Monday, December 11, 2006

Monday Morning Kick Returns

Since I did my "morning" post last week at about 1:00PM I'm getting a good head start on this weeks'.

In keeping with the ESPN naming craze (aka "Separation Saturday", "Championship Week") I decided that Week 14 would be called Reality Check Sunday.

I know it's not quite as catchy as ESPN, but hey I don't have a 50 person marketing department to come up with this shit.

But it truly was reality check time for many teams heading into the final 4 weeks of the regular season. This is the time of year that separates the (G)men from the (Cow)boys, and wins and losses now are an accurate measure of where your team is headed in January.

As usual the week was filled with incredible comebacks, mind-boggling losses and record-setting feats. Lets take a look back at Reality Check Sunday, Week 14 in the NFL.

San Diego 48, Denver 20 MY PICK: Chargers 27-13

Record setting MVP-to-be LaDanian Tomlinson is carrying San Diego to the playoffs

REALITY: If there was any doubt about which team is the best in the NFL those doubts were put to rest yesterday. And if there was any doubt which player is the league's MVP, that doubt was squelched also.

The Chargers (11-2) stomped on the punchless Broncos (7-6) and in doing so LaDanian Tomlinson (28 carries, 103yds, 3TDs) set a new NFL record for touchdowns scored in a single season with 29.

LT broke the mark just minutes after tying the old record, set last year by Shaun Alexander. San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman knocked the ball out of Jay Cutler's hand and recovered the fumble at the Denver 7-yard line. One play later Tomlinson made three defenders look silly and scampered to the record.

Tomlinson's numbers are phenomenal (1,856 tot yards, 29 TDs) but the Bolts also have TE Antonio Gates (7recs, 104 yds, 2TDs) and QB Phillip Rivers, who is making it easier for San Diegans to forget the loss of Drew Brees, fueling this awesome offense.

Not only do the Chargers have the record holder, it also holds the title of Team to Beat in the NFL this year.

CHECK: Denver can kiss the playoffs goodbye since Shanahan's Jay Cutler Experiment has failed miserably. Although the rook played decently (17-30, 188 yds, 2TDs) the stretch drive is no time for a contender to throw a rookie into the fray.

Jacksonville 44, Mannings 17 MY PICK: Indy 27-21
REALITY: Indy isn't even living up to its moniker of Regular Season Wonders any more. Its inability to stop the run allowed the Jags to gain an eye-popping 375 yards on the ground and in doing so buried the notion that the Mannings (10-3) are the best team in the NFL.

Indy has now lost 3 of 4 after galloping to a 9-0 start, and the rush defense is the worst in the league. Not exactly a formula for post season success. The Jags (8-5) dynamic duo of Fred Taylor (9 carries, 104 yds, TD) & rookie Maurice Jones-Drew (15 carries, 166 yds & 3 tot TDs) ran roughshod over, around & through Indy's hapless, helpless defense.

Drew, perhaps still energized by his UCLA Bruins' win over USC, also added a 93-yard kick return for a score and gained 303 all-purpose yards on the day.

How bad was it for Indy? Drew & Taylor were both over 100 yards by halftime, and seldom-used sophomore Alvin Pearman gained 71 on the day. Meanwhile Indy rushed for a measly 34 yards. "Paging Joseph Addai (11 carries, 22yards.) Mr Addai please pick up the white courtesy phone in the lobby."

CHECK: Jacksonville probably sealed a playoff spot with the dominating win, and if it can run the ball like that, well let's just say the Mannings don't want to meet up with the Jags again.

Indy is in big trouble come January if it doesn't solve its run-stopping woes, which it claimed to have addressed in practice this week; it's unbelievable that a Super Bowl contender could allow the 2nd most rushing yards in the league since 1970 and go all the way.

New Orleans 42, Cowboys 17 MY PICK: Boys 31-28

A pupil/mentor handshake truly in the Mangini/Belichick mold

REALITY: The Saints aren't just a feel-good novelty act- they can flat out play ball. I would have to say that it is the best team in the NFC right now, and anyone would be hard pressed to argue with that after the beatdown it laid on Tuna & the Gang last night.

