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The FOOTBALL SICKNESS PODCAST, 2013 Philadelphia Eagles Preview with Mike Clay

Boy, how will we ever come up with something Eagles-related to talk about? There’s hardly been any offseason news whatsoever.

Oh. Right.
So we needed a guest who could help us boil all this down. Mike Clay joins us to talk all things Eagles.  Pro Football Focus Fantasy, Rotoworld, Yahoo…they ALL have him on their fantasy team, so you know you’re getting the pure stuff here. Plus, you know Sen Dog has some things to get off his chest about the Eagles. Feed your Sickness on many levels by clicking on the “listen now” button below. This one hits hard. Better GET YOUR HELMET ON!!!
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EAGLE EYE: 1 Down, 19 To Go

It’s Baaaaack! For the first time since January 9th, there was Eagles Football played at the Linc in South Philly. The Ravens opened up their preseason in front of a bunch of pumped up Eagles fans. It was their first chance to see the 2011 group in live action. Fans did not leave disappointed as the home team won 13-6. Now let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. There’s a lot of football left to play, 19 games until the playoffs. I know, because I counted;  But since there are a few more days before my next fix, here are my thoughts:

 

Offense

 

I'll take this... thank... you.

The first offense was crisp. If there was a 4 month lockout, the Eagles didn’t show any rust. An 8-play, 80-yard drive is impressive anytime, but when you consider that the Eagles played without their two starting receivers, it’s that much more. Riley Cooper took advantage of the opportunity, making an acrobatic catch above Ed Reed. Michael Vick put the ball on the money, even when he was blitzed. That’s something that was missing last year. And then there was the running game. They ran a lot of stretch plays Thursday Night. It’s new but new OL coach Howard Mudd ran plenty of that in Indy. It wasn’t a strong effort, but as the season goes on, it’s clear that LeSean McCoy and Ronnie Brown will be a strong 1-2 punch. I am assuming that Andy Reid will run the ball more this year. At least he will until the regular season begins. The offensive line was average, missing blocks in space, and opening almost no holes for the running backs.

 

Defense

 

On defense, there was a completely different vibe than in years past. The new era under Juan Castillo began with thunder. They went at Baltimore in waves. Linemen were rotating like an NHL line change. Trent Cole has to be jumping for joy at the chance to get a little breather during games. Darryl Tapp finished with 2 sacks. He spent as much time in the backfield as the Raven’s running backs. Rookie Jaiquan Jarrett wasted no time making his name known by picking off a pass on his 2nd series. He’ s going to be a gem. The defense was so active that neither Flacco, Tyrod Taylor, nor Hunter Caldwell were able to get comfortable. With the constant rotations, it should keep the defense fresh, and allow the rebuilt secondary to have a field day. It’ll be interesting to see how the whole Nnamdi, Asante, DRC dynamic plays out. As for now, DRC looks like the nickel corner which doesn’t bode well for Joselio Hanson’s future with the team.

Ravens QB's...YUM!

 

At the end of the day… The Eagles are no doubt happy about their first contest, but they are MUCH happier that everyone came out of the game healthy. Next up is the cross state rivalry game with the Steelers. Desean Jackson should be back for that one. From all accounts, he’s ready to go. More good news for the squad, bad news for the league.

PACKERS 21, EAGLES 16: The Pack Rise Again

Dom Capers' Packers defense kept Michael Vick under wraps all day long.

The first chapter of the unbelievable comeback story of Michael Vick finally came to a close as the Packers outlasted the Eagles. As detailed more thoroughly in this week’s edition of Eagle Eye, the Eagles ran into the same issues they’ve had all season with respect to offensive balance and defensive fortitude, and a talented Packers team that had to claw its way into the playoffs looked much more ready to play from start to finish. If you’re a Packers fan, you’re ecstatic even though during the preseason this position would not have surprised you. If you’re an Eagles fan, you’re disappointed even though if I had told you before the year started that you would win the division and lose a tough playoff game to the Packers, you would have taken it. You know you would have. Interesting dichotomy, no? It’s important to keep these things in perspective.

WHAT HAPPENED: The Chico Kid came out slingin’ for the Packers, and Dom Capers showed through his defensive gameplan that he was taking notes when the Bears, Giants, and others made life tougher on Michael Vick and the Eagles than did, say, the Redskins. Rodgers threw for only 180 yards, but he was all about efficiency, managing three touchdowns (and James Jones dropped a bolt of sheer loveliness that would have been another). Meanwhile, the Packers found a running game in the person of fantasy unicorn James Starks, who rumbled for 123 yards on 23 carries and may be the missing element to a Super Bowl run in Green Bay. Meanwhile, the Packers smacked Michael Vick and his weapons around as Marshall Faulk’s pre-game observation that he had not seen the Eagles receivers “handle it” when defensive backs “put hands on people” turned prophetic. As usually happens, the most physical team won the football game.

