Philadelphia, PA – In the end Rex Ryan really had no choice.
Mark Sanchez will remain the starting quarterback Sunday when the New York Jets visit the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Sanchez, of course, was benched in the third quarter of last week's game against Arizona and third-stringer Greg McElroy led the Jets to their lone touchdown in an ugly 7-6 win over the Cardinals.
Ryan indicated Monday he was comfortable with any of his quarterbacks as a starter, including the injured Tim Tebow. a player who is still immensely popular in the Jacksonville-area after his standout college career at the University of Florida.
"Well, I have three good quarterbacks and I feel good about (all) three quarterbacks," the coach said. "I think we're in a lot better situation than probably a lot of teams."
That was coach-speak.
Few consider McElroy the type of prospect who could develop into an NFL starter down the road, while Tebow, despite his often inexplicable late-game heroics last season in Denver, is a gimmick quarterback, quickly exposed when he has to play 60 minutes a week over a 16-game season.
Sanchez, on the other hand, has the pedigree if little else. The No. 5 overall pick in the 2009 draft out of Southern Cal has all the physical attributes you could ever want in a dropback quarterback.
Yet the Jets are 5-7 in 2012 and have struggled offensively throughout the season with Sanchez under center. The fourth-year starter has completed just 55 percent of his passes for 2,436 yards with 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Earlier in the campaign Sanchez became the first signal-caller since Stoney Case in 1999 to complete under 50 percent of his passes in four straight contests.
He was picked off three times in the first half against the Cards and threw for just 97 yards while completing only 10-of-21 passes before being pulled for the first time.
So what's the problem?
Clearly Santonio Holmes, New York's biggest playmaker, going down early in the season with a foot injury didn't help. Receivers like Jeremy Kerley, Chaz Schilens and rookie Stephen Hill have flashed at times but certainly don't put fear into opposing defensive coordinators and aren't consistent enough for Sanchez to trust them.
Sanchez also deserves plenty of the blame. His mechanics and footwork remain sloppy at times, too often he'll slide in the pocket instead of stepping up, and his intermediate to deep accuracy as a passer remains poor.
All that said this is a guy who has already led the Jets to two AFC Championship Game appearances, and is tied for the second most postseason road victories in history with four.
The real villain here is general manager Mike Tannenbaum, who hasn't provided Sanchez enough weapons on the outside to succeed and made the colossal blunder of acquiring Tebow, a deeply flawed player whose popularity transcends football.
The vast majority of NFL personnel people, Tannenbaum almost certainly among them, understand Tebow doesn't have a future in this league as a full-time starting quarterback.
Despite that, Tannenbaum, with the full understanding that Tebow's presence on the sideline would provide a constant distraction if Sanchez struggled, pulled the trigger.
Take a poll in New York today on who the Jets starting quarterback should be and Tebow, who is dealing with a rib injury, would certainly win it.
There's an adage in the NFL first coined by Buddy Ryan -- "If you listen to the fans, you'll be sitting up there with them," the gruff ex-coach of the Eagles and Cardinals once said.
"There will be no impact that way," Ryan said when asked if the fans' perceptions cloud his decision-making.
Nor should there be.
It's conceivable Tannenbaum felt "perceived" and not actual competition for Sanchez would fuel the California native and help him reach the next level.
That's turned out to be anything but the case, however, and the Jets, who signed Sanchez to a three-year extension with $20 million in guarantees in the offseason, now find themselves wed to a quarterback whose psyche may have been permanently affected.
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THE GAMES (All Times Eastern) - Overall record against the spread (86-99-7 .466). Last week (4-11-1).
Denver (9-3) at Oakland (3-9), Thursday, 8:20 p.m.
LINE: Broncos by 10
THE SKINNY: With their second straight AFC West title secured, the Broncos will turn their attention toward earning a first round bye in the postseason. That starts after a short week of preparation on Thursday in the Bay Area when Peyton Manning and Co. shoot to sweep their home-and-home season series with a struggling Raiders team, which is out of the postseason hunt for the 10th straight season.
PREDICTION: Broncos 31, Raiders 20
Dallas (6-6) at Cincinnati (7-5), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Bengals by 3
THE SKINNY: The Cowboys will visit the Bengals in a matchup between two teams both in the playoff chase after coming up with victories in Week 13. Fresh off passing Troy Aikman for the most touchdown passes in franchise history, Tony Romo will try to conquer a Bengals team shooting for a fifth straight win overall.
