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Washington 32, Minnesota 21

December 28, 2007

For the second time in three games, Redskins backup QB turned starter Todd Collins was brilliant completing 22 of 29 for 254 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions as Washington rolled over Minnesota and continued their late season transformation from 5-7 divisional basement dwellers to 8-7 playoff contenders. Now firmly in the drivers seat for the sixth seed in the NFC, the Redskins can earn themselves a wild card and a playoff appearance by defeating the visiting Cowboys in Week 17 regardless of what the Vikings do in Denver.

Redskins running backs Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts combined to rush for 97 yards against Minnesota who own the stingiest run defense in the NFL. Portis was the workhorse for the ‘Skins carrying 20 times for 76 yards and a touchdown, and he padded his all purpose yardage total for the day by catching 5 passes for another 48 yards. Portis even completed a 15 yard touchdown pass to Redskins wide receiver Antwaan Randle El who was a quarterback at Indiana University and is usually the one who is on the throwing end of trick passing plays.

No receiver for the Redskins had more than five catches on the day, but Collins spread the football around well to Santana Moss, Randle El, Portis, Reche Caldwell and Chris Cooley. Moss, who caught just four passes from Collins but led the receiving corps with 71 yards and a touchdown has become the go-to guy for Collins. Moss was the key factor in Washington’s victory over the Giants last week when he pulled in two critical passes in howling winds that had buffeted the football whenever either side attempted to gain yardage through the air.

Redskins tight end Chris Cooley who had been averaging better than 15 yards per catch and 80 yards per game over the past five weeks had only one reception against Minnesota but it was a 33 yard touchdown catch that opened Washington’s lead up to 9-0 midway through the first quarter.

Minnesota running back Tony Richardson who came into the game with only 14 yards rushing this season now has a total of only 13 yards. On his one and only rushing attempt of the game he carried the ball into the end zone – his own. The resulting safety gave Washington a 2-0 lead which they never relinquished. Meanwhile Adrian Peterson, the Vikings league leading rusher was stunted for a mere 27 yards on 9 carries.

Peterson was stuffed in the middle by effective play from Washington inside linebacker London Fletcher who filled any gaps in the line of scrimmage, and Redskins defensive ends Philip Daniels and Andre Carter stood their ground on the outside refusing to let Peterson turn the corner into the secondary.

Even Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson gained more yardage on the ground than any of his alleged running backs, but at least when he was running he wasn’t throwing interceptions. Jackson was picked off twice by Washington accounting for two of Minnesota’s three turnovers.

Next week the Vikings travel to Denver where their ground game should be effective. But even if Minnesota dominates the Broncos, they will need help from Dallas to make their playoff dreams come true. The Cowboys have a great record on the road but Washington has all kinds of momentum and may well upset Dallas who has little to gain by a win over the Redskins.

Cleveland 14, Cincinnati 19

December 27, 2007

Several teams in the NFL had the chance to secure their appearances in the playoffs by defeating their opponents this week. Jacksonville locked up the fifth seed by beating Oakland, and the Giants clinched a wild card berth when they outscored the Bills in Buffalo. Other clubs like Minnesota who lost to the Redskins last week, lost the opportunity to clinch the last NFC wild card and thus let the opportunity to control their own future slip through their fingers.

Cleveland was the second team to fall into that category, losing to the Bengals in a sloppy performance more characteristic of a team who had nothing to play for than one honing in on the opportunity for only their second post season appearance in the last thirteen years. Prior to this loss the Browns had won seven of their last nine games and had come back from a 2-3 start to put themselves in position to challenge the Steelers for first place in the division.

The loss to Cincinnati not only took the Browns out of contention for an AFC North title, but also took their playoff destiny out of their hands. The Titans beat the Jets later in the day and now Tennessee is the team that can forge their own future. Cleveland must depend on the Colts to stop Tennessee in the season finale, otherwise the Titans will squeeze past the Browns with a strength of victory advantage even if the two have identical season records.

Browns quarterback Derek Anderson bears most of the responsibility for the Browns loss although dropped passes, a missed field goal and a failed attempt at fourth and one in the red zone also contributed to the disaster. In windy conditions, Anderson threw a career high four interceptions, something he has done only once before, and coincidentally it was in Week 16 of the 2006 season against Tampa Bay. ”It’s a tough battle to fight when you’re throwing four picks,” Anderson said. “A couple of them were bad decisions, and a couple of them got hung up in the air.”

And a couple of them went the other way for a total of 13 points for the Bengals. In a stunning collapse just before halftime Anderson threw interceptions on two consecutive plays and within 60 seconds Cincinnati had extended a 6-0 lead that was built on a couple of field goals into a 19-0 deficit that they took into the locker room. Because Anderson was picked off in his own end and because the Cincinnati cornerbacks had come up with good returns on each of them, the Bengals offense had needed to drive a total of only 25 yards for both touchdowns.

