ErnBlog’s NFL Week 17 Picks

After going 5-1 against the spread in Week 15, ErnBlog fell back to Earth with a 3-3 Mark for Week 16. So I’ll take an 8-4 Overall Record into the Season’s Final Sunday, for which Ern will pick 8 games.

Other NFL Coming Attractions for ErnBlog:

ErnBlog will publish a 2012 NFL Final Report Card early next week which will allow you to see how I fared compared to my Preseason Projections.

ErnBlog will also be making NFL Playoff Picks against the spread.  So watch out for those next week as well.

ErnBlog’s Week 17 Picks (in Bold against the Spread):

 

Jay Cutler's had a strong season for Chicago, but even another win in Detroit on Sunday (which would be their 10th) may not be enough to get the Bears into the Postseason.Source: nydailynews.com

Jay Cutler’s had a strong season for Chicago, but even another win in Detroit on Sunday (which would be their 10th) may not be enough to get the Bears into the Postseason.
Source: nydailynews.com

Bears (9-6) (3.5-pt favorites) at Lions (4-11)                        1:00

The Bears need to beat Detroit and get Minnesota to lose to Green Bay in order to make the Playoffs.  The Lions have “found a way to lose” more consistently than any team in the NFL this year.  That’s why ErnBlog ranks Detroit as the most disappointing team in 2012.  Ern expects the Ford Field Frustrations to continue on Sunday.  The Chicago media has entrapped Bears coach Lovie Smith in a Lake Michigan Low Pressure System and ErnBlog counts on Jay Cutler and Matt Forte to have big games for Da Bears.

Ern’s Pick: Bears 24, Lions 20

 

Texans (12-3) (4.5-pt favorites) at Colts (10-5)                    1:00

The AFC South Champion – Houston Texans have had an impressive 2012 campaign, but suddenly face some precarious Postseason Positioning setbacks if they can’t defeat division foe Indianapolis on Sunday.  If the Texans lose, and New England and Denver both win, Houston will find inself in the #3 Slot – playing on Wild Card Weekend.  You can bet coach Gary Kubiak is not seeking that outcome.  ErnBlog predicted that the Texans would put the clamps down on Minnesota last week to ensure a first-round bye, but that didn’t happen.

The game doesn’t mean much to Indy, who knows they will be on the road on Wild Card Weekend.  So, do the Colts rest a lot of players, including Andrew Luck?  Probably.  However, if Houston loses, the Texans head into the Postseason with a 2-game losing streak.  But, remember, those 2-game losing streaks at the end of seasons haven’t been as problematic as one may think.  The 2009 AFC Champion Colts dropped their last two before cruising into the Super Bowl.

Ern’s Pick: Texans 24, Colts 21

 

Dolphins (7-8) at Patriots (11-4) (10.5-pt favorites)              4:25

The Dolphins usually play the Patriots tough, regardless of the setting.  But this is a rare scenario where New England has just enough to play for (First Round Bye) to really open the flood gates on Sunday.  Ern expects a Brady-Welker/Brandon Lloyd passing frenzy.

Ern’s Pick: Patriots 34, Dolphins 20

 

Packers (11-4) (3.5-pt favorites) at Vikings (9-6)                  4:25

Adrian Peterson needs 208 rushing yards at home against the Packers to break Eric Dickerson’s Single Season Rushing Record from 1984.  ErnBlog doesn’t think that’s happening.  But, Ern does think that the Vikins will earn something more important on Sunday – the final NFC Playoff Spot.

Ern’s Pick: Vikings 27, Packers 24

 

Chiefs (2-13) at Broncos (12-3) (16.5-pt favorites)               4:25

The Chiefs are all done this year.  Unfortunately, for Coach Romeo Crennel (who experienced a brutal 2012 both on and off the field), he may be all done in Kansas City as well.

As for Petyon Manning, the Broncos can smell a First Round Bye and a Mile High meeting with the Patriots in the Divisional Playoffs.  So how big was New England’s loss to San Francisco on December 16?  The difference in elevation between Foxboro and Denver – One Mile.

Closer to the ground, Denver tailback Knowshon Moreno appears to be picking up more steam each week.

Ern’s Pick: Broncos 36, Chiefs 17

 

Rams (7-7-1) at Seahawks (10-5) (10.5-pt favorites)           4:25

The Seahawks can not only win their 11th game of the season at Qwest Field on Sunday; they can also take the NFC West Title if the 49ers drop their final game against Arizona (unlikely).  But, the Rams are also seeking an important achievement – a Winning Season (highly unlikely back in September).  Remember, ErnBlog loves Rams coach Jeff Fisher (a former member of the 1985 Chicago Bears wrecking crew defense).  An undefeated Home Record will not come to Seattle easily.

Ern’s Pick: Seahawks 30, Rams 24 

 

Cardinals (5-10) at 49ers (10-4-1) (15.5-pt favorites)           4:25

It seems like yesterday that the Arizona Cardinals were 4-0, leading the NFC West, having beaten the Patriots in Foxboro.  That was in fact a LONG time ago.  The Cardinals have only won one game since.  The 49ers have too much on the line (Division Title, First Round Bye) to not take care of business here.

Ern’s Pick: 49ers 34, Cardinals 13

 

Cowboys (8-7) at Redskins (9-6) (3.5-pt favorites)               8:20

The implications are simple here.  The winner takes the NFC East and gets a First Round Home Playoff Game.  Washington can still get in with a loss (if Chicago and Minnesota both lose), but ErnBlog doesn’t think that’s probable.  The question to ask is: Which team has made the least mistakes in 2012 with games on the line?  Answer – Washington

Ern’s Pick: Redskins 27, Cowboys 20

 

Ern’s Week 16 Picks

Ern went an impressive 5-1 in Blockbuster NFL Week 15.  Let’s see what he can do in Week 16, as the season reaches its conclusion.

