A promising week of NFL action lead to a few good games as well as a couple of unexpected blowouts. I will preview the rest of the year and the playoff race at the end. No power rankings this week.
Team of the Week: Chicago Bears
-Talk about making a statement. The Bears beat Philadelphia last Monday night in Philly. This week? They man-handled the upstart Detroit Lions in Chicago. Chicago now controls their own destiny in the NFC Wild Card Race. They split with the Lions, which could help them in the long run. They also have the tiebreaker over Atlanta thanks to their Week 1 victory over them. Jay Cutler, when given time, can find his open WRs. And what else can you say about Devin Hester. If you punt that man the ball and your coverage team does not get downfield in time, he can make a big play. The defense also stepped up huge in shutting down the Lions offense. I think right now they make the playoffs as a Wild Card. They've won four straight and are playing some of the best football in the NFL right now.
Game of the Week: New Orleans 26 Atlanta 23
-Of course, the big story of this game is Mike Smith's decision to go for a 4th and an inch on his own 29 yard line in over time. Pretty much everyone is bashing Smith today, but I'm not. How much did they need for a 1st down? A chain length? If your team can't pick that up, then they don't deserve to win the football game. If anything, I had a problem with the offensive package they brought out, with all 11 players bunched up together. Spread it out a bit. Give the idea that hey, maybe we will throw a play action pass in here. But the Falcons pretty much sold run, and they ran, and the Saints got the better push up front and stopped Michael Turner. It was a good game throughout. The Falcons had a chance to win the game late in the 4th but Matt Ryan couldn't find any open WRs in the end zone, so they settled for a field goal. The Saints now control their own destiny in the NFC South.
Dog of the Week: Buffalo Bills
-Sorry boys, but you've disappointed your home town these last two weeks. Fans were ready to get over the Jets loss, but then you follow it up with an even worse loss to the Cowboys? That loss was worse than the two Super Bowl losses. The secondary was getting thrown on at will. I'm pretty sure I could have completed a couple passes against them. The secondary was suppose to be the strength of the defense. They can't get any pressure on the QB. And the offense has come to a complete stand still. The passing attack is getting shut down. Of course, when the defense puts you in a whole and can't get off the field, you have to throw to get back into the game. I thought this team was different from the 2008 team that started 5-1 and finished 7-9, but I don't know now. I don't even know if they can beat the Dolphins next week.
Other Week 10 Notes
-I almost gave the Dog of the Week award to Eagles WR DeSean Jackson. Jackson missed a team meeting on Saturday and was told to stay home Sunday as he was not going to be active for the game against Arizona. Jackson has been somewhat absent the last couple weeks from the Eagles offensive attack, so it wasn't too big of a loss. But it just adds to the joke that is the Eagles season. The team is now 3-6 and has pretty much no shot of making the playoffs. Some people are saying this may have to do with Jackson's on-going contract dispute with the Eagles, but I doubt the teams would go that far to have it affect their chance to win a football game. While Jackson has struggled in recent weeks, he is still a game changer with big play ability. The Eagles are a comedy of errors this year, and it may cost Andy Reid his job.
-Who is the best team in the AFC? It may just be the Houston Texans. Four straight wins headed into their bye next week. They've dominated every opponent they faced in that stretch too. They are clearly the class of the AFC South this year. They already beat their biggest competition, the Tennessee Titans, 41-7 in Week 7. And they are doing all of this without their best playmaker on offense, Andre Johnson. They have the number one rated defense in the NFL, without their best defensive playmaker Mario Williams. The Texans are 7-3 and currently the top seed in the AFC. But can they keep it up now with Matt Leinart at the helm? It's a good thing they have a two game lead on the Titans. Leinart is very unproven and never looked good anyways under center in Arizona. I still think the Texans win the division. But it gets tricky near the end. This is Matt Leinart's shot at redemption.
