It didn’t start like a game that was going to end up a 34-3 victory, but the Patriots left Kansas City with their second straight win and their 6th 30+ point game of the year. Rob Gronkowski has taken over as their unstoppable offensive weapon, catching his 19th and 20th career TDs and establishing himself as the quickest tight end to reach the 20 career TD mark. I love they way Belichick is recreating the Troy Brown WR/DB thing with Julian Edelman. That guy makes better tackles than a lot of full time NFL corners. Nice egg. The overrated Jets fell to 5-5 on the year and an unmacho 1-4 on the road with their loss at Denver. That’s two ugly performances in a row. Fortunately for the Jets, they get the fading Bills, Redskins, and Chiefs in the next three weeks. No excuse for not going 3-0 there. They won’t though, and reason #1 might be the play of one of the worst QBs in the league. Mark Sanchez is awful. He cannot lead an NFL offense and has trouble simply managing a winning situation. The Jets have no excuse for not pursuing an upgrade this offseason. Looking good Miami! They won their third in a row against the trifecta of teams due up on the Jets’ schedule. Again, no excuse for New York not going 3-0 there. Pretty encouraging that the Dolphins can win a game 35-8 and have Brandon Marshall register just 5 yards on 1 reception. The Dolphin defense surrendered just 41 yards on the ground to Buffalo, a week after holding Washington to 61. Their Thanksgiving matchup at Dallas should be a good one. If Buffalo is careful, they might not win another one the rest of the way. They’ve been outscored 83-15 the last two weeks and face a Jets team they’re unlikely to score a lot against.
It wasn’t the prettiest or most dominant performance, but the Ravens reclaimed first place in the division with a win over the depleted Bengals. Ray Rice was appropriately made the centerpiece of the offensive gameplan, garnering 25 total touches and gaining nearly 150 total yards. Huge contest coming up this Thursday night when John Harbaugh hosts his brother’s 49ers. This is the biggest game left on their regular season schedule in my opinion. After this one they have Cleveland twice bookending games against the Colts and Chargers. They cannot afford another slip up the rest of the way. Cincinnati did a great job of hanging in there despite not having possibly their two best players on both sides of the ball – AJ Green and Leon Hall. Andy Dalton had a chance to tie the game up inside the red zone, but the Ravens defense held up and snuffed out the rally. The Bengals get a breather against the Browns this week before facing the Steelers again for the second time in a month. They’ll need Green back for that one. Cleveland got their 4th win of the season, but #1 it was a against the Jags; and #2 they haven’t scored more than 17 points in their last 8 games. Awful. They get to take on the division over the next three weeks in what should be quite the gauntlet.
Of the division’s teams, Houston looked the best this week, and they didn’t even play. They’ll get to see what Matt Leinart has to offer as he takes over for Matt Schaub this week against the Jaguars. Speaking of the Jaguars, things are bad when the Texas duo of McCoy and Ogbonnaya beat you. The Jags allowed the latter to run for 115 yards and a score and will get absolutely owned by Arian Foster and Ben Tate if they bring that shoddy run defense with them Sunday. I saw Blaine Gabbert kind of wuss into a throw with pressure in his face. Jamie Mitchell was about lit him up, but Gabbert pulled back on the throw and missed an open receiver Jason Hill. It’s an isolated play but not one that shows a lot of growth. As expected, the terrible Titans showed up in Atlanta and got slapped around until Jake Locker came on for an injured Matt Hasselbeck and got a couple late, rallying scores. After a good week, Chris Johnson reverted back to what he’s been all year – a non-factor – with a pathetic 13 yards on 12 carries. Count that money CJ.
The Raiders got their second road win in a row with balanced victory against the Vikings. Carson Palmer threw 7 less passes than Michael Bush had carries in a gameplan the Raiders would like to repeat as often as possible. Bush continues to shine in McFadden’s absence and is earning himself more money when he hits the market with every passing week. The Raiders were a preseason surprise team of mine, and they look like the safest pick to win this division in my opinion the way things stand currently. They’ll get to host the Cutler-less Bears this week. Things are getting brutal in San Diego. They tasted defeat for the fifth straight game and now get to face Denver and Baby Jesus this week. Only Tebow can look like complete shit for three quarters and then run around the field sandlot style in the fourth to pull out a win and get people thinking he’s amazing. Congratulations, you’re a running mismatch. Now learn how to throw a football, and I’ll start considering him something other than a gimmick with a short shelf life. The Chiefs looked good for a half at New England, but the reality set in as they got a second half spanking. Tyler Palko started out solid but ended the day with three interceptions and no scores. That four game win streak is a distant memory now.
