Alphabet NFL Preview: Week 16 MORE: PatsJags The Pick

967647.jpg

Alphabet NFL Preview: Week 16 MORE: PatsJags The Pick

If youre reading this sentence, it means that we survived. That were still alive. And now, in a world without It looks like the Mayans were right! jokes.

Its beautiful thing, I tell you. God bless the Mayans! The Norv Turners of the End of Days prediction game.

Well, unless the world did end. You ever think about that? That maybe we dont exist anymore. That maybe a switch went off, and that this is the afterlife? That maybe

THE ALPHABET: MAYBE YOU SHOULD JUST START THE PREVIEW.

RICH: Yes, master.

A is for ALL DAY

With all the team-oriented hopes and dreams still up for grabs on Sunday, Id hate to kick off this week's preview with a celebration of individual accomplishment. But unfortunately, the only thing Id hate more is to do anything to piss off Adrian Peterson.

Heading into Sundays game against the Texans, Peterson is 294 yards short of Eric Dickersons all-time record for rushing yards in a season. Even if he only had one game to get it done, youd have a hard time betting against him, but in this case, hes got two. He basically needs to average 150 yards a pop, and considering that hes broken 150 in six of his last eight games, I'd say that he has a prittaaay good chance.

And you know what? He deserves to break the record. I'm completely comfortable with 2012 Adrian Peterson being immortalized as one of the most dominant forces in NFL history. His performance especially in light of his surgery and Christian Ponder's arm is nothing short of legendary. Very worthy of the No. 1 spot. (By the way, isn't it great how badly Dickerson doesn't want AP to break the record? I'd much rather have a guy tell the truth than grit his teeth and transparently pretend that he's happy the way Reggie Miller did with Ray Allen).

Anyway, as for the Texans, theyve got the leagues fourth ranked run defense, and have only allowed two individual 100 yard rushers all season. However, one of those came last week and the culprit was Vick Ballard so that certainly works in Peterson's favor.

As for the rest of the Vikings? Theyre this still in the hunt for an NFC playoff spot, but unfortunately no one cares.

B is for BENGALSSTEELERS: AFC GAME OF THE WEEK

If the Bengals beat the Steelers on Sunday, the AFC Playoff Picture is basically complete. In some order, the teams will be: Houston, Denver, New England, Baltimore, Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

But then again, we're talking Bengals at Steelers here. With the season on the line. With years and years of psychological damage weighing heavy on Cincy's psyche. You really want to ride with the Bengals? If so, here are three points to justify your faith.

1. Cincy's young core doesn't care about or understand that history. (Although they have lost five straight to the Steelers.)

2. The Bengals recent record in Pittsburgh isn't even that bad. Sure, they're 4-8 at Heinz Field since the turn of the millennium, and that's nothing too brag about, but it's better than I imagined.

3. The Steelers are in shambles. They've lose four of five. They're getting nothing from their backfield (and just lost G Willie Colon for the season). Todd Haley's already worn out his welcome. Mike Tomlin's pets' HEADS ARE FALLING OFF.

Still Bengals at Steelers?

If you believe in Cincy, you're a braver man than I.

C is for CONTINUUM

Somewhere in the multi-universe, there exists a time and place where the NFL referee lockout never happened, Seattles Fail Mary was called incomplete and the Niners already locked up the NFC West title.

But in this world, the 8-5 Seahawks are still alive, a game and a half (thanks to San Fran's tie) back in the division with two to play, and very much in the thick of the NFC playoff race.

In fact, a win on Sunday night and Seattle's in.

But let's be honest: If Slappy Pete and the Seahawks have any aspirations of making noise in the postseason, they need to get at least one home game. That means they need to beat the Niners on Sunday, and then the Rams in Week 17, while hoping San Francisco falls flat against the Cardinals.

Not likely, but you won't hear much sympathy for Seattle. Certainly not from Green Bay.

(Although, assuming they beat Tennessee, the Packers will be rooting for the Seahawks on Sunday night. A 49ers loss keeps them alive for a first round bye.)

D is for DOWNFALL
The long-awaited rematch of Super Bowl XXXV! The Ravens and Giants are in a very similar place right now. Theyre two teams living parallel lives in separate conferences, and on Sunday their worlds will collide.

