The following Sports Agent Blog contribution is courtesy of Brandon Thorn.
Denver Broncos – Denver vs. Kansas City has meaning again. After Sunday’s win, Denver moves into a tie with Kansas City for first place in the AFC at 9-1.
Denver’s defense proved to everyone that it is only getting better as they get healthier. Linebacker Von Miller had a relatively quiet game but his presence as a pass rusher has taken pressure off of the rest of the defense. Linebacker Shaun Phillips had 1.5 sacks and was in the face of quarterback Alex Smith all night long.
Still without Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, the Denver defense held Kansas City’s offense in check, limiting them to just 17 points. That scoring output, against one of the best offenses of all-time through 10 games, simply won’t get it done.
Chiefs’ QB Alex Smith didn’t throw an interception, but wasn’t very efficient either, going 21 of 45, completing just 46% of his passes. The knock that Kansas City is not a great come-from-behind team due to quarterback Alex Smith being a poor down-the-field thrower was exposed on Sunday.
The most telling development in the game was Kansas City’s vaunted defense – the NFL’s then-leader in sacks with 36 – barely getting QB Peyton Manning’s jersey dirty. Denver’s offensive line was the forgotten unit heading into this game, given no credit, despite being the best offensive line in football this season (giving up a league-low 62 pressures) and they kept Manning virtually untouched all night long.
Denver’s 27 points on Sunday was the least amount of points scored all year and the most Kansas City has given up all year.
This stretch of three games for Denver (Kansas City, at New England, at Kansas City) is easily the toughest trio of games any team will face this season. Denver (9-1) will be on primetime television in consecutive weeks as they travel to New England next Sunday night, for another game in the epic series between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Through 13 head-to-head matchups between the future hall of famer quarterbacks, Brady has the advantage with nine wins to Manning’s four.
New York Giants – Through six games, fans and critics alike had all but written off the New York Giants. The off-season was already in sight with questions about coaches and player’s job security. The last four games have not only all been wins, but have put the Giants in the thick of the playoff hunt in the weak NFC East.
Sunday’s win (27-13) against Green Bay – who started third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien – was another step in the right direction. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul took full advantage of facing such an inexperienced quarterback, recording a sack and an interception returned for a score. The manner in which Pierre-Paul got his interception was special.
Late in the fourth-quarter with the Giants up 20-13, Pierre-Paul headed back onto the field after a timeout with a bold proclamation to teammate Justin Tuck stating, “I’m going to pick this.”
The next play saw Pierre-Paul leap into the air, pick Tolzien’s pass off, and return it 24 yards for the game-sealing touchdown. After the game Tuck had this to say about his teammate’s amazing prediction, “He called it before seeing the formation, so I don’t know if it was Voodoo. I don’t know.”
With next week’s showdown at home, against Dallas (5-5), New York (4-6) finds themselves with a newfound hope of becoming a playoff team. Despite the overwhelming odds that were stacked against them through the first six games, Head Coach Tom Coughlin’s rare ability to keep his team focused on the next game has propelled his team to one of the most impressive turnarounds in his coaching career.
New Orleans Saints – New Orleans scraped by the gritty 49ers, 23-20, improving their record at home to 6-0. The Saints’ defense played outstanding yet again, holding San Francisco to just 196 total yards, allowing their offense to score the second-fewest points on the season with just 23 and still get a win.
It was a hard fought game and most impressively, shows the rest of the league that New Orleans is much more than a finesse team. Their defense is physical, unrelenting, and is a product of first-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s tenacious demeanor.
Quarterback Drew Brees on the significance, “You’re going to have games like this. You still find a way to win against a playoff-caliber opponent with a lot at stake at this point in the season. That says a lot.” It certainly does.
E.J. Manuel & Buffalo’s stifling defense – The 16th overall pick out of Florida State (Manuel) played in his second consecutive game after missing the previous four with a knee injury. Buffalo has been in one of the toughest four game stretches any team has seen so far this season. Their last four games came against four top ten defenses (New Orleans, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and New York).
Buffalo’s defense under first-year defensive coordinator Mike Pettine (former pupil of Rex Ryan) is leading the NFL in sacks with 37 and has taken a page out of Ryan’s playbook, harassing quarterbacks with a mix of exotic blitzes and wide-range of personnel packages.