SO LONG: To the Eagles, who put together an exciting if uneven season. When they were right this year, they were as good as anybody, and perhaps the most explosive offense in the league. But they consistently stumbled against a strange reluctance to employ their enormous offensive line and supremely gifted running back in the power running game. Perhaps as a direct result, teams that worried little about the sweep simply pinned their ears back and took shots on Vick (who, by the way, is small by NFL quarterback standards). The beating seemed to sap him of some of his electricity down the stretch. The defense struggled to absorb a number of key injuries and continues to seek an identity as it turns over from the old guard to the new. On the whole, it was a successful season, but you can’t help but wonder what could have been.

SEE YOU NEXT WEEK: My Super Bowl champion pick before the season, the Packers looked like a confident bunch this weekend in dismissing Philly at the Linc. They’ve got another tough one this week at Atlanta, but they just lost one down there a few weeks back and will no doubt be looking for redemption. A battle of two of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks is not a bummer for those of us with the Sickness.

EAGLE EYE: That’s All, Folks.

Michael Vick could not save the Eagles this time.

So ends the roller coaster that was the 2010 Philadelphia Eagles. They achieved their goal of winning the NFC East, but were not able to move past the Green Bay Packers in the first round of the playoffs. The problems that plagued them in this game were prevalent all season long. This time, Michael Vick wasn’t able to save them.

The absence of a running game is hard to understand. LeSean McCoy is an explosive running back, and has repeatedly shown that ability when he’s gotten the opportunity. Unfortunately, those opportunities were few and far between. I thought for the Eagles to win this game, he would need to be above 20 carries. That would slow the defense down and keep the much maligned Eagles defense on the sidelines. Too bad I’m not on the coaching staff because at the end of 60 minutes he only toted the rock 12 times. Contrast that with Packers running back James Starks who ran the ball 23 times. Weren’t the Packers the ones coming into the game with questions in their ground game? Maybe I missed something. Don’t they both run a West Coast offense?

By choosing not to keep the Green Bay defense off balance, Michael Vick was under constant pressure. Just check the first play of the game. Eagles were backed up on their 14, they came out in gun, and the Packers crushed him from the backside. Second play, same as the first. They blitzed right up the middle for another sack. It’s no wonder Vick has been running much more recently. It’s called fight or flight. Including Sunday night’s game, he’s been sacked 53 times. That’s way too much for a guy that isn’t much bigger than most wide receivers. He hung in there, showed mad heart, and tried to pull this one out but he chose the wrong time to throw his worst pass of the season. 35 seconds left in your season, and you chose a blanketed Riley Cooper to throw the ball to? The result was predictable.

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles have been horrendous in the red zone, and it continued. Coming into the game they were giving up touchdowns 77% of the time. They were even worse against the Pack: three trips for the Packers inside the 20 ended up in 21 points. The multiple injuries that this defense has suffered throughout the year have been hard to overcome, but at some point pride has to kick in. At the same time, they get some credit because they were able to keep the team in the game and give the offense a shot to win this one at the end.

This leads me to the one constant of the last 11 years, Andy Reid. I may be crazy, but I feel like it’s time for a change. He’s lead the Eagles to the playoffs in 9 of those 11 years. In those 9 playoff appearances, 6 have come by way of winning the NFC East. These are great numbers by any account, and there are a bunch of other teams that would kill for that resume. But every year has ended the same, with a loss in their last game. The Eagles found themselves in 10 games that were decided by 7 points or less. They lost as many of those as they won. Four of those 5 losses were at home. That’s unacceptable for a coach that is considered one of the best in the game. That’s the difference between going home early and a bye in the first round.  Either he changes his style and gets this team to be more physical offensively and defensively, or it’s time for someone else to try. See, this is his baby, so someone has to answer for losing the last 3 games of the year after such a promising start. I guess there’s always next year. But then again, I’ve been saying that for 35 years.

WHO WOULD REGGIE ROOT FOR? NFC WILD CARD PREVIEW

New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Seattle Seahawks (7-9)


We’re not going to spend our time beating up on the Seahawks for getting an invite to the party. They did what they had to do, no matter how ugly it may look. There is some justice, though, because for their prize, they get to take on the defending champs in the first game of the NFL playoffs.

The Seahawks don’t seem to matchup very well with the Saints on paper. They do have the advantage of playing 12 on 11 with the best home field advantage in the league. But let’s get real for a moment. The crowd can’t score for them, and with the uncertainty at quarterback it’s going to be tough for them to put up points. The Saints finished with the best defense in the NFC and the 4th best overall. On the other hand, and not surprisingly, the Seahawks were among the worst in the league on offense. Only Minnesota had a worse turnover ratio in the NFC than the Seahawks, and turnovers in any game, let alone the playoffs, will kill you.

When Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense take the field, it will be bombs away. Hopeful Seahawks supporters will note Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas’ trips to the IR this week as an indication that their run game could be the Achilles heel in Seattle. But in reality, injuries to Thomas and Reggie Bush derailed the New Orleans running game most of this year, and it was up to Brees to make due.

The reigning Super Bowl MVP kept the train on the tracks, carrying the Saints in 2010. Despite a couple of tough outings, it was his 5th straight season of at least 4000 yards passing and he hit for 33 touchdown passes. He doesn’t have just one weapon, he gets everyone involved. Eight receivers caught at least 30 balls, and Burger Man Dave Thomas just missed the cut at 29. It must be nice to know that if you are the first to get open, you’re getting the ball. I expect more of the same against the 27th ranked pass defense in the NFL.

