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Dolphins Fan

What Lamar Miller’s Injury means for the Dolphin run game posted by Dolphins Fan

If you thought the Miami Dolphins were in dire straits at the running back position when they lost Knowshon Moreno with a season ending injury, things got even worse when Lamar Miller left the San Diego game with an injury.

This is a make or break moment for the Dolphins as they will have to dig deep into their roster for production on the ground.

Miami has struggled this year but the one lone bright spot has been their run game, averaging almost 130 yards a game. It was a constant, and a point of stability for an otherwise struggling offense. Moreno and Miller work a great one, two duo.

Miller was having a breakout season, setting a career high in rushing touchdowns when he got his third in Week 6 against the Packers. He averaged more than five yards per carry in three of the first four games and ran for a career-best 108 yards on 15 carries in Week 3 against the Chiefs. 

The fourth round pick was on pace for 200 carries and more than 1,000 yards, both of which would be career highs. But now with both of these work horses out, the odds of maintaining that level of production is quite unlikely.

 So now the offense falls on the arm of quarterback, Ryan Tannehill. He hasn’t been electric but now he will to step up. If there was ever a moment to solidify oneself as the framchise quarterback for this team, the quarterback to build a team around for years and years to come, this is that moment.

If Tannehill can navigate the rest of this season relatively unscathed, he will get amazing on the job training in shouldering an entire offense. He will build the confidence of his teammates that

Continue reading "What Lamar Miller’s Injury means ..."


Packers Fan

What Morgan Burnett’s return means for Green Bay posted by Packers Fan

Green Bay Packers safety Morgan Burnett should suit up and be full go for Sunday’s showdown with inter-division rivals, the Chicago Bears. And it couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Packers’ secondary was very much exposed last week when the Saints racked up 44 points with 311 yards through the air. Drew Brees completed 84% of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

It’s clear Burnett’s veteran experience on the back end of the defense with communication and getting these younger corners lined up accordingly, is essential to the Packers success defensively.

Through seven games, the fifth-year pro out of Georgia Tech notched 59 tackles, 49 of them solo tackles; but more importantly was the elimination of coverage break downs that lead to big play passes that can be so devastating to a team’s morale. And Brees crushed the Packers morale as he had two deep balls, each over 40 yards, that led to touchdowns.

Even with Burnett back, the others in the secondary will need to play extra efficient as the Bears have 3 very tall, very athletic receivers in Marshall, Jeffrey, and the tight end Bennett. When these two teams faced off in week 4, the Packers were able to limit the 3 playmakers to under 200 yards receiving, combined.

The Packers Safety echoed that sentiment saying it takes a group effort to corral all three.

"Those guys are very athletic," he said. "They have big playmaking ability and they’re led by Jay Cutler so we have to be sound in our technique and be accountable to one another and trust the defense, and allow us to make plays.”

Continue reading "What Morgan Burnett’s return means for Green Bay"

Bears Fan

Why the Bears need WR Marquess Wilson to suit up against Green Bay posted by Bears Fan

For the first time in three months, Bears wide receiver Marquess Wilson practiced as the Bears get ready to take on inter-divisional rivals, the Green Bay Packers.

Wilson fractured his clavicle at practice on Aug. 4 and has been on the injured reserve list ever since. Now that Wilson is back at practice, the Bears have 3 weeks to decide whether to activate him to their roster or keep him on the injured reserve.

The answer is clear cut as the Bears need all the help they can on offense. They rank 19th in scoring and their offense is limited to Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. The Bears need that #3 receiver to add depth and complexity to their passing game, and allow another option for Cutler to go to.

The Packers, best believe, will be ready for the Bears as they get their seasoned safety, Morgan Burnett, back. They were exposed last week against the Saints but now with a veteran in the defensive secondary, the Packers coverage will be tightened up.

The only negative side to activating Wilson is the possibility of pushing him too hard, too fast, and risk causing a more serious injury that will keep him out indefinitely. While this is a valid concern, one could argue that is the case with every player in the NFL. The game has gotten so fast, the players so big and strong, that injuries, season ending injuries, are becoming more and more commonplace. So to err on the side of caution is valid but when a player feels good to go, they should be allowed to suit and help the team do what it needs to do, win games.

