Friday, December 08, 2006

NFL: A Quarter to Go

A quick look at the top teams in the league between weeks 7-13.

For the first time since the beginning of the salary cap era, there are some wider-spread complaints against “Parity”. Unfortunately this year, (which is just like every other NFL season: happens to be a “weird” season), the word parity is a synonym for mediocrity. After 8 games 15 out of the 32 teams were either at 0.500, one game above or one game below. By week 13 there are 16 teams who are 6-6, 7-5 and 5-7. Gamblers (an integral part of football) are going crazy: Nothing is making sense. Veteran gamblers have been sitting out the rest of the season since week 7 and waiting for the playoffs. A sports writer (who is a much better comedian than he is a handicapper) is more than 6 games behind his wife in picking games, and his wife is picking the games randomly. There could be many reasons for this phenomenon: (Bad Quarterbacks (Can you find a third pro-bowl QB in the NFC (Alex Smith?)), injuries that tend to level the playing field, a good team looking past a bad team, a revenge match, …, and of course parity that make all the teams so thin at many positions) which leaves all the teams on an equal inconsistent leveled grounds. The result: Teams that looked like contenders early in the year are doubtful to even earn a playoffs spot (Denver, Jacksonville) and teams who were considered Oakland-ish bad have hopes of a wild card (San Francisco).

NFC Contenders:

Big Win: Indianapolis
Big Loss: Washington
What a big difference between the two games against the Giants. They play New York at home and gets dominated in week7, go for the (scary, often-criticized, debatable-at-best ) QB change and their season looks like a lost hope. Then, after beating the Colts they gain so much confidence that they never mentioned the heart-breaker against Washington and would not get bothered by the loss of their defensive captain Greg Ellis. One thing that is going in favor of this team is how healthy it has stayed (jinx alert). Other than the injury to Ellis and Tyson Thompson early in the year (both IR-ed) their injury report last week was: NONE! Just imagine if thy have drafted Manny Lawson, Mathias Kiwanuka or DeMeco Ryans other than Bobby Carpentar.

Big Win: NY Giants, NY Jets
Big Loss: Miami
A QB controversy on week 13 is not a good sign. After they got hammered by Miami at home, the fake aura around this team (and even its defense) started to fade. They bounced back nicely against the Giants and the Jets, but neither game was a dominant performance and as usual an incompetent offense got carried by the defense (10 more takeaways than anyone else in the league) and special teams (Devin Hester for MVP?). Rex Grossman cannot expect to keep winning games with performances like those against the Jets, Pats and Vikings in the past three weeks, and Tommie Harris injury better be not very serious. On the bright side, they have already clinched their division and in the NFC they are a SuperBowl candidate for sure.

New Orleans

Big Win: Atlanta
Big Loss: Pittsburgh
They keep their slot among the big boys proving that they sure belong. The win against the Falcons (The Vick finger game) in week 12 all but secured them the division. The losses against the top two AFC North teams may be understandable but (believe it or not) playoffs contenders should not be losing to the Steelers (a must-beat time at this point of the year) .But now they face a tough stretch (starting against the Cowboys Sunday night) with injuries to Joe Horn and rookie of the year Marques Colston. Their run stopper DT Hollis Thomas is also suspended (steroids) for the last four games. But MVP candidate Drew Brees and a very underrated defense should carry them to a playoffs birth.

Big Win: St. Louis, Denver
Big Loss: San Francisco
They had Seneca Wallace and Maurice Morris simultaneously starting at QB and RB for a while! But thanks to the pathetic division, they’ve practically clinched it. After they beat the Rams for the second time, the team that generated some buzz over a few empty wins early in the year, the Rams spiraled down the drain. San Francisco threatened the Seahawks for a second after a few wins capped by an upset in SF, but of course the 49ers came down to earth the following week against the Saints. The Seahawks are still not hitting on all cylinders (especially on offense, given that Hasselbeck was not having his best year even before he got hurt). They lost some depth at the DT position after losing Marcus Tubbs and Michael Boulware lost his starting job (poor performance) but if they use the last 3 of four games against scrubs (ARI, SF, TB) to fine tune they could be dangerous in the playoffs.

