Week 12 in the NFL. The last bye week of the season. The final set of games before Thanksgiving, and the official start of the home stretch.
But first, the Alphabet Preview —
A1: The biggest game on this week’s schedule is the latest and greatest “Biggest Game of the Year”: Broncos at Patriots. Belichick vs. Welker. Brady/Manning XIV.
Anyone else find it weird how people only just started keeping track of this rivalry with Roman Numerals? I mean, there was no Brady/Manning XIII, There was no Brady/Manning V. But 14? What a random time to introduce Roman Numerals into the equation. Damn, Goodell. Is nothing sacred?
BOO THIS MAN!: There are few things more boring than the ongoing debate about whether Patriots fans will or should boo Wes Welker. We already know what’s going to happen.
Some people will boo him. Most people will not. The ones who boo him won’t be speaking for Patriots fans. The ones who don’t boo him wont be speaking for Patriots fans. Every one is just be speaking for themselves. We’re all allowed to do that. It shouldn’t be a big deal. And the reaction won’t change a thing about Welker’s time and/or legacy in New England.
What will be a big deal is how the Patriots plan to stop Welker and the rest of the Broncos offense.
New England’s secondary is in rough shape. Steve Gregory is out with a broken thumb. Alfonzo Dennard might not play with a knee injury. Kyle Arrington (groin) and Aqib Talib (hip) might be ready to go, but neither will be 100 percent. Linebackers Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower are both miserable in coverage.
This would all be a concern against the Buccaneers or the Jaguars, never mind one of the most explosive offenses in NFL history, and even in the best case scenario, it’s hard to envision Belichick finding away to hide all the holes.
COUNTER POINT: So, what can the Pats do? Their only option is to score.
Their best, and maybe, only chance of winning this game is if the offense can find a rhythm and fight fire with fire. The Broncos D has been susceptible to that, too. Especially on the road. The gave up 39 points in their Week 7 loss to Indy. They gave up 48 points while outlasting the Cowboys in Dallas.
With everyone finally healthy, the Pats have never been in a better position to hit their stride and put up a big number.
DIRTY DOGS: New England is a 2.5-point underdog on Sunday. It’s the first time they’ve been home underdogs since Week 9 of the 2005 season when they got three points from . . . Peyton Manning’s Colts.
In many ways, Sunday’s match-up feels a lot like that one. At the time, the Pats were 4-3, their offense was looking for an identity. They’d lost Tedy Bruschi and Ty Law in the offseason. Rodney Harrison and Matt Light were already done for the season. The Pats were just getting by, just hoping to be healthy enough for another playoff run.
The Colts were a juggernaut. They were 7-0. Peyton was at the top of his regular season game, with Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark at his disposal.
The Pats couldn’t keep up, and lost 40-21.
I don’t think this time will be quite as bad, but here’s the prediction:
Final Score: Broncos 38, Patriots 28
EAVESDROPPING: (Scene: ESPN Studios. Bristol, CT. The NFL just released its 2013-14 Monday Night schedule)
Executive 1: ”Ooh, yeahhhh, check out Week 12.”
Executive 2: “Really? OK . . . YES!” (Sound of hands high-fiving)
E1: Now THAT’s what I’m talking about!”
E2: “No, that’s what WE’RE talking about.”
(Sound of embrace, maybe a little kissing)
I’m not sure if that’s exactly how it went, but you know that way back when, ESPN was more than pleased to draw San Francisco at Washington for their Week 12 Monday night party. And they’re still pretty happy. It’s certainly better than the Dolphins at Buccaneers game two weeks ago, and pretty much every Monday night game the entire month before that.
Still, 49ers vs. ‘Skins isn’t what is was supposed to be. Neither is RGIII vs. Colin Kaepernick.
Washington (3-7) is just a mess, and it’s only getting worse. As evidence by the recent report that Mike Shanahan never wanted to draft RGIII in the first place, and preferred the Dolphins Ryan Tannehill. At this point, the franchise needs to either trade Griffin or fire Shanahan. In other words, they need to fire Shanahan.
In the meantime, Griffin isn’t entirely innocent. He needs to play a lot better. But it’s hard to envision him ever reaching his full potential unless he’s with a coach who believes in his cause.
As for the Niners, they’re OK. At 6-4, they’re holding on to the last playoff spot in the NFC, and their remaining schedule puts them in a great position to maintain. It would be a shock to see these guys miss the playoffs. But that won’t stop the Kaepernick criticism.
