Week 11 rundown: The '72 Dolphins celebrate
Mike Tanier / FootballOutsiders.com
Posted: 2 hours ago
Welcome to T.O.T.V. — the worldwide leader in round-the-clock Terrell Owens coverage.
Up next, interviews with Brian Dawkins, Steve Mariucci, Bill Cowher and Don Shula about the Terrell Owens situation. Later, interviews with Alan Greenspan, Joaquin Phoenix, Jerry Seinfeld, Steven Hawking, the Ghost of Vince Lombardi (as channeled by Oomar the Elder), and Kathy Lee Gifford about the Terrell Owens situation.
Tonight, stay tuned for live helicopter footage of Owens' property. Will T.O. play basketball in his driveway? Will his landscaper rake the leaves from under the shrubs?
Later, find out how ordinary citizens with the initials "T.O." are coping with the Owens saga. Former Patriots quarterback Tom Owen leads a roundtable discussion.
Then, after midnight, enjoy two hours of angry fans shouting "T.O." over and over again into the camera. Hey, it's still more interesting than watching poker.
Games You Will Watch
Colts at Bengals: Even Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh has a take on the Owens situation. "I wouldn't have suspended him, because I'm trying to win games, and T.O. is trying to win games," Hooch said on the Best Damn Sports Show, Period. "Now, you might get rid of him at the end of the season, but if you've got to pay him, why not get your money's worth?"
Thanks, Hooch. You can forgive the Bengals for spouting off a little; they've found themselves in unfamiliar territory. Not only are they tied for first place in their division, but they are at the top of the sports pages in Cincinnati in mid-November, when Bearcats basketball usually takes over.
Speaking of college hoops, the Colts are like one of those Big East teams that fattens its record against teams like Stony Brook, Lehigh, and Longwood University before playing its conference schedule. Those Jaguars and Patriots games? Think of them as the early-season television matchups against Big-12 schools. The rest of the slate -- the Texans twice, the Niners, the Ravens — was a pastry dance.
Yes, the Colts can only play the teams the NFL tells them to, and they've beaten everyone they've played. But their first half schedule was so easy that it almost fried the Football Outsiders mainframe. Our stats get balky when pro teams scrimmage local high schools. With the Steelers, Chargers, Jaguars, and Seahawks looming after this trip to Cincinnati, the Colts are almost guaranteed a late letdown.
But will the letdown start this week? One thing is certain: The early over-under line of 48 appears too high. The Bengals allow just 6.1 yards per pass attempt and have picked off 20 passes. The Colts allow just 6.2 yards per attempt and have recorded 30 sacks. Peyton Manning vs. Carson Palmer could devolve into Tony Dungy vs. Marv Lewis as two defense-minded coaches gear up to stop Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks.
When games get tight in the fall, check the weather. Early forecasts call for rain, some snow showers, and highs in the 40s for what is now a 4:15 p.m. start. Cold, windy, rainy evenings can wreak havoc on the over/under. And on dome teams.
Keep your eye on the sky, but the Rundown forecast calls for champagne corks at Shula's Steakhouse and a victory for the Bengals.
Vikings at Packers: All four of the NFC North teams won last week. All it took was a 45-mph wind, six Falcons fumbles, four Giants interceptions, some kick return touchdowns, and a star turn by (gulp) Joey Harrington.
The Vikings are now 4-5, they've won three of four, and they have hope of clawing back into the playoff picture. All this despite the fact that Brad Johnson has an arm like a Little League pitching machine, Paul Edinger cannot kick straight, and the defenders can only stop opponents who throw the ball right at them.
The Packers are even farther along the road to perdition, but they have a pulse, and not just because Brett Favre still keeps some face cards up his sleeve. They also have one of the best defensive players in the NFL this season: cornerback Al Harris.
Football Outsiders keeps track of how effective teams are at shutting down their opponents' No. 1 wideouts. The Packers are the best team in the NFL in this category, thanks in large part to Harris, who has kept Steve Smith, Chad Johnson, Hines Ward, and other top receivers from having big games.
The Vikings narrowly won the first matchup, beating Green Bay 23-20 in the Metrodome. But Harris will contain the Vikings top receiver, Nate Burleson ... no wait, Koren Robinson ... er ... Travis, no Marcus, no ... anyway, he'll shut down one half of the field. The Culpepper-less Vikings won't score three times on long returns, and this minor Minnesota insurrection will be quelled.
