At this point, the only thing we can count on in the NFL are Peyton Manning touchdowns and injuries to every team. Outside of that, who knows. The good teams lose, the bad teams win, the good players struggle, the no names take over. Parity is stronger than ever in the NFL, and who knows what’s going to happen week-to-week.
Let’s put it this way. I’m in an Against the Spread Pick ‘Em league, and I was struggling so badly that I decided to pick against my gut on every questionable choice I had this week. Turns out, I had my highest win total of the season. And it’s not that I’m just awful. I finished 2nd out of 46 just two years ago. Forward is backward, left is right, Peyton is Eli (that’s not true), and the NFL is more compelling than other.
Biggest Rise: Eagles +6
Biggest Fall: Colts -6
1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-0, LW: 1): The Stat: 30-5. The Chiefs defense is the star of the show, but if there’s one thing Alex Smith is becoming known for, it’s winning football games. Smith has won 30 of his past 35 starts, better than every other quarterback in the NFL. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are second best at 27-8. Aaron Rodgers is 26-9.
2. Denver Broncos (8-1, LW: 3): The Stat: 371. The Broncos were well below their scoring average Sunday at San Diego, but it was enough to keep them on pace for the best scoring season in league history. The league record through nine games was 358 by the 1950 Rams. The 371 is also more than the last two Super Bowl champions (Ravens, Giants) COMBINED (353).
3. Seattle Seahawks (9-1, LW: 4): The Stat: 9-1. The record says it all for Pete Carroll’s team. 9-1 is the best start in the franchise’s 38 year history, besting the 2005 team’s 8-2 run out of the gate. In fact, Seattle has won nine games total only 17 of those 38 years, and they’ve made it to double digit wins six times. The Seahawks’ next win gives them back-to-back double digit win seasons for the first time ever.
4. New Orleans Saints (7-2, LW: 7): The Stat: 40. Drew Brees completed 19 straight passes, the Saints scored 49 points — their best ever against Dallas — and New Orleans set an NFL record with 40 first downs in the blowout win. On top of the record first down total, Drew Brees and company totaled 625 yards, the most against the Cowboys ever.
5. New England Patriots (7-2, LW: 6): The Stat: 9-2. The Panthers host New England this week, and if the past is any indication that spells trouble for Carolina. In Tom Brady’s Hall of Fame career he’s 9-2 coming off a Bye Week. His only losses came in 2002 against Denver and 2011 at Pittsburgh. The Pats and Brady have played Carolina off a Bye before. In 2001, Brady’s first season, New England had an incredibly odd Week 16 Bye week before finishing the regular season with a win at Carolina on the way to the franchise’s first Super Bowl title.
6. San Francisco 49ers (6-3, LW: 5): 151. The 49ers offense has been very up and down this year, particularly from Quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In the team’s six wins, the QB throws for 201 yds and 1.5 TD. In their three losses: 89 yards and not a single score. Because of that, San Fran totaled just 151 yards Sunday, their lowest total since Week 9 of 2006 (133).
7. Detroit Lions (6-3, LW: 8): The Stat: 139, 105. Those are the rushing totals for Reggie Bush against the Bears this season. Two games of 100+ yards. Why is that significant? It’s the first time a Lions running back has posted a pair of Benjamins on the Bears since Barry Sanders did it in 1997. That season, Sanders went for 161 and 167 against Chicago, and the Lions won both games and made the playoffs. By the way, this is the latest Detroit has ever had sole possession of the NFC North.
8. Indianapolis Colts (6-3, LW: 2): The Stat: 49-3. Talk about slow starts against bad teams. The past two weeks the Colts have been outscored 49-3 in the first quarter, and it’s not that the opposition is so strong. The Texans and Rams were a combined 5-12. Indianapolis has a tendency to play to the level of its competition this year. Three of the Colts’ wins are against the Broncos, Seahawks and 49ers, while the three losses are against the Rams, Dolphins and Chargers.
9. Carolina Panthers (6-3, LW: 13): The Stat: 9. Want a reason why the Panthers are doing so well this year? They simply don’t allow other teams to score. The defense has given up just nine touchdowns in nine games (7 passing, 2 rushing), best in the NFL. In that same span, they’ve caused 21 turnovers (13 INT, 8 fumble recoveries), the league’s fourth best total. And it’s not like they’re bend but don’t break either. They’ve given up the 2nd fewest yards in the league too. The defense is a brick wall, and it’s buoying this 6-3 start.
