Wednesday, December 19, 2012

NFL Playoff Power Rankings: Week 16

Almost.  It almost happened.  But then came (ironically enough) LaMichael James’ kickoff return, the Crabtree touchdown, and the overthrow of Woodhead on a 4th and 2 that won’t be remembered as bitterly as other failed 4th and 2’s.  But life could be worse – you could be this poor bispeckled guy.  Or any St. Louis Rams fan, for that matter.  Here, as always, are my playoff seeding projections for Week 16.

AFC Playoffs

1. Houston Texans (12-2; projected 13-3) The Texans looked like their old selves in what was likely their last meaningful regular season game Sunday, taking care of business through superb running and a rigid defense that held Andrew Luck to a season-low 186 yards passing.  What they did allow, however, was their first 100-yard rusher (Vick Ballard) since Week 4.  This week’s home matchup with the ridiculous Adrian Peterson will be an intriguing matchup.

2. Denver Broncos (11-3; projected 13-3) Like the Texans, Denver’s run defense has been amazing in the last few weeks, not only holding Ray Rice to 38 yards Sunday, but limiting opponents to under three yards per rush through the last three games.  I’ve been skeptical of their weak schedule, but wins against the Panthers, Bengals, and Saints are looking more impressive as the season goes along.  Home matchups in the next two weeks against the Browns and Chiefs are practically gift-wrapped, as the Broncos will likely prepare for a first round bye.  2012 was a good year to be a Broncos fan – could 2013 bring a title?

3. New England Patriots (10-4; projected 12-4) There are three reasons I’m not overly concerned with the mildly heartbreaking loss Sunday night.  First, the Patriots were able gain 520 total yards against a defense which, going into the game, allowed an average of 275.5 yards per game.  Secondly, the 49ers needed the win more than New England.  And finally, playing close games against tough opponents – even if the result is a loss – is good for this team.  Remember when they ended 2007 and 2010 winning every game 42-7 and coming out stale after their bye weeks?  There’s also rumors that Gronk may be coming back this week, and these next two games could give him some valuable playing time on the field before he returns for significant games in January.  And if we play the 49ers again in the Super Bowl . . . well let’s just say we’ll be ready.  That is, after Vince Wilfork opens up his gifts.

4. Baltimore Ravens (9-5; projected 10-6) Baltimore finds itself in a very interesting position as the potential fourth seed.  Instead of hosting Pittsburgh, to whom they lost at home, they will host Andrew Luck’s first playoff game.  And instead of traveling to New England or Denver for their second-round game, a matchup with unpredictable Houston (who they beat in the playoffs last year) could be to the Ravens’ benefit.  Last year at this time, the Giants entered the final two weeks of the season with the playoffs on the line, coming off a disappointing loss against the Redskins, and eventually clinched the four seed.  And although this team has already clinched playoff berth, it doesn’t seem like the Ravens to simply fold when pressure is on the line.  If I were in Vegas, this would be the time I’d start putting some money down on them.

5. Indianapolis Colts (9-5; projected 11-5) The Colts now rank dead last in the NFL in takeaways (10).  They rank 18th and 24th in points scored and points allowed, respectively.  Only one win this season has come by more than a touchdown (against Jacksonville) and four of their five losses were by an average margin of 23 points.  Andrew Luck may be a great story, but the reality is that he is tied for the league lead in interceptions thrown.  The only team with a winning record that Indianapolis has beaten is Green Bay, which took a miracle finish.  The Colts’ 2012 season has been a wonderful story, but in three weeks when they go to Baltimore, it will all be over.

6. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6; projected 10-6) Just as Bill Simmons is gloating about his preseason Super Bowl pick featuring the Seahawks, I can now boast about my preseason prediction that the Bengals would make the playoffs (ignore the fact that I thought they would be the top seed).  The defense has been outstanding the past several weeks, and as a unit, they lead the NFL in sacks.  Although the offensive line has been spotty, Andy Dalton has thrown more touchdown passes and fewer interceptions than Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, or Eli Manning.  The Bengals are 5-2 on the road this year, and despite my pessimistic nature, I feel very good about Sunday’s trip to Shittsburgh.

