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In Case You Missed It. NFL Week 10 Recap

Week 10 saw the Philadelphia Eagles bottom out, the Cowboys rise, and the Patriots regain control of the AFC East. Elsewhere, the Bears dished out a mammoth beating, the Falcons handed the Saints a win, and the Ravens laid another egg.

Week Two Headlines

Cowboys big winners in Week 10
After dismantling the Buffalo Bills and watching the Eagles bow out of contention in the NFC East, the Cowboys were undoubtedly thrilled to see the resurgent 49ers handle the Giants. Combine Atlanta’s loss with the Lions’ mugging, and the Cowboys find themselves a game out of the NFC East and within striking distance of a Wildcard berth. In fact, the Cowboys control their own destiny in the NFC East. And, while it may be a little premature, it wouldn’t be that outlandish to call the Cowboys the division favorites at this point. Here’s why.

Dallas has two games against the Giants remaining. Winning both would obviously give them a huge advantage in winning the division, but let’s say they only split and still need to make up a game. Looking at the schedule, Dallas should easily be able to make up one game against the Giants, if not more. The Giants remaining schedule looks like this: Eagles, @Saints, Packers, @Cowboys, Redskins, @Jets, Cowboys. The Cowboys, on the other hand, face a team with a winning record only twice, and that’s the Giants, twice. If Dallas is even slightly above average, they should have no problem beating the Redskins, Dolphins, Cardinals, Eagles, and Buccaneers. The Cowboys control their own destiny. This is Tony Romo’s chance to prove he’s a big time quarterback, not a good quarterback that crumbles in the clutch.

Broncos run over Chiefs… literally
Obviously, Sunday wasn’t a good day for me. Watching the Eagles fade into oblivion before Thanksgiving was a devastating blow to my goal to be more thankful. However, watching Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos throughout the day was a much-needed respite.

Aside from Brian Dawkins, I’m not a Bronco fan, nor am I fan of the option. In fact, I dislike college football because of the option. (I mean seriously, after 100 years, why haven’t schools figured it out yet?) Watching Denver run the football, run the football, and then run the football some more while the Chiefs flailed around the field was laughable. Seriously, I was laughing.

Let’s do a test. When your opponent has zero completions on less than seven attempts heading into halftime, what do you think they’re going to do in the second half? If you said, “run the ball,” you’d be correct. Either the Chiefs weren’t paying attention, or they flat out stink. I’ll take the latter, because the Broncos totaled 55 rushing attempts (a season total for an Andy Reid offense) and rushed for nearly 250 yards while only completing two (2!!!) passes on eight attempts. It was the most bizarre football game I’ve seen in some time.

The funniest moment came midway through the 4th quarter when Denver faced a 3rd and 10. Up to that point, Tebow was 1/7 for 13 yards (the completion came on a WR bubble). He overthrew, under threw, bounced, hopped, and skipped passes to receivers all afternoon. Denver essentially gave up on 3rd downs, choosing to run the ball more often than not. This 3rd down was different, though. Tebow dropped back and lofted a bomb down the right side to Eric Decker. After an afternoon of erratic passes and missed receivers, it was a perfect, beautifully thrown ball, dropped right into Decker’s hands. Touchdown. Game over. He may not be any good as a passer, but at least Tebow cares. I wish I could say the same for Michael Vick after his performance on Sunday.

Ravens blow it, again
The Baltimore Ravens made a strong case to be the 2nd most embarrassed team in the NFL yesterday afternoon. I’m beginning to think they judge the success/failure of their season upon how they perform against their archrival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. In that case, well done, Baltimore. Undefeated season. See you next year.

Unfortunately, the Ravens’ schedule is riddled with lousy opponents… and Baltimore continually struggles against them, even losing to the Jaguars and Seahawks. Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks cost the Ravens first place in the AFC North and I don’t think they’ll be able to keep pace with the Steelers down the stretch. A Wildcard berth is nice, but it will be tough for Baltimore to swallow if they visit Pittsburgh again in the playoffs despite finishing 2-0 against the Steelers in the regular season.

