Stewing Over Week 12 in the NFL: The Playoff Push

Last week’s roundtable was too long. It was a wall of text that no sane human should be expected to read. We’ve significantly shortened it for Week 12. A game between two shitty teams? Ignored. A game in which a playoff bound team stomps some also-ran? Ignored. With that we have six games to talk about, so let’s get to it starting with the Thanksgiving game. Once again you’ll hear from Kevin, Burner, and Dave.

Packers (11-0) def. Lions (7-4) 27-15

Dave: The Packers continue their undefeated season and really help keep the Bears out of a jam by beating the Lions. Ndamuk-curb-stomp Suh also helped the Bears out by getting himself ejected and what looks like will be a two game suspension. And to think after the pregame show about him helping some high school team that got their jerseys stolen I thought he was a nice guy! I thought in the Bears game that a lot of the Lions players were thugs and I think this just proved that correct. We discussed this last week but with the Lions tough schedule it’s going to be difficult for them to win one of the hotly contested wild card spots.

Meanwhile the Packers keep on rolling. I’m not sure they can be beat this year but since Aaron Rodgers may not play the last couple weeks of the season (all his fantasy owners are currently freaking out) I think it’ll be tough for them to go 19-0. Obviously they’re still the clear Super Bowl favorites.

So what do you guys think? Will the Lions get a wild card spot? Will the Packers go undefeated? And should Suh get a 2 game suspension for his dirty play?

Burner: The loss certainly hurts the Lion’s chances of landing a wildcard spot. They’re now stuck competing with not only the Bears but also the #2 teams in the East and South. I’d say its possible they get a spot, but just barely. They’ve lucked out with the Cutler injury and in my opinion neither the Giants nor Dallas are that great. Their main competition is probably the Falcons.

I’m usually one to quickly point the Dirty Player Finger (it drives me nuts that Cheap Shot Rodney Harrison is on the NBC studio show commenting about this sort of thing), but I’m willing to give Detroit a bit of a pass here. They’ve been down for so long and had such a culture of losing surrounding their team that a little fire seems necessary to me. Suh is clearly an intense player who got carried away in a huge game for his team. If you’re a Lions fan you’d probably rather see that than a guy who goes to sleep at the first sign of adversity. He went too far here and his inevitable suspension will hurt, but I like a Lions teams playing with too much intensity.

That being said I still think the Giants have the best chance to beat Green Bay next week. They get a lot of pressure with their front four and Green Bay is probably due for a let down game after rolling over the Lions and cementing both their place atop the NFC North and a 1st round bye. I think the Rodgers owners should chill about him sitting though. From what I’ve read they’re already talking about 16-0 in the Packers’ locker room and Indy’s recent experiences have shown that resting guys is hardly a formula for success in the playoffs.

Kevin: I like a guy playing to the “echo of the whistle” as Urlacher said a few weeks ago, but trying to smash a guys head into the ground and then kicking him is uncalled for and really has nothing to do with intensity. He’s a repeat offender at this point. What makes it all the worse is that he lied (terribly) about it. “Oh uh, I was just trying to catch my balance.” What horseshit. 2 game suspension alone for being dumb enough to think that would fly. I think Detroit is toast. I see them winning 2 more the rest of the way (MINN and either OAK or SD…they’ll lose to NO and GB), putting them at 9-7. That’s not going to get it done.Green Bay does look unbeatable at this point. Everytime you think you’ve got them stopped, Rodgers pulls a ridiculous 3rd and long conversion and ultimately scores. I don’t know that anyone has a good chance of beating them, especially at home.

Burner: I think you give both OAK and SD too much credit, both teams have lost to the Denver Tebows a team that got absolutely crushed by the Lions. I think those are both wins for Detroit as is the Minnesota game. They go 10-6 and it comes down to tie breakers with the #2 teams from the East and South.

Kevin: Maybe but I can see them slipping up in one of those games. From what I could see, Palmer isn’t the 2010 Carson Palmer. He’s the 2008 Carson Palmer. He shredded the Bears D through the air. He couldn’t punch it in, but give him another 2-3 weeks and I think that team becomes more and more dangerous. Plus i’m not sold on the Lions like I was. They scored a whole 15 points against one of the worst defenses in the league (GB). That’s now 6 of the last 7 games where they failed to score more than 20 pts (the exception being the shootout against Carolina) They’re absolutely capable of winning both games. But a young team, in a playoff race, going through some adversity, possibly without one of their best players? I could see them slipping.

