Articles by Andy Benoit

A listing of all the articles written by Andy Benoit for the RotoWire Blog.

NFL Touchdown: Key Trait For All 8 Final Teams

“You’ve heard the old adage that says “Defense wins championships.” Maybe it does. Or maybe it’s just defensive coaching. The most glaring commonality among the NFL’s final eight teams – and something that no one seems to have yet noticed – is that all eight have excellent defensive coordinators. Take a look:

New York Giants – Steve Spagnuolo

By far the most popular head coaching candidate on the market right now. Thanks to his aggressive and creative use of the front seven, Spagnuolo has received an enormous share of the credit for New York’s Super Bowl run last season. And he’s perhaps done an even better job this season.

Philadelphia Eagles – Jim Johnson

Arguably the preeminent defensive play-caller of this decade. Johnson’s quasi-46 scheme can give any offense fits, mainly because the master does such a tremendous job of customizing it for each opponent. Johnson also has a preternatural ability to spot and develop raw talent.

Arizona Cardinals – Clancy Pendergast

The Cardinals defense has been sub-par throughout most of this season, but experts will tell you that it’s not the coordinator’s fault. NFL inner-circles admire Pendergast for having such a variegated, flexible scheme. Apparently, so do the Cardinal; he was one of the few coaches on Ken Whisenhunt’s staff who was retained after Denny Green got fired

Carolina Panthers – Mike Trgovac

The most unknown of the remaining D-coordinators just happens to have one of the steadiest records. Entering this season, the Panthers had finished ranked in the top 10 in defensive yardage four times in six years. They fell to No. 18 this season. However, as Carolina’s 12-4 record indicates, Trgovac may have his best defensive unit since the ’03 Super Bowl squad.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Dick LeBeau

No explanation needed here. LeBeau, the most revered defensive coordinator in the game, is the father of Pittsburgh’s patented 3-4 scheme. He has a realistic shot at making the Hall of Fame as an assistant coach.

San Diego Chargers – Ron Rivera

The Chargers season turned around after Rivera replaced Ted Cottrell. The former Eagles linebacker coach is well-schooled in a multitude of schemes. Rivera became a red-hot head coaching candidate after leading the Cover 2 Bears to the Super Bowl in ’06, and he’ll probably be a white-hot head coaching candidate in 2010 after teams take a step back and see what he’s been able to do with San Diego’s 3-4 scheme.

Baltimore Ravens – Rex Ryan

As great as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are, Rex Ryan might be the most valuable contributor to Baltimore’s “Ravenous”
defense. Ryan is a perennial head coaching candidate, mainly because his players are always the most intelligent and well-prepared group in football. And those players will do anything for their defensive coordinator.

Tennessee Titans – Jim Schwartz

Another prominent head coaching candidate, especially after the job he’s done this season. A startling number of young players have developed under Schwartz the past few seasons, including cornerback Cortland Finnegan, safety Michael Griffin, defensive tackle Tony Brown and linebacker Stephen Tulloch. And just about every veteran who joins the Titan defense seems to get better right away (see Kyle Vanden Bosch, David Thornton, Jevon Kearse, Nick Harper, Chris Hope).

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NFL Touchdown Playoff Quick Keys

Arizona Cardinals

Key vs. Atlanta was…
The play of the Arizona front four. Rightfully maligned as an inconsistent and lethargic unit late in the season, Clancy Pendergast’s defensive line exploded against a somewhat undersized Falcons front five. Matt Ryan was pressured all day and sacked three times, and the league’s second leading rusher, Michael Turner, was held to just 42 yards on 18 carries.

Veteran defensive end Bertrand Berry was particularly effective working against rookie left tackle Sam Baker (who had been battling back problems in the weeks leading up to the game). The Falcons also made the mistake of not double-teaming defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. Instead, they singled him up with former undrafted free agent Harvey Dahl. Dockett is by no means a superstar, but his quick hands make him extremely dangerous in a three-technique. Plus, simple film study reveals that Dockett – who is by far Arizona’s most important D-lineman – dominates against single blocking, but disappears against double teams.

