Alphabet NFL Preview: Week 16 MORE: PatsJags The Pick


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


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.


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.


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.)

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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 Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Patriots LB Ellis 'all in' on football before giving medical school a shot

Patriots LB Ellis 'all in' on football before giving medical school a shot

FOXBORO -- When a new player arrives to the Patriots, there's a familiar refrain that's recited from behind the podium at Gillette Stadium: "Football is important to him."

Whether the subject is a rookie or an established veteran, those five words can serve as Bill Belichick's stamp of approval. It means the player cares. It means the player is willing to put in time.

Belichick hasn't gone on the record on any of the members of this year's class of undrafted free agents just yet, but linebacker Brooks Ellis seems to fall into that category of players to whom football is important.

If it wasn't, he would probably be putting all of his energy into getting accepted into medical school right now.  

Ellis was a two-year captain at Arkansas and one of 12 finalists for the Campbell Trophy, also known as the "Academic Heisman." He maintained a 3.82 grade point average as a pre-professional exercise science major with a minor in biology, he was the first two-time Academic All-American in program history, and he was the SEC's Scholar-Athlete of the year for 2016.

All that is to say, Ellis had options upon graduation.

Football won out. He agreed to a deal with the Patriots soon after the draft, and he's spent the better part of the last month trying to learn defensive terminology and special-teams techniques. 

But eventually Ellis hopes to be an orthopedic surgeon, and later this summer he'll submit his applications to medical schools in order to kick-start that process for whenever it's time to pursue his next plan full-throttle.

"I'm putting my all into this right now," Ellis said, wearing Patriots gear while standing on the Gillette Stadium turf last week. "But when I get some spare time, I'm finishing applications, and then when I get back in July I'm sending those in.

"If I get accepted somewhere, I'm going to tell them I need to defer until I know for sure what the football situation is going to be. So I'm all in on football, and just in case, I'm going to have that ready to go when I get out of it."

If all goes well for Ellis this spring and summer, it could be a while before he's taking the Hippocratic Oath. The Patriots have a long history of giving worthy undrafted players a shot at the 53-man roster, and Ellis plays one of the few positions on New England's loaded roster that might have room for a newcomer or two.

On paper, he certainly looks like their type.

The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder was his team's leading tackler for two seasons. He played all three linebacker positions in Arkansas' defense -- strong-side, middle and weak-side -- and he started 31 consecutive games to finish his career. Ellis also has extensive special teams experience, and he recorded one of the quickest three-cone drills among linebackers at this year's NFL Scouting Combine.

That he learned under Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema can't hurt his chances, either.

Bielema began his coaching career at Iowa under former Belichick assistant Kirk Ferentz, and Belichick has dipped into Bielema's programs at Wisconsin and Arkansas several times over the course of the last few seasons. Running back James White, defensive end Trey Flowers and former tight end AJ Derby all played for Bielema, and Ellis joins fellow Arkansas rookies Deatrich Wise (fourth-round pick) and Cody Hollister (undrafted) on this year's squad.  

"He came in, started about halfway through his true freshman year -- we weren't a really good football team, we were 3-9 -- threw him in the middle of it, didn't bat an eye, and he got better every game," Bielema said of Ellis on Quick Slants the Podcast. "Sophomore year, [he] really began to mature, develop. He's another guy that the potential -- because we never redshirted him -- to grow in this year is going to be huge . . .

"He's just truly very, very intelligent, compassionate. And the value that he brings is he could be an unbelievable role player. I'm not saying he's going to be a four-time All-Pro or anything like that, but he'll be reliable, dependable, in every phase of the game."

Robb Smith, Arkansas defensive coordinator from 2014-16, believes Ellis landed in the perfect spot. Prior to his time at Arkansas, he worked under Greg Schiano at Rutgers, where he coached Patriots safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, former Patriots corner Logan Ryan, Patriots linebacker Jonathan Freeny and safeties coach Steve Belichick.

