Wednesday, December 21, 2005

WEEK 15 NFL WRAP-UP!

WEEK 15 WRAP-UP

FEATURE REVIEW!

Tampa Bay at New England: "The Pats' are getting healthy at the right time, and their formerly feeble run D has performed like a porn star. ... QB Tom Brady will miss TE Ben Watson if Watson... but an underappreciated Pat' pass catching corps, coupled with a willin' Corey Dillon, should be enuff'. Further, Bucca'Back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams has concerns about 2-wheel drive limitations. Caddy' can play in the sun, and Caddy' can play in the rain... can Caddy' play in the cold and snow? Even HE has doubts and has expressed as much. Although snow is not in the forecast, the temp is expected to hover around the freezing mark. Here's a meaningful stat' if ever there was one; the Buccs' are just 2-21 when the mercury plummets below 40 degrees. Look for a typical Tom Terrific day (225/2-3), and Dillon (90+/2) will relish the chillin' temps. Assuming he's able to play 4, Corey will wear Tampa down with each successive run, and towards the mid-3rd to 4th Q'... expect a lot of half-hearted arm tackles from the Buccaneer defenders."

Until someone knocks them down, the Patriots are the NFL's reigning champs. And accordingly, until someone bloodies their collective post-season nose, New England will remain the team to beat. Period. Not the 13-1 Colts, not the 12-2 Seahawks, not the 11-3 Bengals. No- the Patriots are Football’s championship yard-stick. Best the Pats' and you've beaten the best. Head coach Bill Belichik really is the NFL’s answer to Albert Einstein or Nils Bohr. Dude has broken the game down to it's most basic structure; he understands every component of the game and grasps its most subtle nuance. The Patriots didn’t just beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, a team possessing one of Football’s stingiest Ds and brightest young coaching minds, the Patriots shut-out and shamed their opponents 28-0!
At the start of the season, opposing runners were able to gobble up yards like PacMan does “dots and dashes.” But no more! LB Tedy Bruschi’s recovery from a stroke (however mild, it matters not) is a story in and of itself, yet in team terms, Bruschi’s run-stuffing presence makes a world of difference. The playmaking ‘backer notched 9 Tackles, 2 Sacks, forced a fumble, defended a pass, and was instrumental in holding the Bucca’Back nick-named Cadillac to a spare 27 total yards on 17 touches. The peaking Pat’ D-unit simply blew holes through the Bucc’ O. After suffering the indignity of 7 Sacks (and a lost fumble) young Tampa Bay QB Chris Simms (21/34 for 155/0/0) found himself looking down at the turf with great regularity. The relentless New England pass rush harried Simms all day, and the kid was unable to look downfield for his receivers. Promising rook’ runner Carnell Williams was listed as a “Second-tier Starter” for a reason. Prior to the game, Williams was filled with trepidation about playing in the cold… and expressed as much. Now there’s an ill-advised idea for a professional athlete. Let me tell you, sure as the sun rises and sets, the Patriots smelled Williams’ fear like a shark does blood in the water. And after hanging a measly 23 yards on 14 carries (1.6 YPC), Williams instantly became one of this week’s most disappointing fantasy starts. In stark contrast to Tampa Bay’s offensive futility stood the Patriots’ undisputed leader, QB Tom Brady. Brady was fabulous and he rose to the challenge; undoubtedly, this IS his time of year! A merry ol’ soul is Tom, and Saturday saw Brady distribute passes like Kris Kringle does toys. “Tom Terrific” hit 9 different pass catchers… including a TD toss to O-lineman turned (temporary) TE, Tom Ashworth. The prolific Signal Caller completed almost 65% of his passes for 258 yards, and tossed a TD-Trifecta; WR David Givens (6/137/1 Saturday) and RB Corey Dillon (63 total yards, 2 TDs) hauled in Brady’s other 2 scoring strikes.
I can’t recall who said “Dynasty-shmynasty”… okay, it mighta’ been me. The Pats’ are playing crisp Football and they’re executing on Offense, Defense and Special Teams. In sum, the Pats’ are peaking like a bowl of whipped egg-whites. This week, in front of a national Monday Night Football audience (there’s a riveting game!), Brady and bunch look to do battle with the 3-11 New York Jets. Do NOT expect to see Brady, Dillon, Deion Branch, Tedy and the other starters sit. Yes, New England has clinched a Post-C berth, but coach Belichik claims that this contest will be approached with same energy as any regular season game. Ever the pragmatist, the game’s greatest manager wants his guys to be sharp… and there remains the potential of the Pats’ moving up in the seedings. Against a surprisingly frisky Jet team (after Sunday’s inspired play, Jet RB Cedric Houston should be on a back-needy roster), Brady and Dillon rank as top-tier starters. This past Sunday the Jets finally gave a 100% effort in a game. Bravo! That does not, however, mean they’ll be able to slow either Tom Terrific or a determined Dillon down. In addition, WR David Givens is a fine start as well. Keep an eye in the IR. If Ben Watson should return from his head injury… he’ll constitute an excellent fantasy TE start. As for Tampa? This is a cornered team. The blanking-spanking administered to them by the Pats’ may have snuffed-out their flickering post-season hopes. If TB wins their remaining games against Atlanta and New Orleans then they’ll hold the tie-breaker advantage with a “Divvy’ best” record. Saturday, the Buccs’ host an even more desperate Atlanta Falcon team. Hot-lanta has an 8-6 record… but they’re 4-5 within the conference and 1-3 in the division. To even remotely consider playing after next week, the Falcs’ will need to thrash their final foes, Tampa and Carolina (and even then they’ll need help). This week, although he’s really floundered, start Cadillac Williams against Atlanta’s poor, 22nd ranked (allowing 118+) run D. That is, however, the extent of Tampa’s skill po’ players. WR Joey Galloway might constitute a marginal “Flex” play against a Secondary that has snared 14 INTs and holds opposing Qubes’ below 195 passing yards per game… but you’d be placing a whole lotta’ faith in young Bucc’ Chris Simms, who has a grand total of 1 TD in his last 5 games, and 1 game of 160 or more passing yards over that same span.

