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Week 10 – NFC Midterms

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Regarding last week’s Game of the Century: I so totally called it. The Colts were winning for a good three quarters, then their D-line ran out of gas. It was crystal clear what was happening during the first Pats drive of the 4th quarter. If the Colts coaching staff had the ability to adjust — bring blitz packages, for example — rather than just hope everything started to work, they could’ve held them off. Just like I said last week.

At least we now have an idea of a chink in the Pats armor: Pressure, pressure and more pressure. It may be too late to stop them now, but I’m sure Michael Strahan and company will feel otherwise in Week 17.

Can the Colts win when they meet next in the AFC Championship on 1/20? Yes, but they need to keep the pressure on for four quarters instead of three, and they need to improve their punt coverage. Wes Welker got way too much return yardage.

Lastly, The Colts really need to fire their crowd noise DJ. I will be surprised if the NFL poobahs don’t hand down a summary ruling against pumped in crowd noise. Maybe the Pats have film of it they can use as evidence.

This week we are here to talk about the junior varsity — the NFC. But let me correct that. Overall the NFC is the weaker conference, but that is only because the AFC has two of the best teams in history. Eliminate the Colts and Pats, or move one team to the other conference and the conferences even out. In fact, the NFC might even have a little edge. So, while the AFC is a two team cathedral, the NFC is more of a bizarre bazaar.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys
It’s looking like the ‘Boys are the cream of the NFC, provided they don’t pull another late season slide. After all, T.O. is still T.O.; no telling what might set him off. And certainly Romo could find about 67.5 million reasons to be distracted. But the big difference this year is that Wade Phillips has the defense really whipped into shape as expected. The ‘Boys are the only real point of excellence in the NFC.

While we’re discussing Cowboys, I want to recap exactly what Emmitt Smith said in making his prediction of a Steelers victory in the Monday Night pre-game show:

“Know what Boom, the words of a good friend Isaac Holt used to say back with the Cowboys, ‘I don’t believe fat meat is greasy.’ So disregard the seven losses that every home team has had this year. I’m going with the Steelers tonight.”

If he would have just been wearing the shiny green wifebeater shirt he wore in Dancin’ With the Stars we could call that performance art and be done with it. Mike Florio over at Pro Football Talk has promised to collect a page of Emmitt-ism for future publication. It’s one of the reasons I get up every morning.

Grade: A

New York Giants
They don’t appear to be all broken up about Tiki’s absence, do they? I bet they’re thinking, “Now if we could just get rid of that ballbuster Coughlin, then we could really have some fun.”

The Giants are hot, which is gonna happen when you are coming off a four game stretch that includes the Jets, Falcons, 49ers and Dolphins. Best to wait and see how they deal with the Cowboys before evaluating them, but 11 wins is not out of the question.

Grade: B+

Washington Redskins
I actually had some hope for these guys. Then they got pantsed by the Pats and merely squeaked by the Jets in OT. Not their year. The ‘Skins have a solid defense and they can get some yards from Clinton Portis, but they haven’t beaten anyone impressive and they have a lot of impressive teams on the schedule the rest of the way. They’ll have a struggle to get to .500. Gibbs has to be getting sick and tired of this.

Grade: C

Philadelphia Eagles
You know what’s funny? There’s some total loser out there, who shall remain nameless, that picked the Eagles to take the NFC at the beginning of the season. I may have mentioned once or twice that you should never, ever make futures bets.

The late, great Donovan McNabb deserves a column all to himself, and he may get it soon. I can’t imagine Andy Reid being the coach next year. This is the end of the line for the Eagles. All that’s left is the gloating from T.O.

Grade: D

NFC North

Green Bay Packers
The happiest person on the Green Bay packers might be Aaron Rodgers. The Pack are the youngest team in the League and should only get better. Rodgers is 23. Suppose ol’ Brett hangs on another year or two. That’s fine. Rodgers will inherit a top team coming into their prime. If he gets really lucky the Pats and Colts will have peaked and he’ll have a shot at the ring.

The only really scary game for the Pack is in a couple of weeks versus Dallas. 12 wins seems reasonable.

