* The Indianpolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints keep their perfect records in tact. Both improved to 9-0 on Sunday. Neither win came easy. We all know what happened during the Colts-Patriots game. I prefer not to discuss it, but by all means debate Bill Belichick's decision to go for it on 4th and 3 from inside his own 30 yard line with ~2:00 remaining and the Pats up 6. I'll jump in the comments perhaps with my take. But I'd rather save my breathe and time for now leaving it at that. As for the Saints? Another unimpressive win. But a road win's a road win and sometimes the stars just seem to align nicely for sports clubs some years. This might be that kind of year for the Saints.
* Have fans and media members seen enough of the Denver Broncos to now join me in not at all believing in the them as legit contenders this year? Their roster isn't equipped to handle a physical 16 game grind. It's not that far off, but they aren't there yet and that will continue to become more and more evident as the season heads towards the home stretch. I was supremely confident the Broncos would lose to the Redskins on Sunday and advised my gambling prone friends to put huge wagers on the 'Skins straight up. Got plenty of 'thank you' phone calls last night. The Broncos lost for the second consecutive week thanks to inopportune turnovers and feeble rush defense. Here was my rationale for the pick, which won friends across the country lots of moola:
Pride is on the line for Washington, but more importantly, I'll think they'll benefit from not having Clinton Portis available. The Pro Bowl running back suffered a concussion last weekend, but he really was never in top form this year and Washington's offense has essentially been designed around him being a healthy workhorse. With him out, I think Washington will have a better game offensively than people are expecting.
Ladell Betts sure did look better than Portis has. The short but powerful back ran for 114 yards while Jason Campbell threw for just under two bills and didn't turn the ball over. As crazy as it is to fathom, Washington could keep their playoff chances alive with a win against the front running Dallas Cowboys next weekend.
Denver meanwhile will fall out of first place this coming weekend when they take on the San Diego Chargers at home. The Chargers are hot; the Broncos are not. As we discussed during Broncos week here on BTSC, Denver is a piece or two or three short from being physical and deep enough a roster to hold up over the course of a grueling 16 game NFL season.
* I wonder if Jeff Fisher is regretting not putting Vince Young in several weeks earlier. The Titans have won three in a row since Young was inserted in to the lineup. On Sunday, just as I suspected, the Titans ran all over Buffalo in their 41-17 victory. Chris Johnson ran for 132 yards while Vince Young ran for 32 yards and passed for 210 yards and 1 TD to former Steeler Nate Washington. Even if Tennessee were to win out, it still probably wouldn't be enough due to the fact that their first six defeats all came at the hands of AFC opponents. Anyway, good job in Nashville getting things turned around.
* I wrote a few weeks ago that Carolina was probably the best value bet as a major long shot to win the Super Bowl. They were 3-5 at the time and 150:1 underdogs to hoist the Lombardi Trophy come February. By beating divisional rival Atlanta on Sunday, the Panthers got themselves right back in the thick of things in the muddled NFC Wild Card picture. Next week's game against the Miami Dolphins is pretty much a 'do or die' situation for both teams. One team will have their dreams still in tact heading in to Week 12. My hunch is that team will be Carolina. A very nice 28-19 victory over the Falcons and to the delight of Carolina fans, the second turnover free game of Jake Delhomme's 2009 season.
* The Lions lose again. Shocking. Not to sound like a broken record, but I still don't think Matthew Stafford should be playing this year. To Jim Schwartz's credit, he's stuck with him despite the struggles and Stafford will be better for it. He certainly didn't play poorly on Sunday (0 INTs on 51 passing attempts). But even though he might be making small but important strides this year, I'll offer up a different reason this time as to why he shouldn't be playing any more now that he's gotten some invaluable experience without totally ruining his psyche: his offensive line is so bad that the organization is only risking him getting battered and bruised unnecessarily. I like the fact that he's gotten some snaps this year. He's learned some things, had a few moments, and will benefit somehow, someway in the future from the experience he's culled this year. But he's getting sacked an awful lot for no good reason at this point. He's been sacked 7 times in his past three games and been hit on myriad other plays. Time to shut it down soon and get a little bit of 'value' out of your investment in Daunte Culpepper. It won't happen, but in my humble unimportant opinion, it should no later than two weeks from now when the Lions travel to play Cincy and Baltimore in consecutive weeks. Both will be clawing for playoff positioning and eager to beat up on the overwhelmed, poorly protected, rookie quarterback.
* Most important win of the week #1: Cincinnati 18, Pittsburgh 12
Bah. Bigtime win for the Bengals. They're in complete control of their own destiny in the AFC North. They're also in great shape to get a first round bye and a home game in the Divisional Round of the playoffs if they can sustain their level of play and win 5 of their next 7. We'll see if they're up to the test. I don't like the Larry Johnson signing one bit. Why? Well he's been signed to be their stop plug while Cedric Benson heals up. But take a listen to this LJ interview on the Dan Patrick Show last week when Johnson had yet to find a new team following his release from the Chiefs. Does he sound like a remorseful guy? Hmm. Not to me. If you ask me, Cedric Benson is one of the core guys that constitutes the heart and soul of this new look Bengals squad. And oh yeah, Benson's backup - that Bernard Scott guy - he's pretty good. He not only took a kick return the distance for the game's lone touchdown. He also was the main reason why the Steelers were forced to score a TD to win with not much time left on the clock. Without his shifty tough running and extra yardage after first contact, Big Ben and the Steelers might get the ball back with closer to 3 or 4 minutes and only needing a FG to tie it up.
