Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Panicking in private is a lot like a tree
falling in the woods -- it happens all the time but others don't necessarily
know about it.
Put that same hysteria in front of an audience, however, and you have the
The coach of a 9-4 football team alerted the world that he really doesn't
believe in his quarterback earlier in the week when John Harbaugh fired his
offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, and elevated quarterbacks coach Jim
Caldwell, the former head man in Indianapolis, to the position.
"My charge -- our responsibility as a coaching staff -- is to maximize the
opportunities for our team to win, and we can still reach all of our goals for
this season," said Harbaugh in a statement Monday. "We have a motto we follow
on this team: W.I.N. -- What's Important Now -- and what's important now is to
find ways to get better, win the AFC North and advance to the playoffs."
Harbaugh's decision came one day after the Ravens lost their second straight
game, coming up just short in a 31-28 overtime setback at Washington. That of
course came on the heels of a 23-20 loss to AFC North-rival Pittsburgh, a
hiccup which halted Baltimore's imposing 16-game winning streak in Charm City.
Heck, take away Ray Rice's miracle 4th-and-29 conversion back on Nov. 25 in
San Diego and you could have been cueing up Tom Petty in Baltimore, because
the Ravens would be Free Fallin'.
"We are going to make the most of our opportunities going forward, and this
change gives us a better possibility to achieve our goals," Harbaugh said.
"It's not about fair or unfair, right or wrong. My responsibility is to the
whole team and what's best for them right now. We need a change."
Needed a change?
Here's the reality of the situation. A Baltimore team without Ray Lewis and
Lardarius Webb still has a comfortable two-game lead over both the Steelers
and Cincinnati Bengals in the North with just three games to play and its two
losses have been by a combined six points.
Against Washington it was the Ravens' defense and special teams who came up
small. Baltimore allowed backup rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins to throw an
11-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon with 29 seconds left in the fourth
quarter before letting him run in the game-tying 2-point conversion.
In the extra frame the 'Skins Richard Crawford came through with a pivotal 64-
yard punt return to set up Kai Forbath's third field goal of the afternoon --
a 34-yard game-winner.
Joe Flacco threw three touchdown passes and Rice put up 121 rushing yards and
a touchdown on 20 attempts for the Ravens yet Cameron is the one looking for
"There is a very human side to this. Cam is my friend, he taught me a lot
about coaching, and he is an outstanding coach," Harbaugh continued.
"Personally, this is the hardest thing I've ever had to do as a coach. Cam has
been a significant contributor to all of our successes over the past four,
almost five, seasons. Deservedly, he is highly regarded, and we owe thanks to
him for what he did for the Ravens."
Clearly this had nothing to do with Cameron's job performance last Sunday --
it has to do with his relationship with Flacco, a good but not great NFL
The Ravens have been in the middle of the pack in total offense for much of
Cameron's five-year tenure with the club. The best rank for the team under
Cameron was 13th in 2009 and this year's unit was 19th entering Week 14.
Some in Baltimore feel those numbers should be better and Flacco should be in
the elite category by now, yet he still lacks pocket awareness and
occasionally makes poor decisions, things that are now being placed at the
feet of Cameron.
Harbaugh, who rarely criticizes Flacco, said pocket presence is an issue his
quarterback is well aware of.
"That's something that he's very much aware of," the coach said. "You turn the
ball over, you put yourself in jeopardy. I don't care what position it is. So
when you play that position and you're in the pocket, you need to protect that
football. That's something that we need to be better at going down the
It's safe to assume general manager Ozzie Newsome still believes in Flacco
since he drafted him and personnel people aren't exactly big on self-scouting
or looking in the mirror.
Newsome also now has to convince his owner, Steve Bisciotti, to either commit
big money to lock Flacco up after this season or at least put that decision
off another year by placing the franchise tag on the University of Delaware
It's clear Harbaugh, Newsome, or both felt Flacco was no longer improving
under Cameron and Caldwell, who spent nearly 10 years "tutoring" Peyton
Manning in Indy, could unlock something.
Talk about pie-in-the-sky.
Nothing against Caldwell but coaching Manning is similar to teaching a child
prodigy. You might point them in the right direction on occasion but it's best
to just get out of the way.
Things like the aforementioned pocket awareness, the ability to extend plays
and reading defenses when the bullets are flying are largely innate. Sure you
can improve slightly with extended film study but the greats have something
the rest of us don't.
Flacco is a capable guy -- nothing more, nothing less. He's never going to be
Manning or Tom Brady or Joe Montana no matter who is coaching him ... and
Baltimore is about to find that out.
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THE GAMES (All Times Eastern) - Overall record against the spread (92-109-7
.459). Last week (6-10).
Cincinnati (7-6) at Philadelphia (4-9), Thursday, 8:20 p.m.
