The Monday morning hangover update
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Nov 20, 2005
The Monsters of the Midway are back ... and better than ever.
Chicago (7-3) and the NFL's No. 1 defense made a huge statement yesterday with a 13-3 victory over Carolina (7-3), a team that boasts one of the league's top offenses. The Panthers entered the game averaging 27.8 points per game, second-best in the NFC.
The Bears surrender just 11.0 PPG, which puts them on pace to surpass the scoring margin of Chicago's legendary "46" defenses of 1985 (12.4 PPG) and 1986 (11.7 PPG). In fact, you have to go back to the pre-Dick Butkus 1963 Bears to find a Chicago defense that went an entire season surrendering fewer than 11.0 PPG. The 1963 Bears went 11-1-2 and allowed just 10.3 PPG. Oh yeah, they also won the NFL championship with a 14-10 win over the Giants in the title game.
The Bears are simply mauling opposing offenses this year. They've held six opponents below 10 points and only one team, Cincinnati in Week Three, has scored more than 20 points on Chicago all season (a 24-7 Cincy win).
Chicago has won six straight games. And they've done it with a rookie QB, Kyle Orton, who, in 10 games, has passed for more than 200 yards just once and has tossed a mere eight TD passes.
The Bears are also No. 1 in total defense (252.1 YPG) and allow a league-low 4.0 yards per play – that's a full 12.5 percent better than the No. 2 teams in the NFL, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, which each allow 4.5 yards per play. Chicago has also allowed opponents to convert just 45 of 155 third-down plays, a rate of 29.0 percent that's second in the NFL to Atlanta (28.7 percent).
The Bears have certainly benefited from a weak schedule in a weak division – they've faced just two quality teams all season – but the win over Carolina, a team considered one of the best in the conference, proved they can hang and bang with the big boys. The Bears have a tougher road ahead, with games next week at Tampa and on Dec. 11 at Pittsburgh before hosting Atlanta on Dec. 18. But if their defense can maintain its historic dominance, the Bears will be a scary team come playoff time.
Well, it's hard to point to Indy's weak schedule anymore, not after its 45-37 win over Cincinnati (7-3). Yes, the Colts (10-0) have played just three quality teams all year. But they're the only team in football undefeated against quality opponents (3-0). They've outscored these three teams 31.7 to 20.3. That's a far cry from 2004, when the Colts went just 4-3 against quality teams and outscored them just 26.4 to 25.1.
There's more good news, of course, for Indy fans: The undefeated Colts stand as the team to beat in the NFL. They have vanquished their demons in the Patriots, hold a two-game lead over Denver for homefield advantage in the playoffs with just six games to play, are perfectly healthy on both sides of the ball and, oh yeah, the Super Bowl this season is being played in a dome.
As loyal Cold, Hard Football Facts angry troll Tony Cocco has noted: "All the stars have aligned for Indy."
The only negative news is that that the 2005 Colts have suddenly adopted the bad old habits of their recent predecessors – that is, a point-a-minute offense and a shaky defense that's easy to overpower. We know how well that formula has worked in recent postseasons.
In the first five games of 2005, the Colts:
scored 21.2 PPG and allowed just 5.8 PPG.
Over the last five games, the Colts:
have scored 39.8 PPG and have allowed 24.6 PPG.
And, with the exception of Cincinnati, the opposing offenses in those last five games have been less than impressive. St. Louis lost their starting QB in the first half, after a building a 17-0 lead on Indy. NE played without a single healthy running back and absolutely no threat of a ground game. And inept Houston (1-9), a team which averages just 14.1 PPG, was Indy's opponent in the other two games. The Colts, in other words, have no excuses, allowing 24.6 PPG over the last five weeks.
The Bengals proved once again that they're not quite ready for prime time. The Bengals are 7-3 overall, but just 1-3 against quality opponents. To put that in perspective, the Browns have the same 1-3 record against winning teams. Cincy's other six wins have come against opponents (Cleveland, Minnesota, Houston, Tennessee, Green Bay, Baltimore) who are a combined 16-42 (.276).
Cincy beat Chicago, 24-7, back in Week Three. Surely, based on what we've seen from the Bears since, it's a great win for the Bengals. But against its next three quality opponents (Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Indy), Cincy has been outscored 95-70. They proved virtually incapable of stopping either the Steelers or the Colts on defense.
The Bengals have been a great story this season. But right now, it looks like one-and-done in the postseason.