In Contention

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7; projected 8-8) The Stealers’ loss Sunday also made the Patriots’ defeat easier to stomach. A loss in Sunday’s game against the Bengals will eliminate them from postseason contention (under Roethlisberger, they’ve only missed the playoffs in 2006 and 2009).  They’ve lost four of their last five games, and in their last four matchups, they’re rushed for a total of 283 yards.  To put this in context, Adrian Peterson has rushed for 292 yards in his last 45 attempts (over a total period of only seven quarters).  Since the beginning of 2011, Pittsburgh is -27 in turnover differential (even Kansas City, Oakland, and the Mark Sanchez-led Jets have better ratios).  In the words of Ray Liotta in GoodFellas, it is a glorious time to be a Steelers hater. 

New York Jets (6-8; projected 6-10) Oh wait.  They’re not in contention.  They suck.  Just wanted to remind everyone.

What is the more flattering comparison -- Marge Simpson or Beldar Conehead?
NFC Playoffs

1. Atlanta Falcons (12-2; projected 13-3) Yes, the Giants’ secondary was banged up, but the Falcons win on Sunday was dominant enough to make us believe that maybe, just maybe, they are the best team in the NFC.  They are top ten in the league in points scored, points allowed, giveaways, takeaways, and penalty yards.  Since 2008, Atlanta is 33-4 at home, with those four losses coming by an average of five points.  Is it possible that 2010’s home playoff blowout by the Packers was bad luck?  Well, put it this way: Each of Atlanta’s last four playoff defeats (Philadelphia ’04, Arizona ’08, Green Bay ’10, New York ’11) came to the team which eventually represented the NFC in the Super Bowl.  Like Colts fans asked in 2003, how many years can you be a dominant team without winning a single playoff game?

2. San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1; projected 12-3-1) Even if the 49ers lose to the Seahawks (which they won’t), they still have Arizona at home in Week 17, and the last I saw, NatePoole is no longer on the Cardinals’ roster.  Now let’s talk about Colin Kaepernick: 14-25, 216 yards, 4 touchdowns, 28 rushing yards.  All on Sunday night in New England.  Forget the fact that the Patriots haven’t lost a December game in Foxboro in a decade.  That wasn’t only impressive, it was downright masterful.  Like their Monday night game last year against the Stealers (leaving us with two indelible images), this was a performance that put the rest of the league on alert.  On paper, San Francisco is the best team in football and should be the favorites to win Super Bowl XLVII.

3. Green Bay Packers (10-4; projected 11-5) The win over the Bears in Chicago was a good one, but the running game is still inconsistent (Alex Green was the Pack’s top rusher for 35 yards against a defense Adrian Peterson ripped through two weeks ago).  And speaking of Alex Green, according to Wikipedia, combine scouts criticized him for his "lack of ball control, lack of power, and the fact that he played in a pass-happy 'pistol' offense featuring wide splits against porous WAC defenses and that he was never asked to handle a heavy workload." Now that sounds like a guy you gotta draft! (I’m surprised the Patriots didn’t pick him up to play in the secondary).  In other quirky news, James Jones has the chance to become only the second player in 50 years to have more than 12 touchdown receptions and less than 700 yards receiving. 

4. Washington Redskins (8-6; projected 10-6) Did anyone think after their 3-6 start (later coupled with the injury to Robert Griffin III) the Redskins would be the odds-on favorites to win the NFC East?  Yes, RG3 has a QB rating of 104.2, but in this year of the successful rookie quarterback, Kirk Cousins has a QB rating of 101.6.  RG3 and The Butler have rushed for more yards than . . . well, Adrian Peterson.   They lead the league in fewest turnovers, and the defense looks sensational.  They now control their own destiny in the NFC East, and look likely to host the first playoff game in Washington D.C. since January 2000.  Good thing they won't have to square off against a team containing the words "St. Louis" or "Cardinals" (too soon.)

5. Seattle Seahawks (9-5; projected 10-6) Scoring 50 points in two straight games is impressive . . . if the opponents weren’t the Cardinals and Bills.  And the fake punt when leading by thirty?  Cold-blooded and vicious.  Karma will come back to bite this team; trust me, as a fan of the 2007 Patriots, I know.  The stats show them as one of the league’s best teams, but the reality is they will have to go on the road come playoff time, and unless the team the face is Carolina, Chicago, or Buffalo, a win doesn’t seem likely.

