NFL Week 13 Recap: Marching Towards an Incredibly Rare Season

Miami Dolphins Press Conference

So I spent my Thanksgiving in Cabo, and even though I didn’t leave for that trip until Thanksgiving morning, my brain was in already-on-vacation mode all of last week. It had to be. How else can I explain writing in my week 13 picks column that “things will return to normal next week with my football coverage” when I knew I’d be in a foreign land, focusing on getting full value out of my all-inclusive package, and at the mercy of the TV setup and channel availability of a resort in Cabo?

I missed about 93% of all the football action in week 13, and the little bit I did see was with Spanish announcers bringing me the action on TV screens that weren’t nearly large enough.

Of course the one week I’m out of commission all hell breaks loose from a football perspective. Consider the following:

  • The Rams put up 52 points in a single game! (Maybe the incredible part is how they did this with only 22 pass attempts, 176 passing yards and 348 total yards)
  • The Saints won a crucial road game at Pittsburgh, but they’re still looking up at the 5-7 Falcons in the NFC South on account of Atlanta beating Arizona, a team that’s rapidly losing its grip on the #1 seed in the NFC, the division lead in the West and possibly a playoff spot in general.
  • After winning much tougher road games at New Orleans and Houston the previous two weeks, Andy Dalton tried to ensure the Bengals would be the first team to lose at Tampa Bay this year. But more incredible than that is how the coaching change in Tampa from last year to this year has done NOTHING to clean up all the little things the Bucs constantly do to lose games (like 12 men on the field during a critical completion on their final drive in this game). Turns out Greg Schiano might not have been the biggest problem with this team, which is saying something.
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick threw six touchdown passes in Houston’s win over Tennessee. SIX! In his nine previous starts in 2014, Fitzy has averaged 1.22 touchdowns per game.
  • Going back to 2007, there have been roughly two teams each year that have finished with three or fewer wins. Right now there are six or seven legitimate candidates to finish with that bad of a record. Incredibly, seven of the eight worst teams in the NFL going into week 13 each lost its game, furthering the HUGE gap this year between teams fighting for the playoffs and teams that are waaaaay out of it. I’m not positive, but I think there might be some teams actually tanking for a better pick. Needless to say the tiebreakers for the 2015 draft order might be as riveting as figuring out the playoff teams. Speaking of…
  • Six AFC teams are 7-5! I’m being too simplistic with this approach, but if you assume the five teams that have eight or more wins in that conference all get to the playoffs, you’re talking about one spot leftover for those six teams (and maybe a seventh with Houston at 6-6 and still having two games against Jacksonville).
  • And maybe the most “all hell breaks loose”-ish thing of all, I went 11-5 against the spread in week 13. Of course I’d have my best week in a long time when I can’t be watching live for the immediate basking in glory. Of course.

Wouldn’t it be so like the NFL to produce its most compelling season in history on the field as it simultaneously produces its most embarrassing season from a player behavior and league conduct standpoint? Because that’s exactly what we have going on here. Besides that giant clusterfuck of an AFC Wildcard race, look at each division’s top teams as of today:

NFC

  • East: Philly 9-3, Dallas 8-4
  • North: Green Bay 9-3, Detroit 8-4
  • South: Atlanta 5-7, New Orleans 5-7
  • West: Arizona 9-3, Seattle 8-4
  • The largest lead for any division leader is one game.

AFC

  • East: New England 9-3, Miami 7-5
  • North: Cincy 8-3-1, Baltimore/Pitt/Cleveland 7-5
  • South: Indy 8-4, Houston 6-6
  • West: Denver 9-3, San Diego 8-4
  • The largest lead for any division leader is two games.

I don’t want to jinx it, but there’s a decent chance we will see every playoff contender having to give 100% effort in each of its remaining games through the end of the season. That seems incredibly rare.

For the gamblers and the people who root for disaster out there, here’s what this awesome season might produce:

  • A playoffs that includes Andy Dalton, Mark Sanchez, Drew Stanton and Tony Romo…men all capable of imploding in ways never before seen under the spotlight.
  • A playoffs that includes Mike Smith, Andy Reid and Jim Caldwell (and let’s add Jason Garrett just for fun)…men all capable of ruining his team’s chances by either mismanaging the clock, wasting challenges & timeouts, or staring blankly at the field while piss dribbles down his leg.

Call me captivated.

