(Philadelphia, Pa) — Week 13 of the 2008 NFL season is behind us and despite the weather is starting to become cold in most NFL cities, there is plenty of action heating up as we move toward the playoffs. In another wacky week of play, the NFL did not disappoint delivering statement wins, upsets, and a stuffed turkey or two or three in this week’s case
The week started early with three NFL Thanksgiving games that were symbolic of the holiday as there was three turkey stuffings. The first game featured the Tennessee Titans (11-1) bouncing back from their first loss in week 12 with a 47-10 massacre of the Lions (their worst beating ever on Thanksgiving). The second game was not much better as the Cowboys (8-4) continued their climb back to respectability with a 34-9 drubbing of the Seahawks. The holiday’s nightcap featured another blowout, but this time in a surprise the supposedly finished Philadelphia Eagles and their disrespected quarterback Donovan McNabb (27-39, 260, 4 TDs, 0 INT) rebounded with a resounding 48-20 reclamation win over the Cardinals (have not won a game on the East Coast since November 7, 2004 at Miami).
With most of the East coast of the United States covered by cold, windy, muddy, rainy, and in some parts snowy conditions, many NFL teams had to run the football and play tough defense while looking for turnovers in trying to gain wins. The blueprint on how to deal with the elements was laid out by the NFL’s number one team, the New York Giants — looking to become the first defending Super Bowl champion to go 15-1. The G-Men were able to put the distractions of Plaxico Burress’ eventful night out at the club behind them as they won a tough NFC East battle over the fading Redskins 23-7 in the mud and rain at FedEx Field. With Redskins focused on stopping the Giants vaunted running game by putting eight and sometimes nine guys in the box, Super Bowl MVP quarterback Eli Manning made the ‘Skins pay by throwing for over 300 yards a career-high 239 first-half passing yards. Manning’s beautiful 40-yard touchdown pass to Amani Toomer on the Giants’ opening drive set the tone that the champs would not be distracted from the task at hand. After that point, the Giants power running game (116 rushing yards including 71 yards by bulldozing running back Brandon Jacobs) and their attacking defense (caused 2 turnovers m and DE Justin Tuck 2 sacks) finished off the Redskins to the dismay of their energetic coach Jim Zorn.
The fun part of the NFL at this part of the season is that “self separation” is taking place as the “Contenders” step forward and “Pretenders” move out of the way. The NFL standings clearly show the Have’s (Teams with eight wins or more: Giants, Titans, Steelers, Buccaneers, Panthers, Jets, Ravens, Colts, Cowboys, and Falcons)… the Have Not’s (Teams with eight losses or more: Chargers, Browns, Seahawks, Rams, Chiefs, Raiders, Lions, Jaguars, Bengals, and Browns) with a large jumble of teams in the soon to be shrinking middle that are teetering on the playoff cusp (Patriots, Dolphins, Eagles, Bills, Texans, Broncos, Redskins, Vikings, Bears, Packers, Saints, and Cardinals). Of the teams in the middle, other than expected weak division winners (NFC West: Cardinals, AFC West: Broncos, and the NFC North: Vikings, Bears, or Packers), I still believe these last four weeks of the season will be a sprint to 10 wins to see which teams can claim that remaining wildcard spots. I am sorry to say to fans of teams looking for a 9-win playoff team… forget about it as a team could possibly win 11 games and not make the playoffs (has never happened, but it is possible in this wacky season).
Assuming that potential 15-win teams the Titans and Giants are securely in playoffs, it is now okay to start looking at the final four games of the teams vying for the last 10 coveted playoff berths.
CAR (9-3) TAM (MNF), DEN, @NYG, @NO — My pick to win the NFC South
TB (9-3) @CAR (MNF), @ATL, SDO, OAK — Led by “just-win” quarterback Jeff Garcia, this efficient team shouldl be the NFC’s top wildcard team
DAL (8-4) @PIT, NYG, BAL, @PHI — Have a tough schedule, but Romo should lead them back to the playoffs. If they do make the playoffs, Wade Phillips’ job will be on the line.
