• Zone Blitz Holiday Edition- Weak Backbones, Punting To Win, The Crazy Fight For the AFC's 6th Seed, and Your Week 17 Open Thread



    With the Holiday season in full swing, this week’s Zone Blitz will be an abbreviated solo effort. As always, feel free to use the open thread below as your place to comment on anything that you read within this article, or to simply comment on the week 17 slate. We sincerely hope that everyone out in FP Land has a very Merry Christmas, and the happiest of Holidays.

    The Tony Romoest Ending To A Season Of All-Time, For This Year

    And they winner is… you guessed it, Tony Romo!!! I really do like Tony Romo, and think he’s an excellent QB. The Cowboys have so many issues. Their defense is a complete sieve. Yet somehow, Romo is able to come up large, put the team on his back, and gut out a huge win for the Cowboys, setting up a winner-take-all battle with Philadelphia next week for the NFC lEast Division Championship. Problem is, when you put roughly 7 tons worth of players on your back, it will eventually give way, and that’s exactly what’s happened to Romo. Romo has a back issue—reportedly a herniated disc—and will likely need surgery. Jason Garrett, who needs backbone replacement surgery himself, is disputing reports that Romo is done for the season, but that just appears to be desperate coach speak and gamesmanship from a guy who’s quite possibly one week away from losing his job. Let’s face it, the Eagles served notice to the entire league on Sunday night by annihilating the Bears, despite the fact that the game meant everything to Chicago, and next-to-nothing for Philly. Now, we get the (fairly perceived) choker Cowboys, a backup QB, and their terrible rush defense that will likely still be without Sean Lee, against a Philly team that’s on a mission, and just put up 8 YPC and 289 total yards on the ground in a 54-11 win over Chicago…

    …which all leads to only one logical conclusion. Watch Kyle Orton go out and lead the Cowpokes to a big win on Sunday night. There would be no more Tony Romo-like ending to a season than to have him make a huge play to keep their playoff hopes alive, then go down injured, and watch Kyle Orton get them over the hump, and put them in the playoffs. Heck, for all we know, maybe Orton leads the Cowboys to a playoff win, or maybe even a Super Bowl appearance. Unlikely? You betcha. But wouldn’t that be the Tony Romoest ending to a season ever?

    Dez Bryant may be many things, but I firmly believe that he’s a team player at heart. The giant bear hug he gave DeMarco Murray following his game-winning TD was one of the nicer moments of the weekend. Bryant needs to do a much better job of controlling his emotions on the sidelines, and he does have some TO in him, but I thought that moment confirmed that his heart is in the right place.

    So You’re Saying There’s (STILL) A Chance…
    The AFC became a little more clear with Cincinnati clinching the North Division Title, Denver clinching the West, and New England finally clinching the East. 5 of the 6 playoff teams are set, but for some reason, the Ravens and Dolphins, who were the two teams in the driver’s seat for the 6th spot heading into last week, and were both on a roll, lost by a combined score of 60-7. Now, somehow, the Chargers and Steelers are both still clinging to life, as none of the 4 teams control their own destiny. The Ravens need to win, and have either the Dolphins or Chargers lose, while the Dolphins need to win, and have either the Ravens lose, or Chargers win to earn a spot. But, if the Ravens go down to the Bengals in Cincinnati (not all that unlikely, since the Bengals still have a shot at a bye), the Jets take out the Dolphins, and the Steelers beat the Browns, then the Chargers 4:25 game vs. KC will decide whether or not the 6th AFC participant is San Diego or Pittsburgh. Who’da thunk that even just last week?

    Clearly the Steelers are facing the longest odds, but I’d only put them at about 15/1, which is a whole lot better than the roughly 137.4/1 odds they faced heading into this past weekend. The Chargers are probably sitting at about 6/1 right now to get in, while I’d put the Dolphins (3/1) as the slight favorite over the Ravens (4/1), considering they have the more favorable matchup, and it’s at home. The Bengals are the most likely 3 seed, and they’ve played all 4 of these teams, but only have a 2-3 record, with another game vs. Baltimore on tap. No matter what happens, from 1 through 6, I think the AFC playoffs are going to be a complete crap shoot. Honestly, if the Ravens find a way to sneak in, would it shock anyone if they made another run to the Super Bowl?

