We must admit, our dedication has been tested over the last few weeks. Things don’t appear to be the same, something seems wrong, a wire is loose somewhere. Still, we are not ready to turn our back on the New Orleans Saints. They are still Tiebreaker.com’s top team in our NFC power rankings. But we have our eyes on them.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints are no longer marching – into the end zone. Yes, things have slowed quite a bit on Bourbon Street, the police barriers are up. New Orleans is 12-2, but the Saints have won two of their last three on the road with Drew Brees throwing for less than 203 yards. Look at Monday’s struggle against the Carolina Panthers. It was frustrating to watch. Now the Pittsburgh Steelers come to town after their big win over the Patriots. Let’s see what happens.
Congratulations to the Monsters of the Midway. They wrapped up their first NFC North title since 2010 with a tidy win over the Green Bay Packers. The progression of Mitchell Trubisky has been fun to chart. He has thrown for 2,814 yards and 23 touchdowns. He is much more than a Trent Dilfer, a system QB, especially with explosive weapons like Tarik Cohen. But if the Bears are going to win the NFC Championship, it’s going to be on the strength of their defense. Somewhere, Buddy Ryan is smiling.
Los Angeles Rams
If you’ve ever run out of gas a few miles from home, you can relate to the current problems the Rams are experiencing. The offense is sputtering, operating on fumes. It has averaged only 324 yards in games against the Detroit Lions, Bears and Philadelphia Eagles. They have lost two straight, seen their offensive line pushed around. The team had to chastised cornerback Marcus Peters for swearing at fans. Thank goodness, only San Francisco and Arizona remain on the schedule. Time to fill the tank.
We know who the loneliest guy was in Minneapolis was on Sunday. It was deposed offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. He was fired last week and replaced by QB coach Kevin Stefanski, the job “Flip” had last year with the Super Bowl champion Eagles. The Vikings responded by reintroducing their AWOL ground game, pounding out 220 yards and three TDs against the Minnesota Vikings. Was it all DeFilippo’s fault? Only Mike Zimmer’s opinion matters.
The Indianapolis Colts shut out the Cowboys 23-0 last Sunday at Lucas Oil Field. It was the first time America’s Team had been blanked since 2003. Suddenly, an offense that flowed freely during a five-game winning streak coagulated, converting only four third-down opportunities. The league’s third-best run defense, which was allowing an average of 86.8, was pierced for 178. And now the Eagles and Washington Redskins are back in the hunt for the NFC East title.
Maybe it was a bad hair day. How else does one explain the surging Seahawks losing 26-23 to the San Francisco 49ers in overtime? Let’s try this: Seattle committed 14 penalties for 148 yards. Bad, bad Seahawks. At 8-6, they remain in control, in terms of securing an NFC Wild Card. And Chris Carson needs just 87 yards to become the team’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Marshawn Lynch four years ago. We just would have felt better about them if they didn’t stub their toe.
Let’s not get crazy here. We understand the Eagles looked pretty organized beating the Rams on Sunday. And we know sentimentalists believe the reappearance of Nick Foles at QB is a sign from heaven that all hope for the postseason is not lost. But here’s the thing: It probably is. Even though the Eagles (7-7) are just one game behind the Cowboys – as are the Washington Redskins – many things would have to align to leapfrog into the NFC East title. Foles is good. But he’s not Moses.
Green Bay Packers
The season is over for the Packers, at least mathematically. The loss to the Bears transforms the last two games into an extended tryout for players on the fringe and head coaches with interim titles, like Joe Philbin. It’s all been a nightmare, not as bad as Jacksonville, of course, but disappointing nonetheless. The Packers have not won a road game since Dec. 10, 2017 at Cleveland, if that even counts. If they lose this weekend in New York against the Jets, they will end the year 0-8 away from Lambeau, the first winless road trip in franchise history. Somebody better apologize to Vince Lombardi.