LINE: Bengals by 3 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Bengals let one golden opportunity slip through their fingers
last week against Dallas. That can't happen on Thursday when they visit an
injury-plagued Philadelphia team. If Cincinnati, which finishes its season
with games against division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore, has any plans of
making the playoffs a win this week is imperative. The Eagles are playing a
ton of youngsters in a short week and their makeshift offensive line should be
no match for Geno Atkins and Co. A.J. Green, meanwhile, figures has to bounce
back against one of the NFL's most troubled secondaries.
PREDICTION: Bengals 24, Eagles 17
NY Giants (8-5) at Atlanta (11-2), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Falcons by 1 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Falcons need to bounce back from a poor performance in
Carolina last Sunday and send a message to a team which drubbed them, 24-2,
in the Wild Card round last year. Atlanta has already clinched the NFC South
and is closing in on a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the NFC,
while Big Blue leads the NFC East by one game over both Washington and Dallas.
"This game is very important," said Falcons head coach Mike Smith. "There are
a lot of things that are going to happen over the next few weeks and thats
what makes it fun. We've got to go out and play our best football of the year
PREDICTION: Falcons 21, Giants 20
Denver (10-3) at Baltimore (9-4), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Broncos by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Broncos have already clinched the AFC West and the Ravens can
secure the AFC North with a win. Both teams are vying for a first-round bye in
the postseason but the Ravens are in disarray, firing Cameron and elevating
Caldwell. Denver, meanwhile, has won eight consecutive games, the longest
current streak in the NFL.
"I'm focused on the Baltimore Ravens and I'm not going to sit back and watch
our playoff fate be based on other teams," said Rice. "We pride ourselves on
beating people and going into the playoffs strong. We've got to get ourselves
PREDICTION: Broncos 24, Ravens 20
Green Bay (9-4) at Chicago (8-5), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Packers by 3
THE SKINNY: Green Bay enters Week 15 with a one-game lead over Chicago in the
division and a victory will give the Packers the NFC North division crown for
the second consecutive season. The Bears still currently hold one of the two
NFC Wild Card spots but have lost four of five and quarterback Jay Cutler is
dealing with a stiff neck, while the team will be without defensive leader
Brian Urlacher (hamstring) and proven kicker Robbie Gould (calf)
"Its now about a three-game season and this next game," said Bears coach
Lovie Smith. "Thats going to dictate what happens with us. We're still in
position to accomplish all of our goals that we set out early on."
PREDICTION: Packers 24, Bears 14
Indianapolis (9-4) at Houston (11-2), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Texans by 7 1/2
THE SKINNY: Houston still owns the AFC's best record after laying an egg
against Tom Brady and the Patriots on Monday Night Football but
Indianapolis sits just two games behind the Texans in the AFC South and the
teams play each other twice in the final three weeks of the season.
"We're 11-2 and theres a lot to do this season," said Texans linebacker
Connor Barwin. "Theres a lot of football left. We have to move forward."
A win on Sunday by Houston will clinch the division for the Texans, who also
hold a slim one-game lead over Denver (10-3) and New England (10-3) for the
No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Colts,
meanwhile, can clinch a playoff berth with a win, something that would cement
quite a turnaround. Indy finished the 2011 season with a 2-14 record.
"It feels good," said Colts safety Antoine Bethea. "For us to come in here
this year and do the things that we've done so far, it feels good. As
everybody knows, last year was a long year for us. We've proven the critics
wrong but we still have three games left."
PREDICTION: Texans 24, Colts 21
Washington (7-6) at Cleveland (5-8), Sunday, 1 p.m.
THE SKINNY: All eyes will be on dynamic Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin
III this week as playoff-hopeful Washington gets ready to visit Cleveland.
Griffin suffered a Grade I sprain of the lateral collateral ligament in his
right knee in a win over Baltimore last Sunday and wide receiver Pierre Garcon
told ESPN Tuesday that backup quarterback Kirk Cousins will start against the
Browns. That said, Griffin hasn't been ruled out for the 'Skins, who are a
game behind the New York Giants in the NFC East and a game behind Chicago and
Seattle for a Wild Card berth. Cleveland, meanwhile, will be shooting for a
fourth straight win.
PREDICTION: Browns 20, Redskins 17
Jacksonville (2-11) at Miami (5-8), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Dolphins by 7
THE SKINNY: Jags QB Chad Henne will return to Miami in this Sunshine State
battle. Henne was selected in the second round by Dolphins in the 2008 NFL
Draft and spent four seasons in South Beach. In his past two games on the
road, Henne has passed for 556 yards with five TDs versus just one pick.
