Alphabet NFL Preview: Week 10

Alphabet NFL Preview: Week 10
November 8, 2013, 3:15 pm
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Week 9 was a crazy one in the National Football League. Among the insanity, we saw the Bengals lose a game on an overtime safety. We saw the Packers lose at home for only the third time in 32 games — and lose Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone. We saw the Seahawks almost lose at home for the first time in two years, and at the hands of the winless Bucs. We saw Geno Smith outduel Drew Brees. We saw the Pats drop a double nickel on the Steelers. We saw Nick Foles and Jason Campbell emerge as their respective Conference Players of the Week!

But none of that holds a candle to the craziness unfolding in Miami.

That’s where the Week 10 Alphabet begins.

A1: The Richie Ignonito/Jonathan Martin story seems to escalate with every passing hour. So much so that I can’t imagine what it will look like by the time the words I’m currently typing officially hit the Internet.

From what we know right now —

* Richie Incognito is an ass. We knew that even before this story hit, but the story itself and all the other Incognito tales that have emerged in its wake will very likely end his NFL career. Oh well.

* Jonathan Martin is a sensitive guy, both in the broader sense but more through the lens of NFL culture. I’m not defending that culture. It sounds like hell. And it certainly seems like Incognito (and potentially Mike Pouncey) went above and beyond the call of idiocy. I’m not saying I’d be able to deal with it, either. But Martin clearly wasn’t, and from the information that continues to seep out from his family and his lawyer, he’s going to fight this thing to the end and bring all the messy details to light. His most recent statement suggests that Martin isn’t ready to give up on the NFL, he wants to play again, but you wonder if the NFL will give up on him.

* In the end, this story will have a positive effect on the league and on sports in general. It will change the face of hazing. It will breed a kinder, more human brand of locker room relations. There’s no debating that. But until it ultimately works its way out of the news cycle, it will continue to serve as another black eye for a league that essentially lives with two raw steaks permanently glued to its eyes.

OK, now on to the actual games.

BATTLE OF THE BACKUPS: On Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles visit Lambeau Field, where they’re 4-16 all-time against the Packers (and 0-0 against all other opponents).

Nick Foles will be under center for Philly, and while you could probably argue that throwing seven touchdowns in a game should forever remove his “back up” distinction, technically that’s what he is. Either way, the Eagles have more confidence in their QB than Green Bay does in Seneca Wallace, who will get his first official start as a Packer for the injured Aaron Rodgers.

Before Rodgers went down, Vegas had the Packers favored by 10 points.

After the broken collarbone?

The Packers were/are favored by one.

CUTLER COMETH: While Green Bay (5-3) treads water without their starting QB, the division rival Bears (5-3) get theirs back. And just in time for a visit from the another division rival, the Detroit Lions (5-3). Also, as you can tell from all those 5-3s, we’ve currently got a three-way tie atop the NFC North.

The Lions have dropped six straight division road games and five in a row at Chicago. The return of Jay Cutler won’t likely help their cause. But in the end, this game will likely come down to the Lions offense (ranked sixth in points scored, third in total yards and second in passing yards) vs. the Bears defense (ranked 29th in points allowed, 26th in yards allowed and 23rd in passing yards allowed).

One spot where the Lions most definitely have an advantage is in the scheduling. The Bears are on a short week, coming off a huge Monday night divisional road game in Green Bay. Detroit is coming off a bye week.

DREW’S GOING DEEP: The Eagles have allowed more passing yards than any defense in the league. That’s pretty good news for Seneca Wallace. In second-to-last-place, only 19 yards behind (or ahead of?) Philly, are the Cowboys. And that’s insanely good news for Drew Brees. He and the Saints host Dallas in Week 10’s edition of Sunday Night Football.

