Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» Futures: Ronnie Harrison

Though teammate Minkah Fitzpatrick gets more headlines, the other Alabama safety prospect in this year's draft deserves plenty of attention too.

04 Dec 2008

Walkthrough: Make Straight the Path

by Mike Tanier

The Canadian Mounties always get their man, especially if that man has had too much O'Keefe.

Canadian police officers are hoping to do right by North American motorists by keeping drunk drivers off the streets during the holiday season. Motorists crossing the Peace Bridge into Canada after last week's Bills game endured a lengthy traffic jam, caused in part by a sobriety checkpoint. The police will be out in extra force for Sunday's Dolphins-Bills game in Toronto. "We have 80 officers on this to make sure there's no traffic hindrance," said Detective Sergeant Cliff Priest of the Niagara Regional Police Service. Hopefully, all the cops are safely stationed in Marshawn Lynch-proof bubbles.

It's a good thing the Vikings aren't playing in Toronto, and not just because of Jared Allen. Brad Childress told a reporter that he celebrated his team's lead in the NFC North standings by drinking "a vodka as big as your head." When you consider the inflated ego of the average football columnist, that's one super-sized serving of Smirnoff. If the Vikings win the Super Bowl, Childress plans to drink a whiskey as big as Jason Whitlock's large intestine.

Such prodigious quaffing will get a person pulled over in Canada, where a special law calls for a 12-hour license suspension if the driver's BAC is over 0.05 percent. That's a tiny decimal, even lower than Derek Anderson's completion percentage. You can get that drunk just by saying the words "Amy Winehouse." If he ever travels north of the border, Childress will have to opt for weaker booze or journalists with tiny craniums.

Bills lineman/historian Langston Walker doesn't want any drunken fans to get into trouble on Sunday; he's concerned that there may be fistfights in the stands between surly Americans and rowdy Canadians. "You never know. I mean, the dollar's coming back against the loonie, and it's getting exciting. There might be some dirty words out there. You know, that 'O Canada' thing. It's tough. Might be the War of 1812 all over again. Canada did beat our asses in that," Walker said. "You never know. Someone might bring that up, and there might be some fights."

Walker was kidding, but in a way I hope he's right. It would be great to hear some obscure historical trash talk in the stands.

"Remember the Battle of Big Sandy Creek? Scoreboard! Scoreboard!"

"Oh yeah, well, Commodore Isaac Chauncey was a pussy!"

Drinking and driving is always an awful idea, but with illegal blood alcohol content percentages approaching levels that could result from an overzealous Lavoris gargle, some Bills fans may worry that a beer before kickoff could lead to a ticket on the ride home. As a public service to the responsible motorist who fears wrongful prosecution on foreign soil, we offer the following checkpoint tips:

  • Remember that the Canadian alphabet ends in "a?"
  • Those are kilometers. Doing 100 isn't nearly as exciting as it sounds.
  • Ix-nay on the Penelope Pitstop humor. They consider her a national treasure.
  • When all else fails, try this line: "I'm not drunk. I'm Ralph Wilson."

Despite the traffic checks and the thumping they delivered to General Boyd at Beaver Dams, our Canadian neighbors are always gracious hosts. The globetrotting Dolphins should beat the J.P. Losman-led Bills, who are lucky to have a retractable roof over their heads these days. The untimely death of media mogul Ted Rogers strikes a somber note for Sunday; it also clouds the future of a Bills team hoping for an infusion of Rogers capital. Still, we can responsibly celebrate the fact that both the Dolphins and Bills are still mathematically alive, giving this game playoff implications, if not a sell-out crowd.

I'd love to have a skull-sized drink to celebrate the completion of this segment, but Aaron Schatz threatened to fire me if my blood alcohol content rises above the Broncos' DVOA. Better stick to milk.

The Road Rises to Meet Them

The Broncos will reach the playoffs this season. They'll do so despite some ugly losses and one controversial quick-whistle victory. They've faced a schedule soft enough to swaddle a newborn and play in a division so bad that it would lose its automatic tournament bid in NCAA basketball. They face the Chiefs this week, so the Broncos should get their eighth win and essentially clinch the AFC West, unless they somehow manage to get swept by Herm Edwards' Pistol-Packing Mamas.

The Cardinals are also 7-5 in a candy store division. They face the Rams on Sunday, so the Cardinals will also earn their eighth win and a de facto division title. DVOA says the Cardinals are better than the Broncos, so their achievement appears less dubious. Still, their two-game losing streak to the Giants and Eagles exposed them as a less-than-elite team. Plus, they're the Cardinals.

The Broncos and Cardinals will probably limp into the postseason with 9-7 records. Meanwhile, good teams from the NFC East, NFC South, or AFC East will get crowded out of the Wild Card picture. It's unfair, but it's not news: Situations like these are the reason the Wild Card exists in the first place. The Broncos and Cardinals each did what they had to do -- the exact bare minimum of what they had to do -- to win their stumblebum divisions.

Now that they are all but certain to reach the postseason, it's time to figure out what they'll do when they get there. The easy answer: Get blown out in the Wild Card round by teams like the Ravens or Panthers. The glib answer is rarely the most satisfying one; remember that the Cardinals beat the Cowboys and the Broncos just knocked off the Jets, two feasible Wild Card opponents. Is it realistic to suggest that these two teams could sneak into the playoffs via the service entrance, then actually make themselves comfortable?

