Colts

The Indianapolis .500: (Almost) Midseason Review

This post is a follow up to The Indianapolis .500: A Colts Guide to the Unexpected, which has now turned into a miniseries.

Eight weeks in and the Colts are ahead of schedule for my somewhat ambitious preseason prediction. While the Jaguars and Jets games went much worse than expected, the Colts were able to win close games against the Packers (!), Vikings, Titans and Browns to deliver them to four wins. Obviously, winning close games is an important part to success in the league, and even if a 4-1 record in games decided by less than 7 points is probably unsustainable, there is serious reason for optimism. Andrew Luck has been better than advertised, which is incredible in itself, and frankly that is 80% of the reason the Colts are where they are. The offense as a whole has been very average. The running game has, at times, been a bright spot against putrid run defenses (vs CLE, @TEN in OT) but that is more than you could say last year. Cassius Vaughn has been a revelation as the nickel corner too and is just one of a handful of guys who have been really impressive.

Now before you get excited about the Colts being good again, let me make something very clear. The Colts are still a pretty bad football team. DVOA hates them. They are 4-1 in close games, which is likely unsustainable, and I mean, if you have watched this team at all this year, you know they are unbelievably flawed and full of holes. All of that is ok and expected when only being able to work with 60% of the salary cap and coming off a 2-14 year, but it is a fact we have to account for going forward. The schedule is pretty easy going forward and that is good news, but don’t think for a second that the Colts have arrived. They are a terrible team with a phenomenal player at the most important position on the field. Sometimes that is enough to get you to .500.

Game-by-Game

Week 1- Colts 21, Bears 41

No shame in this. The Bears are fantastic, we played them week 1, and they have all the things that expose the Colts as subpar. Tall, talented receiver, all-around back, devastating defense. To be honest, the score should have been more lopsided.

Week 2- Vikings 20, Colts 23

A somewhat impressive and telling win looking back on it. The Vikings shot themselves in the foot repeatedly in this game and probably should have ripped the Colts to shreds, but only half the Vikings offense was working (Harvin), as Peterson was controlled. The last Vikings TD was fairly lucky and made the game seem closer, but it didn’t end up mattering as Luck once again owned the last two minutes and set up Vinatieri for the game-winner.

Week 3- Jaguars 22, Colts 17

The Colts outplayed the Jaguars in this game but allowed two huge gains, one to Maurice Jones-Drew and the other to Cecil Shorts, and it lost them the game. Oh yeah, Captain Clutch missed a key field goal too. It is a game the Colts will regret losing but is frankly one of those games that is just a coin flip. Games like these are to be expected with a young team and a coaching staff that likely doesn’t have the entirety of its offense or defense installed. There will be at least one more game like this where you just shake your head.

Week 4- Bye

Week 5- Packers 27, Colts 30

An emotional win and unless the Colts beat the Patriots (unlikely), the win of their season. #Chuckstrong was born and while this close game also swung the Colts way, I think we can safely call this game an outlier due to the emotion and digging out of a huge hole after the Packers offense totally imploded in the second half. This game also may mark the best game of Reggie Wayne’s outstanding career.

Week 6- Colts 9, Jets 35

These games are going to happen, you just wish they wouldn’t happen against a very mediocre team like the Jets. Luck was bad, nothing went well for the Colts and the Jets just ran all over their sorry asses. This happens to young teams. It doesn’t happen to legitimate playoff teams. The worst the Colts have played all season.

Week 7- Browns 13, Colts 17

Josh Gordon dropped the game-winning TD and the Colts get the win in a game best-remembered for how few possessions there were, especially in the first half. Look, Cleveland isn’t terrible but if you need any convincing at all that the Colts are a pretty fluky 4-3, this is the game. Trent Richardson even got pulled halfway through the first half! It was not pretty, but it was a win. That counts for something, but not for everything.

Week 8- Colts 19, Titans 13 (OT)

The Colts were truly horrendous in this game. The defense was ok, despite some favorable Offensive PI calls, but the offense was just trash for much of the game. Add in the blown fumble call at the end and it is a minor miracle the Colts beat the truly shitty Titans.  In overtime, the Colts ripped the Titans apart like they should have all game and won. Luck had at least two interceptions straight up dropped and there is just not a ton positive to say about this game. The road struggles are pretty characteristic of a young team, but concerning nonetheless.

 

I think just looking that over tells you that the Colts aren’t particularly good, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get to 8-8 without too much trouble. TV pundits are going to start screaming about how good the Colts are, especially after Luck carves up a terrible New England secondary in what will likely be a 41-34 loss (or something), but you know better.

Ironically, the thing that isn’t getting brought up nearly enough is how good Andrew Luck has been. There are a few whispers starting about his great QBR, how well he throws on the run (out of necessity), and his completion percentage downfield, but most of the talk is about that commercialized whore in Washington. Nothing against him personally, just sick of hearing about him. Just for a second, try to imagine where this team is with a replacement-level QB. We can argue about who that would be, but pick any of Josh Freeman, recent Philip Rivers, and Carson Palmer. If ANY of those guys is the QB, this team is at the bottom of the AFC South.

Another little exercise: here’s a list of QBs without including Luck. Where do you put him?

  1. Tom Brady
  2. Aaron Rodgers
  3. Eli Manning
  4. Matt Ryan
  5. Ben Roethlisberger
  6. Peyton Manning
  7. Drew Brees
  8. Jay Culter
  9. Matthew Stafford
  10. Matt Schaub
  11. Tony Romo
  12. Joe Flacco
  13. Robert Griffin III

It is a rough list, don’t spend too much time quarreling over the order of the top 5 or anything. Where do you put Luck in this RIGHT NOW and not projecting potential or a few years down the road? I put him just a touch behind Jay Cutler in 9th. If we’re projecting down the road, I put him even with Eli, maybe even on Rodgers level. Think about that for a second. Andrew Luck is 80% of the reason the Colts are competitive this year, and I really don’t think that is an exaggeration. Think about the Colts offense in abstract terms. You have one very good WR that teams will focus on almost exclusively. You have a couple of promising rookie TEs that are decent but not great yet. You have no running game to speak of against 75% of the league. Is this a recipe for success for any QB? No! that is a disaster waiting to happen! When Cromartie mostly took Wayne out of the game, we saw what happens. The Browns had the capacity to do it took with Joe Haden. Yet Luck has been incredible almost all year. Yes, the Jets game was rough, and he didn’t look particularly good against the Titans either, but what he is doing is astounding. His command of Bruce Arians offense is sublime and the reason the Colts are anywhere near .500. I sometimes object to judging a QB on his performance in the last two minutes since it is often against a soft shell defense. It shows how well he knows the offense but with mitigating factors. Nonetheless, Luck has lead the Colts to 34 points in the last two minutes of quarters this year, not to mention at least a few missed FGs in those stretches. That accounts for 25% of all Colts points this season. Four minutes of a 60 minute game contain 25% of the Colts points.

I’m not sure if that is a good sign since Luck kills it in high-leverage situations, or a bad sign that the Colts can’t score for so much of their games, but once the rest of the team gets the offense down, a no-huddle attack with Luck will likely be deadly. I think anyone who has watched the Colts this year knows how good Luck has been, so I will stop praising him for now and let his play do the talking. He is without a doubt the Rookie of the Year.

The other guy I want to go out of my way to praise is Cassius Vaughn. When I wrote my Colts preview, I was extremely concerned about a secondary that had not yet added Vontae Davis. With Davis the Colts are pretty solid against 2 WR looks, but with the league emphasis on passing and the rise of more and more 3 WR looks, a nickel corner that can tackle and cover is huge. The Colts had nothing of the sort entering the season. Enter Vaughn who has been a revelation and has helped shore up a Colts defense that needed lots of help through the air. Unsurprisingly, there aren’t any clips of his coverage on YouTube. But take my word for it or watch him any week and he is probably already better than Jerraud Powers. He needs more seasoning before he can step up to that slot, but I would bet slot receivers are far below their average production vs the Colts. This has been a big development for a Colts secondary in need of a few pieces.

Looking Forward

Week 9 vs Miami (Prediction: L)

This is almost definitely a loss. Miami is really balanced, really good on defense and just a better team than the Colts.

Week 10 @ Jacksonville (on a Thursday) (Prediction: 50-50)

Who knows with these Thursday games. If Jones-Drew misses the game then the Colts should win it, but it is also a road game on a Thursday. Toss up.

Week 11 @ New England (Prediction: L)

Too much passing and too much talent to lose to the Colts despite a very shaky secondary.

Week 12 vs Buffalo (Prediction: W)

The Bills are bad and it is in Indy. Chan Gailey is one of many coaches who should be preparing for unemployment.

Week 13 @ Detroit (Prediction: 50-50 but expecting a L)

This is one of those games that looks winnable, but the Colts have no answer to Calvin Johnson or Titus Young and it is in Detroit. It is a winnable game but I would be very surprised if the Colts won.

Week 14 vs Tennessee (Prediction: W)

The Titans are really bad and you’d hope that the Colts stuck it to them in this game after their poor showing.

Week 15 @ Houston (Prediction: L probably but let’s file it under unlikely toss-up)

The Texans should have the division wrapped up at this point, but somehow doubt they will be resting starters at Week 15. Expecting a loss in Houston, though perhaps a close one since the work load on Arian Foster will likely be relieved and I have no fear whatsoever of the Texans passing game..

Week 16 @ KC (Prediction: W)

Honestly, even though it is in Kansas City, if you can’t beat the Chiefs you are terrible. They haven’t held a lead this year (only win in OT). This is a win or a huge embarrassment.

Week 17 vs Houston (prediction: W)

Yup, the rested starters at last and the Colts get a free W.

Results: 3 almost definite wins, one toss up, and two unlikely toss ups.

Find a way to win one of those three and the Colts are .500. Win two of three and have an outside shot at a playoff game in Pittsburgh or Denver (can you imagine the publicity for that?). Win all three and… well you can’t win all three because the division likely isn’t locked up for the Texans if the Colts can get to 10-6, but if somehow the Colts won all three of those games, that is 10-6 and a season that is too good to be true. Literally. It would be a fluke. But stranger things have happened. I think they only win one of those three toss ups, but I could be wrong. The Indianapolis .500 rolls on and looks 10x more possible today than it did weeks ago. For that, I’ll give myself a big pat on the back.

AFC Playoff teams: New England, Houston, Denver, Pittsburgh (unless Baltimore turns it around fast), Miami (WC), ????? (WC)

That last one is wiiiiiiide open. The fact that I have Miami as the other playoff team should make that pretty clear.

NFC Playoff Picture: Atlanta, SF, Chicago, NYG, Green Bay, Minnesota/Seattle

That is one hell of a conference. Just the fact that we could have two genuine Super Bowl contenders playing in the Wild Card round (Chicago v GB or NYG v GB) tells you all you need to know.

Premature NFL Draft Thoughts

There are a lot of needs on this team, but most notably they are Nose Tackle, Wide Receiver, the offensive line, and Strong Safety. If available (and he likely won’t be), Star Lotuleilei (DT, Utah) would be incredibly. John Jenkins from Georgia would be similarly outstanding. The Colts will likely address either WR or OL in Free Agency, but not both. If Ace Sanders (WR, South Carolina) declares, I could see the Colts taking him as a punt returner and potential Mike Wallace type to go with Wayne. They COULD go for a safety in the first round like Eric Reid (LSU) but I would be surprised if they didn’t address the lines first.

Thanks for reading. There will also be a postseason recap post and MAYBE a postseason post.

The Indianapolis .500: A Colts Guide to the Unexpected

The 2012 Indianapolis Colts season was truly unforgettable. It was a season that Kafka would have loved, but the fans surely hated. The team was in a strange place it had never been before (2-14), feeling unjustly persecuted (Manning’s injury), and hurting deeply from its father’s flaws (poor drafting by Nepotism Chris). The metamorphosis was sure to come, but thankfully, that did not mean some twisted, fucked-up,  Kafkaesque transformation, but a new head coach, a new GM, a new quarterback and a new era of Colts football the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Jim Harbaugh was the quarterback. For the first time, the team’s goals are not the playoffs, the top pick, or a Super Bowl, and that is alright. Every team’s goal is getting better, but where will the record fall within that “getting better” spectrum?  5 or 6 wins seems to be the general consensus and I think lots of Colts fans would count 6 wins as a coup after last year and the rebuilding that followed.

I say 8-8. It is not only a possibility, but a probability and it isn’t even that outlandish.

