Fact, Fiction and Farce Heading into NFL Week 16
Fact: Football is just a game.
Fiction: I have a firm grasp on the arcane tiebreakers involved in the NFC playoff race.
Farce: Ryan Mathews' elite preseason fantasy draft status.
We are in for a wild two-week finish to this NFL season. Sure, five of the eight divisions have already been decided, but the NFC East and the wild-card races, especially in the NFC, are mind-bogglingly tight.
With this closely bunched mess of teams, there are more questions than answers even though the regular season is almost over.
To help ease the confusion, this slideshow will provide 10 answers to questions surrounding the NFL.
Rex Ryan's Belief in Tim Tebow
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Rex Ryan must be overwhelmingly convinced that Tim Tebow is a terrible quarterback. The Jets have nothing left to play for this season, and Mark Sanchez has been so terrible that he is finally benched.
This would be the perfect time to give Tim Tebow a shot, but the world's most popular backup will remain just that, as Greg McElroy will get the start in Week 16.
Ryan is offering little insight into his decision. Check out this quote from Ryan, as provided by ESPN's Rich Cimini:
I can answer this question a million ways--frontward, backward, sideways, anything else. It's my decision and I based it on a gut feeling or whatever. Everything it comes down to is, I believe it's the best decision for our team. That's the only factor that goes into these decisions.
In other words, Ryan is saying that Tebow is just terrible, but he doesn't want to trash the guy in the press. The problem is, what are the Jets gaining by this move?
If there is anyone outside of the McElroy family that thinks young Greg has the potential to be anything but a solid backup in this league, I have yet to talk to them.
Tebow, on the other hand, still has a legion of supporters who think he can be a viable starter. My guess is that Tebow has looked so terrible in practice that Ryan wants to avoid having him take over permanently under center at all costs.
The problem with Ryan's approach is that Tebow was surely similarly terrible for the Broncos in practice last year, and he still came in and racked up the wins.
Why not see if he can have a similar effect on the Jets?
They really have nothing to lose, and there is the possibility that Tebow would come in and spark the same kind of magic that he did for Denver last year. Or maybe he would just be terrible, but at least the Jets would know.
Philip Rivers Is Broken
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
As everyone with an opinion was shouting out how terrible Mark Sanchez is, and has been, many pointed to turnover stats to support their claims. Looking at those stats, one thing unavoidably struck me: My goodness, Philip Rivers is awful.
Rivers has 45 turnovers over the last two years. That leads the league and is one more than the universally derided Mark Sanchez.
I'm not trying to defend Sanchez—I'm just wondering why more people aren't screaming about how terrible Rivers has become.
Two years ago, I considered Rivers to be elite. He was an accurate and smart quarterback that could drop dimes on long balls at will. Now he just seems to be chucking Hail Marys on every attempt.
Sure, Rivers is working with a bad receiving corps this year, but so is Sanchez, and Rivers is supposed to be good enough to make everyone around him better.
I'm not going to pretend that I know what is wrong with Rivers; rather, there is simply something very wrong. This is two straight seasons of terrible play, turnovers and missed opportunities.
The Chargers should begin to look for other options at quarterback.
Jim Schwartz's Job Security
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Jim Schwartz has lost control of his team. This is an undisciplined bunch that is failing at every turn.
This lack of discipline plagued the Lions last season, but they succeeded despite of it. Now it has taken its toll, and the Lions have lost six straight.
Many of those six losses were close. They were the kind of games that the Lions could have won had they played cleaner football. The last loss, however, they were blown out by the lowly Cardinals, and they had the look of a team that had given up.
To his credit, Schwartz is taking the blame for the team's failures. The Associated Press passed along this quote from him.
The ultimate responsibility of the team is (with) the head coach, and I need to do a better job. 4-10 isn't good enough.
Schwartz has lost his ability to steer this team, and there is no coming back from that...at least not with the same team. The Lions need a new voice, because Schwartz's is obviously falling on deaf ears.
Just a year ago, Detroit appeared to be a team on the rise. Now they are a team that once again needs to start over.
Stevan Ridley Is a Good Fantasy Play This Week
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It is time to fumble Stevan Ridley out of your fantasy lineup.
Ridley is having a fantastic season and he is set to go against a Jaguars rush defense that has allowed the second-most fantasy points to running backs, but look for Bill Belichick to limit his role.
Ridley has fumbled in two straight games. Last week against the 49ers, it was a very costly fumble, and it came in a game where he averaged just 2.6 yards per carry on his nine carries.
The fumble concerns are nothing new for Ridley. If you'll remember last season, he had two late-season fumbles, the second coming in the Patriots' first playoff game, and he was benched, for the rest of the postseason.
Now, I wouldn't expect Ridley to be completely benched like he was last year, but I do expect Belichick to send Ridley a message.
Last week, Danny Woodhead wound up with three more carries than Ridley, and he got two touchdowns. That was Woodhead's second-most carries of the season and a clear sign that Belichick wants to go with a player he can trust.
Look for Ridley's role to be limited this week, and for him to be firmly planted on the sideline when the Patriots get close to the goal line.
Eric Berry Is Washed Up
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Remember Eric Berry? He was the fifth pick of the Chiefs in the 2010 draft and justified that lofty draft status by earning a trip to the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
Then he blew out his knee and missed all of last season.
He returned this year but has spent most of it looking like a shell of his former self. He was getting toasted in coverage and not offering up much in the way of run support.
However, Berry is starting to get the spring back in his step, and, consequently, his confidence.
