Don Banks: Snap Judgments from Week 13 - Sports Illustrated

Snap Judgments from Week 13

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• Call it the tipping point, or the reaching of critical mass, but the feeling you get is that the Giants are nearing the "enough is enough" stage with Plaxico Burress. The self-inflicted gunshot wound that Burress suffered Friday night is only the latest example of New York's No. 1 receiver doing himself and -- by extension -- the organization harm. Burress has simply become more trouble than he's worth for a team that has almost everyone else pulling in the same productive direction.

And here's a newsflash: The Giants don't even need him. Not desperately, at least. Not enough to warrant all the rest that now goes with being the Keeper of the Plax. Not with Domenik Hixon emerging as a receiving threat. Not with young talents like (the other) Steve Smith, Sinorice Moss and Mario Manningham waiting in the wings. Not with the ageless Amani Toomer still capable of getting it done. Not with quarterback Eli Manning playing at the top of his game and spreading the ball around like a true socialist.

The Giants gave Burress the rich, five-year, $35 million contract extension he craved in Week 1, and what have they gotten to show for it so far? Nothing but headaches, and more headaches. Not to mention fines, benchings, suspensions and now a shooting. New York has been patient with its talented but self-absorbed receiver. But at some point, Plax Being Plax stops being an excuse and becomes the definition of the problem itself.

Remember, Giants, you jelled perfectly and came together as a team to win a Super Bowl last year once another problematic pass-catcher -- Jeremy Shockey -- was out of the picture. Let that be the lesson that carries the day in 2008, too. New York should tell Burress: "Don't go away mad, just go away.''

• Ugly as it was -- and it was hideous from an offensive standpoint -- that was a huge 10-6 win at Cleveland for the Colts (8-4), who won their fifth straight and maintained their hold on the AFC's top wild-card spot, ahead of Baltimore, also 8-4.

The Colts had to win with defense, and they did, getting the game's only touchdown on a 37-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by defensive end Robert Mathis. Indy produced just 215 yards of offense, and Peyton Manning had a dismal day with two interceptions and a fumble lost. But no matter, the Colts' defense limited the Browns to just 193 yards and a pair of first-half Phil Dawson field goals.

The chorus is getting louder by the week: Indy, having survived its early season brush with mediocrity, is a very dangerous team as the regular season's final month arrives.

• Just wondering, Michael Turner or LaDainian Tomlinson? After that Falcons' butt-kicking of the Chargers on Sunday, whom would San Diego choose as its No. 1 running back today?

• I can't see Norv Turner surviving this monumental crash and burn in San Diego. And after the Chargers finally had some playoff success last season, I know general manager A.J. Smith wanted to believe a corner had been turned.

Not so.

• I think Brett Favre's reputation as a great bad-weather quarterback needs an update.

• Everything I said last week about the Jets having that Super Bowl-bound mojo building these days, forget it. What's that phrase that became so popular on Wall Street in recent years? Oh, yeah, it was irrational exuberance on my part. On Sunday in New Jersey, it was the Broncos, not the Jets, who looked like the team that's going places.

• If Matt Cassel were stock, he'd be down 25 percent after that stinker against the Steelers. If he was in-line last week for a supposed $9 million per season in free agency next year, where does he project now, $6.75 million?

• I'm not sure the Steelers were able to exorcise all their Patriots demons with that 33-10 lambasting of New England in rainy, cold Foxboro; but the win must've been a feel-good release for an organization that has had a few dreams dashed by the Belichick-men.

But where was Anthony Smith to guarantee a victory when Pittsburgh could have afforded it?

• The AFC West is led by a 7-5 team in Denver, with San Diego second at 4-8, Oakland third at 3-9 and Kansas City last at 2-10. The NFC West is led by a 7-5 team in Arizona, with San Francisco second at 4-8, Seattle third at 2-10 and St. Louis last at 2-10.

That's a combined 31-65 (.323), and it's almost a crime that two of these teams are going to the playoffs -- when better ones such as Atlanta, Dallas, New England, Miami and Washington could be in danger of missing the party.

