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The FOOTBALL SICKNESS PODCAST: Free Peyton Edition

Well. THAT was quite a weekend of wondrous NFL offseason occurrences, was it not? First, Peyton Manning got his expected release, and the ensuing South Beach circus was quite the sight to behold. Helicopters, rumors, paparazzi…it was a fantastic spectacle. And it’s only beginning…imagine if he replaces Tebow in the Mile High City.  Then, of course, the expected trade up for the #2 pick and the rights to RGIII happened at a rather unexpected time and price.  FootballSickness.com’s Ryan Burns and Sen Sogah hash it all out for you in striking and glorious detail.  Just another reminder that the SICKNESS is spreading and there is no offseason. We highly recommend you GET YOUR HELMET ON!!!

Click HERE for the FOOTBALL SICKNESS PODCAST, Free Peyton Edition.

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Fair to say there's some interest in #18. (Photo: John Leyba, The Denver Post)

 

The FOOTBALL SICKNESS PODCAST, Super Bowl XLVI Wrap Edition

Our apologies for the delay, our humble podcast hosting vendor had some issues. But we’re back! Burns and Sen Dog put the finishing touches on another fantastic NFL season with the Super Bowl Wrap Edition. They cover the big game, talk about the legacies of the coaches and quarterbacks, look back on a fun-filled week in Indy that included the Hall of Fame naming a new class and the league’s first red carpet award show.  They do not, however, discuss Madonna or MIA. Wrong podcast. And somehow, they make it through without any verbal fisticuffs this time. See what happens in the offseason? We mellow. But only a bit. Back next week with tons of free agency and draft talk. Until then, have a listen to the Super Bowl XLVI Wrap Edition, and GET YOUR HELMET ON!!!

Click HERE for the FOOTBALL SICKNESS PODCAST, Super Bowl XLVI Wrap Edition

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Mario Manningham ALSO caught the podcast. Make sure you do as well.

The SICKNESS 5: So Many Options

Finally! All the early season scrimmages are out of the way, and it’s time for some BIG BOY FOOTBALL! Some national title hopes will be dashed, and some big names will be made. Just look back to last week and the wild rush the Irish and Wolverines gave us. I expect to see some more late-game hand wringing, and crazy crowd noise. You know the drill… GET YOUR HELMET ON!!!

3 LSU at 25 Mississippi St

Les Miles looks to lead the Tigers to 3-0.

What a tasty Thursday night matchup to get the juices flowing for the weekend! The Bulldogs had their hearts torn out by the “Never Say Die” Auburn Tigers. Chris Relf, all 6’4 230lbs of him, could not break the goal line at the buzzer to tie the game. Now they turn their attention to another strong SEC foe in the LSU Tigers. Even without the starting QB and a top receiver, the Tigers have gotten off fast. They rolled Oregon and Northwestern State and look like a juggernaut. Defensively, they are shutting down both the run and the pass, 8th and 20th respectively. Something has to give since Mississippi State is the 5th best offense in the country. Their bugaboo is defensively. They are atrocious against the run, and that is where this game will turn. LSU is one of the most physical teams in the country. They will bang a multitude of running backs at the Bulldogs on the way to another big early season win. LSU 37 Mississippi St 24.

Tennessee at 16 Florida

The first big test for either of these teams comes Saturday. It brings back fun memories of Fulmer and Spurrier, Manning and Wuerffel. Those were fun to watch, and I have a feeling this will be too. Tyler Bray comes off a HUGE performance against the Cincinnati Bearcats and now has to face a defense finding its way under new coach Will Mushcamp. On the other side, John Brantley has been OK as well, but playing FAU and UAB is not going to make any Gators break a sweat. And they haven’t, winning by a combined score of 80-3. Are they for real? Not this week. I think Derek Dooley has got his team rolling. They have won 6 of their last 7 games going back to last season. His kids are buying into what he is selling, and they’ll see the fruit of their labors down in The Swamp. Tennessee 24 Florida 21.