First off, the schedule matters. Teams go from last to first in their division all the time because of how the schedule sets up to put 4th place teams against other 4th place teams.  The Texans are clearly the class of the division, but the Jaguars are terrible and the Titans are just ok and going in with a 2nd year quarterback, no Kenny Britt and a new head coach. So what does that schedule look like?

@CHI, vsMIN, vsJAX, vsGB, @NYJ, vsCLE, @TEN, vsMIA, @JAX, @NE, vsBUF, @DET, vsTEN, @HOU, @KC, vsHOU

No, those bold games are not predicted wins, just games that are winnable. The only risky one is the Houston game, and I am going on the assumption the Texans will be resting players for that game. That is 11 winnable games, and while I am obviously not suggesting that they will win all these games, I am also not suggesting that they will definitely lose the rest of those games. I mean some of those games look completely unwinnable, but given the nature of injuries in the NFL, who is to say that Stafford and Calvin Johnson get hurt, putting that game in play, or Tom Brady getting hurt and making every Colts’ fan beam like Christmas morning? Sure, these things are unlikely, but these same rules apply to even just decent teams like Tennessee and Buffalo, who are one or two injuries away from ruin. 11 winnable games and you don’t think the Colts can get 8? Free your mind.

So how did I decide which games were winnable? It had little to do with the standings last year, though it certainly didn’t hurt that most of the teams were pretty mediocre. The new Colts era requires a fresh look at the Colts. It used to be that any team that had a strong offense, particularly running the ball, could give the Colts a run for their money. That appears to have changed. Teams have thus far been able to move the ball a little, but given the defensive scheme and run-blitzing that the Colts will do, the key to beating them no longer lies up front. The real issue is the secondary where Antoine Bethea and Jerraud Powers are good/decent and the rest of it is very much in question.  In order to beat the 2012-2013 Colts, you have to be able to throw the ball, and throw it consistently. That is why Minnesota and Adrian Peterson don’t scare me. That is why the Jets don’t scare me, That is why playing a 4th place schedule is often easy: there is a total lack of solid quarterbacks. Most of the time, none of those last place teams have good quarterbacks, but the Colts have one in Andrew Luck.

Much has been said about Andrew Luck, and it is for that reason I have yet to write a post on him. The short version is that he is really, really impressive. So impressive that I have little doubt the Colts will average 24 points a game this year. They look capable of moving the ball in the red zone on the ground, which will ease some of the burden, and look like they will be a decent passing team under Bruce Arians. The only teams that are going to be able to really stifle this offense are teams that are much better than the Colts. Few, if any, teams on the Colts level will be able to totally shut the team down. Thusly, it comes down to the defense. How quickly can Chuck Pagano get the system in place? How quickly can the players learn the ins and outs? Will the lack of a nose tackle make the front 7 toothless? All these questions still need to be answered, but even moderate answers to these questions suggest the Colts can string a few wins together and surprise some teams.

So who are they going to surprise? Let’s go through that list of winnable games.

The architect of the Ravens defense teams up with an architecture major at QB.

Vs. Minnesota (Week 2)

Adrian Peterson’s second game back from a torn ACL, Christian Ponder, and a pass rush that is a little bit scary. That is what you sign up for when you play the Vikings. So Peterson is not at 100% yet, but even 80% of him is more than enough to handle. The Colts will presumably make Ponder beat them, and I think he can for a half, but not for a  full game. This is a game that the Colts should win. The offensive line is not nearly as bad as it is being made out to be, the defense should be able to hold the vikings to 20 points or less and that means the Colts have a shot. If Ponder has a good game the Vikings win, if not the Colts will win. That is very much a toss up.

Jacksonville (Week 3 & Week 10)

The Jaguars are really bad, and if Maurice-Jones Drew doesn’t play they could be historically bad. Blaine Gabbert is nothing to fear and these are games the Colts should split at the very least. Winning both is a definite possibility.

@New York Jets (Week 6)

For all the press coverage Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow get, they still combine to make maybe one very good quarterback. Individually, neither is really very good or capable of picking apart a defense routinely. Sanchez does it from time to time, Tebow does it from time to time, but betting on either to do it without question on any given week is shaky. Given the Jets poor offensive line play thus far, lack of a receiving corps and ongoing instability,  picking the Jets third in their own division is totally reasonable. This is a very winnable game.

vs Cleveland (Week 7)

The Browns are not very good. They are not terrible, they are not completely without hope, but Greg Little and Brandon Weeden are not going to strike fear in the hearts of any opposing fans or coaches. This game is a borderline must-win.

Tennessee (Week 8 & Week 14)

The Titans are a very solid team and have been for a while. They are not overwhelming in any aspect of the game since Chris Johnson’s paycheck and I have serious doubts about Jake Locker. Winning both of these games would be a bit surprising, but not stop-the-presses shocking. The Titans defense might chew Luck up a little now and again but both games are winnable, and Colts fans should expect a team “getting better” and “making progress” to win at least one of these games.

vs Miami (Week 9)

Another perennially solid team that has few weaknesses but fewer overwhelming strengths. They will be decent and the Colts may very well lose this game, but starting rookie quarterbacks is risky, especially when that quarterback isn’t the fastest learner the coaching staff has ever seen. I have not watched tape on Ryan Tannehill, but I will be slightly shocked if he turns into a good NFL quarterback. He fits the mold of physical specimen that has technique issues (Patrick Ramsey, Jeff George, Josh Freeman, Jamarcus Russell) better than he fits the mold of some physical questions but does a lot well (Philip Rivers, Jeff Garcia, Jim Harbaugh). I’m not calling him a definite bust, but he has to prove himself, not confirm prior beliefs.About a 6 on the winnable scale.

vs Buffalo (Week 12)

I expect the Colts to lose this game in part because I expect the Bills to be good, but in part because even if they are not good, they will be able to move the ball easily against the Colts defense. This one is not all that winnable, but if we see broken ribs Ryan Fitzpatrick instead of healthy Ryan Fitzpatrick, this game could be in play.

@ Kansas City (Week 16)

This game is about on the same level as the Miami game in that the Chiefs have a lot going for them, but since it is never all working at the same time, you never know what you are going to get. If Jamaal Charles is on the field, things get a little trickier, but this is still a winnable game. Winning at Arrowhead might be tricky but after last year it seems like a definite possibility. If this game was week 1, I would probably count it out, but after 15 weeks of development and getting things in place, this game is absolutely in play.

If you give the Colts that week 17 win against a resting Houston (more than plausible), can you see 8-8? Can you let yourself believe that the Colts could be overachievers (in the eyes of all not just the pessimists) for once? Now maybe the talent pool would get replenished quicker if they went 4-12, but that is not happening. The Colts are better than that, and they are a .500 team this year. Expect it.

Ferrells and Fallons Final

To be clear, this column was submitted on time and just not posted in time. My bad.

By Matt Kroeger

For those of you who are still actively involved in fantasy (and still reading this column), you have one week left (if that). If you’re waiting until Saturday afternoon, though, to set your lineup, you probably will need a little more than just last minute strategic genius to pull out the win. You’ll need some luck too, as is the case during every week 17 matchup. There are just too many resting players to have any reasonable clue as to what will unfold on the field.

The hypotenuse of my unlikability times the square root of my douch-iness is greater than infinity.

I’d like to thank everyone for reading this inaugural fantasy column. I’ve never done something like this before so there certainly was a learning curve along the way, but hopefully you all got something out of it. Well, maybe the Philip Rivers fans didn’t. But hey, they’re stuck with Norv Turner for another season; they’re suffering enough for me.

So, without further ado, here is the final Ferrells of the 2010 NFL season. Obviously, you go with the usual suspects if you have them, but if there is even a whiff of possibility that your guy is going to rest, I would start someone else (my lineup below will reflect the latter options). You know, unless it’s Tom Brady (MVP) who will get three touchdowns in the first quarter against the Dolphins. In that case, it’s still worth it to roll with Bieber II. We aren’t doing other candidates this week because, well, it’s sort of irrelevant at this point. There will also be no Fallons this week, because who cares. It’s a New Year. Let’s look at the bright side this week. Here we go.

QB: Peyton Manning (IND). I think he’s going to play the whole game regardless of the outcome of the Jaguars game. They can’t afford to lose this semi-momentum they’ve developed the past couple of weeks. Plus, I think the Colts have an outside chance of getting the 3-seed so they can avoid the Ravens in the first round of the playoffs. The Titans usually play the Colts tough, so Peyton may be raking in the yards late into the game as well. Just hope the surging Colts running game (by Dominic Rhodes no less) doesn’t poach any of his touchdowns. Predicted line: 280 yards, 2 TDs

WR: Mike Sims-Walker (JAC). Staying in the AFC South, I think MSW is the Jacksonville receiver (and not Mike Thomas) who will cash in this week against the cavernous Houston secondary. It seems obvious that the Texans will make Trent Edwards look like Dan Marino, only not on Nutrisystem. Doesn’t it seem almost too obvious, though? The Jags have everything to play for this week, and the Texans have nothing. Nothing. Their coach has one foot out the door, and their fans are screaming mad at them for such an underwhelming season. All of this leads me to believe that this will be a crippling loss for the Jags, despite an impressive performance by MSW. Predicted line: 85 yards, 1 TD

WR: Jordy Nelson (GB). The Bears are checked out. The Packers have a must-win. Aaron Rodgers was electric last week, completing passes to all of his weapons. Nelson was targeted 7 times last week against the Giants (second most on the team) and had that one long touchdown reception. The Packers won’t be moving the ball at all on the ground so I think they’ll air it out a bit. Predicted line: 5 receptions, 70 yards, 1 TD

This Cowboys cast off is the object of my man crush.

WR: Danny Amendola (STL). Playing in a game that matters for the Rams (more than most of us could possibly know, except for Cleveland fans of course). How many times can you say that about the Rams? Plus, the Seahawks have a TERRIBLE defense, and it wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t include my man-crush in my final column. So there. Predicted line: 8 receptions, 50 yards

RB: Ryan Mathews (SD). If you made it to the finals with Ryan Mathews, you are a lucky, lucky dude. He’s arguably been the biggest fantasy bust of the year, no? Nonetheless, he may be miraculously available on the waiver wire somehow after some pissed off manager dropped his ass in frustration. If this is the case, pick him up and start him this week against the Broncos and don’t look back. He’s fresher that Tolbert and needs the reps. He’s the future of the team so they’ll feed him this week like a starving wolverine, and the Broncos run defense is the most delicious meal he could eat. Predicted line: 24 carries, 115 yards

TE: Jimmy Graham (NO). He’s been on fire lately, and there’s no reason to believe Brees will spontaneously stop looking his way. Graham is slowly being incorporated into the offense more. Even if Brees takes a seat for the second half, I think Chase Daniel will find Graham amid the Bucs defenders. If you need a tight end, look no further. Predicted line: 50 yards, 1 TD

Ferrells and Fallons Week 16

By Matt Kroeger

If you’re like me, you have seen an absurd amount of Christmas specials in your lifetime. From thieving green monsters sneaking down chimneys to three ghostly spirits appearing at a crotchety old man’s bedside, we’ve learned a lot of special messages from these holiday treats (and witnessed a lot of home invasions). My top-3 specials would be ranked as follows (in descending order): Christmas Vacation (a family favorite), A Christmas Story (classic), The Muppet Christmas Carol (I can’t decide if Charles Dickens would be proud that this is his incredible tale). Die Hard doesn’t really count as a Christmas movie in my book. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer should probably be ranked higher for me, but the claymation really creeped me out as a kid so it falls in the standings a little bit. And Babes in Toyland was utterly unwatchable.

That said, I thought it might be fun to associate one of these Christmas stories with each Ferrell and Fallon this week. You know, because it wouldn’t be right of me if I didn’t make some crappy references in one of my columns. Every time a bell rings, Matt Kroeger is making a bad reference. On that note, let’s go!

