NFC South: Dallas Cowboys
According to the video game, the Panthers will lose to the Dallas Cowboys, 35-27. In the simulation, Dallas running back Felix Jones runs for 80 yards and a touchdown. Call me a pessimist, but I say those numbers for Jones sound a little low against Carolina’s run defense. In the simulation, it’s Dallas quarterback Tony Romo (277 passing yards and two touchdowns) that does more damage. The simulation says Carolina quarterback Cam Newton will have a decent day, but will be intercepted once. The simulation doesn’t say if Newton will pout on the sideline.
The simulation for the game between the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers is a very entertaining one. It says the Bucs will win, 27-24, on a field goal in overtime. The simulation says the Saints will jump out to a 14-0 lead, but the Bucs will climb back into it with Josh Freeman throwing for 302 yards and Connor Barth hitting a last-second field goal in regulation before hitting the game winner in overtime.
If it really does play out like that, the Bucs will be 3-3 with an actual chance to climb into playoff contention, and the Saints would be 1-5, which basically would mean they can forget about the playoffs.
If you’re just going by recent on-field performance, you might be shocked at which two division teams are worth more than $1 billion.
The Carolina Panthers are No. 16 at $1.048 billion, a five-percent increase over last year. The Panthers haven’t had a winning season since 2008, but they do have some pretty good equity built up in a privately-held stadium that opened in 1996.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have been inconsistent and struggled at the box office in recent years, are just two spots behind the Panthers. The Bucs are valued at $1.033 billion, a five-percent increase over last year.
Surprisingly the NFC South teams that have won big in recent years are valued at less than $1 billion.
The New Orleans Saints came in at No. 23 with a $971 million value, a one-percent increase over last year. The Atlanta Falcons came in at No. 28. They’re valued at $837 million, a three-percent increase over last year. If the Falcons do get that new stadium with a retractable roof, I think they’ll easily make the leap over the $1 billion line.
For the record, the Jacksonville Jaguars came in at No. 32 with a $770 million value. The Dallas Cowboys were No. 1 at $2.1 billion.
What it means: The Falcons are 10-6 and in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history. The Falcons are in as the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs. They’ll play on the road against the winner of Sunday night’s game between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. The Buccaneers ended their season in dismal fashion. After starting off 4-2, they lost their final 10 games and weren’t even competitive in most of those.
Momentum found: The Falcons bounced back nicely after a bad Monday night loss to the New Orleans Saints. Yeah, they were playing the Bucs, who might have become the worst team in the NFL, but the victory should create a positive vibe for the Falcons as they head into the playoffs.
Record Turner: Michael Turner broke Gerald Riggs’ team record for career rushing touchdowns with two in the first half. Turner now has 50 rushing touchdowns since joining the Falcons in 2008. Riggs set his record over the course of seven seasons. Turner also tied Riggs’ team record with his 25th 100-yard rushing game since joining the Falcons. Too bad Turner doesn’t play for the Saints. Sean Payton would have kept feeding Turner the ball and given him a shot at a 500-yard day.
Roddy’s records: Roddy White became Atlanta’s all-time leader in receiving yards. He passed Terance Mathis’ previous record of 7,349 yards. White also had his 100th catch of the season. That makes White the first player to have two seasons of 100 or more catches.
Farewell, Jeff George: Quarterback Matt Ryan surpassed Jeff George’s 1995 record for passing yards in a season (4,143).
The Morris Watch: If Tampa Bay’s ownership hadn’t made a decision about the future of coach Raheem Morris before Sunday, another embarrassing loss couldn’t have helped his case. This game was over almost as soon as it started and it’s stunning to remember that the Bucs beat the Falcons in Week 3. As has been the case through most of the losing streak, the Bucs looked like a team with no direction. At some point in the next few days, the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs will have to break its silence and let the world know if they’re sticking with Morris or going in a different direction.