Burner: I guess its a matter of who you see more. I don’t see Detroit very often but I’ve seen plenty of Oakland and San Diego and those are two putrid teams. I say Detroit rallies against inferior opponents.

Ravens (8-3) def. 49ers (9-2) 16-6

Dave: The Ravens continue to look impressive and terrible all at the same time but they get the win here. The 49ers have been able to pad their stats against crappy competition but I’m not so sure they’re going to be able to do much come playoff time when all the teams are as good as the Ravens are. Certainly Baltimore needed this game more than San Francisco, but Alex Smith’s line (140 yards, 1 INT) looks pretty terrible.

The Ravens are now leading the North but Pittsburgh doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. They’re also in the same division as Cincinnati who is only one game back. The two North divisions seem to be the most competitive and deep at this point.

What do you think of the 49ers chances in the playoffs? They seem destined for a 2 seed which means they’ll most likely host a game against either the Lions or Bears. As a Bears fan I think a game in San Francisco would be a best case scenario.

Burner: I think Baltimore’s playoff hopes will largely ride on whether they win their division. If they do they likely have home field throughout, where they have been dominant this season. If they drop a few more to easy opponents and end up in the wild card I don’t see them advancing very far. This division is completely stacked but it seems likely that at least one of these teams will end up on the outside of the playoffs looking in. My gut says it will be Cincinnati due mostly to youth. History tells us it will be Pittsburgh, as only one team has ever lost the Super Bowl and made it into the playoffs, and those Seahawks had the advantage of playing the NFC West.

San Francisco is basically a mortal lock for the two seed at this point. They’ll either catch an NFC North team on the decline or someone from the NFC East. I wouldn’t be looking for this match up if I were an NFC North fan. Despite Smith’s stat line against Baltimore, he’s been solid this season, Frank Gore has managed to stay healthy, and Vernon Davis continues to be a beast. Plus I really wouldn’t want to send Caleb Hanie against the number one defense in the league. For their part the Niners may want revenge on the Cowboys after their miracle win early on or they could just want to avoid them all together.

Kevin: Unfortunately I was stuck at a family gathering with no NFL Network (damn plebians!) so I didn’t catch any of the San Fran/Baltimore Brother Love Fest. But from what I’ve seen before I think the Ravens are the real deal if Flacco can make some plays. If not, they’re very beatable. I still think they’re 1-2 in the AFC, right with Pittsburgh.

As I noted last week, I think San Fran is a paper tiger. If they get down by a touchdown or two, I don’t see them coming back. Their bread and butter is getting a lead and holding it or limiting opponents to a manageable come from behind win. Green Bay, New Orleans, Chicago (w/ Cutler) and Dallas can all score 30+ on any given night, and it’s those types of offenses that will eventually end San Fran’s run. They’ve scored more than 25 points only four times out of eleven games this year. I want to see how they do against Pittsburgh, but even then I don’t think we’ll see how good this team really is until they play a top NFC team.

Burner: Every year the NFC West team gets dumped upon mightily: “They haven’t played anyone.” “They won’t hold up to a real team” etc. Every year they win a playoff game and frequently go on a deep playoff run. Seattle and Arizona both had that sort of thing said about them the years they went to the Super Bowl. Last season the 7-9 Seahawks didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs, then they trounced the Saints. Beware the NFC West in the playoffs.

Dave: I suppose you have history on your side but from my perspective I’d still much rather the Bears play the 49ers than in Green Bay or in New Orleans.

Raiders (7-4) def. Bears (7-4) 25-20

Dave: The whole game I felt the Bears would somehow get a miracle win here but in the end too many mistakes by Hanie and what I considered terrible play calling inevitably doomed them. As Kevin mentioned Palmer looked a lot better than I thought he would too. I do think the Bears should be able to get three more wins as their schedule is pretty easy from here on out. I was also incredibly impressed by the Raiders punter. He kicked multiple punts out of bounds on about the 2 yard line.

The Raiders have a good defense but they played it exactly as they should. Stack the box and make Hanie make throws. All the talk is that Cutler may be back by week 17 and if not then, by the playoffs. I’d be absolutely shocked if the Raiders don’t win the West, that’s a pretty good team and with only the Tebows chasing them I think they’re in good shape.

