Alphabet NFL Preview: Week 14 MORE: Green's inconsistency


Alphabet NFL Preview: Week 14 MORE: Green's inconsistency

Around these parts, Sunday's NFL action is a mere warm up for Monday night's showdown between the Patriots and Texans. But there's no shortage of excitement elsewhere around the league. So, let the Alphabet be your guide to Week 14, as we all celebrate the arrival of our country's future first female president and Heisman Trophy winner: Vivian Lake Brady


(That's Brazilian for "newborn baby girl")

A is for A-OK
Thats Ben Roethlisberger, apparently. After missing three weeks with a separated throwing shoulder, Big Ben will be back under center on Sunday as the Steelers host Norv Lombardi Turner and the flailing Chargers.

On one hand with the playoff race heating up, Charlie Batch existing as his only real backup and the rumors that some folks in the organization thought that Roethlisberger should have played last week you understand Bens desire to get back on the field. But you cant help but wonder if its in the teams best interests.

First of all, theres no way hes 100 percent. And yeah, no ones 100 percent at this point, but Roethlisbergers clearly still hurting. Second, the Chargers are dead; 75-year-old Dick LaBeau could lead the Steelers to victory on Sunday. And finally, after this, Pittsburgh heads down to Dallas in Week 15, and then hosts the Bengals in Week 16 in a game that may very well decide the identity of the AFCs No. 6 seed.

So why not give Roethlisberger one more week to get himself together?

Why rob the world of a long-awaited Charlie Batch vs. Norv Turner rematch?

(Then again, there's no way it could live up to the original. Twelve years later and that thing's still an absolute masterpiece.)

B is for BELOVED

Wow, what a play by Griffin! Ill tell you what, thats some pure RGII magic right there!

I'm paraphrasing Jon Gruden from last Monday night, after Robert Griffin III fumbled (without being touched) inside the red zone and was lucky enough to have the ball bounce straight to a Redskins receiver, who then ran it in for a touchdown.

"Great play by Griffin!" Say what, Chuckie?

And he's not alone. At this point, it doesn't matter what RGIII does. People just love to love him. So much so that it's frightening to think what might happen if he's able to lead the Skins to a fourth straight win this Sunday against Baltimore. And considering the Ravens D is a week removed from giving up 275 passing yards to Charlie Batch, we might find out.

Griffin still deserves a ton of credit, though. Over the Washington's three-game win streak, he's completed 73 percent of his passes for 667 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception. He's also averaged 61.7 yards a game on the ground, and for the season, leads the NFL in yards per carry and is on pace to rush for 952 yards.

And the cherry on top? As Gruden can attest, there's not a player in the league who's better at fumbling the ball to a teammate.


You could probably use that term to describe more than a handful of teams in the NFL, but over the years, no squad has embodied "consistently inconsistent" quite like the Giants. And this year, the defending champs are back in the consistently inconsistent saddle.

They started the year with a brutal home loss to the Cowboys. They followed that by winning six of seven games and gaining a seemingly insurmountable stranglehold on the NFC East. They follow that by losing three of four games, and now lead the Cowboys and Redskins by only one game in the standings.

On Sunday, they'll look to break out against the Saints, who boast a horrific defense that should do wonders for Eli Manning's confidence. Then again, the Giants defense hasn't been that sweet either. Over the last three games, opposing QBs have posted a 106.4 rating with six touchdowns and one interception.


At 6-6, the Vikings are playing for their post-season lives this week against Chicago, and linebacker Chad Greenway wants Mall of America Field to be rocking.

"We have to play accordingly and our fans have to show up accordingly, which we know they will, he said. Hopefully, they're super-duper drunk . . . So drink liquor, not beer."

For the Vikings' sake, let's hope the Bears defense shows up wasted as well. Minnesota's now lost six straight games to Chicago, and they've been held to 14 or fewer points in each of their last five tries.

Also, a quick tip for Greenway: If you're serious about wanting to encourage drinking, I'd recommend hiring someone to walk around the pre-game tailgate and ask questions like: "Hey, you guys see that Percy Harvin's out for the year?" "So, anyone have any thoughts on Christan Ponder?"