They need to make a decision quickly to keep Wilson on their roster if they hope to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Continue reading "Why the Bears need WR Marquess Wilson ..."


Packers Fan

How Good Are The 2014 Green Bay Packers? posted by Packers Fan

The Green Bay Packers were 8-7-1 last year, figuring in the latest tied game and only the 19th  time since 1974. They won the NFC North despite their quarterback Aaron Rodgers sidelined in the first half of the year. This season, the Packers are expected to contend anew for the Super Bowl.

Rodgers had led the Packers to a good start last year with a 5-2 record. But he broke his collarbone in a game against the Bears. He was out for weeks and returned to beat Chicago in a rematch. Yet he was not a 100 percent and failed to help the Packers in preventing a loss to the 49ers.

This year, Packers fans hope that Rodgers would be back to 100%.  The front office surprisingly failed to re-sign Evan Dietrich-Smith even with Rodgers’ pleas. It remains to be seen whether  rookie Corey Linsley will be able to fill in Smith’s shoes, but all signs point he won’t be enough.

The offense will get a boost with the return of Bryan Bulaga who tore his ACL last year. He’ll be the right tackle across sophomore David Bakhtiari, who performed creditably in his rookie season. Bakhtiari surrendered eight sacks last year, but four came in the first month of the season.

The big news for the Packers in the off-season was the acquisition of Julius Peppers from Chicago. But there will be questions on how Peppers will perform this year, as he is now 34 and is slowing down.

The Packers also picked Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the number 21 pick. Dix =is expected to start next to talented safety Morgan Burnett.  They will also benefit from the return of Casey Hayward who missed all but three games last season.

Continue reading "How Good Are The 2014 Green Bay Packers?"


Joe Anello

2013 NFL Draft: Rounds Two - Seven Recap posted by Joe Anello

It was an eventful and unpredictable NFL Draft, even after the craziness that ensued in round one Thursday night. Friday night showcased rounds two and three, while Sunday wrapped up the draft with rounds four through seven. Let’s run through the major storylines that came out of the 2013 NFL Draft!

*Pardon for the delay. This is what happens when life throws the draft, C2E2, and the impetus to change jobs all in one weekend.

 

-After slipping through the first round despite several reported landing spots, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o became a San Diego Charger. The Chargers traded picks 45 and 110 to the Cardinals for pick number 38, allowing them to move up for Te’o. At that point in the draft, the drama-laden linebacker had great value. The Chargers run a 3-4 scheme, but he can still be a valuable inside presence for them.

 

-On the very next pick after Te’o was selected, the New York Jets saw a “franchise” quarterback fall right into their laps at number 39 overall with Geno Smith. Smith increases the QB count on the Jets roster all the way up to six, which includes Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, Greg McElroy, and David Garrard. Yeah… someone’s gonna get cut. The obvious cut is Tebow. But then who? Do you cut the veteran Garrard, whom you just brought in? Or do you take the massive cap hit and release Sanchez? Or are you giving up on the idea that McElroy can be anything? The drama is ratcheted up in New York, and I’m gonna love every minute of it.

Continue reading "2013 NFL Draft: Rounds Two - Seven Recap"


Joe Anello

The Final Drive: 2013 Divisional Round posted by Joe Anello

The 2013 Divisional Round is completed! The best weekend in football lived up to the hype, with crazy finishes (double overtimes) and historic performances. Let’s not put off this any longer. It’s time for The Final Drive!

(12-6) Baltimore Ravens 38

(13-4) Denver Broncos 35

After the Ravens were forced to punt on their opening possession, this game got crazy… fast. Trindon Holliday took that punt return back 90 yards for the first score. A 59-yard pass to a streaking Torrey Smith (who was torching Champ Bailey deep most of the day) from Joe Flacco tied the game up. On Denver’s ensuing drive, a pass from Peyton Manning tipped off the hands of Eric Decker into the arms of Corey Graham, who boomeranged it to make the score 14-7 Ravens. Manning took the ball right back and marched his team 74 yards in 11 plays, ending with a pinpoint pass to old friend Brandon Stokley on the side of the endzone. 14-14. Were you still breathing at this point? A score from both teams in the second quarter kept the game tied at 21 going into halftime. And the drama did not subside in the start of a crazy NFL weekend.

