NFC North: Week Fourteen

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NFC North Standings

1. Green Bay Packers 9-3 (4-1)

2. Detroit Lions 8-4 (3-0)

3. Chicago Bears 5-7 (1-3)

4. Minnesota Vikings 5-7 (0-4)

Chicago Bears vs Dallas Cowboys (Bears are the underdog at +3.5; over/under: 51)

Both of these teams lost on Thanksgiving Day in embarrassing fashion and they are rewarded by playing each other on Thursday night football this week.  Soldier Field will be the battleground for a NFC match up pitting two teams in very different situations.

The Dallas Cowboys were caught off guard by Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles, who put an unexpected 33-10 whooping on the Cowboys.  That game subsequently put Dallas in second place in the NFC East behind Philly and made Dallas one of three teams with an 8-4 record vying for a wild card spot.  Early in the season there was talk of Dallas’ defense “coming around” but the truth behind that was that the Dallas defense was being kept off of the field.  The Dallas offensive line is their strong point.  It is the offensive line that has made the talented Demarco Murray the best running back in the league and also has stopped Romo from running for his life after every other snap.  Dallas has been able to manage the game clock for most of the season and with that, keep their defense fresher and more importantly – off of the field.

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The Chicago Bears were actually up in the first quarter 14-3 against the Lions then came three touchdowns in the second quarter followed by an offensive showing by the Bears that lacked any imagination and / or heart.  The Bears defense is atrocious and their offense looks defeated, maybe because every starter on this offense KNOWS they should’ve been an elite group this season.  Whatever it may be – the Bears have unfortunately turned into a team that seems to have “packed it in.”

The Cowboys should walk into Chicago and look like a playoff team, which is something Chicago is far from resembling at this point in the season.  The Cowboys are 5-0 on the road this year and that streak should remain in tact against a team that has no answer on defense and no identity on offense.  Regardless, some Bears players should get in the endzone for those in fantasy football playoffs – so there’s that.

Prediction: Dallas 43, Chicago 20; Better’s Pick: The Over

Minnesota Vikings vs NY Jets (Vikings are the favorite at -6; over/under 40.5)

The Vikings are currently one of the top five toughest teams to watch on TV.  The Jets on the other hand are must see TV – and not at all for football reasons.  The Jets are a team that when they make one mistake they compound it with another, and another, and another.  If their Monday Night Football performance showed anything, it’s that with two minutes left in the game, their quarterback Geno Smith, was 4-8 passing – and with that – they have no faith in their quarterback.  When it’s third and long and your offensive coordinator calls a counter play, it’s time to consider benching yourself and saving yourself the embarrassment.

As hard as the Vikings are to watch at times, the fans and organization understand that this is a throw-a-way year anyhow.  With the off-field drama involving Adrian Peterson, the team starting rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and a new coaching regime getting their system together – it’s more about taking away the positives from this year more than focusing on the negatives.  A loss to the Jets would be a negative that would be hard to ignore though.  The Panthers for what it’s worth have a better offense than the Jets and the Vikings took care of business last week – but in this “week to week” league it’s hard to call anything predictable based on the level of your opponent.

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The Vikings are nearly a touchdown favorite at home verse the Jets but it will be interesting to see how Rex Ryan fares against the Vikings rookie QB.  Bridgewater will have to rely on a running game to help take the pressure off of him, but that’s easier said than done against this Jets front line.  Expect a lot of “three and outs” from both teams as this should be filled with a lot of “nothing.”

Prediction: Vikings 17, Jets 9;  Better’s Pick: The Under

Detroit Lions vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Detroit is the favorite at -10; over/under 41.5)

Detroit’s offense needed to play a bad defense like the Bears to end their drought of two games without scoring a touchdown.  Matthew Stafford finished with 390 passing yards and two touchdowns – both TD passed were to receiver Calvin Johnson who chimed in with 146 yards receiving.  The Lions offense took advantage of the weak opponent in front of them and used this game to hopefully get this struggling unit back on track.

This week they face the Tampa Bay Bucs who enter this week riding a two game losing streak – but when you have 2 wins to 10 losses – those are the only kind of streaks you’ll see.  The Bucs have been an obvious struggle all season long, but they have found reliability in their young receiver Mike Evans, who leads the team with 890 yards receiving.  Running back Bobby Rainey is their most talented player in a backfield that rotates mediocrity as if it’s going out of style – but Rainey won’t find much running room against this Detroit front line.

This game can get ugly quickly.  McCown will face pressure all day and pretty much throw jump balls up to his big targets at receiver Vincent Jackson and the previously mentioned, Evans.  Detroit needs to take advantage of the next three week against Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Chicago before their season ending show down at Lambeau.

Prediction: Lions 34,  Tampa 17     Better’s Pick: Lions

Green Bay Packers vs Atlanta Falcons (Packers are the favorite at -12; over/under 56)

The Green Bay Packers held down Lambeau field in what was the game of the week by defeating the New England Patriots 26-21.  Although New England held the Packers to only a field goal in the second half, it ended up being a chess match between the two coaches and field position played the biggest factor.  Green Bay’s defense shows improvement each week and in a game where Rodgers couldn’t get into the endzone for the entire 2nd half – they held Tom Brady’s offense to only one score in the same time frame.

The Packers now share the best record in the NFC with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals.  All three teams are 9-3 but the Packers are in the best position. The Packers already beat the Eagles head to head, and the next two weeks Philadelphia finds themselves facing the Seahawks and a rematch with a Cowboys team looking for revenge; while the Arizona Cardinals have games against Kansas City and each team in their hard nosed NFC West division.

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The Arizona Cardinals are a team that just may “lose it’s way,” and lose a lot along the way.  Last week they lost at the hands of an Atlanta Falcons team that at 5-7 finds themselves in first place of a disgusting NFC South division.  Most teams can run, pass, stroll through and skip around this Falcons defense so there should be no reason that Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense won’t get theirs.

