Home Is Where The Upset Is

"Can you hear me now? Good. Thanks for making Eli suck today."

"Can you hear me now? Good. Thanks for making Eli suck today."

Eagles 23, Giants 11 – It seems rather odd to me that Eli Manning has been playing in the Meadowlands for his career and yet has trouble throwing in the winds. I thought the addition of Brandon Jacobs for the Giants would turn the tide in their favor this week, but Donovan McNabb’s velocity on his passes cut thtrough when Eli’s fell weak, making the big difference after both defenses generally took the right approach to stopping the running games.  Philly’s defense fared better, stopping New York from ever reaching the end zone. Five trips to the red zone resulted in no touchdowns.  If you’re a Giants fan and the play-calling on 3rd and 4th downs made you want to pull a Buddy Ryan on Kevin Gilbride, I understand. It’s like Andy Reid transferred his crappy play-calling essence across the stadium today.

With no rooting interest left, I’m going to go with Donny Mac: despite all the times Philly has tried to run him out, I want him to win a title — because it will shut them up for the rest of his career.

Steelers 35, Chargers 24 – Final score not completely indicative of the beatdown handed out by the Pittsburgh D upon Philip Rivers. The Bolts offens never really go right after that first quick touchdown drive, and while Ben Roethlisberger completed some great throws and had the opportunity for others, Wilie Parker was the star of the game offesnively, darting in and out of the SD front seven during the entire game.  There was nothing as satisfying as watching Rivers get pounded by Lamar Woodley and Brett Kiesel.

Ravens 13, Titans 10 – Bad delay of game call late obviously, but I have a dirty suspicion that Blatimore would have converted a 3rd and 7 just as well as a 3rd and 2 at that point, because the Titans’ offense shot itself in the foot too many times with turnovers to give the D any encouragement. While Joe Flacco got some deep balls going, we’d advise holding off on the fellating. Those deep throws obscured some rather pedestrian stats and he’s not very good with the short to intermediate passing game. At this point, he’s a younger Dilfer, and Baltimore lost Samari Rolle and Fabian Washington in the War of Attrition. I saw seven guys fall thanks to injury in the second half alone.

Cardinals 33, Panthers 13 – Not quite sure what compelled John Fox to empower Jake Delhomme to throw into double and triple coverage rather than just completing handoffs — the Arizona defense helped, but that can’t be all of it — and it resulted in six turnovers for Delhomme, who telegraphed passes, threw to Steve Smith in triple coverage, and looked like he did for much of the 2007 season prior to going down for the season. That’s probably the last game he’ll play in a Carolina uniform.  Delhomme wasn’t the sole problem: not doulbe covering Larry Fitzgerald the entire game seems like the error of a first-time head coach, no someone like Fox, who ought to be on thin ice next season.

In Which I Lob All Sorts Of Obscenities At Andy Reid


Eagles 48, Cardinals 20 – In a thorough defenestration of an Arizona team that holds up its bargain of the “No West Coast team shall win on the road on the East Coast” Law of the 2008 Football Season, we saw the classic form of Iggles offensive football, the way it was when they were getting to conference championships (without T.O.) That said, the following rant should apply whether you are a Philly fan absolutely frustrated with the inconsistent play calling of Andy Reid or a fantasy owner who has had to play the guessing game with Brian Westbrook all season with his health and whether Reid would actually, y’know, get him the ball again:


That feels better. Yep, I benched Westbrook after four weeks of nada and look at what I got. He had 4 TDs, as did Donny Mac, and DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant sniffed end zone too. At least I got one from Jackson, and I picked up quite a few TDs in the other two games.

Cowboys 34, Seahawks 9 – The Seahags have descended to the level of a JV team. Tony Romo threw three TDs, hitting Martellus Bennett, Jason Witten, and Terrell Owens (three TDs for me!) Cowboys fans, do not confuse this with any sort of a return to form yet — it’s only Seattle, it might as well not count. Hell, if they didn’t blow them out, we’d be asking what the hell was still wrong with this team. Mike Holmgren, the Original Walrus, has looked like someone stole his bucket all season long.

