Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Posts Tagged ‘College Football’

Run the Ball!

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 9, 2010

Normally this time of year I tend to focus exclusively on the Broncos, but I’m going to deviate to the college game for a second.  Saturday I was witness to the worst collapse I have ever seen on a football field.  I was at Kivisto Field in Lawrence, Kansas, where the CU Buffs held a 45-17 lead over Kansas with 14;52 left in the fourth quarter.  Here is what transpired:

– A KU 13-yard touchdown capping a 9 play 66 yard drive to cut it to 45-24 with 11:05 left

– A KU onside kick recovery

– A KU 38-yard touchdown pass with 9:26 left, cutting the lead to 45-31.  Drive took just 1:46 in four plays

– A KU fumble return touchdown on a stupid reverse call by the Buffs.  Receiver Toney Clemons fumbled after a 14-yard loss on the trick play.  Now it’s 45-38 and we still have 7:12 to play.  For those not keeping track, that’s 21 KU points in less than seven minutes.  CU had called just one running play and four pass attempts on this drive.

– Two plays later, CU quarterback Cody Hawkins throws an interception.

– KU takes just five plays to march 37 yards for the tying touchdown. We’re now tied at 45 apiece with 4;30 still remaining

– CU goes three and out and punts.  Two of the three plays are passes, one resulting in a sack.

– KU then needs just five plays to go 63 yards for the go ahead touchdown.  The Jayhawks now lead 52-45 with 52 seconds remaining.  They have managed 35 points in the fourth quarter.

– CU launches a furious charge on their final drive, but sees a last ditch shot at the end zone fail.

To recap, the Buffs had a 28-point fourth quarter lead and managed to lose the game.  Certainly the defense played its part in this collapse, and there is no disputing they didn’t do their job in stopping the Kansas offense.  That said, the Buffs called a total of four running plays in the fourth quarter, one of which was the touchdown that put them up 45-17, and another that was the failed reverse resulting in the fumble return TD.  The Buffs’ collapse is simply stunning, and is reflective of boneheaded coaching and clock management.  I’ve never coached a game, yet I know how to properly run down the clock with the lead.  Even if the Buffs ran up the middle for no gain every single play, and went three and out and punted each time, they likely would have won the game by running down that clock and not giving Kansas chances to win.  Instead, they had multiple incomplete passes that stopped the clock, and the throwing also resulted in a costly turnover.  The trick play is worst of all, for there is no reason to take that kind of chance when you have a big lead.

This game should be a case study for coaches at all levels.  I see similar things in the NFL all the time.  Yesterday, the Lions tried a pass play on 3rd and 6 (with a backup QB no less) that proved incomplete in the final two minutes.  Had they run up the middle, even for no gain, they could have taken an additional 40 seconds off the clock before punting and almost certainly would have won the game.  Instead, the clock stopped on the incompletion.  The Jets ended up kicking the tying field goal as time expired.  It certainly stands to reason that had the Lions called a running play instead of the one they did, the Jets would not have had enough time to get in position for that tying field goal.

These are just a few examples, but too many coaches need to remember the basics of football.  A good running game can often lead to success, and is always mandatory at some point.  Especially when nursing a lead, coaches need to remember that running and keeping the clock moving is almost always the key to winning.  Of course coaches’ egos will continue to get in the way of smart thinking, but when holding onto a lead, clock management is extremely vital to success, especially if it’s done by RUNNING THE BALL!!

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Football is back baby!

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 2, 2010

Today all feels right with the world again.  Tonight is the start of the college football season.  After a month of useless NFL preseason scrimmages, we finally get to see some real football that means something.  I am actually somewhat disappointed that I am stuck watching the Broncos and Vikings backups tonight when I could be watching actual college football.   At least I’ll be able to do that on Saturday, and we will be treated to an excellent slate of games during the first weekend.  I will be at Invesco Field at Mile High for the Rocky Mountain Showdown between Colorado and Colorado State, but I will also be keeping an eye on a number of other great games.  In fact I have Monday night blocked out to watch what should be a dandy between Boise State and Virginia Tech.  If Boise State has any hope of crashing the national championship party, they must win this game, a tough task to be sure in Washington D.C., which makes this a de facto home game for the Hokies.  As always there are a lot of college storylines to keep an eye on:

The last season before realignment: This will be the final season for Utah and Brigham Young in the Mountain West Conference.  The former is headed to the Pac 10 next year and the latter is going independent in football while joining the West Coast Conference in basketball.  The MWC will fill their shoes in 2011 with Boise State, Nevada and Fresno State (all leaving the WAC).  This will also be Nebraska’s final salvo in the Big 12 (headed to the Big 10), and probably the last Big 12 hurrah for Colorado as well (the Buffaloes are trying to head to the Pac 10 in 2011 but may have to wait until 2012 for financial reasons).  Will this year be the final time we see the storied rivalries of Utah-BYU and CU-Nebraska?  I would say Utah and BYU would be nuts to not schedule each other in a non-conference game after this year, but something tells me this might be last we see of the Huskers and Buffs for awhile.  While the changes coming in 2011 are not as bad as they could have been, it will still be significant, so enjoy this year’s conference setup while it still lasts.

