Friday Morning Tight End - Week 13

Some years ago John Madden wrote a book called 'One Knee Equals Two Feet'. This ought to become required reading for NFL officials, following the debacle of referring we saw over the Thanksgiving holiday. Knees played a big part in it too. First there was the TD run by Justin Forsett in which his knee was clearly down after a nine-yard gain; clear that is to everyone except the zebras. Detroit coach Jim Schwartz, who apparently finds it hard to prioritise, if not control, his emotions, threw a challenge flag on a play which, since it resulted in a touchdown, was automatically going to be reviewed. His flag drew another flag, a 15 yard penalty, and, this being the NFL, no review of the play which rules require be reviewed. This was a good case of the system triumphing over reality, which is a good definition of the NFL rule book. Try to read it sometime and see what I mean. The Detroit game also featured two blatant fouls on Matt Schaub by Ndamakong Suh, who seems intent on building a rep somewhere between Warren Sapp and Albert Haynesworth. It's no surprise to see ref Walt Coleman bury his flag: whenever Walt announces a penalty he looks like a fourth-grader with an upset stomach forced to recite the Gettysburg Address at a school's parents day.

Then on Sunday another knee proved more than equal to two feet. Facing fourth and 29, with a minute and a half to play, down by 3, Joe Flacco took his best passing option, a dump-off to Ray Rice a couple of yards over the line of scrimmage. Rice proceeded to outrun a number of lackadaisical Charger defenders, Anquan Boldin clipped Eric Weddle out of the play, and to the naked eyes (both mine and the refs') Rice appeared to actually get the first down. BUT. This being the final two minutes of the game, the play was eligible for review, which inevitably it was. Rice needed to get about a foot inside the Charger 34 yard line for the first down. As the replay official and ref Gene Steratore took a full ten minutes to confer and debate, the replay clearly showed that Rice's knee had first gone down behind the 35 yard line, at which point he stretched and skidded. But when the knee hit, the ball was still tucked into his arms. Ray Rice is 5'7” tall. Even extended, it was clear that with the knee down the ball did not even reach the 34 yard line, much less get past it. Upon further review, Steratore compromised, moving the ball back six inches or so from its original spot, still over the 34, and still a first down. They measured as a formality, but did I mention they couldn't figure out where to replace the sticks, which had already been moved?

Ray Rice made a hell of a play. I would have loved it if he made the first down. I would not have complained had someone actually flagged Boldin for his hit. But if you are going to drag the game to a freeze to review every borderline play in the final two minutes, you owe it to everyone to get the call right.

THE ABOMINATION THAT IS THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL:

New Orleans (5-6) at Atlanta (10-1): This could be an interesting battle between Darren Sproles and Jaquizz Rodgers, two scatbacks who are at the heart of their teams' offenses mostly because said teams have problems in the line. The Saints, of course, handed the Falcons their only loss in New Orleans back in week ten, a result I actually managed to pick right, though it took a remarkable goal line stand to do it. Atlanta are unbeaten at home this season, but the Saints have been their Bubbadome nemesis in recent years. The Saints can ill afford any more losses, and last week's to the Niners was fuelled by two pick-sixes, a feat Drew Brees is unlikely to repeat, especially if Asante Samuel misses the game as expected. Another reason I hate Thursdays: injuries which might have recovered by Sunday are best left to have ten days to heal instead. The good news for the Falcons is that the Saints have trouble covering tight ends, whether or not their safeties are healthy. If Zach Strief can't play the Saints will be down to their fourth right tackle, Will Robinson, which would be good news for Kroy Bierman. Pick (made Thursday): Saints

Friday Morning Autopsy: Well, I was right that Brees wouldn't repeat his four-pick game. He went one better with five! I was playing a hunch with New Orleans, and as I should have learned by now, hunches are very dangerous things to play in the NFL. In my defense, and the Saints' D's defense, it's pretty good to throw five picks and only lose by 10.

SUNDAY

Jacksonville (2-9) at Buffalo (4-7): Chad Henne played at Michigan, so it's not like he's never been in the cold, but there is that theory that prolonged time spent in Florida (or San Diego) causes players to rot and fall off the vine. So how do you explain Philadelphia? Buffalo have become the ultimate tease team, impossible to predict, and unwilling to play either side of the ball with consistency. Even so, I'm picking them. Pick: Bills

