Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Week 7: Heard about this Manning guy?

For a minute there, I thought I'd feel good about myself for going 9-5 in this week's picks. Then I looked more closely and determined that with the exception of one person, everybody went 9-5 or better ... and 11 out of 17 did better. I'd have done better, too, if I could figure out why I picked the Raiders. I meant to pick the Chiefs. Really.


Indianapolis 29, Jacksonville 7
One nice thing about the Colts winning the Super Bowl last year was that it took the remaining air out of the long-running Manning-vs.-Brady debate. At this point, all but the most pathetically ego-invested fans are willing to acknowledge that both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady can win the Super Bowl, and that both guys can put up phenomenal regular season numbers. That means we can finally move on to something else, right? Not just yet, it seems, because Tony Kornheiser has a whole sheaf of Manning-vs.-Brady monologues prepared, and he's not going to let them go to waste. Which is why, early in Monday night's Colts-Jaguars game, Kornheiser advanced the absolutely preposterous assertion that Peyton Manning was going to use this nationally televised occasion to say, "Here I am." Because if there's one guy in the NFL who's got something to prove -- who at this point really needs a "statement game" to be taken seriously as an elite player -- it's Peyton Manning. Among the other dead horses severely beaten by Kornheiser this week: The Colts lost a lot of players in free agency; "everybody" is talking about the Pats but "no one" is talking about the Colts; Jack Del Rio not only benched Byron Leftwich but cut him. Next week: That passer rating stat sure is hard to understand! Bonus dumbass know-it-all comment of the week: Mike Tirico asserting that the Colts made it to the AFC Championship Game in 2005, when in fact they lost to the Steelers in the divisional round.

Dallas 24, Minnesota 14
I hope other viewers were as horrified as I was by the play in the second quarter in which Tony Romo fumbled on a sack, and Minnesota's Kevin Williams returned the ball 84 yards for an apparent touchdown (though it was called back on a penalty). Once he reached the end zone, Williams dropped to one knee and removed his helmet. Ordinarily, taking off your lid after scoring is grounds for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty. But Williams wasn't mugging for the cameras. He was overheated and suffering respiratory distress. A Vikings assistant came onto the field and began pouring warer over Williams' head. The player was eventually helped to the sidelines, where he received supplementary oxygen, and then was taken to the locker room before halftime, presumably to get an IV. Keep in mind that Williams is a professional athlete. It doesn't matter that as a defensive tackle, his job description doesn't include breaking 80-yard runs. It doesn't matter that the temperature was in the 80s. The man is a professional athlete. If his conditioning is such that an 80-yard run nearly kills him -- literally -- then the Vikings should be very, very concerned. It's not like they aren't aware of the danger.

N.Y. Giants 33, San Francisco 15
In this game, we saw Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora strip the ball from Trent Dilfer, recover the fumble, and run 75 yards downfield at top speed for the touchdown. Yes, Umenyiora is listed as 50 pounds lighter than Kevin Williams. And yes, the play came on the first series after the halftime break rather than at the end of the first half. And yes, Umenyiora is primarily a pass-rusher while Williams is a run-stuffer. But still it should be noted that Umenyiora sprinted the whole way and didn't need medical attention afterward.

Tennessee 38, Houston 36
New England 49, Miami 28
Washington 21, Arizona 19

The fourth quarter of Sunday's Titans-Texans game should be required viewing for all sportsmanship fundamentalists, as it illustrated once again Down and Distance's long-held contention that in the NFL, there is no such thing as running up the score. Tennessee led 32-7 going into the fourth quarter. According to Gregg Easterbrook and his ilk, the Titans should have pulled their starters at that point, put in their reserves and coasted. Fine -- but only if the team on the short end of the score agrees to quit trying, too. Houston didn't quit, however, and Sage Rosenfels, the big-hearted Iowa State alumnus and official favorite QB of Mrs. Down and Distance, led touchdown drives of 70, 98, 75 and 66 yards to give the Texans the lead. The Titans were able to get their act together in the final two minutes to win on Rob Bironas's record-setting eighth field goal, but the episode demonstrates the folly of ever assuming that an NFL game has been won before the final gun. (Bironas's eighth FG, by the way, broke the record of seven shared by five kickers, most recently Billy Cundiff, the only Drake University graduate in the NFL.) With the Titans-Texans game in mind, perhaps we shouldn't be too hasty to condemn the New England Patriots for putting Tom Brady back into the game after they saw their lead over Miami trimmed from 42-7 to 42-21 in less than a minute, thanks to an interception thrown by backup Matt Cassel that was returned for a touchdown. I mean, someone has to remember that game in 2004, when the unstoppable Pats took their foot off the throat of the crummy Dolphins and wound up losing an 11-point lead in the last four minutes. Right? Bill Belichick remembers it. Joe Gibbs apparently does not, because the Redskins packed up their offense after the third quarter and decided that the surest course to victory was to try to nurse a 21-13 lead for 15 minutes against a Cardinals offense with big-play capability, albeit one with a one-armed quarterback. They succeeded only because Arizona ran a stupid, no-hope gadget play on a two-point conversion that could have tied it, then Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers pushed the potential game-winning field goal wide. These three games make it crystal clear that once you shut down the afterburners, it's not always easy to get them fired up again. Tom Brady usually can do it. Kerry Collins usually can not. (One other thing that the Titans-Texans and Redskins-Cardinals games had in common was that each game featured a successful onside kick by the comeback team in the final two minutes. In the Tennessee-Houston game, the Texans recovered their kickoff after the requisite 10 yards, but they were flagged for being offsides and for an illegal formation, so they were pushed back 5 yards and had to rekick. Can someone explain to me why that second kick also had to go only 10 yards before the Texans could recover? Why not 15? In every other situation in football, when you are penalized a certain number of yards, you have to make up those yards in order to keep the ball.