    You Take It… No, YOU Can Have It
    The NFC North is the division that no one wants to win. All 3 contenders lost last week, which means that Sunday’s Packers-Bears game in Chicago will be winner-takes-all. The QB position will be in the spotlight for both teams this week. Marc Trestman has to consider whether or not to go back to Josh McCown after Jay Cutler joined the rest of his teammates in playing about as bad a game of football as you’ll ever see against Philly last Sunday night. Meanwhile, we have now reached the 8th week since Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone injury, and considering his original timetable, he’s awfully close to being able to return. The return of Aaron Rodgers could be just the jolt the Packers need to sneak in. But I have a feeling that Sunday night’s beatdown may have been the best thing that could have happened to Chicago. I’m expecting them to enter this game with a renewed focus, and to come up with a great effort on their way to a North division championship, whether Rodgers plays or not. And as bad as that defense looks, the Bears can score with anybody, no matter the weather. If they would have to travel to Seattle, that is probably not a good matchup for them, but in any other scenario, I still think the Bears could make some real noise in the playoffs. They’re that crazy athletic team that no one will want to face.

    Punt To Win
    Riverboat Ronnie made a curious decision, but it ended up working out, as the Panthers beat the Saints, and are now just a win over Atlanta away from a South Division championship, and a playoff bye. With just over 2 minutes left, and only 2 TOs, Rivera decided to punt the ball back to Drew Brees and the Saints, knowing full well that the Saints would only need 1 first down to ice the game, and the division. While I hated the call at the time, as it was an excessively conservative decision, we have to give credit to the Panther defense for accepting the challenge, and giving the ball back to their offense. Luke Kuechly is a man, and should be at the front of all NFL Defensive Player of the Year discussions, as his tackle total on Sunday hit the one quarter of a century mark. Cameron Newton is also a man, and came up with another huge drive when it mattered most, even without starting WR Steve Smith available to aid in the comeback. This has been mentioned a number of times within this article over the past few weeks, but the Panthers are a really dangerous team right now.

    Coaching Watch
    And finally, while many of us are gathering to celebrate in our own holiday festivities, there are a number of NFL coaches who are in the middle of their own job watch. Of the most talked about potential vacancies, I find it hard to believe that Jason Garrett can keep his job after this year. Even if they beat the Eagles, I’d guess he needs a playoff win to continue coaching the Cowboys. Then again, he appears to be exactly the type of spineless leader that Jerry Jones covets, so I’m not sure Dallas would be able to do much better in their search. Other coaches that I think will be gone are Dennis Allen (unfairly) in Oakland, Shanny in Washington, Gym Shorts in Detroit, and call it a hunch, but I think this is Coughlin’s final year in New York. Of the survivors, I’m guessing that Rex is back with the Jets, Mike Smith is back in Atlanta, Munchak is given one more year in Tennessee, and Schiano is given one more year in Tampa. As for the Texans, it pains me to say it, but I think the most likely scenario has them landing Bill O’Brien from Penn State. O’Brien recently had the school significantly reduce his NFL buyout, and the opportunity to head to a talented team that will likely have the 1st overall pick will be too good of a deal to pass up. O’Brien is a QB guru (just look at the fact that Matt McGloin is on an NFL roster), and with the chance to mold a franchise QB-type talent like Teddy Bridgewater (or any other of the QBs of his choosing), the Texans are a team that’s the right hire away from taking a step toward elite franchise status.

    Merry Christmas!
    That’s all I’ve got for this week. Please comment below on some of the topics I’ve discussed, or on a rare week 17 slate that should be devoid of any glorified exhibition games, at least when it comes to involving any of the playoff teams. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone out there in FP Nation, and may Santa bring your team a victory this weekend (unless you’re the Ravens, Dolphins, or Chargers : ))!