The line may be too big though.  The Monday Night Football stage is known to exhibit the unexplainable at times and what seems to be an “easy” win on paper can end up being far from it in reality.  Some “trends” to watch out for (according to sportschatplace.com): The Falcons are 4-0 against the spread in their last four meetings in Green Bay and the road team is 7-1 against the spread in their last 8 meetings.

Prediction: Green Bay 33, Atlanta 28;  Better’s Pick: The over

 

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

The College Playoff Flaw

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If there was ever a legally criminal organization, there is no doubt it would be the NCAA.       The NCAA gets the criticism it deserves more times than not and in truth there is no resolution in the near future to remedy all of its issues.  Student athletes will continue to be taken advantage of, and will continuously make money for the universities that they, the players, will never see a penny of.  This is the situation, and we all have to deal with it.

With that being said, keep in mind that the NCAA makes no adjustments and no changes unless it benefits them financially.  So when the NCAA “did away” with the BCS system in favor of a “four team playoff” it was not to find a true champion year to year in college football and it definitely was not to appease those fans and writers that wanted it.

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The NCAA made their money off the BCS and now they will certainly find a way to benefit from the college playoff.  Terrific.  Congrats to them.

But back to the football side of things. . .

Does a playoff give us a “true championship team?”  Or does it just appease those who grew tired of the power house schools like Alabama finishing on top nearly every year?  A playoff certainly is NOT the way to find the BEST team in the country.  The BCS did that and did it well.

The BCS was designed, by a series of mathematics that goes way beyond my comprehension, to put the best teams in the country against each other at the end of the year.  Was there any denying that the years Florida, Auburn, Alabama and most recently Florida State won the BCS National Chamipionship, that they were the best in the country?  Absolutely not.

The BCS system put the focus on the number one spot.  Every team wanted to be “#1” and every other team wanted to “knock off” the “#1.”  Now, because of the four team playoff system, being “#1” doesn’t matter anymore.  This season, before Mississippi State was beaten by Alabama, nobody cared that Mississippi State was number one.  Instead people were in an uproar about TCU being number 4 and Alabama being number 5.  THAT was the discussion.  Four and Five – NOT, number one.

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Instead of trying to be the best in the country, teams are focused on “just getting in.”

You know what playoffs do?  Give a chance to a team that didn’t deserve it in the first place.  It tells a team that was clearly the best, or #1 – it doesn’t matter, because #3 and #4 have just a good a chance as you do anyhow.  Where’s the pay-off for being number one, especially for the student athletes who won’t be getting paid for playing an extra game?

Does any fan want to see a possibility of a Mississippi State vs TCU championship game?  Ohio State vs Oregon championship?  It could happen.  Are you willing to take the chance on those being the games determining who the “best” team in college was all year?  Get over yourselves.

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The truth of the matter is, the BCS got it right each and every year.  The best teams played for the National Championship – the two teams that played the best all year and deserved a shot at the Championship, played for it.  People want a playoff because they are obsessed with David taking on Goliath.  People love silly things like a Boise State or Northern Illinois team saying they deserve a chance to play for the championship because they went undefeated and won their Tom,Dick and Harry conference.  Just stop it.

Welcome to the college football world you wanted America.  Where being number 4 is just as good as being number 1.

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

NFC North: Week Thirteen

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NFC North Standings

1. Green Bay Packers 8-3 (4-1)

2. Detroit Lions 7-4 (2-0)

3. Chicago Bears 5-6 (1-2)

4. Minnesota Vikings 4-7 (0-4)

Chicago Bears vs Detroit Lions (Lions are the favorite at -6.5; over/under 47)

On Thanksgiving Day, the NFL kicks off it’s holidays festivities with this NFC North rivalry.  While the Bears vs Packers rivalry is the most storied rivalry – there is a line of respect between those two franchises.  In recent years though, the Bears vs Lions rivalry has been an intense one, where there is no love loss on either side after every contest.  The Lions are coming off back to back loses to two of the NFL’s stronger teams in the Cardinals and the Patriots, and this week are host to a Bears team that is on a two game winning streak while picking up the pieces to a disappointing season.

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The Bears “woes” have been documented by every football pundit with a voice or opinion for some time now, but in the last two weeks, the Bears have been trying to reclaim some identity and even more importantly, some pride.  An expected name on the Bears roster who has been making a noticeable impact is nickel corner, Demontre Hurst.  The Oklahoma alum went undrafted and after being signed onto the Bears in late September has found his way on the field getting a good number of snaps.  He seems to be that pesky type of corner who doesn’t shy away from contact and is capable of big plays.  Kyle Fuller went down in the second half and filled in admirably.  Admirably being the word of choice because the Bears secondary still gave up 341 yards in the air, but the scoreboard damage was kept to a minimal.  It was the Bears defense that forced the Bucs into turnovers in the second half which led to short scoring drive opportunities for this Bears offense. Stafford gets a pass for whate

The Detroit Lions are in danger of becoming. . . the Detroit Lions.   The team that “can’t get out of it’s own way,” is up to their old tricks again it seems.   When the Lions offense was without wide-receiver Calvin Johnson, the Detroit faithful kept telling themselves “the offense will pick up when Megatron comes back.”  Since the return of the Gridiron Decepticon the Lions have mustered a 6 point effort and a 9 point effort in back to back weeks.  An offense with Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate, Joique Bell and Eric Ebron led by an offensive minded disciplinary coach in Jim Caldwell, haven’t scored a touchdown in two games.  Who’s to blame?  The easy answer is Jim Caldwell, who has been critically acclaimed for offenses but not exactly for winning. The truth of the matter is: how much can you trust Matthew Stafford?

Stafford’s inability to stay consistent and play well consistently has been the trademark of his career, but most people sweep that under the rug.  His 13 touchdown passes are joined by 10 interceptions, 5 fumbles and one lost fumble on his stat sheet.  Stafford is a tough one to figure out, when his team is ahead by 9-16 points he has a quarterback rating of 50.3 and when his behind by 1-8 points his quarterback rating is 85.6 — those numbers just show that Matt Stafford can keep himself and his opponents in any game.