-Are the Denver Broncos about to revolutionize offense as we know it in the NFL? Tim Tebow threw eight passes against Kansas City, completing only two of them. But the Broncos still won 17-10 and are only a game out in the AFC West. The Broncos have brought the option offense into the NFL. Lots of teams think they are above that type of offense, but if it works with the personnel package you have, why not use it? Tebow is not going to win you games with his arm, so play to his strengths. Although I will admit, that TD pass to Eric Decker was a pretty good pass. I'm sure teams will begin to stack the box against Tebow, but it is tough to defend against the option if you don't have time to prepare for it. That's the problem the Jets might run into this week. They are down after a bad loss to the Patriots at home, and only have 3 days to prepare for the Broncos Thursday night. Denver has a legitimate shot at winning the AFC West.
-And just when you think the Patriots are down for the count, they get right back up and KO you with a surprise roundhouse. The Patriots knew it was a must win against the Jets, and they brought their A game on BOTH sides of the ball. I'm still not sold on their defense. Mark Sanchez didn't show up to play Sunday night. The defense was confused by the offensive looks of the Patriots. Tom Brady took advantage of the Jets safeties. The Jets now fall back down to earth, and as I said above, only have three days to prepare for Tim Tebow and the Broncos option offense. The Patriots have a pretty easy schedule the rest of the way. They play at Philadelphia, which doesn't look tough anymore, as well as at Denver and the Option and home to Buffalo. It's quite conceivable they could run the table and go 13-3, even with their terrible defense.
-So if Houston and New England are the favorites in their division, who is the favorite in the AFC North. Right now, I guess you have to say Pittsburgh again. But it almost changes by the hour. The Bengals were knocked down a peg after their home loss to Pittsburgh. The Ravens, who many people considered the favorite after beating the Steelers last week, lost on the road to Seattle. Next week's game between Cincinnati and Baltimore is big for both teams. The loser of that came falls to 6-4 and into a potential tie with the likes of the NY Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Tennessee Titans. The winner goes to 7-3 and has the inside track on the first Wild Card Spot, and if it is Baltimore that wins, they move back into first place in the AFC North. The Bengals lost Cornerback Leon Hall for the year with a torn ACL, which is a big blow to the defense. The Bengals have a tougher schedule with two games against Baltimore, at Pittsburgh, and Houston coming to town. The AFC Playoff race is a jumbled mess at this point.
Hey I'm Just Sayin...
-The 49ers Defense is good, but can their offense hang with the Packers?
-Do the Cardinals stick with John Skelton or go back to Kevin Kolb?
-Hey Mike Shanahan, any chance I could get a shot at playing QB?
-Will the Colts even come back to play after their bye week?
-Cam Newton, I just traded for you in my fantasy league. Don't falter now.
-Tony Sparano isn't coaching for his job. He's coaching to screw the next coach out of Andrew Luck.
The Head Coaching Hot Seat: The Top 5!
1. Tony Sparano, Miami: These last couple wins are nice, but I still don't think Sparano is around after this season. The fans want a big name in Miami. They can't sell out the stadium. Look for either Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, or maybe even Jeff Fisher.
2. Jim Caldwell, Indianapolis: I know, Peyton Manning isn't playing. But if the Colts finish 0-16, you almost have to fire Caldwell. There is still talent on that team despite the injuries and loss of Manning. But Caldwell just can't seem to motivate that team and that may force a change in Indy.
3. Todd Haley, Kansas City: Haley is coming off a division title, but the honeymoon ended quickly after a bad start. Sure he lost Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry, but there's no excuses for Matt Cassel's poor play the last two weeks, or all season for that matter. Look for a potential new coach/QB combo next year.
4. Andy Reid, Philadelphia: I still don't think Reid gets fired at the end of the year, but if he continues to lose to terrible teams, he may just get the ax. The Philly front office may feel the overwhelming pressure from fans and the team thinking that Reid has lost control of the team and can't manage all of the ego that he has.
