Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
16 Dec 2004
Vivek: Most of us were waiting for the 4:15 games to roll around on Sunday, most notably the Jets-Steelers game. After a tough loss earlier in the season to the Patriots, letting a game slip away against the Ravens, and losing to the Bills when Chad Pennington got hurt, the New York's matchup against the Steelers was going to be a barometer of future (read: playoff) results.
Unfortunately for Gang Green, Penningtondid not step up to the challenge and the Steelers picked off three of his passes en route to a 17-6 win. This coming from the quarterback who had thrown four all season and a team that had turned the ball over a league low ten times all season. He was plagued by inconsistency and misreading the defense. Pennington, whose 7-year/$64 million contract extension kicks in next year, is going to be paid like Donovan McNabb ($8.2 million in 2004) and Brett Favre ($11.2 million in 2004). Bottom line -- he needs to prove his worth.
The quarterback is not the only focal point for the blame this year. Lamont Jordan blasted the entire offense for not bringing it against the top teams in the league. In the two losses to the Steelers and Patriots, the Jets have scrapped up 13 total points. Against the top three defenses (Pittsburgh, New England, Baltimore), the Jets have averaged a meager 10 points per game. Give credit where credit is due, those are the creme de la creme of defenses in the NFL. Against two of the lower-middle class defenses, Arizona and Cleveland, the Jets have scored a grand total of 23 points. Let's rub some salt into the wound here -- the Browns have yielded 137 points in their last three games since the loss to the Jets.
The Jets have only converted two pass plays of twenty yards or more during the last two games. Where have you gone, Santana Moss? After a career year in 2003 (1105 yards/10 TDs), he has not even hit the 700 yard mark and is stuck on two touchdowns.
Al: I think you're overreacting just a bit here, Viv. Always look on the bright side of life. The Jets have only lost to the two best teams in the league, on the road against the surging Bills, and against the Raven defense when Quincy Carter was starting at quarterback. I agree that the Jets could be a little more imaginative in their offense, but the Jet defense is good enough to carry them the rest of the way. Since the Jets early bye in Week 3, New York hasn't allowed more than two touchdowns in a game. They'll win two of their next three games and make the playoffs as the #5 seed. Of course, they'll likely lose in the first round against either Indianapolis or San Diego, but at least they'll be playing in January.
Vivek: This Jets team had much higher expectations than losing in the first round of the playoffs. Yes, you can take solace in the fact that the defense is playing tremendous ball right now, but that can only go so far. (See Redskins, Washington.)
If you think that I'm overreacting, go back to 2000. The Jets need to step it up to avoid a replay of that year -- when the Jets started 9-4, before losing their final three games against Oakland, Detroit, and Baltimore to miss the playoffs.
Their cross-town/cross-locker room rivals have not had a bright spot since Tom Coughlin handed the reigns over to Eli Manning. In November, Al and I both made the case for keeping Kurt Warner as the starter. The Giants were alive for a playoff spot, but Coughlin preached that Manning gave them the best shot of winning now, as well as in the future. Well four losses later (including three in a row by at least three touchdowns), Manning sits at 42-of-110 passes completed for 516 yards, one touchdown, six interceptions and a quarterback rating of 33.8. We'll have to live with that decision. What I am debating is the call to play Kurt Warner at the end of Sunday's loss against the Ravens and then start Manning this coming Sunday. If a team is going to feed someone to the lions/make the rookie the sacrificial lamb/let the kid learn on the fly/(insert overused cliche here), why hurt his already-shaken confidence by pulling him at the end of a game? His confidence is so low that he's reportedly relegated to picking up 18-year old actresses.
Al: The Jets did have higher expectations, but that was before anyone realized Pittsburgh was going to be the powerhouse that they are. It wasn't unrealistic to think that the Jets could luck their way into one win over the Patriots in the postseason. But to expect them to win two games on the road in January against that caliber of an opponent would be unrealistic.
I didn't think Manning should have been thrown to the wolves, but we're not going to be able to fully evaluate Coughlin's decision for another year or two. The Giants were going nowhere this year, no matter who was lining up behind center. Even if Warner was able to lead the Giants to 8-8 and the wild card, New York wasn't winning the Super Bowl. Maybe putting Manning in the lineup this year will allow him to hit the ground running next season. The Giants are throwing away this season in hopes of not having to throw away next year. At least that's what I keep telling myself.
