NFL: Week 4 Picks

5 undefeated teams remain as we head into week 4 of the NFL season.  I went 9-7 a week ago, bringing my season total to 26-22.

Bye Week: Philadelphia and Green Bay

Thursday Night Football

  • Dolphins @ Bengals: Miami barely squeaked by the Browns last week, while the Bengals were beat down by the defending champs at home.  The Dolphins got a big day from Jarvis Landry, but inconsistency continues to plague Ryan Tannehill, who threw a pick six in the win. Cincinnati got their running game going, but still lost to 1-2 for the first time in five years.  After two very good weeks, Andy Dalton couldn’t do much against the Broncos defense. I like the Bengals at home with another good rushing game to get their second win of the season. CINCINNATI WINS

Sunday Morning Football 

  • Colts @ Jaguars: London here they come! Indianapolis got their first win of the season last week, while Jacksonville is still looking for theirs.  Andrew Luck has the uncanny ability to turn a bad day into a big day passing the ball, but the Jaguars defense isn’t the problem so far, so he’ll need help.  Blake Bortles on the other hand, has been pretty awful for Jacksonville in his third year under center. So what happens this weekend across the pond? Give me a cleaner day from Luck to lift the Colts. INDIANAPOLIS WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Bills @ Patriots: Three different quarterbacks have started for New England, but that hasn’t stopped the winning.  And as for the Bills, they got their first win over a team many think, myself included, are a playoff team destined for a deep run.  Both teams got big two-touchdown games out of their number 1 running backs, so look for another day of running the clock. The Patriots have to get through one more week without Tom Brady, and while they’ve done a great job doing so, and are very, very good at home, I’m taking the road team in this one. BUFFALO WINS
  • Titans @ Texans: It was a very bad week for Houston, who not only lost their Thursday game versus New England 27-0, they learned that JJ Watt re-injured his back and will be out the rest of the year.  Tennessee’s week wasn’t much better, as they scored just 10 points in their loss to Oakland. Both teams enter action having scored the same amount of points through 3 games, but of course that’s skewed with the Texans O-fer last weekend. Marcus Mariota and Brock Osweiler have both thrown 4 interceptions so far this season, so whoever can limit mistakes has the edge. A Titans win puts them in a tie for the division early.  But I don’t think they get it, because I like the Texans skill position players better. HOUSTON WINS
  • Lions @ Bears: The Lions are 1-2, but haven’t struggled in the passing game, as Matthew Stafford has found a new weapon in Marvin Jones after Calvin Johnson called it a career in the off-season.   The silver lining there for the 0-3 Bears is that their defense has actually done okay against the pass so far this season.  Chicago got a pretty good game out of Brandon Hoyer, who finished 30-49 for 317 yards, though most of that came with the game out of hand already. Both teams have the ability to get the points in the air, and with two middling defenses, that shouldn’t be a problem.  So this game will be won in the trenches, and the edge there lies with the Lions. DETROIT WINS
  • Panthers @ Falcons: Carolina is another team I thought would have a great season, but has disappointed so far.  Thanks to the struggles of the Panthers and the rest of the NFC South, Atlanta finds themself atop the division early on in the season.  This dispite allowing 31, 28 and 32 points in their first three games.  The Falcons may not be getting sustained success in their ground game early, they are getting it when it counts.  Tevin Coleman has just 110 yards on the ground, but has 4 rushing touchdowns, including 3 on Sunday in New Orleans. Carolina entered action red-hot at home dating back to 2014, but we shut down by a red-hot Vikings defense a week ago.  I still believe in the Panthers defense, and as hot as Atlanta has been, I think Carolina gets the win on the road. CAROLINA WINS
  • Seahawks @ Jets: The good news for Jets fans? Ryan Fitzpatrick can only be better than he was a week ago. The bad news? He has to be a lot better against the top defense in the league. After scoring just 3 points against L.A. in week 2, the Seahawks exercised some demons putting up 37 against the Niners.  Russell Wilson was hobbled in the game, but still managed to leave with a nice lead.  Big games from Christine Michael and Doug Baldwin helped get the offense back on track.  New York can solace in the fact that they have had a pretty good run game all season, and while some of it came in garbage time, Seattle did allow the Niners to get over 130 yards on the ground, finding pay dirt twice.  This shouldnt be as ugly for the Jets as it was last week, but it will still be a loss. SEATTLE WINS
  • Raiders @ Ravens: Baltimore finds itself among the undefeated teams heading into week 4, in large part thanks to their defense and a good day from kicker Justin Tucker.  The Ravens are second in total defense through 3 weeks of play.  Their opponents won their 2nd game by  forcing three turnovers, with a sack after entering week 3 having allowed the Saints and Falcons to walk all over them.  So based on defenses, Baltimore should have an easy win.  But I actually like Oakland’s offense a lot more, and as someone who thinks this is a playoff team, I’ll take the Raiders in the upset. OAKLAND WINS
  • Browns @ Redskins: Cleveland should’ve gotten their first win of the season in Miami a week ago, but an inability to stop the air attack, and three missed field goals left them at 0-3. They gave themselves a shot, but couldn’t take it.  Cody Kessler’s first career start wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t very good for Cleveland, though at this point, coming out healthy is huge for the Browns. Washington did get their first win, taking down the Giants on the road. After a couple lackluster offensive weeks, Kirk Cousins let it loose and got a number of big plays in the passing game to help get that first win and move back in the right direction to defend their NFC East title.  So can the Browns get their first win this week? Yes. Will they? I don’t think so. They stayed in last week thanks to mistakes by Tannehill, but Cousins won’t make those same mistakes. WASHINGTON WINS

Sunday 4/425PM Games

  • Broncos @ Buccaneers: The Superbowl Champs are showing no signs of slowing down as they look to start the season 4-0.  Denver got off to a slow start last week against the Bengals, but came on strong late thanks to a big day from rookie quarterback Trevor Siemian.  Siemian threw four touchdown passes, including two in the fourth quarter for the win.  Not to be outdone, the Broncos are a top flight defense that held down Andy Dalton and their rushing attack.  They’ve got another tough test when they take on Jameis Winston this weekend.  The Bucs 2nd year quarterback is tied for the league lead in touchdown passes so far with 8, though he has thrown six picks to.  It won’t be a blowout, none of Denver’s games really have been, but it will be another win for the Broncos. DENVER WINS
  • Rams @ Cardinals: I’m shocked at the start the Cardinals are having at just 1-2. Carson Palmer has had a bad TD-turnover ratio through 3 weeks.   Arizona isn’t getting quite out of David Johnson on the ground, while their defense is allowing the 5th most rushing yards per game.  This is as good a week as any to get back to what they want to do in all phases as they take on their division rival Rams, who find themselves tied atop the division at 2-1.  Los Angeles has rebounded nicely from a shutout on opening day, winning their last two games.  The Rams tend to play up or down to their opponents, evident by a 9-3 home win over Seattle and a 37-32 shootout on the road in Tampa Bay.  Going off those results,  I’ll take the Cardinals at home in what should be a close game throughout between these two West foes. ARIZONA WINS
  • Cowboys @ Niners: Dallas couldn’t have asked for more from rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot through three weeks.  The Tony Romo-less Cowboys were a game-winning field-goal away from being 3-0 right now. Dez Bryant has a hairline fracture in his knee but is still expected to play this weekend.  San Francisco was manhandled in week 3, and still isn’t making a change back to Colin Kaepernick.  The biggest thing the Niners have going for them is Carlos Hyde has looked pretty good.  I like what the Caowboys have done this season, but I have a feeling about San Fran this week. It might be a bad feeling, but I’m rolling with it. SAN FRANCISCO WINS
  • Saints @ Chargers: It’s still early, but the Saints need to start picking up some wins quickly if they want to make the playoffs as I predicted they would as a wildcard team in the NFC.  The offense hasn’t been the problem.  Drew Brees is already over a 1,000 yards passing, with an 8-1 touchdown to interception ratio, though that one interception last week was a fourth quarter pick six for Brees.  New Orleans defense hasn’t been been able to stop anyone, as they’ve allowed the 2nd most total yards.  Worst at stopping the run, that’s where the Chargers will need to take advantage this week.  But without Danny Woodhead, San Diego needs Melvin Gordon to get going, so this is the perfect opportunity for that.  I like Philip Rivers, but I like Drew Brees more.  Give me the road team to get win number 1 this week. NEW ORLEANS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Chiefs @ Steelers: What a defensive performance put on by the Chiefs this past week! Two defensive touchdowns and six interceptions helped Kansas City get the easy win over the Jets.  The offense wasn’t great, but they didn’t need to be with that showing on defense.  Alex Smith continued to show his game management skills, and why Travis Kelce is one of the better tight ends in the league right now. They’ve got a desperate Steelers team thsi week, who didn’t score a touchdown in a week 3 beatdown by the Eagles.  After two very good weeks, DeAngelo Williams was stymied on the ground, so the rushing attack will gladly welcome back Le’Veon Bell from suspension this week. The biggest test for the Kansas City defense will be stopping Antonio Brown, but I don’t think it will matter much even if he does have a big day. KANSAS CITY WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Giants @ Vikings: This should be a battle of two unbeatens, but a late game collapse left the Giants at 2-1 heading into today.  Too many penalties, a couple late turnovers and allowing Washington to open up the field multiple times led to the home loss for New York.  They lost Shane Vereen to a triceps injury as well.  Eli Manning and company need to do more in the passing game, and they have the capability with three wide receivers.  The bad news for New York is that the Vikings are running on all cylinders right now.  Their defense has been relentless through three weeks, and despite losing starting QB Teddy Bridgewater before the season started, the offense has been very good.  Sam Bradford has come in and fit in better in two weeks then he’s done in the first few seasons of his career.  It’s going to be tough for the Giants on the road, but I like New York will figure things out and get back in the win column.  NEW YORK WINS
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NFL: Halfway to the Finish Line… Who are the pretenders, and who are the contenders?

