Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Week 14 recap

On the topsy-turviest weekend of the year, I finished 13-3 in the picks, which our scale defines as a remarkable showing. (For the past three weeks, I'm 40-8.) The three games I missed were all consensus upsets. But I nailed both of the day's big undecideds: Pittsburgh over Chicago and Dallas over K.C. (Thank you, Chiefs field-goal unit!), as well as the toss-up Redskins-Cardinals game.

One of the best things I saw this weekend was Jay Glazer's report on Fox NFL Sunday about the toll football has taken on Jerome Bettis' body. The piece didn't build Bettis up as some sort of hero; it simply let him describe in his own words the physical pain an NFL career brings -- and the emotional highs that make the pain worth it. Equally impressive, in-studio idiots Howie Long and Terry Bradshaw actually dropped their I'm-With-Stupid routines long enough to relate their own experiences. Video can be seen here.

One of the worst things I saw this weekend was Sports Illustrated writer Peter King's thinly veiled allegation that the Houston Texans are throwing games:
"I think, if I weren't such a trusting soul, I might start to have some questions about the way Houston is losing these games. Some first draft choice questions."
King is seen here resorting to one of the oldest and cheapest hack tricks in the book: Hey, It's not me saying this. But people out there will be thinking this. I'm just pointing that out. Basically, King is insinuating that Texans kicker Kris Brown missed the game-tying field goal against Tennessee -- possibly taking a huge hit to his career -- so Houston can wrap up the No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft. Gee, are David Carr and Domanick Davis in on the fix, too? I'm sure they'd be totally on board for any strategy that brings Matt Leinart or Reggie Bush to town.

On the same subject, wins by the Jets and Packers cleared the way for the 2-11 San Francisco 49ers and the 1-12 Texans to duke it out for that No. 1 pick in the last game of the season.

What I got right, and what I got wrong:

Indianapolis over Jacksonville: Week 14's most closely watched divisional matchup showed us how fine a line it is between confidence and petulance. The Jaguars came into this game not just believing they could win, but expecting they would win. Usually you like to see that in a team. However, near the end of the first half, when it became clear that Jacksonville was not, in fact, winning, the entire team collapsed on itself in the space of a minute and a half. The Jaguars thus go down as the latest team to blow their own feet off with costly penalties in a vain attempt to rough up the Colts. Ask the Patriots, Steelers and Bengals: Indianapolis can be beaten, but they're not going to be intimidated. By anyone.

Cincinnati over Cleveland: Sunday's passer rating for Carson Palmer: 53.4. Sunday's passer rating for Charlie Frye: 78.1. That's not something I expected. Look, anyone can pick the Bengals to beat the Browns, but to make this game a Best Bet took a certain level of confidence -- dare we say swagger? We do! That's because after the Bengals' allegedly torch-passing victory over the Steelers last week, they were all but assured of a trap game. Frankly, it's better for the Bengals to win this one narrowly than in a blowout, because an ugly victory guarantees that they'll be wearing right-size britches the rest of the way. Cincinnati fans should just be happy to see that when the passing game breaks down, the running game can carry the load. Cleveland fans should just be happy that the Browns looked to Frye as their Draft Day sleeper QB rather than Kyle Orton. Talk about dodging a bullet. A bullet overthrown into triple coverage.

Pittsburgh over Chicago: Kyle Orton has seen the quarterback his team wants him to be, and his name is Ben Roethlisberger. The Bears' loss might allow Chicago to move past the perception of Orton as a quarterback who "just wins games" and have a serious discussion over whether to bench him for Rex Grossman. (I'm not saying they should, but it's better to have the discussion in Week 15 than in the playoff bye week.) The Bears won eight straight on a formula of 75% defense, 25% running game. That's remarkable and commendable, but what happens when they run into a team that pounds the ball and doesn't turn it over? They lose 21-9. The question now is whether Orton's one good drive will be enough to keep him at the wheel another week. Speaking of wheels, the Surprisingly Apt and Remarkably Consistent Metaphor of the Week comes from Bears receiver Muhsin Muhammad: "We don't have to reinvent the wheel. We just have to make the wheel spin a little better."
(The Down and Distance '85 Bears vs. '05 Bears Season Tracker has been updated. See latest results here.)

New England over Buffalo: Uh-oh. Here they come again.

Minnesota over St. Louis: The Ryan Fitzpatrick Story was nice while it lasted, wasn't it? Though Harvard grads can probably do these calculations in their heads, here's a chart the rest of us can clip and save. It shows us the passer rating for a quarterback who goes 26-of-45 for 235 yards, no touchdowns and ...
... 0 interceptions71.9
... 1 interception62.7
... 2 interceptions53.4
... 3 interceptions44.2
... 4 interceptions34.9
... 5 interceptions32.4
... 6-19 interceptions32.4
So, although Fitzpatrick threw only five INTs on Sunday, it's as if he threw many, many more.

Tennessee over Houston: If Houston were winning game after game in the final seconds, we'd dub them the Two-Minute Texans or the Carr-diac Kids or something. But instead they're losing game after game in the final seconds to lousy opponents, so we just refer to them as a horrible football team.

Seattle over San Francisco: Playing two games in the span of seven days, the Seahawks outscored their opponents 83-3. The Eagles and 49ers aren't exactly the stiffest competition, but good teams are supposed to blow out bad teams. If you're going to be taken seriously at this stage of the season, you need to be beating teams like San Fran and Philly by six TDs. You can't just barely beat them in overtime ...

New York Giants over Philadelphia: Multiple choice quiz: Question 1. Three times at the end of regulation or in overtime, this Giants player botched a chance to win and handed control of the game to the opponent. a) Jay Feely. b) Eli Manning. Question 2. This Giants player finally had to take charge and win the game in OT. a) Jay Feely. b) Eli Manning. Show your work. Attach an extra sheet of paper if necessary. Essay question. Tiki Barber, who is expected to do just about everything for the Giants, succeeds time after time. Brandon Jacobs, who is expected only to carry the ball in short-yardage situations, fails time after time. List three reasons why Jacobs should continue to get the rock.

Washington over Arizona: Believe me, I'm torn. If there had been a way for both teams to lose, I'd have taken that option. A Washington loss would have pushed the delusional Redskins fans to the edge of surrender, but now we have to endure another week of sad playoff talk. On the other hand, a Cardinals victory could have tamped down the questions that need to be asked about what Dennis Green is doing. With the loss, however, Arizona is 4-9 and headed for a worse record than last year. Green claims to be reconstructing the franchise from the ground up, and he has assembled a nucleus of fine young players. But if he's building toward the future, why is Kurt Warner still the quarterback? Yes, Warner has been putting up great numbers lately, and yes, he's a great guy. But Warner is 34 years old. You bring a guy like that in to do one of two things: to "win now" or to help groom your quarterback of the future. The team isn't winning now (not really Warner's fault, but that's irrelevant), and the Cardinals don't have a quarterback of the future. Josh McCown was the closest thing they had, but Green benched him as soon as Warner arrived.

Denver over Baltimore: Kyle Boller had just as many touchdown passes as Jake Plummer. *Cough*.

Dallas over Kansas City: Pretend you're a Cowboys defensive back. It's late in the game, and the opposing offense needs a touchdown. A field goal won't do anything. Suddenly there's a receiver streaking past you. What are the chances he's a decoy? About the same in Week 14 as they were in Week 2.

Green Bay over Detroit: Sunday was the sixth time this year I had picked the Packers to win, but only the second time they rewarded me for it. Well, not really rewarded. More like, they just managed to avoid getting in the way of another Lions display of sloppy, stupid football. The highlight of the game wasn't Samkon Gado's 64-yard touchdown run; it was his attempt at a Lambeau Leap. Exhausted by the run, Gado could barely get his head above the end-zone wall, and the fans held him up by his shoulder pads and slapped him on the helmet. And hey, No. 4: Those long bombs you keep throwing? Either you can't throw them accurately anymore or your receivers can't run the routes properly anymore. So stop.

Atlanta over New Orleans: The Falcons had to have this one. If they can win out, they'll make the playoffs. But they won't, so they won't, I'm afraid. Too many mines in that field.

Carolina over Tampa Bay: The Panthers whipped the Buccaneers in Tampa earlier in the season, so this one should have been a Carolina blowout, right? You'd think. There's a reason why I don't watch many NFC South games. After the loss at Chicago, the shaky win at Buffalo and last week's manhandling of the Falcons, I expected the Panthers to come out this week determined to seize control of their division and their destiny. This was supposed to be a statement game, but that statement now appears to have been: WE WILL NOT GO VERY FAR IN THE PLAYOFFS.

Oakland over New York Jets: I turned on this game at the start of the second half, with the Jets ahead 6-3. Both teams were milling about on the field, and the stands were at least half-empty. Then CBS lost its feed when a rat chewed through a power cable or something, and the audience was temporarily switched over to Cleveland-Cincinnati. CBS got everything fixed and switched us back in time to see Sebastian Janikowski miss a short field goal. That's when I decided I'd had my fill of the Jets and the Raiders. For the rest of the season.

San Diego over Miami: Ah, after a five-week delay, I can finally say it: "At some point you have to stop pointing to your tough schedule and go out and win football games." What's so very disheartening is that this was the only "easy" (a relative term, of course) game left on the Chargers' schedule. We could all envision San Diego losing to Indianapolis, Kansas City or Denver, but everyone knew that unless they wanted to spend January playing Tiddly Winks at home, they couldn't afford to lose to a 5-7 team in their own stadium.

SEASON: 145-63

Down and Distance's exclusive POW-R-'ANKINGS are the most accurate assessment of team strength available on the Internet, Ethernet, ARPANET, Aqua Net or any other -net. Honed by master mathematicians, lauded by football enthusiasts, the formula behind them predicted 10 of the last 15 Super Bowl winners, and 14 of the last 15 Super Bowl winners finished the regular season No. 1 or No. 2 in the POW-R-'ANKINGS system. Get it? I mean, spaceships go to the moon with wider error margins than this. If Galileo or Copernicus had had science like this on his side, he'd have been Pimp No. 1 for all time. Unlike with other, lesser rating systems, no opinion is involved in formulating these rankings. None. Teams are ranked on a centigrade scale, with 100 representing the NFL's strongest team and 0 its weakest. (Key: W14 = This week's ranking. W13 = Last week's ranking. PWR = POW-R centigrade score)
11 Colts 100.001716Packers 48.13
22 Seahwaks 87.981818 Dolphins 42.84
34 Chargers 76.121922 Vikings 37.61
46 Giants 72.972019 Browns 37.32
53 Bears 72.372121 Rams 33.62
65 Panthers 71.552220 Raiders 32.96
77 Broncos 71.162323 Eagles 32.80
88 Bengals 69.042424 Cardinals31.71
911Steelers 64.272525 Lions 31.70
1013Falcons 62.692626 Titans 29.58
1110Cowboys 61.942727 Bills 21.21
12 9Jaguars 61.012828 Ravens 21.07
1314Bucs 59.512930 Jets 14.96
1412Chiefs 57.433029 Saints 13.60
1515Redskins51.463132 Texans 6.94
1617Patriots49.333231 49ers 0.00

Teams eliminated this week* from Super Bowl championship consideration (what?): Chiefs, Chargers. Teams previously eliminated: Texans, Titans, Packers, Saints, 49ers, Jets, Bills, Ravens, Browns, Vikings, Cardinals, Dolphins, Raiders, Lions, Eagles, Rams, Redskins, Steelers, Cowboys, Falcons.
*Though the Patriots have posted five losses, they've proved they can win the Super Bowl with an 11-5 record. So they get a pass for now.

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