Monday, November 30, 2009

Week 12 Thoughts and an Updated Power Poll

Week 12 was the week of the major comeback, especially among teams with playoff hopes. The Colts have more than just hopes for the playoffs; they’ve already clinched the AFC South, but they still won in dramatic fashion, overcoming a 20-0 early deficit to rout the Texans, who have proved they have no heart. The Eagles underperformed in what should have been an easy game against Washington, but the ‘Skins kept shooting themselves in the foot (or, kicking themselves in the foot, as FOX broadcaster Joe Buck said on Sunday, whatever the heck that means) and finally Philly took advantage and came from behind to win. The most dramatic comeback was Tennessee triumphing over Arizona on 4th and goal with ten seconds to play in the Vince Young vs. Matt Leinart reunion, winning their fifth straight and putting themselves in the wildcard race. (Unfortunately for them, they have the Colts next week, so they’re going out of the race as quickly as they entered it.) Atlanta won in the same fashion Tennessee did, on a desperation 4th down with less than 30 seconds to play; Chris Redman played a solid game in Matt Ryan’s absence and Tampa Bay played a very Lions-seque game. They dominated early and then played so conservatively with the lead that they gave Atlanta every chance to come back, until they finally did, putting themselves also in the wildcard picture. Both conferences have three of four teams that are definitely playoff-bound, and a huge heap of teams still clinging to playoff hopes. That’ll begin to be sorted out in the next one or two weeks.

The big losers of the weekend were the Giants, who lost badly to Denver, also losing Eli Manning for what could be a lengthy period of time, and then watched both Philly and Dallas win, sticking them in third place in the NFC East. To make matters worse for the G-men, Green Bay, Atlanta and San Fran all won as well, making the wildcard race in the NFC all the more difficult for them. By losing, both Chicago and Carolina are now definitely out, along with the Lions, Redskins, Bucs and Rams. Seattle and San Fran maintain slim hopes to win the NFC West if Arizona starts losing, which could happen next week against the Purple Favres.

Speaking of old #4, he now has 24 TDs on the season to go with 3 interceptions. Yes that’s right, just THREE INTERCEPTIONS, a league-low among starting QBs. In fact, Brett just played the entire month of November without throwing one pass to the opposition. This is unprecedented. Forget the yards and TDs and winning all the games; we’ve seen Brett do that before. What is amazing to me is how he has reinvented his game at the age of 39 and become the most careful gunslinger in the NFL, and puts every pass right on the money. No more of the idiot Favre who used to wear green and try to chuck the ball through a linebacker’s chest; this version of Favre is an absolute terror to play against because he doesn’t make mistakes, but he isn’t a pansy either. He’s just playing basically as close to perfect as he can, and sticking it to the Packers more and more each week, with his middle fingers raised high in the air.

That being said, we can’t just hand over the MVP trophy to Brett after week 12, as much as we all want to. We still have two very worthy and unbeaten quarterbacks in Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, and they haven’t exactly been turnover machines. Favre probably gets the edge if the award is given out today, but fortunately, it isn’t. The next four weeks will determine the 2009 MVP; quite simply, whichever of these three excellent QBs plays the best while winning games will win the award. It should become fairly clear by week 17, unless of course they all continue to play perfectly.

There is, however, one other candidate who should be mentioned. No, not Tom Brady. Not Roethlisberger, or Warner, or Palmer or Rivers or Romo. Not Adrian Peterson either. I’m talking about the one and only Chris Johnson. Or as I like to call him, Barry Sanders With Style. When he was drafted last year with the 24th overall pick, he was known as a speedster and nothing else. Maybe a kick returner or change-of-pace back. Well, it turns out that not only is he the fastest running back in the league, seriously, maybe ever, BUT he’s also one heck of a player. He’s got great balance and vision, the two most important intangibles for an RB, and he’s got more power than people realize. Take yesterday’s game against Arizona: CJ goes through the middle on what would be a 5-yard gain for most backs, but his burst to the outside and blazing speed turns it into an 85-yard TD. Did you see that play? Absolutely marvelous. He’s on pace for 2,000 rushing yards, and he’s catching the ball as well. He’s played his heart out every week, even when the Titans were 0-6, and now the Titans are finally winning. He has a streak of six straight games of 125 yards; he’s averaging an absurd 6.5 yards per carry; he just set a record for the most yards ever gained in one month, 800 yards in November, breaking the previous record held by, who else, but Barry Sanders. If CJ keeps up this pace and rushes for 2,000 yards and leads Tennessee to an 8-8 or better record, he deserves the 2009 MVP award. Just because he doesn’t have a gray beard like some MVP candidates, it’s time Chris Johnson gets the credit he deserves.

