In this installment of CBCSports.ca's weekly NFL chatter, the guys debate Falcons coach Mike Smith's controversial decision in OT, the potentially devastating loss of Houston QB Matt Schaub, the legitimacy of the San Francisco 49ers, and the struggling Buffalo Bills.
Falcons coach Mike Smith made a controversial decision by going for it on 4th and inches on the team's own 29-yard line in overtime. The call backfired as the Saints stuffed Falcons running back Michael Turner and won on a game-winning field goal. Is the backlash Smith is facing justified?
Jason Davidson: When it works out you're a mastermind, when it doesn't they question your play-calling abilities. Mike Smith didn't want to punt the ball away out of fear/respect to Drew Brees. Simple as that. But I do admire the bravado in his decision given how deep Atlanta was pinned in its own end. Michael Turner is the kind of guy who won't usually get stuffed in such a situation. The Saints do not have one of the best defences in the NFL so if the Falcons get that first down and go on to win, both teams are 6-4 and tied atop the NFC South. Unfortunately, with many predicting that the Falcons would go all the way to the Super Bowl (not me) this decision could very well cost Atlanta a playoff spot.
Jesse Campigotto: I give Smith points for boldness - and I hate this inevitable backlash that ensues any time a coach makes an unconventional decision on fourth down, even when it's the right one (who can forget the Belichick-Indy call) - but I don't understand why more coaches don't call for a QB sneak when it's inches to go. Why give up those few feet of valuable territory it takes to hand the ball off when all your QB needs to do is fall forward?
Tony Care: Smith basically said he did it out of fear of Drew Brees. I get that part. But it's not like you're in New Orleans' end of the field. He rolled the dice, and when he lost, the Saints were handed the ball while already in field goal range. Even if Turner had made the first down, the Falcons still needed to travel about 40 yards just to get their kicker close enough. Just an awful decision, in my view.
ESPN is reporting that Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub is out for the season with a foot injury, a potential devastating blow. They've lost DE Mario Williams, they've lost WR Andre Johnson, but haven't missed a beat. Can the Texans actually win the AFC South without their franchise QB.
Tony Care: My initial reaction was to stick the fork in them, but the more I thought about it, the more I feel they can pull the division out. First, the AFC South is bad this year, with only Tennessee providing a challenge. And the Texans' offensive cupboard isn't bare. While I don't have any faith in backup Matt Leinart, the backfield duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate have been terrific. Aside from his rushing numbers, Foster has already posted more than 100 receiving yards three times this year. And don't forget that Andre Johnson will likely return after Houston's bye week, which definitely comes at the right time.
Jesse Campigotto: Well, that should do it for Houston's Super Bowl chances, but with their defence and offensive playmakers they can still win a division that features the likes of Tennessee, Jacksonville and Indy. Even without star defensive end Mario Williams, Houston is tied for second in the league in yards per play allowed. On offence, the Schaub injury could have come at a worse time. The Texans have a bye this week, which gives Matt Leinart more time to get ready, and there's talk that star wideout Andre Johnson is almost ready to return from hamstring surgery.
Jason Davidson: Now we finally get to see what Matt Leinart is made of. Luckily for the Texans, they are on a roll right now and aren't exactly playing in football's strongest division. Their biggest challenge within the division down the stretch will come from the Tennessee Titans but they are sitting two games behind. They're schedule isn't looking too hard with six games to go - three at home, three on the road. The Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts are amongst the remaining opponents. Just another challenge for a team which has succeeded despite dealing with significant injuries.
The San Francisco 49ers won their seventh straight game following an impressive win over the New York Giants. Is it time to call this team legit?
Jesse Campigotto: Oh, the Niners have been legit for quite some time. Sure, their schedule isn't the toughest, but you can't ignore their plus-95 point differential (third-best in the league) and those 15.3 points allowed per game (tops in the league). With five of their remaining seven games against NFC West weaklings St. Louis, Arizona and Seattle, the 8-1 Niners are headed for a first-round bye.
Jason Davidson: The fact that Vic Fangio's defence has surrendered a league-low 138 points is enough to declare this team a legitimate force. How about rookie linebacker Aldon Smith? Tied for 11th in the NFL with 6.5 sacks. Expect to hear about this guy for some time to come. On the other side of the ball, Vernon Davis, who wears his heart on his sleeve, has been backing it up with his play on the field. The 49ers can go 1-6 or 2-5 in their last seven games and the NFC West is still easily theirs. They are in great position for a first-round bye and that hasn't happened in 'Frisco since 1997. Oh and Alex Smith is finally making me believe that he's a good quarterback.
Tony Care: I thought they were legit a couple of weeks ago when they beat Detroit. As long as the defence keeps making plays, the 49ers have a shot to do some damage in the playoffs. The running game continues to shine. I mean, Frank Gore left the game with a knee injury in the second quarter and the 49ers didn't miss a beat. Kendall Hunter stepped right in, rushed the ball six times for 40 yards and scores a touchdown. San Francisco won't be an easy out, I'll tell you that much.
The Buffalo Bills suffered their second straight defeat after getting crushed in Dallas. The loss dropped them one game behind the Patriots in the AFC East and the team is tied with the New York Jets. Are the Bills' playoff hopes fading?
Tony Care: I don't like their chances. The Bills are 5-4 and can only afford to lose two more games if they hope to make the playoffs. Now, they play the Jets, who already handled them in Buffalo, on the road and travel to New England on the final week of the season. The Pats could be playing for home field so you know they won't lift the pedal off the gas. They also have Tennessee, San Diego, Miami twice and Denver. All five games are winnable but by no means easy.
Jason Davidson: I'm not willing to write off the Buffalo Bills just yet. They still get to play the Miami Dolphins twice and the Denver Broncos once. Three wins they need to have. Luckily, for those in Western New York, the AFC has been relatively weak this season but there are injury concerns. Not having Rian Lindell to kick a key field goal down the stretch may come back to haunt them. Tough sledding ahead with three of their final seven games happening on the road. It looks like a battle for a wild card spot at best.
Jesse Campigotto: As you guys know, I had the misfortune of being in the seats at Cowboys Stadium (spectacular, by the way) for this debacle, and it was hard to shake the feeling that the Bills' season is crumbling. That's two blowout losses in a row to good teams, and the injuries are piling up. Buffalo's best defensive player, Kyle Williams, is out for the year; kicker Rian Lindell is out; left tackle Demetrius Bell and backup Chris Hairston haven't played in weeks; and now centre Eric Wood is done for the season. Oh, and Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn't looked the same since taking a big hit to the torso against Washington in Week 8. I don't care who you are, you can't overcome that many losses. The Bills are on their way out, fellas.
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