The Lard

A comprehensive daily examination of NFL happenings and analysis

AFC playoff race down to eight teams Lard

Good Morning, Broncos fans! With last night's typically embarrassing 14-10 loss by the LOLJets (6-8) to the Titans (5-9), the AFC playoff picture became a shade clearer.

Week 15's results eliminated Buffalo, Cleveland, San Diego, and New Jersey from contention, leaving only Pittsburgh (7-7) and Miami (6-8) competing for playoff spots they're currently not in position for.

The AFCN title is still up for grabs between Pittsburgh, Cincinnati (8-6), and Baltimore (9-5), who clinched a playoff spot when the Steelers lost to Dallas on Sunday.

A Bengals win Sunday over the Steelers would put both Cincy and Indy into the playoffs, and the Colts can get themselves in with either a win or tie at Kansas City, where Ricky Stanzi may get the start due to Brady Quinn's injured ribs.

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Denver’s destiny in its own hands Lard

Good Morning, Broncos fans! It's a tired phrase, as most Chris Berman-isms are, but...this is why they play the games.

After the Patriots (10-4) had reeled off seven straight wins, topping 40 points on four occasions along the way, it appeared they would swat away the visiting 49ers (10-3-1) last night, thus retaining their advantage over Denver (by virtue of their head-to-head tiebreaker) in the race for a first-round bye.

San Francisco's inability to capitalize on early mistakes by New England seemed to be just the sort of thing that would keep the Niners and their young quarterback from knocking off the apparent AFC favorites.

But the ball kept bouncing the way of the Niners - and, indirectly, the Broncos - and San Francisco eventually converted enough Patriots errors into touchdowns, to hang on for dear life in a wild 41-34 stunner that helps put Denver in prime position for the AFC's number-two seed, and a week off to start the playoffs.

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Suggs will play, Lewis won’t Lard

Good Morning, Broncos fans. As TJ noted last night, several factors are making today's showdown in Baltimore appear to be a lopsided one in Denver's favor.

The more valuable Terrell Suggs (who just married the woman whom he allegedly dragged alongside his car at a high speed recently) will play today, but Ray Lewis - the importance of whose leadership has not deteriorated along with his physical skills - will not play.

Fellow starting inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is questionable, and if he does not play, the Ravens will have Josh Bynes wear the defensive headset in what would be his first NFL start.

On the other side of the ball, there's someone new calling the plays for Baltimore, even if there's some debate whether the move will pay immediate dividends or not.

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It’s time to talk gun control Lard

Good Afternoon, friends. We've never been shy about touching upon hotly debated issues here, but have only done so when prompted by words and actions from NFL figures.

Today is different though, because for the past 24 hours, it's been impossible to go more than a few minutes without thinking of the 20 small children who were murdered yesterday. That's murdered, mind you.

Immediately following the horrors in Aurora, and again yesterday, the airwaves and social media have been strewn with claims that it's "too soon" or "not the time" to discuss our nation's status as the mass-murder, assault-death capital of the developed world, and what must be done to fix that.

No day is better or worse to have this conversation, because by the time the self-appointed arbiters of national dialogue deem it's appropriate to broach the topic, we're onto our next mournful episode. Sadly, there's no law of nature that says today won't bring the next tragedy.

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Last AFC spot basically down to Bengals/Steelers Lard

Happy Friday, Broncos fans! The AFC playoff picture got slightly clearer last night, as Cincinnati (8-6) pulled away in the second half of a 34-13 slopfest, turning over the Eagles (4-10) five times along the way.

The win puts them a half-game ahead of Pittsburgh, whom they'll visit next Sunday. A Steelers loss this week at Dallas would give the Bengals a chance to clinch a playoff spot next weekend with a win over Pittsburgh.

Cincy and Pittsburgh are essentially in a battle for the AFC's sixth seed, with an outside shot at overtaking Baltimore for the AFCN title.

