Tag:Sorting the Sunday Pile
Posted on: January 22, 2012 11:18 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2012 2:00 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Super Bowl storylines

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action, figures out the winners and losers and asks the big questions. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Listen to the Championship Weekend Podcast Recap below and don't forget to
subscribe via iTunes
.

Super Bowl Storylines

We have less than two weeks until Super Bowl XLVI is played in Indianapolis, and you need to be prepared for a slew of recurring storylines that will come forth over the next 14 days. Some are good, some are bad. Here are the biggest ones:

1. Playing in Peyton's House
No. 2 on this list will be the most talked about early on, but the biggest story of this Super Bowl is that this matchup takes place in the House of Peyton Manning. Peyton carved out a legacy as a sure-fire Hall of Fame quarterback in Indianapolis, and now the Colts quarterback is sidelined, unsure of his future in Indy, as he watches his most hated rival (Brady) battle his little brother (Eli) for a Super Bowl victory in the Colts stadium.

There's no telling how much face time Peyton will have to put in for the Colts over the next two weeks, and it could very well be minimal, but he's the city's most famous athlete (by a WIDE margin) and it's hard to imagine that he can just go underground while two guys whose lives are so closely parallel to his own prepare to do battle on his field.

2. 2007, All Over Again
Not sure if you heard or not, but the Giants beat the previously undefeated Patriots in the 2007 Super Bowl. It was a pretty good game. A lot of the people who will play in this year's game played in that game. (The Patriots are so bitter about 2007 that they were likely rooting for the Giants against the 49ers, just to get revenge.)

This will be the predominant storyline, whether you like it or not, over the next two weeks.

3. Tom Brady's Legacy
Brady is one of four quarterbacks with three Super Bowl wins. Another one moves him out of a tie with Troy Aikman (three each) and into a tie with Terry Bradshaw and his boyhood hero Joe Montana as quarterbacks with four Super Bowl wins.

There will be a discussion as to whether Brady warrants mentioning as the greatest quarterback of all-time if he wins a fourth Super Bowl. There will be plenty of chatter about how he matches up with Montana. And there will also be a discussion about what a second Super Bowl loss would mean to Brady: he could conceivably move to 3-2 in NFL championship games. That's not "bad" by any stretch of the imagination, but it's also not 4-1.

4. Is Eli Better Than Peyton?
We mentioned Peyton Manning already, but this is one that's going to get a lot of discussion: Manning's clearly established himself as a top-five NFL quarterback this season and he's putting together a ridiculous playoff résumé that is forging his overall legacy as an NFL quarterback.

In terms of raw statistical production, it's not even a contest right now, as Peyton's career numbers crush Eli's career numbers. Really, it's no contest. But Eli's also five years younger and has a shot at picking up his second Super Bowl, something Peyton doesn't have. Siblings can certainly be happy for one another when it comes to their respective success, but it's also going to be rough for both Peyton and Eli to find out how many times "Is Eli better than Peyton?" can be asked in a two-week span.

5. Brady and Eli in the Same Class
And our final quarterback comparison that will go down over the next fortnight: Brady and Eli. They'll go head-to-head for the second time in a Super Bowl over the past five years and this one has special meaning, and not just because Eli beat Brady the last time around. It's also because Eli said prior to the 2011 season that he belonged in the "same class" as Brady.

That's what any competitor should say, but Manning's spent all season long proving that he does belong on the same stage as Brady. A second Super Bowl win -- both over Tom Terrific -- would give Eli the last laugh if anyone asks him the same question before the 2012 season.

6. Bill Belichick's Best Coaching Job?
There's already a good argument that the 2011 Patriots are Bill Belichick's best coaching job in his career. That's a reasonable argument considering the Pats locked down the top seed in the AFC and made it to the Super Bowl despite continually starting Julian Edelman in their secondary.

Leading up to the Super Bowl, lots of people will point out that because of the defensive deficiencies and a number of other issues that a win cements this New England team as Belichick's finest work. They might very well be right.

7. Chad Ochocinco
The always-controversial wideout's been quiet this year and he was inactive for Sunday's AFC Championship Game after leaving the team to attend the funeral of his father. And though Chad fell in line with "The Patriot Way" this year, he's still an erstwhile celebrity, and he'll command some serious media attention over the next two weeks. Will he play? Will he make an impact? Can he play? Should he play? And so on and so forth.

8. Giants Defense
There's several different layers to New York's Big D. First of all, they're using the same formula as 2007, with a relentless pass rush. Secondly, you have to pressure Brady to stop him. Third, they run their mouths at an incredible (and awesome, if you're in the media) pace, and there's a decent chance we get a guarantee from someone (ahem, Jason Pierre-Paul and/or Antrel Rolle).

They'll be the difference-maker in this Super Bowl, because stopping Brady typically means stopping the Patriots, if you can provide enough offense to put some distance between the two.

Winners

Sterling Moore: With the Patriots already starting wideout Julian Edelman, Moore was signed off the street in September after being cut from the Raiders pratice squad. In the biggest moment of his life, he made the biggest plays, knocking the ball out of Lee Evans hands to spoil a Baltimore touchdown and then swatting a ball away from Dennis Pitta on third down to force a game-tying field goal attempt from Baltimore.

Eli Manning:
Manning became the first quarterback in NFL history to win five road playoff games on Sunday night. That's not just impressive, it's amazing: road wins aren't easy to pull off in the regular season but coming from behind and making clutch plays and winning in impossible/unlikely situations is just becoming Manning's modus operandi at this point.

Joe Flacco
: It never seemed realistic that Flacco could "win" if the Ravens lost, but he managed to silence his critics in the loss on Sunday night. There were things he could've done better, for sure, and he missed a pair of deep balls to Torrey Smith that might have given the Ravens a win. But he also put the Ravens in position to -- at worst -- send the game to overtime. Others screwed the pooch, not Flacco.

Giants Defense: Who do you want to give the award to on this side of the ball? Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka all registered at least half a sack against Alex Smith and that's precisely the reason why it's believable for the Giants to take down the Patriots in the Super Bowl one more time.

Alex Smith: Yeah, yeah, he lost. But it doesn't matter, because Smith played in horrible conditions against an insane pass rush on the biggest stage, and he played well. Sure, he didn't complete 32 passes like Eli. In fact, he only attempted 26. And only 12 of those were completions. But the dude made some plays with his legs (six rushes, 42 yards), and two of his passes were beautiful shots to Vernon Davis for scores, and Smith kept the 49ers in this game until the end.

Oh, Billy. Billy, Billy, Billy. (Getty Images)

Losers

Billy Cundiff: Can I just type "Ray Finkle" 50 times and call it a day? Cundiff's lack of range -- he was one of six from 50-plus yards in the 2011 regular season -- forced the Ravens hand on offense and then Cundiff shanked a potential game-tying field goal with mere seconds left.

Kyle Williams: It's not Williams fault that Ted Ginn missed a game that featured a ton of rain. But that doesn't mean he can go out there and muff a pair of punts to give the Giants the ball on the 49ers side of the field. Williams set the Giants up for a touchdown in regulation and a game-winning field goal in overtime.

Lee Evans: As noted above, Evans had a ball knocked out from his hands that would've been a touchdown. But it's pretty clear that he got lazy on the play -- hold onto the ball and the Ravens probably play in the Super Bowl. I'm sure his four passes caught in the regular season makes up for it though.

Ed Hochuli's Review Explanations: Four score and seven years ago, Hochuli faced the camera and began explaining why something happened in football. It took him -- literally -- a minute to explain the new playoff overtime rules, and he might've actually used 100 words to explain a false start at one point. Go back to being a gunshow.

Twitter: Aren't you guys rich enough to buy a server that doesn't crash during big NFL games?

GIF O' THE WEEK

Man, Vince Wilfork is steamed.


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Posted on: January 15, 2012 8:14 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2012 9:27 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Best Super Bowl matchup?

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action, figures out the winners and losers and asks the big questions. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Listen to the Pick-Six Podcast Divisional Round recap below and don't forget to subscribe via iTunes.

Ranking the Possible Super Bowl Matchups

Although there were some fairly drama-free games in the NFL playoffs thus far, there's no question we've been treated to some serious story-lining; Alex Smith's redemption alone was worth the price of admission. And with only three games remaining in the NFL season, we've narrowed the group of teams down a group of four elite squads that should produce an action-packed storyline.

But how do the matchups stack up in terms of watchability, entertainment value and general awesomeness? Here's my ranking:

1. Patriots vs. Giants
It's impossible to underscore how dramatic this matchup would be: after the Giants lost to the undefeated Packers 38-35, there was chatter of how this season looked eerily familiar to 2007 ... when the Giants upended the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII in a game that was one of the most memorable Super Bowls in NFL history.

That was the last time the Patriots made the Super Bowl and since then, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have come under fire for not winning playoff games. The Pats won't be worried about their perfect season anymore, of course, but the Giants look very similar to the team that won the Super Bowl in 2007, thanks to a dominant pass rush and Eli Manning truly elevating his game.

The storyline, which would consist primarily of the word "revenge," might get a bit stale, but there would be an incredible amount of players with stories from that year and an ax to grind.

If you root for drama, star power and some trash talk, this is the matchup you want to see.

2. Ravens vs. Giants
The last time these teams faced off in the Super Bowl, Ray Lewis was Super Bowl MVP and the Baltimore defense had their way with Kerry Collins, picking him off four times en route to a 34-7 blowout.

Also: Tiki Barber was relevant, if that tells you anything about how long ago that was.

From a football perspective, this could be a high-scoring game that will go either way; a good game from Joe Flacco would probably result in a Ravens win, but no one will bank on that, so the Giants will be favored (maybe 4.5 points?).

Both teams are explosive enough on offense, but even more explosive on defense. We'd see points, but we'd also see plenty of smashmouth football. If someone got out to a big lead, the game wouldn't necessarily be over -- seeing Eli lead a comeback against the vaunted Ravens defense would be entertaining as all get-out.

And the chatter leading up to the game would be simply amazing. Jason Pierre-Paul, Antrel Rolle, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis? If you're a media member, you should be drooling at the quotability factor for this one.

3. Patriots vs. 49ers
The fact that these two teams play such contrasting styles could set the Super Bowl up for an interesting and perplexing matchup, but it's hard to believe that the Pats would be favored by less than a touchdown in this scenario.

Maybe San Francisco could pull off the upset: we've already seen that they can keep Drew Brees and the Saints down if given two weeks to prepare. And they'll absolutely be given the "no one believes in us" card if such a matchup takes place.

Here's the problem though: as good as Alex Smith looked on Saturday late, he didn't look like Brady did later that night. The 49ers are one of the few teams in the NFL that can, theoretically, match up in their base formation against the Pats tight ends.

But if Angry Brady show up again (and, we have to assume he showed up against the Ravens if they're here), this game could look like the last time the 49ers made the Super Bowl, only in reverse.

4. Ravens vs. 49ers
In terms of pure on-field entertainment value, this is a nightmare situation. Both the 49ers and Ravens succeed by running the ball and playing defense so it makes zero sense for this matchup to actually happen, given the importance of quarterback play in the NFL and the high-powered offenses we've seen so far in 2012.

Yes, their coaches are freaking brothers and there's no question that Harbaugh Bowl 2.0 -- the pair dueled it out on Thanksgiving night -- would provide an incredible amount of entertainment in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.