Vivek: I don't think that a Redskins' cheerleader was saying, "My house burned down, and I need to take a long hot shower" when Terrell Owens knocked her out of the game on Sunday night.
The Eagles are getting slowly banged up, setting themselves up for an NFC Championship Game loss. Corey Simon is questionable for next week's game with a back injury and Hollis Thomas could be done for the year with a dislocated elbow. Add Terrell Owens' bruised back, center Hank Fraley's bad ankle, and Jerome McDougle's sprained knee, and the Eagles could be susceptible to an upset.
Vivek: This week's Chiefs-Titans game was probably the best Monday Night Football game that nobody watched in years. The Drew Bennett show drew (no pun intended) a 11.1 rating, showing a steady decline from 11.5 in 2003, 12.7 in 2000 and 18 in 1994. Maybe this is just the general trend year by year, but you can also see a decline as the season goes on. The late November-early December games are averaging about a million fewer viewers than 4 weeks earlier. The NFL needs to hope that adding a more attractive late-season matchup revives the December ratings and breathes live into a dying MNF broadcast.
Al: The obvious choice for last week's game would have been the Jets and Steelers. But who would you select this week? I'm guessing if the network had to choose the games a month ago they would have gone with the Ravens against the Colts, but I'm not sure if ABC would steal that game from their cousins at ESPN. Other than that, there aren't any obviously more attractive games than the New England Patriots playing against a divisional foe.
Vivek: Remember that you can send us your fantasy and other NFL questions to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Al: First, Gerry D. writes in:
For Week 15, I could use some help. This is a long standing (15+ years) dynasty fantasy league that I founded, and without putting too blunt of a label on it, I have sucked royally over the years of our league. Only once before have I won my division -- and that year I lost in the championship game as Farve lit up my favorite team, the Giants, during the last week of the season. Oh waah.
I dearly want to avoid getting bounced in the first round, but I have shown an unbelievable knack for choosing the wrong starters. I have three quarterbacks on my team, and just once this season have I picked the one who scored the most that week -- and that came when one of the three was off. Simply put, I need to fire myself as the lineup picker.
Anyways, the scoring for the league is all TDs are 6 (including TDs passed, don't ask -- it seemed like a good idea 15+ years ago), with a single bonus point for a 300 yard passing day, 100 yard rushing day, or 100 yard receiving day. Start 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR (TE count as WR), 1 K.
Here are the suspects. For quarterback, I can go with either Carr @ Chicago, Palmer vs. Buffalo, or Vinny @ Philadelphia. None of these matchups are striking me as being all that wunderbar. I am leaning towards Palmer. Good choice? Bad choice? Does it matter?
At running back, unless there is an injury this week, the choices are clear. Alexander @ NYJ and Tomlinson @ Cle.
My wideouts have been a mess all year. Right now I am leaning towards Antonio Bryant vs. SD, Santana Moss vs. Sea, and Roy Williams vs. Min. My other options are Jason Witten @ Phi, Bubba Franks vs. Jax, Corey Bradford @ Chi, Brandon Lloyd vs. Was, Johnnie Morton vs. Den, Todd Pinkston vs. Dal, or Darius Watts @ KC.
For my kicker, I'll likely go John Carney @ TB over Nate Kaeding @ Cle, just out of respect for the weather possibilities.
Any advice you can give would be most appreciated.
Al: I don't envy your QB choices, but I'd go with Palmer as well, if he plays. He's put up good numbers against good defenses for the past two weeks. This week he's at home against a pretty good Bill defense, but it's a defense that can be thrown on. AJ Feeley tossed 300 yards worth of passes against them two weeks ago. Testeverde against the Eagles is an awful matchup, and as Aaron pointed out on ESPN.com, Carr has been pretty crappy over the past month and a half. If Palmer can't go and you didn't pick up Kitna, I guess I'd recommend Carr.
