NFL: Week 16 Observations

Justin Smith: Defensive MVP?

Justin Smith

He may be only the third or fourth biggest name on his defense, but its hard to imagine a player’s absence having a more catastrophic impact than Justin Smith with the 49ers. The burly defensive tackle left the Niners Sunday Night game with New England last week in the third quarter due to an elbow injury, an injury significant enough to snap his streak of 185 consecutive starts last night. The Niners top-ranked defense has been a shell of its former self in the five full quarters played without Smith, giving up 24 fourth quarter points to New England before getting shellacked 42-13 last night by division rival Seattle.

The eyeball test is just as alarming as the numbers. Seattle moved the ball at ease all night against the 49er defense. Russell Wilson was a remarkably efficient 15/21 for 171 yards and four touchdowns. He kept plays alive with his feet and routinely found wide-open receivers, spreading the ball around to eight receivers, none of whom had more than Doug Baldwin’s four catches for 53 yards.

Even more troubling was the normally stout Niner run defense. Marshawn Lynch carved them up, tallying 111 yards and a “beast mode” worthy touchdown on his 26 carries. The Seahawks offensive line regularly opened massive holes for Lynch, who was often able to get a whole head of steam going by the time he reached the secondary. Look at Lynch’s first quarter touchdown for evidence. Lynch isn’t even touched until cornerback Tarell Brown’s half-hearted tackle attempt at the 1 yard line; he has enough time to pause and decide which way to cut not once but twice during the play. Lynch is a pro-bowler, but that is horrendous defense.

Losing Smith has had a major domino effect on the Niners Xs and Os-wise. Simply put, it is inconceivable to block him one-on-one; he will wreck your play if you don’t double team him. His replacement, Ricky Jean-Francois, is a decent player, but Francois isn’t capable of being close to as disruptive as Smith. Smith’s ability to eat up multiple blockers was a catalyst for the Niners defense. It takes additional attention away from Aldon Smith, giving him the kind of matchups that lead to 19.5 sacks. The explosive pass-rusher had an incredible 10 sacks in the four games prior to the Patriots matchup; he has none in his past two and was particularly invisible against the Seahawks.

Smith’s ability to tie up blockers dramatically helps star linebackers Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman as well. Willis and Bowman are both at their best when they are free to use their rare speed to run down plays from sideline to sideline. Without Smith holding up double teams, the Seattle offensive line was routinely able to get to the second level, where Willis and Bowman struggled to defeat blocks. This was what happened on the aforementioned Lynch touchdown and it continued to happen throughout the game.

The Niners problems last night went further than the absence of Smith; the offense only put 13 points on the board, couldn’t establish the running game, and had protection issues that made Kaepernick look like a deer in the headlights. However, the Niners are not an elite defense without their “Cowboy” in the middle. The Niners are in danger of going from a legitimate NFC favorite to upset victim on Wild-Card weekend if Smith is unable to return in time for the postseason.

Malcontent Tebow(!)

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Mom, he’s going to forcibly circumcise me!

It’s no secret that the Jets have, ahem, “mishandled” their quarterback situation this year. The latest and most surprising development in the circle of suck comes from a report that Tim Tebow asked to not be used in the Jets Wildcat package due to frustration to the team passing over him to start Greg McElroy against the Chargers. Tebow’s cult following has quickly jumped to defend their fallen hero, blaming the Jets organization for its poor treatment of the almighty Tebow.

I personally believe the Jets are dumb for blatantly going out of their way to avoid starting Tebow. Reports say that Rex Ryan has been reluctant (to say the least) to play Tebow because he has looked terrible in practice. This reasoning completely ignores the fact that Tebow is a notoriously bad practice player, dating back to his Heisman days at Florida, for whom the light switches on when the live bullets begin flying.

Furthermore, what do you have to lose? You know that Sanchez is terrible and McElroy has shown little, both in college and the pros, that suggests he even has the potential to be an NFL starter. The Jets are the kind of bad offensive team that could actually benefit from the kind of “junk offense” that Tebow excels in. Hell, the offense can’t get any worse than that Tennessee loss. The Jets have correctly (in my opinion) discerned that Tebow isn’t a viable long-term starting quarterback; however, he is probably a better short-term option right now than McElroy or Sanchez.