But how quickly would the "They're Related!" storyline get old? It might take a day, maybe two tops. Trust me, with that much free time you'll be sick of it before media day even happens, and don't even get me started on the players.

There's some star power here, but it's primarily on the defensive end with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith (if anyone knows who he is anyway) and the like.

Joe Flacco versus Alex Smith? Yuck. We'd be treated to a defensive battle along the likes of that 16-6 Ravens victory on Turkey Day. Or the BCS Championship Game.

On the bright side, at least the teams would've gotten there through a playoff. (Read: legitimately.)

Winners

Alex Smith: Sports are funny, because moments -- not careers -- ultimately tend to define certain players. Smith is one of those players and a pair of moments on Saturday -- his 28-yard touchdown run and then "The Snatch" in the end zone -- redefined his career. He could blossom into one of the next great NFL quarterbacks or he could sign a big contract and become a bust again. It won't matter, because Saturday's game will always remain a turning point of some point. Smith likely won't ever justify his draft slot or being taken over Aaron Rodgers, but Saturday was an unbelievable redemption story.

Eli Manning
: Manning was, in my brain, approximately 145 for 146 on third down on Sunday night against the Packers. Every time Green Bay got him in a bad spot, the dude sat back in the pocket, waited until things opened up, and drilled a beautiful pass to a wide-open receiver. He's had an amazing season that could've been even better, and he's finally getting the credit he deserves.

Marques Colston
: Colston's set to be an unrestricted free agent, and the lasting memory he provided potential suitors was an outstanding effort, as he caught nine balls for 136 yards and a toe-tapping touchdown that was basically the only time a Saints player got deep in the first half on Saturday. If the Saints don't reach a long-term deal with Drew Brees, they'll have to franchise him, and that means Colston can get loose on the market and make a pile of money.

Bill Belichick: All season long the chatter was that Belichick's defense would hinder the Patriots from winning a Super Bowl. Maybe that's true -- we'll find out next Sunday against Baltimore. But the the Broncos were supposed to have a physical running game right? And the blew up the Steelers defense? Right? Belichick showed why he's a defensive genius and one of the all-time great coaches in that blowout.

Hakeem Nicks: Thanks to Victor Cruz' breakout season in 2011, Nicks kind of got loss in the shuffle. He shouldn't have: his performance against Green Bay was stunning, and broke off a 66-yard, gazelle-like touchdown run and then broke the Packers spirit with a Hail-Mary catch at the end of the half. His final line? Seven catches, 165 yards and two touchdowns.

Jenkins got abused by Davis all day long. (Getty Images)

Losers

Malcolm Jenkins: You might want to pick on Roman Harper for getting worked over by Vernon Davis in the end zone on the final touchdown, but Jenkins is the reason the Niners even had a shot. First there's the teardrop Alex Smith dropped over Jenkins into Davis' outstretched arms before his now famous touchdown run. Then there's Jenkins coverage on Davis across the middle when he picked up 47 yards on the 49ers final drive. Burnt toast anyone? (Screenshots via Dave Cariello of Canal Street Chronicles.)

Jacoby Jones
:
Dude tried to field a punt off a hop inside his own 20 on the Texans second possession of the game, didn't field it cleanly, got rocked, fumbled the ball and gave the Ravens a free touchdown. In case you missed it, the Ravens won by seven points.

Cam Cameron
: With the Texans holding two timeouts, 3:04 left in the game and the Ravens up four and in the Texans red zone, Cameron called for two pass plays. Both passes were incomplete and the Ravens kicked a field goal with 2:56 left. They burned eight seconds and didn't make the Texans use a timeout. Then on third and a half-inch with 1:38 remaining, Cameron called for a Vonta Leach run, instead of having his fullback block for Ray Rice. There never should've been enough time for a second possession for Houston in the first place.

NFL Officials: For two consecutive weekends, the NFL officiating has been, quite simply, terrible. The guys in stripes have a really difficult job, made even more difficult in today's world where jerks take pictures of their televisions and post them to Twitter. But during the NFL playoffs, the quality of work done by the zebras has really highlighted some of the flaws in the way in-game rules are applied in football. Something's gotta change.

Tim Tebow: We'd also accept John Elway or John Fox here, because the offseason's going to be miserable for all three of them despite winning a division title and a playoff game. Tebow's poor showing against the Patriots means everyone's got to wonder if he can be a "real" quarterback for the Broncos and as such, every time Fox, Elway or Tebow get anywhere near a microphone, they'll be asked about Tebow's status. It will unquestionably be annoying by the time next season starts.

State Farm: You guys really going to keep running the "Discount Double Check" commercials for the next month? Because that's going to be more awkward than Pepsi Max running Rex Ryan halftime speeches after the Jets miss the playoffs. (Please don't raise my insurance rates though.)

The Big Questions

 
Plenty of questions still remain about Flacco. (AP)

1. Did Joe Flacco answer his critics on Sunday?
Nope. The playcalling was bad and the Texans have a really good defense, but Flacco looked pretty awful all things considered. His two touchdown passes were nice, but were it not for some sick catches from his receivers, Flacco's numbers (14 of 27 for 176 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) would've been much worse. It's not all his fault this game was so close, but an elite performance would've resulted in a blowout.

2. Should Alex Smith have fallen down before scoring late Saturday?
Yes. This debate livened up our Twitter followers on Saturday evening, but the reality is, with the 49ers down 24-23 and Smith should've fallen to the ground, let the Niners melt the clock, force the Saints to use their timeouts, and the kick a field goal with, in the best-case scenario, no time remaining. Instead, Drew Brees got the ball back with 1:51 remaining and had time to score. Of course, he also scored too quickly, giving Smith time to cement his comeback legacy in San Francisco, but that's beside the point. Smith going down could have iced the game away, we just wouldn't have gotten all that drama.

3. Is it time for Gregg Williams to get out of town?
Probably. Williams shouldn't be the scapegoat for New Orleans lack of success, because he called a heck of a game on Saturday against the 49ers. With the Saints offense struggling, Williams defense kept the Saints in the game by limiting the 49ers points off turnovers. But because Smith drove the Niners to two scores in the last 150 seconds, you can bet that Williams will get a lot of the blame. He's got an easy out by joining Jeff Fisher with the Rams and he should probably jump on that.

4. Do we need full-time referees?
NO. Wilson and I batted this idea around some on chat (and talked about it on the podcast), but why would giving referees more money and job security equate to an incentive for them to be right more often? It doesn't. Giving them more time to learn the rules and properly apply them? Yeah, that would be great. It would also be great if the NFL made applying the rules in a fashion that doesn't screw up the game more practical, but that's another story for another day.

5. Is being a wild-card in the playoffs better?
Maybe? I dunno. I do know this: you look at the Packers and you look at the Giants. One team basically got three weeks off and cooled down from an unholy hot streak. The other team squeaked into the playoffs and got hot, playing their best football at the right time. The latter team, the Giants, are still alive.

6. Is Tom Coughlin still on the hot seat?

LOL. Also, LOL at Giants fans who wanted Coughlin fired and/or put on the hot seat when the Giants were losing to the Saints-49ers-Packers in succession, with a surprising win against the Patriots mixed in. Give the dude an extension already, he deserves it.

7. Will you please provide a picture of Andy Reid in the Punt/Pass/Kick contest?
Thought you'd never ask. Every single time the contest winners are shown on television, I can't help but think of this amazing photo:



8. How good can the 49ers offense be?

Very good. I think -- the progression of Vernon Davis and Alex Smith over the course of the season leads me to believe Harbaugh would be smart to bring his signal caller back, keep some continuity and let the pieces on the offense grow into the system even more, like they did throughout the year. It's quite possible they could end up being potent.

GIF O' THE WEEK

Decent catch by Arian Foster here:

Worth 1,000 Words


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Posted on: January 8, 2012 8:51 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 10:12 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile, Wild Card: Ranking Tebow

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action, figures out the winners and losers and asks the big questions. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Listen to the Pick-Six Podcast Wild-Card Weekend recap below and don't forget to
subscribe via iTunes
.

Ranking the Remaining QBs

Are you ----ing kidding me? Did that just happen? That, of course, is Tim Tebow hitting Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard, walk-off touchdown in the first-ever game featuring the new NFL overtime rules to push Denver past Pittsburgh and into the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

The lesson, as always? You're gonna want to have someone who can sling the rock when the playoffs roll around and Tebow somehow morphed into that in the first round of the playoffs against one of the all-time great defenses. But where does he rank with the rest of the quarterbacks remaining in the playoffs?

8. T.J. Yates, Houston Texans
With all due respect to the only former UNC quarterback to win a playoff game, he just doesn't stack up with the rest of the folks in the playoffs. That being said, he's a perfect fit for the zone-stretch offense that the Texans run, and as long as he doesn't have to do too much, he's fine. He's probably gonna have to do too much against the Ravens this week.

7. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Smith's been incredibly improved in 2011 so it's not like this is taking a potshot at him. Smith had his best season -- by far -- of his career, throwing just five picks and completing 61.3 percent of his passes. But you're telling me you're taking Smith if you need to win a game? No, no you're not.

6. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Flacco's had great moments this year, but his inconsistency is absolutely terrifying. Seven times (seven!) he's gone under 200 yards passing on the season, and many times this year the Ravens have been forced to overcome his poor play. Some of those times, they just don't lean on Flacco because they have a beasty run game and a really good defense. But that's not exactly helping his cause, you know?

5. Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos
COME ON DOWN THE OLD KOOL-AID FILLED RABBIT HOLE! But, no, seriously. Tebow made throws on Sunday night that he's not supposed to make. And he did it against a defense that doesn't let most quarterbacks make throws like that, much less a would-be remedial QB like Tebow. But he brings a running game, he brings an improved passing game, he brings along the worst wide receiver corps (by far) of anyone in the playoffs and he brings along the dreaded intangibles.

4. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Eli's a top-five quarterback in the NFL this season, and he's got a legitimate case to be right there in Tom Brady's class (just like he said before the season!). When it comes down to it, though, you're not taking him for a playoff stretch run over any of the rest of the guys on the list. At least not yet anyway ... (But yes, there's a HUGE gap between 1-4 and 5-8.)

3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
People keep saying that Brady does the most with the least but that argument's kind of ridiculous when Rob Gronkowski just wrapped up the greatest season by a tight end in the history of the NFL. Three here, by the way, is like "1c."

2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
The third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 450 yards in a playoff game.

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Last I checked he's still the defending champion. Plus, he's got the mobility that no one else on this list (even Tebow) has, he's the most accurate quarterback on the run and he's working on a week's rest in addition to two weeks of hearing everyone talk about how he's not the best quarterback left in the playoffs.

Winners

Josh McDaniels: Not only is the former Broncos head coach and Patriots offensive coordinator now back with the Patriots but he's going to play against Tim Tebow next week. This is a good thing because McDaniels basically got fired for drafting Tebow. I mean, not entirely but it didn't help things. Doesn't everyone look kind of silly for not trusting him now.

T.J. Yates:
Yates was the rookie who was going to screw things up for his team, but instead he played the perfect foil to Andy Dalton's inconsistency, going 11 of 20 for 159 yards and a touchdown. Those aren't mind-blowing numbers, and 40 of the yards came on one touchdown pass to Andre Johnson, but Yates did exactly what he was supposed to do, which is "don't screw things up."

