One New York teams keeps rolling, another stubs its toe; chances the Lions go 0-16; who is the MVP this season?

How Cyd and Jim saw Week 13 in the NFL.

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Biggest disappointment. Lots of people point to the San Diego Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars as this season’s biggest disappointments. And they have been disappointing, no doubt. But I remember talking with Jim about San Diego before the season, and neither of us thought they’d be much this season. And though I had the Jaguars winning the AFC South, it was more because I thought the other three would falter than thinking they were a good team.

For my money, the biggest disappointment this season is the New Orleans Saints. Both Jim and I had them as the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and Jim had them in the Super Bowl. Many others did, too. Their offense was supposed to be explosive, and their defense was supposed to be much-improved. Drew Brees has upheld his end of the bargain, and Reggie Bush, when he’s been healthy, has as well, for the most part. But even when the defense has played well, against the Packers last week, they’ve surrendered big points (29 in that game). And Jeremy Shockey has been a total disappointment. Even when he’s healthy and on the field, he isn’t contributing well and has lost a lot of the aggression that made him a name. Hell, he’s being outplayed by Billy Miller.

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Giant sized: The New York Giants keep on rolling despite distractions that would sink other teams. The defending champs pounded Washington, 23-7, two days after their idiot receiver Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg at a nightclub. Here, thanks to Joe Guckin, are the basics in the case:

Burress shows up at the club with a loaded gun. Security turns him away, but management decides to allow him in anyway. He gets his drink on quickly, and security escorts him to the VIP area, and the gun slips and goes off when he tries to secure it. Instead of calling 911 (after all, he’s got a gun and no permit) he goes home and bleeds for a couple of hours before finally going to the hospital. Meanwhile, [Giants linebacker Antonio] Pierce takes the gun and hides it in New Jersey. The cops only find out about it because someone from the Giants organization called them. They go to Burress’ house and his wife won’t let them in. Pierce heads to DC for today’s game, and his lawyer says Pierce will cooperate only if he’s not charged with anything.

All three of these teams, the Chargers, Jags and Saints, have been victims of major injuries. But, so have the Patriots, Titans, Broncos and Cowboys; They’re finding a way to win despite injuries. The other three are already talking about next year.

Houdini. The Indianapolis Colts should all go out and buy lottery tickets. Now. They are the luckiest team I have seen in a long, long time. They have escaped so many late-game situations that very easily could have seen them lose, and they’re doing it with well-timed big plays. I say they’re lucky, but that’s in the sense that you make your own luck. They’re having opportunities handed to them, and they’re taking advantage of them. I’ve had this team in and out of my top 5 for the last few weeks, but it is hard to gauge how good they really are. Their next two games are gimmes, then they play the wacky Jaguars, then they play the Titans at home, and the Titans will have nothing to play for. So, it’s likely we won’t get a real idea of how good or bad this team is until the playoffs. My guess: Good enough to win A playoff game.

The chances the Lions go 0-16. I’ve looked very closely at their remaining schedule, done some math, and I now put their chance of going winless at 32%. How’d I come up with that? I give them a 30% chance of beating the Vikings, a 5% chance of beating the Colts, a 40% chance of beating the Saints, and a 20% chance of beating the Packers. If you do the math, that gives them a combined 32% chance of losing all four games. In other words, chances are still good they won’t go 0-16, even though they will be underdogs in each game. Chances that your average NFL fan wants to see 0-16: 98%.

My To Five

1) Tennessee Titans. I didn’t see that blowout win at Detroit coming. What a way to get back on track.

2) New York Giants. Another big win for them. I do wonder at what point the offseason losses of personnel and now the likely loss of Plaxico Burress will catch up with them.

3) Carolina Panthers. Watching Steve Smith and their running attack take over this game is why I had them in the NFC Championship.

4) Pittsburgh Steelers. Very impressive win at New England. This team has been surprising me all season; Time to rethink so their big wins aren’t surprises.

5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They blew a lead late to New Orleans and came back to win. Watching that defense is like watching art in motion.

This all happened as Burress was out with a hamstring injury. Instead of rehabbing and lying low, he shows up at a club “sporting flashy jewelry and carrying loads of cash,” according to the New York Daily News. He now faces a weapons charge and the story has been the talk of the New York tabloids for three days.

Yet the Giants (11-1) calmly dismantled the Redskins (7-5), a team at home and playing for its playoff life. Eli Manning throws for more than 300 yards for the first time this season and the offense plays likes it barely notices Burress is missing. The defense holds Clinton Portis to 22 yards rushing and the Giants look like the best team in football. My guess is that Burress is done as a Giant and that he will not be missed.

Back to Earth I: Last week, the New York Jets (8-4) were the toast of football after knocking off unbeaten Tennessee. The words “Super Bowl” and “Jets” were used in the same sentence for the first time in a while. So explain how the Jets lay an egg at home against Denver, losing 34-17? Beats me. This is the same Denver team that lost at home last week by 21 points to the Raiders. This is a weird NFL season.

