Tuesday, December 3, 2013

NFL Week 13 Report

By Brad Oremland

Five Quick Hits

* I assume you've all seen the incredible end of the Alabama/Auburn game from Saturday, but if you haven't yet heard Rod Bramblett's call of the play for Auburn radio, you haven't truly lived.

* Terry Bradshaw claimed on the FOX pregame show that it is impossible to lick your own elbow. Naturally, I decided to test this. It is not true.

* From 1969-2010, no one had multiple 200-yard receiving games in the same season. In the last 2½ seasons, Calvin Johnson has done so twice, and this week he was joined by both Josh Gordon and Alshon Jeffery.

* At 3-9, Washington is in the running for the number one pick in next April's draft. Except that the Rams own that pick because of the RG3 trade. Oops.

* On a recent podcast, Joe Posnanski and Michael Schur drafted sports nicknames. It was a lot of fun, and you should check it out, but they only picked five each, so some great choices got left out. You'll find five more from me at the end of this column.

Thursday Games

* Detroit's blowout win over the Packers broke two nasty streaks: the Lions' 9-year losing skid on Thanksgiving, and Matthew Stafford's 0-6 career record vs. Green Bay. The final stats are just brutal:

Score: 40-10
First downs: 30-7
Offensive yardage: 561-126
Time of possession: 40:26 - 19:34

Matt Flynn completed 10 passes and got sacked 7 times.

* Down 21-7, on national television, in a home game they were favored to win by double-digits, the Cowboys came back to win 31-24. At what point do we admit that Tony Romo sometimes plays really well under pressure?

* Before the Thursday night game, NBC informed viewers that Ben Roethlisberger was 2-2 at Baltimore. This is Big Ben's 10th season in the NFL. Does it stun anyone else that he's only played in Baltimore five times? Man, he's missed a lot of games.

* Obviously, Mike Tomlin standing too near the field on a kick return is the greatest travesty in NFL history. It was the worst thing to happen in America since 9/11. Or that's what you'd think from the sanctions being discussed. Six-digit fines for both the coach and the team? Suspensions? Lost draft picks?

Three years ago, Jets assistant Sal Alosi deliberately stuck out his knee during a return, injuring Miami gunner Nolan Carroll. Alosi was fined $25,000 by the team and suspended without pay for three games and the playoffs. He resigned at the end of the season, and the Jets were fined $100,000 for the incident. Alosi deliberately attacked a player who wasn't looking. Tomlin stood too close to the field and should have moved out of the way a second or two earlier. I just don't see those as comparable. But hey, at least Alosi didn't smirk afterwards; that might have cost the Jets a draft pick. Also, it was smart of him to wait until a couple weeks after Thanksgiving. Just ask Ndamukong Suh.

If the league wants to issue a gigantic fine, Tomlin and the Steelers can both afford it, and if they want to suspend Tomlin for a game, I suppose that's not the end of the world at this point. But docking draft picks takes "overreaction" to a whole new level. Earlier this season, an official actually ran into Washington's special teams coordinator during a play, and all that drew was a 15-yard penalty. The NFL's system of punishment is totally cosmetic and totally unswayed by fairness. This was a head coach on a national stage, and the penalty is bigger because of how many people saw it, not because of the seriousness of the offense. The Commissioner's office just has no credibility on these issues.

Sunday, Early Games

* The uncomfortable fact: the Houston Texans were 2-4 with Matt Schaub as starting quarterback, including relatively clutch comebacks in the two wins, and they're 0-6 without him. Schaub made the Pro Bowl last year. He didn't turn from an above-average starter into Helpless Blaine Gabbert overnight, it's just that Texans fans have decided they hate Schaub more than they like winning.

* Margin of defeat in Houston's 10 losses: 1, 3, 3, 3, 3, 5, 7, 21, 25, 31. The Texans are seven plays from being 9-3 instead of 2-10.

* Most losses by 3 or less this season: Texans (5), Buccaneers (4), Ravens (4).

* Most losses by 7 or less this season: Texans (7), Chargers (5), Falcons (5), Ravens (5), Titans (5).

* Halfway through the season, it looked like the 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars might be the worst team in NFL history. They were 0-8, with all of their losses by double-digits. Since then, they're 3-1. For whatever it's worth, all three wins were on the road. The next three are all in Jacksonville.

* Vegas isn't buying it. The 3-9 Jags are underdogs in Week 14, at home against the 2-10 Texans, whom they beat in Houston two weeks ago.

* Since 2008, the Bills are 19-22 in Buffalo (.463). Over those same years, they are 1-5 in Toronto (.167). The domed Rogers Centre probably favored the Falcons (who play in a dome anyway) more than the Bills, and both teams had to travel.