17 Ohio St at Miami

Ten years ago, hell, ten months ago this would’ve been a marquee matchup. But after the Summer of Sanctions, we’re not quite sure what we’ll see down at The U. Miami is shorthanded, but welcomes back Captain Inconsistency, Jacory Harris. The Buckeyes are 2-0, but those two wins came against in-state rivals Akron and Toledo. The one thing I can be sure of is that this game won’t be pretty. Miami’s turnover issues popped up again in their loss to Maryland. Ohio State’s been able to run the ball, but their offense lacks big plays. They needed a punt return touchdown to hang on against Toledo. Ohio State is the more physical team here, and in games where the teams seem to be evenly matched, that tends to win out. Ohio State 27 Miami 23.

15 Michigan St at Notre Dame

The fact that I’m still trying to convince myself that the Irish can beat the Spartans, tells you how far the program has fallen. I like Tommy Rees as a player and leader. But it’s hard to see how they can bounce back against Michigan State after assuming the position versus the Wolverines. The Spartans bring back an extremely experienced offense lead by Kirk Cousins, B.J. Cunningham, and running back Edwin Baker. Their defense was a question mark leading into the season, but has done well so far against some easy foes. If the Irish can’t get off to a quick start, this could get away from them fast. Michigan State 31 Notre Dame 24.

1 Oklahoma at 5 Florida St

Doak Cambpell will be like old times this weekend.

It’s been a long time since Doak Campbell Stadium has been electric. It will be this weekend as the Sooners come a-calling. Landry Jones is leading an offensive beast. Florida State has rolled up some impressive numbers against schools with directions in their name. Last year, the Seminoles rolled into Norman, and left with their dignity barely intact. Hopefully, that experience has prepared them better for this meeting. They’ll have the revenge factor helping them get juiced up for this game. Unfortunately, revenge and crowd noise will help early but eventually the players have to take over. E.J. Manuel is an exciting quarterback to watch, nut he hasn’t played a game of this magnitude yet. Expect some jitters and possibly an early mistake from him. The defense will have to hold early, to give him time to settle in. Even so, there are just too many weapons on the OU side, both offensively and defensively. Boomer Sooner! Oklahoma 38 FSU 21.

Other games: 24 Texas at UCLA, 18 West Virginia at Maryland, 21 Auburn at Clemson, 6 Stanford at Arizona. Last week 4-1. Overall 6-4.

 

The FOOTBALL SICKNESS PODCAST, Free Agency Sickness Edition

First, a caveat: Any listener willingly clicking the play or listen button below thereby agrees to be subjected to the inordinately Eagles-centric discussion resulting from our own Sen Sogah’s unhealthy obsession (a SICKNESS, one might say) with those Eagles. But who can blame him? A crazy free agency period got started and the first few days culminated in an Iggles Coup with Nnamdi joining DRC and Asante to create a defensive backfield one might consider writing home about. Sen Dog and Ryan Burns take you back over the whirlwind that was the opening of free agency. Remember the lockout? Nope. Neither do we. IS YOUR HELMET ON?

Click HERE for the FOOTBALL SICKNESS PODCAST, Free Agency Sickness Edition

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The Eagle Has Landed.

NFL DRAFT SICKNESS PREVIEW: INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

These guys are all about the draft, and they’re as unique a team in their operation at this time of year as you will find in the NFL.  It’s a family operation- the Irsays and Polians have been at this a long time, and they do it their own way.  It’s tough to gauge what they’re going to do this year.  You can always find willing participants in the offensive line discussion, because it will always make sense to protect the most irreplaceable asset in the league with better pass protection or an improved run game. On the other hand, the defense has had some injury troubles and their frenetic style of play, particularly in the front seven, requires plenty of depth.  And let’s not forget that the running game has struggled, Reggie Wayne has been around awhile, Pierre Garcon has been inconsistent, Anthony Gonzalez has disappeared and Austin Collie has been multiply concussed…so it’s not like additional weaponry should be totally out of the question.  We asked our man in Indianapolis, Nate Dunlevy of leading Colts site 18to88.com, to shed some light on the subject.  Follow Nate on Twitter @18to88.

The Ultimate Centerpiece, and a former #1 draft choice.

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Q:  Lots of noise about the notion of drafting a possible eventual replacement for #18.  You buying it?