Whoever Pete Carroll choses to play at QB will need to be almost perfect. They can’t afford to continue to turn the ball over in this game and give the Saints’ offense a short field. Keeping the crowd noise up will give them an edge in rushing the passer, but not enough to rattle Brees. Saints start slow, finish strong, and get ready to take on the rival Falcons. Saints 31, Seahawks 17.

Green Bay Packers (10-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)

Two of the leagues most exciting QB's hook up in Philly on Sunday.

Fox (not to mention the rest of us) struck gold with this matchup for Sunday afternoon. The Packers are ratings gold, and they’re playing the #1 story of the 2010 NFL season, Michael Vick.  It’s not surprising to see the Pack in the playoffs, but it is a surprise to see them playing on the opening weekend and on the road no less. But that’s what losing half your starters will do to a team, we suppose.

Green Bay visited the Linc back on opening day, outlasting the Eagles 27-20. That was the first game that gave us a taste of what the new Vick was going to look like after Kolb was knocked out with a concussion. He ran for over a 100 yards and threw for 175 and a touchdown. It was just the start of a great season for him and the NFC East champs. The first problem for the Eagles was mental. They committed 10 penalties, most of them negating big plays or keeping them from scoring early in the game. The second problem was named Clay Matthews.

If the Eagles are going to defend their home turf this time around, they have to successfully protect Michael Vick. He was sacked 6 times in game 1, and Eagles’ QBs have been sacked 44 times, 2nd in the NFL. Green Bay will put all their energy into hitting Vick over and over again. If they can’t, their secondary will need to be on their P’s and Q’s because the Eagles’ offense is as explosive as they come. LeSean McCoy is the team’s leading rusher and also the leading receiver. DeSean Jackson is the best big play receiver in the league, and the Eagles scored the most points in the NFC. Put all that together, sprinkle in a little Vick magic, and you can see why the Eagles caused so much trouble for defensive coordinators this year.

But again, the Pack have been there, done that. Their biggest edge resides on the arm of The Chico Kid, one Mr. Aaron Rodgers. He has been out of control lately, and he’s facing a pass defense that is looser than a prom date.  They have allowed 31 touchdown passes this year, and in the red zone teams are scoring at an 80% clip. Greg Jennings had a big game in the first meeting, and the Eagles have suffered a bunch of injuries this season on the defensive side of the ball. There are rookies at corner, safety, and linebacker. They’ve still been a productive bunch, finishing with the 2nd most picks in the league, including 2 against Rodgers himself. I expect Coach McCarthy to spread the field and let Aaron Rodgers have a field day. The big concern will be his health since he’s already had two concussions this season.

If you’ve followed the Sickness, then I don’t have to tell you where my sentiments lie. But looking at this matchup, I am genuinely conflicted. The return of Stewart Bradley will help stabilize the linebacking corps, but the secondary is still a major concern. They did get some extra rest during week 17 so they should be fresh. Green Bay’s defense is so strong. Matthews had 7 tackles, all solo, and 3 sacks in the first meeting, so the Eagles’ offensive line needs to do a better job than they did last week against DeMarcus Ware.

Cold. Home playoff game. Rabid Philly Phans. Vick’s energy. Make it 3-0 vs. Green Bay in the playoffs and set up a rematch in Chicago. Eagles 27, Packers 24.

EAGLE EYE: 8 Minutes

Touchdown. Game. Division.

8 minutes. That’s how long it took to rip out the collective hearts of the New York Giants. 8 minutes. That’s how long it took for the Eagles to sit atop the throne of the NFC East. 8 minutes. That’s how long it took for Michael Vick to snap out of a 3 quarter slumber. 8 minutes. That’s how long I screamed as DeSean Jackson skipped into the end zone.

It’s only right that the Eagles christened the New Meadowlands Stadium with a kidney shot to the rivals from up north. Even without Stewart Bradley and Brandon Graham, and losing Nate Allen during the game, the defense bowed up and made the necessary plays.

But I have to mention Dmitri Patterson. They say it’s not how you start but how you finish. It was extremely true for him. He had one of the worst first halves that I can remember for a cornerback. The Eagles played a lot of zone coverage, and he was routinely toasted while giving up the first 3 touchdown passes. In the second half, the Eagles became more aggressive with blitzes and played more man to man. That was a great adjustment, allowing him to react rather than sit and watch. He really stepped up his play, along with the rest of the secondary.

There are no words left to describe Michael F. Vick. He may not win the MVP award, but it’s obvious that he is just that. Without Vick, the Eagles get 0 yards in the 4th quarter. He accounted for all 245 yards( 151 passing, 94 rushing). In the first 3 quarters, the Giants did a great job of limiting Vick’s effectiveness. Then it seemed like their defense wore down and lost discipline. It allowed Vick to have some more time in the pocket and to break the contain of the defense. You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him.