Drew Brees continued his MVP-caliber campaign with a dominating performance (26-38, 384yds, 5TDs) and Reggie Bush logged 6 more receptions for 125 yards including a 61-yard score as the Saints (9-5) marched into Big D and really laid its claim as America's Team 2006.

Best part about the game? The former student, New Orleans wundercoach Sean Payton laying the wood to mentor Bill Parcells. Payton called for a gutsy reverse on 4th & 1 late in the 1st quarter that led to the tying (7-7) touchdown and then really kicked dirt in the bully's face late in the 3rd.

Leading 35-17 after just getting a momentum-killing replay reversal score from FB Mike Karney, Payton called for the on sides kick; the Saints recovered and a minute & a half later Brees hit Devery Henderson for a 42-yard soul-crusher that had Tuna looking like someone urinated in his Gatorade.

CHECK: The bloom finally came off the Romo (16-33, 249yds, 1TD, 2 INTs) and Parcells almost looked happy about it. With T.O.D. (3 recs, 56yds, TD) unhappy because Terry Glenn (8recs, 150yds) is the top receiver and the defense getting gashed for 536 yards, the 'Boys (8-5)obviously have a lot of work to do to become a true playoff force.

New Orleans proved to the whole country that it is a force to be reckoned with. Brees leads the way, and with a bevy of offensive weapons to choose from, the Saints are coming to a playoff game near you.

Miami 20, New England 0, zip, zilch, nada MY PICK: Pats 23-12

It's not often you see Brady on the bench late in a blowout loss

REALITY: The Pats have problems. Big problems. Many fans like myself have been trying to ignore that fact as the team stumbled to mistake-wrought wins over the Bears and Lions. But when you witness a performance like this (which, thankfully I did not, as my son was sick and I didn't go to the local sports bar) the reality hits that this team is talented but deeply flawed.

How bad was it? Tom Terrific turned into Tom the Terrible (12-25, 78 yards) in what has become his personal house of horrors; he's just 2-4 in Miami in his career, and his 4 lowest passing games have been vs. the Fish. And the injury bug continued to bite the team hard. Already playing without leading rusher Lawrence Maroney (back), top receiver TE Ben Watson and T Vince Wilfork both left with "leg injuries" in the third.

New England also allowed 4 sacks, committed 9 penalties for 71 yards, compiled a mere 189 yards of offense and turned the ball over three more times, bringing its total to 11 giveaways in the last 3 games. It's actually amazing that their record is 2-1 in that span.

Luckily for New England (9-4) the Jets also lost, so although it could've cliched the division title with a win it didn't affect the 2 game cushion it enjoys in the AFC East. But to New England's disadvantage is the suddenly tough December schedule- the last 3 games are at home vs. the pesky Texans, at Jacksonville (yikes) and at rejuvenated Tennessee. Meanwhile the Jets face Minny, Miami and Oakland.

Advantage New York.

CHECK: New England better get some of the injured players back soon, get its act together, and shore up the weaknesses or Hot Stove baseball will be the only sports talk in the Commonwealth in January.

Atlanta 17, Yucs 6 MY PICK: Atlanta 17-13
REALITY: The Falcons are still struggling and although I predict it will make the playoffs it probably won't get it all together in time to make a difference once there. And the Bucs really are one of if not the worst team in the NFL.

Tampa Bay gave Mike Vick and his Dirty Birds fits for most of the day. In fact after running roughshod over the Bucs earlier this season, amassing 300+ yards on the ground, the unit held Atlanta to just 139 on the ground in this one. Vick was limited to only 5 yards rushing after torching TB for 127 in the first meeting.

Things got so bad that Chucky did what he swore all week he wouldn't do- he pulled Gradkowski for Tim Rattay late in the game, basically conceding that the offense is going nowhere with the flawed rookie at the helm. It was the same old story for the Yucs- dropped balls, poorly thrown passes, a turnover by Gradkowski that broke the game open, the disappearance of Alstott after a big run, a fumble by Caddy... yadda, yadda, yadda.

