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?
26 Oct 2005
by Al Bogdan and Vivek Ramgopal
The 49ers were starting a rookie quarterback who had a Ryan Leaf-esque pro debut.
The 49ers were riding a four game losing streak.
The 49ers were 3-18 since the start of 2004.
The rest of the world was giving the edge to the Redskins, but good ol' Joe Gibbs got a bit fired up during a press conference last week and blasted the media for declaring his team the favorite. And you know the Joe Gibbs fired up voice â€“ the one where his voice keeps getting higher and higher until he stops himself from cursing.
Well coach, your â€œthe sky is fallingâ€? approach made some good sports talk fodder, but it definitely served its purpose this week.
A few weeks ago, we said that if they intended to make a serious playoff push:
Clinton Portis needed to get into the end zone. Check.
Play Lavar Arrington. Check.
Force turnovers. Check.
And somewhere in between points two and three was score a lot of points. Double Check.
Going back to Lavar, this was the first week that he received playing time outside of special teams. The crowd reaction was more than enough to spook Alex Smith and the 49ers offense, but Arrington showed that his presence was more than just a gimmick. The Redskins shifted to a 3-4 defense at times, letting Arrington chase the quarterback or hunt down the running back when San Francisco opted to hand the ball off.
I still, however, think that we will hear some sort of conspiracy theory against Lavar before the year is done.
Al: If Arrington is healthy, there's no reason to leave him sitting on the sidelines. I understand that he might not be a good fit in the defense Gregg Williams wants to run. But if you can't figure out a way to use someone of Arrington's talent, you're not doing your job as an NFL coordinator.
That Gibbs tirade made no sense to me. Why wouldn't his team be the favorite? They were tied for first place in their division, playing the worst team in the NFC. I just don't get that saying you shouldn't be the favorite is a very good motivational technique in that spot. What are you telling your players? That the 49ers should be expected to beat your team at home? That a rookie quarterback, who had a quarterback rating of 8.5 in his only previous NFL start, should be able to lead his team downfield effectively against your top-five defense? That the highest rated quarterback in the conference shouldn't be able to throw the ball against a defense allowing over 400 yards per game? Maybe that's why I'm not an NFL coach.
What's Gibbs going to yell about this week, that his team deserves to be a larger underdog on the road against the Giants than they already are?
Vivek: The game might not be as explosive as their 1966 matchup, but both offenses are firing on all cylinders. A lot has been noted about the Redskins defense, but New York's stand in the fourth quarter, especially on Denver's last possession, showed me that they can step up to the task. The defense made some needed adjustments after halftime, the most significant one being the secondary's playing a strict man-to-man defense. This prevented the big plays, like the three 26+ yard receptions for the Broncos in the first half. Now let's see if the injury-plagued secondary will keep the speedy Santana Moss in check.
It does seem weird for these teams to be playing for the division lead, doesn't it?
Al: I never would have guessed just two months ago that the Giants and Redskins would be playing in the Meadowlands in Week 8 for first place in the NFC East. Thankfully, the Giants pulled out a near miracle win last week so this game could have such importance.
Who woke up Amani Toomer? He was incredible on the final drive, catching everything Eli threw to him. That's exactly what the New York offense needs to be more consistent, a possession wide receiver that Manning can count on when he just needs to throw it to someone for a few yards. He's tried making Shockey or Plaxico that player, but when Manning has forced the ball to them, he's been way off. On that final drive, Manning just kept throwing the ball to Amani who kept catching it.
That game winning drive was a thing of beauty. I'm thoroughly enjoying the Eli Manning era. With two time outs and 3:26 on the clock, Eli had plenty of time to move the ball 80+ yards and he knew it. He wasn't afraid to throw it in the middle of the field to get six or seven yards and help move the chains. I was also impressed that the Giants weren't afraid to hand the ball to Tiki twice to get first downs.
What a great win in a game that by all rights New York should have lost. I completely expected the Giants to lose that game going into it. With pretty much every linebacker this side of Antonio Pierce listed as questionable, I was very worried about the ability of Denver to run the Giants off the field. The Broncos averaged nearly six yards a carry, which is actually a bit less than I expected. Even when the linebackers did get one of the Denver backs in their grasp, they couldn't bring anyone down. There was one play around the end of the third/beginning of the fourth where Mike Anderson just kept walking for a good four yards with Nick Griesen wrapped around him.
Ryan from NY:
I need a defense while the Indy Colts, whose defense I absolutely stole in the draft, are on a bye. Who should I pick up? Denver (v. Philly), Minnesota (@Carolina), Kansas City (@San Diego), Washington (@New York) and Oakland (@Tennessee) are my choices (I counted out the 49ers and Texans, sorry).
Al: None of those matchups jump out as great choices. The Eagles have been the best fantasy defense of the teams you list this year, so I'd go with them. Carolina and Tennessee have been turnover-prone offenses this year, but there's no way you can start either Minnesota or Oakland as your defense, especially if you start to lose points in your fantasy world the more points the defense gives up in the real world.