Key vs. Carolina will be…

Stopping one of the league’s best rushing attacks. Don’t expect the Cardinals to do it. As well as the front four played Saturday, it’s doubtful they can reenact the performance against an oversized and aggressive Carolina offensive line. A lot of responsibility will fall on the linebackers. Arizona will need Karlos Dansby to be in his brilliant mode (a tossup given the way Dansby’s week-to-week output fluctuates). It was shrewd of Pendergast to limit middle linebacker Gerald Hayes to one-gap responsibilities against Atlanta – watch Hayes on tape and you’ll quickly see that he’s a star when he does not have to think, but a liability when he does. Stopping the run is the first key for the Cardinals, but it might not be enough anyway. It remains to be seen whether Antrel Rolle is a good enough safety to help the corners contain Steve Smith.

Philadelphia Eagles

Key vs. Minnesota was…

Doing exactly what everyone thought they’d do: load the box to stop Adrian Peterson (20 carries, 83 yards, though only 43 yards on 19 carries if you take away his one big run), then blitz Tarvaris Jackson in third-and-long situations. Right now the Eagles front seven is as venomous as it’s ever been under Jim Johnson, and that’s saying a lot. Two players who have really emerged are middle linebacker Stewart Bradley and pass-rushing defensive end Chris Clemons.

Key vs. New York will be…

Letting the stars shine. It’s pretty simple when you’re facing a divisional rival for the third time this season, and fourth time in the postseason. Both sides know what the other side brings. For Philly, it will be about Andy Reid continuing to go to Brian Westbrook, and Donovan McNabb prioritizing speedy rookie receiver DeSean Jackson when making his reads. The Eagles will struggle to run against the Giants, just like they struggled to run against Minnesota. But slow developing plays – such as screens and draws – are always a way to isolate Westbrook’s skills. As for finding Jackson, Philly would be wise to get him the ball early and in space (end-arounds, bubble screens, etc.). This allows the rookie to be creative and search for the homerun. It’s important for Jackson to become the aggressor early, for he will have a tough time against the physical Giant cornerbacks, and the Eagles can’t afford to have him get rattled like he did against Washington.

San Diego Chargers

Key vs. Colts was…
Winning the chess match on defense. As brilliant as Darren Sproles was – by the way, have you heard that he’s small and special? – the Chargers won their Wild Card matchup by limiting Peyton Manning and the Colts offense to just 17 points. Not many teams match wits with the league MVP. But, under the guidance of inside linebacker Stephen Cooper and new defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, that’s what San Diego was able to do.

Key vs. Steelers will be…
Big plays from the secondary. You wouldn’t know it from Saturday, but San Diego has one of the worst rated pass defenses in football. But talent-wise, they’re actually one of the best defensive backfields. When on, Antonio Cromartie is a playmaker and Quintin Jammer is a sheer stopper. Plus, first-round rookie Antoine Cason seems to become more instinctive each week. At safety, the soaring confidence of Eric Weddle and no-brainer promotion of Steve Gregory over the unreliable Clinton Hart has fully transformed this defensive backfield into a different unit than the one Ben Roethlisberger and company saw back in Week 11.

Also key for the Chargers will be stretching the field offensively with Vincent Jackson. Don’t expect San Diego to control the action in the box like they did against the Colts. There is a world of difference between running against an undersized Indy front seven and the fire-spitting Steelers group coordinated by Dick LeBeau. This becomes especially true when your featured ballcarrier is as tiny as Sproles.

Baltimore Ravens

Key vs. Miami was…
Forcing turnovers. Perhaps the most flattering statement that Baltimore can hear after their 27-9 victory at Miami is that Chad Pennington did not play poorly. But the league’s MVP runner-up still threw four interceptions, mainly because he was facing a defense that utterly stifled his rushing attack and aggressively took advantage of his limited receiving corps.