Let’s finish up this recap with some quick takes from a guy who probably didn’t see much of each team’s week 13 game, or saw some of it but with Spanish announcers, or saw all of it but was severely inebriated:

Detroit 34, Chicago 17

  • Since Jay Cutler is practically untradeable and unreleaseable (not a real word), does Marc Trestman take the fall for this Bears season? Pretty soon I’ll have to go through all the NFL teams to see which coaches are truly in danger of being fired, but my gut feel is that there’s going to be a lot of them this year.
  • All it took was a waving-the-white-flag Bears team on short rest in Detroit to make the Lions’ offense look how it was dreamt up: 390 yards for Stafford, including 146 to Megatron. The Lions are barely holding on for dear life to a wildcard spot, but they should be 11-4 and heading to Green Bay on the final weekend with a chance to win the division.

Philadelphia 33, Dallas 10

  • If the Cowboys somehow manage to avoid my wetdream scenario of finishing 8-8, they still might be screwed because all four of their losses so far came against NFC teams. That might lose them a lot of tiebreakers when sorting out the Wildcard.
  • Mark Sanchez going 20-for-29 with a 102.2 Passer Rating must KILL Jets fans who just saw Geno Smith go 7-for-13 for 65 yards last night.
  • Also, the Eagles waiting until mid-November to unleash the real LeSean McCoy? Very Popovichian move by Philly to do that.

Seattle 19, San Francisco 3

  • Wow to the 164 total yards that San Francisco put up in a must-have-it home game. I say this somewhat seriously…Are the 49ers a sneaky candidate to draft a quarterback in the 1st or 2nd round in 2015? Colin Kaepernick, he who was blessed as possibly the greatest QB ever just 18 months ago, is having a terrible season (15 TDs, 8 INTs, 0 rushing TDs, 20th in the league in passer rating), and Blaine Gabbert is his backup. Maybe the Jim Harbaugh situation isn’t this team’s biggest concern right now?
  • Everyone in the NFC is rightfully scared of Seattle because not only are the Seahawks quickly closing the gap on Arizona in the West, but they could easily still grab the #1 seed in the conference. All of the sudden we have to revisit the idea of another team winning at Seattle in January to keep these guys out of the Super Bowl.

Jacksonville 25, NY Giants 24

  • What percentage of Giants fans want to see their team draft a quarterback with its likely top seven pick in the 1st round in May? 98.7%? 103%?

New Orleans 35, Pittsburgh 32

  • I saw none of this game. The Steelers had 538 total yards of offense, held the ball for eight more minutes than the Saints and ran 28 more plays than the visiting team…was it truly just the two interceptions Ben Roethlisberger threw that made the difference?
  • What a month for the Saints. Since October 30th, they’ve won two road games and lost three straight home games. Once again, we know nothing about the NFL. Obviously the matchup at home vs Atlanta on December 21st looms large for this dumpster fire of a division.

Indianapolis 49, Washington 27

  • With an 8-4 record and three of its final four games on the road, Indianapolis should be feeling extremely fortunate to play in the AFC South. In any other division, they’d likely be fighting for their playoff lives.
  • What could make for some good drama in the NFC East during the offseason is if the PotatoSkins and the Giants both draft quarterbacks with their 1st round pick. We probably shouldn’t rule out Chip Kelly doing the same thing with the Eagles depending on how he truly feels about Nick Foles.

Houston 45, Tennessee 21

  • Good for the Titans’ last place rush defense allowing only 99 yards to Arian Foster and the rest of the Texans’ running backs…Oh, they let up six touchdowns, 358 yards and nearly a perfect passer rating to Ryan Fitzpatrick?? Wow. I think I’d rather have Oakland’s Sunday.
  • Can we please stop trying to enhance J.J. Watt’s candidacy for MVP by pointing out how much he’s contributing to the Houston offense? It’s gimmicky and they could probably insert any average tight end into that spot and he’d also have caught three touchdowns over the course of this year. I witnessed this same thing with Mike Vrabel during the Patriots’ Super Bowl seasons of 10 years ago. Don’t diminish how good Watt is on defense by trying to say his offensive contributions are anything great.

Minnesota 31, Carolina 13

  • Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…an NFC South team hasn’t won a game in two months and they are only 1.5 games out of 1st

San Diego 34, Baltimore 33

  • If the Ravens miss the playoffs just barely, this is the game that will haunt them. They led by 10 points in the 1st quarter, nine points in the 2nd quarter, 10 points again in the 4th quarter, and six points with 2:22 left to play.

Atlanta 29, Arizona 18

  • It always feels good to nail my weekly pick that I base off “the NFL is fucking nuts and crazy shit happens all the time.” The Falcons were my pick in week 13. And let’s face it, we’re all rooting for Atlanta to pull out the NFC South title because we all want to see how Arthur Blank deals with the dilemma of having to fire a coach who just “brought” his team to the playoffs.
  • Let me be the first to inform Arizona that they will get to relive this nightmare game all over again when they’re preparing for their 1st round playoff game in January…which will be a road game at…ATLANTA! (No, that’s not even remotely guaranteed but you just know it’s coming.)

