Back again with the weekly review of the NFL, but the format is going to change a bit. It got a bit lengthy last week so first off, I’m breaking it into two parts. Part 2 will run tomorrow. Baseball content will be back up again tomorrow, too.
Washington 17 at Atlanta 31
Up 24-3 at the half, the Falcons took their foot off the pedal in the second half and were outscored 14-7 in the final two quarters to make the game look a tick closer than it was, but rest assured that it was never in doubt. It was the Michael Turner Show on Sunday afternoon as he enjoyed his second straight better than 150-yard performance notching 166 yards on 18 carries (9.2/carry) with touchdown runs of 30 and 58 yards. It was also Turner’s second straight 20+ points game in fantasy football boosting all the way up to a 4th-place tie (Ray Rice) among running backs with 127 points. Rice and Turner are a cut below the top three of Maurice Jones-Drew (149), Chris Johnson (146) and Adrian Peterson (141), but Turner and his supporters (namely ESPN’s Matthew Berry) drew a lot of criticism after Turner notched a meager 29 points in the first three weeks of the season. I doubt Berry hears much from that contingent anymore. I will admit that I gave him hell for standing by Peterson over Turner, but halfway through the season it’s neck and neck as Peterson has a meager 1.8 points per game advantage. Matthew, I know you’re NOT reading this but, I apologize for criticizing far too quickly. We’ll see how the two stack up after another eight games. That said, Turner HAS to beat AP for the prediction to be a win. Sticking close doesn’t count for anything in this instance.
In other news, the Skins lost Clinton Portis to a concussion after just four carries (for four yards) adding to their disastrous season. Ladell Betts came in and managed 70 yards on 15 carries (4.7/carry) with a touchdown and will likely be a premiere pickup across leagues this week. Portis is already listed as doubtful and if the Skins are smart at all, they will sit him out regardless of how good he claims to feel. These concussions are getting a lot of attention and they NEED to be taken more seriously by football teams. According to Will Carroll on Jeff Erickson’s Rotowire Fantasy Sports Hour podcast, rugby clubs in Europe have instituted a month layoff for concussion victims. Unfortunately, that has merely changed the diagnoses of players who were actually concussed, but at least they have the right idea. Meanwhile, Mike Sellers led the team in receiving. Isn’t this the team that spent high picks on Malcolm Kelly (2nd rd, ’08), Devin Thomas (2nd rd, ’08) and Fred Davis (2nd rd, ‘08)? Those three combined to match Sellers’s three catches. This team is broken throughout.
Jonathan Babineaux went off with 10 tackles, three for loss and two & a half sacks. You don’t often see defensive tackles rack up that kind of tackle total… Rookie defensive end Brian Orakpo grabbed two more sacks on Sunday giving him 5.5 on the season, tied for 7th overall and best among rookies. He’s been a rare bright spot for the Skins in 2009.
Atlanta – 3rd downs: 4-11 (36%), TOP: 26:28, Sacks: 5
Washington – 3rd downs: 9-16 (56%), TOP: 33:32, Sacks: 3
Atlanta at Carolina, Denver at Washington
Miami 17 at New England 27
Miami was game yet again, but came just a bit short again. Ask any of your football friends what they think Miami’s record is and see how many different answers you get off the top of their heads that don’t come anywhere near 3-5. I don’t think they’ve been routed in any game except the San Diego one where they scored with 2:51 left to bring it to 10-point margin it ended up being. On Sunday, they held the lead late into the third quarter after a Ronnie Brown touchdown pass to Joey Haynos. You can also ask your football friends who Joey Haynos is and what they think he does for a living and I bet fewer than 30% say that he plays football. You have to throw to someone like Haynos when the guy who was supposed to become your franchise receiver turns into what Ted Ginn Jr. has become. After his 11 catches for 108 yards in that Monday night thriller against Indianapolis, he really began fooling people into thinking he was ready to come on and be a force. Maybe even earn his 9th overall draft slot. Since that game he has six catches for 84 yards… COMBINED! He did win the Jets game last week with his returns, but he is a Grade A failure at his primary job which is (was) pass catching.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, Tom Brady is back. In fact, he has been for three solid weeks. It took him some game action to get the feel for everything, but there was no reason to think he was going to be forever scarred. We had a blueprint for this with Peyton Manning during his return from injury. Through the first five games, Brady went 127-for-207 (61%) for 1344 yards with six TDs and two INTs. His 6.5 yards per attempt was nearly two yards off of his amazing 2007 pace (8.3) and nearly a full yard from his career mark of 7.3. Starting with the destruction of Tennessee and the two games after, he is 77-for-103 for 1020 yards with 10 TDs and three INTs. His YPA is a gaudy 9.9. Yes, Tampa Bay was with Tennessee in that trio of games, but he had to get his mojo back against someone and these three teams were perfect entering the game of year at Indianapolis. Randy Moss was the game-changer with 147 yards on six catches including an amazing 71-yard touchdown followed by a 2-point conversion catch. On the TD, he threw a huge stiff arm to spring himself on what was a slant route that went long. His catch of the day was earlier when he made a brilliant one-handed catch that took the Pats down to the 1 and set up Laurence Maroney’s touchdown in the first quarter. Simply put, the passing ménage a trois that is Brady-Moss-Wes Welker is back to clicking on all cylinders. A big reason why is the semblance of a running game. Maroney has two 100-yard games in his last three and the Pats haven’t lost when topping the century mark as a team.