6. Minnesota Vikings (8-6; projected 9-7) Can we change the name of the Vikings to ‘Adrian Peterson?’  Adrian cannot clinch a playoff berth this weekend (a tough matchup in Houston), but if he can beat Green Bay at home (where Adrian is 6-1) in Week 17, he may be able to sneak in. Adrian’s quarterback, Christian Ponder, has the unique, Roethlisberger-esque distinction of going 3-1 when passing for under 115 yards.  In a season when LeSean McCoy, Ryan Mathews, and Maurice Jones-Drew have a combined four rushing touchdowns, Adrian alone has four rushing touchdowns of 60 yards or more.

In Contention

Dallas Cowboys  (8-6; projected 9-7) The Vikings have a better conference record than the ‘Boys at the moment, giving them the advantage in tiebreakers.  Such is the life of Cowboys fans, at once desolate after a 3-5 start, ecstatic in the last two weeks, and will inevitably be suffering when Dallas loses by 20 in Washington in two weeks on national television. 

New York Giants (8-6; projected 9-7) Hard to believe how much Sunday’s loss to the Falcons hurt them.  If they lose in Baltimore this weekend and Washington wins, they are eliminated from NFC East championship contention.  But if they win, suddenly they host the Eagles in Week 17, and the Redskins-Cowboys matchup could cancel out both teams. Unlike most other Giants’ seasons, New York has played poorly on the road this year, and has struggled against the AFC (losses to the Bengals, Steelers, and overcoming a ten-point deficit to Cleveland).  But picking against this team when they appear dead in the water is a mistake.

Chicago Bears (8-6; projected 8-8) Remember when this team was 7-1, had three 40+ point offensive performances, and a defense that scored eight touchdowns?  Yeah, me neither. 

At this point, I wouldn't mind a Super Bowl XX rematch.
            Thoughts?  Disagreements?  Are you one of the many non-existent people in Kansas City who think the Chiefs should trade for Mark Sanchez as their starting QB? (Odds of this happening: 60%)  Let me know below.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

NFL Playoff Power Rankings: Week 15

       Another week, another Patriots win, another embarrassing pair of Cardinals and Chiefs losses, another reason to stay at home next weekend instead of going to the hobbit movie. So put on your letterman jackets and get ready for another edition of playoff power rankings.

AFC Playoffs

1.      New England Patriots (10-3; projected 13-3) In the words of Bart Scott, that win felt great (too soon?  I think not.)  In fact, I cannot think of a more impressive regular season victory since the Pats beat the Jets 45-3 on Monday night two years ago.  This team is a juggernaut that looks superb on all sides of the ball – outside of Ryan Mallett’s interception with minutes left to go, there was not a single mistake made by New England in that entire game.  Through 13 weeks, they’ve scored an unfathomable 472 points (36.3 per game).  The only team to score more points was the 2007 Patriots.  But the most impressive stat this week was holding Matt Schaub to 232 yards – especially impressive considering so much of the game took place in relative garbage time, when New England led by three touchdowns.  Through 13 weeks, I’ve never felt more confident about the Patriots . . . 2007 included.

2.      Houston Texans (11-2; projected 13-3) They’ve now allowed 11 passing touchdowns in the last four games, after allowing only one in their previous three games.  Perhaps even more amazing is that in spite of the fact that Houston went 3-2 in nationally televised games this season (including an impressive road victory over the Bears), the only memory people will have of this team is Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady lighting the defense up.  They now have to win out to guarantee the 1 seed.  But let’s also remember that they’ve played five games in the last 30 days, four of which were on the road – with much-needed rest, this team may still be intimidating.

3.      Denver Broncos (10-3; projected 13-3) A win in Baltimore would be their 8th straight victory – the franchise’s longest winning streak since 1998 – and the seventh time in ten games they’ve been on the road.  Even more importantly, a win against the Ravens would virtually guarantee one of the AFC’s top three seeds.  But most importantly, a win against Baltimore would assure the few doubters that remain (anyone?) that the Broncos can beat real opponents, rather than just the Chiefs and Raiders. 