E is for EYE ON THE 30th

With last week's amazing comeback against Detroit, the 8-4 Colts are in the driver's seat for a spot in the AFC playoffs. Here's why:

1. They're already a game up on the competition.

2. The competition (Pittsburgh and Cincinnati) plays each other in two weeks, meaning one of them is guaranteed to pick up another loss.

3. This week, Indianapolis hosts the terrible Titans. Remember the Titans? Of course you do. They're losers of four of their last five. They boast the league's 31st ranked defense. They're in total shambles, with an eye already on next year.

Meanwhile, the Colts remain focused, but with one eye on December 30. That when doctors think Chuck Pagano might make his triumphant return to the sidelines. It's hard to imagine a better source of inspiration heading into the post-season, or a more fitting development in this already made-for-Hollywood season.

F is for FINALLY

It's very likely that these next four weeks will mark our last chance to watch Norv Turner patrol the sidelines as an NFL head coach, and I know I'm not alone in hoping that Turner goes out in style.

Maybe the cameras will catch him nodding off on the sidelines this Sunday in Pittsburgh? Or the Chargers will blow a 20-point fourth quarter lead next week against the Panthers? Or maybe he'll absentmindedly jog out on the field without any pants on in Week 16?

Regardless of how it unfolds, it's the of an era. Please join me in taking a moment to honor the great coach's career with a 21-failed-challenge salute.

G is for GREEN GOO

Speaking of soon-to-be former coaches, it appears that Rex Ryan's made peace with the end of his tenure with the Jets and has shifted all focus towards tormenting owner Woody Johnson.

In the saga's latest installment, it was reported this week that, with Tim Tebow injured, Woody wants Greg McElroy to start at quarterback on Sunday in Jacksonville. (By the way, there are great seats still available).

Naturally, Ryan named Mark Sanchez his starter. And at this point, Woody might be better off working a little reverse psychology on Sexy Rexy:

"Hey, Rex. Woody here. Just wanted to let you know how encouraged I was by that loss to the Jaguars. Seriously, man. Keep up the good work! Keep rolling out Sanchez every week! Keep feeding the ball to Shonn Greene those 3.8 yards per carry are unstoppable! Just keep being you, Rex! Nothing could make me happier."


Chad Henne came back to Earth last Sunday, completing only 19 of 42 passes for 202 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the Jaguars blowout loss the Bills. However, Adam Schefter reported this week that Jacksonville will have "no problem" going with Henne as their 2013 starting quarterback.

Well, I can think of a few potential problems, but with the Jets coming to town on Sunday, here's the obvious question: Why not just trade for Tim Tebow?

I know I'm not the first person to suggest this, but it just makes so much sense. Even if it's just as a back-up until Henne flames out or gets injured next season. Why not take a chance? They'd hardly have to give up anything. In fact, there's a good chance Tebow just ends up being released.

Bring him on board. Stir up some excitement. Make the Jaguars relevant again.

Maybe even win some games?

And if that doesn't work, theres always Vince Young.

Note to all you superstar running backs out there: Don't get hurt, because there's another superstar in waiting right behind you on the depth chart.

That may be overstating things a little, but isn't a little strange how we keep saying these barely known, often undrafted running backs take over for injured superstars and rocket to the top of the league?

For instance, Bryce Brown in Philadelphia. He was the the 229th pick in this year's draft. Barely a blip on the NFL radar coming out of Kansas State.

Lesean McCoy gets hurt, Brown goes in . . . and he's a star. In his two starts since taking over for McCoy, Brown's rushed for 347 yards, which is the second-highest two-game total in Eagles history! Andy Reid, man. That guys just a genius.

Brown has his work cut out for him on Sunday against the No.1 ranked Buccaneers defense.


The Buccaneers are one of four 6-6 teams in the NFC, and right now, all four would miss the playoffs. But a favorable schedule leaves Tampa with lingering hope for a late season run.

It starts on Sunday, when they'll host the fully-imploded Eagles. Next, they'll head to New Orleans to take on a Saints team with nothing left to play for. In Week 16, they play Rams before wrapping up the season in Atlanta against the Falcons fifth-stringers. So yeah, there's a chance.

