So now we have the Miami Dolphins to ponder. They don't appear to be taking a
December swoon, which is what running back Ricky Williams brings to the table. Actually, the
Dolphins are one of the first teams in memory to have MVP candidates on both
sides of the ball -- Williams and defensive end Jason Taylor.
But despite their 23-17 setback to Miami, I think the Raiders are still the best team
in the AFC. But let's face it, if the Dolphins win out and happen to secure home-field advantage, they could spoil this Oakland run.
In fact, a lot of things could get spoiled in the final two weeks. Some coaches
could save their jobs. Some coaches can lose their jobs.
My Super Bowl picks stay the same: Raiders vs. Eagles. Following are my top-five lists for
Week 15 (including a new category, "Disappointing Setbacks"):
Most Impressive in Victory
1. Titans 24, Patriots 7 -- This was what you call "taking care of business." Of
all the teams that are building the kind of momentum you can't ignore at this time of year, the Titans
arguably rank at the top, especially in the AFC. They mauled the Patriots, and then QB
Steve McNair picked 'em apart.
2. Dolphins 23, Raiders 17 -- It's easy to put a game plan on paper. It's
another thing to execute it against the best team in the AFC. That's what the Dolphins did
behind their two MVP candidates -- DE Jason Taylor and RB Ricky Williams.
3. Colts 28, Browns 23 -- When you're down 16-0 at halftime, you're on the road and
you're a dome team playing outside in Cleveland, you just aren't supposed to win the
game. But the Colts found a way, and they now have the confidence of knowing their
outdoors, cold-weather win earlier in Denver was no fluke.
4. Packers 20, 49ers 14 -- Even by Packer standards, the conditions were horrible
in the Bay Area, minus the sub-freezing temperatures. Yet Brett Favre rallied his troops in
a mistake-free game that keeps the Packers alive in the NFC home-field race.
5a. Giants 37, Cowboys 7 -- You have to hand it to Jim Fassel. His confidence
appears to rub off on his team, and the Giants embarrassed the Cowboys. Or was that humiliation?
5b. Broncos 30, Chiefs 24 -- Mike Shanahan faced the unenviable task of
convincing his team during the week that the season was not in despair in the face of a
three-game losing streak. It didn't hurt that the Raiders and Chargers lost earlier in the day.
1. Jets 13, Bears 20 -- The Jets were playing some of the best football in the NFL,
and then came Sunday's bomb to the struggling Chicago Bears. And to think that the Raiders were privately telling people that the Jets were the best team they've played all year after a squeaker the week before in Oakland.
2. Falcons 24, Seahawks 30 -- Their home game against the Seahawks seemed
like the perfect antidote to their crushing loss to the Bucs. Instead, it was a nightmare
finish that threatens their dream season with Michael Vick.
3. Browns 23, Colts 28 -- This was the perfect opportunity for the Browns to
group up in their fourth season of expansion. Instead, Butch Davis watched his team blow
a 16-0 lead to the Colts and then fail to score in the clutch. The game left the Browns
pondering plenty of questions.
4. 49ers 14, Packers 20 -- This was a home game that would have given the 49ers
a chance to escape a possible second-round game on the road to Green Bay or
Philadelphia, but Jeff Garcia & Co. could not deliver.
5a. Raiders 17, Dolphins 23 -- Even though it's hard to classify this as an upset,
an Oakland victory would have solidified the Raiders' status as the team to beat in the
5b. Saints 31, Vikings 32 -- They were at home, they were playing the Vikings
and they lost, even when Daunte Culpepper was fumbling around an errant snap on the winning two-point conversion.
5c. Chiefs 24, Broncos 30 -- A road win here could have spurred a strong AFC
West finish for coach Dick Vermeil's gang. Now, they're so banged up it's hard to envision
5d. Chargers 13, Bills 20 -- There's no margin for another defeat. The Chargers must
sweep the Chiefs and Seahawks for a playoff shot.
Best Performance: Quarterback
1. Daunte Culpepper, Vikings -- Vikings coach Mike Tice said that if he had
known Culpepper was going to respond like this, he would have benched him two months
ago. Culpepper delivered big throws and big runs in the upset of the Saints -- 312 yards passing
and two TDs, 77 yards rushing and two TDs, and the two-point conversion to win it.
2. Brett Favre, Packers -- His numbers (201 yards and 0 TDs) don't tell the
story. Amidst gusting winds and falling rain, Favre was 25-of-33 and dissected the 49ers
in the second half to keep the Packers alive in the home-field race.
3. Steve McNair, Titans -- I don't even have to look at his numbers in the win
over the Patriots. I know he was 11-of-24 for 136 yards, no TDs and one interception. But
I saw the game. He should join Rich Gannon and Peyton Manning on the AFC Pro Bowl roster.
4. Peyton Manning, Colts -- Here's all you need to hear about this guy: All four
TDs scored by the Colts in their come-from-behind win over the Browns came on his audibles.
5. Patrick Ramsey, Redskins -- He didn't win, but he also didn't flinch in the
weekend's toughest assignment for any quarterback. The rookie had to play the Eagles'
defense, in Philly's last regular-season home game at Veterans Stadium, with Stephen
Davis getting hurt and a bunch of mediocre players around him -- and he threw for three TDs,
no interceptions, and was 23-of-35 for 213 yards.