Key vs. Tennessee will be…

Doing it again. The Ravens are a team on fire right now. They look like Super Bowl material. The tendency is to say that in the Divisional Round, Joe Flacco, who was just 9/23 against the Dolphins for a pedestrian 135 yards, needs to pick his game up a notch or two. But that’s just not the case. The Ravens are good enough to win this game without Flacco making any plays. They have a reliable rushing attack spearheaded by pounder Le’Ron McClain and closer Willis McGahee. Defensively, they just dominated a Dolphins offense that relies on running the ball and minimizing mistakes behind their veteran passer. Hmmm…what other AFC offense relies on a consistent ground attack and veteran game-manager under center?

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NFL Touchdown Sunday Snide Remarks Week 17

By Andy Benoit,
San Diego Chargers 52, Denver Broncos 21

The Chargers are obviously that “hot team that nobody wants to face” right now, but that doesn’t mean they deserve to be in the playoffs. San Diego is three games behind New England in the standings, making them the beneficiaries of a flawed playoff system.
The reason Denver is not in the postseason is that six members of their defensive front seven shouldn’t be starting in the NFL. San Diego’s 289 yards rushing reaffirmed this.
LaDainian Tomlinson looks fresh, and so does Antonio Gates. Factor in the resurgence of the Charger offensive line and, suddenly, Norv Turner is a genius again.
Darren Sproles might be the best backup running back in the league right now. I’d be a little careful in describing him with the word “special” though.
In Week 2 Brandon Marshall caught 18 passes against the Chargers, which inspired me to refer to Antonio Cromartie as “Mrs. Brandon Marshall.” But Sunday night, Cromartie and the rest of the Charger defense limited Marshall to just 55 yards on six catches. Cromartie’s unflattering epithet is officially revoked.
Philadelphia Eagles 44, Dallas Cowboys 6

Everyone will talk about Tony Romo’s meltdowns in December and Wade Phillips’s lack of authority. Both subjects are fair, but neither encompasses the depth of the problem in Big D. Prominent as the Cowboys franchise is, it’s a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game in 13 seasons. They haven’t had a winning record in December during that span either, and they’ve lost their last nine season finales overall.
The overriding difference in this contest was coaching. Despite not knowing all week if this game would hold any significance to them, the Eagle players were far more prepared than the Cowboy players. Jim Johnson toyed with Jason Garrett all afternoon, and Andy Reid instilled emotion and fire into his men, while Wade Phillips stood by with a look of bewilderment on his face.
Roy Williams, who spoke out about not getting the ball enough earlier in the week, was absolutely pathetic in this game. (Some reports have said that Williams has a foot injury.)
Pac Man Jones is a tremendous athlete who plays hard, but it’s obvious no one has ever had the gall to coach him. His fundamentals and awareness are nowhere near an NFL level.
Before the season began, we thought that this might be one final hurrah for several familiar veterans in Philly. But now, Donovan McNabb looks worthy of a new long-term contract, Brian Westbrook doesn’t seem doomed to hit the 30-year-old running back wall, offensive tackles Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas continue to be remarkably consistent each week and Brian Dawkins looks every bit the Pro Bowler that he is.
The Eagles continue to get great play out of their front seven. Replacing Omar Gaither with Akeem Jordan has helped.
Baltimore Ravens 27, Jacksonville Jaguars 7

Last year, Baltimore, on their way to a 5-11 season, lost at Miami in Week 14. It was the Dolphins’ only win on the season. Now both teams are set to square off in the Wild Card round this Sunday. We might be looking at the most unlikely playoff matchup in NFL history.
Neither Ray Lewis nor Ed Reed will contend for the Defensive Players of the Year award, but ask yourself, Where would the Ravens be without these two?
Guys like Derrick Mason are what wins championships. The überconsistent veteran gutted out a bum shoulder to catch six passes for 77 yards in this game.
If Matt Ryan weren’t so darn good, we’d be talking about Joe Flacco as NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Jacksonville’s VP of Football Operations Shack Harris shouldn’t be taking the fall for this team’s ’08 disaster. If Jacksonville weren’t a well-constructed team, people wouldn’t be so disappointed with their results. Harris did his job; there were coaches and players who didn’t do theirs.
Miami Dolphins 24, New York Jets 17