Denver Head Coach John Fox will (and should) catch a lot of flak for not even attempting to try to get in field goal range with two timeouts and 20-plus seconds left on the clock. (As we would see later in the weekend, that’s not an impossible feat to accomplish.) Fox got extremely conservative in the offensive play-calling, leaning on the run too often when he had one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time on the field. (Though doesn’t Peyton have full authority to change those calls at the line? Hm.) Not going for a third down conversion late in the fourth allowed the Ravens to get the ball back with just enough time to make something happen. And they certainly did.

Continue reading "The Final Drive: 2013 Divisional Round"


Joe Anello

The Opening Drive: 2013 Divisional Round posted by Joe Anello

Alright everyone, it’s my favorite football weekend of the entire season! At this point we have the eight best teams left in the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy, including the two greatest QB’s of our era in the AFC and a crazy Saturday night rematch in the NFC. I have stumbled out of the gates with my picks, currently standing at 1-3 after the wild card round. I owe that to every favorite covering last week and my apparently desperate need to pick against almost all of them. This week shall be different! I hope. Let’s get to The Opening Drive of the Divisional Round! (As always, point spreads are obtained from VegasInsider.com.)

 

(11-6) Baltimore Ravens at

(13-3) Denver Broncos

4:30 PM ET, CBS

This is the first of two AFC rematches that were completely one-sided in the first go-rounds. The Broncos slapped around the Ravens 34-17 in week 15, part of their 11-game winning streak to end the regular season and claim the one seed. In that game, Peyton Manning had very pedestrian numbers, but was bolstered by ground game that featured 45 carries, the most of any Manning team in his career. Their 163 yards pounded a then-short-staffed Raven defense. This game will be different, in that Baltimore is much healthier now. Ray Lewis is back, as is linebacker Danel Ellerbee. Still, the Raven corners are average at best, so they’re not going to be able to contain Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker on the outside.

Continue reading "The Opening Drive: 2013 Divisional Round"


Joe Anello

The Final Drive: 2013 Wild Card Round posted by Joe Anello

Wild Card weekend in the NFL is a wrap! Note that this late posting is a testament to the dangers of kitties. (When you’re allergic to them.) There were bad offenses, great defenses, and ugly injuries to be found in the four match-ups, so let’s get through all the stories in The Final Drive!

(13-4) Houston Texans 19

(10-7) Cincinnati Bengals 13

The first half was a show of ugly offense, with three field goals by the Texans and only a pick-six by the Bengals to account for all the points on the board. Houston suffered because of failed third down conversions and a drop from Andre Johnson at the goal line, forcing them to settle for kicks. Andy Dalton threw a costly interception, but it was essentially wiped away as Leon Hall picked a Schaub pass and ran it back 21 yards to take a momentary lead. But the Bengal offense didn’t score at all in the first half. They barely improved.

In a trending theme of Saturday passing statistics, Cincinnati had -6 net yards passing at halftime. That prompted a “U-G-L-Y. You ain’t got no alibi. It’s ugly.” from Mike Mayock at halftime. (You have no idea how much Microsoft Word just hated that sentence.) When the Texans came out in the third quarter and mounted a touchdown drive, it practically was an insurmountable lead. The Bengals had no chance.

On a key drive in the fourth quarter, (while they were only down six), the Bengals were closing in on the redzone when they had to burn a timeout (play-calling disaster). On the ensuing play, they lost five yards due to a false start penalty. Then they went for it on fourth down (and failed), meaning the six point lead held.

Continue reading "The Final Drive: 2013 Wild Card Round"


Joe Anello

The Opening Drive: 2013 Wild Card Round posted by Joe Anello

It’s that time of year. The NFL Playoffs are upon us, and with it come the unmitigated disasters that are my picks against the spread. (Which means I’m not picking winners or losers, but I’m predicting if a team will win by or keep it closer than the designated spread. Odds are grabbed from VegasInsider.com.) We’ve got some stellar match-ups as well, so without any further BS, it’s time to start the playoffs with this Wild Card edition of The Opening Drive!

