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NFL Week 14 2009

By: Nick Popyack

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       What a wild week in the NFL we had last week! After a few season-ending injuries, a cut kicker here, a contract extension there, and a few upsets along the way, we have a pretty interesting rest of the season. The chase for a wild card spot [and, in some teams’ cases, the division] is really getting tense, and at least six teams from that made the playoffs last year are in serious jeopardy of making them this year. It’ll all come down to this final four game stretch, with some teams playing for that clinch scenario and others simply trying to win their second game of the year. What chances does your team stand? Here’s week 14.

Pittsburgh Steelers [6-6] @ Cleveland Browns [1-11]
[Thursday 8:20]

       Honestly, the feelings towards the professional football team in Pittsburgh might be the same feeling that Cleveland’s feeling: So much promise, but, in the clutch, when it counts, they disappoint. That’s my way of saying the Steelers are in serious trouble. The fourth quarter against the Raiders last week was a perfect example of how hopeless their defense is without Troy Polomalu, allowing three touchdowns. Their offense is fine, but if they don’t sort out their defensive problems, they’ll have a hard time cracking .500 this year. After this week, they have games against Green Bay, Baltimore and Miami, all fighting for a wildcard spot. While I think this week will be an easy win for the Steelers, they really need to play their best football now if they hope to beat out Jacksonville or Denver for that last playoff spot. Any number of things could happen in the AFC wildcard chase, and tonight’s game will help shape it up.
Pittsburgh Steelers

New Orleans Saints [12-0] @ Atlanta Falcons [6-6]
[Sunday 1:00]

       It might be taboo to talk about this in New Orleans, but the Saints have a really good shot of finishing the regular season undefeated. They haven’t scored less than 30 points in a game since their bye week, they’re playing three teams with a record of .500 or less, and the only real competitor they’re facing, Dallas, has already begun to unravel. If they can get their running game going again, I wouldn’t put it past them to finish the regular season with a big zero in the loss column. As for the Falcons... They’re going to have to play their best just to stay at .500. They still have to play the Jets, who have a defense that’s playing great, the Bills, who are unpredictable, and the Buccaneers, who almost beat them two weeks ago. Not to mention the high-powered Saints offense. This week, with Matt Ryan and Michael Turner both questionable to play, and a defense that surrendered 27 offensive points to the Eagles last week, I’m going with the Saints.
New Orleans Saints

Seattle Seahawks [5-7] @ Houston Texans [5-7]
[Sunday 1:00]

       Both of these teams are unpredictable. The Texans were at one time 5-3, but have since then dropped their last four and are real long shots to make the playoffs. The Seahawks can’t seem to beat anyone outside of their very weak division, and have long been out of the playoff race. As if the Texans needed a harder time winning games, their leading rusher, Steve Slaton, was placed on IR this week. The Seattle runningbacks, on the other hand, have been working very well together, and have essentially been the offense in the last few games. I think this will be the key, and the Texans will finally say goodbye to their already dim playoff hopes.
Seattle Seahawks

Denver Broncos [8-4] @ Indianapolis Colts [12-0]
[Sunday 1:00]

       What a season it has been for Jim Caldwell, starting the season off with a twelve-game winning streak and one of the least scored upon defenses in the league. That’s one thing people overlook when they talk about the Colts: Their defense. Their offense behind Peyton Manning has been so dominant for the majority of the year that people forget what’s preventing teams from scoring as many points as the Indianapolis offense has scored. However, the Broncos have a very tough defense as well, with the third fewest yards and points allowed against them, so Manning will have a more difficult time against this team. However, the Colts have one of the top offenses in all of football, so it’s hard to bet against them. Though this could be the week Indy finally loses one, I expect them to come out on top.
Indianapolis Colts

Buffalo Bills [4-8] @ Kansas City Chiefs [3-9]
[Sunday 1:00]

       This game features two teams that are at the bottom of their respective divisions. Both teams are having years to forget, but that was at least expected in KC. They have a new head coach, a new starting quarterback, their top wide receiver was suspended and they cut their top runningback. The Bills were supposed to get an enormous boost from Terrell Owens, but that didn’t work out, and they ended up firing their head coach. However bad these teams are, I think it’s quite clear the Bills will win this game. They have one of the top pass defenses in the league, and Owens was turning on the heat before he met one of the league’s best corners, Darrelle Revis. Let me add in the fact that the Chiefs have given up the most big pass plays [15 of 40 yards or more] in the league, and I think we have our winner.
Buffalo Bills

Green Bay Packers [8-4] @ Chicago Bears [5-7]
[Sunday 1:00]

       The Bears might have won last week, but that doesn’t mean they had a good week by any means. Struggling against one of the worst teams in the league is barely covered up by the fact that they won the game. If the Bears want to be taken seriously, they need to run the ball more and fix their defense. Only then will Jay Cutler be able to lead this team to victory. The Packers, on the other hand, have fixed their big problem: The offensive line. Only allowing one sack against the Ravens, the Packers are finally looking like a playoff-worthy team and will likely lock up one of the wild card spots. They’ll get some help this week against a team that only gained 143 yards passing last week.
Green Bay Packers

