Editor's Note: Chris Mortensen offers his usual array of Top-Five Lists to summarize NFL Week 11.
Some thoughts about the league after Week 11...
The idea that the Cincinnati Bengals' win over the Kansas City Chiefs is a benchmark for the Cincinnati franchise is a nice one, but flawed. It will be a fallacy if the Bengals squander another trip west, this time to San Diego. Lose to the Chargers after beating the Chiefs? Well, the Bengals lost in Arizona after back-to-back wins over the Baltimore Ravens and the Seattle Seahawks.
In fact, the Bengals' moment of truth is now. They are 1-3 on the road, two of those defeats coming to West Coast teams. They now hit the road again for three consecutive games at San Diego and, more telling, at Pittsburgh and at Baltimore in games that could decide the AFC North.
|Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and RB Rudi Johnson top my Week 11 coaching and running-back lists.|
As for the Chiefs, you can't jump off their bandwagon now. Perfect seasons are fun to dream about, but in this era of parity it's still just a dream. They still look like a 14-2 team with Denver waiting for a Dec. 7 payback game.
The primary threats to the Chiefs remain the New England Patriots, the Tennessee Titans and possibly the Denver Broncos.
The Patriots have been there, done that, this decade. Same deal for the Titans. The Broncos looked like the better team when they dropped a 24-23 heartbreaker to the Chiefs the first time around. They now have QB Jake Plummer back. They are extremely well-coached. Watch out for the Broncos.
The Indianapolis Colts? You have to worry about the defense that showed up Sunday against the Jets and the previous week in Jacksonville. But the Colts can easily get everyone's attention with three big games ahead: the Patriots at home (Nov. 30), the Titans on the road (Dec. 7) and the Broncos at home (Dec. 21). If they win two of three, it's good news for the Colts. If they win all three, we'll look at 'em in a Super Bowl light.
In the NFC, who knows? The Philadelphia Eagles have some momentum going, and QB Donovan McNabb is playing good football. I still like the Dallas Cowboys as a wild-card team. The Carolina Panthers are 8-2, but I don't know if their back-to-back last-minute wins are bank deposits they can draw on when in need of a big play in January, or whether they're cashing checks now they can't cover later.
The St. Louis Rams are making things uncomfortable for me, since I made them my midseason choice to advance to the Super Bowl. Marc Bulger has to settle down at quarterback. Then again, the Rams have been playing without two standout defensive linemen, including DE Leonard Little, who was having an MVP-like season when he was hurt three weeks ago. He'll be back soon, and I expect the Rams to finish strong with a favorable schedule.
The two NFC teams I really like are playing this week at Lambeau Field: the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers. One or both will have something to say about the playoff picture. The 49ers have to show me more because they have four of their next five games on the road, all against playoff-hopeful teams -- the Packers, Ravens, Bengals and Eagles.
The Seattle Seahawks are 7-3 and tied with the Rams for the NFC West lead, but they also have to prove they can win on the road with four toughies still ahead.
So my Super Bowl forecast after Week 11 is going to stay stubborn for now: Chiefs vs. Rams. Am I confident? No, I'm very uncomfortable. But that's a good thing. Just ask the Tuna.
Here are my Week 11 Top-Five Lists:
1. Bengals 24, Chiefs 19 -- On Saturday night, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis showed his team a tape of the first Sonny Liston-Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) fight from 1964. On Sunday, the Bengals shook up the world, NFL-style.
2. Packers 20, Bucs 13 -- If it had been a playoff game, the 98-yard late fourth-quarter drive engineered by Brett Favre and a dominating offensive line would have been one for the ages.
3. Panthers 20, Redskins 17 -- It made Carolina fans squirm, but another late drive by QB Jake Delhomme & Co. did the job. So, the Panthers (8-2) would have to lose their last six games to finish .500, by most accounts the highest expectations for this team in preseason.
