Week 10 had a lot of close games in score, but that didn’t necessarily make them interesting or meaningful. The two that were billed as the best, Cincy at Pittsburgh and New England at Indy, both lived up to their hype. I’ll look at the first one in part 1 and the epic Sunday night battle in part 2 tomorrow.
Chicago 6 at San Francisco 10
The millions of fans without the NFL Network (thanks, Time Warner) weren’t terribly upset to be without on Thursday night, especially those who root for the Bears. The savior, Jay Cutler, threw five interceptions including one as time ran out giving the 49ers the 10-6 victory. Matt Forte continued his struggles on the ground with 41 yards on 20 carries (2.1/attempt), but he did contribute positively with eight catches for 120 yards. Cutler did end up with 307 passing yards, but it is hardly impressive when done on 52 attempts and it comes with the five picks. At 4-4 heading into the game, this would’ve been a key win for the Bears as they hope to notch a playoff berth, but I just can’t see this team emerging as a playoff contender. Their offensive line is bad, their coaching is bad and they desperately miss Brian Urlacher. Maybe next year, Bears fans.
If running backs had win-loss records, Frank Gore would get a win for Thursday for sure. He rushed for 104 yards on 25 carries (4.2/attempt) and his second quarter touchdown stood up as the difference in the game. The defense also played well, of course, but I can’t see the team’s ceiling being very high going forward with Alex Smith at quarterback. He peaked in his first two quarters of the year when he led that near-comeback in Houston three weeks ago. It has been all downhill since with Thursday’s effort the worst yet from a yardage standpoint (118). This team is definitely moving in the right direction with some excellent pieces in place, but they will need much better quarterback play to be legitimate playoff contenders. With their defense and Gore combined with the horribly erratic play of Arizona, they could sneak into the playoffs with a late run this year, but I like them much better in 2010 and beyond. Here is my obligatory Michael Crabtree mention of the week (maybe I can get a sponsor for this): despite what he did to my Longhorns last year and his stupid, worthless holdout to start the season, I have to say that I really like what I have seen from him so far. He has yet to have a real big game, but I think this guy is going to be a star.
Jay Cutler now has 17 interceptions on the season which is just one fewer than his 18 from all of last season. I’m not going to be one of those idiots that suggests the Bears shouldn’t have traded for him based on nine games, but he is trying to do too much to compensate for his horrible line and the lack of running game to support him.
Speaking of Crabtree, he could very well end up as San Francisco’s best wide receiver by yardage despite missing the team’s first five games. Tight end Vernon Davis will almost certainly lead the team in receiving yards, but Crabtree has 215 receiving yards trailing Josh Morgan (300) by just 85 yards. He only needs to outgain Morgan by 12 yards per game the rest of the season. As he gets more reps under his belt, that isn’t out of the realm of possibilities at all.
San Francisco – 3rd downs: 6-14 (43%), TOP: 31:33, Sacks: 0
Chicago – 3rd downs: 8-17 (47%), TOP: 28:27, Sacks: 2
Philadelphia at Chicago, San Francisco at Green Bay
Buffalo 17 at Tennessee 41
Coming off of a 59-0 demolition at the hands of the New England Patriots, things couldn’t get much worse for the Titans. They were 0-6 and seemingly getting worse. Heading into the bye, it was time to seriously assess their situation and make some changes. What they had going simply wasn’t working. Kerry Collins out, Vince Young in. Young has been very effective going 44-for-62 (71%) for 507 yards (8.2/attempt) with two TDs and one interception. Young has also apparently been Chris Johnson’s spinach. The Titans have now reeled off three straight wins during which Johnson has rushed for 495 yards on 75 carries (6.6/carry) with six touchdowns. He also has 14 catches for 136 in the same span. The Titans are now just 2 games back of second place in their division and will be no more than two games back of a wildcard spot (if San Diego wins and moves to 6-3). I’m not sure they have a real shot at the playoffs, but who would’ve thought that there would even be a legitimate scenario for them to make it after the first six weeks?
It’s the same old story with Buffalo. Despite average 5.0 yards per carry with Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch, the two combined for a whopping 17 carries. Good thing they fired their offensive coordinator just before the season started. He might have used his best assets and you definitely can’t have that. And you can’t blame the team being down on the lack of running because it was tied through three quarters. It got out of hand in the fourth quarter with two pick sixes. Dick Jauron can’t be long for this job.
