Observations from around the NFL with one week to go in the regular season:
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• Once again, the New England Patriots’ defense showed that it is the Achilles’ heel of this team. Going into the game Saturday, there were two players they needed to stop — Brandon Marshall and Reggie Bush. Both were impact players for the Miami Dolphins, as Marshall had two explosive plays in the first quarter and Bush accounted for 139 yards from scrimmage.
The Dolphins jumped out to 17-0 lead at halftime. But, as good teams do, the Patriots made the necessary halftime adjustments. In the third and fourth quarters, the Pats came out in a no-huddle, up-tempo offense that completely wore down the Dolphins’ defense and put up 27 consecutive points.
With Tom Brady behind center, that no-huddle offense could be lethal in the playoffs. The Patriots just need to be aware the additional strain that will put on their defense if they go three-and-out in a no-huddle format, because the defense gets no rest and has no time to make adjustments.
• The New York Giants started their game against the Jets just as they played their entire Week 15 game, lethargic. On offense, it was third-and-longs on almost every first-half possession, and they gave up an easy touchdown on their first defensive series. Luckily, the Jets were just as bad in the second half and allowed the Giants to come back and win the game.
I’m really not sure who to like in the Week 17 matchup between the Giants and Dallas Cowboys that will decide the NFC East and determine the remaining playoff spot available in the conference. Both teams have been Jekyll and Hyde all season, and neither will last in the playoffs at this rate, anyway.
• The Jets still have a chance to get in the postseason with a victory against the Dolphins and help by the Cincinnati Bengals, Tennessee Titans, and Denver Broncos or Oakland Raiders. Regardless of all the scenarios, the Jets won’t even win if they ask Mark Sanchez to throw it 50-plus times in a game, as he did against the Giants. The Jets’ formula of winning is pounding the ball with Shonn Greene and then allowing Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress to beat you in the play-action game. With that formula and the Giants’ questionable run defense, the Jets should have run the ball 50-plus times, not the other way around.
• The Carson Palmer trade is definitively not the best trade in league history as Hue Jackson tried to sell it. Even if it were, the Raiders would still struggle to overcome all those penalties. The Raiders had 10 in the first half alone Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs. With an offense that already puts itself in the hole with turnovers, Palmer threw another two interceptions. The Raiders can’t afford to do the same with penalties.
Of the five teams with the most penalties in a season, the Raiders are listed four times. This isn’t something you can change just by stating it in a press conference; you have to change the entire culture of the organization, from top to bottom. Obviously, that didn’t happen this year.
• During the Broncos’ six-game winning streak, they won because of great defense, great special teams and not turning the ball over. On Saturday, Tim Tebow threw four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. For an offense that averages only 20 points per game, they definitely can’t afford to hand the opposing team 14 points without having to take a single offensive snap. The Broncos are in a win-and-in scenario on Sunday. To do so, Tebow will need to protect the ball.
• The Pittsburgh Steelers can’t better their seed — and as it is, they are already limping into the playoffs. With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s ankle injury, safety Troy Polamalu’s history of concussions and a linebacker unit that has hardly played together all year. They need to get healthy this week rather than focus on beating the Cleveland Browns.
• The Bengals have a win-and-in scenario, but they have to beat the Baltimore Ravens to do it. The Ravens still have something to play for, as they can overtake the Patriots as the No. 1 overall seed, assuming a Ravens win and Patriots loss. So the Bengals will get everything the Ravens have to offer, but they are pretty darn good themselves. After calling their game on Saturday, I was very impressed with quarterback Andy Dalton and the young offensive stars they have in wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham.
• I couldn’t believe how empty the stadium was in Cincinnati. With a young team that has major possibilities for the future, not to mention fighting for a playoff spot right now, the stadium was at about 60 percent capacity. This was the sixth or seventh blackout of the season. When you ask around, the fans say they are boycotting the owner, not the team. They hated it when Mike Brown held his press conference last year, and now they are making him pay for it. It’s really too bad too, because the Bengals are putting a heck of a product on the field this year and will for many years to come.
• It’s not breaking news, but the Detroit Lions have a special player in quarterback Matt Stafford. The Lions are next to last in rushing attempts in the NFL, and that means that the offense falls squarely on his shoulders. Not only does he have a cannon arm, but he has the accuracy to go along with it.
If you look at the likes of Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, Stafford has performed just as well or better over the course of the first 27 starts of their respective careers. Stafford isn’t yet an elite quarterback, but he is rising.