Tony Romo will attempt to steer Dallas back into the Playoffs.  But to do so, he'll have to outperform Drew Brees and the Saints.Source: espn.com

Tony Romo will attempt to steer Dallas back into the Playoffs. But to do so, he’ll have to outperform Drew Brees and the Saints.
Source: espn.com

Saints (6-8) at Cowboys (8-6) (3 pt favorites)             1:00

So the Saints have had a disappointing year and the Cowboys have had another strange year – 3-5 in the First Half and then 5-1 in the Second Half.  If Dallas wins their last two games against New Orleans and then at Washington, they’re in as NFC East Champs.  But the Saints have shown up for some Big Games this year with a win over Atlanta and two wins over Tampa Bay.

With Tony Romo playing some special football right now, Ern likes Dallas in this one.

Ern’s Pick vs. Spread: Cowboys

 

Bengals (8-6) at Steelers (7-7) (3.5 pt favorites)        1:00

The loser of Bengals/Steelers on Sunday is most likely not going to the Playoffs.  Ben Roethlisberger was gutsy last week in Dallas, but made one key error – throwing a devasting interception in Overtime that cost Pittsburgh the game.

Ern asks a key question: Who’s playing better football right now between these two?  Answer: Cincinnati.  Sophomore QB Andy Dalton looks poised to make his second straight trip to the Postseason.

Ern’s Pick vs. Spread: Bengals 

 

Vikings (8-6) at Texans (12-2) (7.5 pt favorites)         1:00

The Vikings need this game more than Houston.  But, Ern doesn’t think this Texans team wants to shift into Auto-Pilot just yet, especially considering what happened to them Monday night, December 10 in Foxboro.  Ern expects Houston to fire up the cylinders and turn Arian Foster’s running attack and Matt Schaub’s passing game loose on Minnesota.  I think that Adrian Peterson will rush for the 147 yards necessary to keep pace with retired Hall of Famer’s Eric Dickerson’s All-Time Single Season Record; but I also anticipate the Texans to run away with this one and claim Homefield Advantage in the AFC Playoffs.

Ern’s Pick vs. Spread: Texans

 

Browns (5-9) at Broncos (11-3) (13 pt favorites)         4:00

By about 4:00 on Sunday, Peyton Manning and Denver will know whether they still have a chance to achieve Homefield Advantage in the AFC Playoffs.  If Houston defeats Minnesota, that opportunity will be lost; but the Broncos will then still be eligible for a First Round Bye.  Ern likes Denver, but not in a runaway.  Anyone who’s been watching the Browns in the Second Half of the Season knows that Cleveland has improved considerably (winning 3 of their last 4).  ErnBlog thinks Trent Richardson chalks up some nice runs for the Browns, and the Broncos win by 10.

Ern’s Pick vs. Spread: Browns

 

Giants (8-6) (1.5 pt favorites) at Ravens (9-5)            4:25

The Giants World Championship Title Defense is essentially on the line early Sunday evening in Baltimore.  If New York wins this game and its last home game against the Eagles, the Giants can be assured of at least a Wild Card.  But, Ern thinks that securing a win at PSI Net Stadium is going to be a long shot for Big Blue.  The Ravens have dropped 3 in a row (Steelers, Redskins, and Broncos) and will be desperate to prove that they still belong with the NFL’s Elite.  Plus, the AFC North Title is still up for grabs.  Ern likes a steady serving of Ray Rice on Sunday and a 7-point Baltimore victory.

Ern’s Pick vs. Spread: Ravens 

 

49ers (10-3-1) (1.5 pt favorites) at Seahawks (9-5)           8:20

This NFC West Showdown could be a potential Playoff Preview.  San Francisco transcended its biggest challenge of the season last Sunday at New England.  With a win in Seattle this Sunday night, the 49ers will secure their second straight Division Title.  But, Pete Carroll’s crew is tough.  The Seahawks ferocious defense has now been complemented with an explosive offense that has scored 50 points two weeks in a row.  Rookie QB Russell Wilson is throwing and running with tremendous confidence.  San Francisco took the first game against the Seahawks back in the Fall, but Ern thinks that Seattle is ready to even the score this weekend.

Ern’s Pick vs. Spread: Seahawks

 

ErnBlog Number of the Day

Ern may have gone an impressive 5-1 in his NFL Week 15 “Blockbuster Game” Picks (Come on Colts!), but 6 is NOT the ErnBlog Number of the Day.

The ErnBlog Number of the Day is:

294

Propelled by the incredible talent of Running Back – Adrian Peterson, the Vikings have surprised the NFL with an 8-6 record and a push toward an NFC Wild Card Spot. (Source: newsday.com)

294 is the Number of Rushing Yards the amazing Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings needs to gain in his final two games of the season to pass Eric Dickerson’s All-Time Record of 2,105 Rushing Yards, achieved with the 1984 Los Angeles Rams.  So basically, Peterson needs to average 150 yards per game in Minnesota’s final two contests against at Houston and then at home against Green Bay.  Not easy tasks!  But if Peterson can break the record, his Vikings will more importantly have a strong change of winning both games, qualifying Minnesota for the Playoffs.

Some NFL Experts are comparing Peterson to OJ Simpson this season, while ErnBlog is drawing similarities between Adrian and Bo Jackson.  ESPN released a compelling 30 For 30 Episode about Bo on Heisman Saturday.  Remember that Bo Jackson won the 1985 Heisman Trophy for Auburn.  I recommend checking out that 90-minute Episode about the amazing Bo.