Let's break both teams down, examining their highs, lows, strengths, and weaknesses to figure out who they could beat in the postseason tournament. We'll also bring the Vikings along, though their grasp on the NFC North isn't that tight. Like the Broncos and Cardinals, the Vikings are A) 7-5, B) facing a team they should crush (the Lions), and C) not all that impressive. They fit this feature well.

Denver Broncos
Most Impressive Wins: Sunday's win was the Broncos' most complete effort of the season. Their other strong wins came by narrow margins against good NFC South opponents: the Buccaneers, Falcons, and Saints.
Most Disturbing Losses: The blowout losses to the Chiefs and Raiders are almost incomprehensible. The Broncos belly-flopped in a 41-7 loss to the Patriots, a team they could face in the Wild Card round.
Strength in Numbers: The Broncos have allowed just eight sacks. The days of plug 'n' play running backs have returned, as Peyton Hillis spearheads a ground game that averages 4.5 yards per rush.
Weakness in Numbers: There's no sugarcoating the defensive stats: Opposing quarterbacks complete 67.8 percent of their passes. Opposing rushers average 4.9 yards per carry and have scored 17 touchdowns. Kicker Mark Prater is 5-of-5 from beyond 50 yards but an ugly 3-of-7 from 40 to 49 yards. Opponents outscore the Broncos in every quarter but the first.
How the Playoffs Could Go: Any team with a healthy, balanced offense should rack up beaucoup points against the Denver defense, and Jay Cutler gets very sloppy when he presses. The Colts, Steelers, or Patriots will smoke the Broncos in a Wild Card game, and the Jets would probably do some damage in a rematch. The Ravens might be the best matchup for the Broncos: The Baltimore offense is simple, they don't have top-notch weapons, and the Broncos cornerbacks could bait their rookie quarterback into mistakes. Still, I would pick the Ravens to win.

Arizona Cardinals
Most Impressive Wins: Their 34-20 win against the Cowboys proved that these aren't the same lovable losers we've picked on since World War II. The Cardinals also blew out the Bills at a time when the Bills were playing well.
Most Disturbing Losses: The Jets and Eagles losses were very similar: The Cardinals let good-not-great offenses rack up huge early leads, mounted impressive comebacks, then watched the opponents dash away at the end. It's no sin to lose to good Redskins, Panthers, or Giants teams, but the Cowboys remain the only quality NFC team the Cardinals have beaten.
Strength in Numbers: You know all about the Cardinals passing game: Kurt Warner's completion percentage may have dropped to a still-awesome 68.4 percent, but Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston have 215 combined receptions for 2,790 yards. The Cardinals defense allows just 3.8 yards per rush.
Weakness in Numbers: The Cardinals average just 3.3 yards per rush. Tim Hightower gets a lot of praise, but his yards-per-carry average has dipped to 2.9, making him a liability everywhere but the red zone. Opponents have thrown 26 touchdown passes against the Cardinals, whose secondary is easy to cook when key players like Rod Hood are out of action. Warner's fumbles are still a problem (he has lost six) and Breaston offers little as a punt returner, averaging just 6.1 yards per attempt.
How the Playoffs Could Go: Tony Romo threw three touchdown passes against the Cardinals, but the Cowboys lost on a few lapses and a blocked punt. It was a game that could have gone either way, and could well go the other way in a rematch. Still, the Cardinals would be better off in a shootout rematch against the Cowboys than against defense-oriented foes like the Redskins, Bucs, or Panthers. The Cardinals' late schedule isn't too rough, so they could win 10 or 11 games and earn the No. 3 seed in the NFC. In that case, they could root for a relative weakling like the Falcons to squeak into the final Wild Card spot.

Minnesota Vikings
Most Impressive Wins: The Vikings beat the Panthers 20-10 in Week 3. Their last two wins, by a combined 64-26, have been convincing.
Most Disturbing Losses: The Vikings don't have any disturbing losses. At the same time, they didn't rise up to beat tough opponents like the Titans, Colts, or Buccaneers, and they split with both the Packers and Bears. In short, they have the resume of a true also-ran.
Strength in Numbers: The Vikings have rushed for 1,695 yards while allowing just 877. They average 4.4 yards per carry while holding opponents to 3.2. The Vikings defense has recorded 33 sacks and forced 28 fumbles.
Weakness in Numbers: The Vikings have also allowed 33 sacks. Their special teams are a mess: The Vikings have allowed four punt return touchdowns, but they average just 5.3 yards per punt return while calling fair catches an amazing 41 percent of the time.
How the Playoffs Could Go: The Vikings can defeat a run-oriented opponent like the Panthers, Redskins, or Buccaneers in a low-scoring game. The Cowboys would torch the Vikings secondary, and the Cardinals could probably outgun them while limiting the damage done by Adrian Peterson. Of course, with Pat Williams and Kevin Williams suspended for the rest of the season, the Vikings can't assume anything: The Bears could still sneak up on them. If that happens, the Broncos and Cardinals won't look so bad.

Games to Watch in these United States

Buccaneers vs. Panthers: You'd think life would be easy for John Fox right now. His team is 9-3 and playing for a division title. On Sunday, they won in dramatic fashion, knocking a potential Wild Card opponent out of the playoff picture in the process. Despite the Panthers' success, Fox isn't sitting too comfortably, as this exchange from Monday's press conference indicates (transcript from the Charlotte Observer).

