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Football
NFL Instant Replay: Week 16
By Dr. Tom
Dec 29, 2004, 15:06

NFL INSTANT REPLAY: WEEK 16



The penultimate week of the 2004 season is now in the books. Playoff scenarios got a little clearer, as some teams decided they really wanted to play football in January, while teams like the Ravens and the Jaguars decided they had more pressing winter matters. Just one week remains in a season that has had its highs and lows, its excitement and its downers, its heroes and its goats – in other words, it’s been pretty much like any NFL season. The football folks always put a compelling, entertaining product on the field, and to toss adjectives at a season unnecessarily diminishes the fact that the NFL is the most consistently great American sport.

Under Review: Week 16

Steelers 20, RAVENS~! 7. Pittsburgh kept up their excellent play, beating the one team who managed to defeat them this year. The Ravens made too many mistakes to win this game – really, they needed to make none – and their increasingly flexible defense flexed a little too much at times. The Ravens used to do well against Jerome Bettis (and every other RB in the league), but The Bus repeatedly plowed thru holes you or I could have driven a . . . well, bus, thru.

Pittsburgh is sitting pretty for the playoffs after this win, of course. The Ravens, on the other hand, are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but their chances of getting in are very remote. While this loss hurt them – and call me a homer, but I think a mistake-free game with some tighter D gets them the win – it was the complete fourth-quarter collapse against Cincinnati that really did it. When you’re up 20-3 in a home game that you need to win, giving up the lead is inexcusable. In the Ravens’ case, it was also extremely self-destructive. The Ravens now need a lot of help to get into the postseason, and it’s entirely their own doing.

Other Games

Green Bay 34, Minnesota 31
Kansas City 31, Oakland 30
Denver 37, Tennessee 16
Indianapolis 34, San Diego 31
Houston 21, Jacksonville 0
New Orleans 26, Atlanta 13
Detroit 19, Chicago 13
Cincinnati 23, NJ Giants 22
Buffalo 41, The City 7
New England 23, NJ Jets 7
Seattle 24, Arizona 21
Carolina 37, Tampa 20
Dallas 13, DC Metro Area 10
Miami 10, Cleveland 7
St. Louis 20, Philly 7

Pass For Show, Run For Dough

In this era of Sports Center highlights and fans with short attention spans, the passing game gets a lot of love. Every week, at least one QB goes en fuego passing the ball, and a couple teams live and die putting the ball in the air. Maybe I’m just an old-school ball-control guy, but I think the running game is still the most important offensive ingredient, since it lets you wear down both your enemies at once: the opposing team, and the game clock.

I’m going to chart some rushing statistics this season (as I did last season, until time constraints forced me to scrap this column) and see how important the running game really is. Each week, I’ll tally up the 100-yard rushers and see how their teams did. Also, I’ll look at teams that ran the ball 30 or more times, and teams that ran it 20 or fewer times, and see how they did.

Week 16:
100-yard rushers: 12
Team record: 9-3

30 or more rushing attempts: 14
Team record: 11-3

20 or fewer rushing attempts: 4
Team record: 0-4

Season to date:
100-yard rushers: 161 *
Team record: 124-36 (77.50%)

30 or more rushing attempts: 185
Team record: 149-36 (80.54%)

20 or fewer rushing attempts: 75
Team record: 10-69 (12.66%)

* In the Jets-Dolphins game in Week 8, both Curtis Martin and Lamont Jordan rushed for over 100 yards in New Jersey’s dominating win. Thus, the discrepancy between 100-yard rushers and the team records, which will be off by at least one game all season long. I can live with that, since it means teams are emphasizing the running game.

In Pace Requiescat

Reggie White, who retired as the NFL’s all-time sacks leader, died Sunday. He was 43.