10. Chicago Bears (5-4, LW: 9): The Stat: 247. The Bears defense just isn’t the same as it once was. Last year, Chicago was third in the NFL, allowing only 277 points the entire season. That’s only 30 points fewer than the 247 they’ve already given up in nine games this year, a total that’s 25th in the league. And it’s not like they’ve regressed in one certain area. Chicago’s allowed 10 rushing and 14 receiving touchdowns. Last year they gave up just six scores on the ground and 19 through the air.
11. Cincinnati Bengals (6-4, LW: 11): The Stat: 51. Not only was the 51-yd Hail Mary a long shot. It was literally a long shot. The 51 yards covered from Andy Dalton’s hand to AJ Green’s open arms was the longest Hail Mary completion since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. The Bengals couldn’t get the job done in the end, but it seems like you can always rely on AJ to be in the right place at the right time.
12. Green Bay Packers (5-4, LW: 10): The Stat: 13. In the span of 22 years from September 1992 through last Sunday, the Packers had three starting quarterbacks: Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn (twice). In a span of 13 days, Green Bay will have three starting quarterbacks: Rodgers, Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien. No offense to Wallace and Tolzien, but that first list seems a little stronger.
13. Arizona Cardinals (5-4, LW: 16): The Stat: 21. The Cardinals got their record north of .500, but they need to work on their early game scoring to take the next step. Arizona has scored just 21 first quarter points this year, just 2.3 per game. Their average goes up to 6.1 per quarter after that. Strangely enough, their highest scoring quarter is the 2nd. They’ve put up 68 points in the 15:00 before the first half ends.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (5-5, LW: 20): The Stat: 1989. The ’89 49ers are the last team to get to five wins without winning at home before the Eagles accomplished the feat Sunday at Green Bay. Philadelphia seems to be rebounding for a stretch run, but they have to prove they can win at home. Their next three games are at Lincoln Financial Field where they’ve lost 10 straight.
15. New York Jets (5-4, LW: 15): The Stat: 11-11, 2-3. Just like you don’t know what to expect from the Jets from week-to-week, you can’t predict them coming off the Bye week either. In the last 22 seasons, New York is 11-11 coming back from a week off. Also, they’re 2-3 coming back against this week’s opponent, the Bills. On the plus side, the two wins against Buffalo were the most recent games in that 2-3 total.
16. Dallas Cowboys (5-5, LW: 12): The Stat: 625. The Cowboys switched defensive coordinators in the off-season because Rob Ryan wasn’t quite producing like the team wanted. They decided to bring in Monte Kiffin, a defensive wizard 10-15 years ago. Now, they’re putting up some of the worst yardage numbers in team history. The 625 yards the Saints gained were the worst in team history. Second worst? 623 two weeks ago against Detroit. Those are the only two times Dallas has ever allowed 600 yards of offense.
17. San Diego Chargers (4-5, LW: 14): The Stat: 6.7, 38.7, 3:14; 6.2, 38.4, 2:42. This a definite good news/bad news situation for San Diego. Philip Rivers and the offense have been great at holding the ball. They lead the NFL with 6.7 plays per drive for 38.7 yards, taking 3:14 off the clock. The problem is the defense is equally bad. They’re second worst in plays per drive at 6.2, worst in yards (38.4) and 5th from the bottom in time of possession (2:42).
18. Cleveland Browns (4-5, LW: 17): The Stat: 1. Most of the year, the talk about lack of rushing touchdowns has centered around the Rams, but now the cellar dweller in that category is Cleveland. The Browns have a single rushing touchdown in 2013 (a 1-yard Willis McGahee plunge in Week 5 against Buffalo), yet fans still focus on the quarterback as the only problem with this offense. If Cleveland can’t provide some sort of running game for Jason Campbell, they won’t go far.
19. Baltimore Ravens (4-5, LW: 22): The Stat: 0. Mr. Elite, Joe Flacco, better step up his deep game, especially with a quality burner like Torrey Smith at hand. This season, Flacco has throw 40 passes 20+ yards downfield. The Ravens have scored touchdowns on exactly zero of those throws. For a guy known for his massive arm, that’s simply unacceptable.
20. St. Louis Rams (4-6, LW: 25): The Stat: 3. In the season’s first eight weeks, the Rams had exactly zero rushing touchdowns. Since then, they have three on 17 red zone carries. Since Sam Bradford was lost for the year, St. Louis has definitely committed to running in the red zone. With Bradford, they ran on 34% of red zone plays. Without him, that number has ballooned to 65%.
