There were a couple of surprising results in this week's NFL games. The Chargers, Panthers, Vikings, and Eagles all managed to upset the opponents. The Cardinals on the other hand...not so much.
Denver Broncos 26 Oakland Raiders 13
I don't know what the betting line on this game was, but it was a pretty good bet the Broncos would win this game, if not cover the spread. Even with Darren McFadden back the Raiders couldn't get anything going offensively. Of course McFadden did re-injure his ankle (what a shock, McFadden got injured...again...didn't see that coming) later in the game, so he wasn't able to finish the game. The Broncos were very good on offense. Knowshon Moreno made another cameo appearance and ran for 119 yards on 32 carries. Peyton Manning makes everyone around him better. The incompetent can become competent and good receivers are made into Pro Bowl receivers. I would like to see if Manning signed with the Raiders if he could make Darren McFadden healthy over his entire career. Now that would be a real miracle. Carson Palmer is accumulating some real good passing yards this year because the Raiders are coming from behind and haven't had much of a running game. So just remember that when he flirts with 4600 or 4700 yards passing. Next week for the Broncos is the Baltimore-Denver game, which has implications for homefield advantage in the playoffs. Not to be snide, but Dennis Allen's father died earlier this week so I thought God would at least use Bill Simmons "Tragedy Corollary" to help the Raiders win this game. I guess God hates the Raiders, which Raiders fans probably suspected. It's probably due to the Raiders loose affiliation with N.W.A. in the late 1980's. God doesn't like gangsta' rap. Right now it looks really hard for any team to beat the Broncos, but how many times did we say that about a Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts team? Of course, those Colts teams may not have had a really good defense like this year's Broncos team has.
Carolina Panthers 30 Atlanta Falcons 20
Apparently the key to beating the Falcons is to get to a 23-0 lead and not letting them get in a position where they can have a great comeback. The Falcons offense struggled in the first half of the game and then came alive in the second half of the game as the Panthers defense desperately tried to help the Falcons win the game by giving Matt Ryan easy pass lanes and playing soft defense. Fortunately their own incompetence was defeated by brief dsiplays of competence in keeping the Falcons out of the end zone and forcing a turnover in the second half. The tone was set when the Panthers won their first coin toss of the season. Cam Newton was fantastic in this game and has thrown two interceptions over his last six games. I hope no one writes the Falcons off after this game because I doubt they will get behind 23-0 in any further games. Nearly every good team has a "what the hell" game and this is probably that game for the Falcons this season. The Falcons season is still decided by how they do in the playoffs and if they can't run the ball and the defense gives up more big plays to put the Falcons in a hole then they could have another short playoff run. I'm not counting the Falcons out. This was a wake-up call game.
San Francisco 49ers 27 Miami Dolphins 13
This 49ers defense is brutal to opposing offenses. They gave up 227 total yards to the Dolphins and the offense didn't commit any turnovers. If I am nitpicking, which I do best, I would say the Dolphins sacked Colin Kaepernick four times, so that is an issue. Of course, Kaepernick only threw five incomplete passes and had more total yards than the entire Dolphins team...so there's that. I was no by means a big Alex Smith fan and Kaepernick presents the 49ers offense with a higher ceiling, so maybe the quarterback switch was a good move for Harbaugh and the 49ers. I think the blueprint to beat the 49ers is still the same though. The opposing team has to stop the 49ers from running the ball and forcing them into tough passing situations. It's a lot easier said than done and the Dolphins couldn't do it with a pretty good defense. Ryan Tannehill seems to be taking a few steps backwards over the last few games. He's had four touchdowns and six interceptions since leaving the Jets game on October 28. I wouldn't call it a permanent step back and he doesn't have the best team around him, so I will make a few excuses for him until I am given a reason not to. Oh, and Aldon Smith has 19.5 sacks this year. I feel like there hasn't been much made of how well he has played this year. Maybe the mainstream media should focus more on his ability to sack the quarterback.
