Alphabet NFL Preview: Week 11

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Alphabet NFL Preview: Week 11

Another week of football. Another Alphabet Preview.

I think there's a pattern here.

A is for ANONYMOUS
Earlier this week, an anonymous member of Rex Ryans Fun Bus told the Daily News that Tim Tebow will be the Jets starting quarterback because hes terrible. And after that its just been a blur. Total chaos. One giant green streak in the underpants of the Jets franchise, with more ins, outs and contradictions than a full season of Homeland and the Benghazi scandal combined.

One thing we know for sure: Rex is NOT happy about having a mole in his locker room.

"If you're not going to put your name to it, I think that's about as cowardly of a thing there is," Ryan said.

Before adding, At the very least, your voice should be on camera in the background so that everyone can basically figure it out.

Anyway, when the game starts on Sunday, expect Mark Sanchez to prove that he doesnt need anonymous teammates for the world to realize that hes terrible. Last week, he was silenced by his former college coach (Pete Carroll) and this week, you know that former Jetscurrent Rams OC Brian Schottenheimer has provided Jeff Fisher with plenty of insight into shutting down the Sanchize.

The Rams are favored by 3.5 points, but Im on record saying theyll win by 13.

B is for BIG BEN

Theres always an instinct to downplay Ben Roethlisbergers injuries. I say that under the obvious admission that Roethlisbergers tougher than I am, but lets be honest, hes the king of being near death on Friday, and then running around on Sunday like a juiced up rhino, while Jim Nantz and Chris Berman climax over the grittiness and gamesmanship of the one and only (sigh) Ben.

My point: Despite all the drama surrounding his latest injury that theres a potentially life-threatening rib issue and a shoulder separation so rare that there haven't been any documented cases since 1998 Roethlisberger will be back before you know it; playing through the pain and basking in the glow of Nantz and Bermans verbal foreplay.

HOWEVER, and more importantly, Roethlisberger wont be on the field this Sunday, as the Steelers host the Ravens in the SRO AFC Game of the Week. With a win, Pittsburgh will improve to 7-3 and move into a first place tie with Baltimore, but heres the problem:

Theyve never beaten the Ravens without Roethlisberger theyre 0-4 lifetime, as opposed to 9-5 with Big Ben under center. And with Baltimore riding high off last Sundays blow out over the Raiders, its not likely that well see the Steelers buck the trend.

(Back-up Byron Leftwich does have one career victory over Baltimore. Unfortunately, it was so long ago that Deion Sanders still played for the Ravens.)

ESPNs Rick Reilly was the first to report that Deion Sanders formerly played for the Ravens.

C is for CAPTAIN ROBERT
Mike Shanahan might have thrown in the towel after Washingtons Week 9 loss to the Panthers, but Robert Griffin III continues to provide Redskins fans with inspiration for the future.

This week, his teammates voted to name RGIII a captain, effective immediately.

D'Angelo Hall was voted "Most Likely to Assault a Fan."

D is for DOUBLE DIGITS

Coming into this season, the Texans had been favored by 10 or more points only three times in their 10-year history.

(If youre interested, those three times were:

1. Last year, against the Browns (-10.5). The Texans won by 18.

2. In 2009, against the eventual 1-15 Rams (-14). The Texans won by three.

3. In 2008, against the winless Lions (-11). The Texans won by seven.)

As an indicator of how far Houston has come, this Sunday marks the fourth time THIS SEASON that theyll enter an afternoon as double-digit favorites, and their 15-point spread against the Jaguars is the widest in franchise history.

Speaking of franchise marks, Jacksonvilles at risk of tying a team record with seven straight losses. No doubt they will, and by more than 15 points.

I hope Blaine Gabbert enjoys his final few days with that pretty little mustache, because its going to mounted in JJ Watts locker by halftime.

(P.S. I got all that point spread info from Covers.com)

E is for ENDURING DOMINATION

When we last left the Broncos and Chargers, Peyton Manning (with some help from Philip Rivers) was ripping off 35 unanswered points in a historic comeback win. And to this point, that game has set the trajectory for each team's season.