At WR, to put it mildly, you have a bunch of equally crappy options. It looks like Bryant is your best play. He's become the Browns' #1 receiver and is the best bet to put up 100 yards and a TD. Moss also looks like he has to be your #2. As Viv noted before, he's been a disappointment this year, but against the Seattle secondary, you should expect him to put up better numbers than any of your other receivers. I normally don't like starting second tier tight ends if you don't have to, but I'd recommend Jason Witten over Roy Williams. Witten is Testeverde's favorite target and had a great game against the Eagles last month. Williams is just too erratic to start.
At kicker, you have to play Kaeding. The Browns have given up at least 37 points for the past three weeks. Kaeding should be good for two to three field goals and a handful of extra points.
Vivek: You say you are cursed with choosing the wrong starters, but if you're in the playoffs with that QB and WR corps, you've done very well with matchups (or have tremendous luck!)
Al: Doug K. writes in with another fantasy question:
It's the semifinals of the playoffs in my league, and I have Manning, Edgerrin James, and Reggie Wayne. I need to decide between Wayne, Drew Bennett, and Michael Pittman for 2 spots -- but I'm a little nervous about committing too much of my team to Indy playing against Baltimore. Of the three who should I sit?
Al: Well, Bennett was ridiculous against on Monday night, but he was playing the Chiefs. I wouldn't expect him to put up 200+ yards and three touchdowns against an actual secondary. However, he is going against Oakland this week, and according to DVOA, the Raiders have been even worse at defending the pass than the Chiefs have been. Nevertheless, I think you have to start Wayne and Pittman. The Colts are at home and are playing a defense that allowed T.J. Whosyourdaddy to go for 171 yards and a TD two weeks ago. Wayne has found the endzone in six of his last seven games. Pittman had an off week against the Chargers, but he's been putting up great numbers since the end of October. You couldn't ask for a better matchup than against the Saints at home.
Vivek: I'd take a hard look at starting the entire Colts trio. If you take out his 106-yard performance against the 49ers, Pittman has averaged 50 yards and three yards per carry in his last four games. He hasn't made up with it by getting into the end zone either -- once during that four game span. James has averaged about four catches a game in addition to his four straight hundred yard rushing games. Unless Mike Vanderjagt kicks ten field goals, you're going to get a few touchdowns from Manning, Wayne and James.
Al: Frequent contributor Barry G. is back with some start/bench questions and a Keep Choppin' Wood nominee:
It would be too easy to nominate Chris Chandler and his 6 picks as KCW winner this week; my choice (probably more relevant for KCW of the year) is Tom Coughlin. Coughlin took a playoff contending team and decided to replace the Kurt Warner who was doing a serviceable job, with its QB of the future and put him in against arguably the six toughest pass defenses of the NFL for the six weeks Eli Manning has been starting, essentially tanking the Giants season (although injuries to Giants defense also had something to do with the Giants losing streak).
Two of my FFL teams have made the playoffs. I would like advice for these choices:
(1) QB: pick 1 of 2 Brady @ Miami; Leftwich @ Green Bay. I lean to Brady
(2) RB: pick 2 of 4: Dillon @ Miami; J Jones @ Philly; K Jones vs. Vikings; Portis @ SF. I am pretty sure about Dillon and lean to Portis because of his matchup.
(3) RB: pick 2 of 5: Droughns @ KC; A Green vs. JAX; K Jones vs. Vikings; McAllister @ Bucs, Barber vs. Pittsburgh. I have pretty much eliminated Barber and lean to Droughns, depending on injury reports of Droughns and Tatum Bell and Kevin Jones. If Droughns news is unfavorable, I would replace Droughns with Green.
(4) WR: pick 2 of 3: Lee Evans @ Cincy; Lelie @ KC; D Jackson @ Jets. I lean to Jackson and Evans as safer picks.
(5) D/ST: pick 1 or 2: Buffalo @ Cincy; Atlanta vs. Carolina. Slight lean to Atlanta.
(6) D/ST pick 1 of 2: Buffalo @ Cincy; Jacksonville @ GB. Actually San Diego @ Cleveland is a possible waiver pickup and am leaning to getting SD on waivers. (Just as I strongly considered playing anyone vs. Miami earlier, I think anyone vs. Cleveland is a good idea now.
Thanks for your advice.