Ferrells:

QB: Drew Brees (NO). I think this will be a statement game for the Saints, even though I know it is illegal for Matt Ryan to lose at home. Try to think of this matchup as How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Whoville is Atlanta: a utopian society where everyone is full of Christmas spirit as December 25th draws near (the playoffs). In comes Drew Brees/the Grinch who is ready to steal all that happiness away. He and his dog Max (the rest of the Saints) are going to make out like bandits this time around. The only difference between the game and the story is that Brees’s heart will remain “two sizes too small,” and Atlanta will still get its Christmas anyway in the form of a first-round bye. Everybody wins in this version! And a merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Other candidates: Jon Kitna (DAL), Nondenominational Holiday Testicle (SD), Matt Schaub (HOU)

(Last week: Brady vs. GB…15-24, 163 yds, 2 TD)

RB: Jamaal Charles (KC). I have a serious man crush with this Texas grad as you may have noticed over the past few weeks. He’s third in the NFL in rushing with 2/3 the

Jamaal Charles vs the Christmas Spirit: Closer than you'd think. Both awesome.

number of carries. Over six yards per carry is nothing to scoff about. The sad thing is that Todd Haley is totally Scrooging (that’s right, I made it a verb) Charles by not giving him enough carries. Did you know Thomas Jones still has more rushing attempts this year? Even last week when Charles ran for 126 yards and a touchdown, Jones still took on twice the workload. Give that man the ball already. Needless to say, I think the Ghost of Christmas Future is going to show Mr. Haley how his Scrooged ways (a la Michael Cain or Bill Murray — you choose) will be his own downfall. I see bright things for Jamaal Cratchit, I mean Charles.

 

Other candidates: Michael Turner (ATL), LeGarrette Blount (TB), Ryan Mathews (SD, who’s return for fantasy owners may be a Christmas miracle)

(Last week: Hillis vs. CIN…14 rush, 59 yds)

WR: Greg Jennings (GB). I think the Giants are done, and the Packers still have some fight in them. With Aaron Rodgers back under center (or even if Matt Flynn is the guy), I think Jennings will play like Bing Crosby’s buttery voice in White Christmas: jaw-dropping and potentially inducing an uncontrollable desire to smoke a pipe. Plus, it would only be fitting if snow would grace Lambeau field for a truly white Christmas game.

Other candidates: DeSean Jackson (PHI, the REAL-LIFE Grinch last week), Anquan Boldin (BAL), Marques Colston (NO)

(Last week: Calvin Johnson vs. TB…10 catch, 152 yds)

Fallons:

QB: Mark Sanchez (NYJ). Things are not going well for the Jets; Mark Sanchez is banged up, and Rex Ryan has an overly public foot fetish. Good grief…that’s NOT what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Other candidates: Kerry Collins (TEN), Rex Grossman (WAS, I hope Santa poops on Mike Shanahan’s face for how he handled this McNabb situation), Tom Brady (NE)

(Last week: Clausen vs. ARI…13-19, 141 yds, 1 TD)

RB: Cedric Benson (CIN). The Bengals season is like the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, only without the uplifting ending. Just cut out the part where Clarence intervenes when George Bailey/James Stewart is ready to jump off the bridge to commit suicide. I’m sure plenty of Bengals fans are on that ledge right now, asking themselves, “What if we had never drafted Carson Palmer???” Unfortunately, I don’t think Clarence is coming.

Other candidates: Joseph Addai (IND), Ricky Williams (MIA, apparently Gunther Cunningham thinks Ricky should be on the naughty list), LeSean McCoy (PHI)

(Last week: Turner vs. SEA…25 rush, 82 yds)

WR: Reggie Wayne (IND). The Colts play the Raiders who have one of the best corners  in the NFL in Nnamdi Asomugha. The guy sometimes gets forgotten for how amazing a player he is and how crucial he is to the Raiders success. Sort of like Jesus with Christmas…

Other candidates: Braylon Edwards (NYJ), Larry Fitzgerald (ARI, even if he was at a blowtorch festival, Frosty the Snowman still would have more reason for optimism than Larry does), Sidney Rice (MIN)

(Last week: Lloyd vs. SD…4 catch, 79 yds, 1 TD)

And that’s all I have for this week. I wish you all a merry Christmas and hope you got that Red Rider BB Gun you always wanted. Tis the season to be jorrrrry!

 

NFL Week 14: The Playoff Edition

Hey, non-playoff teams that was to you. Get the eff out of the Playoff Edition. This one is for the big boys only.

When it comes to the playoffs, there are a few things you have to take into consideration. The first is that what happened in the regular season does not matter anymore. How many times have we seen a superior regular season team fall on its face in the playoffs to the team that just gets hot at the right time? Disregard regular season records in the playoffs. That means that if you make the playoffs, you have a shot at winning it all, even if you only won 9 games. You are going to call me crazy for saying this, but that even applies to the NFC West. You don’t think the Bears could go to St. Louis, lose concentration and lose that game? Throw out the regular season records.

Second rule is that seeding does matter, sometimes. Perfect example this year would be the Falcons. Do I trust them away from home? Not really. But if they have home-field throughout, it is going to be damn hard for me to pick against them while still playing in the Georgia Dome. Same with the Chiefs. You can put the Saints in there too. Do I like their chances heading to Philadelphia for a playoff game? Not a chance given the current status of the running backs. On the other side of it, I do not trust or distrust the Jets any more at home than I do away, so their seeding really could not matter less.

The third rule is the most important, and naturally the hardest to really define or figure out. Some teams just get hot at the right time (Jets last year). Some teams play one great game and completely flop (Dallas last year). Some teams are the best team in the NFL all year and lose because the opposing coach calls an onside kick, and NOT A SINGLE COMMENTATOR remembers that Hank Baskett COMPLETELY muffed that catch. Me? Bitter? Not a chance.

Anyway, the point is you should trust your gut feelings on teams, but not to the point of ignoring tendencies. Whether a team CAN run the ball si very different from if it WILL or HAS run the ball. Ask the Cardinals during their Super Bowl run. Will a team whose defense has struggled most of the year come alive (Colts in their Super Bowl run)? There are no definitive answers to these questions, but you cannot make the simplest assumption in the playoffs. You have to start over every week on your assumptions. Pierre Garcon was an unstoppable force against the Jets. He dropped a big third down pass in the Super Bowl that ended up being pivotal and killing the momentum. Each week is a one-week season, not a string of four weeks.

However, none of that really matters until we have our playoff teams. Speaking of that…

The Locks

No chance these teams are missing the playoffs. Seeding is in question for some, but they are in. We will discuss their playoff prospects later.

Patriots- They will win the AFC East. They will probably grab the #1 seed. They are Super Bowl favorites. Don’t worry, people. Everyone’s least favorite franchise isn’t winning it. We will talk about that more momentarily.

If you felt sick looking at this picture, Merry Christmas! If not, enjoy the Pats game.

 

Steelers- Winning the AFC North. Probably the #2 seed. One for the non-thumb-on-the-other-hand?

Falcons- I think they will drop the game against the Saints, but that remains to be seen, and there is a chance the Saints lose another game so I still have them at the #1 seed.

Jets- They might limp in, but they will be in. That’s all that matters for the Jets.

Ravens- Conversely, I think the Ravens will roar into the playoffs. Their fate, however, is very much up in the air.

Saints- In, though not nearly as comfortably as they were hoping coming in. 2 games against the Panthers doesn’t hurt when trying to build confidence and rest players.

The Probables

I am putting the Chiefs here even though I expect them to lose to the Chargers and think they are a candidate to blow their division lead. I have them losing to the Chargers this week, winning their final two games (including one over Oakland), which are at home where they don’t lose, and their season coming down to that Rams game. If you cannot beat the Rams, you do not deserve to make the playoffs. They are not bad and are good at home, but that is a team that another playoff team should be able to beat. I think they do it though it will be close.

The Jaguars go here too. Quick, name me three Jaguars players you know you can trust week in and week out. MoJo is the only guy I trust without a doubt. I inherently do not trust Garrard, and I don’t trust anyone on their defense. Mike Thomas I guess? They just win, albeit unconvincingly. The only problem with that is “what happens when they just don’t win?” Well, that’s when a tail slide happens. They have zero room for error here. This is a big game against Oakland this weekend because after that they get the Colts on long rest, and that will give them only a half-game lead. I still think they can do it, but they are in desperate need of a win this week.

Bears fans, can we make up? Just kidding, you are above average at best.

 

Even though I would be terrified of the Cowboys this week as an Eagles fan, I think they are probably going to make it. They do not have an easy run in, but if they end up killing the Cowboys, then maybe they do as they get them in the last week too. They might need the tiebreaker to make it, but I think they will win the NFC East. Unless Andy Reid has something to say about it…

Hi, I’d like one serving of humble pie. Thanks. Oh, can I get that with a side of Mrs. Doubtfire/Mike Martz?

The Bears are going to make it. It is going to get interesting with that closing schedule (vs NE, @Min, @NYJ, @GB) but I think they are going to hold on, and possibly make some noise early in the playoffs. The defense is outstanding and Cutler has been good enough to make it work, and for that I gladly eat my humble pie. Maybe some Chicagoans would rather the pie had distinctly more sinister things in it, but that is up to them. This week is a bad matchup for them as they take away the deep and make you execute down the field, and that is EXACTLY what the Patriots do, but they are fine overall. I was banking on an Urlahcer injury and a banged up defense coming into the season and it did not happen. As a result, I think the Bears are in, though not by much.

On The Bubble

Colts- They beat Tennessee convincingly and dispelled any notions of Peyton Manning’s demise. They will beat the Jaguars next week, but still need some help. They do have to travel to Oakland, which could be tricky, but they are finishing 10-6. It just depends on if Jacksonville can take care of Oakland, Washington, and Houston. None of those are shoe-ins for the Jaguars so this bubble is pretty solid as far as bubbles go.

Packers/Giants- Both 8-4, both not quite as good as they should be, and they play each other Week 16. However, that game alone will not decide their fate as the Giants still have a game against the Eagles and the Packers have one against the Bears. Very firm bubbles, and both could get in, but that is far from assured. I hope the Packers get in because I think they are distinctly better, but I would love to see the Giants in the playoffs with Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks healthy.

Rams/Seahawks- The Rams are better. The Seahawks have the easier schedule. Oh, and they play Week 17 in Seattle. This one is going to be a fight to the death, with the reward being a significantly higher draft pick and the potential to be the impetus for a potential rules change. 8-8 would be a good finish for either.

Raiders- The Raiders control their destiny, but it is one hell of a tricky destiny. They just beat San Diego, and follow it up at Jacksonville, vs Indy and at KC? Yikes. If they win out and grab the division, no one can say they did not earn it. However, I would be lying if I was to say I expect them to win one of those, with the Denver game being a toss-up given the revenge factor. I don’t like their chances.

Chargers- They REALLY shot themselves in the foot last week, and probably ruined Philip Rivers’ MVP candidacy. They need to beat the Chiefs this week, then need someone else to beat the Chiefs. BUT it cannot be the Raiders if they get on a roll. I have a sneaking suspicion that AJ Smith is going to blow it all up. Norv will be gone, and there will be changes across the board (save Ron Rivera). Josh McDaniels to be their offensive coordinator? Probably a good move for the team, but if McDaniels gets an offer to be head coach, that is out. It is not out of the question that they could make the playoffs, but even if they do, I cannot see them doing too much.

The Playoff Picture

So where does that leave us? Nowhere, really. I can project a few things here and there but it is wide open.

Some teams are contenders but are going to appear to quit in the playoffs. Yeah, I went there.

 

Projection 1

————-(1A) NE vs lowest remaining A seed
( 3A) KC vs (6A) NYJ
————-(2A) Pit vs highest remaining A seed
(4A) Jax vs (5A) Bal

————-(1N) Atl vs lowest remaining N seed
(3N)  Phi vs (6N) GB
————(2N) Chi vs highest remaining N seed
(4N) StL/Sea vs (5) NO

A few comments about this projection. It changes by leaps and bounds depending on who plays who, so a pick of a team is inherently situational rather than absolute. I have KC over NYJ,  Baltimore over Jacksonville, Green Bay over Philadelphia, and New Orleans over St. Louis. After that, I have NE over Baltimore, Pittsburgh over KC, Atlanta over Green Bay, and Chicago over New Orleans in the upset (it will be unanimously picked for the Saints). NE over Pit, and Atlanta over Chicago. Pats win it all in this scenario.

Projection 2

————-(1A) NE vs lowest remaining A seed
( 3A) KC vs (6A) NYJ
————-(2A) Pit vs highest remaining A seed
(4A) Ind vs (5A) Bal

————-(1N) Atl vs lowest remaining N seed
(3N)  Chi vs (6N) NYG
————(2N) Phi vs highest remaining N seed
(4N) StL/Sea vs (5) NO

With this one, we threw Indy into the mix and subbed the Packers for Giants, and it changes things a bit. Still have KC over NYJ (just a great matchup for the Chiefs and they get them at home, in case you were wondering why), Indy over Baltimore, Giants over Bears, and Saints over NFC West. Colts over Pats (suck it Brady, you aren’t nearly as clutch as people say), Pittsburgh over KC, Atlanta over New York, and Eagles over NO in the cold. Steelers over Colts, Atlanta over Philly (though you could persuade me otherwise), and Steelers over Falcons in the Super Bowl.