Back to Earth II: After throwing for 400 yards in consecutive games, Matt Cassell was the toast of New England. Sunday he was just toast. Cassell was a turnover machine, fumbling twice and throwing two interceptions as the Patriots (7-5) were blasted by the Steelers (8-4), 33-10. After spotting the Pats a 10-3 win, the Steelers reeled off 30 straight points. All four of Cassell’s turnovers occurred on consecutive drives in the fourth quarter.

This is the third time this season the Patriots have lost by 20 or more points; in Bill Belichik’s tenure going back to 2000 it had only happened twice total.

There is a lot of talk about Cassell cashing in as a free agent next season, but I say buyer beware. He looks to me like a “system” quarterback, surrounded by terrific offensive talent and excellent coaching. In another environment, I think it will become clear why he has been a backup. Sounds like someone the Detroit Lions will sign.

MVP? I have not yet seen a season where there is no clear-cut MVP candidate. No player has been dominant like Peyton Manning in 2004, Shaun Alexander in 2005, LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006 or Tom Brady in 2007. Let’s quickly review the candidates most discussed:

  • Kurt Warner (Arizona quarterback): Give me a break. Yes, the Cardinals are 7-5 and will win the NFC West, but my flag football team could win the NFC West. In big road games this season (at Carolina, Jets, Washington and Philadelphia), Warner is 0-4 and has committed key turnovers. If Matt Leinart was the QB, the Cards would still win the division. Giving Warner the award would be a joke.
  • Kerry Collins (Tennessee quarterback): His Titans are 11-1 and Collins has been very efficient. But the Titans’ strength is their defense and a good game manager like Collins should not be the MVP. He should get Comeback Player of the Year, though.
  • Peyton Manning (Indianapolis quarterback): After struggling early due to effects from knee surgery, Manning has been terrific as the Colts are 8-4 with five straight wins. No one player is more valuable to his team than Manning. But Sunday, two interceptions, a fumble and zero offensive TDs against Cleveland won’t get him many new converts.
  • Brett Favre (Jets quarterback): The Jets won four games in 2007 and have already doubled that. Yet, Favre has thrown too many picks.
  • Drew Brees (New Orleans quarterback): How do you give the MVP to a guy whose team is likely to miss the playoffs? In a big game Sunday at Tampa, Brees threw three interceptions, including one in the end zone and one in the final two minutes in a three-point Saints loss. Brees has the stats but the Saints have one win against a team with a winning record and that happened in Week 1.

As for everyone else, I think Eli Manning deserves some consideration, but he has been aided by an awesome running game. In this season, why not a defender? Albert Haynesworth of Tennessee and Kris Jenkins of the Jets have been difference-makers in the middle of their defensive lines, but they don’t play a glamour position. And every time I see Tory Polamalu of the Steelers play safety he is always doing something impressive.

I have no idea whom I would pick. If you have a choice, please add it in the comments at the bottom.

Coach of the Year: This one is easy – Mike Smith, Atlanta. Who? That’s what everyone said when the Jaguars defensive coordinator got the Atlanta job. He took over a team still reeling from the Michael Vick fiasco and has the Falcons (8-4) with a winning record and a serious playoff chance.

Turnaround: You seldom see momemtum shifts as dramatic as the one in the Minnesota-Chicago game. The Bears, leading 7-3, had first-and-goal from the Viking 2. They were stuffed on four plays and the Vikes took over at their 1. Gus Ferotte went back to pass and hit a wide-open Bernard Berrian for a 99-yard score and Minnesota was on it way to a 34-14 win. The win gave the Vikes sole possession of first in the NFC North.

Turkey Day turkeys: The three games this Thanksgiving were dreadful, the worst being Detroit’s 47-10 home loss to Tennessee. The 0-12 Lions have won only twice on Thanksgiving this decade. According to Adam Schefter of the NFL Network, the owners will take up the Thanksgiving Day tradition in the offseason and could take the game away from Detroit. Here, here! A game in Dallas is fine since the Cowboys are pretty competitive each year, and the night game is rotated each year on the NFL Network. The early game should also be rotated to get a more attractive matchup and the Lions should pay for their on-the-field futility.

Boring: Here are the final scores of the last three Browns-Colts games, all won by Indy – 9-6 in 2003; 13-6 in 2005 and 10-6 on Sunday. In their latest game, the Colts were held without an offensive touchdown for the first time since that 9-6 contest at Cleveland in 2003. Indy won the game on a 37-yard fumble return by defensive end Robert Mathis. The Colts (8-4) have won five in a row by a total of 21 points.

Done: After losing at home to Atlanta, the 4-8 San Diego Chargers are all but done in the AFC West. They trail Denver by three games with four left and continue to underperform. The Chargers are loaded with talent, but something is missing from this team. Look no further than Coach Norv Turner, who is not a good game manager and is not able to get his team ready week in and week out. Last year’s run to the AFC title game looks more and more like a fluke.

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