The Designed Rush, Week 16: Four Up and Four Down for 2010

As we've seen this season, there's a fair amount of turnover from year to year in the NFL. If the regular season ended today, half the teams in the postseason would be teams that didn't make it in 2008. But the seeds of success can be planted the previous year. For instance, the Bengals improved defensive play late in 2008 presaged their success this season. ↵

↵Just as often, however, late season surges by bad teams, as has often been the case in recent years with the Texans and 49ers, turn out to be mirages. With that in mind, let's look at the teams most likely to improve in 2010, and those most likely to take a step back. Obviously, there's a lot that can happen between now and next season (like, for instance, the draft and free agency), but this is generally the time some momentum is built going into the next year. ↵

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↵On the Uptick: ↵

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↵Raiders - The Raiders' wins over the Bengals, Eagles, Broncos and Steelers are hard to jibe with two losses to the New York teams by a combined score of 82-7 (and a 5-9 record). Louis Murphy has given them at least one legit receiver, though one more is needed. The sooner they give up on JaMarcus Russell the better. Even a competent passing game makes them a playoff possibility. ↵

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↵Jets - Mark Sanchez had by anyone's account a rocky rookie season, throwing 20 interceptions to his 12 touchdowns. But such are growing pains in the league. Sanchez probably won't make the leap to an elite quarterback next season, but if he's even a satisfactory one, his very good supporting cast can help him to a playoff appearance. ↵

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↵Titans - Had they gone to Vince Young earlier in the season, the Titans are most likely a playoff team rather than a remote also-ran. A defense that fell from 7th to 26th in the NFL will need another playmaker or two in the offseason. Should they get that, the Titans can be a very real threat again in 2010. ↵

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↵Falcons - Atlanta's season was marred by injuries to Matt Ryan and Michael Turner, but a porous defense wasn't helping matters either. Healthy seasons from their offensive cornerstones coupled with a slightly improved defense can likely bring them back to the postseason. ↵

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↵Trending Downward: ↵

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↵Vikings - Anyone want to take a bet that Favre returns? Especially if this team fizzles out in the playoffs? Favre leaving coupled with the embarrassment of blowing their best chance at a title plunges this team back into the area of .500. ↵

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↵Bengals - Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer should get a head coaching job somewhere in the offseason. Which would be a problem for Cincy, since he's easily the best coach on their staff. If he doesn't, the Bengals could stick around as a playoff team, though it would be difficult for such a buzzed-about coordinator not to get any looks. ↵

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↵Cardinals - It's unlikely Anquan Boldin goes another offseason without getting dealt. Kurt Warner is another year older. He almost retired after last season. Should Arizona fall short of the Super Bowl, that discussion could be rekindled. ↵

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↵Broncos - Josh McDaniels is going to want his own guy to mold at quarterback rather than Kyle Orton, the guy they got in exchange for dumping Jay Cutler for picks. As we've seen in 2009, the defense is good enough to keep them in games, but a rookie QB promises a step back from the stability that Orton's solid, if unspectacular, play provides. ↵

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↵Five Games to Watch Even if You Have No Rooting Interest or Fantasy Players Involved (or if Your Fantasy Team is Eliminated) ↵

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↵New York Jets at Indianapolis (1 p.m., Sunday) -- ↵

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↵The Jets would likely have little chance for victory against a Colts team fully focused on beating them, but Indy will probably be resting starters in some capacity on Sunday, especially considering that Rex Ryan's defense still won't be shy about putting as much pressure as possible on Peyton Manning. Unless the Colts only give their starters a drive or two of playing time in the final week against Buffalo, this is the best chance for them to suffer a regular season defeat. ↵

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↵San Diego at Tennessee (7:30 p.m., Friday) -- ↵

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↵Everyone's talking about the Colts resting players, but the Chargers are about as locked into the No. 2 seed as the Colts are into the top position in the conference. While San Diego still hasn't technically clinched a first-round bye (they would with either a victory or a Patriots loss in the final two weeks), they will probably still be going full tilt against the Titans. A victory would probably see them shut it down in the season finale against the Redskins. And given that Shawne Merriman blames Kevin Mawae for the knee injury that he first sustained in 2007, there might be added motivation for him to play to his full capacity. Meanwhile, the prospect of 2,000 yards rushing is still alive for Chris Johnson, but he'll need 270 yards over the final two games. Given the Chargers' run defense, getting a huge chunk of that this week is a possibility. ↵

