The year of the backup quarterback, or the year of the rookie quarterback?
This is how the 2012 NFL season has felt in large part due to the pure dominance from San Francisco 49ers backup Colin Kaepernick on Monday night. Kaepernick received his first NFL start on Monday night against the Chicago Bears and simply thwarted one of pro football's best defenses.
As a result, the 49ers improved to 7-2-1 on the season and possess the NFC's second-best record. Elsewhere, we saw Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts square off vs. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Unfortunately, Luck could not deliver a victory and Indy fell to 6-4.
Interestingly enough, both Kaepernick and Luck weren't the only ones at their respective roles in the spotlight last week. And it all affected the power rankings to a certain degree.
Could it possibly get any worse for the Kansas City Chiefs?
Sure K.C. has one victory; however, the minus-21 turnover differential is flat-out ugly. You can also call this a battle of backup quarterbacks because neither Matt Cassel nor Brady Quinn have proven to be a worthy starter.
If it weren't for Jamaal Charles and the ground game, who knows how porous the Chiefs would be.
Let's all welcome back Chad Henne.
In replacing Blaine Gabbert on Sunday, Henne eviscerated the Texans for 354 passing yards and four touchdowns. He did it with a less than 50 completion percentage.
Perhaps the Jacksonville Jaguars found their starting quarterback. Up next is finding a defense.
The Cleveland Browns are masters at finding ways to lose, period.
Even when the defense totally devours the opposing quarterback and the offense gets a go-ahead late touchdown, Pat Shurmur's team fails in the end. That said, with two first-round rookies in Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden playing well, the defense has proven potential.
Therefore, the problems reside with play-calling and coaching.
Just like the Browns, the Carolina Panthers find ways to lose.
Cam Newton and Co. were leading Tampa Bay, 21-10, with only six minutes remaining, and yet the Buccaneers made an impressive comeback only to win in overtime. Earlier in the year, Carolina flopped late against the Bears and Falcons as well.
One major issue is pass defense. The Panthers' coverage gives up a 65.8 completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks.
The Oakland Raiders had the unfortunate occurrence to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints when those teams had just found a rhythm.
Then again, it doesn't help either when Oakland's defense allows 375 total yards per game. Along with giving up a 66.8 completion percentage to opponents, the Raiders have managed just six interceptions and 11 sacks.
Until the defense comes around, the Raiders will disappoint because the offense is capable of moving the ball.
After Week 11, the Philadelphia Eagles now ride a six-game losing streak.
The offensive line continues to fail at pass and run-blocking, whereas the defense is immensely underachieving. With just seven picks and 16 sacks despite all the individual talent, Philly is frustrating to watch.
Include three divisional games, Tampa Bay and Cincinnati remaining on the schedule, a 4-12 season is in the making.
The San Diego Chargers may be 4-6; however, three wins have come courtesy of Kansas City (twice) and Oakland.
Norv Turner's team has been horrendously inconsistent all season, and the offense was held to 277 total yards in Week 11. After beginning 2-0, the Bolts have gone 2-6 and have allowed 27-plus points in five of their previous eight games.
Only the Panthers and Raiders look like winnable remaining games, and neither are guaranteed.
After taking the 49ers through an entire overtime period, the St. Louis Rams were rightfully expected to get a response victory against the Jets.
Well, Jeff Fisher's new team was defeated and the defense was consistently put in unfavorable situations. The offense turned the ball over three times and scored only 13 points.
In addition, the defense allowed New York to go 7-of-15 on third downs and gave up 124 rushing yards. Without much offensive explosion, the Rams won't ever overcome turnovers.
Since defeating the New York Jets in Week 8, the Miami Dolphins have dropped three consecutive games.
During this losing streak Joe Philbin's offense has only scored 37 points and the defense has only recorded five sacks: Three of which came vs. Buffalo.
Miami is also minus-9 in turnover differential and gains just 310 total yards per contest. The potential was displayed earlier, but recent performances are duds.
Believe it or not, but the Buffalo Bills have an outside shot at the postseason.
Obviously a Week 12 victory over the Colts is required, although sitting at 4-6 right now isn't as bad as it appears. Buffalo has already faced New England twice and gets the Jets and Dolphins once more.
Fielding an offense capable of scoring with balance, the defense possesses enough talent to keep improving. After Indy, the Bills' toughest game is against Seattle, so 8-8 is a realistic worst-case scenario—playoffs or not.
The New York Jets are still quite relevant in the AFC's playoff picture by virtue of a difficult schedule.
Of Gang Green's six losses, five came from teams currently sporting a winning record: New England, San Francisco, Houston, Seattle and Pittsburgh.
