Last week I was not able to update the blog because my cousin got married in the Dominican Republic, which left me with no internet access or time for television. I absolutely recommend it to anyone who wants to spend a week eating and drinking for free, in a gorgeous place, with beautiful pools and beach. That being said... We're on to Week 11 of the NFL season. With only 6 weeks left to either sneak into the playoffs, or extend your lead in the division or conference, there promises to be some good football left. In both conferences, the 6 playoff spot is up for grabs. The battle for home field advantage, in the AFC, seems like it will come down to two teams in the same division with the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs having played their first game against each other this past week. Looking at the NFC, the New Orleans Saints are, at the moment, the closest team to the Seattle Seahawks. The home field advantage possibilities in both conferences pose for gigantic challenges for the rest of the playoff teams. Let's look at the week past.
Indianapolis Colts 30 - Tennessee Titans 27
I don't love the idea of the NFL Network carrying a game every Thursday night (it's at least better than this London nonsense), but this season there have been some very good games on that random Thursday night. The Colts and Titans game, while I was in the unfortunate place of not watching the game, was another one of those games. After a 38-8 shellacking at the hands of the, average at best, St. Louis Rams, the Colts probably needed to rebound with a win. They've had some big wins this season, but they've also had some bad losses so far. The Titans have been on and off all season, but they do pose a threat for Indy and both teams had to understand that going into the game. Chris Johnson finally had a big week and if he can keep that up, he can take a lot of pressure from new starter Ryan Fitzpatrick.
On defense, Tennessee, started off well. They allowed only 6 points in the first half and the field goals included a drive that began on the 5 yard line, but the Titans buttoned up after the Colts crossed midfield. Johnson seemed to have picked up where he left off the week before, scoring both of his touchdowns on the first 2 drives of the game. The Titans would score one more time in the first half, on a drive aided by 3 straight personal fouls, including Erik Walden head-butting Titans TE Delanie Walker, and go into the half up 17-6 on the division leaders. Indianapolis got their second field goal on the drive before the half ended and received the kick to start the second half. Trent Richardson has been a relatively disappointing running back thus far through his career, but it seems like he is providing a "resurgence" for UConn grad Donald Brown. Brown would score to end the drive, which started at the Colts 26. Titans return man, Devon Wylie, fumbled the kick and Dan Herron recovered for the Colts on the 20. Coby Fleener had a big game on the receiving end of Andrew Luck's passes, but Luck took this one in himself on an 11 yard touchdown run. The lead would never be relinquished. Indy's defense allowed Ryan Fitzpatrick to complete 78 percent of his passes, including 2 passing touchdowns that put Tennessee down 3 points and a chance to recover the onside kick. The Colts hung on to the kick and knelt 3 times to end the game.
After a slow first half Indianapolis found better success in the second. Donald Brown has run well and Andrew Luck, although the passing game is clearly missing Reggie Wayne, has been mostly efficient and turnover free. The defense wasn't completely on point, allowing the passing game and the running game of Tennessee to make plays, but they finished the game in the lead. The Titans, oddly enough, still have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs as a wild card. Fitzpatrick will need to rely heavily on Chris Johnson in order for the offense to score the points needed to win. Their defense plays well, but they haven't shown that they can can win a game by shutting down the other offense.
New York Jets 14 - Buffalo Bills 37
Lots of disappointment running around in this game. The Jets have put together one of the strangest records ever seen, losing every other week thus far. The frustration is slightly alleviated by the original projections for the Jets because they weren't expected to be an average team this year, and so far they've been the epitome of average. The Bills came into this season with high expectations for their defense and CJ Spiller. Spiller was supposed to take the starting spot from Fred Jackson, and be in the top of the league in rushing, but he hasn't been able to supplant Jackson. Although they are leading the league in sacks, Buffalo has allowed more than 24 points per game, which puts them at 27th in the league in scoring defense. E.J. Manuel had a relatively promising beginning to this season, and his career, but an injury took him out for 4 weeks. He finally came back last week against the Steelers and appears to be continuing a fine rookie campaign.
