Week 15 NFL Wrap-up: The Struggle for Power
Editor’s note: This fall, Sam Ennis and Nathan Schiller will cover the 2012 NFL season with a blog called “Vinatieri, Back to Kick It Off.” (If you don’t know why we’re calling it this, you obviously didn’t play excessive amounts of Madden ’98.) Each week, they’ll exchange thoughts on the previous week’s games, examine developing and ongoing league trends, bring in guest writers to irrationally breakdown their favorite teams, and unravel many more features. Imagine the format to be like a radio show, except written. (In other words, not like a radio show at all.) The blog will run every Tuesday at Construction.
SAM: What a week! Unlike some NFL seasons, where there are one or two clear juggernauts that have already distinguished themselves by Week 10 (think Packers last year and Patriots every year since 2000), this year seems to have an inordinate amount of parity and schizophrenic play. Atlanta went from getting beaten down by the ghastly Panthers to smoking the Giants, who themselves had just destroyed the Saints and seemed primed for their annual December transition from middling contender to Super Bowl winner. The AFC North remains in a state of utter disrepair, with Baltimore fading, the Steelers faded, the Bengals never seeming to be able to get quite over the hump, and the Browns remaining the Browns. One thing we do know, though, is that Detroit is awful and that the Chiefs are probably going 1-15 next year also, unless the rest of the league gives them the entire first round in the 2013 draft. So, Nate and I got to thinking that rather than our usual batch of pointless power rankings or semi-coherent prognostication, we’d recap the games with playoff implications and offer pointless, semi-coherent insight into what they mean.
San Francisco 41, New England 34
SAM: This might be the only game I’ve ever seen where either team could’ve won by three touchdowns had they gotten a few breaks. The Niners were up 31-3 and could’ve been winning by more had a few early drives not stalled in the red zone, and yet the Patriots somehow managed to score four touchdowns in a row. Having spent the season watching the decrepit, half-assed Steelers and the not-quite-there-yet Redskins, this game was like transitioning from the Big Sky Conference Championship to the Super Bowl. These teams are just so, so much better than anyone . . . and will both probably lose next week.
NATHAN: When you’re used to watching a team that commits endless special teams penalties and fails to produce two consecutive good plays, let alone two games, you enjoy the big league matchup, even if you want the Patriots to lose because of your fandom hatred for Brady and Belichick and the Niners to not win the Super Bowl so they can’t tie your team in total Super Bowl wins. The 49ers are fast on defense, disciplined on offense. If Brady gets protection—and he usually does—the Patriots can score at will. Semi-interesting stats from this game: both of each team’s longest drive (15 plays, 76 yards, 6:04 TOP for the Niners; 16 plays, 62 yards, 6:24 for the Pats) ended in field goals. The Niners scored their 5 touchdowns on an absurd 12 plays, which should be enough to win every game where that happens. But, as we remember, the Pats scored 4 straight touchdowns to end the third quarter and start the fourth. They needed 35 plays to do it, but only 10 minutes and 40 seconds (2:10 per drive). That’s fast. Brady was a machine on those drives.
Denver 34, Baltimore 17
SAM: Joe Flacco’s garbage time touchdowns were just about the only thing keeping this one from being even more of a massacre. Remember last season when Flacco and Torrey Smith combined to stun the Steelers in Pittsburgh on a game-winning two-minute drill and we had to sit through a month of “Let me tell you something, there’s a new sheriff in the AFC North!” nonsense on all the talk shows? Well, turns out Flacco and Smith might both be terrible, which is just fine with me. Meanwhile, is it possible that the Broncos were secretly the best team in the NFL last year but/for the whole Tebow thing? Is Peyton Manning seriously going to win the MVP? Is the AFC Championship seriously going to be Manning-Brady again? Is this 2004?
NATHAN: Regarding Flacco, we really can’t say until the playoffs. I know I always make this point, but last year he threw a game-winning pass in the AFC Championship Game. We excuse Eli Manning’s annual regular season woes for his once-in-a-lifetime playoff completions; the difference here seems to be that David Tyree and Mario Manningham caught the ball, while Lee Evans didn’t. Also important: Flacco’s only in his fifth season.