The Jets have a slim chance at a wild card, while the Bills, Dolphins, Browns, and Chargers are essentially holding lottery tickets. To make the playoffs, San Diego needs to win out, have four other games go their way, and not be joined at 8-8 by Cleveland.

Meanwhile, a Denver win at Baltimore would almost ensure they'd be at least the number-three seed, and maintain their hopes of gaining a first-round bye.

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Roger Goodell: tone deafness exemplified Lard

Good Morning, Broncos fans! It's been quite a week in the hubris-filled, awareness-free alternate reality occupied by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Paul Tagliabue's smackdown of the Ginger Hammer's disastrous handling of the NFL PR department-crafted Saints bounty scandal showed how a quality commissioner should perform his job, and called into serious question whether Goodell deserves to keep his.

At least Tagliabue did Rog the favor of providing closure for the scandal and maintaining the power of the commissioner's office, even if it came with a sharp rebuke of Goodell's methods.

Were Goodell a reasonable person, this would have been a humbling, chastening experience - one prompting self-reflection and a reconsideration of one's tactics.

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Braylon Edwards shows you can call your old boss an idiot and still have him rehire you Lard

Good Morning, Broncos fans! John Elway called it "one of the best throws I've ever seen," which is heady praise from one of the best throwers of the football in history. The recipient of the pass, Demaryius Thomas, is still marveling at it, more than a week later, and having already played another game in the interim, but he does so with good reason.

We're talking about the first of Peyton Manning's two third-quarter TD passes to Thomas against Tampa Bay, and we've been meaning to show how ridiculous a play it was. Not much needs to be said, aside from pointing out that while Demaryius is just two strides into the end zone, the ball is already coming out of Peyton's hand:

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Broncos need to run table Lard

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Well, we probably should have seen this one coming.

Entering last night's game, New England's three losses were by a combined four points, with five of their nine wins coming by more than three touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Texans had been blown out by Green Bay in their one loss, and in November had barely squeaked by the Bears, Jaguars, and Lions. Houston had won four blowouts, but none since Week 7.

We're admittedly using hindsight here, but what happened last night doesn't seem so shocking when framed by those facts - especially considering that the game took place in Foxboro, in the cold.

New England (10-3) jumped all over Houston (11-2) with three touchdowns on their first three drives, and things never got closer in a 42-14 rout which made the Texans look like frauds, and the Patriots like prohibitive SB favorites.

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Bring on the Ravens Lard

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Denver's upcoming trip to Baltimore has loomed as a big game since the moment the 2012 schedule was released, but the showdown has become more crucial by the day.

Although the matchup will likely go a long way to determining who the AFC's number-two seed is, things have suddenly gotten desperate for the Ravens (9-4), who remain stuck on nine wins after yesterday's 31-28 loss to Washington (7-6). It was Baltimore's second consecutive loss, and things won't get any easier for them; after the Broncos, they'll host the Giants and then head to Cincinnati to close out the regular season.

Adding to the pain of having lost two straight nailbiters, the already banged-up Ravens lost two more of their best players to injury yesterday - an ankle sprain left Baltimore guard Marshal Yanda on crutches after the game, and Jeff Legwold says it could be a season-ending injury for the Pro Bowler. LB Jameel McClain suffered a neck injury that had him in serious pain, although X-rays were negative.

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Outside Denver, AFCW is Nepotism Central Lard

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Many Broncos fans are disappointed that Chargers owner Dean Spanos has reportedly decided to can A.J. Smith and Norv Turner once this season's done with.

This is an understandable sentiment, what with the team's recent descent to and below mediocrity, and Smith's construction of one of the worst offensive lines you'll see.

Who wouldn't want Smith and his legendary hubris to continue running things? The presence in the division of Peyton Manning, whose family Smith openly despises (also understandably, what with Archie and Eli's Elway-like power move of 2004), only figured to cloud A.J.'s judgment even more.

But here's the thing - do you know who Spanos has been grooming to run his team's football operations for several years?

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