* Most important win of the week #2: San Diego 31, Philadelphia 23
San Diego wins their fourth straight by defeating the reeling Eagles at home. Both teams gave up a ridiculous amount of yardage on defense. San Diego had 331 total yards and averaged 6.0 yards per play; Philadelphia 462 yards at a 6.5 yards per play clip. Wowzas. Entertainment stuff but goodness, neither team's fanbase has to feel all that good about their team's chances of winning it all. Well, scratch that. I bet San Diego's fanbase is in full on 'we believe' mode. That's partly because Denver slowly but surely continues to say to the world: 'I'm not who you thought I was'. San Diego will win next weekend in Denver and capture sole possession of first place out West in the AFC.
* Most important win of the week #3: Jacksonville 24, New York 22.
The Jags stay very much alive in the Wild Card hunt with their last second victory over the Jets. Maurice Jones Drew gets excessively patted on the back for kneeling on the Jets 1 yard line late in the game so that the clock could wind all the way down before sending on the FG unit for the game-winner. Whatever, worked out. No credit goes to MJD there though. Credit Jack Del Rio if anybody. But imagine if that hadn't worked out - a botched exchange on the field goal for example. Haha. Think Bill Belichick's decision has been sliced and diced? That would have been comical. As is, Del Rio moves one step closer to keeping his job this offseason and maybe just maybe, the fans down in Jacknsonville will start to show up on Sundays to cheer on their team as the stretch run towards the playoffs begins.
* Worst loss of the week: Denver's loss to Washington continues their downward spiral. It didn't help that Kyle Orton got dinged up and couldn't play in the 2nd half. Chris Simms had to come in cold on the road at FedEx - one of the few intimidating home field advantages left in football - and looked lost. There's quite a few Broncos fans who pin the loss on that reason alone, but that's just more smoke and mirrors. They weren't going to win that game even if Orton was playing. They lost because they couldn't stop the run and didn't adjust their offensive play calling to counter the adjustments Washington was making defensively following the two early TDs to Brandon Marshall. Denver now is in a perilous position all of a sudden. A loss at home to the Chargers and they're in all sorts of trouble. They don't matchup well with the Giants who come to town the following week. And then after a winnable game against the Chiefs, Denver travels to Indy. They might just be on life support heading in to that week, and down for the count after losing to the Colts in Week 14.
* Most unwatchable game of the week: San Francisco 10, Chicago 6
Couldn't tell you what happened other than Jay Cutler threw lots of interceptions (5) and that neither team looked anything like a professional football team. Why? I didn't watch it. Duh. Unwatchable game.
* The AFC Playoff Picture, if the season ended today.
1) Indianapolis (8-)
2) Cincinnati (7-2)
3) Denver (6-3)
4) New England (6-3)
5) Pittsburgh (6-3)
6) San Diego (6-3)
In The Hunt
New York Jets (4-5)
Analysis: To be quite blunt, the Steelers are going to be in a dogfight the rest of the way for a playoff berth. First of all, it's worth mentioning the Steelers hold tiebreakers over both San Diego and Denver. So if one of those two teams were to be a Wild Card contender, the Steelers would have the nod on them if the teams finished with identical records. Before going any further though, let me be clear that I don't think the AFC North is out of reach just yet. The Bengals have three straight games against dramatically inferior opponents (Oakland, Cleveland, Detroit) while the Steelers travel to Baltimore two weeks from now. We'll see what happens, but I'm not giving up hope yet for a third straight divisional crown in the Mike Tomlin era. It's just not looking too hot. So for fun, let's see what the Wild Card picture looks like.
Couple quick thoughts before shutting this down:
1) The Jags are somehow in very nice position to sneak in to the playoffs. Here's their final 7 games: BUF, @SF, HOU, MIA, IND, @NE, @CLE. There's some tough tilts on that docket - Indy obviously, as well as a road game at New England. But if they can win their next two, those consecutive matchups with Houston and the Dolphins could put Jacksonville right on the cusp heading in to their final three.
2) Baltimore stays alive and in plenty good shape with their win over the Browns tonight. If Baltimore wins both games against Pittsburgh, they'll probably be in. If Pittsburgh wins both, they'll likely be in. If they split? That will make things mighty interesting. Let's talk about this same subject next week after the Steelers travel to KC and the Ravens host the Colts.
3) Houston needs to win this weekend against the Titans to stay in solid shape for a Wild Card run. A loss would drop them to 4-4 in the AFC and put them squarely behind the 8 ball for the rest of the season. A win and they're in it 'till the end, even if they were to lose against Indy the following week. They won't beat the Titans though. At least that's my early week assessment of the matchup. Gotta love November and December football.
4) Let's just scratch the Jets off the list as even dark horse threats to go on a run and sneak in the playoffs. Ain't happening this year. A win at home against the Patriots and I suppose I'd have to reconsider. But something tells me the Patriots are going to deliver a sound beatdown this coming weekend following their meltdown on Sunday night. The Pats might also be interested in enacting a little revenge on the Jets for them acting like they'd won the Super Bowl after beating NE earlier this year.