4.      Baltimore Ravens (9-4; projected 10-6) Both of their losses the last two weeks could have easily been wins had they run the ball more effectively (last week I forgot to lam bast John Harbaugh for not running Ray Rice a single time in their loss to the Stealers).  The Ravens once-vaunted defense now ranks 24th in yards allowed, and has given up more passing yards than the Packers, Bills, Chargers, and Lions.  The combined record of their next three opponents is 25-14. 

5.      Indianapolis Colts (9-4; projected 11-5) Eight of the Colts’ nine wins have come by touchdown or less (interestingly, in Peyton Manning’s second season, he had nine wins by eight points or less).  They haven’t beat an AFC team with a winning record, so the two upcoming games against the Texans will give us a good indication of how they play against quality opponents; but then again, their Week 17 home game against Houston may come at a time when the Texans opt to rest their starters.  Therefore, this week in Houston will likely be their biggest remaining regular season game.

6.      Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6; projected 9-7) Prior to last Sunday, the Steelers had lost only one home game by 10+ points in the last six years.  A depleted Chargers team, with no playoff hopes, a horrible offensive line, and more likely than not a lame duck coach led by 24 points in in the 3rd Quarter.  This team has deep and severe problems on both sides of the ball.  So why do I still think they will get the 6 seed?  Because they’re Shittsburgh.  Dallas suddenly seems less threatening without Dez Bryant, Cincinnati has won in Pittsburgh once in five years, and the Browns are the Browns.  But look at the bright side: The awe and ecstasy of Tebow beating them last year would not have happened had they missed the playoffs (I’m looking at you, Peyton Manning).

In Contention

Cincinnati Bengals (7-6; projected 9-7) Don’t get me wrong, last Sunday’s Cowboys loss hurts, but even had the won, they would still need a victory in Pittsburgh in two weeks to clinch the wild card.  The Bengals allowed 140 of the 288 total yards they gave up in the 4th Quarter alone, while they gained a total of 29 in the period.  They will need to do better.  Fortunately, the equivalent of a scrimmage game against hapless Philadelphia (the result of which has playoff implications) this week will give them good practice.

New York Jets (6-7; projected 7-9) The Jets need to win out and hope for some serious Steeler and Bengal self-destruction.  But what they do have in their favor is a combined record of 14-25 for their next three opponents.  The defense has allowed one 300-yard passer all year, and they are 5-0 when holding opponents to 20 points or under.  The Titans, Chargers, and Bills have eight, four, and six games where they’ve scored 20 points or less, respectively.  It’s possible.

Gotta admit, the snow hat look this year has been a little weird, but effective.
NFC Playoffs

1.      Atlanta Falcons (11-2; projected 13-3) The Mitt Romney of NFL teams – they love to talk the talk, but push comes to shove, they look like well-dressed phonies.  According advanced metrics, the Falcons have had the easiest schedule in the NFC, and third-easiest in the league.  It is very likely that this week’s game against the Giants will be their only regular season matchup against a playoff-bound team from the NFC.  When they host the Seahawks in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, I’ll be spotted in Vegas (with Todd) sporting a neon green Russell Wilson jersey with giant wads of cash.

2.      Green Bay Packers (9-4; projected 11-5) They eked out a win Sunday night because of crucial turnovers and Aaron Rodgers’ legs.  Suddenly, only two seasons after their Super Bowl win, they look a little like the 2008-2010 Colts, relying solely on the raw talent of their quarterback to overcome a mediocre defense, inconsistent running game, and rotten luck.  Their next three games are manageable, but don’t be fooled into buying into this offense in the playoffs: through the first 13 games of last year, the Pack scored 31+ points in eight games, while this year’s team has only done so once.

3.      San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1; projected 10-5-1) Jim Harbaugh decided to go with Colin Kaepernick as his quarterback to create a more dynamic and dangerous offense, but Niners looked Alex Smith-led for the majority of the Dolphins game. The next two games are big tests for this team, and we’ll found out a lot about Kaepernick’s abilities in big games.  But for now, Aldon Smith is the best linebacker in the league, the defense is unshakeable, and unlike the Falcons (and like the Giants last season) the tough schedule could pay dividends in the playoffs.