A:  Not at all. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say it’s categorically impossible.  It is possible Indy will take a quarterback, thanks to the ‘best player available’ philosophy, but the time line makes no sense for drafting a QB for the purpose of replacing Manning. He’s about to sign a 5-6 year contract. That’s simply too long to carry a young, good backup. He’d be on his second contract by the time he ever started his first game.

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Q:  Indy could take a QB to replace Curtis Painter late in the draft, or they could take a QB early, hoping to trade him for a king’s ransom next year, but they won’t be taking a QB for the purpose of replacing Manning.  Talk to the contrary is ignorant.

A:  What is the one position they absolutely must address in the first 3 rounds?

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Q:  Safety.  The Colts are down to one viable safety (depending on what happens to free agent Melvin Bullitt). It’s far and away the Colts’ biggest need area as the secondary completely collapsed last year thanks to a wave of injuries to three of the top four safeties on the roster.

A:  If you were allowed one “your guy” pick in this draft for the Colts, who would it be?

Corey Liuget from Illinois.  I don’t know if he would last to Indy at 22, but if he does, he could be the answer the Colts have been seeking at defensive tackle for years.

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Q:  What effect, if any, will the lockout have on the Colts’ approach?

A:  None. Indy takes the best player on the board. They do what they do and never participate in free agency anyway.

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Q.  What would a good 2011 Colts draft look like, in your opinion?

A:  Defense, defense, defense. A perfect draft would have a DT in the first round, a quality safety (or an OT who fell) in the second round, followed by the usual assortment of linebackers, corners, and guards the Colts take every year from rounds 3-5.

The Colts’ have blown 4th quarter leads in their last four playoff losses. That tells me the team simply HAS to lock down their defense.

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JETS 17, COLTS 16: The Last Straw

"I'm afraid the strain was more than he could bear."

Never has one man’s frustration been more palpable than Peyton Manning’s as he walked off the field after Nick Folk’s field goal sent the Colts’ season into history. Perhaps #18 should have seen this coming. Perhaps this is how it was meant to be in a season undoubtedly to be remembered for its adversity than for Manning’s superhuman ability to drag his teammates through it. He was constantly being asked to be the band-aid over one gaping wound or another. In the end, it was simply too much for one man to bear, and Rex Ryan’s Jets lowered the fatal blow.

WHAT HAPPENED: The Jets spent the first half forgetting who they were, allowing Mark Sanchez to throw it 19 times despite LaDanian Tomlinson averaging seven yards per carry. The second half was a different story. They came out intent on grounding and pounding, as Tomlinson and Shonn Greene rattled off big chunks of yardage and clock. The New York defense was strong and steady, keeping the Colts as one-dimensional as they have been all season, and avoiding big plays after Pierre Garcon’s opening touchdown. The Colts ground game was non-existent, as Dominic Rhodes found little room and the Jets found little reason to fill the box. As a result, Manning’s Minions were largely ineffective. Then, after struggling all game, Mark Sanchez did what he has done time and time again this season. He lead the game-winning drive.

SO LONG: Short-sighted critics will blow some coaching gaffes by Jim Caldwell out of proportion. The truth here is that the Colts could easily have been a 6-10 team with all the injuries they had this season. Frankly, their 10-6, division title and a first round exit from the playoffs is a hell of a year under the circumstances. We recognize it is not up to the standards set during the Manning Era, but the mitigating factors here are numerous and persuasive. The Colts have absolutely nothing to hang their heads over.

SEE YOU NEXT WEEK: The Jets move on to face the Patriots at Foxboro. And really, isn’t this how it should be? When I sat down at the beginning of the year I thought the five best teams in the AFC were the four that are left plus the Colts. Funny how, despite all the surprises in the NFL this season, we end up with totally unsurprising matchups in the final four of the conference. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Yeah, he struggled for most of the game. Then he took his team down the field on the game-winning drive.

YOU AGAIN? AFC WILD CARD PREVIEW

NEW YORK JETS (11-5) at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (10-6)

#18 tore up the Jets in last year's AFC title game.

Well, well, well.  Looky what we have here.  During the preseason this was a matchup that had people thinking “AFC Championship Game Rematch.”  Peyton and his armory lit the highly-touted Rex Ryan Jets defense up to the tune of 30 points, 461 total yards, and a trip to the Super Bowl. All in all, a pretty good day.