This one’s a tough call, and the line may be too big to ignore when you have a team losing two in a row, to a team with talent that has won two in a row.

Prediction: Bears 24, Lions 21;  Better’s Pick: Bears +6.5

Green Bay Packers vs New England Patriots (Green Bay is the favorite at -3; over/under: 58.5)

Super Bowl Preview?  Maybe, just maybe.  The NFL is such a week to week league it’s hard to call that in week 13, but these two teams might be the favorites out of their respective conferences at this point. The New England Patriots, are back to their old tricks being – you never know who they will throw at you.  Jonas Gray? Legarrette Blount? Tim Wright?  You just never know who their weapon of choice will be week to week.   One constant defenses do have to worry about is tight end Rob Gronkowski. “The Gronk” has totaled 58 receptions, 812 yards and 9 touchdowns so far this year – and has proven to be just as beastly as ever.  Their isn’t a linebacker who can cover him and their isn’t a safety or corner that can tackle this beast one on one.  A healthy Gronkowski has helped put Tom Brady back in MVP form.  Since the Patriots’ 2-2 start, Brady has thrown for at least 2 touchdowns in every game and is currently just two yards shy of passing the 3000 yard mark.

When talking “MVP” one can’t ignore what Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been doing.  After 11 games, Rodgers has a quarterback rating of 119.3 with video-game-like-numbers of  30 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.  Rodgers has been involving all members on the depth chart in the passing game and has things running fluidly in the passing game.  The Packers almost lost to a feisty Vikings team last week, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick must’ve liked what he saw.  The Vikings secondary was playing as physical as they ever had with the Packers receivers, even at times if the aggression took them out of position, they wanted to knock the timing off between Rodgers and his wide outs.  Ultimately, all it did was stall another Packers victory, but the Vikings did it with questionable talent in the secondary.  The Patriots bring one of the better corner back duos in the league with Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis.

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Expect this game to be a chess match more than a shoot-out as both head coaches, Mike McCarthy and Bill Belichick are two of the finest in the league.  Both teams will come out of the gates not wanting to be the first to make a mistake because all it takes is one slip up, for this game to go south for either team.

Prediction: Patriots 26, packers 21    Better’s Pick:  Under 58.5

Minnesota Vikings vs Carolina Panthers (Vikings are the favorite at -3; over/under: 43)

After talking about a rivalry game on Thanksgiving and a possible Super Bowl preview – we have this: Vikings vs Panthers.  Last year’s sweet hearts the Panthers seem to be a team in turmoil. Regardless of what head coach Ron Rivera says, Cam Newton has definitely been playing hurt for most, if not all, of this season, the yearly talks of management not retaining Rivera have started again, and wide receiver Jason Avant has been let go due to a riff between him and the coaching staff.   Cam Newton seems helpless out there on the field and as talented as he is, he is a quarterback that needs help.  Kelvin Benjamin has been a nice addition, but more times than not Benjamin has exemplified a receiver who uses his athleticism not his football i.q. in most situations.  The running game is non-existent behind Newton and this defense is a definite shell of what they were last season.

Sound like a walk down easy street for the Vikings, right?  Wrong.

Teddy Bridgewater has gone through his own share of struggles this year and it’s hard to tell if those struggles are his own or just the team as a whole.  In a surprising move the Vikings picked up recently released Browns running back Ben Tate off of waivers last week.  It was a surprise because there didn’t seem to be a need with the young backs Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata seemingly not doing terribly this year.  Asiata was sat out this week due to a concussion which made many think Tate would get a few carries behind McKinnon but instead Tate watched from the bench as rookie Joe Banyard got his first carries of his career against the Packers.

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It’ll be a tough call to say the Vikings will come out as intense and motivated against the Panthers as they did against the Packers last week.  The difference in this game is Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (56 receptions, 719 yards, 5 touchdowns) who is trying to put up numbers to get into a much deserved first pro-bowl of his career.

Prediction: Panthers 13, Vikings 10     Betters Pick: Under 43

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

NFC North: Week Twelve

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NFC North Standings:

1. Detroit Lions 7-3 (2-0)

2. Green Bay 7-3 (3-1)

3. Chicago Bears 4-6 (1-2)

4. Minnesota Vikings 4-6 (0-3)

Detroit Lions vs New England Patriots (Detroit is the underdog at +7; over/under 48)

Remember a few weeks back, we were looking at Detroit and waiting to see if they would be their own worst enemy as the season progressed?  Nobody is saying they are at that point yet, but Detroit fans must be getting worried right about now.

Detroit couldn’t get anything going offensively against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday and lost 14-6.  Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton played a great first quarter and that’s all he needed against this Lions defense.   Stanton threw two touchdowns in the first quarter, both to Michael Floyd – while Detroit struggled to get the ball passed the 50 yard line all game long.

The one “bright” spot for Detroit’s offense was running back Joique Bell, who rushed for 85 yards, but that doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t score you points or add some validity to the play action pass.

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Detroit now went from facing the best team in the NFC to playing the best team in the AFC, in back to back weeks.  Going into New England to face the NFL’s hottest team, the Patriots, will not be an easy task.  Detroit still brings one of the more feared defensive units to the table, but no matter how good a defense is – Tom Brady will undoubtably “get his.”  The question is: Will Detroit’s offense show up this week?

Matthew Stafford and the boys seem to play peek-a-boo with the scoreboard from week to week – head coach Jim Caldwell, was brought here to maintain order – but also to use his offensive mind to generate a powerhouse offense with the tools at his disposal.  Tom Brady is almost throwing at touchdown-interception ratio of 5:1 on the season and what this team has done well is keep every defense guessing each week.  A healthy Rob Gronkowski has opened up possibilities downfield for the other wideouts, and he has also been instrumental in helping the running game.  This trip to New England is exactly what the Lions don’t need at this point in the season.