The Bears must win next week against a bad Chiefs team which sets up the Bears in Denver matchup the three of us are looking forward to.

What are your takeaways from this game? Can the Bears do enough to win a wildcard spot in the last 5 games? Are the Raiders going to run away with the AFC West?

Burner: This game was on at the same time as the Tebows v. Chargers game so I didn’t see it. The Raiders have winnable games against Miami, the Chiefs, and San Diego left on their schedule, which would take them to 10-6 in a division that should be winnable with a 9-7 record so even if they drop one of those they should be fine. The Bears benefit from an easy schedule but I would be worried about what that loss to the Raiders says about them going forward. The Chiefs and Seahawks should be wins and they should be able to take the Tebows without an effective offense which gets them to 10 and should be enough to make the playoffs. But if the Tebowcat continues to work miracle I wouldn’t discount running into an amped up Vikings team looking to ruin the Bears season on the final game of the year. Overall, I think the Bear will be fine though.

Dave: The thought of playing the Vikings at home in a must win game Week 17 makes me want to throw up everywhere.

Kevin: This game was doomed from the start. I didn’t start the trek home from the Thanksgiving weekend until 2 o’clock, putting my ETA at about 5:30….well into the game. Even though I hate watching recorded sporting events, I managed to “tackle” half the drive in radio/phone silence. (while watching the Tebows/Chargers game on my phone – thanks NFL Sunday Ticket! – I even yelled at the top of my lungs so as not to overhear James Brown’s scoring update. My wife was not very pleased). However, upon entering my in-laws house (about half way home) with my hands over my ears, my father-in-law couldn’t wait to tell me the score. Needless to say, the first half of the game was ruined. And watching the recorded game as if it were live was just not going to happen. So I breezed through the game, only catching the “big plays,” but I still think I got a pretty good feel for what happened.

First, I’m tired of this “Martz’ play calling screwed them” justification for the loss. That sort of argument makes sense in the NO or Giants game from last year, when he refused to put an extra back or TE to block even though Cutler was getting sodomized from every angle. In this case he’s getting crap for calling passing plays, supposedly because he knows how much Haine sucks. Did anyone see that 80 yard bomb Haine threw? Or the other nice throws that he made? Haine clearly has some skills throwing the ball. It’s not like Martz is calling for Tebow to through the ball 50 times.

Second, the Bears lost because Haine tried to do too much. Simple as that. He threw some absolutely horrid passes that were predictably intercepted and set up Oakland with some easy FG’s. And even with that help, and the ungodly special teams performance, the Bears were still in this thing until late in the 4th.

I figured this one would be a 50/50 shot, and that’s basically what it was. I think Haine will get better The guy has skills, both passing the ball and running to get out of the pocket…now it’s just a matter of not making the dumb mistake. I think they’ll be fine. Win three games. That’s the goal. They hold the tie breaker with the Lions and Falcons, so that will help too.

Dave: In terms of watching games taped I completely agree. These days it’s nearly impossible with all the ways we’re connected but even when I know nothing it’s really hard for me to watch a taped game. Since I watched the Bears game and then recorded our Now Loadin’ Episode 2-1 Loadcast at Chas’ I had to watch the IU vs. Butler game on tape. Avoiding texts from my friends and score updates was hard enough but then to sit through and watch the game is that much harder. Any tension of a close game doesn’t exist because you know all you have to do is hit that fast forward button.

I also think Hanie can get better but those turnovers absolutely killed them. It’s not ONLY his fault they lost and there were some glimmers of hope but especially that interception on the screen pass when the Bears would have easily scored a field goal just killed them. It took away the momentum and field position. My complaint with Martz was that they didn’t push the run more but I think they were screwed either way. Oakland was playing with a ton of guys in the box and there wasn’t really any way around that. The one screen pass was a disaster.

Hopefully you’re right and he gets better and the Bears can squeak out three more wins and make the playoffs. It’d be a shame to waste a great year otherwise.

Jets (6-5) def. Bills (5-6) 28-24

Dave: I actually watched almost all of this game as it was the only early game I got (I’m not rich like Kevin and can’t afford NFL Sunday Ticket). The game was pretty good and featured the best endzone dance of the year. Stevie Johnson caught a touchdown then shot himself in the leg. It was priceless. Of course the celebration penalty totally killed Buffalo and New York scored on the next possession.