The Fins deserve to be heralded as one of the greatest turnaround stories in pro football history. There are four reasons for their resurgence: 1. Bill Parcells worked his magic. 2. (Pardon the cliché, but) Tony Sparano changed the culture. 3. Chad Pennington glued Parcells’ and Sparano’s efforts together. 4. Miami was never as bad as their 1-15 record to begin with.
Some of the biggest news of the week came Sunday morning when ESPN’s Chris Mortensen revealed that Bill Parcells could take $9 million and walk away should Wayne Huizenga successfully sell the team. Keep a close eye on this story.
Eric Mangini does not deserve to be fired. He got the Jets to the postseason his first year on the job, and this season, despite the disastrous final month, New York still improved their record by five games.
As a sportswriter, you don’t want to be one of the yokels who wrongly stated that Brett Favre was done. But I think he is. In recent years, Favre’s age has caught up to him late in the season. Of course, any talk about Favre’s future requires an obligatory grain of salt. The grain of salt here is that Favre and Mangini never quite seemed to be on the same page. With the head coach out, perhaps the quarterback will be more inclined to stay. This is just speculation…
Arizona Cardinals 34, Seattle Seahawks 21

This was a big win for the Cards. Their fans came to University of Phoenix Stadium ready to boo. Arizona’s victory was against a bad Seattle team, but they’ll take the season-ending high note any way they can get it. Being over .500 legitimizes Arizona’s presence in January.
Ken Whisenhunt deserves a lot of credit for having the humility to reinsert Edgerrin James into the lineup. Whisenhunt made the bold move of benching the prolific veteran two months ago. But fifth-round rookie Tim Hightower (2.8 ypc) was an enormous bust as a starter. So, on Sunday, James carried the ball 14 times and, with fresh legs, rewarded Whisenhunt by gaining 100 yards on the ground.
San Francisco 49ers 27, Washington Redskins 24

Great move by the Niners to lock up Mike Singletary. The Hall of Fame linebacker did an outstanding job as an interim coach and now has his modus operandi already instilled in this organization. That gives the team a head start on its long-term future.
I’ve heard that 49ers management, and not Singletary, wants Martz out. I find it hard to believe that the new head coach isn’t pushing for this as well. Martz and Singletary seem to have a vinegar vs. oil approach to offensive football.
Oakland Raiders 31, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24

They’re not the Dallas Cowboys, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers officially have a finishing problem. Going 0-4 in the final quarter of this season kept the Bucs out of the playoffs. Last year, they were bounced out of the Wild Card round after locking up the division too soon, resting their guys and finishing the year 1-3.
Can someone explain to me why Jeff Garcia isn’t likely to be back with this club in ’09? Is it because his 91.7 passer rating is too high? Is it because he makes too many plays late in games? Might it have something to do with his leadership and ability to play through pain? Oh wait, I know…it must be because the Bucs have all kinds of better options awaiting them under center, right?
My heart was in my throat watching Cadillac Williams leave the field with what appeared to be a very serious knee injury. It wasn’t the same knee that Williams hurt before, but it is believed that he suffered an identical injury (torn patellar tendon). Judging by Williams’s frustration, it seemed like an unfortunately familiar experience for him.
The Bucs defense was never the same after Monte Kiffin decided to join his son in Knoxville.
We (I) have made fun of Tom Cable all year, but I’ll say this: Oakland improved under his guidance, and these Raider players compete hard for him. I’m still not sure Cable’s worthy of a fulltime head coaching job, but he’s certainly worthy of a serious interview.
Carolina Panthers 33, New Orleans Saints 31