This division continues to be the most schizophrenic in the league. The Giants looked like a team on a mission the last month, but they were tossed around all night long by the Eagles in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the 17-10 score indicates. They couldn’t run the ball, couldn’t pass the ball, and could only muster one TD in a game that saw backup QB Vince Young throw 3 INTs. Ahmad Bradshaw is no sure thing to return this week in their matchup with the Saints, and if Vince Young looked capable against this defense, imagine what Drew Brees is going to do to them, especially that young group of linebackers. Philly hosts New England this week in a game that should feature a lot of points. Dallas was the latest team to beat up on the Redskins, but they needed OT to get the win. Laurent Robinson did it again, scoring his 5th TD in the last 4 weeks. They still have yet to play the Giants this year, so there’s a lot left to be decided here. I can’t project a winner of this mess, but Dallas has the easier schedule of the two the rest of the way. The Grossman-Gaffney Gator duo led the way for the Redskins, but you’re not going to win many games running for only 60 yards. They’ll try to snap that six game skid in Seattle Sunday.
Jordy Nelson is perfect for the Packers. The guy doesn’t drop anything and is always in sync with Aaron Rodgers. He led the team in receiving and has 16 receptions and 5 TDs over his last three games. If it’s possible, the pass game is likely to be even more of a focus with James Starks possibly out with an ankle injury suffered in the game against the Bucs. After a solid game against the Vikings, the Packers pass defense allowed a struggling Josh Freeman to throw for 342 yards and make the contest closer than it should have been. If they give Matthew Stafford and the Lions the same cushion, loss #1 might come Thanksgiving Thursday. After trailing by 17 in the 2nd quarter, the Lions ripped off five 2nd half TDs to take a convincing win. On the heels of a 1 TD, 4 INT game against the Bears, Stafford rebounded for 5 scores and 2 INTs against the Panthers. Kevin Smith exploded for 201 total yards, including 140 of them and 2 scores on the ground. Worth noting – Of Stafford’s 5 TDs, none of them went to Calvin Johnson. What a huge huge loss for the Bears. Yes, they became the most recent winner of the “who’s better than San Diego” challenge, but they may have lost Jay Cutler for the year with a broken right thumb. That’s a tremendous shot to the gut and one I believe will keep them from making the playoffs and from possibly being the team with the best chance of knocking off the Packers. This weeks’ game against the playoff-hopeful Raiders will show us what Caleb Hanie’s Bears are capable of. The Vikings experienced a loss of their own with their best player leaving the game against Oakland early with an ankle injury. Adrian Peterson is likely to miss this week’s matchup against the Falcons, but it doesn’t appear that this is anything that will sideline him for a lengthy period of time.
The Falcons got a much needed win against the Titans to get them within a game of the idle Saints, but they’ve got to be discouraged that they nearly let Jake Locker bring the Titans back from a 20 point 3rd quarter deficit. On a positive note, their 2nd ranked run defense absolutely shut down the opposition’s ground game again. The get a bit of an assist this week against the Vikings with Peterson likely out, but next week’s matchup at Houston will be a huge test of strength v. strength. What an amazing run by LeGarrette Blount; truly one of the best individual plays I’ve ever seen by a running back. That’s exactly what he’s capable of and another reason why the Bucs should have paired him with an explosive pass catching option. You pound a team with Blount and then throw a Kendall Hunter at them, and you’re looking at a great chance of another big play. Then you bring back Blount and the damage just builds upon itself. This preseason I stressed how this team will be hurt by a lack of speed, and I can’t say I’ve been proven wrong. They’ll try to avoid a fifth straight loss this week at the Titans. The key to this one will be how well the Bucs’ poor rush defense does against the team that was held to 41 yards on the ground last week by the Falcons. Cam and the Panthers are headed in the wrong direction. His 4 INTs capped a second straight poor performance, but fortunately the Colts step up to provide a remedy.