Green Bay 26, New England 21

  • As a Patriots fan, I’m not even remotely concerned about the way this game turned out. It’s nice to know even this fucked up league can’t change the rules last minute to force the Patriots to play the Super Bowl in Green Bay rather than in Arizona.
  • Here’s what I was dealing with in Cabo for this game (I saw the whole thing, by the way): I got stuck sitting next to Jordy Nelson’s Aunt & Uncle who happened to be at the same resort as me, and then I had to deal with a bunch of football fans (there was a St. Louis fan, a Kansas City fan and some San Diego fans) saying things like “Belicheat” and “New England would have won 10 Super Bowls in a row if Peyton was their QB” throughout this torturous game. Let me restate for the 1,000th time that I hate watching football outside the comfort of my own home.
  • By the way, Nelson’s family members were super nice and when I say “I got stuck” sitting next to them, I mean that it got really difficult to trash talk Jordy or the Packers in general with them sitting there and not trash talking the Patriots in return.

Miami 16, NY Jets 13

  • Favorite announcer quote of the week: From Jon Gruden on Monday night: “Tannehill should hit that.” Rumor has it Gruden was looking at a wallet-sized photo of Lauren Tannehill that Mike Tirico had handed him during the broadcast. (Sorry, that’s what happens when you watch minimal football while being in Mexico.)

If I didn’t mention your team during this recap, well, better luck next time.

Week 14 picks coming on Thursday.

NFL Week 13 Recap: A Villain Is Born

richard sherman

I mentioned in my week 13 picks column that there was almost no chance of me actually writing something for the usual recap this week. I probably saw less football on Sunday than in any other week over the past five years. For the early games on Sunday, I went to a bar in Boston to watch the Patriots. One thing I’m not used to is having almost every TV in the bar tuned to the same game, as was the case this time. That was particularly annoying. When I booked my flights for Thanksgiving way back in May, I chose to fly out of Boston on Sunday at the exact wrong time…I spent the entire second half of the late games on Sunday waiting in a security line and deciding between McDonald’s or Sbarro’s for my disgusting dinner. And when I finally got back to my apartment well after midnight on Monday morning, I really didn’t have the mental strength or energy to watch the Sunday Night Game that I had DVR’d…an NFC East “classic” between the Giants and Redskins.

So you could understand my excitement throughout the day on Monday as I anticipated watching a football game in my natural environment later that night. And not just any football game…a legitimately good game that could easily be an NFC Championship preview.

Except New Orleans forgot they were supposed to be one half of that awesome matchup.

What a waste…I can guarantee this coming Thursday’s Houston @ Jacksonville tilt will be more exciting (after all, the 1st overall pick in the 2014 draft could be at stake).

But one huge positive did come from last night’s game: We officially have our villain for the 2013 playoffs.

It’s not just that Seattle is impossible to beat at home (they’ve outscored opponents by 19 points per game at CenturyLink Field this year). It’s that they’ve been almost impossible to beat anywhere. And it’s not just that my least favorite football player on the planet, Richard Sherman, is the biggest shit talker who’s never won anything. It’s that the entire team apparently falls into that category that LaDainian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers created about 10 years ago…that mentality of talking and acting like you’re the best without actually being the best (Golden Tate and Earl Thomas are the 2nd and 3rd biggest offenders on the team, respectively). And it’s not just that the entire football media is convinced that the NFL should award this year’s MVP to the Seattle fans. It’s that those fans actually believe they can alter a game significantly. And finally, it’s not just that Pete Carroll is an obnoxious sideline cheerleader (probably his biggest contribution as a coach). It’s that he’s a known scumbag who left his job at USC right before they were about to get slapped with a multi-year bowl ban. And that pompous grin that he wears on his face 24/7….fucking disgusting.

So maybe it was a good thing that the Seahawks have crushed almost every opponent this year. Maybe the general public will get behind my push for Seattle to be our honorary “most hated team” for the rest of the season…Or maybe people are so bitter at long term success that they’ll continue to pretend my Patriots are the common enemy (even though they quietly go about their business like they’re a team that hasn’t won anything yet…which, in my opinion, is the right way to operate).

But no matter how you feel about the Seahawks, one thing is undeniable: They will be playing football at home in January until they either lose or fly East for the Super Bowl. They guaranteed that with last night’s win. But I’ve been thinking all year long that eventually some team would trip them up at home. With remaining home games in the regular season against Arizona and St. Louis, it’s likely going to have to happen in the playoffs.