New Coaches: I have to admit that while I am rapidly starting to despise Lane Kiffin, I am still curious to see how he’ll do at USC.  He inherits the mess left behind by Pete Carroll, including a hefty probation.  They still have top 15 talent so they should be fun to watch.  I hope that Tennessee rebounds from the mess that Kiffin left there after just one year.  A large part of me hopes that they succeed while USC falters, because I think Kiffin did not treat Tennessee fairly in any way.  We also of course have Brian Kelly taking over at Notre Dame, and again I think he did his former program (Cincinnati) absolutely wrong.  I don’t blame him for taking the ND job, but he should have at least stuck around at Cincy to coach them in the Sugar Bowl last year against Florida.  They way he left his players hung out to dry before that game is absolutely despicable.  For that reason, it makes Notre Dame very difficult to root for as long as Kelly is the coach.  Here’s hoping Butch Jones can keep things going in Cincy for those fans.

Other notable coaching changes include new Big 12 coaches in Kansas (Turner Gill) and Texas Tech (Tommy Tuberville).  As much as I hate KU being a Mizzou alum, I think Gill is a great coach and will make KU really good in a few years.  It will also be weird to see Florida State without Bobby Bowden roaming the sideline.  Bowden was forced out, ahem, excuse me, retired, and now Jimbo Fisher takes over the program.  Other coaching changes in BCS conferences took place at Virginia (Mike London now in) and Vanderbilt (Robbie Caldwell).

Who will win the Heisman Trophy: While it is not stated so, it is obvious that only quarterbacks, running backs and receivers are eligible for this award.  Otherwise, Ndamukong Suh should have been a landslide winner last year.  When I saw him person last season I was blown away by his ability to dominate the line and control the game defensively for Nebraska.  Alabama running back Mark Ingram won it last year, but he will have a hard time repeating this year because it’s almost impossible to win it twice.  He will also miss the first part of the season due to injury.  This year’s race appears to be as wide open as ever but the favorite in my mind is Jake Locker, quarterback for Washington.  My darkhorse candidate is Noel Devine, running back for West Virginia.  Another possibility?  Boise State QB Kellen Moore.  This would be the ultimate sign of respect for non-BCS programs if he were to win it.

Who will win it all? The trendy pick seems to be Alabama to repeat, and they are certainly up there with the top contenders.  I think Florida is always dangerous in the SEC as well.  I think Ohio State appears to be easily the best team in the Big 10 on paper (no disrespect intended to Iowa, but last year was a clear fluke and they’re going to fall hard), while of course Texas and Oklahoma are always there in the Big 12.  I also think Nebraska is a darkhorse there to make a challenge for the BCS berth.  Oregon and Virginia Tech are the best teams in their respective conferences, but I don’t see either challenging for the national title.  Boise State and TCU certainly believe their names should be in the hat, and if either or both go undefeated like last year, they will have a strong case.  In the end I think Oklahoma is going to have a bounce back season from last year’s injury riddled campaign, and I think the Sooners will square off against Ohio State in the title game.  I think Boise State loses to Virginia Tech this weekend, and that will knock them out.  I think TCU could go undefeated, but if they do the BCS will once again work against them.  In the end I’m a Big 12 guy, so I’m taking Oklahoma to win it all.

College football is back, enjoy the season folks!

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We Need Playoffs in College Football!!!

