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24 Dec 2008

Scramble for the Ball: What to Watch For

by Vince Verhei and Ben Riley

With Vince back from his trip to St. Louis (yes, he went up the Arch), it's time to say thanks again to Bill Barnwell for filling in last week -- and time to look forward to this weekend's action. By now, you know what's on the line for teams like the Jets and the Dolphins, or the Eagles and the Cowboys. But what about the Redskins and 49ers, or Giants and Vikings? Let's go game-by-game through the Week 17 slate and figure out what's on the line in every contest:

Titans at Colts: Oh Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

With the Titans having locked up home field advantage throughout the playoffs, will we see an emotionally fragile Vince Young take snaps under center this week? How nervous (and outraged) will Colts fans be if the Chargers beat the Broncos, and the likely 12-4 Colts are forced to go on the road to face 8-8 San Diego? Is there a reason that I'm writing this paragraph entirely in question format, and does it have anything to do with eggnog?

Lions at Packers: The Schadenfreude Bowl

We all know that the Lions will lose on Sunday, but here's something I just learned courtesy of the hilariously named SportsNation blog The Pride of Detriot: If the Lions let the Packers hang 48 points on 'em on Sunday, that will bring the Lions' season total to 534, and a new record for the most points allowed in a single season (the 1981 Colts allowed 533). C'mon Lions, lose in a blowout and make all of us Seahawks fans -- and Bengals and Rams and Chiefs fans -- feel some guilty holiday cheer.

Patriots at Bills: Jauron or Jauroff?

Bills owner Ralph Wilson says that head coach Dick Jauron's fate will be decided in the next two weeks; meanwhile, Jauron himself refuses to divulge whether he's even under contract. Better hope this game doesn't determine your fate, Dick.

Chiefs at Bengals: Please, Please, Please Don't Fire Herm

With G.M. Carl Peterson on his way out the door, we've officially begun the Herm Edwards head coach death watch. Although he clearly deserves to be fired, his loss would likely lead to mass suicide among our loyal readers of The Week in Quotes, so let us all make it our Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa/Festivus wish that Herm quickly land a gig with ESPN and be paired with Emmitt Smith.

EMMITT: Coach, did you expect to get debacled against the Dolphins and their innocuous Wildcat offense?"

HERM: Well, we expected to see some of that, and so we prepared for that. We just didn't execute what we prepared, and that's on me. You understand, Emmitt, THAT'S ON ME! We've got a lot of young guys with something to prove, and when they prove what they are trying to prove, we will find that success is proof of what we are all trying to prove. But we can build on this.

EMMITT: Well coach, don't quit. Don't even quit.

Jaguars at Ravens: Shack-Fu, Del Rio Don't Got Nothin' to Prove

So the Jaguars finally forced out longtime Vice President of Player Personnel James "Shack" Harris this week. Although he didn't get nearly as much press, Harris is arguably the only person on the planet worse than Matt Millen at evaluating wide receiver talent (consider: Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, Jerry Porter). With that said, can you identify which of the following lyrics from Shaquille O'Neal's "Shaq-Fu: The Return" are genuine?

I bring the ruckus for you brothers I jam like Smuckers
Don't udder because my style is buttah

My styles act wild like Jurassic Park after dark
Tyrannosaurus Rex blows the discotheque
I pose the threat, like an Arabian, blowin up your stadiums
My milky styles flows Canals like Panama

My style's water like Evian, that's why you Wonder like
Stevie and how I get wreck with Erick Sermon and
Shaq-Diesel and, I'm comin down with the funk
Punks, that's how we go, you know my style
You know my steelo

Answer: They're all real.

Jets at Dolphins: Hey, Who Are the Quarterbacks?

You should probably watch this game.

Seahawks at Cardinals: Goodbye, Walrus

As the Cardinals stumble into the playoffs, seemingly devoid of a running game or a defense, a surprisingly motivated Seahawks team will roll into Glendale on two-game winning streak and playing their final game for Mike Holmgren. Can Kurt Warner can go from NFL MVP candidate to "Guy the Cardinals might need to think about benching in the playoffs" in a mere three weeks? Tune in to find out.

Redskins at 49ers: We Want More Trou Dropped

Perhaps the most disappointing development this season is Mike Singletary's rapid evolution from Crazy Loon Who Might Out-Herm Herm to mature, confident head coach. The 49ers will have a very interesting decision to make in April, as Shaun Hill may have done just enough to convince the front office to hold off on drafting a quarterback. A win at home will likely lead the team to drop the "interim" from Singletary's job description, so you can bet FO's TWIQ department is rooting for San Francisco.

