Sincere apologies for what will almost undoubtedly be a shorter post this week – the professional side of my life is NUTS!!!
That said, weird week in a lot of ways. Oakland and New England scored over 200 points. Detroit and Jacksonville also scored over 200 points, but LOST. San Diego beat Denver on stat corrections by less than half a point. Buffalo scored only 135 in a brutal divisional loss. And the New York Giants, despite having so many players on the IR that they had to start the team doctors at skill positions, scored the most points of the week and absolutely waxed the 49ers. Very strange.
Game of the Week: Atlanta Falcons 224, Detroit Lions 204.
The first game of the double-header did not disappoint at all, with both teams going over 200 points. The Lions younger players really showed up for this one, with both Brandin Cooks and Cordarelle Patterson going over 25. However, Detroit absolutely missed its superstars. With both Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush on the bench, Detroit got only a combined 18 points from Kenny Stills and Jonas Grey. While a healthy Megatron and Reggie Bush might not have made up the full margin of victory, they sure would have helped. The Falcons also had to overcome some adversity, weathering an epic, career-ending Geno Smith meltdown (-4 points) by getting monstrous games from Arian Foster (46 points) and Larry Fitzgerald (38 points) on the way to a 138 offensive performance.
By the way, how lopsided does the Arian Foster for Stacy and Mettenberger look right now? Foster has scored 68 points in the last two games, while Zac Stacy has exactly 7, and the Falcons stole Mettenberger back – and will now be starting him at Quarterback after his bye week. Unfair – until Arian injury-tweets again.
Miami Dolphins: Now THAT is how you go after a playoff spot. The Dolphins put together their best game of the season against wild-card rival Jacksonville, pulling off a 226-212 victory behind 104 points from their defense and a cool 50 from Gronk. The win leaves Miami in a tenuous position within the AFC wildcard. Any team that can throw down 226 points against a rival is going to be a legitimate wild card threat. But after a winnable date with San Diego, the Dolphins finish their season with three games against Detroit, Buffalo, and Denver. 2-2 would probably be good enough to secure a playoff spot. But 1-3 may not.
Oakland Raiders: So… uhhh… guys… the Raiders are 7-5. 7-5. How is this possible? And not only are they 7-5, they are riding a four game winning streak, just scored 224 points, and are about to get Josh Gordon back from a suspension. The young receiving core of Jordan Matthews, Davante Adams, and Andre Holmes looks good, Eddie Lacy is a stud, and the defense is holding its own despite some difficult injuries to the linebacking core. The Raiders are also well-positioned for a run – after a game against Seattle, Oakland finishes with three games against divisional opponents – and plenty of chances to make up ground. A 3-1 finish with wins over KC and Denver would put the Raiders at 10-6 – with a very real shot at a playoff. Why oh why didn’t somebody buy all his veterans in week 3????
New Orleans Saints: How do you stop a slide? By smashing the reigning Super Bowl Champions by 40 and looking good while doing it. This is the Saints squad we’ve expected for weeks. 27 from Brees. 38 from Golden Tate (poetic as well as impressive). 107 from the defense (led by 25 from rising stud Anthony Barr). And all this with Darren Sproles inactive and putting up a goose egg. It is going to be an exciting race to the finish in the NFC South – and after this week, I have to give the slimmest of edges to the Saints. Experience counts in fantasy, ya know. It’s not all about the numbers.
Honorable Mentions: New York Giants, Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots
Denver Broncos: Rough week for the Broncos. Anytime a team loses to a divisional rival by less than half a point after a stat correction, you have to feel for them. Of course, when they only score 151 points on a non bye-week, it’s hard to feel THAT sorry for them. It was an overall sluggish week for the Broncos who got less than 20 points combined from all offensive personnel not named Peyton or Demaryius, and an average of less than THREE points from their seven linemen and linebackers. The secondary was strong, as was the characteristic Bronco connection – but the Broncos need more from their supporting cast. Even the schedule looks a little darker for the Broncos. New England, Oakland, St. Louis, and Miami would have looked like a cruise a few weeks back, but looks much more challenging now. It’s all still in play for Manning’s crew – everything from a first round playoff bye to missing the playoffs. We’ll see which Denver squad shows up.