Last week, Berry was all over the field. He tied a season high with 11 tackles, and they were largely impact tackles as Berry was swarming Raiders running backs near the line of scrimmage.
He was also great in coverage. He had a pass defensed and he was not exploited like he was earlier in the year. Look for Berry to be a dominant force next season.
Ben Roethlisberger Is "On Board" with the Steelers Offense
Come on, Mike Tomlin. The fact that you have to say your quarterback is content with his team is a dead give away that he is not.
The apology came after a chat with his head coach, and ESPN shared Mike Tomlin's take on the conversation, "I met with Ben (Monday) and he's ready to move forward with this week and he's on board with what we're doing."
I'll buy Roethlisberger's apology, but I'm not buying that he is on board with the play-calling. I'm sure Roethlisberger realizes that it does not serve his team and organization well for him to complain in the press, but that doesn't mean he isn't still frustrated.
The Steelers' current offense is far too conservative to suit Big Ben's big-play capabilities.
Roethlisberger is the team's best player. He has a proven track record and he might even be in the midst of a Hall of Fame career. He has earned the right for an offense to be suited to his strengths, and it is foolish for the Steelers to deny him that—this offense should be built around him. But it clearly isn't, and Roethlisberger couldn't let the frustration lay muted following a frustrating loss.
While that was an emotional reaction, it was a glimpse of the truth.
The Giants' Playoff Hopes
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
I'm finally ready to write the Giants off. I've been holding off on this all season. This group has proven to be too resilient in the past, and they burned me mightily as I picked against them last year on their way to a Super Bowl win.
However, the Giants didn't have any performances at the end of last season that were as big a disaster as last week's 34-0 loss to the Falcons.
The Giants have now lost two of three and four of their last six. Again, they had a similar run of futility heading into Week 16 last season, having lost five of six, but the passing game was rolling and the team was at least showing signs of life.
They are just a disaster right now, and it will doom them.
This week, the Giants take on a Ravens team that is also struggling, but the Giants won't be able to pull this one out on the road.
New York is 31st in the league in allowing 7.7 yards per pass, and over its last three it has allowed 8.4 yards per pass.
While Joe Flacco has seen his share of struggles this year, he has proven he can exploit bad pass defenses, and that is exactly what the Giants have.
So, while the Giants actually control their own destiny, they will fall to the Ravens this week. And at that point, with many of the teams they are battling for a playoff spot having an easier contest this week, they will be in a terrible position.
The Giants will not be in the postseason to defend their championship.
Knowshon Moreno Will Be a Fantasy Star This Week
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So maybe Knowshon Moreno isn't a complete bust after all.
Four years into his career, the former first-round pick is finally looking like a first-round pick.
In the past four games, Moreno has received at least 20 carries and he is averaging 121.8 total yards over those games. He has also scored a touchdown in each of the past two contests.
Prior to that four-game span, Moreno had just eight carries on the season. So it is safe to say he is fresh, and he certainly looks like it.
This week he will be going against the Browns. Last week, the Browns allowed 87 yards and two touchdowns to Redskins rookie Alfred Morris, and that was despite the Browns stacking the box and daring Kirk Cousins to beat them.
They will not be able to focus on the run game this week with Peyton Manning lining up under center.
The Broncos should control this game, and that will lead to a big workload for Moreno as they grind out the second half. He will produce.
Pigeons Love the Raiders
Check out the gritty pigeon just hanging out on the field this past Sunday as the Raiders hosted the Chiefs. As the Contra Costa Times' Jerry McDonald notes, it was there nearly the entire first half.
He also passed along this quote from guard Mike Brisiel, who had given the pigeon a little nudge with his foot:
I’m at the line of scrimmage and that thing is in between the defensive end and the outside linebacker. I mean, that’s kind of deadly. I didn’t kick it. I was trying to shoo it along, and then I get booed for it. Something was wrong with that thing; it was a little off, I think.
That pigeon was not going to be intimidated!
This is curious enough, but this isn't an isolated incident. Check out this ambitious pigeon during a game in 2009.
There was more to that story. That came in a game the season after former Raider Marquis Cooper tragically drowned.
I'll let former Raiders tackle Cornell Green share his point of view on that pigeon. Green, as quoted by the Press-Democrat, "That’s Marquis. That’s the position he played (on kickoff)."
That is a beautiful sentiment, and I'm certainly in no position to say whether that is the case or not. However, I can confidently say that pigeons have an unexplainable attraction to the Raiders.
The 49ers Will Wrap Up the NFC West This Week
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The 49ers are not going to escape the Seahawks den with a victory, or even a tie, which apparently is relevant with San Francisco.
A win would clinch the division for the 49ers, but they are catching a team that is on fire. The Seahawks have beaten their last two opponents by a combined score of 108-17. They also have not lost a game at home this season.
The 49ers will enter this game off an emotional and taxing win over the Patriots this past Sunday night. I won't go as far as to say they will overlook the Seahawks this week, but they are going to have a hard time matching the intensity with which the Seahawks are preparing for this game.
These two met in San Francisco in Week 7 and the 49ers triumphed 13-7. However, Russell Wilson has made huge strides since then and he has brought the Seahawks offense with him. As we saw last week, the tough 49ers defense can be beaten through the air.
I don't expect the Seahawks to put up 34 points like the Patriots did, but they won't have to. Seattle's defense hasn't allowed more than 28 points in any game this season.
Combine that defense with the 12th Man, and the Seahawks will pull this one out, 20-17.