Greg Gillis' NFC North PreviewWill the log jam atop the NFC North be broken this week?
By: Greg Gillis, Pierce County Herald
“Maybe I'll win, Saved by zero”
“Saved by zero”, by The Fixx
The Pittsburgh-San Diego game is a prime example of “the fix”. What makes this game stand out? Try 13 penalties against Pittsburgh (at home) to 2 on the Chargers. In the last minute of the game, Pittsburgh is trailing 10-8 (the Steelers are 4 point favorites). Willie Parker scores a touchdown which would put Pittsburgh up by 5, but there’s a flag on the play for holding. Yes, there was holding, but no worse than most other plays where it doesn’t get called. If not for the big difference in penalties, no big deal. Pittsburgh runs a play, then kicks a field goal to go ahead 11-10 with the game almost over.
The Chargers get the ball back deep in their own territory, and decide to start throwing laterals. The lateral, by definition, is not a forward pass. The ball is thrown parallel to, or behind, the player throwing the ball. The play begins with five seconds left and Phillip Rivers throws to LT. Tomlinson tries to lateral from the 27 yard line, tipped by Troy Polamalu at the 25 (2 yards behind where the ball was thrown from), scooped up by Troy and returned for a TD. The Steelers win 17-10, game over. The laterals thrown by the Chargers were ruled good by the officials on the field, no flags on the play. The play is being reviewed. It looks like the touchdown stands. But then, after further review, the play was ruled an illegal forward pass, dead ball, no touchdown. (The NFL later confirmed the TD should have counted).
There are only two problems with that. First, both laterals were legal. And second, replay can’t be used to call a penalty and no penalty was called on the field. Replay is used to confirm possession, in bounds or out of bounds, touchdown or no touchdown, where the ball should be spotted, etc. If it was allowed to determine penalties, coaches could watch replays and pick out holding, interference, etc., and challenge those calls or no calls. The game would be different if penalties could be reviewed because those more often determine the success or failure of a play than possession and spotting the ball. But penalties can’t be reviewed under current replay rules.
Referee Scott Green’s nose grew as the statement was being read that he “mis-interpreted the rule”. NBA ref Tim Doneghy admitted to fixing games. If anyone wonders if NFL games are fixed, look no further than exhibit A. Penalties 13 (for 115 yards) to two (for five yards), two TDs taken off the board in the last minute of the game. A penalty called during replay? And even if there was a penalty on the play, it was on the offense, and the defense could accept the result of the play and decline the penalty, the only penalties that stop the play are false start and delay of game (if the ball is snapped) because it’s a dead ball and the play never happened, or fighting if the officials need to break something up before serious injury occurs (which never happens). If this was holding, or offensive pass interference, or anything else, the play would run to conclusion, and the defense would have the option of accepting the play or taking the penalty. The ref said he “mis-interpreted” the rule. The ref didn’t know? He knew exactly what he was doing. He was fixing the game. That is 100% guaranteed. The NFL immediately said the TD should have counted. But it didn’t, because the fix was in. Roger, you’ve got some investigating to do.
The Lions (0-10) host the Bucs (7-3) this week. The first 4 games, Detroit couldn’t stay close. The next 4, their biggest loss was 8 points. Daunte Culpepper takes over for the injured Dan Orlovsky, and it wasn’t close (new team, terminology, first game, etc.). Then last week they play at Carolina. They didn’t win, but they kept playing hard and only lost by 11 (they did cut it to 5 in the second half). They might not have the talent to win, but they still have the desire.
Tampa Bay is a game behind Carolina and needs a win. They were in the top half of the NFL in yards per carry, but lost Earnest Graham for the season after he was injured Sunday. Detroit isn’t good defensively, but has at least kept trying. Jeff Garcia still gets the job done throwing the football. The Lions have Calvin Johnson and have hope that the first pick in the 2009 draft will be able to step right in. Coach Rod Marinelli hopes he still has a job, but winless doesn’t look good on a resume. Looking a little deeper, the team is still playing hard, and he didn’t put together the players on the team.
