We’re assuming/hoping it’s standard procedure in mid-December for public relations departments to print out playoff press passes, although that seems like an especially doomed and cruel practice in places like Indianapolis and St. Louis. The Dolphins have played much better of late, and they’ve likely saved Tony Sparano’s job, but handing out the post-season press creds pictured above is little more than a public shaming.
And that’s how we’ll begin this glorious Week 14 Sunday here at GLS, a time when backup quarterbacks continue in their attempts to save playoff bids, and the legend of Tebow could grow to even more nauseating levels if he beats another very respectable defense.
Hold on tight and grab your green hat. Let’s take our weekly trip around the league.
Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens
Most will rightfully focus on Ray Rice’s torching of Cleveland last week with 214 all-purpose yards and a touchdown, and the likelihood that he’ll post similar numbers against an Indy run defense set to supply even more gaping holes.
But Indy’s status as the league’s worst third-down defense that’s allowing opponents to convert on 48.2 percent of their attempts could mean this game will get out of hand even faster.
Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers
Matt Ryan faces a far weaker defense than the one in Houston that held him to his fourth-lowest career passer rating a week ago. As D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes, Week 13 was likely an outlier for Ryan, but we’ll quickly find out if it was instead the beginning of a downward trend
Before the Houston game, Ryan had passed for 1,204 yards and nine touchdowns and had only two interceptions in the previous four games. He had his highest passer rating (128.2) of the season in the game before, against Minnesota on Nov. 27.
Houston Texans at Cincinnati Bengals
In what could be a first-round playoff preview, Andy Dalton needs to rebound quickly from his season-low 45.8 completion percentage last week. That won’t be easy against a Texans secondary that’s allowing opponents to complete just 49.8 percent of their passes.
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
As expected, Kevin Smith likely won’t play, which will shift the Lions backfield duties to Keiland Williams and Maurice Morris, and the focus of Detroit’s offense to Matthew Stafford’s arm.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Jacksonville Jaguars
Two draft picks that generated constant discussion last spring are on opposing sidelines today in Jacksonville. Some draft prognosticators (*slowly raises hand in shame*) pegged Blaine Gabbert as the top quarterback in the 2011 draft class. Meanwhile, Bucs defensive end Da’Quan Bowers was slotted as a potential top three pick before serious questions about his knee surfaced, the same doubts that led to his massive tumble.
Seven months later, Bowers is quickly silencing his critics, while Gabbert’s are getting louder each week, and with each wobbly pass. Bowers fell to the second round, and since he replaced the injured Michael Bennett two weeks ago he has nine tackles–five of which have been for a loss–along with 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits.
Philadelphia Eagles at Miami Dolphins
Michael Vick and Jeremy Maclin return to the Eagles’ offense, but sadly the Dolphins are still looking like the better 4-8 team in this game.
Kansas City Chiefs at New York Jets
Try to find two more opposite coaches than Todd Haley and Rex Ryan. It’s possible, but it’s damn hard.
One is brash,and somehow he manages to be both arrogant and easy going. The other just yells a lot and wants to fight everyone.
New Orleans Saints at Tennessee Titans
Chris Johnson’s return to being the explosive and elusive CJ2K in recent weeks is well documented. But here’s another number that illustrates both how drastic his turnaround has been, and how pathetic he was over the first eight weeks of the season: 40.3 percent of Johnson’s rushing yards this year have come over the past two weeks.
Defensively, the Titans may be dealing with Drew Brees’ arm even more with Mark Ingram inactive. Quick digression related to that link: John Clayton’s Twitter background is still amazing.
New England Patriots at Washington Redskins
Barry Cofield says that a “little pressure” isn’t going to scare Tom Brady. He’s right.
San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals
A little bit of experience on the lower levels of the depth chart never hurt heading into the playoffs, and that’s the glass half-full approach that San Francisco is taking towards Patrick Willis’ absence today.
Chicago Bears at Denver Broncos
A late-season game against Tebowmania is bad enough for a Bears team now forced to maintain its playoff standing without their starting quarterback and running back. Throw in the high altitude in Denver, and this could be a long afternoon for the Bears, especially if Mike Martz really meant it when he said that he’s not changing his game plan.
Oakland Raiders at Green Bay Packers
In 2007, the Patriots came one game short of making history and becoming just the second team to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl. If they can get past a beat-up Oakland team today, the Packers will then face the similarly depleted Chiefs and Bears, meaning the only major regular-season test left could be the Lions.
And Green Bay’s going for it, with both head coach Mike McCarthy and key veteran players on both sides of the ball focused on history, and not the risk of a late-season injury.
One player who could aggravate an injury today is Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk. He was slated to be a game-time decision after practicing Friday, but he’ll likely play.
Buffalo Bills at San Diego Chargers
‘Tis the season for disappointment in Buffalo, and as Sai Maiorana of the Democrat and Chronicle writes, crushing ineptitude has become a holiday tradition in upstate New York. It’s a yearly ritual that starts in earnest every time a Bills player gives a bland December quote, like the one from Ryan Fitzpatrick below that’s followed by Maiorana’s historical perspective:
“All we can do is go out there and play, try to get better and compete, be a professional and that’s what we have to do.”
This year and last year it was Fitzpatrick saying that in December. Previously it was Trent Edwards, J.P. Losman, Kelly Holcomb, Drew Bledsoe and Rob Johnson. The names change; rarely does the situation. It’s practically a holiday tradition, discussing the latest Bills’ collapse over a glass of eggnog in front of the crackling Yule log.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
Second-year Giants defensive lineman Linval Joseph became a starter when the Redskins couldn’t retain Barry Cofield this past offseason during free agency. Joseph is essentially still a rookie after he received very limited playing time last year, and recently he started to listen to the advice of Jimmy Kennedy, New York’s veteran defensive tackle.
Joseph now wishes he’d done that a lot sooner, and his open ears could contribute to another very average game from DeMarco Murray tonight.