Overtime Rules: It -- literally -- took Ron Winter longer to explain the new overtime rules than it took the Broncos to end the overtime. One play to DeMaryius Thomas and that's it. Which is good for the NFL because a longer, more prolonged overtime opened up the possibility for mistakes by refs and scrutiny by media and fans. Instead now we think it works perfectly!

Pierre Thomas: Dude was kiliing it on Saturday and might be the biggest reason New Orleans won. He "only" scored once and but he put up 121 total yards and he fought for every freaking one of them; there's a reasonable chance 115 of them were after contact. Thomas' refusal to go down to the turf resulted in a lot of Saints drives getting extended a lot further than they should have, and he deserves props for his effort.

Cleveland Browns: When the Falcons were eliminated, the Browns locked up better draft picks in 2012, thanks to the Julio Jones trade. (They'll now pick a lot earlier, no worse than 23rd, in the first and fourth rounds.) Tom Heckhart also looks a little bit smarter today -- even if Julio Jones is special (he is) and even if the Falcons will eventually be more explosive (they should), that deal didn't work out the way the Falcons and Thomas Dimitroff thought it would. Yeah, they made the playoffs, but it was as a wild card and they didn't score a single point on Sunday.

Smith would like you to re-spot that ball, sir. (AP)

Losers

Mike Smith: Twice on Sunday, Smith had a controversial fourth-down decision to make. OK, the decisions weren't really that controversial, but the playcalls -- and the result -- were. Each time, once with Michael Turner on the freaking sideline, the Falcons snuck Ryan against a stout Giants defensive line, and each time, he was stuffed. Those decisions don't change the outcome of the game, per se, because the Giants still outscored Atlanta by more than six points, but Smith's going to answer a lot of questions about his decision-making.

Chris Crocker
: Crocker's a friend of the blog, so we don't want to rip him too hard, but that was a pretty terrible game from the Bengals safety. He dropped a crucial would-be pick-six at the start of the second half, he missed a sack of Yates, and his incredibly poor "tackling" on Arian Foster's 42-yard touchdown run is going to be replayed all week long. Not a good day for Crocker.

Lions Defense: It's not rare for a defense to get surgically dissected by Drew Brees. But the Lions have to be shaking their heads at missing a good chance at up-ending the Saints on Saturday because their defense couldn't get any penetration on Brees, couldn't make any stops on fourth downs, didn't make the Saints punt a single time and generally looked lost in coverage. They also dropped a pair of easy interceptions, one of which Eric Wright should've taken to the house.

Mike Mularkey: After a great season from the Falcons and a strong finish to the year, Mularkey's been a hot name as a coaching candidate and has a slew of interviews lined up. But the people looking to hire him for a full-time job are going to wonder about the incredibly conservative gameplan Mularkey dragged into the Meadowlands on Sunday, and how he managed to get outscored by Eli Manning 2-0. And then there's the short-yardage stuff (see: Mike Smith above). Smith's saying "go" but Mularkey's the guy dialing up the plays, and it might behoove teams to put him through a "Fourth-and-Short Playcalling Quiz" before giving him the gig.

John Elway: At halftime against Pittsburgh, Tim Tebow had thrown for 185 yards (all in the second quarter) and tied two of Elway's playoff records with the Broncos: he and Elway are the only Broncos quarterbacks with a) two 50-yard passes in the same game and b) a rushing and passing score in the same game. Oh and then he walked off the Steelers in overtime with an 80-yards pass. Please tell me how he's not going to bring Tebow back in 2012.

The Big Questions

 
Marvin needs to challenge his challenges. (AP)

1. What was Marvin Lewis thinking on those challenges?
He wasn't. The Bengals didn't lose because Lewis bungled a pair of first-half challenges, but that shouldn't excuse him for the actual bungling. Lewis gave away two timeouts and any chance of challenging in the second half by deciding that the Bengals (4/4 on short-yardage conversions against the Texans in Week 13) needed to challenge a bad spot on a second down and two that only went for one yard. Then he compounded it by challenging a catch in the second quarter, which allowed him to enter halftime with a deficit and no challenges.

2. Can the Saints win on the road?
Of course they can. But will they? The Saints are 0-4 in franchise history away from the Superdome when it comes to the playoffs and that's an applicable lesson for this year's team, who only played five games outside of a dome the entire year.

That's right: just five games. Now, the Saints know this. They talked about it with our own Pete Prisco after their win over Detroit on Saturday. The Saints are guaranteed nine games inside a year, because of eight home matchups and a game at division rival Atlanta. Here's what happened when they did venture away from the comfort of turf:

Week/Location Result Points Scored Passing Yards TD/INT Total Yards
Week 1 @ Green Bay L 34 419 3/0 477
Week 4 @ Jacksonville W 23 351 1/2 503
Week 5 @ Carolina W 30 359 2/1 444
Week 6 @ Tampa Bay L 20 383 1/3 453
Week 14 @ Tennessee W 22 337 2/0 437
Weekly Average N/A 34.2 334.2 2.9/0.9 467.1

Two of the Saints three losses this season came outside on the road, and they only went above 30 points twice on the road, despite averaging 34.2 points per game this season.

To paraphrase our Vice President, that's a big freaking deal.

3. Do Matt Ryan's playoff losses make him a bad quarterback?
No. But Ryan's the guy who'll be heavily judged over the next year with respect to his postseason performance, since he's now 0-3 in the playoffs. In those three games, Ryan's 70 of 110 for 584 passing yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. He's definitely the victim of a) conservative gameplans and b) playing against good teams (the NFC Champion Cardinals, the Super Bowl Champion Packers and this year's Giants), but that isn't going to stop people from discussing the fact that his stats stink in the playoffs and he can't win. It's the same thing people said about Aaron Rodgers before last year.

4. Can the Giants really win the Super Bowl?
Damn right they can. The "shades of 2007" storyline is a bit played out at this point ... but it's just kind of true. They're a wild card that everyone counted out, Eli Manning's hitting his stride at the absolutely perfect time, they've got a running game that's shaping back up and their pass rush is absolutely deadly. This is the kind of the same team, just with different players. (San Fran up-ending the Saints and keeping the Giants away from the Superdome would help a lot, too.)

5. Did you really rank Tim Tebow FIFTH on the remaining quarterbacks list?
Yes. Let's just move on before I emerge from my overtime-induced blackout.

6. How bright is the future for the Lions?
Very bright. They'll obviously want to lock down Calvin Johnson at some point, and they need to get some secondary help this coming offseason, and getting Mikel Leshoure back to provide a power running game is critical. But Matthew Stafford's primed to be the next quarterback who warrants a debate for "elite" status, in case the 5,000+ yards he tossed in 2011 didn't clue you into that. 

7. Why did the Saints draft Mark Ingram?
Not sure. But it at least seemed like a good idea the time, right? Ingram was supposed to be the power runner for the Saints, but in his first season he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and scored only five touchdowns. He's not playing now and Chris Ivory's performance on Saturday night really leads me to believe New Orleans could've gotten better value at a different position in April's draft.

8. Could Kevin Kolb land another big contract?

Possibly! Doing so would mean that Kolb would lose his first big contract though: Charley Casserly reported on Sunday that the Cardinals are a sleeper candidate for Peyton Manning if the Colts let him go. To make that happen, they'd obviously have to bail on Kolb's contract, which they can reportedly do at a fairly cheap cost. The timing is the issue though, since Kolb's roster bonus is due in March as well. But if it happens, Kolb could instantly become the third- or fourth-best quarterback available on the market, along with Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Matt Flynn. It's a longshot, but an interesting situation to watch nonetheless.

9. Does Tebow deserve all the credit for the Broncos win?

As usual, no. Tebow gets a ton of credit because he does some amazing things late in games, but let's be clear: the Steelers played pretty freaking badly on Sunday night. Their pass defense was AWFUL and they ran Ben Roethlisberger out on a bad ankle and looked anemic early on on offense. The Broncos defense deserves some credit too, of course, because they played a nice game. And so do Tebow's wide receivers. Just figure out a way to spread it around.

GIF O' THE WEEK

OH NO Hakeem Nicks DID NOT JUST DO THE DIRTY BIRD. OH YES HE DID Jamaal Anderson.

Worth 1,000 Words


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Posted on: January 1, 2012 11:39 pm
Edited on: January 2, 2012 8:53 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 17: Brees for MVP?

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action, figures out the winners and losers and asks the big questions. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Listen to the Pick-Six Podcast Week 17 recap below and don't forget to
subscribe via iTunes
.

Drew Brees for MVP?

Over the next month, until the MVP is announced before the Super Bowl, there's going to be an intense debate about whether or not Drew Brees' incredible hot streak to close out the season vaulted him past Aaron Rodgers for the MVP award.

Four weeks ago, this wasn't a debate. Even with Brees having a monster year, the Packers were undefeated and Rodgers was eviscerating defenses on a weekly basis.

Their numbers were close enough to tell anyone suggesting a debate to kindly close their piehole.

Now? Well it's a lot closer than it was. The numbers (below) make that much obvious even though the actual premises behind the argument are just frustrating from the sense of measuring a season by its full extent.

Player
Comp % Pass Yards
Pass TDs INT
W-L
Aaron Rodgers
68.3 4,643 45 6 14-1
Drew Brees
71.2 5,476 46 14 13-3

The bigger problem for Rodgers may be a confluence of events around 4:00pm ET Sunday afternoon: as Brees was throwing his fifth touchdown pass (hey, just one more than Rodgers!), Packers backup Matt Flynn was going absolutely bananas against the Lions, slicing up Detroit's secondary for six touchdowns and 480 yards, a Packers franchise record.

Take a look at the list of the guys who've thrown for six teeters in a game since the merger. Spoiler alert: it's short, and full of awesome quarterbacks.

Flynn's on the list now and as a result, he's blatantly going to cost Rodgers a ton of "Well if the backup can do that" votes, while Brees staying in much longer than needed against the Panthers netted him a significant boost in the eyes of "What have you done for me lately?" voters.

But let's get one thing out of the way first: Aaron Rodgers is not a "system quarterback." Yeah, there's actually a debate raging as to whether he is or not. And if you believe that Rodgers is only successful because of the Packers "system" then you're as foolish as anyone who thought Tom Brady was a system quarterback when Matt Cassel had a big year filling in for the Patriots.

Every team has a "system" on offense and some -- the Packers and Patriots stand out -- are better than others. But Flynn's a good quarterback who's succeeded before (he nearly beat the Patriots in prime time last year), has a great pedigree (BCS title anyone?) and has spent multiple years working behind Rodgers. That's not going to make him worse. There's a reason the Packers, winners of 21 of 22 games since LAST Christmas, have him on the roster. And it's not because he makes a mean gumbo.

Look, less than two weeks ago, Rodgers carved up a very (very) good Bears defense on Christmas night. All season long he commanded the Packers offense like a conductor, made ridiculous throws that no one else in the NFL can make and generally let the world pencil his name in for MVP. 

His season's been so magnificent that it's somehow getting railroaded by the Packers losing to the Chiefs late (but don't forget, the Saints lost to the Rams and, uh, the Packers), sitting out Week 17 (a smart move with homefield clinched) and Sean Payton and Brees running up the score in order to break records (which is fine, but let's call it what it is).