Rams at Falcons: Dirty Birds Build Nest of Padded Stats

With a playoff berth ensured, only two things stand between Atlanta and a first-round bye: A Saints win over the Panthers, and one of the worst defenses in recent history. A win here is a foregone conclusion, so Roddy White and Michael Turner can devote their energies to chasing the receiving and rushing yardage titles -- and Turner can breach the dreaded 370-carry barrier.

Bears at Texans: Prepping for 2009

Before the season, I thought the Texans would have a losing season before becoming playoff contenders in 2009. A win here would let them end 2008 on a 5-1 streak, with plenty of momentum next year. The Bears, meanwhile, couldn't care less about that -- a win here and a loss by the Vikings (or losses by the Cowboys and Bucs) put them into this year's postseason.

Giants at Vikings: NFC Championship Preview?

Minnesota needs to win to wrap up their division; New York needs to get through this game without getting anyone injured. If both teams can meet their goals and keep winning, they'll be playing for the right to go to the Super Bowl in three weeks, for the second time this decade.

Panthers at Saints: Drew Chases Dan

Drew Brees needs 401 passing yards to break Dan Marino's 28-year-old record of 5,084. The most prolific day any passer had against the Panthers this season was Kurt Warner's 381-yard performance in October. Brees, meanwhile, has topped 401 yards four times in his career, including twice this season (against the Falcons and Broncos). There's also the little matter of Carolina needing a win to guarantee a first-round bye.

Browns at Steelers: What Dumb Thing Will Happen Next?

Neither team has anything to lose or gain on the field, so the real focus will be on what sideshow attraction will steal the show. Nothing is off limits. Franchise quarterbacks may get in fist-fights with teammates. Santa Claus may show up. Romeo Crennel could be fired by halftime. It's all on the table.

Raiders at Buccaneers: Jon Gruden Probably Still Hates Al Davis

Forget about the Bucs needing a win and help to make the postseason -- it's another chance for Chucky to humiliate his old employer! If it's a blowout in the fourth quarter, look for Gruden to put himself in at quarterback, like he did in Tampa Bay's practices leading to their win over Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Cowboys at Eagles: The Playoffs Start Early

The loser is out; the winner is (probably) in. It's a heated division rivalry. And it's one more chance for Philly fans to boo Terrell Owens.

Broncos at Chargers: The Playoffs Start Early, Part 2

It's a 53-on-53 battle to determine the worst division winner in years! The Chargers can redeem Ed Hochuli by taking care of business at home. The Broncos can take pride in making the playoffs despite going 11 or 12 deep in the tailback slot. Either way, the winner will await the Colts seven days later. And it's not like either of these teams has a bad playoff history with Indiana-- um, sorry, Denver fans.

Check out the Football Outsiders comics archive and Jason's wacky Gil Thorp blog.

Keep Choppin' Wood

Some really stupid plays this week, from James Harrison's personal foul on a Titans field-goal attempt that led an eventual touchdown (and homefield advantage for Tennessee throughout the playoffs) to Eric Mangini's inexplicable decision to punt instead of kicking a 50-yard field goal -- after Jay Feely had just booted a 45-yarder on the previous play (negated by penalty). However, KCW this week is shared instead by Adrian Peterson (Bears version) and Packers safety Aaron Rouse. Having just tied the game on a field goal, with their season on the line, the Bears kicked to the Packers, needing only to hold them off for one minute to force overtime. During the ensuing kick return, Peterson grabbed Will Blackmon as he was running out of bounds at the 50-yard line -- and then threw Blackmon to the ground. The resulting 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty put the Packers in field-goal range and nearly ended the Bears' season, but because Aaron Rodgers must suffer in Job-like fashion this year, Mason Crosby's kick was blocked.

But what's truly amazing about this story is that during the first series in overtime, after a short pass from Kyle Orton to Greg Olsen, Packers safety Aaron Rouse did the exact same thing as Peterson and got called for a horse-collar tackle on Olsen at the 50-yard line. A few plays later, Robbie Gould sealed the win (and saved the season) for the Bears.

Colbert Award

Although this award typically goes to a head coach, there's no doubt who had the biggest cojones this week: Derrick Mason. His performance on Saturday night against the Cowboys was the grittiest performance from a wide receiver we've seen this year (east of Anquan Boldin's face-plate, of course).

Loser League

QB: Now here's a name that hasn't seen this space too often: Kurt Warner, who put up a 1 against New England. MVP! MVP!

RB: Warner wasn't the only Arizona player to struggle against the Patriots. Tim Hightower posted a 2, which tied him with Willie Parker for the week's low score.

WR: Brad Smith caught two passes for 3 -- yes, 3 -- yards against Seattle. That's a 0. The way Brett Favre was underthrowing receivers, maybe all his passes should have been that short.