Projection 3

————-(1A) NE vs lowest remaining A seed
( 3A) KC vs (6A) Bal
————-(2A) Pit vs highest remaining A seed
(4A) Ind vs (5A) NYJ

————-(1N) Atl vs lowest remaining N seed
(3N)  GB vs (6N) Chi
————(2N) NYG vs highest remaining N seed
(4N) StL/Sea vs (5) NO

Just to give it a different look, I took Philly out, as their playoff spot is far from assured and went from there. Also switched the Ravens and Jets seedings. Otherwise it is very similar to 2.  KC over Baltimore (yup, I believe in their home-field that much), Jets over Colts, GB over Chicago, and NO over NFC West (again. Just a bad matchup for the NFC West). Jets over Patriots (yes, in Foxborough), Pittsburgh over KC, New Orleans over Atlanta (don’t ask why they lost to them in Projection 1, just trying to mix it up), and GB over NYG. Jets over Steelers, and Packers over Saints. Jets over Packers in the Super Bowl.

Wait a minute…

What is the point of all this, you ask? If you run enough projections, you can tell what you really think about each team. I love the Falcons at home against almost anyone, and the only exception I would make for them in the NFC would be division-rival New Orleans. It is way too early to do so, but at this point, I have tentatively penciled in any Falcons home game against the non-Saints as a win. Same for the Pats. I trust them at home against most teams except their division rival (despite the 45-3 thrashing) and the Colts (who might secretly have the Pats number in late games). I like KC to win a home playoff game over the Jets or Ravens too, but lose on the road, which is clearly an indication of my thoughts on them. I would suggest you do this on your own too and start figuring out which teams are Stoppers for others (like KC at home is a stopper for Baltimore or the Jets, or other teams that just match up poorly with others) and which teams quietly have all you need to win it all without being flashy or well-liked.

All that info you get helps you compile a little profile of each team and what issues it could have. You could call it a dossier if you were trying to show off or be a douche in general. Let’s go with profile.

Patriots

Do your own profile of a team. Feel free to give it whatever security clearance you want. Dick Cheney did.

 

Strength: Offense overall, precise offense, great at home, opportunistic defense

Teams that would struggle against that strength: teams with aggressive defenses, road teams in general, bad tackling teams, teams without a strong offense to keep up.

Jaguars (strong match), Jets (weak match), Ravens (medium match), Colts (weak match)

Weaknesses: Strong running games, low-turnover offenses, Peyton Manning

Teams that could exploit that weakness: Chiefs, Steelers, Colts

If I would do that for every team, two things would happen. The first is that I would off myself for wasting so much time on a process that is so full of twists and turns to begin with. The second thing is that the post would never get finished or posted. With all that in mind, I will end it here and just throw my picks at the bottom of the page against the spread. Confidence level 5.

JACKSONVILLE -3.5 vs Oakland (though this is the type of game Jax would lose, west coast team on the east coast spells trouble for the Raiders)

Cincinnati +8.5 vs PITTSBURGH (Trap game + Bengals ability to cover)

New England -3 vs CHICAGO (bad matchup for Chicago)

BUFFALO (PK) vs Cleveland (who cares)

New York Giants -3 vs MINNESOTA (Eli vs Minny scares me, but I still like the Giants just barely)

Green Bay -6.5 vs DETROIT (Not going to bother explaining my obvious logic here)

Atlanta -7.5 vs CAROLINA (Or here)

WASHINGTON +1 vs Tampa Bay (Aqib Talib on IR and an offensive lineman too. TB’s season ended last week)

ST. LOUIS +9 vs New Orleans (NO hasn’t been blowing anyone out lately, and the Rams are good at home)

Seattle +5 vs ALEX SMITH (yup, the 49ers believe in Alex Smith)

NEW YORK JETS -5.5 vs Miami (Lots of people going the other way here. I go with Miami in cold weather vs a mad team)

Denver -4 vs JOHN SKELTON (Not even someone named Studesville can convince me otherwise. On the scale of “does he sound like a successful coach, he gets a 3 out of 10)

SAN DIEGO -9.5 vs Brodie Croyle (Brodie Croyle is like White Castle when sober. It sound like a bad idea at the time, and it turns out worse that you originally thought)

DALLAS +3.5 vs Philadelphia (Yet another tricky game this week)

Baltimore -3 vs HOUSTON (Can Houston stop anyone? In case you have been living on another planet, the answer is “only Rusty Smith”)

NFL Week 9 SuperColumn

We have more to cover than Rex Ryan’s shirts, so no chit-chat, we are going straight into OTC’s midseason awards.

MVP

5. Philip Rivers, Chargers QB

The number this guy is putting up are bonkers. He is on track to break Dan Marino’s single-season passing record with wide receivers named Ajirotutu and Buster (Davis). If the team was not 4-5, I would put him at either the top of 2nd, purely because of how astronomical his numbers are and the undeniable fact that without him, the Chargers are a one win team at best (thus far). A really outstanding season that we will talk more about later in the context of the AFC West.

4. Troy Polamalu, Steelers S

Yup, going with the defensive love. Last year the Steelers were missing Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu on defense and were a mediocre team at best. Aaron Smith went down again this year and while the Steelers have struggled with it a bit, they still look like one of the top teams in the league, and that is in huge part because of Troy Polamalu. If you take him out of this defense, it goes down the drain in a hurry, and that is not just hyperbole. He is easily the most valuable defensive player in the league (which is different from being the defensive player of the year), and I think he is the 4th most valuable player in the league right now.

3. Chris Johnson, Titans RB

Ho hum. Chris Johnson isn’t going to rush for 2000 yards. He will have to settle with the 1400 yard projection he is on and a major role in one of the highest scoring offenses in the league. The bottom line is that if you take Chris Johnson out of this offense, they become completely impotent. Young cannot throw without him, the Titans cannot move the ball without him, and the team cannot win without him. His stats are impressive, but his value to the team is equally impressive.

2. Michael Vick, Eagles QB

Plain and simple, the Eagles have not lost with him playing the entire game. He has recaptured that electricity he had in Atlanta, but is quietly learning how to be an efficient passer as well. Just watching that Colts game, he only made one or two throws that were not exactly where he wanted them to be, and that is a scary thought considering how many times he could have just run for the first down. Kevin Kolb is just fine, but the bottom line is that the Eagles are a mediocre playoff team with Kolb, and a contender with Vick.

1. Peyton Manning, Colts QB

This has never been close. There has never, NEVER, been a player more valuable to his team than Peyton Manning. Without him, the Colts win two or three games tops. He cannot be replaced. They replaced Austin Collie, Joseph Addai, Donald Brown, and Dallas Clark and they still win with Blair White, Jacob Tamme, and anyone you want to grab off the street. The offensive line sucks, the running game is often non-existent, the defense is mediocre at best, and if you tell your buddies you are betting against the Colts any weekend, they tell you you are crazy. They need to name this award after him when he retires. He wakes up in the morning and pisses excellence. I have nothing more to say. Anyone who would argue there is a more important player to their team is nuts.

Just a quick tangent I like to go on for all the Patriots fans: You lost Tom Brady, a man you claim is as valuable as Peyton Manning, and went 11-5 with the magnificently mediocre Matt Cassel. Conversation over. If you gave Peyton Manning’s teams the Patriots’ defenses in the good old days when these teams would meet in the playoffs every year, there is no chance Manning would lose, or come close to losing. Those games were never about Brady being better than Manning, because he isn’t. No one is as valuable as Peyton Manning. Maybe of all time.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

5. Jahvid Best, Lions RB

I love the kid, but this is as high as I can put him. I get that he is putting up with a mediocre run-blocking line, but given the hidden quality of this rookie class, I can’t move him any higher. He is a player for the future who is underrated catching out of the backfield, but the passing game has really made that team go more than Best of late. The loss of Stafford should actually damage his chances down the road, because no defense will respect Drew Stanton if Shaun Hill cannot get healthy.

4.  Mike Williams, Buccaneers WR

Has anyone had a more anonymous really good season than Mike Williams? I mean it doesn’t help that his name sticks out less than Shannon Sharpe’s ability to pronounce names, but his numbers in a very middling offense are impressive. 36 catches for 559 yards and 5 TDs? Seriously? That projects to 72 catches, 1118 yards, 10 TDs and zero people who saw it coming. I only put him 4th because I think teams will start to gameplan for him and because I think the other guys will finish stronger.

3. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots TE

Ok, ok, I know his numbers are not as good as Williams, but he also has to compete for catches with Wes Welker, formerly randy Moss, and a far superior receiving corps. He is one of those rare rookie TEs who has all the physical tools AND can play smart and apply it. In other words, he is not Vernon Davis his first few years. He might be a little overrated by the end of the year, but he has been outstanding and is really pretty hard to gameplan against. He will continue to get his as the year goes on, perhaps unlike Mike Williams.

2. Colt McCoy, Browns QB

Right now, he is not there. By the end of the year he will have earned this spot beyond the shadow of a doubt. I had my doubts about Colt McCoy as a pro QB (he reminded e of Alex Smith), but it is clear that his leadership and playmaking are enough to get it done at this level. He has claimed a couple scalps of mediocre QBs you might have heard of too– Drew Brees and Tom Brady. I know he is not playing directly against them, but that is still damn impressive. He will climb to #2 as the Browns continue to play good football and inch closer to Cleveland’s Super Bowl title, which they will win in 2015. You heard me.

1. Sam Bradford, Rams QB

This is not close. If he was throwing to Donnie Avery, Michael Clayton, and anyone else you might have heard of, it would be different, but he isn’t. He is turning average receivers into stars and pulling the Rams, who won once last year, to a .500 record. He is everything they dreamed he would be, and there is no doubt that his full-season effort gets him a well-deserved nod as Rookie of the Year.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

5. Nate Allen, Eagles S

The stats are there, and I have admittedly not gotten to see him play much (he got hurt in the first half against the Colts), but he seems to be making a real impact on the Eagles secondary, which was mediocre at best last year. Think of him as being a little like Jairus Byrd from last year, except without the gaudy picks numbers. Pretty solid, but the stats seem a little inflated.

4. Eric Berry, Chiefs S

Ok, he still gets picked on sometimes, but he is an important part of a good defense and is more than holding his own. Stats lie sometimes, but Berry’s stats appear to be everything the Chiefs could have hoped for coming into the year, and they hoped for a lot. A rising star at safety without a doubt.

3. Ndamukong Suh, “House of Spears”
2. Ndamukong Suh, Actual Lion
1. Ndamukong Suh, Lions DT

Yes, he is that good. The real question is if he is a top 5 DT in the league right now, and I think the answer is yes. The Williams Wall is getting old in Minny, Haynesworth is a headcase, Wilfork and other NTs play a sort of different game, and the only guy I would put definitively ahead of him is Haloti Ngata of the Ravens. I mean have you seen this guy play? Coming into the draft, some people like Gerald McCoy more because he could rush the passer. Looks like Suh took exception to that, as his 6.5 sacks would imply. No rookie has been better. If they put the offensive and defensive rookies of the year head to head, I think I might even put him above Sam Bradford. That is how impressive he has been.

Biggest Disappointments

5. Minnesota Vikings

It is not so much that we thought they were fail-safe, but just how it has happened. They still have just about every ounce of talent they had last year, but cannot turn it into anything. Childress should have been fired already, results aside, and they are not deserving of the playoff spot they may end up grabbing.

4. Carolina Panthers

Ouch

I thought it could work. They were supposed to have a really good offensive line with a solid defense to go with that running back duo, but they really do not have any of that. Williams and Stewart are hurt, both those units suck, and they are down to Tony Pike with a lame duck coach. I did not think they would be great, but i did not expect them to be THIS bad.

3. San Francisco 49ers

Watching this team play this year has felt like writing “I will not trust Alex Smith” 1000 times on a blackboard. The level at which he holds his talented team back is really impressive. Like imagine Ryan Fitzpatrick stats at QB for the 49ers. Ok, now imagine Bruce Gradkowski, Jon Kitna, or even Brodie Croyle starts at QB for this team. Now imagine Alex Smith starting. None of those QBs is really good, but they are all a huge upgrade over Smith. Failing to draft a QB in next year’s draft would be a failure of epic proportions. Now biting on local hero Andrew Luck may be a bad idea as well, but that is a topic for another day.