I cannot believe we are here already. 9 weeks down. The playoff picture is starting to take shape.

So who has themselves in prime position, who has work to do and who is on the clock?  Here is a breakdown by division of how all 32 teams look midway through the season.

AFC EAST (Remember when we all thought Tom Brady was done?)

  1. New England Patriots (7-2): Since being blown out in week 4, the Pats have won 5 straight, 4 of those by double digits.  They made easy work of the of 3 teams that could be in the playoffs, including a 22-point victory over the Broncos last week.  Tom Brady is top 5 in passing yards in a season where Rob Gronkowski came in off injury and Julian Edelman was leading the team in receiving yards early.   It took a couple weeks for them to figure things out, and now here they are, atop the AFC once again.  It’s almost like in the NBA when everyone calls out the Spurs for being too old, and they go and win the championship.  Maybe we should stop underestimating Brady and Belichick?
  2. Buffalo Bills (5-3): They’ve lost their top running back, their 2nd back is banged up and yet here they are, fighting for a wild card spot.  A big reason why is their defense.  They’re 6th in points per game in the league and are a +7 in turnover differential.  Add to that a steady progression from rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins to a big play threat, the ability to close out games and decent production from QBs EJ Manuel and Kyle Orton (yes that Kyle Orton).  If this team wants to stay in the conversation, they have to continue their strong defensive presence and get Fred Jackson back.
  3. Miami Dolphins (5-3): Ryan Tannehill has taken a step.  It’s in the right direction, but I’m not ready to say it’s a step that puts him in the next tier of quarterbacks step yet.  His decision making has gotten much better, as has his accuracy, all things you want to see as your franchise starter gets older.  Losing Knowshon Moreno was big, but Lamar Miller has done a good job picking up the slack.  They find ways to win, and just demolished the once high flying Chargers to the tune of 37-0.  Like the Bills, their defense is where they make money, and of the two teams, I think they have a better shot at a wild card spot coming off an 8-8 record a year ago.  They’re no worse than a season ago.
  4. New York Jets (1-8): 8 straight losses with no hope on the horizon.  Geno Smith is on the bench. Eric Decker hasn’t been the addition they hoped for.  Their defense has been awful and the run game has been abandoned.  Things are so bad for the Jets that fan put their money together to buy a “Fire Idzik” billboard (their GM).  Could Rex Ryan be out at the end of the season?  Time will tell, but they’re fighting hard for a very high draft pick, and not the playoffs like I thought they would be this season.

AFC NORTH (Who would’ve thought all these teams would be above .500?)

  1. Cincinnati Bengals (5-2-1): They’ve been inconsistent since coming out of their week 4 by with a record of 3-0.  Inconsistency is bad in any sport, but it’s very bad for Cincy this year, as they can’t afford a slip in the only top-to-bottom over .500 division in football.  Andy Dalton has shown flashes of deserving the big 6-year $115 million contract he got in the off-season.  But again, inconsistency is an issue.  Hopefully AJ Green is over his injury issues, because everyone knows how lethal he is in the passing game, and putting a confident Mohammad Sanu, who stepped up for Green in his absence, next to him is huge.
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3): 12 TDs in two games. Historic numbers.  That’s what Ben Roethlisberger and company have put up of late to get back into the division champion conversation.  Pittsburgh is still very inconsistent.  They started out 3-3, and despite their 3 game win streak, the Steelers defense is nowhere near the “steal curtain” of old. It’s more like a bead curtain.  It’s easy to outscore your opponents, until it’s not.  Can they keep it up?  Yes.  Will they?  Who knows.
  3. Cleveland Browns (5-3): So… we all saw this coming right?  The Browns are 2 games over .500 despite not getting much from Ben Tate on the ground, an oft injured Jordan Cameron and a QB controversy heading into the season.  They’ve been impressive, finding ways to win games late that they would’ve lost in years past.  Brian Hoyer has gotten better at late game decision making and has his team looking at winning it’s most games in a while.
  4. Baltimore Ravens (5-4): After looking like they’d turned a corner, Baltimore has lost two straight in the division, finding themselves momentarily in the basement.  The positive for this team?  They have games left in the division and it’s close, so it won’t take long to jump back into the top.  But they can’t be so inconsistent on defense.  The offense without Ray Rice hasn’t really skipped a beat, so if they can get some more stops, they will be in it til the end.

AFC SOUTH (Indianapolis is starting to pull away)

  1. Indianapolis Colts (6-3): After an 0-2 start, the Colts have righted the ship in a huge way.  Andrew Luck leads the league in passing yards, with a healthy 3,000 plus already! So you wouldn’t be surprised to know they have the best total offense because of it,which has helped cover up their middle of the pack total team defense.  Those numbers are a bit skewed at 18 after allowing over 600 total yards to Pittsburgh in week 8, but it is what it is.  They already beat Houston once, so in affect have a 3 game lead, and with how they’re playing, I think they’re easily on their way to another division crown.
  2. Houston Texans (4-5):  The good news?  JJ Watt is a beast and they’ve already doubled their win total from a year ago.  The bad news. they are in the same division as the Colts, and Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the greatest replacement for Matt Schaub, which has led to him being benched in favor of Ryan Mallett.  But they are still in the conversation without any real production out of number 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney, so there is room for improvement.  Add better days from offensive weapons Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, and I see them hovering around .500 the rest of the way.
  3. Tennessee Titans (2-6): They’re in the bottom third of the league on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football. So frankly, I don’t know how they have two wins (one of which came against Jacksonville).  Two of their losses were by a combined 3 points, which shows a lack of late game execution, which reeks of bad coaching and bad personnel.  Delanie Walker might be the lone guy that’s having a representative season for Tennessee.  And after a 7-9 season a year ago, there was a place for improvement, and they haven’t and look like they won’t even get back to a similar record this year.
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8): They’re not good, but I have to give the Jags some credit.  They aren’t rolling over on a weekly basis.  They took down the Browns for their first win in wee 7. Things weren’t made easy for the Bengals and Dolphins following that win.  Denard Robinson has proven to be a very good starting running back and Blake Bortles has shown some glimpses as the 4th pick in the 2014 draft.  So while the record will again put them in the running for a top pick, there are at least signs of talent at skill positions in Jacksonville.

