Alphabet NFL Preview: Week 16 MORE: PatsJags The Pick


Alphabet NFL Preview: Week 16 MORE: PatsJags The Pick

If youre reading this sentence, it means that we survived. That were still alive. And now, in a world without It looks like the Mayans were right! jokes.

Its beautiful thing, I tell you. God bless the Mayans! The Norv Turners of the End of Days prediction game.

Well, unless the world did end. You ever think about that? That maybe we dont exist anymore. That maybe a switch went off, and that this is the afterlife? That maybe


RICH: Yes, master.

A is for ALL DAY

With all the team-oriented hopes and dreams still up for grabs on Sunday, Id hate to kick off this week's preview with a celebration of individual accomplishment. But unfortunately, the only thing Id hate more is to do anything to piss off Adrian Peterson.

Heading into Sundays game against the Texans, Peterson is 294 yards short of Eric Dickersons all-time record for rushing yards in a season. Even if he only had one game to get it done, youd have a hard time betting against him, but in this case, hes got two. He basically needs to average 150 yards a pop, and considering that hes broken 150 in six of his last eight games, I'd say that he has a prittaaay good chance.

And you know what? He deserves to break the record. I'm completely comfortable with 2012 Adrian Peterson being immortalized as one of the most dominant forces in NFL history. His performance especially in light of his surgery and Christian Ponder's arm is nothing short of legendary. Very worthy of the No. 1 spot. (By the way, isn't it great how badly Dickerson doesn't want AP to break the record? I'd much rather have a guy tell the truth than grit his teeth and transparently pretend that he's happy the way Reggie Miller did with Ray Allen).

Anyway, as for the Texans, theyve got the leagues fourth ranked run defense, and have only allowed two individual 100 yard rushers all season. However, one of those came last week and the culprit was Vick Ballard so that certainly works in Peterson's favor.

As for the rest of the Vikings? Theyre this still in the hunt for an NFC playoff spot, but unfortunately no one cares.


If the Bengals beat the Steelers on Sunday, the AFC Playoff Picture is basically complete. In some order, the teams will be: Houston, Denver, New England, Baltimore, Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

But then again, we're talking Bengals at Steelers here. With the season on the line. With years and years of psychological damage weighing heavy on Cincy's psyche. You really want to ride with the Bengals? If so, here are three points to justify your faith.

1. Cincy's young core doesn't care about or understand that history. (Although they have lost five straight to the Steelers.)

2. The Bengals recent record in Pittsburgh isn't even that bad. Sure, they're 4-8 at Heinz Field since the turn of the millennium, and that's nothing too brag about, but it's better than I imagined.

3. The Steelers are in shambles. They've lose four of five. They're getting nothing from their backfield (and just lost G Willie Colon for the season). Todd Haley's already worn out his welcome. Mike Tomlin's pets' HEADS ARE FALLING OFF.

Still Bengals at Steelers?

If you believe in Cincy, you're a braver man than I.


Somewhere in the multi-universe, there exists a time and place where the NFL referee lockout never happened, Seattles Fail Mary was called incomplete and the Niners already locked up the NFC West title.

But in this world, the 8-5 Seahawks are still alive, a game and a half (thanks to San Fran's tie) back in the division with two to play, and very much in the thick of the NFC playoff race.

In fact, a win on Sunday night and Seattle's in.

But let's be honest: If Slappy Pete and the Seahawks have any aspirations of making noise in the postseason, they need to get at least one home game. That means they need to beat the Niners on Sunday, and then the Rams in Week 17, while hoping San Francisco falls flat against the Cardinals.

Not likely, but you won't hear much sympathy for Seattle. Certainly not from Green Bay.

(Although, assuming they beat Tennessee, the Packers will be rooting for the Seahawks on Sunday night. A 49ers loss keeps them alive for a first round bye.)

The long-awaited rematch of Super Bowl XXXV! The Ravens and Giants are in a very similar place right now. Theyre two teams living parallel lives in separate conferences, and on Sunday their worlds will collide.

About a month ago, both Baltimore and New York were destined for a second straight division title, but in the time since, the Ravens have lost three straight and the Giants, four of their last six. Both teams' quarterbacks have regressed to a prepubescent state. Their star running backs are struggling, both mentally and physically. Their once proud defenses are in the dumps. No one's quite sure what to make of it.

Of course, once we get to the playoffs, no one will want anything to do with the Ravens and Giants. It's not unprecedented for a team to back into the playoffs and catch fire at the right time, and both these teams have the talent and makeup to do just that.

