It's hard to see anybody in the AFC beating the Patriots; Colts-Jaguars set up for a showdown; Steelers with another unimpressive win; Aaron Rodgers need to slide; hot player of the week.
How I saw Week 14 in the NFL:
In the driver’s seat: All season it looked like the race for the Super Bowl was wide open. That is still true in the NFC, but in the AFC the title is New England’s for the taking, and I don’t see anybody beating them.
|Hot player of the week: Sabby Piscitelli
The Patriots (11-2) crushed the Bears (9-4) in a Chicago snowstorm and are all but assured home field in the AFC playoffs, which means a bye and two possible home games in Foxboro in mid-January. There are only three AFC teams that could (not will) beat them: the Colts (have beaten the Pats four of the last six and almost this season); the Ravens (beat the Pats on the road in last year’s playoffs and lost there in OT this season) and the Chargers (flawed but talented enough to give the Pats fits).
But the Colts and Chargers could easily miss the playoffs and the Ravens would likely have to win a road playoff game before getting a crack at New England. It’s hard to see the Steelers, Jets, Jaguars or Chiefs offering much of a fight. Ugh, the Patriots in the Super Bowl, my (and many other fans’) worst nightmare.
MVPs: My guess is that Tom Brady wins the MVP award this season, and deservedly so. But I would give a collective MVP to the Patriots offensive line. Brady has gobs of time to throw on virtually every play, making it very easy to wait for receivers to get open. The line also run-blocks well for a group of backs that is pretty interchangeable. As a Colts fan, I can only look on in envy at the Pats’ O-line.
This is a better New England team than the one in 2007 that went unbeaten in the regular season. That year, the Patriots were dominant the first half of the season but were running on fumes down the stretch as the pressure to stay unbeaten mounted. This year they seem to be peaking at the right time.
All or nothing: There is classic division showdown next week in Indianapolis, where the Colts (7-6) host the Jaguars (8-5). If Jacksonville wins, they clinch the AFC South and knock the Colts from the playoffs for the first time since 2001. A Colts win gives them the inside track at the division if they win out.
Jacksonville is not a very impressive team and has won some really lucky games. But they always give the Colts fits and beat them earlier in the season on a 59-yard field goal at the gun. The Colts have won four of the last six between the two at Indy, but all six games have been decided by seven or fewer points. If the Colts get back some key players like Austin Collie, Clint Session and Kelvin Hayden, I see them winning a close one, but a loss would not surprise me (how’s that for a bold prediction?).
Skins game: It’s been an ugly season for Donovan McNabb and the Redskins (5-8) and Sunday exemplified that. McNabb has generally had a disappointing year and even when he performs heroics – like driving the Skins to the potential game-tying score – something goes wrong. In this case, the something was a botched extra point that helped Tampa Bay (8-5) win an ugly 17-16 game. The Skins also missed two field goals.
Ugly: I’m not buying the Steelers as a legit Super Bowl contender despite their 10-3 record. Not when their offense can’t score a touchdown at home against the Bengals, instead relying on Carson Palmer to throw two pick-sixes; no way that’s going to happen against Tom Brady. The Steelers have a terrific defense but have been really lucky in many of their wins and are 2-3 against teams with a winning record; in their two hardest non-division games, they lost by double digits to both the Saints and Patriots.
Hot player of the week: A constant hottie is safety Sabby Piscitelli, who, I was told by someone at the time, always looked at himself in the mirror while working out at Oregon State. It’s easy to see why with that body. This nomination was made by a reader, who wrote:
As a reader of Outsports (and a contributor to comments under the name ‘Binkley’) I thought it was time to do my part in submitting a news item you might find interesting. Not sure if you were aware of this but backup safety Sabby Piscitelli (“He Who Shows Off His Abs In Bars”) was released by the Buccaneers here in Tampa last week. Looks like he’ll be displaying his abs in the clubs in Cleveland as the Browns added him to their roster.
Ugly: The winner of the NFC West will either be Seattle (6-7), St. Louis (6-7) or San Francisco (5-8). All three teams are mediocre, but one of them will host a playoff game, likely against a team with double-digit wins like New Orleans (10-3) or Atlanta (11-2). All of Seattle's seven losses have been by 15 or more points. I hope the West winner goes 7-9 and puts pressure on the NFL to change its playoff format – in my world, the division winner gets a playoff spot, unless it finishes below .500.
Just fall down: The Packers (8-5) suffered a huge blow in losing, 7-3, at Detroit. They played the second half without stud QB Aaron Rodgers, who needs to learn to slide. Rodgers suffered a concussion on a run when he tried to get extra yards instead of sliding (he already had the first down). This is his second concussion this season and he is the one player the Packers can least afford to lose. Not with games left this season against the Patriots, Giants and Bears.
Going backwards: The New York Jets are 9-4 and still likely to win a wild card spot. But if QB Mark Sanchez continues to regress, they will be lucky to score in the playoffs and will be one and done. Sanchez has shown flashes this season of being a very good quarterback, but in general he does not produce enough points. He was awful in the 45-3 beat-down at New England and not much better in Sunday's 10-6 loss against the Dolphins. Sanchez went 17 for 44, with one interception and a lost fumble. The Jets defense should sue for non-support -- in three homes games this season New York has lost 10-9, 9-0 and 10-6.
Snow job: If you haven't seen it, check out the amazing video of the Metrodome roof collapsing in Minnesota.