Week 12 Cheat Sheet: Chiefs ain't pretty, but they're team to watch
As the media breathlessly hyped the Week 9 late-afternoon battle between the Broncos and Patriots as a potential AFC Championship Game preview, the Chiefs quietly beat the Jets 24-10 in an early game, holding New York scoreless in the second half and improving their record to 5-3. It was a boring win, the kind of victory that doesn't kick off highlight shows or get the screaming talking heads too excited on sports radio. Kansas City ran the ball efficiently, owned the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and led from start to finish.
Tom Brady would go on to toss four touchdowns and torch the Broncos defense later that evening. The Chiefs and their mundane, run-of-the-mill win were an afterthought by the time the Sunday night game kicked off.
Now, as we enter Week 12, the Chiefs and Broncos have matching 7-3 records, but you wouldn't know it based on the media buzz (or lack thereof). Kansas City has won five straight games, its defense leads the league in passing yards allowed, and its offense is fourth in the league against the run. The Chiefs run the opposite of today's in-vogue offenses -- aerial attacks lighting up scoreboards and stat sheets every week. They're an old-school team in a new-school world. And it's working.
Consider this: The Kansas City offense has gone 13 straight regular-season games without a wide receiver scoring a touchdown. The Packers' wide receivers, meanwhile, have scored 27 touchdowns in that same span. Entering this weekend, 22 quarterbacks -- including Austin Davis and Derek Carr -- have thrown for more than 2,000 yards. Alex Smith is 23rd in the league at 1,977.
But Smith has completed more than 66 percent of his passes, he's tossed just four interceptions on the year, and the Kansas City offense is in the top 10 in time of possession. The Chiefs ran more rushing plays and had more rushing yards than passing plays and passing yards in last week's win over the Seahawks. The defense, meanwhile, hasn't given up a rushing touchdown since last year's playoff game against the Colts and has given Peyton Manning and Tom Brady as much trouble as anyone this year.
The AFC West was supposed to go through Denver this season; no questions asked. And given that Kansas City started the season with a home loss to the Titans, it was easy to assume it was the Broncos' division to lose.
But the two teams are now tied atop the division, the Broncos suddenly are ravaged with injuries across their high-powered offense and Kansas City and Denver have similar schedules down the stretch. Winter is coming -- hell, it's already here -- and that weather favors the Chiefs.
They're not winning pretty, their highlights have no flash, and they aren't winning you any fantasy leagues. But the Chiefs could be the team to watch in the AFC from here on out.
WEEK 12 NFL CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA QUESTION OF THE WEEK
In Week 11, the Atlanta Falcons (4-6) defeated Carolina 19-17 and matched their 2013 win total. Which three teams other than the Falcons have already matched their win total from last season?
THROWBACK JERSEY OF THE WEEK
Each week, we give you a throwback jersey you should probably purchase. In honor of the Packers' old-school uniforms last week, here's my favorite old Green Bay great -- Don Majkowski -- and a sweet throwback you MUST have. The Magic Man!
Now, on to the picks.
Week 11 Record: 7-7
Kansas City at Oakland: A few weeks removed, the whole Tony Sparano "burying" of the season thing kind looks foolish now, doesn't it? Rookie Khalil Mack is the Raiders' one bright spot, and though I think they'll get up for a primetime game, I can't see them beating this veteran Chiefs team.
The Pick: Chiefs 26, Raiders 13
Cleveland at Atlanta: Your 4-6 division leading Falcons! Make all the jokes you want -- and trust me, I have -- but the Dirty Birds have put together two straight wins after that horrific meltdown in London vs. the Lions and have looked like a fairly competent team in doing so. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves in giving them a home playoff game just yet. After Cleveland, games against the Cardinals, Packers and Steelers, followed by a trip to New Orleans, are ahead. Vegas has them as favorites to win NFC South, but I think they get tripped up by the Browns on Sunday. Sorry. Wins over the Buccaneers and Panthers don't suddenly mean you're back.
