Aaron Rodgers and the Packers proved they’re still an elite team by blowing out the Texans, the Giants continued winning as underdogs, and the Patriots were nipped by another NFC West foe.
Week One Headlines
Giants and Manning/Packers and Rodgers – Still the best
Between all the crazy finishes and juicy storylines from Week 6, one thing became perfectly clear; the Giants and Packers are still the NFC’s best teams. They were the conference’s best teams when they met in Wisconsin eight months ago and they’re still the two best teams now.
I know the Falcons are undefeated and the Giants and Packers have five losses between them, but would you pick Atlanta over either New York or Green Bay? No. And you know why? Because Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning know how to win. Manning, at least in my opinion, is the league’s MVP right now. Though he didn’t need to do much in Sunday’s victory over the 49ers, he’s carried the Giants through the first 6 weeks, overcoming offensive injuries and lighting up the scoreboard to account for the defense’s injuries as well. Without Manning, the Giants are likely 2-4 at best. I can’t remember the last time Eli no-showed a big game. Even when he has a horrendous half like he did against Tampa Bay in Week 2 (3 INTs in the 1st half), he responds and leads his team back (3 2nd half TDs, 500 yards passing). He’s more of a sure thing in big games than Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and maybe even Aaron Rodgers.
Speaking of Rodgers, the Texans experienced first hand how deadly the Packers can be when Rodgers is given time in the pocket. There’s no one better at dissecting a defense. It’s not as if the Packers gashed the Saints defense, either. Houston was a top ranked defense with one of the league’s best pass rushes, and still Rodgers smoked them. Like the Giants, the Packers have issues defensively due to excessive injuries. Green Bay also must prove they can protect Rodgers on a weekly basis without the aid of a running game. But as we witnessed Sunday night, none of that matters if Rodgers is given time. Rodgers with time vs. ANY defense in the league isn’t fair. Pressure him or lose. It’s that simple.
Patriots collapse, AFC East gets congested
After the Patriots flushed another win down the toilet, the AFC East turned into a four way tie for 1st and last place. Before we pretend that anyone other than New England actually has a chance of winning the AFC East, let’s breakdown why the Patriots broke down in Seattle.
First of all, and second of all, and third and fourth of all, the Patriots couldn’t convert in the red zone. Six trips. One touchdown. One interception. One botched opportunity to add three points. Did I mention the Patriots lost by one? The Seahawks have an elite defense. They stifled Aaron Rodgers and the Packers for three quarters. They made Cam Newton look like Vince Young. Even though you can’t name any of them, Seattle’s secondary is the best in the game. And you know what? Tom Brady and the Patriots still spent most of the afternoon marching up and down the field… without a running game, no less. The Patriots simply couldn’t convert in the red zone – a trademark of great defenses. Not converting allowed Seattle to hang around in a 13 point game that should have easily been a 20 or 27 point deficit.
Obviously, the Seahawks took advantage while the Patriots fell asleep. Both of Seattle’s scoring drives were hardly scoring drives at all. Two big passing plays of 51 and 47 yards were the difference as the Seahawks scored touchdowns on two of their final three drives and turned a 13 point deficit into a one point lead. Neither drive lasted more than five plays. When you don’t put away teams while you can, you’re only a big play or two from losing. The Patriots were two big plays from losing. The Seahawks made those plays and won.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that New England took the final 10 minutes of the game off. After kicking another field goal to go up 13 with just under 10 minutes remaining, the New England offense mustered only one first down on it’s final three drives. Similar to the Super Bowl eight months ago, the Patriots needed just one more first down to clinch a win.
Cowboys, Eagles go down hard
My cousin and I couldn’t decide which loss was worst. I thought the Eagles blowing a 10 point lead in the final 5 minutes of the 4th quarter was pretty awful. Conversely, the Cowboys valiantly battled back against the Ravens and appeared headed for a game winning field goal until a bone-headed decision by Tony Romo ultimately ruined their chances. As an Eagles fan, Philadelphia’s collapse hurt, but the Lions whipped up on the Eagles in those final minutes and earned the victory. The Cowboys simply gave it away to the Ravens. Here’s how.
First, Dez Bryant drops an easy two point conversion that would have tied the game. Then, the Cowboys manage to recover an onside kick thanks to Baltimore’s incompetence. After that, the Cowboys get a defensive pass interference call that puts them on Baltimore’s 34. At this moment Dallas is looking at a 51 yard field goal. There’s about 24 seconds on the clock and the Cowboys still have a timeout remaining. If they work the sidelines, the Cowboys probably have two, maybe even three plays before they kick the field goal, right? One would think. Then again, this is the Cowboys.
Instead of working the sidelines, Tony Romo throws a one yard slant to Dez Bryant and then tries to rally the Cowboys to the line to spike the football. This was beyond dumb on so many levels. 1. Why throw a slant for one yard in that situation? If you’re gonna work the middle of the field, it HAS to be for a decent chunk of yards. 2. Work the sidelines a few yards at a time. Every yard is important for a field goal kicker from this distance. 3. After your dumb mistake, don’t compound it by making another. CALL THE TIMEOUT and leave yourself the opportunity to work the sidelines for more yards. But no. The Cowboys and Romo allowed the clock to run until they missed the potential game winning field goal.