San Diego at Indianapolis: "Call me crazy... but Indy's teeny, tiny Secondary will have a hard time containing TE Antonio Gates, and RB LaDainian Tomlinson will be motivated to whip some Colt butt. Brees had a great game against Indy last year, and is a solid fantasy start. Likewise, the 27th (or so) ranked San' Secondary will be hard-pressed to contain a scary deep pool of Colt receivers. On the other hand, a #1 ranked run D will give prolific Colt back Edgerrin James a tough time. ...Edge’ has been THE most reliable runner in the NFL. However, the Bolt’ D is rather lopsided; ranked 1st against the run (yielding a scant 78-ish YPG) and 27th against the pass (surrendering almost 230 passing YPG...with a total of 17 passing TDs thrown against ‘em), Peyton and his pass catchers will probably play the larger role in this one. Further, the San D” will be hitting like sledge-hammers as they must "win the string" (and even if they do that they’ll need help) if they’re to keep their playoff hopes alive. Predicated upon how big a lead… IF there’s a lead the Colts jump out to… Dungy could yank Edge’ by Half-Time and replace him with reliable and sturdy Dominic Rhodes." But, in a shoot-out, the Chargers out-point the Colts... and crush the Colts' dreams of undefeated immortality."

Alright, the bad news? Indianapolis’s hopes of an undefeated season went the way of the Passenger Pigeon.
The good news? that may not be such a bad thing as the pressure is now off. Is the goal of an NFL season to go undefeated? Or, is the goal of each NFL season to hoist the Lombardi Trophy after 16 regular season contests and a fistful of playoff games? There are two schools of thought regarding this matter, and each has merit.
A. After several years, will YOU recall who won the ’05 SuperBowl? Or … let’s look at it this way. Who won the ’97 SuperBowl? (answer lower in this review)-
B. The other school of thought is as follows; the Colts, much like the ’72 Dolphins, would have become immortal. Peyton and pals would have accomplished something that is, quite arguably, the most impressive achievement in sports- an undefeated season!
Since the Bolts’ shocked the Colts Sunday by a score of 26-17… it’s all moot. However, the pressure that was inexorably building with each successive win is now alleviated, and Indy’ can focus upon the ultimate goal; representin’ in Mo-Town for big game XL! Not coincidentally, the ’98 Denver Broncos were the last team to go a lucky 13-0. Guess where they ended up? Riiiggghhht! In San Diego with Favre and the Pack’, playing in SuperBowl XXXII, which they won by a score of 31-24. Ironically, the answer to the above trivia question!
After falling behind by 16 points, the Colts mounted a come-back midway through the 3rd Q’. Indy scored 17 quick points and took a 1 point lead… but the Chargers were not to be broken! K Nate Kaeding was a stud (2/2 XPs, 4/4 FGs)… and I ain’t “Keeding!” The lead-footed Kicker launched a loooonnngg 49 yard FG with 6 minutes and change remaining in the 3rd, and San Diego never looked back. The Colt offense played this game in what appeared to be a half-hearted fashion and it might’ve been a blow-out if not for solid play from the InD’. Manning was Sacked a season-worst 4 times, and although he rolled-up 336 passing yards and a touch’, many of his yards were of the “gimme’, garbage-time” ilk. Peyton also threw a pair of picks and posted a Passer Rating of 70.2. RB Edgerrin James, as projected, struggled mightily against the Chargers’ league-best (surrendering a mere 74 YPG best) run D and was a disappointing fantasy feature back. Edge’ “rumbled” for 25 yards on 13 carries, added 20 receiving yards on 