Who's Hot, Who's Not After NFL Week 11?
We're almost finished with 11 weeks of NFL football (let's hope Monday's Carolina Panthers-New England Patriots matchup is as good as it looks like it could be), and yet we still have an awful lot of confusion.
Six AFC teams are at 4-6 and two at 5-5, which makes the race for the second AFC Wild Card wide-open. (The Denver Broncos or Kansas City Chiefs should get the first wild card.)
Meanwhile, in the NFC, there are four 6-4 teams (Carolina is at 6-3), a division led by a 6-5 team (the Philadelphia Eagles), two 5-5 teams and a tight race for both wild-card slots.
We do have a couple of teams heating up—Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Carolina—and a few who are ice-cold—Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars. There are a bunch more who remind me of the guy in an office I used to work in who could never keep his hands off the thermostat—hot, cold, hot, cold. For example, the New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys.
Overall, though, it's a big mess and a lot of teams are in the hunt. Some will cool off, others will heat up and a few will break either way.
Let's see some of the players and coaches (yup, we're pointing at some coaching this week) who could get them there or hold them back.
HOT: Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
In a game where Detroit Lions quarterback Matt Stafford threw for 362 yards and two touchdowns, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's 367 yards and four touchdowns might be overlooked.
The second quarter was rough for everyone wearing the bee jerseys, as the Lions put 27 points on the board.
Roethlisberger just kept marching up and down the field, and while the second and third quarters were bereft of Pittsburgh touchdowns, he came up big when it counted.
While his defense did its job and shut Stafford and Calvin Johnson out of the end zone, Roethlisberger put together several nice drives and then threw two touchdowns in the last five minutes.
This game had some other impressive performances, including Johnson (179 yards, 2 TDs) and Steelers receiver Antonio Brown (147 yards, 2 TDs).
NOT: Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans
I feel crappy picking on a guy who had a mini-stroke not long ago, but yanking Case Keenum for backup Matt Schaub was awful.
Down 11 points in the third quarter, Kubiak went back to the well, and Schaub made an appearance.
While Keenum did fumble the ball (but didn't lose it) once and threw an interception, it was his first one in three games. Keenum had been struggling, but this is what you expect from a first year quarterback.
And again, on balance, he's been very good and has shown great chemistry with his receivers. Schaub came in and looked just like a guy who had been on the bench for nearly a month.
He continued to make decisions that made onlookers shake their heads—including throwing into triple coverage in the end zone on the final Houston throw of the game.
That's the wrong kind of spark and was just the icing on the cake that was a poor decision on Kubiak's part.
HOT: Rashad Jennings, Oakland Raiders
Also, clearly they have some running backs, like Rashad Jennings. Jennings lit the Houston Texans up for 150 yards and a touchdown, averaging a great 6.8 yards per carry.
His effectiveness at running the ball helped keep the pressure off rookie Matt McGloin and set the table for the three touchdowns McGloin threw in the win.
Jennings looked very sharp, as he has in all three of the last games, two of which he broke 100 yards on the ground and scored a touchdown.
NOT: Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions
Hard to not point out Reggie Bush, as he was benched by the Detroit Lions due to what he described as a fumbling problem, as discussed by Chris McCosky of The Detroit News. But he was hard to watch between the tackles as well.
A total of 31 yards on 12 carries doesn't even paint a clear enough picture of how off he looked Sunday. Normally, Bush can at least contribute on receiving, but he also had trouble hauling in passes.
Just two catches on five targets is well below par for a guy who had caught 69 percent of his targets previously.
Bush will bounce back, but Sunday was definitely a bad day for him.
HOT: Bobby Rainey, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
From the CBSSports.com draft profile for Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Bobby Rainey:
Weaknesses: Possesses a shorter than ideal frame and isn't a powerful interior runner. Sprung some big runs against quality competition but the vast majority of his production has come against questionable competition.