The Eagles lost because they’re idiots, they suck, and the Lions beat them. The Cowboys lost because they’re idiots. I don’t know which is worse.
Someone take them to Chick-fil-A (NFL’s top 5)
1. Giants – I know the Giants don’t have the best record, nor are they the most talented. However, if the do-or-die playoffs started tomorrow, is there a single team you’d pick ahead of the Giants in a must-win game? When push comes to shove, the Giants are still the NFL’s best.
2. Packers – One respectable loss to the 49ers, a blown game to the Colts, a stolen victory in Seattle, and impressive, dominant wins over Chicago and Houston. Like I said, everyone gave up on the Packers too soon. They’re still an elite team as long as they can protect Aaron Rodgers.
3. Texans – One loss to a pissed off Aaron Rodgers isn’t enough to scare me away from the Texans. Houston has a lot to prove in next week’s AFC showdown against Baltimore.
4. Falcons – The ugliest 6-0 record I’ve ever seen.
5. Ravens – Held on to beat Dallas but may have lost two important defensive pieces along the way. Ray Rice still needs more touches.
(Last Week: HOU, SF, ATL, NE, BAL.)
Hardly Ramen Noodle worthy (NFL’s bottom 5)
28. Eagles – Are the Eagles this bad? I don’t know, it feels like it, though. Even if this is just an exaggerated and spiteful ranking, Michael Vick, Andy Reid, and the rest of the Eagles have certainly earned it.
29. Panthers – Cam Newton gave Panther fans hope in 2011. In 2012, he gives them headaches.
30. Browns – Thanks to a four takeaway performance from the defense, the Browns were finally able put one in the win column against the struggling Bengals.
31. Jaguars – Jacksonville looked better in Week 6 than they have since a Week 3 win over the Colts.
32. Chiefs – Putting Brady Quinn under center usually gives a team the best chance at occupying this spot on a weekly basis.
(Last Week: CAR, BUF, TENN, JAC.)
Stock rising (but not in top 5, yet)
Bills/Dolphins/Jets – The Patriots collapse, combined with wins for the rest of the AFC East, has the previously left for dead Bills/Dolphins/Jets tied for first (or last) place in the division.
Seahawks – Russell Wilson played confident, smart football against the Patriots on Sunday. With how good Seattle’s defense is, that’s all the Seahawks need from Wilson to have a chance. Furthermore, with the Cardinals and 49ers losing, the Seahawks are now tied atop the NFC West.
Dolphins – Believe it or not, the Dolphins are pretty good. With a solid defense and competent quarterback play from rookie Ryan Tannehill, expect Miami to remain in the AFC playoff race for weeks to come.
Stock falling (but not in bottom 5, yet)
Eagles – Michael Vick continues to turn the football over and the defense can’t protect 4th quarter leads. It’s a miracle the Eagles are 3-3 and not 1-5 or 0-6.
Bengals – The Bengals aren’t good enough to compete with the better teams in the AFC. Losing to bad teams like the Browns is devastating. Though it’s early, I think it’s safe to say the Bengals will not be returning to the playoffs.
Cardinals – Arizona landed in a tie for 1st place in the division at the end of the day but that doesn’t erase two straight losses. More importantly, the Cardinals can’t run the ball, they struggle to score and now could be without Kevin Kolb. (Which, admittedly could be a good thing.)
Things I thought and would’ve said on TV if someone paid me…
- The Packers aren’t built to run the football. Forcing a balanced offensive approach when you have an elite quarterback like Rodgers seems backwards. Keep the ball in your best players hands as often as possible. I liked Green Bay’s approach Sunday night. Throw it more, run it less. This doesn’t mean the Packers don’t need a running game. It means they only need a running game to slow the pass rush, not accumulate large chunks of yardage.
- I hope Brent Celek apologized in the locker room on Sunday. His dropped touchdown pass in the 3rd quarter, as well as his three other drops proved costly. The Eagles sorely missed those four additional points.
- I’m not sure what time it was, but there was a time Sunday afternoon when the Eagles were up 10 late in the 4th quarter and the Raiders were driving for the win late in a 13-13 game in Atlanta. At that moment, I thought to myself, “Wow, the Eagles could jump over the Falcons in the standings with a win over Atlanta after the bye.” About 30 seconds later Asante Samuel took an interception to the house and the Eagles started collapsing against the Lions.
- The Bengals are going to severely regret recent losses to Miami and Cleveland. Both were very winnable games. Now Cincinnati will need to find a way to muster 6 to 8 wins from a remaining schedule that includes the Steelers (x2), Broncos, Giants, Eagles, Cowboys, Ravens, and Chargers as 8 of their last 10 opponents.
- And how about those Browns? Three 4th quarter touchdowns for the young Browns offense while the Cleveland defense forced two critical turnovers that scuttled any chance of a Bengals comeback.
- Greg “the Leg” Zuerlein had his worst day as a pro on Sunday in Miami. Zuerlein missed from 52 (a chip shot for him), 37, and 66 in a game the Rams lost by 3 points. Obviously, there’s no shame in missing a 66 yard field but it did have enough distance to be good from 70.