The Broncos havent lost since, and have quickly established themselves as a legitimate and increasingly terrifying AFC contender. Honestly, wheres their weakness? Not to mention, after they're done with San Diego, the Broncos have a ridiculously easy schedule down the stretch, with four of their six remaining game coming against the Raiders, Browns and the Chiefs (x2).

Meanwhile, the Chargers are 1-2 since the collapse, and they havent exactly been up against the stiffest competition at Cleveland (L), Kansas City (W) and at Tampa (L). If theyd held on against the Broncos, San Diego wouldve been 4-2 with a ton of momentum heading into their bye week. In reality, their 4-5, and need a win (in Denver, against the hottest team in the NFL) to hold onto any already-unrealistic hope of making the playoffs.

I don't know about you, but I smell another Norv Turner extension.

F is for FORTIFIED

Heres one reason the Broncos and Texans have been so successful: They protect the quarterback.

In fact, through 10 weeks, no team has allowed fewer sacks than Denver and Houston, whove only given up 11 each. On that note, the Chargers rank 30th in the NFL with only 14 sacks. The Jaguars rank dead last with only 10. Good news for Manning and Matt Schaub.

Ill take Two Quarterbacks Who Wont Be Waking Up On Monday With A Concussion for 200, Alex?

G is for GROUNDED

Weve all spent the last week (and the better part of the last month) obsessing over Andrew Luck. How great he is . . . what a star hes going to be . . . whether or not he's actually a cyborg . . . But just for fun, lets say he comes into New England on Sunday and lays an egg. I mean, hes just awful. He makes the worst secondary in the free world look the 2006 Ravens.

Seems unlikely. But its no more unlikely than what happened last Sunday in New Orleans where Michael Turner racked up 15 yards on 13 carries against the Saints defense. The same Saints defense that, even with Turners no show, is allowing 162 yards a game on the ground and is on pace to give up more rushing yards than any team in NFL history.

So far this season, the Falcons rank 26th in team rushing yards, and only five teams have a worse yards per carry average. Obviously, with a passing attack like Atlantas, a questionable ground game isnt the end of the world. But if youre looking for holes in the Falcons armor, you can probably start somewhere inside Turner's creamy hamstrings.

H is for HELP IS ON THE WAY

Did you know that this is the first time in Giants history that theyve gone into the bye week on a two-game losing streak?

Probably not, because I just made it up. But in reality, the Giants have lost two in a row, and it doesnt get any easier after the break. Next week, they host the Packers. Then theyre on the road for an emotional road game in Washington. In Week 14, they host the surging Saints before heading out for back-to-back road games in Atlanta and Baltimore.

But the good news for New York fans is that help may be on the way: The Giants worked out Joseph Addai this week!

Next week: Rodney Hampton.

I is for INSULT TO INJURY

Jay Cutler and Alex Smith were two of 35 starting quarterbacks to suffer a concussion last Sunday, and both are still questionable for Monday's Main Event: Bears at 49ers. A game of ridiculous NFC proportions.

At this point, Smith appears more likely to play, but if Roger Goodell really wants to take a stand for player safety, hell rule them both ineligible.

Honestly, can you imagine a more dangerous situation for a post-concussed quarterback than a prime time, late season, playoff-implicating game between the 49ers and Bears defenses? You might as well drop a cinder block on their heads.

(UPDATE: Cutler's been ruled out. Say a prayer for Jason Campbell.)

J is for JUST A REMINDER

That passing yards are just about the most overrated statistic in football. Theyre the RBI and the assist all wrapped into one. Through 10 weeks, three of the top five (and four of the top 6) passing teams in the NFL have a losing record.

Individually, Matthew Stafford has generally been one of the most disappointing and pathetic quarterbacks in the league, but hes still the NFLs fourth-leading passer. Even more revealing, Carson Palmer ranks third.

Expect Stafford and Palmer to light it up again on Sunday, as the Lions take on the Charles-Woodson-less Packers and the Raiders host the Saints. Also, expect them both to lose.

K is for KICKER CAROUSEL

Billy Cundiffs NFL tour continued this week with a workout in Houston, leaving the rest of the world with one very important question: Why arent there more good kickers?