Not only are the Cowboys one of only two teams allowing more than 300 passing yards a game, but they’ve also allowed four 400-yard passers this season. That opens the door for Brees to throw for at least 600. And in terms of Dallas keeping pace, it doesn’t help that Dez Bryant’s back injury continues to get worse. Reports early Friday morning indicate that he might be dealing with a bulging disc, which at this point is only rivaled by his bulging ego.

OK, I take that back. I actually like Dez. He’s the most dominant human receiver in the game (Megatron doesn’t qualify). That said, if the Cowboys fall behind early, there’s no player in the league better qualified to make a bad situation so much worse.

EX-COWBOY COACHES: Another interesting Sunday night storyline is the connection between Saints coaches and Cowboys history. Obviously, Sean Payton rose to prominence as Dallas’ QB coach/assistant head coach under Bill Parcells. But more recently, Saints defense coordinator Rob Ryan spent the last two years running the Cowboys D.

Crazy two weeks for Ryan, eh? Last Sunday, he was up against his brother. This Sunday he’s up against his former employer, and one with whom he didn’t part under the sweetest circumstances. Either way, win or lose, I’m sure he’ll handle it gracefully.

FREE FALL: Not that the Rams were exactly soaring when Sam Bradford was healthy, but things have gotten ugly fast since Bradford tore his ACL in Week 7.

This week, St. Louis (losers of three straight) visits the Colts (winners of two straight and five of their last six). Vegas has Indianapolis as a nine-point favorite, and that sounds about right. Well, for the first half at least.

The only thing working in the Rams favor is that the Colts have been susceptible to the proverbial “trap game” this season. See their Week 6 loss to the Chargers. And coming off two huge wins against the Broncos and Texans, with a division game at second-place Tennessee on tap for next week, this one would qualify. Still, you can only expect so much from a team when Kellen Clemens is playing quarterback.

In the Rams case, so much is so very little.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS: The 49ers had them heading into this season, after last year’s run to the NFC title. The Panthers had very little expectations at all, on the heels of three straight losing seasons.

Fast-forward to Sunday and the Panthers/49ers game is one of the most anticipated match-ups on the Week 10 schedule. San Francisco is 6-2, winners of five straight, and just about all of them have come in dominating fashion. The Panthers have won four straight, and while those wins haven’t come against the best competition (Minnesota, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Atlanta), Carolina’s been every bit as dominant. Especially on defense. And Cam Newton is playing the best football of his young career.

The 49ers are favored by six, which is a sign that, at the very least, Vegas is starting to buy in to what Carolina can do (at the beginning of the season, you would have guess the spread to be in double figures), but if they can shock San Francisco on Sunday, there will be no more doubt as to whether the Panthers are for real.

HOLDNG ON: The Giants are alive. Barely. Despite the news that starting running back David Wilson is out for the season with a neck injury. Despite the reality that they recently snatched Peyton Hillis off the scrap heap and immediately placed him at the very top of their RB depth chart. Despite what has been, hands down, the most pathetic season of Eli Manning’s career, the Giants (2-6) will host the Raiders (3-5) on Sunday (1 pm) with the playoffs still on their mind.

Truth is that New York is only two and a half games back of the Cowboys in the NFC East. They’re only a game and a half behind Philly for second place. Dallas has a very tough game at New Orleans. Philadelphia has a reasonably tough game at Green Bay. Meanwhile, the Raiders have lost 10 of their last 11 road games. They’ll likely be without starting running back Darren McFadden. Starting QB Terrelle Pryor is dealing with a knee injury and, even if he plays, he won’t be his full dynamic self.

Bottom line: The Giants are fresh off their bye and in a pretty good position to win their third straight game. And just maybe set the stage for their latest ridiculous late-season run.

INJURED: Every team is dealing with injuries at this point in the season. No one in New England has any sympathy for how things are shaking out in Cincinnati. But the Bengals have been hit with an injury bug the size of Anthony Munoz.