K: You may have heard by now that Mason Crosby had a rough night in Chicago, missing two kicks (one of which was blocked) and scoring a -1.

Posted by: Vince Verhei and Ben Riley on 24 Dec 2008

27 comments, Last at 01 Sep 2010, 9:02am by uggs online


by Insancipitory :: Wed, 12/24/2008 - 11:10am

Perhaps Mangini was looking at the statistics for Feely launched FGs for NY themed Jersey teams in Seattle during cold weather? Granted the sample size is small, but the trend is pretty clear.

by Eli (not verified) :: Wed, 12/24/2008 - 11:48am

I don't think it's clear that Herm should be fired. While he shouldn't be the coach of a playoff team because of bad clock management and other poor strategery, he seems like the perfect coach to rebuild a young team and bring them to the brink. He has a team with nothing to play for playing hard and staying in every game. The hard part will be firing him after he gets the team to the 7-9 or 8-8 stage.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Wed, 12/24/2008 - 12:48pm

Exactly. Besides when you go all out on rebuilding, doesn't that save the HC by defenition? I mean, it's like saying; "We're giving you absolutely nothing to work with (and a 3rd stringer on QB), but we are going to fire your ass when off-season comes"...

Herm seems like a good motivator, but a lousy X's and O's guy... You don't need the X's and O's before you reach a certain level. And i agree - fire him when KC's at that 8-8 place...

by MJK :: Wed, 12/24/2008 - 1:15pm

Or get him some crack coordinators. Herm is a good motivator, and it can work to have a good motivator on top supported by great X's and O's coordinators under him (Parcells in New York springs to mind).

(Not that I'm suggesting Herm == the Tuna by any stretch)

by Independent George :: Wed, 12/24/2008 - 3:46pm

Interesting idea; anybodye else see the potential for a phenomenal Herm Edwards, Norv Turner & Greg Williams 'greater than the sum of the parts' triumverate?

by seamus (not verified) :: Wed, 12/24/2008 - 2:41pm

I don't understand what makes Herm a "good motivator." Is it because he yells a lot? Have we ever seen any evidence that his players are more motivated than opponents' players, or that young players develop particularly well with him?

I'd also quibble with the notion that you motivate a team to 7-9 and then X-and-O them to the playoffs.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Wed, 12/24/2008 - 3:45pm

Maybe. But having a 2-13 team fighting week in and week out must be evidence, or at least a hint, that you can motivate players.

My point was that X-and-Os are worth little without motivation. The reverse will at least get you to around league-average... I'm not saying I'll make a great GM, but it's a theory.

by Eddo :: Wed, 12/24/2008 - 12:03pm

While Adrian Peterson deserves to be embarrassed for his horsecollar penalty, let me say, as a Bears fan, that Rouse does not. His tackle was not a horsecollar for two reasons:
1. He had his right arm wrapped around Olsen's body.
2. Olsen fell forward.

The way everyone always defines the horsecollar rule is that the defender must only have the ballcarrier by the horsecollar and that the ballcarrier must be dragged backwards. Rouse's tackle fit neither criteria.

Now, was it as dangerous as an actual horsecollar? Probably, as you can visibly see Olsen's head and neck jerk violently as he is grabbed by Rouse. Maybe the rule should be changed to include that sort of thing, but as it is currently written, the Bears got a gift.


Also, couldn't both Adrian Peterson's get this week's KCW award? Purple Jesus sure tried to fumble the Vikings out of the playoff picture, didn't he?

by Marko :: Thu, 12/25/2008 - 3:09am

While Adrian Peterrson's penalty was unbelievably stupid, it wasn't called as a horse collar penalty; it was technically called only as unnecessary roughness (due to the lateness of the tackle, as the returner was well out of bounds). That being said, it could just as easily have been called a horse collar tackle.

As for Rouse's penalty, I agree that it did not fit the definition of a horse collar tackle. However, as I watched the play unfold, I knew the official was going to call a penalty for a horse collar tackle because it kind of/sort of looked like a horse collar. So while I think the call was wrong, as a Bears fan, I was very happy to see the call made.

"Having just tied the game on a field goal, with their season on the line, the Bears kicked to the Packers, needing only to hold them off for one minute to force overtime."

Actually, there were more than 3 minutes left in the 4th quarter at the time of the kickoff. Of course, the fact that there was more time left doesn't diminish the stupidity of Peterson's penalty. Peterson can thank Alex Brown for blocking the field goal to take him off the hook.

by Anonymous2 (not verified) :: Fri, 12/26/2008 - 3:55am

Can you add the officials to the KCW award?
Blackmon stepped out around the Packer 45 and after the penalty they spotted the ball at the Bear 35. To blow something like that in that situation is really bad.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Wed, 12/24/2008 - 12:27pm

"If the Lions let the Packers hang 48 points on 'em on Sunday, that will bring the Lions' season total to 534, and a new record for the most points allowed in a single season (the 1981 Colts allowed 533)."