Grade: A

Detroit Lions
There is one very sad thing about being a Lions fan. (Actually, there’s about 300,000 very sad things about being a Lions fan, but one especially prominent this year.) The Lions are 6-2 and I can’t appreciate it. Lions fandom isn’t really fandom in the traditional sense. A Lions fan lives in a perpetual state of righteous defiance. “Go ahead lose again. C’mon, let’s see you blow it. Ain’t gonna stop me. I’ll be back in the stands to see you suck next week. You can’t get rid of me.” It’s a very disturbing dynamic. Now they are 6-2 and I am still sitting here waiting for them to show their real colors. Hell, they could be hoisting the Lombardi trophy and I still wouldn’t believe they were for real. That’s the state we are in.

Shaun Rogers may not catch his breath in time for Sunday. Let’s hope he’s ready for Thanksgiving Day when the Lions host the Pack in what might be a battle for the division lead. (I can’t even write that without hearing it sarcastically in my head.)

Grade : A-

Minnesota Vikings
Yes, Adrian Peterson is amazing, but you don’t get yards like that unless your blocking is amazing too. The Vikes have a good offensive line and are getting good downfield blocking from the tight ends and receivers. A rushing performance like that is a huge team effort.

In addition to a great running game, the Vikes have a deadly run defense; best in the league according to DVOA. If this was the ’70s the Vikes would probably be bound for the Super Bowl. These days football teams needs something called a “passing game,” which turns out to be an antonym for “Tarvaris Jackson.” Despite what anyone says about balanced attacks or old school ball control, passing is more important. You win in the NFL by passing and using the running game to keep the defense honest. Doesn’t stop me from enjoying watching Adrian Peterson, though.

The Vikes may eke out a winning season. Just barely.

Grade: C+

Chicago Bears
I have nothing to say about the Bears except that I am awaiting the triumphant return of Kyle Orton’s neck beard. Only that can save them now.

Grade: D

NFC South

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Somewhere, Jake Plummer is hitting himself in the head, and not in a helpless autistic way either. Jeff Garcia has to have had one of the strangest career arcs in history. He made the Pro Bowl early, as 49er, then he proceeded to stink up the world with the Browns and Lions and found himself as a second stringer in Philly, where he got a fortuitous shot when McNabb went down and now, nine years later, he’s looking at the Pro Bowl again, possibly thanks the Jake Plummer feeling petulant. Plus, he’s got a Playmate of the Year for a wife. Not bad for someone who looks like your accountant.

In commenting on the complexity of Jon Gruden’s offense, RB Michael Bennett said, “It’s like going from one-plus-one-is-two to pi-equals-this.” It’s not clear from the article whether Bennett was holding up 3.14159 fingers, or just grabbing his crotch.

The schedule gets easy here on out, with the exception of a single game at New Orleans. But the Bucs have proven their ability to lose to inferior teams, so that’s not such a comfort. 10 wins sounds reasonable.

Grade: B+

Carolina Panthers
I bet David Carr is so happy to be out of Houston where he was little more than a tackling dummy for opponents. Oh, wait…

The Panthers are a mess. They have yet to win a home game. Delhomme is damaged and Carr is concussed. Meanwhile, there are rumblings that Julius Peppers is dogging it because he doesn’t like his contract which, if true, is unbelievably self-destructive because he is in a contract year, he can effectively change his contract by performing well. Steve Smith used to carry the team but even he is having a down year. And Vinny is consistently late for practice from stopping at McDonalds every morning for a senior coffee.

With the Bucs and the Saints coming on strong, the Panthers are toast. And maybe so is John Fox.

Grade: C-

New Orleans Saints
Last week I pointed out there is always one team that has tons of talent but doesn’t get in a groove until mid-season. That’s true; I just got the team wrong. It’s not the Chargers, it’s the Saints. (I reserve the right to change my mind again about this next week, though.) This is not entirely unexpected. The Saints, to this point, had played against some brutal pass defenses.

But the Saints also have a brutal pass defense, as in brutal to watch — one of the worst in the League. The winner of this division is likely to be the winner of the Week 13 matchup with the Bucs. At the moment I would have to guess the Saints D will fail them.