Remaining are beatable teams in Arizona, Jacksonville, Tennessee, San Diego and Buffalo. Finishing 9-7 would be impressive for this team, and owning the tiebreaker over Indianapolis is keeping the Jets' season alive.
Not to mention, the road win over St. Louis after getting pummeled by Seattle was an excellent response.
It's a realistic outlook that the Washington Redskins can finish the regular season 10-6.
Four divisional games remain along with the Browns and Ravens. Baltimore's defense still needs to prove consistency and after slamming the Eagles, Washington's confidence has significantly increased.
We know Robert Griffin III and the offense can score, so the defense must continue on its incline. Playing at the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, though, will be a telling story.
The Cincinnati Bengals appeared down and out when they were 3-5 and hosting the Giants.
Then a key victory resulted in new-born confidence that carried over into dominance over Kansas City. Andy Dalton keeps playing rather efficiently and the passing game is a threat to any defense.
With the Raiders, Chargers, Cowboys and Eagles these next four weeks, a 9-5 record before Week 16 at Pittsburgh is realistic. Provided the pass rush stays true and the defense gets a few more turnovers, watch out for Cincy in December.
Pass protection woes remain evident for Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions.
Green Bay recorded five sacks on Stafford on Sunday without Clay Matthews, and it led to three of Detroit's four turnovers. On the flip side, the Lions defense struggled against the pass and allowed a 70.3 completion percentage of Aaron Rodgers.
In recording only six interceptions this season, Detroit won't sniff the postseason without locking down in coverage.
There is no superlative to describe the atrocity that is the Arizona Cardinals offense.
Arizona's defense forced six turnovers of Atlanta last week and the Cardinals managed only 19 points: 12 of which came from four Jay Feely field goals.
The Cardinals had multiple drives begin in Falcons' territory and had it not been for LaRod Stephens-Howling, this offense might as well not take the field. There's no pass protection and the receiving corps isn't provided with a quarterback capable of making plays.
In a nutshell, quarterback and offensive line performance is the core of offensive production.
One thing that stays true in pro football regarding a chance to win is running the football.
Because the Tennessee Titans have Chris Johnson who, when in a rhythm, is as good as anyone around, it's tough to write this team off. The evident downside is Tennessee's defense, which allows just under 400 total yards per game.
Courtesy of Johnson, however, the passing game can get set up to keep opponents off balance. Despite a fairly tough schedule ahead—excluding Jacksonville—the Titans are sleepers capable of making some noise.
The Dallas Cowboys have won two straight games over vastly inferior opponents.
On the bright side, at least Tony Romo and Co. are winning the expected games right now. Still, the pass protection is far from reliable and the defense continues to underachieve, especially against Cleveland.
Fortunately, only the Steelers remain as an opponent currently presenting a winning record. And if this ground game gets more consistent, the Dallas offense will take over games in the first half.
The New Orleans Saints are in the midst of a historic turnaround and the tough schedule ahead can be overcome.
Drew Brees and the passing game can thwart any defense and that sets up the ground game. Defensively, the Saints still allow plenty of yards but haven't been broken over the past three weeks.
After hosting the 49ers this week, New Orleans plays at the Falcons and Giants before welcoming Tampa Bay. Nonetheless, this team is never out with Brees under center.
Until the Indianapolis Colts figure out how to generate turnovers and get consistent quarterback pressure, 2012 will end with disappointment.
Andrew Luck and the offense can control the ball and score, so for now, it's a matter of keeping and setting the pace with any opponent. As we saw against New England, though, the Colts have much work to do.
Not to mention, Indy still has two games left against Houston.
Over the next five weeks, we'll learn a great deal about the 2012 New York Giants.
After hosting the Green Bay Packers this week, Big Blue travels to Washington, welcomes New Orleans and then hits the road for two straight at Atlanta and Baltimore. New York still lacks in coverage as it gives up a 63.7 completion percentage.
Factor in the defense allowing 4.4 yards per carry and getting to January rests with Eli Manning and the offense.
Adrian Peterson is the Minnesota Vikings' best bet to make the postseason.
He's easily the NFL's best ball-carrier because getting 5.8 yards per rush without a legit passing game to assist is impressive. That said, Christian Ponder does need to improve as the defense is suspect against the pass.
Minnesota can get pressure, although the coverage lacks with turnovers and gives up a 63.6 completion percentage.
The quarterback carousel has landed with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After a dismal outing from Byron Leftwich against Baltimore, Charlie Batch is set to take over for the time being. Per Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com:
Person w/ direct knowledge of Steelers plans says Charlie Batch will start Sun. And I SWEAR I saw Todd Haley smiling today.— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) November 19, 201
Thing is, Batch is older than anyone on the Steelers' defense: Now that's old.
