In Case You Missed It. NFL Week 11 Recap

Jay Cutler’s injury casts a huge shadow over the Bears impressive season while the Eagles fought off the Giants to stay alive in the NFC East.

Week Two Headlines

Bears suffer big loss
The biggest loss of the day didn’t belong to the Chargers or the Bills, or the Bengals, or even the Giants. It belonged to the Chicago Bears. In victory, the Bears lost starting quarterback Jay Cutler for what appears to be the remainder of the regular season to a thumb injury. Considering the Chicago offense has struggled at times throughout the season, the loss of Cutler will certainly increase the already heavy load on Matt Forte and force the defense and special teams to carry the Bears into the playoffs. When I first heard the news of Cutler’s injury, a 9-7 finish came to mind. However, after looking at Chicago’s remaining schedule, it’s hard to imagine the Bears missing the playoffs, even without Cutler.

Next week the Bears travel to Oakland. Their schedule after that is Kansas City, @Denver, Seattle, @Green Bay, and @Minnesota. I can’t imagine the Bears losing to the Chiefs or Seahawks at home, so those should be two wins. While it’s possible they lose all four road games, it’s more likely they finish 2-2 or 1-3 away from Soldier Field, which lands them at 10-6 for the year. With early season victories over the Falcons, Eagles, and Buccaneers, the Bears should be able to hold onto to that last Wildcard berth and welcome Cutler back for the postseason. Ten wins is the magic number for Chicago.

Eagles beat Giants to stay alive
It seems as if anytime the Eagles travel up 95 to take on the Giants in north Jersey, something special happens. Years ago it was the Brian Westbrook punt return. In 2009, it was Brian Westbrook terrorizing the Giant defense en route to a huge late season win that propelled the Eagles into the playoffs and all the way to the NFC Championship game. Last year, it was the incredible rally capped by DeSean Jackson’s game winning punt return. Last night, it was the 18 play, eight minute and 51 second marathon drive that saw the Eagles convert on six 3rd downs.

It was by far the Eagles grittiest win of the season. Shorthanded and left for dead, the Eagles bullied the Giants from the opening kickoff to Jason Babin’s clinching sack. It was a win typical of the Eagles in Reid’s early years when Donovan McNabb was asked only to keep the Eagles in reach and make plays when the opportunities were there. If anything, Reid implemented that same game plan with Vince Young on Sunday night. Young made several mistakes and missed plenty of opportunities, but he kept coming. His confidence never wavered. More importantly, the Eagle defense gave Young plenty of time to shake off the rust and get comfortable. It was the first time this season the defense continually bailed out the offense. Even when it looked like the defense would again collapse in the 4th quarter, they came through with a turnover. Obviously, the Eagles had to win, but winning in such an overpowering, physical fashion gives hope that perhaps the defense has finally found a little edge. One win won’t save the Eagles’ season, but it buys them another week. More tomorrow.

(Sorry for the lack of headlines today. I was too excited to sit down last night, and today (when I tried to add some more content) my kid decided he would hate everything in the world.)

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

1. Packers – No more cupcake games for the Packers. Five of their final six are against winning teams, including a Thanksgiving showdown in Detroit. Although Cutler’s injury weakens the Bears, Green Bay’s going to need defensive improvement to maintain that undefeated record and more importantly, home field advantage.
2. 49ers – Sunday’s win wasn’t pretty (three missed field goals, 2/6 in the red zone), but with San Francisco’s defense (forced five turnovers on Sunday), winning ugly is just as easy sometimes.
3. Texans – We’ll allow the Texans to stay here over their vacation. However, unless Matt Leinart regains his USC magic, Houston will be evicted from the top five shortly.
4. Steelers – The Steelers will face only two winning teams down the stretch. Unfortunately, the same is true for Baltimore, whom the Steelers must finish ahead of to win the division and in all likelihood, home-field advantage throughout.
5. Patriots – Three of our top five teams were inactive on Sunday, so our apologies for the lack of turnover here.
(Last Week: GB, SF, HOU, PITT, NE)

Hardly Ramen Noodle worthy (NFL’s bottom 5)

28. Chiefs – Things to watch for tonight: Brady throwing for 350 yards and 5 TD. Tyler Palko’s debut. Todd Haley screaming/cursing/pointing angrily at someone. 
Cardinals – How you commit five turnovers in only 15 minutes and 44 seconds of possession is beyond me. In fact, that’s gotta be some sort of record.
30. Panthers
– Cam Newton kept the Panthers out of the doghouse for a good portion of the season. Now, he’s turnover prone. Carolina’s defense is truly, truly awful, so that doesn’t help either.
Rams – The Rams can’t do anything right now. Against Seattle, the Rams failed to surpass 200 yards of total offense. I thought they turned a corner over recent weeks. I was clearly wrong.
32. Colts
– Even Andrew Luck hasn’t looked invincible the last few weeks. That Colt stench is already rubbing off on him. Question: How many Colts seriously considered faking a season-ending injury over the bye? Be honest. At least five considered it, right?
(Last Week: CLE, KC, PHI, WASH, IND)

Stock rising (but not in top 5, yet)

Broncos – Denver could deliver what would probably be the knockout blow to the Chargers next week. More importantly, the Broncos and Tim Tebow need a win to keep pace with Oakland if they hope to clinch a playoff berth.
Dolphins – It’s doesn’t mean anything now, but the Dolphins are surging. What once looked like an easy Thanksgiving win for Dallas now appears to be the 3rd competitive game on what has recently been a day of mismatches and blowouts. Bueno.
Cowboys – Squeaking past the Redskins and having the Giants knocked off catapulted the Cowboys into first place of the NFC East. With the NFC Wildcard contenders crumbling around them, the Cowboys should make the playoffs one way or the other. Barring an epic collapse, of course.