2 grabs, and found the End-Zone. Due to the deficit the Colts were operating from… and given the brazen Bolt’ run D, as projected in the “Pick ‘em” piece, all the offensive weight fell upon Peyton’s pads. Therefore, Manning became a “Wanted Man.” And if Manning was the “Outlaw,” rookie LB Shawn Merriman played the role of “Johnny Law.” Manning will be seeing Merriman in his sleep for the next few weeks; the rookie fell upon the Colt QB like rain, banking 2 Sacks and 4 Solo Tackles. In addition, DE Igor Olshansky and fellow rook’ NT/DE Luis Castillo each pounded Peyton into the turf once, and CB Quentin Jammer put on a Cornerback clinic! Jammer recorded 4 stops and assisted on 3 others, pulled down 1 pick, and swatted away a season-best 5 passes. Even still, P-Mann’ found Marvelous 8 times for 135 yards, Reggie Wayne 10 times for 91 yards, and TE Dallas Clark 3 times for 45 yards and a score.
On the other side of the ball… interestingly enough, neither TE Antonio Gates (6/29) nor RB LaDainian Tomlinson played significant roles in the Chargers’ big W. With LT (24/76) rib sore and bone-weary, backup Michael Turner turned 8 totes into 113 yards and a TD. That TD, mind you, was an 83 yard scamper that salted the win away. As for Bolt’ QB “Cool” Brees… Drew blew both hot and cold this past weekend. The Charger Field General found WRs Keenan McCardell 3 times for 88 and a touch’, diminutive Eric Parker 3 times for 63 yards, and undrafted rookie receiver Vincent Jackson 2 times for 41 yards.
The big Bolt’ win saw an immediate ripple effect. The victory kept 9-5 San Diego’s Wild Card hopes alive while preventing the Denver Broncos from clinching the AFC West. Further, Colt coach Tony Dungy can now rest his starters should he elect to do so as the Colts have Home Field advantage locked-up nice and tight. This weekend, San D’ plays a VERY crucial (for them, both remaining games are crucial) game against a miserable tribe of KC Chiefs. While the Chargers remain on the outside lookin’ in… at least they still maintain a heartbeat. Kansas City’s Post-Season quest effectively ended a couple of weeks ago with a painful, 4 point loss to Dallas. Look for the Chargers to play HARD, and RB Michael Turner could be a sneaky-solid play. Tomlinson’s ribs are really buggin’ him, and he’s been dogged by “off” play. However, RBs Turner and Tomlinson face a Chief run D that was sliced, diced, julienned, gashed, slashed, and mashed by Giant runner Tiki Barber last week. QB Drew Brees is an excellent start against the faltering KC pass D, and TE Antonio Gates is a fine start as well. As for the suddenly self-questioning Colts, Indy locks-up with a fat and happy flock o’ Seahawks on Christmas Eve! Ho-Ho-Whoa! Christmas Eve? Daaaammmmnnnn, there’s an awesome stocking-stuffer! Anyway, the Colts are the AFC’s team par excellence, the ‘Hawks are the best the NFC has to offer, and though both squads may be inclined to rest their starters…. don’t be shocked to see ‘Beck, Peyton, Edge’, D-Jax, Engram, Clark, Reggie and Shaun Alexander go 3 Quarters deep, however. Alexander is a particularly solid play as he’s got a chubby for Priest Holmes’ single-season rushing TD record. With 24 scores already jotted down in his “rushing deposit slip,” “Alexander the Great” needs 3 more 6’s to tie the ill-record… and 4 to own it.
*NOTE: Marvelous has an injured hand- he’s expected to be benched for this tilt. Therefore, TE Dallas Clark should see even more action than he has been. Likewise, #2 TE Bryan Fletcher (missed Week 15 with a sprained knee) and #3 WR Brandon Stokely are both solid starts… Stokely should be an excellent start with Harrison likely out due to injury.

