Player You Need To Know This Weekend
Antoine Cason, cornerback, Arizona (No. 20). Cason picked off two Ryan Fitzpatrick passes last week, returning one for a touchdown, and the Cards have three pick-6s in the last four weeks. I mention that because they’ll need to force a turnover or three against a Seattle team that plays fantastic at home (14-0 in Russell Wilson’s career). Cason is an aggressive corner who can be baited—but his TD last week came on a play in which he looked to have baited Fitzpatrick. I don’t like Arizona’s chances much Sunday, but I especially don’t like them if they don’t force two or three turnovers.
Sound Bite of the Week
“I want to put the offense on my back. I want the ball on every play. I want to roll.”
—Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who takes a 122-yard lead in the race for the NFL rushing title into Sunday night’s game against the Bears in Philadelphia.
With two games to play, 162 yards separate the top four rushers in the NFL. McCoy’s the favorite, with 1,343 yards. Adrian Peterson (1,221) returns after a week off to rest a bum foot to run against rugged Cincinnati, and Matt Forte (1,200) and Jamaal Charles (1,181) need a couple of big weeks to stay in contention.
Ten Things I’ll Be Watching For This Weekend
1. The last game at the ‘Stick. Candlestick Park opened 53 years ago, and it’s never been the belle of the sporting ball, but it has had some tremendous events there. Willie Mays and Joe Montana plied their trade there; Jerry Rice and Willie McCovey too. And Monday night, when Atlanta plays at the 49ers, the old barn will host its final football game. I’m tempted to say good riddance, because it’s an awful place, but there’s so much history there, and history at a dump is still history.
2. The underrated Tannehill. Raise your hand if you knew Ryan Tannehill, at Buffalo on an unseasonably warm (50 degrees, rain) Sunday in Orchard Park, needs 373 yards in his last two games to join Dan Marino as the only Dolphins quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season.
3. The Bengals trying to hang on in the AFC North. The good news: Cincinnati’s 6-0 at home, and the Bengals finish with the Vikes and Ravens there. So I’d still take the Bengals (9-5) to win the division over the 8-6 Ravens. But the bad news: In the event of a division tie after 16 games, Baltimore makes the playoffs and Cincinnati would either be the sixth seed or out of the playoffs.
4. Everyone trying to hang on in the NFC North. How great would it be if, after Sunday, Chicago and Detroit were 8-7 and Green Bay 8-6-1? Quite possible, if the favorites hold and Philly beats the Bears, Detroit beats the Giants, and Green Bay beats Pittsburgh.
5. Aaron Rodgers. Looks like he’s not playing. Looks like he is playing. Which quote are you trying to divine? Which tea leaves are you trying to read? Listen hard this afternoon for the latest on Rodgers from Mike McCarthy. But I’ve got enough confidence in Matt Flynn after his 34-point second half against Dallas last week that I’m taking the Pack over Pittsburgh regardless.
6. Anyone in the AFC want the top seed? The Patriots have played cliffhangers five straight weeks, losing twice. Denver played in quicksand in losing at home to San Diego last week. Luckily for the Broncos, they’re at 2-12 Houston Sunday. I do believe Peyton Manning can throw left-handed Sunday and win. (Love this factoid: Matt Schaub threw four touchdown passes to lead Houston over Denver last season, outdueling Peyton Manning. That’s last season, people.) The Pats have to beat old nemesis Baltimore in the Land of the Crabcake.
7. Sunday-nighter in Week 17. The 8:30 p.m. game in Week 17—the 256th and last game of the regular season—could be picked as soon as Sunday night. Just for clarification: The game is chosen by commissioner Roger Goodell and TV czar Howard Katz, who hope to have a matchup as close to win-and-you’re-in and lose-and-you’re-out significance as possible. Green Bay-Chicago and Philly-Dallas look the most likely at the moment.
8. The Kirk Cousins stat machine. Dallas has allowed 82 points and eight touchdown passes to backup quarterbacks in the last two weeks. Cousins is a fellow backup. On the first FOX closeup of Cousins Sunday, watch for the stream of drool out of the side of his mouth.
9. Jobs on the line. Rex Ryan doesn’t want to lose to the Cleveland Browns Sunday, though it may be too late to save himself. Mike Munchak cannot afford to be swept by the Jags, and Tennessee’s at Jacksonville Sunday. And Jim Schwartz will get no extra credit for beating the Giants Sunday. He will, however, get to pack the UHaul if somehow the Lions lose at home to a team playing terribly.
10. Arizona, with a Herculean task. Last time they entered the home of the 12th Man, the Cardinals were nipped by Seattle 58-0. That was 54 weeks ago. Prediction: Cards won’t lose by 58 this time. But I like Seattle quite a bit.