St. Louis Rams 15 Buffalo Bills 12
The Bills refused to win this game. They had two chances on the final drive to intercept Sam Bradford and stop him from scoring a touchdown on the game-winning drive, but they couldn't do it. I feel for Bills fans because George Wilson dropped both chances to intercept Bradford on that last drive. The Rams defensive line sacked Ryan Fitzpatrick five times in the game and Fitzpatrick did his usual throw an interception and throw a touchdown pass in the game. He didn't do much to lose the game and didn't do much to win the game. The Rams are closer to the 8-8-type record I fully expect from a Jeff Fisher-led team. I guess there are worse records for a team to have. Neither team ran the ball well, with both teams combining for 47 rushing attempts for 139 yards. The Rams were 2-2 in the red zone in this game and the Bills were 1-3. In a three point game that's pretty much the difference in who won or who lost. On a day when neither team had 300 yards of offense, when the Bills blow two out of three red zone chances and can't catch potential interceptions on the game-winning drive, it's not a surprise the Rams won the game. Sometimes the key to winning the game is just not screwing up as much as the other team.
Dallas Cowboys 20 Cincinnati Bengals 19
I don't yell at the television much, but I was yelling at the television at the end of this game. At the very end of this game the Cowboys were driving and had approximately 35 seconds left and were holding (I believe) two timeouts. Jason Garrett chose to run one play up the middle and then call timeout to set up a game-winning field goal with four seconds left. I thought, and still think, he should have tried to get the ball closer for the field goal, especially when holding two timeouts. The odds of DeMarco Murray fumbling are lower than the odds of Dan Bailey missing a 40 yard field goal. There seems to be an infatuation this year with head coaches running time down and not getting as much yardage as possible in order to set up a close game-winning field goal. The Cowboys did a great job focusing after the horrific accident on Saturday that killed Jerry Brown. I don't know how they did it. This game was somewhat sloppy with eight sacks and the Cowboys struggled to run the ball against a stout Bengals defense. I keep telling myself this Bengals team isn't any different from past Bengals teams, and they do have to play the Eagles-Steelers-Ravens to end the year, but their defense has played pretty well this year. Maybe they could win a playoff game.
Cleveland Browns 30 Kansas City Chiefs 7
Since certain Chiefs players thought Jovan Belcher had something to do with their win over the Panthers last (as opposed to the Panthers simply not being a very good team), I wonder if Chiefs players think Belcher caused them to get their ass kicked by the feisty Browns? Probably not. The dead, even the dead who are murderers, only help their teammates out from the grave. That's how the story usually goes at least. Phil Dawson sees the Browns having turned a corner.
"It's all kind of coming together," said 14-year veteran kicker Phil Dawson,
who booted three field goals. "We're just doing all the little things
right now. Guys are hungry to come back to work every day. There's some
energy around here that I haven't felt. This is all good."
It seems like the Browns are starting to build something productive in Cleveland and they certainly have some good young offensive players to build the team around. They have been competitive in nearly every single game they have played this season. Now it's time for me to piss in their cereal and point out exactly who the Browns have beaten...so the Browns have beaten in order:
Pittsburgh (this was Roethlisberger-less seven turnovers Pittsburgh)
It's not exactly a murderer's row of teams, but I guess they can't change their schedule. I see positive vibes, but am cautiously optimistic as usual. As for the Chiefs, Brady Quinn turned back into Brady Quinn and was sacked five times. 80 of the Chiefs 310 yards came on one run by Jamaal Charles as well. I still think if Romeo Crennel isn't fired, then Scott Pioli needs to be, and we all know new General Managers like to hire their own coach so they may as well fire Crennel too. The disaster in Kansas City was covered up for one week. Now the disaster is back.
Indianapolis Colts 27 Tennessee Titans 23
Adam Vinatieri is still winning games with his foot.
Andrew Luck is still winning games he's not supposed to.
That was the first line in the ESPN game recap. I don't get it. Why should Andrew Luck not have won a game against a 4-8 Titans team? Because the Colts were down 13 points at halftime? The Colts got the ball first in the second half, so they had plenty of time and opportunities to win this game even being down at halftime. Plus the Colts were at home, which always helps. I feel like this "Luck is clutch and winning games he shouldn't" narrative is going to start skidding out of control soon into being used anytime the Colts win a game. He's playing very well, but a home game against the Titans is a game he should win. I will also point, because I am an asshole, that Luck threw two interceptions to one touchdown and completed less than 50% of his passes for the second consecutive week. Luck is "clutch" but his numbers are ordinary (54.9% completion percentage 18:18 TD/INT ratio, 74.5 QB rating), which is why I think Robert Griffin should be Offensive Rookie of the Year. I'm not changing my mind about this until I do change my mind. The Titans appear to have a couple good wide receivers with Britt and Kendall Wright, so why can't Chris Johnson find running lanes? I'm guessing it is the banged-up offensive line that is the issue. I don't know either if Jake Locker is the answer at quarterback for the Titans or if their problems lie somewhere else.