And even though the Bengals were awful after that, gaining a total of only 86 yards of offense in the second half the Browns failed to mount a comeback. Cleveland was able to score a couple of second half touchdowns, but two other possessions in which Cleveland had driven all the way into the Bengals red zone ended in the remaining two interceptions of Anderson passes. All told Cleveland outgained the Bengals by more than 100 yards and had 25 first downs to only 15 by Cincinnati. Anderson’s interceptions negated all that.

There were a few individual achievements for the Browns. WR Braylon Edwards collected his 15th touchdown catch of the year, a single season record for the Browns, and Edwards and fellow wide receiver Kellen Winslow became the first receiving tandem in Browns history to have 1000 yards each. But none of that will be any consolation if Tennessee beats the Colts and ends the Browns best season in more than a decade.

NFL Football Week 17 – Individual Performances

December 26, 2007

San Diego; Well, it has taken him until the final week of the NFL regular season to do it but LaDainian Tomlinson has finally broken out in front of Willie Parker, Adrian Peterson and Willis McGahee to take the lead among all NFL rushers for 2007. Parker is out for the last two games of the season with a broken bone in his leg, and Peterson was held to a mere 27 yards rushing by the Redskins last week in a decisive game that saw Minnesota’s quarterback rushing for more yardage than the running backs, and which brought Washington to the forefront of the NFC wild card race.

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Dallas (13-2) at Washington (8-7)

December 25, 2007

Dallas Cowboys Defense
4th Ranked against the Run
13th Ranked against the Pass
Dallas Cowboys Offense
12th Ranked in Rushing
4th Ranked in Passing

Washington Redskins Defense
8th Ranked against the Run
17th Ranked against the Pass
Washington Redskins Offense
13th Ranked in Rushing
14th Ranked in Passing

The last time the Redskins faced off against Cowboys QB Tony Romo, he threw 4 touchdown passes to wide receiver Terrell Owens for all of the points scored by Dallas that afternoon. And for Washington, 3rd year quarterback Jason Campbell completed 33 of 54 passes for 348 yards. In all three statistics – completions, attempts and passing yardage – it was by far the best performance of Campbell’s young career. Washington actually led 10-7 at halftime but could not contain Owens later in the game.

Some things haven’t changed since then. The Cowboys were playing .900 ball at that time while the Redskins were just barely keeping their heads above the .500 mark, and both teams are roughly at the same winning percentages coming into this Sunday’s game. Other things will be quite different however. Neither Campbell nor Owens, the two most prolific forces during their last meeting will be playing this week. Campbell’s season ended in Chicago earlier this month when just before halftime Bears defensive end Mark Anderson hit Campbell in the middle of his throwing motion and then fell across the back of his left leg driving Campbell’s kneecap into the ground and dislocating it. And Owens is listed as inactive against Washington owing to a high ankle sprain that, according to Owens is nowhere near as serious as his previous ankle injury.

But each side has fielded new talent to replace the old. At quarterback for Washington is the veteran Todd Collins who replaced Campbell in Chicago and passed for 200 yards in just two quarters of football. Collins has provided a spark that has lifted the Redskins to three straight wins, and if you take the passing that Collins has accomplished on a per quarter basis it would yield an average that would be good for 2nd place in the league for yardage alongside Tony Romo, and would have a touchdown count that would put Collins in the top ten QB’s in the NFL.

Dallas for their part has a good tight end in Jason Witten who is 4th in the league with 94 catches this year, and Patrick Crayton at the wide receiver slot has one of the better averages this year at more than 14 yards per catch. Should the Cowboys get any significant lead however the Redskins will probably get a steady diet of Dallas’ power running back Marion Barber.

The Redskins did some tough running inside themselves with running back Ladell Betts against the Giants a couple of weeks ago and Clinton Portis, Washington’s primary weapon in the ground attack has 10 rushing touchdowns this season. The Cowboys may well attempt to shut down the Redskins ground game with their highly ranked run defense and force Collins to throw by stacking up the defensive tackles, but if they do they will have to make sure that Washington tight ends Chris Cooley and Todd Yoder don’t sneak in behind the linebackers and burn Dallas in the secondary.

The game is of little consequence to Dallas as far as the playoff picture is concerned. They are division champs and have already locked up the top seed which includes a bye week, and have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Redskins meanwhile have very few outs left if they lose this game. Only a Vikings loss to Denver, a game which will be played at the same time that Washington has their hands full of Cowboys would offset a loss to Dallas and get the Redskins into the playoffs.