Titans 47, Lions 10 – Tennessee came angry, ready to run some motherfuckers over. Detroit was more than eager to be those motherfuckers. 252 rushing yards total in the game, two TDs a piece for Chris Johnson and LenDale White (four more for me!), and a Vince Young sighting after the game got out of reach, and a comedic reminder of just how horrid the Lions are on the way to 0-16. Everyone keeps telling me the Saints are the only team the Lions have a chance of beating. I don’t think they could even bother to defend Drew Brees at this point. Telling sign: post-game, when they gave Johnson, White, Kevin Mawae, and one other Titan awards after the game, there wasn’t a Lion fan left at Ford Field. They couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

A final note on the Thanksgiving entertainment end of things: NFL, do us a favor and get halftime acts for these games that people who watch football could actually give a shit about. Jesse McCartney and the Jonas Brothers do not count under this rubric; neither does that tiny pixie brunette whose name I can’t recall that butchered the anthem before ‘Boys-Hags. Just sayin’, Lord Rog. If you can ratchet up the player discipline, you can certainly contract out the entertainment to someone who has half a clue about what football fans want to watch.

The Red Zone: He’s Having So Much Fun Out There

Jets 56, Cardinals 35 – Loath to imagine the superlatives that sportswriters will ladel on Brett Favre following a 24-34 day passing with six TD passes (three to Laveranues Coles). Most of this was enabled by five turnovers by Kurt Warner, resulting in 34 2nd quarter points for the faux-NY Titans, one fewer than Arizona was able to scrape up in the 2nd half.

Chiefs 33, Broncos 19 – Larry Johnson runs all over the weak Denver D for 198 yards on the day, but this is the day where living dangerously via the play action pass can bite you in the butt: thrwoing picks, losing fumbles to a clearly talent-inferior team, yet one that gets revved up every time you come to town.  Mike Shanahan is now 3-14 when playing in Arrowhead Stadium; it is never a place where Denver can go an win easily, ever. (And if Kansas City were actually coordinated as a team, the score would have been that much more lopsided. There were three drives that KC should have scored touchdowns on; the first quasrter could and should have ended 21-0 or 24-0.)

Saints 31, 49ers 17 – The return of Deuce McAllister only makes Drew Brees more dangerous: Brees threw for 363 yards and three more touchdowns, torching the San Francisco secondary.

Panthers 24, Falcons 9 – Um, yeah. Like I said, Matt Ryan, meet a real defense, again.  Jake Delhomme hit Steve Smith for two TD passes and Muhsin Muhammad for one in the 4th to really ice it.

Jaguars 30, Texans 27 – Jacknsoville digs in when down 24-20, getting a score to go ahead and then kicker Josh Scobee pulls it out again after Houston forces overtime.

Browns 20, Bengals 12 – The less said about this game, the better, probably. It looked like a Cleveland win as soon as everyone shockingly discovered that Carson Palmer wasn’t playing in this cripple fight.

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Quarterback Follies

So, we now have two cases of quarterback switches in this very young NFL season: Tarvaris Jackson is being replaced by Gus Frerotte and Vince Young, with his recent troubles, is taking a backseat to Kerry Collins until the former Giant and Raider slips up.

We’ll deal with Jackson first, because this is entirely on head coach Brad Childress: I believe Jackson has the raw skills to be a good QB in the NFL, but he’s being rushed along too quickly and Childress’ playcalling is quite possibly the most conservative and boring I’ve seen in some time.  If receivers aren’t getting open and the D-coordinators can peg on the bootleg pass from Jackson, that’s the fault of the guy calling the plays.

Frerotte isn’t fixing that. That’s pretty simple, in and of itself, and it looks really, really bad that the team’s management wouldn’t pursue a more experienced and better back-up for this exact situation.

Young’s situation is a bit more, well, complex, obviously, because it involves mental health, and some very tough accusations about his character and desire to play — as well as his draft status back in 2006.  I believe Young can and will come back from this; he is a very unique athlete and still has the potential to be a very good quarterback. I’m with Bill Rhoden on this one: he should figure out where his place in the game is, and maybe learn from the men who came before him in this unique position of “black quarterback.” His struggles may also have something to do with the classic “spread to pro-style” change that plagues a lot of QBs, particularly those with singular ability to get out of the pocket like Young.

