The Designed Rush, Week 14: Now Comes the Fourth Quarter

We're three quarters of the way through the 2009 regular season and only one of the top two seeds in either conference has a real shot of being contested, unless the Vikings have an epic collapse in store for us. That happens when you have two 12-0 teams. As for the AFC's second seed, the next two weeks will be tough for both the Chargers and the Bengals, but I just see San Diego emerging out of the two of them. Even with a little late-game laziness against Cleveland, they've generally played better than the Bengals over the last few weeks. That said, I think the Bengals are better equipped to excel in the postseason, but I can't see them winning two road games in Minnesota and San Diego right now to claim the first-round bye. ↵

↵The bottom of the AFC picture is certainly more muddled than the NFC. The Packers seem to have one NFC Wild Card secured, while two of three teams in contention in the East should make it in some order. If pressed, I'd say the Eagles take the division while Dallas gets the Wild Card. For seeds 3-6 in the AFC: The Patriots should be able to hold off Miami and the Jets for the East crown. Denver will probably drop one to Indianapolis this week, but they're in okay position otherwise for a Wild Card if they win out. Lose another, however, and they have some problems, as the Broncos lose the tiebreaker to both Baltimore and Pittsburgh. I have a tough time believing in the Jaguars sans success against a top team, but the pack of 6-6 trailing them doesn't have a single team that makes me 100 percent confident in saying that they'll win out. ↵

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↵If Jacksonville loses to Miami on Sunday, however, it's wide open. Should they win, though, I'd have say that they can last out the rest of the teams. The Steelers still have Green Bay, Baltimore and a road game in Miami. The Ravens still have to go Pittsburgh, where they've lost their last three (after narrowly beating a hampered Steelers team in Baltimore). The Jets are without Sanchez for the remainder of the year, plus Jacksonville has the tiebreaker over them anyway. Next week, I'll have my prognosis for how I see the playoffs shaking out. ↵

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↵Five Games to Watch Even if You Have No Rooting Interest or Fantasy Players Involved ↵
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↵Cincinnati at Minnesota (1 p.m., Sunday) -- ↵

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↵The Bengals clinch the AFC North with a victory. I had to re-read that five times just to make sure it was right. As much reason as there is to be concerned with Brett Favre possibly breaking down, Adrian Peterson has been oddly pedestrian of late, posting per-carry yardage averages of 3.4, 3.4 and 1.5 the past three games. So long as Brett can hide behind Purple Jesus, things are hunky dory. Should AP's production keep sliding, this team is in lots of trouble. ↵

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↵Denver at Indianapolis (1 p.m., Sunday) -- ↵

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↵Denver is the kind of team that, if they play their ideal game, control the run and play punishing defense, can hold a late lead against the Colts. Of course, that's just when Peyton Manning tears their hearts out like he's done to six or seven other teams this year, but it's something. The Broncos are a quick-strike capability short of being able to hand Indy their first loss, especially at home. ↵

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↵San Diego at Dallas (4:15 p.m., Sunday) -- ↵

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↵Consecutive Dallas December defeats will surely set off a media firestorm, and the Cowboys surely know that. Which means the pressure is on them big time to come away with a tough victory against a Chargers team playing very well of late. ↵

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↵Philadelphia at New York Giants (8:20 p.m., Sunday) -- ↵

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↵In just two weeks, the Giants can go from near seasonal jeopardy to the top of their division, should they knock off Philly and Dallas falls to the Chargers. In the first meeting, the Eagles handed the Giants a 40-17 loss in the third week after the Giants big plummet from 5-0. ↵

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

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↵As mentioned above, Miami can help themselves and a host of other 6-6 AFC teams by taking down the Jags. Jacksonville has yet to beat a team above .500 and has only one victory against a team with an even record (the Week 10 win against the Jets); they'll have the chance to prove themselves the next three weeks with games against the .500 Dolphins, undefeated Colts and 7-5 Patriots. The Dolphins might sneak into the playoffs, though through no fault of Peezy being in the Marine Corps camo. ↵

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↵NFL Player/Figure Tweet of the Week ↵

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↵"All you fantasy lovers dont pick @OGOchoCinco dec. 20th because he's not going to play he has already decided to stay on the team bus" -- Shawne Merriman, yesterday ↵

