Eleven opinions in NFL's Week 11
Why I'd like to see a Titans-Giants Super Bowl in February
The Fine 15, MVP Watch, Award Section and much more
Saints may be about to lose players due to drug suspensions
NEW YORK -- Week 11: 11 opinions.
1. No, I don't believe the final play in the Steelers-Chargers game is scandalous. The referee, Scott Green, made a mistake. A $66 million mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. The Cliffs Notes version of the story (full AP write-up, with Green's comments, here):
With five seconds remaining, trailing 11-10, the Chargers, on their own 21, tried one of those wacky, multiple-lateral plays to keep the ball alive. LaDainian Tomlinson caught a pass, flipped it to Chris Chambers, who then tried to pitch it to a teammate. Steelers safety Troy Polamalu broke it up, scooped up the football and ran in for an apparent TD. After a review, Green announced the play was upheld and the TD counted. But the officials huddled again before the Steelers extra-point attempt and changed the call, declaring Tomlinson's lateral to be an illegal forward pass which should have ended the play.
The problem is the Steelers were very heavy betting favorites in this game. One Vegas bookie said last night that $100 million was bet on this game alone, with $66 million of that bet on the Steelers. The Steelers were four-point favorites. Instead of winning 17-10 or 18-10, the Steelers won 11-10. Thus they didn't cover, much to the angst of gamblers around the United States. The call led to the conspiracy theory that somebody must have been in on the action to influence such a gigantic swing in the betting line. I don't buy it. I would never buy it for two reasons: 1) There are too many safeguards in place that would cause the ruination of too many people -- the officiating crew, those in the league office who supervise and regulate the officials all the way up to the highest offices of the NFL -- whose lives and careers would be forever tarnished for a few million dollars. 2) There is also the sheer impossibility of inventing some sort of fix like this to consider. How do you make up a play like that and get the word to the officials to call it a certain way? There's no way.
2. I really want to see a Titans-Giants Super Bowl. How great would it be for the Giants to face an 18-0 team in the Super Bowl for the second-straight year? So what's the problem? All Tennessee has to do is win eight games in a row. Maybe if I keep picking against them, it will be a lock. "Make sure u pick jets next week!'' was the text message from Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz an hour after the Titans came back to beat the Jags convincingly on the road 24-14. No can do, coach. We wanted the Titans to prove they could win throwing the ball; Kerry Collins strafed the Bears, in tough weather, with 289 passing yards in a 21-14 win last week. We wanted the Titans to prove they could come back against a tough team on the road, and the Jags will have to suffice; Tennessee, down 14-3 with 25 minutes to play, rode three Collins touchdown passes to the win in Jacksonville. The Giants don't seem to have a weakness right now. Do you see one? I don't. They're a great mix of a team that can do whatever it wants on offense with a defense that rarely surrenders anything significant.
3. Tennessee has to sign Kerry Collins to a fair-market deal, even if it means Vince Young has to sit behind him for two more years. Collins is pulling a Kurt Warner, and Young, unfortunately for his development, is going to have eat humble pie like Matt Leinart's doing in Arizona. Tennessee has the cap room to do a 2009-salary-heavy deal for Collins -- the Titans will enter the offseason $35 million under the salary cap -- and I'd be stunned if they don't do it. There can be no more questioning of Collins, who has thrown one interception in the past 21 quarters and taken four sacks in the last 34 quarters. He's an efficient winner, the perfect quarterback for a team with a great offensive line, solid running game and brass-knuckle defense that's going to play a low-scoring game. Young's growing pains are a terrible match for the Titans now, and if they can't convince him to be patient and learn under Collins and offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, they're going to have to let him walk. This game's about winning, not about playing the quarterback the owner wanted you to draft.
4. The Tennessee land-mine game will come in Week 17, against its old friends in Indiana. Maybe the Jets come to Nashville this weekend and shock the world, but I doubt it. After that, Tennessee is at Detroit (hide the women and Marinellis) for the first empty-seated Thanksgiving game in Detroit in some time, and has Cleveland at home, Houston on the road, Pittsburgh at home, and Indy on the road. Jeff Fisher told me last week the Titans wouldn't be taking any days off, regardless of their clinching status, and would play their starters all the way through the season. That's good. Indianapolis would likely need the game for a playoff shot, and if the Colts were out of it, Tony Dungy, I'm sure, would play the game straight to give the Titans their best shot. Let's look at the last five years in this series, in games at Indianapolis: Colts, 33-7. Colts, 51-24. Colts 35-3. Colts, 14-13. And last year, Titans, 16-10 ... with a gigantic asterisk: The Colts didn't need the game, Tennessee did, and the Colts played the game with a bunch of Sorgis. If you're the Titans, you say, Hey, we held them to 14 and 10 the last two years. If you're the Colts, you say, Hey, we're 8-3 against them over the last five years. Either way, this would be the game of the week in Week 17.