Eagles at Giants: The Giants didn't have much to say after their 24-21 stumble against the Vikings. "This game is over -- dead as George Washington" Amani Toomer told the New York Times just after the game.
The Eagles' playoff chances now appear to be resting with the founding fathers: Donovan McNabb is doubtful for Sunday, meaning Mike McMahon may start. Lines get loopy when backup quarterbacks take the helm, as novices overreact to the change. But keep in mind that the Eagles aren't just without McNabb. Key players like safety Michael Lewis and tight end L.J. Smith also have health concerns. And of course, You Know Who has left a void in the receiving corps.
The Eagles defense will keep this game close, and McMahon won't be terrible, but the Giants will bounce back this week on the strength of Tiki Barber and their defensive front seven.
Games You Should Watch
Bills at Chargers: Chargers rookie linebacker Shawne Merriman will grace the pages of Celebrity Car later this month, showing off his two Mercedes and his Dodge Charger, but not the Ferrari he ordered recently. "Man, I can't have a car with less than 20-inch rims," Merriman said of his automotive habit.
For those of you keeping score: five sacks, four cars, 20 tackles, 20-inch rims.
Merriman and the Chargers spent the bye week resting in anticipation of an easier second-half schedule. Unfortunately, the Bills rediscovered their passing game last week: J.P. Losman returned to the lineup a new man, efficiently leading the Bills to a 14-3 win over the Chiefs.
What's Losman's secret? Maybe it's the influence of quarterbacks coach Sam Wyche. "I always use the expression that when you throw a football you throw it much like you'd flick a booger off your finger," Wyche told the USA Today a few weeks ago. "You take it, and you swing your wrist, and you flick it. You flick a booger, and you throw a spiral with the same motion."
Please, coach, don't explain the shotgun snap.
The Chargers know a thing or two about sudden turnarounds by young quarterbacks (see Drew Brees last year), and they won't take the Bills lightly. They won't oblige the Bills by scoring just three points either, especially with LaDainian Tomlinson rushing against one of the league's worst run defenses.
Oh, and not to wander off target, but Adam Vinatieri's 360 Spider looks like one sweet ride.
Buccaneers at Falcons: This week's semi-coherent canine-related quote comes from Falcons TE Alge Crumpler after his team's loss to the Packers. "You can't turn the ball over like that. You don't do that to a wounded dog. A wounded dog bites worse than anything else."
The Falcons have had a fumbling problem all season, but they had the good fortune to fall on many of their own fumbles early in the year. Even against the Packers, they pounced on three of their own mistakes, but as Michael Vick said after the game, "sometimes the ball doesn't bounce your way."
The Falcons are now 6-3 and tied with the Bucs for second place in the NFC South. They have five divisional games left to play. If they can protect the ball (like they did in last year's 24-14 win over the Bucs in Atlanta), they have the running game and pass defense to make the playoffs. If they cannot (like last season's 27-0 loss in Tampa), they're just a pumped-up .500 team.
Look for these teams to split their home-and-home series, as they did last year. The Buccaneers' offensive line isn't good enough to exploit Atlanta's weak run defense. And the Bucs had all sorts of trouble with a scrambling lefty quarterback last week. Here comes another one.
Panthers at Bears: So which team is for real?
The Panthers. Next question.
Sorry, that was too glib. Give the Bears credit for what they've done. Lovie Smith has kept the team together. Coordinators Ron Turner (offense) and Ron Rivera (defense) have coached the boys up. The offensive line has done a fine job of run blocking when they aren't beating each other senseless.
But the Bears have a problem on that offensive line: right tackle John St. Clair. Forget Warren Sapp, St. Clair is the real "QB Killa." He's a turnstile, and he faces a problem named Julius Peppers this week. The Bears won't be able to keep enough backs and tight ends in pass protection to save quarterback Kyle Orton. And this week, the wind won't whip off Lake Michigan to help them (though there is snow in the forecast).
The Panthers have offensive woes of their own, but their defense will pitch a near shutout and should score a few points off its own on turnovers.