Stock falling (but not in bottom 5, yet)

Bears – Jay Cutler’s injury is a devastating blow. The Chicago offense was mediocre as is. Without Cutler, that Bear defense and Devin Hester will need to find more ways to give their offense easy points.
Giants – While they didn’t waste a 20 point 4th quarter lead this time, losing to the Eagles was a severe blow to the Giants’ hopes of winning the divison. Now tied with the Cowboys, New York travels to New Orleans and Dallas within the next three weeks and hosts Green Bay in between.
Jets – The Jets are certainly plummetting, but the AFC playoff picture is riddled with .500 teams competing for playoff spots. In fact, only the AFC North has more than one team better than 5-5. So, as bad as Thursday night’s loss to Denver was, the Jets are still right in the thick of the playoff hunt.

Things I thought and would’ve said on TV if someone paid me…
  • A disappointing loss to the Browns on Sunday may have sealed Jack Del Rio’s fate. As well as the defense has played throughout his tenure, something needs to be done about Jacksonville’s offense and Del Rio is clearly not the man to fix it.
  • Don’t trust anyone from Harvard. Mark Zuckerberg stole Facebook from the Winklevoss’ and Ryan Fitzpatrick appears to have stolen at least $24 million of guaranteed money from the Buffalo Bills. Seriously, though, what happened to Fitzpatrick? A little over a month ago he was carving up defenses. Now he looks completely lost.
  • The Packer defense gave up 455 total yards to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. As we’ve seen with the undefeated Colts and Patriots in recent years, the wins only get uglier as the season progresses. If Rodgers ever has an off game, Green Bay would be in trouble.
  • There was a point on Sunday afternoon around 3:45ish PM ET when all of the early games except for the Bills/Dolphins blowout were one-possession games. And of course, DirecTV’s ToGo package was on the fritz.
  • I prefer the Ravens to the Steelers, but it’s hard to believe Baltimore is the better team in the AFC North right now. While they’ve always played up or down to the level of their competition, they look especially inconsistent this season.
  • Staying in the AFC North, I certainly hope the Bengals can survive their last six games to hang on to a playoff berth. They’ve proven themselves more consistent than any of the 5-5 teams and that’s despite starting a rookie at quarterback.
  • Six days ago Donte Stallworth was brought back to the Redskins after being released. For a few moments on Sunday, he looked to be the hero in an upset over the rival Cowboys.  Too bad Graham Gano missed a 52 yard game-winning field goal.
  • Up 7-3 and at the Raiders 21, the Vikings were threatening to add at least a field goal to their early lead until Christian Ponder threw an interception at the five. The Raiders went on to score on that drive and their next two, going into the half up 24-7. The Vikings put on a late rally but ultimately fell short. Turnovers are toxic.
  • A lot will be made of Dallas’ struggles in Washington yesterday, but I’d ignore the panic alarms. Dallas ALWAYS struggles in Washington. It was expected. Besides, Tony Romo looked outstanding. The Redskins were due for a competitive game and Dallas obliged.
  • Considering Chris Johnson struggled immensely again this week, I think it’s safe to credit the Carolina defense with his Week 10 outburst. You know, the same Carolina defense that blew a 17 point lead, surrendered 495 yards, and literally watched as Detroit scored 35 second half points.
  • Also, the Lions gave Kevin Smith, who was just signed off the street, the football 16 times. The Panthers gave their highly paid running back, DeAngelo Williams, only ten attempts. Williams was averaging seven yards a clip and Carolina was either leading or within one score until very late in the 4th quarter, so there’s no excuse for Carolina to again abandon the running game.
  • Going into Atlanta to beat a desperate Falcon team wasn’t going to be easy, but the Titans didn’t appear interested in even trying until after they spotted Atlanta a 20 point lead.
  • DeSean Jackson proved last night why he’s an unbelievable talent and an unbelievable headache. After Jackson negated a 50 yard pass due to taunting, he returned a punt 51 yards to set up the Eagles first touchdown and then actually broke a tackle on a huge 3rd down in the 4th quarter to set up the Eagles’ game winning touchdown. Two rights don’t excuse a wrong, but in this case, it certainly eased the pain.
  • Philip Rivers is the anti-Tim Tebow. Where Tebow excels on game winning drives, Rivers self destructs. For the 5th consecutive game, Rivers ended any chance the Chargers had of winning or tying the game on their final drive by committing a turnover. Sunday’s interception in Chicago was especially horrible as he carelessly attempted to throw the ball away. Things are getting ugly in San Diego.
  • The NFC East may not be at its strongest this season, but at least the division provides entertaining, competitive football games more often than not. The same cannot be said about the NFC West. I made a concerted effort to watch both the Seattle/St. Louis game and the Arizona/San Fran. game, and both were borderline unwatchable.
Things I never thought and would not say this week, even if you paid me…
  • The comparisons between Sam Bradford and Peyton Manning we heard throughout the 2010 season were right on point.
  • When you need a clutch kick, Graham Gano is your man.
  • If I had $60 million to spend on a cornerback, I would pay Nnamdi Asomugha. Twice. Whenever the Eagles need a big play, he’s there to make it.
  • Speaking of contracts, Chris Johnson’s performance on Sunday proved he’s worth the $56 million contract the Titans signed him to in September. You can’t put a price tag on his production; 12 carries, 13 yards.
  • Philip Rivers may not be as good as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees, but you can always trust Rivers to protect the football and not hurt your team.
  • I can’t wait to see the Kansas City Chiefs in prime time two weeks in a row. Too excited.
Fantasy Nightmare Football update of the week…
  • With Arian Foster on a bye, my running backs combined for two points, thanks largely to Shonn Greene going down in the 1st quarter Thursday against Denver. On a more positive note, the Eagles won.

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