4. Rams 23, Bears 21 -- Jeff Wilkins' 31-yard field goal with 38 seconds left broke the Bears' hearts.
5. Colts 38, Jets 31 -- If you like games where both defenses basically take the day off, then you should have seen this one. Weirdest stat of the day: The Jets had just 31 plays on offense, thus scoring a point for every play.
Most Impressive in Victory
1. Bengals 24, Chiefs 19 -- When you've got the guts and talent enough to not sit on a 17-12 lead in the fourth quarter against the NFL's only unbeaten team, you have made an impression.
2. 49ers 30, Steelers 14 -- Listen, if you just throw out the 49ers' slip-up in Arizona, they have embarrassed the Bucs, Rams and Steelers in their past three victories.
3. Browns 44, Cardinals 6 -- If you wondered whether coach Butch Davis was losing control during a tumultuous week, the Browns found something in their best offensive output.
4. Packers 20, Bucs 13 -- In a must-win game for both teams and in a place where the Packers haven't won in their past five meetings, they kicked some Tampa Bay tail as a ball-control offense (34 minutes) helped the defense limit the Bucs to 10 first downs.
5a. Broncos 37, Chargers 8 -- With QB Jake Plummer back in the saddle, the Broncos played like an angry team about to start on a new mission.
5b. Patriots 12, Cowboys 0 -- Defensively, it was another clinic. Offensively, just good enough against the NFL's top-ranked defense.
5c. Eagles 28, Giants 10 -- Normally, we're accustomed to seeing a field goal decide this NFC East game. This time, QB Donovan McNabb and Co. made all the big plays while the G-men squandered opportunity after opportunity.
Sorry in Defeat
1. Bills 10, Texans 12 -- Think about this: Prior to Sunday, the Texans were allowing about 27 ppg. In a home game, the Bills didn't score a TD for the third straight game.
2. Cardinals 6, Browns 44 -- Guys, the basics of the game are blocking and tackling.
3. Jets 31, Colts 38 -- Maybe this is a contagious thing, this no-tackling stuff. You had to see how bad the Jets' D was to appreciate this listing.
4. Lions 14, Seahawks 35 -- Any dreams of ending a 20-game road drought disappeared when Seattle hung 35 points on 'em in the first half.
5. Chargers 8, Broncos 37 -- I'm sure that Chargers fans will be writing plenty of e-mails in protest that they weren't No. 1 on this list.
Best Performance: Quarterback
1. Peyton Manning, Colts -- In the second half, Manning was playing with Reggie Wayne and Aaron Moorehead at wideout, rookie TE Dallas Clark as his slot receiver and a TE named Joe Dean Davenport. Still, a 401-yard day for Manning in a game that was one of his best as a pro.
2. Kelly Holcomb, Browns -- In case you missed it, Holcomb was 29-of-35 for 395 yards and three TDs and posted 44 points -- without Kevin Johnson.
3. Jon Kitna, Bengals -- His leadership qualities have never been questioned, but his performance Sunday (19-of-32, 233 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) continues to build him a case as the Bengals' starter.
4. Jake Plummer, Broncos -- If there was rust from a layoff, Plummer didn't show it with 253 yards and three TDs in about three quarters of play.
5a. Donovan McNabb, Eagles -- He's starting to make the game look easy again, this time for 314 yards passing and two TDs.
5b. Tim Rattay, 49ers -- Jeff Garcia said he will go from 60 percent to 100 percent this week with his high ankle sprain to regain his starting job. Not so fast. Rattay's 21-of-27, 254-yard, two-TD performance Monday night would seemingly guarantee that Garcia will be no better than 90 percent.
5c. Chad Pennington, Jets -- An efficient 11-of-14 effort for 219 yards and three TDs in a 38-31 loss to Peyton and the Colts.
Best Performance: Receiver
1. Peter Warrick, Bengals -- The former Florida State star continues to make a case for his first Pro Bowl. He broke the Chiefs in the fourth quarter with a 68-yard punt return and a 77-yard reception for two TDs.