2. Cincinnati Bengals

So much for that experiment. Frankly, it has not been the fault of the receivers as much as the fault of the coaches and quarterback, but it is still unforgivable. I think Marvin Lewis should probably lose his job for allowing his run-first, hard-nosed team to turn so heavily to the passing game and forget about its roots. Their season pretty much ended on Monday night (where they played well after the first quarter) and if things go the way they should, a lot of old faces will be leaving the Natti.

1. Dallas Cowboys

I am actually not sure if I have to say anything here, purely because of how predictable it is. This team was supposed to be good and it sucks something awful. End of story.

However, this does give me a chance to point out that Jason Garrett is not the man for the job. I have no idea if he is a big motivator or extremely popular in the locker room, but watching him systematically rip the franchise’s heart out by refusing to run the ball tells me all I need to (and want to) know. Cowboy haters should hope for a strong finish by the Boys so Garrett can stick around.

Notables:

The Chargers and Bears did not make that list for one reason. We knew there were issues. They are not disappointing, they are exactly what we thought. The Chargers have an injury bug, their classic slow start, and bad offseason karma to deal with, and yet are still probably going to win the division. If you were disappointed by their early season struggles, you are delusional about Chargers football, because that happens every year. The Bears are not disappointing because we knew they were not good going in. Their offensive line finally exposed itself, and if not for playing that game in Toronto, they would have fallen to the lowly Bills. They are not disappointing because we weren’t expecting anything of them.

Biggest surprises

5. Pittsburgh Steelers

This is my big mea culpa of the season so far. I should not have written them off because of their injuries from last year, and they prove me wrong every week. I could not get a solid 5th surprise team so I thought I would take this chance to formally say “my bad”, though I thought the 2 weeks at #1 in our rankings would have done the trick.

4. St. Louis Rams

They are not good, but they are way better than we thought they would be. Credit Sam Bradford on offense, and Steve Spagnuolo with making that defense a pretty solid force so far this year.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I have been torn on the Bucs for a while now. On the one hand, they seems to be in just about every game, but sometimes they let teams hang around and give themselves a shot to lose. I like Josh Freeman in the 4th quarter, but will remain skeptical of him until I can see something in quarters 1-3. The defense has been pretty decent too as Raheem Morris at least seems to have the youth movement under way. I am still not sure what exactly to make of this team, but they have been surprising at the least.

2. Oakland Raiders

Somebody break up the Raiders! Ok, they have not really done anything all that impressive yet, but anything is a start for the Raiders. I am not picking them to win the division or anything, but they have not imploded or killed themslves too much this season (Janikowski in Arizona aside), and that in itself is impressive for the Raiders. They are not fixed quite yet, but they are very watchable and have given Bay Area football fans something to cheer about.

1. Cleveland Browns

Quick, name a Browns wide receiver not named Massaquoi. Ok, name 3 defensive players. Can’t do it? Alright now tell me which loss was less of a big deal in hindsight: at Tampa by 3, vs KC by 2, or at Baltimore by 7. Yeah, the Browns could be 5-3 right now instead of 3-5. Their other 2 losses were to the Steelers and Falcons too, so don’t let anyone tell you they are getting lucky. Seriously, how has this team faced the Saints, Patriots, Steelers, Ravens, Bucs, Chiefs, and Falcons already? None of those teams has more than 3 losses! Most people would put 6 of those teams in the top 12 too. I cannot say enough about the job Mike Holmgren has done, and Eric Mangini is once again looking like a genius as the Browns defense is pretty good. Let’s hope he isn’t the Scott Skiles of the NFL, where he gets his teams to play great defense for a year, then wears them down.

Oh yeah, and they get the Jets this week. Watch out.

Notables:

The notables here are here for teh opposite reason of the disappointing notables. We thought the Chiefs and Lions would be good, and they are. The Lions have done it mostly without Matthew Stafford too, which makes it all the more impressive. The Chiefs are probably going to choke away the division lead, but could still be one of those scary playoff teams that can run it so well and defend so well that they become dangerous. Congrats to both teams.

Individual Disappointments

5. Felix Jones

I do not blame him for not getting carries, but I do blame him for not seizing the day when he does get carries. Huge disappointment in what many felt would be a breakout year.

4. Mike Singletary

He is not entirely to blame for the 49ers mess, but he has a share. Troy Smith needed to be starting 3 weeks ago, but if he goes with Alex Smith one more time, he will get rightfully fired. I thought he would calm down and be the wise coach on the sidelines, but he has kept his style and it does not work. I mean the last madman coach to win a Super Bowl was Jon Gruden with the Bucs. Since then Cowher, Dungy, Belichick, Coughlin, Mike Tomlin, Sean Payton. Those are all fairly calm guys on the sideline, with the exception of Cowher who was loud on the sidelines but the epitome of solid, unlike Singletary.

3. Ryan Mathews/Shonn Greene

Mathews was hurt and Greene got LT’d, but still. These were supposed to be the big breakout RBs of the class and they have done next to nothing.

2. Donovan McNabb

Quietly, Donocan McNabb’s career has come to a halt. He had that 400 yard game against the Texans, but since then, he has had one genuinely good game (vs GB) and it came on 26/49 passing. He was supposed to be a reason for hope in Washington, not the next NFL QB to fill a coffin. He got pulled from that Detroit game because he was not playing well, and regardless of if  Rex Grossman is better (he isn’t), McNabb is done. He isn’t even really hurt, he is just done.

1. Carson Palmer

Speaking of done. Carson Palmer is, by far and away, the biggest disappointment, They went out and got him Jermain Gresham, Jordan Shipley, and Terrell Owens, and he cannot turn it into anything? He has also had about 30495 dropped interceptions that, along with mop up yardage, keep his stat line looking respectable. He played well against Pittsburgh, but that does not negate his poor play the rest of the year. Carson is done as a semi-elite QB, and has been since he tore his ACL. I want to feel bad for Bengals fans, but the Tank Johnson and Pacman Jones signings, plus the Andre Smith draft pick, plus their refusal to do what they do best makes it hard to do.

Individual Surprises

5. Aqib Talib

I know this one seems random, but he has quietly become a shutdown guy. I am not calling him the next Revis, but he has been a big part of that Bucs defense.

4. Mark Sanchez

I thought he would regress a lot this year. Now he has struggled the last few weeks, but otherwise he has had a great year. He has been a big reason the Jets are good, rather than being a piece that holds them back. A surprise to me, at least.

Hillis and McFadden are both Pro Bowlers this year out of Arkansas

3. Kyle Orton

I understand some objections to Orton’s placement here. The argument would be that his passing numbers are up because they are always down and need to throw. However, this could not be further from the truth. Orton was best in the first few weeks when Denver was competitive (476 yards vs Indy comes to mind), and has really dropped off of late as the team has gotten worse. Whatever ails Denver, it is not Kyle Orton, who shook off all that Tebow talk and really cemented a place for himself in the league.

2. Arian Foster

I almost put Darren McFadden here, but you get the feeling with McFadden that it is about time. Foster, however, has been a revelation for the eternally 4-4 Texans. He has naturally dropped off a little as teams have set out to stop him, but he is still churning out yardage. Sadly, he would probably be the odd man out of the Pro Bowl right now with Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden and our #1 biggest breakout…

1. Peyton Hillis

Who knew? Hillis was recently compared to Mike Alstott on First Take “because of his number”. Or because Alstott was the last white running back to be even somewhat relevant. Hillis not only has that downhill running style that Holmgren loves, but he has surprisingly good hands to go with it. No one pegged him to outdo Arkansas teammates Felix Jones and Darren McFadden, but at least for right now, he is doing exactly that. He is a huge part of what they are doing in Cleveland.

Moving On

And 3400 words later, we get to the heart of the article. Don’t worry, it is not going to drag on. I am going to make my projections for the rest of the season, and get you back to work instead of wasting company money here.

Format: Team Name (current record, projected record, Playoff Spot)

NFC East

New York Giants (6-2, 12-4, NFC East Winner)- They might be the best team in football right now. We will know more after they travel to Philly in Week 11.
Philadelphia Eagles  (5-3, 11-5, Wild Card #1)- Undefeated when Vick plays an entire game, but the problem is that Vick is very injury prone.
Washington Redskins (4-4, 5-11, None)- The schedule is about to get very tough, and I expect an implosion.
Dallas Cowboys (1-7, 3-13, Top 5 pick)- A tough schedule combined with a dead team means a high pick for the Cowboys.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers (6-3, 11-5, NFC North Winner)- They are getting hot just as Green Bay is starting to get freezing.
Minnesota Vikings (3-5, 10-6, Miss Wild Card)- Sidney Rice returns soon, and the schedule sets up for a major run by the Vikes.
Chicago Bears (5-3, 5-11, None)- I PROMISE this is not just Chicago hate. Look at that schedule and find me a win. Try.
Detroit Lions (2-6, 4-12, Top 10 pick)- One of the best 4-12 teams around, but that schedule is brutal, and Stafford is gone. Look out next year.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons (6-2, 12-4, NFC South Winner)- I am not huge on this team, but the schedule sets up nicely and they are almost impossible to beat at home.
New Orleans Saints(6-3, 11-5, Wild Card #2)-
If they get it together it will be scary, but it hasn’t happened yet. We will see after the bye week when Bush and possible Thomas are Healthy.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-3, 10-6, Miss Wild Card)-
Schedule just does not shake out quite right to pull this off, but a great season for the Bucs.
Carolina Panthers (1-7, 2-14, #2 pick)-
Nothing on the horizon except a new coach.

NFC West

St. Louis Rams (4-4, 7-9, NFC West Winner)- A curse in disguise. They needed that high pick to be long-term relevant.
Seattle Seahawks (4-4, 6-10, None)- They cannot win away from home and have a lot of tough games left.
Arizona Cardinals (3-5, 6-10, None)– Told you Derek Anderson would be back. This team is awful.
San Francisco 49ers (2-6, 4-12, None)- I reserve the right to say 6-10 and drop the others if Troy Smith returns full time.

AFC East

New York Jets (6-2, 11-5, AFC East Winner)- It will not be easy. Or pretty. Or fun. But it will happen.
New England Patriots (6-2, 11-5, Wild Card #2)- That first game vs the Jets will haunt them.
Miami Dolphins (4-4, 7-9, None)- Tough sledding ahead for the Fins. The Henne benching is ridiculous. He isn’t that great, but I blame the coaches for throwing it so much.
Buffalo Bills (0-8, 1-15, #1 pick)- Either this week vs Detroit, or next week @ Cincy. If not, then it gets very tricky.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens (6-2, 12-4, AFC North Winner)- Ed Reed’s return has made all the difference. Even with the tough schedule, I could see 12-4.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2, 12-4, Wild Card #1)-
I was having flashbacks during that Bengals game, but I still think they are an elite team when healthy.
Cleveland Browns (3-5, 7-9, None)-
A huge improvement here that Cleveland can look forward to.
Cincinnati Bengals (2-6, 3-13, Top 5 pick)-
Their remaining schedule is beyond difficult and they are done it seems.

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts (5-3, 11-5, AFC South Winner)- All these injuries are starting to pile up. 11-5 is their worst record in 8 years and they may miss the playoffs.
Tennessee Titans (5-3, 10-6, Miss Wild Card)-
They have a definite shot at the division crown, so they should not be slept on.
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4, 7-9, None)-
Inconsistency is their middle name.
Houston Texans (4-4, 5-11, None)– Their schedule is absolutely nuts and Jacksonville owns them.Tough year for the Texans.

AFC West

San Diego Chargers (4-5, 11-5, AFC West Winner)- Put it in the bank. No, I am not kidding. 7-0 the rest of the way.
Kansas City Chiefs (5-3, 10-6, None)-
It was promising, but they will have to wait for next year.
Oakland Raiders (5-4, 8-8, None)-
They made big strides, but not enough of them. How about the sneaky quality of the AFC West!
Denver Broncos (2-6, 3-13, Top 5 pick)- I feel like I have said Top 5 pick about 10 times. This team is done.

That was fun, now go enjoy some Thursday Night Football (if you get NFL Network).