* The Vikings came two minutes from back-to-back ties. The last time a team had two draws in the same season was 1973 (Browns, Broncos, Chiefs, and Packers). Overtime was not used in regular season games until 1974.

* The Bears lost partly because Robbie Gould missed a 47-yard field goal in overtime. On second down. Gould's a good kicker, but 47 is not a chip shot. Kicking the field goal on 2nd down is ridiculous. Marc Trestman, you owe the fans an apology.

* Since beating the Saints in Week 9, the Jets are 0-3, losing by a combined 79-20 against teams who are all .500 or below. On Sunday, the Jets were out-gained by 276 yards. Six of their 12 drives went three-and-out, and four of the remaining six were turnovers. In the whole game, the Jets had one drive which produced more than one first down and did not end in a turnover.

Sunday, Late Games

* The Chiefs' defense isn't 100% right now, but Denver had five 70-yard TD drives on Sunday, including the two longest drives Kansas City has allowed all season. Six of Denver's 11 opponents have allowed more points against the Broncos than anyone else they've played this season, seven if you count a tie vs. the Patriots.

* The Broncos have scored 464 points this season. The Seahawks rank second, with 340 points. The difference between Denver and second place is the difference between 2nd and 30th (Tampa Bay, 217). The Broncos lead the league in points per game by double-digits.

* Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth were ecstatic over Robert Griffin III's 16-of-17 first half performance against the Giants. Here's the problem: in that sensational first half, Washington only scored on two of its six possessions. Completion percentage is overrated, and single-game completion percentage is ridiculous.

What good is completing a 2-yard pass on 3rd-and-8? Completions are good if they lead to first downs and points, but dinky completions that don't move the chains are as useless as 20-yard scrambles on the last play of the half. They just pad the stats, but they don't measure skill and they don't help the team.

* If last year's replacement refs had done what Jeff Triplette did on Sunday night — "Psych, it's fourth down" — there would have been riots. Triplette has long been reviled as the most incompetent referee in the league, and on Sunday night he violated one of the league's most fundamental policies. You can't go directly from 1st down to 4th down. Quoting Collinsworth: "Once the next play is run, if a mistake was made you live with it."

I don't think Washington was going to win anyway, but Triplette displayed a fundamental misunderstanding of fairness and of league policy. It's the biggest mistake in a career that has revolved around serious mistakes.

Monday Night Football

* I don't know if at halftime, Sean Payton told his players to cool it, or if they just realized they were getting blown out on national television, but I can't believe what punks the Saints were being while they were getting rolled over by Seattle in the first half. They're down by double-digits and they're getting in somebody's face after every play. Man, you're getting your ass handed to you in front of a national audience. This is not the right time to draw attention to yourself.

* Mike Tirico suggested that New Orleans needs to prove it can win on the road, and Jon Gruden responded, "Their won-loss record on the road speaks for itself. They've been a good road team." The Saints are 3-3 on the road, and they've been outscored 136-112. They haven't been a good road team.

* Right now, I'd put the Seahawks' Super Bowl odds at about 45%. They'll almost certainly get homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, and they're unbeatable at home, so let's say 90% to win the NFC, and 50-50 against whoever wins the AFC.

* With a two-game lead in the NFC and a tiebreaker over the Saints, there's no need to rush Percy Harvin back before he's healthy. Of course, health is always temporary for Harvin.

NFL Week 13 Power Rankings

Top 6

1. Seattle Seahawks
2. Denver Broncos
3. Carolina Panthers
4. New Orleans Saints
5. San Francisco 49ers
6. New England Patriots

Normally, I list the top 10, but no one deserves to be seventh right now. The Kansas City Chiefs have lost three in a row. The Cincinnati Bengals are 2-2 since losing Geno Atkins and Leon Hall. The Indianapolis Colts have been outscored by an average of 11 points per game since losing Reggie Wayne, and all their wins require miracles. The Detroit Lions have lost two of their last three, both to opponents with losing records. The Cardinals just lost to the Eagles, the Eagles have no defense, the Cowboys got humiliated by New Orleans, and the Ravens can't win on the road. That leaves Miami, and I can't in good faith rank the Dolphins 7th.

Worst Team?

Jacksonville's 3-1 run moves it out of the basement, for the first time all season. So who's the worst team right now? Let me suggest a trio of 2012 playoff teams...

1. The Green Bay Packers are 0-4-1 without Aaron Rodgers. We all knew they'd miss him, but not like this. They got embarrassed on Thanksgiving.

2. Washington is absolutely awful. The defense can't stop anyone, the special teams are "special," and the offense has no identity. Robert Griffin III makes too many mistakes, the play-calling doesn't make any sense, the receivers can't catch, and just when you think they've got something going, they slump.

