Sunday, November 20, 2011

NFL week 10: better late than never

So Thursday games began last week, so it's a good thing I'm watching stuff closely, because last week was busy, and as a result it's Sunday and I haven't written anything yet. Here goes a quick look around the league:
  • If Oakland wins the AFC West, the trade for Palmer may turn out to have been a decent one. Certainly Indianapolis could have used him, but then that's what they thought about Collins, and you can see where that went. San Diego's defense seems to be a really big problem, so I don't know that Palmer deserves a ton of credit, but he was accurate and put up a lot of yards, and Rivers was not quite so accurate. (Palmer: 299 on 20 attempts, 14 completions. Rivers: 274 on 47 attempts, 23 completions.) Big win for Oakland, big loss for San Diego.
  • Detroit and Chicago are tied at 6-3, which is appropriate, because in many ways, they're similar: offenses that are potent when things go well but puzzlingly weak when they don't, defenses that can shut down just about any team in the league. The main difference is on special teams, where the Lions are very bad and the Bears are very good, and that showed up Sunday. The two interception TDs reflect Stafford's decision-making process, I think. The knock on him coming out of college was his accuracy, and he's struggled with that, but I think it's also a lack of quality OL. He's learned to get rid of the ball rather than take big hits, but he still thinks he can fire a ball into any coverage, and he can't. Chicago took advantage of that and pulled even with Detroit in the division, which also means in the wild-card race. With division tiebreakers coming first, Chicago couldn't afford to drop two back plus a sweep at Detroit's hands; now each team has to take care of business.
  • New Orleans looks pretty safe in the South with their win over Atlanta. I think Mike Smith probably made the right call, but he should be consistent: there was another fourth-and-one in Atlanta territory where he didn't go for it. Also, in the games I've seen, Atlanta has run the ball up the middle even when they weren't having success doing so (44% of their carries, which is actually less than the NFL average of 50%, so maybe I'm not reading this correctly), and I think this makes their chances of converting worse than those of the average team. Calls like that keep Atlanta a mediocre team instead of the playoff contender they seem to think they are.
  • Pittsburgh had a big win at Cincinnati. That's the kind of game you have to win if you're really a contender, and just as Detroit learned against San Francisco and Atlanta, Cincinnati's learning that you can't just put a few wins together and call yourselves a good team. They're 16th in DVOA, which is generally on the outside of the playoffs, but with the AFC carefully beating each other up, they might yet sneak in if they can surprise Baltimore this weekend.
  • St. Louis pulls out another big win – don't laugh. When you're struggling, every road win is a big win. No one's talking about Sam Bradford being the next great-QB-name-goes-here, though: his 4.7 ANY/A is on a par with guys like Curtis Painter and Kyle Orton. (Before you make a Purdue joke, Drew Brees is at 7.2.) To be fair, it's not all Bradford. St. Louis is just a bad team, through and through. I suppose Spagnuolo has to take some of the blame for not building a better team at this point. Cleveland isn't much better; although McCoy was pretty accurate, he didn't move the ball very well, and the Browns struggled in the red zone again. You have to wonder if Holmgren is going to build anything meaningful in Cleveland: Browns fans have suffered through change after change and really have nothing to show for it. Why should the next guy bring anything different?
  • The Bills aren't out of the playoff race, and the Cowboys aren't securely in it, but you could forgive their fans for thinking that way. Remember back when we were talking about Detroit, Tennessee, and Buffalo as playoff teams? They don't either. A road loss is understandable, but falling behind 28-7 at halftime isn't. The Bills looked completely out of it last week, and the AFC race is crowded enough that they can't afford to lose many more of these. It's one thing to be a couple of games out with 3-4 weeks to go, but it's another to have to pass 5 teams in those 3-4 weeks. Buffalo's not in that position yet, but time's running out, and Dallas isn't much better off.
  • The Colts lost their easiest remaining game, and Painter looked terrible in the process. The move to put Collins on IR looks worse and worse as the season goes on, unless his post-concussion symptoms are still present. (I never saw anything to that effect, but I could have missed it.) Neither of these coaches might be around next year, but that isn't going to fix the personnel issues they both have. It says something about the Colts' defense that Blaine Gabbert was 14 for 21 against them. 