Game Prediction: New England 31 Detroit 17; Better’s Pick: Patriots

Green Bay Packers vs Minnesota Vikings (Green Bay is the favorite at -9.5; over/under 48.5)

The Green Bay Packers are coming off their second 50 plus point performance in a row, as they made short work of the Philadelphia Eages 53-20.  Many thought this game would be a shoot out of sorts, but it turned into another Aaron Rodgers highlight reel.  Rodgers finished the game with 3 touchdown tosses and is just cruising on to an MVP caliber season.

The Green Bay defense has proven to be an opportunistic one, and as they keep forcing turnovers and giving the ball to an offense that has become “automatic” to some degree.

The Minnesota Vikings were hoping to catch a dysfunctional Chicago Bears team off guard but ended up playing against the Bears we all thought we would see all season long.  The Vikings defense was able to muster a few turnovers, but the Bears love turning the ball over so that’s not much of an accomplishment now-a-days.

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This Vikings offense has been a struggle to get going this season, and rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been regulated to  game-manager duties to try to keep his woeful roster at least competitive during games.  They just don’t have the tools week in and week out to score on NFL defenses — or to keep up with the NFL’s elite offenses, which is what they face in against Green Bay.

Green Bay will notch another division win and Aaron Rodgers will put up another 300 yard, 3 touchdown game and probably not even have to play in the fourth quarter. . .again.

Game Prediction: Packers 37, Vikings 10

Chicago Bears vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Chicago is the favorite at -6; over/under 46.5)

The Bears finally won a home game, so there’s that.  They also seemed to enjoy playing football for the first time in weeks, so there’s that as well.  Baby steps folks.

Sure it took the Bears to week 11 of the NFL to win at Soldier Field, but it was a win they desperately needed – not even for the sake of their season record, but for the sanity of their fans.

The Bears played against the Vikings the way many thought they would all season.  Jay Cutler threw for 330 yards and 3 touchdowns, two of those tosses went to his buddy Brandon Marshall and the other went to Alshon Jeffrey who had 135 yards receiving.   Defensive end Jared Allen showed some life against his former team racking up five tackles and an early sack in the game.

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The Bears try to retain some normalcy in their home as they welcome in a two win Tampa Bay Bucs team.

At the end of the day, these two teams are mathematically still factors in their division, but the story here isn’t the “long shot” hopes of these teams magically getting into the playoff picture – the story here is Lovie Smith coming back to Chicago.

The last time Chicago saw Lovie Smith he coached the Bears to a 10 win season, but fell short of the playoffs – soon after he was fired.  Under Lovie Smith, the Bears defense was typically a “top five” unit every year – this season, the Bears defense ranks at the bottom of the league.  Lovie will probably be showered with some cheers and applause before kickoff, but soon after will be greeted with the Chicago hospitality that he is used to seeing the opposition receive in the Windy City.

Tampa Bay made short work of the Redskins last week by capitalizing on mistakes made from the quarterback position.  Jay Cutler has been prone to mistakes, even on his best days so that’s something to keep an eye on.   Tampa Bay’s rookie wide receiver Mike Evans has emerged as the number one option on the team as he’s racked up 100 yard games in his last three weeks and has proven to be a match up nightmare.  He and Vincent Jackson should get some looks from quarterback Josh McCown (another former Bear) against a very questionable Bears secondary.

Although the Bucs record is pitiful, the talent on their roster isn’t.  Lovie Smith is relishing at this opportunity to stick it to his former team.

Game Prediction: Bears 24 Bucs 21; Better’s Pick: Bucs

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Is Dez Worth the Gamble?

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In 2010 the Dallas Cowboys traded up three spots in the draft with the New England Patriots to secure themselves of wide receiver Dez Bryant.  There was no denying the physical abilities and over-all talent of Bryant, but there were early character concerns and an abundance of baggage that he took with him to Dallas.

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There was a stolen jewelry case back in 2011, he was arrested in 2012 for assaulting his own mother (who had him when she was 14 and has her own checkered past) and owner Jerry Jones even initiated a type of “baby sitting” service, where Dez was to be followed around and watched over by some of Jerry’s people.

After this season, Dez Bryant’s contract is up and he wants to be paid the money an elite receiver should be paid.  His production proves he is definitely a top five wideout; in 2012 he racked up 92 receptions for 1382 yards and 12 touchdowns and last season he totaled 93 receptions, 1233 yards and 13 touchdowns.  This season he’s on pace for over 100 yards and 1400-1500 yards and over 12 touchdowns.  He is one of the toughest receivers to handle in one on one coverage due to his size and natural ability and has a knack for coming up in big moments.  The Cowboys know what he is and know for a fact he has the potential to not only be a top five receiver but to also be the best receiver in the NFL.  The only thing holding up a long term deal, is the Cowboys’ fear that Dez cannot get out of his own way.  In a recent report, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport revealed:

“I went to the DeSoto (Texas) City Police Department. I found six instances of police coming to Dez Bryant‘s house — that’s where he lives, in DeSoto. Among the incidents — and none of these were convictions — there was a harassment incident, there was a robbery at his house, the fire department had to come and unlock his car that had a sleeping baby inside. . . they (the Cowboys) are very nervous, and this is one reason they have not wanted to give him the guaranteed money that most elite receivers get.”

Once again, there is no denying the talents Dez Bryant, but for the Cowboys, is this really a necessary signing?

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For all the hard times pressed on Tony Romo through social media and social circles in general – Romo is the do all and end all for the Dallas Cowboys team.  Now that the team has an offensive line, one would like to think that the 34 year old quarterback can hang around another 4 years or so, like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have.  A good quarterback puts up pro bowl numbers with good wide receivers.  A great quarterback makes average receivers put up pro bowl like numbers.  Romo has made a lot of players look better than they actually were.  Miles Austin, Roy Williams, Laurent Robinson to name a few.  Does anyone really know if second year man Terrance Williams is as good as he looked? Nobody knows for sure, but he sure looks good with Romo throwing him the ball.