And finally special teams. Football is a game of three phases. Offense and defense get the most glory, but in a game of too evenly matched squads, special teams tends to be the difference. It certainly was in this game. The Eagles recovered an onside kick after completing a 64 yard touchdown pass to TE Brent Celek. How could the Giants not be ready you ask? Well Coughlin says they reminded them to watch for an onside kick, but it looks like the message wasn’t received. Which brings me to…

Matt Dodge. Paging Matt Dodge. There’s an angry coach waiting for you on the white courtesy phone. He and everyone else are wondering how you didn’t kick the ball into the parking lot. Coughlin again said that he told the rookie to kick it out of bounds, and not into the waiting hands of Djax; But it seems something was lost in translation. What we have here is a failure to communicate. Take this excerpt from the mouth of my 11 year old son: “Why didn’t he kick it out of bounds? All he does is practice kicking into a net on the sidelines. If he can’t do it, they should call me. I can kick it out of bounds.” Nuff said.

So what’s next? One more win to officially clinch the division. Two wins and a Bears loss gets a first round bye. Two wins and two losses by the Falcons gets home field through out the playoffs. I’m not going to hold my breath, but just laying out scenarios.

First things first. Minnesota comes into the Linc this weekend. They have the best running back in football, but that doesn’t scare me. What does is the effect that an emotional win like this can have on the team. It will be easy to enjoy this one too long, especially when we have no idea who the QB for Minnesota is going to be. Reid has done one of his best jobs this year with all of the injuries and changes at quarterback. He will have to keep the boys focused on the prize. Win one more, get the division wrapped up, and then go from there. As for me, I’m going to enjoy this one for as long as I damn well please. FLY EAGLES FLY!

NOW I’VE SEEN IT ALL: NFL Week 15 In Review

What a Sunday! An epic comeback lead by a one-of-a-kind superstar quarterback, a number of key games coming down to the wire, a seventy-one yard kickoff return by a guard…this was one of those quintessential classic NFL weekends that has infected us all with the Sickness. And you know what’s even better? The playoff picture isn’t really all that much clearer today than it was yesterday, meaning we’ve got a couple more weeks of this insanity in front of us. Yes, my friends. Life is good.

The dual threat of the Michael Vick Experience was too much for the Giants to handle.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 38, NEW YORK GIANTS 31: I’m going long on this one, because in all seriousness it was one of the most exciting football games I have ever seen in my life, and I still cannot believe I saw it. (Brief aside: it is at times like these that my cup of gratitude for the fact that I was born into the NFL’s technological golden age does indeed run over. Here’s to you, Sunday Ticket, Red Zone Channel, picture-in-picture, and High Definition. Well done.) Anyway, like I said in my picks last week: I think the Eagles take a close one and I think Michael Vick is the difference. Check and big, fat bold CHECK.

Any other takers on the “Michael Vick should not be an MVP candidate” argument? I thought not. Consider this: #7 did damn near nothing the entire first half of the game as the Giants’ D put together another successful hailstorm of pass rush designed to contain him by forcing him into quick decisions. The second half was a completely different story, as Michael Vick suddenly remembered, “hey…I’m Michael Vick.” Thirty minutes and thirty-five points later, Vick had almost single-handedly won the game, finishing with 130 yards and a score on the ground and 3 touchdown passes. That, my friends, is video-game-level SICK.

The Giants choked away a 21-point lead. Then came the kill shot. Those who follow me on Twitter know that about 30 seconds before the game ended, I tweeted: “Do NOT punt this ball to #10. Don’t do it. Just trust me.” And that, as they say, was that.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 31, GREEN BAY PACKERS 27: That was a valiant effort by Matt Flynn and the Packers’ O, and if not for a team-wide case of the dropsies the underdogs from Green Bay probably win this game. The defense dropped two sure picks and a third pretty easy one, and the offense dropped several big passes. Nevertheless, Flynn looked poised and deadly accurate for the bulk of the game, and if nothing else likely gained some vital confidence in the locker room and front office of Lambeau Field. The Patriots were fortunate to come away with this one, but you have to be impressed with how seamlessly they’ve reinvented themselves since a year ago. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are the centerpieces of their passing offense. Think about that. 12-2 gets it done in any season.

The Closer.

BALTIMORE RAVENS 30, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 24: This was exactly the kind of win I needed to see from the Ravens. As in, one that showed me they remembered who they are at their best: a strong D and and game and a half’s worth of Ray Rice stuffed into 60 minutes. They’ve been holding him back, but no more. They’re about to unleash fresh Ray Rice on people, and that makes them infinitely better. What’s more, they did it against the defending champs, who had been one of the hottest teams in the league coming in. Bravo, indeed. Meanwhile, the Saints are now essentially guaranteed to go into the playoffs as a wild card. A repeat will be infinitely tougher winning three road games just to get there. I can’t say I see that happening.

