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: First Half Recap

So we’ve seen week 8 come and go, marking the unofficial halfway point of the season.

Sure some teams have already taken their bye, meaning they’ve only played 7 of their 16 game scheduled, but many have played 8.  So I figured I’d take a look back at my picks for the major awards and who was gonna win it all, and tell you who really won the 1st half of the season.

My Pre-season Division and Wild Card Winners

  • NFC: New York, Seattle, Green Bay, Atlanta, Dallas & New Orleans

Clearly I, was very off when I picked the Falcons and Giants to win their divisions.  Sure it could still happen, but it’s very unlikely as they sit in 3rd and 4th respectively.  But Seattle and Green Bay are both sitting pretty atop their respective divisions, and while Dallas and New Orleans aren’t wildcard times, they of course lead their divisions and would be playoff teams, as I thought they would be. I think the easiest division for me to pick had been the North.  But this has become of the of the bigger surprises for me, with both Detroit and Chicago right there heading into the second half.  The Saints, who I thought would be in a dog-fight with the Falcons all year for the South are coasting right now, but as we all know, a lot can happen in a short amount of time in the NFL.  If the playoffs started today, 4 of my 6 pick would make the playoffs.

  • AFC: Patriots, Denver, Baltimore, Houston, Cincinnati, and Indy

Here’s another case of getting the teams right (for the most part), just not picking them high enough.  Let’s talk about Indianapolis, who are showing they are a legit Superbowl contender, having knocked off three of the best teams in the league (Denver, Seattle and San Francisco), and easily at that.  I had them winning the a wild card spot, so I wasn’t really off, but I never thought they’d do this well again.  A lot of their success last year came in 4th quarter comebacks, something I didn’t see them replicating.  Denver I’m not wrong about, but my biggest shock might be in Kansas City.  I knew the Chiefs would be improved, never did I think they’d lead this division.  I figured they’d battle for a wild card.  But here they are the last undefeated team standing.  The Pats hold a slim lead, but things can change quickly if they’re not careful.  Baltimore and Houston have been big disappoints, while the Bengals defense has given them a nice lead in the North.  Just like in the NFC, 4 of my 6 picks would make the playoffs if they started today.

  • My AFC and NFC Championship games probably won’t end up quite the way I picked them, but my Superbowl pick of Denver over Seattle (sure call it chalk) does remain as a real possibility.

And how about my pre-season award winners?  Here is how some of my picks have changed.

Offensive Rookie of the Year:

  • I picked Texans Wide-receiver DeAndre Hopkins.  After a half of football, my vote would now go to Packers Running Back Eddie Lacy, who I put down as an honorable mention.  He’s given the Packers another option on offense, which just makes them more dangerous.

Offensive Player of the Year:

  • I picked Lions WR Calvin Johnson.  After a half of football, my vote would now go to Broncos QB Peyton Manning, another pre-season honorable mention by me.  How could he not be the guy right now? Look at his stats: 29 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. He’s completing nearly 72% of his passes and has only been sacked 11 times in 8 games.  Sure he’s got a lot of weapons but he’s also finding them and making all the throws.  But to be fair to Megatron, he’s having an insane year yet again.

Defensive Player of the Year:

  • I picked Bengals Defensive Tackle Geno Atkins.  After a half of football, my vote would now go to the Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali.  This guy has done a little bit of everything.  4 forced fumbles, 23 tackles, a pick 6 and 9 sacks.
  • Other possibilities: Bills MLB Kiko Alonso, Seahawks CB Earl Thomas or Chiefs OLB Justin Houston.

Most Valuable Player:

  • I picked Packers QB Aaron Rodgers.  After a half of football, my vote would now go to Colts QB Andrew Luck.  This guy has shown he was the right guy to take number 1 last year.  He can outplay the best of them, and can put early game struggles behind him to help his team late.  His numbers aren’t flashy, but he takes care of the ball and is a true leader.
  • Other possibilities: Broncos QB Peyton Manning, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and Lions WR Calvin Johnson.

Coach of the Year:

  • I picked Seahawks Pete Carroll.  After a half of football, my vote would now go to Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid.  When you turn a 2 win team into an undefeated team halfway through the season, you’re going to be considered for awards.
  • Other possibilities: Bengals Marvin Lewis, Colts Chuck Pagano and Panthers Juan Rivera.

And finally my biggest surprises good and bad of the first half.

Biggest Disappointment – Team

  • Houston Texans: This is a team I saw as one of the last two standing in the AFC.  With a running back tandem like Arian Foster and Ben Tate, with a very good defense that got back Brian Cushing to play along side last year’s defensive player of the year in JJ Watt, I thought it was time for this team to take that next step.  But Matt Schaub has regressed, and is now injured, and TJ Yates didn’t do much better backing him up.
  • Dis-Honorable Mention: New York Giants – They collapsed in the 2nd half of 2012, and have carried that bad play into 2013.  Injuries have ravaged the o-line, secondary and running back position, but they still have too many weapons to be just 2-6 in the first half.

Biggest Disappointment – Offensive Player

  • Ravens RB Ray Rice: This is a guy who is usually atop the rushing yards leader board.  But a year removed from helping his team win the Superbowl, Rice hasn’t done much to help his team, and it’s a big reason why they’re just a 2-win team coming out of their bye.  At 26, there should still be something left in the tank, but he hasn’t been producing.  He’s been very good in his career after the bye, so maybe the extra time off will help get him back on track.
  • Dis-Honorable Mention: Redskins QB Robert Griffin III – It might not be fair to say this, as the mobile quarterback is coming off a serious knee injury that knocked him out of the playoffs last year.  But if you’re going to let him play, that means he’s healthy, which means we should be seeing more consistency from last years Rookie of the Year.

Biggest Pleasant Surprise – Team

  • Carolina Panthers: This team is riding on the high of a 3 game win streak that saw their offense put up 30+ points again, and the defense limit its opponents to 13.7 points a game, 2nd only to KC.  This team hadn’t been over .500 since before Cam Newton was drafted.  They are 2nd in a division where the Falcons play.  That means something.
  • Honorable Mention: Kansas City Chiefs – 2 and 14 to 8 and 0.  A sack happy, shutdown defense.  A good run game.  A quarterback who is very good at game management. They get honorable mention because despite a bad record a year ago, this team sent 6 players to the pro bowl, so the turnaround isn’t a huge surprise. This team is primed for a postseason run.

Biggest Pleasant Surprise – Player

  • Cowboys LB Sean Lee: This guy has a nose for the football, tied for 1st in the NFL with four interceptions, one of which he returned for a score.  He also has the most return yards of a defensive player.  He’s also defended 10 passes, recovered a fumble and has a combined 81 tackles.
  • Honorable Mention: Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor – His team only has 3 wins, and his numbers aren’t great, but after a few years of disappointment, he’s shown glimpses. First of all, those 3 wins match Oakland’s win total from a year ago.  He can run with the best of the mobile quarterbacks.  And he wasn’t even supposed to be the starter. Matt Flynn was brought in, and Pryor just flat-out beat him for the job.

So there you have it.  That was fun, looking back at what I thought preseason and seeing how it’s panning out.  Of course there’s still a whole lot of football to be played, and everything I wrote here (or almost everything) could be meaningless come week 9 or 10.   But that’s the beauty of the gridiron, nothing stays the same for long.  So win, lose or draw, let’s go out and enjoy the 2nd half of the 2013 season as much as we did the 1st half.