Another week, another look around the league for our analysts. As we hit the home stretch of the season the guys sit down and take stock.
Aside from looking back at the week’s action and choosing their best performer and biggest surprise, they’ll look at some impressive Signature Stats for the season, choose their “best of the rest”.
Finally they picked their dream Superbowl match up with just under two months until the big game.
1) Best performance of the week?
Khaled: I’m still a bit blown away by how good Eli Manning was. One of, if not the, best QB performance I’ve seen all year even with a couple of terrible decisions.
Neil: I saw most of the top performances by receivers this week; Nate Washington made do with some fairly ropey play by Jake Locker to make the game against the Saints competitive. Similarly Steve Smith against Atlanta and even Brandon Lloyd on MNF looked good given what they had to work with. I’m sorry I did miss Larry Fitzgerald because maybe he would have given my eventual winner a race. I went with Antonio Brown on Thursday who could have let that important drop get him down, but instead just got better.
Ben: Gotta be Rob Gronkowski going Tecmo-Super Bowl on the Redskins with those two long catches shrugging off tackles on the way.
Sam: Terrell Suggs put on a show against the Colts to help Baltimore snap an eight game losing streak against Indianapolis. That the Ohio Bobcats would probably have a good shot of taking down the Colts this season probably helped as well.
Nathan: This wasn’t a week where anyone really stood out for having an amazing game, but Doug Baldwin of the Seahawks was fun to watch. He had a blocked punt, and a nice touchdown catch. Any time the Seahawks had three receivers on the same side, they just put the ball in Baldwin’s hands and watched him run.
2) As you stroll through the various tables we’ve built for our Signature Stats, which one mark in there stands out to you as the single most impressive?
Khaled: Really bashing the Eli Manning drum aren’t I? He leads the league in completion percentage when pressured – considering the decline of the Giants offensive line I think it further shows the strides Manning has made this year.
Neil: The fact Levi Brown has come in the bottom ten of our pass blocking efficiency rating every year since 2008 and still has a job.
Ben: It’s a shame his season was cut short because Fred Jackson’s Elusive Rating is something special. 45 missed tackles on 209 touches is an astounding rate.
Sam: That a starting wide receiver (Greg Little) can drop over 1/5th of the catchable passes thrown his way. If the Browns make players do 10 push ups for every drop, Little must be able to bench press the locker room at this stage.
Nathan: Aaron Rodgers dominance in Accuracy Percentage. Right now he’s sitting at 80.8%. From 2008-2010, the best was 76.1%, so Rodgers isn’t just more accurate than anyone this year, but more accurate than anyone over the past few years.
3) Who’ll land in that unfortunate spot as being the best team to not make the playoffs?
Khaled: I think it may be the Bears and it really comes down to losing Matt Forte and Jay Cutler. Cutler kills them because the backup is so far from NFL caliber that teams have a head start on them.
Neil: I never thought I’d say this because I thought they were overrated at the start of the year but the Bears have this dubious distinction. The only thing holding them back has been Jay Cutler and Matt Forte’s injuries. While that O-line still has all sorts of issues they seem like a team too good not to still be playing in January.
Ben: Having just been through a set of picks on ESPN’s playoff prediction tool I’ve come up with the likes of Detroit, Dallas, NY Jets and Cincinnati missing out on the playoffs. I don’t think any of those sides are particularly good but the Jets have a proven track record in the post-season so I think they’re the most dangerous team to the established playoff teams who could miss the post-season.
Sam: As silly as this sounds, given how much they’ve sucked at times, it could be the Eagles. The talent is obviously there, but it’s taken more time than they have to get it to come together and start to work. It’s possible they could hit form just too late to make any kind of post-season push but be playing as well as anybody by the time the playoffs kick off.
Nathan: I think Oakland might be that team. The AFC North 2nd place team will take one wild card spot, and I think the Jets pull off the other one. Even if the Broncos lose to the Patriots, they can beat the Chiefs and Bills to take the division. That leaves Raiders fans on the outside looking in.
4) Biggest surprise this week?
Khaled: I was surprised how competitive the Redskins were, but I’m more shocked how any team lets the Jaguars beat them down like the Bucs did. That’s an alarming loss for a team that was overrated heading into the season.
Neil: That Todd Haley lasted this long. Ever since the bizarre benching of their best player, Derrick Johnson, for a year ( a game? Maybe….just. A year? Stupidity) I’ve had concerns that Haley has been the personification of the arrogant “I know better” type coach. He’s had a load of great players but somehow doesn’t make best use. In 2010 Jamal Charles has 239 carries, Thomas, I’ll take whatever the line gives me but absolutely no more, Jones had 248. He gets Tony Moeaki and Matt Cassel injured in the 4th pre-season game when most self respecting starters are in civvies and even when he wins he loses. Somehow the Chiefs pick up Jared Gaither, a lazy but supremely talented player. They have problems on their line but Gaither is relegated to tight end duty in goal-line. A false start gets him fired after 26 snaps. I can still see Haley in my minds eye now saying “that will show him”. Well actually no Todd, it really just showed how little you’ve done with talent as Gaither goes straight to starting for the Chargers and in two games ( 121 snaps) is still to give up a single pressure.
Ben: Jacksonville scoring 41 points, seriously, who saw that coming?
Sam: Arizona beat the 49ers with John Skelton at QB? Seriously, how the heck did that happen? You can’t seriously have your eyes on the number two seed and a bye in the playoffs and then tank to a team led by Scattershot Skelton.
Nathan: For me it was how much of a fight the Redskins put up against the Patriots. It made them look beatable, which isn’t a good sign heading into the playoffs.
5) Given what you’ve seen so far this season, what’s your dream Super Bowl matchup from the teams that still have a shot? … and what about it makes it so?
Khaled: The Packers deserve it so it’s all about finding a team I think can go toe to toe with them – hmm. I’m going to say Packers/Jets. There’s something about Rex Ryan against Aaron Rodgers which grabs my attention.
Neil: I want to see New Orleans against New England. Why? Because a) I predicted it and b) because I love the thought of those two teams with flawed defenses and excellent offenses going after each other.
Ben: The one that I think media and fans are clamoring for right now is the Broncos and the Packers, Rodgers vs. Tebow, can Tebow take the Broncos that far? But personally I’d like to see the projected #1 seeds, Baltimore and Green Bay, square off. Great defense vs. great offense, the chance to settle which has the upper hand this season and the Ravens with the opportunity to end the Packers’ dreams of 19-0…
Sam: Green Bay vs Pittsburgh. A rematch. Rematches are always cool, but I think second time around Dick Lebeau does a better job against the Packers’ offense, and a healthy Troy Polamalu is always huge for the Steelers. At this point I’m looking for teams that can give the Packers a game, and I think the Steelers stand as good a chance as anybody.
Nathan: Packers and Patriots. The game between these two teams was so good last year, but Rodgers was out. It has been far too long since we’ve had a Super Bowl between two teams that have recently been to a Super Bowl and this is the best match up to me.