14 Things We Learned in Week 14 | December 14, 2012
14!? This seems like rather a lot of things to learn, I’m not entirely sure I learnt 14 things during my entire 3 years at university – Unless you include vital nuggets, such as how to make beans on toast after 8 pints and how to work out the baddie in Quincy. So, in a change from the norm, I’m going to look at 14 teams in the Play Off hunt and ponder (pun intended) a key question that will determine their destiny. I’m not going to focus on the teams that are already in, I find it very tough to care much about play off seedings. After all, it didn’t see to matter to much to the Giants and Steelers in recent years, if you want to win the Superbowl you need to be able to beat the best. I’m also not gong to focus on the teams that are “mathematically” in the hunt, as if you genuinely think the likes of the Bills and Cardinals are are still alive then the odds are you can’t read anyway!
1. Can Big Ben Find his Pre Injury Form?
There were some worrying signs for Steelers fans on Sunday. It wasn’t so much the defeat to a moribund Chargers team, it was more to do with the performance of the returning Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben is renowned for his movement, bravery,and throwing on the run. On Sunday, he looked slow and nervous. This was particularly evident when he was strip sacked near his goalline and the Chargers picked up the loose ball for a touchdown. In fairness, Antonio Brown should have grabbed the fumble but made a woeful attempt at dropping the loose ball. It was the first week back for Big Ben, so maybe he was just finding his feet. The problem is that with 3 difficult games left, there isn’t much time to get back up to speed. The week 16 clash at home to the Bengals is looking like a Play Off decider, talking of which…
2. Can Cincinnati Win Big Games?
Sunday was a pivotal game for the Bengals, a win would have put them in the driving seat for a wild card spot and lifted them above the Steelers. However, it was no real surprise that they lost. This Bengals side has a habit of winning against weak teams, but failing when it comes to the big games. At 19-10 in the 4th Quarter, they had a great chance to close out the game with the Cowboys. Instead, Dez Bryant hauled in a brilliant catch for a touchdown, Andy Dalton was sacked on a vital 3rd down and Tony Romo drove Dallas in range for Dan Bailey to knock over a game winning field goal. It was a familiar tale for the Bengals and one that needs to be rectified ASAP. andy Dalton has been a roaring success for a second round pick in his second season, but the next 3 weeks will go a long way to determining whether he can be considered as a top level NFL QB. Did I mention that week 16 clash with the Steelers? It could end up being a Divisional title decider, as the 3rd contender in the North is showing a few cracks…
3. Can the Ravens D Step Up?
With all due respect to Kirk Cousins and co, the Ravens of old would never have let a rookie QB drove downfield like that in the last minute of a big game. Even before the injury to Ray Lewis, Baltimore had looked slightly soft in defence. Now they have some serious concerns ahead of the visit of the free scoring Broncos. Joe Flacco is a decent NFL QB, but the Ravens identity is based around Flacco managing the game efficiently and the D making big plays. At present, Flacco seems to have a lot of his shoulders and whilst he played well in Washington, he’s not a player to lead a team on his own. Ray Rice is as effective as usual, Smith, Pitta and Boldin are having good seasons, but for this Ravens team to go deep in the playoffs they need to get back to what made them a force for so long - formidable defence!
4. Is Andrew Luck Getting Near the Wall?
Whatever happens this season, Andrew Luck has had a quite brilliant rookie year in the NFL. However, there are a few signs that he’s slowing down a bit along the stretch. Sunday’s win over the Titans was more in spite of Luck than because of him. Indy were indebted to a dire pick six from Jake Locker to help get them out of jail. And whilst his 4th quarter play in the famous win over the Lions was stellar, his overall game was variable, with 3 picks and some inaccurate throws. This season is a complete bonus for thre Colts as they are in the first year of a rebuilding process, but having got themselves into such a strong position, they will be hoping that Luck can take them even further. If he does, it will go down as the greatest ever Rookie season. Unless…
5. Can RGIII Keep Improving?
He seems to think his injury isn’t a problem, so we’ll assume he’s right! Since Mike Shanahan declared the season to be over, the Redskins have won 4 in a row and are right back in the play off hunt. Much like the Colts, this was meant to be a rebuilding year, but has exceeded all expectations. Griffin is leading the way, but this is a team clicking into gear all over the field. In a normal year, Alfred Morris would be a rookie of the year contender, Pierre Garcon is making some seriously impressive plays, whilst the likes of Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson are chipping in nicely. RGIII is the key though, if he can stay fit and in form then the Redskins can reach the post season and even cause an upset or two once there.