Question: We talked to you last week about breakdowns in run defense and this was another week when that didn't stand up. Could you comment on that?

Fox: I don't know where you're really going with this, but all I'd say is I think we're in the top third in the league in defense, I think we're 9-3 and it's a team game and yards don't win game, points do. So I hope that answers all your questions in one.

Question: But you have given up more points lately.

Fox: I think we've seventh in the league in points allowed. Again, my same answer.

Question: So the trend doesn't concern you, given than you were second in the league in points allowed?

Fox: It all concerns me. I'm just not in the mood for debating statistics. I don't like statistics anyway.

Question: Do you think your defense is playing as well as it was earlier this year?

Fox: It's playing well enough to be 9-3.

Wow, and that's the Charlotte media, not the hostile New York hyenas. No wonder Brad Childress dreams of drinking vodka from goblets shaped like sportswriter skulls.

Fox might like statistics better if he knew that DVOA ranks the Panthers as the seventh best team in the league, and that their defense still ranks eighth in the NFL despite two rough games against very good offenses. Unfortunately for Fox, the Buccaneers rank sixth in DVOA, and they hold the playoff tiebreaker advantage over the Panthers in the division. That makes Sunday's game crucial, and the fact that the Buccaneers won the first meeting 27-3 doesn't bode well.

The Panthers need a big game from their suddenly maligned run defense. Force the Buccaneers to be one-dimensional, and their weapon-free passing game will sputter. The Buccaneers are great at baiting and punishing mistake-prone quarterbacks -- Jake Delhomme threw three interceptions against them in Week 6 -- so the Panthers must be as smart on offense as they are stingy on defense.

Both the Bucs and Panthers are undefeated at home, so I'm taking the path of least resistance and picking the Panthers. Maybe the press will go easy on Fox when he has ten wins in his back pocket.

Cowboys vs. Steelers: Back to work, Cowboys. That bar crawl across the NFC West sure was fun, but it's time to sober up and forget about 34-9 blowouts. The Steelers, Giants, and Ravens want to perform a detailed, painful performance review before they declare you playoff-worthy.

The Cowboys are limping into the Labors of Hercules portion of their schedule. Demarcus Ware and Marion Barber missed practice at the start of the week; the early skinny is that Ware will play with a brace, but that Barber may be out of action on Sunday. Ware's presence is critical against a Steelers team vulnerable to a heavy pass rush. Ware is one of the two or three best defensive players in the NFL right now (Albert Haynesworth and Nnamdi Asomugha are also on the short list), so his presence or absence will change the complexion of this game.

The Cowboys scored 69 points in the last two weeks, but they don't want to suffer the same fate as last week's Patriots. Remember Matt Cassel and his back-to-back 400-yard games? The Steelers popped that balloon in a hurry. The Steelers will keep the score low, and they'll win if Ware is unavailable. With Ware in the game, the matchup changes, and the Cowboys will match the Steelers sack for sack, and then some.

Redskins vs. Ravens: The Redskins need to win out to harbor any real playoff hopes, and Jim Zorn believes he can keep them seaworthy by jettisoning some of the ballast from his playbook. At least, I think that's what he believes. "Each week, as we try to grow in our game plan, I'm always torn between that fine line of pushing the envelope a little bit," Zorn told the Washington Post, "or should we back off and not work so much on the things that I'd like to do, but work on those things that we have to do? I continue to try to push us to say, 'Well, we can do this. Well, we can do that.' But it's obvious, I think, in these last several games, we can't do it all. So we might have to take a step back before we can take another forward." Got it?

The Redskins climbed into the playoffs with a four-game winning streak at the end of last season, but the planets won't align again for them this year. At least Zorn isn't trying to make history repeat itself by bringing Todd Collins off the bench. That would really be walking the fine line to push the envelope. Instead, he's hoping to fight simplicity with simplicity. The Ravens win by clamping down defensively and executing a run-run-bomb offense that would make Al Davis misty-eyed if he were still capable of producing mortal tears. If it's good enough for Joe Flacco, then it should also work for Jason Campbell.

The scaled-back approach may work against the Bengals, Eagles, and Niners, Washington's final three opponents. On Sunday Night, the Redskins will face a charged-up Ravens team that feasts on mistakes. You can't beat a team like that by stepping backward, even if you are doing it to step forward.

Eagles vs Giants: Nothing stops the Giants. Their top running back gets hurt, and they keep winning. Their top receiver channels Cheddar Bob, but they keep winning. They put up a mediocre performance against a good division opponent (they really didn't play well against the Redskins), but they keep winning. Only the Speed Bump Browns could make them bottom out, and the Giants learned after that loss to ease off the accelerator and stay focused when facing foes in the prone position.

The Eagles were lying flat in the middle of the freeway two weeks ago, but their vital signs blipped on Thanksgiving night. They played the Giants tough in Week 10, losing because -- stop me if you heard this before -- they couldn't convert short-yardage situations. With a theoretical chance of making the playoffs and several veterans in professional jeopardy, the Eagles still have something to play for. 'Tis the season for the Eagles to mount a climb from their self-excavated chasm, so an upset is very possible.