Vick hurts Eagles (and ribs)
There’s too much blame to go around. I’ll dish out more later in the week. For now, I’m going after Michael Vick. It was obvious from the opening whistle the Eagles were disinterested and hung over from Monday’s heart-breaking loss to the Bears. It happens. Teams take some losses harder than others. It takes a quarter or two to break out of that funk and focus. I’m not excusing the self-pity, but it happens to every team across the league at least once a season. Unfortunately, the Eagles never snapped out of that funk because their “leader” and quarterback sulked all afternoon and ultimately quit on the 2011 season.

If you don’t believe me, or if you want to blame DeSean Jackson’s absence or Andy Reid’s incompetence, be my guest. You’d be wrong, though. The Eagles lost because of Vick on Sunday. Jackson isn’t a good enough receiver for his absence to impact a game to that degree. While Reid is indeed incompetent, he didn’t miss open receivers on numerous occasions, throw another red zone pick, and sit on the sidelines pouting like a school boy kicked out of recess. Nope. That was Michael Vick.

Even Donovan McNabb used to hit Brent Celek when he was that wide open. McNabb also protected the football, making sure not to hurt his team and leave points on the field. Most importantly, McNabb could read a defense and know where the open receiver was going to be.

Again, those mistakes are excusable to a certain degree. Bad days happen. Bad games happen. Being a lousy teammate and a crappy leader can’t happen. Vick needed to be up and kicking his teammates in the rear on Sunday, not sulking on the bench staring aimlessly into the black abyss (Andy Reid) in front of him. Vick should have gotten on his receivers for dropping passes and running the wrong routes. If he wants to declare himself a leader, fine, then be responsible for the morale of the team, too. The interception on the final drive was Vick’s white flag. He had enough. This was too hard. He was done. There’s no other explanation for launching the ball 50 yards downfield to your slowest and smallest receiver when he had absolutely no separation from the cornerback.

Yes, Vick suffered through broken ribs throughout the second half, but his play and demeanor were poor the entire game. And, if the ribs were affecting Vick’s play so much, why didn’t he tell Reid so the Eagles could (hopefully) run the ball and keep Vick safe? I know Reid ignores the run even at obvious times, but broken ribs to his quarterback would probably push even Reid to a running game. Besides, you know what other NFC East quarterback rallied his team to a come-from behind victory with multiple broken ribs? Tony Romo. Vick, broken ribs and all, couldn’t accomplish what Romo did. Excuse me while I go lock myself in a closet until training camp 2012.
[UPDATE: Broken ribs happened on 2nd play from scrimmage. Sorry, Mike! You’re excused. Get well soon!]

Panthers putting too much on Cam Newton
[Editor’s Note: There were too many games yesterday, so I assigned my brother the Panthers. This is his report.]
For how much praise Ron Rivera has received for the way he’s handled Cam Newton, he deserves some serious criticism, too. Throwing Newton to the lions has worked even though many thought it wouldn’t. However, abandoning the running game (which should be a considerable strength) just so your franchise QB can develop is a bunch of garbage. Watching Sunday’s loss was like watching a baby gazelle against a swarm of lionesses. The Titans repeatedly blitzed Newton because they knew the Panthers wouldn’t run. Carolina’s desire to stretch the field also made it extremely difficult for Newton to find his receivers in time. Sure, they were down early, but 14-0 is no reason to toss the run game out the window. If you want to help Newton develop, run the offense so he doesn’t have to do everything. The poor kid is border line depressed every time he fails, and the way Rivera and Chud have that offense programmed is setting Newton up to do so.

Also, why isn’t Steve Smith a target on at least 50% of all passing plays? Why is anyone else targeted more than him? Just put the ball in his hands and let him work. I’m tired of watching big 3rd down plays progress from Nenee to LaFell to Olsen to Stewart while Smith doesn’t even get a look. What more does the guy need to do to prove scheming a passing attack around him is a great idea? Every time the Panthers have been successful (both this year and in the past) is because they either ran the ball and threw to Smith or simply threw it to Smith all the time. Rivera needs to set up the offense so his stars can be more successful. It’s simple. Break the offense into Smith-Williams-Stewart-Olsen and Newton. Any room left can be divided among the others. Newton needs some help. The Panthers have the weapons, Rivera just needs to use them.

