By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Lord of the Wings
At the risk of sounding ungrateful for all of the joy and wonder the National Football League brings into our lives, that was the worst Sunday of football you will ever see.
We saw seven blowouts and the games that were close were mostly between teams that probably won't go far – and they were offense-free affairs to boot.
The big matchups were relegated to garbage time – New England tooled on Chicago 36-7, San Diego dusted Kansas City 31-0 – and the upsets were ugly (Lions 7, Packers 3; Dolphins 10, Jets 6).
Other than that, there were just unappealing matchups, bad weather and sloppy football.
But it was still football, and bad as it was the ratings will surely dwarf the World Series, NBA Finals or Stanley Cup playoffs. And they're still talking about a lockout?
Get it done!!
1.The West(s) are not yet won. The Chargers and 49ers looked to be dead and buried, but what a difference beating the division leader can make. San Diego's 31-0 win over Kansas City was a bit more impressive than San Fran's 40-21 win over Seattle, but both wins got them within a game of first place.
And who do they play next week? Each other, on national TV Thursday night, with the loser probably being done. It's a clash that might pass for the Game of the Year in West(s): two potential playoff spots, and even two division titles, hang in the balance.
If the Chargers do win, they close with trips to 2-11 Cincy and 3-10 Denver, so the AFC playoffs look like a decent shot right now.
For the Niners, it was a possible career-saver for Mike Singletary, although a lot will be decided in the last three weeks. They probably have to win out to get in, but a 7-9 winner in the division looks a lot more likely with St. Louis looking fried and Sam Bradford finally hitting the wall in that 31-13 loss to New Orleans.
2. The Jets and Packers have taken quite a tumble in three weeks. Sitting at 7-3 (Packers) and 8-2 (Jets) after Week 11, you could certainly have seen either team in the Super Bowl as a possibility.
Now, it looks like the playoffs aren't even a lock.
After their 10-6 loss to the Dolphins, the Jets have to go to Pittsburgh and Chicago, and could well be playing for their playoff lives in Week 17 vs. Buffalo. The Packers at least kept pace in the NFC North after their 7-3 loss to the Lions thanks to Chicago's no-show. But Green Bay might have to win out to get in.
Quarterback issues haunt both teams – the Packers with Aaron Rodgers having been concussed, the Jets with Mark Sanchez playing like a rookie again (17 of 44, 216 yards, 4.91 YPA, 0 TD, 1 INT vs. Miami).
What a difference 21 days makes.
3. Finally, the Bills and Lions turned their hard work into wins. The two most likeable 2-10 teams in the league got to 3-10 thanks to defense and running the football.
The Bills beat the Browns 13-6 with a 19-9 first-down edge and nearly 2-to-1 time of possession. Peyton Hillis got his (118 yards) for Cleveland, but no one else did (79 yards from the rest of the team).
Meanwhile the Bills won the turnover battle 3-1 and ran for 192 yards.
Same story for the Lions – Drew Stanton didn't pass well, but chipped in 44 of the Lions' surprising 190 yards on the ground and played well enough vs. Packers backup Matt Flynn to win 7-3.
These are games that Detroit and Buffalo almost always lose. Nice to see them win one – although the Green Bay faithful can't feel too good about it.
4. Miami's Brandon Fields punted the Dolphins to a win. You look at the Dolphins' final stats in their 10-6 win over the Jets and wonder how they resulted in victory.
They had 30 net yards passing, 101 rushing (on 32 carries) and went 3-for-15 on third down. But, thanks to Fields' amazing 496 net punting yards (564 gross) on 10 boots, the Jets just couldn't get into the end zone, and the Dolphins are still alive by a thread in the AFC.
It recalled one of the biggest performances by a punter in league history – Kyle Richardson's MVP-caliber game for the Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV.
Richardson, if you'd forgotten or never knew, punted 10 times for Baltimore in that Super Bowl and repeatedly pinned the Giants inside the 20; the Ravens' defense took it from there.
5. The Patriots could hit the trifecta of NFL awards. New England has just completed one of the great five-game runs we've seen in the past decade or so, and is three games away from a triple: Executive of the Year, Coach of the Year and MVP.
Clearly, Tom Brady is going to have to completely fall apart to lose the MVP momentum after another brilliant game. He hit 27 of 40 for a season-high 369 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT and a 113.4 against one of the league's best defenses – in a blizzard. The Patriots won 36-7.
Bill Belichick is in a two-man race for Coach of the Year with Mike Smith of Atlanta, and the edge has to go to Belichick here. The restructuring of the offense in the middle of the season season, combined with an overhaul on defense, should not add up to 11-2. Atlanta has matched the record, but not the achievement.
Belichick might get edged out by Smith, or even a longshot like Raheem Morris in Tampa or Todd Haley in Kansas City if their teams win out. But Belichick seems to have the clubhouse lead.
