QMI Agency football experts Bill Lankhof and Dan Bilicki weigh in on Week 13 in the NFL, while Randall the Handle tells us what he didn’t like about Sunday’s Week 12 games.
FIVE STORY LINES
1. Atlanta at Houston
How many ways can the Texans find to win without a steady hand at quarterback? Expecting them to get by Atlanta, which is in a playoff dogfight, without a veteran quarterback is probably too much to expect. Atlanta can’t afford a loss. The Texans can afford one, and still likely hold off the Titans within the division. However T.J. Yates or Brodie Croyle won’t cut it in the playoffs. Sage Rosenfels has been mentioned. But Houston and Donovan McNabb — pining on the Vikings’ bench — might prove a more successful shotgun wedding. The Texans’ conservative style will suit McNabb, who would bring veteran experience to a team that has never been to the playoffs.
2. Philadelphia at Seattle
The BOO-Bowl. Philly fans are ready to run Andy Reid out of town as the Eagles need to run the table, and even then it probably isn’t enough to make the playoffs. At least Reid won’t get booed by his own fans this week. The Seahawks, like the Eagles are 4-7, and while Pete Carroll’s job is safe for now some of his moves are being seriously questioned for the first time this year. Many expected better. There is still talk in Seattle, as in Philly, that they can sneak into the playoffs. After this game, such silly speculation will die on at least one side. No NFL coach has yet been fired in mid-season but Reid could be the first if he loses here.
3. NY Jets at Washington
The Jets kept their hopes alive one more week with an unconvincing win over the Bills. This should be a walk-over, except that New York has made a habit of being monumentally unimpressive at the most crucial moments all year. They are just 1-4 on the road and the ‘Skins are coming off a morale-boosting win. Mark Sanchez has thrown at least one interception each of the past five games and as Calvin Pace mused after the Bills’ game: “Defensively, at best we were mediocre.” The Jets were lucky to beat the Bills. And, if they play the same way against Washington, they’ll need to be lucky again. Rex Ryan’s team looks very beatable.
4. Detroit at New Orleans
Moved to prime time Sunday night, the Lions desperately need a win after losing to the Packers, Bears, 49ers and Atlanta. They haven’t beaten a team bound for the playoffs in nearly two months. Despite starting 5-0, if the season ended today they’d miss the playoffs for a 12th consecutive year. They may have Nadamukong Suh in the lineup even if he is suspended because he could appeal. Either way, they’re in tough against Drew Brees, who went into Monday night’s game against the Giants, leading the NFL with 3,326 yards passing. “If we go to New Orleans and take care of business and get a win, that helps us a lot,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said.
5. Cincinnati at Pittsburgh
Another in the weekly series of battles for AFC north supremacy. The Bengals’ win over Cleveland leaves them in the hunt for a wild card. The Steelers meantime need to reassert themselves. Cinci’s young dynamic duo of Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green will need a big game to give them a chance of equalling the Steelers’ record at 8-4. The Bengals have come a long way from last season, beating Cleveland when they rallied from behind in the fourth quarter for the fifth time this season. Dalton had a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions that proved the difference in the first meeting this year but this is a Pittsburgh team that has looked vulnerable.
“He’s an idiot for that. It’s obviously a rough situation that happened a long time ago. It’s not funny. It’s not comical at all. He should be embarrassed.”
— Jets tight end Dustin Keller, after Bills’ receiver Steve Johnson, in an end zone celebration, mocked New York’s Plaxico Burress for his conviction in a nightclub shooting.
DeSean Jackson has gone from “can’t miss” superstar in Philadelphia to “won’t miss you”. Jackson staged a preseason holdout because he wanted to be paid as an elite receiver. Since then he’s been suspended for slagging off a team meeting, taken a costly taunting penalty, and Sunday got himself benched for lacklustre play that included two dropped TD passes. “I am upset about it. It wasn’t one of my best games. As far as a couple of plays, I thought I could have had them, but at the end of the day, I didn’t come up with them.” The bottom line is that Jackson is a free agent at the end of the season and it’s likely he’s played his way out of Philly.