The pick: Browns 27, Falcons 20
Tennessee at Philadelphia: The Titans left it all out there on Monday night against Pittsburgh, and I have to wonder if -- in a quiet moment -- Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt didn't kick himself for deciding to punt on fourth-and-4 at the Pittsburgh 48, down three points, with a little more than seven minutes remaining. That win would have made the Titans' season, and even if they were stopped short of a first down, Pittsburgh still would have had to have converted a few first downs on the ground to avoid punting the ball back. I didn't like the call. Going for that would have been a statement of trust in young quarterback Zach Mettenberger and a sign of fearlessness. Easy for me to say, of course, several days later, sitting in my living room with my laptop open. I like the Eagles in this one.
The Pick: Eagles 27, Titans 17
Detroit at New England: The Patriots' dominant blocking up front is one of the more underrated storylines of the season. When longtime coach Dante Scarnecchia retired after last year's AFC Championship Game loss, there was some real concern that the line would regress under new leadership. Well, it has been as good, if not better, under Dave DeGuglielmo. I asked Julian Edelman last week in the locker room about the blocking the receivers and tight ends have been doing, and he said it's one of the things those guys take the most pride in. Detroit is a loss away from every single Lions fan being in pure panic mode about a Thanksgiving Day collapse against the potentially resurgent Bears next week. The Lions will need to win some games like this down the stretch -- outside, against big offenses, ones where they're being written off -- and this is the perfect test. But I just don't see Brady losing to them at home.
The Pick: Patriots 31, Lions 20
Green Bay at Minnesota: The Vikings lost a big one in Chicago last week. Win that and you've got three straight games at home, outdoors in the Minnesota cold -- and a .500 record. Now, I don't see them getting off the mat to beat Aaron Rodgers in this one. I am curious to see how Teddy Bridgewater plays in this weather, though. If he's your quarterback of the future, he's going to have to be able to play well in the elements against division rivals.
The Pick: Packers 31, Vikings 17
Jacksonville at Indianapolis: After winning their first game of the season on Oct. 19, the Jaguars have lost their last three games by at least 10 points. The Colts, meanwhile, are coming off a bad loss at home to the Patriots and are in the midst of a 10-game AFC South winning streak -- double that of what any NFL team currently has over its division opponents. Jacksonville is going to have better days than it's had. Sunday just likely won't be one of them.
The Pick: Colts 34, Jaguars 19
Cincinnati at Houston: Are there two more confusing teams in the AFC than the Bengals and Texans? Just when you want to write both teams off, they go on the road into places where it's very difficult to win (New Orleans and Cleveland, respectively), and come out victorious. Bengals at Texans; this used to be the Mike Mayock special -- your AFC wild-card game on NBC -- and the Texans won both of those matchups (In January 2012 and 2013). I have them doing it again on Sunday, making it a third (Ryan Mallett) Texans quarterback to beat Andy Dalton (T.J. Yates and Matt Schaub being the others).
The Pick: Texans 23, Bengals 20
New York Jets at Buffalo: Snow! Snow! Snow! Lake effect! Some of my favorite tweets ever came this week from Bills players -- most of whom grew up in Southern states. They were shirtless, they were hilarious, and they were, well, buried in snow. The Bills have now lost two straight after a bye and are being written off by just about everyone -- but I'm not giving up on them just yet. I expect them to keep it on the ground, grind it out with Bryce Brown and Boobie Dixon, and find a season-saving W somewhere in the bottom of all that WEATHER.
The Pick: Bills 13, Jets 12
Tampa Bay at Chicago: The Lovie Smith Bowl! Lost in all this wonderfully snarky "The 4-6 first-place Falcons" chatter is that the Buccaneers, fresh off a good win in Washington, are only two games out of first place in the NFC South with a whopping 2-8 record. Unfortunately, the schedule from here on out is brutal. The Bears had their egos bruised in Green Bay two weeks ago but answered the call last week. I think they do it again this week.
The Pick: Bears 27, Buccaneers 17
Arizona at Seattle: I hear it in dark alleys and hushed conversations. It's out there. You know the talk. "The wins at home over the 49ers, Eagles, and Lions were impressive, but . . ."; "And the road win over the Cowboys -- even if it was with Tony Romo out of the lineup -- gives you some leg room atop the NFC, but . . ."; "Have you seen that schedule yet? Come at me in late December, and let's talk . . ." Yes, it's going to take a lot more, apparently, than a 9-1 start and the NFL's best record over the last 16 games for the Cardinals to get everyone's respect. Maybe winning in Seattle will do it. I mean, they did it last year and are up three games on the defending champions in the NFC West standings. But they're still seven-point underdogs on Sunday. Call me crazy, but I'll take Arizona. The Cardinals have been the best team in the NFL this season, and I'm picking them until they show me otherwise.