Huge win for the Panthers. The Atlanta Falcons had fought off the St. Louis Rams just seconds before John Kasey kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired, meaning Carolina’s victory is what gave them the bye week that we all thought they’d for sure have.
Forget what I said at midseason. Steve Smith is the best receiver in the NFL. Period. The deep catch he made on the final drive to set up Kasey’s field gold was remarkable. Smith is arguably the league’s most lethal weapon running after the catch, and yet, his greatest strength, at 5’9”, might be snagging the jump ball.
The only thing more surprising that DeAngelo Williams’s 1,515-yard season on the ground is the fact that it didn’t come a year ago. Williams was an elite runner last season but, as the Panthers will tell you, he didn’t get enough touches. All is well now; just know that this guy is a legitimate star.
I’m glad Drew Brees didn’t break Dan Marino’s single season passing record. I love Brees, but that record would have never been remembered with high esteem had it come in such a ho-hum season like New Orleans’s.
Houston Texans 31, Chicago Bears 24

This game turned out to be moot after Minnesota’s win over the Giants, but the Bears cleared things up well before that by falling behind 31-17. If you can’t beat a mediocre Texans team when your season is on the line and theirs is already done, you’re not a playoff team.
When the Bears get beat by good receivers, their entire defense always seems to crumble. And too often this year, Charles Tillman has been involved in this equation. Sunday, Andre Johnson torched Chicago’s secondary for 148 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bears will be a trendy pick next season. People will look at Kyle Orton’s solid numbers, exaggerate about the progress that Devin Hester and Greg Olsen have made as receiving options, anoint Matt Forte as a fantasy stud and, if they’re really into the game, wax poetically about what a healthy Chris Williams at LT can do for the offensive line. All this, factored in with “a healthier Bears defense” will make Chicago the prognosticator’s dramatic sleeper.
Atlanta Falcons 31, St. Louis Rams 27

Perhaps they were celebrating because they thought that New Orleans had beaten Carolina and given them a bye, but nevertheless, you have to love the Falcons’ emotion after this win. This is a club that truly appreciates, yet doesn’t take for granted, all that they’ve accomplished this season.
Rams players drafted a petition to keep Jim Haslett as the head coach. A serious question (serious in that I really don’t know the answer to it): when you’re 2-14, does the players’ support help or hurt your cause?
Steven Jackson has been quiet all season (the 2-14 record has unplugged his hype) but Sunday he became the first Ram since Eric Dickerson to record three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons. And Jackson did it with just 12 games of work and no respectable passing attack to distract opposing defenses.
New England Patriots 13, Buffalo Bills 0

Usually when a team falls short of the postseason you can go back through their schedule and cite a few blown opportunities. But can we really tell these 11-5 Tom Brady-less Patriots that they must sleep in the bed they make? They won 11 games!
In all fairness, the only teams New England beat that had a winning record were the Cardinals, Dolphins (who also beat them once) and Jets (another team that beat them once).
The Pats have one of the most intriguing quarterback situations in NFL history on their plate this offseason. Some reports have said that Tom Brady is behind in his recovery from knee surgery. Matt Cassel just proved himself capable of starting in this league, but he’s due to be a free agent. It’s almost out of the question to franchise him because doing so would cost over $14 million (about four times too much to pay for a backup). However, New England could franchise Cassel if they are certain that they can trade him. That’s what I’m guessing they’ll do.
Green Bay Packers 31, Detroit Lions 21

The Lions don’t deserve what’s coming to them. They’re a horrendous team, but not in a legendary sense.
It was a little surprising to see the vitriol in the verbal attacks made by Packer fans against Detroit. Perhaps it’s unreasonable to think that a crowd wouldn’t chant “0-16!” towards the end of such an historic game, but what reason do Packer fans have to hate the Lions? Detroit hasn’t won a game in Green Bay since 1992.
On a similar note, Aaron Rodgers and the offense broke their pregame huddle not by saying “1-2-3…Packers!” or “1-2-3…Win!” but by saying “1-2-3…0-16!” How often do you hear teams breaking the huddle with a phrase that pertains strictly to their opponent?
Minnesota Vikings 20, New York Giants 19