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 3, 2008

I have so much to say on this topic that I’m not sure where to begin.  The current college football system to determine a champion is so absurd that no words I can use to describe it would do it justice.  Imagine for a moment if the NFL has a BCS type of system instead of its current playoff setup.  Each of the past three seasons would have turned out radically different if you had simply selected the top two teams and automatically advanced them to the Super Bowl without a playoff tournament.  Here what would have resulted with a “BCS” type system and what actually transpired:

2005: hypothetical “BCS” matchup: Indianapolis (No. 1 AFC) vs. Seattle (No. 1 NFC)                

          reality: Pittsburgh (No. 6 AFC) vs. Seattle

2006:  hypothetical “BCS” matchup: San Diego (No. 1 AFC) vs. Chicago (No. 1. NFC)

           reality: Indianapolis (No. 3 AFC) vs. Chicago

2007:  hypothetical “BCS” matchup: New England (No. 1 AFC) vs. Dallas (No. 1 NFC)

           reality: New England vs. NY Giants (No. 5 NFC)

The point of this is to illustrate that the Super Bowl hardly ever ends up actually matching the top two teams from each conference during the regular season, so why should it be assumed that the BCS Championship game wouldn’t be different after a playoff?  This year’s setup for starters has all kinds of red flags, not the least of which is Oklahoma leapfrogging Texas for a spot in the Big 12 title game on Saturday, and thus an inside track to the title game.  Of course, the other absurdity here is that Texas could end up benefiting by not playing if Mizzou upsets the Sooners, which is possible but not likely.  That argument aside, Texas Tech deserves to gripe as well, being that they beat Texas and sport the same record as Texas and OU at 11-1.  How about the other one loss teams?  Florida is considered the front runner if they beat undefeated Alabama on Saturday, but why should the Tide necessarily fall behind say Texas or OU?  What about USC?  Or Penn State?   Those teams have one loss too.  This doesn’t even take into account Utah and Boise State, both of whom are undefeated, and in Utah’s case having beaten several quality opponents.  Because these teams were ranked low to start the season and don’t play in power conferences, they are automatically ineligible for a national title.  In basketball, every team can win the national championship.  Granted it’s unlikely, but last year Davidson was one shot away from making the Final Four, and of course George Mason made the Final Four a few years ago.  The mid-majors have a chance in basketball, but are given no chance in football.  For me the biggest BCS farce of all-time was in 2004, when Auburn went undefeated, beat Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, and still didn’t get a shot at the national title because USC also went undefeated.  Or how about 2001, when a one loss Oregon team was left out of the title game in favor of one loss Nebraska, who didn’t win its own conference or even make it to the Big 12 title game? 

The current system essentially rewards team for losing early in the season, which is why Oklahoma and Florida are in the driver’s seat so to speak.  Because Texas Tech lost recently (granted by a lot) they slipped too far in the BCS standings to catch up.   A championship game matchup shouldn’t strictly be based on who is hot at the end of the season.  Sure, that can allow a team to run through a playoff, but at least then they are earning it on the field, not getting rewarded by voters or computers.  I realize playoff proposals are the rage these days, and we know that ESPN has signed up for the tv rights for the BCS until 2014.  Knowing this, it appears we are stuck with this system until at least that time.  Let’s also be frank here, money has been the driving factor for the college presidents wanting to keep the status quo.  They also don’t want to wreck the tradition of the bowls, but haven’t they already done that by playing the national title game on Jan. 8?  Or playing the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 5 instead of New Year’s Day? 

My plan involves  the best of both worlds, involving a 16-team playoff while preserving the bowls, sort of.  Here’s how it works:

1. Shorten the regular season: I say let’s eliminate one of the four non-conference games at the start of the season, which all they are is a power team beating up on little sisters of the poor in a no tv game.  Dropping the regular season back to 11 games from 12 would counter the argument that the season would be too long with a playoff.  If that really is their reasoning for not having a playoff, why did they add a 12th regular season game and drag out the bowls past New Years Day?  It makes no sense. 

2. Eliminate the conference championship games: I realize this will never happen because it is too much of a moneymaker, but if a playoff is to be possible, cutting out these games and staging the first round of the playoffs in the first weekend of December would make sense.  That way a full playoff could be staged, but it wouldn’t completely drag out the season.  Conference tournaments are easier to stage in basketball while preserving a tournament because they play so many more games anyway.  As far as the money argument goes, I argue that the tvcontract and ticket revenue streams from a playoff would more than make up for lost revenue from eliminating the conference championships.  Down the road, if there is a way to preserve these games while still going through with a playoff, I’m all for that, but that wouldn’t be realistic.