"Every game is a must-win from here on out," said Dallas wide receiver Miles Austin.
PREDICTION: Bengals 24, Cowboys 17
Baltimore (9-3) at Washington (6-6), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Redskins by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: Beltway bragging rights and a whole lot more are on the line when the Redskins host the Ravens. Baltimore can secure a playoff spot and the AFC North division while the Redskins, who have won three consecutive games, find themselves just one game behind the division-leading New York Giants in the NFC East.
Washington has won three division games in a row, including a 17-16 win over the Giants this past Monday night. Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III has a 140 passer rating and nine touchdown over that span, leading the NFL in both categories.
"We know that our backs are against the wall," said Griffin,"And even though we won (on Monday night), our backs are still against the wall."
Despite a Week 13 loss to rival Pittsburgh which snapped an NFL-best 15-game home winning streak, the 9-3 Ravens still lead the AFC North by two games.
"There's a lot of football left in this season," said Baltimore running back Ray Rice. "We can still go ahead and win the division. We're still the defending AFC North division champions. We've still got a lot of football left."
PREDICTION: Redskins 21, Ravens 20
St. Louis (5-6-1) at Buffalo (5-7), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Bills by 3
THE SKINNY: The Bills aim for their third straight win in Western New York behind the electric C.J. Spiller, who needs just 93 rush yards to reach 1,000 for first time in his career and is averaging an NFL-best 6.6 yards per carry. The Rams, meanwhile, might be the only team in football whose signature player is a kicker. "Legatron" Greg Zuerlein became the first kicker in NFL history to tie game as time expired and then win it in overtime with 50-plus- yard FGs against the 49ers last week. Overall, Zuerlein has banged in seven from 50-plus this season.
PREDICTION: Bills 24, Rams 17
Atlanta (11-1) at Carolina (3-9), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Falcons by 3 1/2
THE SKINNY: The 11-1 Falcons have already locked up the NFC South and will now try to secure home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs over the final month of the season. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan will shoot for his sixth consecutive win over a Panthers team with Cam Newton and little else.
PREDICTION: Falcons 30, Panthers 21
Kansas City (2-10) at Cleveland (4-8), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Browns by 5 1/2
THE SKINNY: Kansas City head coach Romeo Crennel returns to Cleveland to face off with a Browns team seeking its third straight win behind rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who will try to build on a career-best 364 passing yards in Oakland last week. The Chiefs, meanwhile, overcame the tragic circumstances surrounding the murder-suicide of Javon Belcher to win just their second game of the season last Sunday. Crennel was the Browns head coach from 2005-08.
PREDICTION: Browns 20, Chiefs 14
Tennessee (4-8) at Indianapolis (8-4), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Colts by 5 1/2
THE SKINNY: Andrew Luck will try to keep steering the Colts toward the postseason and become the first No. 1 overall pick to record nine wins as a starter in the Super Bowl era. The Stanford product has already thrown for 3,596 yards, the most by a rookie QB in NFL history through his team's first 12 games and has six 300-yard passing games, most ever by a first-year player. The Titans are out of the playoff conversation after consecutive losses to Jacksonville and Houston.
PREDICTION: Colts 24, Titans 14
NY Jets (5-7) at Jacksonville (2-10), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Jets by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Jags are 3-0 all-time at home versus New York and starting quarterback Chad Henne has had some success in the past against the Jets, compiling a 3-1 mark with a 94.2 passer rating as a starter.
PREDICTION: Jaguars 20, Jets 17
Chicago (8-4) at Minnesota (6-6), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Bears by 3
THE SKINNY: Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is still looking for his first coaching win against his old team (0-4) and Chicago will be without the services of star middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who is out with a significant hamstring injury. That said, Christian Ponder's rapid regression gives Minnesota little chance against Jay Cutler, who has won five straight over the Vikings, amassing 13 TDs and a 100.9 passer rating over that span.
PREDICTION: Bears 28, Vikings 17
San Diego (4-8) at Pittsburgh (7-5), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: No Line
THE SKINNY: All eyes remain on "Big Ben" this week in Pittsburgh. The injured Ben Roethlisberger's availability for Sunday's game against the Chargers will depend on how he performs in practice this week. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday that Charlie Batch is scheduled to start the game but Roethlisberger, who has missed the last three contests with rib and shoulder injuries, has a chance to prove he is ready to play.
