December 2007

Is New England the Perfect NFL Team?

A 16-0 record would indicate that yes — the New England Patriots are indeed a perfect team…this season. But as we all know no one team is “perfect”. For starters, they beat the New York Jets — a team that they were predicted to humiliate — by a stingy margin of 38-35. That doesn’t exactly qualify as an ass whooping now does it…?

“Everyone is going to enjoy this one,” said Pats QB Brady, who threw for 356 yards and completed 32 of his 42 passes. “This happens once every 35 years.”

Thirty-five years ago it was the Miami Dolphins who posted a perfect season. Looking at the Dolphins now and you’d think we’d be talking about a different league altogether. But no…same league, two totally different teams. And in the case of the New England Patriots we’re talking about a team that has done what no other team has done this season (win every single game, thank you very much).

But it was coach Bill Belichick who summed it up best: “That was some way to finish the season,” Belichick said. “It’s really something to be part of this team and what they accomplished today.”

Let’s see what they can do in the playoffs…

Fantasy Football: Who’s Hot? Who’s Not?

2007 turned the fantasy football world upside-down. Quarterbacks thrived, while top running backs fell to injury and disuse. Blame it if you like on the ubiquitous Cover 2 defense, and opposing coaches going for the easy short-yardage passes.

In this brave new NFL, Tom Brady is king. His 426.10 fantasy points lead the Bodog leagues heading into the season finale. There is nobody hotter in the league right now, even with the Patriots offense playing at a lower gear these past few weeks. Pats WR Randy Moss has a chance to overtake Dallas QB Tony Romo and Eagles RB Brian Westbrook for second place this week.

Aside from the walking wounded at tailback, the league’s coldest marquee fantasy player might be Tennessee QB Vince Young. He’s thrown nine TD passes on the season compared to 17 interceptions. Over the past three games, Young has two TD passes, three picks and a grand total of 34 yards rushing. Brrrr.

All-time Best Snow Bowls

There’s a certain perverse delight in watching NFL games played in inclement weather. We saw one of those games in Week 15, a bizarre 8-0 win by the Cleveland Browns over the visiting Buffalo Bills. Snow and wind gusts of up to 40 mph turned the Cleveland Browns Stadium into a winter wonderland.
At least the Bills are familiar with these conditions. The victims in the NFL’s two most famous Snow Bowls were warm-weather clubs. In 1985, the Green Bay Packers beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21-0 at Lambeau Field in the middle of a blizzard. Green Bay racked up 512 yards of offense; Tampa Bay (led by QB Steve Young) managed just 65.

And then there was the Tuck Rule. The New England Patriots dynasty might never have gotten off the ground without that 16-13 victory at Foxboro over the Oakland Raiders in the 2002 AFC Wild Card Game. Oakland fans call it “The Snow Job.”

Why Pittsburgh won the AFC North

The obvious answer is that the Steelers won more games than anyone else in their division. And they beat their closest pursuers in the North, the Cleveland Browns, twice. And, tellingly, they’re 5-0 within North Division play.

Meanwhile, the Browns showed they’re not quite ready for prime time when they lost at downtrodden Cincinnati Sunday, thanks in large part to four interceptions thrown by Derek Anderson. To win in the NFL in December, or any other month, a team has to be able to run the football on offense and stop the run on defense. And while Pittsburgh was outrushing opponents by 58 yards a game, Cleveland was getting outgrounded by 13 yards per outing. The Browns simply put too much on Anderson’s shoulders. The third-year kid out of Oregon State has had a fine season, no doubt. But he could still end up leading the league in interceptions.

Meanwhile, Big Ben Roethlisberger has had his finest season as a pro, posting a 32/11 TD/INT ratio. So to keep a short story from getting longer, Pittsburgh won the North because they’re the best team in the division.

Will Matt Millen be Fired from the Detroit Lions?

Why would anyone think c would be fired after this season? He wasn’t fired after any of the previous six seasons, when the lowly Lions won two, three, five, six, five and three games. This season, heading into the final weekend, Detroit has won seven games.

Six of those wins came in the first eight weeks, though, so when the Lions lost six in a row, the speculation again heated up about Millen’s job security. And Millen should be canned. It would be hard to make the case that this team, despite its limited run of success this season, is any better than it was when he took over back in 2001. The defense is still porous and the offense is achingly one-dimensional. But will he be fired? No, probably not.

The Lions are in their second season under head coach Rod Marinelli (their fourth in six seasons under Millen), and they did make progress this season. So those seven wins will give the Fords enough of an excuse to keep Millen around, at least for one more year.

Will Tom Brady Break Peyton Manning’s Record of 49 TD Passes?

Brady’s chances of breaking Manning’s record are very closely related to Moss’ chances of breaking Rice’s record. With 48 scoring throws through the Pats’ first 15 games, and with the team chasing down a perfect season, New England will play for history Saturday night vs. the Giants. And to win, the Patriots must throw the ball.

One factor that could work against Brady and Moss might be the elements on a late December evening in Jersey, where the wind can make throwing the ball very tough. The Giants gave up big yardage and points to Dallas and Green Bay early this season, but since then the G-Men defense hasn’t been too bad, and they rank in the top 10 against the pass.

Of course, they haven’t run up against anything like the Brady bunch. Given any chance whatsoever, Belichick will get both his QB and his slender WR their records.

Will Randy Moss Break the TD Record of 22 by Jerry Rice?

We almost thought Randy Moss was washed up, or at least damaged goods, after watching him seemingly lose interest in the game while playing the last couple of seasons in Oakland. Hey, we can admit when we’re wrong.

A change of scenery has certainly done Mr. Moss well, as has playing with a quarterback who throws great long balls, and often. Moss caught 16 TD passes through New England’s first 10 games, including four against the Buffalo Bills in a 56-10 Patriots’ rout. But Philadelphia and Baltimore slowed him up a bit the next two weeks, although he bounced back with big numbers against Pittsburgh. The weather slowed the whole team up the next week vs. the Jets, though, and threatened to do the same the last two weeks.

Still, Moss grabbed two more scoring throws Sunday vs. Miami, bringing his total on the season to 21. So heading into the season finale this Saturday night at the Giants, a game the Patriots will play to win in their pursuit of perfection, Moss has an excellent shot to set a new record.

NFL Week 16 Matchups: Last Push for the Playoffs

Two more games left to go in the NFL regular season, and for a change, not a lot of playoff drama. The only division up for grabs is the AFC North, where the Steelers and Browns each have a shot. Cleveland goes into Cincinnati Sunday afternoon laying three points; the Bengals are bad at 5-9 SU and ATS, but they have a stellar offense that can blow the doors off just about anyone.

Wild Cards have yet to be determined in either conference. The most intriguing Week 16 matchup with playoff implications features 7-7 Washington at 8-6 Minnesota. The Redskins are 6.5-point underdogs, but QB Todd Collins has saved their bacon with two straight winning performances. A Washington victory would make things very interesting indeed heading into the season finale.

Otherwise, this is the time of year when teams that already know their playoff seeds take it easy – except, perhaps, the 14-0 New England Patriots. Handicap accordingly.

NFL Football Week 15 Picks

So the New England Patriots are laying 24 points to the New York Jets. No problem. That makes a lot more sense than when the Pats were –24 against the Eagles, who nearly pulled off the upset in Week 12. Philadelphia has talent. The Jets don’t. They’re 3-10 SU, 4-8-1 ATS and the worst defensive team in the league in terms of efficiency. I’ll eat that chalk, and I’ll like it.

I’ll also take the big favorite in the Indianapolis ColtsOakland Raiders matchup. That, of course, would be the Colts at –11. The Raiders are playing at a worse level than the Jets despite their 4-9 record (5-8 ATS). That’s because they’ve gotten to play other teams in the awful AFC West so often. Indy is not far behind New England among the league’s elite. A line of anything under two touchdowns seems like a blessing compared to what New England has to cover this week.

NFL Power Rankings for Week 15

It must be nice to be perfect, hey? Pretty boy Tom Brady (45 touchdowns?!) and his New England Patriots are (once again) sitting mighty comfortably atop the NFL Power Rankings and for good reason: They reign supreme!! (Yawn. They’re also not the most exciting team to watch but so what, right? They do what it takes to win.) Anyway…here are this week’s Power Rankings:

1. New England Patriots

2. Dallas Cowboys

3. Indianapolis Colts

4. Green Bay Packers

5. Jacksonville Jaguars

6. Seattle Seahawks

7. Pittsburgh Steelers

8. San Diego Chargers

9. New York Giants

10. Cleveland Browns

11. Tennessee Titans

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

13. Minnesota Vikings

14. Buffalo Bills

15. Denver Broncos

16. Houston Texans

17. Washington Redskins

18. Arizona Cardinals

19. Detroit Lions

20. New Orleans Saints

21. Philadelphia Eagles

22. Chicago Bears

23. Cincinnati Bengals

24. Carolina Panthers

25. Baltimore Ravens

26. New York Jets

27. Kansas City Chiefs

28. Oakland Raiders

29. San Francisco 49ers

30. St. Louis Rams

31. Atlanta Falcons

32. Miami Dolphins

NFL Football Betting Odds: Indianapolis at Baltimore

Get ready for Sunday Night Football!

Ah yes…a classic match up if ever there was one. The Indianapolis Colts vs. the Baltimore Ravens. It should be interesting to see what Colts QB Peyton Manning can pull out of his bag of tricks this Sunday night against a team that nearly pulled of the upset of the season last week against the unbeaten New England Patriots. I’m thinking that with his crappy game already out of the way (against the Chiefs), I’m thinking Manning is determined to stand tall and win this one on the road.

The Baltimore Ravens (one of the leagues lowest scoring teams) are having a piss-poor season, losing their last 6 games in a row making this their worst season since Brian Billick stepped into the picture as head coach. The Ravens are 4-8 SU overall and out of the playoff picture, their offense is struggling and so is their defense.

The Indianapolis Colts, on the other hand, had to live through the hell that was losing to the New England Patriots in what has been the most-watched game of the season thus far, are coming into this game 10-2 Su overall and are primed for a bye into the AFC playoffs. They’re riding a three-game win streak and coach Tony Dungy’s outlook remains positive.

“I feel great about where we are right now,” Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy said. “Going into the fourth quarter of the season, we’ve got a good lead in the division and we’re second in the conference. If we’d lost, we’d have felt we’d have to win all four of our last games.”

NFL Week 14 Odds: Pittsburgh vs. New England

The New England Patriots went too far this time. We were still awaiting word from the oddsmakers at press time, but after dropping the cash twice in a row, New England looks like it will be laying under two touchdowns in Week 14.

The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t likely to take that as a compliment. They’re still big underdogs at Gillette Stadium despite going 9-3 and leading the AFC North. Part of that might have to do with Pittsburgh’s 1-3 ATS mini-slump; granted, New England is in the same funk.

No doubt about it, the Patriots were outplayed by the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night. Their receivers dropped passes, the Baltimore winds affected Tom Brady’s throws, and the Ravens wisely stuck to the ground game. Pittsburgh fancies itself as a running team even though Ben Roethlisberger is their best weapon. That sounds so crazy, it just might work against the Pats.