The Jets have undeniably done a horrible job of handling their quarterbacks but, as usual, error comes in when Tebow fans attempt to attach some sort of moral judgment to the situation. Tim Tebow is an NFL player and no NFL player is “owed” playing time. The coaches’ job is to play the guys whom he believes will give the team the best chance to win. Plenty of guys are signed to every team, every year, with the intent of playing a prominent role; whether they do or not depends on their performance. They don’t “owe” Tebow anything but his salary for this year.

It will be fascinating to see how fans and the media react to Tebow effectively taking his ball and going home. The “Saint Tebow” narrative has become so ingrained that it’s difficult to see his image take too serious of a hit; despite the fact that an overhyped, overpaid athlete essentially quitting on his team would usually get someone labeled a “cancer”, fans will likely still consider Tebow to be a good teammate and even better person. It truly is amazing how difficult it is to sway public perception once a label has stuck.

Ironically, Tebow’s image is saved by the Jets while his career continues to be hurt by the intensity of his fans. The narrative surrounding this latest incident is likely to become “the Jets were such incompetent jerks that they even pushed Tebow to his breaking point” (not to mention a collective “who cares” as even ESPN seems weary from its oversaturation of Jets coverage). At the same time, the pressure of 10,000 Tebowmaniacs reportedly had the Jets “petrified” to do anything that might draw the ire of the cultish following, leading them to ultimately do nothing.

Any team that takes on Tebow will face relentless pressure to start him and continue playing him, despite the fact that he is currently better at circumcising Philippine children than throwing a five yard sideline out. Tebow’s inability to run any sort of conventional offense effectively forces any team that plays him to dramatically alter their scheme to mask his weaknesses; a monster commitment for a player with a career 47.9% passer, even one that is 8-6 as a starter. The Jets messed up, badly, but Tebow needs to take some accountability and recognize that he needs to become a more consistent and accurate passer. A better quarterback wouldn’t have had any trouble beating out Mr. Buttfumble for a starting job.

Finally, because this is the Jets, Tebow’s power play hilariously backfired. Receiver Jeremy Kerley was used in the Wildcat package instead and prompted completed a 42 yard pass, exceeding Tebow’s total passing yardage for the season. Only the Jets.

Divisional Showdown

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Two hated divisional rivals, duking it out for the NFC East title and a playoff spot. Winner is in, loser will almost certainly be watching the playoffs from home. Does it get any better than that?

Week 16 is in the books and its results wound up setting the table for a doozy of a matchup. The red-hot Washington Redskins, winners of six straight, will take on the nearly as hot Dallas Cowboys, who have won five of their last seven, on Sunday Night.

Washington will likely be favored, due to their winning the first matchup between these teams 38-31 on Thanksgiving. They will also have the benefit of playing at home; you can expect a playoff atmosphere from a Washington crowd that hasn’t seen this big of a game in quite some time.

Is Washington the better team though? They’ve definitely received more attention over the course of the season, although the presence of a certain rookie phenom has a lot to do with that. Despite this, I would venture to say that Dallas at their best is capable of more than Washington currently.

The reason for that has a lot to do with aforementioned rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. RG3’s athleticism alone makes Washington incredibly difficult to defend. In fact, it’s impossible to scheme for a quarterback doing this.

However, that RG3 won’t be taking the field this Sunday. RG3 returned to action after missing only one game with a MCL sprain and simply was not nearly as much of a dynamic threat as he was pre-injury. Griffin was still an effective quarterback, going 16-24 for 198 yards in the victory, but ran for a season low 4 yards on his only two rushes. His relative lack of explosiveness was particularly visible on an early scramble, which made the normally freakish Griffin look like an average quarterback trying to get a cheap couple of yards before getting out of bounds. This slowed-down, less dynamic version of RG3 was enough to beat the lowly Eagles; will it be enough against a Dallas team fighting to prolong their season?

