an uphill battle all game for Chicago, and they couldn’t recover.  Kellen Clemens’ performance wasn’t anything to write home about, 167-yards, and a touchdown.  The story was the run game.  For a team that took til week 9 to drive it in on the ground, the Rams picked up rushing touchdowns from 3 different players.  Rookie rushers Billy Cunningham and Zac Stacy each found the end zone, as did rookie wide-receiver Tavon Austin.  The defense got a pick and forced 2 fumbles. (5-6)

AFC EAST (A Big Win All But Ensures New England’s Division Championship)

  • Patriots: An atrocious 1st half was followed up by an incredible 2nd half.  Two early fumbles which led to 2 touchdowns put New England down 14-0 quick.  Down 24-0 at the half, 31 unanswered points in the 2nd half to take a 1-score lead in the 4th quarter.  Tom Brady was brilliant after early struggles, finishing with 344-yards passing and 3 touchdowns.  Julian Edelman had a huge night, finishing with 9 catches for 110-yards and two touchdowns.  After the defense allowed Denver to tie the score forcing overtime, Stephen Gostkowski hit his 21st straight to give them the big come-from-behind victory(8-3)
  • Jets: It was all bad on Sunday, leading to their first 2-game losing streak of the season.  Geno Smith was as bad as he’s been all season, completing just 9 of 22 passes along with committing 3 turnovers.  The run game didn’t help, low-lighted by a Chris Ivory ankle sprain. It doesn’t help when the offense finishes just 1-for-12 on 3rd down conversions either. The defense wasn’t terrible, but they did lose Antonio Cromartie to a hip injury. (5-6)
  • Dolphins: They got off to a hot start against one of the hottest teams in the league, but then the Panthers defense tightened up, and the Miami offense had no answer. The run game continues to suffer following the bully scandal and the loss of two key offensive linemen.  Ryan Tannehill passed for over 300-yards and threw a touchdown, while Caleb Sturgis hit 3 of his 4 field goal attempts.  But all the good came in the 1st half before they could do nothing right in the 2nd half.  Mike Wallace had 127-yards receiving and a touchdown, but missed on a possible game-winner from Tannehill. (5-6)
  • Bills: Bye Week. (4-7)

AFC NORTH (The Cats are Still Sitting Pretty, but Things Are Tightening Up)

  • Bengals: Bye Week. (7-4) 
  • Steelers: The comeback from an 0-4 start continues.  Ben Roethlisberger threw 2 touchdowns, to Antonio Brown in the 1st half, and Emmanuel Sanders in the 2nd half to keep playoff hopes alive.  Le’Veon Bell added 80-yards on the ground to Big Ben’s 217 passing. 4 forced turnovers didn’t hurt either. It’s Roethlisberger’s 16th win over Cleveland in 17 career starts, and gives Pittsburgh the season sweep over their division foes. (5-6)
  • Ravens: Jacoby Jones has a big day receiving, finishing with 103-yards on just 4 catches.  Joe Flacco finished with 1 touchdown thrown to Jones, 1 pick and 273-yards passing. Justin Tucker continues to come up big, hitting all 4 of his field-goal attempts, including a 53-yarder.  The run game disappeared again, but it didn’t matter with how the defense played.  They didn’t allow the Jets to sustain drives, while recording 3 sacks and forcing 3 turnovers.  The win puts Baltimore back in contention for a wildcard spot(5-6)
  • Browns: The season got off to a promising start, but losing 6-of-7 have turned it into another season that could end at the bottom of the division.  Injuries at quarterback have defined the season, and their 3rd starter of the season went down, when Jason Campbell left with a head injury after being sacked.  Brandon Weedon came back in, but couldn’t help stop another loss.  4 turnovers, including 3 lost fumbles led to the two score loss.  Not even Josh Gordon’s 227-yards receiving could help stave off defeat. (4-7)

AFC South (Indy Running Out of Luck?)

  • Colts: This team can’t continue to get off to such bad starts.  After a strong 1st half of the season, this team is starting to show why a lack of a run game could hurt them in the playoffs. Andrew Luck came within 2-yards of being the team leader in rushing against Arizona, which can’t happen with a non-mobile quarterback.  Luck wasn’t good passing either, throwing a pick 6, and throwing a garbage time touchdown to Coby Fleener. At this point, they’re just lucky they built up a big lead in the division with Tennessee not going away. (7-4)
  • Titans: Don’t look now, but Tennessee is the number 6 seed in the AFC.  It took til the 2nd half to score a touchdown, but Ryan Fitzpatrick found the end-zone twice, including a game-winning strike to Kendall Wright with 10 seconds left in regulation.  The defense held Oakland to one touchdown and field-goal attempts, and they were helped out by a couple misses.  They also won the turnover battle, which was key in a 1 score game. (5-6) 
  • Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew continues his 2nd half resurgence, rushing for 84-yards on 14 carries including a touchdown. Chad Henne managed the game well, throwing for 239 with no touchdowns but no turnovers.  The defense held late as Houston drove down the field, when rookie Ryan Davis grabbed a deflected ball for the interception to seal the victory. (2-9)
  • Texans: Things went from bad to worst for a once highly thought of Houston squad.  Make it 9 straight losses,dropping them into a tie for last place after the home loss to the Jaguars. Case Keenum was back under center after being benched in the 2nd half last week in favor of Matt Schaub.  Keenum with his worst performance of his young career, completing just 18 of 34 passes for 169-yards and an interception. It’s hard to win when you can’t do anything but kick field-goals, no matter who you’re playing. (2-9)