Getting back to Adrian Peterson, the Big Question here is:

If Peterson breaks the Single Season Rushing Record AND Minnesota makes the Playoffs, would Peterson’s accomplishments be stellar enough for him to beat out Peyton Manning for the NFL MVP Award?

NFL Fans Gear Up for Blockbuster Week 15

NFL Experts are saying that Week 15 of the 2012 Season may be the most competitive in the League’s History.  Out of 14 games on the Sunday schedule, 6 contests feature either potential Playoff previews or must-win scenarios for Postseason Contenders.

ErnBlog breaks down Blockbuster Week 15 with Picks versus the Point-Spreads:

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
Source: wikipedia.org

Packers (9-4) (-3 pts) at Bears (8-5)           1:00 on FOX

ErnBlog has been pointing to this game all season.  The Packers can basically finish off the NFC North with a win at Chicago.  The Bears now all of a sudden have Minnesota pecking at their paws in the division.  What seemed like a powerful season for Chicago (7-1 at Midseason) has lost substantial momentum.  Da Bears have dropped 4 of their last 5 games and need a win here to right the ship toward Postseason Waters.

After some offensive line struggles, Ern thinks that the Pack may be back as a true contender.  Green Bay has won 7 of its last 8 games and gets Clay Matthews back onto its defensive unit in time for the Bears game.  Aaron Rodgers appears to be locked-in again at the right time.

Ern’s Pick vs. Spread:  Packers 27, Bears 21

 

Colts (9-4) at Texans (11-2) (-9.5 pts)           1:00 on CBS

This big-time AFC South matchup couldn’t have come at a better time for the division-leading Houston Texans, having just suffered a 42-14 walloping by the Patriots on Monday Night Football.  The Texans need to prove their still Top Dogs in the AFC and still have 2 games remaining with Indianapolis. But Andrew Luck is “The Real Deal” and ErnBlog doesn’t see his Colts bowing out quietly in this divisional race.

Ern’s Pick vs. Spread:  Texans 27, Colts 24

 

Falcons QB Matt Ryan
Source: washingtonpost.com

Giants (8-5) at Falcons (11-2)  (-1.5 pts)         1:00 on FOX

This is a Big Game for both New York and Atlanta – Big for the Giants as they try to keep some NFC East distance between themselves and Washington/Dallas (both 7-6) – and Big for the Falcons who have struggled against the Giants in recent years.  New York dominated Atlanta, 24-2 in these 2 teams’ January 2012 Playoff Game in the Meadowlands.  But this game’s in Atlanta and the Falcons seem poised to HOST postseason games at the Georgia Dome this year. Atlanta’s 5th-year QB Matt Ryan (Boston College) is on Ern’s MVP Short List (with Peyton Manning and Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson).

Ern’s Pick vs. Spread:  Falcons 30, Giants 20

 

Broncos (10-3) (-3 pts) at Ravens (9-4)              1:00 on CBS

In a similar scenario as the Bears, the Baltimore Ravens appear to watching their 2012 Season shift out of focus.  2 weeks ago, Baltimore was 9-2 and in the AFC #2 Spot.  Since then, the Ravens have dropped 2 straight games, first to the injury-depleted Steelers and then to the Redskins.  And even though the Redskins game was in DC, it was still effectively a home game for Baltimore as well.  So now the Ravens have fallen below New England and Denver (both 10-3) into the AFC’s far less advantageous #4 Spot, which would force Baltimore to play in the First Round of the Playoffs and then on the road in Round 2.

On a tangent, ErnBlog offers a couple of Interesting Notes connecting the Ravens and Patriots – leading Ern to foresee that Baltimore and New England will inevitably meet in the upcoming Playoffs:

1) Baltimore beat New England, 31-30 on Sunday night, September 23.  That was the game when Belichick grabbed the replacement official’s shirt at the end and was fined $50,000 after the officials decided not to review the Ravens’ game-winning field goal in which the ball sailed over the upright.  This victory would give Baltimore the tiebreaker advantage over the Patriots, but only if ONLY these 2 teams had the same records at the end.  Right now Denver’s in the way.  In a 3-team tie, New England wins the tiebreaker.  So this is one reason why Sunday’s Ravens-Broncos game is so critical.

2) As mentioned earlier, because last week’s Ravens road game was played in DC, that means that Baltimore effectively had an extra Home Game in 2012 for a total of 9 Home Games.  The Patriots, on the other hand, handled the Rams in London on Halloween Weekend.  Because that England game counted as a Home Game for the Pats, they effectively only had 7 Home Games in 2012.  May this all even out in January if Baltimore is forced to visit New England?

But let’s get back on track here: As already mentioned, the Broncos are in Baltimore’s way regarding Playoff Positioning.  This is Joe Flacco’s opportunity to join the ranks of the Big Name Quarterbacks – the guys who get the job done in December and January –  Guys like his Sunday opponent – Peyton Manning.  The Broncos have won 8 straight games, dating back to their loss on October 7 to guess who?  New England.

Ern’s Pick vs. the Spread:  Broncos 29, Ravens 24

 

Steelers (7-6) (-1.5 pts) at Cowboys (7-6)                       4:25 on CBS

Ern’s a little surprised to see Pittsburgh as a 1.5-point favorite here, especially considering that the Steelers were just defeating by the visiting, inconsistent Chargers last week.  Tony Romo and the Cowboys, on the other hand, edged out a key road victory over the Bengals.  Since their Thanksgiving debacle against the Redskins, Dallas has won two in a row.  Ern calls for the Cowboys to finish off Pittsburgh’s Playoff aspirations on Sunday.  And if the Redskins can score a victory at suddenly tough Cleveland on Sunday, we could all be staring at 3 teams at the top of the NFC East at 8-6 (the Giants, Dallas, and Washington).  And remember, the Cowboys visit the Redskins on the final day of the season.  NBC Sunday Night Football???