As for your last four questions: yes, yes, yes, and yes. No normal human being—or even normal professional athlete—could do what Manning’s done after his neck thing. The reason he should win the MVP is because with an average-good quarterback, like Flacco or Josh Freeman, the Broncos would be 8-6 or 7-7. He and Marino are the only QBs in league history whose average receivers are never mentioned, because their receivers don’t matter; they make them good. Decker, Dreesen, Thomas, and Tamme should send holiday cards to Peyton each time they send one of their kids off to college with a brand-new $100,000 Mercedes. You know Stokley has.
On this note, we should also take a minute to comprehend the incomprehensibility of Adrian Peterson, who recently tore his ACL and now, with 1,812 yards in 14 games, needs to average 147 yards in each of his final two games (he’s averaging only 129 so far) to break Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record of 2,105 yards. Peterson’s averaging 6.2 yards per carry, and he gets the ball only 20 times per game. What do the Vikings have to lose by not giving it to him 35 times? He should win the Comeback Player of the Year in one of those “landslide” votes.
Also, can you imagine him on the Patriots? I’m sure some contrarian would love to wait until the Pats didn’t win the Super Bowl to argue that AP actually disrupted Brady’s preciously balanced offense, but just imagine. Brady can’t find one of his receivers . . . Brady wants to run a draw . . . so he hands off to the most powerful back since Jim Brown. Roger Goodell should pull a David Stern and force this to happen.
Last thing: Google “Adrian Peterson.” Did you know he was born in Palestine and his nickname is “Purple Jesus”?
Green Bay 21, Chicago 13
SAM: The Bears didn’t draft a single offensive lineman in the 2012 draft. How is that possible? I’m fairly certain that I could line up at left tackle and put up more of a fight than J’Marcus Webb, if only by falling down and trying to trip the defense. Meanwhile, Jay Cutler has quietly played one good game in the past month (and Chicago still lost) and continues to look like Alec Baldwin’s obese brother, Leroy. Remember when people were calling the Bears the best team in the NFL? Neither do they.
NATHAN: J’Marcus Webb likes to instruct his 10,875 Twitter followers to “Bear down.” Um . . . ?
Houston 29, Indianapolis 17
SAM: Indy was one of the hottest bets in Vegas this week, with the public apparently assuming that a team that’s currently starting rookies at QB, RB, two WR positions, and both TE positions was a lock for the #1 seed. Not quite. Also, J.J. Watt and Aldon Smith are somehow both poised to break Michael Strahan’s fake sack record. I think the last time the Steelers had a sack was Week 3.
NATHAN: I think the last time James Harrison put pressure on the quarterback was in the 2009 Super Bowl. But while we’re on these two teams, I want to point out that although Luck and the Colts are exceptionally young, Matt Schaub is a mystery as well: in six seasons as the Texans’ starter, he’s never played in the playoffs. At the same time, he’s 10th on the NFL Career Passing Rating Leaders list. I know that list is a bit misleading because it disproportionately rewards QBs operating in the pass-happy post-Elway NFL—except for Steve Young, all QBs in the top 10 began their careers later than 1998, which is to say that in 1997 the top 10 would have read: Young, Joe Montana, Otto Graham, Dan Marino, Trent Green, Brett Favre, Rich Gannon, Jim Kelly, Mark Brunell, Roger Staubach—but it does speak to Schaub’s pure passing ability. Having home field advantage should be to his advantage, too, since this season his rating is 105.6 in home games vs. 81.6 in away games. Everyone wanted to eliminate Houston after their loss to the Patriots. But we have no idea.
Atlanta 34, New York Giants 0
SAM: Matt Ryan, like a boss! Given the seemingly nonstop cacophony of “Matt Ryan needs to prove it in the playoffs” that all the writers and pundits have trotted out all season, I feel like Ryan’s postgame press conference should’ve looked something like this clip from Gladiator.
NATHAN: I think Russell Crowe threw that sword with less velocity than he tossed the telephone at the Mercer Hotel concierge.
Dallas 27, Pittsburgh 24
SAM: Long have I bemoaned how injuries have sunk the Steelers’ season, but this week was particularly pathetic. Ike Taylor was again out with an injury, so we moved Keenan Lewis to our #1 spot. Cortez Allen should’ve replaced Lewis at #2, but he was hurt, and Curtis Brown should’ve replaced Allen, but he was so horrible against Baltimore and San Diego that we replaced him with someone named Josh Victorian, who sounds like he should be a guy-with-a-guitar emo singer but is apparently an “NFL” cornerback whom we signed off the street earlier in the week. You’re welcome, Tony Romo. For now, I’m going to pray that Manti T’eo tweaks a knee in the national championship, looks terrible at the combine, and falls to the 7-9 Steelers in the draft.