(10-6) Cincinnati Bengals at

(12-4) Houston Texans

4:30 PM ET, NBC

In typical playoff fashion, the Wild Card round starts with what is most likely to be the most lackluster match-up of the weekend. This solid Bengals team (that apparently no one outside of Cincinnati believes in) heads to Houston to face a Texan squad that was in near free-fall the last month of the season. It’s not exactly thrilling drama (even though it is a rematch of last year’s playoff game), but this I think game is going to very tight. The Bengals can’t explode offensively and the Texans haven’t been lighting up the scoreboards lately. They’d prefer to get Arian Foster going anyway, which means a slower paced game, full of that exciting clock management stuff. Cincy has a shot at getting passes completed on the outside if A.J. Green can handle the one-on-one match-up with corner Jonathan Joseph. I believe he can, so Andy Dalton has to be able to find him consistently in order to free up the running game and the underneath passes to tight end Jermaine Gresham.

Continue reading "The Opening Drive: 2013 Wild Card Round"


Joe Anello

Joe's 2012 Gameday Preview: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears posted by Joe Anello

You know the rivalry. It’s the Green Bay Packers versus the Chicago Bears in a December game. It’s been 13 weeks since these teams met on the first Thursday nighter of the season, and each have had ups and downs in that time, especially the Bears, who now are fighting for their playoff lives.

 

(9-4) Green Bay Packers at

(8-5) Chicago Bears 

The Offense

The Bear offensive line doesn’t need this news, but Clay Matthews will be back on the field. The man who terrorized J’Marcus Webb in the first match-up will be on the outside again, giving the Packers their pass rush back. Like always, Webb will need help if they’re going to keep Matthews off the stat sheet. But Mike Tice should know how to offset this disadvantage: run the ball. Give Matt Forte and Michael Bush (who will be limited if he plays with a rib injury) about 30-35 carries and get the front seven off Jay Cutler’s case. This way Cutler can get freed up for play-action throws to Marshall, which are less likely to be into triple-coverage or be sat on by an opportunistic defense (that is missing defensive back Charles Woodson).   

Brandon Marshall made news this week by daring the Packers to give him single coverage. Let me tell you something Brandon: it won’t happen. Once. You’re the best/only consistent passing option on this offense, so you’re getting bracket coverage on every play. What would be nice is if the other Bear receivers could beat single coverage on the outside. Alshon Jeffery is the most likely option, but he’s still reaching for his potential. And is anyone really going to count on Devin Hester? I’m not.

Continue reading "Joe's 2012 Gameday Preview: Green ..."

Green Bay Packers News

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Carolina hold off Green Bay rally

Brett Favre shines but cannot prevent the Green Bay Packers suffering their worst NFL start in 17 years. [read full article]

From BBC Sport


Shutdown Corner NFL Power Rankings: Two conference favorites emerge (Shutdown Corner)