That’s eight in a row for this year’s surprise team. Is anyone surprised anymore at this point? They run the ball well (6th in the league) and stop the opposition from doing so even better (1st). Throw in Alex Smith playing the best ball of his career and not losing games for them, and this is a team that has brought it on a weekly basis this year. They’re obviously going to win the division, and with four more division games to go, they look to be dueling with the Saints for the conference’s #2 seed. Thursday night’s contest against the Ravens has potential game of the year written all over it. John Skelton was absolutely awful for Arizona, completing only 3 more passes to his receivers than he did to 49er defenders. Seattle won a second straight game and has a good chance at a third this week at home against Rex’s Redskins. These wins just mess up their draft position. Speaking of draft position, the Rams should have a really good one. They got spanked by Seattle at home and aren’t likely to win more than one of their last six (ARI, SF, SEA, CIN, PIT, SF).
Best and Worst
Best Teams (Previous Rank)
1 – Green Bay (1)
2 – New Orleans (2)
I think they’re next two games are their toughest remaining two; expect them to hit the playoffs on a high note.
3 – Baltimore (3)
Haven’t lost to a team with a winning record this year, and have a chance to go on a huge run after this one (CLE, IND, SD, CLE, CIN).
4 – Pittsburgh (4)
They’ll pound Palko this week.
5 – San Francisco (5)
I like what this team is, but I can see each of the four teams above them having too much offense for them to handle in a playoff situation.
6 – New England (8)
They have the easiest remaining schedule but will have to get past the Eagles in Philly to stay on this list.
7 – Detroit (NR)
They get back in the rankings due to their impressive second half against Carolina and Cutler’s injury.
8 – Dallas (NR)
I think they’re the best team in the East at this point.
OUT – Chicago (6, no Cutler = shot), NY Giants (7)
Worst Teams (Previous Rank)
1 – Indianapolis (1)
2 – St. Louis (3)
What a disappointing season this has been for a team that entered with high expectations.
3 – Jacksonville (4)
Losing to the Browns isn’t a way to get off this list.
4 – Cleveland (2)
That said, beating Jacksonville isn’t much of an accomplishment either.
5 – Carolina (6)
They’ll give the Rams some competition for the #2 spot if they ruin Indy’s perfect season.
6 – Kansas City (NR)
Matt Cassel isn’t Joe Montana, and Tyler Palko isn’t Matt Cassel. Bad things the rest of the way for this team.
7 – Washington (5)
Aside from Indy, Washington’s 6 straight losses is the worst current streak in the league.
8 – Minnesota (8)
A 2-8 team should probably be higher on this list, but they’ve only lost 2 games by more than 7 points.
OUT – Miami (7)
This Week’s Predictions
Strongest wins (by more than 14)
Steelers @ Chiefs
Double digit dominance (at least 10)
Bengals v. Browns
Panthers @ Colts
Seahawks v. Redskins
Just win baby
Ravens v. 49ers
Titans v. Bucs
Raiders v. Bears
Texans @ Jaguars
Packers @ Lions
Saints v. Giants
Falcons v. Vikings
Jets v. Bills
Rams v. Cardinals
Upsetville – Population 3
Dolphins @ Cowboys
Broncos @ Chargers
Eagles v. Patriots
Updated Playoff Predictions
1 – Green Bay
2 – San Francisco
3 – New Orleans
4 – Dallas
5 – Detroit
6 – Atlanta
Atlanta @ New Orleans – New Orleans
Detroit @ Dallas – Detroit
Detroit @ Green Bay – Green Bay
New Orleans @ San Francisco – New Orleans
New Orleans @ Green Bay – New Orleans
1 – Baltimore
2 – New England
3 – Oakland
4 – Houston
5 – Pittsburgh
6 – Cincinnati
Cincinnati @ Oakland – Cincinnati
Pittsburgh @ Houston – Pittsburgh
Cincinnati @ Baltimore – Baltimore
Pittsburgh @ New England – Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh @ Baltimore – Baltimore
Saints beat Ravens