5a. Ken Wisenhunt, Arizona: Wisenhunt got his QB this year in Kevin Kolb. He still has Beanie Wells at running back and Larry Fitzgerald at WR. But the Cardinals are struggling in a bad division and can't seem to fin any rhythm on offense. They pulled off a couple wins in a row, but that was without Kolb at QB. They blew a big lead against Baltimore and the NY Giants. Wisenhunt may need a big second half and signs of progress to save his job.
5b. Norv Turner, San Diego: It almost seems like Turner is on the hot seat every year. There is a lot of talent in San Diego, but they can never seem to put it together come playoff time. The Chargers are struggling more than ever this year. They are 4-5 in a down year for the AFC West. Philip Rivers is having an off year, and the defense is having problems stopping people, specifically through the air. This may be Turner's last chance to right the ship in San Diego.
Looking Into the Playoff Picture
With 7 weeks left in the NFL season, lets take a look at the playoff picture and where I think every team will finish. I will list the current standings, then underneath each team their remaining schedules. Black bold means a win, red means a loss.
1. Houston Texans: 7-3
Bye, at Jacksonville, vs Atlanta, at Cincinnati, vs Carolina, at Indianapolis, vs Tennessee
Final Record, 11-5: There are some tough match-ups for the Texans left, especially the back to back games against Atlanta and Cincinnati. And now with Matt Schaub out, those match-ups look even tougher. I thought the Texans had a chance to win out, but not with Matt Leinart at QB. The Texans will still win the division because they have more talent than anyone else in the AFC South, but they will now lose a few games.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers: 7-3
Bye, at Kansas City, vs Cincinnati, vs Cleveland, at San Francisco, vs St. Louis, at Cleveland
Final Record, 12-4: The Steelers benefit from playing the lowly Cleveland Browns twice in there last 6 games, as well as having the Rams come into town late in the year. Right now the Steelers are playing at Kansas City Sunday night, but I think that might be flexed out of prime time. Monday night against San Fran will be tough, especially if the 49ers are still fighting for home field.
3. New England Patriots: 6-3
vs Kansas City, at Philadelphia, vs Indianapolis, at Washington, at Denver, vs Miami, vs Buffalo
Final Record, 12-4: As I said, I think the Patriots have a really easy schedule from here on out. I gave them a loss in Philadelphia because I don't think they match up well against Philly. Now I'm sure Philly will find a way to lose that game, but I like the match-up in their favor. I was also tempted with the Denver game to give the Pats a loss, but I think Bellicheck will find a way to keep Tebow in check.
4. Oakland Raiders: 5-4
at Minnesota, vs Chicago, at Miami, at Green Bay, vs Detroit, at Kansas City, vs San Diego
Final Record, 9-7: I was thinking of looking at the whole AFC West, but I'm pretty sure this record will be good enough to win the AFC West. The Chiefs might not win another game, Denver has a brutal schedule ahead, and I think teams will figure out how to stop the option sooner rather than later, and San Diego will lose at least three more games. So I'm giving this to Oakland almost by default. I don't know if they can't beat Baltimore, or even the Jets for a second time, but being in the Black Hole will help.
5. Baltimore Ravens: 6-3
vs Cincinnati, vs San Francisco, at Cleveland, vs Indianapolis, at San Diego, vs Cleveland, at Cincinnati
Final Record, 11-5: Baltimore is really tough to predict. You think they would beat Cleveland both times, but they might lose one of them. Could they actually struggle against Indianapolis? I think the Ravens are a veteran enough team to win late down the stretch. They need to get Joe Flacco right or else they won't have any kind of chance to win a playoff game. The Ravens are my Super Bowl pick from the AFC, and I'm still sticking by them.