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↵Shawne and Chad Ochocinco have renewed their frequent Twitter hostilities in advance of the Week 15 Bengals-Chargers tilt that very well might decide who gets the No. 2 seed in the AFC. And whatever, that's fine. Trash talk is appreciated every now and again. Generally, it seems Shawne is conducting himself better about it, considering he's not the one vowing to punch the other guy during pregame. I pity the Bengals coach who had to sit down Chad to advise him about his Twitter use for the umpteenth time after that one. ↵

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↵Truth in Advertising ↵

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↵ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵ ↵
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↵My KSK colleague Drew Magary beat me to the punch on ranting about the proliferation of annoying Glee-influenced commercial campaigns, though he chose to pick on the ubiquitous Gap plaid ads. While a worthy target, those plaid dancers in their creepy all-white cabin have nothing on the Best Buy carolers. At least the dancers are just dumbly gyrating and singing the praises of their clothes' comfort. No, the carolers have to ramp up the irritation by trying to move TVs by telling you how guys are drooling idiots who vacuously gawk at them for hours on end. ↵

↵Dispatches from Madden Nation ↵

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↵Sports games rarely garner enough respect to make all-decade video game lists, not that I think Madden had an edition that merits inclusion on any such list. But it did get me thinking about the various iterations of the game over the past 10 years. By far the most controversial change of the last 10 years was the addition of the QB vision cone in Madden 06. Suffice to say, it was not particularly popular and has since been scrapped. Being the Internet though, there is a forum for the small crowd of holdouts who somehow thought it was great. While it's an admirable concept for a full football simulation, in execution it's too unwieldy to pull off. It was nearly impossible to be able to control the player's movement while toggling their sight to the desired receiver. And then, unless you had a QB like Peyton, whose cone encompassed the entire field, you were essentially tipping all your throws. If the Wii Madden games could ever serve a positive use, it would be here, as the controller could develop a movement-based system that wouldn't require the player to remove their thumb from one of the other controls. ↵

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↵A Delicious Bundle of Gripes ↵

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↵-- There were a number of questionable decisions by Mike Tomlin and the Steelers coaching staff on Sunday, but none more than the attempted 53-yard field goal to start the 4th quarter. At that point, the Steelers led 10-6 in what had to that point been a low-scoring field position game. The sides had just changed so that the Steelers were facing the windy open end of Heinz Field, where kickers had been 2/12 on attempts of 50 yards or longer, and both successful kicks were exactly 50 yards. Instead of pinning the Raiders back deep in their own side of the field where the Steelers could have more easily made a stop, Tomlin opted for a huge risk that proved unsuccessful. The Raiders took over near midfield and the wheels came off the defense. They might have anyway, but then a punt inside the 10 or 5 might have changed a lot of the offensive playcalling as well. ↵

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↵-- "There's one of the reasons that Bruce Gradkowski is now the starting quarterback of the Oakland Raiders." Not surprising that Greg Gumbel would have the occasion to say this during the Raiders surprise victory Sunday in Pittsburgh. Of course, that quote came early in the second quarter when Oakland had only scored three points and Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons was flagged for an inadvertent face mask penalty on Gradkowski. So basically Gumbel was saying that Gradkowski was already better than JaMarcus Russell simply because he could lean his facemask into the hands of defenders. And you know what? I can't say that isn't true. ↵

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↵-- If Ocho does opt to stay on the bus in two weeks, he'll have this lovely Snuggie to swaddle himself in. But then the weather in San Diego is nice enough to preclude the Snuggie. ↵

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↵-- Broncos superfan Barrel Man passed away over the weekend. I've always had an odd fascination with superfans. In a league that so strictly controls its presentation and image, they force themselves into the consciousness of the sport. Only through sheer passion and loyalty (and some clever attention-whoring), they are capable of becoming synonymous with the team they follow. They become one of the immediate associations the casual fan has with a franchise, especially in an era when rosters fluctuate so rapidly. I included a section on them in my book, and Barrel Man was certainly included within. So, one last Mile High Salute to you, sir. Even if you did join in those annoying Denver IN-COM-PLETE chants. ↵

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↵-- Nothing during the past week was more enjoyable than the rampant apologizing Cris Collinsworth did for Brett Favre's late-season collapse last year at the beginning of the Sunday night broadcast, only for Favre to turn in a performance worthy of the Jets 2008 December meltdown. Surely it was some sort of mysterious ailment that will surface today or tomorrow. ↵

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

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