AFC WEST (Denver might start to run away with this one)

  1. Denver Broncos (6-2): Peyton Manning is still really good, but even he couldn’t lead his team past the red hot Patriots.  But at 6-2, they’re still in prime position to make a deep playoff run despite a very difficult schedule.  The difference between last year’s Broncos and this year’s… the defense.  A bad showing against New England not withstanding, off-season acquisitions are doing big things for this team on both sides of the football.  This offense is so good, Wes Welker is now the 4th option. Think about that.  I’m not worried about this team, and even though they haven’t run away with the division, the Chargers have dropped and they can do no worse than tying the season series with both them and the Chiefs.
  2. Kansas City Chiefs (5-3): The defense hasn’t allowed more than 26 points in a game, and that came week 1.  Jamal Charles continues to have the ability to break out on any day.  Alex Smith isn’t lighting up the stat sheet, but he’s done enough to keep them in the conversation in the division.  This team was never going to repeat the 9-0 start from a year ago, but they’ve responded from a slow start, and can still make a play at a wild card spot, if not the division.
  3. San Diego Chargers (5-4): This team was 5-1 and looked like a top 2, top 3 team in the league.  Now they’re on a 3-game slid that’s seen them score 3 TDs in the past 8 quarters of football.  The defense can’t live up to that, but it’s hard to outscore 35-plus point efforts as well.  So if this team wants to get back in the conversation, both sides of the football need to improve and fast.
  4. Oakland Raiders (0-8): They may never win again.  This team has yet to show me any reason to ever pick them.  Charles Woodson called it early, and it never sparked a fire.  They’re the worst team in the league, but could always fall into a win, and could lose that title to a Jets or Jaguars team.  But I doubt that happens.

NFC EAST (Is this division really as “strong” as the records suggest?)

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (6-2): They’re well on their way to a possible 2nd straight division crown.  But a couple of big injuries in week 9 could derail their Superbowl aspirations.  Nick Foles is set to be out 6-8 weeks with a broken collarbone, while DeMeco Ryans is out for the season with a torn Achilles.  The latter could prove more costly, as Philly at least has a backup QB in Mark Sanchez who has proven he can help lead a team deep into the playoffs.  But if they want to survive the injuries, the run game has to pick up the slack.  So this team will only go as far as LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles can run, in conjunction with Sanchez limiting the mistakes.
  2. Dallas Cowboys (6-3):  Just when you thought this might be their season, Tony Romo goes down.  DeMarco Murray is on a record pace on the round, but with his injury history, how much more can you ask from him?  Brandon Weedon wasn’t horrible with Cleveland, but you’re not going far with him either.  You’ve got to hope you can get Romo back after the bye week in week 12, while hoping teams like the Packers, Panthers, Seahawks or 49ers don’t get hot and steal a wildcard spot.
  3. New York Giants (3-5): The G-men were feeling good about themselves after a 3-game win streak that saw them score 30-plus to get them above the .500 mark at 3-2.  But it’s been downhill from there.  Eli Manning hasn’t thrown an interception since week 4, and has just 5 all season. But the injuries are piling up and Manning has no real deep threat.  They’ve put themselves behind the 8-ball, but with games left with both the Eagles and Cowboys at home, to go with some softer games in the 2nd half, it’ll be tough, but they don’t have any wiggle room if they want to make a real run for the playoffs.
  4. Washington Redskins (3-6): RGIII came back, for better or worse and it didn’t make them better.  The former Rookie of the Year looked slow and out of it in his return, and I didn’t understand bringing him back when they did.  Colt McCoy (yes he still exists) looked pretty good and got them a win against Dallas. I would’ve run him out there again.  They’re the worst team in the division, even with how banged up the Giants are.

NFC NORTH (This was always going to be a fight between Detroit and Green Bay)

  1. Detroit Lions (6-2): They boast the best team defense in football.  You’ve been looking for this team to put all their talent together for a while now, and this seems to be the year, led by the D.  But that being said, their offense has been off lately. Calvin Johnson has missed time, the run game isn’t what you want and they’ve played games using their 4th string tight-end.  But when your defense is top 5 in rushing and passing defense, it tends to hide offensive question marks.  If they can get Megatron healthy, this team is going to be very dangerous in the playoffs.
  2. Green Bay Packers (5-3): They might be in 2nd place, but they’re the best team in this division.  Green Bay got off to a slow start, but while defense has carried the current leader, the Pack is a much more balanced team.  Aaron Rodgers is an MVP candidate again.  And if Eddie Lacy could ever be the consistent threat they need on the ground, I don’t know how you beat this team.
  3. Chicago Bears (3-5): You boast probably the best wide-receiver combination in football to go with a top 5 running back, and yet they find themselves under .500.  The defense, aside from allowing a 51 spot to New England in their last game has been pretty good.  The issue is on offense, where there is questions of a lack of trust between Jay Cutler and his targets of Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.  And when there is questioning of each other in the media, it’s hard to recover from.
  4. Minnesota Vikings (3-5): considering they lost their starting QB and their All-pro running back early on, Mike Zimmer has his team competing.  Even with Matt Cassell and Adrian Peterson, I don’t think this team would be much better than 3-5, but they’ve learned that Teddy Bridgewater is a capable starter.  In a tough division like the North, at least they’ve shown they can play with teams outside.  Now they just have to figure out how to make games in the division close.  And with how bad Chicago looks, finishing 3rd is in the realm of possibility, especially with two left against the Bears.

NFC SOUTH (The most disappointing division in football?)

  1. New Orleans Saints (4-4): It’s been a long trek back to .500 for the Saints after an 1-3 start.  Drew Brees’ low is 17 points scored… that on the road against the Cowboys.  So the offense has been pretty good.  But this team is only going to go as far as the defense.  They are very lucky to be in a division having a down year top-to-bottom.  Having a game up on Carolina already for me gives them a clear path to the division crown.
  2. Carolina Panthers (3-5-1): So I think their defense forgot how to play… well defense.  Carolina finds itself top 3 in points allowed and the bottom 3rd of the league in total yards allowed.  Add to that, a banged up Cam Newton, and an offense that finds themselves in similar spots in offense as defense.  All ingredients for a below .500 record.  And nothing I’ve seen of late has me thinking they can rebound in the second half of the season here.
  3. Atlanta Falcons (2-6): Remember when this was a good team?  Yeah, neither do I. A 2-0 start, the Falcons look like the 2013-14 Texans that finished the season on a 14-game skid. You know, minus the loss of a quarterback.  Matt Ryan has been healthy, and has had enough weapons to get some wins here.  The issue is on defense.  Their secondary is basically swiss cheese, and the front 7 isn’t any better.  I do think they’ll find a way to win again this season, but it might not be more than once or twice.
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-7): Ugliness. I thought they’d be a playoff team.  Nope.  A rotating door at quarterback has shifted back to Josh McCown.  Doug Martin looks like he’s never ran a football.  The defense is atrocious.  Vincent Jackson seems to forget that he’s a load and can out muscle any secondary player.  It’s just bad for the Bucs.

NFC WEST (Arizona far atop the hill, just like we all thought… right?)

  1. Arizona Cardinals (7-1): I give you the best team in the NFC, and it’s not really even close.  They swept the NFC East that currently holds 2 of the 4 best records in the conference.  They survived a couple weeks without their starting quarterback.  Not to mention they’re getting healthy and are consistent on both sides of the ball.  Arizona’s only real issue is that they still have two match-ups with the defending champs, but with how they’ve played, there’s no reason they shouldn’t at least split with them and maintain their led in the division.
  2. Seattle Seahawks (5-3): For a team that entered the year as defending champs, they look nothing like a team capable of a repeat.  Russell Wilson is leading one of the worst passing offenses in football.  Marshawn Lynch is a shell of himself. Percy Harvin, a dynamic offensive weapon, was so distracting they traded him for nothing to the Jets.  And the Legion of Boom has been disappointing to say the least.
  3. San Francisco 49ers (4-5): This team is a mess.  Between off-the-field issues and a lack of a run game to help take pressure of Colin Kaepernick who has his team in the bottom half in passing offense, they find themselves on the outside looking in.  Rumors that Jim Harbaugh is leaving don’t help.  Their only bright spot is their team defense, ranked 2nd in total yards allowed.  What they need is to take advantage of 3 games left with the teams ahead of them, and for Kaepernick to figure some things out offensively, particularly in the red zone.
  4. St. Louis Rams (3-5): I have to give them credit, they don’t quit.  They’ve shown glimpses with getting big leads early over the Cowboys and Seahawks, but then they regress to a 3-5 team by losing both of those leads.  Now they look to play spoiler (as they did against San Fran this week).  Losing your starter just before the season starts is tough.  If they could’ve executed better down the stretch of games, they could be in the conversation for 2nd in this division with a down year from the champs and niners.