I’m sure the Jets will hang around and make it into the playoffs but I don’t think anyone really expects them to do much once they get there. If only the Jets had lost one more game or if Buffalo had won this week then we wouldn’t even have to talk about this game.I certainly feel bad for Buffalo fans. That team has come crashing down to earth and they don’t even get eight home games. That has to be rough.

Burner: I also watched this game, though I don’t have much to say about it. It was a lot less interesting than its score would indicate. It’s too bad about the Bills, I suspected they would fade as they have in previous years so it wasn’t much of a surprise that the Fitzmagic faded. Stevie’s celebration was great (though I’m sure there will be plenty of vomitous moralizing about it today) but his massive choke job on that last drive cost both the Bills and my fantasy team a victory this week.

I have no earthly idea how Nacho managed to put up 4 TDs in this game but that fact that he did means we, the public, and the Jets are stuck with him for a while longer. There’s something a little Tebow-ish about how clutch he is and his on the road playoff record means you can’t count the Jets out if they make the playoffs.

Kevin: The Bills are the Fighting Illini of the NFL. They were a long, gentle cock tease that ultimately left you completely unsatisfied and annoyed that you ever let yourself get so excited in the first place. Still, at least the Bills have some hope for the future. The Illini….meh…not so much. Agreed on the touchdown dance, though I’m not sure why people think that lost them the game. You know who lost them that game? That stupid kicker. How do you slip on the kick off? Even with a 15 yeard penalty you’re still giving the Jets the majority of the field to cover before scoring the tie or go-ahead score. Instead the kicker managed to hit one of the Jet’s special teams players and they got the ball at the 35-40. I can’t count out the Jets. Not after the last couple of playoff runs through the AFC gauntlet on the road. I think their defense is getting exposed a little though. Sidebar – anyone else notice that a lot of the top cornerbacks (Cromartie, Asumaugh, etc) aren’t doing very well this year? It seems like they’re getting scored on more and more this season, but maybe that’s just because I know who they are and expect them to be shut-down corners.

Dave: I didn’t really want to get into it here, but yes, I think the Illini are in some trouble. I still will never understand why they don’t have a more consistent winner there. They’re competing with no one else in Illinois in Northwestern. Under no circumstances should Northwestern have a better football team but year in and year out they do.In terms of the cornerbacks I just think the league has adjusted to favor the quarterbacks and passing so much that it doesn’t matter how good the corners are they can get beat by any half decent wideout.

Broncos (6-5) def. Chargers (4-7) 16-13

Dave: I know the takeaway nationally is that Tebow did it again but my question is why is San Diego so bad? Philip Rivers, who is killing my fantasy team, has looked terrible this year. Full disclosure: I haven’t watched a Broncos game all year and my guess is the first one I’ll see will be in two weeks against the Bears.

My questions to the AFC West expert are: Will Turner finally get fired? Is Rivers hurt? Do you still think the Broncos win this division? And will they beat the Bears in two weeks?

Burner: Tebow did it again is the wrong take away from this. He failed to move the ball at all in over time. The Chargers missed a long field goal giving the Broncos good field position. McGahee ripped off a long run. Denver kicks a field goal. Game over. Turner’s done. Oakland’s win means Denver won’t win the division. The Broncos could very well beat the Bears, unless they get some offensive production out of Hanie. The main thing you don’t want to do is let the Broncos hang around. The Chargers had plenty of opportunities to knock Denver out of this and failed to capitalize time and again. You have to put your foot on their neck to beat them.