But for the Giants, it's still a matter of getting to playoffs. While a win over Baltimore would certainly increase their odds (New York can clinch a berth with a victory, combined with losses by Minnesota, Chicago, Dallas AND Washington), their fate will still come down to Week 17 against the Eagles.

As for the Ravens, they've clinched a playoff spot, but with a loss, they'll head to Cincinnati next week needing a win to defend their AFC North title.

Expect Jim Caldwell to cook up something special for that one. (Just as soon as he's done with his nap.)

E is for THE BIG E

As in, Greg McElroy. As in, an excuse to talk about on the Jets quarterback situation. Or maybe, to just ask one question: What happens if McElroy gets hurt?

Lets say Shaun Phillips gets loose (the Jets host the Chargers on Sunday) and destroys him in the pocket, or McElroy gets a little too ambitious on a QB scramble and ends up with a mouth full of Eric Weddles helmet. What if Rex needs to make a move?

It has to be Sanchez, right? Given all that's happened, and considering the current state and perceived future of the Jets franchise, is there even one ounce of logic that would support giving Tebow a chance to lead this team?

Of course not. Although in that case, that's probably exactly what Rex will do.


One more storyline for Sunday's ChargersJets game: The Norv Turner Farewell Tour!

After all we've been through, it's hard to believe that the era is finally winding down, but this will be Norv's last road game as an NFL head coach.

At least until Woody Johnson hires him to replace Rex.

G is for GIII

The Redskins are in Philly this week, and still in complete control of their NFC East destiny. That means a win on Sunday, plus a win next against the Cowboys, and the Skins are division champs a mere month after Mike Shanahan publicly urinated all over Washington's season.

Of course, the big story is the return of Robert Griffin III (this time, for real), but just as essential to the Redskins chances is the fact that the Eagles no longer resemble an NFL team. Even if Lesean McCoy returns to the field on Sunday, running back is probably the one spot where Philly doesn't need help. The rest of the team is a mess. They've lost nine of 10 games. Their coach spends his days fantasizing about a life of boogie boarding on the shores of San Diego and nightly skinny dips in the Pacific.

The Eagles are done. In Week 17, it's going to be Dallas at Washington, with the NFC East on the line.


Congratulations to Peyton Manning for winning the 2012 Pro Bowl fan vote. Now the question is: What are the chances that Peyton has more pressing plans on Pro Bowl weekend?

For all the hype surrounding Manning's season and believe me, it's all deserved it feels like everyone has conveniently forgotten about his annual issues in the postseason. That he's still 9-10 for his career in the playoffs. That there have been times when he's looked just as, if not more dominant over the course of a regular season, but still managed to come up short with everything on the line.

At this point, it's very likely that the Broncos will have as the No. 2 seed in the AFC. They control their own destiny, with only the Browns and Chiefs standing in the way. Assuming they take care a business, Denver will have a first round bye, and home field advantage in the second round. That's when we'll find out whether the guy who's spent the last four months playing like the old Peyton Manning is still the same old Peyton Manning.

My money says he's headed to the Pro Bowl.


The Colts can wrap up a playoff spot with a win on Sunday in Kansas City. In other words, the Colts are going to wrap up a playoff spot on Sunday in Kansas City.

But regardless of what transpires on Sunday, it won't be any match for what happens on Monday morning. That's when Chuck Pagano will reportedly return to the team and reclaim the position of head coach.

Amazing story.


Theres no reason to care about the Raiders anymore, except to maybe see what happens with Terrelle Pryor. Oakland's expected to give the former Ohio State QB an extended look under center these last two weeks. And with the success that guys like RGIII and Colin Kaepernick, you wonder if the Raiders might be able to build something interesting around a dynamic dude like Pryor.

In the short term, I don't imagine his presence will result in any more wins, but I think you can count on a sharp spike in bad tattoo jokes on Twitter.

The Raiders are in Carolina on Sunday, which is a bad joke all by itself.


The Cowboys host the Saints on Sunday, and will look to pick up their fourth straight win while keeping pace with the Giants and Redskins in the NFC East.

In the shadow of RGII, as well as the tragedy and controversy surrounding Josh Brent, Dallas is actually on a pretty impressive run. Not only only have they won three straight games, but all three have been fourth quarter comebacks; all three have come by five points are less. Regardless of how you feel about the situation, the team seems to have rallied around Brent (and obviously Jerry Brown). They've definitely rallied around Dez Bryant, who's still catching enormous touchdowns every week, despite only playing with one hand. And it doesn't hurt that DeMarco Murray's healthy and looking beastlier every time he takes the field.


