From: “scott pianowski” <email@example.com>
Date: December 20, 2006 5:40:08 AM EST
To: “Michael Salfino” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: counting to six in the AFC
Meadowlands Head Cold, meet Michigan Migraine. My forehead and eyeballs were rattling around earlier in the week; I felt like I ran the Baltimore scout team without a helmet. If I misspell every fourth word and start to let the jabberwocky fly, clean it up, amigo? I’m almost dizzy enough to put DeAngelo Hall and John Lynch in the Pro Bowl and snub Terence Newman and Kerry Rhodes. (I know it’s meaningless, but botches like that annoy me, anyway.)
The way the NFC contenders are playing, might as well call off their playoffs, expand the AFC Tournament to 12 teams and leave it at that. Chicago’s pass defense just got embarrassed by Tim Rattay, and Tommie Harris is a monumental loss. The Dallas offense is nothing to spit at, but the Pokes haven’t stopped anyone in two weeks. I was stunned the Saints couldn’t throw the ball on the Redskins, a defense that can’t cover, can’t take the ball away, and can’t rush the quarterback. I’ll give Drew Brees a mulligan – I wish I could slide him back to the Chargers – but the Saints defense is slow and can’t get off the field on third down and eventually that won’t fly.
No one in the NFC West is bowl eligible, so let’s just skip that lot for now. You feeling frisky for the Eagles? Do the Giants have any lifelines left? For 78 cents can the Panthers just skip the final two games?
Okay, I can’t fake it either – as Mark Ratner said, all the action’s on the other side of the mall. I’m normally not a Jaguars apologist but I’m not going to hammer them for the misstep in Tennessee. This wasn’t laying an egg at Houston or Washington, but rather one of those rare games where you dominate the majority of the day and lose because the opponent makes 2-3 monumental, game-changing plays (or you wrap up 2-3 gifts). I know a fluke when I see it. The Patriots still have name-brand appeal but Jacksonville’s deeper on both sides of the ball. Unless Garrard throws up on himself while Brady unlocks the hidden upside of his replacement receivers, this looks like an easy bounce-back spot for the Jags.
You nailed it on Cincinnati – the cat got baited by the string. With all due respect to Rudi Johnson, a solid back, he’s working behind a makeshift line and 3.8 yards a carry isn’t even the league average. The Bengals came into Naptown with a sizzling QB and an offense with teeth, and they left with 16 crummy points against a weak defense there for the taking. Okay, Willie Anderson went down and Dwight Freeney roamed free all night, got it. But the Bengals lost this one on the overhead. Balance is one thing, but having Carson Palmer throw just eight passes in the first half is asking to lose.
Are you starting to feel bad for Peyton Manning, like I am? His level of play has climbed so high that no one bats an eyelash when he tosses up 29-36-282-4-0 in a critical Monday nighter. No turnovers, one lousy sack (for no yards). This was one of those practice sessions where the ball never hits the ground. The short TD passes don’t look like much in the boxscore, but the execution was beyond flawless and is worth a second look. Except it’s Manning, of course, so everyone just blows it off (heck, it wasn’t even his best game of the year – the Mile High masterpiece remains the gold standard.)
I’m rehashing earlier table themes but I’m wondering if the Colts can find a way to steal everything and rip up conventional wisdom in the process. Go ahead, win a title without stopping the run. Go ahead, win a title with Dominic Rhodes handing the ball a lot. It’s a cute story and it’s tempting to run with it – they just need a healthy Bob Sanders and someone else to beat the Chargers, right? If San Diego and Indy do meet up, forget we had this talk; it’s hard to ignore how hellish that matchup is for the Colts.
Bills vs. Jets | Week 10 Highlights | NFL
The harder January game for the Chargers might be the first one: off the break, the first playoff experience for Philip Rivers (who’s been high-sugar cereal the last few weeks.) It’s a shame Cincinnati or Pittsburgh can’t get the game as an at-large bid, but right now I don’t see either in the playoffs. The Jaguars aren’t a bad fit but they’d have to win a road game first. The Patriots are ticklish for the Belichick element, but would Tom Brady be able to walk out of Qualcomm Stadium? New England still toys with the junior high kids, but I don’t trust the Pats offensive line against any solid defense (New York and Miami beat the tar out of the poor QB).
I’m still running some tape, and I need to get my midweek 3-hour sleep at some point Wednesday. Consider this just an appetizer, and we’ll implement the game plan a little later today. I’ll have six AFC slots ready to go before dark, but don’t wait for me – if you’re feeling ready, have at the buffet first.
And oh yeah, congrats to the Jets for landing their punter (and three other chaps) on “Sesame Street.” The smart money says Mangini wouldn’t name his starters until the first take.