So if things continue on the track they are, here are my 12 playoff teams as of now:

NFC

– Arizona, Green Bay, Saints, Philadelphia, Dallas (if Romo comes back quickly) and Detroit

AFC

– New England, Denver, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Miami and Baltimore

NFL: Week 13 Thoughts

13 down. 4 to go.

It’s not often that 1 player goes off for 200+ yards on either the ground or in the receiving game.  But this week we saw 3 players have exception games.  How about 3 to 4 touchdowns for one player?  There were a few of those as well.

NFC EAST (This One’s Going Down to the Wire)

  • Cowboys: They got off to a slow start, but were able to come back from a 21-7 deficit to maintain their tie atop the division. An opening kick-off fumble by Terrence Williams was returned for a score, putting them down as quick as you can be down.  DeMarco Murray was huge in the redzone, scoring 3 rushing touchdowns, adding a number of big catches to help lead the comeback. Tony Romo managed the game well, finishing with 235-passing yards and a touchdown pass to Dez Bryant.  Back-up rusher Lance Dunbar added a career-high 82 yards in the ground game.  It’s the first time all season Dallas is 2 games over .500.  (7-5)
  • Eagles: Make it 19 touchdown passes with no interceptions for Philly savior Nick Foles. Though he did throw a pick in the game, it didn’t go against him as it was called back on a defensive penalty.  No matter what, Foles continued to shine against a very good Arizona defense, throwing 3 touchdown passes for 237-yards in their 4th straight victory.  He also set an Eagles record for most passes without an interception (233), breaking Michael Vick’s mark of 224 set in 2010. DeSean Jackson went over the 1,000 yard mark for the season.  Rookie receiver Zach Ertz on 2 of his 5 catches on the day.  The only concern is this team continues to be shutdown in the 4th quarter, something that gave Arizona multiple chances to steal a win on the road.  But the defense held, and the division crown still remains in play. (7-5)
  • Giants: Big Blue rallied from 14-0 down to at least keep their slim playoff chances alive, thanks in big part to their run game in the red-zone, and their defense.  Justin Tuck looked like his old self, racking up a career high 4 sacks, and after a bad start, the defense held the Skins to just 95 2nd half yards.  The run game overall wasn’t spectacular, but Andre Brown made his 35-yards count, scoring two touchdowns including the go-ahead score.  Eli Manning threw touchdown, and one interception, the Giants lone turnover of the game.  They’re the only team with at least 1 turnover in every game this season. (5-7)
  • Redskins: RG-still-stuck-at-3-wins and company got off to a very hot start Sunday night, but cooled off late.  Griffin was 16-for-17 at halftime, but went just 8-for-15 in the second half, and was dropped 5 times.  Washington had a chance to go the length of the field in the final minutes to try and tie. But a mix-up by officials with a 1st down being called a second with no measurement, the Skins play calling suffered and ultimately resulted in having to go for it on 4th down, and not converting.  The loss officially eliminates them from the playoffs.  (3-9)

NFC NORTH (Detroit Puts Some Separation Between Themselves and the Rest of the Division)

  • Lions: The Thanksgiving Day skid came to an end at 9 thanks to a big day from just about everyone.  Matt Stafford got off to a shake start, but he finished with over 300-yards passing, 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.  Calvin Johnson caught one of those TDs, his 5th straight Turkey day score, as well as his 5th straight game this season.  Reggie Bush put an opening drive red-zone fumble behind him, rushing for 117-yards and a score in the rout.  The win helps put them in the driver’s seat for the division title. (7-5)
  • Bears: Matt Forte finished with 120-yards on the ground, and that wasn’t even the best total on the ground in the game, let alone the best from scrimmage total on his team.  Rookie wide-out Alshon Jeffery went off for two touchdowns and 249-yards receiving, giving him the two best receiving games in Bears history, ever.  The usually sure-footed Robbie Gould wasn’t so on point though, missing 2-of-4 field-goal attempts, including a 47-yard attempt that would’ve won it in overtime. (6-6) 
  • Packers: Matt Flynn “savior” wasn’t to be this week.  After a 10-3 start, the Pack were completely shut down by the Lions.  The defense did all it could, forcing 3 turnovers, including the early fumble they returned for Green Bay’s lone touchdown of the game.  But they couldn’t outplay their quarterback. Flynn threw a pick, lost two fumbles and was sacked in for a safety in the 3rd quarter.  The loss doesn’t put them out of contention for a wildcard spot or the division title, with a game against Chicago left.  But it does make things harder.  Aaron Rodgers could be back in week 14.  (5-6-1)
  • Vikings: Down 20-10 after 3 quarters, 10 unanswered in the 4th forced overtime for the second straight week.  The Vikings were 1:43 away from their second straight tie, but a Blair Walsh 34-yarder gave them the win instead. Walsh missed a 57-yarder earlier in overtime but Minnesota was given new life after the Chicago miss. Oh and in case you forgot, Adrian Peterson is really, really good.  Peterson ran for 211-yards on 35 carries for a 6-yard-per-attempt average.  Christian Ponder went down with an injury early in the game, and Matt Cassel came in and did a good job in his place.  Cassel threw 1 touchdown to Greg Jennings, a pick and finished with 243-yards in the air. (3-8-1)

NFC SOUTH (We Have a Battle For 1st Place on our Hands)

  • Saints: Other than one long drive in the 1st to cut the deficit to 17-7, the Saints offense looked like a shell of themselves. The one touchdown went to Jimmy Graham.  Drew Brees was held under 200-yards passing, and the run game was non-existent.  Just one turnover, but it was recovered for a touchdown early. Those 7 points scored by New Orleans, according to NFL.com, are the lowest scored by the Saints since Sean Payton became headcoach in 2006.  Making things worse, plane troubles kept them in Seattle overnight. (9-3)
  • Panthers: 8 straight wins and this time around, it was never in doubt.  The defense ravaged Tampa’s offense, holding them to just 2 field-goals, recording 5 sacks and forcing two turnovers.  Cam Newton did throw 2 picks, but he also threw for 263-yards and two touchdowns to go with 68-yards on the ground and a rushing score.  5 receivers finished with at least 35-yards, with Brian LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr each finding the end-zone.  Now they sit tied for 1st, with 2 games to go against New Orleans. (9-3)
  • Buccaneers:  They actually led the Panthers, not for long and not by much, but in a 21-point loss, I guess you take any positives you can find.  Mike Glennon has been very good for Tampa, but not this week as Tampa saw their win streak snapped at 3 games.  Glennon went on to post 14-21 completions, 180-yards, no touchdowns and an interception in the loss.  The defense did all it could, forcing a couple turnovers, but they had no real answer for Newton short of those takeaways. (3-9)
  • Falcons: It took overtime, but the skid ends at 5 for Atlanta.  Steven Jackson had his first multi-touchdown day as a Falcon as a part of an 84-yard rushing performance.  Matt Ryan didn’t throw any interceptions, something foreign to him this season, but he did lose one fumble.  Ryan was good throwing the rock though, finishing with 311-yards passing and a touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez.  Roddy White had nearly 150-yards receiving. They never led in regulation, and won it thanks to Matt Bryant’s 2nd field-goal of the game in the extra frame. (3-9)

NFC WEST (Seattle Just Continues to Fly Higher)

  • Seahawks: It was all Seattle early, thanks to a fumble recovery for a score for Michael Bennett, his first careers touchdown.  And it stayed Seattle’s night, thanks to Russell Wilson, whose throws we’re on point all game long.  The 2nd year quarterback threw for 310-yards, 3 touchdowns and added another 47-yards on the ground.  The defense was huge against a potent Saints offense, holding them to under 50-yards rushing and Brees to under 200-yards passing, a rare feat. Home field throughout the playoffs looks way more likely now with a 2-game lead over the rest of the NFC. (11-1)
  • 49ers: There was a big time Anquan Boldin sighting in week 13, as the wide-out caught 9 passes for 98-yards.  Tight-end Vernon Davis added an athletic leap over a defender, 82-yards and a score to San Fran’s 10-point division win. Colin Kaepernick threw for nearly 300-yards and a score. 3 Phil Dawson field-goals and a Frank Gore rushing touchdown was the rest of the niners offense as they put a game between themselves and Arizona.  They never trailed, and currently hold the 6th and final playoff spot in the NFC. (8-4)
  • Cardinals: They put themselves in a 21-7 hole early, and they were never able to fully recover.  Carson Palmer threw 3 touchdown passes, but also threw 2 interceptions, as well as lost a fumble.  Those 3 turnovers proved costly in a 3-point game.  Rashard Mendenhall had one of his better games of the year, picking up 79-yards on the ground, but it wasn’t enough.  Michael Floyd came up just short of the 100-yard receiving mark, while Larry Fitzgerald added another 72 in the passing game.  Both scored touchdowns.  The loss hurts drops them back in the hunt for a wildcard spot, but they still have a better shot than most.  (7-5)
  • Rams: They did a decent job of holding down the 49ers early, but the offense couldn’t do much against San Fran.  Kellen Clemens finished with over 200-yards passing, a touchdown and an interception, while Zac Stacy gained 72 on the ground.  But drives stalled, and they had to settle for field-goals rather than touchdowns on 2 of them.  They are still much improved over last season, but with 3 teams to jump in their own division, the playoffs aren’t realistic.  (5-7)