About a month ago, both Baltimore and New York were destined for a second straight division title, but in the time since, the Ravens have lost three straight and the Giants, four of their last six. Both teams' quarterbacks have regressed to a prepubescent state. Their star running backs are struggling, both mentally and physically. Their once proud defenses are in the dumps. No one's quite sure what to make of it.

Of course, once we get to the playoffs, no one will want anything to do with the Ravens and Giants. It's not unprecedented for a team to back into the playoffs and catch fire at the right time, and both these teams have the talent and makeup to do just that.

But for the Giants, it's still a matter of getting to playoffs. While a win over Baltimore would certainly increase their odds (New York can clinch a berth with a victory, combined with losses by Minnesota, Chicago, Dallas AND Washington), their fate will still come down to Week 17 against the Eagles.

As for the Ravens, they've clinched a playoff spot, but with a loss, they'll head to Cincinnati next week needing a win to defend their AFC North title.

Expect Jim Caldwell to cook up something special for that one. (Just as soon as he's done with his nap.)

E is for THE BIG E

As in, Greg McElroy. As in, an excuse to talk about on the Jets quarterback situation. Or maybe, to just ask one question: What happens if McElroy gets hurt?

Lets say Shaun Phillips gets loose (the Jets host the Chargers on Sunday) and destroys him in the pocket, or McElroy gets a little too ambitious on a QB scramble and ends up with a mouth full of Eric Weddles helmet. What if Rex needs to make a move?

It has to be Sanchez, right? Given all that's happened, and considering the current state and perceived future of the Jets franchise, is there even one ounce of logic that would support giving Tebow a chance to lead this team?

Of course not. Although in that case, that's probably exactly what Rex will do.

F is for FAREWELL TOUR

One more storyline for Sunday's ChargersJets game: The Norv Turner Farewell Tour!

After all we've been through, it's hard to believe that the era is finally winding down, but this will be Norv's last road game as an NFL head coach.

At least until Woody Johnson hires him to replace Rex.

G is for GIII

The Redskins are in Philly this week, and still in complete control of their NFC East destiny. That means a win on Sunday, plus a win next against the Cowboys, and the Skins are division champs a mere month after Mike Shanahan publicly urinated all over Washington's season.

Of course, the big story is the return of Robert Griffin III (this time, for real), but just as essential to the Redskins chances is the fact that the Eagles no longer resemble an NFL team. Even if Lesean McCoy returns to the field on Sunday, running back is probably the one spot where Philly doesn't need help. The rest of the team is a mess. They've lost nine of 10 games. Their coach spends his days fantasizing about a life of boogie boarding on the shores of San Diego and nightly skinny dips in the Pacific.

The Eagles are done. In Week 17, it's going to be Dallas at Washington, with the NFC East on the line.

H is for HONOLULU

Congratulations to Peyton Manning for winning the 2012 Pro Bowl fan vote. Now the question is: What are the chances that Peyton has more pressing plans on Pro Bowl weekend?

For all the hype surrounding Manning's season and believe me, it's all deserved it feels like everyone has conveniently forgotten about his annual issues in the postseason. That he's still 9-10 for his career in the playoffs. That there have been times when he's looked just as, if not more dominant over the course of a regular season, but still managed to come up short with everything on the line.

At this point, it's very likely that the Broncos will have as the No. 2 seed in the AFC. They control their own destiny, with only the Browns and Chiefs standing in the way. Assuming they take care a business, Denver will have a first round bye, and home field advantage in the second round. That's when we'll find out whether the guy who's spent the last four months playing like the old Peyton Manning is still the same old Peyton Manning.

My money says he's headed to the Pro Bowl.

I is for INSPIRATION

The Colts can wrap up a playoff spot with a win on Sunday in Kansas City. In other words, the Colts are going to wrap up a playoff spot on Sunday in Kansas City.

But regardless of what transpires on Sunday, it won't be any match for what happens on Monday morning. That's when Chuck Pagano will reportedly return to the team and reclaim the position of head coach.

Amazing story.

