Tuesday, December 7, 2010

NFL Homage: Week 13

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 thirteen.

Every team has played 75% of their schedule. Only four games remain. An even better question than who the best team is, is who is the most surprising team? Some are surprisingly bad, others surprisingly good but check out the cavalcade of teams up for this debate: the Dallas Cowboys, the Chicago Bears, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the St. Louis Rams, the San Francisco 49ers, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Indianapolis Colts and the Oakland Raiders. This is what makes the NFL great/frustrating to follow. The parity is tremendous so every week is a surprise.

Of the happy surprises, the most unlikely, to me, are the Jaguars. This was clearly the worst team in the AFC South as recent as two months ago. Since then, Houston has fizzled, Tennessee has fallen off a cliff, and Indy is succumbing to injuries and a pressing Peyton Manning. Meanwhile, the Jags are playing good football. They've won four of their last five games and really had that Giants game won as well. I still don't see them making the playoffs even though they are in first place heading into week 14. I guess that's the definition of a surprise team. I still can't persuade myself to buy in.

Some people would throw the Kansas City Chiefs on the list of biggest surprises of 2010. I will not. The reason is I saw this coming. I picked the Chiefs to make the playoffs prior to the season. They have a two game lead in the division with four to play and they face San Diego this week. A win on Sunday would all but secure the AFC West crown. Well it would if it wasn't for those pesky Raiders. Who'd have thought the week 17 match-up between the Chiefs and Raiders could decide a division champ?

It's a fun story, especially since both teams are winning old-school style. Neither has a tremendous passing game with the exception of the three weeks Dwayne Bowe turned into Jerry Rice circa 1995.

(That analogy is even funnier because I had to look up Rice's stats and spend a few minutes deciding what year to use. It didn't really matter. I could have picked anything from '86 to '96.)

Yet both the Raiders and Chiefs can run all day. Each team has a pair of backs capable of putting up a big game any week. Kansas City and Oakland rank first and third in the NFL in rushing respectively.

Unfortunately, while the AFC has some fairy tale stories, the biggest surprises in the NFC are most definitely disappointments, led by the Cowboys. Dallas, Minnesota and San Francisco were three guarantees for playoff spots prior to the season. Although at 4-8 the 49ers could still win their division, sadly, I am going to consider them a disaster nonetheless. Disasters are more in my wheelhouse.

Now not every fantasy disaster lines up with a team losing or a bad performance. This is what separates the lineup of 'stars who sucked' from real life. That, and the fact that people seem to care more about ESPN's power rankings than my lists each week. I don't get it.

Quarterback - Eli Manning. Here is a perfect example. The New York Giants thumped the Redskins last weekend. It was an epic blowout. They ran up and down the field. However, or perhaps consequently, Eli had a bad game numbers-wise. He threw for 161 yards and 1 interception; a terrible fantasy performance out of a usually reliable starter. Not what owners were hoping for trying to clinch spots in the fantasy playoffs.

Running Back - Chris Johnson and Ray Rice/Rashard Mendenhall. Rice and Mendenhall faced each other. The Ravens played the Steelers. For the uninformed, both the Ravens and Steelers have great defenses. We're going to split the shame here since neither did well yet neither was expected to do much better against their respective defensive opponents. Chris Johnson is a different story. After the worst game of his career last week and what may have been the worst game ever in NFL history for a player drafted in the first round in fantasy leagues, he was supposed to get a little breather against a porous Jaguars defense. He did not. 67 total yards from scrimmage probably led to another loss for Johnson owners banking on their top guy coming through. I would say you should feel good anyways just by looking at his match-ups in the fantasy playoffs, but after these past two weeks, I've lost my confidence.

Wide Receiver - Dwayne Bowe and Dez Bryant. The aforementioned Bowe ended his streak of Jerry Riceian weeks. He was held without even a catch after scoring 13 touchdowns in his last seven games, with at least one touchdown every week. Dez Bryant was also soaring up the fantasy receivers list before week 13 ended. Rather than just having a poor game, Bryant suffered a broken ankle and will miss the remainder of the year. It's a tough "break" for Bryant owners, no pun intended. Well, actually, I did intend the pun, but I would have said the same thing verbatim if he had not broken a bone and instead ruptured his spleen...Although then I might have said something along the lines of this being tough for Bryant owners to stomach.

Tight End - Tony Gonzalez. Tight ends around the league must have heard my calls. Week 13 was a tight end fantasy bonanza. Six scored in double digits, including Vernon Davis and Ben Watson who both gained over 100 yards receiving. Of course nine of the 12 most highly owned tight ends scored fewer than 6 points. Baby steps. Gonzalez was obviously one of the nine and he's owned in nearly 100% of leagues. I put him here to hope that he's not being valued any higher than any of the other tight ends not named Antonio. Don't keep a second tight end on your roster to play the match-ups for any reason. Roster spots could be used more wisely.

D/ST - Jets. Boy did the Patriots stick it to their division rival. The Jets allowed a whopping 45 points on Monday night, most certainly netting negative fantasy points in leagues that allow it. They had been showing some signs of weakness recently with all the last second victories but I didn't expect a drubbing like this. The game was 17-0 by the time the first quarter rolled to a close.

With the exception of the Jets-Patriots game, the other big match-ups actually did live up to the hype. The Steelers-Ravens game was a defensive struggle all game, turned by a Troy Polamalu sack/forced fumble late in the game. The Falcons-Bucs game was also an even match until Atlanta was able to open the flood gates, scoring 14 straight fourth quarter points on their way to victory.

The week 14 games are made up of a bunch more division battles but perhaps the most interesting games are between non-division foes. The Raiders and Patriots will both be on the road against division leaders while the Rams will be playing the Saints in New Orleans. Nothing comes easy in the last quarter of the NFL season.

This had been week thirteen's NFL homage to an homage.

(Same image used as previous NFL Homage posts)

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