Switching things up, I’m going to try doing this by conference rather than by game.
Ok, it’s definitely time to worry about the Patriots. They lose what was basically a reenactment of their Super Bowl loss to the Giants with a deflating defeat to put them in a three way tie for first with the Bills and Jets. On defense they can’t get to the passer, and they don’t cover anyone for a significant amount of time. On offense Tom Brady isn’t getting any time to throw, he has no viable downfield threats, and no one is stepping up in the run game. They look like a fringe playoff team at this point. Their schedule isn’t terribly tough the rest of the way, but I think they drop to 5-4 with a loss to the Jets this Sunday night.
Streaky team the Jets are. Two wins – three losses – three wins. I’m still not terribly high on this team, and that’s mostly due to Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene. Santonio Holmes is completely wasted in this offense, and it’s hard to watch. Greene has put together a few decent games, but ground-and-pound’s lead rusher has only two TDs on the year.
Buffalo disappointed me losing to the Jets in a type of game – playoff caliber division opponent – they need to win. The offense couldn’t get anything together, and now they think they’re going to be without NT Kyle Williams the rest of the year. Not good. Can they maintain at least a tie for first with a win at Dallas this week?
They finally got their win, but the Dolphins are still the surefire 4th place team in this division. I think they get 1 maybe 2 (Redskins, Bills, Raiders) wins the rest of the way and are looking at a draft pick in the top 5 behind Indy. Matt Barkley? Landry Jones?
Wow! What a showing by the Ravens in Pittsburgh this past Sunday. They were the better team for three quarters and looked to be giving it away in the fourth when Joe Flacco hooked up with Torrey Smith for the game winner. Listening for Flacco after the game, you could tell this one meant a hell of lot to him. I think I heard that the Ravens converted a ridiculous 14 third downs against the Steeler defense. Great job of playing through adversity and winning a huge road game.
I didn’t lose anything for the Steelers with that loss; just think that Baltimore is the better team this year. Pittsburgh could let this loss get to them and cause them to lose focus in a big division game against the Bengals Sunday. If they stay focused, this team could go on quite a run the rest of the way as San Francisco and Cincinnati are their only remaining opponents with (currently) winning records.
Way to go Cincinnati. I struggle to give this team a ton of credit, but I really love what I’m seeing on offense with Andy Dalton and AJ Green. Dalton had done a great job taking over the offense, and Green is already a legit NFL playmaker. They’ve won five straight, against mostly subpar competition, but five straight is five straight. I don’t think they make the playoffs (five remaining against Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Houston), but Marvin Lewis (another coach I’ve been down on) deserves a lot of credit for getting these guys ready to play every week. Let’s see if he/they can keep it up the rest of the way as the schedule gets a lot tougher.
The biggest story in Cleveland right now is about a player who hasn’t done much of anything on the field this year. Peyton Hillis re-aggravated a hamstring injury and isn’t getting back out there any time soon. The schedule is kind the next two weeks (Rams and Jags), but five of their last six games are against the division.
The cheese stands alone. Houston is clearly the class of this division and should clinch the title any week now. Arian Foster is rolling offensively, racking up this third straight game of 112 or more rushing yards. He also has 5 TDs in those games. Tampa Bay is next up for Foster, and they’ll be without Gerald McCoy in a game where any and all defensive line talent is needed.
Like I said last week, these Titans look destined for 8-8 or worse. They were bad against the Bengals at home, surrendering a 10 point halftime lead by being shutout in the second half. Chris Johnson finally had a decent game, and he’ll get to face a porous Panthers defense that gave up 162 all purpose yards to Adrian Peterson two weeks ago.
Jacksonville and Indy get to share this last spot. Indy’s awfulness is the only thing keeping the Jags from the basement of this division and possibly the entire AFC. The Jags were on a bye, so things didn’t get any worse for them last week. The same can’t be said for Indy who lost Dallas Clark for what looks like a long time with a knee injury. With the Dolphins winning and the Colts looking like they won’t do that until next year, Andrew Luck will probably be a Colt if he comes out after this season.
If the South is the football equivalent of a Pinto, the West is a Chevette. Sure they’ve go the Colts and Jags, but at least the South has a team with a winning record. The Chiefs, Chargers, and Raiders are all tied for first at 4-4, but they all have plenty of warts.
The Chargers lost to the defending champs in a game that saw Philip Rivers throw two pick sixes and nearly a third. They had a nice comeback against a shaky Packers pass defense but ended up with their third straight loss. If I’m projecting a winner I still think it’s the Chargers, but that’s more a knock against the other teams than a shot of confidence in San Diego.