    Comments 40 Comments
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      Coaching watch part deux: coaches who think they'll be fired.

      I saw a story that Mike Munchak and Greg Schiano have discreetly inquired about the Penn State job, should Bill O'Brien move back to the NFL. If true, that's a sign of two gentlemen who aren't signing new leases for their current apartment.

      I'm mixed on sexy Rexy (and boy, he looks even better now than he did at the start of the season.) On the one hand, I don't think he deserves to be fired. On the other hand, I'd like to see him go to a team that actually has decent personnel.

      Mike Smith is definitely back in Atlanta, Blank has already said so. Smart.

      The only reason Greg Schiano survives is because the Glazers are too cheap to pay off his contract. He had a losing season last year and yet he managed to go backwards this year. 7-9 and, so far, 4-11. Sounds like Penn State is sweet on Munchak, which is great, hate to see Schiano there.
    1. iwatt's Avatar
      Please stop with the Mccown stuff. He is still the QB who couldnt beat the Vikings. His low int percentage is due to 6 dropped ints. 3 in the Vikings game and 3 in the Cowboys game. Recency bias makes us forget that he had really bad 3rd down conversion rates, because of how bad the Dallas D was.

      Last weeks game against the Eagles was one of those games were nothing went right. A bad first series, then a horrific punt gave the eagles great field position. Next series Hester fumbled the kick return. Even the surprise onside kick failed because the wind pushed the ball off the tee. And Forte decided to have his worst game of the year as a pass blocker. The 2 rookie OL were exposed to some very exotic blitzes.

      With the way our D plays, we cant afford to fall that far behind. The Eagles D did something I would hope more teams with big leads would do. Blitz, instead of prevent. And the Bears had to drop back and pass.

      Sometimes games just get away from you.
    1. Rich Gapinski's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by iwatt View Post
      Please stop with the Mccown stuff. He is still the QB who couldnt beat the Vikings. His low int percentage is due to 6 dropped ints. 3 in the Vikings game and 3 in the Cowboys game. Recency bias makes us forget that he had really bad 3rd down conversion rates, because of how bad the Dallas D was.

      Last weeks game against the Eagles was one of those games were nothing went right. A bad first series, then a horrific punt gave the eagles great field position. Next series Hester fumbled the kick return. Even the surprise onside kick failed because the wind pushed the ball off the tee. And Forte decided to have his worst game of the year as a pass blocker. The 2 rookie OL were exposed to some very exotic blitzes.

      With the way our D plays, we cant afford to fall that far behind. The Eagles D did something I would hope more teams with big leads would do. Blitz, instead of prevent. And the Bears had to drop back and pass.

      Sometimes games just get away from you.
      Yes.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Watch Kyle Orton go out and lead the Cowpokes to a big win on Sunday night. There would be no more Tony Romo-like ending to a season than to have him make a huge play to keep their playoff hopes alive, then go down injured, and watch Kyle Orton get them over the hump, and put them in the playoffs. Heck, for all we know, maybe Orton leads the Cowboys to a playoff win, or maybe even a Super Bowl appearance. Unlikely? You betcha. But would that not be the Tony Romoest ending to a season ever?
      I'll laugh until I cry if this happens.

      So You’re Saying There’s (STILL) A Chance…
      This list reads like a "teams you want your team to have nothing to do with, 2013" ...

      The Steelers, Ravens, Dolphins & Chargers scare me more than the Bears, Eagles & Cowboys.

      If Rodgers comes back , be extra careful handling the Packers.

      On that note...

      You Take It… No, YOU Can Have It
      ****ing Lions...