Someone take them to Chick-fil-A (NFL’s top 5)

1. Packers – It’s hard to imagine the Packers relinquishing this spot in the near future, if ever. Right now, it looks like the other 31 teams are playing for the right to lose to Green Bay in the Superbowl.
2. 49ers – I’m as shocked as you. While I’m still not sold on the 49ers as title contenders in the NFC, it’s hard to argue with the results thus far. In fact, without a 4th quarter collapse against the Cowboys in Week 2, the 49ers would be right there with Green Bay at 9-0.
3. Texans – It’s been a weird season, to say the least. No Saints, Colts, Patriots, or Steelers in the top three. Instead, we have the 49ers and Texans. Again, weird.
4. Steelers – You could put the Saints or Bears here and I wouldn’t argue. However, I don’t trust the Saints, and the Bears offense still needs work.
5. Patriots – The defense played well against Dallas earlier in the season and then disappeared. Let’s hope Sunday night’s defense hangs around a little longer. Regardless, Tom Brady’s 2nd half was the best Brady has looked in nearly a month.
(Last Week: GB, NYG, BAL, SF, HOU)

Hardly Ramen Noodle worthy (NFL’s bottom 5)

28. Browns – Cleveland waited too long to jump into the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Why isn’t anyone blaming Mike Holmgren for the Browns’ failed rebuilding process? Eric Mangini deserved another year.
29.
Chiefs – That four game winning streak that sent the Chiefs to the top of the AFC West is now a distant memory. Losing to a team that completes only two passes is a new low for Todd Haley.
30. Eagles
– A lot of talent. A lot of egos. No heart. I know the “cool” thing is to blame Andy Reid, and he does deserve the heat, but players still have to play. All that high-priced talent has shriveled under the spotlight.
31.
Redskins – Normally, I would revel in the Redskins’ misery. Unfortunately, their 3-6 record is equal to my Eagles’ standing after nine games.
32. Colts
– The Colts clearly have a goal and they’re doing everything in their power to achieve it. I commend them for that. The only question remaining is; where does Peyton Manning play next year?
(Last Week: WASH, JAC, AZ, STL, IND)

Stock rising (but not in top 5, yet)

Bears – Regardless of how their offense struggles at times, the Bears will be tough to beat (especially as the weather deteriorates) thanks to their stellar defense and special teams play. Why is anyone still punting to Devin Hester?
Saints – I’m not sure how to explain yesterday’s win over Atlanta, but I’ll go with “fortunate.” The Saints now head into a late bye week with a nice lead in the NFC South. New Orleans better rest up, because after the bye they host the Giants in what could be a decisive factor in which team draws the Packers in the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs.
Cowboys – Speaking of playoffs, the Cowboys (unlike the Eagles), survived the first half of the season to remain in contention. As I detailed earlier, things have broken nicely around the Cowboys. Now, it’s up to Tony Romo and Co. to take advantage.

Stock falling (but not in bottom 5, yet)

Eagles – Falling is an understatement. At least the Miami Heat rallied, figured things out, and made some noise. The most noise the Eagles made in 2011 was the loud thud heard Sunday afternoon around 4:15PM ET.
Buccaneers – Josh Freeman just took a resounding lead in the “quarterback that regressed the most in 2011” race. His late game heroics have disappeared, his decision making has been awful, and he looks lost out there. It doesn’t help that Tampa’s defense has been poor all season.
Bills – Sadly, I think we may have seen the last of the Buffalo Bills in 2011. The offense has been sluggish two weeks in a row now and the defense isn’t good enough to contend with above average teams unless they’re creating turnovers. It’s desperation time in Buffalo.

