NFCN Report – Week 16

Three of the four NFCN teams won in week 16. The Vikings annihilated the Giants and now have momentum for their division title game on the road next week. The Lions won their fifth game in the last seven weeks. The Bears won in Tampa Bay and are now tied for the third-best road record in the NFC and the fifth best in the NFL.

The only downer was the Green Bay Packers. Well represented with thousands of cheeseheads at the University of Phoenix Stadium, the Packers stunk up the joint and sent their fans back home with doubts about their playoff future.
NFCNThe Packers are bad.

It might seem stupid to say that about a team with a 10-5 record and a chance to win the NFCN crown, but they are; they are bad.

After the 38-8 shellacking Green Bay suffered in Arizona to the Cardinals it’s clear that among the league’s best teams they can not compete. They are bad.

There are many reasons why, but the injury epidemic to the Packers’ offensive line is the primary reason Green Bay’s season is on the brink of being over after their first playoff game.

The offensive line allowed nine sacks Sunday to a team that is among the league’s least proficient at sacking the quarterback. That’s because by the fourth quarter Green Bay had only just one starter on the line, center Corey Linsley.

Aaron Rodgers was lifted in the 4th quarter because he was dropped eight times. The sack parade was just part of the harassment Rodgers experienced, as he was hurried 12 times.

Don Barclay started at left tackle for the injured David Bakhtiari and his deadly attempts to protect Rodgers almost got the QB killed. Making matters worse were injuries to right tackle Bryan Bulaga and guard T.J. Lang. It’s not an injury bug the line is experiencing but an injury virus that’s eating away at any chance of the Packers getting past their first game of the playoffs.

If the Packers linemen do find an elixir to get back to good health, the offense still has other issues: the receivers inability to get open, Eddie Lacy’s hot and cold rushing results, the growing tendency to turn the ball over (three fumbles lost to the Cardinals and Rodgers threw his fourth interception in five games), and Davante Adams shocking second-year regression.

Things on defense aren’t much better. In the four games the Packers played against teams with a winning record, since their loss to the Broncos, they’ve allowed an average of 29 points a game. And, one of those games was the 13 point success they had versus the Vikings in Minnesota. Subtract that game and they are allowing 35 points a game.

It’s no secret that the Packers are not very good on the road against good teams. Their match next week with the Vikings, at Lambeau, is critical to their playoff hopes because we know now a first-round playoff bye is impossible. A win against the Vikings and they’ll begin their Super Bowl quest at home. But, now, it looks like all it will do is delay the inevitable – an early playoff exit.

Vikings giants

If Green Bay was the skinny kid always losing his lunch money to bullies, the Vikings, on Sunday night, were the bullies who were swiping the faculty’s lunch money.

Minnesota completely schooled the New York Giants, 49-17 with a strong rushing attack, fearsome defense and mistake-free football. They now head to “Title Town” with momentum for a second straight Sunday Night Football game with the division title on the line.

The Vikings rushed 40 times for 218 yards and three touchdowns. Adrian Peterson notched his seventh 100+ yard game (he leads the league in that category – two more than Darren McFadden and Todd Gurley). Jerick McKinnon added 89 yards and two touchdowns.

The defense, with Harrison Smith, Linval Joseph and Anthony Barr back in the lineup, harassed Eli Manning with four sacks, eight hits and three interceptions. Smith had a pick-six.

Bridgewater didn’t post the numbers he had the last two games, but he didn’t need to. He was mistake-free and leadership-rich. He’s also not being knocked around like he’s been for the majority of the season. The offensive line, particularly the middle, is playing better than they have all season.

It’s interesting to see the arc of this season for the Vikings. After a mid-season six game winning streak, the Vikings played the Packers in a humbling home game loss. The defeat slumped the shoulders of a team many thought were ready to stand tall and challenge for the division title. The Vikings went on to lose two of three. The last of those losses was to the Cardinals, in Arizona. The team did a poor job of closing out that game, but just like the close loss in Denver, it served as a shot of adrenaline. The team knew they could go on the road and play with the league’s best.

Since that game the Vikings have gone 2-0 and won by a combined score of 87-34. They appear to be getting healthy and hot at the right time. A win in Lambeau Sunday night will have repercussions for this year’s post-season, but also issue a proclamation that the Vikings are ready to supplant the Packers as the division’s domineering team for the foreseeable future.