The Bears have lost five of their last six games to fall to 8-6 and to the brink of elimination from the NFC playoff picture.

In their defense, it hasnt been the easiest stretch. Over the last six weeks, theyve faced Houston, San Francisco, Green Bay, Seattle and had two games against Adrian Peterson. But in reality, that doesn't mean a thing. At this point, the Bears will need help from Seattle and Minnesota to make the playoffs, and they'll also need to win out.

They'll take the first step on Sunday, with a gift game against the Cardinals.

M is for MR. PLOW

If Springfield was in Wisconsin (or is it?), the Packers could just call Homer (or if they wanted to be jerks, Plow King) for all their snow removal needs. Instead, they've hired a bunch of fans to do the job.

I'm sure that will be a lot of fun for all the people who show up, but if the Packers were smart they'd just make Greg Jennings do it. Guy has to earn his paycheck somehow.


The Saints aren't technically eliminated from the playoffs yet, but then again, Norv hasn't technically been fired by the Chargers, Tebow hasn't technically been released by the Jets, the Falcons haven't technically choked in the first round. Technically shmechnically, we all know it's going to happen. And we know the Saints aren't headed to the postseason.

In some cases, this might lead to disaster. For instance, if the Saints were off to Carolina or Tennessee or some other sleepy NFL city this week, you'd almost expect them to come out flat. But this week, that's not the case.

I don't know how any team, regardless of the circumstances, could walk into Cowboys Stadium, look up at that ridiculous screen, take a glance at the owner's box and not want obliterate Dallas.

Throw in the rumors that Jerry Jones is trying to steal the Saints' coach, and that's all the motivation they need.


For all the talk about AP, there's one other pretty legitimate record in danger of falling over these next two weeks: Calvin Johnson needs only 182 yards to break Jerry Rice's record for receiving yards in a season.

Unlike Dickerson, Rice has said he has no problem with Megatron breaking his record, I have 40 records. I dont mind giving him one, he said.

And as with Reggie Miller, there's no way I believe him.

P is for PRIDE

Back in October, leading up to the PatsRams game in London, I wrote a post about the underrated and under-appreciated career of Steven Jackson.

This Sunday, Jackson can take another step towards cementing his legacy, as he needs only 91 yards against the Bucs to become only the sixth running back in NFL history to post eight consecutive 1,000 yard seasons.

For a greater appreciation of the accomplishment, check out the other five guys on the list: Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Curtis Martin, Emmitt Smith, and LaDainian Tomlinson.

And for more perspective on all the crap that Jackson has put up with during his time in St. Louis, consider this:

The Bills averaged 10.6 wins a year during Thomas' streak of 1,000 yard seasons. The Cowboys averaged 9.5 wins during Emmitt's. The Pats and Jets averaged 9.5 wins a season during Martin's 10-year stretch. The Chargers averaged 8.9 wins a season during LT's streak. The Lions averaged 7.8 wins a year over Barry's 10 straight seasons above 1,000.

Over the last seven seasons, Jackson's Rams have averaged 4.1 wins a year.

I have no idea how this guy's kept his sanity, and hope he ends up with a contender next season.


Will we one day be talking about the 2011 Draft as the best in NFL history?

I know it's obscenely early, and that either way, this probably isn't the time to bring it up. But just take a second and look at the Top 11 picks in last year's draft:

1. Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton QB
2. Denver Broncos: Von Miller LB
3. Buffalo Bills: Marcell Dareus DE
4. Cincinnati Bengals: A. J. Green WR
5. Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Peterson CB
6. Atlanta Falcons: Julio Jones WR
7. San Francisco 49ers: Aldon Smith LB
8. Tennessee Titans: Jake Locker QB
9. Dallas Cowboys: Tyron Smith OT
10. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blaine Gabbert QB
11. Houston Texans: J. J. Watt

In only its second season in existence this draft class already boast arguably the four most dominant defensive players in the entire league (Miller, Peterson, Aldon Smith and Watt), two of the best receivers in the league (Green and Jones) and a potentially transcendent QB in Cam Newton. Of course, there are busts especially with Gabbert (and maybe Locker), but second round selections Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton already make up for that. Seriously, look at that crew. (I try not to act surprised that the Bills and Jaguars made the worst two picks)

R is for REBEL

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have made careers of dominating on the field, and saying all the right things off of it. But Aaron Rodgers isn't like that. He generally says whatever is on his mind. And I respect that.