Kevin: I heard a pretty good discussion about Tebow this morning. I think we can all agree that the defense and running game is as much a cause of Denver’s winning as Tebow’s play. Still, we shouldn’t totally discount what he does well – mainly protecting the ball and controlling the game clock long enough to then make a couple of big plays to swing the game in the Broncos’ favor. That’s what he does. He doesn’t make the stupid turnover that leads to good field position or points for the other team (hello, Haine x3), And yes, in overtime it was the missed field goal and McGahee’s run that set them up, but Tebow also had a 12-13 yard run the play prior to that, so it’s not like he didn’t do ANYTHING. I dunno, 5-1 in the NFL isn’t some fluke. He’s clearly doing something right, even if it is against teams that aren’t considered the best.What gets me the most about Tebow though is the “professionals” who just simply cannot fathom how he’s playing, let alone starting, in the NFL. Watching ESPN’s pre-game you would have thought that Tebow was coming out every game shitting all over the NFL logo. It’s pretty hilarious to watch. Each week he wins they just become less and less credible as analysts. Yes, we all know he’s not the best at throwing the ball (though he again made a few good throws in that game). But at some point analysts need to start analyzing the game and figuring out what he’s doing that’s helping his team win, instead of just repeating the same mantra over and over that he’ll never be a winning QB. Cause guess what – that’s all he’s done so far.

Burner: “But at some point analysts need to start analyzing the game and figuring out what he’s doing that’s helping his team win, instead of just repeating the same mantra over and over that he’ll never be a winning QB. Cause guess what – that’s all he’s done so far.”

I find this line of argument hilarious coming from a Bears fan who couldn’t wait to run Orton out of town despite him having a stellar winning record as a Bear. Very often, you watch a guy, and you like his play or you don’t. And when you don’t you come to certain conclusions about why he is successful despite what you see. Just as in the Orton years in Chicago, Tebow IS unequivocally the benefit of the best defense in the league over the same period that he has started and a resurgent Willis McGahee. He completed half his passed for 150 yards and ran for another 50. I just can’t see how that’s the recipe for long term success or how it will work against a non mediocre team. Look, Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl in Baltimore, he must have been doing something right and yet and he was out of Baltimore a year later. We’ll see if your opinion of Tebow changes after you watch Urlacher and Briggs eat him alive while Peanut picks off a few of his wobbling duck passes. Also he spun around in the middle of the field for no discernible reason again this week. Every time that happens I have less and less, ahem, faith in him.

Kevin: I don’t want to make it sound like it’s all Tebow, or that i think he’ll be the next Tom Brady. I’m saying instead of “analyzing” the fact that he’s never going to be Tom Brady, and that the entire experiment of him as a starting QB in the NFL is a circus show, why not analyze some of the things that he’s done well? Or better yet, ignore him and focus on the defense and running game. Have some criticism, that’s fine. But that’s not the coverage I saw. I just saw guys continuing to shake their head in disbelief that Tebow’s playing at all. And I railed against Orton only because he was a game managing QB for a Super Bowl caliber defense and special teams unit. The Bears fans deserved better than that. They needed a guy that could help them win championships. No one (especially me) is arguing that Tebow will be able to do that. But Tebow can be what most QB’s in the NFL are – average – for an average team that is a borderline playoff team.

Burner: Ah, well, if it’s what the fans deserved…

Saints def. Giants 49-24

Dave: The Saints roll over the Giants. This looks completely different from the team that got beat by the Rams of all teams just three weeks ago. With the win they take sole possession of first in the South and move one game behind the 49ers for the two seed in the NFC.

The Giants on the other hand now have an incredibly important game against the Packers next week. If they lose that one they’ll be 6-6 and would probably have to beat the Cowboys twice to make the playoffs. This result was a best case scenario for the Bears as they’d ideally like to see the Saints and Cowboys take control of their respective divisions and beat up on the second place teams.

Kevin: I’m really beginning to wonder if the Giants have any shot against the Packers now. They had zero pass rush last night. Meanwhile, the Saints offense is back. When they click they are scary. Another GB-NO game would be fun to watch.

Burner: If this is what happens to the Giants against the Saints then its hard to see how they will beat the Packers. On the radio this morning they were saying the mood in the Giants locker room was “resigned,” that they felt they had a good plan and it just didn’t work out. If true, that’s bad news for both the Giants and Tom Coughlin’s chances of returning next year. Dropping out of first and missing the playoffs all together might just be the thing to finally end his long run in New York. The Saints are harder to figure. Maybe they just have a weakness against NFC West teams, but after that loss to the Rams its hard to see them as a deep playoff threat. So it seems to me that the playoff picture now looks like New Orleans, who gets Detroit next week without Suh, will win the South and Atlanta and Chicago will be the wild cards. The NFC East tends to get pretty wacky towards the end of the season though so I’m not counting out a Giant’s surge or a Romo induced Cowboy’s collapse.

Dave: That’s it for this week. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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