What’s next: The Falcons have to wait until the end of Sunday night’s game between the Giants and Cowboys to find out where they’ll travel to for the first round of the playoffs. The Buccaneers will get a top 10 draft pick and an offseason that’s sure to be filled with change even if Morris stays.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 15:
Time for a comeback? Before things got out of hand over the past couple of months, Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman had built a reputation for leading his team to fourth-quarter comebacks. The Bucs might not be capable of that these days, but there is some encouraging news on this front. The Cowboys, Tampa Bay's opponent Saturday, have lost three games this season after leading by at least 12 points in the fourth quarter. In the 51 seasons prior to this one, Dallas had lost only twice after leading by 12 or more points in the fourth quarter.
Jake Roth/US PRESSWIRETampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman's 18 interceptions leads the NFL.
On a record pace II. New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham has a streak of five games in which he has had at least five receptions. Graham is on pace for 98 catches and 1,355 receiving yards. Marques Colston set the team record with 98 receptions in 2007. The franchise record for receiving yards in a season is 1,399, set by Joe Horn in 2004.
Chasing Manning. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton already has thrown for 3,573 yards. He needs 167 more yards to break the rookie record that was set by Peyton Manning in 1998.
Coughing it up. Tampa Bay running back LeGarrette Blount fumbled twice last Sunday and lost one. Blount now has five fumbles for the season. That ranks him No. 2 in the league among running backs. Only Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew (six) has more fumbles.
Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 41-14 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday:
What it means: Last week, we found out the Buccaneers are the worst team in the NFC South when they lost to the Carolina Panthers. This week, we found out the Bucs are the third-worst team in Florida. Wait, I’m going to put them fifth, behind Tampa Plant High and Seffner’s Armwood High. Seriously, this might represent rock bottom. The Bucs have lost seven straight games. The first five came against decent teams. The last two have come against Carolina and Jacksonville. For the record, the Bucs jumped out to a 14-0 lead and then lost to rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
Morris watch: More than ever, coach Raheem Morris is on the hot seat. It’s kind of amazing how quickly his stock has fallen and how badly this season has spun out of control. At the end of last season, when the Bucs finished 10-6, Morris was considered one of the league’s rising stars. Now, his future with the Bucs appears to be very much in doubt. The team is losing and not selling tickets. Morris is in a unique situation. The Bucs picked up options on his contract for this season and 2012. I seriously doubt the fan base would be very excited if Morris gets a contract extension. Another option would be to let him go into next season as a lame duck and that never works. Just ask the Panthers how things went when John Fox was a lame duck in 2010. The other option, perhaps the most likely now, is pulling the play on Morris.
Unlucky Seven: Despite Jacksonville’s record, the Jaguars have a decent defense. But the Bucs made them look even better than decent. With seven turnovers (has that happened since the days of Steve DeBerg?), the Bucs made Jacksonville look like the 1985 Chicago Bears. Gabbert threw for two touchdowns and Maurice Jones-Drew had two rushing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns.
What’s next: The Buccaneers host the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night.
Trent Dilfer and Jon Ritchie give their biggest takeaways from Week 7; The “Caveman” Gary Horton tells us what he learned from Tim Tebow's win against the Miami Dolphins; and Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray breaks Emmitt Smith’s single-game franchise rushing record, then tweets back and forth with the Hall-of-Famer.
|Kim Klement/US Presswire|
|Miles Austin and the Dallas receivers had their way with the Tampa Bay secondary.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
TAMPA, Fla. -- Hmmm, let's test our memories here. Who's the last person to be stopped by a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' secondary?
Oh, got it.
It was that cab driver who pulled over to call police back in August and allege cornerback Aqib Talib had punched him from the backseat. It sure as heck wasn't Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton or Miles Austin. They just kept catching and running ... and running.
"We just gave up too many plays on the defensive side of the ball," Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris said.