The Vikings won this game because it meant something to them and nothing to New York. Watching the first three quarters, you’d never know it meant anything to Minnesota. They were flatter than Nebraskan terrain most of the afternoon, and they were clearly out-schemed.
Adrian Peterson had a big day on paper, but 67 of his 103 rushing yards came on one breakaway run. Peterson was bottled up for 36 yards on his 20 other carries because the Giants, having no respect for the Viking passing attack, overloaded the box.
Bernard Berrian is not as good as his numbers suggest. He’s a deep threat, but in a No. 1 receiver, you need a guy who is a threat to catch eight balls in any given game, and 12 if left facing one-on-one coverage. Berrian’s lack of physicality prevents him from being one of those guys.
David Carr was 8/11 for 110 yards and a touchdown in extended mop-up duty. As big a bust as Carr was in Houston, he’s become one of the most admirable backup quarterbacks in recent memory. He’s not looking for a starting job because he knows that, given his track record, he deserves to be in a spot where he must first prove himself in a No. 2 role.
Indianapolis Colts 23, Tennessee Titans 0

All this game did was put Indy at 12-4, which pours more fuel on my fire for when I rant about the NFL’s unjust playoff structure later this week. The Colts will travel to San Diego for the Wild Card round. I don’t care who’s winning what division, a 12-win team should not have to go on the road to face an eight-win team.
Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Cleveland Browns 0

I’m not questioning Ben Roethlisberger’s character or toughness, but it’d be shocking if he isn’t starting under center when Pittsburgh opens postseason play in two weeks. When it comes to injuries, Roethlisberger seems to have a flair for the dramatic (think Paul Pierce in Game 1 of the NBA Finals).
It doesn’t make sense for the Browns to fire Phil Savage. Like with Shack Harris in Jacksonville, the reason Cleveland’s season has been so disappointing is because expectations were sky high. And why were expectations sky high? Because Savage had done a great job putting this roster together.
If anyone needs to be fired, it’s Romeo Crennel. Instead, it sounds like the Browns may simply demote him. Crennel is undoubtedly a high-character individual, and he proved in New England that he’s one helluva defensive coordinator. But if you fire the GM, you’re basically saying you need to clean house. Simply demoting the head coach would only be a form of tidying up the house.
Cincinnati Bengals 16, Kansas City Chiefs 6

I heard both teams showed up to the stadium on time.
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NFL Touchdown Sunday Snide Remarks Week 16

New York Giants 34, Carolina Panthers 28 OT
Great game. It’s apparent we watched the two best teams in the NFC square off. But it wasn’t a flawless outing, especially for the Panthers. After all, their front seven was thoroughly worn down by New York’s offensive line and running backs, and the receivers at times had trouble getting open against a stingy secondary.   Crazy as it sounds, I’m not so sure I would want the No. 1 seed. Think about it: during the flow of an NFL season, a team usually stays home for no more than two weeks in a row. But as the top seed in the playoffs, a team could stay home for up to a month. That is a completely different rhythm. And recent history suggests that the change in schedule can be a disadvantage. The last No. 1 seed to hoist the Lombardi Trophy was the ’03 Patriots.   The Panthers were creative in getting Steve Smith the ball early in this game, but once New York committed safety help, Carolina was content to go elsewhere. The Panthers have enough offensive talent to get away with this, but they might want to at least look for a big play from Smith once or twice a half regardless.   Corey Webster and Aaron Ross were both fantastic Sunday night.   Not enough attention was given to the fact that Ken Lucas‘s pass interference in the end-zone late in this game marked the first pass interference penalty called against the Panthers all season. That is simply incredible – especially considering how physical the Carolina cornerbacks are.   Have you noticed that on the sideline during Giants game there always seems to be a bunch of ultra New Yorky-looking old guys who are sophisticatedly dressed as if they’re about to play chess at a public park? They’re the guys wearing rain coats and Scottish cashmere gill caps. Who are they?  

