Tuesday, December 12, 2006

NFL Week 14 Wrap Up

Week 14 will go down in NFL history as record-setting for a few of its players.

It will also go down as a tone-setter for Playoffs 2006 as some teams established dominance (San Diego, Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans), and some were left with more questions than answers (Indy, New England, Dallas, Denver.)

Another team clinched a division title & playoff berth (Chargers) while one has already booked a first round bye (Bears.)

As usual it was an an eventful weekend in the No Freakin Logic league. Let's try to make some sense of it:

MNF: Hester's two kick return TDs spark Bears to 42-27 win over Rams

This is the usual view opponents get of rookie phenom Devin Hester

All it took for Chicago to get healthy was a dose of St. Louis' porous run defense and a couple of dashes from a dazzling rookie return man.

Devin Hester set the all-time record for kicks returned for touchdowns by a rookie with his 5th & 6th of the season and although the defense got shredded for 433 total yards, Rex Grossman played well enough to help the Bears earn a first round bye in the playoffs.

But the story of the game was Hester, the speedy 2nd rounder from 'Da U'. He had only returned six kickoffs all season, doing all his damage on punts and one memorable record-tying 108 yard missed field goal return, but he broke the game open twice with kick returns of 94 & 96 yards, both immediately following Rams scores.

The first one came early in the second quarter. St. Louis had just marched 99 yards and scored on a 1-yard catch by Torry Holt, who faked Hester out along the way, for the first points of the game. But barely seconds after the Rams botched the extra point Hester took the kick and raced 94 yards untouched for the answering score.

The teams then traded scores for a while until Chicago opened it up to 35-13 on the strength of Grossman's cautious passing (13-20, 200yds, 2TDs, no INTS!) and Thomas Jones' running (he had 58 of his 76 yards & a TD in the 3rd) early in the 4th quarter. But when the Rams showed some fight, scoring on a 6-yard pass from Marc Bulger to Holt to cut the lead to a manageable 35-20, Hester ripped their hearts out again with his 2nd return.

The bottom line is the Bears got what they needed- a big win and decent game from Grossman to silence the critics and keep the heat off the quarterback position. Now Chicago can sit back and relax, knowing it will be a while before it has to play another important game.
After all, the Yucs come to the Windy City next week.


LT runs to TD record and basically locks up the MVP
-Chargers running back and soon-to-be league MVP LaDanian Tomlinson set the record for touchdowns in a season with his 29th on Sunday against the Broncos. The previous record was set by Shaun Alexander last season, and the time before that it was Priest Holmes who owned the mark of 27 in 2003.

But the scary thing about this one is that with 3 games left LT could be the first person to set the new record by more than 1 TD since John Riggins bested the previous number by 2 in 1983.

That's if he gets one more touchdown. I mean he's only averaging nearly 3 per game in the past 7 games.

-Indy's Harrison joins elite club
Lost in the bedlam of the Mannings getting their asses kicked all over the Jacksonville Landings on Sunday was the fact that Peyton Manning's steady BFF Marvin Harrison became just the 4th player in NFL history with at least 1000 career receptions.

The soft-spoken wideout had 6 catches for 101 yards but it was his 5th catch early in the 4th quarter of what would be a 44-17 blowout that put Harrison in the company of Jerry Rice, Chris Carter and Tim Brown.

The question is, will Harrison end up like Rice & Brown, with a Super Bowl ring, or will he be like Carter, one of the true great pass catchers of our generation never to have won it all?
I pick the latter. You know 'cause he plays on the Regular Season Wonders and all.

-Chris Weinke does in one game what Delhomme couldn't do in 60
Carolina Panthers backup quarterback Chris Weinke, the former FSU Heisman Trophy winner who hadn't played in an NFL game in 4 years, threw for a Panther record 423 yards in Carolina's loss to the Giants on Sunday.

And therein lies the problem with the underachieving Panthers: they have a 'caretaker QB', in the mold of Ben Roethlisberger for the Steelers last year and Trent Dilfer for the Ravens in 2000. A caretaker is a guy who can lead a team all the way, as long as he doesn't try to do too much and keeps his mistakes to a minimum.

When Delhomme guided the Panthers to the Bowl in 2003 that's exactly what he was- a caretaker. Now I'm not saying Weinke, who fell to 1-16 as a starter and threw 3 picks that cost Carolina the game against the Giants, is the answer.
But someone who can throw the ball down the field might help the pitiful Panther offense.

Tie: Sean Payton's onsides kick/Schottenheimer's "fumblerooski"

Nobody expected the New Orleans Saints to take a 35-17 lead against the streaking Cowboys at Texas Stadium on Sunday Night Football in front of a national television audience.

But what happened next caught every single person not affiliated with the Saints by surprise, most curiously coach Sean Payton's silver-haired mentor Bill Parcells. Payton called for an on sides kick, completely blindsiding the clueless Cowboys and causing the Tuna to melt on the sideline.

New Orleans went on to score 1:30 later on Drew Brees' 5th TD pass of the night, and the play resonated with fans of both teams the rest of the game. My summation: BRILLIANT!

