Patriots

Alphabet NFL Preview: Week 11

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Alphabet NFL Preview: Week 11

Another week of football. Another Alphabet Preview.

I think there's a pattern here.

A is for ANONYMOUS
Earlier this week, an anonymous member of Rex Ryans Fun Bus told the Daily News that Tim Tebow will be the Jets starting quarterback because hes terrible. And after that its just been a blur. Total chaos. One giant green streak in the underpants of the Jets franchise, with more ins, outs and contradictions than a full season of Homeland and the Benghazi scandal combined.

One thing we know for sure: Rex is NOT happy about having a mole in his locker room.

"If you're not going to put your name to it, I think that's about as cowardly of a thing there is," Ryan said.

Before adding, At the very least, your voice should be on camera in the background so that everyone can basically figure it out.

Anyway, when the game starts on Sunday, expect Mark Sanchez to prove that he doesnt need anonymous teammates for the world to realize that hes terrible. Last week, he was silenced by his former college coach (Pete Carroll) and this week, you know that former Jetscurrent Rams OC Brian Schottenheimer has provided Jeff Fisher with plenty of insight into shutting down the Sanchize.

The Rams are favored by 3.5 points, but Im on record saying theyll win by 13.

B is for BIG BEN

Theres always an instinct to downplay Ben Roethlisbergers injuries. I say that under the obvious admission that Roethlisbergers tougher than I am, but lets be honest, hes the king of being near death on Friday, and then running around on Sunday like a juiced up rhino, while Jim Nantz and Chris Berman climax over the grittiness and gamesmanship of the one and only (sigh) Ben.

My point: Despite all the drama surrounding his latest injury that theres a potentially life-threatening rib issue and a shoulder separation so rare that there haven't been any documented cases since 1998 Roethlisberger will be back before you know it; playing through the pain and basking in the glow of Nantz and Bermans verbal foreplay.

HOWEVER, and more importantly, Roethlisberger wont be on the field this Sunday, as the Steelers host the Ravens in the SRO AFC Game of the Week. With a win, Pittsburgh will improve to 7-3 and move into a first place tie with Baltimore, but heres the problem:

Theyve never beaten the Ravens without Roethlisberger theyre 0-4 lifetime, as opposed to 9-5 with Big Ben under center. And with Baltimore riding high off last Sundays blow out over the Raiders, its not likely that well see the Steelers buck the trend.

(Back-up Byron Leftwich does have one career victory over Baltimore. Unfortunately, it was so long ago that Deion Sanders still played for the Ravens.)

ESPNs Rick Reilly was the first to report that Deion Sanders formerly played for the Ravens.

C is for CAPTAIN ROBERT
Mike Shanahan might have thrown in the towel after Washingtons Week 9 loss to the Panthers, but Robert Griffin III continues to provide Redskins fans with inspiration for the future.

This week, his teammates voted to name RGIII a captain, effective immediately.

D'Angelo Hall was voted "Most Likely to Assault a Fan."

D is for DOUBLE DIGITS

Coming into this season, the Texans had been favored by 10 or more points only three times in their 10-year history.

(If youre interested, those three times were:

1. Last year, against the Browns (-10.5). The Texans won by 18.

2. In 2009, against the eventual 1-15 Rams (-14). The Texans won by three.

3. In 2008, against the winless Lions (-11). The Texans won by seven.)

As an indicator of how far Houston has come, this Sunday marks the fourth time THIS SEASON that theyll enter an afternoon as double-digit favorites, and their 15-point spread against the Jaguars is the widest in franchise history.

Speaking of franchise marks, Jacksonvilles at risk of tying a team record with seven straight losses. No doubt they will, and by more than 15 points.

I hope Blaine Gabbert enjoys his final few days with that pretty little mustache, because its going to mounted in JJ Watts locker by halftime.

(P.S. I got all that point spread info from Covers.com)

E is for ENDURING DOMINATION

When we last left the Broncos and Chargers, Peyton Manning (with some help from Philip Rivers) was ripping off 35 unanswered points in a historic comeback win. And to this point, that game has set the trajectory for each team's season.

The Broncos havent lost since, and have quickly established themselves as a legitimate and increasingly terrifying AFC contender. Honestly, wheres their weakness? Not to mention, after they're done with San Diego, the Broncos have a ridiculously easy schedule down the stretch, with four of their six remaining game coming against the Raiders, Browns and the Chiefs (x2).