At this point, can we at least get an admission there is something terribly wrong with Cam Newton’s throwing shoulder. On Monday, he looked like he couldn’t compete in a Punt, Pass and Kick contest. Is this about pride? His injured wing has grounded the team. They have lost six straight, Newton’s throws fluttering and dropping like clay pigeons. The flow chart from the loss to the Saints indicated not one attempted pass longer than 20 yards in flight. Pop Warner stuff. This might cost Ron Rivera his job. It’s certainly overshadowed Christian McCaffrey’s great season.
Here’s a history lesson: Josh Johnson was drafted in the fifth round in 2008 by Tampa Bay. Since then, he has played for San Francisco, Cleveland, Cincinnati, the Jets, Indianapolis, Buffalo, Baltimore, the Giants, Houston and Oakland. Despite collecting all these travel stickers, he did not win his first game as a starter until Sunday with Washington. What does this tell us class? Yes, Mr. Coughlin, the Jaguars really suck.
New York Giants
The story changes every week in The Big Apple. It’s Eli’s job, its not Eli’s job. Eli is done, Eli will start in 2019 and maybe even in 2020. Nobody seems to really know what to do with Elisha Nelson Manning, winner of two Super Bowls, but now 37 and as dependable as a 1981 Ford Fairmont on a cold winter morning. If you drove one, you would be nodding your head yes. Our fear all along is that Eli is Willie Mays in 1973 and the Giants just can’t bring themselves to admit it. This is not going to end well.
Oh, if only the Falcons could have filled their season with games against the Arizona Cardinals, who they vanquished by 26 points on Sunday to end a five-game losing streak. Julio Jones has 100 catches for 1,511 yards. So what? Matt Ryan has thrown for 4,307 yards and 30 TDs. Big deal! Tevin Coleman (remember him) rushed for 145 yards against the Cardinals two weeks after getting eight against Baltimore. Too little, too late. We could go on. We could nitpick about a defense that has allowed 377.4 yards a game. But why bother? Their boss owns Home Depot. If anyone can fix what’s broken, he can.
After the Lions loss to the Buffalo Bills last week, Lomas Brown, one of the team’s greatest offensive tackles, who now covers the team for Detroit’s flagship radio station WJR, asked head coach Matt Patricia to assess what is wrong with his team. This what Patricia said: “Look, for us, it’s not different. We go out, we compete, we try to win and we try to (expletive) get better every week.” Locker room talk, no big deal. The only problem was the comment slipped through the usual seven-second delay for all to hear. We don’t know how you feel, but we blame Bill Belichick for this.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After averaging 30 points in the first few weeks of the season, which began with a win over the Saints, the Bucs wilted in the heat of the NFC South. We would talk about guys walking the plank, but we’ve already overused the joke and we might need it one last time when head coach Dirk Koetter is fired on Black Monday. The Bucs allowed Baltimore 242 yards rushing yards on Sunday, 165 in the second half, which, if you think about it, is hard to do if you have a pulse. Three words to describe Tampa’s season: Whomp, whomp, whomp.
San Francisco 49ers
Things have gone terribly wrong for the 49ers all season, but their win over Seattle, their second straight, was certainly reaffirming. These guys have been bewitched, bothered and bewildered by injuries, but they have not, in most instances, given up on themselves or coach Kyle Shanahan. Look, he hasn’t given up, either. Two weeks ago, he got hit with a $25,000 fine for giving the officials a piece of his – profane – mind. As long as they have a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle, one of our favorites, they will be OK.
Things have gone terribly wrong for the Cardinals all season, and their loss to Atlanta, their second straight, was certainly reaffirming. These guys stink. Coach Steve Wilks may be fired after one season and no one would blame management if that’s what it decided to do. The only good thing is their shot at the 2019 No. 1 pick (perhaps Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa) is firmly in tact. When Larry Fitzgerald goes into the Hall of Fame, hopefully no one will ask him about the 2018 season.