By John Jastremski
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It’s amazing that the clocks have been set back, it’s dark by 5 p.m. and nine NFL Sundays are in the books already. As upsetting as it may be that the season is more than halfway over, I think we have a chance to have a terrific final stretch considering how many teams are realistically in the mix for a playoff spot.
When you look at both the AFC and NFC, there are very few teams you can say — on November 4 — have no chance to make the postseason. Oakland (0-8), Jacksonville (1-8), Tampa Bay (1-7), Tennessee (2-6), Atlanta (2-6), Washington (3-6) and the punchline around town better known as the 1-8 New York Jets are probably the only teams you’d rule out for postseason contention at this point.
What does that tell you? We are going to have a wild final stretch of the season.
So What Did We Learn This Week?
It’s time to start taking the Miami Dolphins Seriously
I think anyone who has listened to the “JJ After Dark” radio program knows full well where my loyalties lie. I am what you would call a long-suffering, passionate, die-hard Miami Dolphins fan living right here in the heart of Giant and Jet country.
The Dolphins have broken my heart on quite a few occasions over the last few years. I’m usually reluctant to buy into any stretch of solid play considering it’s been six years since the Dolphins played their last postseason game.
When it comes to Dolphins, I am as skeptical as they come, however it’s hard not to be impressed with this football team. They’ve won three in a row and were dominant from wire to wire against the San Diego Chargers in a 37-0 victory on Sunday.
How dominant was their effort against Philip Rivers & Co.? Well, after the first drive of the game, the Chargers were unable to get the ball past midfield and the best pass defense in the NFL forced three interceptions.
And on the other side of the ball, Ryan Tannehill continues to get better and better. He threw for nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns and did not play a snap in the fourth quarter.
The third-year man has looked like a different quarterback ever since his status as the team’s starter was called into question.
He is becoming more and more comfortable with first-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s system that includes a fair share of quarterback-designed runs. Getting Tannehill on the move has made him a much better quarterback.
Things are good in Dolphin land, but we will learn by the end of November whether or not this team officially has turned the corner.
After all, Miami controlled its playoff destiny a year ago and were unable to beat the Bills and the Jets the final two weeks of the season to qualify for the dance.
The rest of November is a gauntlet. Sunday at 6-2 Detroit, then Buffalo (who have beaten Miami three straight times) on a Thursday night, and a trip to Denver to take on Peyton Manning and the Broncos. If this team can find a way to win two of the next three, they will be in excellent position to end their six-year playoff hiatus.
Return of the Sanchize
So before the season, raise your hand if you believed Mark Sanchez would play a pivotal role in the 2014 NFC East race…
Due to a broken collarbone to Eagles starting quarterback Nick Foles, the beleaguered Sanchez has been given a new lease on life in Chip Kelly’s offensive friendly system.
Sanchez did a nice job for the Eagles in their 31-21 victory over the Houston Texans. Watching him on Sunday reminded me a lot of the quarterback we saw in his first two years with the Jets. He was confident, showed poise and looked very comfortable with the talent around him.
Now, look, Sanchez is not a miracle worker. He is not going to be Tom Brady, Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning re-incarnated. However, I think this opportunity in Philadelphia could be a beautiful thing for his career down the line.
He has a great talent base around him, very explosive running game and a nice group of play makers to throw the ball to. Plus, he has something that he has never had before: an offensive-minded head coach in -Kelly who knows how to get the most out of any quarterback.
Now it was not all peaches and cream from Sanchez on Sunday. He threw two interceptions and we know how turnover prone he can be. He has to limit those mistakes. Is he capable of doing so? I have to see it to believe it.
Philadelphia most likely is going to need Sanchez to lead the Eagles to the postseason. Is he going to make the most of this new lease on life? Only time will tell.
Watching Sanchez in a playoff game this year would only add insult to injury for the bruised, battered and beaten Jets fan in 2014.
Things continue to get better for you Gang Green fans, huh?
Heavyweights No More?
Entering the 2014 season, it seemed impossible that both the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks could miss the postseason. After all, the Seahawks are the defending Super Bowl champions and the 49ers have been a fixture in the postseason the last three years.
After the last couple of weeks, you realize that these two powers are just simply not what they were.