5. I have never seen a running game with the balance the Giants have. In the last three games, the Giants have given three backs -- Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw -- the ball at least five times apiece. Against Dallas, it was Jacobs 17, Ward 12, Bradshaw five. Against Philly: Jacobs 22, Ward 17, Bradshaw five. Against the Ravens: Jacobs 11, Ward 11, Bradshaw nine. They've rushed for 200, 217 and 207. They've won by 21, five and 20 points. In the NBC viewing room, I've been yelling at the TV all year: "Don't take Jacobs out! What are you doing!'' But the Giants are doing two things in keeping Jacobs' carries down: They're keeping him fresh for January (or attempting to; he bruised his knee Sunday) because he's never been a 300-carry guy in the pros and the Giants don't want to risk finding out if he could be. Two: The Giants would have to pay Jacobs the free-agent $7 million a year if he were to win a rushing-title this year -- and he certainly could if that were the goal here. But why do it if you're playing great by sharing the load? The impressive thing about the Giants right now is that they're convinced they can steamroll any team in football with any of the three running backs. Let's not spoil it.
6. Speaking of spoilers, here my two: Steelers, Cardinals. We're talking about teams like the Giants of 2007, teams that could get hot when it mattered, teams that could beat the Titans in the AFC playoffs and the Giants in the NFC. Now, do I really think the Cards' aerial circus could come to the windy Meadowlands and beat the Giants in mid-January? No; that game has all the makings of the 2000 NFC title game, the 41-0 smashing of the Moss-Carter Vikings. But there's something about Arizona, with Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald playing above the rim and a bunch of Travis LaBoys on defense who are better than you think. Steelers? Those linebackers would scare Unitas or Marino.
7. Tony Romo's a hero. Marion Barber's the truth. Barber, down the stretch in Washington, continually found the burst and the stamina to make it to the first-down marker and bleed the clock further; he had 83 rushing-receiving yards in the fourth quarter against a defense that knew he was coming. Romo? His hand hurt, and he wasn't perfect. But he saved the Dallas' season. The numbers don't matter. His leadership and presence do. If I were him, I'd take a DVD of this game, put it away and take it out one day next spring while throwing the ball into the couch at home (which he actually does when he doesn't have anyone to throw with). It's the kind of game you want to remember for the rest of your life.
8. For once, 2009 will have some real quarterbacks on the open market. "It's too early to really tell,'' said close-to-the-vest agent David Dunn, who could have three guys out there to tantalize quarterback-needy teams. Matt Cassel will be on the market in February unless Tom Brady's rehab is a disaster -- which no one expects right now. Kerry Collins could be on the market, though I fully expect Tennessee to re-sign him before free-agency begins Feb. 26. And if Brady Quinn has a good final half of the season, Cleveland would be inclined to deal Derek Anderson -- maybe for a second-rounder -- after the season. My sleeper for a compelling prospect in March: Byron Leftwich, who, if healthy and in shape, would have a good shot behind a good line to fulfill the promise he has had for so long. You saw what he did in a dominating second half against Washington two weeks ago, going seven-of-10 and throwing a beautiful deep ball. The problem with forecasting this group is so much can change in the next two months, but the one thing we do know is that, barring an upset, Cassel would be the first true free-agent quarterback with an intriguing upside and a strong full-season résumé and no tags on him in years. Maybe ever.
9. My Matt Cassel team of choice: Wherever Josh McDaniels coaches next year. If the Pats' offensive coordinator doesn't get a job, which would surprise me, then the quarterback-neediest team with cap room.
10. It's time for us to put Ed Sabol in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We're overdue on others, but on Sabol (and, hopefully, someday his son Steve) there should be no disagreement. Ed Sabol sold the NFL on making mythic figures out of football players by venerating them on film, and no single entity has done a better job of making this league the monster it is than Sabol's NFL Films. Kids who now run NFL teams and coach NFL teams and play for NFL teams played football in slow-motion in the backyard trying to imitate the way Sabol made movies about NFL teams and players. It's long past time that he be recognized with election to the Hall this winter.
11. Here's my defensive play of the weekend. Carolina 24, Detroit 22, midway through the fourth quarter, Detroit lining up for the potential tying two-point conversion. Carolina middle linebacker Jon Beason, 235 pounds, sized up Lions quarterback Daunte Culpepper on the other side of the line, calling signals from the two-yard line. "He's supposed to be a 265-pound dude, but I figure, coming off the couch the way he did last week, he must be about 280. They had split backs, and you figure it's going to one of them.'' But here came Culpepper to the right of center, and here came Beason to try to fill the gap. "It's an emotional play. Me and him. One of those 'who wants it more' plays. I dug my heels in right at the goal line and just said he's not getting in.'' Beason bent Culpepper back a little, and the beefy quarterback came to rest maybe 15 inches from the goal line. Big, big play. And doesn't it stand to reason that in this season when Carolina isn't playing great but is getting a few breaks, and Detroit is playing like crap and getting no breaks that the 235-pound would win a wrestling match against the 280-pounder?