Al: Congrats on two teams making the playoffs. Here are my suggestions:
1) Agreed on Brady. Miami playing in New England in December on Monday night? The Pats could put up 40.
2) Agreed on Dillon for the same reason I'd play Brady. I'd go with Kevin Jones over Portis. Jones dropped 156 yards on Green Bay last week and put up 100 against the Vikings less than a month ago.
3) Always play Droughns. I'd play Jones as the #2.
4) You have to keep riding Lee Evans. I'd go with Lelie over Jackson. Did you see the Chief secondary on Monday night? I didn't notice them either. All I saw were Titan receivers catching balls and running towards the endzone. Last week was the first time Lelie scored under 8 fantasy points since Week 4.
5) I'd go with Buffalo. The Panther offense hasn't been making too many mistakes. The Bengals have been scoring frequently as of late, but Carson Palmer is going to give the Bill defense a few chances to return interceptions for touchdowns.
6) I just picked up the San Diego to play in my one playoff matchup this week. The Browns had 14 yards of offense last week. 14! Luke McCown's good for at least two picks.
(Ed. note: Actually, Al, the game is in Miami, so that Pats might only put up 35.)
1) Brady only put up 76 yards the first time around against the Fins, but expect him to more than make up for it this week.
2) Kevin Jones and Portis are my picks. Jones for the reasons that Al mentioned, but I'd go with Portis who is facing a weak SF rush defense.
3) All three of us are in agreement about Jones and Droughns
4) Evans is hot. When Drew Bennett can drop 233 yards on you, you have an awful defense â€“ Lelie is the choice.
5) Buffalo -- It looks like Kitna will be starting this weekend, and while Kitna had a career year in 2003, it'll be hard for him to make a smooth transition back into the starting role.
6) My "play whoever is going against the Dolphins" mantra has become "play whoever is going against the Browns."
Al: Finally, we have something from Gil Thorp's #1 fan, Jason in Fort Collins:
So after a horrible start in my league, I went 6-1 over the last 7 weeks to make the playoffs. Now I'll need my best line-up to beat the #1 seed. I'm looking for expert advice, but I figured I'd ask you guys anyway (says the cartoonist...)
The league is kinda TD weighted, with 6 pt. for a score, and 1 pt. for every 20 yards rushing/receiving. Gotta pick 2 WR, one RB and a flex from the following:
WRs: Muhammed, Holt, Stokley, Chambers, Kennison
RBs: McGahee, Pittman, C. Brown, McAllister, Westbrook
I'm leaning towards the first two on each list. Any thoughts? Also is Josh Brown a good start at K this week, or might there be a good alternative available on the waiver wire?
Al: Thanks for coming to us with your question, Jason. If we ever have a question about a Mr. T appearance on the Simpsons, we'll be sure to ask you.
At WR, I have an unhealthy obsession with Muhsin Muhammad when it comes to fantasy football, so I'll always recommend him. Obsession aside, he looks like a must play. He's only had one bad performance since Halloween and gained over 100 yards against Atlanta in Week 4. At #2, it's a tough call between Holt and Stokley. Holt would be the obvious pick if he didn't have Chris Chandler throwing to him. Then again, the Rams are playing Arizona, so maybe even Chandler can be effective. Stokley has had some ridiculous weeks, but he's been much more inconsistent than Holt has, and the Colts will be playing Baltimore. I say the suckitude of the Cardinal defense will outweigh that of Chris Chandler and Torry Holt will have a great day on Sunday.
For your running back, I say play McGahee. Cincinnati hasn't stopped anyone on the ground this year. The only teams to not have a running back gain at least 80 yards against the Bengals this year were the Dolphins with Lamar Gordon in Week 2 and the Cowboys with the three-headed monster of ReShard Lee, Eddie George and Richie Anderson in Week 9. Willis could put up some ridiculous numbers this week.
At flex, I tend to favor running backs over wide receivers, and you have four solid options available. Since the league is so TD heavy, I'd recommend Pittman going up against New Orleans. Pittman has scored a touchdown in six of his last eight games and the Saints have allowed at least one rushing touchdown in each of their last six games.