Additionally, Pittsburgh has yet to find consistency on the ground and the defense fails at causing turnovers and applying quarterback pressure. The bright side is a favorable schedule left outside of Baltimore in Week 13.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won five of six, but only the Vikings remain as their sole victory over a team currently sporting a winning record.
Nevertheless, Doug Martin is displaying how to run the rock effectively and Josh Freeman is setting up well thereafter. Now the Bucs defense does need to reduce the number of passing yards allowed; however, at least turnovers are being forced.
Playing the Falcons and Broncos over these next two weeks will reveal a bit more of Tampa because Atlanta and Denver are better than anyone the Bucs have seen all season.
Any team that possesses the ability to run the ball and play defense always has a chance.
Well, that's exactly how the Seattle Seahawks operate on a weekly basis. Marshawn Lynch bulldozes, the defense accumulates sacks, stuffs the run and blankets in coverage and Russell Wilson just needs to minimize mistakes.
Although the aerial assault definitely could use more explosion, Seattle is a complete team and extremely dangerous as well.
Yes, the Baltimore Ravens are 8-2 and hold the AFC's second-best record.
It is, however, a record of deceit as Baltimore has only defeated two teams with a winning record: the Patriots and Steelers. The defense has yet to get on track as it allows an average of 382 total yards per game.
Include an uncharacteristically unreliable pass rush, and concern is reasonable for December. After all, the Ravens got slammed by Houston, and the Broncos come to town in Week 15.
Any sort of blocking has been virtually non-existent for the Chicago Bears.
A total of 34 sacks have been allowed thus far, and Matt Forte has only collected 102 rushing yards the past two weeks. Unsurprisingly, the tougher defensive matchups of Houston and San Francisco were simply no match for Chicago's offensive line.
Brian Urlacher and the defense carried the Bears through the first eight games, so unless the Monsters of the Midway generate numerous turnovers a game, Chicago will disappoint against better teams. Plus, the Colts in Week 1 are Chicago's only win over a team with a winning record.
It's reasonable to have concern with the Denver Broncos because they too have just one win over a team currently holding a winning record: the Steelers in Week 1.
Denver, though, has not lost a game it was expected to win and all three losses have come courtesy of the Falcons, Texans and Patriots. Peyton Manning gets better each week, and the defense is rolling with confidence.
Only the rushing offense doesn't sit well, as veteran Willis McGahee is expected to be out a while. According to Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com:
McGahee also has a fracture in the bone in his lower right leg. He will be on crutches for about a month, and doctors have told him not to put any weight on his leg, according to a source.
Regardless, as long as Manning keeps dominating the Broncos will be fine.
The New England Patriots have won six of their last seven games, and all three losses are by a combined four points.
Surgery on Rob Gronkowski's broken left forearm was performed Monday morning and the tight end is expected to need four to eight weeks to recover.
The injury definitely is unfortunate, but the AFC East is too weak for anyone to challenge the Pats.
The Green Bay Packers are the NFL's most dangerous team right now.
During their five-game winning streak, the Packers steamrolled the Texans in Houston to start. Thereafter, Green Bay added four more despite not playing its best football in the process.
The pass defense remains suspect in allowing Blaine Gabbert and John Skelton to throw for 300-plus yards. Much like the Broncos and Patriots to a great extent, the quarterback play needs to carry the Pack.
And Aaron Rodgers is just the man for the job.
No one would have expected the Atlanta Falcons to be 9-1 after their performances over the previous three contests.
Matt Ryan and the offense stumbled to just 19 points against Dallas and the defense was trounced by New Orleans. Ryan then tossed five interceptions to Arizona, but fortunately the defense saved the day.
Altogether, the Dirty Birds are still questionable in the trenches. The offense gets only 3.7 per carry and the defense allows five yards a pop. When January commences, Atlanta must improve up front, otherwise another early postseason exit will happen.
Folks, has a quarterback controversy ignited in the Bay Area?
Well, backup Colin Kaepernick sure put on one flawless show as the San Francisco 49ers suplexing the Bears, 32-7. Kaepernick was basically perfect against a stellar Chicago defense and the outing displayed San Francisco's explosive potential.
As expected, the defense suffocated once again and was in total control from opening kickoff. No matter who is under center, though, the 49ers field an abundance of talent in every phase of the game.
The Houston Texans won a game they were expected to win, and did so despite playing nowhere near the potential.
Wade Phillips' pass defense was sliced by a strong-armed Chad Henne, who is familiar with dicing up superior opponents: Just as Bill Belichick and New England did Week 1 of 2011.
On the contrary to the defense, Houston's offense revealed its passing promise. Matt Schaub is a proven gunslinger and when needed, the Texans now possess the capability to match any pace against any opponent.
Down games will happen, but the best teams simply find a way to win.
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