Here he was this week, talking about the Pro Bowl: "I just felt like the intensity level was higher (in 2009)," Rodgers told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "You didn't see a ton of big hits or anything, but you didn't see some of the efforts or lack of effort we saw last season. On the flip side, I understand. Drew (Brees of the New Orleans Saints) was playing without a contract, and some of these guys didn't want to be out there. I understand that. But if that's the case, then maybe we shouldn't have a game at that point."

Can you imagine how fast David Stern would fine an NBA player for saying something like this about the All Star Game? He'd have the guys head on a spike. But Goodell won't do a thing. He wouldn't dare. He's totally lost control.


Thursday night football has become Saturday night football, and this week's schedule is only slightly more entertaining than the usual 2012 primetime selection: Falcons at Lions?

Yeah, it could have been special, but Jim Schwartz's challenge flag and Matthew Stafford's arm took care of that.


It's not unheard for a running back to reward his offensive linemen with an end of season gift. But typically, the gift is something that those linemen are actually interested in.

Not the case for Arian Foster, who presented his offensive line with Segways, after they all spent the regular season making fun of Foster for using his.

"I feel like all of them big hogs up front can enjoy the joy that I get from riding my Segway," Foster said. "Guys like Chris Myers and (Duane) Brown and Wade Smith, they're always getting on me about riding my Segway. 'You can't walk? You're too good to walk?'"

Sounds like they'll really appreciate it.


I probably shouldn't bother. With last week's Brown's loss I've now dropped three straight Upset Specials, and have just about lost any hope finishing this season with my pride in tact. I'm the gambling world's Detroit Lions.

So give me the Detroit Lions.
Final score: Lions 31, Falcons 27


In their bid to host another Super Bowl, the Texans announced plans this week to install two new video boards (aka Jumbotrons) at Reliant Stadium. Boards so big they'll actually be larger than Jerry Jones' pride and joy in Dallas.

I'm sure everyone's having a good laugh about it in Houston, but I doubt that will last once Jones announces his own plans to buy the Texans, shut down the team and turn Reliant Stadium into his personal bath house.


I went back and for a while on deciding the most meaningless game on the Week 16 schedule, and in the end it was really a three game race between Oakland at Carolina, St. Louis at Tampa Bay and Buffalo at Miami.

The winner . . . BuffaloMiami!

The deciding factor was fantasy implications. With Super Bowls being played across the country this week, you have to figure that at least a few teams have Cam Newton, Steve Smith, Brandon Myers andor Denarius Moore. There are definitely a lot of teams starting Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin, Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola. But in that Miami Buffalo game? Maybe Stevie Johnson. Maybe CJ Spiller? Maaaaybe Reggie Bush, but probably not. There's nothing.

X is for XMASMerry Christmas, everyone. To you and yours. Especially yours.

Y is for YULE LOG

Keep this burning as you re-read the Alphabet Preview with your family on Christmas Eve.

Z is for ZOLTAN MESKO . . .
. . . and the Pats wish you a Merry Christmas as well. In Spanish. And in Gronk.

And that's all for this week.

Enjoy the games and happy holidays.

Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Bill Belichick: 'Incomprehensible' to think Patriots would pick up from where they left off last season


Bill Belichick: 'Incomprehensible' to think Patriots would pick up from where they left off last season

Bill Belichick knows that people outside his organization expected big things from his team this season, but he gave a long explanation for how those expectations should have been tempered headed into 2017. 

Belichick was asked during a conference call on Monday how he balances week-to-week adjustments with the foundation of the system his team installed before the season began. What resulted was a 789-word response on how teams have to come together early in the year -- and why it's difficult for things to look like they're running smoothly through the few weeks of the regular season. 

It felt like Belichick had something he was itching to share on the topic, so here is Belichick's response in full . . . 

"Well, I’ll just say that when you start the season, you have, let’s call it 20 practices, not including the spring. So let’s call it 20 practices and some preseason games, and during that time you’re trying to evaluate your team, work on a lot of basic and fundamental things and I’ll say basically get your team ready to play not only on the opening day, but for getting conditioned and build your fundamentals and all that so that you can compete in the 16-game regular season.

"In those 20 practices and however many preseason games certain players play in – two, three, four, whatever it is – against other teams that are doing the same thing, so you’re not getting schemed, you’re not getting game planned, you’re not getting some of the more sophisticated and the higher degree of difficulty things in any phase of the game. You’re in more of an evaluation mode and a fundamental mode. That’s where you’re at, and then as you get into the season, you build on that and you have things that attack certain schemes or you have to use to address certain issues that your opponent is trying to pressure you with.

