|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 12: Patriots jump to No. 5||11.20.12 at 9:08 am ET|
It was a shaky week for many in the top 10. The Texans (1) and Falcons (2) survived scares against lower-caliber teams. The Patriots (5) lost Rob Gronkowski for 4-6 weeks, the Broncos (7) lost Willis McGahee, and the Ravens (6) won’t have Ed Reed in Week 12 due to an NFL suspension. Meanwhile, the Steelers (10) saw another one of their quarterbacks go down with a rib injury, and the offensive line of the Bears (8) looked like a turnstile against the Niners. Still, the elite 10 posted a 7-2 record in Week 11 and remain the cream of the crop in the NFL.
The Saints miraculously have become relevant again after dropping their first four games. They jump all the way to No. 12. In Philadelphia, the Eagles have hit an all-time low and drop to No. 27 as pressure to fire Andy Reid, the longest-tenured head coach in the NFL, increases.
The top 10 teams have been dominant for most of the year but are starting to show some vulnerability. As Thanksgiving approaches, could one or two of them relinquish their spot among the NFL’s elite? It certainly seems possible now that teams like the Bears and Steelers are staggering while the Saints and Seahawks (11) are rolling.
1. (1) Texans (9-1) — The final sign we needed to determine if the Texans truly are a great team came Sunday. They overcame a late deficit and won. Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson also showed the league that the offense can do more than just run the ball with Arian Foster. The play of the secondary does have to raise an eyebrow. Chad Henne looked like a Pro Bowler against them. The Jaguars have one of the worst — if not the worst — offenses in the league and were able to complete three pass plays of 60 or more yards.
2. (2) Falcons (9-1) — Say what you will about the Falcons, but more times than not they come out on top. This is a resilient football team that’s overcome many deficits. One cause for concern is the lack of production from Michael Turner. This offense has been great in the past due to the team’s ability to run and pass the ball effectively. This has been the first time in Turner’s Falcons career that he’s averaged less than four yards per carry.
3. (3) 49ers (7-2-1) — Quarterback controversy in San Fran? Jim Harbaugh wasn’t willing to say who his starting QB will be if Alex Smith is cleared to play. Smith is 20-6-1 in games he’s started since 2011. The decision to not publicly back Smith could hurt the Niners. You don’t want your starter lacking confidence and looking over his shoulder. Has Colin Kaepernick proven enough that he can replace Smith?
4. (4) Packers (7-3) — No Clay Matthews, no problem. It’s usually the Packers offense that gets the glory in Green Bay, but after Sunday’s win the defense deserves some credit. Four forced turnovers, five sacks and seven QB hits against Matthew Stafford and the Lions.
5. (6) Patriots (7-3) — No Gronk will hurt, but the tight end position is one of great depth on the Patriots and they should be able to make do until he returns. The Patriots are a ridiculous plus-20 in giveaway/takeaway margin with 27 forced turnovers and just seven giveaways.
6. (7) Ravens (8-2) — The suspension of Ed Reed is a major blow to an already weak secondary. Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith are already out with injuries. The Ravens desperately want to lock up a first-round bye in the playoffs. With New England and Denver breathing down their neck, they can’t afford to lose any ground.
|Peter King on M&M: Colts ‘not throwing in the towel’||12.02.11 at 2:05 pm ET|
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King joined Mut & Merloni for his weekly appearance Friday. King discussed the Colts’ debacle of a season and the future of Peyton Manning.
The Patriots square off against Indianapolis on Sunday in what is normally a marquee matchup. But the Colts are winless without Manning, who is still recovering from spinal fusion surgery. However, with the recent firing of defensive coordinator Larry Coyer and the news that Manning might be back to at least practice before season’s end, the Colts haven’t given up yet, according to King.
“The Colts made it very, very clear that they’re not throwing in the towel,” King said. “You fire the defensive coordinator with a month left in the season, what does that say to you? It says that you’re trying to give an effort. So there’s a chance that you might see the last gasp of this team on Sunday. I still think the Patriots will clobber them, but again, sports are funny.”
King also said that it is important that Manning practices before the season ends. This is because the Colts have to decide by late February whether or not to pay the 35-year-old a $28 million option bonus. If Indy is unsure of Manning’s status heading into the 2012 season, the team may have to cut him.
“All along, Bill Polian said the exact same thing two months ago: ‘We are going to do everything we can to play Manning, at least practice Manning, in December.’ And it only makes sense,” King said. “You have to make a decision, you have to make an educated decision about whether you’re going to pay him $28 million two months after the season ends. You don’t have organized practices two months after the season. You have to make that decision. … I doubt he’d play in a game, but I think it’s very possible and a matter of fact quite likely that he’s going to do some stuff in practice. Otherwise they would have put him on injured reserve right now.”
Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
On Manning practicing down the stretch to show teams he can still perform if the Colts want to trade him: “This is a funny story, because I think we all look at this and we all look at Manning and we still think he can play. But no one really knows whether he can. And that’s why I think its incumbent on him, and he wants to also, it’s incumbent on him to do everything he can to practice down the stretch and it’s incumbent on the Colts to try to get him on the field at some point. I don’t think a game is important at all. I think practicing six or eight times before January 1 is far more important than seeing him in a game.”
NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi spent some time with the Dennis & Callahan show Friday to talk about news from around the league.
The Patriots welcome the 0-11 Colts to Foxboro Sunday.
“What’s interesting about it is the Colts actually run the ball better than any time since 2001 with their football team without [Peyton] Manning this year, because they’ve been forced to have to do it,” Lombardi said. “When you watch them play, the quarterbacking has been so bad, it’s really hard to evaluate the other players. Reggie Wayne is still a good player. And I think Pierre Garcon could still run vertically. But nobody seems to be able to do anything because their offensive line has been poor and their quarterback’s been even worse.”
The Eagles continued their free fall Thursday night with a 31-14 loss to the Seahawks, only days after getting blown out by the Patriots. Philadelphia dropped to 4-8 after entering the season with high expectations.
“I think ultimately, the team concept has to work.” Lombardi said. “The team has to be coordinated from the personnel to the integration of everybody liking each other in the locker room. You get the sense from Philadelphia it was a collection of players; it was never a team. And I think that’s been a problem.”
Eagles fans have been calling for coach Andy Reid to be fired, but Lombardi said that isn’t necessarily the move the team needs to make.
Said Lombardi: “I think what Andy needs to do is take a step back. And I think fear does the work of reason here. You take a step back and you say look, we’ve got to get tougher, we’ve got to become more versatile on offense, and we’ve got to become a better defense. And I think if he’s willing to make those changes, then that’s the change that should be made, not with Reid.”
|Boomer Esiason on D&C: Eagles have ‘a bunch of lunatics’||11.28.11 at 10:15 am ET|
CBS Sports NFL analyst Boomer Esiason made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning to discuss the Patriots’ Sunday afternoon 38-20 jaunt over the Eagles in Philadelphia. In the wake of New England’s dominance over Philadelphia, Esiason did not have much game analysis to offer, but he did weigh in on the Eagles’ burgeoning coaching controversy.
In the beginning of the third quarter with the Patriots ahead 31-13, Eagles fans expressed their frustration after quarterback Vince Young tossed an incomplete fourth-and-1 pass from the New England 2-yard line by chanting “Fire Andy” in reference to 13-year Eagles coach Andy Reid. The Eagles, who were picked to be one of the best teams in the NFL in the preseason, are now 4-7.
“As far as Andy Reid is concerned, you just never know how much these coaches have built up with their owners,” Esiason said. “And Andy has won a lot of football games in Philadelphia. I know that Philadelphia football fans can be some of the toughest in all of sports, so I think sometimes we overreact to some of that stuff. I’m not sure that [CEO] Jeff Lurie will ask for the resignation or fire him during the season, and quite frankly, I don’t know who on that staff could take over anyway. So these coaches [Reid and Chargers coach Norv Turner] will probably play the year out and then there will be a lot of questions and a lot of changes.”
While Esiason did not delve too deeply into Sunday’s game, he did mention that a play Tom Brady made in the second quarter was indicative of how Brady’s trust in his receivers benefits the quarterback, receiver and the team. On third-and-13 on his own 36-yard line, Brady improvised and completed a 63-yard pass to Deion Branch, who got the ball to the Eagles’ 1-yard line. BenJarvus Green-Ellis scored a touchdown on the next play to give the Patriots a 14-10 lead.
“We’ve been accustomed to this for over 10 years now,” Esaison said. “And we’ve watched it, and when he plays at the top of his game like he did yesterday, it really is a thing of a beauty. There’s no panic. He steps up in the pocket. He reads the defense as quickly as anybody. Yesterday I thought his throw to Deion Branch down the sideline on third-and I think it was 10 or 11, and then Deion took it all the way down to the 1-yard line, that’s what you want out of your quarterback. No panic. Don’t overreact to the pass rush around you. Show the great poise and show the great accuracy.”
|At least DeSean Jackson didn’t have as bad a day as Stevie Johnson||11.27.11 at 11:56 pm ET|
PHILADELPHIA — There were no mock firings of a glock into one’s leg following a touchdown celebration. So, at least DeSean Jackson knows he won’t draw the ire of the NFL office this week before Philly’s next game Thursday in Seattle. But like Stevie Johnson in Buffalo, Jackson was the biggest single goat for the Eagles in an ugly 38-20 loss to the Patriots that all but ends their playoff hopes.