But not likely. The Eagles lost guard Max Jean-Gilles last week, the backup to injured starter Shawn Andrews. The third-stringer is Nick Cole, who lists at 6 feet tall and 350 pounds, making him more a geologic formation than a man. Cole, a center by trade, endured an ill-fated stint as the Eagles' goal-line fullback (is there any other kind?) before playing well at guard against the Cardinals. "He's a heck of an athlete," said Andrews. "People always talk about his height, but it's not like he has to rebound or anything." No, but he needs to keep twisting, stunting defenders away from Donovan McNabb, and a longer wingspan would certainly help.

Remember the last time the Eagles started an inexperienced lineman against the Giants? It was in Week 4 of 2007, when Winston Justice replaced Tra Thomas. The Giants had 12 sacks in that game. Cole may be a little better than Justice (he also plays a less critical position), and the Giants' defensive line isn't as scary as last year's model. But cut the Giants' sack total in half, and it's still a long day for McNabb, who is still on the rebound from his benching two weeks ago.

The league can suspend Plaxico Burress, Harris Smith, Monte Stratton, or just about anyone else for that matter. The Giants will keep rolling.

Voices from Around the League

In St. Louis

MARC BULGER: (under center) Audible! Audible! Delta Freeze Right Z Tulsa!

STEVEN JACKSON: (to himself) Good. An off-tackle run. I'll stuff it down their throats.

WILL ALLEN: Guys! It's an off-tackle run right to Jackson! I saw it on film!

ANNOUNCER: I believe this is an off-tackle run right to Jackson. The Dolphins coaches told me that they knew some of the Rams' signals.

RANDOM FAN: This is going to be an off-tackle run right to Jackson. I saw Jaws diagram this on NFL Matchup. Those Rams signals are pretty easy.

SMALL CHILD: Daddy, this is an off-tackle wun wight by Jackson. I saw it on Noggin. Moose and Zee bwoke down the film.

STEVEN JACKSON: Sorry coach, didn't mean to lose six yards. I can't understand it. I think we might be tipping our plays.

JIM HASLETT: Silly Steven. The problem is your conditioning. You should never have held out.

in Detroit

TOM LEWAND: You wanted to see me, Mr. Ford?

WILLIAM CLAY FORD: Tom, you may have heard that many CEO's in the auto industry will accept one-dollar salaries next year in a show of good faith that they are trying to keep the industry afloat. As a Ford, I thought it was my duty to join them.

LEWAND: A noble gesture, sir. What does that have to do with me?

FORD: Well, if the chairman is only making one dollar, the chief operating officer has to make even less, right?

LEWAND: Gee sir, I don't know. Um, what are you handing me?

FORD: Pesos. Twenty of them. A family in San Antonio Guaracha can survive for weeks on that. Count it.

LEWAND: I trust you sir. And I know we need to tighten our belts. But is this really the best way to turn the Lions around?

FORD: Beats me. I know the pay cut is harsh, Tom, but it could be worse. Speaking of which, go put these soda tabs on Rod Marinelli's desk. Stress that the aluminum is extra pure.

in New York

BRANDON MOORE: This is ridiculous. Every time we make a big play, a Broncos player ends up on the ground.

LEON WASHINGTON: You don't think they're really hurt?

MOORE: No. If working for Eric Mangini has taught me anything, it's how to think like a paranoid lunatic. They are faking injuries to interrupt our momentum. The guy who is out there now claims to be severely dehydrated. What bull.

LEON WASHINGTON: They can't slow our momentum. We have Brett Favre. Right, Brett? Brett?

(Brett Favre walks silently to the middle of the field.)

WATERBOY: Water for the Jets! Jets first! (An injured Broncos player reaches for a drink.) No. No water for this one.

INJURED BRONCO: God help me!

(Favre takes the water bucket and pours some over the player, who looks up to see a heavenly aura.)

WATERBOY: Hey, you can't ... gasp.

(The shamed waterboy slips away as the Broncos player drinks his fill, then looks upon Favre with a mix of awe and gratitude)

WASHINGTON: He really is special.

MOORE: I agree. To the playoffs, ramming speed!

Self Promotion

FO chief Aaron Schatz and I will be at Chickie's & Pete's in South Philly on Thursday night, December 18. If the game gets boring, we'll start throwing around trivia questions. If it's really boring, we may bring out the Andy Reid effigy and a book of matches.

The Leaf movie lives! Tim Carr was in San Diego Wednesday screening his documentary in the town that made locker room tirades famous. Carr wrote and directed the film and stars as Ryan Leaf. I get considerable screen time as a handsome football historian/humorist. It's the best film I've ever been in, so if there are any other screenings, make sure you check it out.


Jets vs. Niners: Even Jets players admitted that they were overconfident after their victory against the Titans. "It was good to get that humble pie after Thanksgiving," Leon Washington said after Sunday's loss to the Broncos. The Jets' run defense may have sprung some leaks, but the Niners are 26th in the league in run DVOA, so don't expect miracles.

Bengals vs. Colts: The Cincinnati Enquirer interviewed Bengals President Mike Brown early in the week. Brown refused to comment on Marv Lewis' future -- "I'm not going to give one of those endorsements," he said -- and was avuncular when discussing the possibility of "firing himself" by hiring a true general manager. "I call them themes. They (fans and customers) like to talk about different themes when things don't go well." It's never a good sign when the team's top executive sounds like a literature professor. Colts.