All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins went down with a season-ending ACL injury last week to become the fourth defensive starter (along with No. 1 corner Leon Hall, safety Taylor Mays and DE Robert Geathers) to land on the IR. Starting middle linebacker Rey Maualuga and Andy Dalton’s blind side Andrew Whitworth missed last week’s game and will both probably be on the sidelines again this Sunday when the Bengals visit the Ravens.

That said, the Bengals are in a relatively comfortable place in the AFC North standings. They’re 6-3, and the rest of the division — Browns (4-5), Ravens (3-5) and Steelers (2-6) — is a mess. However, a loss on Sunday might open the door for Baltimore to sneak back into the race, especially with a second Bengals/Ravens game on tap for the last game of the season.

JUST BAD: The biggest thing working against that potential Ravens revival? They’re just not that good. This year’s struggles have nothing to with injury. In fact, Dennis Pitta is the only super-significant Raven on the IR, and he’s on the fast track to recovery.

Their biggest issue is the running game. That’s not all Ray Rice’s fault. It’s not all the offensive lines fault. But that combination has resulted in Baltimore averaging a league-low 2.78 yards a carry this year. Right now, they’re on pace to have the lowest yards per carry average since the 1953 Giants.

Their second biggest issue is that with Ray Lewis retired, the man upstairs has obviously directed his powers to other more pressing matters. Like making sure Ray Lewis has a successful career on TV.

KEENUM FEVER: Speaking of struggles, the Houston Texans (2-6) have lost six straight and head to Arizona (4-4) this week with hopes of avoiding the longest losing streak in franchise history. When you consider where this franchise has come from, that’s saying something. Adding to the challenge, the Texans are without head coach Gary Kubiak, who was hospitalized this week after what doctors are calling a minor stroke, and will be without Arian Foster (back). Meanwhile, the Cardinals are coming off the bye, are playing at home, where they’re 3-1, and quietly have one of the best defenses in the league.

But there’s one bright spot for Houston: Case Keenum! The local college legend has been, if nothing else, incredibly entertaining over his first two starts as a pro. He’s thrown for 621 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has a QB rating of 118. Of course, he’s also 0-2, but Texans fans will take any positives they can find on this depressing season.

Case most definitely qualifies.

LET DOWN: Back in August, Seattle at Atlanta was one of the best games on the entire schedule. A battle between two of the best teams in the NFC. A rematch of last year’s memorable divisional playoff game (which the Falcons won on a last second field goal).

A few months later and this game is an after thought, thanks to the Falcons rapid transformation into the league’s most disappointing team. Atlanta’s 2-6, with their only two wins coming against the Rams and Buccaneers, and they find themselves five-point underdogs — at home! — to the 8-1 Seahawks.

But despite the impressive record, Seattle does have something to prove. Their last two wins have come against those same Rams and Buccaneers and neither one was pretty. They’re dealing with issues on the offensive line, and have allowed 405 rushing yards over the last two weeks.

They should still win, but will be playing against themselves more than they will a should have been NFC rival.

MUNDANE NIGHT FOOTBALL: Haaa! Get it? (I’ll see myself out). But seriously, Miami at Tampa Bay is without question the worst Monday Night Football game of the season.

NOT THAT IT’S WITHOUT INTRIGUE: But that just makes it worse. The fact that Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden can fall back on the Incgonito insanity and Greg Schiano’s year of misery will make an unwatchable game just as unlistenable.

I’d rather watch a three hour loop of Gruden’s Hooter’s commercial.

OLD RELIABLE: When your version of “old reliable” is a 23-year-old rookie with five starts and five career touchdown passes under his belt, there may not be much reason for optimism, but there’s at least a little this week in Buffalo now that EJ Manuel is ready to get back on the field.

The Bills went 1-3 in Manuel’s absence, and their 3-6 overall record leaves them in prime position to miss the playoffs for the 14th straight year. But Manuel’s return does restore some order to the bigger picture, and at least gives Buffalo fans a little something to look forward to as the team takes the field this week in Pittsburgh.

