Developers of buildings with more than 13 floors develop triskaidekaphobia when it’s time to apply numbers. The NFL has no such qualms when it comes to the football season.
So welcome, Week 13. Unleash your bad-luck powers on as many teams as possible.
I’ll be back in a bit. I’m trying to fit an open umbrella under the stepladder in my office.
1. Is Big Ben the drama queen back?
Something strange happened on Thursday. Not long after a report emerged that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a broken bone in his foot, the Steelers issued a statement explaining that he doesn’t.
The disclosure from the team made no sense, especially since it wasn’t required by league rules. The Steelers must say only whether Roethlisberger practiced on Thursday, and if so whether he fully participated or participated on a limited basis in the session.
So why would the Steelers feel compelled to contradict the published report?
Rewind to January 2005. After an AFC title-game loss to the Patriots, Roethlisberger claimed that he played with broken toes. Coach Bill Cowher contradicted him publicly.
And thus was born the legend of Big Ben, drama queen.
Roethlisberger has at times since then embellished an injury or two, and regardless of whether Roethlisberger was the source of the report, the Steelers felt compelled to contradict it.
Of course, there’s also a chance that the Steelers are simply trying to reduce the size of the bull’s-eye on Ben’s foot — regardless of whether he’s exaggerating his condition or not.
2. It’s finger-pointin’ time again.
When the Chiefs host the Broncos on Sunday, all eyes will be focused on the two head coaches, who punctuated their Week 10 meeting with Kansas City coach Todd Haley sticking a finger in the face of Denver coach Josh McDaniels after a 20-point win by the Broncos.
Haley has tried to downplay the matter, but it’s obvious that he’s not a big McDaniels fan. (Then again, who is?) Though some have speculated in the wake of Spygate II that Haley was miffed with conduct that possibly falls within the realm of cheating, it’s generally accepted in league circles that Haley didn’t appreciate the perception that the Broncos were running up the score.
With Denver reeling and the Chiefs peaking, it’ll be interesting to see whether Haley calls off the dogs — and if not whether McDaniels will show an index finger, or possibly a different finger altogether, to Haley.
3. Beware the Bills.
Vikings fans likely are thinking that their underachieving team will win their second straight game for the first time since November 2009. Given that the Bills bring a 2-9 record to town makes it tempting to come to that conclusion.
But let’s look at this more closely. The Bills have pushed three likely playoff teams (the Ravens, Chiefs, and Steelers) to overtime, and Buffalo lost to the Bears by only three points. The Vikings, after back-to-back bombs against two NFC North rivals, barely beat the Redskins.
With running back Adrian Peterson hobbled and the Minnesota defense not quite as potent as it has been in past seasons, the Bills could give the Vikings fits, just like Buffalo did the last time they came to the Metrodome in 2002, winning 45-39 in overtime.
4. Could Packers pull off the Trifecta?
After the Packers beat the Cowboys by 38, Dallas fired coach Wade Phillips. Seven days later, the Packers beat the Vikings by 28, and Minnesota fired coach Brad Childress.
This week, the Packers host the 49ers. With Green Bay coming off a disappointing loss to the Falcons, the Pack could be ready to smack around the 4-7 49ers.
If the Packers pummel San Fran, could Niners coach Mike Singletary be the next one to go? It’s unlikely that it’ll happen on Monday, but Singletary likely won’t sleep very well if he’s on the wrong end of a blowout at Lambeau.
5. Pats have perfect offense for the Jets.
When the Patriots sent Randy Moss packing in October, plenty of people wondered whether coach Bill Belichick had lost his mind.
Six wins in seven games later, we should all be so crazy.
And so instead of seeing Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis match up with and thus shut down singlehandedly the most potent threat in the Pats’ passing game, New England has diluted its receiving corps, scattering a smattering of players on any given snap who are capable of getting open and catching the ball.
What better way to neutralize a defender who is capable of handling on his own a wideout who commands double coverage than to have him cover a guy who doesn’t?
So with the Jets capable of sending pressure from anywhere and everywhere, while Revis shuts down the No. 1 wideout, the Pats have crafted a system that distributes the ball anywhere and everywhere while happily marooning one guy on each play on Revis Island.
