Alphabet NFL Preview: Week 16 MORE: PatsJags The Pick

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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

Curran: Pats earn their success the hard way

Curran: Pats earn their success the hard way

In the afterglow of Super Bowl 49, Brandon LaFell gave all the insight you need in order to grasp why playing for the Patriots is an acquired taste.

A first-year Patriot in 2014, LaFell recounted a moment with Darrelle Revis, another player the Patriots signed before that season.

"Me and Darrelle were driving home one day in [organized team activities] and they must have worked us to death that day," LaFell recalled. "We said it at the time, 'If we don't win the Super Bowl this year after doing all this work, we're going upstairs to the front office and telling somebody something.' Man, just the way we worked, the way we worked in camp, I believe in this team.”

They grind.

Tuesday night, Revis was released by the Jets after two seasons that leave a smear on an otherwise brilliant career. Revis’ conditioning, effort and off-field decision-making all indicated a guy who -- after earning a ring in New England -- just didn’t give the same number of flocks that he did in 2014 when he chose to subject himself to a one-year, NFL boot camp.

Idle speculation has begun as to whether or not the Patriots might want Revis back. The better question would be whether Revis -- 32 in July -- would want to subject himself to New England.

Consider this: Belichick sent Revis home in October of 2014 for being late to meetings on a Tuesday morning. I don’t know for sure, but I highly doubt Revis had his knuckles rapped like that in his entire career.

The rules, the practices, the conditioning, The Hill, the not-good-enough, gotta-be-better mindset, the need to self-censor for fear of saying something that will get you browbeaten in a team meeting, all of it wears the players down to a nub mentally and physically. There’s no “star system” per se. The best players are subject to the same expectations the undrafted rookies are.

And if there’s pushback, then GTFO. Recent illustrations of that would be Jamie Collins being traded to Cleveland, Alan Branch being put in detention for a week during training camp or Malcolm Butler being kept off the field for OTAs months after sealing the Super Bowl.

Free agency starts in a week and, when players weigh where they will sign, the work environment matters. New England’s stands out as being both the most difficult but also the most professionally -- if not financially -- rewarding destination in the league.

Year after year, players choose to come to play in a program that will be recalled in 50 years the way Lombardi’s Packers are now.

And some players choose to leave because the opportunity dangled elsewhere -- whether it be financial, geographical or atmospheric -- trumps Foxboro.

Donta Hightower is the Patriots most important free agent. He’s been candid about how much the expectations for success in New England weigh on a player mentally and physically. Since 2008, he’s won two BCS National Championships with Nick Saban at Alabama and two Super Bowls with Belichick in New England. He was 17 when he committed to ‘Bama. He’ll be 27 this month. That’s a long time in the grind.

When he signs, wherever he signs, he’ll be choosing where he wants to end his playing career. For Hightower -- for any player -- deciding to play in New England is a lifestyle choice.  

* * * * *

Why do NFL owners stand so united behind Roger Goodell even though he’s reviled by players, fans and media? He makes them soooo much money. The projected 2017 salary cap numbers came out this week and the $166 million-$169 million estimate is about $25 million higher than two years ago.. And since the yearly cap is a portion of total revenue (with a maximum to the players of 48.5 percent between 2015 and 2020) it stands to reason that if players are in line to make bushels more money, it’s because the owners are bringing in barrels more money.  It’s also worth remembering that, despite the windfall for everyone, the NFL still tried to bilk players out of money by hiding revenues and are in the process of paying back the $120 million they stole thanks to a court ruling just one year ago. 

* * * * *

So bear that in mind when free agency starts and players with modest resumes sign for dough that dwarfs what elite players got just a couple of years ago. Last year, the Giants signed Janoris Jenkins to a $62 million deal, second in the league in guaranteed money behind only Revis. Collins, exiled to Cleveland by the Patriots with one Pro Bowl to his name, already signed for four years and $50 million and that would no doubt have been even more had he gone to the market. So prepare to have your chin hit your chest when Logan Ryan signs. He’s got the same agents as Jenkins (Neil Schwartz and Jon Feinsod, formerly Revis’ agents as well), he’s 26, he’s one of the three best corners in the free-agent class and he’s probably going to sign a deal that’s easily north of $10 million per season. And that might be light. Ryan has very good ball skills, is physical enough to match up with big receivers, can also play the slot and is a true professional. But he’s not yet been a Pro Bowl-level player and he’s going to get paid what we’ve come to expect All Pro-level players get.

* * * * *

Which brings us to Gronk. That contract he signed which gave him great security when he was recouping from his string of injuries looks so awful right now. When the Patriots exercised their option on the back end of his contract, it was like signing him to a four-year, $36.51 deal with $10 million guaranteed. Coby Fleener signed a five-year, $36.5 million deal with $18 million guaranteed last year. Gronkowski is better than Fleener. Coming off another back surgery, Gronk isn’t in a position to agitate for having his deal reconfigured but he absolutely has his eye on the tight end market as he indicated in his comments about Martellus Bennett possibly breaking the bank. Gronk will be hoping for the trickledown effect from a player like Bennett. Weird, since it should be the inverse. My hunch is that Bennett won’t get an eye-popping deal but he’ll still decide against returning to New England in 2017. Absence may make the heart grow fonder in some cases but in the NFL, the warm camaraderie of the locker room fades a bit once March comes, visits are being made and offers are being slid across the table. 

Report: Pats won't trade Garoppolo, he'll 'be a Patriot in 2017'

Report: Pats won't trade Garoppolo, he'll 'be a Patriot in 2017'

The Patriots aren't shopping Jimmy Garoppolo, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports, which will be a disappointment to teams in need of a quarterback.

Though it probably will, this news shouldn't come as much of a surprise. As CSN's Tom E. Curran reported last week, the Patriots would "need to be bowled over" by a trade offer. "There is no for-sale sign draped around that beautiful little neck of Jimmy's," Curran told Tom Giles on Sportsnet Central, saying that unless the Pats are overwhelmed in a trade "they're not going to move Jimmy Garoppolo."

On an appearance on WEEI later Wednesday, Schefter doubled, and tripled, down on his earlier tweet.

"This is nothing about smoke, this is nothing about leverage, this is nothing about them not getting the price they wanted, Schefter said. "This is about one thing, plain and simple: They really like Jimmy Garoppolo, and they don't want to get rid of Jimmy Garoppolo. And they think good young quarterbacks in this league are tough to come by . . . And, again, Tom Brady is 40 years old. He's been able to do it for a really long time . . . but who knows how much longer he's going to play for?"

What about if the Patriots get an overwhelming offer? Schefter was adamant, saying Garoppolo would be a Patriot in 2017.

"It's just not going to happen . . . Again, I'm telling you that they're not expected to trade Jimmy Garoppolo . . . They're not going to trade him.

"I'm just telling you that Jimmy Garoppolo is going to be on the Patriots in 2017. No matter who calls, no matter what anybody offers. He's going to be on the roster this summer."