There's no question that Drew Brees is a viable MVP candidate. He's had an all-time season in 2011. But judging the MVP race based on a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately attitude is shortsighted, and it diminishes the incredible season Rodgers had in Green Bay.

Winners

Tom Coughlin: Coughlin won the NFC East, despite sitting on the hot seat most of the season, and the Giants suddenly have a look of a team that could absolutely be a playoff sleeper. They can rush the passer mercilessly when they get hot, Victor Cruz is turning into a salsa-dancing monster and Eli Manning's smoking hot right now. Given the success wild-card teams have had in recent years -- hello, 2007 Giants! -- it would be foolish to count them out.

Maurice Jones-Drew:
"Mojo" ripped off a season-high 169 rushing yards on Sunday against Indy. That not only gave him the NFL rushing title for 2011, but also gave him the Jaguars single-season record for rushing yards, as he broke Fred Taylor's previous high of 1,572 in 2003. In a very dismal season for Jacksonville's offense, MJD's been an absolute workhorse. He's up there with Tony Boselli, Fred Taylor and Jimmy Smith in terms of all-time greats for the Jaguars.

Jason Taylor
: The only way Taylor's exit -- as a Dolphin, on the shoulders of his teammates after taking down the Jets -- could have been better is if the fumble he returned for a touchdown wasn't overturned. Taylor's a classy dude, a gamer, a hell of a dancer and at sixth all-time on the sack-leader list (not to mention a media favorite!), he'll find his way into Canton. Awesome career.

Matt Flynn: As noted above, Flynn had a decent day on Sunday. That's going to translate well when he becomes an unrestricted free agent and potentially becomes the most desirable quarterback on the market. There are lots of teams that need a quarterback and Flynn will be on everyone's radar just as much as Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck. If someone falls in love with him, he might get Kevin Kolb money.

Cincinnati Bengals: Nothing like losing and still ending up in the winner's column, huh? The Bengals played the Ravens well on Sunday but Ray Rice was too much for them. Fortunately, KC beat Denver (or, if you prefer, San Diego beat Oakland) and the Bengals backed their way into a playoff matchup against a Texans team that will either start T.J. Yates or Jake Delhomme.

Sanchez is no lock for the Big Apple in 2012. (AP)

Losers

Mark Sanchez: The Jets never even got a shot at backdooring their way into the playoffs, as Sanchez picked apart his own offense and gave the Dolphins nine points off of three interceptions, two of which were to defensive lineman Randy Starks. It wouldn't ultimately matter, because the Titans won and eliminated Rex Ryan's crew, but anyone who justified Sanchez' performance with the old "He just wins!" argument has packed up their shanty and moved to Denver to make that argument. He didn't play like a $14 million quarterback this year -- even though he got paid like one -- and it would almost be surprising if the Jets didn't make a swap at the position.

Detroit Lions: They haven't won at Lambeau since 1991 now, dropping a mind-blowing 20 consecutive games at the Packers homefield. Of course, that's not why they're on this list, although it doesn't help. They're on this list because they just gave up 480 passing yards to the Packers backup and losing in Green Bay (coupled with Atlanta rumbling over the Bucs) means Detroit's next game will be in New Orleans. Against Drew Brees. You should go ahead and put your mortgage on the over.

Raheem Morris: I'm hesitant to include Morris because I'm pretty sure he'll have already been fired by time I hit publish. I mean, if there was ever a time not to let your opponent get out to a 42-0 lead it's definitely the final game of the season when you're riding a nine-game losing streak and barely clinging to your job.

Rob Ryan: Dallas looked absolutely flat early on Sunday night and somehow managed to storm back on the Giants, only to have the secondary shredded by Eli Manning when they cut the lead to seven points. Ryan's defense hasn't backed up his mouth all season long and even though you want your coach to make better late-game decisions and you don't want your quarterback turning the ball over late, there

John Elway: Kyle Orton didn't do anything crazy like throw for 500 yards to beat the Broncos on Sunday, but they win that game against Tyler Palko. Not that it mattered, because the Broncos made the playoffs anyway when the Chargers topped the Raiders. But Elway put himself in the position to miss the postseason by releasing Orton and even if it helped the team's chemistry they're barely hanging on right now and look like a lock for a first-round exit.

The Big Questions

 
The Broncos didn't exactly storm into the playoffs. (AP)

1. Is the Tim Tebow magic finally gone?
It just might be. The Broncos still made the playoffs, of course, and anything can happen once you get to the postseason. But Denver limped their way there, backing into a title at 8-8 on a three-game skid. Teams seem to have figured out that playing press-man coverage against Tebow severely limits what he can do on offense (he's much better at picking apart zones and makes fewer mistakes) and Denver proved that if they can't generate turnovers, they're in trouble. It's hard to imagine them beating the Steelers, even at home.

2. Who's the AFC favorite going forward?
The Ravens are my pick. They get homefield up to the AFC Championship and only lose it then if they have to play the Patriots. They've beaten the Bengals twice and they've beaten the Steelers twice. They've beaten New England in New England in the playoffs before, and the Pats have no defense. And the Ravens are nightmare matchups in Baltimore for Houston and Denver, neither of whom can keep pace if the Ravens start scoring.

3. How about the NFC?
Say what you want about how hot the Saints are -- and they are white hot -- but the Packers are still the favorites. They've got homefield throughout, they have two weeks to rest their starters and they can score on anyone. One bad week against the Chiefs does not a 15-1 team unseat. Their defense isn't great, but few teams do have a good defense and if they matchup against New Orleans in the NFC Championship Game, it's going down at Lambeau Field.

4. Who're the most dangerous non-playoff teams in 2012?
Eagles, Panthers and Chargers for me. The Snooze Buttons finished 8-8 and if they'd had a full offseason, they might have won the NFC East. Their dominant defense down the stretch is reason for optimism if you're an Eagles fan. Carolina needs defense, but they suffered an insane amount of injury-related attrition in 2011 and if they draft all defense and get healthy, they can contend in the NFC South. Plus: Cam Newton. And the Bolts showed this year they could be as good as playoff teams but just made stupid mistakes. A new coach could clear those problems up.

5. Any chance Jerry Jones changes his mind on Jason Garrett?
Jones has been incredibly supportive of Garrett so probably not. But someone's taking the fall for the Cowboys not making the playoffs and the best guess here is that it's Rob Ryan. He runs his mouth constantly and his defense doesn't back up all the talk -- their secondary got absolutely shredded by Eli Manning right after they got back into the game Sunday night.

6. What is Stevie Johnson thinking with his celebrations?

He's not thinking, actually. Johnson's scheduled to be a free agent in what's a really, really deep wide receiver class in 2012 and reportedly wants $7.5 million. The only problem is he's now developed a stigma for dropping really important catches and oftentimes costing his teams 15 yards with penalties like he did on Sunday. Wishing everyone "Happy New Years!" is a cool thing to do ... when it's not bad for your job and you're looking for a raise. Johnson's one of the most fun and interesting guys in the NFL but he has to be smarter than that.

7. How smart do the Steelers look for that Santonio Holmes trade now?
You don't even know the half of it. Not only did the dump a guy who's clearly a locker room distraction (Holmes) and not LaDainian Tomlinson-approved as a captain, but Pittsburgh allowed Mike Wallace to emerge as one of the best wideouts in the game and let someone else (the Jets) pick up the tab for Holmes' long-term deal. Oh, and in case you didn't know, they used the pick they got from the Jets to draft 2011 breakout wide receiver Antonio Brown

8. Should my team draft a running back early this year?
Negative, ghostrider, the pattern is full. Full of guys who weren't drafted in the first round leading the league in rushing anyway.

Player
2011 Rush Yards
2011 Rush YPG
2011 Rush TDs
2011 YPC
Year/Round/Pick
Maurice Jones-Drew
1,606 100.4 8 4.7 2006/2/60th
LeSean McCoy
1,309 87.3 17 4.8 2009/2/53rd
Arian Foster
1,224 94.2 10 4.4 2009/None/UFA
Frank Gore
1,211 75.7 8 4.3 2008/2/55
Ray Rice
1,173 78.2 10 4.4 2005/3/65

This doesn't mean teams should avoid drafting someone who's a special talent in college (see: Adrian Peterson) but there's a real sweet spot developing in the draft for undersized, pass-catching running backs (go ahead and add in Jamaal Charles too) who turn out to be a lot better than where they were drafted.

9. How's that Carson Palmer trade working out now?
Not so good. The Raiders could have arguably won the trade if they made the playoffs. All they had to do was beat a downtrodden Chargers team at home and they couldn't, so they miss the postseason and give up a first-round pick and a second-round pick to the Bengals (who made the playoffs, naturally). With Palmer, the Raiders were 6-4 and he threw 13 touchdowns and 16 picks. Whoops. Add in the fact that Hue Jackson just coached the most-penalized team in NFL history and he has some explaining to do.

10. Is Romeo Crennel the Chiefs next head coach?
Hard to imagine he's not. KC finished 6-9 on the season and two of those wins were with Crennel in charge; they also nearly beat Oakland in Week 16 too. Surely Scott Pioli thinks that with Crennel in charge this season and better injury luck the Chiefs would've won the division. He might be right, actually, and that's why Crennel will get the gig.

11. How many records did the Saints break on Sunday?
Eleventy billion or thereabouts. Brees and Sean Payton were basically rubber-stamping their signatures all over the NFL's offensive record books. They set the record for points scored in a season, most points scored at home in a season, most passing yards in a season (Brees' own record), best completion percentage in a season (again, Brees'), most completions in a season, most all-purpose yards in a single season (Darren Sproles owns it) and most receiving yards by a tight end in a season (only Rob Gronkowski broke that one a little while later). I can't confirm it, but I'm pretty sure the Saints broke the record for most broken records as well.

GIF O' THE WEEK

Bryan Braman is going to get fined for a helmet-to-helmet hit that he made ... without a helmet.

Worth 1,000 Words


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Posted on: December 24, 2011 7:37 pm
Edited on: December 26, 2011 1:43 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 16: Cam's the GOAT

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action, figures out the winners and losers and asks the big questions. Slightly condensed version this week as it's the holidays. No podcast, no picture of the week and only eight questions. Blame Mrs. Brinson if you're so inclined. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter.

The Greatest Rookie Season Ever?

That's right. The greatest rookie season ever is precisely what Cam Newton's going to wrap up in Week 17 against the Saints a game of no real consequence when it comes to his legacy as the best rookie in NFL history.

There should be no argument that Cam's season, even without the final week, goes down as the greatest season by a rookie quarterback in history. He has the record for most passing yards in a season (again, with a week to go) by a rookie. He has the record for most passing yards in a game by a rookie. He has the record for most rushing touchdowns in a season by any quarterback.

Of the seven rookie quarterbacks with 3,000 passing yards, Newton doesn't have the most passing touchdowns, but he doesn't have the most interceptions either. There shouldn't be any question that his rookie year is the greatest by any quarterback.

As far as other rookies go, you could argue for Eric Dickerson (more than 2,000 total yards and 20 touchdowns in 1983), Dick Lane (14 interceptions, two pick sixes for Night Train in 1952), Randy Moss (17 touchdowns and 1,313 receiving yards in 1998) or Lawrence Taylor (9.5 sacks -- before they were even counted -- in 1981) if you want.