6. Cincinnati Bengals: 6-3
at Baltimore, vs Cleveland, at Pittsburgh, vs Houston, at St. Louis, vs Arizona, vs Baltimore
Final Record, 9-7: The loss of CB Leon Hall is going to hurt this team, no questions asked. He is their top corner and a cornerstone of the defense. The Bengals showed they can hang with the big boys against Pittsburgh, but I don't know if they can do it for the long haul. Pittsburgh and Houston back-to-back is tough, and going to St. Louis late has all the signs of a trap game. The Bengals were a nice early story, but I think they falter down the stretch.
7. NY Jets: 5-4
at Denver, vs Buffalo, at Washington, vs Kansas City, at Philadelphia, vs NY Giants, at Miami
Final Record, 10-6: This coming week against Denver is a big game. Can the Jets solve the option offense in time? After that, they already proved they are better than the Bills. Washington and Kansas City have no offense to speak of. I think going to Philly makes it tougher for the Jets, as they struggle on the road. The Giants have enough weapons to expose the defense. But I think in the end, the Jets get in because they will have the tiebreaker over the Bills.
8. Buffalo Bills: 5-4
at Miami, at NY Jets, vs Tennessee, at San Diego, vs Miami, vs Denver, at New England
Final Record, 10-6: If the Bills don't beat Miami this week, then they may lose out. This team has taken a few knockout blows in the last couple weeks, so they need this one bad. The Bills should win their last 3 home games. They can beat San Diego on the road. It may come down to the last week against San Diego, and even if the Pats have a seed wrapped, you don't think they still have revenge on their mind against Buffalo. The Bills just miss out.
9. Tennessee Titans: 5-4
at Atlanta, vs Tampa Bay, at Buffalo, vs New Orleans, at Indianapolis, vs Jacksonville, at Houston
Final Record, 8-8: The Titans have a brutal schedule late. They did a good job of shutting down Cam Newton, but the Falcons and Saints offenses are a different story. Houston already wiped the floor with Tennessee in Tennessee, no reason they couldn't do it again in Houston. The Titans will probably win the games they are suppose to win, but lose the ones they are suppose to lose.
FINAL AFC STANDINGS
1. Pittsburgh Steelers 12-4
2. New England Patriots 12-4
3. Houston Texans 11-5
4. Oakland Raiders 9-7
5. Baltimore Ravens 11-5
6. New York Jets 10-6
7. Buffalo Bills 10-6
8. Cincinnati Bengals 9-7
9. Tennessee Titans 8-8
NFC Playoff Picture
1. Green Bay Packers: 9-0
vs Tampa Bay, at Detroit, at NY Giants, vs Oakland, at Kansas City, vs Chicago, vs Detroit
Final Record, 15-1: I really thought about giving the Packers a perfect record. Three weeks ago I would have thought they lose at Detroit on Thansgiving, but I don't think that happens anymore. I think the Giants pass rush will do just enough to disrupt Aaron Rodgers and not allow him to throw at will on the Giants secondary. The Packers are a great offensive teams with defensive flaws in their secondary which might be a problem come January.
2. San Francisco 49ers: 8-1
vs Arizona, at Baltimore, vs St. Louis, at Arizona, vs Pittsburgh, at Seattle, at St. Louis
Final Record, 15-1: The 49ers must love the fact that 5 of their last 7 games are against divisional opponents. They face the AFC North's two best teams, but they can beat both of them. Baltimore is very up and down, and they get Pittsburgh at home which will be a plus. I think the 49ers win out. Their defense is that good. This is why I wanted Jim Harbaugh in Buffalo. He took pretty much the same group of guys from last year's team, adopted to their strengths, and got them playing winning football. And in this scenario, the 49ers would get home field in the NFC due to a better record in common games compared to Green Bay. San Fran beat the Giants, Green Bay wouldn't in my scenario.
3. New Orleans Saints: 7-3
Bye, vs NY Giants, vs Detroit, at Tennessee, at Minnesota, vs Atlanta, vs Carolina
Final Record, 13-3: Another win out scenario. These aren't the same Saints of old. They can be beat, but I don't see it. It helps to have two weeks to prepare for the Giants. Detroit looks like they could be on a downfall, and having Atlanta again in the Superdome helps. There is a blue print to stop the Saints offense, but I don't know if any of these teams have the personnel to stop it. I think the Giants do, but the Saints have two weeks to prepare for the Giants which is a big help for them.
