Being that this is Friday, this post is a bit late. But good 'ol Simonsen had this ready to go Wednesday night, I just didn't have a chance to throw it up until now. I hope everyone had wonderful Thanksgivings. And hopefully the good times roll on through the weekend. -Michael Bean -
What a week! Our Steelers had a game that will be talked about plenty, as they destroyed their old Rivals from California on the way to restoring a significant portion of self-respect. The penalties and referees in themselves should and already have been the focus of countless articles around the web. After this week, I almost feel bad taking some valuable front-page space away from the Steelers, but I'm on a mission. Because guess what, our opponents didn't sleep either! Another edition of How'd They Do? is on its way.
Doesn't it feel good though? Everything seems to be back to normal in our division, with Pittsburgh and Baltimore competing fiercely for the crown while Cincinnati and the Browns are at the bottom of the league after loosing to mediocre teams. The last time that happened, the Steelers and Ravens met up in the AFC championship, and we know how that one ended. In general, this was not a week for upsets as the better teams prevailed in a clockwork-like fashion in almost every single game (The exception, of course, being Buffalo - but who is surprised by a Bengals loss at this point?). That doesn't mean the games disappointed though: anybody watching the nailbiter in New England will agree with me. So How'd They Do? find out with me!
Pittsburgh's Next Three Opponents
When we meet: Next Week (Week 12)
The Game: 49-31 away against the Cincinnati Bengals
The Standout: Ryan Fitzpatrick - 21/34 (61.8% completions), 316 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT, 107 QB rating, sacked once. After halftime: 10/13, 139 yards, 3 TD, 0 TD
Promising: Steve Johnson - 8 receptions, 137 yards, 3 TD
Look the other Way: Rian Lindell - 0/1 on field goals, missed from 33 yards (wide right), 1 kick out of bounds, kicked on avg. to the Cincinnati 8 on 8 kickoffs
What happened: Will these Bengals ever play a complete game this season? This game looked like everyone thought it should at half time - Cincinnati was first up 28-7 and then 31-14 at the break, aided by two Fitzpatrick interceptions (one of them taken to the house). The Bengals scored a field goal to end the second quarter after a controversial call in which the officials ruled that a timeout had been called with 1 second left, even though the clock appeared to have been run out. That made the Bills mad. So mad that after coming out of the locker room for the third quarter, they stampeded the helpless Bengals, outscoring them 35-0 after the break. Fitzpatrick got hot, helped in large part by another huge performance by Steve Johnson - is the third year wideout having a breakout year or what? After combining for only 112 yards and 2 TDs in his first two seasons, Johnson has taken a ton of pressure off colleague Lee Evans by accounting for 724 yards and 9 touchdowns so far this year. Pretty impressive. The Bills continue to show that they are better than the 0-8 record they sported just a couple of weeks ago; doing so with an impressive win that was helped by the passing game, the running game (133 yards on the ground) and the defense (a Cedric Benson fumble returned for a TD). I'll leave you with a pretty descriptive quote from T.O.: "We are terrible." Well said.
Next Week's opponent: at home against The Pittsburgh Steelers
What to look for: I fondly remember a game in November 2008 when the Steelers played a Cincinnati team without starter Carson Palmer. His replacement? Harvard graduate Ryan Fitzpatrick. While he was largely rendered ineffective, passing for just 168 yards, I remember coming away from the game pretty impressed with how quick he got rid of the ball when he needed to. Well, he's come a long way, so much so that the key for Pittsburgh this game will be to contain him. We know they can stop the run, and that they should be able to move the ball on offense. But Fitzpatrick is coming off a streak of five games in which he has passed for at least 299 yards 3 times, against the number 10, 12, and 18 ranked defenses in the league. For comparison, the Steelers currently stand at 22. If we can contain Fitzgerald, we will most certainly win the game.
Last Game against the Steelers: September 16, 2007 - Buffalo 3, Pittsburgh 26, in Pittsburgh
The Standout last time: Willie Parker - 23 carries for 126 yards (5.5 y/c) and 1 TD
Prediction: Buffalo 14 - Pittsburgh 30
When we meet: In Two Weeks (Week 13)
The Game: 37-13 away against the Carolina Panthers
The Standout: Joe Flacco - 24/33 (72.7% completions), 301 yards, 1 TD, 110.8 QB rating. In the first half: 16/18 for 213 yards and 1 TD (134.5 rating) to decide the game in the first two quarters (17-3). Spread the ball to eight different receivers.