Meanwhile, the Chargers are 1-2 since the collapse, and they havent exactly been up against the stiffest competition at Cleveland (L), Kansas City (W) and at Tampa (L). If theyd held on against the Broncos, San Diego wouldve been 4-2 with a ton of momentum heading into their bye week. In reality, their 4-5, and need a win (in Denver, against the hottest team in the NFL) to hold onto any already-unrealistic hope of making the playoffs.

I don't know about you, but I smell another Norv Turner extension.

F is for FORTIFIED

Heres one reason the Broncos and Texans have been so successful: They protect the quarterback.

In fact, through 10 weeks, no team has allowed fewer sacks than Denver and Houston, whove only given up 11 each. On that note, the Chargers rank 30th in the NFL with only 14 sacks. The Jaguars rank dead last with only 10. Good news for Manning and Matt Schaub.

Ill take Two Quarterbacks Who Wont Be Waking Up On Monday With A Concussion for 200, Alex?

G is for GROUNDED

Weve all spent the last week (and the better part of the last month) obsessing over Andrew Luck. How great he is . . . what a star hes going to be . . . whether or not he's actually a cyborg . . . But just for fun, lets say he comes into New England on Sunday and lays an egg. I mean, hes just awful. He makes the worst secondary in the free world look the 2006 Ravens.

Seems unlikely. But its no more unlikely than what happened last Sunday in New Orleans where Michael Turner racked up 15 yards on 13 carries against the Saints defense. The same Saints defense that, even with Turners no show, is allowing 162 yards a game on the ground and is on pace to give up more rushing yards than any team in NFL history.

So far this season, the Falcons rank 26th in team rushing yards, and only five teams have a worse yards per carry average. Obviously, with a passing attack like Atlantas, a questionable ground game isnt the end of the world. But if youre looking for holes in the Falcons armor, you can probably start somewhere inside Turner's creamy hamstrings.

H is for HELP IS ON THE WAY

Did you know that this is the first time in Giants history that theyve gone into the bye week on a two-game losing streak?

Probably not, because I just made it up. But in reality, the Giants have lost two in a row, and it doesnt get any easier after the break. Next week, they host the Packers. Then theyre on the road for an emotional road game in Washington. In Week 14, they host the surging Saints before heading out for back-to-back road games in Atlanta and Baltimore.

But the good news for New York fans is that help may be on the way: The Giants worked out Joseph Addai this week!

Next week: Rodney Hampton.

I is for INSULT TO INJURY

Jay Cutler and Alex Smith were two of 35 starting quarterbacks to suffer a concussion last Sunday, and both are still questionable for Monday's Main Event: Bears at 49ers. A game of ridiculous NFC proportions.

At this point, Smith appears more likely to play, but if Roger Goodell really wants to take a stand for player safety, hell rule them both ineligible.

Honestly, can you imagine a more dangerous situation for a post-concussed quarterback than a prime time, late season, playoff-implicating game between the 49ers and Bears defenses? You might as well drop a cinder block on their heads.

(UPDATE: Cutler's been ruled out. Say a prayer for Jason Campbell.)

J is for JUST A REMINDER

That passing yards are just about the most overrated statistic in football. Theyre the RBI and the assist all wrapped into one. Through 10 weeks, three of the top five (and four of the top 6) passing teams in the NFL have a losing record.

Individually, Matthew Stafford has generally been one of the most disappointing and pathetic quarterbacks in the league, but hes still the NFLs fourth-leading passer. Even more revealing, Carson Palmer ranks third.

Expect Stafford and Palmer to light it up again on Sunday, as the Lions take on the Charles-Woodson-less Packers and the Raiders host the Saints. Also, expect them both to lose.

K is for KICKER CAROUSEL

Billy Cundiffs NFL tour continued this week with a workout in Houston, leaving the rest of the world with one very important question: Why arent there more good kickers?

Over the last two years, Cundiff has established himself as easily the least reliable kicker in football. Regardless of how well he might work out, hes literally the last guy a team like the Texans should ever turn to in a late-season jam. Yet everyones still interested. Someone in the Texans organization actually said the words: You know, it might be worth taking a look at Cundiff. And do you know who else the Texans worked out this week? Olindo Mare. Who was awful in Carolina last year, has never been clutch and turns 40 next year.

Is there really no one else in the world who knows how to kick a football?