The line is Tampa Bay by 8 and a half. The Bucs are just 2-3 on the road this year, and Detroit keeps fighting. It’s not a fair fight, but I don’t think Tampa Bay has enough offense to run away with this one. The Lions lose the game, but stay within 8 and a half.
Minnesota (5-5) continues their Florida vacation when they head to Jacksonville (4-6) after playing at Tampa last week. In discussing the race to the NFC North title, I said that Minnesota has the toughest remaining schedule. While Jacksonville has been a disappointment, they still have talent. They also have a better coach (Jack Del Rio) than the Vikings.
The Vikings can make big plays from anywhere on the field with Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson, and can go deep to Bernard Berrian. But Jacksonville isn’t the dome. The game could be played in wind and rain. Even if it stays dry, it’s not as fast as the dome. And the Vikings have just one win on the road this season. The Jags aren’t spectacular on offense, but David Garrard is solid on offense, and the running back tandem is effective. But the Jags have just one win at home this season.
The line is Jacksonville by 2. I really thought the Jags would make the playoffs this year, and to do that, they probably have to win out. The home team has something to play for. Minnesota doesn’t play well away from home, especially outside. Still, Jacksonville has shown nothing to make anyone believe this game is a lock for them. Jags by 3.
The Bears (5-5) are playing their second in a three game road trip, this time stopping in St. Louis (2-8). Normally, the second road game is tough, the third consecutive game away from home is a killer. But they are playing the Rams, who are brutal. In fact, the Rams just passed Detroit for worst scoring defense in the NFL. But unlike Detroit, this team has quit. Maybe not every game, but last week was a 35-16 loss to San Francisco. The Niners picked up just their third win. They might have fan support early, but if things go wrong (and they probably will), the boos pick up and get loud. That is if anyone shows up.
Speaking of showing up, the Bears will need to do that this time out to try to stay on top of the NFC North, possibly by themselves if the Packers and Vikings lose. They sure didn’t look good against Green Bay last week. But the Rams are near the bottom of the NFL in every category offensively and defensively except rushing offense, where they are middle of the pack. This is the Bears version of Marshall or Cal Poly on the schedule, so take the win the schedule makers are giving you.
The line is Chicago by 7 and a half. This should be a 2 TD win, although after the Green Bay game who knows what we’ll see…
Finally, the Packers (5-5) play in New Orleans (5-5) Monday Night. Green Bay looked bad against the Vikings, then looked dominant against the Bears. The Saints have the best passing offense in the NFL. The secondary is a strength of Green Bay, but even the best cover corners can only cover for so long, so generating some pressure on Drew Brees will help the cause. Al Harris, Charles Woodson, and Tramon Williams do a great job in coverage. Brandon Chillar is the best of the linebackers in pass coverage, AJ Hawk isn’t very good and Brady Poppinga is poor. So the backs and tight ends matched up with Poppinga and Hawk have the best chance of making plays or moving the chains. The nickel package brings better pass coverage.
On offense, Aaron Rodgers has to like what he sees in the Saints secondary. They are near the bottom of the NFL in pass defense, and that was when they had Mike McKenzie. He is injured, so the Packer receivers should be able to do pretty much whatever they want. It will be interesting to see if Ryan Grant and the Green Bay running game can look good again. It was an impressive offensive show against Chicago, the weather conditions shouldn’t be a factor since the game is in the Superdome. And the Saints defense isn’t too threatening either.
The line is New Orleans by three. The Saints have moved the ball against everyone, and have scored 266 points. Unfortunately, they give up almost as many (249). The Packers have been competitive in most games this season, and the problem area of offensive line play / running game should do OK. The defense will be challenged, especially the pass defense, so Kampman and others need to get to Brees before the receivers have a chance to get open. Packers by 3.More from around the web