The Big Five: Week 16

Week 16 is a major week for teams around the league. If they couldn’t last week, it’s time to make a statement now. There’s no such thing as a lax game in the NFL, but if ever there was a lax game to be found, it wouldn’t be this week.


I’ll be honest here, the things I tell y’all to look out for are based on my own intuitions, not any expert analysis or stolen words from a pundit. They’re simply what I think will be the biggest factors in deciphering what the week brings and potentially provide an insight to the future.

So if you’re looking at these points and thinking to yourself, “Wow, this guy is a wack job with nothing to do during his Summer break, which is weird because I’m sitting here freezing my ass off in the snow. And he’s really not that funny,” then sit back and enjoy, while I respect your “intelligence”.

The Big Five

1) There might not be a bigger game than the San Francisco vs. Seattle game at CenturyLink Field.

If there’s one thing we’ve finally discovered nationwide, it’s this: Russell Wilson is already making his place amongst the best quarterbacks in the league. It’s not an opinion anymore, it’s a fact. Wilson leads the NFL in this stat ESPN keeps pushing to make a household number called “Total QBR”. It kind of works, but for our purposes, let’s just take it in stride and agree that, yes, Seattle’s rookie gun has steadily forced his way into the minds of people all around the league. This plays well into Seattle chances in this game against a 49er defense that held the great Tom Brady to a single touchdown pass and picked him off twice.

San Fran is coming off of a huge win in Foxborough against the declared-best team in the league. Right now, there isn’t a team that’s more dangerous than these guys, and they have a motor-run offense to match. Second-year QB Colin Kaepernick is rising the same way as Wilson, but at a quicker pace. He took the Patriots’ defense for a ride last week, throwing for four TD’s and surrendering only one sack. The team is looking as complete as the Houston Texans, maybe even better, which makes this match up worthy of prime time.

The last time these teams met, it was a defensive stalemate with the 49ers taking it 13-6. Seattle wasn’t able to muster up a single touchdown, but the team has become far more fearsome since then. They’ve won five of their last six games and steamrolled their last two opponents.

If the 49ers win, they’ll have locked up the NFC West with just the lowly Arizona Cardinals left to beat in Week 17, the second seed in the conference up for grabs, and the wild card race shaken up with Seattle falling to 9-6 in the division. If the opposite happens, Seattle will only be half a game behind the red and gold in the standings, essentially confirm their place as the fifth seed, and hope to God that San Fran lose to Arizona and have a chance to take the NFC West crown in the process.

This is why the NFL is ALWAYS interesting.

2) Oakland vs. Carolina is a more interesting game than you might think. 

With Cam Newton having led the Panthers to wins in three of their last four, the team is ending strong and can potentially match or surpass by one game their 6-10 record from last season. It’s a not a huge accomplishment, considering Newton’s spectacular play last year and his Negative Ned face on the sidelines this season, but it’s better to end on high notes than 5-11. This game is going to be a nightmare for Oakland’s “defense”.

With the Raiders basically having given up on the season, Cam will have a huge day. That’s something coach Dennis Allen, if he is still employed on the Bay, will have to address with full attention in the off-season. For a defensive coordinator who supplied the backing punch in 2011 with the Tim Tebow-led Denver Broncos, having a unit like this year’s is appalling. Yes, Oakland needs to upgrade at the quarterback position (if you still think that Carson Palmer is the answer, then please, start following Major League Baseball to see all 35 year-olds still making it big because late-30’s QB’s in the NFL are NOT the answer in this league unless you’re Peyton Manning), but it will make more sense to perfect the unit that your coach, who would lean to that side of the ball, is an expert in and produce at least one half-decent year to start building on.

I watched the movie Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt, the other day, and I can see how hard it is to be a GM in any sport. But Reggie McKenzie and Allen need to come together and seriously plan how they’re going to fix this team. If they can’t win out this season and try to create some positive vibes, there may not be a rebuild to talk about this season.

As for the Panthers, Newton is still one of the brightest young players in the league, and has the potential to win against the best. He simply needs the pieces around him to make it all work. Ownership axed Marty Hurney as GM, so the new guy will have a player to build around. There’s hope.

3) My birdie senses are tingling…I feel a Cardinals upset over the Bears coming this week in Glendale. No, this isn’t an un-thought out reaction.

How did Chicago go from potential Super Bowl contender at 7-1, to possibly out of the playoffs at 8-6??? It’s crazy that, even with Jay Cutler, their record is Back to the Future, 2011 style. The team is dropping like a rock with injuries across the board and an offense that’s being exposed as too reliant on their defense for too long. Their defense is hurting with key players missing from the lineup such as LB Brian Urlacher and CB Tim Jennings; they haven’t been the same, ball-hawking defense that they were to start out the season. And their offense is run through Brandon Marshall, that is not a well-kept secret, and Arizona’s Patrick Peterson is going to be all over him. No, that doesn’t mean that they’re as bad as losing to Arizona. Just wait a sec.

The Cardinals suck. I mean, it’s as simple as that. There’s nothing really good about them. When you are blown out by your division rival in one of the most lopsided results in NFL history, there’s not much else to speculate on. This team has no real quarterback, a legendary receiver not adding to his legend any more in Larry Fitzgerald, and a defense that doesn’t get the respect it deserves because the offense isn’t really helping by keeping them on the field, with 3-and-out after 3-and-out. 

Two teams that are lacking in effectiveness and success recently. But here’s the thing: Arizona has the run game with RB Beanie Wells, who has been a bulldozer since he came back from injury, to be the first dimension offensive option and keep the pressure off of Ryan Lindley (or whoever might start against the Bears, and don’t be surprised if the Equipment Manager suits up). And I know Ken Wisenhunt is smart enough that he would have addressed how crucial it is to get Fitzgerald the ball. This is a time in the team’s season when there’s nothing holding them back from doing something crazy and ACTUALLY GIVING THEIR BEST PLAYER THE FREAKING BALL. I mean, I still remember Fitz’s 62-yard TD catch in Super Bowl XLIII; that was all him. Even the Bears will never stop the best receiver in the game. This is a team with nothing to lose against one rocking on their back heels.

Keep an eye out for some anger and face-saving.

4) Washington may or may not have the most dangerous quarterback tandem in the league.

Ever heard the word “tandem” used for quarterbacks? One thing I’ve always wanted to see and happen, but probably won’t, is for a team to create offensive quarterback packages, wherein a team with two capable quarterbacks interchange under center the way running backs do in the backfield. That opens up huge opportunities for coaches to get plays to their signal-callers without wait, keep defenses on their heels, and keep fresh eyes on the field. Plus, quarterbacks with different skill sets could make the offense more versatile and expand on the ability of their skill position players. But I digress.

This is something the Redskins have: two capable quarterbacks who can lead this Redskins team to wins. With Rookie of the Year-candidate QB Robert Griffin III out with an MCL sprain last week, other rookie Kirk Cousins came into the game in relief against a rejuvenated Browns team and won with 2 TD’s, 300+ yards, and only one INT to boot.

I’m not saying the Redskins are going to do what I say (no one does anything I say, and the world might be a better place without the implementation of a few of my theories), but they know they either have a legitimate, growing back-up for RG3 in Cousins, or a potential poker chip to trade for draft picks or personnel. It creates some Matt Flynn-like mystery surrounding Cousins and his potential as a starting quarterback in the league. Yeah, after one game, who know what the hell is going on? But if RG3 can’t recover quickly enough and get back to dazzling his opponents right away, Cousins will get his number called over and over again and potentially pad his value. 

5) Watching this week’s match-up between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh may be hazardous to your health. 