J is for JUST FOR FUN

Theres no reason to care about the Raiders anymore, except to maybe see what happens with Terrelle Pryor. Oakland's expected to give the former Ohio State QB an extended look under center these last two weeks. And with the success that guys like RGIII and Colin Kaepernick, you wonder if the Raiders might be able to build something interesting around a dynamic dude like Pryor.

In the short term, I don't imagine his presence will result in any more wins, but I think you can count on a sharp spike in bad tattoo jokes on Twitter.

The Raiders are in Carolina on Sunday, which is a bad joke all by itself.

K is for KOMEBACK CIDS

The Cowboys host the Saints on Sunday, and will look to pick up their fourth straight win while keeping pace with the Giants and Redskins in the NFC East.

In the shadow of RGII, as well as the tragedy and controversy surrounding Josh Brent, Dallas is actually on a pretty impressive run. Not only only have they won three straight games, but all three have been fourth quarter comebacks; all three have come by five points are less. Regardless of how you feel about the situation, the team seems to have rallied around Brent (and obviously Jerry Brown). They've definitely rallied around Dez Bryant, who's still catching enormous touchdowns every week, despite only playing with one hand. And it doesn't hurt that DeMarco Murray's healthy and looking beastlier every time he takes the field.

L is for LENIENCY

The Bears have lost five of their last six games to fall to 8-6 and to the brink of elimination from the NFC playoff picture.

In their defense, it hasnt been the easiest stretch. Over the last six weeks, theyve faced Houston, San Francisco, Green Bay, Seattle and had two games against Adrian Peterson. But in reality, that doesn't mean a thing. At this point, the Bears will need help from Seattle and Minnesota to make the playoffs, and they'll also need to win out.

They'll take the first step on Sunday, with a gift game against the Cardinals.

M is for MR. PLOW

If Springfield was in Wisconsin (or is it?), the Packers could just call Homer (or if they wanted to be jerks, Plow King) for all their snow removal needs. Instead, they've hired a bunch of fans to do the job.

I'm sure that will be a lot of fun for all the people who show up, but if the Packers were smart they'd just make Greg Jennings do it. Guy has to earn his paycheck somehow.

N is for NOTHING TO PLAY FOR?

The Saints aren't technically eliminated from the playoffs yet, but then again, Norv hasn't technically been fired by the Chargers, Tebow hasn't technically been released by the Jets, the Falcons haven't technically choked in the first round. Technically shmechnically, we all know it's going to happen. And we know the Saints aren't headed to the postseason.

In some cases, this might lead to disaster. For instance, if the Saints were off to Carolina or Tennessee or some other sleepy NFL city this week, you'd almost expect them to come out flat. But this week, that's not the case.

I don't know how any team, regardless of the circumstances, could walk into Cowboys Stadium, look up at that ridiculous screen, take a glance at the owner's box and not want obliterate Dallas.

Throw in the rumors that Jerry Jones is trying to steal the Saints' coach, and that's all the motivation they need.

O is for OTHER RECORDS

For all the talk about AP, there's one other pretty legitimate record in danger of falling over these next two weeks: Calvin Johnson needs only 182 yards to break Jerry Rice's record for receiving yards in a season.

Unlike Dickerson, Rice has said he has no problem with Megatron breaking his record, I have 40 records. I dont mind giving him one, he said.

And as with Reggie Miller, there's no way I believe him.

P is for PRIDE

Back in October, leading up to the PatsRams game in London, I wrote a post about the underrated and under-appreciated career of Steven Jackson.

This Sunday, Jackson can take another step towards cementing his legacy, as he needs only 91 yards against the Bucs to become only the sixth running back in NFL history to post eight consecutive 1,000 yard seasons.

For a greater appreciation of the accomplishment, check out the other five guys on the list: Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Curtis Martin, Emmitt Smith, and LaDainian Tomlinson.

And for more perspective on all the crap that Jackson has put up with during his time in St. Louis, consider this:

The Bills averaged 10.6 wins a year during Thomas' streak of 1,000 yard seasons. The Cowboys averaged 9.5 wins during Emmitt's. The Pats and Jets averaged 9.5 wins a season during Martin's 10-year stretch. The Chargers averaged 8.9 wins a season during LT's streak. The Lions averaged 7.8 wins a year over Barry's 10 straight seasons above 1,000.