I swear: If I have a son, Ill let him play any sport he wants. I wont restrict him in the slightest. But starting at five years old, him and I are spending at least two hours a week practicing field goals.

One day, an 85-year-old Chris Berman will nickname him Rich Levine La Vida Loca Jr.

L is for LAYING THE GROUND WORK

Mike Holmgren is effectively done with the Browns. Jerry Jones is effectively in the market for a new head coach. Mike Holmgren and the Cowboys would make a lot of sense.

And while Holmgren has denied having interest in the job, he's conveniently making the trip down to Dallas for this week's game.

Hmm . . . I smell a walrus here.

And that's just about the only interesting storyline surrounding Sunday's BrownsCowboys game. Unless you have Trent Richardson on your fantasy team or a fetish for really awkward domestic abuse cases.

M is for MOVING ON?
It's also been rumored that Sean Payton could be the next coach in Dallas. Like Holmgren, Payton initially denied any interested, but this week, the New Orleans Times Picayune reported that Payton is likely to "keep his options open" in regards to next year.

In related news, Tom Benson has petitioned the Commissioner's Office to extend Payton's suspension to two years.

N is for NO. 1 TO NOWHERE
This has been one of the quietest seasons of Larry Fitgeralds career, and as an NFL fan, that kind of sucks. After all, hes one of the most exciting players in the league. Its not as much fun when Fitzgerald doesnt exist.

But heres the amazing thing about Fitzgerald: Even in this "down year", hes still on pace for more than 90 catches and 1,000 yards.

Arizona will have to throw like hell if they want to keep up with the Falcons (in the Dome) on Sunday.

O is for OUTSIDE CHANCE

The Bengals looked dead in the water last week, but with Sundays upset over the Giants, Cincys back in the mix.

Obviously, if they lose in Kansas City on Sunday, its over. But with a win, the Bengals will be 5-5, and their next four games (OAK, SD, DAL, PHI) all come against teams with a losing record. It won't be easy, but if anyone can lead the Bengals on an improbable run to the playoffs, Marvin Lewis can't.

P is for PACK BACK

Not that anyone counted out the Packers after their 2-3 start, but between the blown calls and the endless injuries, Green Bay certainly looked more vulnerable than they have in a few years. They'd fallen back into the pack.

And in many ways, they're still there, but with a win at home against the Lions on Sunday, the Packers will be suddenly 7-3, on a five-game winning streak with Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and Greg Jennings all getting close to recovery. In Jennings' case, he should at least be healthy enough to film a few commercials.

Q is for QUICK QUIZ

With 138 yards against the Panthers on Sunday, Doug Martin will become only the fourth rookie in Bucs history to run for 1000 yards. Can you name the other three?

ANSWER: Erick Rhett, Cadillac Williams and LeGarrette Blount. (Warrick Dunn missed by 28 yards)
R is for ROOKIE RED MEAT

As much fun as it's been to watch RGIII this season, it's a shame we'll never get to see him play against the Redskins. That's because Washington has somehow managed to lose eight straight games to NFL rookies.

EIGHT.

It started with a loss to Vince Young and the Titans in 2006, then a loss Bruce Gradkowski, Trent Edwards, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton and finally Christian Ponder. That's insane. I can just picture David Carr reading this list with a tear in his eye, wondering what could have been. Eight straight games?

Contract the Redskins!

Unless they beat rookie Nick Foles and the Eagles on Sunday.

S is for SUPERSTAR
There was a time when Danny Amendola seemed destined to end up on the Patriots. Back then, he was the next Wes Welker; a scrappy guy who would get lost in the number crunch and eventually find his way to Belichick. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking.

Either way, he's not going anywhere. He was too good, too fast, and there's no way the Rams will let him slip away.

Antonio Cromartie can expect at least one catch for every kid from Amendola on Sunday.

T is for TICKER

With everything I already said about the intensity surrounding Monday's BearNiners game, it's at least somewhat alarming that Jim Harbaugh was hospitalized this week for a heart procedure. Here's hoping that everything is OK.

Harbaugh's irregular enough as it is. His heart should stay out of it.

U is for UPSET SPECIAL

The Saints beat the Falcons last week to bring my Upset Special record to 3-3 on the season. Not bad, but not even close to good enough. This week, I'm going big with Chiefs over Bengals.