It may not be a popular thing to say, but Romo will be fine with whoever is at wide receiver and so will the Cowboys offense.  Scoring has never been a problem in Dallas with Romo.

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Now to play devil’s advocate: Do you really take that chance, knowing what kind of stud you have with Bryant?  Wouldn’t locking up one of the best quarterback to receiver tandems be a key for success?  Of course it would, but at the same time can you blame Dallas for being hesitant in giving Bryant a contract worth over $100 million?  And that’s not even calculating the guaranteed money.

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Dez Bryant has already partnered up with Jay-Z’s Roc-Nation Sports to help him get the money he wants.  Mr. “S Dot Carter” showed that he can play with the big boys last year when he snatched former Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano and got him a deal for 10 years worth $240 million to play in Seattle.   Dez is serious about getting paid and someone will ultimately give him what he wants.  Jerry Jones is well aware of that.

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

NFC North: Week 11

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NFC North Standings:

1. Detroit Lions 7-2 (2-0)

2. Green Bay Packers 6-3 (3-1)

3. Minnesota Vikings 4-5 (0-2)

4. Chicago Bears 3-6 (0-2)

Detroit Lions vs Arizona Cardinals (Lions are the underdog at +1.5; over/under 41.5)

After nine games, the Detroit Lions are 7-2 and sit on top of the NFC North.  Week to week the Lions come equipped with the NFL’s best defense and as of last week, they are now reloaded on offense with a healthy Calvin Johnson.  Calvin Johnson returned to action last week recording a touchdown catch and 113 yards receiving.  Matthew Stafford showed his appreciation to Golden Tate, who stepped up in Johnson’s absence.  Tate led the team with 11 receptions and totaled 109 yards receiving. The Lions outlasted a feisty and aggressive Miami Dolphins team and more importantly it seems this is not the Lions team of old.

There is still time for a “Detroit Lions Meltdown,” but with the defense playing like it has and Stafford not folding in the fourth quarter of games, it seems Detroit may finally “get it.”

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This week Detroit rolls into Arizona to face the Cardinals in what will be a battle between the two teams with the best records in the NFC.  The Cardinals are 8-1 and have done so under head coach Bruce Arians who may be the best coach in the NFL for the last three years. Arizona lost their quarterback Carson Palmer last week for the rest of the season due to an ACL tear last Sunday, and have handed the keys over to Drew Stanton.  Stanton came into last week’s game after Palmer went down and right away threw a long touchdown pass to rookie John Brown.  Arizona’s defense is no slouch as well and proved it with two defensive touchdowns in the fourth quarter to put the Rams away for good.

Although Drew Stanton played well when his number was called earlier this year, it is going to be hard to find folks who still believe in Arizona moving forward.  You can never count Arians out of any game as he prepares as well as anyone in the game but they are only the (slight) favorite in this match up because the game is being played in Arizona.  This is a test for both teams.  Detroit’s wideouts Johnson and Tate will be matched up against one of the best cover corner tandems in the league with Arizona’s Patrick Peterson and Dominic Rodgers Cromartie.  Detroit’s running game hasn’t really lifted off in recent weeks and Andrew Ellington of the Cardinals will have his hands full running against this Detroit defensive front.

Game Prediction: Arizona 15, Detroit 14;  Better’s Pick: the Under

Minnesota Vikings vs Chicago Bears (Vikings are the underdog at +3.5; over/under 47)

After two embarrassing loses by the Chicago Bears in which they gave up over 50 points to the Patriots and Packers in back to back weeks, there is good news and bad news in Chicago.  The Good News: Nobody lost their job.  The Bad News: Nobody lost their job.  It seems that the Chicago brass is willing to let this season ride out and let the chips fall where they may, while currently the Bears have fallen into last place in the NFC North.  To say the Bears have fallen short of expectations is an understatement.  The Bears defense gives up the fifth most passing yards a game and gives up an NFL worse, 30.8 points per game.  Last year this offense was a tenth of a point shy of averaging thirty points a game and this year  average 21.6.

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At least for Minnesota, they weren’t expected to do much, so at this point being third in the division with four wins can be considered over-achieving.  Norv Turner’s offense has been averaging less than 20 points a game, but in their last game verse the Redskins they put up 29 points (they scored 33 points in their three prior games combined).

There is really nothing to see here as the Chicago Bears have become a train wreck of a team / franchise.  Jay Cutler’s confidence seems completely shot, and the team’s confidence in each other and their coaching staff has become non-existent.  The Vikings are a young team who see a mentally destroyed division opponent in their path and are looking to make a statement within this division.  A victory for the Bears would be not giving up 50 points, but self inflicted mistakes will keep this young Vikings team in the game all four quarters.

Game Prediction: Vikings 19, Bears 21; Better’s Pick: Vikings

Green Bay Packers vs Philadelphia Eagles (Packers are the favorite at -4.5; over/under: 57)

On Sunday night, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers were trying to hold a practice on the field and the Bears were just in their way.  On Monday night, the same could be said for the Eagles, who were running defensive and offensive drills against the Carolina Panthers.

Both teams are coming off impressive prime time wins and now play a game that could figure into the wildcard/playoff picture.

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The Eagles, led by head coach, Chip Kelly – go into Green Bay and hope that back up quarterback Mark Sanchez’ confidence will continue to roll as they hit the road.  Mark Sanchez has gotten a bad rap for the most of his young career.  Some would say that his situation was just “unfortunate” to say the least, but for any negativity thrown his way, Sanchez has won four road playoff games and helped bring the New York Jets to two AFC Championships.  Now, Sanchez is in a system in which the offensive talent around him is one of the best a quarterback can ask for.  On Monday night against the Carolina Panthers, the offensive line gave Sanchez an eternity of time in the pocket and his arm looked as lively as it’s ever been.  Sanchez completed only 54% of his passes, but threw for over 300  yards and two touchdowns (first time he’s completed that feat in his career).

The Packers and Aaron Rodgers are always going to be a tough out for anyone because of the offensive game plan, but can their weaknesses be exploited by the Eagles?