“Of course it will be; Dallas always finds a way to muck it up at the end”. I’m sure plenty of people will be saying that throughout the week. However, years of teasing but ultimately coming up short have finally allowed Dallas to operate under the radar (or at least under the radar compared to past seasons). This also has made people generally unaware that this is Dallas team that has been flipping the script of past seasons. Like all Cowboys teams, this years had a bad stretch of football that put their season in jeopardy; however, unlike past seasons this 1-4 stretch came between Weeks 4 and 9, leaving enough time to dig themselves out of the hole. This stretch also came when the loss of DeMarco Murray, a player who brings desperately needed balance to the Dallas offense, unluckily coincided with the toughest part of their schedule. Three of those four losses were narrow defeats to Atlanta, Baltimore and the New York Giants; all of which were decided by less than a touchdown.

The Cowboys are also bucking the well-earned label of “December Chokers”. Those Cowboys went 1-3 in December last year. These Cowboys are 3-1 in December, with the only loss coming in overtime after the unlucky bounce of a forced fumble set the Saints up for a game-winning field goal. With their backs to the wall, these Cowboys have buckled down and simply started to win.

Another factor in Dallas’ favor is the recent play of Dez Bryant. The enigmatic receiver has always flashed the talent to be a dominant player, but this had just made the inconsistency of his first two years even more frustrating. Bryant seems to have flipped the switch down the stretch and the results have been eye-popping. Bryant has scored at least once in every one of the past seven games, accumulating an astonishing 10 of his 12 touchdowns during the stretch. He has also averaged 115 yards a game. He has at least one play a game on which he simply looks like a grown man playing football against a bunch of first graders; look at this play for evidence.

No one wants to tackle him! Truly impressive, even before considering he’s making this play with painful torn ligaments in his finger. Now lets take into consideration the fact that he’ll be going against a Redskins secondary that has been the team’s weak link all season.

NFL football is notoriously unpredictable. But I can’t shake the feeling that the RG3’s injury-related limitations will combine with Bryant’s recent Herculean play to send Dallas to a surprising playoff berth. Effort and focus have always been more of a question with Dallas than talent. They have the look of a team that is sick of constantly hearing the criticism and “how long will the window be open” questions. They know stringing a few more wins in a row will change everything. Look for Dallas to stun the football world and complete an improbable run to a playoff spot on Sunday Night.

Why You Should Hate the Seattle Seahawks

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Despite my old roommate’s unnatural obsession with it, I have nothing against the city of Seattle. It seems like a perfectly nice city, one I could see myself living happily in some day. I have legitimate sympathy for their losing the Sonics. I love Soundgarden. I don’t mind rain or hipsters. I think Frasier was hilarious.

However, I find the Seattle Seahawks to be one of the eminently hateable teams in the entire NFL. I hate their fans. I hate their coach. I hate several of their prominent players. I hate the 12th Man Flag. I hate that more people don’t hate them as much as I do. I don’t care about Marshawn Lynch eating Skittles. I hate it all.

This doesn’t make natural sense; the Seahawks are good this year, but have historically been a perfectly mediocre franchise, with very little in the line of noteworthy history to create a basis for hatred. Mired in the far Northwest, they rarely get close to the amount of media attention as the Dallas and Philadelphia’s of the world. They aren’t a divisional or even conference rival of my favorite team; in fact, they only play my team once every four years.

In my mind, this doesn’t lessen my hatred; rather, it validates it. I have no obvious reason to hate them; whatever dislike I have stems directly from what I directly observe. It’s different than hating the Steelers, Ravens or Peyton Manning, teams and player who consistently stand as an obstacle to my team and who’s every blemish can be used to further the “my team good, other team bad” fan mentality. I have no exterior motive to hate the Seahawks; I simply do for no reason other than who they are.

This starts with the fan base. There isn’t another fan base in the NFL with such an obnoxious and widely spread Napoleon complex. Want proof? Talk about any subject that remotely involves the Seahawks and watch their fans instinctively find a way to work the officiating of Super Bowl XL into the conversation within two minutes.