Buffalo Bills 30, Denver Broncos 23
Watching Denver face San Diego on NBC primetime next week will evoke that morally iffy feeling you used to get when you stayed quite while witnessing your friend cheat on a test. It seems inherently wrong to watch these two middling teams play for such high stakes.   The best thing Denver has going for them next week is that they’re on the road. That way, when they blow what should have been an easy division title, they at least won’t get booed off the field.   To Denver’s credit, not many teams could handle the injuries at running back as well as they have. The Broncos didn’t run worth a darn in this game, but they were starting their sixth different running back on the season. Overall, Mike Shanahan’s team ranks a solid 16th in the league in rushing.   Mad props to the Bills for fighting back in a meaningless cross-country game in which they fell behind early. Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson were particularly impressive.  

Washington Redskins 10, Philadelphia Eagles 3
The Eagles are like a hyperactive puppy or a rebellious ADD-riddled 12-year-old: the second you put down your guard and give them any sort of positive feedback, they disappoint you.   Philly is actually a fairly simple team to figure out: when Brian Westbrook is right, they’re good. When he’s not, they’re bad.   DeSean Jackson had one of those defining rookie learning experiences. And this time it did not involve him throwing the ball away before crossing the goal-line. The impressive young star dropped four passes on the day, including what looked to be a game-tying grab in the end-zone.   It’s an utter shock, and quite frankly, a disgrace, to hear Jim Zorn’s name mentioned amongst coaches on the hotseat. The first-year head man has done a semi-marvelous job with this team. Washington’s problem is that they’ve hit a wall, in part because their running back and offensive tackles got hurt. Can Zorn do better? Absolutely. But it’s up to Dan Snyder to give him the chance. 

Atlanta Falcons 24, Minnesota Vikings 17
How is it that Minnesota was minus-four in the turnover battle on the afternoon, yet had an opportunity to tie the game on the final drive inside the final two minutes? Does that say more about the Vikings or the Falcons?   People will start to say it now, but please, let me at least try to be the first: as great as Adrian Peterson is, it’s clear the man has a fumbling problem.   It came in a losing effort, but the reversal of fortunes for Tarvaris Jackson could prove to be one of the most stunning stories of the 2008 season. Benched because of ineptitude in September, it seems the talented third-year pro has somehow managed to learn the West Coast offense, as well as develop game-management techniques and poise in the pocket just from standing on the sideline and watching Gus Frerotte the past three months.   Visanthe Shiancoe is also coming on extremely strong for Minnesota.   As for Atlanta, they’re officially the new sexy team in the NFC. Over the next few weeks, you’ll hear about how incredible Michael Turner – did you know that he’s L.T.’s former backup !!?? – has been, what a great job Mike Smith has done and how Matt Ryan is the next great signal-caller, ala Dan Marino or Ben Roethlisberger. It will get annoying, but at least all this hype is substantiated.  

Seattle Seahawks 13, New York Jets 3
We said it on the GamePods this week: the Jets are a tired team. The most exhausted member of the squad is the man under center.   Seattle deserves a lot of credit for consistently playing hard all season. They’re one of the few teams that truly can blame the injury bug for the majority of their problems.   Brett Favre is not getting the job done right now, plain and simple. As the season wears on, he becomes more reluctant to take hits, which makes him a more predictable and, oddly enough, reckless player.   What’s happened to New York’s front seven? Their fall from grace continued Sunday, as Seattle, without virtually its entire offensive line, managed to get 116 yards (albeit on 29 carries) from backup running back Maurice Morris.  

Oakland Raiders 27, Houston Texans 16
Eagle fans, don’t give up hope just yet. In order to make the playoffs, your team must beat Dallas and these Raiders must do what they couldn’t do in Super Bowl XXXVII: beat the Bucs.   This has nothing to do with what happened in this game, or even on Sunday for that matter. But since nobody cares about this matchup, let me use this space to say, After the Cowboys lost to the Ravens, the farewell ceremony to Texas Stadium was one of the most depressing and anticlimactic pieces of television this era.  

Tennessee Titans 31, Pittsburgh Steelers 14
If you want to get a clear perspective of the Tennessee Titans, don’t listen to me. I have been wrong about this team all season. I thought they were a premature product after their surprising playoff run last season, and because of the perceived strength of the rest of the AFC South, I picked them to finish dead last in the division. Once the season got underway, I thought that Kerry Collins and the offense wouldn’t be able to maintain any consistency late in the schedule. Then I thought that taking Albert Haynesworth out of the lineup would equate to a death sentence. The bottom line is, Jeff Fisher has been a great coach this year, and I’ve been an idiot.   The Titans became the first team this season to post 300 yards against the Steelers in large part because they got great play out of their receivers, Justin Gage (five catches, 104 yards) and Justin McCareins (six catches – with every one of them seemingly coming at an opportune time – for 55 yards).   Tony Brown has become a stud at DT for Tennessee. I wasn’t at all impressed with the guy a year ago, but he’s developed the technique to capitalize on his augmented level of energy. In Brown you get a voracious penetrater against both the run and pass.  

Miami Dolphins 38, Kansas City Chiefs 31
Watching this game was bizarre. It was a huge contest for the Fins, yet frigid Arrowhead Stadium was no more than 20 percent full. There was a confusing preseason/playoff atmosphere.   The Dolphins might make the postseason, but I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid. They seem to have a gift for just barely beating crappy teams.   From now until Week 1 of the 2009 season, every time I mention the Chiefs, I’m going to mention that they had the worst pass-rush in NFL history during the ’08 season. Kansas City was able to sack Chad Pennington zero times Sunday, which almost tied their season-high. On the year, the Chiefs as a team have just nine sacks.   I’ve waited too long to say this, but why did CBS decide to add Dan Fouts to the payroll this season? Fouts is a good announcer, but throwing him in the booth with Dick Enberg and Randy Cross just crowds things. 

San Diego Chargers 41, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24
I don’t care that the Chargers have climbed back into playoff contention. The idea that they could reach the postseason with eight wins while New England could be left out with 11 wins is absolutely disgusting.   One huge difference for Norv Turner’s offense as of late is Antonio Gates. The All-Pro tight end finally appears to be 100 percent healthy.   Phillip Rivers and his four touchdown throws Sunday validated the opinions of all those sportswriters who cried foul about the league’s leading passer being left off the Pro Bowl roster. (On a related note, Brett Favre on Sunday also validated the opinions of those same sportswriters.)  

New England Patriots 47, Arizona Cardinals 7
It should be illegal what the Cardinals are doing right now. Naturally, Ken Whisenhunt deserves some of the blame. Given his rigid demeanor, you wouldn’t think his club would just mail it in like this.   Bottom line is the Cardinals aren’t good enough to do any damage in the postseason. Their rushing attack is nonexistent and their defense is a level below that. The Redskins, Eagles, Bears and Saints are four teams that are likely to miss the playoffs, yet all are better than this sorry Cardinals group.   As for the Patriots, if fate puts them in the postseason, watch out. Sammy Morris and Lamont Jordan are both healthy, which gives this high-flying offense the run game that it hasn’t had in recent weeks. Factor in the semi-sensational play of Matt Cassel and you’re looking at some real potency.   Once every blue moon you’ll see a classy player blatantly draw a 15-yard personal foul penalty for excessive celebration. And every time it happens, you’re okay with it because, again, the culprit is a classy player. The latest example came Sunday when Wes Welker caught a touchdown pass that put the Pats up 28-0 and commemorated the moment by making a snow angel.  

New Orleans Saints 42, Detroit Lions 7
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, Detroit…   Drew Brees appears poised to break Dan Marino’s single season passing yards record, which, given the Saints’ 8-7 mark, means we’ll no longer hold the single season passing yards record in high esteem.   Remarkably, Brees is putting up gaudy numbers despite not having any receiver rank in the top 20 in yards. 

 San Francisco 49ers 17, St. Louis Rams 16
I saw only three plays from this worthless game, but what I saw, I’m glad I witnessed. Isaac Bruce returned to St. Louis and scored a touchdown on the 1,000th catch of his Hall of Fame career.  

Cincinnati Bengals 14, Cleveland Browns 0
If you’re still here, it means you’re a truly dedicated reader. I thank you for that.  

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