Jordy Nelson is having a terrific season and has solidified his spot in the league as a top 10 wide receiver and he is going against a secondary that takes a lot of gambles on the ball and has improved week to week.  Nelson is an exceptional route runner who will find holes in the secondary, but expect Nelson to be more effective on in routes and slants than deep posts.  This is because the Eagles blitz and blitz and blitz on defense.  Aaron Rodgers won’t have the luxury of sitting and moving in the pocket with ease as he did against the Bears because the Eagles defense bring one of the more unpredictable blitz packages in the league.

The Packers offensive line will be under fire all game, and considering the running game has been a disappointment so far this year, the Packers may find themselves in a situation where the passing game won’t be enough.

The line is at -4.5 because the Packers just had a huge win on prime time and are at home against a team who is starting a back up quarterback.  This game would be a pick, or even have the Eagles at a slight favorite if it was at a neutral site.

Game Prediction: Eagles 29, Packers 18;  Better’s Pick: The Eagles

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

My Message to Bears Fans

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When your favorite team loses, the last phrase you want to hear is: “It’s only a game.”

Of course it’s, “only a game,” but that’s not the point.

It’s about dedication.  It’s about an unwavering loyalty, which to some who are not familiar with the sports world, may call “insane.”  That’s an acceptable notion.  It’s about the team colors, rivalries and tradition.  The Chicago Bears organization has had one of the most loyal fan-bases in American sports and the fans have gotten little in return.

Let’s not talk about the 1930’s, 40’s or 50’s teams, please.  Let’s not speak of Red Grange and Sid Luckman.  Lets not even speak about Gale Sayers and Dick Butkis.  Oh, the Super Bowl XX Champions?  Yeah, let’s bring that up every time we’re backed into a corner about our relevancy in the league.  Mike Ditka, Walter Payton, fine.  Bring those names up, at least they were relevant in the age of color TV.

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Walter Payton was the last player the Bears had of any real relevancy, and he retired in 1987.  Think about it, over the last 20 years the Lions, Vikings and Packers (all division rivals) have had arguably the best player at their position in their times.  Detroit: Barry Sanders and now Calvin Johnson; Minnesota: Randy Moss and Adrian Peterson; Green Bay: Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

What was that?  Oh, Brian Urlacher.  Sure he was without a doubt, our guy, but have you heard Urlacher recently?  Ever since his career ended on bad terms with the Bears, he has been nothing but overly critical and at times seems spiteful in his speech towards the team he spent his entire career with.  Yeah, that’s our guy.

Under head coach Lovie Smith, there was as a definite resurgence in the organization.  Smith led the team to the top of the division three times and made the playoffs a total of four times.  Smith led the Bears to Super Bowl XLI where they lost to the Colts 29-17 and was awarded with an extension soon after.  Although through his defensive scheming, Lovie Smith brought back the “Monsters of the Midway” – it was the Bears’ offense which seemed to be it’s achilles heel, year after year.

In 2013 the Bears decided to think “outside the box” and hire Marc Trestman . . . and that brings us to present day.

The Bears are currently 3-6 in a season that many thought would find them at the very least,  a wild-card team in the playoffs.  Those three wins included a ridiculous fourth quarter run against the under-achieving 49ers, an 8 point win over the lowly Jets and win over the Falcons, which doesn’t mean what it did two years ago.  Let’s not forget, all those wins were on the road as well.  The Bears are currently on a three game losing streak including blow-out loses to the Patriots and Packers where the Bears gave up 51 and 55 points respectively.

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The players have seemingly tuned out head coach Marc Trestman, and along the way have lost a feeling of urgency, accountability and pride.  The Bears defense, lacks any talent or leadership, and those woes were supposed to have been cleaned up with free agency.  Jared Allen was brought in, if not to be the force he was with the Vikings – to at least be a leader on and off the field, but even a player who’s character has been noted as one of the most excitable players in the league, has found himself muted. Lamaar Houston is a bust and this group of line backers may collectively be the absolute worst in the NFL.  Add to the fact that defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has no business in this league and you have a disaster on your hands.

Offensively, this was supposed to be a top five unit.  This is where Trestman supposedly excels and yet, it’s as confused a bunch as there is in the league.  The offensive line is inconsistent (with play and health), the play calling is borderline juvenile and there is no trust – in Cutler, or Cutler in this offense.  Jay Cutler continues to turn the ball over, which has brought about frustration in the locker room but even then – nobody seems to care.

Cutler never gets yelled at or even spoken to on the bench after a bad read.  Marc Trestman doesn’t get his head out of his play calling chart and the defense shakes their heads after nearly every play, while defensive coordinator Mel Tucker makes no adjustments. Yet, after getting blown out on national television by the rival Packers, ending the season in week 10 for Chicago – nothing changes.  Head coach Marc Trestman still has his job and even in his press conference reassured the jobs of those on his coaching staff.  Why hasn’t general manager Phil Emery made a move?  Or ownership? Because it’s “da Bears.”

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So my question to you, fellow Bears fans: “Why should we care?”

We have spent our hard earned money on tickets, jerseys, hats, food and grills for tailgates – we’ve shunned away family events because “the game is on,” – we strategically plan our Sundays around that three and a half hour time frame that the Bears are playing.  We have let our Monday mornings be destroyed by the heartache of losses like November 9th’s 55-14 slaughter at the hands of the Green Bay Packers.  We have tossed remote controls against the walls, broken many i-Phone screens slamming them to the ground (I’ve had my screen fixed four times in the last two years) – and we keep on coming back.

It makes no sense.  It’s like the guy who goes back with an ex girlfriend who’s cheated on him twice before.  You know how it will turn out and you still put yourself in a situation where you know you’ll get hurt.  You’re the idiot who thinks to yourself: “This time it will be different.”