New York Giants (9-5) at Buffalo (7-7)

December 22, 2007

New York Giants Defense
12th Ranked against the Run
11th Ranked against the Pass
New York Giants Offense
6th Ranked in Rushing
17th Ranked in Passing

Buffalo Bills Defense
22nd Ranked against the Run
28th Ranked against the Pass
Buffalo Bills Offense
16th Ranked in Rushing
29th Ranked in Passing

The Giants have won six straight games on the road this year; only the Patriots and the Cowboys have a better record when playing away games. Unlike New England and Dallas however, the Giants can’t wait to pack up and leave the Meadowlands. They are an unimpressive 4-3 at home this year, but whether playing for the New York crowd or visiting their opponents the bigger problem for the Giants this year is their lack of execution on offense.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning has been hard pressed to connect with his receivers, and after starting the season as one of the top rated quarterbacks in the league for passing yardage and touchdown throws he has since sunk far down the performance charts. The Bills have struggled over the last six games, posting 17 points or more only once, and that was when they scored 38 while rolling over the winless Dolphins. But a similar cloud has hung over the Giants; in their last seven games they have managed to put more than 17 points on the board only twice.

The key for the Giants will be to stop Bills rookie running back Marshawn Lynch and to put pressure on Buffalo’s rookie QB Trent Edwards. Lynch is one of the top ten running backs in the league in yardage, gaining better than 85 yards per game, and he is also one of the more dangerous outlet receivers for his young quarterback. Edwards started the season with 5 interceptions and 1 touchdown, but over the past three games he had 4 TD’s with no interceptions. Edwards is a sharp, quick passer, and with nothing to lose he may well open up the field against New York and start throwing some touchdowns.

The Giants defense has been putting adequate pressure on their opponents quarterback lately, but Manning and the offense have failed miserably to take advantage of it. With Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey now out with a broken leg and WR Plaxico Burress already hobbled by a sore ankle and a sure candidate for the double team, the Giants will need WR Amani Toomer to have a very good day. A big game is also needed from running back Brandon Jacobs, who has averaged almost 89 yards a game, good for 4th best in the NFL. Without good numbers from Toomer and Jacobs, the Giants are likely to lose at Buffalo.

Washington 22, New York Giants 10

December 22, 2007

Perhaps the Redskins victory at the Meadowlands this week came down to who wanted it more. It’s been said that the major determining factors in the outcome of a football game are desire and confidence. Now that they are down to the last two games of the season and are still in the hunt for a wild card, Washington seems to have the desire, at least in part due to the galvanizing effect that the murder of rookie safety Sean Taylor has had on the team. “The last two games, when we were 5-7, basically all these games are playoff games for us,” says Redskins quarterback Todd Collins who made his first NFL start in more than ten years when he took the field against the Giants on Sunday. And the confidence part? That’s what Collins has brought to his teammates after coming off the bench last week just before halftime and performing brilliantly to lead Washington past the Bears.

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Cleveland (9-5) at Cincinnati (5-9)

December 22, 2007

Cleveland Browns Defense
28th Ranked against the Run
29th Ranked against the Pass
Cleveland Browns Offense
14th Ranked in Rushing
11th Ranked in Passing

Cincinnati Bengals Defense
24th Ranked against the Run
25th Ranked against the Pass
Cincinnati Bengals Offense
23rd Ranked in Rushing
5th Ranked in Passing

The Browns game in Cincinnati this Sunday is a pivotal game in the race for the only division in pro football that has not yet been clinched. By losing to the Jaguars at home last week, Pittsburgh has opened the door for Cleveland to snatch the division crown in the final two weeks of the season. Of course in order to do that, Cleveland will need to win it’s last two games against the Bengals and the 49ers, and the Steelers would have to lose their only remaining game at Baltimore. If Cleveland were only to tie Pittsburgh with an 11-5 or a 10-6 record, the Steelers 5-0 division record would give them the AFC North.

But before they can mount any serious challenge for the division, Cleveland’s first and foremost focus is on getting to the playoffs. They can clinch a wild card with a win at Cincinnati because at worst it would give them a season record of 10-6, and a strength of victory rating which the Titans could not match even if they closed out the season with three wins.

In the second week of the season, the Browns and Bengals combined to put up 96 total points on the scoreboard with Cleveland barely getting the better of the exchange and a 51-45 win. It’s true that the Bengals have scored remarkably few points recently; over the last three weeks they’ve averaged only 14 points per game, this after starting the season by scoring an average of better than 25 points in their first eleven games. And yet, this weeks matchup might still figure to be another high scoring shootout. Here’s why;

Defense; Neither team has one. The Bengals are fifth worst in the league and the Browns are dead last. Cleveland’s defense has allowed a league high 27 touchdown passes this year while 26 have been tossed against the Bengals. Each has allowed their opponents to score an average of 25 points per game.

