With two weeks remaining in the regular season, over half the teams in the NFL can still harbor dreams of a Super Bowl.
But precious few can dream of Ndamukong Suh (who will immediately supplant Adewale Ogunleye and Osi Umenyiora as the defensive lineman with the most frequently misspelled name in NFL).
As it stands, the 1-13 Rams have the inside track on Suh with a one-game “lead” on the Buccaneers and Lions. St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo must be salivating at the prospect of adding Suh to his defense. (As the Giants defensive coordinator in Super Bowl XLII, Spagnuolo slid Justin Tuck to DT and watched his defensive line dominate the Patriots.)
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The Browns were in the mix until catching fire with their two-game winning streak. New club president Mike Holmgren has seen his dream of having Suh anchor the switch to a 4-3 defense slip away before the ink dried on his deal.
The Rams almost blew their shot at Suh with a spirited effort against the Texans last week before pulling out a 16-13 loss.
The Bucs weren’t so lucky. They made the long trek from the Southeast to the Northwest and found the Seahawks already lying down for them. (You’d have thought Seattle were still in contention for the No. 1 overall pick.)
Defensive tackle Chris Hovan proudly told the Tampa Tribune: “I’m not lying down. If you want this guy bad enough, then trade up and get him.”
Hovan might not be lying down, but he sure isn’t standing out either. He has a whopping .5 of a sack this season and has two or fewer tackles in four of his past five games. Hovan’s gradual disappearance over his five seasons in Tampa Bay is a big part of the reason the Bucs so desperately need Suh.
When Matthew Stafford heroically led the Lions to a last-second victory over the Browns in Week 11, forward-looking Lions fans realized last year’s No. 1 pick probably just cost Detroit next year’s No. 1.
So Suh is now St. Louis’ to lose (or so said Dr. Seuss).
The Rams travel to Arizona this Sunday before closing with a dangerously winnable game at home against the up-and-down Niners.
The Bucs get to enjoy a trip to the woodshed Sunday at New Orleans before hosting the Falcons in Week 17.
The Lions go to San Francisco this week and host the Bears in the season finale.
First-year coaches Spanuolo, Raheem Morris and Jim Schwartz will obviously be trying to add to their teams’ meager win totals over the next two weeks. In a win-now league, a coach needs to at the very least convey that the team is headed in the right direction.
But what of the fans? Should those plucky few who actually show up in St. Louis, Tampa and Detroit actually root for the victory that might cost their team a dominant defensive game-changer in next year’s draft?
Of course not. But try telling that to someone who has paid NFL prices to take in a game.
Assuming the Rams lose in the desert this weekend, wise fans in St. Louis should be rooting against their team in Week 17. After each St. Louis three-and-out, they shouldn’t be booing.
They should be “Suh”-ing.
Hottest Hot Seat
When the Bears marched to Super Bowl XLI behind Lovie Smith, it looked as if Chicago had found a coach for life.
Smith’s physical, run-first, defensive-minded approach fit the city and certainly fit his personnel with the team’s seemingly eternal limitations at quarterback.
But two events may have doomed Lovie in Chicago: the arrival of Jay Cutler and the season-ending wrist injury to Brian Urlacher.
Cutler appeared to be an obvious upgrade at quarterback when the Bears took the disgruntled prodigy off Denver’s hands in a QB swap for Kyle Orton. The Bears would finally be able to open it up. The O might finally be able to match the D.
Oof. All Cutler has done is lap the field in interceptions, leading the league with 25 picks (a full five ahead of second place). If the Bears have any identity left on offense, it is as a mistake-prone choke machine with a QB who often seems unable to differentiate between receivers and defenders.
On defense, the Bears never recovered from the injury to Urlacher. They rank 25th in the league in run defense one year after finishing fifth.
It all adds up to a 5-9 record, a third straight year of missing the playoffs and a hot seat under Lovie in chilly Chicago.
Worst Week of Sleep Leading Up to Kickoff
As the Jets find themselves in the six-team logjam at 7-7 on the outside looking in at the AFC playoff picture, one player must have spent the week tossing and turning more than the others.
In fact, Mark Sanchez has been doing a lot of tossing and turning all season.
He tosses a pass, and then he turns to chase down the defender who has just intercepted it.
Sanchez had another regrettable performance in the Meadowlands last Sunday, throwing three picks in a brutal 10-7 loss to the Falcons. The rookie QB has now thrown four touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his past five home games. He stands second in the NFL with 20 interceptions.
Sanchez is 3-7 in his past 10 starts and will need to lead New York to victory in Indy if the Jets want to maintain any hope of making the playoffs.
The Week in Favre
No matter how much LeRoy Butler, Favre haters and recovering Favre haters might want Brett’s near benching to be a Big Story, it is really no big deal.
What is a big deal is the sudden mortality Favre is displaying down the stretch. After leading the league in passer rating through Week 12, Favre has posted three consecutive sub-80 ratings as the Vikings have gone 1-2.
After throwing three picks in his first 371 attempts, he has thrown four in his past 89. Now comes a Monday nighter in Chicago followed by a finale against the Giants as the Vikings — once a lock for a top-two seed – now find themselves battling to avoid playing on the first weekend of the playoffs.
Fantasy Headache of the Week
Few running back tandems have been as vexing for fantasy owners as the Giants’ Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. They’ve split carries and goal-line carries in such a fashion as to totally reduce each other’s value. (Both backs are ranked in the low 20s, right above Quinton Ganther, heading into fantasy championship week.)
For those owners with the handcuff, the coin flip of whom to start this week against Carolina is agonizing. In his past six games, Jacobs has averaged a pedestrian 9.7 fantasy points. Bradshaw has erupted the past two weeks with 15 and 20 after two months as a non-factor.
The whole running back position has really been turned upside down this season. Last Sunday, high fantasy draft picks Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner, Matt Forte, Steven Jackson, DeAngelo Williams, LaDainian Tomlinson, Chris Johnson and Steve Slaton combined for 65.9 fantasy points in non-PPR leagues.
Jerome Harrison and Jamaal Charles combined for 70.8.