In truth, this time it is a little different.  This is one of the more embarrassing times to be a Bears fan.  Although the records in the league tell you that the Jets, Titans, Raiders , Bucs and Jaguars all have worse records – when the Bears play badly, they outplay all the bad of those teams combined.  The worse thing this organization did, was give us expectations that this year would be different.  We’re the fools for believing.

In closing, my message to my fellow Bears fans is not to quit being a fan of the team – we all know, you can’t quit love – but stop being the fool.  Stop going to the games, stop buying the merchandise.  Stop giving this team money and they might start to give a damn about the product they put on the field.  Maybe they’ll get people in the right places in this organization to give it’s fans what they truly deserve.  And this goes beyond deserving a championship – we as the fans deserve some respect. 

Sincerely, A Bears fan for life

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

NFC North: Week Ten

NFC North Standings

1. Detroit Lions 6-2 (2-0)

2. Green Bay Packers 5-3 (2-1)

3. Minnesota Vikings 4-5 (0-2)

4. Chicago Bears 3-5 (0-1)

Chicago Bears vs Green Bay Packers (Packers are the favorite at -7.5; over/under:53.5)

These two teams met each other back on September 28th and what resulted in a 38-17 win for the Packers which in turn, was an embarrassing home loss for the Bears.  The paths for both teams have gone in different directions since then.  The Packers have gone 3-1 and the Bears have gone 1-3 since the late September meeting.

The Packers have been relying heavily on Aaron Rodgers and his quarterback rating of 113.6 which currently leads the NFL.  Though Rodgers is a master under center, some credit must be given to wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who is having one of his best seasons.  Before the season started, Nelson signed a four year extension worth $39 million, his 50 receptions with 737 yards receiving are proving to be worth the investment so far in 2014.

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The fact that the Packers can throw the ball doesn’t surprise anyone, but because of a disappointing first half of the season from running back Eddie Lacy, they’ve had to air it out more than they’ve liked.  The sophomore back was expected to vault himself into a “top 5 back” conversation this year, but averaging 53.5 yards a game is not what the Green Bay brass had envisioned.  It all might not be Lacy’s fault though.  The Green Bay offensive line is ranked 20th in run efficiency and 23rd in pass efficiency, according to footballoutsiders.com.  Aaron Roders has already been sacked 20 times this season and the offensive line has been stuffed at the line for 18% of their plays.

Luckily for the Packers, the Chicago Bears defense is giving up 27.8 points a game and has a revolving door of mediocrity at the line backer position.  The off-season signing of Lamaar Houston has turned out to be a tragic one, as Houston was a non-factor for the defense all year.  Adding to the disappointment Houston has been, he ruptured his ACL while celebrating a sack on New England’s back up quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo while the Bears were trailing by more than 3 scores in the fourth quarter.  As the kids on social media would say “SMH.”

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Although the defense has been a point of frustration, so has the play of quarterback Jay Cutler.  It’s quite simple with Cutler: In games he doesn’t throw an interception, the Bears win; In games where he throws an interception, the Bears lose.  The problem isn’t  one interception in a game.  It’s usually multiple and an occasional lost fumble as well. The play-calling has been a bit head scratching as well, especially from a head coach who many previously perceived as an offensive-genius.

The overall feel of the Chicago Bears is a team that lacks leadership and even lacks respect for head coach Marc Trestman.  Wide receiver Brandon Marshall hinted at small groups “forming” in the locker room and a lot of guys not being happy with the team’s current 3-5 record.  This game is a must-win for Chicago, who follow this game with two home games against the Vikings and the Bucs.  If the Bears have six losses, two of them being to Green Bay, before playing Detroit on Thanksgiving Day – it will be a long December for Chicago.

Prediction: Green Bay 26, Chicago 20;  Better’s Pick: Chicago +7.5

Detroit Lions vs Miami Dolphins (Lions are the favorite at -3; over/under 43.5)

Detroit and Miami present an interesting match up for the NFL weekend.  Not many saw Miami having five wins by mid season and not many thought the Lions’ strong point this year would be their defense and not their offense.

Credit should be given to a Detroit team that has had to deal with injuries to two of their biggest weapons on offense, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush.  Both will return this week and they both will be needed against a Dolphins defense is one of the stingiest this year.  Quarterback Matthew Stafford might have benefited from the absence of Johnson and Bush, because he has found a chemistry working with free agent acquisition Golden Tate.  In Detroit’s last two games, Tate has totaled over 300 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

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Detroit’s defense is tops in the NFL, only giving up 15.8 points and 290 yards a game.  Unlike Detroit though, Miami does not have the fire power on offense to go toe-to-toe with the Lions defensive unit.  Miami’s offense has over-achieved against less than stellar defensive competition in the last month (Chicago, Oakland, Jacksonville and a San Diego team that traveled from San Diego to Miami and had to play a 1 o’clock game).  Miami has tried using quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s speed and athleticism to their advantage by working designed runs and option plays with him.  If Miami gets too cute with play calling they’ll probably end up getting Tannehill hurt.

Detroit’s defense is aggressive and for the first time in over a month the offense is back together in one piece.  It might be ugly for a while, but Detroit pulls away ultimately.

Prediction: Detroit 24, Miami 13; Better’s Pick: Detroit

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

NFC North: Week Nine (Vikings Week)

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NFC North Standings:

1. Detroit Lions  6-2 (2-0)

2. Green Bay Packers 5-3 (2-1)

3. Chicago Bears 3-5 (0-1)

4. Minnesota Vikings 3-5 (0-2)

With Detroit escaping out of London with a 22-21 win over Atlanta, they stand on top of the NFC North in sole possession of first place.  The Green Bay Packers went to the Superdome on Sunday Night and found that there was truth to what folks have been saying for some time now: “The Saints are a different team at home.”  The sleeping giant that was the Saints’ offense, woke up and ran 44 points against a vulnerable Green Bay defense for the win.  And over in Foxboro . . . the Chicago Bears continue to unravel as they had no answer for Tom Brady and the Patriots, losing 51-23.