"He's one of those guys that's not only going to know his job, but what the other 10 guys around him are supposed to do," Smith said of Ellis. "He'll be able to be a leader from that standpoint in terms of helping guys with the system and the scheme. He's very good instinctively . . ."

"This guy's going to be replacing my knee someday. I'm serious. He's going to be an orthopedic surgeon that's outstanding. I know that's what his goals are. But hopefully he gets to play a lot of football between now and then."

There's one more Patriots link connecting Ellis to New England. His agent, Neil Cornrich, has counted Belichick as a client and also represents Bielema, Ferentz, Flowers, Derby, undrafted Patriots rookies Cole Croston and LeShun Daniels (both of whom played under Ferentz at Iowa) and Patriots running back Rex Burkhead. 

It may come as no surprise then that when Ellis signed with the Patriots, no one knew. He didn't announce it on Twitter, as is the norm for undrafted players when they come to an agreement with a team. And the news wasn't leaked. Instead, he waited for the team to announce it, which his new employers probably appreciated.

Ellis, who according to the Boston Globe received the fifth-most guaranteed money of the 19 undrafted rookies the Patriots signed, said he received some simplie advice from Cornrich before making his way to New England.

"He just said that you'll fit in well there," Ellis said. "You're the type of guy they like, and you're the type of guy that succeeds in that organization. Don't do anything special. Just go out there and work like you do every day, and it'll turn out for the best."

Even if it doesn't, Ellis will have medical school. But he acknowledges there's some unpredictability with that path, just as there is being an undrafted player in the NFL. He still has to be accepted. His application, including personal statements, interviews and MCAT results -- "It was horrible, I don't want to take that ever again," Ellis said -- still has to be deemed up-to-snuff.  

Whenever Ellis starts, it will be the beginning of almost a decade of training between schooling and residency. It will be a challenge, he knows, and it's one that he looks forward to. But he's hoping it can wait because football is important to him. 

"It just makes you work harder," he said of his uncertain future. "It makes you really focus on right now, and make sure that you're doing all you can in this area because even the next area might not be there.

"That's what I've done. I'm just working as hard as I can on this, and if that doesn't work out, then I've got the next thing, and I'm going to work as hard as I can in that area."

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski is a model citizen in the NFL. In fact, the NFL Players Association is advising rookies to be more like Gronk, according to The Boston Globe

The New England Patriots tight end has developed a name for himself on and off the football field. With that attention comes branding. And at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere from May 18 to 20, the NFLPA encouraged rookies to develop their own brand -- much like Gronkowski.

“Some people think he’s just this extension of a frat boy, and that it’s sort of accidental,” Ahmad Nassar said, via The Globe. Nassar is the president of NFL Players Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the NFLPA. “And that’s wrong. It’s not accidental, it’s very purposeful. So the message there is, really good branding is where you don’t even feel it. You think, ‘Oh, that’s just Gronk being Gronk.’ Actually, that’s his brand, but it’s so good and so ingrained and so authentic, you don’t even know it’s a brand or think it.”

Gronkowski's "Summer of Gronk" has indirectly become one of his streams of income. The tight end makes appearances for magazines and sponsors. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he didn't touch his NFL salary during the early years of his career.

Gronk was one of three players who were the topics of discussion during the symposium. Dak Prescott and Odell Beckham were also used as examples of players who have been able to generate additional income from endorsements. Beckham, in particular, has been in the spotlight off the football field. He's appeared on the cover of Madden, and just signed a deal with NIke which is reportedly worth $25 million over five years with upwards of $48 million over eight years. His deal, which is a record for an NFL player, will pay him more than his contract with the Giants.

“A lot of people talk to the players about, ‘You should be careful with your money and you should treat your family this way and you should treat your girlfriend or your wife.’ Which is fine. I think that’s valuable,” Nassar said, via The Globe. “But we don’t often give them a chance to answer the question: How do you see yourself as a brand? Because Gronk, Odell, none of those guys accidentally ended up where they are from a branding and marketing standpoint.”