3. Play the round of 16 in the first weekend of December at home sites:

Start with automatic bids for the champions of the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, ACC, Big East, Pac 10 and Mountain West conferences.  That leaves nine available at-large spots, leaving room for the Boise State’s of the world and other top teams.  Since Notre Dame is not in a conference, they would fall in the at-large category.  In the round of 16, the top 8 would have home field advantage.  I would suggest using a committee similar to basketball to decide the at-large teams and to seed everyone, but another option would be to use the BCS to seed the teams.  Using that, here’s how the round 16 could potentially look this year:

      – No. 16 Georgia at No. 1 Alabama 

      – No. 15 Georgia Tech  at No. 2 Oklahoma

      – No. 14 Oklahoma State at No. 3 Texas

      – No. 13 Cincinnati at No. 4 Florida

      – No. 12 Ball State at No. 5 USC

      – No. 11 TCU at No. 6 Utah

      – No. 10 Ohio State at No. 7 Texas Tech

      – No. 9 Boise State at No. 8 Penn State

Obviously this is a very rough outline, and these pairings result in a lot of conference rematches, but that could be cleaned up by the committee similar to they way they do it in basketball.  In this setup, undefeated Utah, Boise State, and Ball State would have a chance to join the fray.  Think of the excitement a Utah home game against say, Ohio State, would generate.  A school like Boise State finishes unbeaten, let’s see how they do in Happy Valley.  The conference breakdown in this setup of eligible teams is much better than the current setup:

        – Big 12: 4 teams

        – SEC: 3 teams

        – Big 10: 2 teams

        – Mountain West: 2 teams

        – ACC, Big East, Pac 10, MAC, WAC: 1 team each

In some years, the Big 10 may have 4 teams and the Big 12 two teams, or whatever the breakdown would be in most years.  This year, the SEC and Big 12 are by far the best conferences, so they would get more teams in the party this year.  The point is each of these teams (especially Utah and Boise State) would have a shot at a national title, which they are essentially not eligible for right now.

4. Play the quarterfinals, semifinals, and title game as part of the existing bowls:

For arguments sake of this year, let’s say the higher seeded teams in our first round example were to advance.  I say let’s pick some of the best bowl games and incorporate them into our tournament, starting with the quarterfinals.  These bowls would benefit because their games would become meaningful again, and fans might actually be more inclined to watch.  You could have in the quarterfinals in the second weekend of December looking this way:

        – Gator Bowl: Alabama vs. Penn State

        – Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Texas Tech

        – Sugar Bowl: Texas vs. Utah

        – Holiday Bowl: Florida vs. USC

Your semifinals could be matched in the Fiesta and Orange Bowls on Dec. 20, and then stage your national title game on New Year’s Day in the Rose Bowl.   I picked the Rose Bowl to host the national title game because that way it could stay on New Year’s Day.  I think it’s safe to say the Rose Bowl still is the one with most tradition left, and it seems like the perfect annual host for the national title game.  I thought about rotating the national title game, but the Rose Bowl seems perfect for the national title game.  Imagine 100,000 people in one of the most special places in sports actually seeing a national champion crowned the right way in college football.   Sure beats teams running up scores to impress pollsters doesn’t it?

I know this proposal is not perfect by any means, but is playing the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 20 in a national semifinal any worse than playing it on Jan. 5 when it is completely meaningless?  I argue that playing it in a semifinal context is infinitely better in every way.  Sure, in a 16-team playoff there would still be teams that feel they would be left out, such as Missouri, BYU, Boston College, Oregon, and Michigan State this season.  That argument would exist no matter how many teams you allowed in, and to me 16 seems like the perfect number.  In the short term, I would settle for 8 or even 4, for even that would be better than the current system.  Hell, in the short term I’d even settle for a plus 1 after the bowl games.  As for the rest of the bowls, such as the extremely prestigious papajohns.com Bowl, let’s keep those and allow teams that didn’t make the playoffs to compete there a la the NIT in basketball.  Regardless of what it would ultimately look like, a playoff system of some kind in college football is obviously long overdue, and it seems like the only people who can’t see that are the ones in charge.  I have not met a single person who actually thinks the current setup is a good idea, so let’s get on with it and get it changed. 

I welcome your feedback and suggestions for a playoff as well.  Any idea is a good one that would bounce the farce that is the BCS and get a playoff system going.  In the meantime, just about every team will have an argument that they should be in the title game, while having no true way to settle this.

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BCS = Not Fair

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 1, 2008

One quick note about the BCS standings released today.  I am unable to express my true feelings on Oklahoma jumping Texas for the number two spot, and with it a trip to the Big 12 Championship game, because, well, this is a family column.  Let’s just say that if you took one letter out of BCS you might get what it really is.  Does head to head not matter at all?  Texas beat Oklahoma on a neutral field in October.  Both teams have the same record.  How does that make Oklahoma more deserving of a spot in the conference title game, and by extension an inside track to the national championship game?  Sure, the Sooners have scored a boatload of points, but it shouldn’t matter how hot they’ve been the past two games.  The final standings should reflect the entire body of work for the season.  The BCS essentially rewards teams for losing early in the season, and that is simply not fair.  No doubt Texas fans will be rooting for Missouri to upset OU on Saturday night at Arrowhead.  This situation is exactly why the BCS needs to be dumped. It is ridiculous to suggest that Oklahoma is any more deserving than Texas (or any other one loss team) for the number two spot.  Unfortunately money seems to get the way of common sense here. I’ll say it again, this year screams for a playoff more than ever. My proposal for a playoff is coming this week, so stay tuned for that.

