Schein 9: Picking apart NFC contenders
Can anyone figure out the NFC?
Or the AFC wild-card race?
We had out our weekly Scheiners, SCHEIN 9 style...
1. Foaming at the Mouth
The previously undefeated Saints now have one loss, losing to
Dallas as the Cowboys shed the label they can't win in December
with a thunderous victory in New Orleans. Minnesota got embarrassed
in every phase against someone named Matt Moore and the
underachieving Panthers. The Eagles are super hot.
I need a Ph.D. in something that doesn't exist to examine the Cards, who clinched the NFC West. Green Bay's quarterback was outstanding but got no help from the defense or special teams in a regular-season classic — albeit a loss — in Pittsburgh. The Giants are on the outside looking in but announced they won't go away quietly by pasting the pathetic Redskins in a huge spot.
And this is the beauty of the NFC in 2009. You have seven teams fighting for the playoffs. You can make the case for and against every team currently in the playoff picture making a run to the Super Bowl.
13-1 New Orleans
The Case For: The Saints are the class of the conference with the best quarterback in the NFC. New Orleans will clinch the No. 1 seed when it demolishes the Bucs this weekend on FOX. It's so tough to outscore the Saints with Drew Brees and his plethora of weapons. The running attack is strong. The defense is blitz intensive and clutch in the secondary. New Orleans has played in a lot of close games and big spots this year, and the remarkable 13-1 record speaks to the confidence level and clutch play from Sean Payton's squad. And it's going to be very tough to beat the Saints in New Orleans.
The Case Against: The Cowboys shoved New Orleans around a bit on the ground. The Saints can be vulnerable against the run. Starting a third-string left tackle finally caught up with them. History is never on the Saints' side.
The Case For: The Vikes are incredibly complete. They have a Hall of Fame quarterback, an ultra-talented running back, a diverse group of receivers and the best defensive line in pro football.
The Case Against: Boy, Minnesota has looked awful in two of the past three games against Arizona and Carolina. What the heck was that on Sunday night? The pass protection was horrendous. Adrian Peterson did nothing against Carolina and Arizona. And Peterson has fumbled too much this year. Brett Favre was terrible in both losses, conjuring up memories of his December fade with the Jets last season. Brad Childress and Favre feuded on the sideline (more on that later). While Jasper Brinkley looked the part against Cincy last week, the club certainly missed E.J. Henderson against Carolina.
The Case For: Philly has won five straight games in impressive fashion. Donovan McNabb is playing excellent ball. DeSean Jackson is the ultimate weapon going deep. Brent Celek has emerged as a legit weapon over the middle. The Philly offensive line has stabilized with its health and consequently its play, mauling the opposition. And Brian Westbrook is coming back. Philadelphia has an excellent cornerback combination and an aggressive defense. Andy Reid is one of the best coaches in the NFL. And the Eagles, with New Orleans and Minnesota dominating the conversation, don't have the pressure on them.
The Case Against: If Philly doesn't get a bye, it's tough to win three games in the playoffs. LeSean McCoy hasn't run the ball in the tournament. Sean McDermott hasn't called plays in the playoffs. I don't love the linebackers. And the pressure seems to weigh on the Eagles as the games get bigger in the postseason.
The Case For: Arizona is loaded with talent in every phase. Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin make up a dominant and prolific passing attack. The offensive line is physical and cohesive. The defense has a ton of playmakers. Ken Whisenhunt is a strong coach who got his team to the Super Bowl last season against all odds. They have the big-game experience. And they proved how physical they are against the Giants and Vikings this season. Arizona can play at any speed and beat you in any way.
The Case Against: What in the world happened to the Cards against the Panthers? And the Niners? And even in the division-clinching game this weekend against the lowly Lions? There's something off about this team, with this wild knack to turn it on and off. And the running backs can't hold onto the ball.
9-5 Green Bay
The Case For: Aaron Rodgers has been simply unreal this season. With Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and the emergence of Jermichael Finley, his weapons are abundant. Ryan Grant is solid. The leaky offensive line has come together. Charles Woodson is a stud cornerback. The defense is ranked second in the NFL. Mike McCarthy knows what he is doing.
The Case Against: Mason Crosby keeps missing kicks. The defense, as great as it has been this year, couldn't get off the field in Pittsburgh in a big spot. And do you really trust that offensive line?
The Case For: The talent is incredible. The December monkey is off their collective backs. When it is going right, Dallas can run with two diverse backs and push the ball down field in the passing attack with Tony Romo, Jason Witten and Miles Austin. DeMarcus Ware is a stud. And Keith Brooking and Mike Jenkins have had great seasons.
The Case Against: Where do I begin? Wade Phillips? The Cowboys' knack for choking in recent years? Flozell Adams?
The Vikings will get bounced. Arizona (though I am tempted to scream Super Bowl) and Green Bay (my preseason pick) will tease. Dallas will fold.