AFC EAST (It’s Still The Pats Division)

  • Patriots: They won, but I wouldn’t be too proud of myself if I was a Patriots player after Sunday’s performance  Down 17-7 at the half to a 2 win Houston team, they needed a big 2nd half to save themselves from a bad loss.  The game saw 5 lead changes as Tom Brady finished with 371-yards passing, 2 touchdowns and an interception. Both Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman finished with over 100-yards receiving.  LeGarrett Blount added a score in the run game.  But they couldn’t stop the run in the red-zone, allowing 4 rushing touchdowns.  They rallied again, but the defense was suspect and their run game wasn’t great. (9-3)
  • Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill finished the must-win game completing 28-of-43 passes for 331-yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception.  4 players combined for over 120-yards on the ground, including 22 from Tannehill.  The defense took advantage of a down New York offense, holding them to just 3-points. Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace combined for over 200-yards and 2 scores while  3 Caleb Strugis field-goals book-ended the scoring for Miami, who keeps playoff hopes alive.  (6-6)
  • Jets: Well, they’re in a free-fall now.  Geno Smith hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since before the World Series began, and was finally benched in favor of Matt Simms. not that it made a difference.  Smith went 4-for-10 for 29-yards with an INT before being replaced by Simms, who completed 50% of his passes for 79-yards, a fumble lost and a pick. The only offense New York could muster was a 2nd half Nick Folk field-goal.  After not winning or losing 2 straight, the Jets are now on 3-game losing streak, and see their playoff hopes die  with each loss. (5-7)
  • Bills: They had their chance to win in regulation on a possible game winning drive, but a lost fumble ended those hopes, and they eventually fell in overtime.  It was a good day for the running backs, with CJ Spiller nearing the 150-yard mark, while Fred Jackson scored a rushing and receiving touchdown.  But a couple lost fumbles, and their defense’s inability to stop Atlanta, meant disaster. (4-8)

AFC NORTH (The Ravens are Trying to Fly Back into the Race)

  • Bengals: Andy Dalton’s 190-yards passing put him over 3,000 for the season, making him just the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 3,000 in each of his first 3 seasons.  Peyton Manning is the other.  Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis had one of his better games of the season, picking up 92-yards and finding the end-zone for the games first score. The defense showed up big time, forcing 3 turnovers, and 2 sacks to help maintain their 2 game division lead. (8-4) 
  • Ravens: It was close throughout on Thanksgiving night, but Baltimore held on in the end, stopping Pittsburgh on a late 2-point conversion to hold on and keep playoff hopes alive. It was a first quarter Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith 7-yard touchdown pass that put Baltimore up for good.  And then it was the Justin Tucker, who continues to have a monster season, hitting on all 5 of his field-goal attempts. (6-6)
  • Steelers: Jerricho Cotchery’s 1-yard touchdown catch with a minute left in regulation looked like it might force overtime, but a failed 2-point conversion meant a loss.  The Steelers couldn’t recover from an early 13-0 deficit, despite 73-yards and a rushing touchdown by Le’Veon Bell.  Ben Roethlisberger did everything he could to help lead his team to a comeback win on Thanksgiving, throwing for over 250-yards, 2 touchdowns and no turnovers.  But the road win and a .500 record wasn’t to be. (5-7)
  • Browns: Cleveland scored a touchdown in every quarter, but it wasn’t enough as they allowed a late score to Jacksonville.  The loss spoiled a historic effort from wide-receiver Josh Gordon, whose team record 261-receiving-yards made him the first player in NFL history to have back-to-back 200-yard receiving games.  Gordon also had 2 touchdowns, including one late in the 4th that looked like it might be the game-winner.  Brandon Weedon had a very up and down day in his return to the starting lineup.  He threw for 370 and 3 scores, but also threw two picks, lost a fumble and took a 4th quarter safety. The loss brings their losing streak to 3 games.  (4-8)

AFC South (Indy on the Verge of Wrapping This One Up)

  • Colts: 1 more win, another Titans loss, or a tie would give them the AFC South crown thanks to their 8-point victory over Tennessee.  It wasn’t an impressive win for the offense, but sometimes you have to win ugly.  Adam Vinatieri continues to show why he’s one of the best kickers to ever play the game, hitting all 5 of his field-goal attempts, including a go-ahead 49-yarder in the 3rd quarter.  Andrew Luck struggled again, finishing with just 200-yards passing, no touchdowns and an interception.  Donald Brown’s touchdown run in the 4th sealed the victory. (8-4)
  • Titans: They held in there against Indy, even taking a 14-12 lead in the 3rd quarter, but the Colts defense got to Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Tennessee’s quarterback finished with 201-yards passing, a touchdown, 54-yards rushing, but 3 interceptions and a fumble loss.  Those turnovers helped a struggling Colts offense to set up those 5 Vinatieri field-goals. The loss basically puts them out of range of a division crown, but they are still in the hunt for a wildcard. (5-7)
  • Jaguars: Dont look now, but the Jags are on a winning streak, and no longer have the worst record in the league.  Their 2nd straight win came in comeback fashion, capped off by a 20-yard touchdown pass from Chad Henne to Cecil Shorts with just 40-seconds left in regulation.  Maurice Jones-Drew had himself a day, picking up 77-yards on the ground, and throwing an 8-yard touchdown, his first (you know because he’s a runningback). The defense wasn’t great, but they got the win anyway. (3-9)
  • Texans: Early on, it looked like they might snap their skid, instead the losing streak hit 10 thanks to a 3-point loss to New England. Ben Tate was huge in the red-zone, scoring 3 touchdowns of 20, 10 and 8 yards.  Case Keenum added a rushing score of his own, to go along with his 270-yards passing and 1 interception. Andre Johsnon finished with over 100-yards receiving. They put up a good fight against a very good team, but a final game-winning drive stalled and they couldn’t get that 6th lead change for-the-win. (2-10)

AFC WEST (The Chiefs Picked the Wrong Time to Start Losing)

  • Broncos: They put themselves in a touch position early against a good team, but for the 3rd straight game KC’s defense was lacking, and Peyton Manning took advantage.  After 2 early interceptions, Manning went on to throw for 400 yards and 5 touchdown passes. Eric Decker was the beneficiary, registering a career day 174-yards and 4 touchdown passes. Rookie running back Montee Ball added a career high 103-yards on just 4 carries.  One concern was the fact that Von Miller went down twice in the game, though he would continue both times. The win all but ensures them the AFC West crown after taking both games of the season series against Kansas City.  (10-2)
  • Chiefs: From 9 wins in a row, to 3 losses in a row.  The offense did all it could, picking up over 400-yards of total offense, and going up 21-7 in the 1st half.  Add to that a franchise record 108-yard kick-off return touchdown  from rookie Knile Davis, and it looked like it might be their day. But the Chiefs defense betrayed them again, allowing Eric Decker to run circles around Champ Bailey all day. They’re lucky the AFC wildcard isn’t as tightly bunched as the NFC, as they have a 3 game lead over the 6th seed, so their playoff dreams are still very much in tact.  (9-3)
  • Chargers: The defense wasn’t the problem, it was the offense against a good Cincinnati squad.  Their lone touchdown was scored by tight-end Ladarius Green, in the 2nd quarter.  San Diego was held to just 1 field-goal in the 2nd half.  Keenan Allen found a way to have another good day, catching 8 Philip Rivers passes for 106-yards.  Rivers finished the loss with 252-passing-yards, the Green TD pass, and an interception.  This team has been inconsistent all year, and Sunday was just another example of that. (5-7)
  • Raiders: They returned the opening kick-off fumble for a touchdown.  And gave themselves a nice 2-score cushion on Thanksgiving, but the Cowboys are just a better team.  After those 21 first half points, they managed just 1 field-goal in the 2nd half.  2nd year wide-out Andre Holmes had a nice game, 5 catches for 136-yards, but that’s where the good days ended.  Sure, Rashard Jennings found the end zone twice, but only had 35-yards rushing.  Matt McGloin threw a pick, and no touchdowns as a part of his 255-yard passing performance. (4-8)

There you have it.  If week 13 wasn’t fun enough for you, week 14 promises to be even more eventful as the playoffs inch closer.