BEST OF THE REST

Kansas City at N.Y. Giants: "...The Giant O-line suffered injuries to BOTH starting Tackles Luke Petigout and Kareem McKenzie... (and) the young Mann' has been regressing a bit, prone to forcing his passes and seeing them sail on him. The Chief run D has improved demonstrably, and the Secondary has played MUCH better of late as well. Lastly, the loss of G-Man 'backer Antonio Pierce bodes poorly. TE Tony Gonzalez AND RB Larry Johnson could run amok today. If the Giants are to win, it'll be because RB Tiki Barber rises to the occassion, along with some ultra-grittiy play from DEs Osi Umenyiora and Mike Strahan. ... Barber’s been THE most unheralded runner in the league, period. And, hot on the heels of last season’s career best production, Tiki just set another impressive mark- a quartet of consecutive 100+ rushing yard games. Over his last 4 games, Tiki has rumbled for 502 rushing yards… and during the week 10 game against Minnesota, Barber ran for 95 and added an additional 111 receiving yards. The sole concern? Tiki has a single score over his last 4. ...LB fill-in Nick Griesen MUST make "Big Blue" think Antonio.... who?" Chief RB Larry Johnson's a beast; look for a multi-TD day..."

Sure, the G-Men missed injured MLB Antonio Pierce and their O-line was a “Tackle tossed-salad”… but with Tiki running through the KC D with all the ease of a sharp knife through silk, NY needed …well, nothing else! Barber found his holes and ran to daylight on nearly every play. The holes; some big, some just creases, and others… others were a mere figment of Tiki’s over-active game-time imagination. And, when there wasn’t a hole to be found… Barber made one for himself. There are times, top athletes say, that “time seems to slow down” and they “see” the action developing moments before it does, allowing them an almost out-of-body” experience. Tiki Barber enjoyed just such an experience this past weekend. Aside from putting their terrible tackling skills on display, it was as if the Chiefs were playing at a slower speed. How ‘bout numbers… ya’ need diggies’? In a season that has seen Barber set or break several records, Saturday, Tiki broke his own record for “Most Rushing Yards in a Season.” The Big Blue back shattered his “old” record of 1,518 rushing yards set waaaay back in … umm, ’04, with an utterly ridiculous 220 yards on 29 carries (the guy averaged 7.6 YPC). The new franchise mark is 1,577 rushing yards… and counting, with games against Washington and Oakland still remaining. Barber also added 29 receiving yards on 5 grabs, and pounded his way into the ‘Zone for a pair of rushing scores. This game was NOT without its warts, however. QB Eli Manning’s (186/1/1) play has visibly regressed, and the NY faithful are not pleased. The younger Manning apparently doesn’t see wide-open receivers, he frequently over and under-throws his pass catchers, and on Saturday, he tossed his 7th INT in his last 4 games, he lost a costly fumble, and understandably… Eli was booed for the first time in his career. When Manning gets anxious in the pocket he has a tendency of throwing the ball so high that former Hoopster Manute Bol (A skill-less 7-7 Center who weighed like… 175 Lbs soaking wet) couldn’t come down with it. Any Safety playing deep has a shot at picking off an Eli Manning pass… and opponents have caught on to this quirk. The good news, aside from Tiki’s unreal play, was that the NY Secondary tightened up and held QB Trent Green to 176 yards, no TDs, and they picked him off once. The G-Men decided to pick their poison and force RB Larry Johnson beat them. A beast of a back, “LJ” hung an impressive line of 186/2. That was to be expected, however, and with TE Tony Gonzalez (4/51) held scoreless, and veteran receiver Eddie Kennison limited to a scant 21 receiving yards… the Giants accomplished precisely what they set out to do.
While this may not have been a “pretty” win… the NFL doesn’t award “style” or “difficulty” points, and a win is a win in the league. That being said, if the Giants hope to make any kind of post-season noise… then QB Eli Manning, TE Jeremy Shockey (3/33), and WR Plaxico Burress (2/34) must develop better on-field chemistry. As of now, the Quarterback and his pass catchers are on different pages. Again, savvy Amani Toomer (5/69/1) was the most productive New York Wideout. “It’s not a tumor, it isn’t” (line from Kindergarten Cop) managed to find the’ Zone for the 4th time in the last 6 games.
This coming week, “Big Blue” is forced to contend with a suddenly impressive band of Redskins. Washington absolutely dismantled the Cowboys Sunday, holding a reasonably potent ‘Poke O to 216 total yards. Worse still, the Redskins were on Drew Bledsoe like white on rice. The Giants ad-hoc O-line better gel quickly if Eli’s life-expectancy is to extend past Sunday. I would not, however, even think of starting Manning if you’ve any other credible alternative. Manning’s worst statistical came against these same ‘Skins a few weeks ago… and I have seen nothing to indicate that he’s prepared to take a step forward. Helping to alleviate the considerable pressure placed upon Eli will be Barber, a “Must Start” candidate. Hot off of his latest act you’re not going to drop the curtain on the Tiki Barber show, though I would expect more humble numbers (115/1-2) TE Jeremy Shockey is a marginal start, WRs Burress and Toomer are pinch starts if you lack better options. As for the Chiefs… they have a date with a desperate San Diego squad. The Bolts’ feast on opposing backs… but struggle to stop the pass. QB Trent Green is a “better than average” Signal Calling start, WR Eddie Kennison is a solid “Flex” receiver, and TE Tony Gonzalez, while disappointing, remains a top 4 TE. Given his dearth of scores, “Gonzo” has been a far better “Yardage League” play.