Promising: T.J. Houshmanzadeh - hate to do this - but T.J., with a 56 yard TD reception in the first quarter, showed that he can still get behind the secondary and open deep
Look the other Way: third down completion percentage - just 2/11 (18%). Also problems in the redzone: just 1/4 (25%)
What happened: Unlike the Cincinnati game, this was to be expected. My mind has officially replaced Buffalo with Carolina as a synonym for "worst NFL team", but who can blame them? When you start Brian St. Pierre against one of the premier defenses in the league, you know you will be in trouble. And indeed, the defense had a field day with stars Ed Reed and Ray Lewis both returning interceptions for TDs. Flacco especially in the first half was Mr. Efficient, when he seemed to hit every single receiver he threw to. He cooled off a little in the second, but at that point the running game and defense could take over and finish the game. The third down and redzone percentage could come back to haunt Baltimore when playing against a higher quality opponent, 18% even in a win is completely unacceptable for a team that aspires to be among the best. On the other hand, I am sure especially looking at Pittsburgh this week Baltimore fans will appreciate another statistic: just 3 penalties for 20 yards. For a team that has been targeted almost as much as the Steelers this year because of a similar style of defense, that is pretty impressive. Overall it looked very much like a routine victory for the Ravens - beat your opponent, avoid injuries, move on to next week. Pretty efficient.
Next Week's opponent: at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What to look for: One major reason for Tampa's surprise success this season has been its efficiency - despite not putting up huge offensive numbers and not relying on a shutdown defense (the shutout against the 49ers this week notwithstanding), the Bucs keep winning games. Why? Credit Josh Freeman, who has thrown just 5 interceptions this season after doing so 18 times in the same amount of games last year. Tampa Bay ranks 6th in the league with a +7 turnover differential, a pretty good formula for success. But Baltimore, led by ball hawk Ed Reed, prides itself on taking the ball away, and will definitely try hard to do so against Tampa. Success against the Bucs will depend majorly on forcing Freeman et al. into mistakes.
Last Game against the Buccaneers: September 10, 2006 - Baltimore 27, Tampa Bay 0, in Tampa Bay
The Standout last time: Defense - Held Tampa to 142 yards (26 on the ground), had 3 interceptions (1 returned for a TD), allowed just 8 first downs and a 3rd down completion percentage of 25% (3/12)
Prediction: Baltimore 24 - Tampa Bay 20
When we meet: In Three Weeks (Week 14)
The Game: 31-49 at home against the Buffalo Bills
The Standout: Cedric Benson - 25 carries for 124 yards (5.0 y/c), 1 TD. But also lost a fumble that was returned for a TD
Promising: Jordan Shipley (rookie WR) - 5 receptions for 71 yards (14.2 average)
Look the other Way: second half defense - allowed 35 points, 235 yards, didn't sack the QB once, didn't force a turnover
What happened: Aside from what I stated above, what needs to be said? Cincinnati fell completely apart in the second half. Terrell Owens was nowhere to be seen after a strong outing before halftime, and Benson also had his most productive snaps before halftime. That he finally looked good rushing (aside from his fumble) will be little consolation in this devastating loss, as will be Jordan Shipley who continues to show fans why draft experts were calling him "the next Wes Welker." In a time when the Cowboys have shown that firing a controversial coach can motivate a talented but quitting team, will Marvin Lewis be next? All of a sudden, the possibility isn't all that remote anymore.
Next Week's opponent: away on Thanksgiving Day against the New York Jets
What to look for: Oh boy. Before the season I thought this might get pretty good, and so did the NFL in scheduling a night game - by right now, it doesn't look like Cincinnati will be able to put up much of a fight. But who knows? The Bengals' secondary is more than depleted right now with Adam Jones and Chris Crocker landing on injury reserve and Jonathan Joseph being banged up, will have to deal with a high-flying Jets offense whose confidence is sky-high. Santonio Holmes wins game after game for them, and as much as I hate to say it, Sanchez has looked good in the comebacks he has staged lately. Add to that the Jets defense versus Carson Palmer, and you have a recipe for disaster. The only way for Cinci to pull out a win (which, by the way, would be in our favor) is Mike Zimmer showing why people hailed him a defensive genius last season and getting his D to force turnovers. A remote possibility, but a possibility nonetheless.
Last Game against the Jets: January 9, 2010 - Cincinnati 14, New York 24, in New York (Wild Card Playoff)
The Standout last time: Shonn Greene - 21 rushes for 135 yards (6.4 y/c), 1 TD.
Prediction: Cincinnati 10 - New York Jets 20
Pittsburgh's Last Three Opponents (Before the Oakland Game)
When we last met: Two Weeks ago (Week 10); lost 26-39
The Game: 31-28 at home against the Indianapolis Colts
The Standout: Rushing Offense - 168 yards in 34 rushes (5.4 y/c), 2 TD
Promising: Penalties - just one (in the fourth quarter) for 15 yards
Look the other Way: Fourth Quarter Defense - Allowed 2 straight TD drives before getting a key stop to seal the game
What happened: For the longest time, this looked eerily similar to last week's game against the Steelers for New England. Behind Brady and a surprisingly efficient running game, New England jumped out for a big lead early and had Peyton bottled up on the other side of the ball. With 9 minutes left in the game, New England was up 31-14 and looked to seal the deal when Manning and the defense finally got going. A long TD drive was followed up by a defensive stop and another TD drive - oddly, both going 7 plays for 73 yards ending with TD passes from Manning. One more stop, and suddenly the Colts could drive for the tie or win. Memories from last season started to emerge, when Indianapolis came back from 17 points down in the fourth quarter and, aided by a key stop on 4th-and-2, pulled out the come-from-behind win. But this time, when Manning put his team in long field goal range for the possible tie, he proceeded to throw an interception (one of three on the night) to safety John Sanders with just 30 seconds left. Another dominating start followed by another near-comeback in the fourth for the Patriots, although this time it was much closer. Tom Brady not needing to throw for 200 yards (186) to put up 31 points is a scary thought.