Over the last two years, Cundiff has established himself as easily the least reliable kicker in football. Regardless of how well he might work out, hes literally the last guy a team like the Texans should ever turn to in a late-season jam. Yet everyones still interested. Someone in the Texans organization actually said the words: You know, it might be worth taking a look at Cundiff. And do you know who else the Texans worked out this week? Olindo Mare. Who was awful in Carolina last year, has never been clutch and turns 40 next year.

Is there really no one else in the world who knows how to kick a football?

I swear: If I have a son, Ill let him play any sport he wants. I wont restrict him in the slightest. But starting at five years old, him and I are spending at least two hours a week practicing field goals.

One day, an 85-year-old Chris Berman will nickname him Rich Levine La Vida Loca Jr.

L is for LAYING THE GROUND WORK

Mike Holmgren is effectively done with the Browns. Jerry Jones is effectively in the market for a new head coach. Mike Holmgren and the Cowboys would make a lot of sense.

And while Holmgren has denied having interest in the job, he's conveniently making the trip down to Dallas for this week's game.

Hmm . . . I smell a walrus here.

And that's just about the only interesting storyline surrounding Sunday's BrownsCowboys game. Unless you have Trent Richardson on your fantasy team or a fetish for really awkward domestic abuse cases.

M is for MOVING ON?
It's also been rumored that Sean Payton could be the next coach in Dallas. Like Holmgren, Payton initially denied any interested, but this week, the New Orleans Times Picayune reported that Payton is likely to "keep his options open" in regards to next year.

In related news, Tom Benson has petitioned the Commissioner's Office to extend Payton's suspension to two years.

N is for NO. 1 TO NOWHERE
This has been one of the quietest seasons of Larry Fitgeralds career, and as an NFL fan, that kind of sucks. After all, hes one of the most exciting players in the league. Its not as much fun when Fitzgerald doesnt exist.

But heres the amazing thing about Fitzgerald: Even in this "down year", hes still on pace for more than 90 catches and 1,000 yards.

Arizona will have to throw like hell if they want to keep up with the Falcons (in the Dome) on Sunday.

O is for OUTSIDE CHANCE

The Bengals looked dead in the water last week, but with Sundays upset over the Giants, Cincys back in the mix.

Obviously, if they lose in Kansas City on Sunday, its over. But with a win, the Bengals will be 5-5, and their next four games (OAK, SD, DAL, PHI) all come against teams with a losing record. It won't be easy, but if anyone can lead the Bengals on an improbable run to the playoffs, Marvin Lewis can't.

P is for PACK BACK

Not that anyone counted out the Packers after their 2-3 start, but between the blown calls and the endless injuries, Green Bay certainly looked more vulnerable than they have in a few years. They'd fallen back into the pack.

And in many ways, they're still there, but with a win at home against the Lions on Sunday, the Packers will be suddenly 7-3, on a five-game winning streak with Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and Greg Jennings all getting close to recovery. In Jennings' case, he should at least be healthy enough to film a few commercials.

Q is for QUICK QUIZ

With 138 yards against the Panthers on Sunday, Doug Martin will become only the fourth rookie in Bucs history to run for 1000 yards. Can you name the other three?

ANSWER: Erick Rhett, Cadillac Williams and LeGarrette Blount. (Warrick Dunn missed by 28 yards)
R is for ROOKIE RED MEAT

As much fun as it's been to watch RGIII this season, it's a shame we'll never get to see him play against the Redskins. That's because Washington has somehow managed to lose eight straight games to NFL rookies.

EIGHT.

It started with a loss to Vince Young and the Titans in 2006, then a loss Bruce Gradkowski, Trent Edwards, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton and finally Christian Ponder. That's insane. I can just picture David Carr reading this list with a tear in his eye, wondering what could have been. Eight straight games?

Contract the Redskins!

Unless they beat rookie Nick Foles and the Eagles on Sunday.

S is for SUPERSTAR
There was a time when Danny Amendola seemed destined to end up on the Patriots. Back then, he was the next Wes Welker; a scrappy guy who would get lost in the number crunch and eventually find his way to Belichick. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking.