NFL Week 3

There are 3 teams that are still 3-0, and few would have guessed them coming into the season. Hell, I had them on a combined 16 or 17 wins for the season with the Chiefs taking 7 of those. Shows you what I know, right? Well we have plenty to cover entering week 4, and not all of it concerns the undefeated, so strap in and get ready for some NFL action coming your way right…………………….NOW.

The Undefeated

Let me start by saying that two of these teams are fortunate to be undefeated. The Bears got away with one against the Lions and were the benefactors of 6,000 Green Bay penalties, and the Chiefs deliberately start Matt Cassel at quarterback every week. I know, they must not have seen him play. All kidding aside, all three teams have impressed so far and none more so than the Steelers. Apart from the Falcons, they have not really been tested, but behind a fantastic defense and Rashard Mendenhall, the Steelers are probably the best team in football right now. Please read those last two words (right now) because they are a HUGE qualifier. They will not be the best team heading into the playoffs, but right now no one is better.

Next on my list of most impressive at the Kansas City Chiefs. Their new stadium is one of a very small number of brand new home fields that still gives the home team an advantage. We are quickly learning that one thing you cannot do is bet against this team at home, though I might have to make an exception when they host the Colts in two weeks. The running game has been good, and the defense has been outstanding under new coordinator Romeo Crennel (yes, that Romeo Crennel) who was always better suited for coordinating than coaching. I think the Chiefs have a legitimate shot at winning the AFC West, but they are going to need some help and they are going to have to fend off the Chargers who always charge (pun not intended, but inevitable) in November and December. They have a shot, but I would definitely not bet on them to win it despite the fact that I did expect a breakout season from them.

The least impressive of the undefeateds (not a bad thing at all), is the Chicago Bears. Jay Culter has looked magnificent in Mike Martz’s offense thus far, and the defense has been great (notice a theme?). The Calvin Johnson catch and Packers penalties aside, the Bears have really impressed me in all phases of the game. I still think they are a few injuries from completely unraveling, but until those injuries come, there is no reason that defense cannot keep them in every game and no reason the offense and special teams can’t find a way to win. I am still picking the Packers in the division, but with the Vikings in near free-fall, I think this could easily be a playoff team.

Ranking time! Note that teams are not listed in order within their groups.

The Outhouse (Ranked 32-26)

Occupied by these teams

And we turn from the penthouse to The Outhouse. And I’m not talking about the structure, I am talking about the contents. Its inhabitants? Buffalo, Cleveland, Carolina, and the entire NFC West. Buffalo started Trent Edwards in week 1. He is no longer on their roster. Cleveland actually showed signs of life against Baltimore, but then again, so would I if the previous owner of your team who sold the entire city out and moved the team to Baltimore still owns the Ravens. Hey God, what did Cleveland do to you? The Panthers are way worse on defense than any of us would have believed and the Jimmy Clausen era got off to an early start. At least Carolina fans know he can take a pounding. He practiced it for three years at Notre Dame. I am going to get sick of talking about the NFC West. Correction: I AM sick of talking about the NFC West, and we are only 3 weeks in. San Francisco should win the division, but the problem is that they are a crappy team away from home and just in general sometimes. And that they are 0-3. The Seahawks are mid-rebuild and might still win the division with table scraps at 7-9 or 6-10. The Rams are incredibly bad and STILL have a shot at the playoffs this year in some sort of planetary alignment with a Rookie QB, wide receivers most teams would cut, and a running back who is due to miss the rest of the season starting around week 8. Then we have the Cardinals, who are supposed to be relying on their defense and the running game, but whom almost lost to Oakland at home and might drive Larry Fitzgerald to suicide, or at least Dancing with the Stars. Yes, ladies and gents, one of these teams is going to make the playoffs. Here’s the twist. None of these teams should want to make the playoffs. If they are making it at 6-10, that would be good for a top 10 draft pick probably, which could pay dividends down the road. The team that makes the playoffs gets bumped to the 20s and will likely not get the playmaker it needs. We might have a race for the bottom and draft pick in the NFC West, however, in this race for the bottom and draft pick, the producers do not win for getting lower prices, everyone loses because we have to watch one of these teams play a playoff game.

Realistically, a few of these teams could be ranked higher, but I did not feel the need to make them feel better about themselves. Go to the corner, NFC West.

The Toilet Seat (25-23)

If the group directly below this in terms of quality is The Outhouse, then this group is the toilet seat. In other words, it is in the neighborhood, just not down with the muck yet. Don’t worry, it will get there. To be fair, a few of the NFC West teams might be more suited for a spot here, but I am not going to ease up on them when they are consistently a weak division. The teams perched majestically on this porcelain throne are the Lions, Jaguars, and Raiders.

If they drop any lower, they'll be sunk and will get flushed.

The Jaguars are probably the worst among these, as after their respectable performance against Denver, they got blown out two weeks in a row. David Garrard has resembled something between Jabba Hutt, except without the Rancor. He is dangerous, but when you think about it he is pretty laughable and could not really hurt you if you do not help him out. He has been that laughable fat fool the last two weeks and the Jaguars are really just not good enough to overcome any serious mistakes he makes. They are probably closest to the bottom of these teams.

The Lions cannot really be blamed for their Toilet Seat status. With Matthew Stafford, I think they win that Bears game, and they would have a much better shot at the other teams without Shaun Hill giving the lions an uphill battle. However, the defense has been bad enough to earn them this label and it does not get much easier. That schedule is brutal and they could easily find themselves sitting on the 4-12 we had them projected at even though we felt they were better than their record.

The Raiders are just a case all their own. They already dropped Jason Campbell at QB, but still should have beat Arizona last week on the road. The defense has seemed alright and Bruce Gradkowski has been pretty good in most of his fill-in stints. However, the Raiders have come to define unclutch, and Sebastian Janikowski is no exception. You know it is bad when you see the Raiders tied in the red zone with 20 seconds left and you remain unconvinced they will win the game, and they usually make you feel smart for not being sure. Not a very good team, but they have a shot at surprising the Texans this week. Things are not nearly as bleak as they seem in Oakland. Though things are pretty bleak for Al Davis. Maybe there is a connection between the two.

The Upset Stomach (22-20)

Is it about to be a trip straight to the Outhouse, or is it just hunger for that next win? Yes, in this bathroom-oriented NFL Recap, the Upset Stomachs are not a positive, but they are not necessarily a bad thing. The bottom line about these teams is that the jury is still out. They could easily end up on in the Toilet Seat group, or the next group up.

Washington Redskins- Are they as good as they looked against the Cowboys and Texans in the 1st half? Are they as bad as they looked int he 2nd half against Houston or against St. Louis? I would lean toward the latter as Clinton Portis has had a hard time finding running room and the Redskins aerial targets are about as talented as Keenan from SNL (not very good, in case you didn’t get that one). Joey Galloway is the 2nd WR. Yes, that Joey Galloway. I have a feeling they are going to get ripped apart against Philly and it will start a nice spiral out of control in Mike Shanahan’s 1st season.

He needs to right the ship before he is thrown overboard.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers- I am almost a semi-believer in this team, but at the same time I know that they secretly suck. Josh Freeman has looked pretty good so far except for the Steelers game, and no one is looking good against them so far. The defense has proven pretty respectable, but let’s not forget that the two wins they have are against two teams (Browns and Panthers) with a combined 0 wins. They have a bye this week so the jury will remain out for another week.

New York Giants- Is this the Super Bowl winning team that had discipline issues that then turned it around, or is this just a team in disarray. I personally do not think Tom Coughlin can pull that off again and I think the Giants’ season could very easily start to spiral downward. I still like all their skill position guys and I think the defense is alright, but they are just doing so many stupid things right now that it is hard to pick them to succeed. I thought they had the look for an NFC East favorite after week 1, but it also turns out that Carolina is not good. The jury is out, but I think this team is going to struggle.

The Change-Up

No, this is not a division, this is where I can’t make bathroom references any more because they are fairly decent teams. However, since we have only covered 13 teams, and I like the idea of splitting the league in half, so we have one more group dedicated to two teams I love to hate on.

The Carlos Zambranos (19-17)

This one goes out to Big Z for one big reason. He was never really that good (one year with a sub-3 ERA, but he always got credit for being one of the best pitchers in baseball, at least around Chicago. Accordinly, these teams are not that good, but people like to get on these bandwagons for no real reason.

San Diego Chargers- When will we learn? They are a genuinely bad team in the first month of the team. Not an underachieving team. A BAD team. They still are without holdouts Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson, they are missing Ryan Mathews, seem incapable of putting up a fight on the road, and ar entirely too dependent on Antonio Gates to really be successful. They will probably end up winning the division because their division is pretty weak, but they are really not that good. They will get better as they always do, but let’s not get carried away and call them a really good team.

Dallas Cowboys- Oh, my favorite punching bag, I am glad to have you back. They came out and beat the Texans because they had to, but they will almost certainly disappoint when they are needed. Felix Jones is suddenly incompetent along with the offensive line and the stupid penalties continue to kill them. They too may end up winning the division because it lacks an elite team, but there is not really any way of knowing for sure yet. A big part of me hopes they fall flat on their face so I can point out how bad a coach Wade Phillips is, how bad a coordinator Jason Garrett is, and how every ounce of hype they get is undeserved, but that will probably not happen. Notice how both these teams so far have had truly laughable head coaches?

Minnesota Vikings- Once again, mix a laughable head coach with chemistry issues and age and you get a Zambrano team. Brett Favre is still not really on the same page as his receivers and while the defense has been fairly good, they are probably not elite. If Favre gets things straight and Sidney Rice comes back in the right state of mind in week 8, then they can fight with the Bears for the Wild Card, but otherwise, they could have some issues. The hype on this team, which has a grandfather (literally) for a QB was unreasonable and they have the stench of a crash-and-burn candidate.

These teams are not necessarily worse than those ranked ahead of them, but I have a hard time putting wildly inconsistent teams up with the consistently above average teams.


These 3 are like the Mount Rushmore of Sucking

The Bengals Group (16)

Cincinnati Bengals- I had to really fight the urge to not put them much lower in these rankings. Carson Palmer is playing some of the worst football of his career, the running game is not clicking like it needs to, and the defense is not quite as good as it used to be. They still clearly have the quality, and more time together as a team should cure much of what ails them, but they are just not that good right now. They are just good enough to escape the Zambrano teams, but not really good enough right nwo to go much higher.

Yup, they got their own division for that. Not a good distinction, but it is something, no?

The Anthony Morrows (15-12)

In the right situation (like NJ) he coudl be good. Same for these teams.

These are the teams that could actually be pretty solid in the right situation and could pull off a playoff run with a few breaks.

Chicago Bears- Much has been made of the fact that the Bears could easily be 1-2, but the bottom line is that they are 3-0. The defense is legitimately good and the offense has been fairly efficient so far even though it has hit some definite rough patches at times. I am not sure if this team is genuinely good or just genuinely lucky, but when it comes to looking at the team on the field and wondering if it will win, who cares. They should be able to continue to get wins moving forward even though they are not necessarily that great.

Kansas City Chiefs- We already talked about them, so we will keep this brief. They are not a good team, but they are a great home team, and that is worth something in a somewhat easy AFC West. The defense is solid, the special teams are explosive, and the offense, Matt Cassel aside, is somewhat workable. This team can win the West, but they will need some help.

Denver Broncos- Call it my Colts Kool Aid, but I liked what I saw out of the Broncos last week. Part of the reason I liked it was because they functioned exactly like I said they would in my preview. I thought they could move the ball just fine on offense even without Brandon Marshall (how does 476 passing yards for Kyle Orton sound?), but when it came down to crunch time, they did not have anyone they could go to and be sure they would succeed. It showed as 4 trips to the red zone ended in 6 points and a 14 point loss. They are a pretty solid team, but they do not have anyone to take the last shot, to use a basketball term. If they can keep the game from getting to a point like that, they will be fine. Otherwise, they will find themselves on the unlucky side of the score line too often.

Miami Dolphins- They seem to be perennially disappointing but I have liked what I have seen out of them so far. They had that game against the Jets, but they just managed to throw it away, courtesy of Will Allen’s lack of concentration on 3rd down and his inability to look for the ball on that final pass interference call. They are actually moving it pretty well through the air, which will serve them well against New England, and the defense has been improved, although not that great so far. They could end up being pretty good, or they could end up being just alright like usual.