This is Philadelphia, and fans here would reply with something along the lines of: “Yo, you have to actually CATCH the ball in the end zone to have a celebration!”
Not once but twice did Jackson literally drop the ball against the Patriots on potential touchdown throws from Vince Young. The first came in the second quarter with the Patriots leading 21-10. A TD makes it 21-17 and it’s suddenly a ball game just before halftime. But no, Jackson had the ball go through his hands and the Eagles settled for a chip-shot field goal.
The second came in the third quarter. Jackson blew right by safety Sergio Brown — who tried to commit pass interference but missed. Jackson was behind everyone in the end zone and had the ball perfectly thrown to him by Young but he dropped it. The collective moan from the Lincoln Financial Field crowd was deafening.
“Yeah, things happen sometimes,” Jackson said. “As a player, I am upset about it. It wasn’t one of my best games. As far as a couple of plays, I thought I could’ve had them, but at the end of the day, I didn’t come up with them.”
Coach Andy Reid, who heard loud chants of “Fire Andy!” from the crowd in the fourth quarter, benched Jackson after the second drop.
“He has to do a better job,” Reid said.
As for those not-so subtle hints from the typically angry Philly fans?
“I really don’t hear much down [on the field]. I didn’t hear it. The way we played, I can understand,” Reid said.
|In the wake of Sunday’s action, five takeaways for Patriots fans||11.21.11 at 12:42 am ET|
Five things for Patriots fans to take away from an entertaining day of football:
1. It’s officially time to write off the Bills. The wheels have come off the Buffalo bandwagon completely, so much so that Miami, which is now at 3-7, could ultimately end up winning more games than the 5-5 Bills. Buffalo, which started the season promisingly and was in first place three weeks ago with a 5-2 record, has now lost its last three games and has been outscored 106-26 while doing so. In addition, the Bills continue to lose players at an alarming rate. On Sunday they lost wide receiver Donald Jones and Terrence McGee to serious leg injuries, and running back Fred Jackson left in the second half with a leg injury. This comes on the heels of recent season-ending injuries to starting center Eric Wood (knee), defensive tackle Kyle Williams (foot) and linebacker Shawne Merriman (Achilles tendon).
2. Should they get themselves a bye and avoid the mess of the opening weekend of the postseason, they Patriots should consider themselves lucky they won’t have to chance it against a team like the Bengals, or perhaps the Ravens. Those two teams went hard at each other on Sunday, and even though legendary Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis missed his first game since 2007 with a toe injury, the Ravens managed to hold off the Bengals, 31-24. The win could end up sending three AFC North teams to the postseason — Baltimore and Pittsburgh are tied for the top spot at 7-3, while Cincinnati is a game off the pace. Even though the Ravens have been maddening at times this year — they’ve lost to Tennessee, Jacksonville and Seattle but also beaten Pittsburgh and Houston — their veteran savvy and solid running game make them a threat.
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|Peter King on M&M: ‘The Jets are all but out of it’||11.18.11 at 2:01 pm ET|
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King joined Mut & Merloni on Friday at noon for his weekly appearance. King talked about Tim Tebow leading the Broncos in their win over the Jets on Thursday night and the Patriots distancing themselves in the AFC East.
Tebow led the Broncos on a 95-yard drive late in the fourth quarter and capped it off with a 20-yard touchdown run to give Denver a 17-13 win. The loss drops the Jets to 5-5. The Patriots are 6-3 and face the Chiefs, who will be without Matt Cassel, this Monday night. King said that the situation is looking pretty hopeless for New York at this point.
“One of the most telling things last night is that the Jets fell to 4-5 in the conference. They have five conference losses right now,” King said. “That’s huge in order to get into any legitimate wild card discussion. … At the absolute bare minimum, they have to go 5-1 down the stretch, and they may have to go 6-0. Whenever you’re talking about that and whenever you’re looking at, even though the Jets have a relatively easy schedule down the stretch, I thought the game at Denver would be relatively easy. When you’re playing at Philadelphia and when you’re playing the Giants, and when you’re ending the season at Miami, which is always a bugaboo game for you, I think the Jets are all but out of it.”
King also said that he doesn’t like the Bills’ chances within the division after their recent struggles. So, despite their flaws, King thinks the Patriots have a firm hold on the AFC East for right now.
“I think it would stun everyone if the Patriots didn’t have a two-game lead over both teams in the division this weekend, but we’ll see,” King said.
King also said that the AFC in general is wide open, but that if he had to pick anyone to come out of the conference, he would select the Texans.
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