Chris Johnson has rushed for 1,091 yards this season which is the most through 10 weeks since 2005 when Shaun Alexander had 1,114. Alexander went on to rush 1880 on 370 carries that year. He was never the same after that. Johnson is on pace 1939 on 302 carries. Keeping that pace would give him 51 more carries than his rookie season.
Jairus Byrd did it again!! He only got one interception on Sunday snapping his streak of three games with two interceptions, but it was his 5th game with a pick. His eight interceptions already rank 4th-best among in a season for a rookie since the merger. Everson Walls’ 11 back in 1981 stand alone as the record.
Tennessee – 3rd downs: 11-17 (65%), TOP: 31:20, Sacks: 2
Buffalo – 3rd downs: 5-14 (36%), TOP: 28:40, Sacks: 0
Buffalo at Jacksonville, Tennessee at Houston
New Orleans 28 at St. Louis 23
This Saints team sure likes to make things interesting, don’t they? After steamrolling the Giants by 21 in week six, their average margin of victory was 19.4 and they looked unstoppable. They have been tested in every game since as their average margin of victory has dipped to 8.8 per game. That said, they have yet to lose. They have won big, they have won close. They have won with a potent air attack; they have won by dominating the ground. They have reached or topped 45 four times and they have held two opponents to 10 or fewer points. There might not be a more diverse resume in the league. They were without their MVP today (Darren Sharper) and it showed as they allowed the Rams to run 71 plays for 434 yards. This team won’t go undefeated, but that doesn’t matter because this isn’t college football. They are still an elite team in the league with a 4-game stranglehold on their division. They could be best served by a little valley in late November/early December only to turn around and get hot again in their final three vs. Dallas, Tampa Bay and Carolina heading into the playoffs.
I don’t know Steve Spagnuolo one bit, but what I gather from his persona we are exposed via the media is a guy that doesn’t buy into moral victories meaning he is as pissed at the five point loss as he would have been by a 20 point loss. Positives included Steven Jackson’s third straight game over 130 yards (131 on 26 carries, 5.0/carry), Brandon Gibson, part of the return package for Will Witherspoon from the Eagles, had seven catches for 93 yards and Donnie Avery caught four balls for 67 yards and two touchdowns. Also, the defense forced three turnovers and they were driving for the win as the clock expired, but in the end they still lost their eighth game of the season. Like so many of these awful teams this year, they desperately need a real quarterback and until that happens they will struggle to be anything than a bottom-feeder in this league.
In his last four games, Drew Brees has six touchdowns against seven interceptions after posting a 13:2 ratio in the first five games. He needs to get back to his early season level before the New England Patriots make their way to New Orleans on November 30th or their undefeated record will be out the window in a hurry.
With nine catches for 45 yards added to his 131 yards on the ground, Steven Jackson accounted for 176 of the Rams 439 offensive yards (40%). As their only real offensive weapon, you know defenses have to be keying on Jackson which makes his performance that much more impressive.
New Orleans – 3rd downs: 6-10 (60%), TOP: 27:58, Sacks: 2
St. Louis – 3rd downs: 5-13 (38%), TOP: 31:02, Sacks: 1
New Orleans at Tampa Bay, Arizona at St. Louis
Tampa Bay 23 at Miami 25
Tampa Bay joins their bottom-feeding brethren in the quest to add an “s” in front of the adjective usually used to describe to them: crappy. Like the Rams, they fell just short. In the end, penalties held the Bucs back as they were dinged nine times for 77 yards. Josh Freeman used Kellen Winslow almost exclusively en route a 16-for-28 for 196 yards performance with a touchdown and interception. Winslow accounted for 102 of the yards on seven catches. Freeman was also the most effective runner for the Bucs grabbing 36 yards on seven carries while Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward could only muster 86 yards on 24 carries (3.6/carry). This team actually impressed me because I thought for sure they would get crushed a week after their first win of the season. They were 19-6 at halftime, but battled back by outscoring Miami 17-6 in the second half.
Miami’s running attack is decidedly better than Tampa Bay’s and that of many teams to be honest. Ricky Williams (20 for 102, 5.1/carry) and Ronnie Brown (12 for 82, 6.8/carry) continued their excellent seasons combining for 184 yards on 32 carries (5.6/carry) with Brown finding the end zone for one of Miami’s two touchdowns. At 4-5, this team has the faintest glimmer of hope for the playoffs which is dimmed further by their inconsistent play from week to week. Chad Henne is still learning on the job and doesn’t have any real weapons in the receiving game to help him. And the defense should be better than it is, too. They don’t play 60 minutes which has led to losses by 4, 10, 10 and 12 points. The 12-point loss was against New Orleans when they were up 24-10 at half. The final was 46-34.