NEW YORK JETS 22, PITTSBURGH STEELERS 17: The Jets are another team that rediscovered their identity this weekend, and not a moment too soon. You had to figure Rex Ryan was going to run home to the ground n’ pound philosophy, and he did so successfully and impressively. The Steelers, of course, are a totally different defense without Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu on the field, but the Jets did what they needed to do to win. Mark Sanchez returned to managing the game and taking well-placed shots, and the formula got them back on track and a huge win in the playoff race. The Steelers aren’t likely to miss the postseason, but the way they are playing right now they will struggle to win a game once they get there.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 34, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 24: A couple of MVP candidates in Maurice Jones-Drew and Peyton Manning went at it, and #18 got the best of the matchup and the W. The game was marred by another full-body cringe-inducing hit on poor Austin Collie, who is almost certainly finished for the season given the league’s focus on head safety. Scary stuff, and we can only hope Collie is OK. I know it’s his job to go get it, but I find it interesting that going unmentioned is the fact that Collie is getting thrown into some tough spots. Also worth noting from this game was the Donald Brown explosion. Did we just find out who has Joseph Addai’s old gig in 2011? Oh, and Jacksonville: here’s your DONE stamp.

Don't worry, Tim. There will be brighter days.

OAKLAND RAIDERS 39, DENVER BRONCOS 23: I don’t need to see anything else to know three things about Tim Tebow in the NFL. One, from a throwing the football standpoint, he can throw the football just fine. Two, a significant chunk of his ground game translates. Three, so does the rah-rah stuff so readily dismissed by all the cool kids as schoolboy schtick. Bottom line: real passion is infectious. People know it instinctively. And like it or not, Timmy’s got it in spades. Unfortunately for Tebow, however, one cannot win on passion alone, at least not most weeks. The Raiders dominated the game in the trenches where it matters and remained unbeaten in the AFC West. Remember that. It could come into play later.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 27, ST. LOUIS RAMS 13: A nice steady return for Matt Cassel getting a much needed win against an improving St. Louis squad. Jamaal Charles touches the ball and good things happen. Case in point: 11 carries, 126 yards, 1 TD. I might give him the ball a bit more. Just a thought. The Rams are still tied for first, somehow, with games against the two teams they’re battling in the NFC West remaining. I honestly expect them to finish third, but it will be fascinating to see if Sam Bradford and the boys can duke it out with their division rivals.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 34, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 7: The Niners maintained their familiar inconsistency, showing up somewhere midway though the fourth quarter. The Chargers dropped the V-JAX Bomb on them, and it was over quickly. And yet somehow San Francisco remains alive in the playoff hunt in the NFC.

DETROIT LIONS 23, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 20 (OT): This one had to hurt in Tampa. In what may be the game they look back on as the one that got away and cost them a playoff berth, Tampa just could not hang on to a lead built on solid, mistake-free football. Meanwhile, someone in Detroit deserves a ton of credit for the fact that they have gotten solid play from all three quarterbacks on their roster this year. Fairly impressive.

ATLANTA FALCONS 34, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 18: Speaking of fairly impressive, the Falcons just keep getting it done. They took advantage of one Seattle mistake after another, spread the ball around to their two superstars and quality supporting weapons, and dominated possession of the football. In other words, standard operating procedure. Meanwhile, Matt Hasselbeck got (deservedly) pulled in favor of Charlie Whitehurst, and it’s fair to wonder if the ol’ “change of scenery” card needs to be played. No matter who plays quarterback, the Seahawks need to get the O-Line to gel before it will matter.

DALLAS COWBOYS 33, WASHINGTON REDSKINS 30: I will just say this: Andy Reid has been right about a great many things in the year 2010.

TENNESSEE TITANS 31, HOUSTON TEXANS 17: I’m through with you, Texans. Call me when you grow up. And Tennessee, I’m not all that happy with you either. Where have you been for the last month? You both wasted promising starts, and it’s a shame.

CINCINNATI BENGALS 19, CLEVELAND BROWNS 17: Colt McCoy’s return could not inspire a Cleveland sweep of the Battle of Ohio. Cedric Benson looked outstanding, showing great patience and burst through the hole as the Bengals finally got off the schneid in the division.

BUFFALO BILLS 17, MIAMI DOLPHINS 14: Hey, Dolphins, here is your DONE stamp. A good win for the Bills, who have been competitive in the vast majority of their games.

CAROLINA PANTHERS 19, ARIZONA CARDINALS 12: Let’s ignore this one, shall we? Good.

Enjoy the Monday Night Football Blizzard Bowl from the University of Minnesota.

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STILL THE ONE: NFL POWER RANKINGS

Tom Brady is on a mission and has his team playing deadly football.

1. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: By a LOT.  Save yourself the embarrassment of arguing. Have some dignity. C’mon, man, you’re better than that.

2.  ATLANTA FALCONS: 11-2 and straight-up balanced. They execute more consistently in all three phases than any team in the league.

3.  NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: They’re back, and they’re dangerous. Those turnovers and big plays that the defense created last year were the difference between the Saints and everybody else, and they’re coming in bunches all of a sudden.

4.  PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Their winning culture pulls them through more often than not. But the offense right now leaves much to be desired.

5.  PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: When they put it all together, they’re unstoppable, but the injuries are piling up on defense.

6.  NEW YORK GIANTS: Yes, Eli turns it over too much. But Brandon Jacobs’ resurgence and the defense have them looking like a team built for January.

7.  BALTIMORE RAVENS: In immortal the words of John Kreese: “FINISH HIM!” Here’s a question: Question: What do you have when you have zero 300-yard passing games and one 150-yard rushing game as an offensive unit? Answer: nothing special.