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Week Thirteen Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 27, 2008

As usual buyer beware…..

Last Week: 9-7 (.562)  Season: 108-66-1 (.617)

– Titans over Lions: So apparently I have an inability to pick Titans games correctly.  When I pick them to win, they get beat.  When I pick them to lose, they win and make look foolish.  No doubt Jeff Fisher has a voodoo doll of me now because I stopped picking against them last week, and they ended up getting bombed by the Jets.  Tennessee is still in great shape, as they are still running away with the AFC South, and they still have a two game lead over the Jets and Steelers for the top seed and home field advantage in the AFC playoffs.  The Titans should have some concern though about their offensive line, which had been so dominant early in the year, and got absolutely blown up by the Jets last week.  Tennessee had been winning most of their games with running and defense, which is fine, but last week they found out that you do have to occasionally score points to beat the good teams.  Surely it would behoove them to give LenDale White more than the one carry he got against the Jets too.  The good news for Tennessee is that the have the perfect get well card this week in the form of the 0-11 Lions.  Detroit has actually sold out Ford Field for tomorrow (gasp!) after three straight non-sellouts and subsequent TV blackouts, but something tells me the fans won’t exactly be behind the home team.  Detroit is the only team I know of that could squander the 17-0 lead they let get away against the Bucs.  The Lions do traditionally get up for their annual Thanksgiving day home game, but even extra emotion will not help.  Even if the Titans fail to bring their A game on a short week, they should get several gifts from the hapless Lions to help them to victory.  Tennessee wants to erase the losing feeling, and they will have no trouble whatsoever here, unless of course my picking Tennessee to win is a jinx, in which case I’m sure I will be hearing from Jeff Fisher. 

– Cowboys over Seahawks: The Dallas offense finally looked like its old self again last week, and it’s no coincidence that it’s because Terrell Owens was heavily involved in the game plan.  You can say what you will about Owens, for even though he whines when he doesn’t get the ball and often makes it seem like he’s in it for himself, you can’t deny that the Cowboys offense is much more effective when Owens is featured.  His 75-yard touchdown catch really swung the momentum after the Cowboys sputtered early against the 49ers, and he finished with a season high 213 yards.   Dallas also seems to be playing with more energy after Tony Romo’s return.  The concern for the Cowboys is the running game hasn’t been quite as effective the last few weeks, and their defense gave up some big plays against the 49ers.  The Cowboys definitely have a favorable matchup here though, as Seattle is still struggling offensively even with Matt Hasselbeck back in the lineup.  If Hasselbeck turns it over multiple times the way he has in his first two starts back, it will be long day for Seattle.  The Cowboys know they have a brutal December schedule and they have to get this one to stay in the playoff race.  Dallas wins by a lot in their annual Thanksgiving day game.

– Eagles over Cardinals: The Thanksgiving night game is a good one this year, which is too bad because only 40 percent of U.S. households have access to the NFL network.  Even fewer people will see this game because many of them will be asleep on the couch thanks to all the tryptophan.  Arizona has a real raw deal here, because they have a short week and a trip to the east coast.  Even though the Cardinals flew out this morning and the game isn’t until Thursday evening, they still face the prospect of a very difficult away game, with a short week to prepare, and a trip across three time zones.  If this matchup were to take place on a Sunday a neutral field, I would pick the Cardinals without hesitation because they are actually the better team right now.  My brain says I should stay away from the Eagles in light of their awful performance in Baltimore and last week’s benching of Donovan McNabb, but my gut tells me the Eagles will bounce back with the home crowd and the big advantage of playing at home off a short week.  I believe McNabb got a rude awakening with his benching last week, and I think he will come back with a good effort.  I also see Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson employing a variety of blitzes that the Cardinals will not be able to plan for on a short week.  Arizona’s pass happy offense has had great success at home, but I sense they may struggle in this game on the road in the cold, especially if the weather turns ugly.  If the weather is bad, Arizona’s inability to run the ball could doom them.  Besides, this game is not really important to the Cardinals with their huge division lead, while the Eagles must win to stay alive.  Philadelphia wins.

