The last month of the year is finally here and that means two things, holidays and meaningful football. Every NFL team has a lot to be thankful for. Some teams should be happy for their health, some for the terrible division they play in and some should just happy the season is almost over. With four weeks left in the regular season, most teams still have hopes of making the playoffs while some look like they are going out of their way to make sure they miss them. I present to you the week 13 recap.
For more than a month now, I have been saying how hard it is to identify who the good teams are. Let me now go on record as saying the Texans are one of them. Just about every team in the league has dealt with its fair share of injuries this season, but none like the Texans. The Texans started the season without their all pro running back, then lost their best defensive player, then an all pro receiver, then starting AND back up quarterback, and all they have done is win. Although this looks like the year in which the Texans finally make the playoffs, it's hard to think they can really be Superbowl contenders with all the injuries. The Texans have been winning with an offense that plays within itself, and a defense that is only allowing 15 points a game. One can only wonder how great could this Texans team have been if not for the injury bug.
Another team using the same formula for success as the Texans is the 49ers. They are lead by a defense that is allowing an NFL low 13 points a game, and a running game that not only eats up yards but eats up clock. As hard as it is to believe, Alex Smith is leading an offense that doesn't make many mistakes. The 49ers have surely benefited from playing in a weak division, but they have proven they are just as good as any team in the NFC not named the Packers. While Jim Harbaraugh deserves all the credit in the world for what he has done with Smith and the offense, I have to believe that Mike Singletary deserves some credit for the play of both the teams standout linebackers.
You would be hard pressed to find two star players less missed by there former teams then Jermey Shockey and Reggie Bush. Although Bush never lived up to all his hype coming out of USC, his big play ability still proved to be a big part of the Saints success. His departure in the offseason left a big void in the Saints offense and Darren Sproles has stepped right in and made Saints fans say Reggie who? Sproles is not only picking up Bush's pass catching workload, he is also averaging over 6 yards a carry - something Bush never came close to. While Shockey might not have had the best years of his career with the Saints, he also provided toughness, heart, and emotions that the team needed. His replacement, Jimmy Graham, has provided the Saints with all of that and play on the field that Shockey never even came close to. Graham leads all NFL tightends in receptions and yards, while his 8 touchdowns trail only Rob Gronkowski. After an embarrassing loss to the Rams over a month ago, the Saints have put together 4 straight impressive wins, and now have a comfortable lead a top the NFC South. If any team has a shot of knocking off the Packers this year, my money is on the Saints.
While all across the NFL teams are fighting to make the playoffs, things seem a little different in the NFC East. It appears to be the one division no team wants to win. Entering the season, the Eagles were a heavy favorite to run away with the division after a very active offseason. The Giants and the Cowboys were both viewed as talented teams who would be fighting for playoffs spots and the Redskins, well Redskins were expected to be rebuilding. As bad as the Eagles have played on the field, things appear to be even worse in the locker room. The Eagles find themselves tied for last in the division, with way more questions then wins. The Cowboys and Giants have both taken turns showing how good they can be and how bad they can, in what almost seems like a battle to see who can be more inconsistent. In week 13, the Cowboys head coach seemed be keeping with the theme of "No one wants to win the NFC east" when he iced his own kicker and cost his team the game. In Washington, what was thought to be a rebuilding year has come with a rebuilding year record. The team is going to finish the season with the exact same questions it started the season with. With the Cowboys and Giants meeting twice in the final month of the season, the division is very much up for grabs. I have very little faith in anyone in the NFC east right now, but if I had to go with one leader out of the bunch I would believe in Tom Coughlin so the Giants are my pick to go come out of this mess of a division.
After being unhappy with his contract situation, Chris Johnson decided to sit out of training camp, which didn't surprise most of us. What did surprise us was that he seemingly sat out the first 10 weeks of the season as well. After it looked like the speedsters new heavy pockets, had slowed him down, Johnson has finally showed up and just in time. In a season when Johnson was supposed to be the teams best weapon, they manged to stay in the playoff hunt with almost no production from their star back. So with Johnson's return to form, the Titans have a good shot at claiming the last wildcard spot in the AFC. With four games remaining, the Titans have two tough opponents in the Saints and Texans, and two easy opponents in the winless Colts and the hopeless Jags. If the Titans can find a way to win three of the four games they will have 10 wins and more then likely a spot in the post season.
Speaking of the Jaguars, they became the first team to give their head coach his walking papers last month. The Jags released their starting quarterback less then two weeks before the season started, and I'm starting to wonder if they hadn't might they be in the same boat as the Titans, fighting for the last playoff spot. Now I know it sounds crazy, and I'm not saying that anyone will be mistaking David Garred for Peyton Manning anytime soon, but the fact is Garred has proven to be a reliable game manager and right now that's all the Jags need. No one will ever accuse the Jags of lighting the scoreboard up in the Garred area, but this year with rookie Blaine Gabbert under center, they haven't even plugged the scoreboard in. In 12 games, this season the Jags have yet to score more then 20 points in any game. Before Monday's blowout lose to the Chargers, only 4 teams in the NFL had allowed less points then the Jags. The teams defense has done enough to keep them in games all season long while the offense appears to have zero interest in being a part of any ball games. Gabbert is putting on the finishing touches of what is one of the worst quarterback seasons I have ever seen, and wasting a great season from the team's defense. The low scoring games the team has been losing all year are the exactly the same kind of games Tim Tebow has been winning. With Tebow providing a cult-like following and a knack for winning low scoring games, you have to think the Jags made a mistake on passing on Tebow and made it even worse when they cut Garrard. League wide, teams are winning games with a strong defense, great runningback, and quarterback who doesn't lose the game, the Jags have two of the three and that just isn't enough.
In Cleveland, the weather forced the Ravens to take the ball out of Joe Flacco's hands and put it in Ray Rice's and the result was a career day for Rice and a win for the Ravens. If the Ravens can find a way to stick to this game plan, they have as good of a shot as anyone of representing the AFC in the Super Bowl.
In Miami, the Dolphins who were once a front runner in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes, might not even be picking in the top 10 if they continue playing the way they have been. The Dolphins have won 4 out of the last 5 games and when you take a closer look you will see that four of their losses this season were by 3 points or less, they might just might not be as bad as everyone thought.
Well folks that's all for this weeks NFL recap, make sure you all check back for next week's recap. Happy holidays.