Over the last seven seasons, Jackson's Rams have averaged 4.1 wins a year.

I have no idea how this guy's kept his sanity, and hope he ends up with a contender next season.

Q is for QUESTION

Will we one day be talking about the 2011 Draft as the best in NFL history?

I know it's obscenely early, and that either way, this probably isn't the time to bring it up. But just take a second and look at the Top 11 picks in last year's draft:

1. Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton QB
2. Denver Broncos: Von Miller LB
3. Buffalo Bills: Marcell Dareus DE
4. Cincinnati Bengals: A. J. Green WR
5. Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Peterson CB
6. Atlanta Falcons: Julio Jones WR
7. San Francisco 49ers: Aldon Smith LB
8. Tennessee Titans: Jake Locker QB
9. Dallas Cowboys: Tyron Smith OT
10. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blaine Gabbert QB
11. Houston Texans: J. J. Watt

In only its second season in existence this draft class already boast arguably the four most dominant defensive players in the entire league (Miller, Peterson, Aldon Smith and Watt), two of the best receivers in the league (Green and Jones) and a potentially transcendent QB in Cam Newton. Of course, there are busts especially with Gabbert (and maybe Locker), but second round selections Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton already make up for that. Seriously, look at that crew. (I try not to act surprised that the Bills and Jaguars made the worst two picks)

R is for REBEL

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have made careers of dominating on the field, and saying all the right things off of it. But Aaron Rodgers isn't like that. He generally says whatever is on his mind. And I respect that.

Here he was this week, talking about the Pro Bowl: "I just felt like the intensity level was higher (in 2009)," Rodgers told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "You didn't see a ton of big hits or anything, but you didn't see some of the efforts or lack of effort we saw last season. On the flip side, I understand. Drew (Brees of the New Orleans Saints) was playing without a contract, and some of these guys didn't want to be out there. I understand that. But if that's the case, then maybe we shouldn't have a game at that point."

Can you imagine how fast David Stern would fine an NBA player for saying something like this about the All Star Game? He'd have the guys head on a spike. But Goodell won't do a thing. He wouldn't dare. He's totally lost control.

S is for SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER

Thursday night football has become Saturday night football, and this week's schedule is only slightly more entertaining than the usual 2012 primetime selection: Falcons at Lions?

Yeah, it could have been special, but Jim Schwartz's challenge flag and Matthew Stafford's arm took care of that.

T is for THANKS FOR NOTHING

It's not unheard for a running back to reward his offensive linemen with an end of season gift. But typically, the gift is something that those linemen are actually interested in.

Not the case for Arian Foster, who presented his offensive line with Segways, after they all spent the regular season making fun of Foster for using his.

"I feel like all of them big hogs up front can enjoy the joy that I get from riding my Segway," Foster said. "Guys like Chris Myers and (Duane) Brown and Wade Smith, they're always getting on me about riding my Segway. 'You can't walk? You're too good to walk?'"

Sounds like they'll really appreciate it.

U is for UPSET SPECIAL

I probably shouldn't bother. With last week's Brown's loss I've now dropped three straight Upset Specials, and have just about lost any hope finishing this season with my pride in tact. I'm the gambling world's Detroit Lions.

So give me the Detroit Lions.
Final score: Lions 31, Falcons 27

V is for VIDEO WARS

In their bid to host another Super Bowl, the Texans announced plans this week to install two new video boards (aka Jumbotrons) at Reliant Stadium. Boards so big they'll actually be larger than Jerry Jones' pride and joy in Dallas.

I'm sure everyone's having a good laugh about it in Houston, but I doubt that will last once Jones announces his own plans to buy the Texans, shut down the team and turn Reliant Stadium into his personal bath house.

W is for WHO CARES BOWL

I went back and for a while on deciding the most meaningless game on the Week 16 schedule, and in the end it was really a three game race between Oakland at Carolina, St. Louis at Tampa Bay and Buffalo at Miami.

The winner . . . BuffaloMiami!

