NFL Q&A with Allen and The Ace is a weekly Wednesday column featured on TJRsports.com. Allen and The Ace are big time NFL junkies and are Falcon and Packer fans, respectively. Each week the guys will ask questions and TJRsports.com editor-in-chief, John Canton will also ask a question for both guys.
Ace: Week Thirteen of the 2012 National Football League season is in our rearview mirror and we are looking ahead to the final four weeks of the regular season. There are some tasty matchups in the coming weeks and playoff spots to be clinched. We already know that the Falcons, Patriots and Broncos are division champs and that the Texans have clinched a playoff spot. That means there are five NFC teams missing from the playoffs and half of the AFC is set. Of the Ravens, Steelers, Bengals and Colts, three of those teams will be playing in January, while one will be at home watching the playoffs. Looking at the playoffs, I really don’t have a clear cut favorite to make the Super Bowl. This is where I’d say the Packers are that team, but they need to get healthy before I can make that declaration. Finishing 12-4 would be a step in that direction. The Packers beat the Vikings on Sunday and aside from many missed tackles, I think Aaron Rodgers and company played great on offense, while the defense played decent football. Tramon Williams and Morgan Burnett stepped up in key situations for the secondary. I’ll pass this on to you where you’ll talk about your 2012 NFC South Division Champion Atlanta Falcons!
Allen: You know I respect all the NFC contenders but I have a question for critics of Atlanta. Why is every week that Atlanta get ridiculed in the media for not winning in convincing fashion yet everyone witnessed all three division leaders lose this weekend. At least they are winning on a consistent basis and made a statement intercepting Drew Brees five times. While the 49ers can’t score more than 10 points over a decent at best Rams team (John didn’t edit that). How about Chicago getting thrown all over by Russell Wilson? Also how about the Giants and their horrendous play calling for not throwing enough on Monday night on a weak Washington secondary. Did I miss something with the Giants, what is it 2007 with them running the ball over 25 times? Don’t consider it a rant; it’s just a message on how Atlanta has proven to be consistent this year in making plays when they needed to. As for the Packers, a win over a shaky Vikings team still doesn’t cover up the blowout loss against the Giants. Can Week 15 come already since there are so many great games that have playoff implications? We still got a week to go, let’s get into it.
Ace: Christian Ponder was 12/25 for 119 yards, 1 TD and 2 INT's in a 23-14 loss to the Packers on Sunday. He was without star slot receiver Percy Harvin. We've seen glimpses of a star quarterback, but we've also seen some terrible games. Ponder made his first completion to a Wide Receiver in the games 57th minute.
Will Ponder be the quarterback for the Vikings next year and will Head Coach Leslie Frazier, Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams be back in 2013?
Allen: The fall of the Vikings in the past few weeks is very over exaggerated. Minnesota is going through a rebuilding year and the fact that they have won 6 games is positive for them. They still have so many issues with depth especially with the wide receiver problems. Percy Harvin is a special player but he consistently misses at least 2 to 4 games a season. They need to add a true number one receiver because Harvin can't handle that role. I'm not expecting anybody from the Vikings to lose their job because they are in rebuilding mode. If it was anybody that would lose their job, it could be Musgrave as the scapegoat. The Vikings seemed to have higher expectations than they should have and can't be happy with how poor the passing offense has been. He shouldn't be let go, but it could happen since Minnesota isn't very stable with their coaches. Christian Ponder will be back next season but it wouldn't surprise me if they brought in a veteran to push him. Minnesota fans should pray that they don't bring in someone like Michael Vick that seems like a broken man that has nothing to offer as a quarterback anymore. They should bring in a veteran like Matt Hasslebeck to push Ponder in training camp but also capable to start for the team. Ponder needs more options to throw to but his decision making has really been horrendous the past few weeks to the point where you would consider sitting him down. Minnesota is the right direction and just needs to continue to build their team in the off season without replacing anyone major.
Ace: I can agree with that, but also, Ponder is making mistakes that he should be avoiding. I’m not calling him a giant bust like Blaine Gabbert, but I’m not entirely sold on him. If it weren’t for Tramon Williams chasing down Adrian Peterson in the 3rd quarter on Sunday, AP would have scored and bailed out Ponder. On that same drive Ponder gets pressured and rolls to the right and as soon as I saw him roll out, I yelled ‘PICK! PICK! PICK!’ I knew he was going to be picked off, which he was by Morgan Burnett in the end zone. You don’t make that mistake. Adrian Peterson was singlehandedly beating the Packers on Sunday, and you take the ball out of his hands? There’s been many questionable play calls by the Vikings over the years, but the calls that always baffle me are the ones where you have the best running back in football and need a few yards and opt to pass. You cannot do that, especially when you have #28 on your team.