Wild Card candidates (in the order of their chances):

Big Win: Carolina
Big Loss: Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville
They go from embarrassing dead-in-the water on Sunday night to a playoffs contender on the next Monday night. That is how the Eagles roller-coaster season is playing out. What a tough stretch they had from the 6th until the 11th week!! Now all of a sudden they control their own destiny (with games against the Giants and the Falcons) and with Jeff Garcia (who?) in the perfect system for his skills, they have a chance. Of course they still have the same old problems (inconsistent running game, thin at the LB position), but they are much improved at Wide Receiver, deep at the defensive line and Lito Sheppard and Brian Dawkins (without the overreaction and the theatrics) anchor a solid secondary.

New York Giants
Big Win: Cowboys (week 7)
Big Loss: Tennessee
Four losses in a row and the team has the outlook of a deteriorating team. It was obvious that its winning streak of 5 games was overrated, and this team never really had the outlook of the best team in the NFC even after that season-peak win against the Cowboys. Just too much drama and too much dysfunction. They were also hit hard by injuries (Luke Petitgout, Amani Toomer, Michael Strahan and the DEs, the LBs) and their rebuilt secondary played much worse than expected (especially Will Demps). The Tennessee game was the back breaker and a terrible way to get ready for the game of the season against the Cowboys (in which they played very well), but it may be hard to recover behind a still-shaky and inconsistent QB.

Big Win: None
Big Loss: Philadelphia
Since their win against Baltimore in week 6 this team has only two wins, and they came against Tampa Bay and St. Louis! This is a team that was considered a contender early in the year, but not anymore, and it’s almost inexplicable. It is true that their offensive line is depleted (after loosing the LT Travelle Wharton early, they lost C Justin Hartwig), but they do not appear impressive on either side on the ball. Jake Delhomme usually a good “bus driver” has single handedly cost them at least three games (and now he has a thumb injury). The defensive line has officially crossed into the overrated area and I cannot see where Julius Peppers’ MVP candidacy is coming from. The running game that sued to ba a staple is non-existent since they have not found a back in the mold of Stephen Davis. Just an average team and it shows in its 6-6 record.

Big Win: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati
Big Loss: Detroit, Cleveland
So they out-slug the Steelers and the Bengals in back to back weeks and Mike Vick is the second coming of Dan Marino then they lose three straight. Note: No playoffs teams should lose to the Lions or the Browns this late in the year, let alone lose to them back to back. The running game that they benefited from early in the year has disappeared (unless you want to consider Vick’s ball-waving scrambles a “running game”) and to quote their owner: “I have three number one receivers and none of them can catch the ball” (Warrants the question: is Ashley Lelie still in the league?) and you may add a QB who cannot throw the ball, but can sure point the finger. They had some injuries (highlighted of course by the annual season-long John Abraham injury), but this team’s defense is hardly a difference maker, and that include overrated (after two years in? is it even possible to become overrated before you even prove you belong in the league) D’Angelo Hall.

Dishonorable mentions: (Sorry you don’t have a chance despite what you think) : Washington, Minnesota, St. Louis, San Francisco.

AFC Contenders:

San Diego
Big Win: Cincinnati, Denver
Big Loss: Kansas City
They are riding a six game winning streak after that a shocking upset loss against KC in week 7. The come-from-behind win against the Bengals proved to them that they can out-score anyone and gave them more confidence in ProBowl-candidate Philip Rivers. Next weeks rematch against Denver should be a big key in clinching the division. LaDanian Tomlinson (who scored 4 TDs against Denver in the first meeting) is a deserving MVP candidate and after managing his touches early in the (Michael Turner relieved him of a few carries and then completely disappeared) he is fresh and is carrying the majority of the offensive load. The defense is giving a relatively high number of points (41 against the Bengals and 20+ points in 6 of their last 7), but Shawne Merriman is back from his steroids suspension, Marlon McCree is a needed-intimidating (dirty?) presence in the secondary and rookie LB Marques Harris has the best celebration move in the league.

Big Win: Denver, New England
Big Loss: Tennessee
Let's just say that this team does not scare anyone this year (keeping in mind that they did not scare many playoffs team in the past, when they were in better shape). The peak of their season was when they took on Denver and New England on the road in back to back weeks and that made them feel that they do not need to blow people up to show that they are a good team. The loss against a Romo-juvenated Cowboys team was not that bad (they lost it on the final drive), but the loss against Tennessee exposed their usual late-year problems (worn out defense and the lack of defensive playmakers, Manning play-calling with the game on the line, and the lack of overall toughness). However, they still share the best record in the league and cannot be ruled out of a long playoffs run if some breaks go their way.