Now seems like a perfect time to check in on each potential opponent’s chances at knocking Seattle off their stupid throne at home in January:

7. Dallas – The most mentally weak team with easily the worst coach of all the NFC playoff teams and some particularly fragile offensive players (Miles Austin, DeMarco Murray)…combined with a quarterback who’s legendary meltdowns have followed him from 8-8 season to 8-8 season…against this Seattle team? HA! Let’s say the Cowboys squeak out a 9-7 record and face the Seahawks in the 2nd round, how high would they have to make the line for you to even think about backing Dallas? Thirty-three? Sixty-four?

6. Arizona – The poor Cardinals still have to go to Seattle later this season while battling for a wildcard spot. I wonder if they’ll even think making the playoffs was worth it if they end up drawing the Seahawks in the 2nd round. Carson Palmer in any road playoff game scares the shit out of me…and this wouldn’t be just any road game. A guy like Richard Sherman could, in theory, limit Larry Fitzgerald, and I just don’t see how the Cardinals keep up if he’s a non-factor all game. They wouldn’t win by nearly as much as in the fictitious matchup with Dallas, but it would be a major blowout if these two teams faced each other.

5. Philadelphia – I give the Eagles a slightly better chance than Dallas and Arizona because they have more weapons and a somewhat innovative offensive scheme. Maybe, just maybe, they get a little lucky and expose some Seattle defensive issues with their up-tempo style of play. It’s doubtful, but unlike those previous two teams, I wouldn’t give them a 0% chance of winning…maybe something like a 1.7% chance.

4. New Orleans – As a 13-point deficit quickly turned into a 27-point deficit for the Saints on Monday night, I tried to convince myself that the game was a little fluky. For example, Drew Brees’ fumble into the arms of a Seahawks’ defensive lineman that was returned for a touchdown, and the 60-yard completion to the tight end that New Orleans randomly forgot to account for. Those are things that probably won’t happen again should these teams face each other in the playoffs. But let’s have an honest talk for a second: Seattle beat the crap out of the Saints on Monday. I doubt there are many teams who have beaten the Sean Payton/Drew Brees combo twice in one season, but this particular group of trash talkers would probably get it done in a similar manner as what we just saw.

3. San Francisco – In a week where almost all of my predictions could best be described as “comical,” claiming that the 49ers were rounding into form was one of my few bright spots. If they can stay incredibly healthy for the rest of the regular season, I wouldn’t automatically bet my dog and girlfriend on Seattle if these teams face off in the 2nd or 3rd round of the playoffs. I would eventually bet them, but not immediately. Of course if Seattle goes down to San Francisco this coming week and pulls off a similar feat to Monday night’s effort (or something similar to their lopsided win against San Francisco earlier this year), then I will quickly change my tune on the 9ers having any chance whatsoever.

2. Detroit – The Lions may stumble to a 9-7 record and win their division due in large part to the unforeseen Matt Flynn era in Green Bay, and yet somehow I like their chances in Seattle over some of these likely 11 or 12-win teams? It’s all because of Calvin Johnson. Yes, the Seattle secondary is good. And yes, unfortunately Richard Sherman is good. But if he was ever going to struggle against a receiver, wouldn’t it be Johnson? I could see Mega giving Sherman trouble to the point that Sherman decides to commit pass interference every time the ball is thrown that way. And maybe the Reggie Bush/Joique Bell combination is just what the doctor ordered to balance out an offense against an aggressive defense like Seattle. And maybe I’m grasping at straws, but I’ll have you know Detroit is one of only three teams that’s beaten the Seahawks in Seattle’s past 21 games. Maybe Calvin goes off for 473 receiving yards and the Lions sneak by Seattle in overtime. Who knows.

1. Carolina – Our one true hope for ending the Seattle dominance before the Patriots get their chance in the Super Bowl. The Panthers are the best defensive team in football and one of the best running teams. Those seem like two areas you might want to be good at when going into such hostile territory. Maybe Carolina wouldn’t score a lot, but they have the best shot of any of these teams at slowing down Russell Wilson’s offense. They also might get the #2 seed in the NFC and have a chance to rest early in January. Oh, and there’s that little thing about them making a deal with the devil, as evidenced by an eight-game winning streak that included a should-have-been loss to New England in week 11. Maybe this is just their year. Maybe Cam Newton’s corny Superman gimmick will turn into a compelling storyline as the “super hero” finally knocks off the villain.

While it certainly seems unlikely that someone knocks off Seattle before the Super Bowl, just remember this: In 2011, the 9-7 New York Giants went into Green Bay and ripped apart the 15-1 Packers by a score of 37-20. Weird, crazy shit happens in the playoffs. And hoping for something completely unpredictable like that might be a better bet than thinking one of the legit NFC contenders can oust Seattle.

Week 14 picks coming on Thursday.