- The Jets are a good team when they’re able to run the ball as effectively as they did against the Colts (252 yards). Unfortunately, those 252 yards account for more than a 1/3rd of the Jets rushing yards this season. Good ground game = less opportunities for Mark Sanchez to screw up.
- The Eagles are in for a very rude awakening when they meet the Redskins. Not only are the Eagles miserable against the run, but they also fall for every single bootleg, screen pass, and anything else that punishes a defense for over pursuing. Maybe by week 16 Andy Reid will have it figured out.
- Josh Freeman and the big playing passing game is rounding into form in Tampa Bay. Freeman finished with 328 passing yards on just 15 completions, including three completions of 42 yards or more.
- Dez Bryant screwed up plenty on Sunday (3 drops, now 7 on the year) but he also proved how talented he is; 13 receptions, 95 yards, 2 TDs. Of course, it helped that Ladarius Webb (one of the NFL’s elite cornerbacks) went down with an injury on the first play of the Cowboys second drive.
- Bill Belichick and the Patriots defense should be ashamed by their 4th quarter performance. Even while Russell Wilson was completing 50 yard bombs, the Patriots continued to let receivers run free – almost as if they didn’t believe Wilson could beat them. Even Belichick’s facial expressions made me believe he was thinking to himself, “Oh please, this is such garbage.”
- Not sure if anyone else saw it, but this happened: Before Atlanta lined up to kick a potential game-winning field goal from 55 yards, Oakland called a timeout. It wasn’t a typical ice-the-kicker timeout. The Raiders called it before the two teams completely lined up. Yet still, the Falcons kicker (Matt Bryant) had the ball snapped at least a full second AFTER the timeout was called and proceeded to attempt the field goal while his teammates and the defense stood around watching. The kicked sailed wide left. On the real attempt, Bryant nailed it. There should be a rule against kickers taking practice kicks after a timeout had been clearly called well before the ball was snapped. Or, at the very least, defensive players should be able to charge the kicker and attempt to block the kick – like Kevin Garnett goaltends a shot attempt after a whistle – without any repercussions.
- Good thing the 49ers opted to stick with Alex Smith over Peyton Manning. The last thing the 49ers need is a reliable quarterback with big game experience. – I’ve never considered San Francisco a legitimate Super Bowl contender because of Alex Smith. Sunday vindicated those feelings. This isn’t 2000 when you can win with a subpar quarterback like the Ravens did, or even 2005 when the Steelers won with a rookie quarterback. Games are won and lost on the arms of a quarterback. Defenses can only do so much.
- With that said, defenses are making a comeback. The NFC West went from laughingstock to the NFL’s best because its defenses are four of the best in the NFL. The Dolphins and Jets are 3-3 behind a rookie quarterback and lousy veteran, respectively, because their defenses keep them in games. Minnesota is 4-2 and anchored by its defense (until RG3 torched it), the Bears are legitimate contenders because of their defense, and teams with explosive offenses like the Saints (and even the Packers at times) have struggled because their defenses aren’t up to par.
- Not sure what to make of Minnesota’s poor defensive performance in Washington D.C. The Vikings haven’t played an elite offense yet. Was Sunday a fluke or has the Viking defense been inflated by a lousy schedule?
- Believe it or not, the Redskins can claim sole possession of 1st place in the NFC East with a win next week over the Giants. Robert Griffin III scares me to death. Can we trade him out of the division?
- As predicted, the Packers handed the Texans their first loss of the season. Sunday was more about the Packers than the Texans. Houston simply ran into a great team desperate for a win. Houston is still the most balanced team in the league and in my opinion, the eventual AFC Champion. The 85 Bears couldn’t have stopped Rodgers Sunday night.
- Though the Bills rallied, they deserve plenty of flack for their 4th quarter play calling. 2nd and 9, up 3 with under 4 minutes to play and the ball at the Arizona 36, the Bills lined up in their Wildcat formation. No harm there, right? Running out the clock on the ground is a smart call… except when you call for your 4th string receiver to throw a deep pass out of the Wildcat. Of course, the pass was intercepted and the Cardinals kicked the game-tying field goal on the ensuing drive (a 61 yarder, no less). Not Buffalo’s proudest moment, but thanks to Jay Feely hooking a 38 yard game-winning field goal (after nailing a 61 yarder), the Bills escaped unscathed in overtime.
Things I never thought and would not say this week, even if you paid me…
- If I’m a title contender and Alex Smith is my quarterback, I have no problems sleeping at night. None.
- Brent Celek deserves to be recognized as one of the league’s top tight ends. When the Eagles need a play, he delivers.
- Brady Quinn’s performance on Sunday was disappointing. I expected more from the 6th year pro.
- I doubt the Ravens miss Lardarius Webb if he is indeed out for the year with an ACL injury.
Fantasy Nightmare Football update of the week…
- Quite the opposite this week. Aaron Rodgers went off, Arian Foster found the end zone twice despite a rough night, and Vincent Jackson even made an appearance. Sometimes, I just love fantasy football. (Sometimes.)