A wild week in the NFL saw three division races in the AFC get more complicated while the Giants padded their comfortable lead in the NFC East. Also, the Ravens sweep the Steelers, the Chargers may have found themselves in defeat, and the Texans are becoming a force.
[Editor’s Note: “In Case You Missed It” is now the official title of our weekly NFL recap. Coming up with a unique title each week at 2AM got old. Besides, an official title brings legitimacy, or so I try to tell myself.]
Week Two Headlines
Giants setting the tone in NFC East
As if the Eagles’ road back to contention in the NFC East wasn’t difficult enough, Eli Manning and the Giants went out on Sunday and won a game many believed they’d lose. It was the Giants’ first signature win of the 2011 season. Sure, they had already defeated the Eagles and Bills, but naysayers have and would still argue the Eagles were in disarray and the Bills are, well, we don’t really know what the Bills are yet. But we know this: The Giants aren’t going anywhere, despite a daunting schedule.
Heading into the 2011 season, it looked as if the Giants would be an after thought as significant injuries mounted. Even on Sunday, Manning and the Giants won without their top running back and wide receiver, and managed to contain Tom Brady without their full stable of defensive backs. Regardless, this is still (for the most part anyway) the same team that won a Super Bowl title a few seasons ago, so they know exactly what it takes to win, more so than any other team in their division. Add that pedigree to a disciplined coach and one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, and you have the 6-2 Giants.
Back to Eli Manning. If you didn’t know better, and you turned on the TV to see a quarterback with “Manning” stamped across his back driving up and down the field in the final minutes of the 4th quarter against Tom Brady and the Patriots, you’d assume it was Peyton Manning at it again, or a flash back to Superbowl XLII. Rest assured, it was Eli, again leading the Giants on back-to-back 4th quarter drives to first recapture a lead and then win the game. Just like Superbowl XLII, Manning didn’t flinch. He capped an 80 yard drive when he found tight end Jake Ballard in the end zone to finish off the Patriots with only 15 seconds left. Manning needed only 1:21 to march down the field and hand the Patriots their first home loss since 2008. The Giants may have the NFL’s most difficult schedule ahead, but they clearly appear up to the task. And at the very least, the Giants are keeping the pressure on the Eagles.
AFC Division chaos
While the Packers, Giants, 49ers, and Saints look like the hands on favorites in their respective NFC divisions, the AFC South remains the only AFC division with a clear cut favorite. Sunday’s events further clouded the AFC playoff picture.
Let’s start in the AFC West where the Broncos were the only division winner on Sunday. The Chiefs, especially, must be kicking themselves for losing at home to the winless Dolphins and missing a huge opportunity to create distance. As a result of the Chiefs, Raiders, and Chargers losing, the Broncos miraculously jumped right back in the AFC West mix. A few weeks ago the Raiders and Chargers looked like division heavyweights. Then the Chiefs claimed the top spot. Now, it appears the division is completely up for grabs with no real favorite, unless of course Philip Rivers gets his act together.
The AFC East is the tightest right now because the Bills, Jets and Patriots all stand at 5-3 and no team owns an advantage within the division. The Bills beat the Patriots, the Patriots beat the Jets, and the Jets beat the Bills. Chaos. Next Sunday’s showdown between the Patriots and Jets will obviously go a long way in deciding the AFC East champion, but the game is more important to the Jets who can ill afford to drop to 0-2 against New England and 2-2 in the division while the Patriots would jump to 3-1. The Patriots have a slight advantage because of their strong conference record while the Bills have a more favorable schedule.
And finally, the rugged AFC North. It’d be easy to write off the Steelers as division champions after dropping to 0-2 against Baltimore this season, but I don’t trust Baltimore enough just yet. The Steelers have played better football overall than the Ravens and don’t suffer from weekly lapses like the Ravens (Titans in week 2, Jaguars in week 7, Cardinals in week 8). Furthermore, was Joe Flacco’s Eli Manning impression last night a career turning point or another flash in the pan? We’ve seen Flacco show us that kind of brilliance before, only to turn around and struggle for weeks at a time. The Ravens need Flacco more than ever. They need Sunday night’s Joe Flacco to be the only Joe Flacco. And let’s not forget about the Bengals. Sure, they haven’t faced Pittsburgh or Baltimore yet, but they’re built to hang with both of their division big brothers. The Bengals rely on an excellent defense that allows just over 17 points a game and ranks 4th in the NFL in total defense behind, you guessed it, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The Cincinnati offense may not have the big names like the Steelers or Ravens have, but they don’t need fireworks from their offense. The Bengals are built to win alley fights. Don’t write them off when they go toe-to-toe with the AFC North powers.