But none of those guys dealt with the complexities of running an offense. None of those guys dealt with a lockout-shortened offseason. None of those guys performed the way they did under the intense scrutiny of 2011 Twitteratiland. None of those guys carried the expectations of the No. 1 overall pick who was supposed to save a franchise ... or cost a GM his job simply because no one was sure how good they'd be. None of those guys inspired the fierce debate that Newton did leading up to being drafted.

Cam's rejuvenated a franchise that was dead in the water and he might be a top-10 quarterback in the NFL right now. It's been a marvel to watch him perform and it's insane to think that there was a debate as to whether or not the Panthers should take him.

Winners

Matthew Stafford: The Lions are in the playoffs. That's worthy of "winner inclusion" all by itself. But the Lions were secretly facing a pretty bad situation, with the white-hot Chargers and the very good Packers over the next two weeks. 9-7 and getting snuck out of the playoffs wasn't out of the question at all. Until Stafford got his surgical precision on and shredded the San Diego secondary, going 29 of 36 with 373 yards and three touchdowns. Stafford's next up for the "is he or isn't he elite" debate.

Pete Prisco
: Yes, my CBSSports.com colleague and former life coach (Pete doesn't know it, but I fired him when he suggested I not wear socks with my loafers). Prisco's the only guy that I know of who refused to budge off his negative stance of Tebow during the Broncos winning streak. There might be an argument that Pete's stubborn and you might be inclined to call him a "hater" but with the way that Tebow egged on Saturday, there are going to be a LOT of people ripping him over the next week. And Prisco's the only one of those people who's stood his ground the whole time.

Kevin Kolb:
The Cardinals were eliminated from playoff contention on Saturday and that means Kolb avoided his worst possible nightmare. That would be "John Skelton marching Arizona to an improbable postseason run and the team deciding to bail on Kolb's albatross of a contract." Instead, Arizona now plays out the string and regroups for 2012, likely with Kolb as the starting quarterback for at least another year.

Matt Forte
: What's that, you say? Forte didn't play on Saturday. Oh, I know that. I also know that if the Vikings hadn't handed Adrian Peterson a monster contract before the 2011 season, things would be awkward right about now. Over the past month, the Bears have collapsed without Forte and Jay Cutler, meaning he's beefed up his leverage as an important player for the franchise and, with the Peterson injury, justified his rationale for wanting a new contract.

Jerome Simpson: Did you see his touchdown catch?

Turner's time might be up in San Diego. (US Presswire)

Losers

Norv Turner: A lot of credit goes to the Lions for the way they played on Saturday. Detroit is a very good team and a formidable opponent. But how can the Chargers not show up, especially knowing that the Broncos lost and that they were either a Bengals/Jets pair of losses or a Broncos loss in Week 17 away from making the playoffs? That's still not "controlling your own destiny" but out of everyone who was gifted an early Christmas present during the early games on Sunday, Turner and the Chargers were probably the luckiest. A 24-0 halftime deficit in the most critical game of the season isn't going to inspire any Spanos family members to keep their pink slips tucked away.

Jason Garrett
: No one's going to blame him for losing to Philly. That's what happens with Stephen McGee under center. But holy cow does Garrett have the hardest decision -- and the most scrutiny -- of his short career coming up over the next week. The Giants and Cowboys will play in Week 17, with a trip to the postseason and a division championship on the line. Tony Romo will almost certainly play, but will he be effective? Can Garrett gameplan in order to play to Romo's injury? Will he cough up a shot at the postseason? These are the ways we will judge him after next week's game. And by "we" I obviously mean "Jerry Jones and his potentially angry family."

Adrian Peterson
: AP's leg injury on Sunday was so brutal that I even feel like a jerk putting him in the "losers" section. But if you saw the horrific nature of Peterson's injury, you know precisely why he's not feeling like a winner right now. The Vikings announced after the game that it was a sprained knee but -- all due respect to Minnesota -- that's just not believable at all. The multiple reports that it's a torn ACL (and potentially worse) make a lot more sense. It's just sad that Peterson could miss significant time because he was playing in a meaningless game for a three-win team.

Rex Ryan: Ryan spent all week running his mouth about the New York-New York rivalry and when push came to shove, his guy Mark Sanchez fumbled on the Giants goal line and threw a "pass" to an offensive lineman that resulted in a safety in a devastating loss on Saturday. The Darrelle Revis/Antonio Cromartie combo got torched by Victor Cruz (that's his name, right?) and Brandon Jacobs got to say "It's time to shut up, fat boy." That's just embarrassing. Oh, right, and the Jets lost control of their own destiny with respect to the playoffs. It wouldn't be nearly as mortifying if Ryan hadn't run his mouth all week.

Pipedreams: Just like San Diego, the Eagles were very much a longshot to make the playoffs. But I'm telling you, there was a chance. Then the Giants killed that chance (adding to their winner-y-ness) with a win over the Jets. That means Week 17 is no longer a dream scenario for fans of long shots, because both early-season favorites are now removed from any chance of a postseason berth. You don't have to root for the Eagles or Chargers. In fact, you can root against them. But if you don't like ridiculous storylines and clowning around with playoff predictors then we're not friends.

The Big Questions

 
The new Tebow narrative could be awkward. (AP)

1. What's the new Tim Tebow narrative?
No, but it's on life support (and Prisco wants to pull the plug!). Look, Tebow can still win against Kansas City in Week 17, or even lose as long as the Chargers beat the Raiders. But think about how quickly this narrative could be absolutely flipped on its head: if Kyle Orton, the man Tebow replaced, beats Tebow in Week 17 because Tebow can't win late, and the Raiders beat the Chargers and make the playoffs, the Broncos new narrative will be as chokers. No, really, it will. And that is nuts when you consider where we were just two weeks ago.

2. Why does Leslie Frazier keep playing guys who are hurt?
NO CLUE. But this is a story that's flown under the radar for the past few weeks and it culminated with AP's injury against Washington, as well as the concussion that Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder suffered on Saturday. The Vikings are 3-12 after winning on Christmas Eve, but they didn't even need Peterson or Ponder to put up points -- it was all Joe Webb against the Redskins. Of course, winning, at this point, should be secondary. Frazier's top priority should be the health of his franchise quarterback and running back. Instead, these guys keep getting trotted out with injuries late in a lost season. That's not the sort of thing that keeps a job safe for long.

3. Did Raheem Morris get fired on Saturday?

Almost certainly. The Panthers went out and walloped Tampa Bay 48-16 in Charlotte, meaning that the Bucs lost their eighth game in a row.  Worse than the losses is the way they've happened: over the last four games, the Buccaneers have been outscored 158-64. They've given up 40 points to the Panthers and Jaguars and have topped 20 points just once since their trip to London in late October when things really started to unravel. It's an embarrassing collapse down the stretch and it's hard to blame the Glazer family and GM Mark Dominik when (not if) they fire Morris.

4. Anyone else getting fired?
Gotta think that Turner's done in San Diego now and that Romeo Crennel's the only interim hanging around. I can't buy that Jim Caldwell's saving his job so I'd add him to the list too. But I think any questions about Chan Gailey can now be reserved for a while, given the way he dismantled the Broncos on Sunday.

5.  Why should Tom Brady be worried?
Because his offensive lineman are dropping like flies. And while the Patriots are going to continue being good because that's what the Patriots do, there's absolutely cause for concern in New England if Logan Mankins and Matt Light are hurt for any length of time. As you may be aware, this isn't a team predicated on playing any sort of defense, and if they can't protect Tom Brady, there's little chance of them advancing in the postseason.

5. How mad are the 49ers?
Furious. And it doesn't matter that they won, because they gave up a rushing touchdown to Marshawn Lynch. They might hold the record for most games without one, but you know they wanted to make it the entire season. They did not.

6. Am I going to have to watch Matt Flynn on Christmas night?
Not as much as you might have feared. The 49ers won against the Seahawks on Saturday, and that means Green Bay hasn't clinched the top seed yet. Which means that Aaron Rodgers will stay in the game against the Bears for the entire game, barring an absolute Packers blowout.

7. Was Simpson's catch the play of the year?
Yup, it sure was. Maybe not the "play of the century" or anything insane like people are saying, but it was an absolutely bananas catch and it deserves incredible props. Watch -- it's going to be the type of thing you talk with your relatives about on Christmas. That's the way you can truly judge the greatness of a play.

8. Should Ben Roethlisberger play next week?
No. There's just no need. Joe Flacco and Ray Rice handled the Browns just fine in Week 16, and Charlie Batch/Rashard Mendenhall can do the same in Week 17. Rest the guy, run the ball, cross your fingers that Cincy can summon the strength to beat the Ravens on the road and let Roethlisberger rest.

GIF O' THE WEEK

I mean duh. Did you notice I liked it?



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Posted on: December 19, 2011 1:47 am
Edited on: December 19, 2011 10:33 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 15: Good losses?

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action, figures out the winners and losers and asks the big questions. New format! Same old sorting! Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Make sure and listen to our Week 15 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.

Are Good Losses Good?

You're not ever going to hear Aaron Rodgers or Tim Tebow admit this, but losing isn't always a bad thing. In the case of each, a loss on Sunday actually means significantly less pressure in the public eye over the next few weeks.

For Rodgers, there's no more chatter about whether or not the Packers can run the table. Granted, that was a side story to Tebow for most of the past few weeks but if Green Bay had beat Kansas City, the heat was about to be turned up with questions about resting players, playing stars, Mercury Morris' plethora of media appearances and much more.

The loss stinks, clearly. But now the week will be filled with questions like "Are the Packers in trouble?" and "Are the Saints the best team in the NFC?" (See: below). So a team that hadn't lost in nearly a year is suddenly going to get a free chip put on its shoulder? That seems smart for the rest of everyone.

As for Tebow, we all needed this. I love Tim Tebow's story. I love that my cousins' neighbors have a dog named Tebow. I love that my grandfather sends me newspaper clippings about Tebow's awesomeness. But my, um, God, that last week leading up to the Patriots game was just too much, you guys. We had media wars, Tebrews, preachers recanting TMZ quotes on Twitter and just generally all the other things you'd associate with the Apocalypse.

But now the Broncos lost and the Tebowagon gets a chance to tap the brakes, all while not giving up any ground on the playoffs (except to the Chargers who propped their playoff window open a little wider).

We (me, you, Tim) just need some time apart from Tebowmania. Hopefully we get at least a week.

Winners

It's a good thing Romeo Crennel didn't wear the traditional white shirt on Sunday. (US Presswire)

Romeo Crennel: We've been giving Crennel credit for his defensive schemes for a few weeks now, but Sunday's performance by the Chiefs -- a stunning 19-14 win over previously unbeaten Green Bay -- was absolutely worthy of the Gatorade bath he got after his first game as interim coach in Kansas City. The Chiefs shut down the Packers high-powered offense and Crennel parlayed the "you'd think it's obvious!" decision to bench Tyler Palko for Kyle Orton into a serious résumé builder for the offseason.

Reggie Bush: Look, I've ripped Reggie Bush left and right, especially considering his lack of success as an actual running back over the course of his career. But the dude is going HAMbone down in South Beach and Sunday's 203-yard effort makes him just the 40th running back since 1970 to rush for more than 200 yards on 25 or less carries. If you said you predicted Chiefs over Packers I might give it to you. If you predicted Bush rolling for 200 yards? You're a liar.