      I’d guess he needs a playoff win to continue coaching the Cowboys. Then again, he appears to be exactly the type of spineless leader that Jerry Jones covets, so I’m not sure Dallas would be able to do much better in their search. Other coaches that I think will be gone are Dennis Allen (unfairly) in Oakland, Shanny in Washington, Gym Shorts in Detroit, and call it a hunch, but I think this is Coughlin’s final year in New York. Of the survivors, I’m guessing that Rex is back with the Jets, Mike Smith is back in Atlanta, Munchak is given one more year in Tennessee, and Schiano is given one more year in Tampa. As for the Texans, it pains me to say it, but I think the most likely scenario has them landing Bill O’Brien from Penn State. O’Brien recently had the school significantly reduce his NFL buyout, and the opportunity to head to a talented team that will likely have the 1st overall pick will be too good of a deal to pass up. O’Brien is a QB guru (just look at the fact that Matt McGloin is on an NFL roster), and with the chance to mold a franchise QB-type talent like Teddy Bridgewater (or any other of the QBs of his choosing), the Texans are a team that’s the right hire away from taking a step toward elite franchise status.
      Screw the Cowboys.

      Rex deserves another shot, if only for his masterful play of benching Sanchize. The only way Coughlin is done in NY is if he quits. I am still a firm believer in cleaning house in ATL.

      Fire Gym Shorts.

      BoB to DET. Make it happen, Billy Junior.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Oh my. The Cowboys are going to sign Jon Kitna. JK hasn't played a down since 2011. Desperate much?
    1. mikesteelnation1's Avatar
      What's interesting to note about Chicago in contrast to Pittsburgh is the glaring difference in their o line play as of late

      Last 5 games the Steelers have allowed 5 sacks, the bears 13. Both teams began the current campaign coming off one that featured a horrific offensive line. Chicago's played well early, and they got off to a good start. Inversely, Pittsburghs started like crap. They've come on as of late, and both teams records reflect those sentiments,, with lots of sentiments about how the defense played being interjected.

      Bicknell was a great hire for us. He's got a bunch of nobodies playing, sans Decastro, and he's coached them up a ton..

      Chicago seemed to hit that rookie wall on the line.. that's my guess about Chicago's line, from a casual observer. What do our bears fans think??

      BTW, merry Christmas FP!!! Best wishes to everybody!! I'll be enjoying one of the 2 days a year I'm "actually" off, Christmas and Easter. All stores closed. No calls on my day off for ANY business purpose.. cell phone silence. That's pure nirvana to me!
    1. Trumpetbdw's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by iwatt View Post
      Please stop with the Mccown stuff. He is still the QB who couldnt beat the Vikings. His low int percentage is due to 6 dropped ints. 3 in the Vikings game and 3 in the Cowboys game. Recency bias makes us forget that he had really bad 3rd down conversion rates, because of how bad the Dallas D was. Last weeks game against the Eagles was one of those games were nothing went right. A bad first series, then a horrific punt gave the eagles great field position. Next series Hester fumbled the kick return. Even the surprise onside kick failed because the wind pushed the ball off the tee. And Forte decided to have his worst game of the year as a pass blocker. The 2 rookie OL were exposed to some very exotic blitzes. With the way our D plays, we cant afford to fall that far behind. The Eagles D did something I would hope more teams with big leads would do. Blitz, instead of prevent. And the Bears had to drop back and pass. Sometimes games just get away from you.
      Due to keeping my thoughts general, it sounds like I am favoring a switch in Chicago, but I don't at all. I agree with all of this, and I certainly don't think that McCown should be put in over Cutler. I actually like Cutler a lot.

      But, considering the performance, I do think that the benching of Cutler may be going through the mind of Trestman, and I'd venture to guess that many Bears fans would like to see a switch. But no, I do not expect that a switch will actually be made.

      I think the Eagles game was a wake up call. I expect the Bears defense to step up a little (not a lot-- they're not good), and that Cutler will accept the challenge, and get them a big win over the Pack. Then, they'd much rather see New Orleans head into Chicago than either SF or Arizona, but SF is the most likely scenario. No, I don't think they'd beat the Niners. But I do think that if either the Bears or Eagles get the Saints, they advance. If GB or Dallas squeeze in, no matter the scenario, I think each would be one and done.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      bump
    1. iwatt's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Trumpetbdw View Post
      Due to keeping my thoughts general, it sounds like I am favoring a switch in Chicago, but I don't at all. I agree with all of this, and I certainly don't think that McCown should be put in over Cutler. I actually like Cutler a lot.