I mean, we’re talking about two teams with, as of late, the hardest hitting defenses in the league. Cincinnati may be riding its high octane, Andy Dalton-A.J. Green led offense to success, but the only reason they have a chance every week is the D. Mike Zimmer, despite a slow start to this season, has always found a way to make the pieces on this unit work. And in Pittsburgh, the Dick LeBeau is…well, come on…he’s f*** Dick LeBeau. The mastermind of the zone-blitz has the Steelers at the number one spot on the defense. It’s not hard to see that this game will be a black-and-blue game reflecting the likes of Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh. Potentially a low-scoring affair, this is a crucial game to the wild card health of these teams.

The win, they’re in. Plain and simple. And also, there’s an opportunity to overtake the Baltimore Ravens for the division lead if the latter can’t win out. The Big Purple Army has been laying down lately, losing three of their last four, and one at home against the Steelers themselves. They’re hemorrhaging at the worst time for a team that had Super Bowl aspirations to begin the season and for eleven weeks after that.

If the either the Steelers or Bengals win, with a Baltimore loss, the victor could potentially wind up at home for the first game in the playoffs. This will be a major shakeup in the AFC lower-seed rankings at the tail end of the season.

Let’s hope Week 16 is everything we’re hoping for, and more! 

Hunters, Clinchers, and the Playoffs: Week 15

Hey everyone! It’s Will here, back in action. With the playoffs getting closer and closer, LFTP (Let’s Forget The Politics) is going to analyze and route the postseason picture as it clears up through to Week 17. Let’s see what we’ve got now:


Coming out of Week 15, we’ve got a clear playoff idea. Two weeks to go, and we know for sure we’re going to see the Broncos, the Patriots, the Texans, the Falcons, the 49ers and the Packers. Apologies to the Ravens you guys made it, superbly done. Then we have those who are next in line to clinch a playoff berth which are the usual suspects with a few surprises.
Clinchers: 
Falcons: (12-2)
Well…didn’t they show their worth again this week. Keeping the Giants to zero. I take everything I said back. That’s becoming quite a feature with downing the Falcons: they disappoint you one week and then blow you away the next. Ultimately they have to take the NFC title game to OT and win, then the Superbowl will be a blowout. Right? Superbowl? 70% 
Houston Texans: (12-2) 
Playing a passionate Indianapolis Colts team and winning isn’t easy but I give props to the Texans for doing it. They really showed their own this week and showed that they can carry a win for 60 mins. Exactly what they need as we inch closer to these coming playoffs. 50%.
Patriots: (10-4) 
We all agree that the AFC  is weaker than the NFC this year. We all agree that Tom Brady is but one man and can’t win every game. There, that explains the loss to the 49ers. New England experienced this week the odds that were stacked against them, and they couldn’t over come them. That does not however leave them in any worse spot than last week. They’re still a top Superbowl contender in my book. 80%.
Broncos: (11-3)   
Denver have to go up in my ranking this week. This team is mind blowing as Peyton Manning comes back a year after his neck injury and is looking serious for absolute glory this year. Here I am, thinking Eli is the greater QB. Peyton is the guy. I’ve never seen a sportsman like him. They also beat Baltimore this week which is no surprise. They’re like my ankle, Broken. 60%.
49ers: (10-3-1)
This team is, as expected, excelling at being a threat to every team they play and, as expected, have clinched their deserved playoff berth. Now we just move on to next week as they will and as I will predict they will claim that victim on their playoff warpath. Beating the Patriots as well was the confidence boost they needed to become invincible. Maybe. 60%.
Packers: (10-4) 
Packers clinch a playoff berth. I really don’t need to explain this. No one is scratching their head and screaming at their TV, HOW THE HELL! The Packers made the playoffs. They are one of the elite teams and recently they’ve truly shown it. They’re not one of the best this year but they’re up there. They also did just claim a victory over the recently lackluster Bears.   50%.
Hunters: (The teams I think, out of all the possibles, can make the cut) 
AFC:
Colts: (9-5) 
Lost to a vicious Texans team this week, but after the hiding they received from the Patriots last week the Colts were dealt the worst hand in the deck. However, there were some shining moments and none of us truly thought that Luck would take these guys all the way, but he’s taking them somewhere and that’s just fine. 40%.
Bengals: (8-6)
Coming from a 1 point loss to a 21 point hiding over Philadelphia is really no surprise to any of us. Philadelphia is awful and Cincinnati is decent. It was written in stone when the announcers welcomed the fans to the television broadcast. In regards to the playoffs, I think these guys only need another win and they’ll have clinched their berth. Good Luck, Bengals. I’m rooting for you. 20%.
NFC: 

Bears: (8-6) 
C’mon Bears. We all want to see this defense in the Playoffs someone to challenge the opposing offenses not this crap you guys are playing. They got beaten by Green Bay and they bloody well deserved it. At this rate I’m becoming worried about my support for this team’s playoffs hopes.70%.
Seahawks: (9-5)
50-17. What more can I say. This team guys, this team. They beat teams to their knees and keep them there permanently. They are so fearsome that I can imagine shaking knees in the opponents dressing room before that starting whistle. Two weeks in a row they have embarrassed their opponents by just scoring and preventing the opposition absolutely from scoring. Much like Arizona last week the Bills suffered this horrible fate. 60%.
Redskins: (8-6) 
Well without RG3 they still won. If my calculations are correct, then this team has the chance to really rocket through the playoffs if they can play without RG3… with him on the team if you understand what I’m saying.  If they can do that they can beat almost anyone. Almost. 60%
Knocked Out: 
Jets. 

The Big Five: Week 15

Week 15, with the most games in a single week between team with winning records (6), will be one of the most crucial weeks of the season in figuring out who the contenders and fakers are in the playoff hunt. We already know that the Bears are falling fast, the Steelers are no better than the Falcons, who do not appear to be a threat to any team in the league with playoff hopes despite their 11-2 record. 


But at the same time, New England is steamrolling people into the parking lot outside of Gillette Stadium and, unless my eyes are deceiving me, Peyton Manning is 80 years old and playing like a college player vying for the Heisman Trophy (props to John Manziel on becoming the first freshman in the award’s history to win it). Let’s take a look at what we should be paying attention to this week:


The Big Five Things to Look Out For

1) The Pats-Texans game last week was no thriller. The Pats-Niners game, though, now looks like the match up of the year. 

With Tom Brady flexing his 35 year old muscles in another MVP campaign this season, the San Francisco has their work cut out for them. The best offense in the league against the second-rated defense in the league will be huge and could give us a prime view at what an unstoppable force can do against an immovable object. Brady and the Patriots played a Seattle team in Week 6 that, at the time, was the first-ranked defense in the league, and they lost a heartbreaker by one point. If that’s in any way telling, then San Francisco might have a shot at overthrowing the reign of terror New England has started.

Colin Kaepernick should fair well against a defense better known for producing turnovers than consistently holding opponents to three-and-outs. His deep ball might suffer, but with Michael Crabtree, Frank Gore, and Vernon Davis having the ability to effectively run the underneath and short routes, Kaepernick has the ability to be efficient. This is a game that will not only show us Kaepernick’s ability to keep pace with the best quarterback in the league, but also gives Jim Harbaugh a chance to either bask in the glory of his choice to start him over Alex Smith, or hide away in regret over it.

For the 49ers to be successful, DE Aldon Smith has to apply pressure on the offensive line to open up holes for Justin Smith and the other linemen. He doesn’t need to look for sacks, but do enough to push Brady out of the pocket. Sacks would be nice, but they’re not as vital as breaking Tommy Gun’s rhythm. Their cornerbacks may need to resort to jamming Wes Welker and the other receivers at the line of scrimmage to additionally disrupt Brady’s timing with the offense.

The 49ers are in a must-win situation with the Seattle Seahawks keeping pace with San Francisco in the NFC West. The division rivals play each other in Seattle in Week 16, and CenturyLink Field is already one of the worst places for visitors to play a game, let alone a division game. That crowd is also a reason why Seattle was able to come back and win against New England 24-23. The Niners need to be in top form on Sunday.