Seattle (6-5) at Chicago (8-3): Jay Cutler ought to be getting some MVP support for his ability to generate any amount of offense from the Bears and their protection-challenged O line. The Seahawks can rush the passer, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Mike Rice dial up some ten-man maximum protections, and only afterwards realise there aren't any receivers for Cutler to throw to. The Seahawks have been a road-challenged team for years, and the Bears' D won't make life any easier for Russell Wilson. At least they still have their starting corners, both facing suspensions for Adderall forced on them unsuspectingly. All the Bears want from their offense is 20 points for a win. They ought to get it, but be careful because Andre Gurode has just showed up in the Bears' locker room, and if they're going to get him into the game they made need some Adderall of their own. Pick: Bears

Indianapolis (7-4) at Detroit (4-7): Palindromic records. The Colts have the emotional story of Chuck  Pagano's illness, the feel-good story of the rookie QB replacing Peyton Manning, and underdog story of a bad team turned around, and the excitement of two of their cheerleaders having their heads shaved on the sidelines for Pagano's charity. But the fact is they struggle against teams with potent offenses, and the Lions have a potentially potent offense, when they play with less of the indiscipline that seems to be Jim Schwartz's trademark. Calvin Johnson has turned in some big games in recent losses, this week he ought to turn in a big game in a win. Pick: Lions

Minnesota (6-5) at Green Bay (7-4): The Packers have Greg Jennings back, but I suspect they'd rather have Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson or CJ Wilson back to help stop Adrian Peterson, or some tackles to help protect Aaron Rodgers. If AP is running, Christan Ponder might be able to pick the Pack defense apart with short throws that take advantage of replacement linebackers and Dom Capers increasingly desperate efforts to generate a pass rush with unlikely blitzers who lack Matthews' speed to the ball. EJ Henderson would be a natural fit for the Pack, who before injury had AJ Hawk, BJ Raji, CJ Wilson, and DJ Smith all playing well. Pick: Pack

Houston (10-1) at Tennessee (4-7): Chris Palmer got fired as the Titans offensive coordinator, and blamed, in part, the failure of a 'rookie quarterback' to execute. Neither Jake Locker nor Matt Hasselbeck are rookies, and Palmer's record as both coordinator and head coach is very sketchy with quarterback development, though in fairness he did OK with Tom Coughlin at Jacksonville and in New Jersey. Kevin Gilbride, like Palmer, is a product of Southern Connecticut, if that means anything. The Titans are the kind of team that gets you playing ugly and wins a couple of games, but I can't see the Texans, who are nothing if not consistent, falling for that one. Pick: Texans

Carolina (3-8) at Kansas City (1-10): Here's the toughest game of the week to pick, because your heart says the Chiefs can't be as bad as they've played, in fact they lost only 17-9 to the Broncos last week, and Arrowhead remains a daunting place to play, and the Panthers are not the Broncos. On the other hand, Romeo Crennel appears to have reacted to crisis by going into a shell, Brady Quinn is not Tom Brady, nor even Matt Cassel, and Cam Newton seems to have adjusted to the fact that the Panthers' offense now revolves entirely around him, rendering the millions of bucks showered on Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams redundant. On the other hand, if you're a Chiefs' fan, you might consider the most inept thing they could do here is win, and make it tougher to get the first draft pick next year. Pick: Chiefs

BOB DYLAN'S NFL SONG OF THE WEEK:

Come on with loss, come on with win

You've not seen nothin like the Mighty Quinn

Everybody's building offensive schemes,

Some are playing read option, some are throwing up dreams

Kansas City was in despair when Cassel was our boy

But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here

Romeo is gonna shout with joy

Come on without, Cassel's gone in

You'll not see nothin like the mighty Quinn

He's the cat's meow Brian Daboll grins

He can recite them all

Just tell him where the mike's lined up and he'll tell you what to call

But Jamaal Charles is standin round

Like a pigeon on a limb

And when Quinn the Eskimo gets here

Somebody's got to give the ball to him

Comeon without, comeon one win

We might just get to two with the Mighty Quinn

San Francisco (8-2-1) at St Louis (4-6-1): The last time these teams met they tied, which is probably the least likely result this time around, regardless of whether Alex Smith, the NFL's answer to Steve Davis, or Queequeg Kaepernick the tattooed quarterback is under centre. It's the Niners' D that is playing at a new level now, and that's what the problem will be for Sam Bradford and Co, especially with the BBC's own Danny Amendola limited at best. Pick: Niners

New England (8-3) at Miami (5-6): This is an interesting matchup, because the Dolphins' D can do some of the things that make it tough for the Pats, who need to score (unless they're playing the Jest) by moving the ball downfield steadily, and not turning it over or stalling on third downs. The big question will be whether, missing Chandler Jones, they can get the rush to worry Ryan Tannehill and keep the Bush You Can Support under wraps. Offensively, they've survived with makeshift O lines and anonymous receivers: Donte Stallworth was in for a visit this week; can Deion Branch be far behind. One day they are going to get healthy, and then we'll see if the Parole Pair of Alfonzo Dennard and Aqib Talib are the answer at corner. The Pats could clinch their division with a win, which seemed awfully unlikely earlier this season. Pick: Pats