Still, there are plenty of reasons one might be unconvinced about either of these two teams. The Jets fancy themselves the “ground & pound” monsters of the NFL, but the truth is that, other than the Buffalo game, the rushing game has been far from dominant. The bigger question on offense, of course, is the development of Mark Sanchez. I remain a fan, and he’s getting better. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t noticed he’s not all the way there yet. A road game at Indy is a tough place for a young QB…especially if his team gets down early.

While the Jets have been far too quick to stray from their identity, and the Colts have had trouble establishing one with starters dropping to injury like flies at a Miyagi family feast. Dallas Clark and Austin Collie are done, Joseph Addai missed a large chunk of the season, among others. #18 has been tasked with keeping the symphony in tune despite a ridiculous amount of turnover, and has been successful enough. But now it gets tougher, with no easy wins from here on out.

To me, this game rests on two things: Defenses and Quarterbacks. I trust Peyton Manning infinitely more than I do Mark Sanchez at this point in their respective careers, and that is no knock on Sanchez. Again, I think he’s legit, and raises his game in big moments. But Indy is a really tough team at home, with Mathis and Freeney doing their business on the turf off the edges and that noisy Hoosier crowd making life difficult for opposing offenses. The Jets have what it takes, but I’m going with the known entity here. #18 does it again. COLTS 27, JETS 23.

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BALTIMORE RAVENS (12-4) at KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (10-6)

The Ravens will be fine if they just remember to get the ball to this guy.


As Sen Sogah and I discussed on the FOOTBALL SICKNESS PODCAST this week, this game presents a fascinating matchup of two of the more balanced teams in the NFL. On offense, both teams have strong running games led by electric backs, productive, efficient quarterbacks, and talented receivers. On defense, the Chiefs and Ravens sport contrasting strengths. The Ravens are an outstanding front seven plus Ed Reed, with Ray Lewis providing the next level that so few teams can boast. The Chiefs have a secondary full of young studs, a playmaking linebacker in Derrick Johnson, and the Sickness-predicted defensive breakout player of the year in the AFC: Tamba Hali.

But this one is also interesting because it has been impossible to predict which version of either of these two teams would show up on any given Sunday. Both teams have been guilty far too often in 2010 of playing to the level of their competition.

For what it’s worth, my observation in both cases has to do with game-planning or playcalling on offense. Where the Ravens have struggled, it is mostly because they have gotten inexplicably away from the Ray Rice Gravy Train. When he is the center of the Ravens’ offensive universe, they are nearly unstoppable. For whatever reason, they often morph into “prove Joe Flacco is a great quarterback” mode. This is just foolishness borne of stubbornness. Get the ball to Ray Rice and get the hell out of the way. I suspect, for no reason beyond the obvious sense of it, that they will ride Ray Rice from Rutgers big time in this game.

When the Chiefs have struggled, it is because they have gotten far too cute or stubborn with the offense. It has obviously proved effective far more often than not, but the mix of Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles has regularly proved puzzling. It’s not that they haven’t been effective; the Chiefs were the top running team in the NFL for a reason. But Kansas City fans need to be hoping the relatively light use of Jamaal Charles all season was part of a plan to unleash that fury on the Chiefs’ postseason opponents, and not just a lack of trust.

The Chiefs can certainly win this one, especially playing at home. Matt Cassel is playing outstanding quarterback, and when the offense is clicking, there are not a lot of defenses that will stop them. There are just too many playmakers on the field. But the playoffs are a different animal, and when in doubt, I’m taking the team with the Hall of Famers on defense and the more physical style. Expect a heavy dose of Ray Rice, some safe balls to Anquan Boldin to move the chains, and Ray Lewis in Ray Lewis mode. Should be an exciting, competitive game. RAVENS 24, CHIEFS 23.

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.