It would be nice to cut Morris some slack in his first game as an NFL head coach. But that's not going to happen because what took place Sunday was about much more than Tampa Bay's defense surrendering (and we mean surrendering) 462 yards of offense in a 34-21 loss to Dallas.
What happened Sunday goes way beyond Morris being new to his role. You could give him some slack for the offense, but that unit actually played better than just about anyone expected. The defense was what let Morris down -- specifically, the defensive backs.
"We've got to stand up and take responsibility," safety-turned-linebacker-turned safety again Jermaine Phillips said. "It's nothing for us to be alarmed about or worried about."
I'll agree with the thing about taking responsibility, but I think there is plenty to worry about for Tampa Bay's secondary. These are supposed to be Morris' "guys." These are the guys he knows best and, so far, all they've done is fail him.
It goes even deeper than Tony Romo throwing for 353 yards and three touchdowns. It goes back to Talib's incident, for which he hasn't drawn any disciplinary action yet. It goes back to Tanard Jackson getting suspended for the first four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
It goes back to Morris' offseason decision that Sabby Piscitelli could be a starting safety in the NFL and Phillips should switch to linebacker. Maybe, if all those things hadn't happened, the Bucs might have had a smoother transition from the Cover 2 defense to the Cover Nobody defense.
"There's no secret about it," Morris said of one of the touchdown passes allowed by Piscitelli. "I looked right at Sabby. I grabbed him right next to me. He looked at me and said "plaster."
Yep, a Tampa Bay defense got plastered.
Where have you gone Monte Kiffin?
He's not here anymore. This is Morris' team and Derrick Brooks isn't coming to rescue him.
When you go from being an assistant to being a head coach and start making major changes, you've got to take all that comes with it and it would help to bring along the best part of your past. Tampa Bay's secondary was, by far, its weakest link against a Dallas passing game that -- for a day anyway -- looked better without Terrell Owens.
Everywhere you looked, the Cowboys were making big plays. Crayton's touchdown went for 80 yards, Williams' for 66 and Austin's for 42. Everywhere you looked, Tampa Bay's secondary was out of place. Piscitelli seemed to be at the center of it all, which begs you to ask if he's the one who should have made the offseason move to linebacker?
Phillips, who moved back to safety to take Jackson's place, also was a culprit. So was cornerback Elbert Mack. Even though they didn't make any noticeably horrible plays, you still have to consider Talib and Ronde Barber guilty by association.
They all used to hang out in Morris' room when he was coaching defensive backs.
"We have to watch the film and everyone has to stand up to their responsibility, including myself on a couple of plays," Piscitelli said. "We can't give up plays like that and we know that as a secondary. We will bounce back hard and learn from our mistakes."
Those mistakes will be pointed out in film sessions Monday at One Buccaneer Place and they won't be any prettier then. But shouldn't the secondary be one area where the Bucs don't have to play catch-up in the second week of the regular season?
The secondary, after all, supposedly was Morris' specialty. All the preseason questions about whether he's ready to be a head coach remain valid -- so far.
"Romo did exactly what we thought he would do," Morris said.
Oh, so the Bucs fully expected Romo to stand in the pocket all day and carve their secondary to shreds? No, that's obviously not what they wanted. But they had to know it could happen, unless Morris got totally fooled into thinking his defense was good after watching it spend months practicing against Jeff Jagodzinski's offense.
Let's be fair to the secondary and point out the Bucs didn't put any pressure on Romo. All that offseason talk about Gaines Adams developing moves and Jimmy Wilkerson being a double-digit sack guy appears to be just talk. And let's not let the linebackers off too easy. Geno Hayes, the guy who was supposed to be the first person besides Brooks to start at weakside linebacker since the early 1990s, couldn't even show up at the stadium on time Sunday morning.
Morris yanked him from the starting lineup and inserted Matt McCoy. Maybe Morris should have yanked the whole secondary. Then again, there's not much behind Piscitelli, Phillips, Barber, Talib and Mack -- and Jackson, when he comes back.
