How I saw Week 11 in the NFL:
--Peyton Manning is my favorite athlete of all time and I have seen probably 90% of his games the past 12 seasons, so I qualify as an expert. After watching the 10-point favorite Denver Broncos flop, 22-7, at St. Louis, it seems to me that Manning's window to win another Super Bowl is closing faster than anyone thought. This team is in serious trouble.
Fifteen days ago, the Broncos were 7-1 and poised to put a hammerlock on AFC home field advantage. Now, with two double-digit losses in three games, the 7-3 Broncos are tied for their division lead and facing a remaining schedule that threatens to make them a wild card team. And a Broncos wild card team isn't going to the Super Bowl.
The deciding factor through 11 weeks in the NFL season has been the value of home field to playoff contenders. In the AFC, the top eight teams are 32-8 at home), while in the NFC, the top seven teams are 29-7. I am not sure there has ever been a recent season when teams are so different home and away.
Denver is 5-0 at home with an average margin of victory of 15 points. They are 2-3 on the road, with their wins against the Jets (2-8) and the Raiders (0-10). Even if they win their remaining home games (Miami, Buffalo and Oakland), the Broncos would likely have to win at least two of their three road games to get a first-round bye. And their road schedule is brutal: at Kansas City, San Diego and Cincinnati, a combined 12-3-1 at home. Two of those games are in cold weather spots, both at night. If Denver loses to the Chiefs in two weeks (both are 7-3), the best the Broncos could hope for is a wild card slot, and that means three straight road games to make the Super Bowl. Not happening.
The loss to the Rams was the worst in the regular season in the Manning era in Denver, not by point margin but by how pathetic the Broncos looked. They had a lopsided 54 passes attempted to only nine rushes, which made them predictable. Manning threw two interceptions for the third straight game, there were at least six passes dropped, while receivers Emmanuel Sanders, Julius Thomas, Andre Caldwell and running back Montee Ball all were injured. The offensive line was overrun and the vaunted pass rush of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware barely laid a hand on backup Rams QB Shaun Hill.
Mike Klis of the Denver Post put the game into perspective:
Fewest points by Broncos since final game 7-3 loss to Chiefs in 2011. Tim Tebows final regular season start— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) November 16, 2014
Being lumped into the same sentence with Tim Tebow does not bode well for Manning.
With the offensive line struggling, Manning looks all of his 38 years, being harried and flustered for much of the game. Good luck with that against the Dolphins and Chiefs the next two weeks, both teams that can rush the passer. This was the most talented team Manning has ever had and what looked like smooth sailing a couple of weeks ago now looks like the S.S. Minnow.
--As much as I dislike the Patriots, I am getting a sinking feeling this team is Super Bowl bound. After beating the Colts, 42-20, at Indianapolis, the Patriots (8-2) are in firm control of AFC home field after having beaten the Broncos, Bengals and Indy, all of who lead their divisions; they would only lose a tiebreaker to the Chiefs. After being embarrassed in K.C. in Week 4, the Patriots have won six in a row by 26, 15, 28, 22 and 22 points, with the only close game being a two-point win over the Jets (go figure!). The Patriots are playing well in all phases and the only remaining game where they will be an underdog will be two weeks at Green Bay. I understand there are six games left and injuries can change a lot, but the Patriots have clearly established themselves as a dominant team.
--The Broncos' chance to be the first Super Bowl loser in 21 years to make it back to the big game the next year is fading and so is Seattle's chance to be the first team to repeat as champions since the 2003-2004 Patriots. At 6-4, the Seahawks are three games behind Arizona in the NFC West and have a brutal schedule left, with two games each against the Cardinals and 49ers. Like the Broncos, the Seahawks are not a good road team and last year's darling Russell Wilson is playing average at quarterback. The 2013 Seahawks had remarkably good luck with injuries, but this year injuries are killing them. Losing defensive line stud Brandon Mebane means this team will have trouble stopping the run and it showed against the Chiefs, who averaged 6.3 yards a carry.
--Speaking of home field, if the Packers (7-3) get the advantage in the NFC, they will be a huge favorite. The Packers crushed the Eagles (7-3) to go 5-0 at home. On the road the Packers have lost three games by double digits, but they steamrolled the Eagles from the start and made Philly fans nervous having to rely on Mark Sanchez at quarterback. I'll take Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau over anyone in the NFC.
--Arizona (9-1) keeps on rolling, even with backup Drew Stanton at quarterback. The Cardinals defense stifled the Lions, 14-6, to maintain the best record in football. The Cards are two games up on everyone else in the NFC, though they still have tough games left against Kansas City, San Francisco and twice against Seattle. I still find it hard to believe that the Cards can make the Super Bowl with Stanton, but all the Cardinals keep do is winning. Bruce Arians is a lock for coach of the year right now.
--How bout dem Falcons? Atlanta is 4-6, which most times has a coach worried about his job. But in the NFC South, it gets you a first-place tie. The Falcons are 0-6 outside the division but 4-0 inside, and have a great shot of winning the division and getting a home playoff game. Atlanta was helped greatly by the Saints (4-6) losing their second straight home game. The Saints at home have been a lock in recent years but now they look like a below-average team that was way overrated.
--Troy Aikman was sporting facial hair on the Fox Eagles-Packers telecast and one gay Twitter user liked it:
Troy Aikman's facial hair is making me weak pic.twitter.com/PRXuXxDV7r— Daniel Sngiem (@dsngiem) November 16, 2014
I'm not usually a big facial hair fan but Aikman's looks pretty trim. Wonder if it's a Movember beard?
--Same old Browns, who can't stand prosperity. Their stay in first in the AFC North lasted a week before the 6-4 Browns lost as a home favorite to the Texans.
--Hot player of the week: Jordy Nelson's ass (Getty Images):
Bonus: Nelson in the stands. Lucky fans. (USA TODAY)