• Good night, Bills. See you in 2009. That'll do it for Dick Jauron's club this season. What a tease they were, starting 4-0 and 5-1, only to lose five out of their next six. Maybe they just weren't that good to begin with.

Looking back, the Bills opened the season with wins over Seattle, Jacksonville, Oakland and St. Louis -- four teams that were destined to be pretty awful this year. There's just no way to accurately gauge a team's schedule in the preseason, because all of our perceptions are based on last year, yet the games are played in the here and now.

• If nothing else, at least San Francisco winning at Buffalo ends that season-long story about how teams in the Pacific time zone can't win in the Eastern time zone. Not that it ever had a thing to do with the travel element of the whole issue. It had everything to do with the fact that the eight teams in the AFC West and NFC West are mostly lousy.

• Speaking of which .... Sorry, but the Arizona Cardinals are first-place frauds. They're going to win the weak NFC West, go 9-7 or so, and make the playoffs for the first time in 10 years. But that's more of a reflection on the sorry state of their division than anything else. And watching the Cardinals get blown out by the reeling Eagles Thursday night only confirmed my season-long suspicions about Ken Whisenhunt's team.

Other than that Week 6 overtime win at home against Dallas, who have the Cardinals beaten that makes you take them seriously? They own four wins inside the NFC West, plus a Week 2 win at home against Miami, before the Dolphins got things rolling, and a home win against Buffalo -- a Bills team that soon proved flawed. That's it.

Arizona (7-5) has lost to nearly every quality team it has faced: at Washington, at the Jets, at Carolina, home against the Giants, and most recently, at the up-and-down Eagles. That has the makings of a one-and-done playoff run, you think? Decent tests that still remain include home against Minnesota in Week 15 and at New England in Week 16.

And then there was the way the Cardinals lost to the Eagles. We know Arizona can move the ball, but its defense gave up 437 yards to an Eagles offense that just looked inept at Cincinnati and at Baltimore the previous two weeks. Philly amassed 32 first downs against the Cardinals, held the ball for almost 40 minutes and was a crisp 10 of 15 on third-down conversions.

And the Kurt Warner-led Arizona offense was sloppy too, committing four turnovers, going without a rushing first down, and totaling just 260 yards. Who's that going to beat in the NFC playoffs, if they can ever manage to clinch and get in? Answer: No one.

• After Washington started the season 6-2 and 3-1 in front of its home crowd, the air has really come out of its balloon. The Redskins (7-5) have dropped three of four games, with the losses all coming at FedEx Field, against Pittsburgh, Dallas and the Giants.

Yes, those are three pretty good teams, so no shame there. But you've got to find a way to win at least one of them if you've got real playoff dreams, don't you? By my math, the Redskins get to 9-7 and to the cusp of the playoffs (wins at Cincinnati and San Francisco in December, losses at Baltimore and home against Philly), but if they want to beat Dallas out for an NFC wild-card berth, they'd better find a way to win that Week 16 home game against the Eagles.

• Break up the Ravens, winners of six of their past seven games under rookie head coach John Harbaugh. I thought the Ravens would do well to win six games this season, and here they are at 8-4 after 13 weeks and in position to claim the AFC's sixth and final playoff seed. If nothing else, Baltimore will be playing meaningful games throughout December, and the Ravens fans couldn't ask for anything more than that after last year's 5-11 train wreck.

• It's official, by the way: I've got a case of full-fledged Joe Flacco Fever. It some ways I've had it since last February's NFL Scouting Combine. Just interviewing him at the league's annual meat market, I could tell the kid had something special.

Between Flacco and Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, it's going to be a heck of a final month in the NFL's offensive rookie of the year race.

• That muffled sound you hear coming from the direction of Cincinnati is apparently emanating from the Bengals players' parking lot. They've all got their engines running already, in hopes of making a quick getaway after this debacle of a season finally ends.

That's not entirely fair to the Bengals defense, which has played hard and surprisingly well for most of the season. But Cincy's offense? In Sunday's 34-3 loss to the Ravens, the Bengals mustered six first downs and punted a franchise-record 11 times. Cincinnati had 155 yards of offense and just 21:02 of possession time.