Reader Machoman asks us:
1)Which two RB's do I start out of these? K.Jones, T.Henry, C.Brown, T.Fisher.
2)Which TE do I start ? M.Pollard or Ben Troupe.
3)Which two WR's do I start? A.Chatman, C. Chambers, and R.Smith.
4) I have to drop J.Brown this week so whom do I pick up? R.Lindell, L.Tynes,T.Peterson,or S.Janikowski. And do I stick wih that kicker or try to go back to J.Brown in Week 9?
5) As for defense, do I hold on to Cleveland or pick up San Diego, Carolina, Miami, Houston,or Arizona?
Vivek: 1) I don't envy your situation this week. Cincinnati cannot stop the run, as evidenced by last week. I could have been in the Pittsburgh backfield and had a big game against the Bengals, so I'll take a chance with Fisher. I'd sit Jones against Chicago this week (last week was against a poor Cleveland run defense) in favor of Chris Brown against the Raiders. Travis Henry will need some time to get back into game shape, so I don't expect more than a handful of carries for him this week.
2) I'm not big on either right now, but Troupe would be the better play against Oakland.
3) Chambers and Smith. Chatman isn't anywhere near reliable.
4) On a week to week basis, kickers are a dime a dozen. Any kicker can score big or go scoreless each week. During the course of the season, the top kicker may average only a point or two more than the 10th best. That being said, I'd go with Tynes because of his ability to hit the long field goals.
5) Save a waiver claim (if that's how your league operates) and keep Cleveland. They will get you some points via the sacks.
Al: 1) Neither Brown nor Henry is a good start, even with a nice matchup against Oakland. Brown's banged up with a shoulder injury and Henry hasn't played in a month. I'd stay away and start Jones and Fisher. Everyone has been putting up great rushing numbers against Cincinnati; Fisher should be no different. The Bears are a tough rushing matchup, but playing Jones is better than trying to figure out which, if any, of the Tennessee running backs will be productive.
Nolan writes in:
Okay, typical "who should I start" question. I've got a bit of a mess at RB. I need to select two: LaMont Jordan, Kevin Jones, Mike Anderson, Chris Perry, and Tony Fisher. Jordan's a no-brainer. Jones showed signs of life last week, but he's facing a good Bears defense this week, so I don't imagine him doing much. I could roll the Bell-Anderson dice, or hope that Tony Fisher knows how to run the ball now that he's the starter in GB. Advice?
Al: I'd be tempted to go with Fisher because of the great matchup against Cincinnati. However, I'd probably end up playing Anderson. He seems to have established himself as more of the workhorse back in Denver. Bell will get around 10 carries or so, but Anderson is going to be the primary ball carrier. That doesn't mean he'll necessarily put up more fantasy points than Bell, but he's the better bet to do so.
Vivek: I'm going to have to go ahead and sort of disagree with you there. I believe in Mike Anderson or any Denver running back about as much as I believe that my fiancÃ© will let me register for that 42-inch plasma. (Side note: Seriously, who needs a bundt pan?) Anderson got 24 carries last week, but only 15 and 11 the weeks before. It is a hit or miss situation. Even if Anderson gets the carries, there is the risk that Bell will get the touchdowns. Take a chance on Fisher.
And closing up this week is Tommy.
I just traded Todd Heap for J.Bettis. So with that said, kindly rank the following players in my flex league: C.Brown, T.Henry, K.Barlow, C.Chambers, M.Moore and now of course, J.Bettis. Thanks so much, T.
Vivek: Chambers is the most dependable. Then Moore, Bettis, Brown/Henry (time will tell if one becomes a feature back) and Barlow.
Al: I'd put Moore before Chambers. Mewelde has actually been a decent fantasy back recently, gaining 100+ combined yards in his last three games. Gus Frerotte's coming back to earth, so Chambers' numbers should also be expected to fall. After that, throw everyone in a hat and see what comes out. You're talking about four players guaranteed to get drafted in our weekly loser league no later than the second round.
Al: I'm sticking with the Bears. If Jeff Garcia had looked better on Sunday I could have been convinced to switch my pick to Detroit. But with Garcia looking just as bad as he did with Cleveland last season, I see no reason to move away from the Bears. They have the easiest road to 7-9 in the division, and they already have two division wins. If they beat Detroit this week, the division is Chicago's to lose.
Vivek: The Vikings will still win the NFC North. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. Alright, this might not be some monumental accomplishment, but I see the team rallying to bury the on- and off-the-field embarrassment from earlier this year. Pat Williams almost single-handedly stopped the run on Sunday, and is proving to be the best of the offseason defensive pickups. Daunte Culpepper, while not playing to his 2004 form, will not be anywhere near as bad as he was early on. Out of everyone in that mediocre division, only the Packers are out of contention, which segues nicely to...