– Bills over 49ers: I really felt Buffalo was left for dead before last week, and now I’m not really sure what to make of the Bills after their 54 point effort in Kansas City.  Is the Bills offense back?  Was that more a result of a porous Chiefs’ defense?  The answer like many of these things is probably somewhere in between the two.  Trent Edwards gave one of his better efforts in quite some time, including his rushing touchdown, and the Bills will need him to perform down the stretch to stay in the race.  Buffalo has several advantages in this game, not the least of which being they’re hosting a west coast team in an early kickoff.  We all know what that means in any case, but Buffalo has a huge edge in this case being that the weather is likely to be bad and they are hosting a team from a warm weather city to boot.  Meteorology aside, the 49ers run game looked awful last week in Dallas, and that doesn’t bode well for a trip to Buffalo.  The passing game has not been any more consistent with Shaun Hill under center than it was with J.T. O’Sullivan, and the defense has given up way too many big plays.  The Niners are very much a work in progress and are improving overall, but that will not help them here.  Buffalo wins.

– Dolphins over Rams: How bad are the Rams right now, seriously?  It’s rapidly getting to the point where i might consider picking the Florida Gators against the Rams.  St. Louis might get Steven Jackson back in the lineup this week, but their problems go much deeper than that.  There is a quarterback carousel right now between Marc Bulger and Trent Green, Torry Holt has essentially been phased out of the offense except for when he gets throws his way when the game is out of reach, and the defense has more holes in it than swiss cheese.  Miami knows they let one get away last week against New England, and they lost their composure in that game too toward the end.  Miami needs to get its running game going again down the stretch to be successful, for Ronnie Brown’s numbers have dipped dramatically over the last month.  This will be a good matchup for the Dolphins to get that back on track, and their passing game should have success too with Ted Ginn Jr.’s speed on the carpet in the dome.  Miami should win this one comfortably to stay in the race in AFC as they try to complete their turnaround from last year’s 1-15 disaster. 

– Patriots over Steelers: This will be another great game between two teams that historically have enjoyed a lot of success.  The Patriots offense might officially be scary again if last week’s Randy Moss sighting becomes the norm as opposed to the exception.  Matt Cassel continues to play well, and the defense continues to not break in key situations.  Pittsburgh didn’t play its best game against the Bengals last week, and they will need to be able to run the ball much better to have a chance in this one.  Willie Parker does not look like himself, and I wouldn’t be confident turning my running game over to Mewelde Moore in a key game like this.  One thing to watch in this game is that both quarterbacks, Cassel and Ben Roethlisberger, are among the league leaders in sacks, which is not at all a good thing.  That could make this a lower scoring game than expected, although I would also expect Hines Ward to have more balls thrown his way than last week, when he had just one catch.  Ward normally steps up in big games and that could help the Steelers, but a hunch says that the Pittsburgh defense won’t quite be able to contain Moss and Wes Welker if they are both playing well.  It seems strange to say this, but Cassel has been playing better than Roethlisberger in recent weeks, and that will end up being the difference in a narrow Patriots win. 

– Jets over Broncos: I’ll be honest, it really doesn’t look good for the Broncos.  Denver somehow still has a two game lead in the AFC West, but it’s looking like it could be possible we might see a 7-9 division champion here, and if it’s the Broncos that won’t be a good thing for their playoff prospects.  Denver is coming off a very embarrassing blowout loss at home to the Raiders, which is not a good omen as they hit the road to face the hottest team in the AFC.  The Jets are coming off wins at New England and Tennessee, and they played complete football in every phase against the Titans.  They’re running well with Thomas Jones and Leon Washington (who is quickly becoming one of the league’s best game changers), Brett Favre is playing some of the best football of his career, and the Jets are dominating the line of scrimmage offensively and defensively.  This is matchup that looks like it could well be a Jets blowout on paper, especially since the Broncos are making the trip east.  The Broncos ironically have played better on the road than at home as of late, but even if the Broncos offense comes out and plays its A game, I don’t see the defense being able to slow down Favre, even if Champ Bailey does play.  If the Jets avoid a letdown after their two big road wins, they should get this one without too much difficulty.