The Bengals season is on the line, so that should be all the motivation they need. But Kansas City's defense isn't that bad. The Chiefs crowd is angry, and can still make life hell for the opposition. And the Bengals are exactly the kind of inconsistent team that falls victim to this kind of upset.

Final score: Chiefs 27, Bengals 17

V is for VINTAGE CARSON

I give Carson Palmer a lot of crap every week, but there's just something about his mentality that rubs me the wrong way. Or at least helps explain why, despite all that talent, Palmer never quite made it over the hump.

Here he his on the challenges of trying to keep pace with the Saints of this Sunday:

"Being a quarterback you don't want to think that. You still want to go through your reads. Sometimes a sack is the best play, sometimes a punt is the best play. But you can't do it too many times against these guys. ... I don't let myself go into a game thinking we have to score on this drive, we have to score on this drive.' You get yourself in trouble and your team in trouble doing that. But I understand what we're up against. I understand that we have to keep up with these guys."

Again, I understand what he's saying. It's a very logical explanation. But it's so bland an emotionless. Without even an ounce of confidence. That's who you want leading the charge when your season's on the line?

W is for WHY CANT WE GET PLAYERS LIKE THAT

Last week, I talked about former Patriots cornerback Tony Carter, who's become a star this season in Denver, while the Pats secondary still looks rattier than Bill Belichick's favorite pair of sweatpants.

Carter responded to his Alphabet mention with a pick six against the Panthers.

Former Patriot Darius Butler had a pick six and two interceptions last Sunday against Jacksonville, and this week, will start for Indianapolis at Gillette.

At this point, it's hard for the Pats secondary to be anymore depressing than it already is, but if Darius Butler finds a way to pick off Tom Brady on Sunday, we're going to hit an all-time low.

X is for EXES, FUTURE EXES

You see that Hope Solo and Jerramy Stevens got married this week?

Take a look through the "Legal Troubles" section of Stevens' Wikipedia page (take special note of the entry from November 12, 2012) and then place your bets:

Overunder on length of marriage: 12 days

Y is for YOU DON'T SAY

Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis really stepped up his trash talk this week, telling reporters that that . . . brace yourself . . . Torrey Smith is "No Mike Wallace." Ooh, harsh words.

Wonder where he stands on the Byron LeftwhichJoe Flacco debate?

Z is for ZIP IT
That's a wrap.

Enjoy the games.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

When the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in the offseason and then managed to keep Malcolm Butler around, the consensus was not only might this be the best 1-2 punch at cornerback the team has ever had, but maybe, just maybe, it was the best duo in the NFL this season. 

Newsflash: it hasn’t been. Not even close. 

MORE PATRIOTS

The latest example comes from Sunday night in Denver. Gilmore returned from a three-game absence (concussion) to play well against Demaryius Thomas in that 41-16 win. The same can’t be said of Butler. He spent much of his day playing man-to-man versus Emmanuel Sanders and struggled mightily.

Butler’s issues started on the very first play. He got lost along the sidelines and surrendered a 31-yard catch. Butler initially had Sanders blanketed. The two were lined up outside the numbers along the left sideline. Based on the formation, and the alignment of safety Devin McCourty, it was pretty clear Butler was alone on an island. Sanders initially drove inside before straightening out his route. Then he cut sharply, working speedily to the flat. Butler had a good beat on the play but unwisely peeked into the backfield. That’s when Sanders turned up and found nothing but green grass.

“I would just say I’d just tip my hat to him,” said Butler. “It was a great route. He steered me in. Then he went up then went out then went back up so I thought that was it. It was a little more than I expected. You gotta learn from it and play it better next time.”

On the same drive, he was beaten again by Sanders, this time for 13 yards. The Pats defense tightened up and held Denver to a field goal but a pattern had already been established between the Patriots' 27-year-old cornerback and Sanders.

The next big play Butler coughed up came with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler summoned Sanders to come across the formation via motion but then sent him back as the wideout approached the tackle box. Butler overreacted, trying to jump out ahead of the motion while simultaneously looking into the backfield. It was then he realized Sanders had done an about-face. To his credit, Butler recovered and jumped on Sanders shortly after the snap of the ball, actually shoving the receivers’ right shoulder in an attempt to disrupt the pattern. 

As Sanders turned upfield, he appeared well-covered by Butler. But then another old habit that’s been hard for Butler to break appeared. He lost track of the ball once it took flight. Sanders slapped on the brakes and high-pointed the football while Butler watched, helplessly flat-footed. Chalk up another 23-yard gain.