Minnesota Vikings 21 Chicago Bears 14
Of course the Vikings beat the Bears and are now separated by one game in the NFC North. The Bears nearly doubled the offensive output of the Vikings in terms of total yards and Christian Ponder was pathetic as usual, but the Vikings won the game. Do you know why? Because Christian Ponder is a winner, dammit. A winner with 91 yards passing. As long as Adrian Peterson keeps running like the best running back in the NFL then the Vikings will continue to be in football games. This doesn't address the main issue the Vikings have, which is the black hole that is the quarterback position. Christian Ponder has made Tim Tebow look like Peyton Manning over the last seven games. Ponder has 962 yards passing in those seven games which comes to robust 137 passing yards per game. Jay Cutler threw a pick-six that was the difference in the game, though the loss wasn't Cutler's fault entirely. I am sure he will get some of the blame though. This was one of those games were one team seemingly got outplayed, but still won the game. The Bears had to stop the run and they couldn't do it.
San Diego Chargers 34 Pittsburgh Steelers 24
Of course the Chargers beat the Steelers. It's amazing what happens when a team rushes the passer and protects their own quarterback. It's almost like getting pressure on the opposing offense and preventing pressure on your quarterback are positively correlated with winning football games. The Chargers also didn't turn the ball over and the Steelers gave up two sacks, but it could have been worse than that. What a bizarre Steelers team this is. I'm not sure I can remember a Steelers team that looks so bad in losing to teams they don't seem like they should lose to. Since I've been talking about him getting fired all year, I may as well say Norv Turner had his team ready to play. They went 12-22 on third down and Turner showed the offensive coordinating skills that make him such a great offensive coordinator. The Steelers couldn't run the ball and Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace both dropped passes that would have completed long passes. It's obvious to say, but it is funny how just one or two plays in a game can make the difference in a team winning a game. Over an entire season there may be 10 plays that made the difference in a team being 10-6 or 6-10. There's such a thin line between winning and losing. The Chargers' receivers caught the passes thrown to them and converted on third down. Therein lies one of the differences in winning and losing.
Philadelphia Eagles 23 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21
Why wouldn't the Eagles go on the road and beat the Buccaneers? All this talk about Andrew Luck winning games he shouldn't win, well Nick Foles won a game he absolutely shouldn't have won for his first career NFL win. He threw for two touchdowns in the last four minutes of a road game, including the game-winning touchdown pass with no time left on the clock. A late fourth quarter win by a rookie quarterback on the road against a team with a better record? That's a game Foles shouldn't have won. The Buccaneers have lost their third straight game (as a bitter Panthers fan I want to point out it should be in four losses in a row) and they are getting closer and closer to being out of playoff contention the more they keep losing. As per their usual defensive work, the Buccaneers did a great job of shutting the Eagles run game down, but couldn't stop the passing game of the Eagles. The Eagles had 29 yards rushing on the ground compared to the Buccaneers 136 yards rushing. The old adage of winning football games by "running the ball and stopping the run" certainly didn't take a leaky secondary into account. What do you think Eagles fans? If the Eagles win out, can Andy Reid save his job?
Washington Redskins 31 Baltimore Ravens 28
How can I blame this loss on Joe Flacco? I'm not sure I can. Dammit! I showed everyone Andrew Luck's numbers earlier and here are Robert Griffin's numbers. He has a 66.4% completion percentage, an 18:4 TD/INT ratio, and a 104.2 quarterback rating. I realize these statistics aren't the end-all of how the Offensive Rookie of the Year should be determined, but Griffin has a better completion percentage by 12% while throwing 14 less interceptions. This doesn't even include his 748 yards rushing. I'm starting to see less and less how a case can be made for Luck or Wilson as Offensive Rookie of the Year. Of course Kirk Cousins came in the game and threw two complete passes on two attempts to get the win for the Redskins, so now the Redskins and offensive genius Mike Shanahan have two viable quarterbacks (which is what Redskins fans are telling themselves today). The Ravens defense didn't really do a great job of stopping Griffin through the air or stopping the Redskins on the ground either. Can't necessarily blame the Ravens' offense for this loss when the defense gets beaten up like they did. Maybe we can blame the Ravens' special teams for giving up a 64 yard punt return in overtime. It's easy to get in field goal range in overtime when a punt return gets you there without having to run an offensive play.