"Ben is getting closer to healthy," Tomlin said. "He threw (Monday) and I guess it could be described as successfully. We'll see what it looks like on the football field (Wednesday). He will be given an opportunity to prove that he is healthy and we will let that progress go from there."
The Steelers dropped their first two games without Roethlisberger in the lineup, but bounced back with a big win at Baltimore in Week 13. With the moribund Chargers heading to Western Pennsylvania it may not matter who starts this week.
PREDICTION: Steelers 23, Chargers 16
Philadelphia (3-9) at Tampa Bay (6-6), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Buccaneers by 7
THE SKINNY: A two-game losing streak has the Bucs playoff hopes on life support but a visit from the lowly Eagles could be a tonic. Philadelphia officially pulled the plug on Michael Vick earlier this week, announcing rookie quarterback Nick Foles will remain the starter for the remainder of the 2012 season. The Eagles, who resemble a soap opera these days, also fired defensive line coach Jim Washburn as Andy Reid's 14-year tenure in Philadelphia approaches the finish line.
PREDICTION: Bucs 30, Eagles 17
Miami (5-7) at San Francisco (8-3-1), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
LINE: 49ers by 10
THE SKINNY: The mighty 49ers are probably happy to put the Rams in the rearview mirror for good in 2012. Neither Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick could solve St. Louis but forget the quarterback controversy for now, Jim Harbaugh is intent on forging ahead with Kaepernick and the big play dimension he provides. Expect a bounce back game from San Francisco this week with Aldon Smith, who has 31 1/2 sacks in 28 career games, harassing rookie QB Ryan Tannehill.
PREDICTION: 49ers 28, Dolphins 14
New Orleans (5-7) at NY Giants (7-5), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Giants by 5
THE SKINNY: Saints quarterback Drew Brees is 4-0 in his career versus the Giants with a 122.1 passer rating but is coming off one of the worst performances on his career, a five-interception affair in Atlanta on Nov. 29. New York, meanwhile, has let Dallas and Washington back in the NFC East race by dropping three of four. "Big Blue" tends to play its best when its back is against the wall and that starts this week.
PREDICTION: Giants 27, Saints 23
Arizona (4-8) at Seattle (7-5), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Seahawks by 10 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Cards haven't won since September and Russell Wilson is 5-0 at home with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. You do the math.
PREDICTION: Seahawks 21, Cardinals 10
Detroit (4-8) at Green Bay (8-4), Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
LINE: Packers by 6 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Packers aim for their 11th consecutive win in NFC North division play when they host the Lions. Reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers threw a touchdown pass in his 35th consecutive game at Lambeau Field against Minnesota last week, the longest such streak at one stadium in NFL history, passing Johnny Unitas' 34 games at Baltimore's old Memorial Stadium.
In last year's meeting between these two teams at Lambeau Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for 520 yards and five touchdowns. This time around Detroit's passing attack leads the NFL with 312.5 yards per game and star receiver Calvin Johnson, who leads the league with 1,428 receiving yards, has become the first player in NFL history with four consecutive games with at least 140 receiving yards.
PREDICTION: Packers 28, Lions 20
Houston (11-1) at New England (9-3), Monday, 8:30 p.m.
LINE: Patriots by 3 1/2
THE SKINNY: Two of the NFL's best teams will meet on Monday night. Both the Texans and Pats have already clinched a playoff berth but this matchup may help determine the seeding for the AFC playoffs.
At 11-1, the Texans lead the AFC South and can move one step closer to clinching the division. In Houston's Week 13 victory at Tennessee, the defense recorded six sacks and forced six turnovers. Leading the way was star defensive end J.J. Watt, who had a sack, forced fumble and two passes defensed, becoming the first player with at least 15 sacks (15 1/2) and 15 passes defensed (15) in a single season.
"New England has obviously been an AFC power for a while," said Watt. "I know this game is going to be a big deal. We're going to prepare just like every other week with intensity, focus and drive. We're really excited about our chances."
With last week's 23-16 win at Miami, the Patriots clinched the AFC East for the fourth consecutive year and ninth time in the past 10 seasons. The division crown is the 10th for Tom Brady, the most in NFL history by a starting quarterback.
"It's a good feeling being able to win the division," said New England head coach Bill Belichick. "We'll turn the page here now and move on to Houston. They're a real good football team and it will be a big challenge for us."
PREDICTION: Patriots 24, Texans 20