Detroit Lions [2-10] @ Baltimore Ravens [6-6]
[Sunday 1:00]

       I know the Lions are bad. Really bad. Ok, terrible. But I have to imagine that the mood in Detroit is pure optimism for the future, considering they came off one of the worst seasons in the history of the NFL. They have great offensive pieces in place, with a young quarterback, runningback, wide receiver and tight end all poised for a breakout year in 2010. The next step the Lions need to take is getting their offensive line in place and setting up their defense. With Jim Schwartz coaching them, I think that Detroit will finally put together a decent team in the next year or two. As for teams that haven’t improved upon last year, the Ravens are right at the top of that list. They have regressed defensively and offensively, and the penalties are killing them. The once vaunted Baltimore defense has only 22 sacks on the year, one more than the Lions. If they somehow make it into the postseason, it’ll be because of their offense, but that seems pretty unlikely. They’ll get a little closer this week, though.
Baltimore Ravens

New York Jets [6-6] @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers [1-11]
[Sunday 1:00]

       This game is pretty easy to determine who will win. The Jets don’t have Mark Sanchez, their top draft pick, this week because he didn’t follow their kind words of advice [“He’s gotta grow up!” --Rex Ryan] and decided to dive headfirst for a first down against the Bills. Well, this will probably end up being good for the Jets. Not counting their three game winning streak to start the season, the Jets have had three games in which they’ve passed the ball less than 20 times, and six in which they’ve passed more than 20 times. You guessed right; the three they’ve thrown less than 20 times, they’ve won all of them, and in the six they’ve thrown more than 20 times, they’ve lost. So when the backup quarterback comes to Tampa Bay with the league’s best rushing defense against the second worst rushing defense, you can probably expect few passes and New York dominance.
New York Jets

Miami Dolphins [6-6] @ Jacksonville Jaguars [7-5]
[Sunday 1:00]

       This is probably the biggest game in the AFC this week. Both teams are playing for a wild card spot, and the race in the AFC is so tight that this could be the final week that counts for either team. When looking at these two teams, a few things jump out at me. For starters, Maurice Jones-Drew, after scoring at least one touchdown in five straight weeks, has been held out of the endzone for the last two. David Garrard, in those two games, has been the offense, throwing for two touchdowns and no interceptions. As for the Dolphins, have decided to put the Wildcat offense on hold with Ronnie Brown no longer in the backfield, and have adopted a much more conventional offense. However, their quarterback, Chad Henne, has thrown four interceptions in the last two games. While I’m here, can I talk about how incredible it is that the Dolphins are still in the playoff race? They lost their top runningback and quarterback, and their wide receivers aren’t anything to get excited about, and yet they’re only a game behind the Patriots for the division lead. Anyway, I expect this one to come down to the wire, and am going to take the Jaguars.
Jacksonville Jaguars

Cincinnati Bengals [9-3] @ Minnesota Vikings [10-2]
[Sunday 1:00]

       Another big game. Both teams sit at the top of their division, with impressive defenses, strong running games and exciting quarterback-wide receiver duos. Well, that was true until last week. The Vikings couldn’t get anything going against the Cardinals, with their best player, Adrian Peterson, only gaining 19 yards on 13 carries. The Bengals, on the other hand, have had three different runningbacks rush for over 100 yards in as many weeks. With both teams having strong rushing performances, I think it’ll come down to the passing game, and the most impressive receiver of these two teams in recent weeks has been Chad Ochocinco [Soon to be ‘Hachi Go’?]. The man that always steps it up in the biggest games will have a big game against a team that allowed three touchdown passes on Sunday night. This game could go either way, but I expect the Bengals to emerge victorious.
Cincinnati Bengals

Carolina Panthers [5-7] @ New England Patriots [7-5]
[Sunday 1:00]

       What has happened in New England? Actually, I should say ‘out of’ New England. Their last two games, both losses, were on the road, after all. Actually, all of New England’s losses have been on the road this year. For whatever reason, they’ve left either their offense or good decision-making in Foxborough all year, excluding the London game. When it comes down to it, however, the Pats are only one game up in their division, and having missed out on the postseason last year, they’re desperate for a win this week. They’ll get a little closer this week, as Matt Moore, the man filling in for the injured Jake Delhomme, didn’t make a lot happen last week against the Bucs. Against the much tougher defense of the Patriots [though it’s been thrown under the bus in recent weeks], I don’t expect much more. Not even an mildly injured Tom Brady should stop the Patriots from keeping themselves undefeated at home this year.
New England Patriots

Washington Redskins [3-9] @ Oakland Raiders [4-8]
[Sunday 4:05]