“I would just say he underthrew it and I got pushed by,” said Butler. “I probably burst because I was expected the ball to come too. You just got to play it the best way you can. Things happen. He just made a great play. I was in good position but not good enough.”

Sanders caught one more pass on the drive, and should have had a touchdown in the second quarter, streaking past Butler toward the end zone. But Osweiler made a terrible throw, unable to even keep it in the field of play. Hence another field goal instead of a touchdown. Bullet dodged - and there were a few.

“You can’t win with three all day,” said Butler of the defense’s red-zone efficiency. “They’re very hard on us on protecting the red area and not giving up touchdowns in the red area. Bend but don’t break. That’s been the motto.”

The Patriots would break later and Sanders beating Butler was a part of it. The play coming about five minutes into the third quarter on Denver's only TD-scoring drive. The Broncos came out in trips, employing a bunch formation that had plagued the Patriots so often the first month of the season. Unlike then, the Pats handled communication perfectly and as Sanders worked toward the seam, Butler had good position and help toward the post, with safety Duron Harmon eyeballing Sanders the entire way. So did Butler do? He gave up outside leverage, with Sanders breaking hard to the flag. Butler’s footwork was a mess - he got spun around like he was auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars" - and was unable to recover until Sanders had picked up another 23 yards.

“Another good route,” said Butler. “He got me thinking inside and broke out. He’s a good player. A great receiver.”

There’s no denying Sanders’ talent, but Butler has got to be better and more consistent. He’s too often been lost in coverage or gotten caught gambling, eyeballing a big play that’s rarely come in 2017. With their issues up front, it’s the Pats secondary that’s going to have to lead the way. The corners have only occasionally played to the level expected of them. The clock is ticking. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: this is when the Patriots want to be playing their best football. About time Butler answered the call.

Brady enjoys 'unique experience' of road trip

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Brady enjoys 'unique experience' of road trip

While being away from home isn’t uncommon for the Patriots - just think about all those Super Bowl trips - Tom Brady believes each excursion takes on its own feel, its own flavor and - eventually - its own meaning.

Back in 2014, the Pats went from playing in Green Bay and losing to the Packers straight to San Diego for a week on the West Coast prior to a rousing victory over the Chargers. That week, many players said in the aftermath, helped propel the team to great heights,.  You’ll recall, that season ended in grand fashion, a triumph in Super Bowl 49 over Seattle, at the time - and maybe still - the greatest Super Bowl ever played.

“I think all these experiences are pretty unique,” Brady said Friday from Falcon Stadium at the Air Force Academy. “That was a very unique experience. This is different.”

Brady spoke about the number of stops the Pats have and will have to make on this trip - from Denver to Colorado Springs then on to Mexico City Saturday before a Sunday night return to Foxboro and their own beds for the first time in 10 nights.

“When you’re on the road like this, there’s less to do,” he said. “You know my family is not here, my kids aren’t here. There’s nobody telling me what I did wrong in the house. It’s just being at home and now it’s being here and trying to figure out a way to win a game.”

Brady quickly smoothed over any possible ill-will at home - why make Gisele mad? - smiling and saying “I didn’t mean that so I’ll take it back.”

Kidding aside, the 40-year old signal caller seemed pleased with the work the Patriots have put in during this long trip. A week of team-bonding can’t be a bad thing, especially for a group that seems to be hitting it’s stride both on and off the field. There’s the five wins in a row and also a locker room that has a better understanding of one another than it did during the first month of the season. But Brady is not ready to make any grand proclamations. That just wouldn’t be his style.

“I think it’s still work in progress,” he said of team chemistry. “You look at still adding a player like Marty (Bennett) last week. Things are always changing and evolving. We’re still trying to figure out what we’re doing well and after 8 or 9 weeks, you start to figure those things out. Now we have to work hard at those things, try to really own them, and use them going forward to try and win the most important games. We have a lot of important games coming up, starting with this one. Hopefully we can play our best football going forward.”

Brady said he’s been fired up for this game with the Raiders south of the border ever since the schedule was released all those months ago.

“I’ve never been to Mexico City,” he said. “It’s been a game you kind of look forward to. We’re playing against a really good football team in a pretty cool environment. It will be very memorable. I think everyone is excited.”