Was the officiating in that game (one of worst Super Bowls of the past 20 years) subpar? Absolutely. Were the Seahawks a better team than the Steelers? God, no. The team was built around Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander. The offensive “X factor” for that Seahawks team was tight end Jerramy “better at rape than football” Stevens. Stop reminiscing about “what could have been” as if this was a dynasty in the making.

Even more insufferable than that was their fans reaction to the Golden Tate Monday Night Football debacle. I legitimately don’t know what’s worst: insisting that the correct call was made (as Seattle’s radio broadcast of the game did), claiming that missed calls earlier in the game had the same effect as essentially gifting a game-winning touchdown on the last play of the game on a bad call (!) or claiming that the blown call was “karma” for Super Bowl XL. Shut up and quietly enjoy the result in the win column, but don’t try to insinuate that there was anything just about that outcome, for Christ’s sake.

The bad Rodney Dangerfield impressions coming from Seahawks fans pervades much further than just those two infamous games. According to the average ‘Hawks fan, anytime a Seahawks player isn’t ballooned up to the superstar status by the press, it must be the result of East Coast or large market bias. The most prevalent recent example of this has been Russell Wilson, the rookie quarterback whom it is apparently illegal to discuss without using some combination of the words “poise”, “maturity” and, worst of all, “it”.

Seattle’s most recent conspiracy theory has been that Wilson’s rookie season has been largely “ignored” by the national media only because the power of hype had already predetermined Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III as the two premiere quarterbacks of the 2012 draft. The point on hype is somewhat accurate, but the football analysis is dead wrong.

Russell Wilson has had an excellent season, going far beyond any reasonable expectations for any rookie quarterback. He has done a tremendous job of limiting turnovers, throwing only nine interceptions (against 21 touchdown passes). He has running ability that makes him very tough to defend. He has looked extremely comfortable in big moments, especially during a cool, efficient game-winning drive in overtime against the Bears. Most importantly, he has consistently improved throughout the year, transforming from a game manager with promise to an excellent starter in less than a single year in the league. And yes, he’s doing this as a third round rookie. In any other year, he’d be the runaway rookie of the year.

HOWEVER:

  • Has the threat of Wilson’s athleticism single-handedly transformed a mediocre offense into one of the most dynamic and difficult to defend units in the league, like RG3? No.
  • Has Wilson been asked to carry his entire team on his shoulders, dropping back to chuck it downfield 40 times a game due to having no offensive line, no running game due to no offensive line and no defense, like Luck? Not at all. In fact, Wilson has the benefit of a very strong running game and even stronger defense. Wilson fans have been quick to point out Luck’s interceptions (18), but the degree of difficulty of what Luck is doing is in a different galaxy from Wilson.

Bottom line: can you make a legitimate argument that Russell Wilson is one of the truly elite quarterbacks in the league? No, you cannot. Can you do so for RG3 and Luck? Yes, you can. Stop whining about it, Seattle.

Hell, Seattle fans are even delusional when it comes to themselves. Seattle has proudly appointed itself as having the best fans in the league, conveniently forgetting the fact that their stadium was meticulously designed to artificially enhance decibel levels. The “12th Man” is not a concept unique to Seattle, but Seahawks fans actually believe that they make a meaningful contribution to their team’s success. Is that more arrogant or stupid? You decide!

Getting past the fans is admittedly difficult, but it brings me to the Head Coach. Look at Pete Carroll. No, really, look at him. He’s a clown disguised as a football coach. How can you take Mr. Pumped and Jacked seriously?  Carroll has always had a obnoxious “Rah Rah” style of coaching that has inevitably brought more attention and credit upon himself than he deserves and it drives me nuts.