But in every aspect, I want to see VY back on the field and starting soon, hopefully better than ever and over any incidents where he was accused of quitting on the team.

The Red Zone: Eddie Guns Misfires

Broncos 39, Chargers 38 – I’m a Denver homer and even I will admit that referee Ed Hochuli completely blew it. We shouldn’t have had that chance to win that game. That said, it was smart and ballsy to go for two after Jay Cutler threw it to Eddie Royal for the touchdown because it was playing with house money and because San Diego would be reeling from getting fucked over. These teams will be fighting for the AFC West crown, because Philip Rivers and that offense know how to close and come back. They wouldn’t have gotten to the AFC championship game if they didn’t. Cutler is still learning how to finish, and there could be some shaky times. But each offense looked really good for a half.

Patriots 19, Jets 10 – The game ended with the old Brett Favre that we’ve gotten used to: a late pick-off by Brandon MeriweatherMatt Cassel threw for 165 yards, didn’t throw any TD passes, but didn’t muck it up and while he’s not going to be raging up any fantasy rosters, he might stand a chance of getting the Patriots back to the playoffs.

Titans 24, Bengals 7 – How long is Marvin Lewis for this world of NFL coaching? He’s been undermined and this looks to be the worst team he’s ever fielded in his years in Cincinnati.  Kerry Collins, relieving Vince Young, threw for one touchdown and dispensed the ball to LenDale White and Chris Johnson to eat up yardage. Tennessee’s defense got lethal, and now they are in first place in the toughest division in football.

Bills 20, Jaguars 16 – What world is this we live in, with Buffalo starting 2-0?  Trent Edwards is looking like the starting quarterback they’ve been looking for (it helps if you have Marshawn Lynch to hand off to) by throwing a fourth-quarter touchdown against a tema that was in the playoffs last year.

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The Red Zone: Week 1 Highlights

Patriots 17, Chiefs 10 – It’s all about Tom Brady probably being out for the season, and the Patriots’ chances riding on that — so much so that it overrode the game itself, where the Chiefs failed at a last second comeback. Now, it’s a question of whether Bill Belichick will stick with Matt Cassel or who he will bring in to take Brady’s place.

Eagles 38, Rams 3 – More notable for Donovan McNabb being good as we’re used to from him, with three TD passes. Here’s how lousy St. Louis is: Philly had three — count ’em — three receivers reach the 100-yard mark for the game.

Cowboys 28, Browns 10 – The Cleveland hangover from the pre-season is still there, and Tony Romo and Marion Barber basically tore it up, so much so that Felix Jones could get into the act late too.

Jets 20, Dolphins 14 – Brett Favre throws two classic Gunslinger TDs (one on fourth down when kicker Mike Nugent twinged his leg) and the New York secondary picks Chad Pennington in the end zone to seal the win.

Bills 34, Seahawks 10 – Two massive special teams plays, a punt return by Roscoe Parrish and a fake punt to a TD pass, help bolster a rout of the NFC West favorite.

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Ill-Advised NFL Previews: AFC South

1) Indianapolis Colts – The Colts defense wasn’t too damn shabby last year except for the part where they let Billy Volek and Michael Turner beat them. Now, I know Turner’s a stud, but you don’t let the back-up QB and RB come into your house and beat you after getting a bye week. If Tony Dungy has reconsidered his stance on not playing his starters in Week 17, this team is always primed to go somewhere. This year, he may have to play his starters in Week 17. The division should be tighter than ever this year, but expect Peyton Manning (as if he won’t be starting, come on) and his offensive weapons like Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, Joseph Addai, and even second-year wideout Anthony Gonzalez to bring it.

2) Jacksonville Jaguars* – Too much talent everywhere but the wide receiver position to not repeat as a Wild card team.  Signing Jerry Porter is not enough of a move to improve a receiving corps, because somehow Matt Jones is still a starting wideout.  (Maybe all the coke helps with that SEC speed.)  The defense is still pretty stout, even after letting Marcus Stroud go to Buffalo. David Garrard is efficient enough and smart with the ball; he doesn’t throw picks, and he’s got Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew in the backfield — MoJo’s presence gives me an excuse to post this again:

(That’ll get you a Will Muschamp-style “BOOM, MOTHERFUCKER!” every day of the week and twice on Sundays.)