ATL (8-4) @NO, TAM, @MIN, STL – Great story, however I believe next year is the year for this too young team.
ARIZ (7-5) STL, MIN, @NE, SEA — Will win the weak NFC West for their fior
MIN (7-5) @DET, @ARI, ATL, NYG — With the loss of the Williams’ Defensive Tackle tag team for four games, they have a tough road to the playoffs, so no playoffs
WAS (7-5) @BAL (SNF), @CIN, PHI, @SFO – Limping home after a 6-2 start as they miss the playoffs
PHI (6-5-1) @NYG, CLE, @WAS, DAL — “Remember the Tie” as the Eagles come up short of the playoffs and the Kevin Kolb regime will soon begin.
CHI (6-6) JAX, NO, GB, @HOU – With the Vikings turmoil expect the Bears to win the NFC North division fueled by some home wins.
NO (6-6) ATL, @CHI, @DET, CAR – Too inconsistent and now they have lost DE Charles Grant and RB Deuce McAllister for four games, no playoffs
GB (5-7) HOU, @JAC, @CHI, DET — Too far behind to jump the Bears and Vikings down the stretch, so no playoffs. But please don’t blame Aaron Rodgers who has had a good season.
PIT (9-3) DAL, @BAL, @TEN, CLE — P’Burgh is the AFC’s second best team as they win the AFC North. Love the way Mike Tomlin’s team pounds the run and attacks on defense with their LB’s.
IND (8-4) CIN, DET, @JAC, TEN — Have won five games in a row and look for them to be on a roll as the playoffs approach due to a nice schedule.
NYJ (8-4) @SF, BUF, @SEA, MIA – Great schedule down the stretch should get Brett’s Jets in the playoffs as the AFC East champs
BAL (8-4) WAS (SNF), PIT, @DAL, JAC – Great story as this young energetic team just misses out on the playoffs as the Patriots grab the last wildcard
DEN (7-5) KAN, @CAR, BUF, @SDO – Will win the very weak AFC West almost by default
NE (7-5) @SEA, @OAK, ARI, @BUF – Look for the veteran Pats to take advantage of a weak schedule as they grab the last wildcard spot. You know Belichick will do everything possible for the playoffs.
MIA (7-5) @BUF, SF, @KAN, @NYJ – Great turnaround from 1-15, but no playoffs
BUFF (6-6) MIA, @NYJ, @DEN, NE – Doomed to not make the playoffs again (last time 1996)
SD (4-8) OAK, @KAN, @TAM, DEN — The NFL’s biggest disappointment team doesn’t deserve a playoff spot as the Denver wraps up the AFC West title
Some tidbits from Week 13 were:
- Road teams are no “homecoming” squads – This week showed almost every team is fighting till the end even if they are not in their comfy home confines. Road teams were a collective 12-4 in week 13 including an amazing 10-2 record on Sunday. The biggest road surprise was the rejuvenated San Francisco 49ers under fiery new head coach Mike Singletary playing spoiler in a 10-3 win over the Bills in Buffalo. The win made the Cardinals have to wait another week to win the NFC West and the Niners showed that a West Coast team could win on the East Coast (West Coast teams were collectively 0-15 on the East Coast this season going into Sunday).
- Physical teams showing their mettle – The NFL’s top three teams the Titans, Giants, and Steelers showed again that running the ball and playing tough defense are essential in the Championship round months of November and December. The Titans feasted on the winless Lions producing an amazing 292 rushing yards and creating three turnovers; the Giants ran for 116 yards and produced one turnover in a win over the Redskins; and the Steelers ran for over 100 yards, but it was their defense harassment of Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel (five sacks, two fumbles, and two INTs) that was the story of the game.