Neither team moved the ball very well in the first quarter. The first points came on a field goal by the Bills slightly over 2 minutes into the second quarter. Aided by an interception by Jairus Byrd, Buffalo scored another 17 points before the half to lead 20-0. The Bills defense sacked Geno Smith 4 times, forcing 2 fumbles and recovering one, while Byrd got a second interception and Da'Norris Searcy returned an interception for a touchdown. Manuel played a very good game, completing 71 percent of his passes with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. A receiving corps missing Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods, didn't miss a beat because TJ Graham and Marquise Goodwin showcased their speed with 2 touchdowns and a joint 155 yards. The Jets passing game was stymied by Buffalo's defense. They had much more success on the ground, where Chris Ivory rushed 15 times for 98 yards and the Jets first touchdown.. Geno Smith was pulled in the fourth quarter and replaced by Matt Simms. Simms added the second touchdown of the game with a pass to Jeff Cumberland.
Chicago Bears 23 - Baltimore Ravens 20
In the game most affected by the weather this weekend, the Bears and Ravens had their game suspended for almost 2 hours, and then went into overtime. Chicago was without Jay Cutler again, but Josh McCown (Josh McCown? I still hardly believe I'm saying this) has played well in Cutler's absence. Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall have made McCown's job easier; Marshall has played consistently and Jeffery is having a break out year. This could be a scary 1-2 in the future. Matt Forte is in the top 10 of the league in most categories, finally scoring touchdowns in abundance this year. The Ravens have underutilized Ray Rice this season, and in his touches he has not performed as well as people are used to seeing. Torrey Smith is becoming an all around wide receiver, but Joe Flacco has had troubles. Baltimore's defense is still good, but it isn't the Ravens of old on the field this season.
The Ravens started what would become Rice's best game of the year by stopping the Bears offense and letting him go wild. He broke off a 47 yard run and finished the drive with a one yard touchdown. Baltimore would kick a field goal before the weather forced a delay. It was late in the first quarter when play resumed about 2 hours later. Bears defensive end David Bass made a great play to pick off Flacco and returned it for a touchdown. At halftime, though, the Ravens were still up 17-13. Late in the fourth quarter, McCown threw a touchdown pass to Matt Forte, but on the next drive the Ravens tied it with a field from Justin Tucker. Going into overtime tied 20-20, Baltimore received the kick with the wind gusting a swirling in no particular direction. After getting the stop, McCown completed a 43 yard pass to Martellus Bennett which set up a 38 yard field goal for Robbie Gould. Even with the wind, Gould buried the kick, although it was close, and the Bears walked away with a 23-20 win.
Cincinnati Bengals 41 - Cleveland Browns 20
It is somewhat possible that Andy Dalton and Jason Campbell spoke before the game and decided to find out which one could screw up worse and still win the game... Okay, so maybe not actually possible, but it sure as hell seemed like it. The Browns jumped out to an early 13-0 lead when Joe Haden picked off 2 badly thrown passes, and returned one for a touchdown. Cleveland added 2 field goals, one of which was set up by Haden's first pick. It looked like the Bengals were going to be in for a long day, enter Jason Campbell and the Browns offense. They were able to pick up yards on the ground, ending up with 102 yards total on just 19 carries. The problem for the Browns, however, would come down to turnovers. Campbell threw 3 interceptions, one at the end of the first quarter which should have been a touchdown (Dalton threw a touchdown to Gresham on the 2 play drive), but it wasn't all Campbell in the turnover department. Vontaze Burfict forced a fumble on Chris Ogbonnaya and returned it for a touchdown. Cincinnati's special teams led the team, however, by blocking 2 punts and returning one for a touchdown themselves. Mohammed Sanu was the best quarterback for the Bengals, throwing a gorgeous 25 yard pass to Giovani Bernard, and ultimately catching the touchdown on that drive. The Bengals offense didn't have to make a lot of plays because the defense and special teams set them up in good position on most drives.