This season, in which nothing makes sense from week to week, we have something that seems like a safe proclamation. The New England Patriots are the clear favorite in the AFC. And the Green Bay Packers have established themselves as the favorite in the NFC. That's not to say these are going to be your two Super Bowl teams. We've had plenty of seasons in which the best team doesn't win the Super Bowl or even make it there. But if you don't live in Arizona or Colorado, these are probably the two teams you're betting on to make it to the end. The Patriots have lapped the field in the AFC, and they might be on the way to doing it twice. They've beaten three straight division leaders by at least three touchdowns. They’re 32-3 in the second halves of seasons since 2010, and have won 15 straight at home. This team isn’t the 2007 squad or anything, but it would be a major upset if they don’t win the AFC title. The Packers aren’t in the Patriots’ league yet. If the Packers beat the Patriots at Lambeau Field on Sunday, we can re-evaluate. But the Packers are the top team in the NFC. The Packers have won seven of eight. They are undefeated at home, winning there by an average of 26.8 points. They also have a schedule that could lead to them winning out. If they hold serve at home against New England, Atlanta and Detroit, and win at Buffalo and Tampa Bay, it’ll be a tough task for the Cardinals to hold off a 13-3 Packers team for home-field advantage (although the Cardinals have a two-game edge in the loss column and in the first tiebreaker, which is conference record). I’m not sure Drew Stanton and that offense could hold off Green Bay, even if it's in Arizona, though. The Packers have the highest point differential in the NFC by far, had the highest DVOA ( Football Outsiders’ per-play metric ) in the NFC by far going into last week’s games, and have a quarterback with a 119.2 rating in Aaron Rodgers. They’re not unbeatable, but nobody else in the NFC is either. Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field isn’t really a Super Bowl preview, because single-game elimination tournaments are unpredictable. But it's the best two teams in football on the same field. We’ll see if the Packers can make a legitimate claim to the top spot overall. Here are the post-Week 12 NFL power rankings: 32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-10, LW: 31) They were feisty for a while against the Colts. And still lost by 20. 31. Oakland Raiders (1-10, Last Week: 32) Who would have thought the Raiders would give us one of the more entertaining games of the season? 30. New York Jets (2-9, LW: 28) The Jets probably hit rock bottom on Monday night, losing 38-3 against a Bills team that could barely practice before the game. Geno Smith replaced Michael Vick late when Vick was hurt. Really doesn't do much harm to start him the rest of the way.   29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-9, LW: 30) I think Lovie Smith gets a huge bonus if Josh McCown makes a certain number of starts. It's the only way I can explain it. 28. Tennessee Titans (2-9, LW: 29) After 345 yards against a solid Eagles defense, Zack Mettenberger is your 2015 Titans starter. If it's anyone else, the Titans' organization has lost its mind. 27. Washington Redskins (3-8, LW: 27) Has to be tough to play that well, when a C-minus effort at quarterback would result in a win, and come away with the loss. 26. New York Giants (3-8, LW: 26) I'm still mesmerized by Odell Beckham. 25. Carolina Panthers (3-7-1, LW: 25) The best hope is that Cam Newton is healthier after the bye. Actually, that's their only hope. 24. Atlanta Falcons (4-7, LW: 24) My dream, in the name of chaos, is for a 10-loss Falcons team to win the NFC South and host a playoff game with an interim coach because Mike Smith has been fired. 23. New Orleans Saints (4-7, LW: 21) Well, if they can't win at home anymore, then they're just a bad team. 22. Minnesota Vikings (4-7, LW: 23) Cordarrelle Patterson has more than two catches in a game one time since Sept. 21. He has posted yardage totals of 8, 15, 9, 9, 24 and 18 in that stretch. Can't blame the coaches forever. Especially compared to this year's unbelievable rookie receiver class, it doesn't look good for Patterson. 