Skittles: Marshawn Lynch might've only averaged 2.1 yards per carry against the Bears, but he found the end zone twice and crossed the 1,000 yard mark for the season. The game was in Chicago which means it didn't rain rainbows all over Beast Mode when he dashed in the end zone. But has a candy ever gotten a bigger accidental brand boost from an athlete than what Lynch is giving those little sugar bombs during Seattle's sneaky playoff run?

Kyle Orton: Or, as I like to call him, "Senor Spoiler." Orton ripped the heart out of the Packers chance at an undefeated season and over the next two weeks, he's going to get a pair of shots to ruin some seasons. First there's Oakland in Week 16; a win in KC then and the Raiders are likely done. And then the ultimate revenge game against the Broncos, in Denver, on the final week of the season, against the guy, Tim Tebow, that de-seated him. There might be some major egg on John Elway's face if Orton pulls that "W" out.

Norv Turner: It seems impossible that Turner could save his gig, but that's mainly because the Chargers are dead-man walking when it comes to the playoffs ... or are they? After pummeling the Ravens on Sunday night, they've won their last three games and with losses by the Jets, Broncos, Titans, and Raiders they're suddenly one game back of a playoff spot.

Losers

Tom Coughlin: Just a week removed from taking over the NFC East with an impressive performance against the Cowboys, the target's back on Coughlin's back and it's bigger than ever. You can't watch Dallas dominate the Bucs on Saturday night and then lay a freaking ostrich egg at home against a division rival with four wins. Not if you want to make the playoffs anyway.

Our Souls: Bad news, you guys, because Tim Tebow lost. Naturally, that means that salvation will escape even the most penitent man (or woman). Or, alternately, it's a reflection of the fact that when the Broncos turn the ball over a bunch and hand Tom Brady short fields, the Patriots are really tough to beat. I'm going with the latter.

Santonio Holmes: Really Santonio? You're going to catch a touchdown pass, put the ball on the ground, stand on it and then do a dance mocking the Eagles who are in the middle of pantsing you right out of the playoffs? Really? It's kind of ironic that Charley Casserly compared Eagles wideout DeSean Jackson to Holmes on Sunday morning, considering they've both picked up embarrassing unsportsmanlike penalties now.

Oakland Raiders
: Take a look at the playoff picture. (Now back to me.) You realize that the Raiders, who choked to the Lions with a 99-yard drive to close things out, would be tied with the Broncos and Jets at 8-6 if they'd held off Detroit? Because they would be, and they hold the tiebreaker against the Jets and they're just one game back of the Broncos in conference record (5-5 to 6-4). Just close baby.

Ben Roethlisberger's Ankle
: No one's tougher than Roethlisberger, but did you see what happened to him against Cleveland? He probably doesn't have any business stepping on a football field for another week or so, especially without starting center Maurkice Pouncey. But with the Ravens getting paddled on Sunday, the Steelers are in the hunt for the top seed in the AFC and a division title, so Ben almost has to play. Poor ankle.

These Questions Go To 11

Who's protecting Aaron Rodgers? Excellent question.(Getty Images)

1. Should the Packers be worried?
Yes -- but not in the sense about caring over an undefeated season. They should be worried because even though they're still going to get the No. 1 seed in the NFC and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, there's concern about how the offense performed without Greg Jennings and bigger concern about the performance of the offensive line and defense. A bad game from Aaron Rodgers and they can be sent home by anyone.

2. Is Johnny Knox OK?
That's the word on the street. The Bears wide receiver was taken to the hospital after a backbending hit that required him to be carted off the field. Fortunately, he's expected to have surgery to stabilize his vertebrae and according to reports his prognosis is good for a solid recovery.

3. Can the Eagles really still make the playoffs?
Somehow, yes. A lot of things need to happen, but it's not that crazy. 1) Philly wins out (duh), beating. 2) Dallas loses out, against Philly and at the Giants. The Giants go 1-1, losing to the Jets and beating Dallas. If those things happen, the Eagles, Cowboys and Giants will all finish 8-8 and Philly will win the NFC East through tiebreakers. *cues up Gary Wright*

4. What about the Chargers?
YES, THEM TOO. And they have two options -- either the Chargers can win out and the Broncos can lose out and the Bolts win the division. That's the "easy" way. Alternately, if the Jets lose out (against the Giants and Dolphins) and the Bengals can go 1-1 (losing to the Ravens) and the Chargers win out, they can make the playoffs as a wild card. Hope springs eternal in December and whatnot.

5. Should the Bears have called someone?
Yeah, and I'll go so far as to say Brett Favre could've been that guy. Marc Bulger might've made more sense from a perspective of knowing Mike Martz offense, but maybe he wasn't interested. Whatever, Caleb Hanie isn't getting it done.

6. Are the Texans cool with T.J. Yates?
Cool's a relative word, because there's really no excuse for a grizzled veteran of a rookie like Yates to get baffled by a Panthers defense that's running on fumes. Carolina's D showed up big time in Houston, but Yates made some pretty critical mistakes in the 28-13 loss and if Yates ends up with more passing attempts than Arian Foster and Ben Tate have rushing attempts combined, Houston probably lost the game.

7. Why did the Raiders use single coverage on Calvin Johnson?
Honestly, I have no idea. Johnson's the best wide receiver in the NFL and he walked out of a 28-27 win with 214 receiving yards a pair of teeters. It's one thing to trust your cornerback in coverage late in the game. It's another thing entirely to just throw caution to the wind and give the Lions an easy opportunity at going 98 yards for the win, which is what Oakland did Sunday. On the other hand, Darrius Heyward-Bey is starting to look like he could actually be a No. 1 receiver at times. That doesn't help the defensive scheming but it's something, right?

8. Should the Ravens be worried about their road record?
Hell yes they should. Baltimore's been unstoppable at home, rolling to a 7-0 record. On the road they've rolled over for lesser teams like the Jaguars, Seahawks and Titans. And now the Chargers. If Pittsburgh wins on Monday night, it's going to be really tough for the Ravens to land anywhere other than the fifth seed in the AFC, which means they're going on the road throughout the playoffs. And that probably means that the Ravens will be sitting at home in February.

9. Did Jim Caldwell save his job on Sunday?
I know Bill Polian reportedly said all Caldwell had to do was win one game, and the Colts did that by beating Tennessee 27-13 for their first victory on the season. But come on -- this team's going to draft their new franchise quarterback in April in Andrew Luck and Caldwell's not the guy that's going to train him to be Peyton Manning 2.0. Polian can pay lip service all he wants but having Manning/Luck on your roster is like sitting on pocket aces in the hold 'em game of finding a coach who wants to work somewhere with a franchise quarterback.

10. Are the Saints the best team in the NFC now?
If Greg Jennings is guaranteed to be out, if Aaron Rodgers offensive line is completely shredded, and if the game's in a dome ... then maybe, yeah. Drew Brees is as hot as it gets right now (and it's the right time to be hot) and he's going to crush Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a season -- he needs just 305 to break it. And that's in two games, so it's broken. But if (when?) the Saints have to go to Lambeau for the NFC Championship Game, it's a whole different ballgame and the Packers will have a couple weeks to get healthy too. If the Niners can stay afloat, the Saints don't have those luxuries.

11. Should you jump off the Tebow bandwagon?
No you shouldn't have. As mentioned above, the Broncos made some critical mistakes that put the Patriots in a good position to win. The hype was so out of control that it was easy to freak out when New England started rolling. This is a game that Denver should've been more competitive in, but turnovers and a strong defensive performance from the Pats doomed them. They won't see the same sort of challenges against a tepid Bills team that gave up 200 rushing yards to Bush Sunday.

Worth 1,000 Words


GIF O' THE WEEK

This contest was over as of about 6:00 p.m. ET when dog-riding monkeys started herding sheep in Denver.


Award Watch Worth Watching

I'm tempted to open up the MVP race here, but let's get real: it's still Rodgers, despite Brees going ape smell. But how about Offensive Player of the Year instead? Typically speaking, this awards goes to "the most productive person on the team without the best record" or something like that, but I think Brees, if he breaks Marino's record -- and holds it -- is starting to lock it down. But you could make a great case for Calvin Johnson (gobs of touchdowns), Tom Brady and Rodgers too.

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Posted on: December 12, 2011 2:27 am
Edited on: December 12, 2011 2:35 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 14

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Make sure and listen to our Week 14 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.


1. They're Not Saying 'Boooooo' ...

True story: Just over two years ago, T.J. Yates came on the jumbotron at the Dean Dome during a North Carolina game as the lead-in to a UNC football video, said "I'm T.J. Yates and I'm a Tar Heel," and Yates, who was in the crowd, was booed mercilessly by Tar Heel fans in attendance.

One surprisingly strong senior season and a slew of injuries to Houston quarterbacks later, Yates is the starting quarterback for the first Texans team to ever make the playoffs. He's no figurehead, either, as his play in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 20-19 victory in Cincinnati showed.

We think that logic and common football sense says a rookie quarterback can't take a team deep into the playoffs, but does it? This Texans team's success is predicated on running the ball and playing defense.

And that's not too far off what Mark Sanchez and Ben Roethlisberger leaned on as rookies. Both those guys went to the AFC Championship Game, as a rookie quarterback mind you.

Yates is different than those Sanchez or Roethlisberger because he's matured under tough circumstances, his expectations are lower, he didn't leave school early so he's more experienced and he's got good mentors surrounding him on the roster.

If Houston gets into a shootout with an opponent or finds themselves with a huge halftime deficit, they're probably in trouble. But if that happens, it's not on Yates anyway -- the defense and rushing attack probably already let them down.

Just remember that when it comes time to debate the viability of the Texans in the postseason that the rookie quarterback under center is about as viable as the stereotype that the Texans can't stop anyone on defense.

2. Where It's Due in Denver

It's about time, in this LOL-worthy Tim Tebow saga that hit another high with Denver's 13-10 overtime win over Chicago Sunday, to give credit where credit is due. No, not the defense. No, not the running game. No, not the super-human effort from kicker Matt Prater on Sunday. No, not John Fox or John Elway.

Let's give credit to ... Josh McDaniels.

Remember, McDaniels is the guy that drafted Tebow and blossoming receiver Demaryius Thomas. Both might have been reaches when they were taken (25th and 22nd overall, respectively) and both looked like absolutely horrid selections pretty recently. But McDaniels obviously knew something about these guys and his premonitions and talent evaluation is paying off for Denver now.

Look, there are guys that were taken after Tebow and Thomas that are better overall additions to a roster (Dez Bryant, Rob Gronkowski, Devin McCourty stand out), and the value McDaniels wasted at those spots is disappointing. Also, given the Rams struggles on offense this year, handing credit his way isn't exactly the chic thing to do.

But as we get further from his nightmare regime in Denver and more ensconced in Tebowmania, it at least warrants a tip of the cap to McD for his decision to select two guys who are starting to fulfill the expectations that come with their draft slot.

3. Cowboy Down

We spent the better part of the podcast (you can listen above, just by clicking play!) trying to figure out who to blame for Dallas' failings in their 37-34 loss to the Giants on Sunday night.