Either way, he's not going anywhere. He was too good, too fast, and there's no way the Rams will let him slip away.

Antonio Cromartie can expect at least one catch for every kid from Amendola on Sunday.

T is for TICKER

With everything I already said about the intensity surrounding Monday's BearNiners game, it's at least somewhat alarming that Jim Harbaugh was hospitalized this week for a heart procedure. Here's hoping that everything is OK.

Harbaugh's irregular enough as it is. His heart should stay out of it.

U is for UPSET SPECIAL

The Saints beat the Falcons last week to bring my Upset Special record to 3-3 on the season. Not bad, but not even close to good enough. This week, I'm going big with Chiefs over Bengals.

The Bengals season is on the line, so that should be all the motivation they need. But Kansas City's defense isn't that bad. The Chiefs crowd is angry, and can still make life hell for the opposition. And the Bengals are exactly the kind of inconsistent team that falls victim to this kind of upset.

Final score: Chiefs 27, Bengals 17

V is for VINTAGE CARSON

I give Carson Palmer a lot of crap every week, but there's just something about his mentality that rubs me the wrong way. Or at least helps explain why, despite all that talent, Palmer never quite made it over the hump.

Here he his on the challenges of trying to keep pace with the Saints of this Sunday:

"Being a quarterback you don't want to think that. You still want to go through your reads. Sometimes a sack is the best play, sometimes a punt is the best play. But you can't do it too many times against these guys. ... I don't let myself go into a game thinking we have to score on this drive, we have to score on this drive.' You get yourself in trouble and your team in trouble doing that. But I understand what we're up against. I understand that we have to keep up with these guys."

Again, I understand what he's saying. It's a very logical explanation. But it's so bland an emotionless. Without even an ounce of confidence. That's who you want leading the charge when your season's on the line?

W is for WHY CANT WE GET PLAYERS LIKE THAT

Last week, I talked about former Patriots cornerback Tony Carter, who's become a star this season in Denver, while the Pats secondary still looks rattier than Bill Belichick's favorite pair of sweatpants.

Carter responded to his Alphabet mention with a pick six against the Panthers.

Former Patriot Darius Butler had a pick six and two interceptions last Sunday against Jacksonville, and this week, will start for Indianapolis at Gillette.

At this point, it's hard for the Pats secondary to be anymore depressing than it already is, but if Darius Butler finds a way to pick off Tom Brady on Sunday, we're going to hit an all-time low.

X is for EXES, FUTURE EXES

You see that Hope Solo and Jerramy Stevens got married this week?

Take a look through the "Legal Troubles" section of Stevens' Wikipedia page (take special note of the entry from November 12, 2012) and then place your bets:

Overunder on length of marriage: 12 days

Y is for YOU DON'T SAY

Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis really stepped up his trash talk this week, telling reporters that that . . . brace yourself . . . Torrey Smith is "No Mike Wallace." Ooh, harsh words.

Wonder where he stands on the Byron LeftwhichJoe Flacco debate?

Z is for ZIP IT
That's a wrap.

Enjoy the games.

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

Curran: It's time to let the air out of Deflategate

Curran: It's time to let the air out of Deflategate

I think it’s time. Time to let the Deflategate wound scab over. Time to exit the active, raging, teeth-gnashing, petition-signing, lawsuit-filing portion of the program and let the hate follow its natural course into a slow-boil loathing.

If you are of Irish descent, you know how it works. Clear a big-ass space on the grudge shelf. Put Roger Goodell, Jeff Pash, Mike Kensil, Troy Vincent, Ryan Grigson, Jim Irsay, every shiv-wielding owner, all the cluck-clucking media and the legion of retired players and exiled GMs from Marshall Faulk to Joey Porter through Marty Hurney and into Bill Polian up there. Turn off light. Leave room.

When you need to piss yourself off -- in traffic, mowing the lawn, waiting for your coffee -- fetch ‘em down, blow the dust off and when you’re in a sufficiently foul mood, return grudge to shelf.

You rode the roller coaster. You’ve been there, done that and have all the T-shirts.

