"The Sunday Five" is a loosely-titled piece where I talk about five NFL- or Browns-related topics related to this past week. In today's edition, we take a look at two blowout victories by the Texans and Saints on Saturday, a quick preview of today's games, and a nugget or two about the Browns.
Yesterday's games were of no surprise to me. The Bengals were a team all season that relied on minimizing the mistakes to keep them in a game, just long enough for Andy Dalton to lead a key fourth-quarter drive. The Bengals were in good position until J.J. Watt had an awesome pick six at the end of the first-half. I disagree with announcers who said it wasn't a mistake by Dalton. The young quarterback did not need to force anything in a tie game, and if you look at the replay, even if Watt doesn't get that pick, I think the defensive back(s) glued on the receiver easily jump the route for a pick six of their own. With that deflation for the Bengals, Arian Foster took over and dominated the rest of the game. Good thing I picked him as one of my back's in the NFL.com fantasy playoff challenge.
Everyone expected the Lions vs. Saints contest to be a shootout, and even though the Saints won by 17 points, the 45-28 finish definitely had the markings of a shootout throughout the game. The turning point in the game, though? A rare defensive play -- one that forced a fumble by Drew Brees -- should have led to an easy return touchdown for the Lions. The referee behind the play saw that it was a fumble. Unfortunately for the Lions, the path of the ball after the hit made it look like a pass, and when it hit the ground, another official blew his whistle, thinking it was an incomplete pass. The whistle allowed the Lions to keep the ball after the recovery (much like what happened to the Browns when Seneca Wallace fumbled a couple of weeks ago), but a return was not permitted. Had the return stood, Detroit would've been up 21-7. The Saints certainly would've caught up, but maybe you're looking at an overtime or last possession type of ending instead.
One game today features the Falcons vs. the Giants, and the best-case scenario for Cleveland is that Atlanta loses. That would ensure that the team's second first-round draft choice would be a bit higher come April. It feels a bit weird to see the Falcons as a playoff team this year, mostly because other teams have made such big headlines in the NFC. The Packers and the Saints have been unbelievable on offense. The Lions were an exciting, yet controversial team. The 49ers came out of no where to play a unique style of football under Jim Harbaugh. Even the Giants made more headlines with Eli Manning's great season, and how they made the playoffs in Week 17. The Falcons were kind of just...there. That's not a bad thing; they are a pretty sound team who could take teams by surprise. I'm still predicting a Giants win.
Steelers vs. Broncos. I can't wait. For as much as I fear this game will be a blowout in favor of Pittsburgh, wouldn't it be awesome to see Pittsburgh fall to Tim Tebow? What if it is a tight game and the second-year quarterback goes all "Tebow Time" on Troy Polamalu and company? The Steelers are known for coming through when facing adversity, but missing Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Clark, and having Ben Roethlisberger still gimpy might be a little tougher to overcome than they expect. If Pittsburgh falls to Denver, two of the three AFC North teams will be out of the playoffs.
Here are some Browns-related links to check out. Pro Football Focus reviewed the finale between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, grading Jabaal Sheard as having one of his worst games, while Joe Haden did pretty well. Terry Pluto reviewed the front office's plan for the future of the Browns. Tony Grossi talks about how the team's loss to the Rams was the beginning of a downward spiral this season for Cleveland.