Allen: After the loss to Charlie Batch and the Steelers, do you see Baltimore as the most overrated division leader right now in the NFL? They haven't looked impressive that much this season and now have lost to a beat up Steelers team.
Would you consider them the most overrated division leader or is there someone else?
Ace: I think you’re looking at it right. No one wants to win the AFC North. We both thought it would be down to the Ravens and Steelers, but the Bengals are making things interesting. If Cincinnati can win their next two games they finish up at Pittsburgh and hosting Baltimore. Ray Lewis returning to the defense will make a huge impact, but I can see both teams backing into the playoffs and finishing with the 4th and 6th seeds. If that happens, Andrew Luck and the Colts might be primed for an upset against Baltimore and Pittsburgh will have a huge test against Denver or New England. The entire NFC East might be overrated. We’ve seen glimpses all season of three teams that could potentially win the division. The Giants started off as the favorites, the Cowboys put together some wins and now Washington has rattled off some wins. I’m not saying the NFC East is overrated, but it seems like the winner of that division could very well be 8-8 or 9-7. Washington faces Baltimore this weekend and if the Redskins can knock off the Ravens, that might be all the momentum they need to make a playoff, heck, even a division title run.
Allen: The Giants have been shaky but they have the body of work in the playoffs where you have to respect them. New York has the same problems as usual from their running back situation to the shaky secondary. Then Eli Manning hasn’t been the same this year compared to last year’s fantastic season. He’s been solid but for someone that is considered “elite”, he hasn’t shown anything this year that makes you think elite. The Giants have the reputation though and I don’t consider them the most overrated. They are still the team that you would like to avoid in the playoffs. Baltimore is easily the most overrated team to me. The defense has been shaky all season and now Terrell Suggs might be out for possibly the rest of the year. I know Ray Lewis is coming back soon, but he’s not going to replace the possible loss of Suggs, who has single handily carried the Ravens pass rush at times. They still are missing LaDarius Webb in a major way with the secondary allowing Charlie Batch to have success throwing on them. The offense is decent but you can’t count on Joe Flacco to carry an offense. He has been terrible on the road this season and still can’t be trusted against the best teams. They aren’t intimidating anyone and don’t have many players that make you worry about. In an AFC with Houston, New England, and Denver they don’t have much of a chance. People still like to say because they are 9-3 are true contenders but they need to really watch Baltimore more. They aren’t a threat to score a lot and aren’t a threat to force three turnovers a game unlike theBaltimore’s teams in the past few years.
Ace: The Seahawks defeated the Bears 23-17 in overtime on Sunday. If the Seahawks win the rest of their games (vs. Arizona, at Buffalo, vs. San Francisco, vs. St. Louis) and San Francisco loses one game (they travel to New England next Sunday Night 12/16) Seattle will be NFC West Division Champs.
Do you see Seattle accomplishing that task?
Allen: It’s highly unlikely and I don't see it happening. It's a bit bizarre because these teams are nowhere near each other in talent. The game was close when they played, but San Francisco is arguably among the top contenders in the NFC. Seattle is a team that is decent but they don't scare you and aren't very explosive. The win against Chicago was major and silenced a few critics about not being able to win on the road, but they just don't have enough to get over the "decent team" hump. The schedule is pretty easy but they are still too inconsistent and still don't see them beating the 49ers. San Francisco has the tie breaker as well and they are just far more talented. San Francisco has an issue with their quarterback situation but they are still loaded with their running game and elite defense. Seattle still has the situation of losing Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner for the rest of the regular season. Seattle is in a good position to win the wild card and that should be the focus. Its good to be optimistic but San Francisco is superior and it’s too much of a mountain to climb for a young team like Seattle. The offense still needs another year to grow before they can truly be relied on to score 24 or more points a game consistently.
Ace: My preseason pick was the Seahawks as a Wild Card team, and I’m sticking with it. San Francisco does play New England and should they lose, things will get very interesting. Seattle hasn’t lost at home (**asterisk**) this season, and playing 3 of their last four at home might help them win the division. If Seattle wins against Arizona and Buffalo, and San Fran loses to New England. I can see Seattle taking down San Fran at home and beating St. Louis Week 17. If they slip up in the next two weeks, I think you’re right and they’ll set their focuses on the Wild Card spot.
Allen: A huge clash of the AFC's best face off Monday night between the Texans and Patriots. Everyone knows New England is always a threat and can lose a few games but not lose any points in being a Super Bowl contender. This is Houston's 2nd year being around the top of the AFC.