Ern’s Pick vs. Spread:  Cowboys 31, Steelers 16

 

49ers (9-3-1) at Patriots (10-3) (-4.5 pts)                       8:20 on NBC

You may recall that this was ErnBlog’s Super Bowl XLVII Selection before the 2012 began.  And it looks like Ern may be right on target.  No one is playing better football than New England right now.  It is amazing how Bill Belichick can transform a defense during one season.  The future Hall of Fame Coach has done it so many times, but yet we all continue to question The Master?  2003, 2004, and 2006 are prime examples where Belichick strengthened Patriots Defenses to championship-caliber levels.  Is 2012 turning into another Title Edition?

The Patriots are only one game behind Houston for the #1 Seed in the AFC, with New England holding the tiebreaker based on its 42-14 throttling of the Texans on Monday night.  Houston, as mentioned, must still play Indy twice while the Patriots face Jacksonville and Miami after the 49ers.  Advantage: New England.

The 49ers, based on their tie with the Rams, currently hold a slight edge over the Packers for the NFC’s #2 Spot – necessary to earn a First Round Bye with a Home Playoff Game.  And San Francisco is tough at home.  So this 49ers-Patriots clash is important for more ways than the potential Super Bowl Preview.  And the forecast for Foxboro tomorrow night calls for a 90% chance of “December PRECIPITATION”.  Uh, oh!  Ern sees a defensive struggle developing at Gillette in this one.  Since the onset of the 2012, 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh knew he had a powerful defensive unit (spearheaded by Patrick Willis) with the capabilities of reaching the Super Bowl.  But the Patriots Defense?  Who would have thought?

But, at the end of this one, Ern thinks the QB who performs the best in the 4th Quarter will rule the night.  Tom Brady vs. Colin Kaepernick.  Advantage: New England.

Ern’s Pick vs. the Spread:   Patriots 23, 49ers 20

Kickoffs Too “Special” to Replace

Eric Metcalf of the Browns electrified the NFL on Special Teams in the 1990s.
Source: longhornstation.com

 

 

Over the past week, we have heard reports of rumblings from the Office of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that Kickoffs may have become too dangerous for the sport.  As technologies advance, we become increasingly aware of the long-term physical and mental dangers that continually hover over the well-being of NFL players.  Football is a dangerous sport and has always been so, dating back to its origination on Ivy League College fields in the Nineteenth Century.  But in 2012, the combination of medical precision and legal persistence have created a serious problem for the National Football League.

The wife of former Chicago Bears QB Jim McMahon says that he can’t really go out driving on his own anymore because he often can’t remember how to get home.  If you ever watch an NFL Hall of Fame ceremony, it is hard to dismiss noticing the “limping around” of several of the sport’s All-Time Greats.

The current NFL is charged with reducing serious injuries.  On a typical Sunday afternoon, NFL quarterbacks now jaunt past the line of scrimmage with halos on their heads – serious consequences awaiting any defender who may strike the sliding signal caller.  We have become acquainted with the “Helmet-to-Helmet” personal foul and the “Horse Collar” tackle.  The “Horse Collar” tackle (grabbing the top part of the back of the ball-carrier’s jersey from behind in order to drive him to the turf) was once a complimented method of playing defense.  Now it’s illegal.  So modifications have been made over the past few years to reduce the change of serious injuries without diminishing the game itself.

But now this latest echo from the NFL Offices threatens the basic fundamentals of the sport.  NFL Coaches are frequently heard in interview and press conferences dividing the game into its 3 primary components – Offense, Defense, and Special Teams (with no particular hierarchical order assigned to any).  The reason for that is because none of the three are more or less important than either of the other two.  Special Teams involves Kickoffs, Punts, Field Goals, and Extra Points.  Every game and every Second Half starts with a Kickoff and every scoring play (except a safety) prescribes another.  Some of Football’s most exciting plays occur on Kickoffs.  But now the NFL has identified (both qualitatively by the degree of injuries and quantitatively by the number) that Kickoffs (proportionally to other plays) produce the Game’s most injuries.

So the media reported last week that the Commissioner’s Office has an idea to eliminate the Kickoff play.  And unlike prior leadership regimes, Roger Goodell has a reputation for implementing his visions for Pro Football quickly.  Therefore, it appears likely that the Commissioner would like to remove Kickoffs by as early as the 2013 Season.  So what would happen at the beginning of the game/second-half and following scoring plays?  Each game would still start with the traditional coin toss, which would now simply determine who receives the ball first.  That team would start with the ball at its own 20-yard-line.  The other team would automatically get the football at its own 20-yard-line at the beginning of the Second Half.  Following either a touchdown or field goal, the scoring team would get the ball back at its own 20-yard-line faced with 2 choices:

1) Try to convert a “4th Down and 15 Yards to Go” into a 1st Down and Retain Possession of the Football.

2) Punt the Football from there to the Opposing Team.

So now we are not only eliminating a fabric of the game, but we are also adding a made-up rule designed to replace of all things – the On-Side Kick?  So what the NFL is telling me is that they don’t want “Kickoffs”, but they do want “On-Side Kicks”?  Oh, … because Offense sells tickets!!  Now I got it.