6. Are this Season’s Giants Going the Same Way as Last Season’s Giants?
Hmm, tricky one. There are definite similarities – dodgy November, but signs that they are clicking into gear. Eli Manning still doesn’t look quite right, but then again, if the Giants make it to the Play Offs, you can see them winning games. The defence are looking strong, Victor Cruz is tough to stop and David Wilson has moved off the naughty step and into Tom Coughlin’s plans. I don’t actually think the Giants will repeat…but I won’t be putting too much money on that assertion.
7. Are Dallas any good?
Well, they’re not dire, but it’s hard to make a case for them worrying the big teams. Tony Romo had a decidedly average game against the Bengals, but Dez Bryant helped him out in the 4th quarter. DeMarco Murray has come back at the right time and Jason Witten will always create problems. They’ve also got high quality defensive players such as Brandon Carr and DeMarcus Ware. So, what’s the problem? Jason Garrett had a good game on Sunday, but doubts persist over his play calling and clock management. Then there’s Romo – capable of both brilliance and ineptitude in the space of one drive. December usually brings out the latter. I guess the question we need to ask is – Do you trust Dallas to perform at their best against the top teams? No, me neither!
8. Can the Bears Arrest their Slide?
Last season’s collapse was blamed on injuries to key players, and the likes of Marion Barber and Caleb Hanie not being good enough replacements. This season they don’t have that excuse. Yes, Jay Cutler has missed time, but that doesn’t explain how the D has gone from unstoppable to mediocre over the last few weeks. Besides, Cutler throw 2 pick 6′s on Sunday that led to 10 of the Vikings points. They are increasingly reliant on Brandon Marshall catching bombs and that’s not going to win them many games. Luckily for the Bears, one of their remaining games is against the abysmal Cardinals. Their play off hopes could rest on them beating an unpredictable Lions side, as it’s very hard to make a case for them beating their next opponents….
9. Is Aaron Rodgers the Best in the League
Brady and Manning are the front runners for MVP, but there’s a case to be made for the Packers QB being in the running. Green Bay have had to cope with a multitude of injuries on both sides of the ball, injuries that would have terminally derailed most teams. That’s not to mention the infamous defeat in Seattle. But Rodgers has kept the Packers not only afloat, but actually lead them to the verge of the Play Offs. This week at a snowy and slippery Lambeau he played the role of game manager to keep the offence ticking over against the Lions. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass, but he did run in for a score at a vital time. It’s no coincidence that every year, the Pack seem to discover a couple of receivers. The question is, can Rodgers emulate his form of the 2010 Play Offs and take Green Bay to New Orleans?
10. Can AP Carry a Team All the Way?
Franchise running backs are a dying breed, backfield committees are becoming the norm and to the perceived wisdom is that you need an elite QB to succeed in the NFL. Well, the Minnesota Vikings may just prove that to be a load of nonsense. Thanks to medical freak Adrian Peterson they are still firmly in the running for the play offs, despite having a QB who seems completely incapable of throwing the ball downfield. Peterson, who has a chance of breaking the all time running record for a season, had yet another brilliant game this week as the Vikings upset the Bears. Another 154 yards and 2 more TDs, only tell part of the story. In reality, AP carried the offence on his shoulders for most of the afternoon, as Christian Ponder had yet another day to forget. Conventionally wisdom says that you can’t make the Post Season with a QB who regularly throws under 100 yard, but Adrian Peterson may have something to say about that.