      But, considering the performance, I do think that the benching of Cutler may be going through the mind of Trestman, and I'd venture to guess that many Bears fans would like to see a switch. But no, I do not expect that a switch will actually be made.

      I think the Eagles game was a wake up call. I expect the Bears defense to step up a little (not a lot-- they're not good), and that Cutler will accept the challenge, and get them a big win over the Pack. Then, they'd much rather see New Orleans head into Chicago than either SF or Arizona, but SF is the most likely scenario. No, I don't think they'd beat the Niners. But I do think that if either the Bears or Eagles get the Saints, they advance. If GB or Dallas squeeze in, no matter the scenario, I think each would be one and done.
      Sorry about that. The whole bench Cutler is coming from the same guys that thought Caleb Hanie was a good option. We know what McCown is, we have 10+ years of his noodle arm and bad tendencies. He got smarter, but teams are starting to figure out his tendencies. And I hate when people use ridiculously low Int% as justifications. That is never sustainable (Matt Cassel in KC 2010, Freeman 2010, RG3 2012). So now I'm hyper sensitive to this stuf . And immediacy bias has made them forget how ineffective the offense waass gainst the Vikings and Rams, but how good he looked against Allas (sans D)

      Regarding MIke's point about the OL, it was giving up a lot of pressures and hits on QBs early in the season, just not sacks. That made it look better than it was. It still has a lot of room to grow. Teams are starting to run more stunts on that side. BUshrod is an average LT, but with enough saavy veteran know how to know when to hold. Our center is getting old, but he has a physical freak besides him to do the heavy lifting.

      It's amazing how much having a competent OL has made Cutler look better than he ever has (except those denver years).
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Good news: ACL injuries are down quite a bit.

      http://sports.yahoo.com/news/nfl-tel...0154--nfl.html
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Bad new for Bears fans?



      Bad news for Bears fans.

    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      More potentially bad news for Bears fans: Eddie Lacy is likely to start.

      http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com...o-play-sunday/
    1. iwatt's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Sullivan View Post
      More potentially bad news for Bears fans: Eddie Lacy is likely to start.

      http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com...o-play-sunday/
      I have emotional wiplash for this season. Who do I sue?
    1. Nancy's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Sullivan View Post
      Oh my. The Cowboys are going to sign Jon Kitna. JK hasn't played a down since 2011. Desperate much?
      Have they called Vinnie Testaverde yet?

      I think Kitna has been teaching high school somewheres. It makes a certain amount of sense, as he did play for Dallas in the not-to-distant past and, you know, desperate times...
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Nancy View Post
      Have they called Vinnie Testaverde yet?

      I think Kitna has been teaching high school somewheres. It makes a certain amount of sense, as he did play for Dallas in the not-to-distant past and, you know, desperate times...
      Kitna was a ferocious, under-talented competitor and, a very well regarded guy.

      Oh. And he's donating his game check to the HS where he teaches and coaches football.

      Jon Kitna gets it. Good for him.

      http://nfl.si.com/2013/12/26/jon-kit...allas-cowboys/
    1. Bengals1181's Avatar
      Football needs more guys like Jon Kitna.
    1. iwatt's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Bengals1181 View Post
      Football needs more guys like Jon Kitna.
      {41 year old Math teachers?}

      Nah, give me a league chock full of the worlds best athletes. I dont watch the NFL for moral purposes. I dont expect 20 something millionaires to be role models. I wanto to see the best play the best.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      FP 2013 Pick'em Challenge

      Collinsworth's Perfect Fantasy Challenge







    1. Nancy's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Bengals1181 View Post
      Football needs more guys like Jon Kitna.
      Yeah, I actually love me some Jon Kitna. And if he's used to dealing with high school kids, the Eagles defense will be a day at the beach by comparison.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      What ever happens to the Dallas Cowboys the rest of this year will happen without Tony Romo. The QB underwent season ending back surgery this morning.