But since Rex Ryan egged on some defensive coverages, Tony Romo egged on a big third-down throw to Miles Austin and Jason Garrett egged on clock management, isn't it possible that it's a systematic issue across the team as a whole?

We assume that because there's a new coach running the show, with different coordinators in place and some new players, that things are different. But things just aren't.

Jerry Jones knows this -- with the Giants at the goal line and the clock ticking down, an NBC camera caught him screaming "Timeout, Jason!"

Give credit where credit is to due to Eli Manning and the Giants for clawing their way back into this game, because it was a pretty magnificent comeback, something Eli's becoming quite proficient at this season.

But these Cowboys just can't close. We've seen it over and over this season and at some point, the bossman's patience for a lack of execution is going to run out.

4. Start 'Em/Sit 'Em?

The Packers have, with their 46-16 obliteration of Oakland in Green Bay, now officially clinched a first-round bye. Thanks to the 49ers losing to the Cardinals on Sunday, Mike McCarthy's team is just one win or one San Francisco loss away from clinching homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

But Sunday's victory came at a price -- star wide receiver Greg Jennings is likely out for the remainder of the regular season. Aaron Rodgers said that "hopefully" the Packers can get Jennings back in time for the team's first playoff game, following their bye, which is approximately five weeks from now.

This begs the question: will McCarthy and Green Bay chase 16-0 with the same fervor as the Patriots?

Losing someone like Jennings is debilitating to their run at repeating as Super Bowl champions, but it's not a dealbreaker because of all the talent they have at the various skill positions. Losing Aaron Rodgers? That's a whole different story.

And what if someone like Charles Woodson or Tramon Williams or Clay Matthews was lost for the rest of the season playing in a meaningless game? Yeah, that would be bad.

There's no right answer that doesn't involve "winning the title" so it's unfair to judge whatever McCarthy and Ted Thompson decide to do. We don't know how things would play out in an alternate universe. But Jennings injury might be a bad sign for the chances at Green Bay running the table.\

5. Familiar Feeling

New England is streaking towards a likely No. 1 seed right now. And they have a  kerfluffle on the sidelines between Tom Brady and his offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien that everyone can talk about. And there's the whole "Can I draft Rob Gronkowski in the second round of my fantasy league next year?" debate that might be worth discussing when going over interesting things about this team. 

But I can't shake the fact that the Redskins piled up well over 500 yards passing between Rex Grossman and Brandon Banks (!) plus 120 rushing yards from Roy Helu and narrowly lost to the Pats 34-27.

Again: the Redskins did this. Back in 2009, New England got throttled by the Ravens in Foxborough, because Baltimore had a stout defense and Ray Rice went HAM on a Pats defense that couldn't shut him down.

This year? The Patriots defense, a season-long problem for the team, reminds a lot of that squad, in that they can't stop anyone who's physical and can play ball control. Or, really, they can't stop anyone -- only four teams have scored less than 20 points against the Pats, and one of those was quarterbacked by Tyler Palko.

There are a lot of good defensive teams headed to the playoffs in the AFC, with a lot of good running backs, and some pretty talented quarterbacks.

Brady and Belichick are great about covering up flaws on a roster, but when they run into a physical team in the playoffs, we might see a similar result from years past.

6. So You're Telling Me There's a Chance?

The 2011 NFL season wouldn't feel right if we didn't get a Lloyd Christmas-inspired false-hope run from the Eagles and Chargers, would it?

The Eagles are still alive after a 26-10 beat down of Miami, although making the playoffs at this point involves jumping a whopping five other teams, and is about as likely as the Eagles retaining Juan Castillo next season.

San Diego's path to the postseason should have been a little bit easier, because the Raiders lost and the Broncos were supposed to lose (see: Tim Tebow doing what Tim Tebow does). Now things are much murkier, as San Diego needs either the Jets -- a team they should have beaten -- to go 1-2 down the stretch, or the Broncos -- another team they should have beaten -- to lose. And the Bolts have to win

8-8 and 9-7, respectively, are doable based for the two teams, based on their schedules. But even that kind of effort might not be enough to save the jobs of certain people in certain positions for these teams.

7. Call It a Comeback, Kid

For the second time this season, four teams in a single week overcame 12-point (or more) deficits to win.

Why? Well, as it turns out, offensive points aren't the only exciting thing that's happened as a result of the offense-friendly rules the NFL installed over the past few years. Comebacks occur more frequently too.

And big comebacks as well -- Atlanta, Jacksonville, Houston and Arizona were all down by 12-plus points and mounted a comeback in Week 14 -- in Week 2, another four teams did it as well.

Limitations on members of the secondary, limitations on defensive players hitting quarterbacks and the middle of the field opening up because of defenseless receiver rules mean teams are able to sling the ball around more frequently.

Defenses simply can't clamp down on teams when they have a lead and if someone takes their foot off the gas (see: the Panthers vs. the Falcons on Sunday), a comeback is absolutely in the cards.

8. Taking Flight

Note to anyone who ends up in a December-only fantasy league: draft Shonn Greene. Dude gets unholy hot when the weather gets cold and he's doing it again this year, with four touchdowns and well over 200 yards the last two weeks, including a career-high 129 rushing yards in a blowout win against Kansas City Sunday.

Not coincidentally, it might be smart to not write off the Jets ever again. Somehow, someway, they manage to win enough games to sneak into the playoffs.

Rex Ryan's crew is doing it again, and even though this rendition of the Jets is clearly inferior to the previous two seasons, it's hard to count them out.

Twice in his two years as head coach, Ryan's used a formula to get to the AFC Championship Game despite fighting uphill to even get into the playoffs. And now he's doing it again.

The Jets last three opponents -- Buffalo, Washington and Kansas City -- are about as cream-puffy as it comes, but you only have to play the people on your schedule. So I'm really not sure why this wasn't as obvious an outcome as Greene being largely irrelevant for fantasy teams until now.

9. Get Your Mojo Running

Lost in some of the fantastic Week 14 action was the fact that the incredibly underrated Maurice Jones-Drew, the only elite skill-position player that the Jaguars have, set the franchise record for career touchdowns, surpassing the also incredibly underrated Fred Taylor.

"Mojo" did it on a day in which he went absolutely b-a-n-a-n-a-s, rushing for 85 yards and two touchdowns, and catching six passes for 51 receiving yards and a pair of scores through the air as well.

“Words can’t really explain how excited I am,” Jones-Drew said.

Jones-Drew's one of the prototypes for the modern NFL back -- small but powerful, quick, great hands and a secret workhorse. (Not to mention he's a stalwart in the community, and a good guy to boot.) Amid an often ugly offensive performance by Jacksonville on a weekly basis, MJD's been insanely consistent in 2011.

Dude deserves some love.

10. Great Expectations

It's fascinating to see that Raheem Morris and Steve Spagnuolo are two guys everyone agrees find themselves firmly on the hot seat. That's because last year, Morris and Spags were a combined one game away from both being in the playoffs last year.

Morris won 10 games with the surprising Buccaneers and even though Spagnuolo went 7-9, he had a shot at winning the putrid NFC West in the final week of the season.

The 17 total wins for the two teams has created a pretty terrible predicament for the coaches who nearly got them to the postseason though: both guys are looking like strong candidates to be fired after the 2011 season.

Tampa Bay lost its seventh-straight game in horrific fashion on Sunday when Blaine Gabbert and the Jags dropped a 41-14 bomb on the Bucs and the Rams are scheduled to start Tom Brandstater against the Seahawks. That will probably not end well.

The point of all this is that the NFL is a what-have-you-done-for-me lately business and Spags and Morris have lost lately. A lot.

Muffed Punts

Leftovers from Sunday's Action ...
... Packers have now scored 466 points on the season, the second-highest total in NFL history through 13 weeks, behind only the Pats 503 in 2007.
... Drew Brees and Johnny Unitas are the only two quarterbacks in NFL history with 40-straight games with passing touchdowns.
... Rob Gronkowski has the all-time record for touchdown receptions in a single season by a tight end with 15.
... Eli Manning's 400-yard passing performance was the 14th over the season, an NFL record.

Worth 1,000 Words


GIF(S) O' THE WEEK

You can see video of KC kicker Ryan Succop executing the worst onsides kick in the history of football right here, but this GIF of the three-yard putt/kick is just mesmerizingly depressing.



And I'm double dipping this week again, as Jabar Gaffney's dive into the seats without being caught is just too much fun to ignore.


Hot Seat Tracker

  • Steve Spagnuolo -- Spags really, really needs a win on Monday night against the Seahawks.
  • Raheem Morris -- As noted above, this team won 10 games last year!
  • Todd Haley -- After righting the ship, the Chiefs are back to sinking. This may be related to "starting Tyler Palko" but still, Haley's the coach.
  • Jim Caldwell -- *stares blankly at Colts record*
  • Norv Turner -- Norv's fanning the hell out of his seat, but the Chargers might not have enough games left to make up for the bad start.

Award Worth Discussing of the Week

Aaron Rodgers has retired the MVP watch and the Colts are locked into Andrew Luck so I'm adjusting on the fly. Today's award worth discussing: Coach of the Year.

I find this race fascinating because you have four primary contenders, all with totally different situations.

There's Mike McCarthy of the Packers, who's threatening to run the table with a defending Super Bowl champ. Then there's Jim Harbaugh, who's made the a talented, underachieving 49ers team relevant again and quickly. They're the two favorites.

Then there's the underdogs: John Fox, who continues to win despite Tim Tebow flying under the radar in terms of media attention, and Gary Kubiak, who will not let a quarterback injury kill his season.

If McCarthy goes undefeated it's impossible not to give him the nod because, well, they didn't lose. But if the Packers falter at all, Harbaugh's sheen could fade enough down the stretch (a loss to Pittsburgh and struggles against Seattle and St. Louis maybe?) to let Fox and Kubes make a play for the award.

My vote, provided things play out the way they have so far, is for Fox, since he's winning with less in a way no one ever saw coming, well ahead of when people believed he'd win.
Posted on: December 5, 2011 2:20 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 13

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Make sure and listen to our Week 13 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.

 

1. Tebowtainment

Before diving into another Tim Tebow victory -- this time a 35-32 squeaker on the road in Minnesota -- let's go ahead and get you ready for the upcoming week of screaming talking head mania by offering up the Official Tebow Haters Stat Du Jour: opponent's victories!

As people will tell you over the next seven days, Denver's last five victories came against five teams five teams with a combined 25 victories. (Don't think I'm defending that, just know that I'm preparing you for it.)

You know why people are going to focus on that, as well as the Vikings two-win season and a miserable Minnesota secondary?

Because Tebow just won a game by being a -- gasp! -- traditional passer. Tebow went 10 of 15 for 202 yards and two touchdowns and only rushed the ball four times, one of which was was a lateral kneel to set up the game-winning field goal.

The result of Sunday's win is the most improbable of improbable situations: Denver being the favorite to land the No. 4 seed in the AFC playoffs. With "just" the Bears, Patriots, Bills and Chiefs remaining on the schedule, Denver's in a better position than Oakland (losers Sunday, with the Packers, Lions, Chiefs and Chargers remaining) to make the postseason.