Enjoy.

NFL: Week 10 Thoughts

10 down. 7 to go.  No more win-less teams, and just the 1 undefeated team left as week 10 wrapped up.

A number of quarterbacks went down, while many crazy, circus catches were made.  Long story short, this week was fun.

4 teams were off this week: the Patriots, the Jets, the Chiefs and the Browns.

NFC EAST (The Eagles Have Flown Into a Tie for First)

  • Cowboys: A week after winning despite not running the ball, Dallas went run early and often.  DeMarco Murray had 80 yards rushing and a touchdown at the half. But they abandoned the run in the 2nd half, Murray finished with just 89 yards and Tony Romo couldn’t pick up the slack.  Dallas’ QB completed less than 50% of his passes, and threw just 1 touchdown pass. Injuries continue to come on to key members on defense, this time to linebacker Sean Lee. All of those injuries are showing themselves, with this defense allowing the most yards in a 10 game span in franchise history. They continue to be up and down, and now it has cost them sole possession of 1st place.  (5-5)
  • Eagles: Nick Foles was never going to put up 7 touchdown passes for a second straight week, but Philly’s QB did enough to get a second straight win.  Foles threw for 228 yards and 3 scores.  And how about this stat: just the 3rd QB to throw at least 16TDs before their first interception of the season. The other two: Milt Plum in 1960, and Peyton Manning earlier this season. LeSean McCoy had a monster day on the ground, rushing for 155 yards, while Riley Cooper added two 3rd quarter touchdowns to help Philadelphia pull away. (5-5)
  • Giants:  Make it 3 straight in the win column for New York.  The special teams put them down with an opening kickoff fumble which was then turned into 7.  Then they got it back with a blocked punt for a score, New York’s first since 1988. Then normal scoring took place. Andre Brown returned from a fractured leg suffered in pre-season, and looked like his old self. Speaking of a guy who’s done big things coming off a big injury, Terrell Thomas was named NFC Defensive Player of the week after week 8, and he made his presence felt in the 3rd quarter this week.  A 47-yard interception return helped the Giants find the end zone on a Brown run and take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.  Going back to before the injury suffered late last year, it gives the back a rushing TD in 6 straight games.  Eli Manning survived his 3rd pick six of the season. (3-6)
  • Redskins: It’s hard to lose a game when you don’t turn the ball over, but that’s what happened on the road to start week 10.  Alfred Morris had a good day on the ground, while Robert Griffin III threw 3 touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough.  They had a shot to tie at the end 4th quarter, but Santana Moss couldn’t get his second foot in bounds on a pass in the corner of the end zone on fourth down.  Washington was 3-6 last season when they went on a 7-0 run to steal the Division and get into the playoffs(3-6)

NFC NORTH (And Just Like That the Pack Aren’t Leading the Pack)

  • Lions: Make it a season sweep of their division rivals from Chicago, thanks in large part to a stop on a two-point conversion with 40 seconds left in regulation. Calvin Johnson’s two touchdowns moved into first for the most TD receptions in Lions history.  Matthew Stafford completed just over 50% of his passes, but still managed to throw for 3 scores. Reggie Bush had 89 of his 105 yards rushing in the 2nd half to help Detroit move into a tie for 1st. (6-3)
  • Bears: Jay Cutler wasn’t very sharp in his return from a groin injury, throwing for just 1 touchdown and 1 interception.  To make matters worse, he left the game with an ankle injury.  Brandon Marshall benefited from having Cutler back, grabbing that one score in a 139 yard day.  Alshon Jeffery also had over 100 yards receiving on the day.  But other than that, no one else really contributed on offense, with Matt Forte gaining just 33 yards on 17 carries.  The defense didn’t do a good job stopping the run or getting to Stafford.  (5-4) 
  • Packers: They lost Aaron Rodgers last week, then lost backup Seneca Wallace in the 1st quarter this week around. This team had been able to find ways to score after losing many big targets in the passing game, but it’s hard to win when you get down to your 3rd string QB, especially as fast as this team did.  Third year QB Scott Tolzien came in and threw two interceptions.  The defense couldn’t help out, allowing the Eagles to run all over them.  Mason Crosby continues to struggle kicking the ball, missing two of his four field-goal attempts.  Eddie Lacy did a good decent on the ground, while Jarrett Boykin went over 100 yards receiving. (5-4)
  • Vikings: Christian Ponder went down late, but not before he helped lead his team to their first win since week 3 against Pittsburgh.  After an early interception, Ponder settled down to throw 2 touchdowns, before leaving with a left shoulder injury late in the 3rd quarter.  Adrian Peterson with a second straight big week, with 2 touchdowns on 75 yards rushing. Tight-end John Carlson with the big day in the receiving game, grabbing 7 balls for 98 yards and a score.  The defense did enough to hold off the Skins in the end. (2-7)

NFC SOUTH (Things Are Getting Interesting)

  • Saints: After a bad road loss in week 9, a big bounce back moved them to 5-0 at home.  Receiver Marques Colston and running back Darren Sproles both returned from injury and made their impact felt immediately, with a combined 3 touchdowns in the 1st half. Drew Brees was on point all night, and finished with nearly 400 yards passing and 4 touchdowns. Colston, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram (career high 145 yards rushing) each finished with over 100 total yards.  Rookie Kenny Stills, Ingram and Thomas each found the end-zone as well.  New Orleans finished with 600-plus total yards on offense, and their 40 first downs set an NFL record. (7-2)
  • Panthers: This team is for real.  Make it 5 straight wins after absolutely dominating last years NFC Superbowl representatives, the San Francisco 49ers.  The league’s only defense ranked top 10 in the rush and pass, as well as points allowed, showed they’re not there by accident.  DeAngelo Williams scored the games only touchdown, while Graham Gano’s 53-yard field goal in the 4th proved to be the game-winner.  Cam Newton didn’t do much against a good niners defense.  Luke Kuechly continue to have a good year defensively, with a game high 11-tackles and one of the teams 5 sacks. (6-3)
  • Falcons: They’re just not the same team this season. Matt Ryan finally figured out how to avoid the turnovers, something to take away from a turnover happy Seattle defense.  But he couldn’t even reach the 180 yards passing mark to go with no run game.  Not to mention the defense had no answers for the Seahawks. It’s their 3rd straight loss, putting them two losses away from their first losing season since 2007 or pre-Ryan. (2-7)
  • Buccaneers: Watching the Jaguars get their first win must have inspired Tampa Bay.  They saw their 15-7 halftime lead evaporate heading into the 4th quarter, but their defense pitched a final quarter shutout to give the offense a chance.  Mike Glennon led the team on a long drive to start the 4th, and it ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tackle Donald Penn.  The run defense was on point to say the least… holding the Dolphins to just 2 yards on the ground, a staggering number.  The defense added a safety 2 key sacks and a pick to their impressive night. (1-8)

NFC WEST (The Hawks Are Flying High)