3) Tennessee Titans – Vince Young needs more receivers. So they go and grab Alge Crumpler from the Falcons to play TE — good move, but they add damn nothing in the wideout corps and draft an RB in the first round (admittedly, in Chris Johnson’s defense, he looks really, really good.) The defense looks about as stout and run-stuffing as it was last year, so that will carry it to win games, but I don’t see three teams from this division going to the playoffs this year.

4) Houston Texans – There’s too much if/when/come attached to the Texans right now. It’s a lot of “Will Matt Schaub stay healthy?” and if there is actually a running game down there (Gary Kubiak needs to hope that Steve Slaton brings it big-time, Ahman Green has been a waste of money.) Defensively, there’s a lot to like about this team up front and in the linebacking corps with Mario Williams continuing to justify his #1 selection a few years back and DeMeco Ryans getting better, never mind Amobi Okoye’s upside. Shame they have to be in the best division in the conference, but if certain things click in the running game, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them leave the Titans in the cellar instead.

Fun With NFL Free Agency!

I’m not really as bullish on the whole Michael Turner deal as a lot of other people. There’s a lot to be said for the guy’s running style, but he spent a lot of his time running against beaten down defenses that had been facing LaDainian Tomlinson during his days in San Diego, and also running behind Lorenzo Neal at fullback and a very good offensive line (the Chargers released Neal, and I don’t think they’ve tried to sign him for less yet, which is a mistake.) That said, the Falcons had a need for Turner, trying to get the whole power and speed dichotomy with two backs. Of course, Warrick Dunn was the odd man out here — and has been cut this morning. Dunn’s best days are gone — but he is one of the more remarkable men in the NFL with his charity initiatives. If he still wants to play, here’s hoping he can.  Secondary thought: the Falcons obviously want no part of Darren McFadden for character reasons (although baby mama drama is low on the list of character issues to be concerned about) and they don’t have enough confidence in Norwood despite a nice yards-per-carry average. That #3 pick is going for either Matt Ryan or Jake Long now. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

The Falcons are clearly OK with the concept of clearing out most of the players associated with Michael Vick — not necessarily because of the Vick association, but because they probably view that team’s window as closed and time to start over. It will be to the Titans’ benefit now, to create a team around another superstar QB in waiting — Vince Young — by adding one of the more solid names at receiving in the TE category in Alge Crumpler. The Titans will still need to address the WR issue, but to have Crumpler there will give VY another target in crucial spots over the middle. [Nashville Tennessean]

Ben Roethlisberger’s $102 million contract extension is kind of a no-brainer — and really, it’s about the guaranteed money right now. With about half of that appearing to be guarantees or bonuses, that $50-something million is what he’ll get, and the rest will be renegotiated several years down the line. But that’s the move you have to make to solidify in the starting quarterback game — and in terms of scale, he’s got a contract reflecting a Super Bowl winner. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

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The Red Zone: Wild Card Weekend, Part 2.

Giants 24, Buccaneers 14The Giants came out flat early and had some awful play going. The problem for the Buccaneers is that they aren’t engineered to take advantage of slow starts by better teams (and let’s face it, on paper and in record, the Giants are a better team — considering just how awful the NFC South is.)   Jeff Garcia and the Bucs were only able to get a 7-0 lead on the Giants, and then New York scored the next 24 points, assisted by a big interception in the second half when Garcia tried to hit Joey Galloway in the end zone and wound up throwing to Corey Webster (who had also made kick returner Michael Spurlock fumble to start the second half). Eli Manning showed the maddening flashes of brilliance in the second half, leading drives down the field and avoiding the crucial interception for his first playoff win — and he may have saved Tom Coughlin’s job as head coach too. The Giants will head to Dallas, ensuring that at least one NFC East team will make the championship game.