So picture this scenario: Monday Night Football two days ago between the Patriots and Texans.  The Patriots are up 21-0 in the first half, but now pretend the Proposed New Rules are in effect.  New England, completely rolling on offense Monday Night with the ball conveniently bouncing from Patriot to Patriot, would be inclined to pick the 4th and 15 option from their own 20 rather than punt the ball to Houston.  Remember, punts don’t go as deep as kickoffs and now you’re punting from your own 20.  I think anyone who was watching Monday Night’s game could easily envision Tom Brady converting the 4th and 15 and then directing the Pats back down the field for another touchdown and an even more commanding 28-0 advantage.  Has anyone thought of those scenarios?  Game spiraling completely out of control in favor of one team by Halftime?  Is that how you want to accommodate for the deletion of the On-Side Kick?

I’ll repeat: Some of the Game’s most exciting plays occur on Kickoffs.  In the 1990s, Eric Metcalf (Cleveland Browns) and Dave Meggett (Giants/Patriots) made their livings returning Kickoffs and Punts.  Those players could get their teams right back into games with sparkling runs.  Over the past few years, we’ve seen Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears perform similar feats.  Hester actually opened Super Bowl XLI by returning a kickoff for a touchdown through driving rain in Miami.  What’s more exciting than that?  As I watched some of the games this weekend, I could not ignore the vital role that Special Teams played in a number of contests, particularly in the Washington Redskins thrilling OT victory over Baltimore.

But players get hurt, says the League.  Players have been getting hurt playing football for years.  They got hurt when Harvard played Princeton in that first game and they will get hurt tomorrow night when the Cincinnati Bengals play the Philadelphia Eagles.  It’s part of the game, folks.

Over the years, the League has taken innovative steps to reduce injuries.  In the early Twentieth Century, President Teddy Roosevelt actually once threatened to outlaw American Football unless some protective measures were adopted to reduce the violence of the game.  Helmets and better uniform pads were developed and the sport survived and flourished.  Now we’re at that next phase where we better understand the severity of the physical and mental hazards that players face, especially the retired ones.  The NFL and its Teams must now develop new protective measures to combat the challenge of Special Teams Injuries.  Is better coaching and play execution an answer?  Does one player tend to get injured on these plays because a teammate doesn’t do his job correctly on the play?  Certainly.  If a team knows during the offseason which players will primarily play Special Teams, can that team arrange “Special” conditioning programs designed to better prepare these guys for the full-season rigors of the Kickoff and Punt plays?

My point is: Let’s not change the Game.  Instead, let’s find solutions to alleviate a Challenge in the Game.  Big Ern says that the Kickoffs must stay!

ErnBlog NFL December Report

All right, Happy December Everyone!  All 32 NFL Teams have exactly 4 remaining games in the 2012 season.  My NFL December Report will once again Rank every team and assign each team a Grade for it’s performance three-quarters through the schedule.  You will continue to see my Original Record predicted for each club back in September and also each team’s Rank/Grade fluctuation since my Stretch Run Report 3 weeks ago.  A lot has changed in just 3 weeks’ time!

I have also added a new wrinkle to this December Report – My Top 12 Ranked Teams will be the 12 Teams that ErnBlog now projects will qualify for the Playoffs that begin on January 5, 2013.

Without further suspense, here is the up-to-date, hot-off-the-press, ErnBlog NFL December Report:

Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck.  Source: pigskinbuzz.com

1. Houston Texans (11-1) (A) (Same Ranking, Same Grade)

Ern: 10-6 (AFC South Champs)

The Houston Texans still have the inside track in the AFC Homefield Advantage Race, effectively 2 games ahead of 7-2 Baltimore by virtue of their Reliant Stadium slam dunk thrashing of the Ravens back in October. The Texans survived their first Big Test of 2012 – defeating the Bears at Soldier Field in November. Now, the Matchup of the Season will unfold in Foxboro this coming Monday Night when the Texans challenge defending AFC Champion New England. Houston also still must TWICE contend with the 8-4 playoff-bound Colts, led by rookie sensation Andrew Luck.  ErnBlog thinks that Houston will drop one game to Indianapolis and also fall to the Patriots in a tough atmosphere on Monday Night.  That would result in a 13-3 finish for Houston.  Good enough for Homefield Advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs?  Potentially not if the Patriots run the table.

2. Atlanta Falcons (11-1) (A) (Same Ranking, Same Grade)

Ern: 8-8

The Falcons have avenged their only loss of 2012 with a thrashing of New Orleans lastt Thursday night.  The final score did not do justice to the manner in which Atlanta dominated their NFC South foes.  “Matty Ice”, Coach Mike Smith, star wideout Roddy White, and the rest of the Falcons still boast an A Grade from ErnBlog. Altlanta’s final remaining test of this season is 12/16 when the World Champion Giants visit the GeorgiaDome.

3. New England Patriots (9-3) (B +) (Up 5 Rankings, Up 2 Grades)

Ern: 13-3 (AFC East Champs)

The Patriots secondary is no longer “horrible”, as ErnBlog stated 3 weeks ago. New England cornerback Devin McCourty has received helping hands from Ryan Arrington (who has come out of nowhere to play well) and Aqib Talib (a free agent acquisition from Tampa Bay).  What do you know? The Pats have been blitzing their linebackers and attacking opposing quarterbacks (maybe not 70% of the time), but at an optimal rate as they have over the past few weeks successfully concealed their defense’s primary weakness – the secondary.

The New England offense is currently featuring a well-balanced attack of Tom Brady short to medium-range passing and a consistent running game powered by Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen.  Although wide receiver and special teams standout Julian Edelman was injured on Sunday against Miami and will miss the rest of the year, the Patriots do expect star tight-end Rob Gronkowski back for the Playoffs.

4. Denver Broncos (9-3) (B +) (Up 5 Rankings, Up 1 Grade)

Ern: 10-6 (AFC West Champs)

Winners of 7 straight games, Peyton Manning and the Broncos have secured the AFC West.  The only teams that Denver has lost to in 2012 are ErnBlog’s Top 3 Teams!  And the Broncos are better than they were 2 months ago when they played the Patriots.  If I’m an opposing defense, I don’t want to be looking across the line of scrimmage at Peyton Manning in the Playoffs.  However, the major reason for Denver’s emergence in October/November is the defense led by Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil.  A key test for the Broncos will come in 2 weeks at Baltimore.

5. San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1) (B +) (Up 1 Ranking, Same Grade)

Ern: 12-4 (NFC West Champs)

The 49ers should be 10-2 right now, on course to obtain Homefield Advantage in the NFC Playoffs. Instead, San Francisco has struggled in the division against the Rams, losing at St. Louis this past Sunday in OT and tying the Rams at Candlestick last month.

Although the 49ers have achieved 2 of the most impressive victories in 2012 (at Green Bay in Week 1 and at New Orleans a few weeks ago), Jim Harbaugh’s crew (now led by dynamic second-year QB Colin Kaepernick) currently find themselves fighting for the NFC West with 7-5 Seattle.  If San Francisco is going to claim Homefield Advantage this year, they are most likely going to have to win at New England (12-16) and in Seattle (12-23) – both very difficult places to play.  They may need the Seahawks game just to secure the Division.

6. Baltimore Ravens (9-3) (B +) (Up 1 Ranking, Same Grade)

Ern: 10-6 (AFC Wild Card)

Under-rated QB Joe Flacco is having another strong year for Baltimore as tailback Ray Rice is reducing pressure on the signal caller with consistent rushing production.  However, the Ravens defense is aging.  Future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis is out for the season. If that isn’t a devastating injury, I don’t know what is.  Pro Bowl corner Ed Reed is stepping up in Lewis’ void, but ErnBlog doesn’t know if this defensive unit can survive the potential offensive fireworks of the AFC Playoffs.  Homefield Advantage expects to factor heavily in Baltimore’s postseason prognosis.  Although the Ravens possess the tiebreaker over the Patriots (by virtue of a 31-30 victory over New England on 9/23), Baltimore would lose in a 3-way tie with the Patriots and Broncos (which is the current situation).  Either the Ravens or Broncos will move ahead when the two teams collide in 2 weeks in Baltimore.

7. New York Giants (7-5) (B) (Down 3 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern: 12-4 (NFC East Champs)

The Giants have moved down from Number 1 in ErnBlog’s Mid-Season Report. At the beginning of the season, Ern was told that a 12-4 projection for New York was ambitious considering the Champs’ brutal schedule.  At 7-5, the Giants will not hit the mark.  New York now faces serious Divisional challenges from Washington (who beat them on Monday night) and Dallas, both at 6-6.  The Giants are done with both the Redskins and Cowboys in 2012, having split those games right down the middle with both teams at 2-2.  But now, New York needs to avoid finishing tied with either Washington or Dallas who both hold better Division Records.  The Giants are 2-3 in the NFC East.  And their final 4 games are no picnic:

vs Saints

at Falcons

at Ravens

vs Eagles

Can the Giants win 3 more games to get to 10-6?  I don’t know, but one thing I do know is never to count out the Champs!

8. Green Bay Packers (8-4) (B) (Down 3 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern: 12-4 (NFC North Champs)

Key patterns in the NFC are clearly developing over the past two seasons.  The Packers can beat anyone except for the Giants.  The 49ers can beat anyone except for the Giants and Rams:)  The game that has now been circled by ErnBlog for a couple of months looms larger and larger each week: December 16 – Green Bay at Chicago.  With both teams at 8-4, the outcome of that game will likely determine the NFC North Title.

The major concern for the Packers right now is their offensive line’s inability to protect Pro Bowl QB Aaron Rodgers.  Rodgers cannot pass accurately from the turf.  And the defensive pressure and blitzing is just going to intensify in the Postseason.  The Green Bay offensive line and coaching staff has got to come up with some solutions as the Packers only will go as far as Rodgers will take them.

9. Chicago Bears (8-4) (B) (Down 6 Rankings, Down 3 Grades)

Ern: 12-4 (NFC Wild Card)

The Crowd is dense at the top of the NFL and stock in the Chicago Bears is falling.  3 weeks ago, Da Bears were 7-2 and cruising toward an NFC North Title.  Since then, they have dropped 2 of their last 3 games against the 49ers and Seahawks, both of which could prove costly in the realm of Playoff Seedings.  3 of Chicago’s final 4 games are in the Division – at Minnesota on Sunday, vs. Green Bay (12/16), and at Detroit (12/30).  The Bears need 2 out of those 3 games.  ErnBlog thinks they can get them.  And the reason, believe it or not, is Jay Cutler, who has played “solid” and inspiring football in 2012.  Can middle linebacker and defensive leader Brian Urlacher return for the Playoffs?  ErnBlog doesn’t know.

10. Seattle Seahawks (7-5) (B +) (Up 1 Ranking, Same Grade)

Ern: 7-9

The Seahawks are on the periphery of the postseason. Improving each week, the Seahawks possess a swarming defense and still have a home game against first place San Francisco.

11. Indianapolis Colts (8-4) (A -) (Up 3 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern: 6-10

What can Big Ern say? Andrew Luck is for real. This past Sunday’s comeback in Detroit may be chronicled for some time.  Wouldn’t it be a treat if Luck and the Colts faced off against Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the AFC Playoffs?

12. Cincinnati Bengals (7-5) (B) (Up 7 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern: 7-9

Surprise, surprise.  Look who has quietly emerged within the ErnBlog Rankings into the final playoff spot in the AFC.  Marvin Lewis’s Cincinnati Bengals.  The Bengals were in the postseason last year when they faced the Texans in the First Round down at Reliant Stadium.  QB Andy Dalton and the Bengals visit Pittsburgh on 12/23 and host Baltimore on 12/30.  If Cincinnati wins one of those games, ErnBlog sees the Bengals playing on Wild Card Weekend.

Redskins rookie QB Robert Griffin III.  Source: guysnation.com

 

13. Washington Redskins (6-6) (B) (Up 8 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern: 7-9

The Redskins could win 9 games this year, but ErnBlog currently doesn’t project RG3 and Company making the trip to the Postseason.  Washington’s best shot at the Playoffs is for the Giants to finish at 9-7 alongside them, in which the Redskins would win the division.  Regardless of postseason qualification, the Redskins (behind the juggernaut that is rookie passing and running phenom Robert Griffin III) have infused gridiron energy back into the Nation’s Capital in 2012.

14. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) (B -) (Down 4 Rankings, Down 1 Grade) 

Ern: 11-5 (AFC North Champs)

You have to admire the resiliency of the Steelers, charging toward the finish line without Big Ben.  But ErnBlog fears that Pittsburgh is approaching its limit.  The Steelers need to win 3 of its last 4 and there’s no telling when Roethlisberger will return.  Ern doesn’t think Pittsburgh will have enough gas in the tank to win either at Dallas or at home against the Bengals.

15. Minnesota Vikings (6-6) (B) (Down 3 Rankings, Down 2 Grades)

Ern: 5-11

ErnBlog’s biggest surprise of the regular season thus far. Coach Leslie Frazier has guided Minnesota back to respectability in the NFC North. The Vikings are beating more talented teams than themselves. And when QB Christian Ponder struggles, star running back Adrian Peterson carries the Minnesota offense on his back.  But, Minnesota has already exceeded the ErnBlog projected Win Total for 2012 and has clearly crossed the gap toward the future.

16. Dallas Cowboys (6-6) (B -) (Same Ranking, Same Grade)

Ern: 10-6

Jason Garrett’s offense has been totally disorganized in 2012.  ErnBlog projects that Jerry Jones will make a coaching change in the offseason.

17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6) (B +) (Down 2 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern: 4-12

Greg Schiano is defying the curse of the “Successful College Coach Hitting the NFL Gridiron”. With QB Josh Freeman, running back Doug Martin, and receiver Michael Williams; the skies the limit for Tampa Bay over the next few seasons.

18. New Orleans Saints (5-7) (C +) (Down 5 Rankings, Down 1 Grade)

Ern: 12-4 (NFC South Champs)

The Saints lost season, which ErnBlog once projected to be so promising, is nearing its dismal conclusion.  Now New Orleans has to resign its free agent coach Sean Payton.  Like Dallas, the most disappointing aspect of the 2012 New Orleans Saints was complete disorganization on offense.  At times, it appeared that Drew Brees was planning to throw the ball on every down, and typically just launch it as far as he could down the field.  That’s not NFL offense; that’s flag football.

19. Miami Dolphins (5-7) (B) (Down 1 Ranking, Same Grade)

Ern: 8-8

Big Ern’s impressed with the Dolphins performance in 2012. He’s impressed with Coach Joe Philbin, Cameron Wake, and rookie QB Ryan Tannehill.  So, perhaps ErnBlog over-exaggerated the team’s short-term prognosis 3 weeks ago.  But Joe Philbin appears to have a long-term strategy to make the Dolphins competitive in the AFC East.

20. Detroit Lions (4-8) (C +) (Up 2 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern: 10-6 (NFC Wild Card)

Ern’s pretty disappointed with the Lions this year, originally projected to earn a Wild Card Spot.  The biggest problem with Detroit in 2012 was its inability to hold on to victories.  There were 3 games this years (an OT loss to Tennessee, an OT loss to Houston, and this past Sunday’s collapse against Indy) that could have made all the difference for Detroit.  But as Bill Parcells says, “You are what you are.”  And the Lions are 4-8.

21. Tennessee Titans (4-8) (B -) (Down 4 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern: 5-11

22. San Diego Chargers (4-8) (C) (Up 1 Ranking, Same Grade)

Ern: 7-9

Norv Turner is So Done there.

23. St. Louis Rams (5-6-1) (B) (Up 3 Rankings, Up 2 Grades)

Ern: 2-14

Big Ern loves Coach Jeff Fisher. He’s the Man.

24. New York Jets (5-7) (D) (Same Ranking, Up 1 Grade)

Ern: 11-5 (AFC Wild Card)

Ern bolstered the Jets Grade this Report Card up from an F to a D; a reward for giving QB Greg McElroy a shot against Arizona this past Sunday.  And what do you know, Rex Ryan, the result was a WIN!

25. Cleveland Browns (4-8) (C +) (Up 5 Rankings, Up 2 Grades)

Ern: 2-14

Hey, the Browns aren’t bad.  Trent Richardson can run the football.  Can Cleveland make a dent in 2013?

26. Buffalo Bills (5-7) (C) (Down 1 Ranking, Same Grade)

Ern: 9-7

Not much to say about Buffalo.  Their defense sucks.

27. Carolina Panthers (3-9) (C -) (Up 2 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern: 8-8

Ern’s really surprised to see QB Cam Newton and Coach Ron Rivera struggling so much in their Sophomore Seasons.

28. Arizona Cardinals (4-8) (C -) (Down 8 Rankings, Down 4 Grades)

Ern: 4-12

What happens when an NFL team wins its first 4 games and then loses its next 8 games?  That team drops 16 spots in the ErnBlog Rankings between the Mid-Season Report and the December Report.  But the good news, Arizona?  You’re still better than Philadelphia!

29. Philadelphia Eagles (3-9) (F) (Down 2 Rankings, Down 1 Grade)

Ern: 6-10

I just knew this team was gonna suck.  They if fact, are horrible.  When you watch them play, it’s hard to imagine that they have won 3 games this years.  Where is the next stop for Coach Andy Reid after a mostly successful 12-year tenure in Philly?  Maybe a year off.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10) (C) (Up 2 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern: 1-15

31. Oakland Raiders (3-9) (C -) (Down 2 Rankings, Down 2 Grades)

Ern: 9-7

Guess the Raiders won’t be going 9-7.  Oops, ErnBlog!

32. Kansas City Chiefs (2-10) (D) (Down 1 Ranking, Same Grade)

Ern: 9-7

Come on, Romeo Crennel ! What’s going on in KC?

 

 

Crimson Tide versus Fighting Irish – A “Classic” Matchup

Alabama QB A.J. McCarron is seeking his 2nd straight National Championship.
Source: espn.com

The Date is set.  The Place is set.  Now, most importantly, the Teams are set.

On Monday night, January 7 at Dolphins Stadium in Miami; one of the most highly anticipated College Football National Championship Games will be staged.

On one side, you have the Defending National Champs – the Alabama Crimson Tide, now as of last night, also Repeat Champs of the famed Southeastern Conference (SEC).  The Tide’s spartan Head Coach – Nick Saban is seeking his third National Title in four years (the supreme victor in both 2009 and 2011).  Saban looks like a spartan on the sidelines and if fact used to actually be a Spartan; he was the Head Coach of Michigan State from 1995-99.  He also won another National Title as Head Coach of the Louisiana State Tigers in 2003.

With their Title Defense hanging by a thread last night in Atlanta, the Crimson Tide defense came up big in the closing seconds against the Georgia Bulldogs, stalling QB Aaron Murray’s drive at the 5-yard-line and securing a thrilling 32-28 victory.  Alabama has only one blemish on its 2012 schedule – a home setback to sensational freshman QB Johnny Manziel (potential Heisman winner) and Texas A&M.

Linebacker Manti Teo has spearheaded the Notre Dame defense to a Perfect 12-0 Mark in 2012.
Source: bleacherreport.com

On the other side, you have the Notre Dame Fighting Irish coached by New England disciplinarian Brian Kelly.  Before last night’s SEC Championship Game, Kelly (at the Georgia Dome to watch the game) was asked by CBS’s Spencer Tillman how he led the Irish to a 12-0 Undefeated Season in this College Football environment where placing academic values over athletic pursuits does not frequently yield championship aspirations.  Kelly responded that over the last 3 years Notre Dame has gone back to making football “A College Game”.  He further explained that Notre Dame has focused on the putting the STUDENT back in Student-Athlete.  The results to this point cannot be questioned.

Notre Dame and Alabama are arguably America’s two most historic and legendary college football teams.  The last time these 2 gridiron icons faced-off for a National Title was December 31, 1973 at New Orleans’ Tulane Stadium (The Sugar Bowl) – almost 40 years ago.  The Coaches in that game were legendary – Notre Dame’s Ara Parseghian and Alabama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant.  The Crimson Tide entered that game at 11-0, concluding the regular season with a victory over rival Auburn (who had also been Undefeated heading into the Season Finale).   In the first ever football game between the two College Gridiron Pillars, each squad missed an extra point following a touchdown in the Sugar Bowl as the National Title would be decided by the slimmest of margins.  In the final five minutes of the game, Notre Dame QB Tom Clements directed the Irish into field goal range and kicker Bob Thomas gave the Golden Domers a 24-23 advantage.  The Crimson Tide then couldn’t move the ball out of the shadow of their own end zone in the closing moments and the Fighting Irish celebrated a National Title, Parseghian’s second (he also secured America’s Top Spot in 1966).  In his eleven years along the Irish sidelines, Parseghian amassed a stellar overall record of 95-17-4.

That 1973 Sugar Bowl only shows us a glimpse of the legendary statures of both Notre Band 1992.  After interpreting records from Wikipedia.org, ErnBlog concludes that Alabama and Notre Dame have won 13 and 11 National Championships, respectively.  Only Princeton (28) and Yale (26) have won more National Titles historically.  Notre Dame has featured 7 Heisman Trophy Winners (College Football’s Annual Best Player), tied with Ohio State’s all-time Heisman mark.  Since the 1973 Sugar Bowl, Notre Dame has also won National Titles in 1977 (behind Joe Montana) and in 1988 (with Coach Lou Holtz, QB Tony Rice, and tailback Ricky Watters).  Besides their 2 National Titles in this 21st Century, the Crimson Tide have also finished as America’s Number One Team in 1978-79 (with Bear Bryant) and in 1992 (led by Coach Gene Stallings).

The Coaches and Players have changed over the years, but the magic is still the same when Notre Dame faces Alabama.  The 2012 BCS National Championship will not only decide a trophy, but will seal an image within the history of College Football.  A statue of Nick Saban already stands at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa as a tribute for his 2 National Championships achieved there.  But to defeat Notre Dame for a Title?  A statue may not be necessary to remind anyone of that.

Perhaps the most interesting story of this so-far perfect Notre Dame campaign is the emergence of their freshman QB Everett Golson.  Golson has quietly and effectively guided the Irish past Michigan, Stanford, Oklahoma, and Southern California this season.  He will have six weeks off to take Final Exams and prepare for Alabama in Miami on January 7.  Like Big Ern, Mr. Golson will celebrate a birthday that first week of 2013.  He’ll turn 20, the same number of years since Notre Dame has last been ranked Number One in the Country.