It was originally believed White died of a massive heart attack. However, White most likely had a respiratory condition that limited the amount of air his lungs could hold, resulting in "fatal cardiac arrhythmia," said Dr. Mike Sullivan, the medical examiner and forensic pathologist for Mecklenburg County. White had the disease, known as sarcoidosis, for several years, according to family spokesman Keith Johnson. He described it as a respiratory ailment that affected sleep. The disease is most common among Blacks and white northern Europeans, but its causes are unknown. It is also possible White had sleep apnea, a condition that makes its sufferers stop breathing repeatedly during the night -- hundreds of times, in severe cases. Determining a final cause of death could take up to three months.

In addition to his stellar career on the field, White was an ordained minister. He was known as “The Minister of Defense” during his playing days. His career began in Philadelphia, and he later joined Green Bay as a free agent, before finishing his career with a season in Carolina. His signing with the Packers was crucial to their success in the mid-1990s. White retired as the NFL’s all-time leader in sacks, a record later bested by Bruce Smith.

White is universally remembered as a great football player and a great man, both by his teammates and those who played against him. He was very active in youth ministries, even during his playing days. White is survived by his wife, Sara, and their children, Jeremy and Jecolia.

Our sincerest condolences go out to the friends and family of Reggie White.

Renaissance Manning

After passing up a cheap and easy way to tie the record against the Ravens, it was only appropriate that Peyton Manning would break the single-season record for touchdown passes in dramatic fashion.

Trailing the Chargers 31-23 in the fourth quarter, the Colts took over at their own 20 with under 4:00 remaining. Facing 4th and 4 from their own 26 with 3:05 left on the clock, the Indianapolis punting unit started onto the field. With three minutes to go, there was still time for the Colts to stop the Chargers and get the ball back. That’s the conservative play, and Tony Dungy was ready to make it.

Peyton Manning, however, was not. He waved the punting unit off the field and then completed a 19-yard pass to Reggie Wayne to keep the drive going. The drive culminated in a 21-yard TD pass to Brandon Stokley, giving Manning the single-season record with 49 touchdowns. The Indianapolis crowd exploded, but the Colts were still down by 2. Eschewing a celebration, Manning huddled his team up for the two-point conversion attempt, waving to quiet the crowd the whole time. Edgerrin James tied the score with a 2-yard run, and the Colts went on to win in overtime.

Congratulations to Peyton Manning for breaking the record, and for having a lot of class about it.

Random thought: when Manning was waving the punting team off the field, was I the only one who had the classic Robocop line, “Bitches leave” pop into his head? After all, Peyton Manning > Clarence Boddicker, so he could definitely pull it off.

End of the Line

Dallas S Darren Woodson, who has missed the entire season with a back injury, is expected to retire later this week.

Woodson had surgery to repair a herniated disc on July 27. He was originally supposed to miss only the preseason games, and possibly the first week of the regular season. However, rehabilitation took longer than expected, and Woodson experienced a problem in his sciatic nerve. He was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, which required him to miss games thru Week 6, but even after that, it was clear that Woodson would not be returning to the field anytime soon. Both Woodson and team owner Jerry Jones have strongly hinted that the veteran safety will be calling it a career.

And it’s been quite a career for the team’s defensive captain. In his 13 seasons, Woodson racked up 1350 tackles, making him the Cowboys’ all-time leader in that stat. Consistently getting over 100 tackles per season is tremendous for a safety. Woodson started 160 consecutive games at one point, and was selected to the Pro Bowl five times. He also retires with three Super Bowl rings.

Expect Canton to come calling in five years’ time.

When Women Have Chest Surgery, It’s a Boob Job

Titans QB Steve McNair underwent surgery to strengthen his bruised sternum. McNair first injured his chest during the 2000 season, then injured it again this season. Aggravating the injury has caused him to miss much of this season, during which the Titans have struggled to a 4-11 record. The surgery was necessary whether or not McNair plays next season; the veteran has hinted that he may retire.

Playoff Scenarios for Week 17

Again, credit goes to NFL.com.