I came to this conclusion a few days ago, when ESPN’s Cari Champion interviewed Rob Gronkowski and asked about Goodell visiting Gillette. It was like playing “Get the Stick!” with a big goofy Lab. Champion threw the leading question, Gronk fetched -- tail-wagging --  and returned with a slobbery response that was completely implausible but still designed to dominate a four-hour news cycle.

"The fans are nuts, they’re wild, and they have the Patriots’ back no matter what,” said Gronkowski. “They have [Tom Brady’s] back. I’m telling you, he won’t get through the highway if the fans saw him. I don’t even think he can even land in the airport in Boston because Patriot fans are the best fans, they’re the most loyal fans. I’m telling you, they might just carry out Roger themselves. They couldn’t even get to the stadium in Foxboro if he landed in Boston."

Gronk’s just doing what he thinks he’s supposed to do. And Champion is, too. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Watch these mooks up in New England get all pissed off: “Hey, hey, Chowderhead . . . Roger Goodell . . . . ”

“F*** that guy, he better never show his face in Foxboro! But I want him to come to Foxboro so I can boo the ever-living s*** out of him and maybe barricade Route 1 like Gronk said we would!”

See? Works every time.

The irony is that the person mainly responsible for turning up the burner on this is Robert Kraft.

In May 2015, Kraft said at the owners meetings in San Francisco, “I don’t want to continue the rhetoric that’s gone on for the last four months. I’m going to accept, reluctantly, what he has given to us, and not continue this dialogue and rhetoric, and we won’t appeal.

“Now, I know that a lot of Patriots fans are going to be disappointed in that decision, but I hope they trust my judgment and know that I really feel at this point in time that taking this off the agenda, this is the best thing for the New England Patriots, our fans, and the NFL, and I hope you all can respect that.”

Well, that blew up like an ACME bomb. And -- from that moment on -- Kraft has tried to recoup the fanbase that believed he sold them out by issuing a succession of calls-to-arms that the region has dutifully responded to.

The most recent was throwing down the gauntlet to Goodell by expressly inviting him to the 2017 season opener.  I mean, it would have been a conversation point anyway, but now it’s metastasized into something that will be discussed throughout the offseason, ratcheting up in early September and hitting a crescendo on opening night.

There is appeal to seeing Goodell squirm while knowing the Maras, Rooneys and Irsays will be sipping highballs and lamenting the caddish treatment of Poor Roger. But I still like the football better.

Conversation about the historic import of SB51, the legacy of Brady and Belichick, prospects for the league in 2017? I’ll take those rather than an ESPN “personality” who spent a weekend in Newburyport at a friend’s wedding telling everyone what the mindset of the New England sports fan is.  

But that’s not what we’re going to get. There will instead be ever-escalating predictions of the terrors Goodell will be subjected to fueled by interviews with tatted-up kids from the mean streets of Marshfield who wanted “Hoodie” fired when he let Revis sign with the Jets.

Unless . . . unless the region en masse decides to let its loathing mature. Mature to the point that when the carrot gets dangled in its collective face it doesn’t leap at it with teeth bared but instead says, “No thanks. Already full.”

Yeah. I don’t think it’s gonna happen either.

NFL combine preview: Tight ends

NFL combine preview: Tight ends

With the NFL combine about to begin -- and the NFL Draft just about two months away -- we'll take a daily look at the collegiate talent available at positions where the Patriots might be looking for help. We start today with: Tight ends.

On Tuesday, players will arrive in Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine, with on-field workouts beginning Friday. 

The second group to take the field is the tight end group, which should be worth watching for a number of reasons. For starters, Todd McShay says that this is “a good year to need a tight end” given that there could be three first-rounders in O.J. Howard, David Njoku and Jake Butt.

Furthermore, Martellus Bennett’s potential departure and Rob Gronkowski’s durability questions make tight end a position the Patriots could target early come April 27. 

Here’s a quick look at each of the 19 tight ends invited to the combine: 

O.J. Howard, Alabama, 6-foot-6, 249 pounds

- NFL.com describes him as an “exceptionally gifted athlete” and says that his “play speed resembles a wide receiver’s when the ball is in the air.” They add he “appears passive” as a blocker and “need more muscle and mass to be an in-line blocker as a pro.”