And if you're a Tebow hater, you better get your block button on Twitter ready, because things are about to get hairy when they get there. On the other hand, if you're a Tebow hater, what's your beef with a team that utilizes an opportunistic defense, a run-based offense that doesn't make mistakes and a quarterback who may or may not have mystical powers to win games?

I understand that people have to argue about something during the week, but are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?

2. You Just Iced Yourself, Bro

On Sunday, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett took clock mismanagement to an entirely new level in Dallas' 19-13 loss to Arizona in overtime.

First off, Garrett iced his own kicker. Icing an opponent's kicker is a foolhardy move, because it really doesn't work all that well in the first place. But icing your own kicker? That's the stuff that Jim Mora rants -- and knee-jerk firings -- are made of.

Somehow, though, Garrett's ridiculous decision wasn't his worst move of the Cowboys loss. With over a minute remaining, Dallas facing a second and 20 and holding two timeouts, Tony Romo took the snap and completed a pass to Dez Bryant for nine yards. 30 seconds later, Romo took another snap and hit Bryant for 15 yards and a first down, then spiked the ball with eight seconds remaining on the clock.

No timeouts used, 53 seconds burnt and the Cowboys still needing Dan Bailey to kick a 49-yard field goal. Cue up icing of Bailey, and cue up a Kevin Kolb-led game-winning drive for the Cardinals in their first possession in overtime.

There's no need to dive into the hyperbole-filled world of "worst clock management ever," but suffice to say Wade Phillips is laughing his jolly ass off somewhere right now.

3. Yes We Cam ... But Maybe We Shouldn't

Sunday -- a 38-19 win for Carolina over Tampa Bay -- was a big day for Cam Newton. The Panthers won. (It's the most important thing, haven't you heard?) Newton won his first division game. Newton picked up his first winning "streak." And the rookie phenom had, arguably, his best game as a professional quarterback.

Newton went 12 of 21 for and only threw for 204 yards, but he had one touchdown through the air, no turnovers and managed 54 rushing yards on 13 carries and three rushing touchdowns.

That total, by the by, means Newton now holds the single-season rookie record for rushing touchdowns in a season with 13, leaving poor Steve Grogan with no other real historical notation to his name.

Here's the crazy thing though: Newton's just five touchdowns short of Eric Dickerson's record for rushing touchdowns in a season by any rookie. With four games to go, 18 or 19 is well within his sights.

Should it be, though? I say no, and that's coming from someone who's a conductor on the CamWagon and a Newton fantasy owner. Here's why: Newton hasn't learned how to avoid contact yet. He's getting a little better about avoiding shots, but watching him go into a headfirst horizontal spin has to make Jerry Richardson's heart skip a couple of beats.

On a day when you win by 19 points against a terrible rushing defense like Tampa's, especially when they don't have their starting quarterback, there's no reason why Newton has three more carries than DeAngelo Williams, who got $43 million this offseason.

Watching Cam break Dickerson's record would be fun, but not as fun as watching Cam stay healthy over the next decade.

4. Defining Swagger

For the first few weeks of the season, I'm pretty confident I pumped a lot of words in this space in the direction of the Detroit Lions because of their new-found attitude under coach Jim Schwartz.

A "swagger," if you will. Well, it's backfiring, and backfiring badly. Sunday was a perfect example, as the Lions piled up well over 100 yards in penalties -- most of them incredibly stupid and chippy -- during their 31-17 loss to New Orleans.

Schwartz and Gunther Cunningham preach a hard-nose brand of football, and that's great for a Lions team that's been pushed around and publicly mocked for more than a decade because of futility in every aspect.

But you can't give away games by trying to be tough. The Lions, for the first time in a looooong time, are in the middle of a playoff race, and other contenders (the Giants, the Bears, the Falcons, the Cowboys) are imploding all around them.

Did they learn nothing from Ndamukong Suh getting suspended for ridiculously dumb and violent on-field actions? Just go out and be tough without being dumb.

Having swagger doesn't mean having to be stupid.


5. Hibernation Time

Say what you will about Caleb Hanie, but the Bears had a shot at the playoffs even with Jay Cutler out. But after Matt Forte sprained his MCL in Sunday's 10-3 loss to Kansas City, that pipedream just went down the tube.

Hanie was 11 of 24 for 133 yards and three picks, Marion Barber carried the rock 14 times for 44 yards and anyone watching the game knew that it was going to take a Bears defensive touchdown to win that game.

The Bears got burnt because Kansas City hit a Hail Mary to Dexter McCluster at the end of the half, and as pointed out last week, Romeo Crennel really does deserve some love for the defensive schemes he's cooking up these days, but this is a Chicago team that looked like a legit Super Bowl contender just three weeks ago.

Since then, they've been absolutely snakebit with injuries to stars, and even if they're still technically "in" the NFC playoffs as of today, is that defense really going to shut out three of the next four opponents?

Or, put more a little succinctly: Chicago just lost to Tyler Palko. Goodnight, sweet Bears.

6. Next Man Up

Speaking of injuries to key players, can we go ahead and get love for the work Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips are doing in Houston?

Because as soft as the Texans schedule is, Kubes somehow managed to shock the world (well, some of us) by beating Atlanta 17-10 despite having T.J. Yates under center.

But what's new, right? The Texans, as Clark Judge noted on Sunday from Houston, have won without every single one of their stars and it's not just because this team gets to beat up on the cupcakes of the AFC South.

It's because they've got established a quality of depth on this team that allows them to succeed despite potentially debilitating injuries to critical players.

"Because we have a defense that's playing well," Arian Foster said after the game. "We have receivers that can make plays. [We have] a solid offensive line. We have running backs who can make plays. We have weapons around him to help [Yates]."

This steady diet of consistency and quality of depth is precisely why Houston hasn't -- and won't -- collapse under the weight of a run to the playoffs this year.


7. Rookie Wall

The BCS laid a couple of stinkbombs on Sunday that would actually make Jim Caldwell cringe, but the most important thing for us NFL types is that the college season is now over. Not because we want it to end, but now's a good measuring stick of the rookie wall.

The last time Andy Dalton, leading a surprising Bengals playoff run, played a game after the first weekend of December, it was probably on a month's worth of rest, because of the bowl system.

This year, Dalton gets four games in that stretch, with about six days in between each one.

And though the Red Rifle wasn't awful during Sunday's 35-7 loss to Pittsburgh, he was banged up and beat down enough that Bruce Gradkowski came in for mop-up duty.

As noted above, I'm all for keeping rookies safe. But there's got to be some concern that Dalton's entering an unknown area in terms of wear and tear on his body and mind.

It probably won't help that he gets a pair of elite defenses -- Baltimore and Houston -- over the next few weeks either.

8. Please Don't Punch the Zebras

Twice on Sunday we saw players -- Da'Quan Bowers of the Buccaneers and Brandon Pettigrew of the Lions -- make what could at best be called "incidental" contact with referees on the field.

Both Bowers and Pettigrew were involved in scuffles on the field and neither was going after the official, but when they were being pulled away from whatever mini-ruckus was taking place, both struck the official.

That's a 15-yard penalty and it should be an ejection. Only Pettigrew was flagged and neither was ejected. (Oddly, when Bowers lashed out, Brian Price was booted to the locker room by coach Raheem Morris.)

It's not an epidemic running around, but with some of the non-calls we've seen on violent plays this year, it's a little disappointing that the guys in stripes aren't making more of a concerted effort to look out for their own safety.

Expect fines for both guys, particularly if the league wants to ensure players aren't taking aggressive contact with the officials on the field of play.

9. Save Our Sparanos

My man Pete Prisco already broke down the odiferous nature of Oakland's 34-14 stinkbomb in Miami on Sunday, but there's something else at play here: is Tony Sparano saving his job?

Because the Dolphins are suddenly riding a hot streak (they've won four of their last five) that seemed impossible after an 0-7 start to the season. Not only are they no longer the worst team in the NFL, they might not even be the worst team in their division, what with the 5-7 Bills racing them back to the bottom.

Matt Moore looks like Matt Moore looked when Matt Moore was helping the Panthers win meaningless games late in 2009, and Reggie Bush looks like Reggie Bush looked when ... well, Reggie Bush hasn't ever looked like this. But he looks good.

The defense is stifling teams (I don't care how many starters the Raiders were missing), and Miami's got three winnable games on their schedule remaining, as they play the Eagles and Jets at home and the Bills on the road.

If Sparano gets this team to 7-9 by winning seven of their last nine, it really seems inconceivable that Stephen Ross could can him.

10. Utah, Gimme Two

If you're listening to the podcast -- and why aren't you listening and/or subscribing -- you probably heard us rant on the ridiculous nature of two-point conversion usage in football.

And if you're not listening, here's a synopsis: people are doing it wrong. A great example occurred during the Packers-Giants game on Sunday (eventually won by Green Bay 38-35). With 3:35 remaining, the Packers held a one-point lead when Aaron Rodgers hit Donald Driver for a ridiculous touchdown grab.

Up seven points, the Packers had two choices. One, kick the extra point (and go up eight). Or two, go for two and have roughly a 50-percent chance (the conversion rate for two-point conversions) of going up nine points.

An unsuccessful conversion would simply mean the Giants needed to go down and score a touchdown, same as before, except without having to score a two-point conversion afterward. (Same odds apply here for the Giants getting theirs, obviously.)

A successful two-point conversion, however, would put the Packers up nine points, which means the Giants would need to go down, score a touchdown, kick an extra point, recover an onsides kick and then get in range to kick a long field goal. The odds of this happening are a) much worse than the Giants scoring and getting a two-point conversion; or b) much, much, much lower than a coin flip.

For whatever reason, coaches -- and most fans -- don't understand the tremendous advantage being up two possessions present, as opposed to simply being up eight points. The reward (basically ending the game) substantially outweighs the risk (a tie ballgame), however.

Muffed Punts

Leftovers from Sunday's Action ...
... The Packers tied the second-longest winning streak in NFL history, and are just three shy of the 03-04 Patriots, who won 21 straight.
... Frank Gore passed Joe Perry as the 49ers all-time leading rusher, on a day when San Francisco clinched the division.
... Drew Brees became the first player in NFL history to record 4,000 passing yards in his team's first 12 games.
... Jimmy Graham became the first Saints tight end in history to top 1,000 yards receiving in a season.
... Hines Ward became the 19th player in NFL history with 12,000 receiving yards in his career Sunday.

Worth 1,000 Words


GIF O' THE WEEK

A combo GIF this week! Via SBNation, first we have Hakeem Nicks showing the world how to do the not-so-sissy strut:



And then Nicks following that dance up by doing ... this:


Hot Seat Tracker

  • Steve Spagnuolo -- On the bright side, there might be an opening for a defensive coordinator in Philly ...
  • Jim Caldwell -- You can't not fire your coach if he goes 0-16, right?
  • Andy Reid --  I still don't buy that Philly dumps him, but his seat is warm for sure.
  • Raheem Morris -- Losing to the Panthers, even without Josh Freeman, isn't helping Morris.
  • Norv Turner -- He can get off this list with a playoff berth. So, yeah, um, yeah.

MVP Watch

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers continued their pursuit of perfection, but for the first time all season, Rodgers didn't look totally ridiculously amazing. He was still really good, though. And no one was that much better -- Tom Brady's got a case building, I suppose, but Rodgers is winning in a walkaway, barring something silly happening over the next four weeks.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com