Thursday, December 15, 2005

NFC Report: Week 15
By Zach

Folks, sorry for the delay with the NFC Report, finals week here at NYU has been tough on my desired posting schedule. But I'm making up for my week-long absence with two, count 'em two, posts today.

Just when we thought we might get some separation in the NFC, Chicago and Carolina dropped games to return to the rest of the pack. With three weeks left, it’s pretty clear who’s got the best chances to make the playoffs.

I’m Just Warning You, I’ve Lost All Perspective On This Team.

Seattle Seahawks (11-2)

Outlook: Well damn, that was a nice seven-day stretch. Desecrate the corpse of the Eagles 42-0, and then regain some much-needed swagger against the 49ers 41-3. Who knows what sort of punishment they might be able to apply to the lowly Titans?

With Darrell Jackson returning this week, one of the few areas of concern I had has been (at least partially) obviated. Jackson’s precision as a route-runner will help loosen up coverage against Engram, Jurevicius, Hackett, and Stevens, and hopefully he can be fully integrated into the offense for the playoff run.

The one remaining concern is the health of the secondary. Michael Boulware is a personal favorite, Marcus Trufant has been good at corner, and Marquand Manual has done a nice job filling in for Ken Hamlin. But with both Andre Dyson and Kelly Herndon hurt, Jordan Babineaux has had to play an awful lot. So far he’s been fine, but then again that’s been against the Eagles and the Niners. We’ll see how he does this week against the slightly more capable Steve McNair.

Of course everyone’s looking forward to the game next week against Indy, and I’m no exception. Next week’s NFC Report will have a full preview, but if things break right, it could be a preview of Jim Sorgi v. Seneca Wallace.

Remaining schedule: @TEN, IND, @GB

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-4)

Outlook: They got a win in the toughest game they had remaining on the schedule. They’ve got the inside track to the NFC South title. They’ve got three winnable games left, and should go at least 11-5. Plus, Chris Simms has been far better than I (or most people) thought he could be. They’ve got a great shot to wrap up a playoff spot, and might even get to the second seed in the NFC.

Remaining Schedule: @NE, ATL, NO

Mom, Come Quick…Billy Crapped the Bed

Carolina Panthers (9-4)

Outlook: Oh man, what a tough loss at home to Tampa. The many flaws on this team have been exposed over the last few weeks. Their defense, while statistically solid, allowed a mediocre Buccaneer offense to move the ball down the field on them four times. Offensively, outside of Steve Smith they have no playmakers. And Jake Delhomme has become a younger Drew Bledsoe lately, throwing a lot of brutal picks. Astoundingly, they could go from a Super Bowl pick to out of the playoffs in a matter of a few weeks.

Remaining schedule: @NO, DAL, @ATL

Chicago Bears (9-4)

Outlook: Finally, a new opening line for da Bears. While I picked them to lose to the Steelers, it’s still a bad loss. They let the brokedown Bus run for 101 yards on them and overall their defense (those guys who weren’t hurt, at least), looked somewhat disinterested. Offensively, Kyle Orton actually played slightly better but still managed to be bad. They need Rex Grossman badly, and if things don’t start well against the Falcons, I’d be surprised if he didn’t make an appearance. With Minnesota breathing down their necks, they’re no longer a sure bet to make the playoffs.

Remaining schedule: ATL, @GB, @MIN

A Squeeeaker with Three “E”s

New York Giants (9-4)

Outlook: Ok, so that was an obscure Futurama reference, but that’s what you get here on Sportszilla. This team needed plenty of luck (and Osi Umenyiora) to beat the woeful Eagles. Plus, Eli Manning’s fourth quarter play has regressed to the usual for young quarterbacks (meaning ill-advised interceptions and poorly-thrown balls). The run game has been strong, but with injuries galore on the offensive line this team will struggle to score with the ease they had managed earlier in the year. Plus, with Antonio Pierce out for an unknown period of time (though I’m guessing at least the rest of the regular season) this team is in danger of missing the playoffs.

Remaining Schedule: KC, @WAS, @OAK

Dallas Cowboys (8-5)

Outlook: Opportunity has come to Dallas, and She’s knocking real loud. With the Giants in injury Hell, the Cowboys needed a win last week. It was close, but they pulled it out. While I’m not a fan of this team offensively, they should be able to pull out a pair of wins with their schedule. Washington is always tough, but the Panthers have shown some cracks and the Rams suck. They look like a 10-6 NFC East champ who goes home after the first round to me.

Remaining schedule: @WAS, @CAR, STL

The Elevator Section…Same Floor, But Going Up or Down

Minnesota Vikings (8-5)

Outlook: The most astounding thing about their season is that they’ll have a chance to control their own destiny most likely. If they can head into that Week 17 showdown with the Bears at 10-5, a win could easily get them the division title. Pretty astounding for a team that six weeks ago was booking a holiday cruise in the Bahamas (no, there can never be too many nautical jokes at the Vikings’ expense). Mike Tice has (apparently) rallied the team, and without Randy Moss or Daunte Culpepper they’re finally winning in December.