Best Performance: Running Back
1. Travis Henry, Bills -- On a day when it was brutal for any quarterback to
throw, Henry out-rushed Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson 144 yards to 110. He did it
on 22 carries and had two TDs, including a 26-yarder with 1:52 left to give the Bills a
20-13 victory. Here's a shame: Henry may get snubbed by the Pro Bowl, because how
do you pass on Priest Holmes, Ricky Williams and LaDainian Tomlinson?
2. Clinton Portis, Broncos -- Not only 130 yards and three rushing TDs, but a
show-stopping 66-yard TD catch-and-run as Denver dumped Kansas City.
3. Ricky Williams, Dolphins -- So what if he didn't nail down his third straight
200-yard game? Ask the Raiders how much fun it was tackling him in this 101-yard
4. Shaun Alexander, Seahawks -- He ruined the Falcons' day with 127 yards and
two TDs, including a 27-yarder that ended it in sudden death as he waved bye-bye to
5. Ahman Green, Packers -- It wasn't spectacular, but his 90 yards behind a
makeshift offensive line on a rainy, windy day gave Favre just enough breathing room.
Best Performance: Wide Receiver
1. Marvin Harrison, Colts -- Best for Sunday. Best for the season. Best for any
single season in history. One day, maybe the best ever. Imagine what kind of attention he
would get if he and Peyton Manning were in, say, Los Angeles?
2. Randy Moss, Vikings -- Really, if you think about it, his actions have spoken
much louder than his words for most of the season since you-know-when. He added 11
more catches for 133 yards and two TDs, including the score that set up the dramatic victory.
3. Dante Hall, Chiefs -- Funny, but I think I'd actually pay money to see this guy
play. He had 143 yards and two TDs on five catches in losing effort against Broncos.
4. Chris Chambers, Dolphins -- He's still a year away and a healthy, strong
quarterback away from joining the NFL's elite receivers, but he nailed the Raiders for 138
yards on Sunday.
5. Jimmy Smith, Jaguars -- On fourth down, with the Jaguars trailing the Bengals
15-14, he got open for a perfect 26-yard TD pass from Mark Brunell.
1. Jason Taylor, Dolphins DE -- He absolutely set the tone for the Dolphins' win
over the Raiders. Dominated Raiders LT Barry Sims so thoroughly that the Raiders
finally put another blocker on him, otherwise he might have had seven sacks. He now has
17 for the season, and he's not a one-dimensional guy.
2. Patrick Surtain, Dolphins CB -- His game-clinching interception while
covering Jerry Rice was just an exclamation point to another Pro Bowl day.
3. Zach Thomas, Dolphins LB -- Taylor may be the soul of the Miami defense,
but Thomas is the heart of it, or maybe the head. Either way, he clogged the middle on the
Raiders' crossing routes and justified Rich Gannon's effusive pregame praise.
4. Rob Morris and Dwight Freeney, Colts -- Morris had 10 tackles and a key
sack, and his sudden emergence as a bona-fide MLB in the new scheme has erased his No. 1
pick bust tag. Freeney had nine tackles and another sack. In fact, Freeney may be credited
with another sack later this week when the Elias statistical review is complete.
5a. Mike Barrow, Giants MLB -- Back in the lineup after a concussion, he
destroyed the Cowboys with 13 tackles (nine solo) and a sack.
5b. Brian Urlacher, Bears MLB -- I saw him put a hurtin' on the Jets.
5c. Corey Simon, Eagles DT -- He's such a good player, such a good guy, and he
was good again as the Eagles kept rolling. If he's not a Pro Bowl pick Thursday, something's wrong.
5d. Titans defense -- It smothered the Patriots for under 200 yards and kept giving
the ball back to the offense, which controlled it for almost 42 minutes.
MVP Race Update (2 x 5 = 10)
1. Rich Gannon, Raiders
2. Brett Favre, Packers
3. Steve McNair, Titans
4. Michael Vick, Falcons
5. Ricky Williams, Dolphins
6. Jason Taylor, Dolphins
7a. Peyton Manning, Colts
7b. Marvin Harrison, Colts
9. Derrick Brooks, Bucs
10. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers
Defensive MVP Update
1. Jason Taylor, Dolphins
2. Derrick Brooks, Bucs
3. Simeon Rice, Bucs
4. Warren Sapp, Bucs
5. Brian Dawkins, Eagles
Coach of the Year Update
1. Andy Reid, Eagles
2. Mike Sherman, Packers
3. Marty Schottenheimer, Chargers
4. Bill Callahan, Raiders
5. Brian Billick, Ravens
6. Tony Dungy, Colts
7. Dan Reeves, Falcons
8. Jeff Fisher, Titans
9. Dave Wannstedt, Dolphins
10. Jon Gruden, Bucs
Best Games: Week 16
1. Denver at Oakland -- It's the Raiders and Broncos. It's Al Davis and Mike
Shanahan. It's the AFC West on the line.
2. Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay -- Last season, we watched the Steelers go into Tampa
and manhandle the Bucs. Both teams need this MNF game.
3. New York Jets at New England -- You can just feel the dread, on both sides, going into this
4. New York Giants at Indianapolis -- Like the Steelers-Bucs, it's
cross-conference, but the Giants can set the stage for a dramatic season finale against the
Eagles if they can win. And the Colts definitely need a victory because the AFC South
tiebreaker belongs to the Titans.
5. Miami at Minnesota -- The Vikings should have beaten the Packers and did
beat the Saints in the past two weeks. A home game against a Dolphins team sandwiched
between AFC biggies (Raiders and Patriots) could be interesting.