With the win Cincinnati made up for the earlier loss in Cleveland and put distance between themselves and the rest of division, they are not 7-4 with a 3.5 game lead. They're going into the bye week in a good spot and they were able to get production from a defense that is missing it's top pass rusher and best cornerback. Worthy of mention, is the unexpected play from Vincent Rey filling in for Rey Maualuga, Rey is complementing Burfict well. The Browns had a promising 3 game win streak, but since that streak their offense has been mostly dead in the water. They still have a top-notch defense, which will allow them to stay in contention the rest of the season.
Kansas City Chiefs 17 - Denver Broncos 27
The 2 best teams in the AFC, both in the AFC North, one still undefeated, the other only had one loss and they met Sunday night. The high-powered offense of the Broncos clashed with the top ranked defense of the Chiefs, and it didn't disappoint, in my opinion. The Chiefs went into the game as the undefeated underdog playing on the Broncos home field. Kansas City had everything to prove, and everything to lose, while the Broncos would be defended even if they were to lose. Would the Chiefs defense prove its mettle by throwing off the rhythm of the best offense in the NFL?
Denver's offensive line did a stellar job blocking, at the time, the best pass rush in the NFL. Tamba Hali and Justin Houston were kept off Peyton Manning all game, which left Manning with time to sit back and pick apart the defense. The cornerbacks weren't completely overmatched, but they needed help from the pass rushers. Kansas City seemed to show press and not actually play a press coverage, which may have given the receivers too much room to maneuver. Knowshon Moreno rushed for a relatively inefficient 79 yards, while Montee Ball emerged from the doghouse to score 2 touchdowns for Denver. The Denver defense mostly contained Jamaal Charles, who was the biggest offensive threat for the Chiefs. Alex Smith wasn't necessarily bad all night, but he didn't do anything spectacular, which wasn't totally his fault as receivers dropped many passes, or weren't open.
Denver took over first place, by way of a tiebreaker, in the division and the conference, while the Chiefs dropped all the way to the fifth seed. They meet again in 2 weeks, this time in Kansas City, which could lead to yet another change at the top.
Oakland Raiders 28 - Houston Texans 23
The Texans lost Arian Foster to the year and there is a carousel at quarterback. Unfortunately for Houston, their defense has been a bigger problem, and they were nothing more than a sieve against the Raiders. Oakland was starting an undrafted rookie free agent in Matt McGloin, although their normal starter is Terrelle Pryor. Darren McFadden was injured again and the Raiders were the second victim to a 7 passing touchdown game just a couple of weeks ago. Both teams have talent, André Johnson, JJ Watt, Jonathan Joseph for Houston and Denarious Moore, Lamarr Houston, and Sio Moore for Oakland, just to name a few; the talent just hasn't been able to carry them in most games.
Matt McGloin played well in his first game. Houston allowed 3 passing touchdowns, and were shaky in man coverage, but McGloin only completed 56 percent of his passes for 197 yards. Rashad Jennings stole the spotlight with an 80 yard touchdown run and finished with 150 yards on 22 carries. The Texans offense didn't fare as well. Ben Tate did, however, take over Foster's position effectively and could be vital as the season comes to a close. The passing game was a mess, with Keenum being replaced by Matt Schaub in the third quarter. Neither quarterback played particularly well, Keenum threw a touchdown, but also an interception and Schaub didn't even complete half of his passes. Oakland's defense forced 2 turnovers and recorded 2 sacks in a strong win by the Raiders.