Chargers 17, Titans 6Blech. This was an NFC game in spirit.  Sloppy play, bad play-calling, and red zone futility until the Chargers finally got into the end zone in the third via a Phil Rivers pass to Vincent Jackson (LaDainian Tomlinson added another score in the 4th quarter.)  If there’s any particular stat on a playoff team that you must worry about, it is having a field goal kicker that leads the league in field goals made and long attempts. This masks a deficiency in the red zone offense that was on display for Tennessee today.  The Chargers’ defense began to ramp up and get more intense as the game wore on, and Phil Rivers made just enough plays to win (but not enough to keep LT from stewing on the sidelines about how few times he was getting the ball.)  This Bolts team is not beating the Colts next Sunday — not unless there is some radical re-invention of the team between now and then. Norv Turner cannot figure out that Tomlinson can be used more as a receiver, especially with Antonio Gates lost with a toe injury.  When you have an offensive MVP on your team, the goal is to figure out how to get the ball to him as often as possible, especially when you need to make plays.

Photo: AP/Chris O’Meara

Ill-Advised NFL Wild Card Playoff Predictions.

Before we get into this week’s picks, a short announcement: all four games will be live-blogged at Awful Announcing this weekend — I will be handling the AFC matchups while AA chronicles the NFC battles. Do join us.

Washington @ Seattle: Completely contrasting offensive styles in the first match-up, and since the Seahawks don’t have to travel all the way across the country, this factor goes out the window for now.  With Shaun Alexnader’s general uselessness over the majority of the season (the retirement of Mack Strong sealed it), the onus has been put on Matt Hasselbeck to throw more than 40 times a game in order for the Seahawks to win.  This is all terribly effective against teams with weaker secondaries, but even with the death of Sean Taylor, that Redskins’ corners and safeties have played well, and no host team wants to see a visitor with serious motivation on their hands. Todd Collins makes the necessary throws and dispenses the ball to Clinton Portis, who should be able to get plenty of movement against an undersized Seattle defense. Julian Peterson will get pressure on Collins, but this is probably the most likely NFC upset — give me the Skins to go back to Dallas.

Jacksonville @ Pittsburgh – For all the ish Fred Taylor talked about Heinz Field, he certainly did well enough on it last time to hand the Steelers a can of whoop-ass.  The only reason the Jags are a wild card in the first place is because they play in a division with the Colts; half of the AFC playoff field consists of AFC South teams this year.  David Garrard is much too secure with his QB play to make errors at bad times, while Ben Roethlisberger has that hazard available at any time — and may have to play out of his mind with Willie Parker gone; also, while Pittsburgh may stack against the run with the general mediocrity that is the Jax receiving corps, it may not be enough to play off both Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. The Steelers better hope no Jaguar receiver gets hot, but someone will — the Jags will take their act on the road for a second week; New England is waiting.

New York @ Tampa Bay – So, we are now faced with the task of measuring the Giants’ suck when it comes playoff time against the mediocrity that is the NFC South. Yeesh. Despite the admirable quality of Jeff Garcia to get it done when he needs to, the talent is not as good around him in the Tampa/St. Pete area as it was up in Philly, filling in for Donny Mac.  Thus, the outcome of this game becomes dependent on just how much those injuries to Sean O’Hara and Kawika Pittman last week against the Patriots hurt Big Blue, and let’s not forget that every since the Colts that lost to New England lost the week after, too.  There is also the tantalizing possibility of Ronde Barber or some other TB defensive stalwart picking off a turnover-prone Eli Manning multiple times. However, the Giants showed offensive power last week that I didn’t see for much of the season (until it fell apart due to an Eli pick, of course.)  Third time’s the charm, I guess — the Giants will earn a trip to Lambeau.

Tennessee @ San Diego – I’m fairly convinced that the Titans are the last team that the Chargers wanted coming into town at all. Not that the Jaguars would have been much better, but we are talking about a Tennessee defense that can make a quarterback’s day miserable and keep a top-notch running back fighting for yards when he normally doesn’t have to. There is Norv Turner’s history as a coach to deal with, and the pressure to at least win a playoff game for once.  Vince Young is still day-to-day with a quad injury, but I’m not sure if there’s that huge a drop-off with Kerry Collins — yes, you lose mobility and intangibles, but Collins is capable of playing within himself and leading drivers.  The Chargers defense is playing, well, lights out. The seven up front have tapped into an aggressiveness in the last few weeks that wasn’t there early on, and Antonio Cromartie has developed into a top-line cornerback. San Diego will survive by the slimmest of margins to go the the RCA Dome.

Photo: AP/Nick Wass