Chiefs at Texans: Last week, the Chiefs produced 22 first downs but scored only three points. Their poor offensive performance had nothing to do with the loss of Priest Holmes. Lawrence Tynes missed field goals, Trent Green turned the ball over four times, and the hot-and-cold Chiefs again tried to win without a substantial contribution from their wide receivers.
If the Bills can hang around, produce two big offensive plays, and beat the Chiefs, then why can't the Texans? Because the Bills are mediocre, while the Texans are just dreadful. The Texans' run defense cannot stop anyone, and Larry Johnson proved last week that he doesn't need to share the load with Holmes. Green has little to fear from the Houston secondary, so the Chiefs will be able to score 20 points and then sit on the lead.
Jets at Broncos: It's time to talk about the specter of the two-touchdown spread. Early lines show the Broncos laying 13 points, but that's close enough.
Two-touchdown favorites are great in college football, but they can be murder in the NFL, where teams don't run up the score. As teams like the Jets stumble through the second half of the schedule with a third-string quarterback at the helm and little to play for, jumbo spreads will become more common.
You want to snap up the bait and take the dog (scrambled metaphor), don't you? Especially a dog like the Jets, who played the Chargers tough and were in the game against the Panthers for three quarters. Well, be careful. The Jets cut 'n' ran late in the game against the Panthers; with over five minutes left in the rout, they handed off eight times to kill the clock.
You can't blame them. And unlike Panthers cornerback Ken Lucas, you don't have to apologize for saying they quit. But you don't have to play them. Take the Broncos, or take a pass.
Jaguars at Titans: Rumors are swirling in Tennessee. Is Steve McNair retiring? Will Jeff Fisher be fired? Is Eddie George coming back? Yes, George is still staying in shape and waiting for phone calls while hosting a video game show on G4-TV (seriously). Some unsolicited advice for the Titans braintrust: keep Fisher, keep McNair, don't call Eddie George, let rookie cornerbacks Pac-Man Jones and Reynaldo Hill take their lumps, and wait out the storm. Jacksonville starts a three-game road trip with this game; luckily, other stops include Arizona and Cleveland. They'll stumble once on the trip, possibly here.
Raiders at Redskins: San Francisco Chronicle columnist Gwen Knap reported that as Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams returned a Kerry Collins interception for a game-clinching touchdown, only Jerry Porter and one lineman chased the rookie. Collins and the rest of the offense trotted to the sidelines as Williams raced to paydirt. The word we are looking for here is "quit" (thanks, Ken Lucas). The Redskins are undefeated in the capitol, and they'll spoil Norv Turner's homecoming.
Saints at Patriots: Tom Benson doesn't want to sell the Saints. A Los Angeles investor wants to pay one billion dollars for the Saints. Terry Bradshaw and a Louisiana trucking magnate are putting together a bid to buy the Saints. Everybody wants to own the Saints, but few are willing to take them plus 10 points.
Dolphins at Browns: The Dolphins might have beaten the Falcons and Patriots if they did a better job covering tight ends. Start Steve Heiden on your fantasy team this week! Actually, don't start Heiden, but don't be surprised if this is one of the most competitive games on the schedule this week.
Cardinals at Rams: Dennis Green blamed the Cardinals' 2-7 start on injuries and a tough schedule in a recent interview. Green endorses the Excuse-o-Matic as his favorite blame deflection tool. The Excuse-o-Matic also comes with a Blame the Refs attachment, as demonstrated in a recent Joe Gibbs press conference.
Lions at Cowboys: Joey Harrington's passer rating is currently 66.6. Something has been spawned to be released. Probably not a Lions victory, though.
Steelers at Ravens: Early lines on who will be the Ravens' opening day starter at quarterback next year: Matt Schaub 4-1; Kurt Warner 7-1; Brady Quinn 9-1; Matt Leinart 10-1; Vinny Testaverde 12-1; Kyle Boller 12-1; Whoever T.O. Wants 20-1; Anyone on Earth but Tommy Maddox 3-2.
Seahawks at Niners: "Oh the wind was lashing lusterly, and the Bears were thrashing thrusterly, Pickett's passes rustling gusterly, so it's rather safe to say that it seems it may turn out to be ... it feels that it will undoubtedly ... looks like a rather blustery day." (Translation: take the Seahawks).