       For the first time in a long time, I have good things to say about both of these teams. The Redskins, though they ultimately blew it, played a really great game against the top team in the NFC. If they had made that last field goal, they probably would have gone on to win that game. While I’m on the topic of their kicker, I have to voice my mixed feelings about the release of Shawn Suisham, the aforementioned kicker. He missed three makable field goals in two big games: The one against the Saints of course, but also against the Cowboys. If he had made those three field goals, the Redskins would easily be at 5-7 right now instead of 3-9. However, those were the only field goals he had missed all year. If he’s only missed three field goals all year [the top three kickers in the league, David Akers, Nate Kaeding and Lawrence Tynes, have missed four, three and five field goals, respectively], I don’t think he’s the one that should be getting the blame. I think that lies more heavily on the offense as a whole. Speaking of offense, who knew that Oakland had one? I think they surprised even themselves with their play in the final quarter against the Steelers last week. Though I was opposed to the idea of benching JaMarcus Russell after a game in which his receivers dropped more passes than they caught, I can’t argue with success. Bruce Gradkowski, in his three starts, has thrown six touchdown passes, while Russell only threw for two in nine starts. That is an absolutely ridiculous statistic, and in a week in which Clinton Portis was put on IR and Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall won’t play, I’m going with the new found offense in Oakland.
Oakland Raiders

St. Louis Rams [1-11] @ Tennessee Titans [5-7]
[Sunday 4:05]

       You want to know what’s strange? No, the Rams only having one win isn’t strange at all. It’s the fact that their past four games have been so close. They’ve lost their last four by five, eight, ten and eight points, respectively, which is a good sign for St. Louis fans. It means that, though it took him a while, Steve Spagnuolo’s defensive scheme is finally settling in. However, the explosive Titans are on their way, and the Rams haven’t faced anybody like Chris Johnson this year. I expect him to have a big game in a big win over St. Louis.
Tennessee Titans

San Diego Chargers [9-3] @ Dallas Cowboys [8-4]
[Sunday 4:15]

       Right on schedule. The collapse in Dallas, that is. As if they have to follow the same path every year, the Cowboys failed to beat a team that they should have beaten the first time as well. Though Tony Romo had a great day [41 of 55, 392 yards and 3 TDs, 0 INTs] it wasn’t enough. The punt return for a touchdown put Dallas in a hole and they never found a way to dig themselves out of it. They really didn’t look bad, but they couldn’t beat a team they not only outgained in their first meeting, but one that only scored six points the week before. The Chargers, on the other hand, have scored 105 points in their last three games, and should add to their seven-game winning streak.
San Diego Chargers

Philadelphia Eagles [8-4] @ New York Giants [7-5]
[Sunday 8:20]

       Suddenly, the Giants are one game away from leading the division, and could very well take the NFC East if a few things go their way in the weeks to come. After playing very poorly against the Broncos, they bounced back with their extra days of practice and beat the Cowboys at home. However, they have a lot of flaws. For instance, though they’re ranked sixth overall in total defense, they’re ranked 25th in points allowed per game. Donovan McNabb, in three week winning streak, has been spectacular, and this week, he gets his top weapon, DeSean Jackson, back in the starting lineup. While it might not be the same dominance we saw earlier this year, I think it’s safe to say we’ll see a similar result to when these teams first met this year.
Philadelphia Eagles

Arizona Cardinals [8-4] @ San Francisco 49ers [5-7]
[Monday 8:30]

       If there was any doubt as to whether or not the Cardinals are for real, erase it. Arizona held Adrian Peterson, one of the league’s top rushers to 19 rushing yards, second lowest in his career. They also intercepted Brett Favre, formerly leading the league in passer rating, twice. Oh yeah, their offense didn’t do too bad, either, scoring three passing touchdowns. Yes, the Cardinals are for real. They’re a completely different team from the one that was beaten in their home opener against the 49ers 20-16. The 49ers have been completely erratic and haven’t won consecutive games since their first two of the season. In this game, they’ll face a team that’s clicking on all cylinders.
Arizona Cardinals

Recap:
Pittsburgh Steelers
New Orleans Saints
Seattle Seahawks
Indianapolis Colts
Buffalo Bills
Green Bay Packers
Baltimore Ravens
New York Jets
Jacksonville Jaguars
Cincinnati Bengals
New England Patriots
Oakland Raiders
Tennessee Titans
San Diego Chargers
Philadelphia Eagles
Arizona Cardinals

Last week’s winner: Kavik [12]

Season totals:

Nick: 123
Kavik: 123
Pat: 117


Fantasy Football: The story of Team Nate Kaeding [3-10]

Dropped TE Jeremy Shockey, RB Jason Snelling, and RB Shonn Greene for WR Jason Avant, RB Fred Jackson and WR Chris Chambers. I didn’t have a bad week, but the same thing happened that’s happened all season. I was leading by ten points going into the Sunday night game, but my opponent had Sidney Rice and… Larry Fitzgerald. Yeah. I lost, 88-105.

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This week’s unfounded rumor: Nobody’s job is safe in Washington anymore. If anybody messes up anything, they’re likely to be fired. First on the list is the kid that runs onto the field after the opening kickoff and takes the tee. You better not trip, little kid... Dan Snyder is watching.

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