Jaguars vs. Bears: The Bears are reeling. With three losses in four games, they've fallen to the furthest fringe of the playoff picture, and opponents have gotten wise to all the wrinkles they use to hide the fact that they don't have much talent on offense. As they trudge toward a .500 record, we should focus on the positive. Matt Forte is very good. Greg Olsen has All-Pro potential. The Devin Hester experiment wasn't a disaster, though the Bears may have traded a great return man for an average receiver. The defense is still stout. Add a top receiver and improve the quarterback situation (insert your favorite Donovan McNabb rumor here) and the Bears may have something. Contrast the Bears with the Jaguars' sinking ship and you'll realize there are worse fates than a .500 record. Bears.

Texans vs. Packers: The Eagles and their ever-glowing DVOA percentages are a source of constant consternation here at headquarters. Well, the Packers out-Eagle'd the Eagles this year. They have outscored their opponents, outgained them, hold a big edge in third down conversions (44.4 to 37.8 percent), and have a sometimes brilliant passing game. They are 5-7 because their biggest weakness -- run defense -- is a major issue for a team that faced the Vikings twice, the Titans, the Falcons, and other top rushing teams. They also come up short in lots of little categories, like penalty yards (779 to 538) and the dreaded fumble luck (opponents have lost just three fumbles). If the Packers really want to emulate the Eagles, then they'll go on a little run now that all hope is lost. They'll start that mini-run against the Texans, who aren't as bad as their record but aren't as good as they looked in those candy apple red uniforms on Monday night.

Falcons vs. Saints: The Falcons and Saints play in the "other" NFC South. The Bucs and Panthers run the ball, stop the run, generate turnovers, and win slobberknocker contests. The Falcons and Saints can score 40 points on any given Sunday, but they rank below the other two teams because of A) the Falcons' inexperience and leaky secondary, and B) the Saints' weak running game, mistake-prone defense, and Sean Payton's pathological need to call double-reverse-option-waggle-screens at inopportune times. The Falcons won the opener and should beat an opponent that was hit hard by the diuretic scandal.

Browns vs. Titans: Remember that 40-pass game-plan the Titans used in their blowout loss to the Jets? Scrapped. Shredded. Wrapped around a bunker in the bait box. After pounding out 231 rushing yards on the "toddler" difficulty setting Thursday, the Titans are back to running and play action. Even LenDale White is back with the program. "It was good to get things going again," White said. "I think we're definitely going to depend on the run heavily if we're going to win games and go deep into the playoffs and eventually the Super Bowl." Expect more of White and Chris Johnson this week as the Browns kick off the Ken Dorsey era and prepare to kick Romeo to the curb.

Raiders vs. Chargers: Norv Turner's blame deflector shields are working again. A.J. Smith gave Norverrific an emphatic vote of confidence this week despite the Chargers' steady skid into irrelevance. Granted, it's too early to pull the plug on Turner, who took the team to the AFC Campionship game last season. After all, this season can be blamed on injuries, Ted Cottrell, Ed Hochuli, and lots of other people who aren't Turner. The Chargers will win here and should win in Kansas City next week, but the Raiders should cover that big spread. See, they are turning things around. What more evidence do you need?

Patriots vs. Seahawks: This game has been flexed out of my consciousness. It might as well air on Tuesday morning at 4:30 a.m. on the Independent Film Channel. Still, you should watch to see if Mora the Less is wearing a Huskies cap on the sidelines. Patriots.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 04 Dec 2008

47 comments, Last at 06 Dec 2008, 1:41pm by Hummingbird Cyborg


by Ivarsson.se :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 10:33am

All hope lost for the Packers? Nooo!

They can run the table (Texans, Jags, Bears, Lions), end up at 9-7 with tiebreaker advantages over Bears (sweep) as well as Vikings (div record). Bears won't be above 9-7 if Packers win in week 16, and Minnesota losing 2 games of their remaining schedule (ok, maybe not DET, but ARI, ATL, NYG) without the Williams Wall is not of out the question...

Hey, I'm grasping at straws here!

by TerryTate :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 11:48am

Fellow Packers fan here. I'm not optimistic, but the Vikings should lose to the Falcons and Giants. I don't see how their running games won't dominate. But considering how inconsistent the Packers have been, they'll probably split their last 4 when they should win out.

by Tundrapaddy (not verified) :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 2:10pm

I don't want to be too optimistic about this, but...I think they'll only lose one of those two.

The Falcons (week 16) will still likely be playing for playoff position, and will probably win, particularly if the Williamses are out (not only because Turner will then be able to charge up the gut at will, but also because Jared Allen will be neutralized via double-teams). If the Williams boys are in, then it's a closer game.

However, I think the Giants will lose at Minnesota. That's because the Giants are almost certain to have locked up their #1 seed, and may be resting starters (see Coughlin's blowback from prior years about 'keeping starters in during meaningless games'). So I'd call that a win for the Vikes.

by MCS :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 12:24pm

Just consider the potential gain in field position they've made by replacing Frosty the Punter with Guy-off-the-Street, Jeremy Kapinos.

He can't be worse. Can he? Can he ?!?

by Unverified Telamon (not verified) :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 10:45am

Ye Gods, was that a non-sarcastic complement of the Texans' unitard (with an emphasis on "tard")? Sir, if you had a uniwatch membership, Paul Lukas would be revoking it right now.

by B :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 11:00am

Did somebody say drinking vodka out of goblets shaped like skulls? Dan Akroyd approves.

by Eddo :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 11:24am

"Add a top receiver and improve the quarterback situation (insert your favorite Donovan McNabb rumor here) and the Bears may have something."
I'm not so sure they need to prioritize the QB position. Orton's not an All-Pro caliber QB (at least not right now), but he's looked pretty good all year without a good receiving option. Give him a go-to guy, and the QB "issues" will magically disappear.