Roy Helu finally had the breakout performance people were waiting for with 108 yards rushing and 54 more passing for the Redskins. His most impressive run came with 9:57 to play when he hurdled Seahawks defensive back Roy Lewis, picked up the first down, broke a tackle and raced the rest of the way to the end zone. “He was awesome today,” quarterback Rex Grossman said. “He had some hard runs. I don’t know if they’re on the highlight reel, but he kept us in second-and-four and we were able to pick up the first down.” The rookie from Nebraska may be the best thing to come out of another disappointing season in D.C.
HYPE WE’RE BUYING
The Patriots are back and ready for another Super Bowl run. And, if Tom Brady has an arm problem, it isn’t anything that’s going to slow down that run. Brady took off the elbow strap he’s worn lately and shredded the Eagles for 361 yards and three TDs. He even scrambled for 28 yards on five carries. Yes, there was another slow start. Big deal. The Patriots more than make up for those with strong finishes — including 38 of the last 41 points Sunday.
HYPE WE’RE NOT
Mike Tomlin can glare all he wants. We’re not buying in. As Super Bowl contenders, there’s something amiss with the Steelers. Yes, with five games on the sked, they’re tied for the best record in the AFC. But a 13-9 win over K.C. is hardly an endorsement. Ben Roethlisberger has a busted up thumb. Troy Polamalu hasn’t been as dominating. And, he’s hurt, again, too. If it wasn’t for Dwayne Bowe having a brain cramp that resulted in an interception, the Chiefs could’ve stolen this one. “We put ourselves in a lot of bad situations a lot of weeks, but we keep coming out on top,” said Steelers safety Ryan Clark. Maybe now. But in the playoffs, not so much.
ON THE HOT SEAT
Steve Spagnuolo lived through a 1-15 season in 2009 but there is everything to suggest his time is running out in St. Louis. He is coming off back-to-back home losses against the Seahawks and Cardinals and there is no escaping they are the worst team in the division. Other than a win against the Saints, the Rams have been awful. He’s being criticized for being too conservative, like punting on fourth-and-one with 3:22 left and down three points to Arizona. The Cardinals ran out the clock on the game, and probably on Spagnuolo’s tenure in St. Louis.
DAN BILICKI’S FANTASY TIDBITS
New England vs. Indianapolis
Tom Brady’s run towards Dan Marino’s single-season passing yardage record won’t be slowed in the slightest here. The Colts are allowing the most points per game, the second most rushing yards per game and the fourth most total yards per game. Indy’s offence can’t stay on the field either, producing the least first downs in the league. Throw in the fact that Brady just abused the Eagles’ star-studded secondary and the Colts really don’t have a chance.
St. Louis at San Francisco
Not only do they have to travel west to play one of the toughest defences around, the poor Rams will have to contend with the Niners being pissed about losing their second game of the season and have been simmering since Thursday. That extra rest is especially bad news for any hope St. Louis has of rushing the ball. San Fran is the only team that has not allowed a rushing TD this season and I don’t see Steven Jackson changing that.
RANDLE THE HANDLE’S WEEK 12 RANTS
1. Down 9-7 and facing a 2nd and 1 on the Oakland 4-yard line, why does offensive co-ordinator Mike Martz call some fancy, shmancy play with the inexperienced Caleb Hanie at quarterback? Maybe because he is a diabolical moron? Instead of taking a one- or five-point lead, the Raiders intercept with a long return, setting up an Oakland field goal and changing the complexion of the game. Mike, you have the best all-purpose back in the game facing a weak Raiders defence. Perhaps that was the smarter route to go? Raiders win by five and Bears backers taking four or so points lost their dough, or should we say ‘Doh’!
2. What was Pat Shurmur thinking? Tied with the Bengals, with 1:47 to go, the Browns decide to attempt a 55-yard field goal. Bad snap, bad miss, bad idea. Cincinnati takes over needing just 20-yards or so to try a game-winning field goal of their own. They achieved that yardage and then some, en route to game-winning kick.
3. Are there any head coaches that can do basic math? A poor decision cost Vikings backers a cover as Minnesota had a 4th and goal situation, down 10 points, with just over four minutes to play. The only chance of winning the game is to kick a field goal to make it a one-score game. They didn’t try it nor did they score and Vikings bettors taking back 9½ got duped.
4. Note to Colts. If you’re trying a 2-pt convert, you may want to try throwing into the end zone. Not short of it.