The Chiefs respond to a thrilling MNF win with an absolute dud against the previously winless Dolphins. How do you win 4 straight and then get smoked 31-3 at home by an 0-7 team? Who knows what to expect this week against the Broncos.
The Raiders spent a hell of a lot to acquire a QB who has thrown 6 INTs in less than 6 quarters of football so far. Carson Palmer did throw for 332 yards and 3 scores, but the turnovers can’t continue. Another concern is that they allowed the Broncos to run for 199 yards, including a 60 yard score by Willis McGahee. They get a short turnaround this week against the Chargers in the year’s first Thursday night game. It looks like Darren McFadden will miss yet another contest, but Michael Bush, possibly the best backup in the business, has run for just under 100 yards in back-to-back weeks on just 36 total carries. I’ve got to think Palmer gets better, but maintaining a solid ground game is crucial.
The Broncos pulled out off a huge comeback against the Raiders, spearheaded by two second half Willis McGahee TDs. The old man ran for 163 yards (8.2 avg) or 39 more than Tebow accrued with his arm. They get the Chiefs next, but I’m extremely anxious to see Tebow against the Jets next Thursday.
I admit I probably slight the Giants more than I should. They’re sitting at a pretty comfortable 6-2 in first place and are fresh off an impressive win at New England. I think this week’s trip to San Francisco is a tougher test and will prove to be an enjoyable game to watch. The one worry I have is Ahmad Bradshaw’s foot issue. They’re a much better team with him on the field. They’re probably the best team in the division, but their schedule is flat out brutal the rest of the way (@SF, v.PHI, @NO, v.GB, @DAL, v.WAS, @NYJ, v.DAL).
Dallas continued their seesaw season with a win over the nonthreatening Seahawks. I’ve got to think DeMarco Murray has assumed ownership of the starting tailback job with another 100+ yard game. He’s obviously their best running threat. They’re losing Miles Austin for at least a couple of weeks due to another hamstring injury, but I like how Laurent Robinson has stepped up the last two weeks. They’ll be counting on him even more now, especially if Dez Bryant keeps dropping footballs on his way to the endzone.
So much for that. After routing Dallas the previous week, the Eagles go out and get owned at home by Jay Cutler and the Bears. Their “dominant” defense gave up too many third down conversions, blew coverages, and committed stupid penalties. At the end of the night, they’re 3-5 and tied for last in the division. Michael Vick doesn’t look capable of winning games at this point. Think Philly regrets that contract yet? He’s erratic just doesn’t seem to have the confidence he showed last year. His 9 INTs already exceed his 6 from last year, and his QB rating is his lowest since Atlanta. Finishing .500 looks like a stretch at this point.
The Redskins continue their slide with a fourth straight loss, and I’m not convinced they keep Miami from getting their second win of the year this week. John Beck might not be a downgrade from Rex Grossman, but that doesn’t mean he should be starting in the NFL. This offense isn’t going very far with him at the helm, but Roy Helu’s 14 catches for 105 yards are worth noting.
They just keep on keeping on. I don’t like how they let San Diego get right back into a game that should have been well in hand, but scoring 45 points on the road against the 4th ranked pass defense in the game is nothing to sneeze at. Green Bay’s pass defense on the other hand is second worst in the league to New England’s. If they lose a regular season game this year I think it’s going to be either at Detroit (week 12) or at home against the Bears (week 16).
Speaking of the Bears, that was quite the complete performance. The defense was on its game, especially Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte. Matt Forte ran for over 5 yards a carry once again and is one of the game’s top offensive threats. He’s probably one of the three most truly valuable players in the league. The other bright spots were the play of Jay Cutler and the stellar blocking from his offensive line. Cutler has become the poster boy for sacks, but on MNF, the Eagles didn’t get to him once. Bravo Bears blockers. Cutler was comfortable in the pocket, consistently scanned the field, and kept the chains moving. That win should go a long way in helping their playoff chances.
Fresh off their bye, Detroit travels to Chicago where they’ll try to halt the Bears’ three game win streak. The last time the Bears lost was a month ago at Detroit. I think you’ll see a lot of Matt Forte running against this Lions defense and Matthew Stafford working the ball deep to Calvin Johnson. Detroit can separate themselves from Chicago quite a bit with a road win Sunday. They’d be two games up in the standings with a 2-0 record against the Bears this year.
Minnesota sat out last week as well, but they’ve got to be pleased with the direction they’re headed with Christian Ponder at QB. They’re facing the Packers for the second time in three games, so while this will likely end in defeat, I think they’re going to be a bit of a spoiler (Oakland, Atlanta, Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago) the rest of the way.
New Orleans got back on track last week at home against the Bucs avenging that road loss from last month. The Saints were in control of this one throughout despite not getting a signature statistical ‘splosion from Drew Brees. Mark Ingram sat out another game, but Chris Ivory ran very well in his place. Pierre Thomas continues to produce when called upon, and Darren Sproles simply makes plays.
The Falcons became the latest team to victimize the Colts with a 31-7 snoozer of a win. Julio Jones caught only three passes, but he turned two of them into scores and totaled 131 yards receiving. I wouldn’t call him a disappointment, but Roddy White isn’t putting up near the numbers from last year. Aside from Jones, Tony Gonzalez is getting a lot of action as well, which is taking away from White’s targets. They host the first place Saints Sunday where a victory gets them a share of the top spot in the division.
The Bucs sit third in the South, and that’s likely where they’ll finish. Their brand of sloppy, inconsistent football isn’t a recipe for success, as has been well exhibited in their last two contests. They host the Texans this week in a game that I expect the Texans to control. As I mentioned earlier, Arian Foster is on a roll, and the Bucs are getting thin in the middle of that defensive line. The outside linebackers aren’t contributing, and the secondary play outside of Tanard Jackson and an occasional Ronde Barber spark is atrocious. After Houston it’s on the road to Green Bay. The Bucs could very well be riding a four game losing streak and a 4-6 record to Tennessee Thanksgiving Sunday.
Carolina’s 2-6, but only one of their losses was by more than 7 points. They’re losing, but they’re competitive. Reason #1 is Cam Newton who’s playing the QB position a hell of a lot better and a doing so a hell of a lot quicker than I thought he would. Steve Smith has to be the happiest player in the league with Newton revitalizing his career. And Smith was supposedly finished and on his way out of town. They’ll be Tennessee this week.
This one’s about wrapped up already. The Niners are now 7-1 and are an overtime loss to Dallas from being a stunning 8-0. They’ve got the Giants coming to town this week, and while I’m a converted believer, they could really say something by beating another division leader. This one has game of the week potential. After this one, the only two tough games remaining on their schedule are the Ravens and Steelers. Way to go Jim Harbaugh!
The rest of this division gets lumped together. As surprised as I am in the 49ers impressive season, I might be more surprised that the Rams are 1-7. This has become a wasted season for Sam Bradford, and the Rams have to just hope he gets through this without any further injuries. The Seahawks have looked bad three weeks in a row and now have Baltimore coming into town. Make that four weeks in a row. Arizona won their second game of the year and did so with John Skelton at QB. How’s that Kolb trade look now? Hell of a game winning return by Patrick Peterson! Love that dude.
Best and Worst
Best Teams (Previous Rank)
1 – Green Bay (1)
Gotta love how they continue to roll through everyone even with the target on their backs.
2 – Baltimore (2)
HUGE win at Pittsburgh. Their two road flops from being an unbeaten 8-0.
3 – New Orleans (3)
Got a redemption win against the Bucs last week and have a tougher task this week in Atlanta.
4 – Pittsburgh (4)
Won’t penalize them for losing a tough game to a great team. I think they rebound against the Bengals.
5 – San Francisco (5)
Show me more!
6 – Houston (NR)
I think they’re good, but something is keeping me from going all in with them.
7 – Detroit (8)
The luster is wearing off a bit, but a win at Chicago could get me back on the bandwagon.
8 – NY Giants (NR)
Like the Niners, I’ve got to list these guys until they prove they don’t belong.
OUT – New England (6), Buffalo (7)
Worst Teams (Previous Rank)
1 – Indianapolis (1)
Luck Fever! Can you smell it Indianapolis?!
2 – Miami (2)
Dare to dream that they win two in a row?
3 – Jacksonville (4)
I think the Jags suck, and I still expect them to outclass Indy Sunday.
4 – St. Louis (6)
An awful season hits a new low if they lose to the Browns.
5 – Cleveland (8)
If not for having two more wins, I’d list them above the Rams. I’ll give it time. They’re a worse team.
6 – Arizona (3)
If only they had a few more Patrick Petersons.
7 – Denver (5)
I don’t think magic makes the trip this week. They’ll lose at KC.
8 – Seattle (7)
Things aren’t turning around for the Seahawks as quickly as Pete Carroll or anyone else in Seattle would like.