Reggie Bush’s bizarre legal machinations as he destroys the USC football program post facto have yet to attract the real heat of the press yet. But they will, at which point he will find himself under moral assault from all corners. It’ll be quite a change from Noble Reggie in the 9th ward. Can’t help things.

Grade: C+

Atlanta Falcons
It’s interesting that I really haven’t seen a lot of comments suggesting things would be different if Vick were still around. Probably because everyone knows they wouldn’t. Oh, he might have stolen a win with an overly dramatic run, but there’s no way he could have changed the fate of this team. He’s not that good and neither are they.

DeAngelo Hall got some camera time for jackassery, but now he seems to have shut up. I just can’t find an angle to write anything about the Falcons. They are substandard at just about every aspect of the game and will likely finish 4-12. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2007 Detroit Lions.

Grade: D

NFC West

Seattle Seahawks
It’s easy to bust on the ‘Hawks. So I will. They are in the weakest division of the weaker conference and are likely to take the division with a .500 record. Somebody seems to have hollowed out Shaun Alexander and put him back in the package like an eviscerated Oreo cookie. Actually, we know who did that. Minnesota did a couple years ago when they raided his line. As punctuation, they just got bumped out of a prime time game against the Bears in a flex schedule dissing. The brightest spot is kicker Josh Brown.

But the combination of the lame division and a schedule rich in cake means they’ll be back as usual, moseying into the playoffs where they can hope to steal a victory from some more deserving team.

Grade: B-

Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals appear to be in violation of the Fools First Law. They have a good O-Line, one of the best at pass protection and in the top ten at run blocking (Russ Grimm has done a good job), yet DVOA puts their overall offense well into the bottom half of the League. So unless you want to declare the first law invalid, that means a) Leinart/Warner/Rattay sucks and/or, b) Edge James is useless and/or, c) the receivers are incompetent, and/or d) the game plans are plain stupid.

Those options were listed in order a severity for Cardinals fans. Leinart will return and improve. Running backs are easily replaceable. Receiving corps can be built in time. But you can’t fix Stupid.

I don’t think Whisenhunt is stupid, so that’s speaks well of the Cards chances down the road. Part of the problem with the Cards has been that expectations have been set way too high for the past few seasons. It seems like every year folks are high on them as a sleeper or breakout team. They may be just that, but not until about 2009.

Look for .500 this year and no reason to lose faith.

Grade: C

San Francisco 49ers
DVOA says the Niners are the worst team in the NFL. In fact in two of the last three years they finished in that position. Now they appear to be headed for 3 of 4. I cannot believe I actually called the Niners the “breakout team of 2007” at the start of the season. Maybe I didn’t. Maybe it was my evil twin.

Grade: F

St. Louis Rams
OK, so I may have picked the Eagles to win the conference and the Niners to breakout, but Florio picked the Rams to win the NFC Championship. (No direct link to the post, it’s about 2/3 of the way down the page.) Makes me feel like a frickin’ genius.

Grade: F

Revised Playoff Predictions

Division Winners: Cowboys, Packers, Bucs, Seahawks
Wild Cards: Saints, Giants
Champs (and Tom Brady’s designated sacrificial lambs): Cowboys

Last Week

5-1 versus the spread, making me 10-2 for the year, so for $1320 wagered we have been handed back a nice even $2100 for a net profit of $780. We squeaked out a winning week on the money line, too. For $900 wagered, we were returned $1028.66. Add the 128.88 profit into last week’s monstrous $818.21 and we have $947.09 for the year.

In the words of the great Stewie Griffin: YOU WILL BOW TO ME!

Spread Picks (spreadsheet)

When coach Lane Kiffin said the Raiders will kick to Devin Hester, someone asked “Does Al Davis [disembodied brain in a jar] know about this?” Kiffin replied “No.” Uh oh. Somebody should sneak Al Davis’ mummified body into Kiffin’s bed as a warning. Chicago is giving 3 to Oakland, but the home field DVOA boost for the Raiders gives them the edge. Pick: Raiders +3.