Miami, meanwhile, is using 2012 as a rebuilding year behind rookie QB Ryan
Tannehill, who already has the most passing yards (2,709) by a rookie in
PREDICTION: Dolphins 21, Jaguars 14
Tampa Bay (6-7) at New Orleans (5-8), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Saints by 3
THE SKINNY: Two slumping NFC South teams meet in the Big Easy. Both the Saints
and Bucs have lost three straight. New Orleans will be looking for its first
series sweep against the Buccaneers since the 2006 season, and its third
since the division was established in 2002. Since 2002, 14 of the 21 games
between these two clubs have been decided by a touchdown or less, including
the Saints' 35-28 victory at Raymond James Stadium on Oct. 21.
PREDICTION: Saints 23, Bucs 20
Minnesota (7-6) at St. Louis (6-6-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Rams by 3
THE SKINNY: Adrian Peterson continues his MVP push in St. Louis. Peterson has
rushed for 1,600 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 6.04 yards per carry
so far this season, becoming the third player in NFL history to rush for at
least 1,600 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 6.0-plus yards per carry
in his team's first 13 games. The others to accomplish the feat were Hall of
Famers Jim Brown (1963) and O.J. Simpson (1973). The Rams have stayed
surprisingly competitive behind QB Sam Bradford, and will be aiming for a
fourth straight win.
PREDICTION: Vikings 17, Rams 14
Detroit (4-9) at Arizona (4-9), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
LINE: Lions by 6
THE SKINNY: Despite a dismal season Detroit has the NFL's No.1 passing offense
at 307.8 yards per game and QB Matthew Stafford has already surpassed 4,000
passing yards for the second straight season. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson is
also on pace to break Jerry Rice's single season record for most receiving
yards. The Cards, meanwhile, have gone 0-9 since a 4-0 September and are in
the midst of their worst losing streak since 1944.
PREDICTION: Lions 21, Cards 10
Seattle (8-5) at Buffalo (5-8), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
LINE: Seahawks by 5 1/2
THE SKINNY: Winners of four of their last five, the Seahawks currently hold
the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoff picture and travel to Toronto this week to
face the Buffalo Bills. Marshawn Lynch, originally the 12th overall selection
in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Bills, will face his old team for the first time
as the second-leading rusher in the NFL with 1,266 yards. The Bills, who
defeated Washington 23-0 in the 2011 Toronto Series game, are led by RB C.J.
Spiller, who needs 56 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the first time in his
PREDICTION: Bills 24, Seahawks 23
Carolina (4-9) at San Diego (5-8), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
LINE: Chargers by 3
THE SKINNY: Cam Newton looks to build on a win over Atlanta in which he became
the first player in NFL history with 250-plus passing yards (287), 100-plus
rushing yards (116), a passing TD (two) and a rushing TD. In his past three
contests, Newton has thrown for seven TDs with no interceptions and a 118.1
passer rating. The Chargers come in off their first ever regular season win in
PREDICTION: Chargers 21, Panthers 17
Pittsburgh (7-6) at Dallas (7-6), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Steelers by 1 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Steelers visit Dallas for a key interconfernce battle.
Pittsburgh, which has won 12 of its past 14 versus NFC opponents, currently
has a precarious hold on the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC, while
the Cowboys are a game behind the NY Giants in the NFC East as well as a game
behind Chicago and Seattle in the Wild Card standings.
PREDICTION: Steelers 24, Cowboys 13
Kansas City (2-11) at Oakland (3-10), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Raiders by 3
THE SKINNY: Not much of interest here with the dismal Chiefs aiming to extend
their dominance over lowly Oakland in the Bay Area. Kansas City has won eight
of its past nine games in Oak-town.
PREDICTION: Chiefs 14, Raiders 13
San Francisco (9-3-1) at New England (10-3), Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
LINE: Patriots by 5 1/2
THE SKINNY: The 49ers can secure a playoff berth with a win in Foxboro and a
victory coupled with a Seattle loss to Buffalo would clinch the NFC West for
the second consecutive year for San Francisco.
"We're just locked in on this one here with New England," said 49ers head
coach Jim Harbaugh. "I really believe its about this next game. We don't take
anything for granted. Nothing is secured until its secured."
New England has won seven in a row, including Monday night's 42-14 drubbing of
Houston and has already claimed the AFC East but are now in search of a first-
round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
"It's always good to win these games," said quarterback Tom Brady who recorded
his 14th career game with at least four touchdown passes and no interceptions
against the Texans, the most in NFL history. "We've played a lot of big games
here. We've got a great football team coming in on a short week for us, so
we've got to put everything into this one next week."
PREDICTION: Patriots 30, 49ers 17
NY Jets (6-7) at Tennessee (4-9), Monday, 8:30 p.m.
LINE: Titans by 1 1/2
THE SKINNY: Somehow the Jets remain in the AFC playoff hunt and will search
for their third straight win against the Titans. New York has won five of its
past six over Tennessee overall and will try to slow down second-year Titans
QB Jake Locker, who is averaging 305.3 passing yards per game at home in 2012.
PREDICTION: Jets 20, Titans 13
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