Buffalo Bills: So at first glance, this game for the Bills (a 155-135 loss to the Jets) appears to an anomaly of epic proportions. A blip in the space-time continuum. An isolated and irrepeatable aberration on par with Roger Goodell making a politically sensitive decision (although… the man is brilliant. That whole Ray Rice thing? And the cover up? Nobody cares anymore. HOW?!?!?). But this isn’t the first time for the Bills. If you scroll back through an impressive series of wins and crushing performances that have given them their well-deserved best in the AFC record, you also find week 4 – where the Bills managed only 131 points in a similarly perplexing loss to the Texans. The consistent theme in both of those games? A complete no-show by the offensive supporting cast. In week 4, Trent Richardson went off for over 20, but the rest of the offense together managed less than 25. In week 8, Kyle Orton managed 25, but with Richardson out, the rest of the offense put together less than 20.
Is it a huge concern? Not really. Particularly once Trent and A. J. Mother. (#$&)#*(. Green. comes back, I fully expect this offense to put up huge points and continue to dominate. But it is a concern. It only takes one egg in the playoffs…
The Race to the Bottom: I thought about a bunch of teams for this third spot… but I couldn’t really bring myself to select any of them. San Francisco got obliterated by NYG… but it was a bye week. Indy got shelled by Pittsburgh… but everybody does. Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Detroit’s playoff hopes took major hits, but we picked on Tennessee last week and both Jacksonville and Detroit scored over 200.
So instead, I want to honor our competitors in the race for the bottom, and their outstanding accomplishments over the last couple of weeks. Over the past two weeks, Arizona, Chicago, Minnesota, the Jets, St. Louis, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Washington have combined to go 4-14, with only two of those wins (NYJ over Buff and Washington over Tennessee) over non-bottom teams. Ouch. There’s some drama in the race for #1, not just the race for the playoffs!
Games of the Week:
So I’m not going to lie. It’s NOT a great week for drama. There are very few epic showdowns, as most playoff teams are facing non playoff teams and seek to hold their ground. There could be a couple of gems though… and this is the week that a couple of bizarre upsets could really throw a wrench into the playoff race!
Indianapolis vs. NY Giants: Those crazy Giants. So far their hell stretch has looked like: ATL (W), PHI (L), DAL (W), SF (W). Their reward? An angry Indy squad fighting to retain control of their division. And oh, by the way, the Giants long-term injured list right now is a whose who list of studs: CJ Spiller, Victor Cruz, Jerod Mayo, Justin Durant, and Rashad Jennings. Meanwhile, this is Indy’s final true test before a final three weeks that are all winnable. A win here would go a long way to locking up their title defense.
Detroit vs. Atlanta: Round two. FIGHT! If Atlanta wins, we could see a “Finish Him” sequence worthy of old school Mortal Kombat. With a likely Green Bay win, another Detroit loss would push the Lions to three back with three to go – and pretty much spell the end of their season. This is going to be a bizarre week for both teams, however, as both times face a rather ridiculous bye week. Detroit relies more heavily on its franchise core (Bush, Megatron, Stafford, and EIGHT players on Defense). Atlanta is just as hamstrung, losing fewer franchise stars (Julio, Roddy, Kroy Biermann), but losing other bye week stars as well, including Martellus Bennett, Zach Mettenbergerer, and DeAndre Levy. Weird week. Weird doubleheader. Weird game.
Houston vs. Philadelphia: What the hell are the Texans? They are in! They are out! They are great! They are terrible! Who is this team, really? At this point, they are tied for the AFC South lead – but have to face a strong scoring Philly team that intends to make a push for the NFC East now that RG III is back. The Texans roster is talented, but very young and inconsistent. But the Eagles are finally healthy. Finally playing. And I think it’s about to get CRAZY up in the NFC East.
Oakland vs. Seattle: Didn’t expect this one to be a game. But it should be one of the week’s best. This was the stretch where the Seahawks were supposed to ride a weaker schedule to separation from the 49ers. So far so good. But Oakland is not the slouch they originally appeared to be, and have actually outplayed the Seahawks the last few weeks. A win keeps the Seahawks in the driver’s seat in the West. But in some ways, a win for the Raiders would be more interesting, as it would set them up at 8-5 at most a game out of the wild card, with three divisional games left to play, and a playoff spot there for the taking…
Good luck this week, everyone!