Another week in the 2009 NFL season is in the books now that the Tennessee Titans have defeated the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football. With the win, Tennessee somehow stays on the fringe of the Wild Card discussion in the AFC. Thoughts on the impressive turnaround to their season and plenty more after the jump.
* What an awful day for the AFC North. The Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns all lost leads in defeat on Sunday. The Browns lost to the Detroit Lions despite scoring 37 points; the Baltimore Ravens lost thanks to a devastating turnover by Joe Flacco inside the Indy red zone late in the game; Pittsburgh..well, let's not remind ourselves; and perhaps most incredibly of all, Cincinnati lost a game in Oakland that could potentially haunt the Bengals and their fanbase for many, many moons if they're not able to quickly right the ship and get back to what they've been doing all year - closing games.
That sets up an interesting weekend in Week 12. Pittsburgh of course travels to Baltimore to take on the Ravens in a game that both teams really, really need. The Steelers could very well make the playoffs if they were to lose on Sunday. They hold all the important tiebreakers in head-to-head matchups (Denver, Tennessee, San Diego and potentially Miami as well if the Week 17 game between the two teams has playoff implications).
* Clutch wins this weekend from Miami and Jacksonville. The 'Fins defeated the Panthers last Thursday night behind 3 Ricky Williams touchdowns. By holding off the Buffalo Bills at home, 18-15, the Jacksonville Jaguars won their 6th game in the past 8 contests. The Jags now occupy the #5 seed in the AFC if the season were to end today by virtue of their slightly superior conference record over Pittsburgh. We'll learn a little bit more about the Jags this coming Sunday when they travel allllll the way from the most southeastern point of the country to Northern California to take on San Francisco.
* Miami meanwhile travels to Buffalo to take on a Bills team that fought hard but came up short this past weekend in interim coach Perry Fewell's debut. Miami has a daunting slate of games to close after playing the Bills on the road this Sunday - New England, @JAX, @TN, HOU, PIT. There's so much football left to be played so there's no sense at all in really projecting too far in to the future, but I will say this - if the Steelers haven't found another gear by Week 17 when they travel to Miami for the regular season finale, they better hope that they don't need a win to ensure a playoff berth. They also better hope Miami has little to play for that day themselves. Of all the lurking contenders - Jacksonville, Houston, Denver, and Baltimore - they're probably playing the best ball and the most dangerous of the group.
* Don't look now but the Tennessee Titans could find themselves very much in the hunt after next week if they can handle the visiting Arizona Cardinals. The Titans got a huge road win on Monday night against divisional foe Houston. Chris Johnson continues to wow the world with his big play ability in the running game. He's averaging a silly 6.7 yards per carry on the year and is more dangerous than ever now that he has Vince Young in the backfield with him rather than the statuesque Kerry Collins. Young broke the Texans back with his scrambling ability - he rushed for 77 yards on 11 carries, and though I don't have the specific number on hand, I know at least 4-5 of those runs picked up 1st down yardage in what might be considered 'obvious passing situations'. The really interesting thing about Tennessee's resurgence though is the play of their defense. They looked just pathetic to start the year. Disinterested, overmatched physically, and wholly incapable of competing in the secondary in today's pass-friendly NFL. That's all changed the past four weeks. Not sure how, but it has. Young has plenty of room to grow as a legitimate pocket threat in this league, but the bottom line is he's now 22-11 as a starter and has won his past 8 games under center.
* Yikes. The New York Giants finally snap their 4 game losing streak and improve to 6-4 by holding off a furious late charge by the Atlanta Falcons. Tom Coughlin has to still be very, very concerned with his defense though. And history suggests that the Giants aren't going to be able to rely on such efficient and productive outings from Eli Manning each and every week. The good news for New York is they get the Broncos next - a cure all remedy for any team in free fall these days. They'll trounce them on Thanksgiving to set up a huge Week 13 matchup at the Meadowlands with the Dallas Cowboys. Atlanta meanwhile has three straight at home - TB, PHI, NO. They better win these next two or they're in a world of hurt.
* I really though the Washington Redskins were going to eek out a victory over the Dallas Cowboys on the road. I took Dallas in my weekly picks column, but wrote that I thought there was no way Dallas would cover that double digit spread. Credit to the Cowboys I guess for getting the stops they needed then just one efficient drive in crunch time to steal the victory. They sure look like a shaky front runner in the NFC East though. Tough luck for the 'Skins. That would have been a very big victory for Jim Zorn, his staff and his ability to keep his players battling until the final whistle of this year. We'll see how he does keeping the 'Skins competitive each week now that they're out of any sort of playoff discussion.
While we're on the subject of Washington though. Let their case be a solid example of just how dynamic this league is for most teams each and every year. The Redskins looked atrocious for almost all of this season leading up to the past two weeks. They've looked pretty formidable these past two Sundays though - much more like the team that made the playoffs in '07 and fell just short in '08 than the sadsack group they were in September and October of '09. The same might be said for Denver, who everybody thought was 'for real' earlier in the year. A month later and all are in agreement that they're in total shambles and will be very lucky to get to 9 wins. Tunch Ilkin told us in an interview here on BTSC that the NFL changes every four weeks. Too soon to tell just yet what the Steelers ultimate fate will be.
* I've had lots of good picks the last few weeks. The Seahawks hanging tough and maybe even beating Minnesota wasn't one of them. Brett Favre continues to drink from the fountain of youth, perhaps playing better than he ever has in his Hall of Fame career. Favre threw four more touchdown passes on Sunday giving him 21 on the year compared to just three interceptions. Favre has definitely thrust his name in to the MVP race alongside Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.
* Steve Spagnola is going to be a very good head coach in this league, I believe. He has arguably the least amount of talent on his roster than any team in football, but the St. Louis Rams continue to battle hard each week for the first year head coach. The Rams lost another tough game on Sunday to Arizona 21-13.
* Speaking of the Cardinals, kudos to them for hanging tough and continuing to win away from home. That's never been the case for that franchise. With the victory over St. Louis, the Cardinals improved to 5-0 away from Phoenix. Very impressive stuff from Ken Whisenhunt's group. Can they keep it up though moving forward? It all depends on the health of Kurt Warner, who admirably took himself out of last Sunday's game after feeling 'off' following a hit to the head. He wasn't concussed, but wanted to take no chances out there. Bravo to him for the smart move, and hopefully he's alright this coming Sunday when the Cardinals travel to Nashville to take on the resurgent Tennessee Titans.