4.      New York Giants (8-5; projected 10-6) My apologies for last week when I preemptively stated the Giants had begun their annual mid-season collapse; they seem to have past that hurdle with last Sunday’s win, although their next two road games are big tests.  No team in the NFC is as multi-dimensional and dynamic as the Giants; they can beat you 7-3 or 52-27.  If David Wilson and the return game can play like they did against the Saints, they may be unbeatable.  Is it possible that a round one matchup with the Seahawks (featuring two teams seeded no higher than 4) would be a battle of the NFC's best two teams?

5.      Seattle Seahawks (8-5; projected 10-6) After winning 58-0, the Seahawks are no longer the NFC’s best-kept secret: They now rank second in points allowed, and a respectable 15th in points scored.  And speaking of the offense, through the first five weeks, Seattle averaged 17.2 points per game; in their past five games, the offense has averaged 32.  They haven’t allowed an offensive touchdown at home in the last 161 minutes, 46 seconds.  That’s almost as long as the new Hobbit movie.  However, classic letdown game at Buffalo coming up.

6.      Washington Redskins (7-6; projected 9-7) Like the Colts, the Redskins are currently experiencing a Very Special Season with a Very Special Quarterback who, in spite of his injury, may just have enough good mojo to give Kirk Cousins good shots to win against (wait for it) the Browns, Eagles, and Dez Bryant-less Cowboys.  Interesting subplot: Is it possible that, in spite of his fumble issues, Alfred Morris is the second-best runningback in the NFC?  He’s on pace for 1,500 yards, 8 touchdowns, and is averaging five yards per carry. All this on a team which finished in the bottom 10 in rushing yards the last three years.

In Contention:

Chicago Bears (8-5; projected 9-7) Urlacher’s hamstring adds insult to injury (literally) for a team quickly spiraling out of control.  In their last five games since their 7-1 start, the offense has turned the ball over 10 times and scored over 17 points only once.  Sunday’s home game against the Packers is a must-win if they have any hope of staying in playoff contention.  Interesting statistic: Five different players on the Bears have between 210 and 256 receiving yards.

Dallas Cowboys (7-6; projected 9-7) The Dez Bryant injury predictably comes right before the Pittsburgh game, but the good news is that if Dallas wins out, they actually have a pretty decent shot at making the playoffs.  Sunday’s win was an emotional one, and their sixth victory by a touchdown or less.  Depending on your point of view, that’s either an illustration of their good fortune or grace under pressure.  I choose the latter.

Minnesota Vikings (7-6; projected 8-8) Adrian Peterson is on pace for 1,969 rushing yards.  Interestingly, no one in 32 years has gained between exactly 1,900 and 2,000 yards; maybe the logic is that by Week 17, you’ve either already eclipsed the 2,000 yard barrier or need a 200-yard game just to reach 1,800 (like Ahman Green in 2003 or Tiki Barber in 2006).  In any event, he needs to average 134 yards in the next three games to reach 2,000; he’s had 134 or more rushing yards in five of his last seven games.

Thoughts? Disagreements?  Want to join me and Todd in Vegas when we win lots of money on the Seahawks but blow it at the Party Pit at the Excalibur? Let me know below.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

NFL Playoff Power Rankings: Week 14

            Beginning this week, each Tuesday I will update my NFL playoffs power rankings.  These reflect my own opinions, which more often than not are wrong (my Houston-New York preseason Super Bowl pick is still alive), but are entertaining to write. Note: My rankings are made in the order of playoff seeding that I project.

AFC Playoffs

1.      Houston Texans (11-1; projected 13-3): They beat a bad Tennessee team, but any time you can force six turnovers on the road, it is impressive.  Arian Foster averaged 2.7 yards per carry, but in the last four games, Justin Forsett is overperforming, averaging 7.9 yards per carry.  Next week at Foxboro will be a huge test for this team (the last time they played in New England in 2006, they lost 40-7). This team is still scary deep, can beat you multiple ways, and has to be considered the AFC favorite. 