  • Seahawks: After two straight shaky wins, there was nothing shaky this week against Atlanta. Marshawn Lynch continues to live up to the nickname “beastmode” after a averaging 6 yards a carry, finishing with 145 and a rushing touchdown.  Russell Wilson threw connected with Golden Tate on a one-handed grab in the corner of the end-zone as a part of his 2 touchdown day.  It was a rematch of a 2012 playoff game, a match-up won by Atlanta.  How quickly things change. (9-1)
  • 49ers: Colin Kaepernick couldn’t get anything going against a stout Panthers defense.  The mobile QB couldn’t crack 100 yards passing, and only gained 16 yards on the ground. His one interception iced the victory for Carolina.  Phil Dawson was the only offense, kicking 3 field goals, including a season high 53-yarder. Frank Gore ran for 82 yards, while Mario Manningham caught 3 passes for 30 yards in his season debut. (6-3)
  • Cardinals:  They almost gave it away, but held on to move match their win total from a year ago. The Cards took a quick 7-nothing lead when on the game’s first play John Abraham caused a fumble and Matt Shaugnessy returned it 6 yards for the score.  Carson Palmer threw 2 touchdowns, but also threw a pick and lost a fumble.  It was Rashard Mendenhall’s fumble deep in their own territory that allowed the Texans to stay in the game, but in the end the defense held.   (5-4)
  • Rams: Snapping a 3 game losing streak was due to a big defensive performance, and this time they got a lot of help on offense as well.  Tavon Austin had just two catches, but he made them both count; 138 yards and two scores.  Add a 98-yard punt return for a touchdown, and the rookie helped blow out the previously 6-2 Indianapolis Colts.  3 interceptions of Andrew Luck, to go with a strip sack, helped St Louis make easy work and pick up their first win since losing Sam Bradford. (4-6)

AFC EAST (The Two Best Teams Didn’t Play)

  • Patriots: Bye Week. (7-2)
  • Jets: Bye Week. (5-4)
  • Dolphins: They got off to a slow start, but were able to rally back to score 19 unanswered points to hold a lead heading into the 4th over a win-less bucs team.  But it wasn’t enough as they couldn’t get anything done in the 4th, losing by 3.  Ryan Tannehill threw two touchdown passes and Caleb Strugis hit on two field-goal attempts in the comeback effort. Their biggest problem came on the ground, with the team managing just 2 measly yards on the ground all night. In their first game since the bully scandal really blew up, they sure did miss their offensive linemen.  The loss drops them further back from the top two teams, with a match-up with the Jets upcoming. (4-5)
  • Bills: EJ Manuel’s return wasn’t a good one.  After coming back from an MCL injury, the rookie only managed 155 passing yards, a score and a turnover.  He couldn’t help himself out on the ground, and the rest of the backs didn’t do much against a Steelers defense that needed to bounce back after a horrible week 9 performance.  Rookie tight-end Chris Gragg scored the Bills lone touchdown in the 4th quarter. Make it 3 straight losses for the East’s bottom-dwellers. (3-7)

AFC NORTH (Cincy Falters, Still Holds a 2 Game Lead)

  • Bengals: Andy Dalton connected on a crazy tipped hail mary touchdown as time expired to AJ Green to send the game to overtime. Green finished with a 151 yards receiving thanks to that 51-yard TD catch. But a questionable play call on 4th and 2 in their territory gave Baltimore good field position, and they ultimately lost on a field-goal.  Dalton threw 2 touchdowns, but also threw 3 interceptions in their 2nd straight loss. (6-4) 
  • Browns: Bye Week. (4-5)
  • Ravens: Justin Tucker’s 46-yard field-goal in overtime saved Baltimore from a crushing loss at home, and snapped their 3 game skid.  They blew a 17-0 halftime lead when they didn’t bat down the Bengals hail mary attempt. The run game continues to be non-existent, while Joe Flacco continues to under perform.  Sure he threw two touchdown passes, to Torrey Smith and Dallas Clark, but he also threw two interceptions, and fumbled in the fourth. They found a way to win, a division game at that, and that’s all that matters for the Superbowl Champs.  (4-5)
  • Steelers: After a franchise low on defense a week ago, the Steelers stepped up and made easy work the Bills.  They held Buffalo to just 95 yards on the ground, nearly 50 below their average  while giving up just 10 points, after 55 a week ago. Add 3 sacks and a pick to their defensive effort. Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t great, passing for just 204, a touchdown and an interception, while Le’Veon Bell added 52 and a score on the ground. But they did enough for the home win. Shaun Suisham added 3 field-goals. According to ESPN stats, Pittsburgh is now 17-2, including the playoffs, against rookie quarterbacks since 2004.  (3-6)

AFC South  (The Jags Won and the Colts Didn’t- Fact)

  • Colts: Talk about a letdown.  Andrew Luck threw 3 interceptions, and lost a fumble, and still managed to throw for over 350 yards.  And when your not mobile quarter back leads the team in rushing, you know you’re in trouble.  This team doesn’t lose often, let alone this badly and at home, but an improved Rams defense and bad special teams play burned them.  Their lone score came in the 3rd quarter, a Donald Brown score, capped off with a 2-point conversion to Coby Fleener. Their 30-point loss was the largest margin of any game this week. Lucky for them the Titans lost, so they still hold a 2 game lead in the division. (6-3)
  • Titans: Jake Locker just can’t stay healthy, leaving with what is probably a season ending lisfranc injury. Ryan Fitzpatrick did a good job in relief, running in for a score and throwing 2 more.  But the damage was done early, and Tennessee couldn’t recover against a previously win-less Jaguar team. They had a chance late, but with no help on the ground this week, the win-less Jags took advantage.  Four turnovers didn’t help in what ended up a 2-point game. (4-5)
  • Texans: For the first time in franchise history, Houston is on a 7-game losing streak.  A third good start for youngster Case Keenum, but again, it results in a loss.  Keenum threw 3 touchdowns, including 2 to Andre Johnson.  But he did turn the ball over on the games first play, putting them in the hole from the get go.  JJ Watt did all he could to keep his team in the game, forcing two fumbles, including one late in the 4th that helped score and get to within a field-goal of tying the score. Gary Kubiak wasn’t with the team after collapsing at halftime in Indianapolis, but he could be back sooner rather than later after suffering a “mini-stroke.” (2-7)
  • Jaguars: A 13-game losing streak dating back to last season finally comes to an end, and on the road no less.  Maurice Jones-Drew and Jordan Todman each ran in scores, but only combined for 52 yards on the ground.  Chad Henne wasn’t good, throwing two picks to no touchdowns. A fourth quarter safety turned out to be the difference in the game. The reason they won, their defense turned the Titans over 4 times. (1-8)

AFC WEST (It Was Always Going to be a 2 Team Race)

  • Chiefs: Bye Week. (9-0)
  • Broncos: Peyton Manning threw for 4 touchdowns, 3 to Demaryius Thomas to move within a game of the division lead. Manning took a shot late to his ankles and came up hobbling, and underwent an MRI early Monday.  The team was without head coach John Fox, who had heart surgery last week.  But it didn’t slow them down.  Knowshon Moreno had a big day, with over 100 yards of total offense.  Julius Thomas nearly cracked the 100 yard mark, and scored Manning’s fourth TD pass. (8-1)
  • Chargers: Phil Rivers wasn’t great, throwing for just 218 and a score.  It’s a second straight loss by just 1 score, dropping them under .500. Ryan Matthews was better than a week ago on the ground, finding the end zone once, but again didn’t crack the 100 yard mark after two straight games doing so.  This team continues to be very streaky, something they can’t afford with arguably the two best teams in the AFC both in their division. (4-5)
  • Raiders: They scored 17 points off turnovers.  You can call Tracy Porter a Manning magnet.  The 6th year corner-back is the only player with a pick 6 against both Peyton and Eli Manning.  But it was their own turnover late in the 3rd, a Terrelle Pryor interception, that put them down for good.  Pryor was pressured all game long, and despite getting passes off early, eventually it got to be too much.  Rashard Jennings did all he could do on the ground in place of the injured Darren McFadden, but it wasn’t enough. According to CBS, this was their 9th straight loss to NFC opponents.  (3-6)

That’s it.  Week 11 approaches as teams look to better their playoff positioning.

NFL: Week 5 Thoughts

5 down. 12 to go.  And we still have 3 win-less teams, as well as 3 undefeated squads.

Washington, Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Tampa Bay were all on their bye weeks.

I’m deviating from breaking this down by record.  Now that we’ve come to week 5, division races are starting to take shape.  So let’s take a look around the league that way.