Next Week's opponent: away on Thanksgiving Day against the Detroit Lions
What to look for: One of the elite teams of the last decade against one of the worst. Tell me again, why does Detroit get to play in front of a national audience on Thanksgiving every year? The Lions are actually not a terrible home team this year, and rely on a decent passing attack led by Shaun Hill to lead them to victory, while the New England defense comes in at 31st in the league with 289.6 passing yards allowed per game. That's the one area Detroit needs to exploit to have a small chance of winning - we know they can't stop Brady and we have seen the Patriots being decent running the ball, but I don't see anybody being able to successfully cover Calvin Johnson all game. Nonetheless, the chance is small - New England will probably come away with this one.
Last Game against the Lions: December 3, 2006 - Detroit 21, New England 28, in New England
The Standout last time: Reche Caldwell (New England WR) - 8 receptions, 112 yards (14 avg.)
Prediction: New England 34 - Detroit 17
When we last met: Three Weeks ago (Week 9); won 27-21
Details: see above
When we last met: Four Weeks ago (Week 8); lost 10-20
The Game: 34-19 at home against the Seattle Seahawks
The Standout: Drew Brees - 29/43 (67.4% completions), 382 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT, 106.9 QB rating
Promising: Chris Ivory - 23 rushes for 99 yards (4.3 y/c), 1 TD
Look the other Way: pass defense - allowed 366 yards and 17 passing 1st downs, recorded no interception or sack
What happened: Business as usual for New Orleans, seemingly hitting its Super Bowl form just in time for a late-season surge. Brees was in his usual MVP form, recording yet another 4 TD game while helping his offense rack up a season-high 494 yards on offense. Boy, when this offense is clicking, it's clicking. Chris Ivory, rookie running back getting the start ahead of injured Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, once again helped out the offense with a solid game on the ground. Right now, the 2nd ranked passing defense surprisingly was the Saints' only concern, as it gave up a big passing game to the opponent and couldn't get any sacks on Seattles QB Matt Hasselbeck. But if Brees on the other side keeps racking up the yardage, does it really matter? He spread the ball around to a ridiculous 10 receivers today, making it 15 for the season - pretty impressive. In short, New Orleans pretty much cruised to victory here, making it 3 straight after a disappointing loss to Cleveland a few weeks back.
Next Week's opponent: away on Thanksgiving Day against the Dallas Cowboys
What to look for: I hate to say it, but suddenly those Cowboys look good again. It might be too late for a serious push into the playoffs (although the NFC is weak enough this year to not completely rule it out), but they sure are no longer playing like they don't care anymore. Who better than New Orleans to come into Jerry's playground and bring them back to reality? Romo back up John Kitna has been impressive during the Cowboys' 2 game winning streak, averaging 313 yards and 3 TDs a game. But he tends to get flustered under pressure, and the Cowboys' running game has been disappointing this season. The Saints expect Reggie Bush, TE Jeremy Shockey, and safeties Darren Sharper and Malcom Jenkins back this week, which could spell doom for the Cowboys. If the Saints can get pressure on Kitna, Drew Brees is too good to give this game away.
Last Game against the Jets: December 19, 2009 - New Orleans 17, Dallas 24, in New Orleans
The Standout last time: Tony Romo - 22/34 (64.7% completions), 312 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Prediction: New Orleans 28 - Dallas 24
Upset of the Week
Can anybody help me out here? Even after watching highlights and going over scores several times, I can't bring myself to find a single upset this week. The favorites all won, and when it would have been a close call, the home team prevailed. Sure, Houston came close to beating the Jets, but thanks to our old friend Santonio Holmes that didn't happen. The Eagles with Vick at home were favored against the Giants in my book, as were the Packers against the disappointing Vikings. The Redskins beating the Titans could qualify, but keep in mind Tennessee's disappointing losses against Miami and San Diego the past two weeks. Finally, the Bills beat the Bengals, but I already discussed that game in great detail above. In short, I'm at a loss! If any game was particularly surprising to you, feel free to let me know in the comments.
And of course, as always, your German word of the week: Konkurrenz (say: Con-Curr-rence) - Rivalry