Arizona (4-7) at Newark Airport Jest (4-7): What would make sense for the Jest is if Fireman Ed suits up at inside linebacker and Bart Scott makes obscene gestures and leads the fans in misspelling Jets. Actually Ed was the kind of guy who gave one-trick ponies a bad name, and anyone wearing a Sanchez jersey probably ought to expect his fellow Jest fans to abuse him like they do everyone else. Meanwhile, Rex Ryan's plan in dressing Tim Tebow despite his (Tebow's) two broken ribs was simple: if God could create woman from one rib, just think what Tebow could do with two! This would be a great game for John Skelton, the Fordham Flinger, to excel, except Fordham's in New York and at last report the Jest weren't. Assuming Sanchez manages to keep away from Brandon Moore's backside, and someone feels like running, pick: Jest

Tampa (6-5) at Denver (8-3): The Bucs are capable of playing good teams close, using ball control (Doug Martin), downfield passing (Josh to Jackson) and decent D, but the Broncos are very good at pulling out points against such teams, especially in the fourth quarter at home. The Broncos can clinch their division, with a little help, this week. Pick: Broncos

Cincinnati (6-5) at San Diego (4-7): Like the Bucs, the Bengals are staying level with good teams, and beating bad ones, and the Chargers aren't a good team. It's not so much they allowed Ray Rice to even get near a first down on 4th and 29! When they had the ball Philip Rivers was checking down on third down to patterns that couldn't get the first, and no one was there to make plays for them. The Chargers' D played well for most of the game against the Ravens, helped by Joe Flacco's ability to turn into Kyle Boller when he's on the road. My feeling is that Rivers is feeling the lack of adequate linemen, and anticipating the breakdown of his protection, sometimes prematurely. I'm not sure what scoring 13 against the Ravens means, or holding them to 16 in OT, but the Bengals are looking more Ravens-like than Charger-like. Since the bye, they've lost to the Broncos, then beaten the Giants, Chiefs, and Raiders. Pick: Bengals

Cleveland (3-8) at Oakland (3-8): When the Dawg Pound meets the Black Hole, you get a hole dug by a dog, which is what this game promises to be. The Raiders have lost four in a row since beating Kansas City, but they did beat the Steelers back in week three, which means it's not the AFC North that's intimidating them, it's just football. Darren McFadden may be back for Oakland, but I'm not sure you want to take too many touches away from Marcel Reece. Pick: Browns

Pittsburgh (6-5) at Baltimore (9-2): Charlie Batch or Big Ben still feeling the effects of cracked ribs? Or Brian Hoyer? The problem with the Steelers is not so much their inability to have a downfield passing game, regardless of who is at QB, but their inability to do the things Todd Haley was supposed to make them do, like run the ball effectively and move the ball with a short-passing game. Meanwhile, at home, Joe Flacco turns back into the guy who took Delaware so far in the 1-AA playoffs. The Ravens' D is arguably more beaten-up than the Steelers, but Ray Lewis is far more demonstrative on the sidelines than Troy Polamalu. Pick: Ravens

SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL LIVE ON CHANNEL FOUR:

Philadelphia (3-8) at Dallas (5-6): This week climaxes with an NFC East Prime Time Doubledheader, kicking off on Sunday with the hapless Eagles against the hapless but still able to tease efficient Cowboys. If this one is still close in the fourth quarter please take notes on the clock management and play-calling skills of Andy Reid and Jason Garrett, as well as the clutch decision-making and execution of Tony Romo and Nick Foles Five. I half expect half the Eagles to still be half way to the stadium by half time. Pick: half-heartedly: Cowboys

MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL LIVE ON BBC HD CHANNEL AND BBC RED BUTTON:

New Jersey Giants (7-4) at Washington (5-6): The Giants won the first match-up in New Jersey with a fourth quarter comeback, and are coming off what might have been their best game of the season against Green Bay. The Skins' offense presents a different challenge, however, as it seems to compensate week by week for its lack of non-RG3 playmakers, and the efforts of opposing defences to gameplan for his latest wrinkles. A win would complete a three-game trifecta against their division opponents for Landover, which may be a harder thing to do than win both ends of the season series against New Jersey. Pick: Giants

LAST WEEK: 12-4 SEASON: 114-56-1