Seriously, has Pete Carroll ever accomplished anything legitimately impressive in coaching? The only time he’s had success that coincides with his name recognition is at USC, where he routinely had double the talent of his opponents. Sure, he was a historically great recruiter, but does winning a lot of games with multiple Heisman candidate-level players really prove much as a coach? He then darted from USC just before embarrassing NCAA sanctions from the Bush/Leinart era set the program back considerably, somehow managing to pull this off while avoiding the vilification many other coaches have received for doing the exact same thing. His professional track record as a head coach in the NFL prior to Seattle consists of a lone 6-10 season with the Jets and overseeing the steady decline of the post-Parcells Patriots. The Seahawks 9-5 start has vaulted his win-loss record with Seattle…to an even 23-23. He’s a good defensive coordinator disguised as a middling Head Coach.

pete carrol is a faggot

Also, don’t get me started on how he handled that Monday Night debacle. He reacted as if being handed a win by incompetent officiating was akin to winning the Super Bowl. Is there a single non-Seahawks fan that didn’t want to punch him through the TV as he gloated about how hard they fought? Gee, Pete, glad you feel you accomplished something. You really deserved it!

Yes, but look at these current Seahawks! Aren’t they a good story? Look at how they’ve exceeded expectations! They play good, old-fashioned, physical football!

Can we please stop treating this team like its some adorable puppy? Let’s take a look at the current Seahawks. The defense that has largely carried the team to a playoff berth is built around Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, two guys who come from the Bad Boy Pistons mentality of “they can’t call them all”. Browner and Sherman’s success stems largely from their “physicality”, which is a poorly disguised way of saying they mug receivers down the field on every throw and largely get away with it. Look at this play.

That isn’t football. That’s bullshit. The best part is Browner, after taking an unnecessary cheap shot at an unsuspecting receiver away from the ball, flexes. Right, you showed some real toughness on that play. Punk.

I remember earlier in the season when these Seahawks played the Niners. Replay after replay would show Sherman and Browner clearly grabbing and shoving the Niners receivers well past the five yards contact is allowed in. After one particularly obvious missed penalty, Sherman started barking and wagging his finger at the Niners sideline. He may as well have been saying “Not tonight! They aint gonna call shit on me tonight!” This entire time, the only thing the TV commentators would say was along the lines of “That’s what Seattle does. Their corners play physical football.” Yes, let’s just ignore the little fact that playing corner like that is against the rules. What a gritty style of playing!

Screw the Seahawks. I will be rooting whole-heartedly for the Niners to blow them out tonight and encourage you to do the same, even though it will undoubtedly result in Seahawk fans blaming the refs, the media, Roger Goodell, or anything but the fact that their team isn’t quite good enough to be considered amongst the NFL elite.

Oh, and Pearl Jam sucks too.

NFL Week 15: 5 Games, 5 Picks

Each NFL week I’ll choose five particularly intriguing match-ups and analyze them. This being Week 15, there are plenty of games with drastic playoff implications. Lets take a look.

Julio Jones

New York Giants @ Atlanta Falcons

There may be more judging eyes on the Atlanta Falcons these days, but the Giants have far more at stake this week. The 8-5 Giants are clinging to a tenuous one game lead over the surging Redskins. Unfortunately for the Giants, Washington has clinched the tiebreaker in the scenario that they tie the G-men for the division lead, making it imperative for the Giants to keep winning and sew up the NFC East. Many have already earmarked the Giants as a dangerous team in the NFC playoff field. Based on past history this is a good bet, but they need to make sure they get in first.

Atlanta faces no such worries, having secured their division in Week 14 and needing merely to win two of their final four games to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. However, serious questions continue to be raised about Atlanta’s legitimacy as a Super Bowl contender. Whatever goodwill the Falcons earned by picking off Drew Brees five (!) times en route to a convincing Week 13 win over the Saints was squandered in last week’s loss to the lowly Panthers.  Skeptics can point out that the Falcons are merely 3-2 in their last five games, that seven of their 11 wins have come by less  than a touchdown (including recent squeakers against Tampa Bay and Arizona!) and that their running game has not been nearly as effective as past seasons. The Falcons are certainly good, but its fair to question whether they peaked too early. A win in this one will go a long way to quell the notion that the Falcons are staggering into the playoffs.