The Samson and Delilah Teams (11-10)

The problem jsut sticks out like a sore thumb

These teams are Samson, but while wearing a hat that reads “Cut my hair”. In other words, these teams are pretty good, but seem to just have an obvious flaw they will fight all year.

Baltimore Ravens- I am not sure if their clear flaw is the offense or defense, but seems that on any given day, it is bound to be one of them. They just gave up 140 yards rushing to Peyton Hillis. Yes, the 3rd best Arkansas RB in his draft class. Other times, like against Cincinnati, Joe Flacco turns into Joe Ballast and succeeds in sinking the team. Perhaps the Samson does not work so perfectly for them, but they are clearly a team that has not put it all together on any one day so far. i still think they are really good, just not as good as they should be.

New England Patriots- Defensive mastermind Bill Belichick is not looking very happy right now. That is technically a fact since he never looks happy, but even more so now that the defense is so bad. They let Mark Sanchez beat them in week 2, and nearly let Ryan Fitzpatrick bring Buffalo back against the Pats. Ron Jaworski continues to point out how teams are shredding their zone defenses, but I am not sure if they have the chops to go man-t-man either. This is a potentially fatal flaw for the Pats.

Houston Texans- This label was almost entirely named for them. They are a pretty damn good offensive team with balance and toughness. They are perhaps the worst pass defense in the league. They just get absolutely gashed with a fairly scary regularity, and it got so bad on Sunday that they could not even stop Mr. Washed-Up, Roy Williams. They are really really good, except for that one glaring flaw that could cost them a shot at winning the division and will cost them at least a couple games down the line. Ironically, they are not in this next group, which is also named for them.

The Matt Schaubs (8-5)

Once upon a time, Matt Schaub was a backup in Atlanta to Michael Vick. Everyone would say “Oh yeah, Matt Schaub could lead an NFL team and be a good QB”. The amazing part was that they were right. It NEVER works like that. The backup is always a backup for a reason and when you try to turn him into your franchise guy, it just does not work. Except in cases like that. These teams are right up there and part of us knows that they are that backup that really can’t get it done, but they keep showing otherwise on the field.

Sanchez has looked THIS good the last few weeks.

Tennessee Titans- Can I believe in Vince Young? Probably not. But they win and do it regularly, so until I see otherwise, I am going to keep picking the Titans to succeed. Yes, the blurbs are getting shorter because we are above 3200 words.

Atlanta Falcons- The defense remains a concern, but it still looks like a definite playoff team to me. Especially in an NFC where very few teams are asserting themselves. Let’s see if Matty Ice can put a few starts like his last one together or if he goes back to throwing picks too often.

New York Jets- Frankly, I am still getting used to the idea of Mark Sanchez being a potentially good QB. It very well may pass and open the door for the Pats or Dolphins to take the division, but right now the Jets are clearly the best team. I do not especially think the Jets will win this division, but I have to give them credit for beating their two rivals in the division and doing it with offense in addition to the defense.

Philadelphia Eagles- Michael Vick is the MVP right now. He has given their running game life (both through his legs and distracting the defense while LeSean McCoy runs wild), is making DeSean’s Jackson’s haters look foolish (like me this year, though I loved his chances before the season last year), and most importantly winning games. I am not entirely sold on their defense yet, but the Eagles might even be the favorites in the NFC East if a few things happen, and they are big ifs. IF Michael Vick stays healthy and consistent, they will be good, and IF the defense shores up, they could be very good.

The Early September Yankees (4-2)

These are the teams that we know are really good and are just getting settled in sort of with solid 2-1 starts. They are not in full out juggernaut mode, but they will get there.

Indianapolis Colts- Peyton Manning is off to his best statistical start of all time, Austin Collie looks like a Pro Bowler, the defense is suddenly stopping the run (and not the pass, but don’t get me started on that right now), and everything seems alright with no undefeated teams in the AFC South. They will be contenders once again, and that should surprise no one. Expect a close one against the Jaguars this weekend, but that is only because they always play the Colts tough.

New Orleans Saints- They have hit a few speed bumps, but they should be just fine going forward, Greg Williams is continuing to prove people like me wrong that say the defense cannot consistently create turnovers, and as long as they are getting turnovers, they should be just fine defensively. If not for Garrett Hartley’s chunked chip shot, the defending champs are 3-0. Yes, the same kicker who hit all his long field goals in the Super Bowl. God won that Super Bowl for the Saints, not the players. No, I’m not bitter, why do you ask?

Green Bay Packers- They embarrassed themselves on Monday night doing their best Cowboys impression and throwing the game away with stupid penalties, but are still the favorites up north. They could really use Al Harris, but they can make due in the mean time. They will be there down the stretch without a doubt.

THE BEST TEAM RIGHT NOW (#1)

The Pittsburgh Steelers

Again, please read the “Right Now” part of the title. They will be getting Big Ben back after this week and as long as Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith stay healthy, they should be considered the favorites in the AFC North. They have to prove themselves this weekend against Baltimore, but I think they will pull it out and solidify themselves as the team to beat in that division. Again, we already talked about them, so we are going to cut it short here and let you get to your College Football watching this Saturday morning.

Enjoy!

Ferrells and Fallons: Week 2

WEEK 2

"Arian Foster had more fantasy points than Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson, so he is better." ----- PLEASE do not be the guy to say that.

After an inaugural week of surprises, the landscape of the NFL is beginning to settle. Many of the supposed powerhouse offenses struggled in week 1 (Indy, Green Bay, New Orleans, Minny); Seattle shocked the trendy sleeper pick, 49ers (who sucked more than Perez Hilton during an orgy); Tennessee dominated while Miami struggled to pull out wins against bad teams; Chris Johnson looked more than fine, Adrian Peterson looked just fine, and Frank Gore looked bad; Derek Anderson was, GASP, serviceable in a minor victory. Overall, it was a fairly exciting week 1.

For fantasy purposes, week 1 revealed very little but it also revealed a lot. It’s only week 1, so jumping to conclusions would be futile. If you think Arian Foster is going to put up that stat line every week for an entire season, you’d be sorely mistaken. Imagine if someone just saw Eddie Murphy Raw in 1987 and justifiably laughed their ass off. What if, afterwards, that person said Murphy would be one of the funniest men alive for the next 25 years? That would be stupid, considering we know Eddie hasn’t done anything even remotely funny (not including voice work) since Bowfinger in 1999. That’s 11 years of crap. So don’t get suckered in by the first game of the year, lest you set yourself up for the possibility of 11 weeks of disappointment. The same can be said for Matt Forte. I’m not saying it’s impossible that these guys will stay hot; I’m just saying be cautious.

On the other hand, some of these week 1 games may provide useful clues for the short term. Peyton Manning, for instance, threw the ball roughly 5,000 times against Houston. Joseph Addai ran the ball only 10 times but for a respectable 44 yards, so it’s not like the run game was failing. They just never went to it. Perhaps we can assume the Colts will be gunning it more often than not, making the slew of Indy receivers more appealing. The same can be said for the Bengals. If they can’t get the run game going (Benson managed a pathetic 2.9 average versus a porous Pats defense), Carson Palmer may have to throw 50 times per game again. Look for Ochocinco and Owens to cash in, but Shipley and Gresham are legitimate plays as well.

Last week’s projections were decent, with the glaring exception being Brady. Smith and Orton were mildly okay, but definitely didn’t live up to Ferrell status. Hopefully I can improve in week 2. Now, on to the Ferrells and Fallons…

Ferrells

Don't disregard Garrard. And don't try to say that 5 times fast.

QB: David Garrard (JAC). Obvious Statement of the Day: David Garrard is not a great quarterback. But he’s okay sometimes. Garrard is like eating a Twizzler: it’s not awesome, but it satisfies you every once in a while even though afterward you’re thinking, “Alright, that was okay, but I don’t think I’ll have another one of those for a long, long time.” Garrard racked up a relatively high number of yards last year (3,500+) and only 10 interceptions. He had a decent game last week, too (170 yds, 3 TD, no INT). So he produces. These numbers are inflated, though, because the Jaguars needed to pass more at the end of games because they were losing 92% of the time. I foresee the same thing happening this week against the Bolts, but the Twizzler will return for one of those good days.

(Last week: Orton vs. Jaguars…21-33, 295 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT)

RB: Ahmad Bradshaw (NYG). I’d also go with either DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart here, but the Colts rush defense is still the Colts rush defense, and it scares the poop out of me. Perhaps I’m too paranoid of the Colts after all these years, but history has revealed that running backs can dominate them in the regular season. Oh, and some guy named Arian Foster ran for a gazillion yards last week and three scores. I’m not bitter. Why do you ask?

(Last week: OAK McFadden vs. Titans…18 rush, 95 yds, 6 rec, 55 yd, 1 TD)

TE: Jermichael Finley (GB). The passing of the torch begins this week. Gates and Clark, move over. Buffalo can maybe shut down the Packers’ wideouts, but I can’t see them containing King Fin. I’m foreseeing a stat line in the vicinity of 8 catches, 95 yards, and a TD.

(Last week: NYG Smith vs. Panthers…5 rec, 43 yds)

Fallons

He isn't getting the 05 Heisman, and he isn't going to get much in the way of numbers this weekend.

QB: Vince Young (TEN). Okay, okay. You proved me wrong, Vince. You played well against an Oakland defense I was high on. A 142 QB rating is nothing to scoff at. I apologize for assuming you would be terrible. But like I said before: it was just one week. If you can show up against Pittsburgh (at home), I’ll never make a crack at you again. You have my word. I have a feeling you are going to show your true colors, though. Otherwise, you’re my Fallon QB for the week. Prove me wrong, Vince. Prove me wrong.

(Last week: Brady vs. Bengals…25-35, 258 yds, 3 TD)

RB: Maurice Jones-Drew (JAC). For the same reason I have David Garrard so high this week; the Jags will fall behind in this game and have to pass themselves out of it. This is a risky pick, but I’m doing it. MoJo might get significant carries early, but he’s screwed at the end of games. He’s the little engine that could, but Jack del Rio inexplicably prefers to ride the dirty Garrard Greyhound Bus sometimes. San Diego isn’t impressive on defense, but they should control the ball for most of the game. Throw in injury concerns, and I just don’t see it this week for MoJo JoJo (that’s right, I went there).

(Last week: BAL Rice vs. Jets…21 rush, 43 yds, 2 rec, 19 yds)

WR: Dwayne Bowe (KC). I traded Dwayne Bowe for Santana Moss on my fantasy team. That’s how little I like Dwayne Bowe. Until he proves something to me, I’m staying away. He had two nice seasons, but last year was a disaster: ONE 100-yard game; three games with two or less catches; only four touchdowns; missed five games. He has the ability to be great (especially this week against Cleveland’s sketchy defense), but I want to see it first. Unfortunately for him, KC has two beastly running backs and could pound the ball on the ground, making Bowe’s opportunities dwindle.

(Last week: PHI Jackson vs. Packers…4 rec, 30 yds, 14 ret yds)

Just in case you forgot why we named the article this, here is a random clip of both former SNL cast members…

Pigskin Pick’em: September 18th

Not to toot our clownish horn too much, but last week was a smashing success for our Pigskin Pick’em as we nailed all 5 games we picked, including the KC over SD upset (ARTICLE HERE). 5-0 is a nice place to be. However, that really just means you can expect me to go around 1-4 this week. Maybe 2-3 if I’m lucky. But that’s half the fun, because if I was right every time, I wouldn’t really bother watching the games because I wouldn’t have to prove my omniscience (please put some clothes on). So let’s get to the somewhat weaker slate of games for the week so we can put fears of my omniscience to rest.

(9) Iowa Hawkeyes vs. (24) Arizona Wildcats

After running the option in Remember the Titans, Sunshine went on to play QB for Arizona.

How do I put this lightly… The college football games this week are going to be worse than American Idol without Simon. There are almost no good games to even pick from to watch, let alone pick, so we are just going to do the one college game this week and cut our losses. It will get better, but we are stuck with a Saturday full of disappointment for now. However, we appear to have a dandy in the desert as the Hawkeyes head to Tucson to take on 24th ranked Arizona. The result? The Big Ten proving it really does not suck like people out west and down south like to think. The Hawkeyes are a well-drilled team with a QB who almost never loses in Ricky Stanzi, a running back who produce (regardless of who it is, they ALWAYS have a good RB), and a defense that hits harder than Ivan Drago. Arizona will obviously try to spread it out and like Nick Foles jab at the defense, but I do not think the Cats have the speed or route-running to get open for Foles to get it to them. I think the result is a lot of forced throws, and thus, a lot of turnovers for Arizona, and nothing kills an upset bid faster than turnovers.