21. Chicago Bears (5-6, LW: 22) Totaling 204 yards and 12 first downs at home against one of the worst defenses in football. I'm convinced Marc Trestman's play card this year is just "MATT FORTE CHECKDOWN" in 300-point type and that's it. 20. St. Louis Rams (4-7, LW: 20) What about this for a great full-circle scenario: The Rams send a late-round pick to Washington for Robert Griffin III? 19. Houston Texans (5-6, LW: 19) I didn't really think the Texans were going anywhere this season with or without Ryan Mallett, but his injury cost them the chance to evaluate Mallett for next year, which is a blow. 18. Buffalo Bills (6-5, LW: 18) Great, professional effort by the Bills to win after their issues leading up to the game. "Great, professional effort" doesn't apply to their opponent on Monday, but still a nice win. And a fun celebration by tight end Scott Chandler after a touchdown, too. 17. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4, LW: 16) Not hard to envision them finishing 4-1, given how the schedule looks. Not hard to envision them going 2-3 or worse, given how bad they look on their worst days, either. 16. Cincinnati Bengals (7-3-1, LW: 17) Four wins in five games is pretty impressive. I'm not quite ready to put them back in the circle of trust, because their bad days were incredibly awful and burned in my brain forever, but it's a start. 15. San Diego Chargers (7-4, LW: 14) Ryan Mathews is back, plays great and ... wait, he's back in the locker room with a shoulder injury? It stinks for him that his body hasn't cooperated. Hopefully he can change that reputation. 14. Cleveland Browns (7-4, LW: 15) Josh Gordon is obviously their most important player down the stretch, but Isaiah Crowell might be a close second. He hasn't had more than 14 carries in a game, although he's averaging five yards per carry. The Browns might be ready to unleash him down the stretch. 13. Detroit Lions (7-4, LW: 10) A couple of good teams will miss the playoffs in the NFC. How about the team with the offense that hasn't even scored 200 points (only the Jets, Raiders, Jaguars and Titans are in that group, and they're all in the bottom five of these power rankings) and has a point differential of just plus-7 this season? 12. San Francisco 49ers (7-4, LW: 13) I'm not sure there has been a tougher receiver than Anquan Boldin, ever. Maybe Hines Ward. Maybe. Definitely haven't seen another receiver get hit as hard as Boldin was by Ryan Clark, have the defensive player get an unnecessary roughness penalty, and the receiver runs off while the safety is injured. Incredible play. 11. Miami Dolphins (6-5, LW: 12) This is a really good team. They might not make the playoffs, but they're good. 10. Baltimore Ravens (7-4, LW: 11) Justin Tucker is a legitimate playmaker for the Ravens. It's hard to make a 55-yard field goal look like an extra point, which he did on Monday night. 9. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4, LW: 6) Prayers go out for Eric Berry for a full recovery. 8. Seattle Seahawks (7-4, LW: 9) For either the Seahawks or 49ers to really get to where they want to go, they'll probably have to sweep the other. That's what makes this Thanksgiving matchup so good. 7. Dallas Cowboys (8-3, LW: 8) Tony Romo since fracturing the transverse process in his back: 38-of-53 for 521 yards, seven touchdowns, zero interceptions and one last-minute, game-winning touchdown drive. Someday more people will appreciate how good he is. 6. Indianapolis Colts (7-4, LW: 7) The Colts' games against the AFC South should just get skipped due to lack of interest. 5. Philadelphia Eagles (8-3, LW: 5) The Eagles are tremendous at destroying awful teams. One potential problem might be the lack of awful teams in the playoffs, outside of the NFC South champ. 4. Denver Broncos (8-3, LW: 4) A lot can change before January. But right now, this doesn't look like a team that can beat New England. 3. Arizona Cardinals (9-2, LW: 3) Not much reason to downgrade them for the loss at Seattle. It was a desperate Seahawks team, which is still really tough at home, and the Cardinals' offense was shorthanded without Larry Fitzgerald. Nice win for Seattle, but not really a bad loss for Arizona. 2. Green Bay Packers (8-3, LW: 2) If you want to argue the Packers' defense isn't good enough to win the NFC, you must also point out the NFC team without a flaw to me. 1. New England Patriots (9-2, LW: 1) In 1996, the Jaguars cut controversial receiver Andre Rison during the season. He was immediately picked up by the Packers, who had lost Robert Brooks to a season-ending knee injury. It was a gift from the Jaguars to the Packers, already the best team in the NFL that season. The Packers won the Super Bowl.About 18 years from now, someone might retell the same story, replacing Jaguars with Steelers, Brooks with Stevan Ridley, and Rison with LeGarrette Blount. - - - - - - - Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab [read full article]