- The NFL’s Biggest Disappointment Teams continue their free-fall – When everyone was predicting NFL winners in the preseason, some of the hottest picks were the Browns, Chargers, Packers, Seahawks, and Jaguars. Well unfortunately in week 13, each of those teams continued to limp home in a season that definitely will end with the screaming label “Don’t Believer The Hype”. The Seahawks (2-10) were embarrassed by the Cowboys on Thanksgiving 36-3 as head coach Mike Holmgren is looking for the exit; the Browns (4-8) could not stop the Colts from winning an ugly game 10-3 in the slop and wind of Cleveland Browns Stadium; the Packers (5-7) could not gain ground on the rest of the NFC North by losing 35-31 to the Panthers at home as Steve Smith delivered two knockout blow catches; the Chargers (4-8) with flickering hopes of winning the woeful AFC West, were beaten 22-16 at home by the upstart Falcons; and the biggest disappointment team of the 2008 NFL season in my opinion, the Jacksonville Jaguars continued to look like a shell of last season’s playoff marauders by getting their tails kicked on Monday Night Football 30-17 by the improving Texans.
- Lions may very well be the worst team in NFL History – As I was munching down my last bits of turkey and stuffing on Thanksgiving, I finally wrapped my thoughts around the fact that the putrid Lions maybe the NFL’s first 0-16 team in the league’s 89-year history. The 0-14 expansion 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have nothing on former GM Matt Millen’s and head coach Rod Marinelli’s group that has become the NFL’s laughingstock – have lost 19 of their last 20 games. Not even NFL ultimate retread quarterbacks Daunte Culpepper and Drew Henson can keep this horrible team from losing. Against the Titans, it was embarrassing as Tennessee tried to call off the dogs. But the Lions kept putting them in the red-zone after turnovers, sacks, and overall poor play. The situation as longtime Lions kicker Jason Hanson described with the great quote, “All we’re doing right now is making everybody just laugh.” Now you have to look at the Lions final 4 games (MIN, @IND, NO, and @GB) and search real hard to find a win.
- 2008 NFL Season Honors Getting Closer – Whether it is emailers, callers, or co-workers everyone wants to know “Who are my current picks for the major awards this season?” Of course with four weeks remaining these picks are preliminary and open to change. Coach of the Year: Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons – Team is (8-4) and right in middle of the playoff hunt after being picked to win around 6 games (runner-ups Colts Tony Dungy and Ravens John Harbaugh); Rookie of the Year: RB Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans – This mercurial rookie is the key to the Titans’ offense as he has run for an NFL sixth highest total of 958 yards and proved he can carry the playoff load (runner-ups Falcons QB Matt Ryan and Ravens QB Joe Flacco); Most Valuable Player: Kurt Warner, Arizona Cardinals – The graybeard quarterback is looking like his old “Greatest Show on Turf” former Rams self — seems to have thrown for over 300 yards every game – and Warner has the Cardinals on the brink of winning their first division title since 1975 (runner-ups Colts QB Peyton Manning, Titans DT Albert Haynesworth, Giants RB Brandon Jacobs and Giants DE Justin Tuck)
Denver Broncos QB Jay Cutler – Everyone snickered when the brash thrower said, “His arm was better than Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway”… well maybe Cutler is in ballpark. On a miserable cold and wet Northeastern game day, the Broncos rode their young quarterback to victory. Cutler was the key for the underdog Broncos to slay the mighty Jets, who recently had disposed the formerly undefeated Titan, in an entertaining 34-17 win. Cutler was unfazed by the weather throwing for numbers 27 of 43 for 357 yards and 2 TDs — it was the former Vandy star’s sixth 300-yard game of the season. In the coming weeks the Broncos and Cutler should put the AFC West title in the bag.
Houston Texans DE Mario Williams – I wonder if the experts still believe that the Texans should have taken Reggie Bush instead of Williams — I know I have eaten much crow over comments I made after the 2006 Draft. Williams was a man posed on Monday Night Football as he recorded third sacks and forced a David Garrard fumble that sealed the game for the Texans in a 30-17 rout.