Do you see this as a huge statement game for Houston to prove to everyone they can beat the best?
Ace: Yes I do. If the Texans can come out and beat the Patriots at Foxboro, they will be the clear cut favorites to not only reach the Super Bowl, but to win it. The Patriots have had some pretty decisive victories this season by putting up 45 points or more 4 times, but the Patriots have had a pretty easy schedule this season, especially playing in the very weak AFC East. They suffered a fluke loss to the Cardinals, and one point losses to the Ravens and Seahawks. The only playoff caliber teams they have beaten are Denver and Indianapolis. The Texans will be a tough test because when I look at teams in the AFC, I think the Patriots and Texans are at the top, and the next level would be the Broncos and Ravens. A win will make the Texans the favorite in the AFC and could also take away a first round bye from Tom Brady. There’s a lot to play for in this game for the Patriots, a win will bring them within 1 game of the #1 Seed in the AFC and could shift the momentum in the final four weeks of the season.
Allen: I’ll disagree in terms of the levels of AFC. I put Denver right up there with Houston and New England as true contenders. Baltimore won’t win more than one playoff game this year. Now for the game itself, this is without a doubt a statement game. Houston could pretty much clinch home field advantage with a win over New England and winning in New England would be a major statement. Houston has been consistent this year but they have shown some flaws recently. It has been shown that the pass rush has been mostly one sided with J.J Watt along with Antonio Smith on occasion. Otherwise players like Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin have done absolutely nothing this year. Then you have a secondary, which is very shaky and have been exposed in man coverage. They blew out Tennessee but is that anything to brag about for a defense? The Monday night game will be a huge test for the defense because the offense has delivered for most of the year. Matt Schaub has played better than most expected this year with the way he’s throwing down field this year. Schaub has always been a solid quarterback that would be at his best using the play action. Now he’s starting to grow more and has really helped Houston to become more balanced offensively rather than run-oriented. I’m sold on Houston’s offense but it’s the defense that has made me concerned and makes the Monday night game very critical.
John Canton: We know that Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are the two rookies we expected to be stars right away, but…
How impressed are you by the Seahawks QB Russell Wilson?
Allen: I’m still not sold on Russell Wilson. I may be in the minority but he needs to do more. I’m sold on Griffin III and Luck being top notch quarterbacks because they have literally taken their respective teams and put them on their respective backs at times to win games. Wilson is still mostly a game manager with Marshawn Lynch carrying the offense most of the time. Wilson might have a great passer rating and was terrific in November but he still needs to do more. His performance against Chicago was a huge step in his development to be a great quarterback but right now I can’t say that I’m really impressed. It’s not his fault that he has a great running back next to him, but so does Robert Griffin III. Griffin hasn’t had games where he’s looked hopeless and was going to possibly get benched. It may have been a few months ago, but Wilson was close to getting benched and nobody can deny that. Wilson works his tail off to improve and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him become a great quarterback by next year but right now I’m not really impressed. What Wilson can do to shut up naysayers like me is by having a good game against the 49ers. When they played San Francisco in the first game this season, it was his worst game of his rookie season. It would be impressive to see him play well against arguably the best defense in the league when the time comes in a few weeks.
Ace: I wasn’t sure what to think aboutWilson in the first half of the season, mostly because I was still stewing over the Monday Night debacle in Seattle, but right now I’m more impressed by what Russell Wilson is doing than Andrew Luck. That’s not a knock on Luck by any means, but look at Wilson’s numbers in the last four games: 67.2% Completion Percentage, 878 Yards, 9 TD’s, No Interceptions and a passer rating of 122.2%. Both guys are immensely talented and I think Wilson is the future face of the franchise of the Seattle Seahawks. What will sell me on Wilson is when the Seahawks get rid of Matt Flynn. He was the future until Pete Carroll surprised everyone by drafting Wilson and now he looks like a genius. Still, throughout the seasonWilson’s completion percentage is 8 points higher than Luck’s (63.4 vs. 55.5) and his passer rating is almost 20 points higher (95.2 vs. 76.1). Luck andWilson should bring their teams into the playoffs, while Griffin and the Redskins are making a big time push. I like all three guys a lot, and they’re definitely the future of the league.
Ace: This is Week Fourteen of our ‘Elite Football Mind Challenge’. Allen went 2-3 last week while I picked up a game by going 3-2. Allen is 43-22 and I am 41-24.
Detroit (4-7) at Green Bay (7-4)
This season is all but over for the Lions. The Packers absolutely need to win this game before a huge showdown against the Bears at Soldier Field. Matt Flynn beat them last year, Aaron Rodgers will beat them this year. Packers win.