For better or worse, these are Morris' guys.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
TAMPA, Fla. -- Just got the details on the trade Tampa Bay made to jump up and get Southern California defensive end Kyle Moore in the fourth round.
The Bucs moved up to No. 117 by giving up picks No. 120 and 229 to Dallas.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
It's a sad day in Atlanta, but Keith Brooking's signing with Dallas is probably a good thing for the Falcons.
Atlanta made an offer to Brooking to continue his career with the only team he ever had played. Brooking said no, and that's probably a good thing for both sides. Brooking had struggled at times last season and showed he was near the end of his career.
The Falcons did make an attempt to re-sign Brooking, but he was allowed to test the market after the Falcons voided the final year of his contract. The Falcons wanted Brooking to accept a reduced role and a reduced salary. Brooking still believes he has a lot to give.
Brooking wanted to keep playing, but the Falcons weren't real interested in him having a chance as a starter next season. Dallas had no trouble finding room for Brooking and his leadership and experience should help, assuming Brooking still has the physical talent left to have an impact.
|AP Photo/Jack Dempsey|
|Antonio Bryant has made the most of his opportunity in Tampa Bay.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
TAMPA, Fla. -- Exactly a year ago, Antonio Bryant's couch was among the world's most uncomfortable seats.
Week after week, that's where Bryant sat, knowing he was better than most of the wide receivers he watched on television. The torture didn't come so much from the fact Bryant wasn't allowed to play in the NFL as it did from the realization that he put himself in that situation.
A practice jersey thrown in the face of former Dallas coach Bill Parcells and his frequent upstaging of young quarterback Alex Smith in San Francisco left Bryant with a reputation as a bad guy. But his arrest for driving his Lamborghini over 100 mph, driving under the influence and resisting arrest set him apart from the legions of flamboyant wide receivers who push the lines on the football field.
Bryant had gone way over the line and that's why he wound up on the couch and out of football for the entire 2007 season. That's why Bryant showed up in Jon Gruden's office in February asking -- more accurately, begging -- for one thing.
"All I asked Gruden for was a chance to compete," Bryant said. "That's all I wanted."
That's why Bryant said he didn't even look at the one-year $605,000 contract (with the possibility for $50,000 more in incentives) before he signed it.
As it turns out, the Bucs, who often get criticized for taking shots on troubled players (see David Boston) might have gotten the single-best deal in this year's free-agency period. The guy who was suspended for part of last season and unable to get on with any team after reports of a positive drug test surfaced, has turned out to be one of 2008's best receivers.
Through nine games, Bryant has 45 catches for 566 yards and two touchdowns. He's gone from not even knowing if he'd make the roster at the start of training camp to being Tampa Bay's No. 1 receiver, arguably the Bucs' best offensive player and perhaps even a Pro Bowl candidate.
"He does everything I ask," Tampa Bay receivers coach Richard Mann said. "He really works on the details and he's punctual and dedicated. He's been a good guy here. We don't look at the past. He's been good in the receivers room.
"Guys have a tendency to go in a shell when they join a new team and have to deal with new teammates and new coaches. With the success he's had and being around us for a while now, I think he's feeling really comfortable now and feels good about where he's at right now."
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
It's more than a little ironic that Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden remains tied with Tony Dungy for most victories in franchise history after Sunday's outing.
Gruden looked like he might have been using a playbook Dungy left laying around the office against the Cowboys. And that playbook sure didn't include the Peyton Manning chapters that have been written in more recent years.
Yeah, the Bucs did what they've done all season and relied on their defense to give them a shot to win. But you can't do that for 16 games. You've got to be able to score touchdowns, not just kick field goals.
Joey Galloway's return from injury showed there wasn't a solitary missing link to the offense. Galloway, who had three catches for 38 yards, is going to get better as he gets his timing back. You can't say the same thing about a running game that didn't do much and a passing game that's still going sideways, instead of downfield.