The deciding factor was fantasy implications. With Super Bowls being played across the country this week, you have to figure that at least a few teams have Cam Newton, Steve Smith, Brandon Myers andor Denarius Moore. There are definitely a lot of teams starting Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin, Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola. But in that Miami Buffalo game? Maybe Stevie Johnson. Maybe CJ Spiller? Maaaaybe Reggie Bush, but probably not. There's nothing.

X is for XMASMerry Christmas, everyone. To you and yours. Especially yours.

Y is for YULE LOG

Keep this burning as you re-read the Alphabet Preview with your family on Christmas Eve.

Z is for ZOLTAN MESKO . . .
. . . and the Pats wish you a Merry Christmas as well. In Spanish. And in Gronk.

And that's all for this week.

Enjoy the games and happy holidays.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Friday Bag: What’s the Patriots' future at running back look like?

Friday Bag: What’s the Patriots' future at running back look like?

Every Friday Tom E. Curran, Mike Giardi and Phil Perry will take your Patriots questions (Curran is sitting this one out) on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as they call it. 

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag.

MG: Q leading off my portion of the always popular, always exciting, always (occasionally?) informative #FridayBag. I think it would be easy to think that way from the outside looking in, or knowing how callous some organizations can be, but I just don’t believe that to be the case here. Players talk. Agents talk. Hell, coaches talk. If the Pats were to operate that way, it would get around the league in a heartbeat. Then why would someone want to play here knowing they’ll be treated even more like a disposable commodity then normal? The flip side to this is actually protecting the player from himself. Guys in the last year of a deal sometimes feel compelled to play through every damn thing so they can at least say “look at me, I’m a warrior!” And on that note, I’d sit Marty Bennett next week in Denver and probably the following week against the Jets if that will help the ankle and whatever else is ailing him heal to the point where he’s a hell of a lot more effective than what we just saw versus the Rams (He was awful). Bennett’s too valuable going forward. 

MG: Lisa, my understanding is teams nominate their player and then it goes to a panel (one that includes the NFL Commish) to decide who wins for the league (It was Anquan Boldin in 2015). Can’t quibble with Rob Gronkowski being the team’s nominee this year. People have no idea how much he does for the community. Heck, we don’t even know the extent of it, but the great Don Rodman of Rodman Car Dealer fame and one of the most incredibly charitable individuals to ever grace this area said that there are few if any athletes who devote more time and effort to charitable works/foundations. I hope he wins. It would mean a lot to Gronk.

MG: You never figured you’d have to worry about the offense, did you Steve? But the season-ending injury to Gronk and now the injury to Danny Amendola does concern me. Both of those guys are incredibly reliable 3rd down targets, and in Gronk’s case, he’s usually the first or second option on 3rd down. Bennett hasn’t been able to pick up the slack because he’s clearly not healthy either. That means the Pats and Josh McDaniels will be going through a trial and error period here to best determine how to improve that number and become more efficient. I suspect more will fall on Julian Edelman, but also look for the continued evolution of the two back set with James White and Dion Lewis.

MG: Ambrose, the Pats have remained incredibly committed to the run because they don’t want to find themselves in the same spot they were a year ago, when the run game was so pathetic that neither Miami in the regular season finale nor Denver in the AFC title game paid it one mind. That means rushers pinning their ears back and smashing into Tom Brady at rates no one is comfortable with. So while I won’t be surprise if Brady throws it 45 times, I don’t think they shelve the ground game, at least in the first half. 

MG: Ok Bunk, I stole a comment of yours for the mailbag. Trying to make you famous…yes, I stand by my tweet in which I stated the Ravens and Broncos are bigger threats than the Chiefs or Raiders. Oakland’s defense would give up 40 to Brady. 45 if the Pats needed it. Or 50. I’m dead serious. As for the Chiefs, Alex Smith is not coming into Foxboro and beating this team, even with some of it’s defensive issues. And Belichick will make damn sure that rookie Hill doesn’t get many cracks at touching the football in the return game. Oh, and now the Chiefs best linebacker, Johnson, is out for the year with an Achilles. Should I continue???