Maybe Rainey will end up being too small to sustain a career, but for at least one day, he pretty much proved that analysis wrong. Rainey tore off 163 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries with a stellar 5.4 yards-per-carry average.
He ran to the outside and between the tackles, broke off a long touchdown run, ran a short one and caught a pass for a touchdown.
He did it all, and while it happened against a pretty bad Atlanta Falcons team, he also looks like a guy who might be able to do it against some great NFL defenses.
NOT: Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons
Maybe Atlanta is where running backs go to die now. Last year, we watched Michael Turner fall apart. This year, we have Steven Jackson.
Sunday's 11 carries for 41 yards effort was just the icing on the cake that is a very bad season for Jackson—perhaps the worst he's had. An injury earlier this season and an offensive line which is not blocking well for him have contributed to that.
It's been a long year for Atlanta fans and Jackson, and it doesn't appear to be improving any time soon.
HOT: Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
Before the season, it was easy to think that the Arizona Cardinals could protect quarterback Carson Palmer.
Even when they've been able to—and let's be honest, it hasn't been a common occurrence—Palmer hasn't been close to good.
If it was going to happen, it was going to take place against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
He was actually sacked three times on his way to a 419-yard, two-touchdown day, and he managed to complete 71 percent of his passes as well.
On Sunday, Palmer completed passes to nine different receivers, spreading the ball around and making sure the Jaguars—whose defense is better than you think—couldn't just focus on Larry Fitzgerald or Michael Floyd.
We shouldn't expect to see Palmer on the "hot" side of this list again any time soon with Indianapolis, Philadelphia. St. Louis and Tennessee up next.
NOT: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Last year, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was insanely good. So good, he carried the Vikings to 10 wins and a playoff appearance.
He has not had a repeat of that success in 2013.
The offensive line has been brutal at times, and the constant carousel of quarterbacks is hurting the offense overall. Peterson is struggling in ways we didn't see last season, though.
He can still break tackles and is deadly when he gets to the second level, but he's not doing the first as much (because he gets swarmed by defenders), which keeps him from the second far too often.
By the time Toby Gerhart got in the game (when it was completely out of hand), he was facing prevent defenses, so his numbers look a lot better.
But even ignoring Gerhart's day, Peterson struggled hard to overcome both the issues of the offense around him as well as his own.
HOT: Cincinnati Bengals Defense
This might have been a different game had the Cincinnati Bengals defense not stepped up and scored off a blocked punt and a fumble return for a touchdown.
The Bengals were up by a point in the second quarter when linebacker Jayson DiManche got a hand on a punt and safety Tony Dye returned the ball for a 24-yard touchdown.
On the very next drive, linebacker Vontaze Burfict and defensive end Wallace Gilberry tackled Chris Ogbonnaya, and the ball came loose. Burfict grabbed the ball and returned it 13 yards for a touchdown. Momentum swung in the Bengals' favor and never went back to the Cleveland Browns.
On top of that, safety Reggie Nelson, defensive end Michael Johnson and linebacker James Harrison all had interceptions.
The Bengals haven't looked good since they handed the New York Jets their head in Week 8, but this week at least the defense seemed like it had gotten back on track.
NOT: Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs
Ignore the overall statistics—four catches for 57 yards and a touchdown—and focus on the fact that Kansas City Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe caught just four catches of 14 targets.
Overall this year, Bowe has caught 52 percent of his targets—not great, sure, but serviceable.
But in a game which was close for about 42 minutes, catching 28.7 percent of his targets isn't enough, and even just a few more receptions could have made a huge difference. All four of his catches came in the second quarter, and about half of his misses came in the first 42 minutes.
A catch here or there could have extended a drive, got the Chiefs into field-goal position or helped leave the defense in a better position.
Bowe is supposed to be the No. 1 receiver on the Chiefs, and while Alex Smith doesn't go deep often (Bowe's alleged strength), Bowe has to catch the ball when he does.
He needs to catch the short ones, too.
Heck, anything would have been an improvement in the Chiefs' biggest game to date.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.