The Pick: Cardinals 24, Seahawks 20
St. Louis at San Diego: I like the Rams in an upset. For all of St. Louis' shortcomings, the Rams have now beaten the 49ers, Seahawks, and Broncos in their first 10 games. This one won't get much love nationally, with both the Dolphins-Broncos and Seahawks-Cardinals going on at the same time, but it could end up being the best game of the three. I'm all in on Shaun Hill. Love what I saw from him last week, and this defense will get to Philip Rivers.
The Pick: Rams 20, Chargers 17
Miami at Denver: No one is mentioning it because he's injured and has missed most of the season, but Dolphins running back Knowshon Moreno sure would have been a nice asset this year for Denver -- you know, the team he played for the previous five seasons. Forget the rash of nagging injuries that has slowed down the Denver running backs, Moreno was a reliable blocker and pass catcher -- a veteran Peyton Manning could rely on. Denver will lick its wounds from last week and find a way at home, but down the stretch one of these running backs -- and yes, I know C.J. Anderson has shown flashes --needs to step up and be "the guy." I'm curious to see if any of the healthy bodies can do the job Sunday against Miami's ferocious front seven.
The Pick: Broncos 27, Dolphins 16
Washington at San Francisco: Chris Cooley, a Redskins radio voice and a guy who knows a little bit about football, watched the Buccaneers-Redskins game film and critiqued Robert Griffin III's performance earlier this week. It's a fascinating 24-minute listen. Perhaps most noteworthy is what Cooley says about Griffin's inability to pull the trigger and throw a pass in the pocket: "He's setting at nine yards, and he's sitting," Cooley explains. "He takes a four-step drop, he doesn't make a throw, he's unwilling. At nine yards, you're a sitting duck. You have got to step up and slide, move in the pocket. You can't remain at nine yards. Offensive linemen don't block defensive linemen with their quarterback at nine yards. They block expecting their quarterback to step up at six yards."
Oh, and Aldon and Justin Smith are up ahead this weekend.
The Pick: 49ers 28, Redskins 13
Dallas at New York Giants: How much weight does Eli Manning put in Tiki Barber's thoughts about his or his head coach's job security? This is from the transcript of Wednesday's media session with reporters:
Question: Is it tougher when it's another player, especially when he played here, versus just maybe a column or story?
Manning: Well, I think it depends on kind of what your opinion of the player is. I think that can make a big difference in how you react to it.
Yep. As for Sunday's game, believe it or not this is the 15th time Manning is facing Tony Romo. That's a lot. But these Cowboys-Giants games are always competitive. Don't count Manning out just yet. He still has some magic up his sleeve.
The Pick: Giants 23, Cowboys 20
Baltimore at New Orleans: The last time Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh stepped foot in the Superdome, they got carried off in confetti, Super Bowl champions in 2013. The Saints have now lost two straight games at home; Baltimore has had two weeks to prepare. But night games vs. the Saints in New Orleans are a different beast than a Super Bowl on a neutral field. Fun one here, but I think the home team finds a way.
The Pick: Saints 30, Ravens 27
Fan of your NFL work for a few years now and heard you on the Jay and Dan Podcast on FOX this week commenting on the guy whose backyard is transformed into a pirate ship in that Bud Light commercial. I agree, I'd be furious. I don't care if you're the biggest Bucs fan in America, that doesn't give them permission to turn your backyard into an amusement park.
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As I said on the podcast this week, I can't imagine coming home from a long day of work, opening my front door, and seeing Warren Sapp in a pirate costume and my entire back yard being uprooted into a shipyard and thinking, "Awesome!" I mean, I'm "Up for Whatever," but c'mon. That's my shrubbery. That's my swing set. That's my backyard! He could have called the cops and been well within his rights to do so. But, what do I know? I live in a 400-square-foot box in Manhattan.
WEEK 12 NFL CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA ANSWER OF THE WEEK
The Cleveland Browns (6-4; 4-12 in 2013), Houston Texans (5-5; 2-14 in 2013) and Washington Redskins (3-7; 3-13 in 2013) are the three teams other than the Falcons to reach their win total from last season.