  • The Broncos are finally using Tebow for what he is: a running back who had experience at QB at a lower level. If they only had a guy on the roster who'd played QB and could hit receivers and such ... if only ... I think it's funny that the same organization that essentially dropped Orton for throwing interceptions will keep Tebow even though he can barely even complete a pass. They'll learn, I guess. Kansas City, on the other hand ... ugly loss at home. If this keeps up, Haley won't make it until the end of the season. Without Cassel, the Chiefs' offense will be even worse than it is now, and you can't really blame all that on the absence of Jamaal Charles. 
  • Miami's sudden resurgence is interesting, but then you look at the teams they beat (Kansas City and Washington) and it's not that surprising. Schedule strength means a lot, you know. Maybe Moore really is becoming an adequate replacement QB, something Washington would love to have. Grossman is terrible, as everyone except for the Shanahans seems to have known coming into the season. If Beck isn't any better, who else can they play? 
  • The Cardinals pretty much ended Philadelphia's playoff hopes. With or without Vick, this team isn't playing well enough to earn a postseason spot. Maybe they should send DRC back to Arizona? He might actually have a better shot with the Cardinals than with the Eagles. Arizona's defense did a good job shutting down Vick and Philadelphia, and yet another disappointing loss means that the (ha ha) Dream Team is now 12th in the NFC, three games behind the two playoff teams (Detroit and Chicago) without considering tiebreakers. They're really in the same boat as Arizona: using the rest of the season to figure who stays and who needs to go.
  • Big win for Houston, blowing out a decent Bucs team at Tampa Bay. Without Schaub, it'll be interesting to see if the Texans can hold onto a first-round bye, but they may have built a big enough cushion to maintain that spot, and they do have a light enough schedule that they should get at least 10 wins in any event. Tampa Bay isn't that far out of a playoff run, but they really haven't shown that they have that level of talent this season. Josh Freeman is showing his lack of experience ... maybe next year will be the year Tampa Bay contends in the South.
  • Tennessee picks up a needed win in Carolina. Keeping Cam Newton in a check is a good sign for the defense; the offense looked good, but then the Panthers' defense is terrible, so that's more of an expectation than an accomplishment. Chris Johnson looked less like an anchor this game than he has most of the year, and Matt Hasselbeck still looks like a reasonable QB. (Perhaps a little too soon for Seattle to have given up on him?) Carolina's two wins make the season a slight improvement. It sounds callous to say it, but the losses really aren't that important. This season is more about finding young talent and building toward next season. Like most terrible teams, Carolina can't fix it all in one year.
  • Baltimore is going to regret this loss. Seattle is a tough place to play, but that's no excuse: their offense is bad, and their defense isn't good enough to make the Ravens struggle like they did. You have to question the playcalling, of course: only 12 carries when Ray Rice is getting 5+ yards a carry? Pete Carroll will pull out the occasional win like this, but it doesn't change my opinion of him: he's in over his head, and his tenure will last until Seahawks fans get tired of 4- to 7-win seasons with occasional upsets.
  • The 49ers win another big game against a playoff contender, and this one basically wraps up the #2 seed in the NFC for them. There are still seven games to go, but with a two-game lead on the Giants plus the head-to-head tiebreaker, San Francisco should finish right behind the Packers and wait to host New Orleans in the divisional playoffs. (Of course the Saints might not win their wild-card game, but then the #6 team is probably not going to be a strong one this year. Can you see Chicago or Detroit winning in New Orleans?)
  • Someday we'll look back and laugh at all the people who thought Mark Sanchez was a quality NFL quarterback. Of course we expect head coaches to be optimistic about their teams (do you want your coach to say that he doesn't think you'll make the playoffs?), but Rex Ryan has to figure out eventually that the Jets are simply not that good. They've got a solid defense, which is a requirement for pretty much any Super Bowl contender, but they're wasting time letting a mediocre QB run their offense. The Patriots have a bad defense this year, yet Sanchez made them look pretty good. 
  • Green Bay crushed Minnesota at home. Well, duh.
The Packers and 49ers pull away from the pack in the NFC, while Chicago pulls even with Detroit and Dallas and Atlanta lurk behind them. Pittsburgh is suddenly looking for the #1 seed again as everyone waits for the Texans to collapse, and the playoff pack goes all the way down to the group of four teams at 5-4, all waiting for someone above them to slip up.

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