2.      New England Patriots (9-3; projected 12-4): Miami was a tougher matchup than people realize (you could make an easy argument that if the Fins had the same end-of-game clutchness as they had against Seattle, they would be 8-4).  The Pats' offense looked a little puny at times compared to the last few weeks.  But for the first time since Week Two against Arizona, New England finally held a pass attack under 200 yards.  They should beat Houston next Monday, but all bets are off by the playoffs. On the plus side, I've found by 10th grade doppelganger.

3.      Denver Broncos (9-3; projected 12-4): Statistically, there is not a better-rounded team in the NFL than the Broncos.  They are in the top ten in points scored, points allowed, total yards, yards allowed, pass offense, pass defense, first downs and rush defense.  Three of their final four opponents are a combined 9-27.  But they still arguably do not have a truly impressive win on their belt outside of Pittsburgh in Week 1, and they are one of only three teams with a winning record and negative turnover differential.   

4.      Baltimore Ravens (9-3; projected 11-5): The good news is that they should still win the AFC North, and that they haven’t lost to a team at home other than Pittsburgh in over three years.  But their once-dominant defense is now 7th-worst in the league in yards allowed, and just gave up 366 yards of offense to a Charlie Batch-led offense at home. The rest of the season is brutal, but should prepare them well for the playoffs.  The Ravens have to make it to the Super Bowl one of these years, right?

5.      Indianapolis Colts (8-4; projected 10-6): You just can’t bet against this team.  This has been such a special year to this point, and last week’s incredible last-second win adds to Andrew Luck’s already amazing rookie year.  Does anyone realize he’s on pace to pass for 4,800 yards, and his top receivers are 34-year-old Reggie Wayne, Donnie Avery, and T.Y. Hilton?  They play the Texans twice down the stretch, which will be a great test for them as they prepare for the playoffs.

6.      Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5; projected 10-6): They still have 14 giveaways in the last three games (and a -12 TO differential in the last five), no consistent running game, and Mike Wallace hasn’t had over 50 yards receiving in a month.  They’re going to get bailed out by a cherry-picked December schedule that all Steelers haters like myself have come to know and recognize.  At this point, we’re all just waiting for the Wild Card matchup when Peyton Manning tears them apart.

In Contention:

Cincinnati Bengals (7-5; projected 9-7): The running game has come alive in the last few weeks, as The Law Firm has run over the century mark three straight games.  Although he’s been held out of the end zone the past couple of games, A.J. Green is still quietly the breakout receiver of 2012, but Jermaine Gresham and Mohamed Sanu have become viable strong targets themselves.  It all comes down to their trip to Pittsburgh on December 23; the Bengals have only won there only once in the last six years.

Buffalo Bills (5-7; projected 8-8): OK, there’s no real chance for the playoffs, but they have an easy schedule down the stretch, with their only real tough matchup in Buffalo against the Seahawks.  The two-headed running game has been superb, Fitzpatrick’s numbers have been solid, and three of their last four losses have come by one score or less.  Even their much-maligned defensive line has played better.  It’s time for the Bills to play spoiler, and look promising for next season.

NFC Playoffs

1.      Atlanta Falcons (11-1; projected 14-2): The computers hate the Falcons, and statistical analysis does little to give us an accurate portrait of how they’ll perform week-to-week.  No, the offense was less than spectacular against the Saints, but Michael Turner played well and the defense forced turnovers.  In the past, I’ve argued that Atlanta will suffer because they don’t do one particular thing better than any other team, but I’m going to amend that: Better than anyone else, they win the games they are supposed to.

2.      San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1; projected 11-4-1): I still think going with Kaepernick is a mistake, but much of Sunday’s loss can be blamed on dumb penalties, conservative play calling, and an ineffective Frank Gore (2.5 yards per carry).  When are the words “Brandon Jacobs sighting” ever a good thing?  They suddenly have to go on the road to New England and Seattle to keep pace with the Seahawks.  But I’d rather take that pressure and be saddled with the league’s best defense, than have no pressure to win the division and a mediocre defense (but I still love Tom Brady, don't worry).

3.      Green Bay Packers (8-4; projected 11-5): In the battle down the stretch for the league only competitive division title, I give the slight nod to the Pack, who have two home games against the Lions and Titans (Aaron Rodgers’ fantasy owners are breathing a collective sigh of relief).  Outside of allowing 210 rush yards to Adrian Peterson, last week was one of the Pack’s most complete games, with the running game finally coming to the rescue.  They still need more consistency from Mason Crosby, who hasn’t been 100% on field goal kicking in a game since Week 3.