New York Jets 17 Jacksonville Jaguars 10
I know it isn't a great record, but for the gnashing of teeth and discussion about how bad the Jets are, they have still won 6 games this year. They are one game from a .500 record and don't play a team with a winning record the rest of the year. Mark Sanchez still didn't look great and Chad Henne further proved he isn't the answer at quarterback for the Jaguars. I wonder if Peter King still thinks the Jaguars need to go into 2013 with Henne as the starting quarterback? He probably would rather we forget about that little comment. The Jets came into this game and ran the ball all over the Jaguars defense for 166 yards and only committed one penalty for 15 yards during the game. The Jaguars can't afford to lose offensive playmakers and they didn't have Cecil Shorts III for this game and that led to Kevin Elliott and Jordan Shipley getting looks in the passing game. The Jaguars were 0-2 on red zone trips in this game, including Chad Henne throwing an interception close to the goal line and a fumble return for a touchdown by the Jaguars defense that was ruled not a fumble and therefore wasn't a touchdown either. You make your own luck, but often the bad luck a team has makes them as well.
Seattle Seahawks 58 Arizona Cardinals 0
The Cardinals had 154 total yards, four interceptions and four fumbles. I know it has nothing to do with why they lost this game, but doesn't it feel good Cardinals fans to see your team drafted Michael Floyd over...pretty much any other position of need they had? You can never have enough playmakers, unless you don't have a good offensive line or quarterback. The Seahawks had 493 total yards of offense and had two rushers go for 100 yards. Russell Wilson didn't even have to be clutch in this game. He just had to show up and hand the ball off. Remember back when Peter King had the Seahawks at 2-3 after losing their two starting corners for four games? The Seahawks are 2-0 since then. This is what happens when MMQB is written in a reactionary manner, Peter writes things he wishes he could take back if only someone would remind him of how wrong he may end up being. I know this sounds crazy, but the Cardinals really aren't this bad of a team. They need a good offensive line and a good quarterback. Sure, they aren't easy to find, but this is what happens when a professional football team has shitty quarterback play. But hey, they did make Larry Fitzgerald happy and draft a wide receiver to pair with him. When Fitzgerald demands a trade after this season maybe Cardinals management should remind him of that.
New York Giants 52 New Orleans Saints 27
David Wilson had 327 all-purpose yards in this game, because why not? Those people who were counting out the Giants after a few bad games during the middle of the season probably aren't vocal right now. Every team has highs and lows during a season and the Giants went into a low, got to work during their bye week and now are the offensively powerful team we had become used to again. Drew Brees threw for a lot of yardage, but otherwise didn't have his best game. The Saints still clearly have defensive problems and I am not sure if they even get a chance to re-sign Sean Payton as the head coach those problems will get fixed. Perhaps the Saints players are still getting used to the new defensive scheme, but at this point they shouldn't be giving up 52 points in a game. I guess we will see over the coming weeks if David Wilson's performance was something he can come close to duplicating on a semi-regular basis or if this was just a brief tease of what he can do, but hasn't, during his rookie season.
Green Bay Packers 27 Detroit Lions 20
Aaron Rodgers had a sort of "blah" game and the Packers still managed to beat the Lions thanks their defense returning a fumble for a touchdown and intercepting Matthew Stafford once. The Lions blew a 10 point lead for the third straight game. It's hard enough to get a lead, so the Lions blowing leads they get is a big reason why they are 4-9 and due to miss the playoffs this year. I know I talk about this too much, but remember how it was written by some media members that the Packers were "in trouble" after getting their ass kicked by the Giants? They Packers are now 9-4 and firmly in control of the NFC North. I don't get why the media seems to be so reactionary at times. The Packers found a running game and still managed to win with Aaron Rodgers just being pretty good. As long as the Packers offensive line holds up and the defense can continue to force turnovers I'm thinking the Packers are going to have a chance in the playoffs at some point to avenge the last two Giants losses.