Another kicker question? I can't believe we've answered two kicker questions this week. Is Josh Brown a good play? I don't like him. I don't see Seattle putting up too many points in the Meadowlands against the Jet defense. Like I said earlier, Kaeding is a great play, but odds are someone has him. If you're looking for a sleeper kicker who may still be on the waiver wire, I'd recommend former Orlando Rage kicker Jay Taylor. I'd expect that the Buccaneers will be able to move the ball well against the Saints, meaning Taylor should have plenty of scoring opportunities.
Al: The game was pretty much out of reach by this point, but I'm going with Titan tight end Shad Meier for one of the worst attempts at running the hook and lateral that I've ever seen in the closing moments of the Monday night game -- and Jeff Fisher for calling this awful play in the first place.
First, what are you doing running a hook and lateral when you are throwing against the Chief secondary with fourteen seconds to go, with a timeout? I know Bennett was injured, but just try throwing it to someone 20-30 yards down field. It's not like the Chiefs had shown any ability to defend a receiver all game.
Second, why are you running a hook and lateral designed so that Robert Holcombe is the person expected to run down the field for big yards on the play. This is Holcombe's seventh year in the league and he's never gained more than 39 yards on a play. And this is they guy you design a trick play around?
Third, how does Meier throw that terrible of a lateral? The throw was behind Holcombe, about two feet over his head. Meier had no reason to rush the toss -- there wasn't a defender in his immediate vicinity or between him and Holcombe. You have to throw a better pitch than that when you're facing the intended receiver who is running in your direction.
Vivek: The entire Cleveland Browns offense gets my award.
I just saw Jeff Foxworthy and the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, so I'm going to incorporate that into this week's award.
If your team's leading rusher is Adimchinobe Echemandu with 13 yards ... you must be a Cleveland Brown.
If your team's "featured" rusher (William Green) rushes for 5 yards on 11 carries ... you must be a Cleveland Brown.
If your team totals 17 yards for the ENTIRE game ... you must be a Cleveland Brown.
If your team has as many punts as first downs ... you must be a Cleveland Brown.
If your team averages negative yards per pass attempt ... you must be a Cleveland Brown.
Al: The Blue Collar Comedy Tour? Did the NASCAR race you had tickets to get rained out?
Al: If you notice any discrepancies in the loser league scoring, please let us know so that we can fix any problems we might have in our stat programs. Merci to Vincent in Quebec for helping us find a problem this week. The Week 14 results haven't been compiled as of press time, but here is your Loser League All-Star Team for Week 14.
QB: Eli Manning, NYG -- -5 points (17 passes, 27 yards, 1 fumble, 2 INTs)
RB: William Green, CLE -- -2 points (11 carries, 6 yards, 1 fumble)
RB: Travis Minor, MIA -- 2 points (10 carries, 24 yards, 1 catch, 2 yards)
WR: Wayne Chrebet, NYJ -- 1 point (2 catches, 15 yards)
WR: Peerless Price, ATL -- 1 point (2 catches, 18 yards)
K: Phil Dawson, CLE -- -1 point (1-1 XP, 0-1 FG)
Vivek: (2-3 last week, 19-35 overall) I guess I shouldn't have bet that Washington would get a baseball team either.
Chris Cooley to the rescue.
The Eagles have the division wrapped up, and are two games up on the Falcons for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. This is a good time to rest those half dozen players who are questionable or doubtful. Take Dallas plus the points.
Manning at home? Easy money. The Colts have won their last three home games by an average of three touchdowns.
The Rams can go up in the NFC West and remain perfect in the division. Even with Chris Chandler at quarterback, this team should beat the Cardinals when the playoffs are at stake.
Al: (2-1 last week, 22-20 overall) There may not be baseball in Washington in 2006, but one of the greatest pitchers of all time will be taking the mound at Shea every 5th to 7th day. It's too bad you can't place bets on things like "I'll be the proud owner of a #45 Mets jersey within the next month."
I have a strange feeling about this game. I really don't know why, but I think this is when Eli Manning starts to turn it around. Of course the Giants will likely lose this one 42-9, but I'm not ready to give up all hope on the season just yet.
This will be ugly.
I'm going to ride the Panther train until I get thrown off.