On one hand, it might not be fair to hold Kaepernick to the standard that he set last season, but at the same time, it kind of is. After all, he set that standard. And right now, he’s not close. His completion percentage is down six points from last year. His QB rating is down 16 points. His interception percentage has doubled. He ran more in seven starts last year than he has in 10 starts this year.
The Niners might keep winning (their 5.5-point favorites at Washington), and that’s all that should matter, but in reality, the Kaepernick criticism will keep rolling until he recaptures last year’s magic. He’s got a great chance and the perfect stage to do so on Monday night.
FAMILY BUSINESS: Chicago (6-4) and St. Louis (4-6) play on Sunday in a game that has been creatively billed as “The Battle of Howie Long’s Sons.”
Chris is a defensive lineman, the No. 2 pick in the 2008 draft out of Virginia. In his five-plus years in St. Louis, he’s yet to miss a game, and is currently on pace to record his third straight season with 10 or more sacks. Kyle is a rookie offensive lineman out of Oregon, the 20th overall pick last April, and the first rookie to start at the guard position in Chicago Bears history.
On Sunday in St. Louis, they dance. (Note to FOX: Please, just one drop of Kanye’s “Family Business” as you head into commercial. That’s all I ask.)
As for the actual game: The Rams are favored by a point and a half, and I’m not exactly sure why. I know that they’re coming off a bye, which is nice. I know that the week before they embarrassed the Colts in Indy. I know the Bears D is bad. I know that Jeff Fisher’s mustache always flashes a little extra mystique around Thanksgiving.
But Indy was one game, one crazy fluke of a game, where Tavon Austin scored three times on three touches and the Colts coughed up five turnovers. And while the Bears D isn’t great, the Rams offense isn’t much better. Chicago’s D ranks 26th in points and 24th in yards. St. Louis’ O ranks 19th in points and 27th in yards. And while, the Rams are already looking ahead to 2014, the Bears have so much to play for; they’re tied for first place in NFC North. Not to mention, Josh McCown has played just as well, if not better than Jay Cutler since taking over the job.
Yet, Chicago’s getting a point and a half against Kellen Clemens?
Makes no sense. In other words, expect the Rams to win.
GIFT FROM THE GODS: Tough times in Houston, where the Texans (2-8) are losers of a franchise-record eight straight games and have officially completed their transformation from AFC contender to flaming football train wreck.
Arian Foster, Brian Cushing and Danieal Manning are all on the IR. Matt Schaub is in the middle of a QB controversy with Case Keenum. Ed Reed wrapped up his Texans career after seven games, 14 tackles and zero interceptions. Gary Kubiak recently missed a game after suffering an on-field stroke.
Everything is wrong in Houston. But on Sunday, at least one thing will be right: The Jaguars are in town!
Not even Wade Phillips can screw this one up.*
(*Brought to you by the People for Ed Reed.)
HUMAN NATURE: The Panthers (7-3) are coming off two of their best regular season wins in years. First, at San Francisco, against the defending NFC Champs, in front of a crazy 49ers crowd. Then, last Monday, at home, on national TV, against Tom Brady and the Pats. In the process, they’ve erased any doubt that they’re for real, and now sit one loss back of the Saints in the NFC South standings. Riverboat Ron’s crew is living the highest of NFL highs.
But this Sunday, they take a trip to the depths of the lowest NFL lows: Miami — where playoff aspirations have been replaced by an impromptu episode of the Jerry Springer Show. Of course, the Dolphins are still 5-5, and technically, still in the Wild Card race, but their whole season is being played under a cloud of apathy and drama.
The atmosphere at Sun Life Stadium will be so drastically different from what the Panthers have lived through these last two weeks, and it’s screaming “Let down!!” That’s right. Two exclamation points.
More on this game later.
INTERMISSION: Not many people predicted that the Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) get out to this kind of start, and the NFL schedule makers were among the masses who never saw it coming. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have had the Broncos and Chiefs play twice in three weeks. (They’ll meet again next Sunday in KC)
While Denver will spend the second of their vicious three-game stretch in Foxboro, the Chiefs have it a little easier. At home on Sunday against the Chargers (4-6), who arrive reeling off three straight losses.
JUSTIFY: The Colts are 7-3, but no one’s exactly sure what to make of them. The Cardinals are 6-4 but no one exactly sure what to make of them. On Sunday in Arizona, the Colts and Cardinals will take the field and try to make something of themselves.
Arizona’s won three straight, to improve to 6-4 and throw themselves into the NFC playoff race. Sure, those wins have come against Houston, Atlanta and Jacksonville. But you can only win the games on your schedule. They’ve also beaten the Lions and Panthers. Bottom line: It’s hard to argue with 6-4. Even harder to argue with 7-4, especially if that seventh win comes at the expense of the playoff-bound Colts.
