With most of the NCAA football regular season over, this looked to be a week that the NFL would enjoy without worrying about viewer distractions like the more exciting college game or the more ludicrous game of politics. Then we get to hear about another possible Deflategate scandal, this time involving the Pittsburgh Steelers. Given that the league has shown no ability to prevent on field officiating disasters, it shouldn’t surprise us if they also failed to take care of their precious balls after Tom Brady and company fiddled with them. Whatever becomes of this story, you can expect the New England Patriots will chime in plenty.
This past week, the NFL also decided it will not be deciding the Ezekiel Elliott domestic abuse case until after the season. In other words, they want the Cowboys in the Super Bowl or would prefer the officials screw them out of it rather than Roger Goodell.
The Cowboys appear to be having a special season to date despite this weekend’s loss, but with the future in the hands of two rookies who have a history of questionable decision-making, don’t bet on them over the long haul. Today’s stars do not think too much as far as rules and consequences.
Finally, the NFL began their week with a Thursday night game that was not only good, but actually mattered. Perhaps, rather than forcing a bunch of meaningless early season Thursday night games, the league would be wise to hold off until Thanksgiving before placing them on the schedule.
Kansas City 21 – Oakland 13
What a difference a few days make. Oakland went from a legitimate Super Bowl threat that could host all their conference playoff games to a wild card team while the Chiefs did just the opposite. Instead of the vaunted Oakland offense, we are now talking about the Chiefs imposing defense.
Any team that can hold Oakland to just 13 points is going to be tough to beat in January. However, any team led by Alex Smith will need to continue relying on not just their great defense, but also special teams play, which once again was the case for the Chiefs.
Can the Chiefs win a game that matters when their defense turns in a sub par performance? We might not know this year. However, New England may have something to say about that next month.
Cincinnati 23 – Cleveland 13
Meet the new QB, same as the old QB. It’s come down to this, another week and another starting quarterback, this time the return of RGIII. Perhaps next week it will be R2D2. It won’t matter because this Cleveland team is God awful.
There is something to be said about watching perfection unfold before your eyes: a Nolan Ryan no hitter, Michael Jordan in the 4th quarter, Pele guiding Brazil in the World Cup, Muhammad Ali before the draft, Tom Brady or Joe Montana picking apart a defense. Cleveland is not perfection and there just isn’t anything left to be said other than to quote Sam Wyche, the former Cincinnati Bengals head coach, “You don’t live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati.” Thankfully for the Bengals, the won or they might have had to move to Cleveland.
Detroit 20 – Chicago 17
Another come from behind victory for Detroit after Matthew Stafford tossed a pick six to give the hibernating Bears the lead. With their ninth win of the season, Detroit remains fully in control of the NFC North, but one would think their post season will be very short and very ugly if all they can do is beat a Bears team — that is just going through the motions — by three at this time of the season. And with Stafford now nursing a dislocated middle finger and torn tendons on his throwing hand, you have to think the NFC North is still up for grabs.
Pittsburgh 27 – Buffalo 20
It is entirely possible by the time this goes to post, the Buffalo Bills will be without the services of head coach Rex Ryan because, well, because he is Rex Ryan and no one fails to deliver on his words more than Ryan. What at one point looked like a pretty good Bills team now seems to have fallen apart and late season disappointments might be all Ryan excels at.
Pittsburgh just handed the ball to Le’Veon Bell and watched him run for a Steeler record 236 yards and three touchdowns. Pittsburgh will not be distracted by claims they have let air out of footballs nearly as much as opponents will be by the thought of having to stop a Steeler offense that can run through you or ask Big Ben Rothlisberger to throw it over you. Pittsburgh might be the sleeping giant that just woke up.
Minnesota 25 – Jacksonville 16
Another game in which the Jaguars had to be reminded they want the highest draft pick possible and winning does them no good. Thankfully, the Jaguars remembered this lesson and the Vikings managed to score 13 points in the 4th quarter, which is usually about two games worth of points for them, and win. Sure, at seven wins and six losses the Vikings still have a shot at the playoffs, but who are they kidding? This once glorious looking season is on life support and only a miracle saves it. Could that miracle be another injured quarterback, this one named Stafford?
Tennessee 13 – Denver 10
This was the type of game Denver won last year with a weak armed quarterback named Manning calling the shots. This is not last year which is why at some time, if it has not already happened, the defense will turn on the offense and the Bronco locker room will be colder than Mile High Stadium in January. Unless there is a total collapse down the stretch, Denver will probably be a wild card team, but there is no guarantee they will be. They still have to win two of three to have a real chance.
As for Tennessee, if they win two of their last three, they will likely win the AFC South.
Washington 27 – Philadelphia 22
The Redskins can no longer afford any clunkers like last week’s loss to Arizona if they want to make the playoffs. With a sense of urgency in mind, Washington managed to win a game that mattered far more to them than it did their opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles. If Washington can win out, they will be in the playoffs.
As for Philly, one has to wonder if they can just win one more. What began as a season in which the Eagles soared has now turned into one where they have crashed and burned. However, they are young and will be much better next year.
Miami 26 – Arizona 23
The Dolphins not only got a big win, they got a big loss when Denver was defeated. They also received an even bigger loss with the news starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill will be lost for the rest of the year with an ACL injury. Now, all Miami has to do is figure out a way to win the rest of their games and they will be in the post season.