NFC EAST (The Under .500 Club)

  • Cowboys: Tony Romo had the best game of his career, becoming the 1st Dallas QB to throw for over 500 yards. But a late second interception led to a Broncos game-winning field-goal and a loss. But don’t focus on another Romo turnover.  When you put up 48 points, you should win.  The defense just couldn’t stop Peyton Manning.  To be fair no one has yet this year.  (2-3)
  • Eagles:  Michael Vick went down with a hamstring injury in the 1st half, but Nick Foles didn’t miss a beat. Kicker Alex Henery shook off a shaky start to his season by completing all 5 of his field-goal attempts. (2-3)
  • Redskins: Bye week. (1-3)
  • Giants: The good news? The offense looked a little better.  The bad news?  They didn’t look good enough, with 4 more turnovers, 3 of which came courtesy of Eli Manning in the 4th quarter.  The run-game remained anemic, and the defense generated absolutely no pass-rush once again. Changes need to come, and quick. (0-5)

NFC NORTH (Too Close to Call)

  • Lions: After a big win over Chicago last week, the offense sputtered without Calvin Johnson in the lineup against Green Bay. The running back tandem of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell couldn’t help Matt Stafford and the pass game either.  (3-2)
  • Bears: It wasn’t a horrible performance by the defense a week after allowing 40 to Detroit.  But they couldn’t get much going on offense.  Aside from a huge day from wide-receiver Alshon Jeffery, who caught 10 balls for 218 yards and a touchdown, Chicago couldn’t do capitalize.  Jay Cutler’s two fumbles, 1 which was lost didn’t help.  (3-2)
  • Packers: It wasn’t the prettiest game, but a win’s a win. Most of the offense came from the leg of Mason Crosby, who kicked 5 field goals.  Aaron Rodgers did connect on a long TD pass to James Jones to pull away in the 3rd quarter. (2-2)
  • Vikings: Coming off their bye week, they’ll have a new QB on the roster after signing Josh Freeman, who was released last week by the Bucs.  (1-3)

NFC SOUTH (The Saints Are Running Away) 

  • Saints: After starting last year 0-4, the turnaround in New Orleans has been a big one.  One of the final 3 unbeatens, Drew Brees is having a great start to his year, as is the defense.  Jimmy Graham tied an NFL record held by Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez with his 4th straight 100-yard game as a tight-end. Graham accomplished this feat back in 2011 as well. (5-0)
  • Carolina: Cam Newton had a very bad day Sunday against the Cardinals.  The mobile QB did manage to throw for over 300 yards, but was also picked off 3 times, took a safety and was sacked 7 times.  The defense had an okay day, but that many turnovers is hard to overcome. (1-3)
  • Atlanta: They came from 13 down to take a 1-point lead with less than 2 to play.  Really they should’ve been up 4, but somehow instead of kicking a field goal to end the 1st half to get within 7, the Falcons instead chose to go for it on 4th and goal and were stuffed. For the first time in his career, Matt Ryan loses back to back games at home, and are now essentially 5 games out of 1st. (1-4)
  • Tampa Bay: Bye Week. (0-4)

NFC WEST (The Most Improved Division?)

  • Seahawks: They suffered their first loss of the season, a shootout loss with the comeback kids, the Colts.  Going back even further, it was their first regular season loss since November 25th of last season.  Russell Wilson had 300+ total yards in the loss, including 102 yards rushing. (4-1)
  • 49ers: Another easy win for San Fran, this time coming against a Houston team that is struggling big time.  Tramaine Brock’s pick six of Matt Schaub on the first pass of the game was all the niners needed in the 34-3 win on Sunday Night football. (3-2)
  • Cardinals: Their defense was the real star against Carolina, picking up 7 sacks, a safety and three interceptions.  Carson Palmer’s day was nothing to write home about, neither was the run game, but they did enough to win thanks to short field position.  (3-2)
  • Rams: A good game on all ends versus the now 0-5 Jaguars. Sam Bradford threw for 3 touchdowns, including 2 to Austin Pettis. The run game was pretty good as well.  Big plays were the name of the game, including Matt Giordano’s 82 yard interception return for a touchdown. (2-3)

AFC EAST (You Can’t Just Hand New England the Division Anymore)

  • Patriots: They still lead the division, but they picked up their 1st loss of the year thanks to a shutdown Bengals defense.  It was a low scoring game, something we’re not seeing from New England.  And that’s because  Tom Brady did something he hadn’t done in 52 games, he didn’t throw a touchdown.  (4-1)
  • Dolphins: A 13-6 halftime lead wasn’t enough to save Miami from their second loss of the year.  In a game of field-goals, Caleb Sturgis missed from 57-yards to tie the score with 33 seconds to go.  The run game was non-existent, with starter Lamar Miller picking up just 15 yards on the ground. (3-2)
  • Jets: Geno Smith continues to show growth in his rookie season, leading his team on a game winning drive with under 2 minutes to play. The defense was lock down in the 1st half, but showed some holes in the redzone late.  But it’s a big road win none-the-less. (3-2)
  • Bills: Not only did they lose their game with Cleveland, they lost starting QB EJ Manuel.  On a scramble in the 1st half, Manuel took a hit to the knee, and suffered an LCL sprain, which could sideline him for up 6 weeks.  Fellow rookie QB Jeff Tuel came in for Manuel, but didn’t look very good.  The run game was on point, but it wasn’t enough on the road. (2-3)

AFC NORTH (Where Almost Everyone is 3-2)

  • Ravens: Justin Tucker had himself a day, going 4-4 on his field-goal attempts, including the game winner with 1:42 to go. Joe Flacco wasn’t a whole lot better than his 5-interception performance last week, but Ray Rice finally showed up on the ground, running in for 2 touchdowns.  (3-2) 
  • Browns: Three straight wins, despite losing QB Brian Hoyer to knee injury.  Brandon Weedon lost the starting job to Hoyer when he went down with an injury, but returned to help lead Cleveland to another win. (3-2)
  • Bengals: The offense wasn’t great, but their defense pitched a Brady shutout.  Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis ran in a 1-yarder for the games only touchdown in the 4th quarter. (3-2)
  • Pittsburgh: Coming off their bye (0-4)

AFC South (Houston We Have a Problem) 

  • Colts: Another impressive win for Indy, this time handing Seattle their first loss of the year.  Andrew Luck continues to show why he was the number 1 pick in last year’s draft, leading his team for a 9th career comeback win.  The special teams for both squads showed up, including Delano Howell who scored for Indy on a 61-yard return touchdown of a blocked field goal.  (4-1)
  • Titans: Tennessee lost, but put up a good fight against the undefeated Chiefs.  Ryan Fitzpatrick, in place of the injured Jake Locker, ran in a go-ahead TD in the 4th.  (3-2)
  • Texans: Ever since taking a 20-0 1st half lead in week 4 against Seattle, Houston has been outscored 57-3 in their 2 game losing streak. Matt Schaub threw a pick 6 for the fourth straight game (a 1st in NFL history), and was benched in favor of TJ Yates. (2-3)
  • Jaguars: Things have gone from bad to worse for the win-less Jags.  After getting starting QB Blaine Gabbert back, he left their loss to St Louis with a hamstring injury, and lost 1st round pick OT Luke Joeckel for the year to a broken ankle. Things don’t look better with the 5-0 Broncos coming to town. (0-5)

(AFC WEST) Where You’re Either Undefeated or a Game Under 

  • Broncos: This team has scored the most points through the first 5 games of a season in NFL History.  And yet they almost lost to Dallas.  The defense hasn’t needed to be on much this year, with Manning being so automatic (20 touchdowns, 1 rushing TD and just 1 interception).  But they couldn’t stop the run or the pass against Dallas, something they need to fix, because odds are Manning will struggle one of these days.  Maybe. (5-0)
  • Chiefs: Denver has company.  They got pushed by Tennessee, nearly blowing an early 14-0 lead.  But a Jamaal Charles touchdown in the 4th, apart of a 108-yard rushing performance, put them up for good. (5-0)
  • Raiders: Terrelle Pryor made it known Sunday Night that this is his team.  Two touchdown passes in the 1st quarter put San Diego in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.  The Raiders showed more faith in Pryor Monday, when they released off-season acquisition Matt Flynn. Their defense forced 4 turnovers, including one from veteran Free Safety Charles Woodson, who tied an NFL record with his 13th defensive touchdown. (2-3)
  • Chargers: The dilemma that is Phillip Rivers continues.  400 yards passing, but threw 3 interceptions.  This team was 2-0, and now find themselves at the bottom of the division. (2-3)

So that’s a wrap on week 5.  Week 6 kicks off with two desperate teams on Thursday Night Football.  The win-less New York Giants head to Soldier Field to take on the Chicago Bears.