PRIDE: That’s all the Steelers (2-6) has left to play for at this point, and fresh off the heels of giving up 55 points to New England last week (the most points allowed in franchise history) that pride is at an all time low. Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin are fighting to keep the troops together, but a home loss to Buffalo on Sunday will render any and all attempts at positivity useless.

Either way, the focus in Pittsburgh has already shifted towards 2014.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Is there a hazing problem in the NFL?

I’d love to hear a few hundred hours of debate on this.

(Turns on literally any TV channel or radio station in America)

Ah yes, there it is.

RECEIVER REVIVAL: These two receivers don’t have all that much to play for in terms of the postseason, but here’s some good news if you have Victor Cruz and/or Roddy White on your fantasy team. Both guys, who’ve battled injury in recent weeks, are expected in the line-up on Sunday.

In White’s case, he should produce seeing how there just aren’t that many targets left standing in Atlanta. And Cruz? He’ll produce, because he always does when he’s healthy. If he can catch half as many touchdowns as Eli Manning throws in interceptions, that’s very good for fantasy business.

SECRETS TO SUCCESS: If there’s anyone in the league who understands exactly why the Broncos have such a dominating offense, it’s Chargers head coach Mike McCoy — who was Denver’s offensive coordinator from 2010-13.

In fact, McCoy will admit to having a sublime knowledge of Denver’s attack: “I know the system,” he said this week. “I know what they are doing, and if you turn the film on, I can probably tell you what every play is.”

That’d be pretty cool if McCoy was playing the Broncos (7-1) on a video game, but it will be very different story when his Chargers (4-4) host Peyton and friends on Sunday.

TOUGH YARD: And before they worry about stopping a seemingly unstoppable offense, the Chargers might want to take care of another little problem: Scoring from the one yard line.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, San Diego is a league-worst 2-of-11 this season from a yard out.

UPSET OF THE WEEK: Need to hit one of these in the worst way. Think I’ve lost four straight. Not that picking one upset a week is easy but . . . I just need one badly. With that, I’m going with the Ravens, who are two-point underdogs at home against the Bengals.

As I wrote earlier, the Bengals are beat up beyond belief. The Ravens are not, they just need to play better. And at home, with their season on the line, I think they will. Final Score: 23-20, Baltimore.

VICE VERSA: The Jaguars are averaging fewer points per game (10.8) than anyone in the NFL. The Jaguars are allowing more points per game (33.0) than anyone in the NFL. This might not represent the correct meaning of “Vice Versa” but take that wrong comprehension as a tribute to this pathetic Jacksonville campaign.

They visit the Titans (4-4) on Sunday.

WIN WHILE YOU CAN: And the Titans better. After this week’s game against the Jaguars, they play three of their next four against the Colts (x2) and the Broncos, including back-to-back road battles in Weeks 13 and 14.

Tennessee might not have much of a chance to make the playoffs regardless, but a loss to the Jags will leave their chances at zero.

XANADU: Week 10, or really, anything within the Week 8-11 range, is just about perfect for an NFL bye week. And it’s nice to know that while all these teams are dealing with all sorts of bull, that the Pats will be relaxing in a comfy pair of Uggs inside a beautiful moated mansion, saving and conserving for the treacherous stretch home.

The schedule is always a little empty when the Pats aren’t on it, but this is a break they both need and deserve.

YESTERDAY’S NEWS: Impressive win by the Vikings last night. It may not mean much in the long term thanks to their 1-7 start, but impressive nonetheless. As for Washington? They’re now 3-6, which would leave them out of the playoff race in most seasons, but in this year’s NFC East, they could be 0-9 and still have a shot.

One positive for Washington is that RGIII is finally regaining his rookie form. He ran for 44 yards last night, which is his second highest total of the season, and looked damn good doing it.

The ‘Skins will look to bounce back next week with a huge road game against the Eagles.

ZZZZ…: Sorry, Incognito talk can do that to you. Anyway, enjoy yourself some Sunday and the return of some actual football.