Do we know anything in the NFL anymore? There’s no league in sports with more parity than the National Football League, and that’s one of the reasons we love it. There can be a brand new stand out team or player every week, and this week the bottom rose to the top.
Teams like Jacksonville (gasp!), Pittsburgh, New York and Minnesota all won games this week, and front runners like Indianapolis, Dallas, San Francisco and Cincinnati all came up short. And people wonder why it’s so hard to predict what will happen in this league year-to-year. You can’t even figure it out week-to-week.
- Let’s start out with the Panthers announcing their intentions as a legitimate contender in the NFC. That Carolina defense, in case you hadn’t noticed, is no joke. All that attention the Chiefs defense has been getting? The Panthers have allowed just four more points than KC in the same number of games.
- The 49ers suddenly have their concerns again. The run game actually had a nice day against the Carolina front, but in San Fran’s three losses, Colin Kaepernick has been particularly bad. His line is: 37-77, 268 yd, 0 TD, 5 INT. The Niners need more from their signal caller or they’re too one dimensional to be seen as a true threat.
- Their division leader, on the other hand, is starting to dominate road games too, and that’s extremely scary for the NFL. Marshawn Lynch is rolling for the Seahawks right now, rushing for 563 yards since Week 5, second only to Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy in that span. Seattle’s in the driver’s seat for homefield advantage, and that has the potential to make the NFC postseason a lot less interesting for five other playoff teams.
- Of course, the leader in the Panthers division is rolling along just fine as well. The Saints set an NFL record against Dallas with 40 first downs, blowing out the Cowboys Sunday night. New Orleans is set for the 2nd seed in the NFC right now, and with the way they play at home, they could also ruin the dreams of a lot of other teams if they take homefield.
- Just about the only other team to make a strong statement was Detroit. The Lions, with an outstanding 2-point conversion blow up by Nick Fairley, took control in the NFC North with a season sweep of Chicago. The Lions are 6-3 and still have a Thanksgiving Day game against Green Bay (possibly before Aaron Rodgers returns). The tide may be turning Honolulu blue in the North.
- As for the rest of this crazy league…no player stole the show more than Tavon Austin in Week Ten. All season we’ve been waiting for the rookie to break out and it finally happened. Austin gained 314 all-purpose yards with an electric 98-yard punt return TD and TD receptions of 81 and 57 yards. Now where was that the rest of the year?
- Outside Austin’s, and the Rams’, outstanding performance, what are the Colts doing right now? In eight quarters since returning from their Bye week, Indianapolis has been outscored in six of them. They haven’t looked good, at all. It’s confusing that this team can beat Denver, San Francisco and Seattle but play this poorly against lesser teams.
- It wasn’t all bad for the AFC South. How ’bout those Jags? Jacksonville scored a season-high 29 points, got their second defensive touchdown of the year and ruined the eliminator pool for a lot people, holding off Tennessee 29-27. The Titans added insult to injury as well, losing Jake Locker to a possible season-ending Lisfranc injury.
- A 1-3 weekend for the AFC South is a 3-1 weekend for the NFC West with the Cardinals getting on the plus side of the ledger by beating Houston. Arizona, even with Carson Palmer throwing 15 interceptions (only better than Eli Manning) is 5-4 and in the thick of the NFC Wild Card picture. That defense is no joke, and it will keep the Cards in the hunt.
- The Broncos were a little shaky out of their Bye week, but most teams would love to be shaky and still win. We’re all set up for the monster Denver-Kansas City battle royale next week, and then another one two weeks later. Peyton Manning’s health is the biggest concern. He’ll have an MRI after hurting his ankle against San Diego.
- The only team not really keeping pace in the AFC West is Oakland, who fell to 3-6 with a loss to the suddenly resurgent Giants. One interesting note: Tracy Porter became the only player to return interceptions for touchdowns against both Peyton and Eli Manning.
- The Giants are moving on up, and so are the Eagles behind Nick Foles. The second year quarterback threw three more touchdowns with no interceptions bringing his season ratio to 16-0. Aside from that, LeSean McCoy controlled the ground game at Green Bay, rushing for 155 yards.
- As for the Packers, things seemed bleak when practice squad QB Scott Tolzien entered in the 1st Quarter, but the rookie wasn’t the problem. It was the Green Bay defense that really let the team down. If they want to win without Aaron Rodgers they need to create turnovers (which they didn’t do) and get the ball in the hands of the offense (which they didn’t do). Philadelphia held the ball for the final 9:37 of the game, a pathetic job by any defensive unit.
- The NFC North’s resident cellar dweller had its day against its counterpart from the East Thursday night. Minnesota got down by 13, but the Vikings rallied to beat Washington. In the process, they lost Christian Ponder to a shoulder injury, possibly spelling the end of their happy run. As for Washington, the trends held true. The Redskins are 0-5 when passing the ball more than running and 3-1 when they commit to the ground game.
- In the AFC North, the Bengals and Ravens somehow gave us a game that was both boring and exciting. Both teams were mostly awful, and then we got our pay off. Andy Dalton’s 51-yard hail mary as time expired sent the game to OT, and even that was the result of bad play. The ball was tipped twice, inexplicably, right into the hands of an uncovered AJ Green. Then, of course, OT resulted in a turnover on downs and a ho-hum game winning field goal for Baltimore.
- The Steelers, meanwhile, are clawing their way back, controlling Buffalo in their third win of the season. Talks of trading Ben Roethlisberger are swirling around Pittsburgh right now, but I can’t imagine the Steelers would trade their franchise quarterback when they’re really not that far away from competing.