New England
Big Win: Chicago
Big Loss: NY Jets
One could argue that the Patriots have secured their division after week 8. If they would’ve won that week 11 matchup against the Jets, it would have been officially over. But there is a feeling that this team maybe on cruise control, and some times it is hard to reignite the switch on demand, keeping in mind that this is not the same defense of the past couple of years. The loss of Junior Seau left them with special-teamers Tully Banta-Cain and LB/S Don Davis playing extended minutes. The secondary situation without Rodney Harrison, and with Chad Scott and James Sanders also seeing a lot of playing time, is not very comforting. But this is a Playoffs seasoned team that has not lost on the road all year (only team with such feat, the Colts are the only undefeated at home) with an excellent QB, a running game, and an outstanding coach (although he may have seemed to over think himself in some situations this year).

Big Win: Cincinnati (week 9)
Big Loss: Cincinnati (week13)
Their offense showed its true colors once again during the latest Bengals game. They were completely shut out (until a garbage time TD) without turning the ball over and without even surrendering a sack! Steve McNair had a good stretch of games against average opponents and Jamal Lewis finally showed some life, but they only scored more than 30 points once all year (week 8 against the Saints). This will make the defense job very hard (as usual) (Adalius Thomas and Bart Scott are ProBowl candidates) and their field position will be hurt by the loss of KR B.J Sams for the year. They have one more game against a winning team (KC) and with 9 wins thus far they should be a shoe-in to the playoffs.

Wild Card candidates (in no particular order):

Big Win: Baltimore (week 13)
Big Loss: Chargers
Their early 4-2 record quickly crashed after 3 straight losses to the Falcons, Ravens and Chargers. After week 10 and with a 4-5 record their playoffs hopes looked really dim. But give them and coach Marvin Lewis big credit for bouncing back with 3 straight wins (including the Saints on the road, and the must win against the Ravens). The defense has stepped up tremendously allowing (zero, 7, 14) points in the last three games (the three best outings all year). The LBs are doing a much better job against the run (credit the return of Brian Simmons, the play of Caleb Miller and improving rookie Ahmad Brooks). On offense, the retooled offensive line (after the losses of LT Levi Jones and C Rich Braham) are giving Carson Palmer more time, which is essential for their offensive scheme and for the QBs comfort. Even WR Chad Johnson is playing much better since he started being a little more quiet.

New York Jets
Big Win: New England
Big Loss: Cleveland
The most improved team in the second half of the season, and a proof that if you come prepared to win the games you are supposed to win, you can end up in the playoffs. Other than the motivated win against New England (a game that you can argue the Patriots did not care for that much, playing their sloppiest football in years) this Jets team does not have any big upsets or huge wins. They just took care of business against “weaker” teams, credit to their rookie coach Eric Mangini . Chad Pennington is a smart QB and WR Jerricho Cotchery is making enough plays that he should be considered for the Pro Bowl. They could have dealt with the RBs situation a little better. All these backs (Leaon Washington, Cedrick Houston, Kevan Barlow (when he was part of the rotation)) are decent players and the running back by committee approach works best when the players have defined roles. On defense they are solid (11th in total points allowed), and feature some stars playing very well (LB Jonathan Vilma, DE Shaum Ellis and Bryan Thomas) S Kerry Rhodes but without too many difference-making plays.

Big Win: None
Big Loss: San Diego, Kansas City
Here is a team that may have reached its peak around the fourth week of the season. In the last 7 weeks their wins came against Oakland and Pittsburgh. They are riding a three-game losing streak and just went through a QB change, starting a rookie!! The running game that used to be there go-to-weapon has considerably diminished (regardless of whether its Mike Bell or Tatum Bell), and maybe the loss of the LT (Matt Lepsis) will end up hurting any team even no matter what kind of blocking technique is using. The defense that was lights-out early surrendered 34 to the Colts (the “lets pick on Darrent Williams” game) and 35 to San Diego. Injuries and lack of depth are starting to show their effect on the defense (the only rotation player at the DL is Elvis Dumervil and the overworked trio at LB does not have any reliable subs (maybe Nate Webster)). If not for games against Arizona and San Francisco it would be certain that they would miss the playoffs.