Once you slog your way through the storylines, there’s some pretty good football to be found in this one. Both teams feature strong vertical passing games and weaker (albeit occasionally effective) running games. The difference lies in the defenses. The Giants have been decent against the run but leaky in the secondary, where former stalwart Corey Webster has been routinely beaten all season. The Falcons have been the opposite; they boast one of the league’s better secondaries but they’ve been mediocre at best against the run. I like the Falcons chance of exploiting the Giants secondary better than the Giants chance of controlling the game with run. Falcons get the win and deal the Giants playoff hopes a severe blow (With or without RG3, the Redskins should be able to beat Cleveland). 27-20 Falcons

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Denver Broncos @ Baltimore Ravens

Big game for playoff seeding. Baltimore is currently a game back of New England and Denver courtesy of their overtime loss last week to Washington. A loss here will likely relegate them to the fourth seed and playing a Wild Card game. However, a Baltimore win coupled with a New England loss to San Francisco (certainly feasible) would enable Baltimore to jump from the four to the two-seed, as the three-team logjam behind Houston this time would have Baltimore holding the tiebreakers courtesy of wins over both Denver and New England. The two-seed and its accompanying bye week could be huge for the Ravens, who  arguably have been hit harder with injuries this year than anyone in the NFL (Pittsburgh of course would fight them over this, but what else is new; Pittsburgh and Baltimore would fight over whether the sky is blue).

With their division already clinched, Denver certainly has less at stake but they are not without heavy incentive to win, as New England’s early season win over the Broncos weighs heavily on their chances of overtaking the Pats for the two-seed. A Pats loss  (again not inconceivable, as they face the Niners) coupled with a Denver win would enable the Broncos to leapfrog the Pats for the two-seed. With only the Browns and Chiefs remaining on their schedule, this scenario would likely result in Denver winding up with the coveted playoff bye week and, perhaps even more importantly, the daunting home-field advantage of Mile High Stadium in the divisional round of the playoffs.

After a 9-2 start, Baltimore has lost two in a row and is desperately in need of a win. Denver, meanwhile, hasn’t lost since the aforementioned Week 5 loss to New England, but they haven’t played a single playoff team (unless Cincinnati sneaks in) during that eight-game winning streak. This tells me they are due for a letdown, and a proud, talented and desperate team playing at home is just the kind of team to provide that type of reality check. Baltimore gets the upset and clinches the AFC North in the process. 24-21 Ravens

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Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears

A tremendous matchup between two storied franchises and long-time rivals with serious playoff implications. Whats not to like? The Packers can clinch the NFC North with a win and remain in a dogfight with San Francisco for the NFC’s second seed. However, a Bears win will tie them with the Packers at 9-5. The Packers would still hold a tie-breaker in that scenario, but could be in danger of losing the division (and any playoff home games) if the Bears were to win out.

The real importance to this game is in the Wild Card race. Da Bears have followed up their 7-1 start by losing four of the last five games. This free-fall has not only opened the door wide open for another Packers divisional title but also has put their Wild Card hopes in jeopardy. The bad stretch by the Bears has coincided with a 4-1 run by Washington that leaves the ‘Skins merely a game behind in the Wild Card chase. With Washington facing very winnable games (Cleveland and Philadelphia) the next two weeks, it is imperative for the Bears to keep winning to avoid the kind of epic collapse that could cost Lovie Smith his job.

With that said, its tough to see the Bears getting it done this week. The Packers have won 7 of their last 8, with the only letdown coming against a dangerous Giants team that desperately needed a turnaround win. Likewise, the Bears recent losses have come not from bad luck but some serious flaws being exposed. Jay Cutler has gotten horrendous protections and has received little to no help from his receivers not named Brandon Marshall. The Bears defense is better than the offense, but they have declined considerably since the unsustainable forced turnover numbers started to slow down. The Packers will manage put some points on the board and it will be too much for the Bears to keep up with. 23-14 Packers

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Pittsburgh Steelers @ Dallas Cowboys

What? No Houston-Indy? Sorry, that game has some intrigue, but both of those teams are near locks to make the postseason and highly likely to finish in the same exact seeding they currently sit at. These two teams, on the other hand, are fighting for their playoff lives. Pittsburgh is a long-shot to win their division, but currently have a lead on division rival Cincinnati for the last Wild Card spot. Next weeks showdown between the two looks to be a huge game, but Pittsburgh will likely need to win this week to (temporarily) hold them off if the Bengals can take care of Philly Thursday Night (A.J. Green against the Eagles secondary tells me that will happen). Dallas, on the other hand, has seemingly been written off most of the season. However, they still have an outside shot at the division title should the Giants stumble and are another team that could capitalize on a Chicago collapse with a Wild Card berth.  Of course, much of Dallas’ hopes center around whether Dez Bryant can play (and play effectively) with his injured finger. However, the point remains that the Cowboys are very much alive still and winning out should give them a solid chance at the final NFC Wild Card.