Houston Texans RB Steve Slaton – The former West Virginia running back slid under the radar in the 2008 NFL Draft, but he has been making his presence felt lately. Slaton may not have the first round status of the Titans Chris Johnson, but he is pushing everyone including Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco for rookie of the year consideration. The Philadelphia area native was spectacular on Monday Night Football rushing 21 times for 130 yards and 2 TDs while also contributing 2 receptions for 52 yards.
Baltimore Ravens WR Mark Clayton – What a game for the Ravens multi-dimensional threat. Clayton had a career-high 164 yards receiving on five catches including a spectacular 70-yard one-handed touchdown catch. The former high school quarterback even made an impression throwing the ball as he took a handoff from QB Joe Flacco and threw 32-yard touchdown to a wide-open Derrick Mason.
Indianapolis Colts DE Robert Mathis – On a day when Peyton Manning and the Colts offense sputtered, it was Tony Dungy’s attacking defense that led the way. Mathis, who sometimes is a forgotten player due to All-Pro DE Dwight Freeney on the other side, was everywhere in the Colts 10-6 victory in Cleveland. Mathis scored the game’s only touchdown on a 4th quarter fumble recovery and finished with two sacks as the Colts made it 5th straight wins.
Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb – After a tumultuous week where almost everyone buried the 10-year veteran quarterback after an unwarranted halftime benching in Baltimore the week before, D-Mac was back. McNabb like he has done again and again after a controversy (see Rush Limbau, HBO-gate, etc) played with swagger and a huge chip on his shoulder in a 48-20 Thanksgiving rout of the Cardinals. Big 5 completed his first six passes on the way to outstanding numbers 27 of 39 for 260 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions. It maybe too late for the Birds to make the playoffs, but McNabb showed that he is still a Top 10 NFL quarterback.
Other Honorees: Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson (Had his 13th career 100-yard rushing game in a big division win over the Bears finishing with numbers 28 rushes for 131 yards and 1 TD) Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson (The odds on favorite for R.O.Y ran all over the hapless Lions for numbers 16 carries for 125 yards and 2 touchdowns including a 58-yard sprint), NY Giants (Put the Plaxico Burress Friday night mess in their rearview as they pounded the Redskins 23-7), San Francisco 49ers (Proved a West Coast team can win back East by upsetting the host Buffalo Bills), Minnesota Vikings DE Jared Allen (The ’07 NFL sack champ was everywhere in the Vikes win over the Bears producing 8 Tackles and 3 sacks) and Miami Dolphins RB/Wildcat QB Ronnie Brown (15 rushes for 48 yards and 1 TD plus 1 for 1 passing for 12 yards).
New England Patriots QB Matt Cassel – After becoming the NFL’s darling passer by throwing for over 400 yards in consecutive wins, Matt Leinhart’s former backup at USC crashed and burned in a 33-10 loss the Steelers. Cassel looked very befuddled as the Steelers pressured him all day producing 5 sacks. Cassel’s final numbers were not very “Brady-like” (19 of 39 for 169 yards, 0 TDs, 2 fumbles, and 2 INTs)
Other Dishonorees: St. Louis Rams QB Marc Bulger (The former Pro Bowl passer was terrible in a 16-12 loss to the Dolphins throwing for numbers: 16-35, 149 yards, 0 TDs, and 3 INTs), NY Giants WR Plaxico Burress (Didn’t play against the Redskins, but he once again was a huge distraction with his off-the-field actions this time shooting himself in the leg at a nightclub), Buffalo Bills QB Trent Edwards (Before leaving with a groin injury, he was awful in a bad loss to the Niners finishing with ugly numbers 10-21, 112 yards, 0 TDs, and 0 INT) and the three Thanksgiving Turkeys (Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks, and Arizona Cardinals — Lost by a combined score of 129 to 39 and thanks for contributing to my indigestion problems).
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)