11. Can the Seahawks Win Regularly Away from Seattle?
It’s hard to read too much into Sunday’s embarrassing victory over Arizona, but it does move the Seahawks into a very strong position in the NFC. A Divisional title isn’t out of the question, but the odds are that they will face a road game in the Play Offs. Last weeks win in Chicago was a massive step in the right direction, and a victory over the Bills this week will convert a few more doubters. Russell Wilson certainly doesn’t look like a 3rd round rookie, but the upcoming suspensions to Brendon Browner and Richard Sherman will be a difficult obstacle to overcome. They’ve been arguably the best cornerback tandem in the NFL this season. Whatever, happens, there is plenty for Hawks fans to be excited about, but they don’t want the 2012 adventure to end just yet.
12. Is Colin Kaepernick a Potential SuperBowl Winner?
Colin Fever (copyright Me…just then) has died off slightly over the last couple of weeks, but Mr Kaepernick is still the man under center for the 49ers. It’s not as if he is playing badly, just not quite up to the blistering form he showed during his first 2 starts. He was mediocre against a decent Dolphins D this week, but his 50 yard run for the decisive score was a strong demonstration of why he is in the side. The Niners have one of the best D’s in the NFL, and Kaepernick has a chance to write his name into team history over the next 2 months. If he does it, Jim Harbaugh will have pulled off a masterstroke.
13. Surely the Rams Can’t Crash the Party?
Probably not, but the fact I’m even asking the question is a massive seal of approval for Jeff Fisher’s first season in St Louis. Sam Bradford still doesn’t quite look like a number one draft pick, but he’s doing OK. The real success for the Rams has been the progress of some young players like Chris Givens, Brandon Gibson, Darryl Richardson, Janoris Jenkins and Greg Zuerlein. They’ve proven that can win close games and perform under pressure. This may be a year or 2 too soon for the Rams, but it’s easy to see this team being serial challengers in years to come.
14. No seriously, the Jet’s aren’t Still in the Running?
IT was the Jets or the Bucs for number 14 on my list, and with all due respect to Greg Schiano and his victory formation busting antics, it’s fair more fun to discuss Rex Ryan’s soap opera. After a forgettable win over the Jags, the Jets sit at 6-7 and have a very soft finish the campaign. 9-7 may get them in, where they will be annihilated by the first team they meet. Mark Sanchez has had a harness put on him and his display on Sunday can best be described as steady. New York have a good Defence, but an inept Offence. It’s not a recipe for success, and it woud be no surprise to see them fail to take advantage of the soft schedule In fact, I’ve got the titans to beat them on Sunday, Mark Sanchez to throw 3 picks and Tim Tebow to remain on the sidelines. Sometimes, you’re just not wanted!
It’d be easy to sit on the fence here, but at th erik of making myself look stupid(er), here’s how I think the season will pan out:
AFC: Patriots, Ravens, Texans, Broncos
Wild Cards: Colts, Steelers
Championship Game – Broncos to beat the Patriots
NFC: Redskins, Niners, Packers, Falcons
Championship Game: Packers to beat the Falcons
Superbowl Winners: Green Bay Packers.
Now watch them lose their last 3 games and miss out altogether!
Hero of the Week: Nick Foles – He may look like Napoleon Dynamite, but the Eagles rookie QB is a fast learner. More importantly, he is a leader. His last ditch drive to beat the Bucs was superb. Especially as Andy Reid has revealed that Foles improvised the long pass to Jason Avant and then wanted to take responsibility for the last second play form the 1 yard line. The fact he then threw a TD pass to a sliding Jeremy Maclin, just highlighted how far Foles has come over the last month. A few more days like this and he may earn himself a chance to run the Eagles offence next season.
Flop of the Week: John Skelton – This should be renamed “Cardinals QB of the Week”. Just the 4 interceptions for Skelton this week. In related Cards news: Kevin Kolb goes to IR, Ryan Lindley is named starting for this week and Larry Fitzgerald is crying inside. Remember everyone – Skelton was named the starter for Week One!
Highlight of the Week – Rookie QB Hero Number 2 in Washington. Lindley aside, this has been a wonderful rookie QB class, and even the Redskins back up is making a name for himself. Cousins, similarly to Foles, drove his team to a last ditch TD. However, Cousins had only come into the game for the last minute after an injury to RGIII and also had to call a QB draw to run in for the game tying 2 point conversion. This QB lark is pretty easy!