This leaves the Minnesota Vikings who after beating the Bucs in Tampa last week in overtime, are the only NFC North team scheduled to play this week.

The Minnesota Vikings play host to the Washington Redskins this week. As of now, Vegas has no line on the game and the reason for this, is quite obvious.

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The Washington Redskins expect their starting quarterback Robert Griffin III to start what would be his third game of the season.  RG3 has become somewhat of a lightning rod of controversy within the Washington Redskins organization.  The Redskins have gambled their future on an explosive player who has a hard time staying healthy.  In his absence, Redskins saw the rise and fall of back-up Kirk Cousins and they also witnessed their third string quarterback, Colt McCoy under center.  McCoy is coming off an emotional win over the Cowboys on Monday Night Football and for what it’s worth, his two game stat sheet looks better than RG3’s. . .

For all the talent on this Redskins offense, one thing is certain: Somebody, anybody – needs to take the reigns of the quarterback position.

The Vikings needed over-time and a “strip and score” touchdown courtesy of rookie linebacker Anthony Barr, to beat the lowly Tampa Bay Bucs last week – yet with a win this week, they can move to third place in the North and shove the Chicago Bears into the basement, for the time being.

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The Vikings defense is only allowing 212 yards a game through the air and it will be tested by the wide receiver / tight end talents that the Redskins have.  Washington’s pass defense is just as good as the Vikings, the only difference is, the lack of talent on the Vikings roster.  Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater hasn’t been able to stretch the field and in the five games he has played, he has only thrown two touchdown passes.

Truth is, if the Redskins decide to give RG3 another week to recover, they won’t miss a beat with McCoy.  There is too much talent on this offense for the Vikings to slow them down for four quarters.  The Redskins defense had a lot of success blitzing a good offensive line and quarterback on Monday Night against Dallas and Tony Romo – expect more of the same to throw the rookie quarterback Bridgewater into fits early.

Prediction: Redskins 33, Vikings 13

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

McCoy’s MNF Moment

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October 27th’s Monday Night Football game was more than a close contest which involved one of the games greatest rivalries. It was more than the 6-1 Cowboys playing host to an underwhelming Redskins team.  And it was more than a 3rd string quarterback starting against “America’s Team,” – or was it? The Redskins third string quarterback Colt McCoy received the start due to the benching of back-up Kirk Cousins in the previous week, who was keeping the seat warm until Robert Griffin III returned from injury.  McCoy hadn’t started a game in 3 years but McCoy is a different breed of  “third string quarterback.” Colt+Mccoy+Rice+v+Texas+ciXX1weGyt6l Colt McCoy was once the pride of the state of Texas. He was selected to Texas’ All-State first team as a high school football player and he who found his way to the University of Texas where his legend had been cemented. Before McCoy finished his collegiate career at Texas, he accounted for over 30 of the school’s passing and total offensive records.  He also set NCAA records which included “highest completion percentage in a season (76.7%)” and tied the record for “most touchdown passes thrown by a freshman (29).” The 2010 BCS National Championship game was supposed to be the storybook ending to his collegiate career, but things went sour quickly.  McCoy sustained a shoulder injury early in the game, forcing him to watch his team lose to Alabama 37-21. Colt was dealt a pretty raw deal when entering the draft as NFL pundits questioned his arm strength, size and just how healthy he would be come draft time.  For all the talk that associates quarterbacks with wins – a kid who was seemingly allergic to losing, was about to get the short end of the stick. Colt found himself drafted in the third round by the Cleveland Browns. Colt+Mccoy+Cleveland+Browns+v+Detroit+Lions+Hd7h77FPnTtl For a kid who had known nothing but success at a prestigious university he was in for a rude awakening in Cleveland. McCoy had some flashes, but mostly struggled while in Cleveland as it was a team lacking much talent or much of an identity. While at Cleveland, McCoy’s completion percentage was below 60% and had a quarterback rating of 74%.  This was a far cry from what the world remembered out of the two time Heisman Trophy candidate.  in 2013 the Browns traded McCoy to San Francisco where McCoy recorded one pass, for one completion, for 13 yards. That brings us to Monday Night. For a kid who’s glory days of playing high school and college football in the state of Texas — playing in prime time, against the Dallas Cowboys – this was going to be the biggest moment in his professional career. The Redskins (who entered the game as a nine point underdog ) put up a fight most didnt think they would muster. Colt McCoy at times looked a bit flustered and did throw a poor interception in the first half, but by Halftime the Redskins were only down. 7-3. The second half showed the Colt McCoy of old. The Colt McCoy that ruled the state of Texas. McCoy put his head down and ran a gutsy 7 yard touchdown to put his team up 17-10 in the fourth quarter. He was greeted with excitement by his fellow teammates in the end zone who seemed happier than he was about the score.  Moments after the dramatic run, McCoy’s jubilation may have turned to nerves as he played off the moment with a poker-face on the sideline. When the game went into overtime, McCoy outdid the showing of “grit” on his run, but escaping a Dallas pass rush and scrambling to the left.  While on the run, McCoy spotted tight end Jordan Reed and directed him to run into a fade route.  What resulted from that, was a beautiful touch pass from McCoy received by Reed who showed off his acrobatic like balance along the sidelines to make the catch. In short, McCoy was able to put the Redskins in position for the game winning field goal. Sure, he had to wait and see his defense do their job and stop Dallas from scoring any points on their next drive – but a win is a win, and for Colt McCoy it felt as good as a winning touchdown pass in the final play of the game. Colt+Mccoy+Washington+Redskins+v+Dallas+Cowboys+J8xoCl73iKOl With Robert Griffin III rumored to return next week, maybe this will be the end of McCoy’s story.  Then again, he is backing up a quarterback who, for all things considered, is injury prone – so maybe all is not over for McCoy.  In two games, McCoy has completed 85% of his passes for an average of 10 yards a clip.  No need to draw up a quarterback controversy – RG3 is the Redskins’ man, but this is Colt McCoy’s moment. G.W. Gras twitter @GeeSteelio