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San Francisco 49ers: NFC West champions after Week 13?
49ers Break Dry Spell-After a steady 26-0 shutout victory over the St. Louis Rams, the San Francisco 49ers clinched the NFC West, despite having 4 games remaining. San Francisco returns to the postseason for the first time since 2002. A secured playoff spot at this point in the season can be a double-edged sword, as there’s potential for complacency to settle in. They’re still chasing the Packers for the top seed in the NFC, but Green Bay doesn’t look like they’re losing anytime soon, with games against Oakland, Kansas City, and Chicago. We’ve seen a tendency where the teams that go into the postseason on fire carry that momentum throughout January. We’ve also seen teams lock up positioning with a week or two remaining, become rusty after their bye week during the Wild Card round, only to lose to the hotter team in the Divisional round. Potentially projecting a bit on my part, but as far as the present goes, Alex Smith looks to be developing a rapport with Michael Crabtree, which will greatly help balance the offensive attack. Frank Gore would probably appreciate having fewer defenders in the box.
Packers Strike Again-The Giants played them down to the wire, as Eli Manning led a game-tying drive with under a minute to go. Aaron Rodgers proved to be too much once again, throwing for 369 yards and 4 touchdowns. Arguably their toughest test remaining on their regular season schedule, Rodgers and Co. seem headed for a 16-0 regular season, barring some unforseen circumstances. The MVP award also looks to be all but locked up. In other news, Brett Favre is surprised that Rodgers and Green Bay didn’t reach 12-0 faster.
Texans Carry On-Apparently it doesn’t matter who plays quarterback for the Houston Texans. When you have a workhorse running back and a top defense, your quarterback has the luxury of playing the role of game manager. T.J. Yates, the third-stringer for Houston, was serviceable in his first start as the Texans held off the Atlanta Falcons, 17-10. Yates was helped by Arian Foster, who ran for 111 yards and a touchdown, along with the defense who held the Falcons offense to 70 yards rushing. Andre Johnson went down with an injury to his other hamstring, though this injury doesn’t appear to be as serious. Despite the injury-bug, Houston is tied for the top seed in the AFC. With their four remaining games against Carolina, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Tennessee, Houston has the potential to finish 13-3, their best regular season mark in franchise history. If Houston has Super Bowl plans, they’ll have to do so going against the grain. In a league dominated by aerial assaults, Houston’s winning formula will be reliant on a defense to go with a heavy rushing attack.
Jets Keep Pace-The Jets are in a tight spot right now, fighting for the last Wild Card spot with Tennessee, Denver (how we’ll never know), and Cincinnati. The one thing New York has going for them is their schedule, the weakest amongst the teams mentioned. That being said, the Jets have been known to not show up on game day every so often. Midway through the fourth quarter, it looked to be just that as the Jets trailed the Redskins, 16-13. Then, shocking us all, the offense showed signs of life, after appearing to be half asleep for most of the game. The final score, 34-19, indicates a wallop, but the Jets were messing around for the first 55 minutes, and nearly gave this game away. When you’re facing Rex Grossman, you’re never out of a game.
Bears In Trouble-Jay Cutler breaks the thumb on his throwing hand, so the Bears just resort to an even heavier workload for Matt Forte. Forte then leaves the game with a sprained MCL, which leaves the Bears with either Caleb Hanie to air it out or Marion Barber to flash back to his Dallas Cowboy days when he could muster more than 3.7 yards per carry. The result was to be anticipated, as a field goal was all the Bears could put on the scoreboard. Then take into account that it was against the Chiefs and you thought maybe that would be enough for Chicago to win the game. Except Kansas City snapped their touchdown drought, which had been 3 games, on a hail mary pass before halftime, to win, 10-3. The Bears are tied with the Falcons at 7-5 for the last playoff spot and only a game up on the Giants.
Tebowing Again-I wish I could offer you some explanation for Tim Tebow being 6-1 since being inserted into the starting lineup. A 35-32 victory over the Minnesota Vikings was Tebow’s latest display of being a winner. I can’t take that away from him, but it’s hard to see that translating at the quarterback position where so much lies in the hands of that player. If Tebow were a skill player who had his number called a handful of times for a particular role, I could make sense of that. I could focus on the fact that Minnesota’s defense is atrocious while their run defense is much better, explaining Tebow’s 13 yards rushing, but 202 yards and 2 touchdowns on 10 completions. Not yet sold on what is going on in Denver despite being tied for first in the AFC West, I look at Denver’s 6-1 run like I would the guy at the blackjack table who keeps hitting on 19 and scoring that 2. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
Ravens Break Trend-A Cleveland Browns victory today would’ve been fitting given the Ravens pattern this season. Take down a big-time opponent one week, lose to a doormat the following week. Coming off a big win over the 49ers, a let down against the Browns had to be a concern for Head Coach John Harbaugh. Whatever he told them before the game, he should probably stick with that routine, as the Ravens took care of business, 24-10. Another troubling trend we’ve seen with the Ravens was avoided as Ray Rice had 29 carries for 204 yards and a touchdown.
Lights, Cam, Action-The Carolina Panthers aren’t going anywhere this season. But they won’t have to look hard to find optimism about the direction their franchise is headed. After an offseason with many doubts and questions about his ability to be a franchise quarterback, Newton has squashed that talk as Newton led a blowout win over Tampa Bay, 38-19. Newton ran for 3 more touchdowns, giving him 13 rushing touchdowns, a new record for quarterbacks. Surround this man with a young receiver to grow with him and a defense that won’t rank near the bottom of the pack, it won’t be long before Carolina returns to the postseason.
Cowboys Fade Late-Nothing feels worse than calling a timeout to freeze a kicker who misses the first kick, only to make the second kick because of your strategy. Except when you call a timeout when your kicker makes the first kick, only to miss the second. Head Coach Jason Garrett pulled off just that as Dallas lost, 13-19, in overtime to the Arizona Cardinals. Garrett said he was concerned about a potential bad snap as players were still settling into their position when he called timeout, but this is a game he’d like to have against a weak Cardinals team.
Colts Lose, But Win-A three-touchdown underdog, the Colts stood no chance to win this game. Unless of course, Peyton Manning put a helmet and pads on. That didn’t happen, but Indianapolis covered that spread and scored many garbage-time points to make the final score seem competitive in defeat, 31-24. It wasn’t that competitive, but credit the Colts for trying and padding fantasy stats along the way.