Pittsburgh at Minnesota: "...While QB Brad Johnson's been the very definition of conservative, somehow... Minnesota's been making the plays when needed. ... RB Michael Bennett has been given his starting job back, but he could surrender the G-Line totes to rook' Ciatrick Faison. Even if he doesn't... Bennett's a marginal start against a fine (Steeler) run D. ...On the other side of the field, RB "Fast" Willie Parker is an excellent start... if you belong to a YARDAGE league. Leagues that place greater emphasis on scoring... eh', not so much. You never know if Bettis will see the bulk of the carries again. Still, Parker's a versatile running threat and I like his receiving skills against a Minnesota team that can still be beaten through the air... surrendering almost 220 passing yards per game and after allowing 19 scores through the air, some might think Minny’ pass vulnerable. HOWEVER, Big Ben’s a dicey start with his damaged digit, and the Viking pass D has stiffened up considerably over the past 4+ weeks. In addition, Roethlisberger and the Steelers will have to contend with the ear-splitting noise of a rowdy Minnesota Metrodome. Such a venue will challenge the young Signal Caller and his single real receiving threat, WR Hines Ward… TE Heath Miller is a decent start too. The concern? Minnesota hasn’t exactly faced the cream of the QB crop. Aside from picking Eli Manning off 4 times several weeks ago, the Purple and White have faced Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jeff Garcia and Joey Harrington, and Okay, a receiver-less Brett Favre. ...While he may end up winning the game… Big Ben’s a marginal fantasy start at best."

Minnesota had ripped off a 6 game winning streak; they seemed to have turned a sinking ship around, QB Brad Johnson was destined to be the team’s savior, and Head Coach Mike Tice’s serious transgressions and errors in judgment (Love Boat, ticket scalping, you name it) were swept under the rug. But, closer inspection will reveal that Minny’ made the most of some terrible teams. The Vikes’ beat Detroit twice, a bad Green Bay team by a Field Goal, a worse Ram team, and they slipped past the Giants by 3 points as well. Any team of relative talent took Minnesota to the woodshed this year; Cincinnati creamed the Vikes by 4+ TDs, Atlanta beat ‘em by 20, a QB-less Chi-town team beat them by 25 points, and the Panthers beat them by the same 25 point margin. The Vikes’ seem to be paper tigers, and with both Baltimore AND Chicago left on the docket… it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Vikings drop 3 straight. Hail to the Steelers, however. Though the Viking Secondary DID manage to stymie Big Ben (149/0/0) and his bum thumb… as projected, RB “Fast” Willie Parker (81 rushing yards, 16 receiving) had the Vikings running all over the field. It was the Steeler’s rock-solid D that made the difference on this day. The boys from Steel City Sacked Brad Johnson 4 times, picked him off twice, and batted away 7 passes. In addition, Pitt’ forced a fumble and held Minny’ to a microscopic 185 TOTAL yards of offense. In a game marred by a combined 25 penalties and over 220 yards assessed, the Steelers simply punched the Vikings in the nose. Looking towards this coming week, as mentioned… Minny’ mixes it up with Balty. RB Michael Bennett is an iffy start… and yeah, that’s about it. As for the Steelers? In a must win tilt, they take on Cleveland. RB Willie Parker and WR Hines Ward are solid starts, and TE Heath Miller (Steelers leading receiver against Minny’ having gone 2/58) is a better than average TE op’. I would be wary of Big Ben and his damaged digit. The Cleveland Secondary is playing better ball of late…. Remember, they kept Carson’s crew below 100 total passing yards recently.

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