The Dolphins are on pace to become the sixth team since 2004 with two 900+ yard rushers. Two of the previous five had both guys top 1,000, but Ricky Williams would need to up his pace a fair bit to reach that mark. He is currently on pace for 912 yards while his cohort Ronnie Brown is on pace for 1,132. Maybe Brown can share a few of those yards so both can reach 1,000. Brandon Jacobs (1,089) and Derrick Ward (1,025) were the last pair to hit the mark and they did so just last season.
Among the three 1-8 team (St. Louis & Detroit), the Bucs have “best” point differential at -99. Yep, that’s my stat for Tampa Bay. That’s the best I’ve got, folks. I’m sorry if any of you are Bucs fans. I’m a Lions fan, but at least we have Calvin Johnson and Kevin Smith. Tampa Bay has NOTHING going for them.
Miami – 3rd downs: 5-14 (36%), TOP: 31:14, Sacks: 3
Tampa Bay – 3rd downs: 4-13 (31%), TOP: 28:46, Sacks: 0
New Orleans at Tampa Bay, Miami at Carolina
Detroit 10 at Minnesota 27
For the second time this season, the Lions defense hung in against the Vikings, but their offense just failed to put points on the board despite running 76 plays. Yes, Brett Favre had 344 yards passing and Adrian Peterson rushed for 133 yards, but Minnesota only had 10 points at half and 17 through three quarters. A pair of Peterson turnovers helped Detroit hang around, but Matthew Stafford and company just couldn’t capitalize. Stafford was brutalized throughout the afternoon as he was sacked three times and hit 12 times in all. He threw the ball 51 times for just 224 yards (4.4/attempt – yikes!), but he didn’t turn the ball over which is an improvement. Between two horrible weeks and two weeks not playing, Calvin Johnson had his first real game in over a month. He caught eight passes for 84 yards finally giving his fantasy owners something to cheer about. Kevin Smith rushed well in his 12 carries, but I’m not sure why he only got 12 carries.
The usual suspects had another great week in Minnesota. As I mentioned, Favre threw for 344 completing 20-for-29 while Peterson rushed for another 133 including two touchdowns. Favre’s shiny new go to toy, Sidney Rice, had another career best afternoon this time racking up 201 yards on just seven catches. Percy Harvin only had three catches for 53 yards while being relegated to just one kickoff return. I’m honestly not sure why Minnesota hasn’t been my #1 team in the Awards section each week. Top flight defense: check, elite rushing attack: check, superb quarterback play: check, explosive weapons for said quarterback to utilize: check. What exactly doesn’t this team have going for them? Yes their secondary is banged up, but as Tennessee showed last year, you don’t need the best personnel back their if you’re getting pressure up front, which the Vikings do extremely well. I think there will be a changing of the guard at both the #1 and #2 spots for my rankings this week.
The Lions haven’t won a game in Minnesota since 1997 and this loss was their 17th straight road loss. The team is 1-24 in their last 25 games.
Adrian Peterson has fumbled four times this year and lost all of them, matching his fumbles lost total from a year ago. Three of the fumbles have come against the Lions. The Lions haven’t been able to punish Peterson for those fumbles, but playoff caliber teams will. If there is another chink in this team’s armor, it would be Peterson’s propensity to put the ball on the turf.
Minnesota – 3rd downs: 3-11 (27%), TOP: 30:23, Sacks: 3
Detroit – 3rd downs: 6-17 (35%), TOP: 29:37, Sacks: 1
Cleveland at Detroit, Seattle at Minnesota
Jacksonville 24 at New York Jets 22
One of the less heralded games coming into week 10 was this one between Jacksonville and New York which essentially decided who had the last glimmer of playoff hope. Trust me, it’s a very faint glimmer, almost invisible. It was a back-n-forth game, but the Jags prevailed with a Josh Scobee field goal as time ran out. Maurice Jones-Drew continued his domination with 145 totals yard, but more on that later. The Jags, at 5-4, are now over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2007 season.