AFC WEST (Denver Blows Opportunity to take a lead in the Division)

  • Broncos: A week after coming up big, Peyton Manning came up small on the road against New England.  A season low 150-yards, two touchdowns and a pick, Manning couldn’t pick up a big road win despite being spotted a defensive touchdown and good field position on another early turnover.  Knowshon Moreno did his best to save Denver, rushing for a career high 224-yards and a score.  Bad news on Moreno, he as found on crutches after the game.  The defense couldn’t do anything in the 2nd half, allowing the Pats to score on  their first 5 drives of the 2nd half. (9-2)
  • Chiefs: Defensive injuries are piling up at the wrong time, leading to their 2nd straight loss.  Both Tamba Hali and Justin Houston left in the 1st half with bad injuries.  Alex Smith threw the ball as good as he has all year, going for nearly 300-yards, 3 scores and 1 pick.  Jamaal Charles added his 7th and 8th rushing scores on the year as apart of a 115-yard performance.  Dwayne Bowe’s touchdown catch with under 3 to play looked to be the dagger to help overcome their injuries, but it wasn’t to be. (9-2)
  • Chargers: Make it 11 wins versus the Chiefs for Philip Rivers. San Diego’s QB took advantage of Kansas City’s defensive injuries, torching the depleted secondary for  392-yards and three touchdowns, the final one a 26-yarder to Seyi Ajirotutu with 24 seconds remaining to snap their 3-game losing streak.  Ryan Matthews and Danny Woodhead added scores on the ground.  Their defense wasn’t great, but they were lucky Kansas City was so banged up, and that the offense clicked on all cylinders. (5-6)
  • Raiders: Sebastian Janikowski doesn’t miss many, but he missed two on Sunday, in a 3-point loss.  Matt McGloin wasn’t too bad, throwing for 260, a score and a pick.  Rashad Jennings couldn’t crack the 100-yard mark again, but it wasn’t a bad effort by Oakland.  A win would’ve put them in the 6 seed in the AFC, instead they fall further down in the playoff hunt, and drop to the bottom of the West. (4-7)

That’s it.  Week 13 approaches as division foes square off to better their playoff standings, play spoiler and pick up as many wins as possible.

Enjoy.

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Week 1 Thoughts

One week down. 16 to go.

Let’s start with Opening Night: Baltimore @ Denver.

  • Something we already knew heading into this one, Peyton Manning is pretty good. All he did week 1 was throw for 7 TDs, with no turnovers against the defending Superbowl Champion Ravens.   While the Broncos took home the 49-27, they didn’t look great on defense without Champ Bailey and Von Miller.  And second year linebacker Danny Trevathan picked Joe Flacco off late in the game, but fumbled at the one yard line celebrating the pick 6 too early.  That along with a lack of a run game were concerning, but overall if you’re a Denver fan, you’ve got to like what you saw.  Manning spread the wealth between his receivers, and new addition Wes Welker is fitting in already.  The Ravens have to hope Ray Rice can get it going to help Flacco in the pass game, and with punt-returner Jacoby Jones out 4-6 weeks, a big piece will need to be filled.  Not worried about Baltimore just yet though, Denver was just on a different level at home to start the season.

The first full Sunday of the season saw a lot of big performances, and some strange things as well.

