The Spotty Track Record of NFL Talent Evaluators
Victor Cruz has been the league's No. 3 fantasy wideout in standard leagues, and that's despite seeing just four targets in the season's first two games combined. In fact, most non-Giants fans probably would never have heard of Cruz had Domenik Hixon, a journeyman third receiver, not torn his ACL in Week 2 against the Rams. Cruz has been with the Giants since 2010, and they had the opportunity to see him practice on a daily basis and watched him light up the Jets in his first preseason. Still, they placed him on injured reserve last October despite a relatively minor hamstring injury to clear up roster room and buried him behind Hixon on the depth chart heading into 2011. The Giants also finished 10-6 last year, falling just short of a playoff spot, in large part because Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks were hurt for much of the season's final six weeks. Had the team waited on Cruz, it's possible they would have won another game and gotten in.
Of course, the Giants are far from the worst team at recognizing and developing talent. Moreover, scouts and media gush over blue-chip prospects like Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford, while scoffing at Tim Tebow, despite Tebow's massive success as a passer in college. The Browns began 2007 with Charlie Frye as their quarterback, traded him a week later and went with backup Derek Anderson who made the Pro Bowl that year. Tom Brady might never had gotten a chance had Mo Lewis not collapsed Drew Bledsoe's lung in 2001, Tony Romo, Kurt Warner and Fred Jackson weren't drafted, and Jamarcus Russell and Tim Couch were drafted No. 1 overall. Aaron Rodgers, arguably having the greatest season in NFL history, slipped to pick No. 24 in 2005, while Alex Smith went No. 1 overall. Of course, Matt Leinart would have been the No. 1 overall pick had he come out that year.
The bottom line: when people argue that a player can't get it done because of his footwork, throwing motion, makeup (Kevin Dyson over Randy Moss, anyone?), be very skeptical. The most important reason to be highly regarded by NFL talent evaluators is you'll get more chances to fail before they pull the plug on you completely. Right now, if I had to choose which three quarterbacks in which to buy futures between Bradford, Ryan and Joe Flacco, or Tebow, Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton, I'd go with the latter. (I realize Ponder was a high first rounder, but many considered him a reach at No. 12).
The Giants Have It Backwards
For most of the year, the Giants (3.3 YPC, 32nd) ran the ball in situations when they should have been passing it (8.4 YPA, 3rd). But on Sunday, down eight to the Packers with 1:16 left and first and goal from the two-yard line, the Giants attempted two passes (both incomplete) before scoring on a touchdown on third down. This left Aaron Rodgers with 58 seconds and a timeout and needing just a field goal.
With more than a minute to play and one timeout, the Giants had all the time in the world to score from the two yard line, so the running clock – far from being their enemy – was in fact their friend. It might be hard for teams to grasp how this changes – usually when you're behind, you're fighting against the clock – but sometimes, in situations like this, you can still be behind, but your time management strategy shifts. Of course, the Giants didn't grasp this, both needlessly running a play before the two-minute warning and then of course passing on first and second downs near the goal line. Because had the Giants run on those plays, they either (1) would have scored the needed TD; or (2) been stopped short and used up the excess time that allowed Green Bay to win the game.
As for the argument I've heard that the Giants needed to preserve time in case they missed the two-point conversion for an onside kick, it's unpersuasive. The chance of making an onside kick when the other team is expecting it is 20 percent. And in the unlikely event you recover the kick, you still need to advance the ball and make a field goal. Not leaving time for the Packers in the event of a made two-pointer was a greater concern than leaving yourself time in the event of a missed one – even when you factor in that making the FG after the onside kick wins you the game, while using up the entire clock merely sends you to overtime.
Things to Take Away from Week 13
•No player is more aptly named than Pat Angerer who left Sunday's game in the first quarter with zero tackles for my struggling Steak League team.
•Tebow surely benefited from blown coverages, but his passes could not have been more accurate, especially the 4th quarter drop by Demaryius Thomas in the end zone in the face of the blitz. And for those who complain it was wobbly, realize only Peyton Manning can throw a wobbler with that much accuracy.