But only if Doug Martin wakes up. The Muscle Hamster's averaged only 60.5 yards a game over the last two weeks (both TB losses), and unless he's rocking the playoffs won't come a knocking. (And yes, I hate myself for writing that sentence)


There's no easy way to handle a quarterback controversy. Not everyone can be as fortunate as Bill Belichick and watch their back up change the world. The truth is that it was only a matter of time a matter of the 49ers' first post-Alex Smith defeat before Jim Harbaugh started taking some real heat for his decision to role the dice with Colin Kaepernick.

But Harbaugh's sticking with his guy. He's convinced that CK is the man who can bring San Francisco back to the promise land. Kaepernick has another chance to convince everyone on Sunday in Miami, against a sturdy Dolphins D.

And a Dolphins franchise that the Niners haven't defeated in over a decade.

L is for LAW FIRM

The BenJarvus Green-Ellis Era could not have gotten off to a more inauspicious start in Cincinnati. You need evidence? Through nine weeks, BJGE didn't have a single 100-yard game and had as many lost fumbles (3) as he did touchdown runs.

But over the last three games, the Law Firm has become more powerful than Bendini, Lambert & Locke. He's become the first Bengals back since Corey Dillon in 1999 to register back-to-back-to-back 100 yard games, and has been an essential part of Cincy's four-game winning streak.

On Sunday, he'll face a Cowboys run D that ranks in the middle of the pack. But also one that's only a week removed from giving up 169 yards to Bryce Brown.


On the topic of BengalsCowboys, this could very well be a make or break moment for both.

Dallas stands at 6-6, and while they're a long shot to win a Wild Card spot, the NFC East is still up more grabs. Unless they lose, in which case the division will still be up for grabs, but the Cowboys just won't be in the running. As for Cincy, they'll presumably have to keep pace with the Colts and Steelers (who both have cupcake home games). A loss, and they'll be a game back, with a must-win game in on tap for Week 16 in Pittsburgh (where the Bengals have only won once since 2006).

N is for NEGLECT

The Ravens will be "on the road" in DC this week to take on the surging Redskins. In doing so, they'll look to avoid their first two-game losing streak since 2009.

And if that's the plan, then the Ravens might want to consider getting Ray Rice involved. In last week's loss to Pittsburgh, Rice only got 12 carries, and made only one catch out of the backfield. He didn't touched the ball once in the fourth quarter.

Keep it up, John, and your brother won't be the only Harbaugh getting panned in the media.


This story is behind ESPN's pay-wall, so apologies if you can't get through with the link, but this week the guys at Pro Football Focus completed an in-depth study of every offensive line in the NFL. They analyzed every single aspect of the position. According their results, here are the top five offensive lines of 2012:

1. San Francisco
2. New England
3. New Orleans
4. Cincinnati
5. NY Jets

And here are the worst five:

32. Arizona
31. Chicago
30. Jacksonville
29. Carolina
28. Indianapolios

Now, five knee jerk reactions:

1. God bless, Bill Belichick
2. Poor, Jay Cutler
3. Maybe Cam Newton's received a little too much criticism?
4. Andrew Luck really is that good.
5. Mark Sanchez really is that bad.


The Buffalo Bills have had one winning season this millennium and are just about guaranteed to miss the playoffs for the 13th straight season. Their fans are among the most tortured in professional sports, and to be honest, things still don't look that bright for the future.

But good news, Buffalo. According to general manager Buddy Nix, you just need to be patient: "We're headed in the right direction," Nix said this week. "But when you declare your goal is to build the team through the draft, then it takes patience."


But here's some real good news: This week, Russell Salvatore, of Russell's Steaks, Chops and More purchased more than 10,000 tickets to Sunday's game against the Rams to prevent a second straight local TV black out.

That's just Russell's Steaks, Chops and More being Russell's Steaks, Chops and More.

Q is for QUIET QB

A slow start put Russell Wilson behind the eight ball in the race for the title of NFL Most Heralded Rookie (no seriously, that's a thing.) And it certainly hasn't helped that he shares a rookie class with two of the most celebrated rookie QBs in recent NFL history.