AFC

East


New England
New England has clinched their division and has a first-round bye.

Buffalo
Buffalo can clinch playoff berth with:
1) BUF win + NYJ loss, OR
2) BUF win + DEN loss or tie, OR
3) BUF tie + DEN loss.

New Jersey
The Jets can clinch playoff berth with:
1) NYJ win or tie, OR
2) BUF loss or tie, OR
3) DEN loss or tie.

North

Pittsburgh
The Steelers have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

RAVENS~!
Baltimore can clinch playoff berth with:
1) BAL win + BUF loss + DEN loss + JAX loss or tie.

South
Indianapolis
The Colts have clinched their division.

Jacksonville
Jacksonville can clinch playoff berth with:
1) JAX win + BUF loss + DEN loss.

West

San Diego
San Diego has clinched their division.

Denver
Denver can clinch playoff berth with:
1) DEN win, OR
2) DEN tie + BUF loss or tie, OR
3) BUF loss + JAX loss or tie + BAL loss or tie.

NFC

East

Philadelphia
Philadelphia has clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

North

Green Bay
Green Bay has clinched their division.

Minnesota
Minnesota can clinch playoff berth with:
1) MIN win or tie, OR
2) CAR loss or tie, OR
3) STL loss or tie.

South

Atlanta
Atlanta has clinched their division and has a first-round bye.

Carolina
Carolina can clinch playoff berth with:
1) CAR win + MIN loss, OR
2) CAR win + SEA win or tie, OR
3) CAR win or tie + STL loss or tie.

New Orleans
New Orleans clinches playoff berth with:
1) NO win + STL loss or tie, OR
2) NO win + SEA win or tie + MIN win or tie.

West

Seattle
Seattle has clinched a playoff berth. Can clinch division title with:
1) SEA win or tie, OR
2) STL loss or tie.

St. Louis
St. Louis can clinch division with:
1) STL win + SEA loss.
St. Louis can clinch playoff berth with:
1) STL win + MIN loss, OR
2) STL win + NO/CAR game ends in tie.

The Scrub Division expands: Arizona, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, Miami, N.Y. Giants, Oakland, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Tennessee and Washington have been eliminated from playoff contention.

I’m not going to do any power rankings this week. Basically, the teams which have playoff scenarios are the good ones, and the Scrub Division teams are not. Space and time permitting, I may do some regular season-ending rankings next week before previewing the wild-card games.

Non-Football Stuff: The Bonds Issue

A couple weeks ago, I said I’d comment on the issue of steroids in baseball, especially with respect to the game’s most visible slugger, Barry Bonds. At long last, I’m going to do that.

First of all, is anyone surprised that Jason Giambi finally admitted to being on the juice? Look at him on his rookie card, especially the skinny chest and arms. A few seasons later in Oakland, he looked like he’d been sculpting his physique for 15 years. This past preseason with the Yankees, Giambi was noticeably thinner in training camp. He said he’d only lost four pounds, and it was because of changing his diet. Anyone could tell he’d lost a lot more than four pounds, being visibly thinner in the upper body and arms, and the “dietary changes” consisted of not sticking a needle up his butt. During the season, Giambi came down with some health problems, including a benign tumor that effectively ended his season. I don’t mean to trivialize his health problems, really, but how good are the odds that they were somehow tied to his steroid use and sudden non-use?

As controversy swirled around Giambi, the other shoe was expected to drop on Barry Bonds. And it did. A lot of I-knew-its and I-told-you-sos went up from the media and armchair baseball experts. Bonds claimed he took some steroid supplements without knowing what they were. I think that’s a crock of shit, personally, since there’s no way a conditioned athlete like Bonds doesn’t know what he’s putting into his body.