And speaking of running backs, the past two weeks proved an important NFL lesson: get yourself a solid backup. We all know the importance of having a competent backup QB – Matt Cassel proved that point last year. But with injuries to nearly a dozen starting running backs this season, replacements are leading their teams to victories all over the NFL. Jamaal Charles has taken over for LJ in KC and been fantastic, scoring 50 fantasy points over the past 3 weeks. LeSean McCoy has been better than Brian Westbrook was this season; Jason Snelling filled in beautifully for Turner last week, and Justin Forsett did the same thing this week for Seattle. Ryan Moats scored three TDs a few weeks ago. Tashard Choice and Fred Jackson were great for stretches this season; Mike Bell was great when PT Cruiser was in the shop; Rock Cartwright played pretty well this week. You get the picture.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the ultimate backup running back, former psycho pot-head Ricky Williams, who has re-re-re-established himself as one of the premier running backs in the NFL, and is a top ten fantasy back from here on out, no question. What a remarkable season he is having, and since Ronnie went down with the injury Ricky has 4 TDs and close to 300 yards in the past two games. I know everybody wants to hand over the Comeback Player of the Year award to Vince Young, but isn’t Ricky a much more deserving nominee?

That being said, Miami did lose to the Bills, which put a strangle-hold on their playoff hopes. Houston’s loss to Indy was a killer, but they’re not out of it quite yet either. Neither are the Jets, who stayed alive by beating Carolina. The Chargers and Broncos both won, keeping San Diego ahead by one game in the AFC West. Cincinnati took care of the Browns, while the Ravens outlasted Dennis Dixon and Pittsburgh in overtime, bringing both teams to 6-5 and two games behind the Bengals, who hold all the tiebreakers. In order for the Bengals to not win the North, they’re going to have to lose at least twice, and they’re next game is against Detroit, so things are looking great for the Bengals despite losing to Oakland just two weeks ago. The Patriots and Colts are going to win their divisions, so that leaves the wildcard race to the Jets and Fins, Steelers and Ravens, Titans and Texans, and the AFC West runner-up, which I believe will be Denver.

There’s a lot of football left to be played, and some key games that will dictate who makes the playoffs and who plays golf. And as we’ve seen in recent years with the ‘04 Steelers, the ‘07 Giants and the ‘08 Cardinals, all you need is an 9-7 record and a wildcard berth and you can make it all the way to the Super Bowl. All it takes is good health, chemistry at the right time, and getting a little bit of luck. Or, being a dominant team like the Colts and the Saints is always helpful too.

Without further ado, here is your updated Week 12 Edition of the NFL Power Poll:

1. Indianapolis.
Clinched the AFC South, and close to clinching home-field throughout the playoffs. But it hasn't been easy - they've come from behind in the fourth quarter to win five times in a row. No team has ever done that before.

2. Minnesota.
I have them ahead of New Orleans in anticipation of the Pats winning tonight. Minnesota's one loss was a game they could have and should have won, and they've been blowing everybody away since. Favre, Peterson and Jared Allen are all top ten players in the NFL this season, and the rest of the team is pretty dang good too.

3. New Orleans.
I don't know if they'll win tonight or not ... If they win, they move up to #2 and possibly #1. But I expect that they'll lose. I don't think they're tested or tough enough, or good enough defensively. But they might win tonight due to having Drew Brees, and Sean Payton who deserves to be coach of the year for the second time in four years.

4. New England.
They're only 7-3 and might be 7-4 after tonight ... if they win, they move up a spot to #3, and even if they lose, I'll keep them here at #4 simply because they have Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker, and that's enough to win against anyone. I'm thinking I should have written this after the Monday night game, because we don't know anything just yet ...

5. Cincinnati.
I've got the Bengals at #5 even though they lost to Oakland just two weeks ago. Why? They've got a great record, they win close games, they play great defense, Carson Palmer doesn't make many mistakes, and their path to the playoffs is pretty clear. Plus they get to destroy the Lions this week. But there is a huge drop-off from #4 to #5.