From Yahoo Sports


Vikings LT Matt Kalil: 'It wasn't my best day' (Yahoo Sports)

[read full article]

From Yahoo Sports


Packers take control of NFC North as Pats tame Lions (Reuters)

By Simon Evans (Reuters) - Running back Eddie Lacy scored two touchdowns and rushed for 125 yards as the Green Bay Packers took sole control of the NFC North with a 24-21 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was again without a turnover as he threw for 209 yards and two touchdowns, including one to Lacy. The Packers move to 8-3 on the season giving them top spot in the division after the Detroit Lions fell 34-9 to the New England Patriots. The Patriots' win was their seventh straight and their 15th consecutive at home. ... [read full article]

From Yahoo Sports

NFL Winners and Losers: Denver Broncos maybe saved their season (Shutdown Corner)

Always remember this about the 2014 Denver Broncos: They will be graded on an unfair curve. A 39-36 win against a sneaky good Miami Dolphins team would be fine for most teams. It wasn’t bad for the Broncos. But the warts matter because these Broncos have just one goal.  The Broncos’ season won’t be a success if it falls short of a Super Bowl championship. Fair? Not really. But they have nowhere else to go after the past two seasons, and they’re built to win now. Before stars like outside linebacker Von Miller, receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas break the bank with their next contracts, and before quarterback Peyton Manning finally declines, it’s Super Bowl or bust. And when the Broncos were trailing 28-17 after three quarters, they didn’t look like a future Super Bowl champion. They really didn’t look like a Super Bowl champion when you compare them to what the New England Patriots did in destroying the Detroit Lions earlier in the day – or when you compare anything about the Broncos and Patriots the past few weeks. The Broncos came alive in the fourth quarter and won. C.J. Anderson finished with 167 rushing yards, Demaryius Thomas scored three touchdowns, and Emmanuel Sanders was clutch on a go-ahead drive. It might be too much to say the fourth quarter saved the Broncos' season, after losing two of their previous three, but the bar is so high for these Broncos that it might be accurate. Still, there are issues. Manning missed more throws than we’re used to seeing, and that can be said about him over the past few weeks. He is 38 years old, so it bears watching. The defense gave up 36 points at home. The special teams made some big errors, including a fumbled punt and a missed 33-yard field goal by Brandon McManus (who can’t feel too secure about his job with the struggles he has had) that led to this reaction from the Broncos bench: Looks like a pretty tightly wound team, but for good reason. The Broncos play at the Kansas City Chiefs next week, and while the Chiefs did the Broncos a huge favor by losing at Oakland on Thursday, the AFC West is still up for grabs. The Broncos, at 8-3, lead the Chiefs by just a game. But an AFC West title isn’t that big of a deal for the Broncos. Neither is an AFC title, for that matter. There’s one goal in Denver. Over the past month, including for three quarters Sunday, it looked like they’re far behind the Patriots in chasing that goal. They need to hope the fourth quarter Sunday was a sign they’re turning it back around. The Broncos land in winners and losers this week, the latter for their various struggles the first three quarters. Nobody said they're being evaluated fairly. The bar for them is as high as it can get. Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 12 of the NFL season: WINNERS Cleveland Browns’ coaches: There was a lot of talk before the Browns played at the Atlanta Falcons that receiver Josh Gordon would be limited in his return from a 10-game suspension. Maybe he’d get 20-30 snaps. That made no sense. Gordon was a 2013 All-Pro, and the Browns need his playmaking ability desperately. Whether it was a smoke screen or the Browns had a change of heart once the game started, Gordon played 51 of 74 snaps, according to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal , and he had eight catches for 120 yards , including a huge catch on Cleveland’s game-winning drive. The Browns needed every bit of what Gordon gave them. And now they can go forward with full confidence that one of the NFL’s best receivers can play as normal the rest of the way. The Browns have pushed a lot of right buttons this season. Brian Hoyer, who the Browns stuck with at quarterback even with first-round pick Johnny Manziel on the roster, threw a couple bad fourth-quarter interceptions on Sunday, but when the Browns took over with 44 seconds left on their own 20, he led them to the game-winning field goal. The Browns cut Ben Tate this week, and their two rookie running backs Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West combined for 150 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. The Browns have benefited from a friendly schedule to get to 7-4. But they’re here and they’re going to get only better with Gordon and the presumptive return of tight end Jordan Cameron from a concussion. There are some tough games left, but maybe the Browns’ coaches will keep pushing the right buttons down the stretch and get them to the playoffs. Eddie Lacy: With Aaron Rodgers playing at such a high level (he had a 109.7 rating on Sunday … and his season rating dropped. It’s 119.2 now), we’ve forgotten that the Packers also have a heck of a running back. Lacy had his best game of the season on Sunday. He had 138 total yards, a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown in Green Bay’s 24-21 win. Lacy is coming on after a slow start to the season. He looks like the player who was offensive rookie of the year last season. If Lacy is running like that, and Rodgers is as great as ever, how is anyone going to stop Green Bay’s offense?   