Remaining schedule: PIT, @BAL, CHI

What Do You Mean We Don’t Play the Saints Again?

Atlanta Falcons (8-5)

Outlook: They’re in a horrid situation, since they’ll have to win (at least) two of their games to have a shot at the playoffs. Of course, all three of those teams are better than the Falcons. It seems like this team has stood still, if not regressed, from last year while the rest of the division, and the conference, improved greatly.

Remaining schedule: @CHI, @TB, CAR

Zach’s NFC Pro Bowl Ballot

QB: Matt Hasselbeck (SEA), Drew Bledsoe (DAL), Mark Brunell (WAS).
Hasselbeck is the easy choice as the starter, while Brunell has turned things around in DC. As much as I love to rip Bledsoe, the sad fact is that in this year’s NFC, he’s Hawaii-bound.

RB: Shaun Alexander (SEA), Tiki Barber (NYG), Clinton Portis (WAS).
Alexander and Barber are MVP candidates (and mirror images of each other). Warrick Dunn has a strong case, but doesn’t dress up in costume every week. That’s the clincher for me.

FB: Mack Strong (SEA).
You’ll see a number of the guys who open the holes for Alexander on this list, and Strong hasn’t gotten enough recognition over his career (like every other fullback not named Mike Allstot).

WR: Steve Smith (CAR), Torry Holt (STL), Joey Galloway (TB), Santana Moss (WAS).
Smith is a gimme since he’s been the best WR in football this year. Holt has produced despite catching numerous passes from Jamie Martin and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Galloway has revitalized his career in Tampa. Moss has driven Ben nuts by playing well in Washington.

TE: Jeremy Shockey (NYG), Alge Crumpler (ATL)
Shockey is having a very good year, finally starting to live up to at least some of the hype. Meanwhile, Crumpler has managed to get open despite being Michael Vick’s only consistant target.

G: Steve Hutchinson (SEA), Chris Snee (NYG), Larry Allen (DAL)
Allen is the veteran of this group, while Hutchinson is the best player. Tom Caughlin got criticized for taking Snee (his son-in-law), but he’s emerged as the top player on that Giant line.

T: Walter Jones (SEA), Orlando Pace (STL), Bryant McKinnie (MIN)
So what if they’re all left tackles, these three are better than anyone on the right side. Pace is good, but I wonder if the Rams might have rather taken the All-World Jones five picks later like the Seahawks did. McKinnie has, for the most part, lived up to the hype out of Miami.

C: Olin Kreutz (CHI), LeCharles Bentley (NO)
Before he was breaking teammates’ jaws, Olin was dominating at the University of Washington, which always plays well with me. Bentley is the only good part of that Saints line.

DT: Rod Coleman (ATL), La’Roi Glover (DAL)
Normally I hate giving this honor to pure sack guys, but while both of these guys can rack up the sacks, they also do well against the run.

DE: Osi Umenyiora (NYG), Adewale Ogunleye (CHI), Will Smith (NO)
The unpronounceable, unspellable starters are relieved a bit by the bland reserve. Umenyiora and Ogunleye have been unstoppable on the edges, but both have benefited from playing with another talented end. Smith has had to go it alone in Baton Rouge/San Antonio.

ILB: Brian Urlacher (CHI), Lofa Tatupu (SEA)
Urlacher has put a poor 2004 behind him to once again emerge as a force in the middle of that Bears defense, while Tatupu has come in as a rookie and taken over the playcalling (and playmaking) responsibilities for the Seahawks.

OLB: Lance Briggs (CHI), Derrick Brooks (TB)
Brooks is a fixture at the Pro Bowl while Briggs has become Urlacher’s much needed compliment on the outside for Chicago.

CB: Nathan Vashar (CHI), Ronde Barber (TB), Chris Gamble (CAR)
While Ken Lucas has gotten most of the ink for the Panthers, Gamble has turned into the team’s shut-down corner. After Lucas was torched early last week by Joey Galloway, they moved Gamble over and held Galloway to just one catch from there on out. Barber and Vashar have gaudy INT numbers, but have backed it up with good play on the run.

SS: Michael Boulware (SEA)
He’s been exceptional in both pass and run defense, and still has the knack for timely interceptions which first drew attention last year.

FS: Brian Dawkins (PHI)
While the rest of his backfield mates have been hurt or disappointing, Dawkins continues to lay the lumber and live up to the rep.

K: Neil Rackers (ARI).
The lone bright spot (and Pro Bowler) for the always-doomed-to-suck-Cardinals.

P: Mitch Berger (NO).
He’s really old.

KR: Willie Ponder (NYG)
Almost as much for his awesome name as for his play this year.

ST: I’m not picking one because I have no clue.


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