6. What a difference a year makes.
Last year, when the Cardinals hosted the Rams in December, Kurt Warner’s then-current team had nine wins — and his first-former team had one.
This year, the Rams have five and the Cards have three. More importantly, the Rams finally have found the long-term heir to Warner, while the Cardinals bumble from first-round bust to unwanted veteran to undrafted rookie who has a long way to go to become worthy of washing Warner’s dancing shoes.
And it’s all happened in only one year.
On one hand, it shows that, no matter how dark things get in a given year for a given team, fortunes quickly can change. On the other hand, it demonstrates how quickly a “good” team can disintegrate.
7. Prime-time games have big-time implications.
On the surface, the Monday night game between the Jets and the Patriots looks to be the biggest game of the year. But the Sunday night contest between the Steelers and Ravens has identical implications.
The winner of each game will be on track to earn a bye. The losers will slide into the wild-card mix, potentially forcing them to go on the road in order to work their way to the Super Bowl.
The gap will be greater if the Jets and Ravens win, since the one-game leads over the Pats and Steelers, respectively, would essentially be two games, due to the head-to-head tiebreaker. But even if the Patriots and Steelers win, they’ll each hold a one-game lead with four to play.
Though these playoff-atmosphere games won’t have the same win-or-else stakes, the outcomes will have a lot to do with the degree of difficulty that the teams will experience come January.
8. Bucs can bunch up the NFC field.
Bucs apologists argue that Tampa’s football franchise hasn’t beaten a playoff-caliber team because they’ll played only four of them. They get another chance this week, when the 9-2 Falcons come to town.
And the Bucs need to win the game not just to show that they can beat a playoff team. With four losses and five games to play, the Bucs may not get to the playoffs without beating the Falcons now or the Saints in Week 17.
In past years, 9-7 often would be enough enough to earn a wild-card berth in the NFC. This year, with a glut of good teams at the top of the conferences, six losses could be one too many.
And if the Buccaneers can deliver to the Falcons their first 2010 loss outside the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the door would swing open for the Saints to pull even with Atlanta at the top of the NFC South, setting the stage for a high-stakes chase in the final four weeks.
9. Still time for losers?
Since 1990, 14 teams with a losing record after 11 games have made it to the playoffs. Most recently, the 2009 Jets started 5-6, finished 9-7, and made it to the AFC title game.
Of the teams that pulled it off, all but two were 5-6; the others were 4-7. This year, nine teams entered Week 13 at 5-6 or 4-7. (The Texans already have fallen to 5-7.) At least one of the nine definitely will make the playoffs, because 5-6 currently represents the best record in the NFC West.
But here’s the thing. The top-heavy nature of each conference, with wild-card spots currently held by teams in the AFC with records of 9-2 and 8-3 and in the NFC with records of 8-3 and 7-4, will make it even harder for the 5-6 and 4-7 teams to climb out of their current holes. They’ll need someone like the 8-3 Steelers or 7-4 Giants to collapse down the stretch to have a shot. (Actually, in the NFC, the losing teams need two of the three 7-4 teams to fall apart in order to open up the No. 6 seed.)
Bottom line? Though the NFL has mastered the art of manufacturing hope from January through December, there currently may not be much hope to go around for teams that have been unable to win at least six of their first 11 games.
10. AFC West could send a pair to the postseason.
For most of the season, most have assumed that the AFC West will send only one team to the playoffs.
And while it’s still likely that only the champion of the division will get a seat at the playoff table, there’s a growing chance that both the Chiefs and the Chargers will qualify.
The 6-5 Chargers have three straight games at home, including a Week 14 showdown against the Chiefs. They next hit the road for Cincinnati and Denver.
The 7-4 Chiefs host the Broncos, Titans, and Raiders, wrapped around trips to San Diego and St. Louis. Though K.C.’s path isn’t as easy as it once appeared, both could end up 10-6 or 11-5. And if the losers of this weekend’s prime-time games commence a free-fall (like the Jets did two years ago when 8-3 became 9-7), both of the top two teams in the West could win berths in the playoffs.
We recommend wagering nothing of value on the proposition, unless you are getting really, really good odds.