I think we are looking at a Saints against Philly championship game.
The Saints are the safe pick.
Don't be surprised if the Eagles, with their complete package, make a run out of nowhere to the big game in Miami.
2. Rise and SCHEIN
The Chargers' thrilling win against Cincy coupled with the stunning Denver defeat to the Raiders gave San Diego another division title and a major leg up for the coveted No. 2 seed and bye. Norv Turner deserves a ton of credit for the nine-game winning streak. The Chargers have never lost in December under Turner. And Philip Rivers continues to dominate and amaze with his clutch play. He was predictably fantastic against a great defense on the game-winning drive.
3. Hide the women, children and Matt Millen
The Jets beat the Jets on Sunday, and the Falcons won a game.
The Jets left nine points on the field on missed field-goal tries. There was a dropped hold, a bad snap and the kicker missed the stadium.
The Jets were called for three awful personal-foul penalties.
The Jets quarterback turned it over with three ill-advised picks.
And the big, bad Jets defense let Atlanta march down the field on the final drive to win, a sequence that rightly drove Rex Ryan bonkers post-game. Why switch to a zone on Tony Gonzalez when the man coverage was working all game?
And just like against the Dolphins, Bills and Jags, the Jets wasted golden opportunities, beat themselves and suffered an inexplicable loss.
The Jets are 7-7. The should be at least 9-5.
4. Backseat Coaching
Mike Tomlin decided to call for the onside kick after Jeff Reed's field goal in the fourth quarter with under four minutes to go with Pittsburgh up two. I know Pittsburgh won, but that was illogical. I know the defense for Pittsburgh was shaky in the game and has been all year, but you have to play that straight up. If Pittsburgh would've lost, that would've been an all-time blunder.
5. Schein's Anatomy
Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck left the Titans' win on Sunday with a knee injury in the third quarter. On Monday, he learned he has a torn ACL and is done for the year. Bulluck has started 127 straight games and has been the most underrated linebacker in the game other than London Fletcher. You just don't find the combination of a player, leader and overall guy like Bulluck.
6. Weekly Hot Seat
Oh, no. Controversy in Minnesota. And this might surprise you,
but I totally agree with Brett Favre. Why in the world did Brad
Childress want to take him out of a 7-6 game in the third quarter?
That's illogical! I understand the offensive line was awful,
resulting in Bryant McKinnie getting benched and Favre getting
pounded. But aren't you trying to win?
And to make it worse and more embarrassing, Favre showed the world he runs the team by making Childress reverse his decision!
7. My guys
DeMarcus Ware: He sealed the incredible win
against the Saints by forcing Drew Brees to fumble. Ware was all
over the field in the upset special, a pretty heroic feat
considering the neck injury he suffered a week ago. I didn't think
he would play in New Orleans and might even miss the rest of the
season. It was amazing to watch.
Joshua Cribbs: Two more majestic returns for the Cleveland specialist, one for 100 yards and the other for 103. Do you think the first thing Mike Holmgren is going to do is rightly pay the man?
Ben Roethlisberger: Big Ben hit Mike Wallace for the game-winning touchdown with no time left in regulation. He has such a knack for the fourth-quarter drive. It was Ben's third touchdown pass of the game. Roethlisberger threw for an eye-popping 503 yards.
Joe Flacco: To call the Ravens' quarterback perfect would be accurate. In a must-win game, Flacco threw four touchdowns and zero picks while competing 21 of 29 passes.
Nate Kaeding: In a week featuring huge missed field-goal and missed extra-point tries and a comedy of errors in the kicking game, Kaeding calmly bombed a 52-yard game-winner for the Chargers.
8. My goats
Jay Cutler: I don't want to hear about snow or
travel. Cutler didn't even get to 100 passing yards against the
Ravens and tossed three picks, par for the course in this miserable
Jim Mora: Welcome back, Jim, for the second straight week. Just when you thought it couldn't get worse for Seattle after the no-show against Houston, the Seahawks laid an egg at home and got blown out by the pathetic Bucs. It was a totally inept performance. Matt Hasselbeck threw four picks. The defense was terrible. I don't see how Mora keeps his job when the new brass comes in.
Todd Haley: How do you kick to Joshua Cribbs?
Elvis Dumervil: My good friend from Syracuse University, Lou McCarthy, texted me requesting this one. And I understand the point. Dumervil didn't make a play against the Raiders, epitomizing the bizarre loss to JaMarcus Russell and the Raiders in Denver. And it should also be pointed out that FOXSports.com contributor Peter Schrager sent me a text last Thursday saying his Defensive Player of the Year was Dumervil. Well timed, Pete.
Mark Sanchez: I don't know whether he got his colors confused on the now-famous wrist band, but the Jets quarterback hasn't learned you can't throw into double coverage.
9. Three and out
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