But either way, Wilson belongs in the conversation. He hasn't done it with the fan fare of Andrew Luck or RGIII but he has the Seahawks at 7-5 and (thanks to a favorable schedule) he's likely headed to the playoffs.

Like most of the Seahawks, Wilson done his best work at CenturyLink Field, where he's undefeated (5-0) with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

This week, Seattle host the Cardinals, who have lost eight straight games, and in the process, their will to live.

Watching the Lions find new ways to lose games has been one of the more entertaining subplots of the season. But with Detroit's playoff hopes now in the gutter, they're turning their attention to a new sideshow in the motor city: Helping Calvin Johnson break Jerry Rice's record for most receiving yards in season.

Rice set the record in 1995 with 1,848 yards and with four games left, Megatron only needs 420 yards to set a new standard. This week, Lions OC Scott Linehan said that he'd "love" to see Johnson break the record, which means you can expect a lot of targets headed Megatron's way this week in Green Bay.

Where, by the way, the Lions haven't won in 20 years.

Here's an interesting nugget I read this week on ESPN's NFL Nation Blog: Heading into Sunday, the Browns have gone 44 games without a three game winning streak, which ties them with the Panthers for the second longest stretch in the league. The only team with a longer drought? The Rams who haven't won three straight in 92 games.

Well, this week, both the Browns (vs. KC) and the Rams (at Buffalo) take the field with two straight wins under their belt, and a very winnable match-up lying ahead.

While the Panthers quietly pray for disaster.


I RIP'ed the Saints season after they lost to San Francisco in Week 12. I threw another layer of dirt on their grave after last week's loss to Atlanta. But thanks to some help from the rest of the NFC pack, New Orleans is still alive heading into Sunday's game at MetLife Stadium.

I picture Drew Brees sitting in the coffin right now, trying to punch through the wood like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill 2. But I have a bad feeling that the Giants are about hit the Saints with a Five Point Exploding Heart Trick.


Tough times for the old Upset Special. With the Titans loss last week, I've now dropped two straight and sit at 4-6 for the season. As they say, desperate times call for desperate measures, so this is as desperate as I can get: Panthers over Falcons.

Why? Well, the Falcons needed a last second field goal to beat Carolina in Week 4, and that was at home. In the time since, Cam Newton has come back to life; Asante Samuel has left a hole in the Falcons secondary; Atlanta has already wrapped up the NFC South and have a way too comfortable edge for the NFC's No. 1 seed.

I say the Panthers catch them sleeping.

FINAL SCORE: Carolina 35, Atlanta 31

V is for VIVIAN

One more shout out for the newest addition to the BradyBunchen clan. Thanks for coming on a Wednesday, sweetheart. You have no clue how much that means to us.


The Bears still boast one of the more terrifying defenses in the league, but the unit suffered a big blow this week when it was revealed that Brian Urlacher will miss the rest of the regular season with a hamstring injury.

That's not exactly the kind of news you're looking for when there's a date with Adrian Peterson in your very, very near future. And it doesn't help that corner back Tim Jennings (the NFL's leader in interceptions) has been ruled out for Sunday with a bum shoulder.

It's enough to drive coach to get super-duper drunk.

And I'm talking off liquor, not beer.


Peyton Hillis and Joe Thomas have been slinging mud in the media this week in anticipation of Sunday's ChiefsBrowns game. It began when Thomas criticized the way the former Browns running back handled his last season with the team: "He was everything people knew about him -- hard-working, blue-collar, tough, would do anything for anybody on the team," Thomas said of Hillis. "All he cared about was winning, and then all of a sudden the next year, all he cared about was trying to get his new contract."

Hillis responded: "Joe Thomas, he can have his opinions all he wants. It's kind of like a crazy ex-girlfriend, you know? It's been over a year. Get over it."

Truthfully, I'm not sure where I stand on this debate, except to say that an ex-girlfriend that looks like this would be the ultimate Madden Curse.

Y is for YOLO

"You Only Lose On-Sunday" - Norv Turner, from his forthcoming memoir: "Words to the Wise, with Norv Turner"

Z is for Zee Ya Later

That's all for this week.

