Just when you think you have things figured out in the NFL, think again. Obviously following me on twitter @JLanfranca will help you figure things out, but that goes without saying.
Anyways, I cannot remember a season where in just a matter of a couple of weeks, opinions and feelings of teams get turned upside down. The latest example of that was the performance put on by the New York Giants
Sunday night when they hosted the Philadelphia Eagles. For all the talk about how great the front four of the Giants are, it is obvious the injuries have started to take their toll on the defensive backs and linebackers in coverage. The story of Mark Herzlich is a tremendous one, and I was a big proponent of his on draft day last April and felt he should not have been passed over entirely. With that said, he was one step behind last night on nearly every play. He has never been great in coverage, but even in the run game he is still adjusting back to game speed, which is very understandable. I have a lot of faith he will eventually be a starter in this league, whether it be for the Giants or otherwise, but for now it seems his development will be done in a very prominent role.
To me, the Giants have been overrated all season. I am still trying to figure out just how they beat
New England, which, to me, is their only truly impressive win on the season. The Giants match up well with the Patriots, though, and I actually believe Tom Brady was pressing a little bit that game trying to atone for the Super Bowl loss. The Giants lost to
Seattle at home, squeaked by the Arizona Cardinals, beat both the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills by three points, and lost to the Washington Redskins. They rank 31st in the league in rushing yards per game, and if Eli Manning is not hot then their offense is all but guaranteed to be completely out of rhythm.
To me, the class of the NFC has been and will be the Dallas Cowboys. Tony Romo failing to be clutch is the most overblown story in the NFL this entire season. He is a playmaker in the mold of Brett Favre. He can do things on the field even some elite quarterbacks cannot. You will have to learn to live with some of the mistakes to go along with them. The schedule very much favors the Cowboys, and if
Dallas defends its home turf in Week 14 against the New York Giants, I have a feeling they will already have the division clinched when they travel to
New York in Week 17. The Giants go to
New Orleans, host the Green Bay
Packers, to Dallas, and play the New York Jets before they finally get their chance at the Cowboys at home. Meanwhile, Dallas has
Tampa Bay and
Miami still to play. The Cowboys should host a playoff game, and, if the 49ers get cold, possibly even get a bye.
In the AFC, it would be pretty rough being a fan of a competitive team if you are constantly trying to figure out what your playoff positioning will be at the regular season’s end. Good thing I pull for the Kansas City Chiefs and knew we had no shot at beating a quality team all season after just three short weeks of the season. Regardless, I still love watching great football, and, to me, with all things clicking
Baltimore has the highest upside of any of these teams. I was actually very high on the Houston Texans before the injury to Matt Schaub. Baltimore has put up some real head-scratching performances this season, but when the Ravens have competed against some of the league’s best, they took care of business. If the passing game is hitting its stride heading into the playoffs, this team will be more dangerous then ever – Anquan Boldin and Ed Dickson working the crossing routes and middle of the field, while Torrey Smith and Lee Evans push vertical and create major voids in the defense. That is the type of thing a team like the New England Patriots would have a lot of trouble with in January no matter where the game is played. With the emergence of cornerback Cary Williams, Baltimore’s secondary might be hitting their stride as well, which for now makes them my team to represent the AFC against the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl.
One team I have been extremely impressed with the past month is the Chicago Bears. Let’s just say I felt 20:1 odds to hoist the Lombardi trophy was pretty good value. With the devastating news about the injury to Jay Cutler, they are surely not going to make the playoffs, right? Wrong. I still believe they will win three and possibly four more games out of their last six. Caleb Hanie, when thrown into the fire last year in the NFC Championship, showed a lot of promise by, if nothing else, simply making good decisions with the football. The man has a good grasp of the system, and although they won’t ask him to do what Cutler does, this team is now a Top 15 rushing team on offense and their defense has been playing lights out. Coach Lovie Smith has been switching it up a little more in the secondary and some pretty good offenses have struggled quite a bit against Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers and company.
Another big reason why I see the Bears grabbing a playoff berth at 10 wins is simply because I am sticking with the notion that the Detroit Lions are still one year away from becoming a playoff squad. The Lions’ defense has many more holes than they’d like to admit, and their schedule is setting up for them to finish with less than 10 wins. It will be the Chicago Bears, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons fighting for the two playoff spots when it is all said and done. Hanie will have plenty of time to sit and think about himself being the reason the Bears make the playoffs or not, something he did not have to do when Cutler left the NFC Championship game last season early with an injury.
The problem I have with the Jermaine
Gresham touchdown being overturned to an incomplete pass Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens is the fact that if the ball would have broken the plane and then a defender slapped it out of his hands, like we’ve see done time and time again when players jump over the pile on the goal line, the ruling would have been a touchdown. The Cincinnati Bengals fought hard in that game Sunday and the opportunity for overtime was taken away from them due to that ruling. The whole process of the catch going to the ground situation going on in the league right now needs to be reevaluated in the off season.
Unbelievable performance by Kevin Smith this week for the Detroit Lions. Obviously if you had the foresight you made a tremendous move, if you had the psychic powers to actually start him this week (which somebody did in my league), then you should open a fortune telling business. Smith has a few things going for him, starting with playing time opportunity with the lack of talent on the roster, and ending with freshness. Smith has fresh legs and is a hungry football player – add those two things together and you saw what he did to the poor Carolina Panthers’ defense.
Cincinnati Bengals’ wide receiver Jerome Simpson was one of my favorite mid-round draft picks when he was coming out of college. And frankly, I have been surprised at his slow development. He is starting to show his true ball skills now in his fourth season. Coming out of Coastal Carolina, the guy could catch anything thrown at him. He has adjusted to NFL life now and has put up three 100-yard performances this season, and should finish around the 1,000-yard five-touchdown mark.
For his first real game action since college, I was impressed by the accuracy on the move shown by Jake Locker. He was only 9-of-19, but in his first game action I thought it was more than just some good mop up time. Speaking of college, the quarterback class of the 2012 draft class should be a very intriguing one, assuming Matt Barkley comes out. Barkley, along with Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Landry Jones, would all be surefire Top 20 draft selections.
Just think if there was a playoff in college football this season. Wow. I can’t be the only one hardly excited about watching a low scoring rematch of LSU and
Alabama in mid-January. We can only hope
Arkansas beats LSU somehow
on Friday and makes the BCS look worse than ever. Things just don’t add up in the world of college football anymore.
And, most importantly, to all the Tim Tebow haters out there, my message is simple: eventually you will come around on him. It is only a matter of time before you let yourself imagine someone unconventional being successful in the NFL. The only thing that will stop Tebow from competing for division titles year-in and year-out is John Elway. If Elway doesn’t buy in, which he obviously hasn’t, then it’s unlikely John Fox will buy in as well. Although, I do see Fox coming around a little bit because Tebow has no turnovers in his four wins and only two in five starts. I feel the Broncos’ areas of need can be met in the draft and have an effective influence on 2012 with a whole offseason of design for Tebow.
Make sure to follow yours truly on twitter @JLanfranca for continuous random informative tidbits!