Someone take them to Chick-fil-A (NFL’s top 5)
1. Packers – It’s easy to look at the Packers and point out how unimpressive their defense is. However, Aaron Rodgers is playing like no defense can stop him. You may score against the Packers, but you won’t score enough to keep Rodgers at bay.
2. Giants – The Giants have played poorly against bad teams and won. On Sunday, they proved they can play at an elite level and take out the NFL’s top teams.
3. Ravens – I’m not sure who was more shocked by Joe Flacco’s game-winning, 92 yard touchdown drive; the Steelers, the Ravens, America, or Joe Flacco.
4. 49ers – It’s rarely pretty, and it won’t sell newspapers, but the 49ers continue winning behind a stout defense, a bruising running game, and a capable quarterback. Remind anyone else of the 2000 Ravens?
5. Texans – That’s right. These are not your daddy’s Houston Texans. Injuries can’t even derail this all-of-a-sudden gritty and physical team.
(Last Week: GB, PITT, SF, NE, DET)
Hardly Ramen Noodle worthy (NFL’s bottom 5)
28. Redskins – Sure, they have three wins, but find me a team more backwards than Mike Shanahan’s bunch.
29. Jaguars – It’s pretty simple for Blaine Gabbert. Win, and Andrew Luck goes elsewhere. Lose, and you guarantee yourself a demotion and possibly a trade, too.
30. Cardinals – There are no words to describe how the Cardinals won on Sunday. There’s “winning ugly” and then there’s “winning because your opponent has no idea what’s going on.”
31. Rams – Injuries make life difficult. There’s no denying that. But how do you lose a football game when you run 20 more plays than your opponent, gain over 100 yards more than your opponent, controll possession for 12 minutes longer than your opponent, and win the turnover battle? I’m perplexed, to say the least.
32. Colts – The Colts are absolutely nailing their 2010-2011 Cleveland Cavaliers impression. It’s dead on: Lose franchise player, suck beyond all compare, disappear into oblivion. Check. Check. And check.
(Last Week: JAC, DEN, AZ, MIA, IND)
Stock rising (but not in top 5, yet)
Broncos – After being left for dead last week, the Broncos are a game out of first in the division and can send the Chiefs back to the AFC West basement with a victory over Kansas City next week. While I’m indifferent to Denver’s success/failure, it’s fun to see Tim Tebow succeed. It’s even more fun to watch John Fox squirm as he anxiously waits to to move on from Tebow.
Giants – Someone forgot to tell the Giants this was when they were supposed to start losing. Everything was in place; injuries, facing desperate team, etc, etc… Instead, the Giants continue to plug in replacements without missing a beat. I know he drives his players and the team’s fans nuts, but Tom Coughlin is one great coach. The Giants’ success despite a multitude of injuries proves as much.
Jets – Their win in Buffalo paired with New England’s loss thrust the Jets right into the thick of the AFC East race. After three consecutive losses the Jets have reeled off three straight wins and are starting to resemble the “ground and pound” team that advanced to the last two AFC title games.
Stock falling (but not in bottom 5, yet)
Chargers – After a 4-1 start, the Chargers must grind their way to a division title in the highly competitive, yet extremely mediocre, AFC West. Despite losing, Sunday’s shootout against Green Bay should give the offense some much-needed momentum moving forward.
Raiders – Shockingly, Carson Palmer is not leading the Raiders to wins, even over lousy opponents. Who knew a shoulder injury to Jason Campbell in 2011 would cost an NFL team a shot at a division title and playoff berth?
Patriots – The offense has slowed to a screeching halt, the defense leaks like a sieve, and Tom Brady looks a few bullets short of a full round. At some point, the Patriots need to admit their personnel moves over the past three years have not been effective… at all.
Things I thought and would’ve said on TV if someone paid me…
- I’m not really the type to brag, so I won’t remind you that I picked the Dolphins to claim their first victory against the supposedly resurgent Kansas City Chiefs. I’m just not like that. (Also, please ignore that I picked the Raiders, Titans, and Patriots… just to name a few. Thanks.)
- As we hear a hundred times every week, “football is a violent sport.” I think everyone is aware of this except the NFL office. Something needs to be done about these “defenseless receiver” penalties. Of course they’re defenseless. They’re paying attention to catching the football, not getting drilled. As long as there’s no helmet-to-helmet contact, these hits should not be outlawed. They’re as much a part of football as punting and the Hail Mary. Put it this way, under the current rules, Sheldon Brown’s thunderous hit on Reggie Bush in the 2006 playoffs would have been penalized. That’s ridiculous.
- Terrell Suggs’ 3rd quarter interception of Ben Roethlisberger was one of the most athletic plays you’ll see all season. And Suggs is (essentially) a defensive end.
- The San Francisco 49ers are a surprising 7-1. The rest of the NFC West is 5-19. Think the 49ers can hang on and win the division?