8.  NEW YORK JETS: That Miami team is really good at times, but there can be no ignoring the Jets’ self-inflicted wounds. Still, as bad as the offense was, they win that game if Santonio Holmes simply catches a pass at which my three year old would have a fighting chance. But you better show me something against the Steelers this week.

9.  SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: That was the Charger team that beats most teams in the league more often than not. It would be nice if they showed up every week.

10. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Losing Matt Cassel was the biggest problem, but far from the only one.

11. GREEN BAY PACKERS: With the parade of injuries, nobody has had more of a roller coaster season in 2010, and if Aaron Rodgers isn’t in the game they’re more like 21 than 11.

12. CHICAGO BEARS: Uh-huh.

13. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: I’m not sure they deserved that win, but they got it, and that’s what counts.

14. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Maurice Jones-Drew is an easy top 5 MVP candidate.

15. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: It’s no gimme against the Jags this week, but it’d be a surprise if #18 and friends didn’t get it done.

16. HOUSTON TEXANS: Far too many of their games are like Chargers seasons played in 60 minutes. They dig a giant hole at the outset and spend the remainder of it digging out.

17. OAKLAND RAIDERS: Offensive explosion and defensive implosion in Jacksonville. When they put it together, they’re tough.

18. MIAMI DOLPHINS: The defense can be stifling. But so can the offense.

19. DALLAS COWBOYS: They’re playing much better ball. Kudos to Jason Garret.

20. ST. LOUIS RAMS: Overmatched in New Orleans. Nothing to be ashamed of for a team that has already long since exceeded expectations.

21.  CLEVELAND BROWNS: A frequent lack of offensive imagination or adaptation is the strongest argument against a continuation of the Mangini Era in 2011.

22. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: The division title is in reach. That’s all I got.

23. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: In the words of Porky Pig: That’s All, Folks.

24. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Somehow, they are still in the division title race. This bothers me. Immensely.

25. TENNESSEE TITANS: Finnegan vs. Johnson Redux this weekend!

26. BUFFALO BILLS: They beat the Browns but didn’t look any better than the Browns in doing it.

27. DETROIT LIONS: I think that game said more about the current state of the Packers than anything else.

28. ARIZONA CARDINALS: The John Skelton Era begins. Whatever that means.

29. WASHINGTON REDSKINS: I’ll just repeat last week’s comment: Circus. Three rings.

30. CINCINNATI BENGALS: 81 & 85 finally blew their mutual gasket this week on their TV show, just in time for the Battle of Ohio.

31. CAROLINA PANTHERS: At least Panthers fans saw this coming.

32. DENVER BRONCOS: Really? I mean…REALLY? If only for the novelty of it. Pretty please. It’s Tebow Time.

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LET IT SNOW: NFL Week 14 in Review

Let’s see…What did I learn this weekend? Tom Brady is awesome and the Patriots are playing better football than anyone (to be fair, I knew that first half already). Peyton Manning is going to be just fine, but his team is still playing with fire on a weekly basis. The Chargers are still the best team in the AFC West, and either Brody Croyle is not ready to run the offense in Kansas City or Todd Haley trusts him less than Ed Rooney trusts Ferris Bueller. The Jets are knee-deep in an identity crisis of unknown origin. The Eagles can score. The Jags refuse to go away. The Bears…are who I thought they were. So is the entire NFC West. The Eagles are dangerous, but so are all those hits their superstar QB is taking. That’s a quick spin around the league. As we await an unexpected Monday Night Football doubleheader thanks to Mother Nature (who apparently has a crush on Brett Favre and his consecutive games streak), let’s dive in a bit deeper, shall we?

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 36, CHICAGO BEARS 7: Tom Brady threw for 369 yards and two scores in a freaking blizzard, and the Pats utterly demolished the Bears on every level. This surprises me, like, not at all. Anybody listening or reading along this season knows I think the Bears are total frauds, and I’d like to thank the Patriots for driving home the point. The Pats are on a mission. Look out, NFL. That is 81-10 combined the past two weeks over the Jets and Bears, both playoff teams (allegedly). The new offensive gameplan has been largely unstoppable, and the defense is getting better every week with a ton of young, fast, smart, explosive talent. And oh, by the way: the Patriots have more early round picks than anyone in the next couple of drafts. The Hoodie has created a scenario usually reserved for my Madden Franchises. Are we witnessing the dawn of a second Belichickian Dynasty?

Neither snow, nor wind, nor the vaunted Bears D could stop Deion Branch and the Patriots..

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 30, DALLAS COWBOYS 27: Hey, here’s an idea for teams that play the Eagles going forward: keep an eye on DeSean Jackson on the game’s opening play. That’s twice he’s toasted inexplicably unsuspecting defensive backfields. How do you not see that coming? At any rate, Jackson put up a ridiculous 210 yards on four catches, for a staggering 52.5 yards per catch. The guy is essentially uncoverable, and he and Michael Vick are a perfect fit. The Eagles also showed some much needed brute force as they ran the clock down to finish it off. LeSean McCoy put up 149 yards rushing and the Eagles held off the ‘Boys to improve to 9-4.  Their awful start destroyed their season, but the Cowboys are playing much better football under Jason Garrett, and I would be stunned if Jerry Jones did not remove the interim tag. It’s what he wanted to do in the first place anyway.

