Matt Hasselbeck is doing something right.
Andrew Luck is supposed to be the NFL's Golden Boy, right? He was the successor to Peyton Manning and, for a few years, looked for all the world like he was just a year or two of experience away from being at the top of the league. But his growth stalled somewhat as last year wore on, and this year has been downright horrendous. Yeah, he's hurt, but that lacerated kidney only took him out of the last game. It didn't have anything to do with the other six games he started, and the team is 2-5 when he does. Enter 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck, and now the Colts look a little more formidable. In fact, they are 4-0 when Hasselbeck starts. That's a scary thought, considering the Colts play the Steelers in week 13.
So much for a Texas-sized rally in Dallas.
Tony Romo looked sharp in his first game back. His second? Not so much. Then he goes and...breaks his collarbone. Again. Perhaps it was just a merciful thing to have happen at this point, because it seems the team has just given up. In the woefully bad NFC East, it's still possible they win out and, with some help, steal the division. That looks about as likely as Bill Cowher coming out of retirement to coach the Browns, though. Or slightly more likely than Phil Simms going an entire game -- between any two teams -- and not finding a reason to gush profusely about how Tom Brady's excrement doesn't stink.
Cincinnati can pretty much mail it in at this point.
With the Steelers' loss to the Seahawks (more on that in a moment, of course), the Bengals would have to go 1-4 in their remaining games to lose their division lead. And you have to give them credit -- they've beaten good teams this year. Until Andy Dalton actually wins a playoff game, I'm not going to pencil them in on the Lombardi trophy, but if Good Andy was to show up, they could go toe-to-toe with the Patriots and the Panthers.
Rex Ryan is a year away from either building a contender or imploding the team.
That's the problem with the Ryan family -- they tend to sabotage their welcome. Rex's brother, Rob, seems to start big then flop. Father Buddy had a tumultuous tenure as the head coach in Philadelphia, marred by several controversies, and ending in his termination despite posting a record of 43-38-1 in five seasons. He then was the defensive coordinator in Houston, where he punched the team's offensive coordinator, Kevin Gilbride, on the sideline during a game. Rex's constant failure to back up all the talk did him in in a results-now place like New York City. He'll get a longer rope in a more laid-back place like Buffalo, and he has the base of a good team. Now it all comes down to what Rex has more of: football intelligence or obnoxious bravado. A few good moves this off-season, and the Bills will contend with the Patriots in 2016. But he needs to make sure he reigns in his team, because right now they are a talented-but-undisciplined group that can't get out of their own way at times.
Cleveland's loss is Houston's gain.
The Browns let Brian Hoyer walk after the 2014 season, placing all their chips on Johnny Manziel -- who proceeded to check himself into rehab, have a domestic dispute with his girlfriend while driving down the road and lie about partying and drinking. It's a good thing they had the forethought to pick up Josh McCown as an insurance policy, because they needed it. Manziel is now the third-string quarterback in Cleveland due to his antics, and some are speculating now that he has played his last snap as a Brown, less than two seasons after the team drafted him in the first round. Houston, meanwhile, is on a roll as of late, and they largely have Hoyer to thank. Sure, he's not going to enter the conversation of whether he's as elite as, say, Joe Flacco. But he's playing a gritty game of football right now, and that's what a team like Houston -- that doesn't have the depth of talent that other teams have -- need to do. His latest win came over a surging New Orleans team, completing 78 percent of his passes to nine different receivers.
College Football Bonus! The best thing to watch this weekend is the Big Ten Championship.
Right now, the Big Ten has three of the top six teams in college football: Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State. And things could get mighty interesting, because there are a lot of possibilities. If Iowa has a dominant win, they will likely be a lock for the playoff. That would take them out of the Rose Bowl, which would come down to an at-large bid between MSU and OSU. If the Spartans stink it up in the Big Ten Championship, the Buckeyes could sneak into a top bowl game. If Michigan State wins in a blowout, it could put them into the playoff, and the at-large would be between the Hawkeyes and the Buckeyes. And if other teams in the top eight or so lose, any one of those results could even put two Big Ten teams into the four-team playoff. What it all comes down to is this: when you are seeding based on subjective rankings, four playoff teams aren't enough. You need eight.
And finally...we've heard this song before.
The Steelers are a mediocre 6-5. In 2005, the team was a mediocre 7-5, having lost three straight after starting 7-2. They faced a single path to the playoffs: win out and you're in. Lose, and you are out. They rose to the challenge and made the playoffs as a six-seed...then won three straight on the road to make it to Super Bowl 40, where they defeated the Seattle Seahawks. Am I saying that will happen this time around? Not at all. But this is still a team with a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. Whether they make the playoffs, win the Super Bowl or fall flat over the final five games of the season, one thing is certain: it's not going to be any less nerve-wracking than that stretch run in 2005.