6. Pittsburgh.
They get a bit of a mulligan because Dennis Dixon started last night and they still almost won. Without Polamalu, they are a middle-of-the-road team, and without Polamalu and Roethlisberger, they are below average. But with both guys on the field next week, they are as good as anybody in the league. They won't be missing the playoffs, as badly as I hope that happens.
7. San Diego.
I could have ranked as high as #5, but I don't completely trust them to hold off Denver for the AFC West. I still contend that Tomlinson is washed-up, and no contention needs to be made that this is one of the worst defenses in the NFL. That being said, however, they've won six games in a row, the last two by a combined 58 points.

8. Dallas.
Are the Cowboys the 8th best team in the NFL? Probably not. They aren't very good defensively and Tony Romo is the poster boy for inconsistency. But there aren't a lot of other options here and the 'Boys 8-3 record is tied for the fourth best record in the NFL. Miles Austin just might be a 10 ten MVP guy this year, because without him Dallas is probably sitting at 3-8 instead of 8-3.

9. Philadelphia.
Dallas shouldn't get too comfortable with the Eagles right behind them at 7-4. No team has a greater array of offensive weapons that Philly, and no player is as threatening as DeSean Jackson when it comes to big plays. No lead is safe against them. That includes a one-game lead in the division.

10. Arizona Cardinals.
Losing to Tennessee yesterday was not a step in the right direction, but it was also without Kurt Warner. I'm think that if Kurt played, he may have accumulated more than 34 measly yards to Larry Fitzgerald and the Cards may have won. As it is, they almost won anyways. The NFC West is theirs for the taking and the defense is improved from last year.

11. Green Bay.
I believe they'll miss the playoffs because of the injuries to Kampman and Harris, but they looked just fine against the pathetic Lions on turkey day. They've won three straight and seem to have remedied some of those offensive line woes. Now they get an extra four days rest for a Monday nighter against the Ravens.

12. New York Giants.
This is pending the health of Eli's foot, but I think the Giants are still to be reckoned with.

13. Tennessee Titans.
A five game winning streak is legit, but let's not blow this out of proportion. The Colts and Saints are on 11 game winning steaks; Minnesota's won ten of eleven. I heard someone assert that Vince Young is a viable MVP choice. I'm sorry, since when did winning five games in a row prove anything? However, Chris Johnson is sickeningly good, as I said earlier.

14. Denver.
Dumervil still a defensive MVP candidate and Moreno is starting to heat up, but Denver is still pretty dang average after a ridiculous 6-0 start.
15. Baltimore.
Flacco has been unable to duplicate his magical rookie season, but Ray Rice has quietly had a top 5 season at the running back position and carried the Ravens offense on his back.

Middle of the Roaders ....
16. Atlanta
17. Miami.
18. San Francisco.
19. Jacksonville.
20. Houston.
21. Seattle.
22. Carolina.
23. New York Jets.

24. Kansas City.
25. Tampa Bay.
26. Washington.
27. Buffalo.
28. Oakland.
29. St. Louis
30. Chicago.
31. Cleveland.
32. Detroit. Given the injuries to Stafford, Calvin, Pettigrew and Sims, I don't think the Lions win another game this season. The attitude of losing has permeated the entire team. The secondary is disgusting; the pass rush is even worse. The play-calling is terrible; Kevin Smith is terrible; Bryant Johnson is terrible; Stafford is terrible; the special teams are worse than terrible. The Lions are back to being the worst team in the NFL. The only relevant question is, with a top five pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, whom should the Detroit Lions select? I don't know anything about the choices, but I'm leaning towards defensive line. Maybe cornerback. Maybe O-line. Depends on the free agency. They've got to purge the roster all over again and get rid of some of the riff-raff. Stop collecting other team's leftovers and build a real NFL team. This season has been one big giant terd.

week 13 picks to come later this week .....

11-5 week 12 and
112-60 overall

After watching MNF, I would change my MVP vote from Favre to Brees, after his 5 TD, 371 yard masterpiece. I also move the Saints up to #2 on the Power Poll. Not sure whether to leave the Pats at 4 or move them down to about 10. Doesn't really matter I guess ... they really sucked tonight though.

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