Big Win: NY Giants, Miami
Big Loss: Houston (TWICE)
The ultimate two-faced team of the year. A team that can go on the road against the Eagles (week 8, when the Eagles still had the most prolific offense in the league) and hold them to 6 points, drop a beat down on an average team like Tennessee 37-7, in between two losses to the Texans!! If not for the tough closing schedule (Pats and Colts at home, Chiefs and Titans on the road), they would be a very strong candidate for the playoffs. Despite injuries their defense continues to hold up, and they have one of the best running games in the league (Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor). The switch to David Garrard does not look like a bad move, and all this team lacks is some confidence and something remotely resembling a fan-base.

Kansas City
Big Win: San Diego, Denver
Big Loss: Cleveland
The Chiefs deserve big credit for keeping it together despite the early injury to Trent Green, the new comers to the offensive line, the no-name receivers, the slow start of TE Tony Gonzalez and everything else. They have wins against their division rivals and the Seahawks (granted a depleted Seattle team but still), and a lot of the credit has to go to Larry Johnson, also an MVP candidate (30+ touches in 5 of the last six games (41 against the Chargers). He has 310 rushing attempts followed by Chester Taylor and williw Parker 265!). The defense is also playing much better this year and maybe Herman Edwards deserves some credit for that. The problem is losses like the one against Miami and Cleveland last week that could be an indicator that this team may not be that good after all. If the Chiefs are to get into the playoffs they have to prove they belong with at least two wins in their final tough four (Baltimore, @SD, @Oakland, Jacksonville).

Dishonorable mentions: (That was a little too late. Maybe next year, or maybe if you were in the NFC): Miami, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Tennessee.


Anonymous said...

So are you throwing the towel on the 49ers already?

I gonna watch the first 20 min of the 49ers game on Sunday. My money is on Gore.
I hope the Jets will have an easy win.

Don't worry I still think it's a very boring game!

Nice review though.

Iman said...

Firas, football is very exciting!! seriously. :D especially dancing in the in-zone and ...the latest...jump shots

Go Bears!

Iman said...


umm that was supposed to be end-zone!

this is what happens when you're doing multiple things at one time..on phone, writing, drinking water, and trying shoes on :D

Abu Shreek said...

Nobody jumped on the 49ers playoffs bandwagon faster than I did after the three straight wins (of course highlighted by the win against Seattle (week 11)). But then they followed up with (naturally) two poor outings that showed that they truly do not belong. Look at their blowout losses (most recently the Saints). Look at the roster that does not have a single play maker on either side of the ball especially that heavily under manned 3-4 defense (with all due respect to veterans Bryant Young and Marques Douglas, but even if they were younger, they won't be difference makers playing the ends in the 3-4, although tweener LB Manny Lawson is playing well). As for Frank Gore, I mentioned him in the previous column as a fantasy back, but he proved that he is more than that and he practically carried them through the mentioned winning streak. Anyway, this team has a long way to go and the insider information say that there is no hope as long as the Yorks are running the operation.

And by the way, if you only watch for 20 minutes, no wonder you find it boring, because you are not into it (a nicer way of saying “you have no idea what’s going on”)

The Giants jump shot celebration is easily the lamest most ridiculous celebration move to take place on american soil in the last 12 years (since the Bebeto rocking his babby’s crib in 1994).
I agree with you that end zone celebrations can be fun for the casual fan but this year there have not been any worth mentioning. The reason: After the NFL banned using props in celebrations (following the T.O. sharpie, and the Joe Horn cellphone), this year they added two more rules:
1. Cannot use the ball as a prop (think Shaun Alexander playing the violin with the ball).
2. Cannot get down on the field. (Think Steve Smith rowing his boat).
This completely killed any possible celebrations and left us with an assortment of Chad Johnson homosexual dances.
In general it looks stupid when a player (especially the overrated wideouts) is shooing away thecelebrating teammates so he can strike a pose or execute a lame trick.

Bottom line the Best end zone celebration of the year (the loud overrated mouth who leads the league in dropped passes) Terrell Owens for making fun of sleeping in the meetings by sleeping on the ball. (And yes he paid the fine)

Go Bears with Brian Griese at QB long overdue!

Luai said...