2. Terrell Owens, 49ers -- Sure, he had eight catches for 155 yards and a TD. But did you see TO's block that knocked down two Steelers and paved the final path for Kevan Barlow's 78-yard TD run?
3. Shannon Sharpe, Broncos -- Hail to the king: Sharpe's three TD catches give him the most career scores for a tight end.
4. Rod Smith, Broncos -- Not only did he have 10 catches, Smith returned a punt 65 yards for a TD. Deltha O'Neal, the demoted DB/returner turned inactive receiver, took notes, I presume.
5a. Muhsin Muhammad, Panthers -- Logged almost 200 yards (189) on an afternoon the Redskins committed to stopping the run.
5b-c. -- Andre Davis and Quincy Morgan, Browns -- Combined, they caught 12 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns.
5d. -- Andre Johnson, Texans -- He continued an excellent rookie campaign with 122 yards, including a tackle-breaking 46-yard scoring play for the only TD in Buffalo.
Best Performance: Running Back
1. Rudi Johnson, Bengals -- He went 22 times for 165 yards and is now averaging 149 yards in his three starts in place of you-know-who.
2. Travis Henry, Bills -- Even in the throes of Buffalo's inexplicable offensive struggles, Henry's 149-yard day was inspirational as he returned to action after learning he had suffered a fracture in his right leg.
3. Deuce McAllister, Saints -- Only a fumble tainted an otherwise huge second half as he rushed for 173 yards and two TDs.
4. Edgerrin James, Colts -- It wasn't entirely a Peyton Manning show. James wanted the ball more and got it with 36 carries for 127 yards and three TDs.
5. Warrick Dunn, Falcons -- Too little to be the main guy? Another big performance vs. Saints with 165 yards on 22 carries.
Best Performance: Coach
1. Marvin Lewis, Bengals -- It's one thing to think about an upset of the undefeated Chiefs, it's another thing to pull it off.
2. Bill Belichick, Patriots -- Maybe the Cowboys' offense doesn't have the juice, but a shutout is a shutout is a really nice shutout when Bill Parcells is on the other sideline.
3. Butch Davis, Browns -- Under fire, in the fire, out of the fire with a resounding 44-6 win over Arizona.
4. Mike Shanahan, Broncos -- His quarterback (Jake Plummer) was playing for the first time in five games, his fullback (Mike Anderson) was suspended under the league's substance-abuse policy, his former No. 1 pick (Deltha O'Neal) was demoted from DB to WR and Doug Flutie was in town.
5a. Andy Reid, Eagles -- He never blinked when the heat was on, and Sunday's 28-10 win over the Giants was just further validation that he's knows how to coach in this league.
5b. Dom Capers, Texans -- He suspended two players on the eve of the road game, lost QB David Carr in the first quarter, and proceeded to beat the Bills for Houston's fourth victory.
Best Games: Week 12
1. San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers -- Both teams have talent, both have battled back to .500 (5-5) and one of them just may use this game as a springboard to the playoffs.
2. Carolina Panthers at Dallas Cowboys -- Maybe this is the moment-of-truth game for the Cowboys.
3. New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- It's as close to an elimination game as you can get prior to Thanksgiving for two Super Bowl-hopeful teams. One team will be 4-7 when it's over on Monday night.
4. Seattle Seahawks at Baltimore Ravens -- Both teams are tied for first in their respective divisions, and the Seahawks now start a stretch of four of six on the road while the Ravens have four of six at home.
5a. St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals -- I'm putting it on the list because the Cardinals have beaten the Packers, Bengals and 49ers at home.
5b. Washington Redskins at Miami Dolphins -- I think the ol' ball coach might start calling plays again, while the Dolphins look to parlay a Sunday-night game and Thanksgiving Day visit to Dallas into a different December.