MG: History tells us no, David. Brady would throw a fit and argue that he needs to play to remain sharp or iron out this problem or that problem. There’s also the possibility of a bye week looming, meaning he’d go 3 weeks without actually playing in a game. Seems like a good idea in the sense that you don’t risk a 39-year old to a blindside shot, but neither he nor Belichick would ever go for it.

PP: The running back position might be the toughest to project moving forward because there are so many injuries there and there are so many backs who come from nowhere to earn significant roles. I'll say this though: The backs they have on the roster -- not including Brandon Bolden, who has turned into strictly a special teamer after having a difficult time holding onto the football this year -- don't seem to be slowing down. LeGarrette Blount just turned 30 but is in the middle of his best season. Dion Lewis looks strong after two surgeries. James White has taken his game to a new level in his third season. I could see the same group coming back next season, but given the volatility of the position, you know the Patriots will always be scouring for talent there. 

PP: Tom E. touched on this yesterday, Big Wally. Brandon Pettigrew, who was released by the Lions on Friday, might make sense. Otherwise, there's not a whole lot out there. Zach Sudfeld? He's available. Would be an unlikely reunion, but desperate times . . . I think the Patriots will continue to roll out Martellus Bennett at less than 100 percent. I think Matt Lengel could see more work as a blocking tight end as he becomes more familiar with the system. I think we'll see more Cameron Fleming, and we could see more two-back sets with no tight ends. In my opinion, Bennett could use a rest, but I don't think it's coming any time soon. As far as Sarge's question about the hurry-up, I'm not sure we'll start to see more that. It's possible, but one of the benefits with the hurry-up is to keep a defense from substituting to shift matchups in its favor. With Gronkowski or Bennett on the field in a hurry-up situation would have even further highlighted the matchup issues they present. If either one found himself with a slow linebacker on him, the Patriots could have rushed to the line and continued...to exploit...that matchup. Without Gronkowski and without Bennett at full strength, the advantage of the no-huddle is somewhat sapped.  

PP: It's so late into the season, I'm not sure there's much in the way of opportunity for a breakout game this week, Paul. I guess the obvious choice would be Griff Whalen. If he can give the Patriots a pair of sure hands as a punt-returner, that would be a significant enough add that I might qualify it as a "breakout." Bill Belichick made it clear this morning that the team views him as more than just a returner, though, so he could see some offensive snaps in four-receiver sets and provide the Patriots with a presence in the slot. I'd deem a four-catch, 50-yard performance as a "breakout" as well. To me, that's the range of his ceiling for this week. One other name as a potential "breakout" candidate? Justin Coleman. He could be used defensively after being inactive for the last three weeks due to Eric Rowe's hamstring injury. If he's able to help slow down the combination of Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Steve Smith, that'd be a breakout in my book. 

PP: The combined record of opponents they've beaten is actually 26-57-1, including the Browns 0-12 mark twice, but now it's out there. 'Preciate you, Dave!

PP:  There's still so much up for grabs in the AFC West that it's hard to determine the likelihood of Patriots playoff matchups and where those games will be. However, without getting into the nitty gritty details, I'll just point out that it's still possible that the Patriots end up on the road in either of these cities in the postseason. On the road, Denver is the tougher matchup. Always has been a brutal place for the Patriots to play, and Denver's defense is still good enough to cause them problems. At home? I'd say, of these two teams, Kansas City would be the one that would provide the Patriots with a slightly tougher test. In my mind, they're a little more balanced and I have more faith in Alex Smith to make plays than I do Trevor Siemien.

Friday's Patriots-Ravens practice report: Richards returns to the field

Friday's Patriots-Ravens practice report: Richards returns to the field

Friday's practice participation/injury report for Monday night's Patriots-Ravens game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
TE Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder)
DB Jordan Richards (knee)
LB Elandon Roberts (hamstring)
DB Eric Rowe (hamstring)
WR/SpT Matthew Slater (foot)

BALTIMORE RAVENS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
TE Crockett Gilmore (thigh)
LB Terrell Suggs (not injury related)
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh)
C Jeremy Zuttah (not injury related)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
G Alex Lewis (ankle)

FULL PARTICIPATION
G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)