I still can’t help but laugh at gaga everyone was over the Jets after three weeks this year. Yes they were playing well, but they were still trotting out a rookie quarterback and we were only through 19% of the season. The Jets are 1-5 since with a win over Oakland, which barely counts. Mark Sanchez had five touchdowns and two interceptions in the first three games; he has five more touchdowns and 10 interceptions in the six games since. It was clear that the injury to Kris Jenkins was going to be huge as soon as it happened and it’s played out that way perhaps even more than predicted. The Jets could lose as many as five more games (at New England, vs. Carolina, vs. Atlanta, at Indy and vs. Cincy) while trips to Buffalo and Tampa Bay won’t be easy, either.
After accumulating just 18 carries in two games back in weeks 4 and 5, Maurice Jones-Drew has blown up for 530 rushing yards on 94 carries (5.6/carry) with seven touchdowns in the subsequent four games. They Jags are 3-1 in that stretch and the other was a loss to Tennessee in which MJD got just eight carries. He managed 177 yards, but it’s ridiculous that he got so few carries.
Braylon Edwards had a key fumble today, but he did managed 79 yards on three catches giving him 271 yards on 16 catches since joining the Jets. As Roy Williams showed last year with the Cowboys, it’s not easy to change football teams midseason making Edwards’s solid production a legitimate accomplishment. He and Sanchez should be a very nice hookup for the next few seasons.
Jacksonville – 3rd downs: 7-13 (54%), TOP: 31:07, Sacks: 0
New York – 3rd downs: 7-13 (54%), TOP: 28:53, Sacks: 2
Buffalo at Jacksonville, New York at New England
Cincinnati 18 at Pittsburgh 12
Billed as the game of the afternoon, this AFC North battle lived up to its hype as the Bengals stunned the Steelers and got the season sweep on the reigning Super Bowl Champions. It was a field goal fest with just one touchdown (and a special teams one at that) being scored all game. The Bengals defense really stepped up to stifle both the running and passing attacks of Pittsburgh. Cedric Benson left the game early with a hip injury leaving the Bengals short-handed and making their win that much more impressive. I’m not sure who was still doubting Cincinnati coming into today (or why they would be), but this game has to have eliminated all doubters. They grabbed season sweeps of both Pittsburgh and Baltimore making them a mortal lock for the division title. Bernard Scott was the star of the game with his 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in a defensive tug-o-war that was exciting throughout despite the lack of offensive fireworks.
Few teams were riding as high as Pittsburgh coming into this week. They have looked excellent for the five weeks and especially the last two games against Minnesota and Denver. Rashard Mendenhall was locked down for the first time since becoming the full time starter as he managed just 36 yards on 13 carries (2.8/carry). Ben Roethlisberger had his worst game of the season going 20-for-40 for 174 yards (4.4/attempt) without a touchdown along with one interception. Hopefully this will curb the absolutely ludicrous “best QB in the league” talk that has been floated around a bit here and there. He is a very good quarterback and his career is turning out better than anyone would have guessed, but there is no way he is better than Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Drew Brees and Philip Rivers are probably better, too while a case can be made for Aaron Rodgers and yes, Brett Favre. Big Ben is definitely top 10, but not even close to #1.
The Bengals swept the season series from the Pittsburgh Steelers for the first time since 1998. That’s incredible. This has all of the makings of a special season. Teams could be fighting to be featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks in the summer of 2010.
A couple of TD facts about Pittsburgh: this was the seventh straight game that they have allowed a return TD. Seventh! Also, though they are often associated with defense, this Pittsburgh offense holds their own week in and week out. In fact, Sunday was the first time since week 11 of last year (11-10 W vs. SD) that the offense was held touchdown-less.
Cincinnati – 3rd downs: 4-14 (29%), TOP: 29:08, Sacks: 4
Pittsburgh – 3rd downs: 3-15 (20%), TOP: 30:52, Sacks: 2
Cincinnati at Oakland, Pittsburgh at Kansas City
Denver 17 at Washington 27
It’s easy to say in hindsight, but my cashed ticket on Washington will back up that I thought this was an easy one to call. The sky falling around the Broncos and they had to travel east to face a massively underachieving team, but still one with plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. Throw in an injury to Kyle Orton, who had been having a great game, and you have a recipe for a third straight loss. Knowshon Moreno got back on track with 97 yards on 18 carries (5.4/carry) while Brandon Marshall had his second big game in a row, but it wasn’t enough. Chris Simms, in for Orton, struggled mightily going 3-for-13 for 13 yards (1.0/attempt!) with an interception. The Broncos essentially didn’t play offense in the second half which of course resulted in no points.