New England is crushing the field in FootballOutsiders.com metric known as Weighted DVOA. I won’t pretend to have a concise of way explaining it, rather I’ll direct you to their site for the standings as well as explanations on their construction… Sticking with FootballOutsiders.com, Miami has 5.3 Estimated Wins according to their numbers which uses something called the Forest Index (Click each term for its definition). It’s the biggest differential between actual and EW implying that the Dolphins might be a good bit better than their record would suggest. If you like second and third level analysis of the game, you need to start making FO a regular stop on your web surfing.
New England – 3rd downs: 6-13 (46%), TOP: 28:53, Sacks: 2
Miami – 3rd downs: 9-17 (53%), TOP: 31:07, Sacks: 2
New England at Indianapolis, Tampa Bay at Miami
Green Bay 28 at Tampa Bay 38
Having seen a 16-0 and 0-16 team in the past two seasons has led some (many?) to believe that this something that will become commonplace. A few weeks into the season it wasn’t uncommon to hear pundits and talking heads suggest that perhaps two teams might go winless while also believing that someone could go undefeated, too. Time for a reality check: the seasons that Detroit and New England had were incredible. They stand out because they are so rare. There is a reason we hear about ’76 Buccaneers and the ’72 Dolphins EVERY SINGLE year. It’s easy for me to say now because it looks like hindsight, but from day one I didn’t think anyone would go winless. I honestly didn’t believe my Lions would last year until it was clear that Green Bay had the game locked up. Tampa Bay was the last to get on the board this year, but they found a very vulnerable team and used a special teams as the springboard for their initial win. Rookie quarterback Josh Freeman wasn’t great, completing fewer than 50% of his passes, but he ended up tossing three touchdowns against just one interception.
Aaron Rodgers owes his offensive line an apology. Yes, they do suck, but he has let them absorb ALL of the blame for his 37 sacks for several weeks now when it is apparent that his tendency to hang onto the ball FOREVER has led to plenty of those sacks. Tampa Bay wasn’t getting pressure on anybody as they sat tied for 3rd-fewest sacks in the league last week with just 11 and Rodgers & his horrible line allowed them to rack up six. And then when Rodgers finally did decide to throw it, he landed it in the hands of the creamsicle-uniformed men three times. He had thrown just two interceptions all season prior to Sunday’s collapse. Ryan Grant (21-96) and Ahman Green (6-45) combined for 141 yards on 26 carries which is amazing considering the line, but regardless of that this team is in some serious trouble. The upside is that the Chicago Bears suck and the Packers are just one win behind New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta in the wildcard race. They are thought to have the easiest remaining schedule according to Aaron Schatz of FootballOutsiders.com, who said as much on The B.S. Report on Monday. They will need to make serious improvements, starting with Rodgers, if they expect to a) contend for wildcard spot and b) do anything in January if they do happen to scrounge up a berth.
Donald Driver has been Mr. Consistent this year despite deferring the spotlight to his teammate, Greg Jennings. In PPR-leagues, Driver has notched double digit point totals in six of eight games and still managed 7.9 and 9.5 in those other two games. He has been the 14th-best WR in such leagues, while Jennings checks in as the 23rd-best… Josh Freeman became the 10th quarterback since the merger to throw for three or more touchdowns in his first start ever matching Jim Kelly, John Fourcade, Mike Hohensee, Ed Rubbert, Kevin Sweeney, Mark Rypien, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tommy Kramer and Todd Marinovich.