Arizona Cardinals 27 - Jacksonville Jaguars 14
Blaine Gabbert has lost his job to Chad Henne, and even Maurice Jones-Drew isn't having a very good season. The Jaguars are an unfortunate team this year, and have lost Justin Blackmon to suspension again. They have gotten blown out of multiple games, but they finally pulled together a win against the Titans in Week 10. Arizona is in contention for a wild card spot in the NFC, shockingly tied with the 49ers. The Cardinals defense has been good, but it hasn't been able to overcome the mistakes of the offense. Too many turnovers and an unstable running game have held them back from being better than 6-4.
The teams combined for 46 yards rushing in this game. Arizona's passing game took over the game, though. Carson Palmer completed 30 passes for 419 yards and 2 touchdowns, with Michael Floyd reeling in the longest play the NFL has seen this season (91 yard touchdown). Rashard Mendenhall slammed his way into the end zone for the Cardinal's third touchdown. Chad Henne completed a 61 yard touchdown pass to Danny Noble, a second year tight end out of Toledo, and Jones-Drew added a touchdown, but the Jaguars couldn't put together any more points and took their 9th loss of the season.
San Diego Chargers 16 - Miami Dolphins 20
This game featured 2 well matched teams in the Chargers and Dolphins. Both teams are also fighting for the last wild card spot, and the Dolphins have a mathematical chance of catching the Patriots for the division.
San Diego was more productive on offense, until they had to put points on the board. Ryan Mathews rushed for 127 yards on 19 carries, but he couldn't get one into the end zone. Rivers threw for 298 yards, but with his touchdown he also threw an interception. Ladarius Green was Rivers' most effective target gaining 81 yards on 4 catches. Ryan Tannehill's numbers were similar to Rivers', he had a technically lower completion percentage. Tannehill also threw for one touchdown and one interception, the touchdown recipient, Charles Clay, ran over who looks to be Marcus Gilchrist, and it was brutal, on his way into the end zone. Both defenses ultimately played well enough to win, Miami was able to capitalize on their stops as Cameron Wake adds to his sack total for the season.
Though they are both still firmly in the race, Miami is now in a better position with the win, but the Jets are still holding the last wild card spot. San Diego would have supplanted New York had they won, but now they have to fight from a game back. The Dolphins currently lose the tiebreaker to the Jets, but that could change after the 2 teams play each other again in week 13.
New Orleans Saints 23 - San Francisco 49ers 20
The Saints have been at the top of the NFC all season, while the 49ers have been blasted for not being 10-1 like the Seahawks. There was a lot of talk about whether the 49ers stood a chance against the Saints, especially at home. Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham have put up huge numbers week in and week out, and Mark Ingram broke out in Week 10, which was a potentially great sign for New Orleans in Week 11 and going forward. San Francisco's defense hasn't been at the same level as last season, but they are only allowing 17.8 points per game this season.
The Saints defense, in its attempt to not be overlooked because of San Fran's defense, held the 49ers to 20 points and 196 total yards from scrimmage. New Orleans allowed Frank Gore only 48 yards and picked off Colin Kaepernick once. Kaepernick did throw 2 touchdown passes, getting one to Anquan Boldin after what looked like a great catch by Jon Baldwin was ruled incomplete. Drew Brees outmaneuvered San Fran's defense on his way to a 305 yard game while completing almost 70 percent of his passes, but they were able to pick Brees off once. Frank Gore dropped a wide open pass that may have been a touchdown, and could have put the game out of reach for the Saints, but instead New Orleans got another chance to put together a game winning drive. On a controversial unnecessary roughness call against Ahmad Brooks, in which he "clotheslined" Brees, a sack, and a fumble recovery for the 49ers were called back. 3 plays later, the Saints lined Garrett Hartley up and he ended the game with a field goal, keeping New Orleans 2 games ahead of the Panthers and dropping the 49ers to a tie for the wild card.
Green Bay Packers 13 - New York Giants 27
The strangely resurgent Giants have been riding a wave of defensive improvement, and few turnovers, to a 4 game win streak, and a legitimate chance at winning the division. The Packers have missed Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball, but they have found a bruising running back in Eddie Lacy, who will work as a great complement to an already awesome passing game.
