JUDGE: Thoughts on Week 12

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Clark Judge

  • The Denver will win the AFC West for two reasons: 1) They're the best team in the division and 2) they play the rest of their schedule in the daylight. The second part of that equation is as important as the first. Our Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players are 0-4 in the dark, completing the sweep with Sunday night's 23-20 overtime loss to Indianapolis. They're 7-0 in the afternoon, and this just in: The closest they come to an evening start is a 4:15 game with the New York on Dec. 8.
  • is gaining momentum as an MVP candidate, not just because he is winning but because the competition is not. Green Bay's , the slam-dunk leader a couple of weeks ago, has throw seven interceptions in his last two starts — both losses. and the San Diego are slowing down, losing three of their last four. And Buffalo's not only lost three straight; the ' quarterback hasn't had more than one touchdown pass in each of his last five games. Anyone else? Well, yeah. I like , who combined for over 300 yards in offense Sunday, and the ' failures will impair his chances. But I ask you: How could Kansas City survive without the guy? Answer: It couldn't. I don't care if the are 5-6. Holmes leads the league in touchdowns, rushing and yards from scrimmage and is responsible for 43 percent of the ' offense.
  • You wonder why I like struggling Pittsburgh to win the AFC North, and here's my explanation: The schedule. Look at the ' next three opponents: Jacksonville, Houston and Carolina. The Jags just lost to Dallas. Houston is 3-8. And Carolina's lost eight straight. Add them up, and you have opponents with a combined record of 11-22. One word of caution: Look out for Cleveland. The Brows have Carolina and Jacksonville the next two weeks, then follow with Indianapolis, Baltimore and Atlanta. The two toughest opponents are the and , but here's the good news: The get them at home.
  • Pardon Marty Schottenheimer if he has that Yogi Berra feeling. You know: Déjà vu all over again. It was Schottenheimer's that were dismantled by Norv Turner's offense in the season opener a year ago in San Diego, and it was Schottenheimer's that were shredded by Turner again Sunday in Miami. The score last year? 30-3. The score Sunday? 30-3. But that's not all. In both instances, it was payback time for Turner, who lost the head-coaching job in Washington and was passed over for the head-coaching job in San Diego. There's a lesson there.
  • Indianapolis should mail a game ball to Denver coach Mike Shanahan for that call late in Sunday's game. Shanahan had quarterback throw on a third down with under two minutes left, which did two things when the attempt fell incomplete: 1) Stopped the clock and 2) gave Indianapolis, which was out of timeouts, another 25-30 seconds to tie the game. The did on 's 54-yard field goal with no time left. Had Shanahan played it safe and run the ball on third down, the almost surely wouldn't have had the time to pull together a game-tying drive.
  • The Cleveland just found their running back, and they didn't have to look far. First-round pick , sitting behind all season, had his first 100-yard game Sunday and was instrumental on a critical 13-play drive in the fourth quarter — a series when he carried eight times. The haven't had a legitimate running back since returning to play in 1999, and Green was supposed to solve their problem. Until last week, he was a bust — looking tentative and out of place when he carried the ball. But in the past two games he's given the club a crucial missing element — a running game — with 210 yards rushing. He had 161 in the previous nine starts.
  • Somebody throw a life preserver. The beleaguered Buffalo nickel back is a magnet for mistakes, and they're murdering the . Three weeks ago, New England went after him with short passes to . Last weekend he committed a costly (and controversial) pass interference call on Kansas City's game-winning drive. And Sunday he ran into kicker after an apparent 27-yard field goal. The took the penalty, scored a touchdown and never looked back.
  • With holes patched in the defense, healthy and playing flawless football the New York are back in the middle of the AFC East race. But the division still looks like a two-team race between Miami and New England, with the the favorite. I know, I know, they're a game back of the , and returns to the ' lineup soon. But Miami has a more difficult path to the playoffs. The go to Buffalo this week, have Oakland at home on Dec. 15, then meet the on Dec. 29 ... in New England. New England has to play Buffalo, too, but it's in Foxboro, where they have three of their last five. And the ? Well, they have to go to Oakland this week; then return for Denver the following weekend; then have Chicago, New England and Green Bay. Of their last five opponents, four are playoff contenders.
  • A week ago New Orleans receiver said the Atlanta weren't a playoff-caliber team and that the , not the , were the team to beat in the NFC South. It ain't so, Joe. The are the game's hottest team, running their unbeaten streak to seven with a 41-0 rout of Carolina, and the lost the third of their last four games. I told you these guys are streaky, and the truth is that New Orleans is crumbling. If it weren't for a pass interference call at Carolina, the would be working on a 4-game losing streak. Remember, this is the club that bottomed out at the end of last year, and while that's not happening now, it's not too soon to push the panic button.
  • Playing offense without a huddle has been good for Minnesota, producing an upset of Green Bay a week ago and 17 unanswered points against New England on Sunday, but don't look for the to try it more than occasionally. says it's too tiring, and he proved it against the — removing himself on a fourth-down play with 3:25 left.
  • Green Bay coach Mike Sherman said he might have "overreacted a bit" to 's blind-side hit of , and he's right. He should take his complaint up with the league office, not with . The blow appeared to be within the rules, but the NFL office will decide that, not Mike Sherman. Besides, he had nothing to gain by confronting Sapp, who thrives on intimidation. Credit Bucs coach Jon Gruden for promising to investigate the incident. He should. So should Sherman. But not with .
  • Last week it was the San Francisco who were hurt by special teams. On Sunday it was the New York , committing a safety on a botched snap from center and missing a 33-yard field goal. When will these guys understand that special teams determine two or three games every season? And that's probably conservative. Of the 168 games this season, 45 — or 26.7 percent — were determined by three or fewer points, including six on Sunday. Clark Judge can be reached at his e-mail address,
  • Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Browns, Broncos, Packers, Colts, Chiefs, Dolphins, Vikings, Patriots, Saints, Jets, 49ers, Buccaneers, Redskins, Chargers, Michael Vick, Jamel White, Chad Clifton, Brett Favre, Mike Vanderjagt, Jay Fiedler, Randy Moss, Drew Bledsoe, Joe Horn, Curtis Martin, John Hall, Chad Pennington, LaDainian Tomlinson, William Green

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