Cardinals defense: You can’t tell from the 19-3 final score, but the Cardinals’ defense had a heck of a game. It was the only reason the Seahawks didn’t turn it into a blowout. Calais Campbell had a great game with three sacks, and he deserves to go to an elusive first Pro Bowl. The Seahawks didn’t score a touchdown until late in the third quarter. The Cardinals’ offense provided next to nothing, but the Cardinals' defense tried valiantly to keep the team in the game. This might be how it goes for the Cardinals the rest of the season. The defense is going to have to play very well to overcome an offense that lost quarterback Carson Palmer. The Cardinals will play better on offense than they did on Sunday, when they ran up against a tough opponent with Larry Fitzgerald out, but the onus will be on the defense to carry them as far as they’ll go. The Cardinals looked up to it against the Seahawks, even if the offense didn’t cooperate. Odell Beckham’s catch: Best NFL catch I’ve ever seen. The one-handed touchdown looked ridiculous from every angle, and that was before the shot that showed he caught it WITH THREE FINGERS. Zoomed in picture of Odell Beckham Jr.'s catch via @bencelestino pic.twitter.com/HEwjVtRo13 — Eric Rosenthal (@ericsports) November 24, 2014 It just doesn’t get any better   LOSERS Shaun Hill’s interception: No interception is good, really. Some are worse than others. Very few picks in the NFL this season will be worse than the one Hill threw at the end of the St. Louis Rams’ loss to the San Diego Chargers. The Rams were at San Diego’s 4-yard line, down 27-24 with about a minute to go. In that situation, the Rams either win with a touchdown or at least tie the game and go to overtime. So you’d think. Kenny Britt ran a crossing route at the goal line and had no separation from the man covering him. And somehow, the longtime veteran Hill never saw safety Marcus Gilchrist. Gilchrist read Hill, jumped in front of his pass to Britt, and picked it off to finish the game. The Rams weren’t going anywhere at 4-6 coming in, but it was still a crushing way to lose.   The overpaid NFC North quarterbacks: Here are the combined numbers of a pair of NFC North rival quarterbacks on Sunday – 35-of-73, 394 yards, one touchdown … $34.3 million 2014 salary cap number. It’s not that Chicago’s Jay Cutler and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford are bad or anything. They are what they are: Average or maybe slightly above average starting quarterbacks who are being paid to be superstars. At least Cutler’s Bears overcame his 130-yard day against the NFL’s 30 th ranked pass defense coming in (hint: that’s bad) and beat the Buccaneers. The Lions were blown out by the Patriots, and have now gone 22 straight possessions without a touchdown. They employ Calvin Johnson, one of the three greatest receivers of all time, by the way. They’re one of five teams in the NFL with fewer than 200 points this season. The others are the Raiders, Jets, Titans and Jaguars, four of the worst teams in the NFL. This is why the Bears and Lions will continue to chase the Green Bay Packers. They’re paying those guys like they’re Aaron Rodgers, but they aren’t in Rodgers’ class. In a salary cap sport, that’s a big obstacle to overcome.   Robert Griffin III and Jay Gruden: The story with the Washington Redskins on Sunday morning was that Gruden had the green light to keep Griffin on a short leash and bench him if he struggled at San Francisco. Griffin struggled. And he never came out. Griffin went 11-of-19 for 106 yards. He was sacked five times, and many of them were because he held the ball too long. He wasn’t very good, and as it turns out, even a mediocre performance at quarterback would have beaten a flat San Francisco 49ers team. As it was, Washington led until 49ers rookie Carlos Hyde’s 4-yard touchdown with 2:59 to go. After that the Redskins had six plays on two possessions: three Griffin incompletions, two sacks and one Griffin run for 6 yards. The second sack forced a fumble that the 49ers recovered to finish the game. If Gruden really could have changed quarterbacks, and didn’t, he probably regrets it now. But this relationship is about more than winning one game in a lost season. We can say whatever we want about Griffin’s regression, but the fact is that Washington has to give Griffin every chance to succeed. The Redskins have invested way too much into him to turn back after three seasons (one of which was a rookie of the year campaign). Gruden needs to make this work, somehow. Griffin does too. Maybe that’s why he didn’t come out on Sunday when it was clear he was struggling again. Perhaps Gruden feels like there’s no turning back if he benches Griffin. Maybe leaving him in will help the franchise down the road. It hurt Washington on Sunday though. Bill O’Brien: The Houston Texans coach won’t like ending up on the losers section of the list. Here’s how I know:   The Texans have done a fine job after a 2-14 season last year, but Sunday was a big blow. Against an inconsistent Bengals team, the Texans lost 22-13, and that was with a pick-six off Cincinnati's Andy Dalton. The offense, without Arian Foster again, couldn’t replicate what it did at Cleveland last week. It couldn’t do anything, really. Quarterback Ryan Mallett struggled, with just 189 yards on 45 attempts. The Texans held the ball for just 20:50. It was a disheartening performance that drops them to 5-6 and probably in need of five straight wins to get to the playoffs in the AFC. No wonder O’Brien wasn’t in a good mood. - - - - - - - Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab [read full article]

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