– Ravens over Bengals: This will be a complete mismatch in every way.  Baltimore bounced back nicely with a blowout of the Eagles, and they did it with offense and defense.  The Ravens could be a scary group, and one I wouldn’t want to play in the playoffs, if they keep up their offensive prowess in addition to their always tough defense.  Joe Flacco has played very well for a rookie, and their long term key will be getting the running game going in big games.  Defensively, the Ravens continue to be aggressive and force turnovers, and that will be bad news for Cincinnati in this game.  The Bengals offense moved the ball early against Pittsburgh last week, but they stalled quickly after the first drive.  It will be interesting to see how the Chad Johnson/Ocho Cinco/whatever his name is distraction continues to affect the Bengals’ offense.  Regardless, Ryan Fitzpatrick has not been the answer at QB and Cedric Benson has not gotten it done in the running game.  Oh, and Cincinnati’s defense also does not have a good matchup here.  Baltimore rolls, even on the road. 

– Colts over Browns: This should be another blowout.  The Colts are one of the hottest teams in the league, having pulled out another last minute victory in San Diego last week.  Inidianapolis has a really friendly schedule down the stretch, which clearly puts them in the driver’s seat for the top wild card spot in the AFC.  That is bad news for Baltimore, New England, Miami and perhaps Buffalo, who will all be fighting for the last spot in the playoff bracket more than likely.  The Colts have a very favorable matchup here, facing a Browns team that is in disarray again after a bad home loss to the Texans, and the news that Brady Quinn is done for the year with a broken finger he never should have tried to play with in the first place.  Derek Anderson does have a chance to take advantage of his opportunity to play out the string to get himself a job somewhere next season, but the Browns have no direction right now and they are facing a hot Colts team looking to solidify playoff position.  Even playing in the shadow of the Dawg Pound, Peyton Manning has no trouble here and the Colts roll. 

– Raiders over Chiefs: Dud of the game of the week, although it is a bitter rivalry.  Oakland blew the Chiefs out in week two at Arrowhead, and that was before the fans stopped showing up in Kansas City.  The Raiders really gave a surprising performance last week in Denver, and they actually come home with momentum.  The Chiefs defense was a complete embarrassment last week against Buffalo, and that should mean good news for JaMarcus Russell and Darren McFadden this week.  The Raiders defense has also played very well the past three games.  At some point, the Chiefs players will stop with playing with any confidence or energy, and we might have even hit that point already.  If the Chiefs fail to win another game and finish 1-15 on the heels of 4-12 last year, which would mean KC would have just one win in a 26 game stretch, it would be impossible for Kansas City to justify keeping Herm Edwards or General Manager Carl Peterson.  The Chiefs showed effort for several weeks in the middle of the season, but it hasn’t been there the past two games and that is a bad sign.  Oakland by contrast seems to be playing with more and more energy each week, despite the soap opera nature of their season.  The Raiders win their second in a row (gasp!). 

– Falcons over Chargers: I really fail to see how the Chargers are five point favorites in this game, even with them playing at home.  Atlanta is coming off a huge win over Carolina, and they have proven they can play both at home and on the road.  The Chargers had their entire season on the line last week in a night home game, and yet they failed to come up with the win, even knowing the division leading Broncos got waxed by Oakland.  LaDainian Tomlinson has just not been his usual self this season, and Philip Rivers has played solid but not spectacular.  It is clear that the Chargers’ defense really misses Shawne Merriman, and that will hurt them a lot in this game.  It is an interesting subplot that Michael Turner returns to face his former team.  Turner has proven his worth as a starter for the Falcons, especially in his four touchdown performance last week.  The Falcons are very much in the race in the NFC also in part thanks to Matt Ryan and the passing game, as well as their defense which has made plays when needed this season.  The Chargers should come out with an inspired effort at home, but we’ve been expecting that without results for weeks.  The Falcons prove they are for real by stealing one on the road here. 

– Giants over Redskins: This will be a critical game in the NFC East, but it will be more so for the Redskins.  The Giants are very close to having the division wrapped up, although they are still wanting to separate themselves for the top seed in the NFC.  Washington is clinging by a thread to the last playoff spot, but they have several teams breathing down their necks.  The Giants are by far the best team in the league, having proved it once again last week by winning at Arizona without Brandon Jacobs and Plaxico Burress.  The Redskins are banged up too though, as Clinton Portis will once again play despite not being 100 percent.  He ran hard for 143 yards last week at Seattle, and the Redskins will need a similar performance on Sunday to even have a chance.  It seems like an eternity ago, but the Giants dominated the Redskins completely in week one, and something tells me the Giants could once again own the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in this one as well.  Washington is coming off a win, but it wasn’t exactly an impressive one in Seattle.  The Giants are a better team and they are coming in with more momentum.  A hunch says the Redskins are fading, and even if they play their best game it may not be enough here.  The Giants steal a close road win to prove why they are the best team in the league. 