If the playoffs started today, here's what they'd look like:
AFC: No. 1 seed Indy, No. 2 seed Denver
AFC wild-card round: Cincy at Pittsburgh; Jacksonville at New England
NFC: No 1 seed Seattle, No. 2 seed Chicago
NFC wild-card round: Tampa at Dallas; N.Y. Giants at Carolina
Romeo Crennel has already had a tangible effect on the quality of Cleveland's defense. The 22-0 win over Miami (3-7) Sunday was Cleveland's first shutout since an 18-0 win over Cincinnati in Week 11 of the 2001 season.
The Browns (4-6) allow just 17.0 PPG this season (compared with 24.4 PPG last season) and have held seven of their last eight opponents under 20 points.
The team Crennel departed, New England, has shown signs of life in recent weeks. The Patriots have fought through a series of injuries that would have crippled lesser teams to record back-to-back wins and improve to 6-4.
But the defense has been atrocious in those two wins over two of the worst teams in football, Miami (3-7) and New Orleans (2-8). The legendary passing tandem of the Dolphins Gus Frerotte and the Saints Aaron Brooks has posted the following combined line against the Patriots:
52 for 97 (53.6 percent), 703 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs, 82.1 passer rating
New England's starting 22 against New Orleans Sunday featured just half the players who started the first game of the year against Oakland, including just four players on offense (Tom Brady, Deion Branch, Logan Mankins and Stephen Neal) and seven on defense (Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Willie McGinest, Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson).
It makes you wonder, how effective would Indy's offense be without RB Edgerrin James, WR Reggie Wayne, TE Dallas Clark and linemen Tarik Glenn, Jeff Saturday and Ryan Diem?
New England has been playing without the same six players on their team the past several weeks (Corey Dillon, David Givens, Daniel Graham, Matt Light, Dan Koppen and Tom Ashworth).
Tom Brady passed for three touchdowns in a 24-17 New England win over New Orleans Sunday. He is on pace to pass for a league-leading 4,451 yards, which would far surpass his previous high of 3,764 yards set in 2002. His ability to get the ball in the end zone, however, has not been so strong. Brady has 17 TD passes after 10 games, which puts him on pace to pass for just 27 TDs this season – that will fall short of his personal high of 28 set in 2002 and 2004, years in which he passed for far fewer yards.
The AFC East was outscored 114-34 this week. In recent years, the AFC East has been one of the most dominant divisions in football. As recently as last season, it was the only division in the league that boasted three teams with winning records.
But in 2005, the AFC East may be the worst division in football. Yesterday, the division went just 1-3 against outside competition and two of its teams, Miami and N.Y. Jets, were shut out. Buffalo, meanwhile, suffered the biggest loss in the NFL this week, a 38-point drubbing by San Diego. The only win was a narrow 7-point victory by New England over the lowly and homeless Saints.
AFC East leader New England (6-4) is the only team with a winning record that has surrendered more points (253) than it has scored (227).
Another start for Tommy Maddox, another loss for Pittsburgh (7-3) – this time it was a 16-13 defeat at the hands of dreadful Baltimore (3-7).
In his last three starts (a win over Buffalo in Week 17 of 2004 and losses this season to Jacksonville and Baltimore), Maddox has posted the following line:
42 for 88 (47.7 percent), 504 yards, 3 TDs, 6 INTs, 48.7 passer rating
The Steelers have lost each of the last two games in overtime, and Maddox has played an infuriating role. In the 23-17 loss to Jacksonville, Maddox threw an interception in OT that was returned for the winning score. In Sunday's loss to Baltimore, he tossed an interception with just 1:14 left in regulation and the Steelers just 20 yards from taking a shot at a game-winning field goal.
After seeing how Pittsburgh has performed this year without Ben Roethlisberger in the lineup, he's climbing up our list of Most Valuable Player candidates. The Steelers are pathetic without him.
And, finally, a public service announcement for NFL coaches: When New England linebacker Mike Vrabel is in the game on offense, at the goal line, you should probably cover him, as there's about a 100 percent chance he's going to score a touchdown. Vrabel caught another TD against the Saints, the sixth straight scoring reception of his career.
Vrabel lined up at tight end on the 1-yard line, took about four steps into the end zone and was completely uncovered on the play.
Vrabel is now the only player in NFL history who has scored touchdowns on his first six receptions. We discussed this record earlier this season.
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