Seattle 33, St. Louis 6
It isn't even funny any more. The Rams have scored more than 16 points only once in seven games, and have been held to touchdown or less four times. This is the last time I will say this: The St. Louis offense is not "explosive."

Cincinnati 38, N.Y. Jets 31
Big whoop.

New Orleans 22, Atlanta 16
There's some great irony, or poetic justice, or something in here somewhere, but you have to kind of dig it out. Byron Leftwich gets cut by Jacksonville after coach Jack Del Rio gets fed up with his constant ankle injuries. He comes to Atlanta, where Joey Harrington is (as usual) being blamed as much for things that aren't his fault as for things that are. Bobby Petrino eventually benches Harrington and names Leftwich his starter. And Leftwich promptly injures his ankle. Meanwhile, in Jacksonville, Leftwich's replacement, David Garrard, injures his ankle. The Falcons and Jaguars both lose.


Chicago 19, Philadelphia 16
The fact that these two teams looked so awful for so much of Sunday's game speaks volumes about the NFC. The Eagles and Bears are a combined 5-8, and yet it's not at all preposterous to say it's possible that they could meet in the NFL Championship Game. I'm sure Bears fans, at least, are ready to punch their tickets. Random thought: If teams refuse to punt the ball to Bears return man Devin Hester, if they're willing to give up 20, 30, 40 yards of field position on punts rather than run the risk of Hester taking the kick all the way back for six, why don't teams just punt it through the end zone every chance they get? Or, better yet, why don't they just go for it on fourth down every time they're beyond their own 40 yard line? It's not like the Bears defense is scaring the crap out of anyone this season. You run a play on fourth-and-5 ten times, you'll probably convert half the time. Even if you fail and turn the ball over, it's just the Bears offense. What are they going to do?

Kansas City 12, Oakland 10
You could look at the fact that the Chiefs are now leading the AFC West and make a joke about signs of the apocalypse, except that there are actual signs of the apocalypse in San Diego, and it's not so funny.

Denver 31, Pittsburgh 28
This, just when I started obnoxiously referring to the Steelers as my sleeper team for 2007.

Detroit 23, Tampa Bay 16
Buffalo 19, Baltimore 14
Sometimes all you can do is shrug your shoulders and conclude that the Buccaneers might not be as good as they looked last month and that the Ravens are definitely not as good as they looked last year.

SEASON: 65-38 (63.1%)
(2006 through Week 7: 64-36, 64.0%)
(2005 through Week 7: 64-38, 62.7%)

Down and Distance's exclusive KA-POWER RANKINGS are back for their third year. The product of a simple formula, the rankings have predicted 10 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners. Further, 14 of the last 17 Super Bowl winners finished the regular season No. 1 or No. 2 in the KA-POWER RANKINGS system. 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. Don't like where your team is ranked? Blame science. (Key: WK7 = This week's ranking. WK6 = Last week's ranking. POW = KA-POWER centigrade score)
12 Patriots100.001717Texans 49.35
21 Steelers 93.381818Cardinals47.10
33 Colts 92.861919Browns 45.53
46 Cowboys 73.112021Chiefs 44.86
55 Redskins 70.992120Raiders 44.68
67 Packers 68.372222Bengals 43.10
716Seahawks 65.652323Bears 39.76
812Giants 65.002424Lions 38.91
94 Jaguars 63.782526Jets 30.20
108 Titans 63.402625Dolphins 27.37
1111Chargers 59.762729Saints 26.41
1210Eagles 59.612830Broncos 24.79
139 Bucs 58.472931Bills 23.88
1414Panthers 57.973028Falcons 22.45
1515Ravens 53.66312749ers 18.32
1613Vikings 51.673232Rams 0.00

Teams eliminated this week from Super Bowl championship consideration (what?): None. Teams previously eliminated: Dolphins, Rams, Jets, Falcons.

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