4.      New York Giants (7-5; projected 10-6): The Giants are so unpredictable that they’ve almost become predictable during their annual mid-to-late year collapse: They will tank a couple more games this season before rallying at Philadelphia to take the division title, and then in the playoffs . . . well, we all know what happens.  Why even talk about how off-target Eli looked against the Redskins, or how the defensive line was atrocious against RGIII?  Why discuss the level of desperation you have to reach for the words “Martellus Bennett is Eli’s go-to receiver” to remotely enter the vocabulary?  Congratulations now, New Orleans and Atlanta, for the luck of being able to face this team in early December, just don’t hope for a playoff rematch.

5.      Seattle Seahawks (7-5; projected 10-6): The win over the Bears was huge, since tiebreakers down give them advantages over Chicago, Green Bay, Minnesota, and Dallas.  Should the 49ers lose to them and the Patriots on the road, the Seahawks control their own destiny.  Like Colin Kaepernick, I don’t really think Russell Wilson is good enough to win a playoff game on the road, but this team hasn’t lost a game by more than 7 points all year.  They may have the league’s easiest four-game stretch coming up, but cannot afford to get distracted.

6.      Chicago Bears (8-4; projected 9-7): The Bears look great on paper, but like the Denver Broncos, they don’t seem capable of beating good teams; their most impressive win in 2012 remains their home win in Week 1 against the Colts.  They should have beat Seattle on Sunday, but the secondary decided to not show up.  Since October 7, they’ve played only two games on the road, but only have a 4-3 record to show for it.  Now they have to travel to Minnesota, Arizona, and Detroit, which are all winnable matchups, but the erratic performances by Cutler leave much undecided.

In Contention:
Washington Redskins (6-6; projected 8-8): They are 3-1 in the NFC East, and still have Philadelphia and Dallas at home in the season finale.  They’ve won three straight (all against the division) and have only turned the ball over 11 times all season.  Even the passing game is looking strong.  The ‘Skins are clicking at the right moment, and this is an incredibly dangerous team.  Everyone at the top in the NFC is collectively putting on their Seahawks and Bears hats.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6; projected 8-8): They could sneak in, with home games against the Eagles and Rams (although they’ve lost three of four in Tampa), but two straight losses where Doug Martin is averaging 2.7 yards per carry will not do the job. 

Dallas Cowboys (6-6; projected 7-9): Too many tough games in spite of the passing offense finally clicking.  The running game is still a work in progress, and the defense doesn’t force turnovers.

Minnesota Vikings (6-6; projected 6-10): Sorry, Vikings, the clock has struck midnight.  If they have any hope, it will have to rely on the back of Adrian Peterson, who refuses to go softly into that good night without a fight.  But the reality is, they only have one road win all season, and Percy Harvin’s ankle injury isn’t going away soon.

Thoughts?  Disagreements?  Steelers fans who believe that Chuckles Batch can win the Super Bowl?  Let me know below.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

College Football: If I had a ballot...

I guarantee that none of the voters who decide who plays for national championships and post-season awards watch as much college football as I do. I deserve a vote. Here is a rundown of what my ballot would look like for all major awards and of course my top 25. Not a whole lot has changed since last week, so I will cut down on the analysis. Check it out:

Top 25
1. (1) Notre Dame
2. (2) Ohio State
3. (4) Stanford – Honestly, this is the best team in the nation. If they had started Hogan all year, they would have rolled won in South Bend and rolled all over Washington.
4. (3) Alabama – I came to realize that those SEC teams were just frauds and their defenses really are not that good. I had Bama winning 35-31. Don’t think anyone else saw those average defenses getting exposed the way they obviously were.
5. (5) Oregon
6. (6) Kansas State – They completed their brilliant regular season, maybe the best in school history with a win over a solid Texas squad.
7. (7) Texas A&M
8. (9) Florida State – They avoided a BCS nightmare in the form of a 6 loss team making it to the Orange Bowl.
9. (11) Florida
10. (10) LSU
11. (14) Oregon State – Nice school record for points against hapless Nicholls State…
12. (8) Georgia
13. (16) Northern Illinois – This team is going to be in a BCS bowl, as long as they do not get screwed by the computers. Too bad their coach jumped ship for NC State. It would be a shame if he wouldn’t be able to coach the Sugar Bowl or wherever they end up.
14. (13) Clemson
15. (NR) Oklahoma – They continue to sneak out victories. Hopefully Northern Illinois will take their BCS spot.
16. (15) South Carolina
17. (19) Utah State
18. (20) San Jose State
19. (12) Nebraska – What an ugly loss they had. That has got to be an aberration, considering the roll they were on coming into the Big Ten Title game.
20. (21) Michigan
21. (22) Boise State – They took down their rival Nevada in their territory, a place that has given them trouble in recent years. Can they sneak into the BCS?
22. (23) Louisville – A nice win over Rutgers all but clinched their spot in a soon-to-be ugly-as-hell Orange Bowl.
23. (28) UCLA – They got beaten up by the best team in the nation a couple weeks in a row, but this week they showed some fight at least.
24. (17) Kent State – They took Northern Illinois to overtime. That shows even more clearly that the loss to Kentucky was the biggest head-scratcher of the year.
25. (NR) Northwestern

Dropped from rankings: Rutgers (24), Oklahoma State (25)

Heisman Trophy
1. Colin Klein, QB, Kansas State – He deserves the award. He has had an amazing season. One loss does not take you completely out of a race. Every winner has an off game.
2. Manti T’eo, LB, Notre Dame – His playmaking ability on a stingy defense is impossible to ignore. One of the best and most impactful linebacker seasons I can remember.
3. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M – He had an incredible freshman year statistics-wise, except when he was playing Florida and LSU. Oh yeah, all the other voters must have missed those games…
4. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State – Aside from Klein, Miller is the one player whose team could least afford to losehim. He single-handedly went unbeaten in the Big Ten, which is rarer than you might expect.
5. Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois – Nobody can argue with the stats this guy put up all season. Even in the team’s average games, he was dominant. For a trophy that has turned into an Offensive Player of the Year Award, he needs to get notice. For the doubters, watch what he can do if they make it into the top 16. Seriously. He is a stud.

Coach of the Year
1. Bill Snyder – Kansas State
2. Brian Kelly – Notre Dame
3. Jim Mora – UCLA
4. Bill O’Brien – Penn State
5. David Shaw – Stanford

Davey O’Brien (QB)
1. Colin Klein – Kansas State
2. Braxton Miller – Ohio State
3. AJ McCarron – Alabama
4. Geno Smith – West Virginia
5. Johnny Manziel – Texas A&M

Doak Walker (RB)
1. Stepfan Taylor – Stanford (most underappreciated player in the nation)
2. Ka’Deen Carey – Arizona
3. Joseph Randle – Oklahoma State
4. Jonathan Franklin – UCLA
5. Kenjon Barner – Oregon

Biletnikoff (WR)
1. Terrance Williams – Baylor
2. Marqise Lee – USC
3. Tavon Austin – West Virginia
4. DeAndre Hopkins – Clemson
5. Quinton Patton – Louisiana Tech

John Mackey (TE)
1. Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Washington
2. Zach Ertz – Stanford
3. Tyler Eifert – Notre Dame
4. Joseph Fauria – UCLA
5. Jordan Reed – Florida

Chuck Bednarik (Defense)
1. Manti Te’o – Notre Dame
2. Jadeveon Clowney – South Carolina
3. Arthur Brown – Kansas State
4. Jordan Hill – Penn State
5. Jarvis Jones – Georgia

Way-too-early 2013 Heisman Trophy Watchlist
1. Braxton Miller – Ohio State
2. Johnny Manziel – Texas A&M
3. Taylor Martinez – Nebraska
4. DeAnthony Thomas – Oregon
5. Jordan Lynch – Northern Illinois
6. Marqise Lee – USC
7. Marcus Mariota – Oregon
8. TJ Yeldon – Alabama
9. Devin Gardner – Michigan
10. Ka’Deem Carey – Arizona

Ok, that is about all I got. Give me your rankings, thoughts, snubs, etc.