  • The strangest of them all, the number of safeties.  Three were scored in the first quarter of games (Steelers, Jaguars and the Jets).  The one Pitt picked up, according to the NFL, was the first on an opening kickoff since 1988.
  • In an NFC North match-up between the Vikings and Lions, 2012 MVP Adrian Peterson showed last season’s comeback from an ACL injury wasn’t a fluke.  On the first play from scrimmage, AP ran for a 78-yard touchdown.  He’d run for a second, and catch a third from QB Christian Ponder.  But despite the 3 TDs, after the big first run, Peterson only ran for 15 yards on 18 carries.  Ponder threw for 3 picks.  The lions are coming off another losing season, and they needed a big first games from Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.  But it was the running tandem of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, that carried the load.   Bush ran for 90 yards, but went for 101 and a TD in the pass game, while Bell only picked up 25 rush yards, but scored 2 TDs for the Lions.
  • Geno Smith can lead the Jets to victory.  Sure it was helped by a Buccaneer personal foul, but 256 yards passing, 47 rushing, a TD and an interception to go along with getting them within field goal range to win in your first NFL start is more than Jets fans could’ve hoped after he hurt his ankle in the preseason.
  • The Saints made a statement week 1, taking down the NFC South favorite Falcons.
  • EJ Manuel can keep things interesting, forcing the Patriots eek out a 23-21 win.
  • The Jaguars are who we thought they are, a team who will be in the worst record of the season conversation all year.
  • The Browns didn’t show much progress, losing their 9th straight opening day game.  QB Brandon Weeden threw 4 picks and was sacked 6 times.  But if the Dolphins want to make noise in the AFC East, they’ve got to do a better job protecting Ryan Tannehill, who was dropped 4 times as well.
  • Andrew Luck is the real deal.  Terrelle Pryor and the Raiders looked impressive for 3 quarters.  But then Mr. Comeback struck.  The Colts QB led his team on 7 4th quarter comebacks last year.  And he did it again week 1.
  • The Seahawks are a Superbowl favorite for many, but they struggled week 1 with the Carolina Panthers.  It took until the 4th quarter to score a TD, a Russell Wilson 43-yard strike to Jermaine Kearse.
  • AJ Green continues to be a really scary player (162 yards, 2 TDs), but the Chicago Bears still found a way to pull out a 3-point win over Cincy.
  • The Steelers O-Line was no match for the revamped Titans defense, allowing Ben Roethlisberger to be sacked 5 times in a 16-9 loss.  Adding injury to insult, Pitt lost a number players to injury, including Pro Bowl Center Maurkice Pouncey.
  • The Rams and Cardinals played a close, hard-fought game, showing just how improved the NFC South is.  Carson Palmer with a big day in his first day as a Cardinal, throwing 2 TDs to Larry Fitzgerald.  New St. Louis TE Jared Cook with 141 yards receiving to help the Rams win their first opener in 7 years.
  • Packers/49ers was fun to watch.  Both offenses showed up big time, combining for 62 points, but San Fran and Colin Kaepernick got the best of Aaron Rodgers once again.  The NFC Championship rematch ended the same way, but in this game it wasn’t Kaepernick’s legs that made the difference.  Kaepernick was on point with his throws, getting his first career game of 300+ yards.
  • The Texans are lucky they woke up in the second half against the Chargers.  Houston is a team that has been getting better every year, but it took a half for Matt Schaub and his offense to wake up.  They got help from a guy they missed last year, when Brian Cushing Picked off Philip Rivers for a 19-yard TD return to tie the game late.
  • The Eagles, not the defending NFC East Champion Redskins, took their Monday Night opener.

Sunday Night Football was an NFC East Matchup: Giants @ Cowboys.

  • The Giants were 4-0 in the new Cowboys home arena heading into action, but things would change.  Eli Manning threw a pick on the first play of the game.  Then the Giants turned over the ball on their next two possessions.  But Dallas couldn’t take advantage, scoring just 3 points off those turnovers.  Tony Romo took a big hit late in the 2nd half, but was able to finish the game, and throw 2 TDs to his security blanket, TE Jason Witten.   You’d think forcing 6 turnovers would’ve meant that the Cowboys won easily.  Wrong.  Down 13-3 late in the half, Eli Manning got a big play off to Victor Cruz to make it a game at the half.  Cruz would go on to catch 3 of Manning’s 4 TDs in the game.  Two fumbles by starting running back David Wilson saw Tom Coughlin bench the second year player, at a weak position for New York with the loss of Andre Brown.
  • Despite all the turnovers, the Giants had the ball with two timeouts and the two-minute warning left with a chance to win.  And there are few QBs in the history of the NFL you’d feel better about in that situation than Eli Manning.  But with the Wilson benching, back-up Scott was in, and on a pass play to him, he didn’t turn quick enough, causing the ball to bounce off his shoulder and fall right into the arms of Brandon Carr for a 49 yard interception return TD to seal the 36-31 win.
  • So the Giants receiving core (Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Ruben Randle) all went for 100+ yards, and secondary looked pretty good.  But a lack of pass rush and the turnovers are a cause for concern heading into a week 2 match-up with the Broncos.  And for the Cowboys, they snapped their home losing streak to the Giants, start out 1-0 and Tony Romo came out healthy.  Their big concerns heading into week 2 lie with needing to get RB DeMarco Murray going, and hoping start wide-out Dez Bryant’s tweaked ankle isn’t serious.

It’s still early.

  • Don’t forget that.  Whether your team won or lost week 1, there’s still plenty of football to go.