Indianapolis is 7-3, but they’re a rung or two below the other AFC contenders (New England, Denver, KC). Beating the Cardinals on Sunday won’t do much to change that. Still, Arizona is a good team (especially at home), with a top 10 defense. It’s a win the Colts would be proud, and would earn them at least a little more respect in the AFC playoff discussion.
KNOW THY ENEMY: Always good to know the team your coaching against, and Cardinals head coach/former Colts interim head coach Bruce Arians knows Indianapolis as well as another coach possibly could.
He knows the Colts better than Mike Smith knows the Falcons.
LATE SURGE: The Buccaneers (2-8) have won two in a row, and took Seattle into overtime (in Seattle) the week before that. Helping matters, Mike Glennon looks like a keeper at quarterback, while Josh Freeman can’t beat out Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel in Minnesota.
It’s like every bad vibe in South Florida got sucked into Richie Incognito’s gut, and Tampa’s suddenly sitting pretty.
Is it enough to save Greg Schiano’s job? I have no idea. I’ll ask Malcolm Glazer at our poker game next week. In the meantime, if the Bucs can pull off an upset this Sunday in Detroit (6-4), Schiano might consider taking his house off the market.
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE: Calvin Johnson got his own Transformer this week, and that begs the obvious question: What took so long? Seriously, the Megatron nickname’s been floating around since 2007, and he’s been deserving of his own action figure for at least that long. What’s the deal, Hasbro? Marketing 101. (LINK: http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/eye-on-football/24256859/nike-teams-up-with...)
Stopping Megatron is obviously the key if the Bucs have any serious intentions of upsetting the Lions. And it certainly helps to have Darrelle Revis. But it might take Revis, plus a naked Megan Fox to make No. 81 lose focus.
NFC LEAST: Another week, two more mediocre NFC East teams in a battle for NFC Least supremacy. This time, it’s the Cowboys (5-5) at the Giants (4-6). Despite their respective struggles, each team is within striking distance of the first place Eagles (6-5).
OPPOSING QBS: The Giants come in winners of four straight, but it’s worth noting the starting quarterback on the other side of each of those victories.
In Week 7, it was Josh Freeman, in his first and last start as a Viking. In Week 8, it was Matt Barkley (after Michael Vick was knocked out in the first quarter). In Week 9, it was Terrelle Pryor, a scrambling quarterback who was playing on one good leg. And last week, they beat down the immortal Scott Tolzien. (Then again, the Giants were playing with Eli Manning, so maybe that evens things out.)
Say what you will about Tony Romo, but he’s a bigger threat than all four of those guys combined. On the season, he’s thrown 13 more touchdowns (21) than those four guys combined.
POROUS: Speaking of defense, Dallas’ really sucks. And if Eli Manning can perform even a little better than his 64-year-old dad would on Sunday, the Giants will at the very least be in the game.
So far this season, the Cowboys rank last in yards allowed, last in passing yards allowed and last in yards per carry. Through 11 weeks, they’ve already allowed an NFL record four 400-yard passing games. And one of those was to Eli Manning.
That’s the equivalent of giving up 800 yards to Peyton.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Who’s Kerry Collins rooting for?
I can’t think of anything remotely interesting to say about Sunday’s Tennessee at Oakland game. Both teams are basically out of the playoff race. The Titans are starting back up QB Ryan Fitzgerald. The Raiders are rolling with third-stringer Matt McGloin. This might be the first game in NFL history that gets entirely shutout by the RedZone channel.
So, let’s say you're Kerry Collins. You spent two seasons in Oakland, started 28 of 32 games and posted a record of 7-21. You spent five seasons in Tennessee, but four of those were as the back-up. However, in your one season as starter, you made the playoffs and the Pro Bowl.
So it’s Sunday, you turn on the TV, and flip over to the Titans/Raiders game and . . . who are you rooting for?
Answer: Trick question. The game is blacked out.
ROETHLISBERGER BEAT DOWN: Ben Roethlisberger is 15-1 all-time against the Cleveland Browns. His Steelers will be in Cleveland on Sunday, still not-quite dead after an awful 2-6 start.
The Browns aren’t dead either. In fact, whichever team wins this game will find themselves, at the very most, one game out of the final AFC playoff spot.
As fun as it is to root for this Browns team, my money’s on 15-1.
SURVIVOR: When Aaron Rodgers went down with his broken collarbone, the Packers had only one thing on their mind: Survive.