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↵Denver at Philadelphia (4:15 p.m., Sunday) -- ↵

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↵While pushers of storylines gang up on the Cowboys for their recent history of December failings, the Broncos have quietly been just as bad, if not worse. Since 2006, Denver has posted a 6-11 record in December, including a 1-2 mark over the past three weeks. As Peter King pointed out in his column yesterday, the Broncos offense hasn't put up more than 17 points in six of eight previous games. That won't get it done in Philly, even if hometown hero Brian Dawkins brings an amazing effort in his return to Philly. ↵

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↵Jacksonville at New England (1 p.m., Sunday) -- ↵

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↵For a second straight week, the Jaguars fought valiantly and came up short against the tough competition they've mostly avoided throughout their season. With five catches for 70 yards and a score, Randy Moss dispelled the talk that he was dogging plays and happy to acknowledge that. It's also worth noting that both Jaguars playoff appearance this decade have ended with losses to the Patriots. New England can knock them out again this Sunday. ↵

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↵Baltimore at Pittsburgh (1 p.m., Sunday) -- ↵

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↵The Ravens control their own fate for a Wild Card spot, but now have lost Lardarius Webb, their one competent cornerback, for the remainder of the year. The Steelers, too, have been no strangers to poor secondary play the past month. Safety Tyrone Carter (Troy Polamalu's replacement at strong safety) and corner William Gay in particular have been dreadful. What last year was a guaranteed grind-out struggle between two hard-nosed defenses could turn out to be the kind of shootout that this rivalry has yet to see. ↵

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↵NFL Player/Figure Tweet of the Week ↵

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↵"5 hours of shopping will make you more tired than playing football" - Ray Rice, yesterday. ↵

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↵Expect a lot of gift cards to show up at Rice's home on Friday courtesy of the Steelers. ↵

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↵Truth in Advertising ↵

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↵ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵ ↵
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↵Southwest Airlines' chipper baggage handlers might be the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen on TV. They could have talking suitcases singing the praise of the company and I'd be more likely to buy it. I understand how the conceit is supposed to work into the airline's promotion not to charge customers a surcharge for bags, but I can say with complete confidence that anyone with this job doesn't do it with anything but deep loathing. I'm just grateful they're not punting the luggage around. ↵

↵Dispatches from Madden Nation ↵

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↵Madden 10 was deservedly mocked at the time of its release for its plethora of Snickers ads, either pop-ups during gameplay or on loading screens. Even one of the game's announcers, Tom Hammond, frequently reminds players to "play like a Chompion." Therefore, you would think gamers would be conditioned to expect the bombardment of advertisements in the game. Only it's now been ramped up even further. In the latest online update, tabs promoting the new Madden Arcade game or the online search engine Bing (depending on which system you own) crop up above the scoreboard before every snap. A wee bit excessive, methinks. But until consumers respond by buying fewer games, you might as well get ready for ads in the endzones in these games. ↵

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↵A Delicious Bundle of Gripes ↵

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↵ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵ ↵
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↵-- Jim Zorn knows he's going to be fired. He can't rightfully offer an obscenity-laden tirade at the ownership and expect to get away with it, so this is probably the next best kiss-off he can offer. ↵

↵-- Midway through the 3rd quarter Sunday, with the ball deep in their own territory, the Bengals were penalized within the span of a minute for a false start, having 12 men in the huddle and delay of game, then subsequently burned a timeout. Did I really pick this team to go to the AFC Championship Game? ↵

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↵-- I think Philip Rivers sums up my reaction nicely. Or he's doing a Ninja Turtle impression. Either or. ↵

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↵-- Forget Chris Johnson getting 2,000 yards, I'm more excited to see Jay Cutler reach 30 interceptions, which would be the first time a QB has passed that threshold since Vinny Testaverde threw 35 for the Bucs in 1988. Vinny, to his credit, did bounce back to have a respectable career. Then again, 1988 was Testaverde's second year in the league. This is Cutler's fourth. ↵

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↵-- Last week, for the second consecutive year, I had an 11-3 fantasy team lose in the playoffs to a team with a losing regular season record. How is that possible? Because this particular idiotic league allows every team to make the playoffs, so a 3-11 squad with its freakishly highest scoring output of the season downed my no. 2 seed. I blame myself for even taking part and the malevolent figure responsible for fantasy football (probably goes without saying that my other fantasy teams are eliminated as well). ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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