Hydro Holmes' wide open drop in the end zone was both a microcosm of the Jets' day and a perfect example of the underlying problem: they've forgotten who they are.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 31, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 0: I went back and forth on Twitter yesterday with the very knowledgeable Herbie Teope over this one. I tweeted that the Chargers were just the better team. Herbie correctly pointed out that the Chiefs offense is a totally different unit with Matt Cassel at the helm, a point I readily concede. Indeed, Cassel has been playing some of the best quarterback in the league. But I don’t for a second believe he’s worth 31 points all by himself, and last I checked, he doesn’t play defense. The Chiefs got beaten up in the trenches on both sides of the ball in this one, and the Chargers scored 31 points without their favorite offensive weapon. Herbie agreed on the trenches, specifically noting that the Chiefs lack the NT they need to successfully run the 3-4. As a result, the Chargers ran it down the Chiefs’ throats all day with Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews, and Philip Rivers conducted the attack with his usual symphonic brilliance. And, once again, Todd Haley was a little too cute or stubborn, depending on how you see it, with the playcalling. The Charger defense ignored the pass all day, and Haley never really tested it. Perhaps he simply didn’t trust Croyle, but they got down big and should have been trying to get Bowe, Moeaki and McCluster involved much earlier. They’re not quite championship ready, and Cassel’s absence, if it extends into next week, could cost them a trip to the playoffs.

MIAMI DOLPHINS 10, NEW YORK JETS 6: Anyone want to tell me why the New York Jets would throw the ball 46 times out of 75 plays in a game that ended 10-6 and was played in a driving rain storm? Anyone? No? Against a top 5 defense with quality pass rushers like Miami’s, that’s a good way to end up getting your young, still relatively inexperienced quarterback in trouble (remember, Sanchez started only 16 games at USC). Like it or not, Rex, this one’s on you. It’s your job to tell Mini-Schottenheimer what to do when he’s doing it wrong. And I bet his daddy would even do it for you in this instance, because nobody loves to pound the rock like Martyball. The Dolphins D showed up to play, but Chad Henne (55 yards passing) and the offense were atrocious. Brandon Marshall’s second TD of the year was the difference.

DETROIT LIONS 7, GREEN BAY PACKERS 3: The gasp of dread from Green Bay was audible all the way out here at Sickness HQ in Southern California when Aaron Rodgers got drilled into the turf headfirst and left with his second concussion on the season, which puts the rest of his campaign (and thus, the Pack’s) in jeopardy. Matt Flynn came on and could get nothing done, but the fact of the matter is the Lions seemed to have the Packers befuddled on offense even before the injury. Props to The Schwartz on a solid defensive game plan. The Lions couldn’t do anything on offense either, but they got the game’s only touchdown and that was enough.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 17, WASHINGTON REDSKINS 16: Graham Gano misses two chip shot field goals and the tying PAT with 9 seconds left. Any other questions? In all seriousness, of course there were other impact plays, but that’s the ballgame right there. Sidenote of congratulations to Redskins TE and fellow Bruin Logan Paulsen on his first career NFL touchdown catch.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 38, OAKLAND RAIDERS 31: I knew I shouldn’t have picked Oakland in this one. The Raiders’ defense couldn’t stop a thing, and despite a monster day from Darren McFadden and a fairly strong performance by Jason Campbell the offense couldn’t keep up with all the not stopping the defense was doing. Jacksonville, despite being outscored by its opponents on the year, are now 8-5 and a game ahead of the Colts with three to play, having beaten Indy earlier in the season. That makes this weekend’s trip to Indianapolis fairly important, I should think.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 30, TENNESSEE TITANS 28: As #18 said, people kept asking him about his ‘slump’ when the fact of the matter is he has been on an eight and a half-year hitting streak. But they still only beat a suddenly mediocre (at best) Titans team by 2 lousy points. Peyton is still Peyton, but the D and running game simply are not getting it done. The Titans are 0-5 since trading for Randy Moss. Probably not the key factor, but might be worth cutting him now just in case, since you’re not going to use him. At this point, one has to wonder whether the Titans were just grabbing him to deny others his 9 route. And also whether he’s going to play anywhere in 2011, lockout or no.

BUFFALO BILLS 13, CLEVELAND BROWNS 6: Browns fans saw an all too familiar pattern reinforced yesterday, as two solid opening drives resulted in 3 points because Jake Delhomme sucks and Peyton Hillis thinks he’s Edwin Moses. Good win for the Bills, who are more talented than most realize, are well coached, and have come close way too often this year not to come away with a couple toward the end here. Chan Gailey has done a pretty darn good job in 2010. Bills fans are bummed they’re losing draft standing, but it hasn’t gotten them very far in 2 decades to have high picks, so…yeah.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS 23, CINCINNATI BENGALS 7: Carson Palmer is absolutely terrible. It’s time. Cincinnati needs to go into full blow-up mode, because they are far and away the worst team in their division and it’s not getting better. Quite the contrary. Two more pick sixes, one to Troy Polamalu and another to Lamarr Woodley. I know what you’re thinking- “shouldn’t it be ‘by’ Polamalu and Woodley? In theory, sure. But when the QB actually throws it to the DB, I choose accuracy over custom. Meanwhile…wait for it…the Pittsburgh Steelers…just…know how…to win. See what I mean by that? It’s uncanny, isn’t it? But that’s what makes them the Steelers.