Gradkowski (13-24, 131 yds) has shown promise but at times looks completely overwhelmed. Many in the Bay area say that Gruden just heaped too much on his plate, and on top of the fact that the kid has no touch whatsoever on the deep ball makes for a very shaky QB. It speaks volumes that Rattay, who hadn't played in almost 2 years, came in and calmly marched the team down the field and had nearly as many completions (9-13) and yards (83) as The Rocket in a fraction of the time.

So what does Psycho Chucky do? Name Gradkowski the starter for next week's slaughter at Chicago.

CHECK: The Falcons (8-5) got a win that kept it alive in the race, while the Yucs (3-10) got the loss that kept it alive in the race for the #1 pick. Good times for all.

Baltimore 20, KC 10 MY PICK: Chiefs 17-16
REALITY: The Ravens proved that despite a semi-slump they are the real deal as far as Bowl contenders go. The Chiefs appear to have as much substance as Kate Moss, losing its December home game in nearly a decade one week after gagging against the Browns.

Baltimore stifled the high-powered KC offense and although LJ got his (120 yards) the Chiefs were held to 269 total yards and the Ravens forced 3 turnovers. Steve McNair (21-27, 283yds, TD) was solid again, and it was his 87-yard catch & run TD to Mark Clayton in the 3rd quarter that opened up a close 6-0 game.

CHECK: The Ravens (10-3) maintained a 2-game lead over Cincy in the AFC North and re-established its defensive dominance. The Chiefs plunged into a 3-way tie for the 2nd Wild Card. I picked the Chiefs two weeks ago, which explains the swoon. With a date in San Diego looming over them this week this could be yet another one of my predictions that is sure to be wrong.

NY Giants 27, Carolina 13 MY PICK: Giants 24-14
REALITY: The Giants have playoff life. The Panthers don't. New York got the win it needed to stay afloat in the WC race but it won't be an easy ride if this game is any indication.

The battered Giants defense allowed 423 yards passing to Heisman-winning QB Chris Weinke, who is now 1-16 as a starting QB after his first appearance since his rookie season (kidding, but close.) But Tiki ran for 112 yards, Eli threw 3 touchdowns, and the G-Men (7-6) stomped on the season of the disappointing Panthers (6-7.)

CHECK: The Giants share the wild card lead with Philly & Atlanta and take on the Eagles next week in the Meadowlands. That game could decide it because New Orleans comes to New York the following week and the Giants don't want that to be a must-win game.

Philly 22, Washington 21 MY PICK: Skins 20-17
REALITY: Jeff Garcia is leading this Philly team to an unlikely playoff run.

CHECK: Although home fans have booed him the wily vet has thrown 8 touchdowns to zero interceptions in his 3 starts and it will be one of the stories of the year when he lands the eagles in the playoffs.

Other Games:

Buffalo 31, NYJ 13 MY PICK: Jets 15-10
REALITY: Buffalo has played very well this season, and the J-E-T-S are a Charlie Manson team- HELTER SKELTER!

CHECK: New York can still make the plaoffs but lost a golden chance to put pressure on the Pats.

Cincy 27, Oakland 10 MY PICK: Bengals 37-11
REALITY: Cincy has righted its season with this 3-game winning streak.

CHECK: With Carson Palmer leading the trio of TJ, Chad, and Rudi plus the improved defense, the Bengals are finally playing up to the preseason predictions. And this despite another player arrested this week.

Tennessee 26, Houston 20 (OT) MY PICK: Titans 30-17
Vince Young returned home and burned the team that spurned him with a game-winning 39-yard touchdown run. How's that taste Houston?
Green Bay 30, San Fran 19 MY PICK: 49ers 26-21
Every cheese dog has its day
Minny 30, Detroit 20 MY PICK: Detroit 19-16
Reason # 4,567 why I don't gamble
Arizona 27, Seattle 21 MY PICK: Cards 26-23
This is called quitting while you're ahead!

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