What the Bears need most is a stud pass rusher. The only game in which the front four generated any pressure recently was against the Rams and their "offensive line". The whole pass defense falls apart when the Bears can't get to the QB.

by TerryTate :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 11:46am

Agreed, Orton is 17th in QB DYAR, while is best receiver(Hester) is 61st in WR DYAR.

by Ambientdonkey :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 12:54pm

A tackle and a guard wouldn't hurt either. Hopefully Williams will solve the tackle problem next year. My plan is to trade the first rounder to the Cardinals for Boldin.

by Jimmy :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 1:23pm

A stud pass rusher would be great, but one problem that might crop up is finding a guy who would play ahead of the guys they have now. For the most part Harris, Dvoracek, Brown and Ogunleye seem to have been making decent plays individually without seeming to come together to do much as a group (if that can make any sense). The depth isn't awful either, but I would agree that there seems to be a spark missing. If the Bears can add a top tier free agent I would be chuffed (ie Haynesworth or Peppers, whom the Bears could actualy afford), but I would also be pretty suprised. A draft pick might not be ready to play any time soon, which doesn't solve any problems for next year.

The lacklustre performance of the all three constituent groups on the Bears D does leave me somewhat questioning the guy running the show. Now can anyone tell me which one out of Babich and Smith it is?

I wouldn't mind seeing a free safety that has range and can cover too, it might help camouflage the lack of speed in the rest of the secondary.

As for the offense I personally think Anquan Boldin would look wonderful in Bears colours, but his trade price might be a bit hefty. If that isn't possible then I want the line built out of (metaphorical) granite, because if Orton is going to make any Pro Bowls he is going to need the kind of protection Trent Green set the league on fire with in Kansas.

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 3:44pm

We've had this conversation before Jim, the Bears need receivers badly. Even if Hester turns into the second coming of Steve Smith, that would leave the Bears with one wideout, most teams use two. A decent fullback couldn't hurt either.

by tuluse :: Fri, 12/05/2008 - 3:40pm

I'm a little late to this conversation, so no one will probably read this, but here goes.

I think Chris Williams will add a lot to the Bears offense. St Clair was really exposed against the Vikings, and while he's filled the role of stop-gap better than my expectations, he is definitely limited. If we could add one game breaking receiver, it should make the rest of our receivers look much better. Hester and Lloyd can be a good #2s, Davis can be fine in the slot. Even Booker still has some value when used sparingly.

It seems that Turner isn't going to the TEs as much this past game as he was early, and they are our best receivers.

Angelo is in an odd position this offseason, the team doesn't have any gaping holes (except maybe receiver and right tackle), but doesn't have any elite strengths either. I could see him going DE, CB, safety, receiver, or offensive line in the first round. I think I would like to see a DE, given how the Giants were able to use all the talent they collected.

I just realized I forgot about Earl Bennett, we haven't seen what he can do either.

by SOBL (not verified) :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 11:26am

can you pelase correct the score of that cardinals win over dallas. I don't think it was by 2 TDs since it was settled in OT by a blocked punt.

by Arson55 :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 11:37am

In the Cardinals section, don't you mean their 30-24 win over the Cowboys? Given that it ended in overtime the Cardinals couldn't have won by two scores.

Edit: Oh, apparently someone beat me to it.

by TerryTate :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 11:40am

If Barber is indeed out, how will the Cowboys have the running game to beat the Steelers? I don't see it.

by ammek :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 12:08pm

Dear Vince & Ben, this is how to write an 'amusing foreigners' story.


Why weren't my math teachers this funny?

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 12:37pm

Is there supposed to be a link here?

by dmb :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 3:47pm

I don't think so -- I'm pretty sure "this funny" is referring to the article, as Mr. Tanier is a high school math teacher in his other life.

by Dales :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 12:13pm

As a Giants fan, I am very concerned about this week's game.

There is no doubt that the G-men have been extremely impressive this year to date. Their record says so. DVOA, which tries to account for non-predictive events, says so.

But is it sustainable?

This is a team that has now lost four of its five 'big name' players from the end of last year. Does it really make sense for a team to lose that many quality players and improve dramatically? What would happen to Pittsburgh if they lost Ward, Miller, Woodley and Harrison?

I look at how Hixon has done, and how Moss has done in limited action, and think "yeah, they can survive losing Plax." But it just feels like at some point the bubble is going to burst. And a game against a desperate and talented head-case of an opponent like the Eagles strikes me as just the kind of game that can cause the pop.

by MJK :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 1:20pm

Does it really make sense for a team to lose that many quality players and improve dramatically?
Generally no, but it can. The thing about having a lot of really good veterans is that it can hide how good the younger players behind them on the depth chart are. The obvious Giants examples would be that no one knew that Hixon was any good until Plax missed time, and no one knew how good Jacobs was until Barber was out of the picture. So, if you have quality scouts and a front office good at finding talent, then losing good veterans doesn't have to lead to a lead to a decline, and if you end up replacing a good veteran with someone even better, it can even lead to an improvement.