Tampa Bay – 3rd downs: 3-12 (25%), TOP: 24:43, Sacks: 6
Green Bay – 3rd downs: 5-14 (36%), TOP: 35:17, Sacks: 1
Tampa Bay at Miami, Dallas at Green Bay
Kansas City 21 at Jacksonville 24
Quiz your friends on Jacksonville’s record the way I suggested with Miami. I’d be surprised if one person, who didn’t already know ahead of being asked because they studied the standings or something, would guess 4-4. This piece of garbage team is at .500! I’ll admit that I am bitter towards the Jags because they have screwed me over several times due to their gross inconsistency from week to week. After their debacle in Seattle, I swore off of betting on their games. I really like David Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew, but Garrard has randomly falls apart (at Seattle, at Tennessee) while MJD is horribly underused. I realize he’s of slight build, but how has he gotten just 14 carries against the Titans in two games this year? The Titans defense that is giving up 112 yards per game, mind you. I have no doubt that the public outcry over his eight carry game a week ago helped spur his 29 carry workload on Sunday. He wasn’t great with just a 3.3 average per carry, but that shouldn’t be used as a reason to trim back down below double-digits this week. If he touching the ball fewer than 20 times in a game, whether on the ground or through the air, someone needs to be fired. If he’s touching it fewer than 10 as was the case in those Tennessee games, then someone needs to be shot.
Matt Cassel was hurling the ball all over the field against the Jags including two touchdown passes to newcomer Chris Chambers. Dwayne Bowe tied for most yards with 74 on four catches, but it was Lance Long who caught my attention (no pun intended). This random guy, who started the season with Arizona, was not only targeted 11 times in his third game ever, but caught eight of them for 74 yards. I wouldn’t rush out to get him in anything but the deepest PPR leagues, but he looks like Wes Welker, he’s built like Wes Welker and Cassel could be relying on him as his Wes Welker which would give him value in all PPR leagues at that point. The Chiefs have jettisoned the problematic Larry Johnson but still appear reticent to run the ball. Their leading rusher has topped 80 yards just once in a game this year and it was Johnson’s 83-yard performance against Washington three weeks ago. Jamaal Charles has averaged 5.3 yards per carry on 96 career attempts yet he still managed to get a whopping six carries against Jacksonville’s lame run defense. It’s not very hard to see why KC is 7-33 since the beginning of 2007.
Jones-Drew isn’t the only hyphenated last name tearing it up for the Jags this year. Mike Sims-Walker had his third 100-yard game of the season and set single-game career best with 147 yards. In the six games he has registered at least one catch, he has 81 or more yards in all but one (2 catches, 9 yards vs. TEN in week 8)… After averaging 85 tackles per season in his first four years, Derrick Johnson has fallen off of the map for KC with just 13 tackles this year thanks in large part of losing his starting gig to Demorrio Williams. He was available for trade around the deadline and could be moved in the offseason, a trade the Chiefs would no doubt regret in time as Johnson isn’t close to done as an upper crust linebacker in this league.
Jacksonville – 3rd downs: 9-16 (56%), TOP: 36:13, Sacks: 3
Kansas City – 3rd downs: 4-13 (31%), TOP: 23:47, Sacks: 1
Jacksonville at New York Jets, Kansas City at Oakland
Arizona 41 at Chicago 21
Our first road team victory amongst the early games wasn’t a huge surprise. The Cardinals are hardly a lock to do perform to their potential week to week, but at least they possess a ton of potential. Larry Fitzgerald managed just his second 100-yard game of the season with 123 yards on nine catches including two touchdowns, while Steve Breaston continued his strong follow up to last year’s breakout season. He has risen to the #2 option with Anquan Boldin struggling to stay healthy and not at peak performance when he does play. Breaston caught five for 66 with a touchdown and four or more catches in all but one game this year. Kurt Warner was lifted for Matt Leinart when the game appeared in hand, but Leinart promptly threw an interception which led to a touchdown and Warner’s return. Though he lit up the scoreboard, Warner’s 22-for-32 (69%) for 261 yards wasn’t the top flight performance you’d expect from someone with five touchdown passes. The Cardinals owned the game because their two-headed running back of Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells combined for 149 yards on 28 carries (5.3/carry). While nice for this week, it must continue if they expect to make much noise in the playoff picture. They are still ranked 31st overall in rushing yards per game with 79.5.