3. Houston has lost 10 games in a row.

Washington won the NFC East last year, and nearly beat Seattle in the playoffs. Green Bay and Houston won playoff games. Now, one of those three is probably the worst team in the league at this moment. I would also entertain arguments for the Jets. Since beating the Saints a month ago, they've given up four times as many points as they've scored (79-20).

Sports Nicknames

In the triumphant return of the Poscast, Joe Posnanski and Michael Schur (of FJM) drafted sports nicknames. It was a lot of fun, and you should check it out, but they only picked five each.

Joe Posnanski: Magic Johnson, Cool Papa Bell, Mean Joe Greene, No-Neck Williams, Crazy Legs Hirsch

Michael Schur: Sweetness, The Great One, Chocolate Thunder, The Refrigerator, The Round Mound of Rebound

I loved this exercise, and the interplay between Posnanski and Schur is terrific, especially when Poz admits how upset he is that Schur beat him to Chocolate Thunder. But with only 10 selections, some great choices got left out. Here are five additions of my own.

1. When I found out the Poscast would feature a Nicknames Draft, the first one that occurred to me was Crazy Legs Hirsch, so I was glad that made Posnanski's list. But the second was Catfish Hunter. You can tell it is a great nickname because almost no one knows that Hunter's real name is James. You have a somewhat recent Hall of Fame pitcher, and his nickname is so good that no one knows the guy's real first name. Many fans know it's really Earvin "Magic" Johnson, or Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch, but only serious baseball trivia enthusiasts know who Jim Hunter is.

2. Let's stick with the aquatic theme, moving on from Catfish to The Shark, for golfer Greg Norman. In my eternal debate about whether or not golf is really a sport, a competitor nicknamed The Shark might sway me to vote yes. It's not just a fearsome animal, it's specific: sharks are aggressive predators who are most dangerous when they sense blood in the water. The nickname is menacing in the best possible way.

3. In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, James writes, "The best nickname, for my money, belonged to Sam McDowell: Sudden Sam. The nickname was original, alliterative, worked in print or on the air, and described both the abilities and the career of the player, whose fame and fastball both arrived suddenly." But I think absolutely the best nickname that Posnanski and Schur missed — and it's not really close — was Dizzy Dean. Again, hardly anyone knows his real name (listed as either Jay or Jerome, depending on where you look), and what better title could you have for such an eccentric player?

4. I'm an NFL guy, and this is an NFL column, so let's get back to the gridiron for a really sensational football nickname, by far the best ever given to a quarterback: The Mad Bomber. Even if you never saw Daryle Lamonica play, the nickname immediately paints a vivid picture. And it's not just The Bomber, it's The Mad Bomber. It's colorful and evocative, and it's the perfect AFL nickname.

5. For my final choice, I wanted to go with someone recent. The podcast hosts mentioned Megatron for Calvin Johnson, and that's a great one. I've always thought Cadillac Williams was a pretty sensational nickname. Johnny Football isn't super creative, but it's striking and unforgettable. Ultimately, though, I felt like I needed to go older and address derogatory nicknames. The best of these, I believe, is Dr. Strangeglove, for Dick Stuart, one of the most atrocious fielders in baseball history.

The best NFL nicknames are plays (The Music City Miracle, The Immaculate Reception), games (The Ice Bowl, The Sneakers Game), and groups of players (The Hogs, The Fearsome Foursome, The Steel Curtain). But for individuals, the cupboard's a little sparse. There are some famous ones, sure, but most of them aren't real creative. Up until about 1950, every athlete with red hair was nicknamed Red. There are two Hall of Fame quarterbacks nicknamed Dutch. Billy "White Shoes" Johnson is a classic nickname, but it's not what I'm looking for. Broadway Joe was fitting, but Joe Namath was so much bigger than that nickname.

If I was just drafting NFL nicknames, and I couldn't use any of Posnanski and Schur's, I'd take:

1. The Mad Bomber

2. The Human Joystick. One of the most perfect nicknames in the history of football. For two or three years, Dante Hall was a video game superhero on kickoff and punt returns. His cutting ability seemed to defy the most basic physical laws that govern our universe.

3. Law Firm. In the spreadsheet from my fantasy draft, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is listed as L.Firm.

4. Chuck Bednarik was called Concrete Charlie because he had family in the concrete business, but it also communicated the rugged toughness of a player with two of the most famous tackles in league history.

5. Running backs generally get the best nicknames, especially the big power guys (The Diesel, The Bus, two guys named Bam, etc.), but my favorite is a shifty scatback: Mercury Morris. Actually, my favorite is He Hate Me. That's more of an XFL nickname, but it's how we'll always remember Rod Smart. And, for that matter, the XFL.

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In last week's column, I looked at the most deserving players on this year's Pro Bowl ballot.

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