- Let’s stay in the NFC West. I hope all the Kevin Kolb haters in the southwest will now shut up. John Skelton produced the Cardinals’ lowest offensive output of the season and racked up two safeties. I’ve been watching football my entire life, and I don’t ever remember seeing that before. Congratulations, John.
- Don’t ask me why I was even paying attention to the thrilling Rams-Cardinals “Here, you take the win, no you take it” contest, but I was. And what I heard from FOX’s Chad Pennington after the Cardinals blocked what-would-have-been the game winning field goal was this: “They (the Cardinals) know how important this game is.” Uh, really, Chad? The Cardinals are five games back in the division with no shot at a Wildcard berth. Please explain why this game was so important. Thanks.
- Despite another loss, San Diego may look back to Week 9 as the turning point of their season. After two early interceptions were returned for touchdowns, Philip Rivers found his mojo. In my opinion, Rivers played his best when the Chargers were down big and needed him to “sling it.” In other words, Rivers was loose and wasn’t thinking too much about making the perfect play. Then, after he brought the Chargers back, Rivers reverted to a more tentative approach and threw yet another interception that sealed the Packers’ victory. If I’m Norv Turner, I sit Rivers down and show him the difference in his play when he was tentative and when he was loose. A loose Rivers equals a Charger team that could make noise in the AFC playoffs.
- The Bills were awful on Sunday, but I’m not ready to write them off just yet. The Jets were desperate for a win and the Bills were due for a rude awakening. I’m not convinced the Bills are good enough to win the division, or even claim an AFC Wildcard spot, but one bad week against the Jets isn’t the end of the world.
- This is me acknowledging the Seahawks-Cowboys game. I didn’t watch a second of it, but it looks like Tarvaris Jackson had a typical game; 3 INTs, 0 TDs.
- Julio Jones had a nice game for Atlanta against the Colts, scoring the first two touchdowns of his NFL career. I wonder, if the Falcons could turn back the clock to the NFL draft, do they make the same trade to take Jones?
- When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers look back on the 2011 season and wonder why they missed the playoffs, they can point directly to their knack for starting games slow. Turning it on in the second half isn’t enough against most NFL teams, especially with an average offense like Tampa’s.
- The Redskins have been so bad of late; I’m beginning to think Mike Shanahan is making a late push for Andrew Luck. He had success with one Stanford quarterback why not try with another?
- I’m telling you, the Houston Texans are not to be reckoned with. The injury to Andre Johnson may have been a blessing in disguise as it forced Houston to work out the early season kinks in their running game. 261 rushing yards at over 6 yards per carry against Cleveland was Houston’s third consecutive outing with over 220 yards on the ground. A solid defense that limited the Browns to under 180 total yards doesn’t hurt, either.
- The Titans’ loss to the Bengals on Sunday all but sealed their fate as a Wildcard contender. Now, Tennessee must hope the Texans drop back to them in the AFC South if the they want to see the postseason.
- Tim Tebow wasn’t great on Sunday, but he didn’t make any mistakes that cost the Denver Broncos. I actually thought it was his most balanced effort of the season. I’m not giving up on the Tebow experiment just yet. On the other hand, Willis McGahee (163 yards) and the Bronco running game did most of the heavy lifting on Sunday, so Tebow just had to stay out of the way. But still.
- Think Tom Brady trusts Ron Gronkowski? After dropping two touchdown passes on 2nd and 3rd down that would have given New England the lead late in the 4th quarter, Brady went right back to Gronkowski on 4th down. Only this time, Gronkowski held on. Too bad the Patriot defense couldn’t.
- Remember when the Pittsburgh Steelers had a running game? The same could be said for the Baltimore Ravens. On Sunday night, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger combined for over 600 passing yards while their running attacks combined for less than 140. The defenses haven’t changed, but the offenses certainly have.
- Let’s go, Eagles. After the Saints, Falcons, Cowboys, and Giants all won, a win tonight is imperative to stay within striking distance.
Things I never thought and would not say this week, even if you paid me…
- Of all the offseason moves in the NFL, Chad Ochocinco was the most significant. His 9 receptions for 136 yards and zero touchdowns have been vital to New England’s success.
- Speaking of the New England Patriots, why can’t Eli Manning close against them? He always shrivels in big moments against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
- I knew the Rams would score 13 points today on three field goals and two safeties. It was so obvious.
- Penn State “improves the well being and health of individuals and communities through integrated programs of teaching, research, and service.”
- Philip Rivers was unstoppable today. His six touchdown passes led the NFL.
Fantasy Nightmare Football update of the week…
- With Aaron Rodgers as my quarterback and Arian Foster finally returning to form, I may have to remove this section from my weekly recap. The last few weeks have been good and Vincent Jackson made this week very enjoyable.