ATLANTA FALCONS 31, CAROLINA PANTHERS 10: The Falcons made like BTO and took care of business.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 40, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 21: The Niners team many of us thought we were going to see in 2010 showed up and pasted a division foe at the ‘Stick. Why are they so incapable of playing like this from week to week? I’ve said it many times- consistency is the difference between garbage and greatness in the NFL. Speaking of which, Seahawks…you go to the garbage pile this week. Not the first time, not the last in 2010. Somehow, the ‘Hawks are still tied with the Rams for first place in the sorry NFC West at 6-7. Gross.

The Saints celebrating a pick 6...where have I seen that before?

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 31, ST. LOUIS RAMS 13: About what I thought. Sam Bradford moved the Rams decently, but made a couple of big mistakes, including a 96-yard pick six by Malcom Jenkins, who baited the rookie into making a throw outside the left seam just a second too late, snatched it, and took it to The House. Meanwhile, don’t look now, but the Saints are 10-3, and you’re only not noticing because the Falcons are 11-2. New Orleans never trailed and won their sixth straight. They’re getting healthy at the right time, are starting to make more plays on defense, and are a threat to win it all once again.

ARIZONA CARDINALS 43, DENVER BRONCOS 13: I have literally no idea why Kyle Orton was still in this game in the second half, because the Broncos certainly weren’t. Cardinals rookie QB John Skelton didn’t put up any numbers, but then he didn’t have to, did he? He did, however, look relatively poised and kept the offense moving. He even got the ball to Larry Fitzgerald 6 times for 72 yards, something Derek Anderson and Max Hall had struggled at times to do. Tim Hightower had a big game statistically, but much of it was in garbage time as the Cardinals defense just confounded the Donkeys (hey, you’re 3-10. Wear it.) all afternoon. Wouldn’t it be funny if the new Broncos coach, whomever he turns out to be, wanted to draft Cam Newton?

Enjoy the Monday Night doubleheader. Oh, and Minnesota: it was a lovely 80 degrees and crystal clear here in SoCal today. Think Zygi noticed as he was mentally noting how much it would cost to put a new baggy on that dinosaur? I bet he did.

EAGLE EYE: Winning At What Cost?

That was a strong road win for the Eagles, even though it wasn’t the best Cowboys team that we’ve seen. It was not without some cost though. Here are the keys to victory:

Hello Shady McCoy! Desean Jackson got the party started in the first half with many big plays, but in the 2nd half, Andy Reid recognized that his quarterback was taking too many hits. He said that he would run the ball more and he didn’t lie. Shady had 140 yards rushing in the 2nd half alone. The question has always been, can the Eagles run the ball when the defense knows they will. The answer, for this week, was a resounding YES! They totaled 171 yards on the ground. Let’s see if this trend continues.

Perseverance. The Eagles were without Asante Samuel again this week, and the injury list will be a bit longer this week. They lost Stewart Bradley to a dislocated elbow, Brandon Graham left with a leg injury, and even Desean had to play at about 60% after hurting his ankle on a punt return. They rose above all of that with youngsters all over the field, and beat a division rival that wanted nothing more than to take them out.

Michael Vick continues to light it up while getting lit up.

Michael Vick. I had a choice in my fantasy playoff game this week, Aaron Rodgers at Detroit or Vick at Dallas. I chose Rodgers, and well, you know how that turned out. Rodgers left in the 2nd quarter, and Vick threw for 270 yards, 2 touchdowns, and had another on the ground. He took several huge hits and just kept on playing. His leadership seems to be carrying the team; something that, dare I say, we didn’t see last year from Mac5.

Run Defense. The Cowboys came into the game wanting to pound the ball and control the clock. It didn’t go the way they expected. Outside of a big reverse from Miles Austin, the run game could not get going. The other 23 carries amounted to 84 yards and a touchdown. It was a great job by the Eagles, particularly the defensive line. They consistently got penetration and there weren’t many missed tackles to speak of. That was huge considering the injuries to the back 7.

Player of the game: It’s got to go to Desean Jackson. His 91 yard touchdown reception in the 4th quarter, broke the backs of the Cowboys. Consider he did it on a bad wheel and still out ran the whole defense. Final stat line: 4 catches 210 yds 1 TD and a a lovely dismount into the end zone.

So with this game in the rearview mirror, the Eagles now prepare for the NFC East title game against the New York Giants. If they win, they’ll effectively clinch the division barring a collapse. The Giants will be a bit travel weary after having to play Monday night instead of Sunday as scheduled. It will be another test for the run defense. Should be a great atmosphere in the Meadowlands. E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles!