Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Weekend Football Roundup: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Justin Tucker nailed two fourth-quarter field goals in last year's Super Bowl, and now he's following it up with one of the best seasons a kicker has ever had. 

By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe) and Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

Every week, editor's Jeremy Conlin and Joe Parello bring you the good, the bad and the ugly from the pro and college football weekend that was.

The Good

Russell Wilson

What regression? Rumors of Russell Wilson becoming simply an "average" or "game managing" quarterback were largely exaggerated. True, Wilson isn't putting up the huge numbers of Peyton Manning or Drew Brees, but the diminutive signal caller has done everything his team has needed to win. He just passed Ben Roethlisberger to capture the record for wins in a quarterback's first two seasons (23), and he now has 50 touchdowns for his young career.

The only other two quarterbacks in NFL history to do that: Peyton Manning and Dan Marino. Not saying he's the second-coming of any of those guys, but he is proving he is the perfect fit for his team, and he's only going to get better. Don't be surprised if the Seahawks lean on him a little more in the postseason, he's certainly earned their trust.


Justin Tucker

So, this will seem strange, but follow along.

Justin Tucker, a kicker, is Baltimore's most valuable player.

Stay with me.

The Ravens are 8-6. They currently sit in the No. 6 playoff seed, holding the tie-break over Miami. They hold that tie-break over Miami because Tucker was 4-for-4 on field goals in the game, including a 50-yarder in the first half and a game-winning 44-yarder late in the 4th quarter. A few weeks ago against Pittsburgh, the Ravens were able to come out on top in large part because Tucker was 5-for-5 on field goal attempts, including two in the fourth quarter of 45 and 48 yards.

Last night, the Ravens didn't score a touchdown. All six of their scoring drives ended in field goals. Tucker didn't miss a field goal attempt, including a 53-yarder in the 4th to put the Ravens up five (forcing Detroit to score a touchdown for the lead), then a ridiculous 61-yarder to win the game with less than a minute remaining.

Tucker's 35 field goals made this season ties him for 10th all time. More incredibly, however, is his field goal percentage, 94.6% (35-for-37) is 20th all time. However, 14 of the players ranked ahead of him (many of them tied with identical seasons) have attempted fewer than 30 field goals. So Tucker is 10th all-time in field goals made, and among the top six all-time for success rate with over 30 attempts.

He has pretty much single-handedly swung three games this year, which is the difference between the Ravens holding the No. 6 seed and the Ravens having the same record as the Titans and Bills. With Joe Flacco having such a disappointing season (he's ranked 30 among 35 qualified quarterbacks in QB Rating, below such juggernauts as Christian Ponder, Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Jason Campbell), Tucker has been the biggest difference-maker for the Ravens this year. Nearly any other kicker in the league is the difference between the Ravens in the playoffs and the Ravens with a top-10 draft pick.


The Bad

The Top of the AFC

Week 15 began with the Broncos losing to the Chargers, opening the door for New England to capture the top seed in the AFC.


The Patriots couldn't deliver against the the hungry Dolphins in Miami, opening the door for Cincinnati to effectively lock up the AFC North and snatch the No. 2 seed with a win against slumping Pittsburgh.


The Bengals found themselves in a quick 17-0 hole thanks to a botched snap on a punt and a punt returned for a touchdown by the Steelers' Antonio Brown. They went on to lose 30-20.


Really nothing changed, but all three teams had winnable games, and none could deliver. Not a great sign if you're hoping to make the Super Bowl. Then again, we've been saying all year that there isn't a dominant team in the AFC. So really, this is par the course.


The Saints On The Road

New Orleans is a dome team. Historically, dome teams have had a greater disparity between home success and road success than teams that play their home games outdoors. This makes sense - there's more in common between playing outside in New England and playing outside in Buffalo than there is, say, playing indoors in New Orleans and outdoors in Jacksonville.

However, this year, the Saints are taking it to another level - they aren't even playing well in their road games that are still being played indoors, bucking a few historical trends in the process. The Saints have had the good fortune to have two of their road games at Atlanta (they always have this game), but another in St. Louis. But even in those games, they've looked terrible, barely beating a bad Atlanta team and getting stomped by the aggressively mediocre Rams.

In their home games, the Saints have outscored their opponents by 122 points in seven games, good for an average scoring margin of  +17.4. They've won all seven of their home games. On the road, their scoring margin is (gulp) -33, a -4.7 average. They're 3-4 in road games, with losses to the Rams and Jets, and barely eeking out wins over teams like Tampa Bay and Atlanta.

Now, if the Saints want any hope of picking up a first-round bye and a home game in Round 2 of the NFC playoffs, they'll need to go on the road and beat Carolina next week (otherwise, Carolina hold a one-game lead and will only need to win at Atlanta in Week 17). Given how well Carolina has played over the last three months (their Week 14 performance at New Orleans notwithstanding), that's a tall order for a team that's looked that bad on the road.


The NFC East

Where to start with this division?

The Redskins actually put up a decent fight against beaten up Atlanta, but still lost their sixth in a row to fall to 3-11. New York was shut out at home by Seattle, and Eli Manning continued to make anybody that said "hey, maybe Eli is better than Peyton" feel like a total moron. The younger Manning threw five interceptions, and finished with a QBR of 2.1.

Not exactly elite numbers, but this isn't a one game thing. Manning now leads the league with 25 interceptions, and the thought that he could be considered better than Peyton is laughable. Right now, he's competing with Jets rookie Geno Smith for the title of best quarterback in New York, and he may be losing.

Philadelphia, meanwhile, had a chance to tighten its grip on the division, but fell to the Adrian Peterson-less Vikings and made Matt Cassell look like the college Vince Young. Yeah, he ran for a touchdown. It looked like it was in slow motion.

But don't worry, it wasn't like the Dallas could take advantage.

Tony Romo did Tony Romo things in the fourth quarter, and the Cowboy defense allowed Green Bay, playing with backup quarterback Matt Flynn (A guy that was cut by both the Raiders and Bills this year), to score touchdowns on all five of their second-half drives. That led to Dallas giving up a 26-3 halftime lead, and Dez Bryant leaving the field early to avoid showing tears.

So, yeah…


The Ugly


Okay, I know we don't believe in clutch, and we all know that Tony Romo isn't as bad in the fourth quarter as people believe. But… I mean… Come on Tony, what the hell was that?


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