Enjoy the games.

Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Evaluating a Gronk-less offense


Evaluating a Gronk-less offense

Episode 13 - "The Ex-Pats Podcast"

SUBSCRIBE Audioboom | iTunes | Google Play

Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen look back at a solid Patriots win against a bad team in the Los Angeles Rams. The guys were trying to figure out exactly what L.A.'s gameplan was going in.

The linebacker rotation seems to be more consistent a few weeks after the Jamie Collins trade. How much of an impact will the loss of Rob Gronkowski have on offense? Malcolm Mitchell continues to impress, but 3rd down was a problem.

Finally, we look ahead to Monday night's game against the Baltimore Ravens, who have been playing well and are never intimidated coming into Gillette Stadium.

Would Brady's training regimen help Gronkowski avoid injury?


Would Brady's training regimen help Gronkowski avoid injury?

There are times during Tom Brady's Monday morning interviews with WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show when he feels like opening up about some of the things that have helped him stay on the field as long as he has. In those moments, when his passion for nutrition and position-specific training comes through, he provides insight into an approach that he says he has tried to share with others. 

On this particular Monday, Brady was asked if one of his teammates might benefit from a similar focus on hydration and muscle pliability.

Rob Gronkowski has been the best tight end in football for several years due in part to his size and strength, but he had season-ending back surgery on Friday, making this the third year that he will finish on injured reserve since 2012.

"I think it’s always up to the individual," Brady said when asked if it would help Gronkowski to work more with Brady's body coach Alex Guerrero. "He’s dealt with certain things that are almost impossible to avoid on the football field. Sometimes it’s just bad luck. For me, I try and do all the things I can do to avoid as many things as possible and be as proactive as possible so that I can try to be out there every week. I believe that if you have a great foundation, it ends up being a lot harder to get hurt. That’s kind of where I focus my time and energy over the course of the week so that . . . you know you’re going to get hit, you know you’re going to sustain these impacts, and how can your body be prepared to withstand those things?

"I've definitely gone about it a different way than probably 99 percent of the people that have played in the NFL. And I have a lot of belief and conviction how I feel, and I try to instill that in the guys that I am with, but some guys definitely understand it, and work hard at it, and want to do the right thing. Sometimes when you’re young you don’t feel anything, so why do I need to put time and energy into something that I really don’t feel is a problem?

"It probably took for me to be 30 years old to really understand, ‘Wow I really notice a difference.’ I noticed it a little younger than that, but not on a really catastrophic scale. Guys are working hard at feeling as best they can. I think that is important. Every step of the way, every year you try and improve on different things."

Gronkowski has openly discussed that he likes to have fun off of the field, but he has also insisted that he understands when it is time to put in the work to prepare for an upcoming season. He spent part of last offseason training at Jay Glazer's Unbreakable Performance Center -- the same gym where fellow Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett worked out -- where improving mobility and flexibility are part of the regimen along with building strength, speed, power and explosiveness.

But might Gronkowski find himself avoiding some of the injuries he's experienced if he focused more of his time on pliability? Brady didn't want to take the conversation in that direction, acknowledging that Gronkowski works hard on staying in shape, but he did say that in his opinion there isn't enough focus on flexibility in athletics in general.

"I mean Gronk is so hard working, and Gronk has spent a lot of time with Alex at different points," Brady said. "Gronk has his rehab and he’s going to do it, and I have no doubt he’s going to come back stronger and better than ever. All of us learn every year about things that work and don’t work. And it’s really up to the individual. Gronk, it depends what all the . . . I don’t want to single out Gronk because he’s the only one that's injured. There's a lot of players that get injured over the course of the year, and then you go about changes in your routine because you think this may work and this may not work.

"To me, I feel like it’s very touch-and-feel with how you do take care of your body. Some weeks it is a little more strengthening. Some weeks it’s a little more conditioning. Some weeks it’s a little more pliability depending on how your body feels. I don’t think people spend enough time on pliability at all. I think that is the missing third leg to what athletes in high school should be learning and college athletes. We learn at a young age it’s all about strengthening and conditioning. And strengthening at the expense of pliability, to me, gets you injured. If you’re injured you can’t play. If your body is your asset and you’re injured, you’re not going to have much of a career for any athlete. Every team is trying to incorporate the things they see and they feel and they want to do a better job of. I think, I feel like that is part of what I want to teach people is how I've done it."