2) With the Bears still very much alive in the NFC North race, Green Bay is in a must-win position in Chicago. 

The Packer machine is in high gear right now, hitting all eight cylinders. Aaron Rodgers is back in action since their 2-3 start, looking like the MVP he was last year, and it only helps the Packers’ cause for the division crown.

On the other hand, the Chicago has lost three of their last four, including a division loss to the Vikings in Minnesota that might hurt them in the standings going forward. Jay Cutler and the offense need to generate some points early and often to keep up with the Packers. It doesn’t help that they have 11 players ruled out of Sunday’s game, and that Green Bay has some key players such as Clay Matthews returning from injury for the first time this season.

With LB Brian Urlacher out, the Bears’ defense has to reignite the fire that made them a fearsome defense in the middle of the season. Turnovers are going to be crucial in this game (that’s always true in every game, but I’ll go with a mainstream factor here, oppa Hipster Style). If the Bears can force a couple of takeaways from Green Bay’s offense, and capitalize on them quickly, then Chicago may have a chance to get back on track in the playoff race.

Right now, the NFC North is the most competitive division in football. It’s the only division besides the NFC East with three teams in the group still in the playoff hunt (the NFC East records are not as good as the former’s), including the Vikings. This game could either result in two NFC North teams being in the playoffs, or just one, with Chicago coach Lovie Smith possibly losing traction in vying for an extension at the end of his contract in 2013.

3) With Cam Cameron out as offensive coordinator in Baltimore, look to see how replacement Jim Caldwell, who coached the quarterbacks on both teams, runs the O. 

What is crazy, and should work in his favor, is that Caldwell worked with Peyton Manning in their Colts days. He should be able to give a heads up to the Baltimore defense on Manning’s mannerisms, audible tendencies, and weaknesses (not that he has any, because he’s like Chuck Norris for football).

The one huge criticism of Cam Cameron’s offensive play-calling was the fact the Ray Rice wasn’t being involved as much as he should. As of right now, Rice is at a career low in attempts at 107. In their loss at home to Pittsburgh, Rice rushed the ball only 12 times for 78 yards. Last week, however, Rice took the ball 20 times for 121 yards in a much more competitive game in Washington against the Redskins.

For Caldwell to get an as-of-late sputtering offense to start the engine, Ray Rice needs to get at least 25 touches to not only wear down a stalwart Denver defense, but keep them true to alleviate the pressure on Joe Flacco. Flacco has struggled in Baltimore’s last four games and needs to get back to tossing the deep ball with more success, the way he was doing it at the start of the season.

For Caldwell, this not a great match up on paper against the Broncos, but if he can get the offense to have success in both dimensions, then Baltimore may actually have a shot at ending Denver’s current nine-game winning streak and put them in a position to finally lock up that pesky AFC North crown.

4) The Giants silenced the Falcons in the wild card round last year, 24-2. If ever there was a time for Atlanta to bring it, it’s in this rematch in the Georgia Dome. 

It’s a well-known fact that Atlanta, since 2008, has been one of the best teams in the league playing at home, having won 33 of their last 38 home games for an .868 winning percentage. That includes six home games this season so far, all wins for the Falcons.

Hold the phone, though…they’re 2-2 in their last four games, and they lost to a too-late-to-call-good team in the Panthers last week 30-20. Matt Ryan, initially in the thick of the MVP race in the first half of the season, has become more of a liability than an asset to the offense (something that’s causing me to lose a fantasy game too many with Julio Jones. #NoFantasyLuckThisYear). It doesn’t help that RB Michael Turner is churning out worm-short numbers game after game.

The Giants flattened the Saints, who ended the Falcons’ undefeated streak not too many weeks ago, into Holy Mush last week, 52-27. New York is fighting to keep its one-game division lead intact, so it has a much more motivating incentive to win than Atlanta, who are simply trying to keep up the wins for home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

Atlanta recently has not looked like the Super Bowl Contender that it looked like early in the season. But, a win against New York in the Georgia Dome would gain the Red Birdies some much-needed confidence going forward. If they go one-and-done again in the playoffs, then Ryan and the Falcons will be perennial pretenders for as long as they all shall play.

5) Indianapolis will win the division if they win out with AFC South leader Houston up twice on their schedule this week and in Week 17. 

Somehow, we smart people had Houston running away with what looked like one of the worst divisions in the league at the start of the year. We suck. Who would have guessed that Andrew Luck would potentially lead the Colts to an 11-5, maybe 12-4 season with a possible first-round bye in his rookie year? *Crickets chirp*. NO ONE could have possible predicted such success for the young, unbalanced team.

Yet here we are, in Week 15, contemplating the possibility that Indianapolis, who won two games all of last season, could potentially ruin the Houston Texans perfect year. Houston is one of the most complete teams in football, but an embarrassing loss to the New England Patriots last Monday night exposed some serious holes in Wade Philips’ defense. No, Andrew Luck is not Tom Brady, but he’s looking like a seasoned veteran in the pocket, and he’s still improving. Plus, the Colts scored ten more points on New England than Houston did (Indy scored 24, while Houston mustered up 14).

Indy can win this game by giving Luck enough time in the pocket against a frightening Houston defensive line with J.J. Watt. The offensive line is going to struggle, of course, but Luck is a much more mobile quarterback than Brady and can make plays with his feet when the play breaks down. On the other side, the defense for the Colts will have to force turnovers wherever they can against a strong Texans rushing attack led by Arian Foster. Houston’s offense is too good to try to force them into three-and-outs, though New England was able to do it. Regardless, Indy will need to be aggressive in their secondary play and up front with Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, both of whom will need to generate pressure on Matt Schaub and hold the running game down effectively.

If the Colts can win on Sunday in Reliant Stadium, then there’s a very good chance that they can steal the division away from Houston in Week 17 when they play them at home at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Who would have thunk it?

Enjoy Week 15!

Make sure to check out yesterday’s article on Consistency in the NFL and comment or tweet us @aceing82!

2+2=4: Consistency Wins

Owners, executives, and coaches on all 32 teams around the league have one primary thought in mind year in and year out: win the Super Bowl (yeah, I love my colons and semi-colons. http://goo.gl/JzdRg).


It’s true in any sport. The reason you play the game that you love is to be great, and there’s no greater achievement than winning a championship. You can be MVP, Coach of the Year, Executive of the Year, etc. five times over. You can attain the biggest, most ridiculous stats that anyone has ever seen. You can even win a huge number of playoff games. But unless those achievements come with Super Bowl wins, they mean nothing.

Especially in the NFL, there’s so much turnover in teams that make the playoffs. Anyone can win a championship if they’re good. You see the Green Bay Packers in 2010, who went 10-6 and hadn’t won a Super Bowl in 15 years. They go in as a wild card, win against the highest seeded, “championship-caliber” teams, and win it all. 2007 and 2011, the New York Giants go 10-6 and 9-7 respectively, look OK in the regular season, are bottom seeded, and go on to pull off improbable wins all the way from wild card weekend to the first Sunday in February.

But how come we don’t consider either of those teams Super Bowl-caliber over and over again? They’ve won big. Why are they not at the top of the Super Bowl contender lists at the beginning of every year? Here’s why:

They ain’t consistent.

They don’t look like Super Bowl teams at the beginning of each season. They don’t have the resumes of being solid, 11-win teams on a regular basis. They have great, winning quarterbacks, good defenses, run games (well, as good as there can be in this era of passing), and coaches who run those teams with great passion. But they aren’t sure winners every time they step to the seasonal plate.


Winning Big

I bring consistency up because of the Week 14 match up between the Houston Texans and New England Patriots. 

The Patriots have been a model of consistency since 2001 when they pulled that Super Bowl win out of Tom Brady’s ass against the St. Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf”. For the past 12 years since, the Pats have been the “Greatest Team Playing Nerf” against the rest of the NFL. Every year, we call them the favorites to win the Super Bowl. This year, they started 1-2, losing to Baltimore and Cardinals. Any other team who started that way would have been labelled losers already. Not New England. We KNEW that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady would get that team turned around. There wasn’t a doubt in our minds that they wouldn’t be contending by this week.

If Tampa Bay or Arizona had been 1-2 by Week 3, we would have counted them out faster than the Chargers would have lost a 24-point lead. Other teams don’t have the consistency of the Patriots, and it’s rightfully assumable that many other teams will never have that. New England has been lucky to have such talent for the last decade, going through players at every position other than quarterback almost every other year. Who is left on that defense from the 2007, 18-1 campaign? The only big name player that comes to my mind is Vince Wilfork.

It’s not rocket science. If a team can win time and again over a large period of time, then there’s no doubting them. If, by some strange apocalyptic happenstance, New England were to be 7-6 at this point in the season, we would expect them to win out and be 10-6, and still be primed to go all the way. 

Now, I know I’m waffling between fan-expected consistency and actual consistency within the machine. There’s a difference in outside-looking-in and vice versa. But when it’s apparent to fans and experts, and the results keep coming, consistency is right there in front of us and it’s automatically assumed.

Moving on, consistency isn’t just winning over and over again.


We’re Not Jokes Anymore

Also consider that most teams won’t be great right away. The Patriots of 2000 went 5-11, then went 11-5 the next year and won the Super Bowl, and THEN shot out to 11+ win seasons almost regularly.

The Texans, who only came into the league in 2002, were the laughing-stock of the NFL up to 2009. Not a single winning season, no reliable players to bring back every year, and experts never really took them seriously for that. But, if you look more closely, they’ve been a model of consistency rising out of mediocrity. Counting 2005, here’s the progression of their season record up until 2011:

2005 – 2-14
2006 – 6-10
2007 – 8-8
2008 – 8-8
2009 – 9-7
2010 – 6-10
2011 – 10-6

Minus the 2010 year, when their passing defense was one of the worst in the league (376.9 yards allowed per game), Houston has been a model of consistent foundation-building. No, they haven’t been the best team in league at any point of their franchise, prior to this year. But the consistency with which they’ve gotten better is jaw-dropping.

It’s like The Black Keys: travelling musicians for 14 years in a beat-up van, then the greatest album of the year in 2010 with Brothers, and now their latest album El Camino (which is f***ing brilliant) is nominated for five Grammys, including Album of the Year.

Same thing with the Texans: biggest busts in the league since 2002, finally have a season above .500 in 2009, win their division and a playoff game in 2011, and now they’re the biggest powerhouse in the AFC at 11-1 as of Week 13 and in a perfect position to wind up with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Their head coach, Gary Kubiak, has been one of the prime reasons why the Texans are where they are today. He’s been part of this build up since 2006, the way Bill Belichick has kept the Patriots winning since 2000. And their quarterback Matt Schaub has played solid football since coming to Houston from Atlanta the year after in 2007, helping the team keep up their building momentum as a franchise.


2+2=4

Other teams throughout history prove how important consistency is in the NFL as well.
The 49ers won 10 games every season from 1983 to 1998. 16 seasons of pure dominance to go with their five Super Bowls. Why? Bill Walsh in the 1980’s, and Joe Montana/Steve Young throughout that entire time period. Three Hall-of-Famer’s right there.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have always been known for defense, and for how long? Since 1974, all the way until the present, thanks to a Christmas bag of Hall-of-Fame players, and more recently Dick LeBeau’s defensive coaching prowess. Six Super Bowls since the 70’s. Why? Head coaches Chuck Noll (70’s), Bill Cowher (90’s-2006), and Mike Tomlin (’06 to the present).

The Dallas Cowboys have been America’s Team, but they’ve backed it up with a showcase of the greatest Head Coaches (Tom Landry, Jimmie Johnson, Bill Parcells) and quarterbacks (Don Meredith, Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Tony Romo) of all time. Five Super Bowls since 1971.

Will is going to kill me for mentioning Romo (that’s what you get for not writing as often). But if you think about it, he’s one of the primary reasons why the Cowboys are still in contention for the playoffs as of Week 14.

If there’s anything head honchos around the league can learn from these teams, who have become the faces of the NFL, it’s this: that without consistency on the needed levels, there’s no way a team can sustain regular contention in football.

I mean, I’ve consistently woken up every morning. Most people (mostly students) my age can’t do that.

Win.


Anything to add? Tweet us at @aceing82 and let us know of anything you might want to see on the blog!

The Clinchers, The Hunters and The Playoffs. Round 2

Hey everyone! It’s Will here, back in action. With the playoffs getting closer and closer, LFTP (Let’s Forget The Politics) is going to analyze and route the postseason picture as it clears up through to Week 17. Let’s see what we’ve got now:


Coming out of Week 14, we’ve got a clear playoff idea. Three weeks to go, and we know for sure we’re going to see the Broncos, the Patriots, the Texans and the Falcons, sadly I can’t revere how right I am with no new additions this week. Then we have those who are next in line to clinch a playoff berth which are the usual suspects with a few suprises 


Clinchers: 

Falcons: (11-2)
Oh No…. Is all I can say. I’m face palming hard enough that if I keep doing it, I’ll be permanently disfigured. This team has it. They’ve got the super bowl potential but if they keep playing like they did against the Panthers this week they are almost completely written out of my Superbowl prophecy. Superbowl? 70% 


Houston Texans: (11-2) 
BRADY! BRADY! BRADY! Will be permanently ringing in these guy’s ears because he put on a clinic this week and made the Division powerhouse look like a herd of calves with their tails between their legs. 14-42 now that’s a punchline. Superbowl? 50%.


Patriots: (10-3) 
BRADY! BRADY! BRADY! I hate repeating myself between articles but you’ve got to take your hat off to him. He almost single handedly beat the high flying Texans team into oblivion. I remember after the game the commentators made a bold statement that I’d have to agree with. Brady is easily the best QB of this day. However can one go as far to say this guy is the best QB of all time? Superbowl? 80%.


Broncos: (10-3) 
They Played Oakland and won. Just doing their job. This is a nice stable team with a good balance and they’re showing it. They have the Ravens, Browns and Chiefs for the next three weeks. That’s all I have to say. 60%.


Hunters: (The teams I think, out of all the possibles, can make the cut) 

AFC:

Jets: (6-7) 

Baltimore are finished. Sorry to break it to you. This week was their week to take a victory and prove their power and tenacity to get over injury issues and they failed to capitalize. Bad news for all you Tim Tebow fans out there but it looks as if this bum running Mark Sanchez is gonna scrape into the playoffs. MAYBE! He is the highest chance I can see, blatantly because of their schedule and the fact that this week they claimed a victory they needed against Jacksonville. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the team with every NFL fan screaming for the Jets not to make the playoffs. 10%

Colts: (9-4) 

The Colts win a game they were meant to win. Nothing special to say Andrew Luck claims another and goes onto next week and has the Colts nibbling at their playoff slice. They are the only reason they would miss the playoffs this season. They’ve got the Chiefs in their schedule and one has to make note of the Texans in the past few weeks. 40%.

Bengals: (7-6)

One point. This team lost by one point. That’s certainly not a reason to see them as dropping out of contention right now and certainly not with their schedule against the Dwindling Eagles and the Wingless Ravens. The Steelers, if Big Ben’s injury contains him, will be easier to conquer. The Bengals hang on in my book.  20%.


NFC: 

49ers: (9-3-1)

I’m gonna say playoff berth and division clinchers (sorry Arneet…again). They win again against the Dolphins as expected. To be honest this team is probably the most predictable team. They win the games they are expected to and they lose games that are a challenge. It’s difficult to predict. Damn it Harbaugh I wanna be excited. 60%.

Packers: (9-4) 

Packers comeback. Aaron Rodgers showed us what he and the Packers are capable of. Granted it was against a bad Detroit Lions side, but there is no reason to take a good win away from these guys and they’ve got a…meh schedule ahead of them. 50%.

Bears: (8-5) 

Oops. You guys underestimated the Vikings didn’t you? AP claims another victim. He rushed for 154 yards off 13 carries. He cut the Bears to ribbons, which is sacrilegious to my beliefs. Nonetheless, they still have the playoffs in their grasp. 70%.


Seahawks: (8-5)

58-0. What more can I say. I tweeted Arneet (@aceing82) this week, congratulating his team on a stellar performance against an absolutely horrible Cardinals team. They would have achieved more by just forfeiting. You get 2-0. Again, the Seahawks beat another team into submission and secured a spot in the playoffs…in my opinion.  60%.

Redskins: (7-6) 

I don’t care what you all think, RGIII is the guy (although there’s probably only a few critics left by now). He’s the rookie to take this team to the Super Bowl. Well at least that’s what I want. I want this guy to take this team to the Super Bowl because it will be exciting for the whole game. The Super Bowl ads will be eclipsed by the game, which is almost unheard of! After downing the Ravens this week as well, I do not doubt this kid for a second. I’m leaving this as is. He’s just the guy! 60%



Knocked Out: 

Baltimore: See Jets ^ 

Quick Hits: Ten Things about Week 14

How does every week seem to produce better and better games than the last? Week 14 was filled with some crazy games, and gave us a little clearer idea of what the playoffs will entail this year. Here’s what we’ve discovered:

1) Nick Foles might be the answer one day. What makes Andy Reid’s departure sadder is that if he were to stay, Foles would have a coach in the man who mentored Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, and Brett Favre. Foles, with some quality coaching, can be the answer in Philly. That bullet to Jason Avant to put the ball on the 1-yard line was like watching a Tommy Gun shoot a quick one. And his bootleg slant to Jeremy Maclin was clutch. Good signs now.

2) The Seahawks can capitalize on bad teams. 58-0 against the division rival Cardinals…meh. Seattle’s defense blew the Cardinals’ “offense” out of the water and took them for a ride to the tune of eight turnovers, four INT’s and four fumbles. Marshawn Lynch also had a big day, turning in three touchdown runs and 128 yards. The Seahawks have made a statement, and have kept themselves running with the 49ers for the NFC West Crown. Meanwhile, here’s a bit that sums up Ken Wisenhunts feelings about his team’s performance in Seattle: a reporter asked Wisenhunt what he will do about the quarterback position. Wisenhunt’s response was to ask the reporter if he can play. Things are bad in the desert.

3) Pittsburgh isn’t playoff bound. They seem to play down to their competition. Their losses include games against the Browns, Chargers, Raiders, and Titans. Despite the return of Ben Roethlisberger, the San Diego had their way. Allowing the Chargers to convert 12 third downs is inexcusable. The Steelers are not going to contend for the playoffs like this, and with games against the Bengals and Browns to come, it looks like it’s time to think about next year.

4) The Bears are slipping…right out of playoff contention. If Chicago can’t win against Minnesota without Percy Harvin, and their once feared defense let Adrian Peterson be a difference-maker, then they aren’t playoff-worthy either. Jay Cutler is playing behind a woeful offensive line, and the running game isn’t moving anything either. Strange that they dropped 51 points on the Vikings not-too-many weeks ago. Chicago is now the sixth seed as of this week and are in hot water if they lose another in this position.

5) New England is back to basics. Brady is making a strong case for his third MVP trophy. I’m getting so sick of it, we need new blood. Can’t wait to see RG3 win it one day. But the Pats are operating on all cylinders, and the defense isn’t doing too badly either, keeping a strong Texans offense off their game. It could be another Super Bowl appearance for New England. Next week against the San Fransisco 49ers could potentially be a Super Bowl playoff preview.

6) Speaking of RG3 and the Redskins, they’ve got two brilliant QB’s. Down by eight, Griffin III suffered a horrifying knee injury that, luckily, only left him with a first degree ligament sprain. Could have been much worse. Rookie Kirk Cousins half drive, two-point conversion run, and drive to win the game in OT were clutch. No QB controversy should be expected, but Washington knows now that they have two capable quarterbacks on their roster who can lead the team in crunch time. Washington is looking like a team ready to make a playoff run.

7) I kind of love Cam Newton in those NFLPlay60 and Under Armour ads. He may be a cry baby on the sidelines, but he’s effing hilarious in those commercials. “I’ve got a bedroom cam, a bathroom cam, garage cam, and a Cam cam.” Steve Smith sees himself in a screen, “What’s that one?” to which Cam replies, “That’s the Steve cam…I don’t trust you man.” Soooo good, haha.

Cam had a huge day against the NFC South leading Falcons that he should have had more often this year, single-handedly leading the Panthers to a win. He ran for 116 yards, including a huge 70+ yarder for a TD. Great game, better commercials.

8) Houston is flawed. I realize how good New England is, but man! If you want to be good, you have to be able to play big in the biggest moments. My next article talks about consistency for teams, and Houston is a model of from-the-ground-up consistency over the last six years. But if this game is in any way telling, and these teams meet up again in the AFC Championship Game, then Houston needs to rethink its defensive identity with the holes they have at linebacker and the problems they’ve had in the secondary, along with trying to figure out the problems with their passing game. The offensive line needs to get back to protecting Matt Schaub the way they were early in the season as well.

9) How in the hell are the Jets still mathematically in the playoffs???

…WHAT?????????

10) Dallas’ win in the face of tragedy was huge. Our prayers are with all of those affected by the wrongful death of practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown. For a family member to be hurt by another member is horrifying.

Dallas came in to Cincinnati with a heavy heart and pulled out a needed win to stay in the NFC East race. Dallas will have to win out to stay alive, especially when remembering that they split their series with the Giants. The road ahead is difficult, but it’s possible that Dallas could be a serious wild card contender by Week 16 if they take out their next one against the Steelers.

The Big Five: Week 14

As we inch closer and closer to the playoffs, understanding what we’re watching is getting more and more complicated, considering how so many analysts, coaches, and even players flip flop answers to interviews week to week, ranging from playoff potential to injury situations, league issues to team persona, and so on. We’re going to stop talking about the teams with little-to-no chance at the postseason. So, with that in mind, let’s have some consistency, shall we?


Here are the five big things that you should keep and eye on in Week 14:

1) With CB Brandon Browner accepting his 4-game suspension, look for FS Earl Thomas, SS Kam Chancellor, and CB Walter Thurmond to step up as the No. 2 next to Richard Sherman for the Seahawks in Arizona.

The Cardinals, no matter who the quarterback is (Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, or Ryan Lindley), never seem to generate much offense. It’s a good thing, too, for the Seahawks to lose Browner for the last four games of the season, starting with this snoozer. It means that with winnable games against Arizona, Buffalo, and St. Louis, the team’s only concern will be losing both Sherman and Browner for San Francisco. Walter Thurmond should be able to carry some of the work load on No. 2 and slot receivers while Sherman takes on opposing offenses’ primary targets. And with QB Russell Wilson continuing to develop on offense and become the guy to carry this team down the stretch, the pressure on the secondary is becoming less and less to make up for a previous lack of firepower.

Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are a quietly successful safety tandem due to the strength of the ‘Hawks CB’s, but they are effective and can make an impact in pass defense when their numbers are called. Thomas is known for patrolling the field and being near or right in the middle of each pass play when needed, while Chancellor delivers the big hits in the middle. The latter doesn’t quite have the speed and Polamlu-like playing ability as a safety, but the balance between these two young guys is going to be crucial going into the last four games of the season.

The Arizona game is seemingly a little harder to deal with this week with the loss of Browner, but the Seahawks will manage.

2) The Minnesota Vikings have put WR Percy Harvin on season-ending IR, which could spell the end of their playoff hopes. Look for Christian Ponder to try to go deep more often to make up for the loss.

I’m won’t be the only writer or blogger who thinks this way. Harvin was an MVP candidate based on the work load he was receiving on the offense and special teams. The only reason Christian Ponder was looking like the second coming of a better-armed Tim Tebow was because the short passing game was succeeding, and for only one reason: No. 12. The loss of Harvin is going to have a huge impact on how offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave makes play calls going forward.

It’s a good thing that the Vikings have a potential 2,000 yard rusher in Adrian Peterson (only Martians can recover from an ACL tear and play like he has only 200-some days later). Ponder should be able to rely on the play-action and have a threat to lean on in the face of four-man fronts.

But the deep passing game needs to make a comeback in Minnesota. Against the Bears, whom QB Russell Wilson carved up last Sunday, the Vikes success will be dependent on how much diversity they can mix up on the field to keep the defense true. It’s a mission, but it’s an achievable goal.

3) Houston vs. New England is going have huge ramifications on how the postseason seeding is going to be organized in the AFC.

Houston, as of right now, is a clear favorite to get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, thanks to a big loss by the Ravens at home against the Steelers last Sunday. They have a two game lead on all three division leaders in the conference, so they have a buffer to lean on for this week in the face of a loss.

New England, on the other hand, is now fighting between Denver and Baltimore to get the No. 2 seed, which a much more exciting battle. New England has already defeated Denver in Week 5 31-21 to take ownership of the head-to-head advantage, but Denver is a different team now than they were in Foxborough. The Patriots don’t play Baltimore this season, so they’re in a must-win situation every week.

If New England wins this one at home, pending the outcomes of the Baltimore vs. Washington and Denver vs. Oakland games, they will only be doing themselves a favor. Oakland and Washington aren’t known for playing top-5 defense, so the Pats are playing the toughest game out of the three. They lose, they may have to fight for the No. 3 seed against Baltimore. On the other hand, Houston is rolling over most of their opponents, minus two OT contests, a drubbing from the Green Bay Packers, and a low-scoring affair in Chicago. The favorite, despite New England’s offensive juggernaut, will be the Texans. The Patriots will have their plate full with Houston’s defense and their push offense, with Matt Schaub and Arian Foster pounding out yards like machines.

4) If there’s one game lying underneath the surface this week, it’s Dallas vs. Cincinnati. Look for the Bengals to gain some respect by taking advantage of Dallas’ lack of a linebacking corps.

Is there a more infuriating team in the league this season than the Cowboys? Yes, against my better prediction, they took down the Eagles last week. But then again, the Cowboys have been one of the best teams in the league in losing close games and my thoughts were justified. They could have easily had the lead at 24-21, and then laid down to look at the stars through the big hole in the roof at Jerry World with a minute to go, allowing Bryce Brown to fumble into the endzone. Then I would have been right.
But in any case, the Bengals, after being written off by many with a 3-4 start earlier on, are gaining momentum as a passing power offense. Dalton-to-Green is one of the most reliable tandems in the league. It’s a wonder why they don’t hook up on passed more often. With that, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis is gaining huge yards, after a disappointing start to the season, giving the passing game a much needed reliance. And their defense has played lights out in the past three weeks, something that could translate over to keeping Romo’s butt on the ground in Paul Brown Stadium.

With Dallas LB Sean Lee out, the Cowboys have been highly susceptible to allowing big run plays and short crossing routes to opposing offenses. Look for Bengals’ OC Jay Gruden to take advantage of that and use “The Law Firm” to gain tough yards between the tackles and help set up a healthy play-action routinem thereby alleviating the pressure on Dalton by Dallas’ LB DeMarcus Ware. It’ll be a sweet match-up for Cincy.

5) If Tampa Bay can’t win against the worst Eagles team in decades, then they don’t belong in the playoffs. Look for Tampa to make a huge statement, and yet only get by.

Playoff teams (or all good teams for that matter) are expected to be like vampires: feed on the weak. Good teams win. Great teams destroy.

If the Bucs can soundly defeat the Eagles this week, with at least a two or three TD advantage, I’ll be ready to call them legitimate. But if they end up making it a close game against a team lacking defense, an experienced quarterback, a so-far unreliable running back, and a 3-9 record, then then call me crazy, but that sounds like a team that will go 8-8 at best.
Right now, Tampa sits at 6-6 behind the projected No. 1 seed in the NFC in the Atlanta Falcons. They have to start winning big consistently to grab the sixth seed away from the grips of the Seahawks. Right now, that’s one of the tightest races in the NFC, with three other teams at .500. I’d like to see a sixth-seeder win a playoff game against whoever the NFC North produces as their runner-up, either Green Bay or Chicago. Seattle can beat both teams. Tampa Bay is unproven, except for a 36-17 beat down of the Vikings in Week 8. If they can handily dismantle Philadelphia, they’ll have more confidence as a team and more respect around the league.

Three point wins will do nothing to instill fear in this league. The more difference in score, the better for the victor.

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The Clinchers, The Hunters and The Playoffs

Hey everyone! It’s Will here, back in action. With the playoffs getting closer and closer, LFTP (Let’s Forget The Politics) is going to analyze and route the postseason picture as it clears up through to Week 17. Let’s see what we’ve got now:

Coming out of Week 13, we’ve got a clear playoff idea. Four weeks to go, and we know for sure we’re going to see the Broncos, the Patriots, the Texans and the Falcons, which doesn’t come as a surprise to me. All of those teams have played consistently well and won when it counted. Then we have those who are next in line to clinch a playoff berth…saying those now would ruin the article. So here we go!

Clinchers: 

Falcons: (11-1)
Top of the NFC and one team that could probably hazard a statement as being the top in the NFL right now. After beating the Saints this week, who previously took their unbeaten streak away from them, they look like the toughest team to beat and in all honestly they probably are. Super Bowl bound? 90% chance.

Houston Texans: (11-1) 
Safely I can say these are the best of the worst. The AFC South division was dominated by this team and so it should have been. Green Bay has been the only team to top them, who are an NFC powerhouse. This week the Texans played Tennessee and won. Super Bowl bound? 70%.

Patriots: (9-3) 
Brady goes through to the playoffs again. The Patriots are on top of the AFC again. They look promising even without Gronkowski and they have a good string of wins going on. This week as well, Brady showed Ryan Tannehill how to close a game. Super Bowl bound? 60%.

Broncos: (9-3) 
Peyton does it again, he shows the league why he’s still elite after a serious neck injury: he takes a team who were decent, to a team who has some serious bite and could make it to the Superbowl, which was definitely shown in their latest outing against the fired up Buccaneers side. A 31-23 win is a big, fat tick in my book. Super Bowl bound? 60%.


Hunters: (The teams I think, out of all the possibles, can make the cut) 

AFC:

Baltimore: (9-3) 

They might be on a decline, but they’ve got the means to scrape into the playoffs. I’m definitely not 100% on this call, but I’m more comfortable calling the Ravens for this than I am the Steelers, who of course beat them this week. But that aside, I still side with Baltimore. Call me crazy. Super Bowl bound? 30%.

Colts: (8-4) 

Andrew Luck has something. I can’t put my finger on it, but he has something that not many other QB’s whom I’ve seen this year and I want to see it in the playoffs. To be honest, I’m fairly certain that we all will. Barring Luck, however, Indianapolis are hitting a stride late in the season and it will carry them through to the playoffs, certainly after a close game against Detroit. Super Bowl bound? 40%.

Bengals: (7-5)

I’m not 100% sure whether this is a well-known fact and I’m the blind one, but the Bengals are on a four-game winning streak and, after topping an unpredictable San Diego Chargers team, it’s safe to say that this team is looking promising. Dalton connecting with A.J Green is a serious threat to any defense and the Bengals defense is not a walk over. This team has guts, determination and a very solid record. Super Bowl bound? 20%.


NFC: 

49ers: (8-3-1)

I’m gonna say playoff berth and division clinchers (sorry Arneet). The 49ers are full of good vibes with two powerful QB’s, an effective run game and their defense is nothing short of sensational. An elite team that has looked good all season and are title contenders. Yes, even after a loss to the Rams. Can’t win every game. Super Bowl bound? 60%.

Packers: (8-4) 

There’s no way I can write up a playoff list and leave Green Bay off it. My fingers will not allow. They’re a nicely balanced team and in the right mindset they can beat anyone, even the Falcons. Easily beating the Vikings cannot go unannounced either. Super Bowl bound? 40%.

Bears: (8-4) 

They might have lost to the Seahawks but I’m still convinced that this team’s defense is one of historical reference. As the saying goes, “Offense wins games, defense wins Championships.” Their offense is not that bad either. They’ve got definite threats spread throughout (Brandon Marshall’s 10-catch, 165 yard performance is evidence of that). Beaten by the Seahawks, although painful, is one to use to become a bigger and better team. Super Bowl bound? 70%.

Seahawks: (7-5)

This is not to save my spot as a blog writer here. I truly believe the Seahawks have what it takes to carry themselves over the playoff hurdle this year. Russell Wilson has done some things that none of us really saw coming and we have enjoyed every minute of it…if you’re not a Packers fan. Plus they beat the Bears this week. That’s right. The above-mentioned Bears. Super Bowl bound? 40%.

Redskins: (6-6) 

I don’t care what you all think, RGIII is the guy (although there’s probably only a few critics left by now). He’s the rookie to take this team to the Super Bowl. Well at least that’s what I want. I want this guy to take this team to the Super Bowl because it will be exciting for the whole game. The Super Bowl ads will be eclipsed by the game, which is almost unheard of! After downing the Giants this week as well, I do not doubt this kid for a second. Super Bowl bound? 30%.

Quick Hits: Week 13

This season has been one of the weirdest, yet most intriguing in a long time. And Week 13 was evidence of why.


Let’s see where we stand:

1) Chicago has some serious issues to solve. That entire team is walking with crutches and a sling. They’ve lost three of their last four now, and against a young, up and coming Seattle team, they further lost the turnover zing that has made them one of the most fearsome defenses in the NFC. Brian Urlacher and Charles Tillman both left with injuries on the Seahawks’ game-winning TD drive in OT. Looks like there are some tough times coming for the weak-looking NFC North powerhouse.

2) Speaking of the Seattle – Chi City game, Russell Wilson is no longer just good. He’s making his place among the best in the league. He’s a rookie who has two fourth-quarter/OT winning drives with four weeks of games to play, and he’s becoming just as good on the road as he is at home. The defense is still shaky in the fourth, especially with that huge pass play of 56 yards from Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall given up in crunch time, but Wilson made up for it by taking the opening possession of OT and driving down the 80 yards for a laser pass to Sidney Rice in the end zone for the win. He also ran for 71 yards, picking up first downs with his legs very often. Wilson now has 19 TD’s on the season, and could end up in the top three for the most touchdown passes by a rookie all-time. Peyton Manning had 26 in 1998. Cam Newton had 22 in 2011.

By the way, after the game, Brandon Marshall of Chicago said that he could learn from Russell Wilson and his poise. That speaks volumes.

3) The Houston Texans are running away with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. With a loss by the Baltimore Ravens to the Pittsburgh Steelers (horrible timeout management by John Harbaugh), the Texans got a boost in their chase for a guaranteed home run in the playoffs. They clinched a playoff spot today with their win against the Tennessee Titans, and now they’re essentially putting on cruise control with their high-powered offense for the rest of the season. Let’s see if the Texans can get to the point where they can rest their starters as early as Week 16.

4) Cincinnati is inconsistently good at winning. One week, they thrash the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, and the next they can just barely hold off a lagging San Diego Chargers unit. It’s kind of frustrating sometimes, knowing what the Bengals are capable of this season, but they’re getting the job done. All they need now is a win against the reeling Steelers in a couple of weeks to move ahead of them for the sixth seed in the wild card round.

5) If there was ever a time for San Francisco to put Alex Smith back in the saddle, it would have been today. And then maybe they could have held off St. Louis and their above-par defense and avoided a small one-and-a-half game lead ahead of the Seahawks in the NFC West. It’s getting tougher and tougher for the 49ers to rely on any buffers they might have had in defending their lead. The San Fran vs. Seattle game in Week 16 is looking more and more intriguing as the competition gets thicker.

6) The Browns continue to make an effort to win, and it’s helping them for next season. By pushing themselves to work hard in the face of a losing season, all of the players on the roster are making a case to put Cleveland in the minds of football pundits around the league to be next year’s team. The young guns showed their muscles against the Oakland Raiders, winning a tight 20-17 game. Brandon Weeden is slowly becoming better and better at reading defenses at first glance, and Josh Morgan and Trent Richardson are becoming more reliable as offensive threats. Keep an eye on this team through to Week 17 and in the off-season. The draft is going to make them even more competitive.

7) The Colts are a dangerous football team…and they’re still improving. The more Andrew Luck wins, the more confident he gets under center. He’s already on pace to be the best rookie quarterback the league has seen in a long time. The team is 8-4 after 13 weeks. He’s thrown for 3,596 yards and 17 TD’s. And they can wrap up the fifth seed in the AFC if they keep the foot on the gas through to Week 16. Winning a tight game in Detroit against the Lions on the last play of the game is going to be a huge boost for a young team with several guiding veterans and two inspiring coaches. They’ll take this win, harness its positives, and use it as a tool to enhancing the team’s performance. #scarythought

8) The Jaguars aren’t AAAAALL O’ DAT. But they still have talent. Inserting Chad Henne into the line-up wasn’t going to be the greatest move in franchise history, but putting in a quarterback who can take advantage of the skills of players around him has benefited the team in several ways. Though they lost to an inconsistent Buffalo Bills team, they now know what positions need to be upgraded in the off season and they’re aware now that Chad Henne will be a quality mentor to any quarterback they may pick up in the draft. They have Justin Blackmon, Cecil Shorts III, Rashad Jennings, Marcedes Lewis, and Maurice Jones-Drew on offense, and their defense can be stiff at times. There’s some work to be done, but the Jaguars are not quite the heap of rubble that we thought they were.

9) The Atlanta Falcons are still not convincing, but they’re winning, and they deserve credit for that. Who ever said that winning had to be pretty for it to be called winning? For the defense to pick Drew Brees off five times and hold him without a TD pass was awesome. But the offense is still not at a level that will assure them the playoff win they so desperately need. If they want to have any chance of silencing critics, then Michael Turner needs to play the way he played on Thursday Night, Matt Ryan needs to utilize Julio Jones and Roddy White on a more balanced basis, and the defense needs to be rooted to the ground, the way it was against the Saints. But they are winning, and for this week and the other eleven in which they won, that’s all that matters.

10) To the Kansas City Chiefs and everyone affected by the murder-suicide of Jovan Belcher, our thoughts are with you. The win against Carolina meant much more than just having two wins on the season. This was the symbol of appreciation and love for a fallen soldier by the Chiefs players and coaches. It may be that we never know why what happened transpired. But we pray those affected, and our thoughts go out to all of you.

11) Andy Reid is now solidly fired after the loss to the Cowboys, keeping the ‘Boys playoff hopes faintly alive. It seemed like they had a real shot, but the Philly defense just couldn’t keep Dallas’ offense at bay (thanks for that, because of Jason Witten, I now need Ahmad Bradshaw to hit 25 points to win my fantasy game). Reid should start scoping out new teams to work with, potentially some head coaching positions. Dallas now has to win out to have any kind of chance at the playoffs. If they play the way they did against the Eagles, it might be possible.

The Circumstance of Injury

Originally, I was going to write a piece about how the Super Bowl has become too overly-commercialized. How it has turned into the world’s biggest billboard. 

But recently, I’ve been reading about the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Alex Smith’s concussion that knocked him out of their Week 10 game against St. Louis, a match-up that ended up being a tie and the last time we saw Alex Smith taking a snap. The circumstances of his injury and the way Smith’s health was handled are not what is in question. But head coach Jim Harbaugh’s move to start back-up quarterback Colin Kaepernick against the Chicago Bears the following week gave Harbaugh a chance to evaluate Kaepernick when put into a starting role. 
Alex Smith runs for a touchdown.
The rest has been national news since Kaepernick’s Bears outing. He has gone 2-0 thus far against Chicago and New Orleans, and in dominant fashion. Alex Smith has been forced to sit on the sideline and watch his job security slowly slip away, play-by-spectacular-play, as Kaepernick shows why the 49ers drafted him in the second round in 2011. He was instrumental throwing down-field, dismantling what has been widely-believed to be the best secondary in football against Chicago, and then dominated against an awakening New Orleans Saints defense in the Superdome. He’s quickly proving to his coaches, his teammates, and the league that he can, and will, be a force to be reckoned with in these final weeks.
Smith’s Credit
Smith, after being drafted
number-one overall in 2005.
It’s not like Alex Smith hasn’t been on the bench before. Prior to 2011, Alex Smith was labelled a bust after being chosen with the first pick of the draft in 2005 by San Francisco. He was supposed to be the savior of this storied franchise, who employed the likes of Steve Young, Joe Montana, and Y.A. Tittle throughout their history. But he was never consistent, and before 2011, never led the team to a better-than-.500 record. So for six long seasons, the 49ers were locked in the despair that was their inability to pick a better quarterback in that draft. When the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers led his team to a Super Bowl win in 2010, even the front-office heads of 2005 were kicking themselves for not drafting Rodgers when they had the opportunity.
That was until new coach Jim Harbaugh was brought in from Stanford University to help rebuild the ruins of the 49ers franchise. The talent was there, the team just needed the right mentality. So, Harbaugh brought in a blue-collar approach with his team and reminded them over and over again that they were a collective group of players who could pound out plays anytime, no matter how tough the yardage seemed to be to get.
Harbaugh, who at one point was an NFL quarterback himself with the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts, had gained a lot of respect in the NCAA and NFL for coaching one of the brightest young quarterback prospects, Andrew Luck, that the league had seen since one Peyton Manning. Luck has since gone on to lead the Indianapolis Colts to a 7-4 record in his first season.
San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh.
Harbaugh was ready to take on the role of Alex Smith’s new mentor when he came to San Francisco in 2011. They tossed the ball together in the summer, went over playbook countless times together, and formed a trust that is absent with many coaches and their quarterbacks around the league; a trust that both can hold up their end of winning games. That season, their defense turned into an immovable wall against bigger opponents, and their running game led by running back Frank Gore and their offensive line became a highly feared dimension of their offense. Smith was efficient, hardly turned the ball over, and was instrumental in helping his team stay together as a unit and win games as a group. He wasn’t forced to put the team on his shoulders at any point, which Harbaugh knew was exactly the way to help Smith succeed and get this franchise back on its feet.
The one time that Smith obviously carried the team in 2011 was in the Divisional Playoff round against the New Orleans Saints, a game in which the lead changed four times in the last four minutes. Smith kept up scores with one of the best in the business in New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, and the 49ers won a thriller with a game-winning touchdown pass from Smith. So, despite the “Game Manager” title he received as an attack on his inability to be Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, he could win games.
Where Frustration Lives
2012 started no differently, as the 49ers busted out of the gate and were a solid 6-2 after eight games. Alex was playing even better, making more down-field throws than the year before, killed teams with their running ability, and had a defense that has become almost impossible to move against with Aldon Smith and Justin Smith (you can’t make this stuff up, should just call themselves the San Francisco Smiths)

And then…the St. Louis game happened.
Week 10, Smith is hit at some point of the game after his touchdown pass to wide receiver Michael Crabtree and reports to team doctors that his vision was blurry…
…And so, all of this leads us to the present. Smith was fully available to play against New Orleans last week, but Jim Harbaugh made a tough decision to go with “the hot hand” and start Kaepernick over Smith.
In the last few days, Smith has spoken out about his situation: 

“It stings the most just because I really felt there was something special going on here, and you sacrifice and invest so much time,” Smith added, “… I have no idea what’s going to happen from here. All I can do now is just prepare and get ready.” A.P., Associated Press 

Smith, after six years of the “bust” label to start his career, a magical run to the NFC Championship game last season, and a 19-5-1 record since Harbaugh became his coach, does not deserve to be benched. He’s obviously worked hard, stayed humble, and was unfairly told to step aside for a young gun. Life sucks for the injured in the NFL. I mean, Alex is concussed and out for one game, and he’s replaced. Alex leads this team to within one game of the Super Bowl, and Harbaugh decides the untested second-year guy is the better choice. Number 11 had been the most efficient quarterback in the league through to his last start, even completing 18 out of 19 passes for a 94% mark of accuracy, breaking an NFL record, and still he’s passed over, when healthy, by Kaepernick.
Colin Kaepernick in action.
And it’s happened again. Kaepernick, at the time of this writing, will start against St. Louis on Sunday.
The NFL, now we’re seeing it, is such a hard business to thrive in, as a coach and as a player. And Harbaugh, according the Ashley Fox, an NFL analyst at ESPN.com, is indirectly showing to his players that lying about an injury to save your job is better than doing what you can to save your body and potentially lose your job:

“Smith was playing well, so to get benched after suffering a concussion is brutal, and unfortunately the message Harbaugh sends is that it’s better for players to hide an injury, particularly a head injury, than to report it.” Ashley Fox, ESPN.com/NFL

This league is turning to mush with how much controversy there is surrounding all injuries, not just concussions. But especially with head injuries, players are always going to do what it takes to keep the pay coming and their jobs secure, even if that means lying to their team doctors about an injury that could put their health in jeopardy.
Smith didn’t lie to his team doctors. He wanted to be as healthy as he could, save his own body, to help this team win games and eventually win a Super Bowl the way that he has this entire season. And in saving his health with the intent of being there for his team, he was replaced for this unselfishness. As much as I respect the work Jim Harbaugh has done with this team, he was wrong to have allowed Alex to sit on the bench for the New Orleans game.
Smith deserves the starting job, concussion or not, however hot Colin Kaepernick’s hand may be. Smith has earned every snap that he’s played since last year and should not have been left in the cold the way that he was in Week 12 against New Orleans. And if he’s traded or waived in the offseason in 2013, it won’t be because of his lack of ability as a player.
It will be because of his humanity and motivation to win.

Fox, Ashley. “Harbaugh Made The Call Any Coach Would.” ESPN.com/NFL. Version 1. ESPN, 30 Nov. 2012. Web. 30 Nov. 2012. .

Slesser, Marc. “Alex Smith on 49ers Benching: It Sucks.” NFL.com. Version 1. NFL.com, 29 Nov. 2012. Web. 30 Nov. 2012. .