David Njoku, Miami, 6-foot-4, 245 pounds

- Not the biggest guy in the world at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, but is considered a top-end athlete. NFL.com says he “should annihilate the combine with monster numbers in speed and explosion.”

Jake Butt, Michigan, 6-foot-6, 250 pounds 

- Does everything well, but could stand to fill out his frame a bit more. 

Jordan Leggett, Clemson, 6-foot-5, 250 pounds

- Not considered a great blocker and has admitted that he’s played lazily. Could the Pats fix his motor? 

Gerald Everett, South Alabama, 6-foot-3, 227 pounds

- Very interesting prospect. Primarily a basketball player in high school who played just one year of football (insert Antonio Gates basketball reference), Everett played at Alabama-Birmingham before the school cut its football program. Upon transferring to South Alabama, Everett showed his skills as a pass-catching tight end. 

Evan Engram, Mississippi, 6-foot-3, 236 pounds

- Itty bitty for a tight end, and he doesn’t have the greatest hands either. Described as a “move tight end only who lacks dependability as a blocker.”   

He was one of five who for second in the nation among tight ends with eight touchdowns last season. Other guys in that group were Njoku, Hayden Plinke,  Cole Hikutini and UMass’ Adam Breneman.

Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech, 6-foot-7, 245 pounds

- Just your average quarterback-turned-tight-end. The lanky Hodges would be a good fit for the Patriots simply because it would give Julian Edelman a break from the constant mention during broadcasts that he used to be a QB. 

Cole Hikutini, Louisville, 6-foot-5, 248 pounds

- A good athlete who isn’t much of a blocker.

Adam Shaheen, Ashland, 6-foot-6, 277 pounds

- Former college basketball player transferred from Pittsburgh-Johnstown to Ashland to focus on football and eventually established himself as a dominant player at the Division II level. He’s certainly got the size and strength, but questions will persist about just how similarly he holds up going from Division II to the NFL. 

Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas, 6-foot-5, 265 pounds

- Big, physical tight end with a solid stiff arm. Sprinkle was suspended by Arkansas for the Belk Bowl because he stole from a Belk department store after each player had been given $450 to spend there. He was arrested for the incident, as he stole $260 worth of extra items.

Pharoh Brown, Oregon, 6-foot-6, 245 pounds

- Not considered the athlete he was prior to a 2014 injury that nearly resulted in his leg being amputated. 

Michael Roberts, Toledo, 6-foot-4, 261 pounds

- Huge hands, which he uses to catch better than block. He led all FBS tight ends with 16 touchdowns last season. 

Jonnu Smith, Florida International, 6-foot-3, 245 pounds

- College career was ended prematurely when his pregnant girlfriend poured boiling water on him, resulting in severe burns throughout his upper body, including his head. He has good speed, but drops were an issue in college. 

Scott Orndoff, Pittsburgh, 6-foot-5, 256 pounds

- Figures to be a solid blocking tight end, but he also had five receiving touchdowns as a senior. 

Eric Saubert, Drake, 6-foot-5, 251 pounds

- Every draft pick is a gamble, but Saubert might be more so than others. An AFC regional scout says that Saubert is “body beautiful but he can’t catch. I don’t think it’s correctable, either.”

Cethan Carter, Nebraska, 6-foot-4, 240 pounds

- Elbow injuries figure to be a topic at the combine, and he had various injuries throughout his college career. 

Darrell Daniels, Washington, 6-foot-4, 246 pounds

- A scout told NFL.com that Daniels is "going to test through the roof and he's going to get overdrafted on the traits.” The Patriots don’t typically fall into such traps. 

George Kittle, Iowa, 6-foot-4, 250 pounds

- Only had one drop as a senior, but then again being believed to have had no drops in college doesn’t make a guy an NFL stud. 

Hayden Plinke, UTEP, 6-foot-4, 265 pounds

- Transferred twice in his college career, starting at Boise State, then Portland State and finally UTEP. Is considered a good blocker who grabbed eight touchdowns as a senior.