Thursday, December 25, 2008

Week Sixteen Observations

1. I was very satisfied with the results of this week’s games. The teams that have consistently played at a high level all season (Baltimore, Tennessee, Miami, Atlanta, Carolina, New York Giants) fared well, while the teams that are not as consistent or well-coached (Dallas, New York Jets, Houston, Denver, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Green Bay) found new ways to lose.

2. On Thursday night, in a critical road game, Peyton Manning played the finest game a quarterback has played all season. He looked like Drew Brees in the Dome.

3. I was surprised by the quality of information Deion Sanders put forth doing color commentary of the NFL Network’s broadcast of the Baltimore/Dallas game. I had always assumed Deion was one of those guys that just yelled pointless stuff in those massive 5-headed pregame shows, but he really had some interesting and insightful things to say while doing the game. The ten best color commentators I have heard this season doing NFL games:

10. Ron Jaworski
9. Brian Baldinger
8. Steve Tasker
7. Deion Sanders
6. Tony Boselli
5. Rich Gannon
4. Brian Billick
3. Phil Simms
2. Cris Collinsworth
1. John Madden

4. Hideous game from Shaun Hill and the San Francisco offensive line against a terrible St. Louis defense. The Niners have not found the answer at quarterback and should address this along with their line in the offseason.

5. Rams backup running back Kenneth Darby was tackled by a referee on Sunday. The Rams will need a healthy Steven Jackson in the lineup next season to have a chance.

6. The critical sequence in the Rams/Niners game came with St. Louis up 16-3 with 7:13 left in the 4th quarter facing a 3rd and 13 from their own 46 yard line. The Rams called a 4-wide shotgun pass play which was incomplete to Torry Holt, then punted into the end zone. This is the kind of situation the bad teams screw up so often compared to the good teams. The Giants, Panthers, Titans, etc. know what plays to call in these situations and then know how to execute them. If the Rams had called a running play or pinned the Niners on the punt, the rest of the game would have been different and St. Louis might have won instead of lost.

7. The Chargers have not lost a game by double digits this season. They are the only team in the NFL that can say that.

8. The Patriots have Lamont Jordan and Sammy Morris healthy once again. This makes a difference and gives them a balanced offense that could make a run in the cold weather playoffs – if they get in.

9. Kurt Warner may be the worst bad-weather quarterback in the league. There’s a reason it didn’t work out for him in New York. The Cardinals obviously are not built to play in bad weather.

10. The Patriots/Cardinals game was not as close as the 47-7 final score indicated. It could have been worse.

11. You never know what you’re gonna get from Old Man Collins, but if he can give Tennessee three good games in a row in January, the Titans will have a good chance to win it all.

12. Offensive playcalling is not one of Detroit’s myriad problems.

13. Why not play Josh Cribbs every down at quarterback? Wouldn’t that be better than Ken Dorsey or Bruce Gradkowski?

14. Disappointing effort from the Kansas City fans, who I recently named the league’s best, the last couple weeks. First they leave early in a divisional game against the Chargers and miss San Diego’s wild comeback, then they hardly show up in the bitter cold Sunday against the Dolphins and miss an entertaining shootout.

15. Every once in a while JaMarcus Russell decides to look competent, keeping hope alive for Raider fans and executives while avoiding LVP honors for the ’08 season.

16. Gary Kubiak is maniacally going for it in some questionable 4th down spots, not to mention passing twice in a row on 3rd and 4th and inches.

17. The Jets just never got it through their heads that the best part of their offense was the run game. Even in Seattle with the snow coming down, the season on the line, the score close, Brett Favre struggling, and the Jets averaging a solid 4.6 yards per carry in a defensive game, they threw it more than they ran it.

18. Total yards from the first quarter: Denver Broncos 213, Buffalo Bills -2. And the Broncos would lose the game.

19. The Broncos were rather stupid in avoiding kicking off to Leodis McKelvin, as Matt Prater’s squibs fell into the hands of a competent Fred Jackson and he burned them.

20. Champ Bailey is a special player. He finds ways to make plays even when the opposing team refuses to throw the ball in his direction. But he will not be back to the real Champ Bailey until next season.

21. I hate betting on the Eagles, because you just cannot trust Donovan McNabb to bring the A-game. No “good” quarterback is more inconsistent.

22. Washington’s secondary – the best in the league – is back at full strength with a healthy Shawn Springs and a focused LaRon Landry.

23. Tarvaris Jackson is a better runner than any other current starting QB, but he puts his head down when he decides to run. He does not keep looking up the field like a McNabb or Roethlisberger.

24. I really, really enjoyed the Panthers/Giants Sunday Night battle royale, and not just because I had large bet on Giants -4 which miraculously covered. This was the best game of the season – very well played, coached, and officiated. Even the one big mistake (John Kasay’s missed 50 yard field goal) was forgivable considering the conditions.

25. I’m stunned the Panthers played that well and lost. They are the most balanced team out there, with fewer weaknesses than anyone else. On offense they have one of the best lines blocking for two good backs, a smart veteran quarterback, a team-friendly possession receiver that becomes more and more valuable as the season progresses, and one great playmaker. Their defense is not quite as stingy as that of the other contenders, but they tackle well and can get after the quarterback in key situations. Their special teams are also above average. You could see the value of kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd. In such a close match, he was able to give Carolina superior field position by consistently outdistancing John Carney on kickoffs.

26. Just been one of those seasons for the Packers. No reason to believe they won’t win double digit games in 2009.

Offensive MVP of the Week: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis
Defensive MVP of the Week: Leon Hall, Cincinnati
Breakout Player of the Week: Jason Jones, Tennessee
Head Coach of the Week: Mike Holmgren, Seattle
Assistant Coach of the Week: Greg Blache, Washington Defensive Co-ordinator

Power Rankings:

The top five are so close now. They are all practically the same team – well coached teams that value defense and running the football above all else. The Ravens and Steelers play the best defense but Pittsburgh has a bad offensive line and Baltimore starts a rookie quarterback. The Panthers have the best offense of the bunch but their defense is a notch behind. And the Titans and the Giants do just about everything well.

1. Tennessee (4)
2. New York Giants (1)
3. Pittsburgh (2)
4. Baltimore (3)
5. Carolina (5)
6. Dallas (6)
7. Atlanta (8)
8. Indianapolis (10)
9. New England (11)
10. Philadelphia (7)
11. Tampa Bay (9)
12. Miami (14)
13. Minnesota (12)
14. New Orleans (16)
15. San Diego (21)
16. Washington (20)
17. Houston (13)
18. Chicago (18)
19. Arizona (15)
20. Denver (19)
21. New York Jets (17)
22. Green Bay (22)
23. Buffalo (24)
24. Jacksonville (25)
25. San Francisco (23)
26. Seattle (27)
27. Kansas City (26)
28. Cincinnati (28)
29. Oakland (30)
30. St. Louis (29)
31. Cleveland (31)
32. Detroit (32)


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