4. New York Giants: 6-3
vs Philadelphia, at New Orleans, vs Green Bay, at Dallas, vs Washington, at NY Jets, vs Dallas
Final Record, 11-5: The Giants have a brutal end schedule, but they should still win the division. They get a wounded Philadelphia team next week at home. New Orleans and Green Bay back to back is tough, and if they can get a split there that would be great. I think they split with Dallas because the Cowboys are good enough to win at least one game. But the Giants still win the division in the end.
5. Detroit Lions: 6-3
vs Carolina, vs Green Bay, at New Orleans, vs Minnesota, at Oakland, vs San Diego, at Green Bay
Final Record, 10-6: The Lions started off hot and were the darlings of the NFC. But they slowed down recently and have a rough end schedule to take care of. They have a back-to-back slate against New Orleans and Green Bay as well. The final game at Green Bay could be the deciding game, and I expect the Packers to still be fighting for home field in Week 17. The Lions were a good story at first, but they've been exposed as of late, especially for their lack of a running game with Jahvid Best out.
6. Chicago Bears: 6-3
vs San Diego, at Oakland, vs Kansas City, at Denver, vs Seattle, at Green Bay, at Minnesota
Final Record, 11-5: I think the Bears have finally turned the corner, but I think they lose one of those weird games like they have a tendency to do at times. I picked the Denver game because it seems like the best spot to do so. The Bears are playing some good football and I don't see how they miss the playoffs with this schedule, especially with the AFC West four weeks in a row. But Mike Martz has finally found a way to mold an offense around Jay Cutler, and with Matt Forte in the back field and the always dangerous Devin Hester, this team could be a threat in January.
7. Dallas Cowboys: 5-4
at Washington, vs Miami, at Arizona, vs NY Giants, at Tampa Bay, vs Philadelphia, at NY Giants
Final Record, 11-5: Another team that benefits from a lackluster end of the season schedule. There would really be no excuses for the Cowboys to lose the next few games. All of them are games they should win. The Giants game at home will be a big one. If they don't win that one, then they might as well kiss a chance at the division good bye. That Tampa Bay game may be a tricky one if the Bucs could ever get their stuff together and show the promise they had last year. I think the Cowboys finish strong though and find a way to get into the playoffs.
8. Atlanta Falcons: 5-4
vs Tennessee, vs Minnesota, at Houston, at Carolina, vs Jacksonville, at New Orleans, vs Tampa Bay
Final Record, 10-6: Despite getting shut down Sunday by Tennessee, I've maintained all along that the Panthers could play spoiler the rest of the year. I think they have a good shot of doing it here. They hung with the Falcons for the most part in Atlanta, and I think they win in Carolina. The home loss to New Orleans may hurt, but like I said above I defend Mike Smith's decision. If your offense can't get a quarter of a yard, you don't deserve to win that football game. But unfortunately, that decision keeps the Falcons out of the playoffs.
FINAL NFC STANDINGS
1. San Francisco 49ers 15-1
2. Green Bay Packers 15-1
3. New Orleans Saints 13-3
4. New York Giants 11-5
5. Dallas Cowboys 11-5
6. Chicago Bears 11-5
7. Atlanta Falcons 10-6
8. Detroit Lions 10-6
Three Games I'd Like To See Next Week
NY Jets vs Denver Broncos: Can the Jets shut down the Broncos Option Offense?
Cincinnati Bengals vs Baltimore Ravens: Which Ravens team will show up, and can the Bengals rebound?
Tennessee Titans vs Atlanta Falcons: Two teams fighting for their playoff lives.
Until Next Time,
Follow Me on Twitter @JCWonka