SHOWDOWN OUT WEST: Week 14 NFL Preview & Picks

THURSDAY NIGHT SPECIAL

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS AT TENNESSEE TITANS: Just a few weeks ago I looked at the schedule, saw this game and thought to myself, “that will be a big, fantastic game. Both teams are winning (as usual) and should be amped up for a big battle that will matter in their division.” Well, I was half right. The Titans have been one of the biggest pushovers in the NFL the last couple of weeks, and we have to be asking ourselves if Vince Young is going to win his micturation battle with Jeff Fisher. If so, Coach Fish will be available for all of about 3.8 seconds before several teams come calling with enormous offers. At any rate, the Titans are playing for pride at this point. Which is where the Colts will be if they don’t rattle of a string of wins to finish the season. It means more to the Colts, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the idiot to bet on Peyton Manning playing a fourth straight bad game at quarterback.  COLTS 27, TITANS 16.

FOOTBALLSICKNESS.COM GAME OF THE WEEK DOUBLEHEADER:

Philip Rivers and Jamaal Charles are both having huge years in prolific offenses.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS AT SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: This game got even bigger- like, “better win it or make a lot of golf reservations for mid January through late February” bigger- when the Chargers got blown out of their own building by a gale force Autumn Wind out of Oakland. They can afford no further losses or their string of fortuitous comebacks from early-season losing streaks will be over. And you can rest assured that nobody would enjoy finishing them off more than the Chiefs, a young, talented, spirited bunch that are proving every week that the moment is not too big for them. Matt Cassel is playing Pro Bowl-level quarterback, the running game is dominant, they’ve got athletes all over the place, and the D bends but makes plays when it must, characteristic of a Romeo Crennel defense. But Philip Rivers is playing even better than Cassel, and the Chargers are the defending division champs several times over. The trump card? The rule of desperation. The Bolts are far more desperate, and will win it because they have to.  CHARGERS 27, CHIEFS 23.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS AT CHICAGO BEARS: Ah, here we are. Another nice test for the Bears, who continue their stubborn and misguided refusal to prove me right. They squeaked by the Lions for the second time this season, and are now an impressive 9-3. Mostly, it’s impressive because, as with a great magician, I have absolutely no idea how they’re doing it. But whatever they’re doing, I doubt very much it will work against the Patriots, who appear to have been awakened from a deep slumber by the thumping they took from the Browns a month back. Since then, they’ve rattled off four quality wins, culminating in Monday Night’s 45-3 thrashing of the Jets. Tom and Bill don’t allow letdown games.  PATRIOTS 30, BEARS 20.

THE REST:

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES AT DALLAS COWBOYS: The Cowboys wasted the first half of their year, but if the second yields them a new coach and a new organizational culture, perhaps it will have been worth it. The Eagles spent most of this season finding out that they scored big time when they chose to act as Michael Vick’s lifeline two years ago. Vick has turned into one of the more impressive stories in the NFL in a long time, and has the Eagles looking like a Super Bowl contender. But they have to be concerned at their inability to pound it on the ground when the time comes to do so, and the injuries in the secondary are an issue on defense. I like them to beat the Cowboys, but Jason Garrett has Dallas executing, so Philly better come to play. EAGLES 33, COWBOYS 30.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS AT SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: This should really be a bigger game on the national radar, and is one of the better new school rivalries in the NFL. But both teams have given us reason not to take them too seriously this year. The Niners fell on their collective face coming out of the gate, and while they have put together a few wins of late, they have not been anything resembling consistent. Now, Frank Gore is done for the year and the primary curiosity is whether coach Mike Singletary survives to 2011. The Seahawks had lower expectations to start the year but are at .500 with four games to play and tied for the NFC West lead. They’ve got more to play for, but have struggled on the road. Who knows what’s going to happen, but I’ll take the Seahawks as they try to get out in front of the Rams. SEAHAWKS 23, NINERS 20.

GREEN BAY PACKERS AT DETROIT LIONS: The Packers have a division title to chase and cannot be bothered. They will brush the Lions aside like an actual lion brushes aside a fly. PACKERS 37, LIONS 22.

The vastly underrated Marcel Reece and the Raiders still have a look at the postseason as they head to Jacksonville.

OAKLAND RAIDERS AT JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: This game actually has a ton of relevance to the AFC playoff picture. A win would thrust the Raiders toward the top of the bubble crowd, while a loss would drop Jacksonville back into that group, with the Colts hot on their heels. These are both physical teams, but to me, the Jags have been getting by on the residue of preparation and a little Gus Johnson – MoJo Drew magic. The Raiders absolutely pounded on the Chargers in San Diego this Sunday, and while I am going back on an earlier self-warning never to trust them to string two together, I’m going to pick them. I’m not trusting them, mind you. I just think they’re better. RAIDERS 24, JAGS 20.