And director of player personnel Nick Caserio might be considered second to Belichick in the front office, but the same was true when Scott Pioli won executive of the year honors in 2003 and 2004. New England's 2010 draft delivered seven major contributors, they got a third-round pick for the useless Randy Moss, they got the superior Deion Branch for a fourth, and they added Danny Woodhead off the street. That's a lot of good work in one offseason, and a lot of payoff.
6. Jacksonville's Offensive Hogs are really getting it done.
All of a sudden, the Jags are playing like Nebraska in the 1970s
. In their last three games, they've run for 207, 258 and 234 yards against decent competition.
Jacksonville came in to the week 14th on our Offensive Hog Index thanks to some subpar pass blocking. But they are absolutely mauling it on the ground (157.8 YPG, 4.75 YPA) and continue to be solid on third downs (41.8% success). In their 38-31 win over the Raiders, the Jaguars averaged 6.9 yards per carry and allowed only a pair of sacks.
The O-Hogs also ripped open a big hole in the middle of the Oakland defense for Maurice Jones-Drew's 30-yard game-winning romp
in the final two minutes.
The Jaguars' defense is going to hold them back from doing anything special in the larger scheme of things. But they're 8-5, in first place in the AFC South and holding their own destiny with a visit on Indy on the schedule next Sunday.
7. The Falcons are in great shape. More and more, it looks like the NFC South winner will be the No. 1 seed. The runner-up, of course, will be playing a road game at St. Louis, Seattle or San Francisco, and probably causing a revamp of the NFL playoff system.
Which team will be which isn't settled, but Atlanta's one-game lead over New Orleans is significantly wider than it appears.
The 11-2 Falcons handled Carolina, 31-10, which effectively puts them two games ahead of 10-3 New Orleans. The Saints' defense had a bounce-back game in the 31-13 win over St. Louis Sunday, and Drew Brees is as good as they come (25 of 40, 221 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT).
But even if New Orleans wins at Atlanta on December 27 and wins out to go 13-3, they'd lose the tiebreaker to a 13-3 Falcons team if Atlanta wins its other two games. The teams would be tied in division and conference record, and it'd go to common opponents, where losses to the Browns and Cardinals would cost the Saints.
Prepare yourself: 13-3 at 7-9 might be coming, folks.
8. Tampa's ability to stay in the playoff mix is nearly unfathomable.
The Bucs play in the same division with the two best teams in the NFC by record. They have lost to all of their Quality Opponents. They're not that good. They should be planning for next year right now.
But Tampa's 17-16 win over Washington featured a flubbed, game-tying XP in the fourth quarter. It left the Bucs at 5-0 in games decided by three points or less and at 8-5 on the season.
Their biggest strength in our Quality Stats is probably Passer Rating Differential (11th heading into the week), and they won that battle again with Josh Freeman – 22-year-old Josh Freeman –putting up a 109.8 to Donovan McNabb's 100.8.
And they are absolutely alive in the hunt, with home games vs. Detroit and Seattle the next two weeks before a trip to New Orleans in Week 17.
9. The Bengals have big decisions to make. Who's leaving Cincinnati this offseason, Carson Palmer, Marvin Lewis, both or neither?
When you go from playoffs to 2-11, jobs are usually lost. And that's what the Bengals are after their 23-7 loss at Pittsburgh.
The Bengals have extreme patience with their coaches, and they have reason to like Marvin Lewis. But considering the talent, a finish of 2-14, 3-13 or 4-12 just isn't acceptable. Lewis could pay the price.
Cincy signed Palmer in 2005 to an extension through 2014. And while they could get out of it, they probably won't. But he's thrown 10 interceptions in four weeks, he's got a passer rating of just over 80 since returning from injury in 2007, and he hasn't delivered in big moments.
Seems more likely that Lewis goes than Palmer, but the Bengals should consider seeing what the market is for their 30-year-old QB.
10. The Broncos didn't add their name to the list of teams that thrived under interim coaches. The Cowboys turned to their longtime offensive coordinator, Jason Garrett, and were revived with three wins in their next four games (they went toe to toe with the Eagles Sunday night, too, before falling 30-27. The Vikings turned to their well-respected defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, and came to life with two straight wins.
The Broncos turned to ... their first-year running backs coach?
Sorry, Eric Studeville, but it's looking like four games and out for you. Denver showed without question in a 43-13 loss to Arizona that their problems went beyond the departed Josh McDaniels.
With the Kyle Orton-to-Brandon Lloyd magic having been turned back into a pumpkin (5-for-17 for 68 yards the last two weeks), Denver actually made Arizona look good. The 4-9 Cardinals, romped, 43-13.
A little credit to Arizona kicker Jay Feely, who outscored half the teams in the NFL Sunday (25 points) with five field goals (including a 55-yarder), a 5-yard TD run and four extra points.