Vivek: This portion of the season merely confirmed our suspicions about the 2005 Green Bay Packers. The free agent departures of Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera have hit the team harder than anyone could have possibly expected. Then the injuries began. First Javon Walker goes down with a season ending injury, then Najeh Davenport and now Ahman Green. It is almost sacrilegious to eliminate a Brett Favre team, but the team cannot score or defend. Here's hoping that Favre doesn't go out like this.
Vivek: In two instances this weekend, teams were burned by not having a timeout as time wound down in the first half. The Eagles could not get the called play and personnel in on time, and Donovan McNabb was forced into calling three timeouts on the same drive. The Eagles came up with nothing as the first half expired, stranding the offense at the Chargers four-yard line.
Because of one challenge and two timeouts that were used early on, the Lions were empty with about six minutes left in the first half. The Lions still came out on top, but were left hanging in Browns territory.
Al: Let's not forget about the Saints, who couldn't challenge a bogus interception call at the end of their game against St. Louis that put the game away for the Rams. Ernie Conwell was clearly down before he was stripped of the football by Mike Furrey, who ran 67 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.
Vivek: Not to add injury to insult, but rather insult to injury, but my pick this week is Vinny Testaverde. Guard-turned-center Pete Kendall shouldered some of the blame for Testaverde's three fumbles in the first 18 minutes, but Testaverde didn't help his cause by adding an interception. The 17-0 lead was insurmountable, but the game was within reach because of Michael Vick's ineptitude.
Honorable Mention: Jose Cortez, former kicker for the Dallas Cowboys, for missing a 29-yard field goal in the beginning of the fourth quarter in Sunday's 13-10 loss to the Seahawks. Of course that would not have been meaningful had Drew Bledsoe not thrown an interception with ten seconds left on the clock, which set up Josh Brown's game winning field goal as time expired. There are even grumblings that Bill Parcells cut Cortez in the locker room after the game. (Side note: The Eagles just picked up Cortez for a week or two until David Akers returns.)
Al: This may be the record for the most weeks into a season without giving the award to Drew Bledsoe. Thankfully, Bledsoe threw an awful interception to hand the game to Seattle to finally return to his regular place in our column. After Seattle tied the game, Dallas started its drive with 33 seconds on the clock on its own 41 yard line. If the aforementioned Cortez were my field goal kicker, I would have just kneeled on the ball and played for overtime instead of trying to drive the ball 50 yards in under 30 seconds to get the ball into realistic field goal range. Instead, Dallas decided to try and move the ball downfield to put the game away, a la New England in Super Bowl XXXVI. Luckily for New England that year, Bledsoe was on the sidelines and not trying to march the team downfield. Unfortunately for Dallas, Bledsoe was the quarterback who was trying to gain those needed yards on Sunday. After Drew floated one into the hands of Jordan Babineaux, Josh Brown was able to put the ball through the uprights as time expired.
Vivek: (1-2 last week, 9-15 overall)
You know, 1-for-3 in baseball every game would get me a $10 million contractâ€¦.
See Lesson 2. Tony Fisher might have a good game until Brett Favre needs to play catch-up, but it will not be enough.
The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers can rest easy as their record for futility will stand.
Paging Chester Taylor.
Al: (2-1 last week, 16-7 overall)
I don't like any of the lines this week. I'm just sticking with favorites that I'm fairly confident will win and hope that they win by enough.
Either Alex Smith or Ken Dorsey will be trying to put points on the board against the rejuvenated Tampa defense. Chris Simms couldn't have a better matchup in his first start of the season.
I hope the Vikings savored their home victory over the Packers, because it will be their last victory for a while. The Panthers will keep things simple and give Stephen Davis ample opportunities to pound the ball against the Vikings. Daunte Culpepper, meet Julius Peppers.
Complete homer pick here. I don't like any of the other lines that much, so I might as well go with my team in a big division matchup at home.
Al:Better late than never, here's your Week 7 All-Loser Team:
QB: Trent Dilfer, CLE - -2 points (19 passes, 73 yards; 1 rush, 12 yards; 3 INT)
RB: Chris Brown, TEN - 1 point (10 carries, 37 yards; 1 fumble)
RB: LaDainian Tomlinson, SD - 2 points (15 carries, 7 yards; 2 catches, 26 yards)
WR: Bernard Berrian, CHI - 1 point (2 catches, 15 yards)
WR: Johnnie Morton, SF - 1 point (2 catches, 19 yards)
K: Kris Brown, HOU - 2 points (2/2 XP)
With only two weeks to go in the first half contest, a real battle is shaping up for the top spot. The Polish Wonders have seen their lead decline from 22 points two weeks ago to a mere seven points after Week 7. Hot on his trail are the Christ Punchers, Ice Cold Bruschi and the Lakeland Lowlifes, all within 20 points of first place. It's anyone's ball game at this point. (Sorry about the technical problems with the Loser League related to the re-code, we're working on them...)
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