But old stodgy coach Marty Schottenheimer also pulled a doozie of a call in the Chargers' impressive win over the Broncos.
Leading 7-0 late in the first quarter the Bolts used a play rarely seen outside of the NCAA. As QB Phillip Rivers took the snap, he and Tomlinson took off to the right as running an option play but Rivers faked a hand off to his receiver coming around him like they were running a reverse.

As everyone who wasn't following Rivers & Tomlinson reversed direction to go after the receiver fullback Lorenzo Neal quickly scampered into the end zone and celebrated. Why was the burly blocking back so happy? Because unbeknown st to everyone except the Chargers Rivers had handed the ball to Neal through his legs as he was coming up to block and everyone continued with the ruse so well that it completely caught everyone off guard, including the CBS cameras.

Once again, a brilliant call; it's so nice to see coaches throw out the tired old playbook and attempt to breathe some life back into the No Fun League.
Like I said yesterday this week was reality check time for many contenders & pretenders.

So with just 3 games left in the regular season, instead of going with the 5 best teams in each conference this week I am going to break down the playoff picture in each conference.

Division Leaders:

North: Baltimore (10-3) The Ravens own a two game edge on the second place Bengals and should wrap up the division in the next 2 weeks- Baltimore takes on Cleveland & Pittsburgh while Cincy must travel to Indy & Denver. 'Nuff said.

South: Indy (10-3) Losses in 3 of the last 4 games and an inability to stop the run has taken the aura of invincibility away from the Regular Season Wonders, making the date with the Bengals a must win in order to maintain its two game lead over the Jags and keep hopes alive for a first-round bye.

East: New England (9-4) The Pats missed a golden opportunity ot wrap up the division when it got burned worse than a snowbird in Miami. Luckily the Jets lost so the lead stayed at two games, but New England could wrap it up next week when the Texans come to town.

West: San Diego (11-2) Wrapped up the division on Sunday and now can kick back and let KC and Denver fight over a wild card. The Chargers now appear to be locked onto a first-round bye, riding a 7-game winning streak and a record-setting MVP candidate.

Wild Cards: Cincy (8-5); Jacksonville (8-5); KC (7-6); Denver (7-6); Jets (7-6)
You would need Einstein, Stephen Hawking & Carl Sagan to figure out which 2 teams will advance to the postseason.

Jacksonville probably has the toughest road (@TEN, NE, @KC) while the Jets have the easiest (@MIN, @MIA, OAK). But with so many crazy things going on each week those two teams could end up winning the division as well.

Check back in a week, maybe it'll be a little clearer.


Division Leaders:

North: Chicago (11-2) This is the worst 11-2 team I've ever seen. Take away a killer special teams unit and Brian Urlacher and this team is no better than the 6 or 7 wild card hopefuls in the league; plus it won't play another meaningful game for a month, so that won't help.

South: New Orleans (9-4) Proved it is the real deal with dominating destruction of Tony Romo & his merry band of Cowboys. By polishing off Washington this Sunday it should wrap up the division.

East: Dallas (8-5) Still a question mark even after recent hot stretch. Love him (like the rest of America) or can't take any more of him (like me), Romo is still an unproven commodity come playoff time, which can't leave Tuna feeling too confident.

West: Seattle (8-5) Had a small setback at Arizona (classic trap game as I called it) but with two of its remaining three games against San Fran & Tampa Bay it will still sew up the West handily.

Wild Cards: NY Giants (7-6); Philly (7-6); Atlanta (7-6) Carolina (6-7); Minny (6-7)
See AFC WC. Some of these teams could end up winning the division so it's still too close to call.

But if I had to guess I would say Philly is out due to its brutal remaining schedule (@NYG, @DAL, ATL) and Carolina will be cooked, too, after season ending trips to Atlanta and New Orleans.

That points to the G-Men & Dirty Birds claiming the slots, but Minny has a pretty weak sched left (NYJ, @GB, STL), so it wouldn't even shock me to see the Vikes there when all is said & done.

It's turning into a three team race for the # pick in the draft, and I'm proud to say that the Yucs are hanging right in there.

Granted Detroit & Oakland are two extremely formidable foes, but with Chucky calling the plays and allowing Gradkowski to execute them, as well as a tough 3 games left, I say Tampa Bay has a great shot to come out on top in this one.

-Oakland (2-11) The Silver & Black have long ago forgotten how to attack. 'Just Win Baby' has been replaced with "just win and I'll give you my baby" by the dirty denizens of the Black Hole.
Do the Raiders have a chance to win again? Home dates against St. Louis & KC and then a roadie at the Jets tell me no.

-Detroit (2-11) As long as Matt Millen is still the head honcho in D-Town there will be no chance of the Lions repeating the Tigers' miraculous turnaround.
Dates at Green Bay, home vs. Chicago and at Dallas could ensure a tie for the top spot. Man it's gonna be tough for the Yucs to crack this club.

-Tampa Bay (3-10) The only satisfaction the Yucs have is that there is no way it wins again this year. It has two frigid weather games next (@ CHI, @CLE), and its record is a sparkling 2-22 under 40 degrees, and a New Years Eve tilt with the Seahawks.

Now fans must sit back and hope & pray that those other 2 losers somehow pulls off a miracle.

And hope & pray that Chucky isn't the one who is drawing the name come April.

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