So, who comes on top in this battle of historically great franchises? In this case, it will be the home team. Dallas is hot, having won four of their past five to make a late season vault into the playoff picture. They are also much better than their record. A few plays (including a Dez Bryant fingernail) could have turned close losses to likely playoff teams Baltimore, Atlanta and the hated Giants into wins. Most importantly, the return of RB DeMarco Murray from injury has added a semblance of balance to the offense. Dallas has been a different, better team when Murray is in the lineup. If Bryant, who has played like a Top 3 Receiver the past few weeks, is unable to go this could swing the other way, but its hard to see the limping Steelers outscore Dallas if he can play. Dallas gets the win and makes a lot of (Ok, a few) fans in Cincinnati very happy. 27-17 Cowboys

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San Francisco 49ers @ New England Patriots

Back-to-back monster games for New England, who have been rewarded for their Monday Night beatdown of Houston with a short week to prepare for the Niners. There isn’t a hotter team in the league than New England, who have won seven in a row with four of those coming in blowout fashion. However, there are some match-ups in this one that should scare Patriots fans. The Patriots offensive line hasn’t been great in their past two games. Houston only sacked Brady once, but they managed to hit him hard several times, while Miami’s defensive line had their way most of their matchup before the Pats killer game-clinching drive. Thus, it shouldn’t thrill the Pats to see Aldon Smith and his 19.5 sacks coming into town. Smith and his burly counterpart, Justin Smith are the type of players that periodically give New England problems; big, physical, talented lineman. Likewise, the Niners offense brings a unique challenge to the Patriots defense. New England’s defense has steadily improved throughout the season, but struggled the last time they faced a quarterback with the athleticism to rival Colin Kaepernick (Russell Wilson). It is no coincidence that New England’s defensive improvement has coincided with a willingness to attack the opposition more with blitzing linebackers (likely due to increased confidence in the secondary since acquiring Aqib Talib); the dual-threat of Kaepernick’s game could force the linebackers to stay much more honest. New England has been able to get away with the absence of Rob Gronkowski so far, but a defense like San Francisco’s (one that gets pressure consistently from its linemen) could throw off Brady’s rhythm, making the absence of his top weapon much more noticeable. As a Patriots fan I certainly hope I’m wrong, but I can see San Francisco turning this into the type of ugly game they excel at winning. 20-17 Niners

Song of the Day

Blink 182- Wasting Time

This song belongs on the soundtrack of some American Pie-style end of high school/entering college summer bro-medy. That might sound like somewhat of a backhanded complement, but I genuinely mean if in a good way: this song’s combination of pop hooks, jagged sloppy production, and the bratty, sophomoric style of comedy that my entire generation fell in love with at one point perfectly encapsulates everything that  makes pop-punk such a fun genre to listen to. And it’s topped off by one of Mark Hoppus’ best early performances, bleating out lyrics full of earnestly nervous insecurity that anyone who was once 15 can instantly relate to. In my town you can’t drive naked either, Mark. I feel your pain.

Song of the Day

Soundgarden- Let Me Drown

The opening track of Soundgarden’s classic album Superunknown. Any album worth its salt has a great opener, the kind of track that immediately grabs the listener’s attention and leaves them needing to hear more. This one certainly fits the bill, as it contains all the ingredients that made Soundgarden a great band: that twisting rock riff, searing guitar leads, thunderous drumming and, of course, Chris Cornell’s powerful voice cutting through the chaos. That “Yeah!” he wails at 0:42…just awesome. I could waste more words trying to describe this track, but sometimes the dumbed-down version is the most effective. And in this case, that’s as simple as saying “this song just fucking rocks.” Enjoy