"Maybe you just sit in your base, whatever it is, to handle it. Maybe your basics handle it, but maybe you need to go a little bit beyond that or maybe you see opportunities to create a play that you might install on a weekly game plan basis, and then all that accumulates. So, when you go from 20 practices to, let’s call it 60 practices over halfway through the season, maybe 80 practices at the end of the season, you’re going to have a lot more in with 80 practices and you could probably triple the number of meetings on that and everything else then where you’re going to have after a relatively short period in training camp. So, along those same lines, I mean, if we keep running the same play all year, the same ones that you put in in training camp and keep running those same plays all year, it’s not that difficult in this league to figure out what those few things are and game plan accordingly.

"So, if you don’t increase the volume of your scheme on offense, defense and special teams, then every week, your opponent’s just looking at a handful of things and probably most of them they’ve seen before. So, I don’t know how much problem, how much stress you’re really putting on your opponent if that’s the way that you do it. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing because you can play your basic stuff, and if it’s working well and if you’re doing well with it and people can’t handle it, then there’s no reason to change it. But I don’t know how many teams in the league fall into that category. I wouldn’t say it’s an exceedingly high number and it never really has been, based on my experience in the league. Although, I’m not saying that can’t happen, but I would certainly say that’s not the most common way that teams evolve throughout the course of the year. 

"So, you do what you need to do each week to try to win. You put in the plays, make the adjustments, you don’t want to overload things – I mean, nobody’s talking about putting in a new offense every week. That’s not it at all, but are there some modifications you can make? Sure, and as you rep those and you use them and if those situations come up again, then maybe you can fall back to that same type of scheme. But to think realistically, which it’s incomprehensible to me, but, I mean, I don’t know. 

"Maybe I just can’t figure it out, but it’s incomprehensible to me how anybody could think that a team that’s practiced for six months and played 19 regular-season and postseason games and had triple-digit practices, five months later, after not playing a game, after having a fraction of that type of experience, could be anywhere close to the level of execution that they were five months before that after all of the things that I just listed. I mean, it’s impossible in my view. So, each year, you start all over again. You start that process all over again. You build your team over the course of the year though practice repetitions, through preseason to regular season games, through the evolving of your scheme, and that’s why each year is different and unique. But, I understand I’m in the minority and most other people don’t see it that way, which is OK, but that’s the way I see it."

Malcom Brown helps spark Patriots run defense vs. Jets


Malcom Brown helps spark Patriots run defense vs. Jets

The Patriots use a defensive scheme that often asks its defensive tackles to do the dirty work. Two-gap. Take on multiple blockers. Free up linebackers to crash down and make tackles in one-on-one situations with opposing running backs. 

It's not the most glamorous job. Sometimes it's difficult to see in real time when one of the big bodies up front is executing his duties effectively or not. But it's a critical role all the same.

On Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the Patriots got some solid work from their tackles to help limit the Jets to 3.1 yards per carry and just 74 rush yards total. Malcom Brown stood out as the team's top tackle on the day, and one of his team's best defensive players overall. 

The third-year 320-pounder had four tackles that limited to the Jets to gains of two yards or less. He also picked up a sack when he chased Josh McCown across the field and touched him down behind the line of scrimmage in the third quarter.

Brown was flagged for a defensive holding call just before Austin Seferian-Jenkins' fumble -- he locked onto the first blocker that engaged him and then didn't release quickly enough when that blocker tried to move on to another Patriots defender -- but overall it was a strong day, according to his head coach.

"I think Malcom’s improved pretty much every week," Bill Belichick said on a conference call Monday. "I know he’s definitely helping us making some significant plays for us out there and, again, eating up a lot of plays in front of him so that other guys, like Elandon [Roberts], Kyle [Van Noy], Dont’a [Hightower] and those guys, can fit in and make the tackles."

Brown wasn't alone. Lawrence Guy was in on a pair of run stuffs that went for two yards or less, and he was credited with three total tackles. Alan Branch played in 22 snaps after being made a healthy scratch in Week 5, and Adam Butler saw 17 snaps on the line.

"I thought we got contributions from all those players . . . They all have a little bit different playing style, but they were all productive," Belichick said. "It certainly helps our linebacker play when the defensive line plays consistent and they can do a good job in front and then the linebackers can do a good job and then the secondary can fit off them, so it works in front of that. 

"But, I thought our defensive line did a lot of good things yesterday. There’s still a lot of things we need to work on, obviously. I’m not saying we’re there yet, but we did a lot of good things up front."

Coming into the game allowing 5.0 yards per rushing attempt, what the Patriots were able to accomplish against the Jets in the run game -- behind a stout performance by Brown and his teammates in the trenches -- can certainly qualify as a step in the right direction.