Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NFL Homage: Week 11

Peter King, long-time Sports Illustrated writer, has a column titled Monday Morning Quarterback or MMQB. This is speculative hearsay as I have never read it. But that is the rumor. Similarly, Gregg Easterbrook, short-time ESPN.com author, has a column titled Tuesday Morning Quarterback or TMQ. This is factual, as I have seen the links to it, but have never read it. Supposedly TMQ is an homage to MMQB where, in both, the author summarizes the goings-on of the previous NFL week of games. Well, in the Sports Pinata, each week I will be writing a post about the previous slab of games, call it an homage to an homage as I am copying the idea, but as I have never read either man's work, don't know if I will be copying ideas. Let's hope not. On to week eleven.

Every Tuesday for roughly eight weeks, I had written this article and the Dallas Cowboys had been awful. They took the field each game but didn't really seem to put forth much effort. Then, Wade Phillips was fired. Jason Garrett took over the team, running the offense. Let me interrupt myself for a second. Jason Garrett took over the team, but he had been running the offense the whole season. Nevertheless, with the exact same roster and same lineups, the Cowboys have been utterly explosive these past two weeks. The first game I can attribute to the players stepping up to save their jobs. That seemed likely. If they played terrible again, even with the new coach, Jerry Jones would see the problem lied with the roster makeup. But coming out firing on all cylinders would show the owner that they just needed a new coach to motivate them.

However, after saving their jobs for at least the rest of the season, Dallas came out again on Sunday, against the Lions, and put up 35 more points. If this happens again, if the Cowboys play really well on Thanksgiving against the Saints, there is only one logical explanation. Jason Garrett was sabotaging Wade Phillips to get him fired.

Bill Simmons mentioned this a few weeks ago as one of his crazy conspiracy theories, but all the pieces fit. The same group of players, under the same offensive play caller are suddenly scoring in bunches. Garrett had reason to "tank" his offensive coordinator duties too, because doing so allowed him the chance at being interim head coach. Finishing 2010 strong guarantees him the front running position to be full time coach next season. Once the Cowboys started off so poorly, there was really no reason for Garrett to be good at his job. And he wasn't.

Exit Wade Phillips, enter his replacement Garrett, and suddenly he has a reason to be good at calling offensive plays. This probably did not happen. There is no way to prove it one way or the other. But, from a tactical standpoint, it would make sense. That's all I'm saying.

As for another comeback, that mirrored the Cowboys' season of sorts, the Buffalo Bills made for an interesting afternoon on Sunday. They were down 21 to the Bengals at halftime. The team with the worst record in the league is down 21 at half. Call in the evening reporter; he can write his game recap column now. But wait. The 1-8 Bills roar back, score 35 unanswered points, and themselves win in a landslide. The NFL has become so unpredictable it's crazy.

Perhaps the epitome of unpredictability are the New York Jets. They seem to have the skill of luck this season. Every year there is a team that gets all the breaks. Last year it was the Saints. It doesn't always have to be the eventual Super Bowl winner, but in 2009 it was. Is 2010 the Jets' year to have "it"? It certainly seems that way.

Sunday now made three straight weeks the Jets have won in the final ticks. The two previous games were both overtime victories. But this Texans win might have been the most miraculous out of all of them.

Even though they lead the league in wins, and have a blowout win against the Bills in their resume, the Jets are winning games this year by an average of only 8.8 points. You would expect an 8-2 team to be plowing through people, but that simply is not the case. If you remove that week 4 Bills game, the Jets' other 7 wins are victories by less than a touchdown on average.

To be fair, both their losses were close games, but a first place team living so much on the edge either seems like a recipe for disaster or the makings of the "it" team of 2010. There really isn't another option here.

Speaking of no other options, the Vikings fired Brad Childress and Brett Favre continues to start week after week. I'm sure week 12 will be no exception, yet Favre's inclusion on the 'stars who sucked' lineup for week 11 speaks to how bad Childress had it with a QB who has been terrible/hurt, yet cannot be benched.

Quarterback - Brett Favre. He hasn't been on this team much, but mostly because I don't consider him a star anymore. He has had only two double digit fantasy games all season. Week 11 wasn't any worse than many of the others, but that's saying something. Favre threw for barely over 200 yards, no touchdowns, and tossed his 17th interception on the year. The Vikings are now out of it, their coach is gone, and maybe Favre will just go away after the year. Maybe.

Running Back - Frank Gore and Ahmad Bradshaw. Bradshaw's poor outing was really the downfall of the Giants at Philly on Sunday night. He couldn't get anything going, fumbled yet again, and ended with just 24 total yards. Brandon Jacobs was more of a factor in the game, and if Bradshaw cannot stop fumbling, that may become a trend as New York fights for a playoff birth. Gore, much like Bradshaw, had been having a nice season. In fact, week 11 was the first time since the first game of the year that Gore ended with single digit fantasy points. Coming against a porous Bucs run defense made it worse, but Frank should bounce back next week against the lowly Cardinals.

Wide Receiver - Anquan Boldin and Randy Moss. Boldin wasn't much of a factor against the Panthers, but his team did not really need him to be. The Panthers are shaping up as the worst team in the NFL now that the Cowboys have started trying again. Boldin's one point fantasy day speaks to the inconsistency of wide receivers really all season long. One guy who actually has been very consistent is Randy Moss. He has consistently done nothing since 2008. Another game without a single catch is my cue to remove Randy from the status of star wide receiver. He really hasn't performed like a star in a long while, but if you had him on your fantasy team (drafted as your number one receiver most likely) it would have been hard to bench/drop him before. Now that he has settled into the Titans offense and still produces nothing, it's not so hard anymore.

Tight End - Vernon Davis. With Antonio Gates out AGAIN, the rest of the tight ends in the NFL had yet another chance to make up ground on him and failed. There is clearly not a single other reliable tight end in the league. Hopefully Gates is back next week, for the sake of tight end still being a position in fantasy circles come 2011. Davis ended with a zero, but really the bigger issue here is only three tight ends even scored in double digits, two of them were owned in fewer than 5% of leagues, and one goes by the name of Hoomanawanui.

D/ST - Jets. New York's luck this season even shined on the defense this week. They really didn't do much but still escaped with the victory. Allowing 27 points, forcing just one turnover and a single sack, the Jets scored a measly 3 fantasy points. They truly are a better real life defense than fantasy defense. Week 5 was their only double digit scoring week all year long. Although getting 10+ points from your defense is unlikely, a top tier defense should come through big more than once. For some comparison, Pittsburgh has done it five times already and Green Bay already four times.

If you're expecting to make the fantasy playoffs, your lineups should be rounding into shape by now. Hopefully you have a set lineup where you aren't wasting talent on your bench. There are no more byes to plan for and having a talented guy on your bench in the playoffs is really just a waste.

As for the real life playoff picture, I think we have to give it another week at least. Really the only thing to be sure of is the half dozen teams that are not making it.

This has been week eleven's NFL homage to an homage.

(Same image used as previous NFL Homage posts)

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