Let’s start with the 49ers. I cannot get over the fact they lost that game last Sunday to the St. Louis Rams. The play calling down three at the goal line with less than a minute to go was one of the most puzzling sequences I have ever seen.
You have one of the best running backs in the league in Frank Gore, can someone explain to me how he does not get one carry in that situation?
Reminded me of the nightmare scenario that cost the Niners a Super Bowl down in New Orleans a few years ago.
You throw in the fact that the St. Louis Rams only had six sacks going into the matchup, but yet they were able to sack Colin Kaepernick eight times. That’s a mind-boggling number considering the scrambling ability of Kaepernick.
Now things are certainly a little bit better in Seattle. The Seahawks have won two games in a row, but they were anything but impressive in a 30-24 victory against the Raiders, the worst team in the league.
Seattle is 5-3, but with a lot of tough games down the stretch of this season, a trip to the postseason is anything but a foregone conclusion.
When I looked at the NFL calendar, I circled the Seahawks-49ers matchups as two games that would go a long way in determining the fate of the NFC West.
Well, I’m right to some degree, but with the way the Cardinals are rolling. It looks like both the 49ers and Seahawks are playing for second place and a wild card.
JJ’s Stud Muffin of the Week
Andrew Luck – QB – Indianapolis Colts
I get the feeling this won’t be the last time I give this award to Mr. Luck. I had the opportunity to watch him in person for the first time against the New York Giants on Monday night and boy did he put on a show!
Luck was in total control from the absolute get-go against the Giants’ D. He torched Big Blue for 350 yards and four touchdowns in a 40-24 victory. He has now thrown for 300 yards or more in seven straight games.
The guy is an absolute stud. No other way around it. If I could start a franchise with one guy for the next 15 years, he’d be my guy.
And yes, we still have a second half of the season to play, but if I had an MVP vote at the moment, I would give it to Andrew Luck.
Charlie Brown of the Week
Philip Rivers – QB- San Diego Chargers
After watching Sunday’s performance against the Miami Dolphins, I think the MVP conversation around Philip Rivers will come to an end.
Rivers was absolutely atrocious against the Dolphins D — 13 of 23, 138 yards and three interceptions. That’s just flat-out ugly.
The Chargers are beat up, their secondary is a mess, the offensive line is not great. For this team to the make the playoffs, they need Philip Rivers to carry them. Fair or unfair.
They’ve lost three in a row, and there will be a lot of soul searching going into their bye week.
Looking Ahead… Game of the Week
San Francisco at New Orleans
Two weeks ago, you thought for sure this game would mean a lot more for the New Orleans Saints. Now, the tables have turned.
The 49ers have lost two in a row. They appear to have a ton of dysfunction within the organization surrounding the future of head coach Jim Harbaugh. Can they put that aside and get back to winning football?
Two years ago, Colin Kaepernick went into the Superdome, out dueled Drew Brees and solidified himself as the long-term solution at the position for the Niners.
Can he recapture that magic?
As for the Saints, is it possible they found a running game? With the way Mark Ingram is running the football, you’d better believe it!
Ingram has run for at least 100 yards in back-to-back weeks. The Saints will need to continue to ride him for a victory come Sunday.
Sucker Bet of the Week (0-1)
Cleveland +6 at Cincinnati
The Cleveland Browns are 5-3 and have played spunky football. You are getting six points, seems too easy right?
I’m not buying.
The Bengals have been an excellent home team over the last 2 years. They are undefeated in the regular season in their building going back to the start of 2013.
I worry about the Browns in their first taste under the spotlight. I think the bright lights of Thursday Night Football will end up being overwhelming.
The Bengals will win comfortably.
JJ’s Surefire Lock of the Week (1-0)
Ravens -9.5 vs. Tennessee
I think this is a nightmare scenario for the Tennessee Titans. They are going to be dealing with an angry opponent.
The Baltimore Ravens should be hungry. They’ve lost back-to-back games, they need this in the worst way, and they host one of the worst teams in the league.
Joe Flacco should be able to make a bunch of big plays in the passing game and I fully expect Titans rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger to make a couple of mistakes.
This one has rout written all over it.
John Jastremski was the winner of Fantasy Phenom in 2011 and can be heard on his program, “JJ After Dark,” on WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. Follow him on Twitter — @john_jastremski.
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