Nov 10, 2010 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Somewhere up in the heavens, Pete Rozelle, the Prince of Parity, must be smiling his California smile.
At the NFL’s midway point, everyone, from lowly Buffalo to lordly New England, has lost at least two games. Injuries, the controversy over hard hits, sharp declines in some places and outright embarrassment in others (not to name names, Dallas) has made this season impossible to figure. Oh yeah, and the lockout in 2011 still looms and the league is dead-set on 18 games once it’s over, no matter how damaging it is to player’s bodies and brain cells.
So where are we? Division-by-division, here’s a possible explanation..
AFC East – Already it’s a two-team Patriots-Jets mudfight. New England is close to invincible at home in the Tom Brady regime, but the next two games (Steelers, Colts) will tell a lot about whether jettisoning Randy Moss really was the right thing to do. Despite hiccups, and despite all the big talk, the J-E-T-S are on a playoff pace and have won six of seven, so mouthy Rex Ryan is doing something right. Miami can’t threaten anyone if they can’t win at home, and it’s sad to see the Bills’ downfall, for they play harder than half the teams in this league every week and have 0-8 to show for it.
AFC North – With and without Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh found a way to cope with the usual elements of defense and ground game so familiar to the Steeler faithful. Baltimore kept pace with much the same formula, and there’s a chance the Steelers-Ravens Dec. 5 tussle in crab cake land may determine home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Cincinnati’s implosion, as much the fault of the defense (what defense?) as it is Carson Palmer, has allowed Cleveland to step up. Maybe Eric Mangini has figured it out, if the Browns’ strong wins over the Saints and Pats are any indicator.
AFC South – Who to trust in this ultra-tight race? Indianapolis has stayed on course despite more injuries than anyone else, though it has to take a toll at some point, right? Tennessee has flipped QB’s all the way and now is gambling that Randy Moss will stay straight and narrow, plus take some pressure off Chris Johnson. Houston began with promise (again) only to fall back (again) and stare straight at .500 mediocrity (again). Next to the Texans, Jacksonsville’s effort has been stellar, but to ask that thin Jaguars lineup to hold up two more months is like believing that they’ll sell out the place again.
AFC West – Here we are going through the annual San Diego Stinks It Up, Then Starts to Pay Attention In November routine, with Philip Rivers threatening Dan Marino’s single-season passing yardage record without many top receivers. In the Bolts’ early void, Kansas City, young and feisty and almost unnoticed, threatened to take charge, and almost did it before Oakland – yes, Oakland – surged above. 500, the most life the Silver and Black have shown in eight years. No doubt, Raiders and Chiefs fans are delighting in Denver’s doldrums, and is it too soon to ask if Josh McDaniel’s seat is toasty?
NFC East – In the short span of a month, the Giants have gone from flat to fab, snatching the NFC’s best record by cranking up the offense while sacking (and sidelining) more passers than anyone in a long time. Will a 2009-like swoon follow? Philadelphia sure hopes so, having been redefined in the midst of Mike Vick’s comeback. Washington wasn’t doing too bad until the end-of-game debacle in Detroit – come on, Mike Shanahan, do you want Donovan McNabb in there or not? As for the Cowboys…well, to quote that noted sage Ron Burgundy, that really escalated. I mean, that really got out of hand fast. Clearly the NFL’s worst, and that includes the Bills.
NFC North – Oh, by the way, Green Bay leads the division and Chicago is right behind. Haven’t heard? Probably not, with the endless (and I mean ENDLESS) Brett Favre/Brad Childress/Randy Moss melodrama, day after day after day of these guys. All for a 3-5 Minnesota squad that, really, does not deserve that much attention. As for the actual football, the Packers are getting mean and physical and Da Bears hang around despite Jay Cutler’s excesses. Detroit is a whole lot better and really should be 4-4 if it could close things out, even get a call or two. All that, plus Matthew Stafford keeps getting sidelined, adding to the Lions’ bad luck.
NFC South – Talk about a canyon between haves and have-not. Atlanta has managed 6-2 without a healthy homestand, and they’re about to have one as the team with the best chance to be the NFC’s top seed. Maybe the Super Bowl hangover lasted eight games, for New Orleans sure has looked good, on both sides of the ball, in recent weeks. Tampa Bay has taken a giant leap for mankind and might steal a playoff spot if that improvement continues. Carolina, on the other hand, has gone all Tea Party in their look backwards. No wonder Jerry Jones might be interested in John Fox as a coach.
NFC West – A theory was offered earlier this season that a losing record might take this division. Theory is turning into fact as Seattle ran from its 4-2 start with two straight stinkers, Arizona is realizing that it never should have cut Matt Leinart so quickly and San Francisco found new and creative ways to lose – though no one in town noticed because of the GIants finally winning a World Series. So St. Louis, it’s up to you. Never mind that Sam Bradford is a rookie or that tough games remain. If anyone is to salvage this division, it’s the vastly improved Rams.
So who do I like now to get to that big game in Arlington where Jerry Jones will just be a gracious host? Try Steelers and Giants on for size, though the way this season has gone, they could both go into tailspins by December. Better to find out who the hottest teams is on he first week in January, and ride that horse all the way to Texas on Feb. 6.