I'm going to say, what everybody thinks; is it that weird, that some jounalists speculates that the reason why the Lions D-coordinator isn't looOOOoong gone is unclear/suspect?

by Harris :: Thu, 12/25/2008 - 2:47pm

You're attacking Marinelli's daaaaaughteeeeeeer. Somehow. Even though nepotism is obviously the only reason the Lions DC hasn't been fired, it's tacky to point that out and football players are absolutists about etiquette.

"A little celery is always nice after a good pee."

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Wed, 12/24/2008 - 12:43pm

Mike Singletary's rapid evolution from Crazy Loon Who Might Out-Herm Herm to mature, confident head coach.

Plus he's the best looking coach in the league... Man can he pull off that tight-turtleneck-look... Hey I'm not the one living in SanFran...

It's a 53-on-53 battle to determine the worst division winner in years!

They're not even the worst this year. And as i write this i realize, they probably are...

by jebmak :: Wed, 12/24/2008 - 12:57pm

I'm not so sure about the Packers gaurenteed win. It makes me nervous that they played on Monday, AND the game went in to overtime. So, they have a short week, and they had to go at full speed for longer. That probably means that they won't be in top form on Sunday.

by Danish Denver-Fan :: Wed, 12/24/2008 - 1:40pm

You don't need top form to beat the Lions. You need to be awake... If that...

by David Frizzell (not verified) :: Wed, 12/24/2008 - 1:17pm

If the Bucs have already beaten the Raiders, the Eagles are cooked. They also need the Bears to lose. Is it really "probable" that they are win and in?

by Harris :: Thu, 12/25/2008 - 2:56pm

The Eagles are not going to the playoffs, but in my ideal scenario McNabb goes 28 of 45 for more than 400 yards, but no TDs as his WRs drop four in the endzone and Reid doesn't call a run after falling behind by three midway through the second quarter. The Eagles lose by 17, Reid is fired/thrown off the Walt Whitman. Jeff Lurie then has to chose between Spagnuolo, Rex Ryan, Leslie Frazier and Russ Grimm as head coach.

"A little celery is always nice after a good pee."

by billycurley :: Wed, 12/24/2008 - 2:47pm

Good point about Shack Harris and evaluating WR talent. Reggie Williams is a top-10 bust who ran a 4.5 40 at the combine. Matt Jones was a college QB drafted in the first round. And Joey Porter is a pass-rushing linebacker on another team. Tough to see any of the three making it as an NFL wide receiver.

by Vincent Verhei :: Wed, 12/24/2008 - 2:55pm

Gah. Fixed.

by BucNasty :: Wed, 12/24/2008 - 4:38pm

It's better to leave it. At this point, I think even Jerry Porter has given up on anyone ever getting his name right.

by are-tee :: Wed, 12/24/2008 - 4:59pm

As long as we're nitpicking, it should be Dolphins at Jets.

by Israel P. - Jerusalem (not verified) :: Wed, 12/24/2008 - 5:05pm

The Pittsburgh guys all say that the penalty on that field goal was Chris Hoke, not James Harrison.

by Anonymouse (not verified) :: Thu, 12/25/2008 - 12:32am


This is an awesome article about a high school coach that always goes for it on 4th down.

by Packer Pete (not verified) :: Thu, 12/25/2008 - 10:22am

I see that in Favre's Wednesday press conference he spent a great deal of time talking about whether he'd be back next year and if his shoulder was injured. Way to keep the focus on the Jets' biggest game of the season.

Much as we all love Favre in Green Bay, he never could shut up when a microphone was put in front of him. I appreciate his honesty and candor with the press, a far too limited quality with other athletes. But now Favre has cranked up the old "will he retire" soap opera, spiced with a "does he have a bad shoulder" plot line, just in time to distract everyone from the Dolphins game.

Glad we don't have to endure that for another offseason here in Green Bay. When he's done in NY, we'll welcome him back with open arms in GB and retire his jersey as the greatest Packer ever. At the same time, we're quite content with Aaron Rodgers on the field and off.

by are-tee :: Thu, 12/25/2008 - 11:45pm

"I see that in Favre's Wednesday press conference he spent a great deal of time talking about whether he'd be back next year and if his shoulder was injured. Way to keep the focus on the Jets' biggest game of the season."

Well, he wasn't giving a lecture. He was just answering questions, and the reporters in the room weren't really asking about much else.

by Noah Arkadia :: Thu, 12/25/2008 - 1:28pm

That was one funny comic

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