•The Broncos have won five in a row despite being underdogs in all five games. Had you bet $100 on the first game and let your winnings ride, you would've won $23,940. (Hat Tip @RJinVegas). If Wesley Snipes ever makes Passenger 58, Mike Salfino will be the villain, and when they talk, Snipes will say: "Ever go to a sportsbook?" Salfino: "Yes." Snipes: "Always bet on Tebow." If I were a Hollywood exec, I'd green light that script, based on that scene alone.
•Who knew Jay Cutler and Matt Forte were such important parts of the Bears offense?
•Setting aside the disastrous fourth-quarter interception, Ponder threw for 381 yards (8.1 YPA) and three TDS against a Broncos defense that had limited Philip Rivers and Mark Sanchez to 5.2 and 6.3 YPA, respectively in its two previous games. (Of course, Von Miller was out, but it was an impressive performance nonetheless, especially given the beating Ponder took in the first half).
•It's amazing it took so long for the Vikings to make proper use of Percy Harvin, an elite talent when healthy.
•While Drew Brees (4,032 yards) is on pace for 5,376, shattering Dan Marino's record of 5,084, the New England defense has allowed 3,720, on pace for 4,960 which would be third all time for a quarterback. In other words, the Patriots pass defense makes its average opponent into an all-time yardage great. That shouldn't be so surprising since it allowed 400-plus to Vince Young and Chad Henne and 353 to Dan Orlovsky Sunday. Somehow, though, the Pats are 13th best in points allowed, ahead of the Jets (16th).
•Speaking of Orlovsky, why did it take so long for the Colts to turn to him? Surely they know he's the guy to turn to during an 0-16 season? Orlovsky has an excellent chance to be the anti-Randy Moss (only player to be on two 15-plus win teams – 1998 Vikings, 2007 Patriots). Seriously, though, given the state of the Colts defense, Orlovsky might be useful down the stretch in a Matt Moore/Ryan Fitzpatrick kind of way.
•Running backs are typically more consistent week-to-week than wideouts, but Chris Johnson has been the exception with four games with 25 yards or less and four games of 100 or more.
•Jermichael Finley drops a lot of passes.
•No one can allege that LeGarrette Blount isn't a leader.
•If Wade Phillips can be this good as a defensive coordinator and that bad as a head coach, one has to wonder about how much of a correlation there is between the skill sets for those two jobs.
•Leslie Frazier was playing for the blocked field goal Sunday rather than letting Denver score and trusting his offense (which had scored 32 points) with 1.12 left. But John Fox must have been worried about the block as well because it sure looked like the Broncos were trying to score. Frazier's reasoning was ridiculous, but it shouldn't have even been in his hands at that point had Fox not been just as out to lunch.
Things to Look for in Week 14
•The Giants take on the Cowboys for the NFC East lead.
•Can Rex Grossman throw for 350-plus against the Pats?
•Can the Saints (3-3 on the road) win in Tennessee?
•Can Tebow win as a 3.5-point favorite against the Bears?
•The Packers defend their winning streak against the Raiders.
Beating the Book
Patriots -8.5 at Redskins
The Patriots can cover a big number easily, but this is huge on the road against a Washington team that plays passable defense and has moved the ball well of late. Plus, for whatever reason Mike Shanahan's teams have always fared well against Bill Belichick's. Back the Redskins who keep it close.
Patriots 24 - 23
Last week we won with the Giants to go 8-5 in this forum, 9-7 on the week and 92-95-5 overall. We were 10-7 in this forum last season and 40-27 over the four years of the column (we skipped Week 17 in 2007). From 1999-2010 we've gone 1565-1387 against the spread (53%, not including ties). The full article comes out Wednesday night.
Surviving Week 14
Last week, we had the 49ers who won easily, but the Bears and Cowboys probably knocked a few people out of your pools. Let's take a look at this week's slate:
|Team||Opponent||% Picked*||Vegas ML**||Vegas Odds|