However, I think you're right in that losing a lot of good players is harder, because the chances of having good people behind all of them gets small. That's why even legitimately good teams have trouble staying legitimately good for long periods of time, and why sometimes it's hard to distinguish a legitimately good team that suffered from some bad injury/idiocy luck from a team with flaws waiting to be exposed. The Giants are the former. I suspect the Giants will pick up an extra loss or two before the season is over, but still end up with a first round bye and go deep into the playoffs.

by Dales :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 2:14pm

True, at each of those positions, the backups have proven to be more than capable (Hixon for Burress, Tuck and Kiwanuka for Strahan and Osi, Cofield for the part-of-the-time-Tuck had been interior, and especially Boss for Shockey).

It would be sweet if we could put the nail in the coffin of the Eagles and Cowboys in the next two weeks. Both scare me more than the NFC South teams.

BTW-- Just heard that Ward was injured during practice today-- possible high-ankle sprain. Perhaps Bradshaw will get more touches, perhaps Ware will be active, or perhaps the injury won't keep Ward out.

by Bjorn Nittmo (not verified) :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 4:54pm

BTW-- Just heard that Ward was injured during practice today...

Where did you read this? Don't like the sound of "high ankle sprain", which like foot injuries always seem to keep players sidelined for much longer than anyone expects.

by Dales :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 11:57pm

Tom Rock's blog on Newsday.com. He updated it later to say that Ward is claiming to not be injured and was acting the way he was while being taped to screw with the staff. (?)

by B :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 1:21pm

As long as they have their O-line and their Defensive front seven, I think the Giants will be fine. So I'd be more concerned about losing Pierce, but apparently he will play this week, so they should be fine.

by Tundrapaddy (not verified) :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 4:03pm

These Giants don't improve dramatically. They improve 'dramastically'.

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 12:29pm

"Ware is one of the two or three best defensive players in the NFL right now (Albert Haynesworth and Nnamdi Asomugha are also on the short list)"

Personally I reckon that James Harrison and Haloti Ngata deserve to be in that bunch, they're both playing superbly for two of the best defenses around.

by Dales :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 1:57pm

Justin Tuck ain't no slouch, either.

by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 3:40pm

I'd agree with Tuck too. It's a little silly to suggest that there is much between these players. I'd throw Patrick Willis in too but I don't want to be accused of bias (as a niners fan) and the defense around him has too many holes, meaning his stellar play is getting overshadowed. He is a beast though, he looks to have really come on from his amazing rookie year.

by JCRODRIGUEZ (not verified) :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 2:29pm

Yeah, it seems that "Jerome" Harrison gets no FO-Kinda Love...frankly, I am offended...oh, and those 20 pesos are about a $1.45...so he gets to be alomost 50% better than Mr. Ford...not that bad...

by MJK :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 1:11pm

Love the Ben-Hur reference...

It's never a good sign when the team's top executive sounds like a literature professor

But it's a very good sign when a sports website's top writer sounds like a math teacher. Or maybe that's the other way around? In either case, great column, Mike!

Some comments:

-The Texan's red uniforms really were hideous.

-It was the Steelers defense AND the weather that de-railed the Pats passing game last week. Where is the Steelers game this week?

-Couldn't think of anything witty to write about Seahawks-Patriots, could you?

-There's been a lot of talk in the threads lately, and in Aaron's writings, about how easy the AFCE has had it this season, getting to play both the poor western conferences and how an AFCE team might underservingly earn a wildcard spot because of it. Kudos to Mike for pointing out the reverse--that the western conference teams have had it even easier by getting to play the other teams in their own diviosion, and getting a HOME playoff game because of it. This reminds me of 2002, where huge strength of schedule disparities let to a lot of underserving teams making the playoffs while some good teams got left out. If it comes down to it, I would far rather see any of the following teams that could miss the playoffs: NE, Miami, Baltimore, Indy, and even San Diego (who will miss the playoffs) than Denver, and would rather see the entire NFCE and NFCS go to the playoffs than either Arizona and Minnesota. I really wish they would re-align back to bigger divisions...

-Norv Turner must go. I think he had almost nothing to do with getting the Chargers to the AFC CG last year...like Barry Switzer or Bill Callahan, he took a team that others has built, and that I could have coached to the playoffs, to the playoffs. I still maintain that firing Marty was incredibly dumb.

by Bobman :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 2:26pm

Damn, the Favre bit was great, but rather than the original Ben-Hur source material, it had me thinking of Monty Burns's bio-documentary from the Simpsons eons ago.

Truly, Mister Burns, you are the king of kings.

Are they saying "boo"?

No, they're saying "boo-urns."

by MJK :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 1:29pm

Oh, one other thought. I think referring to the Patriots as a wildcard team the Broncos could face is wildly optimistic, even for a Patriots fan. New England trails both Indy and Baltimore by a game, Pittsburg by two games (in case Baltimore overtakes them), and loses the tiebreaker to all three teams. Barring a major meltdown by Indy or Baltimore, or an even more major meltdown by Pittsburg, the Patriots aren't getting a wildcard anytime soon, and even if they did they would end up with the #6 seed, which means they probably wouldn't be playing Devner, who seems destined for the #4 seed. The close loss to Indy, the OT loss to the Jets, and the meltdown at the end of the 3rd quarter of the Pittsburg game combine to mean that the Patriots' only realistic shot at the playoffs is if the Jets lose to either Miami or Buffalo (or, even better, both) to even the tiebreaker and the Patriots win enough of their remaining games to make up the one-game difference.