NATHAN: I feel like I’ve found myself frustrated at Steelers penalties far too often this season, so I checked out how often they get flagged. Turns out they commit only 6.0 penalties per game, which is good enough to tie Denver and Carolina for seventh in the NFL. However, the Steelers give up 9.7 yards per penalty, which would be last in the league, were it not for the Jaguars, who clock in at 9.8. Why does this happen? Well, if line infractions like offsides and false starts cost a mere five yards, but spot fouls like pass interference can cost up to 100 yards, and a team fields a bunch of defensive backs who try to compensate for their lack of coverage skills by interfering with a receiver attempting to catch a pass . . . you get where I’m going with this.
Follow-up A: The Steelers have seven interceptions this season (tied with Dallas, Kansas City, and Philadelphia for last in the league), and since Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley (linebackers) have four of those, that means the Steelers defensive backs have three interceptions all season (Ryan Clark two, Ike Taylor one). And yet, every game the TV announcers breathlessly praise the Steelers for “once again having the league’s number-one defense!” When will “total yards allowed” quit serving as the mass media standard for rating defenses? I really hope that one Sunday evening Al Michaels explains that NBC is now using DVOA rankings for offense and defense, and that everyone just has to accept that it’s the best representation of a team’s ability. Fans would subsequently be informed that the Steelers had the 14th best defense, and finally their 7-7 record would make sense. Are the networks really that afraid that the people who enjoy Toyota Tundra commercials will revolt against them if they see an “advanced” statistic on their TV screen? No, they’ll just drink another Coors Light.
Follow-up B: Dallas is the most penalized team in the league, averaging 8.0 per game, but yields the least amount of yards per penalty, at 7.3.
Follow-up C: Did you know that there’s a penalty called “Touchdown Awarded (Palpably Unfair Act),” which can be called “when [a] Referee determines a palpably unfair act deprived a team of a touchdown . . . [such as when a] player comes off bench and tackles [a] runner apparently en route to touchdown”? I can’t wait until Ike Taylor sticks out his walking boot and trips A.J. Green.
Washington 38, Cleveland 21
SAM: Last week in Construction, Mary Prendergast detailed the renewed hope of the Redskins nation post-RG3. Well, Kirk Cousins acquitted himself fairly well, I’d say. We watched this game at Joxer Daly’s, a ridiculously fanatical Irish pub in Los Angeles that was so packed with Skins fans it was difficult to move or breath, and which was made all the more authentic given that a bunch of firefighters and cops were having a joint retirement party and the place was filled with uniformed officers (all of whom seemed to be Irish) getting hammered. Given my position as an Indian lawyer, the now-on-Facebook video of me singing “Hail to the Redskins” is probably in poor taste.
NATHAN: No links for the public???
Cincinnati 34, Philadelphia 13
SAM: This game sucked, these teams both suck, and yet Cincinnati is absolutely going to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh next week to knock us out of playoff contention. Goddammit.
NATHAN: Remember the all-time QB rating leaders list I referenced some sections above? Andy Dalton, at 84.7, is tied for #26 with Rich Gannon and ahead of Jim Kelly, Roger Staubach, Steve McNair, Len Dawson, Sonny Jurgensen, Eli Manning, Matt Hasselbeck, Ken Anderson, Troy Aikman, Randall Cunningham, Boomer Esiason, Warren Moon, Bart Start, Fran Tarkenton, Dan Fouts, John Elway, Johnny Unitas, Drew Bledsoe, Bob Griese, Norm Van Brocklin, Sid Luckman, Y.A. Tittle, Sammy Baugh, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Namath, and Steve Spurrier.
Seattle 50, Buffalo 17
SAM: Between Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins, I’d say there are a few QB-starved teams out there that are wishing they’d rolled the dice. Seattle has somehow scored over 100 points in the past two games, but is basically penciled into the five-seed in the playoffs and will have to run the table on the road. Probably not a good thing. Also, my confident recommendation that Mary draft the Buffalo defense for her fantasy team is looking, in retrospect, to be less than my finest hour.
NATHAN: Picture Russell Wilson dropping back with J.J. Watt pushing around the right tackle. How does he complete a pass to that side of the field?
Finally, I regret to inform you that I will not dignify fantasy football on this blog. This post is now over.