Lions win 5 of 7

No NFC team east of the Mississippi has a better won-lost record over the last seven games than the Detroit Lions (tied with Washington). The Lions don’t look Super Bowl ready as all but one of their wins this season have been versus teams under .500 and they’re 1-6 against teams with winning records. But, there’s value in winning. Even if you’re doing it against mediocre teams.

Mediocre might be the kindest description the San Francisco 49ers have been called this season. They are, in fact, a bad football team. But, they do have stretches of good football and they showed that in the first half as they out-played the Lions despite going into the dressing room trailing by three.

They outplayed the Lions because Detroit helped. Mental mistakes (ten defenders on a goal line formation) poor tackling and lackluster efforts rushing and stopping the run (43 yards to the 49ers 122) all contributed to coach Jim Caldwell’s team’s philanthropic efforts.

With a 20-17 lead the Lions re-grouped and came out in the second half to shut out the 49ers the rest of the game – allowing only 72 yards.

On offense, they got their superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson into the end zone. For the game Megatron caught six passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. He had only five total receptions in his previous three games. Clearly he’s not the receiver he once was, but he’s still one of the conference’s best. He has eight TDs and 1,077 receiving yards for the season.

The Lions have more than their share of off-season question marks and their star receiver is one of them. Whomever the team’s new general manager is (their biggest off-season question) will he keep Johnson and his $24 million cap number in 2016, trade/release him, or try to re-structure the deal?

What will the GM do to improve one of the worst offensive lines and rushing attacks in the NFL?

What will the defense look like?

And, will coach Caldwell be given a reprieve and return as coach?

A win next week on the road against the Chicago Bears might greatly help Caldwell’s cause. The loser of the game will have double-digit losses for the season (both teams are 6-9). Finishing the season with six wins in the second half  – no matter the competition level – is a significant accomplishment.  Keep in mind that Caldwell’s two-year regular season record with Detroit is currently 17-14.  Keeping Caldwell and coaching continuity might be better than starting completely over.

NFCN

The Bears went to Tampa Bay to face former head coach Lovie Smith and ironically remembered how to create turnovers. In fact, they won the turnover battle, 3-0, with linebacker John Timu’s two fumble recoveries leading the way. Harold Jones-Quartey forced one of the fumbles and had an interception. Ka’Deem Carey scored two touchdowns for the offense and the Bears won 26-21.

Timu, Jones-Quartey and Carey. Yeah, it wasn’t exactly a star-studded showcase for Chicago. Although, more familiar names contributed to the win, injuries did give some players an opportunity to play and many of them delivered.

Of this trio, Timu intrigues me the most as he could become an answer to the Bears’ inside linebacker problems. Not athletically gifted, Timu, though, has a nose for the football, reads and reacts well and loves to throw his body around like he’s playing sandlot tackle football on a snowy Saturday.

Jones-Quartey is an unlikely starting safety candidate, but the undrafted free-agent rookie played like someone who deserves a longer look. The safety was personally challenged by defense coordinator Vic Fangio to create turnovers and he did.

Carey is making a strong case for becoming Jeremy Langford’s back-up next year and allowing Matt Forte to seek a new home. Carey had the team’s only touchdowns.

Jay Cutler continued to make his case for being the team’s 2016 QB. His sole mistake, an interception, was nullified by a Bucs penalty. With a depleted wide receiver corps (no Alshon Jeffery and Marquess Wilson), Cutler looked like a guy building a complicated model kit: carefully assembling his pieces and meticulously glueing together a win. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase’s game-plan was designed for Cutler not to get sticky fingers; it was a safe, patient attack with only two passes in the air for more than 20 yards.

As a whole the Bears benefitted more from the mishaps of the Bucs as much (or more) as their own play. Like the Bears, the Bucs have played poorly since being (effectively) knocked out of the playoff picture.

Chicago ends the season with a 5-3 road record for 2015. A victory at home against the Lions next week would give them two Soldier Field wins. That’s not going to make George Halas proud, but would finish the first Ryan Pace-John Fox season at 7-9 and that’s a big improvement over a team which was a civic disaster a year ago.

 

 

 

 

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Aldo Gandia

Aldo Gandia

Among my career highlights I have produced two films while in high school that received nationwide attention; leaned out of a helicopter over the Gulf of Suez at the age of 20 to shoot movies of oil rigs; won an Emmy award for a sports special and another for a kid's fitness show; and led a team of very talented creative professionals to produce break-through corporate communications.


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