– Panthers over Packers: This is a tough game to figure because both teams are coming off puzzling efforts in road losses.  Carolina’s offense woke up too late to make it close in Atlanta, and though Jake Delhomme played better, the normally dominant Carolina running game wasn’t very effective.  The Packers defense got destroyed in New Orleans on Monday night, and Aaron Rodgers threw two costly picks in the third quarter when the game was still competitive.  Both teams fell out of the lead in their respective division with last week’s loss, so you’ll see two desperate teams battling it out at Lambeau Field on Sunday.  I give Carolina an edge here because their ability to run the ball has been well documented and the Packers defense has really struggled against the run in most games.  If Carolina really does fancy itself as a Super Bowl contender, then this is they kind of game they need to able to win, on the road against an up and down team.  Aaron Rodgers should be able to make some plays in the passing game, but the Packers don’t have enough offense to keep up.  Carolina win a close one.

– Saints over Buccanneers: I’ve been back and forth on this game ten times in the last hour.  New Orleans finally looked like the way they were supposed to look offensively Monday night against the Packers, and they will be coming into this game with a lot of confidence.  I am more convinced than ever that Drew Brees is hands down the best quarterback in the league, and he should absolutely be the MVP.  Now that Brees has his receivers healthy, and with the return of Reggie Bush really appearing imminent this week, the Saints offense should be even more dangerous down the stretch.  The problem the Saints are facing is a brutal schedule, and the logjam of teams they’re competing with for a playoff spot.  The Saints beat Tampa Bay 24-20 in the first meeting week one in the Superdome, so the Bucs should be feeling confident they can reverse the result at home.  Tampa Bay’s defense is capable of at least slowing down the Saints’ attack, but they won’t be able to stop it completely.  The key for the Bucs is that they will need to be able to score enough points to keep up with the Saints, and if Brees and company are clicking that simply won’t happen.  A hunch says New Orleans will win on the road. 

– Vikings over Bears: The Sunday night game will be a good battle for the NFC North lead.  When these teams squared off at Soldier Field in week seven, it ended being a high scoring shootout despite the presence of two good defenses.  Both teams are coming off a win last week, which makes this game equally important for both teams, since the winner will have a one game lead in the division.  Minnesota’s defense really set the tone last week in Jacksonville with two turnovers in the first 90 seconds of the game, and their propensity for being able to force turnovers really gives them a chance to win a lot of games.  Chicago is coming off a blowout of the Rams, so they too have some momentum coming in.  Both teams can run the ball, so the difference will be which defense can better slow the other offense down.  Chicago can force turnovers, but they also tend to get burned for a lot of big plays.  The Vikings always bring pressure and that could spell trouble for Kyle Orton, especially if the Bears fall behind early.  The Metrodome will certainly be loud for this division rivalry, and the Vikings should be able to pull this one out at home. 

– Texans over Jaguars: It’s unfortuante that the Monday night game is such a dud with so many great games on Sunday that many people won’t be able to see.  I realize flexible scheduling would be difficult to extend to the Monday night game, but I think it’s something the league should at least look at for the last 3-4 weeks of the season.  At any rate, the Jaguars have to be a contender for the biggest disappointment in NFL history, and Jack Del Rio’s job has to be in real jeopardy.  The Jaguars running game has never been able to get going all season, and their defense has not been as good as advertised.  Looking at Jacksonville’s tough remaining schedule, it is very possible they don’t win another game if they fail to win in Houston.  The Texans have also failed to meet expectations of improvement this season, although the injury to Matt Schaub does have something to do with that.  The Texans actually came up with a somewhat surprising road win in Cleveland last week, and their defense really did an excellent job, albiet against the musical chairs quarterback situation in Cleveland.  This will be the first Monday night game the Texans have hosted at Reliant Stadium, which means they will be fired up.  If Jacksonville really is just playing out the string, Houston’s offense should explode for points in this one.

Bonus College pick: Oklahoma over Oklahoma State.  This will be one of the best college games of the season, but even in Stillwater, the Sooners are too complete of a team to falter now.  This will create a big time logjam in the Big 12 South.  Will it be Texas or Oklahoma advancing to the Big 12 Championship game?  I also think Alabama and Florida will both win this week (against Auburn and Florida State respectively), setting up a showdown in the SEC Championship.  Things may end up working out for the BCS Championship game, but I believe this year screams for a playoff more than ever.  Stay tuned next week for my proposal for a 16-team playoff and why it would make sense, but also why it is not likely to happen soon.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, and I’ll post again after the Broncos-Jets game.

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