New York did a number on the Packers offense. Lacy only managed 27 yards on 14 carries, although he did record a touchdown. Scott Tolzien was even worse, however, throwing 3 interceptions and no touchdowns. Tolzien was able to throw for 339 yards, and complete 70 percent of his passes, but a great play by Jason Pierre-Paul turned one of the interceptions into a touchdown and the Giants ran away with this game. The Packers defense played well against the Giants offense. They recorded 4 sacks, but only had 1 interception ("only" being used in comparison to the Giants having 3).
Without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers are in danger of falling out of the race in the NFC North, but they still have a chance at this point. The Giants have an unexpected, and almost unthinkable, chance at taking the top spot in the NFC East.
Detroit Lions 27 - Pittsburgh Steelers 37
Le'Veon Bell, the rookie out of Michigan State, came back and has mostly solidified the Steelers' running game, but there is still a lot of inconsistency on the ground for Pittsburgh. Antonio Brown is ripping defenses up in the passing game, but Ben Roethlisberger has been on the run, again, and has not been consistent himself. Detroit has a possible MVP candidate in Calvin Johnson, but Johnson doesn't have a truly significant supporting cast with the rest of his receivers now. One thing the receiving corps does have is height, with Kris Durham listed at 6'6 and Joseph Fauria at 6'7, along with the 6'5 Johnson. Both defenses in this game have been leaky and are in the bottom half of the league in points allowed.
Pittsburgh started strong on offense, putting together touchdown drives on their first two possessions, and kicked two field goals, scoring on 4 of their first 6 drives of the game. Antonio Brown made a couple of great plays, including a run after the catch for a touchdown on which he broke multiple tackles before outrunning the defense to the end zone. The Steelers' defense had trouble with Calvin Johnson in the first half, shown by his 2 receiving touchdowns and 179 yards for the game. After their initial troubles they settled into a coverage that put multiple players on Johnson every play and were effective in silencing him for the second half. Turnovers would ultimately be the downfall of the Lions, Stafford threw an interception in the second half and they lost 2 fumbles, while Pittsburgh had 0 giveaways. The Pittsburgh offense had 5 drives in the second half and after kicking a field goal, they ended their last 2 drives with touchdowns to put the game away. Roethlisberger would end up with 4 touchdowns and no picks, while throwing for close to 400 yards.
The Lions still have a shot at first in the division, especially with the Packers foundering, but the Bears have played well and it may come down to the wire between the 2 teams.
Minnesota Vikings 20 - Seattle Seahawks 41
Minnesota's quarterback carousel has been even quicker than Houston's. Whether because of injury or shoddy performance, they have started all 3 quarterbacks on their roster, including one who joined the team midseason after being released by Tampa Bay. Christian Ponder may actually be the best of the 3, but so far he hasn't shown too much, but it still seems like the Vikings underutilized Adrian Peterson. Peterson is the best running back in the NFL and consistently gets forward momentum, even when there are 8 in the box, but the Vikings have a penchant for trying to beat teams through the air instead of riding their workhorse. Part of this is the defense they put on the field is typically below average, but their special teams has been great behind the returns of Marcus Sherels. Cordarelle Patterson has looked like he will be able to develop into a good receiver in this league. The Seahawks are still the same team with a bruising defense that will always keep the offense in the game.
13 of Minnesota's point came in the first half, highlighted by a nice double move by Jarius Wright to beat Richard Sherman for a touchdown. Seattle, though, scored touchdowns on 3 of their 5 first half possessions, 2 of the touchdowns came on hard runs by Marshawn Lynch. Lynch scored 3 total touchdowns in the game, including a flip from a scrambling Russell Wilson. Percy Harvin was back for Seattle, playing against his former team, but he is still being worked into the offense. He did add an acrobatic one-handed 17 yard catch to the offensive production, but that was his only reception of the game. Seattle did a great job bottling up Peterson, holding him to only 65 yards on 21 carries. Minnesota changed quarterbacks midway through the fourth quarter, but Matt Cassell fared no better than Ponder and they combined for 3 interceptions thrown and 2 touchdowns on the day.