Offensive Line; These are two units that protect their quarterback extraordinarily well, in fact they are tied with each other for second place in the league in fewest sacks by their opponents. Moreover, neither team ranks higher than 27th in sacks, so they haven’t had much luck pressuring their opponents passer either.

Quarterbacks; Browns Derek Anderson and Bengals Carson Palmer are among the top nine QB’s in the NFL for both yardage and for touchdowns, although Anderson has a slight edge with more touchdowns and fewer INT’s than Palmer.

Receivers; These two teams each have a pair of receivers that have combined for over 2000 yards on the season. The Browns WR/TE combo of Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow have caught 140 passes for 2141 yards while Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson and tight end T.J. Houshmandzadeh have 2293 yards and 186 catches between them. Only New England and Dallas have receiver tandems that have reached that mark, and only four other receiving duos in the league have as many touchdowns as Cleveland and Cincinnati.

Running Backs; Browns running back Jamal Lewis is the 7th leading rusher in the NFL, already having gained over 1000 yards this season. He’s also 5th in the league with 9 rushing touchdowns. The Bengals spread the running responsibilities between Kenny Watson and Rudi Johnson, who between them have combined for 8 touchdown runs and over 1000 yards.

But whether it’s a pair of monster offensive performances or a blowout, you have to believe that Cleveland is going to pull off the win. They have the momentum, a better balanced offense to handle any weather concerns and with the AFC North title still on the table they just have a lot more to play for.

Detroit 14, San Diego 51

December 21, 2007

The Lions post-season prospects ended today in San Diego, and if you really want your football team to go down in flames with maximum impact, Detroit has furnished you a blueprint showing you exactly how to do it. After nearly knocking off the NFC’s first seed last week but losing by only one point after an 83 yard Dallas touchdown drive in the last two minutes, Detroit has completed it’s self destruction. Since their much heralded 6-2 start and amidst growing hopes that Lions QB John Kitna’s prediction of a 10 win season were coming true, Detroit has dropped six straight games starting with the famed contest against the Cardinals where Detroit rushed for minus 18 yards. The only other team to rush for less than negative 18 yards was – you guessed it – the Lions who rushed for minus 53 yards in 1943 against – you guessed it again – the Cardinals.

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NFL Football Week 16 – The Great Ticket Monopoly

December 20, 2007

nfl ticket monopoly “Tickets!! Get your tickets!!   The NFL has expanded it’s interest in the ticketing business by asking it’s existing partner in primary ticket sales to handle the ticket resale business as well.   Starting with the 2008 football season, the company called Ticketmaster‘ will be the NFL’s official ticket resale service, which would be used by sports fans who have previously bought tickets to an NFL game (or games) but now want to sell them to other fans.   According to Eric Grubman, executive VP of the NFL, “…fans demand more creative opportunities to experience our games. We will now be able to meet their expectations with our safe, consistent and guaranteed service.”
The new service would be accessible through the Ticketmaster website as a feature called ‘TicketExchange’ and would also be linked directly from the NFL’s own website. Read more

Jacksonville (9-4) at Pittsburgh (9-4)

December 15, 2007

Jacksonville Jaguars Defense
5th Ranked against the Run
27th Ranked against the Pass
Jacksonville Jaguars Offense
2nd Ranked in Rushing
20th Ranked in Passing

Pittsburgh Steelers Defense
2nd Ranked against the Run
2nd Ranked against the Pass
Pittsburgh Steelers Offense
3rd Ranked in Rushing
24th Ranked in Passing

This week’s contest between the Steelers and the Jaguars is a pivotal game for both teams but also for the Cleveland Browns who trail Pittsburgh by only one game in the AFC North. Of the three teams that the pro football schedule has served up to Cleveland coming down the stretch, only one of them (Buffalo) has a winning record, and even the Bills have just barely gotten their noses above the .500 mark with a 7-6 record. A win by the Steelers would clinch a playoff berth and keep them in control of their division, while eroding the Jags status as frontrunner for the first AFC wild card. A win by Jacksonville however could leave the Steelers and Browns tied for first place in the AFC North if Cleveland also beats Buffalo.

Though the Steelers have put together a strong running game this year they face a Jacksonville line that hasn’t allowed any single player to gain more than 100 yards on the ground this season since Tennessee running back Chris Brown did it in the season opener. And no team has broken the 100 yard rushing mark against the Jags for the past five weeks. But Pittsburgh does have some advantages including a strong showing at home where they are 7-0 this year, and a highly rated quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger going up against a Jaguars squad that has not stopped their opponents passing game very well this season.

Expect the Steelers quality linebackers to keep Jaguars running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew in check long enough for Pittsburgh to put some points on the board by mixing up the solid running of Willie Parker with some passing plays to wide receiver Hines Ward and tight end Heath Miller. Prediction – Steelers just squeeze past the Jags to keep their home record perfect.

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