Atlanta (11-1) at Carolina (3-9)
I don’t see Atlanta losing this game, but I really hope for fantasy sake, Cameron Newton throws or accounts for 3 TD’s and maybe 200-250 yards. Falcons Win.
Dallas (6-6) at Cincinnati (7-5)
I really want to see Cincinnati make a run. I love the combo of Andy Dalton and AJ Green. Again, for fantasy purposes, I hope Jason Witten and Dez Bryant have a big game. Bengals win.
Baltimore (9-3) at Washington (6-6)
Washington has all the momentum in the world. If the defense plays the way it did on Monday night against the Giants and if they do not turn the ball over. Washington will win.
Houston (11-1) at New England (9-3)
New England is in prime time on Monday night and the following Sunday night. I’d usually be angry with the amount of Patriot love but this game is a potential AFC Championship showdown and I’m very much looking forward to it. I can see a lot of points being scored. I think Matt Schaub has a monster game and the Texans win by a touchdown.
Allen: So no more obscure upset picks, sorry folks. Tampa Bay really looked bad against Denver in the 2nd half and made me look foolish.
Detroit (4-7) at Green Bay (7-4)
This game shouldn’t be on Sunday night even though Detroit is playing hard. They’ll compete against Green Bay and gives them some problems but Green Bay should prevail with Rodgers throwing all over that secondary.
Atlanta (11-1) at Carolina (3-9)
I’m expecting a slow start from Atlanta based off the huge win but they are too good to lose a trap game like this. Atlanta wins and it could be in a blow out if the defense continues their strong play.
Dallas (6-6) at Cincinnati (7-5)
Andy Dalton still hasn’t made me a believer and the Bengals still seem too limited. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has played well recently but I’m expecting Dallas to load the box and challenge Dalton to win. Dallas will sneak this win out and make a statement with the upset win.
Baltimore (9-3) at Washington (6-6)
This is a case of when one team has all the momentum in the world and the other team being exposed of their flaws. Washington’s offense is really starting to hit their stride while Baltimore is really struggling. Flacco is terrible on the road and I’m expecting Washington to score enough. Washington wins and continues their playoff push.
Houston (11-1) at New England (9-3)
This game should be an instant classic and it could be Houston clinching the number one seed in the AFC. The Houston secondary is really struggling while New Englandi s starting to improve defensively. Aqib Talib has made a difference and he’ll continue to make a difference. New England wins in a very exciting game.
Allen: I’m happy to say all three of my fantasy teams that are in money leagues have made the playoffs. I won’t get into it too much, but for a guy that isn’t a Matthew Berry fan. I’m doing pretty well for myself with that along with watching the Falcons continue to win. This is the last bland game of the year against a team that is ready for 2013 to come in Carolina. Other than that, it should be a better week with better matchups. Last week was very bland and that’s never good for Week 13 when the playoff race is heating up. Week 15 is looking like an outstanding week with so many fantastic matchups but right now you can’t look ahead. When teams look ahead, they lose it has been shown time and time again. Unless it’s Week 17 and your team can’t move from their playoff spot, you can’t look ahead as a coach or team in general. That is all for now, hopefully the contenders start playing like it and the pretenders become exposed. NFC is a major mess right now with so many decent to quality teams competing for the last seed. Hopefully your team is still in the playoff race and playing well otherwise enjoy your week and thanks for reading.
Ace: Thanks for gloating about your fantasy teams. I’m in three money leagues and two of them I missed out on the playoffs. I don’t like to make excuses but in one of them, I lost 6 games by 7 points or less. That killed me. I’m a #2 Seed in my main money league and I’m very worried about the #7 team that I’m playing. Props to you, Tony O for putting together a great team that worries me! The Packers beat the Vikings last weekend and players are starting to get healthy. I would imagine Sam Shields, Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews are all back by the time they travel to Chicago to face the Bears. That game will decide the division and the #3 Seed in the NFC, if things keep going the way they should for San Francisco. I’m very much looking forward to this Sunday and I will be a Viking fan, hoping for Christian Ponder and company to upset the Bears, but I know it’s not very likely. By the way, congrats to Christian Ponder on his engagement to ESPN’s Samantha Steele. I hope that she knows that her wedding won’t have a reception. (Insert Rim Shot). Check out last night’s edition of Macho Men Radio with C-Mac and I we did a lot of NFL talk and more! Thanks for reading, check back next week and most importantly, GO PACK GO!
If you have any question ideas please tweet us and we will consider your questions for next week’s article.