Atlanta Falcons 28 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers 41
Tampa Bay went 8 straight weeks before winning their first game in Week 10 and they headed into a division game, against the underachieving Atlanta Falcons, with their third string running back carrying the load. Bobby Rainey became the starter after the Bucs lost Doug Martin, and back up Mike James, to injury. Mike Glennon has played well since Tampa dumped former starter Josh Freeman. The Falcons have been off-balance all season. Matt Ryan's struggles have been compounded by the loss of Julio Jones for the season and the in and out season Roddy White has had. Both teams are bringing up the bottom of the NFC South, but that doesn't mean they couldn't play each other well.
Bobby Rainey came out hard against Atlanta. He rushed for 2 touchdowns in the first half, including a 43 yard run on their third possession, en route to a 30 carry 163 yard game. He tacked on a 4 yard receiving touchdown in the third quarter. Mason Foster returned one of Matt Ryan's 2 interceptions on the day, for a touchdown in the first quarter and Tampa Bay was already up 24-6 at the half. The lone bright spot for Atlanta's offense this week, and most of the season, has been Harry Douglas and he didn't disappoint this week. Douglas scored the Falcons' first touchdown with an 80 yard reception and ended the game with 6 catches for 134 yards. Atlanta is interested in running back Antone Smith who had a 50 yard touchdown run at the end of the game.
New England Patriots 20 - Carolina Panthers 24
Could the Panthers defense prove its mettle by holding a Patriots offense, that is admittedly on an off-year, from scoring too many points for Cam Newton and the offense to top? A lot has been said about Carolina's ability to rush the quarterback and the skill of their linebackers, New England posed a strong test for the Panthers on defense. The Patriots, defensively, are missing some key players, but Bill Belichick has had the defense playing moderately well throughout the year. They got Aqib Talib back this week, and his assignment would be Steve Smith most of the game.
Starting with the Smith and Talib match-up, which extends back to Talib's time with Tampa Bay, Smith got the better of it this game. Smith seemed to be fired up for the game and he let Talib know it, which seemed to get into Talib's head. After a couple of catches, on which Smith was talking loudly, Talib was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and they were involved in an altercation in the end zone on the drive. Carolina had an air of confidence and aggressiveness all game, which may have filtered from Smith. Newtown made multiple plays with his feet, and threw a beautiful touchdown pass to Greg Olson in the end zone. Newtown did look to be high on many throws, which is something to keep an eye on going forward. The Patriots offense was able to run well against Carolina, although Stevan Ridley fumbled in the red zone yet again. When Tom Brady had time in the pocket, he looked comfortable and was able to complete passes to multiple receivers. The last play of the game has sparked some controversy on a close no call when Luke Keuchly got in Rob Gronkowski's path and Robert Lester picked off Brady in the end zone. Brady blew up on the ref, but the officials have defended the call by deeming the pass to be uncatchable. Both teams had long drives all game, which resulted in a total of only 14 drives for the game. The Panthers had zero turnovers, however, and scored 3 touchdowns while the Patriots only got into the end zone twice.
Another great week of football is in the books and there have been a couple of shake ups at the top, but the real battles are in the middle of the wild card races. There are 2 divisions in the NFC that are up for grabs, and the NFC South looks like it will be a regular dogfight as we get to the end of the season. In the AFC, 2 divisions seem mostly wrapped up, but in the AFC North and East, the hill might be too large to climb to the second and third place teams. It looks like this will be an exciting last 6 weeks of the season, and I can't wait to write about them. As usual, comments are welcome and appreciated, I love discussion and if you know something I may have missed, I would like to know about it. Thank you for reading, I hope y'all enjoyed it this week.