CLEVELAND BROWNS AT BUFFALO BILLS: The Browns are 5-7 and have to feel like they blew their shot to be right in it, because they could easily have won several of those 7 L’s. Of course, the same can be said about the Bills, to a lesser degree. Buffalo has suffered several late heartbreakers, but is showing signs of growing up. Both teams require continued injections of talent, but the programs appear to be on track. This is the kind of game the Browns will almost always lose, so…I’m going to take them.  BROWNS 24, BILLS 20.

NEW YORK GIANTS AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Will he or won’t he? Everybody (or so I’m told by ESPN and the NFL Network) is waiting to see whether Brett Favre’s streak of consecutive starts, which dates to the Mesozoic era, will finally be broken. I assume he’ll play until I’m informed otherwise. That plan has served me well for two decades now. Either way, Leslie Frazier has made clear that Adrian Peterson will be the centerpiece of the offense, to which I think we can all say “it’s about freaking time.” They’ll be a tough out at home for the Giants, who are now looking to Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw to carry them into the postseason. It all depends on which Brother Eli shows up: the one who throws touchdowns or the one who throws picks and breaks out regularly into a super-sour ManningFace. I’ll guess the former. GIANTS 28, VIKINGS 24.

MIAMI DOLPHINS AT NEW YORK JETS: This is normally a close divisional battle, but I would not want to be the first team to face Rex & his Jets after that beat-down they took on Monday Night. And the ‘Phins just scored 10 points at home against the Browns. Yikes.  JETS 30, DOLPHINS 13.

CINCINNATI BENGALS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS: How To Do It Right vs. How To Do It Wrong. STEELERS 23, BENGALS 17.

Josh Freeman, #5 is leading a better team than DMac5.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS AT WASHINGTON REDSKINS: A fascinating study in contrast. On one hand, we have a young, talented squad led by a young, inspiring coach and a gifted young quarterback on the rise. And on the other, an aging roster laden with has-been’s, could-have-been’s and never-will-be’s led by a recycled, uninspiring former Super Bowl winning head coach and a declining quarterback whose body is much older than his age and who just signed a massive extension. And who just suspended their best defensive player for stealing $20 Million, which seems a reasonable punishment. Maybe even a bit light. The only similarity is the quarterbacks are both wearing #5. I’ll take the team that looks every week like it really cares. BUCS 24, REDSKINS 17.

ATLANTA FALCONS AT CAROLINA PANTHERS: Best team in the NFC versus the worst. FALCONS 34, PANTHERS 17.

ST. LOUIS RAMS AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: A year ago, there would have been no reason to tune in. Now? Sure, I expect the Saints to win, but I’m actually really curious to see how Sam Bradford and the young Rams’ D handles a trip to the SuperDome. Hey, the Browns won there handily just a little over a month ago. It can be done. It won’t, of course- the Saints are back to playing really good, championship contender football. But it can.  SAINTS 33, RAMS 23.

DENVER BRONCOS AT ARIZONA CARDINALS: Here’s a fascinating battle between two teams with a lot going for them.  BRONCOS 24, CARDINALS 17.

MONDAY NIGHTCAP

BALTIMORE RAVENS AT HOUSTON TEXANS: The Texans are D-U-N with 7 losses, but that doesn’t mean you want to be trying to beat them in Houston to cement your own spot. They’re tough to beat and this is usually when they play their best: when the chips are no longer down, but have been collected and pushed over to the guy with the blue horseshoe on his hat. The Ravens, on the other hand, are right in the thick of the playoff picture, but blew a golden opportunity to put the Steelers behind them in the divisional race (and also to prove that they were finishers…so much for that). Baltimore couldn’t put Pittsburgh away despite an evening full of opportunities to do so, and that is not the mark of a championship football team. It’s just one game, but the Ravens better strap it on for a fight down in H-Town, where the Texans play well.  RAVENS 27, TEXANS 24.