The Seahawks are spotting the Niners 10 points in Seattle. I hate giving double digits, but San Fran is a historically bad team. I’m told it can get kinda loud in Qwest Field. Maybe Bill Polian should stop by with his tape recorder. Pick: Seahawks -10.

The Colts are giving 3.5 to the Chargers. The Colts should be annoyed from last week and worried about losing the top spot in the division. Joseph Addai behind the Colts line is every bit as scary as Adrian Peterson — worse actually, because “Peyton Manning” is synonymous with “passing game.” Pick: Colts -3.5

Buffalo is down in the Sunshine State giving three to the disaster that is the 2007 Fins. I see no conceivable reason to believe Miami will win. I just can’t make a case no matter how hard I try. Sad. Pick: Bills -3

The hated Titans are hosting Jacksonville and giving 4.5. I have zero confidence in Quinn Gray, especially against the restaurant-quality Tennessee defense. David Garrard might play but will he be 100%? Plus, the Jags are starting to get themselves suspended at a clip worthy of the Bengals. Pick: Hated Titans -4.5

Lastly, the Cowboys are giving a single point to the Giants in New Jersey. This is a tough call. If there is any game the Giants will get up for it’s this one. I know the Giants are supposed to be different than the team that lost to the ‘Boys in Week One, but after the pansies that Giants have been playing, Dallas is going to look like they are moving on fast forward. Pick: Cowboys -1.

Money Line Picks (spreadsheet)

As usual, there are some money line picks that I normally wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. Specifically, I wouldn’t take Cincinnati to win anything at this point until I have seen that they have accepted their shortcomings and stabilized emotionally. (Yes, I am suggesting therapy.) And the Vikes, while coming off a stunning performance, are not a good bet to win on the Frozen Tundra.

But the formula doesn’t care who should win, it only cares if the potential payoff is worth the risk and it has served us well. I’m glad I have the discipline of the formula because some of these long shots are really tempting. $420 on Cleveland for example, considering how close Big Ben always seems to be to going out with a hip, or an appendix, or a face.

Pick Recap

Spread Picks
Raiders +3
Seahawks -10
Colts -3.5
Bills -3
Titans -4.5
Cowboys -1

Money Line Picks
Vikings $225
Broncos $165
Bills $69.44
Redskins $112.00
Bengals $200
Cowboys $86.21
Raiders $175.00
Colts $55.56

If this column comes out a bit late I apologize. The bulk of Blogcritics editors are gallivanting about in Las Vegas at Blogworld. I’m sure they have been sitting in hot tubs in their luxury suites waiting for me to submit this before heading to the sports book. I better not have a down week…

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About David Mazzotta

  • RJ

    Great column, as always.

    So, you don’t think the Lions will make the playoffs, even as a Wild Card? I realize their schedule gets pretty tough after this week, but I can’t see this team winning fewer than 9 games…and I’m thinking 9 wins should be enough for a Wild Card spot in the NFC. (Actually, I think they’ll win 10 or 11 games, but I can be a bit delusional at times…)

  • TheMurph544

    Thanks for another great week!

    The hyperlink for the money line spreadsheet is wrong (yes I really do look at it!). (For others: Just replace the _ps.html with _ml.html)

  • david mazzotta

    RJ, it’s not just my ingrained Lions negativity. There is a lot of smoke and mirrors in what they are doing this year, by which I mean there is no objective performance measurement that suggests that Lions can keep winning at the current pace.

    The only easy victory I see for them is when KC comes into town. If they beat the Giants a week from Sunday I may change my tune. (It would be nice to have a tie-breaker advnatage over another potential wild card.) Or if the New Orleans turn around proves to be a sham.

  • david mazzotta

    Murph, thanks for catching that. I was wondering about that one hit I got on the spreadsheet pages every week.

    The full url for the money line spreadsheet

  • david mazzotta

    Great googly moogly! What a game! I swear the entire column is going to be about the Colts-Chargers. There are so many angles. You cannot overstate what an upset that was.

    Even with that, the money line came out up a bit, mostly thanks to the Bengals.

    At the moment the spread picks are 1-3-1, which is sad, but can be mitigated by if the Seahawks beat the 49ers by more than 10.