• Don't look now, but that Tampa Bay at Carolina Monday-nighter next week is a doozy. It's the 9-3 Bucs at the 9-3 Panthers in early December, with first place in the NFC South belonging to the winner with just three games remaining. If Tampa Bay wins, the Bucs have what amounts to a two-game lead, given a season sweep of the Panthers.

• I'm ready now. Ready to finally give up on the 6-6 Saints and admit that my NFC preseason pick for the Super Bowl is going to miss that game for the 42nd consecutive year (New Orleans debuted one season after the first Super Bowl).

The Saints could still go 10-6 and maybe find a way to squeak into the NFC playoff field, but with at least nine teams having a better record after Week 13, it's likely just a pipe dream. New Orleans just lost too many close games this season, failing to make a play on defense when the game was there for the winning. Bottom line: The Saints weren't good enough.

• Here's one piece of unsolicited advice for Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, who has the NFL's best team that nobody knows about: Whatever happens in December, don't take your foot off the gas pedal like you did last December, wrecking your playoff-bound team's sense of momentum in the process.

Here's the reality, Bucs fans: Tampa Bay is 9-3, with a great shot to lock down the NFC's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. If the Bucs were to win a home game in the playoffs, they'd have a decent chance to become the first team to ever play a Super Bowl on its own field.

Imagine that.

• This still looks wrong on the Week 14 schedule: Miami at Buffalo, in Toronto. How do you hype this game? Ricky Williams' return to Canadian football?

• Did you hang with the Titans-Lions long enough to catch that Vince Young sighting in Detroit on Thursday? I almost forgot he was still on the roster in Tennessee.

• I'm wondering if the Cowboys would still make the trade for Roy E. Williams if they had it to do over? Doubtful. In case you're not paying attention, Williams has caught just 11 passes for 161 yards and one touchdown in his six games with Dallas, a paltry average of less than two catches and 27 yards per game.

For that the Cowboys are giving up their first- and third-round picks in 2009, plus paying Williams a guaranteed $20 million as part of his five-year, $45 million contract extension? Maybe the Lions did win one in 2008, after all.

• Here's a statistic that might have gotten lost in the 47-10 basting that the Lions took at the hands of the Titans: Detroit was a perfect 0-of-11 on third downs. That's actually hard to do in the NFL, to not fall backwards into at least one third-down conversion, at least during garbage time of a game (of which there was plenty in this game).

With the Lions in December playing host to New Orleans and playoff-driving Minnesota, and traveling to Indianapolis and Green Bay, I'm more convinced than ever that we're going to see 0-16 history this season. It'll be quite the exclamation point on the Matt Millen era in Detroit.

• Average score of the (yawn) three Thanksgiving Day games this year: Winners 43, Losers 13, with the final margins being 37 points, 25 points and 28 points. The three winning teams -- the Titans, Cowboys and Eagles -- scored in all 12 quarters, rolling up a combined 83-23 first-half advantage en route to their blowout wins.

I'm a traditionalist, but even I have started to come around to the idea that the woeful Lions might have played their way out of their annual Thanksgiving Day home game. Long gone are the days when Detroit was known for pulling big upsets against heavily favored opponents on Turkey Day. The Titans-Lions on Thursday had all the intensity of a Week 4 preseason game.

• That's why you bury Donovan McNabb at your own risk (a lesson I've learned more than once in recent years). Because he can put up a four-touchdown, 48-point night in a hurry. Just when you're ready to declare him part of the problem, rather than part of the answer in Philadelphia, he makes pundits (and fans) everywhere eat their words.

• Last week, the NFL had its first 800-point weekend ever, finishing with 837 points, or 52.3 per game. And Week 13 started like it was going to be another record-breaker, with the three Thanksgiving Day games producing 168 points, or 56 per game.

But things slowed down dramatically from there. On Sunday, we had San Francisco beating Buffalo 10-3, Indy nipping Cleveland 10-6, Miami 16-12 over St. Louis and the Giants handling Washington 23-7.