21. Washington Redskins (3-6, LW: 21): The Stat: 3. Robert Griffin III’s first half touchdown binge was definitely out of character for RG3. He threw for three touchdowns in the opening two quarters Thursday. In the previous eight games he had two total, one against Chicago and one against Denver. In fact, the only other team he’s thrown for three TDs in the first half was last November 22nd at Dallas.
22. Tennessee Titans (4-5, LW: 18): The Stat: 4.8. Whether they’re winning or losing, the Titans aren’t a great first half scoring team, but there is a drastic difference in that category when you compare wins and losses. In Tennessee’s four wins they’ve averaged 12 points in the first half. That’s not great, but it’s not horrible. In their five loses, they’re scoring only 4.8 points in the opening two quarters, an awful mark no matter who you are. Tennessee needs to come out of the gate quicker or they’ll never turn the corner.
23. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-6, LW: 28): The Stat: 17-2. The Steelers haven’t been that great this year, but you can say one thing for Pittsburgh. They don’t mess around against rookie quarterbacks. Since 2004, the Steelers are 17-2 against first year QBs, a run they continued with the win against the Bills’ EJ Manuel. That includes a win over Geno Smith and the Jets this year, RG3 in 2012, and Andy Dalton twice in 2011. The two losses: Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden in 2012 and Baltimore’s Troy Smith in 2007.
24. Miami Dolphins (4-5, LW: 19): The Stat: 2. A week after posting a season high 157 rushing yards, the Dolphins ran for 2 yards against winless Tampa Bay, the lowest number in franchise history. Miami hasn’t been able to decide who their number one back is between Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas, and it didn’t matter on this night because they were equally awful behind a depleted offensive line.
25. New York Giants (3-6, LW: 29): The Stat: 28. The Giants still lead the NFL in turnovers with 28, but the rate is going down drastically, and that’s a big reason for their three game winning streak. Let’s not kid ourselves, though. The 50 giveaways they’re on pace for would still be the second worst total in franchise history. In fact, the 28 already is seven more than last year’s total of 21.
26. Minnesota Vikings (2-7, LW: 30): The Stat: 6.1. Some running backs thrive in an offense because they have a quarterback that can spread it out and help open up lanes for them. Then there’s guys like Adrian Peterson. AD’s averaging 4.5 yards per carry this year. Amazingly enough, when opponents stack eight or more players in the box his average rises to 6.1 ypc. That’s an unreal figure, and it’s good for Minnesota since he’s there only viable offense week in and week out.
27. Buffalo Bills (3-7, LW: 23): The Stat: 133, 62. No team in the NFL has had the ball more than the Bills. Buffalo has 133 possessions this season, eight more than anyone else. The problem is that they aren’t taking advantage of those opportunities. They’ve punted more than any other team, 62 times in fact. That’s nearly half of all drives ending in a punt.
28. Oakland Raiders (3-6, LW: 24): The Stat: 2. Things didn’t go well for Oakland against the Giants on Sunday, but one Raiders player made history. Tracy Porter returned an Eli Manning interception 43 yards for a touchdown, becoming the first player with interception touchdowns against both Eli and Peyton Manning. Most people will remember Porter’s touchdown against Peyton as the 74-yard pick six that sealed Super Bowl XLIV for the Saints.
29. Houston Texans (2-7, LW: 26): The Stat: 1,258. Losing Matt Schaub might not have been that big of a deal for the Texans, especially with how Case Keenum has looked so far, but losing Arian Foster is a huge deal. Foster is out for the year with back problems, meaning Houston loses the NFL leader in touches since 2010. He got the ball 1,258 times in 3+ seasons, a number no other player can match in the league.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-8, LW: 31): The Stat: 7-of-9. The Bucs just got their first win of the season Monday night, but their 0-8 start was much different than Jacksonville’s 0-8. The Jaguars lost each of their first eight games by double digits. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has actually led in seven of their nine games. They just never finished the deal until Monday.
31. Atlanta Falcons (2-7, LW: 27): The Stat: 165/534. No team in the NFL has worse balance between run and pass than the Falcons. This season Atlanta has run 534 plays, only 165 of them rushing calls. That means they’re throwing (to not Julio Jones or Roddy White) on 69% of their offensive plays. When you do that it’s tough to win, and the Falcons are proving it.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8, LW: 32): The Stat: 2-20. The Jaguars finally got Gus Bradley his first win, something that is few and far between in Jacksonville. The Jags have won just two of their past 20 games, and both of those wins were against Tennessee. Their last non-Titans win was last September against the Colts, and their last non-division win: December 11, 2011 against Tampa Bay.