Iowa 26, Arizona 14

With our shortage of college games, that means we are picking 3 NFL games before our Upset Special. Unfortunately, it seems the teams that played intriguing games week 1 are back at it again. Once again, we will be covering the Pats, Jets, Bengals and Ravens, and while that is less than ideal, I want to pick the games that people are most likely to disagree on instead of gracing you with the knowledge that Green Bay will beat Buffalo, or boring you to death talking about the KC vs Cleveland game.

New England Patriots vs. New York Jets

The Jets need this game like Tyrone Biggums needs crack. Maybe worse. Their offense was horrendous against the weakened Ravens, their defense was penalty-prone, and they just seemed to make dumb plays over and over (I’m looking at you Dustin Keller). The Pats on the other hand, dismantled the Ravens in winning 38-24, and it wasn’t that close. Has all the makings of a classic “We Need It More Than You Do” game for the Jets and a “Rest On Your Laurels” game for the Pats. BUT. Do you really think a Bill Belichick coached team can rest on its laurels? I don’t think so. I do not think the Jets running game will be as incompetent as it was against Baltimore, but I also know that Bill Belichick is going to make Mark Sanchez beat him if the Jets are going to win. There is no way that happens. None. Do not expect the Pats to go out and score 30 points, because the Jets defense is still really good, but the Jets offense is going to need to score a TD or 2 to keep up and I think they will fall behind and be forced to the air. The Pats are the pick.

Patriots 21, Jets 10

Baltimore Ravens vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Whenever you think he is done, he isn't. He was great in the Jets game.

Many have been saying that you do not pick a team that played in an emotional Monday Night game the following week. My rule is that you do not pick a defense that just got exposed and an offensive line that couldn’t block anyone to beat a team that is more talented than they are. Therefore it should come as no surprise that I am picking the Ravens here. The Ravens faced the best defense in the league last week, and going into the season it looked like they would face another good one in Cincinnati, but I am not so sure that is the case. The Patriots absolutely shredded that secondary, and the Ravens have enough weapons to do the same. Add in the fact that the Ravens are way more physical up front than the Pats and I could see the Bengals just getting mauled by the running game and the passing game not needing to thrive. The Bengals showed an inability to run the ball against the Patriots and they will not run the ball against Baltimore either. They will once again get forced to the air, where they put up good stats, but did not do any of it until garbage time. The Ravens will win this game. I would say they would win by a lot, but I do think they will be a little tired and Cincy will bounce back enough to make it seem respectable.

Baltimore 24, Cincinnati 17

Alright, we are fairly short on interesting teams playing interesting games this week, and the two NFL games we picked this week are the exact same teams as we talked about last week, so let’s throw a pick against the spread in there to keep it interesting.

Chicago Bears (+7.5) vs. Dallas Cowboys

Oh, the Cowboys. Eternally talented. Eternally inept. The Bears defense looked just good enough to force Tony Romo to throw it 35 times (we went over this HERE). The Bears offense, on the other hand, while still completely useless when it matters (like 1st and Goal on the 2), looked almost respectable. The Bears are not winning this game because Dallas will pressure the QB relentlessly, but I think that Dallas -7.5 line is way too high. Gimme da Bears over da underachievers.

Chicago 16, Dallas 21


Upset Special (Underdog by around 5 points picked to win)

Yup, I used this picture again. Why? Because it is a clown. What do clowns have to do with upsets? Stop asking questions.

I am not looking forward to writing this section this week. There were plenty of options, but the one that really stuck out to me kind of felt like a smack across the face. It was such an inviting game to pick as an upset, and yet it goes against every rule about overreacting to week 1. Part of me is picking it as the upset in hopes that it will jinx the team I am picking to win, but part of me really thinks that it is going to happen. The underdogs clearly have what it takes to pull it off. A brutal rushing attack, a defense with a pass rush, and a QB good enough to beat a mediocre defense when he has to.

Drumroll please, though you probably already know where it is headed…

New York Giants vs. Indianapolis Colts

Will Eli be Cain or Abel?

Ugh. The Giants have a big, strong offensive line, and I am really just sort of at a loss for what to say about the Colts run defense. I really hope it is just the zone blocking like some of the analysts said, but what if it wasn’t. What if the D-line was just getting manhandled? What if the LBs are good, but can’t handle offensive linemen getting to the second level immediately because they are using TEs to block Robert Mathis? The Colts will be screwed. Of course, Colts-screwed is different than most-teams-screwed because they have Peyton Manning. Last week, the Colts gave up around 250 yards rushing. 250. And they had very few offensive possessions (they routinely have the fewest in the NFL due to teams trying to play keep-away with Manning). And up until Austin Collie caught a pass down the middle, got popped, and lost the football, the Colts were right in that game. They were getting annihilated on defense, and the offense was getting on the field twice a quarter, and they were right in it. Amazing in one sense, but awful news on the other.

The Giants clearly have what it takes to beat the Colts. Eli can pick Cover 2 apart all day, and the running game can take care of the rest. The defensive line will indubitably be able to get pressure on a rusty and sieve-like Colts O-line. The only concern I have as far as the upset pick (or to phrase it differently, “the big hope I have as a Colts fan”), is that the Colts have a way of bouncing back, and as I said, the Colts were right in that Texans game despite getting mauled, until that fumble. But if Garcon keeps dropping the ball, the offensive line keeps playing matador, and the defense can’t stop anyone, then the Colts are going to be on the train to 0-2ville.

However, I should make it perfectly clear I like the Giants a lot this year, and would go as far as to pick them to win the NFC East if Dallas does not figure it out soon. They have the pieces to beat the Colts, and if they execute well enough, they can do it. It hurts me to do it, but…

Giants 31, Colts 27

Season Record: 5-0
Last Week: 5-0
Upset Special: 1-0

The Playoff Picture

This whole playoff thing is simple. For the Jets and Ravens to make it they just need to win, and for the Broncos to win, all that has to happen is for about a million different things to happen and there are scenarios in which they can lose and still make it. Ok, so maybe we don’t have this thing down, but it is really just way too complicated to bother talking about. Check ESPN if you want a real breakdown of the scenarios, but all i know is that when they line it up on Sunday, several teams are alive, but if the Jets and Ravens win then it is all set.

And for those of you wondering, I am passing on commenting on the whole Colts 16-0 thing for now. I need to see how the team responds in Buffalo before I decide if Caldwell misread his players or if it was purely tactical. I just don’t know yet. I think that the city of Indianapolis wants to tear Bill Polian limb from limb, but he helped get us where we are and I turust him 100%. No comment on the 16-0 thing for now but I definitely will in the upcoming weeks.

To be honest, I dislike all the talk about the different scenarios. Granted, I have it good with the Colts and have not been in a difficult scenario, but who can really memorize all those scenarios? If your team wins, know you have a shot and leave it that. I know the Broncos have scenarios where they lose, but really, just know that if your team wins they have a shot and leave it at that. Let’s move on though, that gets old fast.

AFC

The Colts are locked in as the #1 seed and the Chargers are locked in as the #2 seed. If the Patriots beat the Texans,

This is what they're playing for

then they get the #3 seed and the Bengals will be the #4 seed unless the Patriots lose and they win. I think it is fairly safe to pencil these teams into their current slot which leads us to the Wild Card spot. Do you think any of the Wild Card teams has a shot at contending? I know I don’t even though Baltimore and Pittsburgh seem dangerous. I think both those teams can compete with the Patriots or Bengals but I give them no shot against either the Chargers or Colts due to their tendency to give up big plays. So despite what happens, I think you can generally discount the AFC’s Wild Card teams. We will get to picks in a bit, but if you have the attention span of a 5 year old you can scroll to the bottom.

NFC

The Saints are the #1 seed, this much we know for sure. The Eagles control their own destiny for the #2 seed, but my inner psychic tells me they will lose to the Cowboys this week. This would give the #2 seed to the sliding Vikings, assuming they can beat the equally sliding Giants. I would personally pencil the Vikings into the #2 seed, but I am not sure it will matter. The Cardinals will probably be the #3 or #4 seed depending on what happens on Sunday, but the more important thing is that they play the Packers this week. That makes two juicy matchups within the NFC playoff teams this week with both technically having a shot at being first round matchups. When watching the games, keep this in mind because you will see nothing too interesting out of either team from not wanting to give anything away to their opponent. The Eagles and Cowboys will slug it out because they do not like each other, but do not be surprised to see heavy doses of Ryan Grant and Beanie Wells and perhaps also a rare Matt Leinart sighting. It will not be a very interesting game if both teams play it close to the vest, but in the playoff matchup, I like the streaking Packers. No team is hotter than them right now and they have patched up their holes. At least we all know who the teams involved will be.

The Playoffs

So we do not know the exact teams involved, but we can take a look at the teams to watch and what to watch in them.

AFC

He doesn't curse, which is cool I guess, but somehow I have a hard time believing a good guy image here with all his on-field antics

Colts- The best team in football assuming they can play a good half against the Bills. A great offense, a better than advertised defense and a guy playing quarterback who wears #18.

Chargers- Scary good right now and nearly unstoppable on offense. Rivers is easily one of the top 5 QBs in the league,Vincent Jackson is phenomenally underrated and the defense can hold its own with most teams.

Patriots- The offense is always potent, but their defense leaves a lot to be desired. I would never bet against Belichick in the playoffs, but they will need to step it up on D to contend.

Bengals- Not the high-flying team that last made the playoffs, but a hard-nosed defensive team who will bludgeon you then work you over through the air with Ocho and Coles. I really like them but if they get into a shootout, I am not sure they can keep up.

Wild Card 1 & 2- The Ravens and Steelers could cause the Pats and Bengals problems, but I would not bet on either to make a serious run. Neither team is bad, but both are too inconsistent to beat the Colts or Chargers should they win their first round matchup.

NFC

Saints- The high-flying offense has been stuck in the bayou mud lately and that home loss to TB hurt. They NEED a win this week or they will be out quicker than you can say “Who Dat”.

Eagles– They may not be the #2 seed, but they are clearly better than the Vikings right now. This Cowboys-Eagles game will be huge. The loser has to figure things out going into Wild Card week, and the other gets to ride the momentum into the playoffs.

Vikings- Few teams have looked sicker over the past few weeks and all those things about Favre being bad in December look pretty legitimate despite his comeback against the Bears. I wouldn’t like their chances in the playoffs if they had to play an outdoor game (like in Philly) but as it is, it looks like a 50-50 chance they will have to. If they don’t win this week they will be cooked.

Cardinals- Always a tough team to defend and the defense has been playing well, but it looks like they are going to have a buzzsaw on their hands regardless of if they play the Packers or Cowboys in the first round. I like their team, but not their chances.

Cowboys- I cannot hype the Eagles-Cowboys game enough, but all that December talk has dissipated faster tha

Might the Pack play the Vikings in the postseason? Wait and see.

n the Roy Williams in Dallas hype. Their three-headed rushing attack is among the best in the game and they are built for the playoffs.

Packers- All their early season problems are suddenly gone and Rodgers is putting up numbers that few QBs in theleague are capable of. The offensive line is looking more like cheddar than swiss lately and the Cheesehead faithful have got to be loving their team’s chances. If only Al Harris and Aaron Kampman were healthy id consider putting them on the list of Super Bowl contenders.

How it will go down

The Colts and Chargers are the only real teams to watch in the AFC, as far as I can tell and I sadly see the Chargers once again getting the best of the Colts and making it to the Super Bowl. As a Colts fan I hate the Chargers and I hate their punk QB Philip Rivers, but as a football fan I am scared to death of that offense and their excellent QB, not to mention their history against the Colts. HOWEVER, watch out for the “Everyone’s Pick” backlash. If too many people start to pick them they will inevitably fail.

In the NFC, I cannot like the Saints or Vikings chances given their recent struggles, so I will go in another direction. Whoever wins the Eagles-Cowboys game this Sunday is Miami-bound for the Super Bowl. Sorry Cardinals and Packers fans, I like both your teams, but it won’t happen.

I am not sure who is going to win that key Sunday game but I feel the Eagles are a little better suited for a playoff run, so I will take them in the NFC.

Early Super Bowl Prediction

Eagles 27, Chargers 23

But frankly, who really knows? Don’t be surprised to see a Cardinals-Bengals Super Bowl, but that is why we love the playoffs: They are unpredictable.