Three Week Update: They’re not doing a good job.
The Packers have now lost all three games since Rodgers injury. They’re 5-5, a game back of the Lions and Bears in the NFC North. And this Sunday, they’ll once again trot out Lord Scott Tolzien under center.
Green Bay’s only favored by four at home against the Vikings (2-8) and that certainly tells you something about their situation. Either way, at this point, the Pack’s only prayer is to somehow squeak by Minnesota, and then hope like hell that Rodgers is ready in time for their Thanksgiving visit to Detroit.
TWO THOUSAND YARD CURSE: Earlier this year, I wrote about the plight of running backs in the season after they run for 2,000 yards.
Before Adrian Peterson, only seven guys had done it. And of those seven, exactly zero broke 1500 yards the next year.
At the time, I figured Peterson might break the mold because he’s Adrian Peterson, but — through 10 games, AP’s ‘only’ run for 851 yards. That means he needs to average 108 yards over the last six to reach 1500. Considering he only has three 100-yard games all season, it’s not very likely.
Then again, you never know because he’s Adrian Peterson.
UPSET OF THE WEEK: I’ve hit two in a row now, and teased this week’s pick earlier in the column:
Dolphins over Panthers
That’s not because the Panthers aren’t for real, or that (with two games left against the Saints) they don’t still have a legitimate chance to win the NFC South. This is just a textbook let-down game.
The Dolphins proved last week that, despite all the controversy, they’re not just going to lie down and lose out the season. And they’ll make it two in a row on Sunday.
Final Score: Miami 24, Carolina 17
VENGEANCE SCALE: How badly does Ed Reed want to beat the Ravens on Sunday, when HIS Jets fly into Baltimore?
I assume, pretty badly, just wish he could do xmore about it. I don’t care that he plays for the Jets, or that he played for the Ravens, it’s always a bummer to see a player as talented and legendary as Ed Reed have his career come to a grinding halt. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, flip on a Nets game and watch Kevin Garnett this year. His mind is right, but his body’s running on empty. That’s Reed with the Jets.
After missing the Texans game in Baltimore earlier this season, it’s cool that Reed will get one more chance to play there on Sunday. I’m sure he appreciates it. I’m sure the fans appreciate it. It’s a fitting send off for one of the best defensive players of his generation.
Wait, I thought we were supposed to be talking about Vengance?
WARRIORS ROAD: It’s “Road Warriors” backwards and that’s a pretty good way to describe the Jets. Actually, it’s a horrible way to describe anything, and I’m sorry for that, but the Jets really have been pathetic on the road this year.
They’re 1-4 outside of Jersey, and that includes a 38-13 loss in Tennessee, a 49-9 loss in Cincinnati, and last week’s 37-14 drubbing in Buffalo.
Meanwhile, all four of Baltimore’s wins have come at M&T Bank Stadium, and the Ravens (4-6) know that another loss — for real this time — will destroy any hope of sneaking into the playoffs.
Baltimore’s a 3.5-point favorite, and my guess is that they win by four.
X-FACTOR: As for the Jets playoff chances, if they lose on Sunday, they’ll still be in the running. Basically, the entire conference still is. But if they somehow beat the Ravens, then New York will be in a great position to steal the final AFC playoff spot.
Right now, the Pats, Colts, Bengals, Chiefs and Broncos are all pretty much in. And the Jets (5-5), Dolphins (5-5), Steelers (4-6), Ravens (4-6) and Browns (4-6) are the teams with the best chance of claiming the sixth seed.
If the Jets win on Sunday, then the Ravens are done. After the Browns/Steelers game, one of those teams will be 4-7, and effectively done. Meanwhile, the Jets will be 6-5 with most likely (unless the Dolphins do upset the Panthers) a one-game lead on the rest of the playoff field, and a remaining schedule that looks like this: Miami, Oakland, at Carolina, Cleveland, at Miami.
Not easy, but definitely doable. (“Ha. He said ‘doable.’” – Rex Ryan)
YESTERDAY’S NEWS: The Saints are for real. The Falcons are a joke. Honestly, how can Mike Smith still have a job next season? And more importantly, why didn’t the Falcons trade Tony Gonzalez? You know he wanted out. The least they could have done, after all he’s done for them and the game, is suck it up and send him to Kansas City or New England or some place where he can compete. It’s depressing to see him out there with this team. He deserved a better ending.
ZIP: I’ve got nothing left. Is it Sunday night yet?
Week 12 in the NFL. The last bye week of the season. The final set of games before Thanksgiving, and the official start of the home stretch.