by joon :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 4:43pm

i think a major meltdown for indy is entirely possible... or at least, i did, until i looked at their remaining schedule: home vs cincy AND detroit (good lord), @jax, and then home vs the presumably-resting titans in week 17. what, they couldn't fit yale into their schedule? i do think the colts aren't a good team (merely an okay team), and without mathis, they might have been exposed... but not by the likes of the bengals or lions. the one-game-plus-tiebreak lead on NE looks pretty safe. even in a three-way tie involving the ravens, indy wins because they beat both H2H. so they're looking pretty sweet. i guess that's why the playoff odds report has them at 96%.

by Bobman :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 6:27pm

Indy's cake final sked makes up for the brutal beginning and rough middle. Right now they are an okay team that could be dangerous; they certainly rose to the occasion against most of their good opponents, even if they just scraped by against the lamer ones. When the playoffs come, they're all good, so presumably the Colts will bring their A games again. If they rest a few gimps and get them back for the playoffs, they're officially good.

FYI, IIRC, once it's a 3-way tie H2H does not matter any longer and it falls to conf schedules next. I think Indy STILL has that wrapped up, however.

by jpo287 :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 2:35pm

The Panther's are now doomed!

I've read this column each and every week since the beginning of the season and Mike hasn't missed a single opportunity to lambaste the Panthers. Even when the article/paragraph had nothing to do with them, he has still always found a way to get a dig in. At first, being a Panther's fan, I was a bit miffed. But as they have continued to win, I grew to appreciate Mike's bits of wisdom (winning does that for you). But I am afraid there is nothing to appreciate in today's column as Mike has actually picked the Panther's to win. Hence, I am certain they will now lose. All I can say is THANKS!

by Unverifiable (not verified) :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 2:44pm

Now The Most Important Question; What does Penelope Pitstop have to do with Canada?

by kevinNYC (not verified) :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 2:47pm

I thought the Giants played well defensively last week and the offense certainly could've scored a lot more points in the first half if not for interception that Hixon doesn't see and Derrick Ward's inexplicable avoidance of the first down marker. Manning did throw for 225 yards in the first half.

Based on the past 7 weeks of Giants defense, I think it's safe to say Brian Westbrook will be a non-factor. The game will come down to whether or not the Eagles win the turnover battle with a plus 2/3. If they do, I think they will win. Otherwise, the Giants will be the 2008 NFC East Champs and clinch a bye.

by Dales :: Fri, 12/05/2008 - 8:07am

The only flaw in your argument is Brian Westbrook is Brian Westbrook, and when healthy (is he?) then he is a time bomb-- eventually he's gonna explode, even if you are playing very well.

by The Ninjalectual :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 3:22pm

"Aaron Schatz threatened to fire me if my blood alcohol content rises above the Broncos' DVOA" of -1.8%?

This weekend I am drinking for the Chargers, and as a toast to their .1% DVOA, I will achieve exactly a .1% BAC!

by Tundrapaddy (not verified) :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 4:15pm

...and you will still be legally drunk in every state in the US. But at least it's a physiologically safer target than, say, me drinking towards the Vikings' DVOA mark. Vodka-filled skulls or no (and, to be true to Viking tradition, those should be mead-filled skulls)...

by Key19 :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 4:03pm

Not sure if someone already pointed this out but...

"Most Impressive Wins: Their 34-20 win against the Cowboys proved that these aren't the same lovable losers we've picked on since World War II."

Amazing that a team can be taken into overtime and win by 14! That HAS to be an NFL record!

by MCS :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 4:51pm

Since no one else mentioned it, I will highlight the Cheddar Bob reference. Or should I say Asiago Plax. Or maybe Plaxico Burgos.

Any other ideas?

by The Ninjalectual :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 5:04pm

I don't think you meant "incomprehensible." Incomprehendable might make sense.

by Bobman :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 6:32pm



by Fan in Exile :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 5:19pm

I wasn't expecting much from your analyis of the Broncos on this one, and I got even less. Seriously belly flopped against the Pats. They had one receiving option and their RB's dropped like flies. Even with that they were okay until Champ got hurt. I don't see the pat's smoking a healthy Broncos team. Hillis isn't a plug and play back he's a short yardage beast. They've got someone who can really help them sustain drives if they get the kinks worked out they're going to be a team to reckon with.

by DerekJ (not verified) :: Fri, 12/05/2008 - 2:28pm

I think your wrong about the Broncos. I am a big fan of them and have watched every game of theirs this year. The broncos play very well and rise to the occasion against good teams. I think they could be the dark horse in the playoffs this year and go pretty deep. Hopefully you will eat your words come mid January.

by Hummingbird Cyborg :: Sat, 12/06/2008 - 1:41pm

The Broncos have had a consistently below average defense. There is no question about that.

We can expect any team they play to move the ball against them and score.

The only thing is that they've had as good an above average offense. Combine the two and you get a team that is basically average, but note that the offense has a huge variance and you can see that on a good day, they might have a great offense that can win a shootout against a terrific team or with a little luck, blow out a team that is clearly better than them or have an average offensive day in which they are blown out by an inferior opponent.

This isn't a case of expecting the Broncos to automatically lose against any team in the playoffs. That would be a fair expectation if they had a low variance, but with a high variance, I think that it is fair to say that we simply don't know what to expect.

They could beat a good team as they have a few times this season or they could lose to bad teams as they have this season.