O-ver ray-TED...O-ver ray-TED. Brian Griese is so overrated...but he's a Michigan boy, so got show 'em some love...just a tiny bit though. I am defintely on the Bears bandwagon this year, cause my beloved Dolphins are doing too hot lately. The Dolphins may lose out to the Bears with me eventually after breaking my heart for the past 27 years and no ring to show for it...but im not sure of what to do with my golf club covers and Miami stuff. The big thing I am very happy about is that Miami gave the Bears their first lost preventing them from obtaining the perfect season and matching the '73 Dolphins zero loss season. The Colts were there as well, eventually succumbing to the Cowboys.

I have been limiting my exposure to the NFL in comparison to the college game. This season has been really awesome with to tier teams losing weekly to unranked teams. I am still reeling about Michigan not getting a rematch against OSU in the title game. That would have been one for the ages. I think it probably had more to do with $ than anything else. Two Big 10 teams facing off in Arizona, the TV ratings would surely suffer. But for whatever it worth, FL is going to get smashed. As much as I hate OSU, they are after all in our conference, so they get the nod from me.

What's your Heisman prediction? And the upcoming NFL draft?

Firas said...

you only watch for 20 minutes, no wonder you find it boring, a nicer way of saying “you have no idea what’s going on”)
Actually it was a nicer way of saying: I have better things to do that I can't afford wasting another 3 or 6 hours (if you watch 2 games).
Anyways, it's all relative! You find it an entertaining game others don't, but it doesn't mean that you are the only one who knows what's going on.
If you still didn't get it: I gonna watch for 20min because I used to watch the full game with football fanatics, but still finds it boring, not because I have no clue what's going on!

this year they added two more rules:
Yep this is what I've said before, always with the tweaking!

Have you tried watching the game while being sober?

Anonymous said...

firas, using the same joke (the sober one) twice is not so smart, and the joke is not that funny anyway, if you have a lot of things to do why dont you save the 20 minutes also in addition to the 1000 hours you spend on blogs and concentrate on your ingenious research, you might come up with another great discovery just like the abdoun-bible one.

Abu Shreek said...

Brian Griese is not overrated he flat out sucks. I mean if you cannot win a job over Chris Simms in Tampa, well you are really not even rated to be overrated. The problem is Rex Grossman is actually regressing as the season wraps up, and the Bears may have taken too long to address the situation, it’s too late to do anything about now.
I agree with you that it is time to give up on the Miami Dolphins and find you a decent team since the Dolphins as you said has not been even relevant in a long long time. (what happened to your love for the LIONS? Ohh sorry to bring that up, but on the bright side Mike Furrey is your best receiver. That should be fun) .Even during some of the few years when they were OK (some of the Wannstedt years and the brief Jimmy Johnson era), you cannot say that they were a power house. (And by the way, the team is not getting any better any time soon, just look at the average age, especially of the teams’ playmakers, the QB situation and other key positions (OL and secondary) and you should not be fooled by another decent end of the year run (like last year’s) when there is nothing on the line.

As for college, honestly this has been one of the worst college football season in a while (you may disagree since Michigan actually mattered a little this year). I cannot think of more than two games that were really monumental (with that college vibe). The Big12 was in a QB transition mode and it was really bad. ACC had Wake Forrest and Georgia Tech playing for the conference championship. The Big East is more like a mid major conference (like Rutgers and Louisville are supposed to be banging heads with real football programs). The SEC was great as usual and all the teams beat up on each other and Florida deserves the spot. (if USC beat UCLA that would have been the real controversy). Michigan had its chance and lost and there is no need for a rematch, regardless of how much the BCS stinks. (AND do not be fooled with the 3 point loss to Ohio State, I am sure you watched and the game was NOT THAT CLOSE).

I know this answer is late but Troy Smith did not have any real challengers, he wins it hands down. As for the draft, it is still early. Maybe after a few Bowl games (yeah right, I mean I may like football but I am not a degenerate gambler to be eatching the bowl), the combine and the fifth version of Mel Kiper’s fantasy draft, we can start arguing who goes were.

Abu Shreek said...

Firas and anonyomous,
you are getting too stupid and Firas you are not allowed to use obscene-covered language, withgout making any football related arguments.
You both are not bringing anything to the table. Hence your comments are being deleted.

Gun-Toting Liberal said...

It's been tough this year to pick the games, that is for SURE. Call it "parity", call it "lack of talent", call it whatever; but it's definitely maddening!

My own NFL weekly picks can be found HERE - tossed you a link, too...

Blog ONNNN, y'all, and good luck :-)

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