I also think it doesn’t matter that Bonds took steroids. Did he “cheat?” I suppose so. But where is the line on cheating drawn? Why is it acceptable to steal the other team’s signs? Why was it endearing when Gaylord Perry would put a dab of Vaseline on a baseball before delivering it to home plate? Bonds is far from the only player to try and gain an edge in baseball. His edge happens to be disallowed by the game. Mark McGwire’s edge, in the form of andro, was legal at the time he was taking it, but does anyone doubt that its effects are similar (let’s ignore that McGwire is almost certainly a juicer, too). Why are “nutritional supplements” like Creatine perfectly acceptable and accepted, but steroids are not? Creatine and similar products are designed to do the same thing steroids do: build strength and muscle faster than working out alone will. Steroid users, however, are decried for doing the same thing plenty of other players are doing.

And yes, I’m aware that steroids have huge health risks associated with their use, and their illegality likely stems from that as much as from the performance edge they might confer. While we’re on that subject, how much do steroids increase someone’s performance? We don’t know because we can’t ethically test the effects of steroids, since the side effects are so devastating (see Alzado, Lyle). What steroids cannot do is help someone hit .362, as Bonds did this past season, nor hit .370, as Bonds did three seasons ago.

After Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti were outed as steroid users, people have been trying to pin down what percentage of baseball players are on the juice. Let’s assume that it’s 25%. That figure might be high, or it might be low; I really have no way of knowing. This is why it doesn’t matter that Barry Bonds took steroids: even if 25% of all major-leaguers were on the juice, Bonds has been the best player in the game by a large margin for several years now. Do steroids somehow help him more than his peers?

The fact remains that Barry Bonds is the best hitter most of us will see in our lifetimes, is definitely the best player of his generation, and may just be the best player ever to lace up cleats. Steroids should not diminish that. His accomplishments are still ridiculous, his productivity is amazing, and the fact that he’s far and away the best player in the game at age 40 is unheard of. You can’t say it’s all because of steroids: at some point, you have to admit that Barry Bonds is a damn fine baseball player.

Despite some backlash from reporters after the steroid story hit (only about 60% said they would still vote for him for the Hall of Fame), Bonds should coast into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot. If he’s not, then someone should burn the city of Cooperstown to the ground and salt the earth that remains.

Picks for Week 17

Last Week: 10-6. Frown, again.
Season to Date: 149-75 (66.52%)

Games this week are tough to call. Teams that have wrapped up playoff berths will want to rest their starters, while teams that have been eliminated from the playoffs will be looking to build on the 2005 season with strong outings this week. San Diego, for example, has locked up the #4 seed in the AFC, so LaDanian Tomlinson and Drew Brees will play sparingly, leaving the game in the hands of Jesse Chatman and rookie phenom Philip Rivers. It is into this messy water that I cast my line, needing to go at least 11-5 to have called 2/3 of the games right this season.

All games are on Sunday this week.
Cincinnati 16 at Philadelphia 19, 1:00 p.m.
Cleveland 10 at Houston 24, 1:00 p.m.
Detroit 27 at Tennessee 24, 1:00 p.m.
Green Bay 26 at Chicago 17, 1:00 p.m.
Miami 13 at Baltimore 23, 1:00 p.m.
Minnesota 28 at DC Metro Area 15, 1:00 p.m.
New Orleans 20 at Carolina 24, 1:00 p.m.
NJ Jets 20 at St. Louis 27, 1:00 p.m.
Pittsburgh 21 at Buffalo 24, 1:00 p.m.
The City 14 at New England 30, 1:00 p.m.
Atlanta 21 at Seattle 17, 4:05 p.m.
Tampa 22 at Arizona 20, 4:05 p.m.
Indianapolis 31 at Denver 24, 4:15 p.m.
Jacksonville 23 at Oakland 16, 4:15 p.m.
Kansas City 27 at San Diego 33, 4:15 p.m.
Dallas 20 at NJ Giants 7, 8:30 p.m.

Next week: We’ll look back at the end of the regular season, and preview the wild-card round of playoff games.

Dr. Tom Fowler


Drtomfowler at yahoo dot com


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