Kyle Orton’s success in Denver (we’ll see how far that goes as they nurse wobbly wheel on their bandwagon) combined with Jay Cutler’s perceived failures in Chicago will have shortsighted fans believing the trade was a bust. Quarterback is no doubt the most important position on the field, but you still have to have a team around him or else he just won’t have consistent success. Matt Forte’s tumble back to earth helps show just how poor the Chicago offensive line is which of course also severely impacts Cutler. He actually played pretty well in this game as he and Greg Olsen hooked up for three touchdowns and 71 of Cutler’s 369 yards. The real problem is this vomit-inducing defense that we knew would struggle after losing Brian Urlacher in week 1, but it was hard to see this big of a fall coming. Lovie Smith is calling the defense at this point so he has no one to blame but himself for their immense shortcomings. Despite finally having the elite quarterback they’ve lacked forever, this team isn’t going to contend for a playoff berth without some serious improvements on both lines and the defense as a whole.
Kurt Warner is the second quarterback since 1990 to have separate games with five touchdowns and five interceptions in the same season. Warren Moon did the same thing back in 1992. Moon ended up with an 18-to-12 TD:INT ratio that season; Warner is currently sitting at 16-to-11… Greg Olsen’s 71 yards on Sunday were the most he has had in a game since Week 7 of last year when he had 74 against Minnesota. For the past two years he has been a favorite to breakout at tight end, but he has yet to jump to that next level yet.
Arizona – 3rd down: 8-14 (57%), TOP: 33:16, Sacks: 4
Chicago – 3rd downs: 5-13 (38%), TOP: 26:44, Sacks: 1
Seattle at Arizona, Chicago at San Francisco (on Thursday)
Baltimore 7 at Cincinnati 17
Who still questions the legitimacy of Cincy? The answer, unfortunately, is many people. They definitely don’t care, though. A week after Baltimore was anointed as “back” and the best 4-3 team in the league, the Bengals wiped the floor with them to complete the season sweep. Cedric Benson became the first back since Jerome Bettis back in 1997 to rush for 100+ yards against the Ravens twice in one season. It was a grind-it-out kind of game as his 117 yards came on 34 carries (3.4/carry), but that shouldn’t take away from his amazing accomplishment. Like Tom Brady, Carson Palmer is returning from a big injury in 2008 and his first several weeks weren’t terribly impressive as he got used to game speed and being back under center. Since Week 5, the first game against Baltimore, Palmer is 81-for-123 (66%) for 987 yards (8.0/attempt) with eight touchdowns against two interceptions. Prior to that his completion percentage was just 58% (79-for-137) with a 6:5 TD:INT ratio and 6.2 yards per attempt. He’s back and this team is for real.
With a different makeup (offense first), Baltimore has shown a distinct inability to play consistently week over week. A second year quarterback no doubt plays into that for sure, but the real problem is the fact that they have gone to an offense-first philosophy because their defense has lost several steps. The secondary is garbage and the front seven isn’t the polished force it has been for several years coming into 2009. Cincinnati’s rising stars at cornerback, Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall, shut down the Baltimore receivers leaving Ray Rice as the leading receiver with eight catches for 87 yards. Derrick Mason was targeted 13 times but managed just three catches for 31 yards. If teams start scheming to shutdown Rice on the ground and through the air, I’m not sure Baltimore will move the ball into the red zone. I’m not counting this team as they can look like Super Bowl contenders on some weeks, but their week-to-week to transformations from excellent to trash are infuriating.
Ray Rice has caught fewer than five passes in just two games this year which has led to his ranking 2nd-best amongst running backs in PPR leagues. He is well on his way to becoming the next Maurice Jones-Drew, right down to their similar statures… Hall and Joseph each notched their fourth interception on Sunday and also rate tied for 2nd (Hall, 12) and 3rd (Joseph, 11) in passes defended. Their improvements in the secondary was a big key to Antwan Odom’s hot start before going down with a season-ending injury and their continued success is why the Bengals haven’t missed a beat without Odom. I could eventually get to the quarterback with those two covering in the secondary.
Cincinnati – 3rd downs: 8-18 (44%), TOP: 40:00, Sacks: 4
Baltimore – 3rd downs: 1-10 (10%), TOP: 20:00, Sacks: 1
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, Baltimore at Cleveland
Part 2 will finish up the rest of the recaps as well as include all the extras… it should be up Wednesday evening.