Things I thought and would’ve said on TV if someone paid me…
  • Not only did the Cowboys win and have a number of things go right around the league, but they’ve discovered a workhorse running back as well. Since starting for the injured Felix Jones in Week 7, DeMarco Murray has rushed for 601 yards on only 75 carries. That’s over eight yards a pop. As my cousin said last night, “If the Cowboys put Felix back in, they’re idiots.”
  • I expected the Steelers to defeat the Bengals on Sunday, but I was surprised by Cincinnati’s fight, nonetheless. Despite two interceptions and losing his top receiver, Andy Dalton held his own and kept the Bengals in the game, even coming back from a 14-0 deficit. Unfortunately, the loss of shutdown corner Leon Hall for the season severely weakens Cincinnati’s secondary.
  • Can someone please make sure Andy Reid and the Eagles’ front office study tape of the 49ers win over the Giants on Sunday? Next time they ignore the linebacker position, they should watch Patrick Willis.
  • For all the trash talk about being one of the NFL’s toughest teams, the Detroit Lions looked soft as they were being manhandled by the Bears on Sunday. Brian Urlacher and Co. reminded the Lions that saying your tough isn’t the same as proving it.
  • After fumbling twice on kickoff returns, David Reed probably slept with one eye open on the flight back to Baltimore.
  • The Patriots are one of the most confusing teams in the NFL. Against the Steelers and the Giants, New England’s defense couldn’t get a stop in the 4th quarter. On Sunday against the Jets, the Patriots smothered Mark Sanchez and the Jets like they did the Cowboys in Week 6. Which defense is for real, and more importantly, which one will be around come playoff time?
  • Benching DeSean Jackson was absolutely the right move. Hopefully, he was at home watching what a true “elite receiver” looks like. Hey DeSean, notice how Larry Fitzgerald made plays regardless of what the defense was doing?
  • I still have no idea why the Falcons went for it on 4th down from their own 30 yard line in overtime. It was a stupid decision that will probably cost the Falcons a shot at the division and possibly even the playoffs. (By the way, how overrated have the NFC South and East been this season? I still don’t think the Saints are any good.)
  • No one is paying attention because the Rams stink, but Chris Long is having a great season terrorizing opposing quarterbacks.
  • I’m not arguing Colt McCoy is an NFL starting quarterback, but shouldn’t we take into account he’s working with the most talent-deprived offense in the NFL and possibly even the SEC?
  • The Colts’ offense managed 212 total yards on Sunday. Why not use a long snapper, start Peyton Manning, and take your chances with Manning 15 yards from the line of scrimmage. Can’t be worse than what they’re getting now.
  • Matt Cassel’s benching in Kansas City probably didn’t help his already rocky relationship with Todd Haley. I’m excited for them coming to blows on the sideline before the end of the year. I just hope it lasts longer than UFC’s national TV debut. (Turns out Cassel was injured. Bummer.)
  • I need an answer here. After the Eagles were left without Vick on a critical 3rd and 3 in the 4th quarter of a tie game, why did Reid not use a time out to get Vick back on the field? That’s a big 3rd down. You’d think you’d want your starting QB in the game.
  • Detroit Lions; 6 turnovers, 4/17 on 3rd down conversions. This is why it’s best to let your play do the talking for you. The Lions put themselves on the radar, now everyone’s gunning for them.
  • I witnessed three missed field goals from inside 25 yards on Sunday. What’s wrong with field goal kickers? Meanwhile, David Akers is crushing the ball in San Fran.
  • Don’t sleep on the Houston Texans. Everyone wants to talk about the Steelers, Ravens, and Patriots, but the Texans run the football better than any of those teams and play defense as well as them, too. They may reside in the awful AFC South, but an unstoppable ground game and solid defense win in the postseason… unless of course, you’re the Green Bay Packers.
  • Guess who quietly crawled right into the thick of the AFC Wildcard race? That’s right, the Tennessee Titans. Chris Johnson’s first appearance of the 2011 season was a huge lift.
  • The Miami Dolphins should be careful. Too many wins and they may just save Tony Sparano’s job.
Things I never thought and would not say this week, even if you paid me…
  • The Eagles proved you can win in the NFL without proven, veteran leaders in the locker room.
  • Speaking of the Eagles, Michael Vick is as clutch in the 4th quarter as any quarterback in the league.
  • I always recommend going for it on 4th and inches at your own 30 in overtime. Makes complete sense.
  • The Colts may consider trading out of the top spot given the progression of Curtis Painter.
  • There are a handful of elite teams in the NFL this year, including the Ravens, Giants, Jets, and Lions.
  • I expect the Colts-Jaguars matchup in Week 17 to get flexed to prime time.
Fantasy Nightmare Football update of the week…
  • As per my own fantasy football rules, I always bench my defense when they play the Eagles. Unfortunately, I forgot I made this change last week. As a result, the Bears defense was on my bench scoring 36 points while the Bills defense was active, losing me three points. Total impact of my forgetfulness; 39 points, $10, and possibly a win. When it rains, it pours.

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