Meanwhile, Ladell Betts looked better than Clinton Portis had in almost any game before Sunday as he rushed for 114 yards on 26 carries (4.4/carry) and a huge second half touchdown that gave the Skins the lead for good. More importantly, the Skins offense was turnover-free on the afternoon. Defensively, their ends, Brian Orakpo and Andre Carter, made life hell for the Denver tackles. The two each notched a sack and a half while combining for five tackles for loss (Orakpo 3, Carter 2), 13 tackles in all (Carter 7, Orakpo 6) and six QB hits (Carter 4, Orakpo 2). The Skins played well enough to beat the Broncos with Orton, but his absence certainly made overcoming the three point halftime deficit much easier.
Washington’s 27 points served as their highest total of the season and the first time they topped 17. In their previous two wins, they had scored 9 and 16, respectively.
Rookie running back Knowshon Moreno is on pace for 924 yards this season. That is solid for a first year player splitting carries, but he is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry. His timeshare mate, Correll Buckhalter, is averaging 5.5/carry but has just 66 carries to Moreno’s 132. The team’s 4.2/carry average is the worst for the franchise since 2001 (3.9), Terrell Davis’s final season. From 2002-2008, they averaged 4.7 yards per carry.
Washington – 3rd downs: 8-16 (50%), TOP: 35:43, Sacks: 3
Denver – 3rd downs: 5-12 (42%), TOP: 24:17, Sacks: 3
San Diego at Denver, Washington at Dallas
Atlanta 19 at Carolina 28
This is another one that will look like hindsight when I pump my chest, but I love Carolina in this game (You’ll have to trust that I’m not bragging with my back-patting on these past two games. If I opened my betting logs for public view, you would know that I have NOTHING to be bragging about. I have my weeks though). What made me like the Panthers was how well they played against New Orleans despite the loss and the big win against the Cardinals two weeks ago. Plus, playing at home in a divisional game is always nice, especially when there isn’t a massive talent disparity. Jake Delhomme is awful, which always makes betting on the Panthers a risky proposition, but I really like their two-headed monster at running back. And DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart did not let me down. They combined for 174 yards on 30 carries (5.8/carry) while Stewart incensed fantasy owners worldwide by stealing both rushing touchdowns leaving Williams empty-handed. Didn’t he learn about sharing in kindergarten? Speaking of touchdowns, Steve Smith found the end zone two times making his otherwise pedestrian four catch/34 yard showing more palatable. After averaging 88 catches for 1,288 yards the past four seasons, Smith is on pace for 68 and 910 this season.
Not much went right for Atlanta on Sunday. Michael Turner was off to a remarkable start with 111 yards on nine carries (12.3/carry) but went down with an injury early in the 2nd quarter and did not return. It’s being called a high ankle sprain preliminarily, but we will know more as the week progresses. It’s about the last thing the Falcons can afford as Matt Ryan hits a rough patch and Turner was positively on fire (317 yards in the two games prior to Sunday’s as well as a 7-game TD streak). Despite Ryan’s struggles, the defense has been holding the Falcons back the past month. They have allowed 37, 35 and 28 points in three of their last four games. The other was against Washington, who scored 17-which is high for the Skins. The run defense has been the Achilles heel as their 130.3 yards allowed/game is the most amongst teams with a winning record and ranked 26th in the league. No one seems interested in stepping up to get the two wildcard spots in the NFC, so Atlanta remains in the thick of the race, but without defensive improvements it won’t matter when Turner comes back for them.
I talked earlier about Miami’s great backfield as both of their backs head towards 900+ yards, but Carolina’s is even better despite the fact that Stewart is pacing just short of the 900-yard mark. He’s on track for 828 while Williams is pacing toward 1,529 which would set another career high. Their 2,357-yard pace tops Miami’s 2,044 pace.
Tony Gonzalez was supposed to be a huge addition for the Falcons this past offseason giving Matt Ryan a second elite target to take pressure off of Roddy White. He has yet to reach 90 yards in any one game and he is on pace for 891 yards which would be his lowest yardage total since 2002.
Carolina – 3rd downs: 7-13 (54%), TOP: 28:09, Sacks: 0
Atlanta – 3rd downs: 6-14 (43%), TOP: 31:51, Sacks: 0
Atlanta at New York Giants, Miami at Carolina
Tomorrow: the late afternoon games, plus the Sunday & Monday night games. Also, the Not So Secret Sauce Standing, Key Stat Correlation Win Totals, Awards, Playoff Predictions and College Prospects.