Brady said he has had conversations with Gronkowski about his training and that Gronkowski has been "committed." But one wonders if there's any more that a physically-gifted 27-year-old with a long injury history can learn from a 39-year-old who has withstood physical ailments over the course of his career and still seems to improve with age.

Brady admitted that the physical needs for a player at his position are different than the ones for someone who plays tight end and is expected to execute blocks or break tackles. Going with longer, softer muscles may not work when you have to block down on a 320-pound defensive tackle.

"It’s great to have that. It’s great to be a very strong physical person," he said. "That definitely helps you in your field, especially whatever your job is. For me, strengthening is really just to withstand the hits. I don't need . . . You guys saw me block last week, I don’t really strength train so I can go block people. It requires a different level of strength for certain positions, and a lot of people need to put a lot of strength for their positions.

"Whether it's baseball players or hockey players . . . so much of what you guys have seen me do is try to replicate playing quarterback when I work out. Over the offseason I work on my drops and my mechanics so that I can be the best quarterback. Those functional exercises are what's important for me. I don't want to do anything that's going to throw my timing off, and my throwing mechanics, by slowing down or densening certain parts of my body -- my hips or my core -- I need to be really pliable so I can maintain the timing and mechanics of my throwing motion so that I can throw the ball accurately because ultimately that's what my job is." 

Brady added: "You can't help the team if you're not out there. Different positions require different levels of strength and conditioning. I think that the key to sustaining the impacts is having your muscles pliable and that's soft and long and the ability to absorb the hits and really balance. That’s what I focus on. I’ve spent a lot of time with Alex keeping my muscles long and soft. Along with that goes the nutrition and feeling my inflammation rates down and keeping my muscles really hydrated. You go on these cross-country flights and you do a lot of things to dehydrate you. I stay very hydrated so it’s a combination of things that I feel put me in a great position to take those hits. Again, there are some that you can’t avoid and that is part of football. The ones I feel that you can avoid, those are the ones I want to avoid, and I think that's how I have stayed out there as long as I have."

The work he has put in with Guerrero, the changes to his diet, the commitment to rest and recovery -- it doesn't feel like a sacrifice to him, Brady went on.

Take Saturday's celebration of the 2001 Patriots that team owner Robert Kraft threw, for example. It sounded like the kind of thing any player would have built their schedule around, but Brady could only check in briefly before getting to bed. 

"I think there will be a time to sit back and reflect and enjoy those experiences," he said. "I take them for what they are . . . It's important for me to get my rest. It was nice to see a lot of the guys that I played with, but I couldn’t stay that long because my meetings finished at 8:30 at night, and I wanted to stop in because it’s important for me to see those guys. And Mr. Kraft, he put on a great event and I wanted to just make sure I was supportive of that. But I wanted to get home and to get to bed. Then to get up the next day and to be focused on the game, that’s where my energy was at.

"It’s not a sacrifice because I love it. At the end of the day I love what I do. I love the experiences that I’ve had. That is what I enjoy. I always feel my motivation is that I could have, should have done better.

"After every game that is what I think. 'God, I could have done this. I should have done this.' I think it’s a little maniacal because you do and you deal with so much stuff, sometimes the games, there’s a lot of imperfection in football, and there’s a lot of imperfection of what you do out there, especially when you’re making split-second decisions. It’s gratifying to come out of a game and go, 'Man, that was pretty good game.' And that’s happened, definitely. That is what you’re always trying to strive for. For me, I just want to try and put myself in that position every week to be the best I can be for my team."

As Brady said, some of the things Gronkowski has dealt with have been unavoidable. But one has to wonder, given everything he's been through, if he might not consider a real change in how he takes care of his body -- his "asset," as Brady put it -- in order to more consistently put himself in position every week to be the best he can be for himself and his team.