Sunday’s 37-14 win was the first of the last four games that Buffalo was able to see how they matched up against an elite defense with their quarterback of the future at the helm. Manuel delivered; completing 20 of 28, 245 yards, 71.4%, 2 TD, 0 INT, and a 121.9 QB rating.
The rest of the season’s schedule eases up tremendously, with three of Buffalo’s last five games coming against the likes of Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, and the reeling Falcons. With a 4-7 record, first-year head coach Doug Marrone has his team in position to end the year with a .500 record. With a young defensive-core that’s not going anywhere for the forseeable future and a possible franchise quarterback, there is reason for optimism in Buffalo for the future.
Detroit Lions – Detroit headed into Sunday’s contest in Pittsburgh with a chance to hold a one-game lead over Chicago for the division lead. With Chicago beating Baltimore in overtime, the pressure was on Detroit to hold off Pittsburgh.
Behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s stellar outing after his work ethic being questioned the previous week, Detroit coughed up the lead in the fourth quarter, losing the game 37-27. Quarterback Matthew Stafford led a 27 point second quarter outburst (a franchise record for points in a quarter) but let off the gas in the fourth, going 0-10 with an interception, giving way to Big Ben and his 31st career comeback.
Luckily for Detroit, they face Tampa Bay next week while Chicago takes on St. Louis, who will be fresh after a bye week.
Washington Redskins – Washington traveled to Philadelphia, in a place the Eagles haven’t won in 413 days. Robert Griffin III and the Redskins’ offense had the quintessential opportunity to turn their season around; a chance to beat a division-rival on the road, who’s defense ranked 31st in pass defense.
Griffin wasn’t bad – 17 of 35, 264 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 44 yards rushing – but the Redskins trailed 24-0 heading into the fourth quarter. Head coach Mike Shanahan sounded underwhelmed afterwards stating, “Took us until the fourth quarter to make a couple plays, we had our opportunity at the end. Just couldn’t take advantage of it.”
The team is currently in last place in the division with a 3-7 record, with a home-game coming up against the 49ers, who will be pissed off and ready to get a win after two straight losses. This game could get ugly if the Redskins come out with the same uninspired effort.
Minnesota’s quarterback situation – Minnesota’s quarterback situation is in ruin, with no remedy in sight. Former 2011 first-round pick Christian Ponder hasn’t been terrible, but given his first-round draft status, more is clearly expected of him.
Through the six games that he has played in this season, Ponder is 115 of 179, 64.2%, 1,246 yards, 5 TD, 7 INT, and a 77.6 QB rating. Ponder was forced to miss three games with an injury and backup Matt Cassel filled in respectably; 48 of 69, 69.5%, 489 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT.
The team signed veteran free agent QB Josh Freeman earlier in the season and gave him the start just days after being acquired – in week seven – and the results were putrid. Freeman had a terrible game, completing just 20 of 53 passes, 190 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, looking absolutely lost most of the game. The management in Minnesota has left something to be desired so far this season with the handling of their quarterbacks and it is shame for not only the fans, but for the reigning MVP RB Adrian Peterson.
Green Bay’s quarterback situation – Since All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down with an injury in week nine Green Bay has lost three straight games. With so much of the team’s success tied to Rodgers, losing him has put a cloud over an otherwise promising season. Since the injury, Green Bay’s record has fallen to 5-5 putting them a game behind Chicago and Detroit in their division.
Aaron Rodgers stated this week that his goal is to come back next week for the division matchup against Minnesota, which may not even be necessary. Minnesota is barely above water as it is and risking any sort of injury to their star quarterback could prove to be costly. While the Packers cannot afford to lose this game, the coaching staff would be wise to hold Rodgers out unless he was absolutely healthy.
Atlanta’s depressing season gets worse – Atlanta continues to be the league’s biggest underachiever. With sky-high expectations coming into the season, injuries and a weak bottom half of the roster has sent the Falcons’ season into a tailspin.
Future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez decided at the last-minute to come back for one final season because he felt so confident that Atlanta would compete for a Super Bowl. After Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay, Atlanta is now tied with the Buccaneers, with a 2-8 record.
After the loss, Gonzalez’s frustration was evident, “It’s embarrassing, the way we came out and performed as a team. I mean all of us. It’s all of us. I’m getting tired of it. It’s all of us. That’s the thing about it. It’s going to take all of us to get out of it.”
With eight losses already and a matchup against the 8-2 New Orleans Saints on the slate, “getting out of it” is frankly out of reach at this point.