If I am New England, Pittsburgh, or Kansas City, would I prefer playing the Dolphins or Broncos in the post season? The Patriots have a game with each over the next three weeks and they may determine who moves on and who has an early off-season.
Carolina 28 – San Diego 16
Tiegate is over and so is the season for both of these teams. Two cellar dwellers playing a meaningless game in December means the only goal is not to get injured. As for the two coaches, I doubt Mike McCoy will be moving north to L.A. next year while Ron Rivera might have a better chance of being the head coach of either the Chargers or Rams than he does in Carolina.
Houston 22 – Indianapolis 17
The fact a team like the Colts has made it this far to be in a do or die game in December after the way they have played this year is another reason why the NFL has to completely rethink schedules and playoff format. And now that they have been pretty much eliminated from the post season, we can turn our attention to the race for mediocrity between the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans.
The AFC South should be relegated to the CFL. There simply is not a team worthy of post season play and yet, someone will win that division and move on.
New York Jets 23 – San Francisco 17
The 49ers dodged another bullet in their quest to overtake the Browns as the worst team in the NFL by surrendering 20 straight points to blow a comfortable 14-point lead at home. Thankfully, Colin Kaepernick turned in a mediocre performance to offset the 193 yards rushing by Carlos Hyde.
San Francisco had much to celebrate with their performance. Not only did they get to see what it is like to hold a comfortable lead during a game, they also got to watch Kaepernick complete more than one pass in a game. Ah, but all good things must come to an end, and in San Francisco’s case, that was about 24 hours after their week one victory. For now, they have to cross their fingers and hope Cleveland finds a way to win so they can land the top pick next spring.
Atlanta 42 – Los Angeles 14
Don’t get excited. The Rams season ended last month and they are just going through the motions of finishing what some in the Southland hope will be their final season in L.A. At this point, not even St. Louis would take them back. There could be a home for them in San Diego or Oakland soon, but for now, Los Angeles has to be wondering what were they thinking when they courted them back.
Atlanta is still tied with Tampa Bay for the NFC South lead and with three weeks left, neither team can afford to slip up.
Green Bay 38 – Seattle 10
I have to admit I expected this score — only in reverse. Green Bay may be positioning themselves for a late season run for a wild card slot and possibly even an NFC North title while Seattle fell apart thanks to Russell Wilson’s five interceptions. Both of these teams are not what they were in November. Seattle will win their division by default, but they look more like a pretender than a contender while the Packers seem to be getting warmed up for some cold weather football, perhaps even deep into January.
Tampa Bay 16 – New Orleans 11
The Bucs are for real and will fight the Falcons for the NFC South title. It’s possible, if Tampa Bay wins out, they could host a playoff game or two, that’s how far they have improved.
As for New Orleans, I can only repeat what I said last week: it’s time to see what you can get for Drew Brees. He’s not needed as much as fresh young talent and while the Saints are at it, they need to find a new coach, one who brought the same energy and passion Sean Peyton use to have for the job.
New York Giants 10 – Dallas 7
Dallas was bound to lose sooner or later so their first loss since their season opener to the same Giants is not a big concern. However, what should be a big concern is their lack of offense now for two straight games and with the playoff hungry Bucs up next, Dallas and their young rookie quarterback will be getting another taste of what urgent playoff-like football is all about.
Unless Dak Prescott gets injured, they have to go all in with the young leader so do not expect Tony Romo to take over. The Giants now sit at the top of the wild card hunt and with three games left, they hope to still reel in Dallas for the NFC East crown. This is why we put up with sloppy September football from the NFL. At this time of year, it’s hard to beat the drama and intensity of the game when a spot in the playoffs is on the line.
Monday Night Prediction
Baltimore needs this game to keep pace with Pittsburgh. New England needs this game to keep home field advantage in the AFC. Baltimore brings defense while New England brings offense. Until I see a team dominate Tom Brady and company, I am going with him. Let’s just hope the temperature does not get too cold because I hear when it does, it can cause footballs to deflate.
New England 31 – Baltimore 13
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Editor’s Update: On Monday the Rams fired head coach Jeff Fisher, naming special teams coordinator John Fassel the interim head coach. Everyone saw it coming, but some are surprised it happened when the Rams have a short week to prepare for a Thursday night game in Seattle.
Rex Ryan is still the head coach in Buffalo.
Monday’s game may have been the best one of the week. It wasn’t easy for Tom Brady and his offense, and the Ravens offense put up 359 yards of offense that included two TD passes from Joe Flacco. Unfortunately for the Ravens, Tom Brady had a very good night. His offense produced 495 yards that included three passing touchdowns and one rushing.
The best play of the game may have been on a field goal attempt by the Ravens’ Justin Tucker. Just as the ball was being snapped New England linebacker Shea McClellin leaped over the defensive and offensive lines before they got out of their crouch and blocked the kick.
Special teams play makes a big difference in the game once again.
Final score: Ravens 23, Patriots 30.
Photo above: Shea McClellin’s leap into NFL glory (YouTube)
James Moore is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching and currently runs his own personal training business, In Home Jim, in Hemet, CA. Jim’s writings are often the end result of his thoughts mulled over while riding his bike for hours on end.