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Winners, Losers & Wannabes – NFL Week 10

The Panther defense pummeled the 49ers while Cam Newton and the offense did juuuuuuuuust enough for a win in San Francisco.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Winners

Carolina Panthers
I’ve been giving the Panthers respect all season. I watched them go toe-to-toe with the Seahawks in Week 1 and believed they were a playoff team right then and there. Losing two of their next three didn’t make me look any smarter, but I still believed. Slowly, after a four game winning streak, the Panthers began accumulating believers. The doubters remained, though. Of those four wins, not a single one came against a winning team.

Sunday was Carolina’s chance to prove they not only belong among the playoff contenders, but they should be considered among the contenders for the NFC crown. No, Cam Newton and the Panther offense aren’t good enough right now to win a title. But with a defense like that, it may not even matter. Look at Kansas City right now. That offense’s game plan is not to lose games and allow the defense to win them. Thus far, it’s worked nine times out of nine. I’m not saying the Panthers are all-of-sudden NFC favorites, but when you have a defense that is every bit as physical as Seattle’s, you at least have a chance.

There’s still plenty to prove over the next seven weeks. Carolina’s defense will face tougher challenges as soon as Monday when Tom Brady and the resurgent Patriots offense visit Charlotte. Later, the Panthers will face Drew Brees and the potent Saints twice in three weeks. Bigger challenges loom, but for now, for one day, the Panthers finally got over that hump and proved they belong among the NFC’s best. How long they stay will depend on how long the defense can remain dominant and whether or not Cam Newton and the offense can find sustained rhythm.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Finally.

St. Louis Rams
After battling and coming up short against the Panthers, Seahawks and Titans in consecutive weeks, the Rams finally got a big win. Sadly, it came too late in the season, but it’s a big win nonetheless. I had high hopes for the Rams this season after last’s season finish. Unfortunately, St. Louis threw away the first four weeks and finally started playing well in the last month.

Nick Foles
If homeboy can beat the Redskins next week he’ll put the Eagles back on top of the NFC East. Then again, the game will be in Philly, where the Eagles are 0-4 this season and losers of their last ten.

New York Giants
The Giants have won three straight. Funny thing is, they’re still playing horribly. I know the Giants are known for late season surges, but they’re so bad I just don’t see it happening. A week ago the Eagles dropped 542 yards on the Raiders. The Giants only squeezed out 251.

Philip Rivers
I know San Diego has blown too many chances this season and because of that will miss the playoffs, but Rivers deserves a lot of credit for climbing out of the funk that ruined the last few years of his career.

Rob Ryan
I think when you hold your previous employer to less than 200 yards of offense you prove you’re not as bad as they said. It didn’t hurt that Ryan’s new employer hung 49 points, 625 yards, and 40 1st downs on the guy brought in to replace him.

Veterans
The most honorable, courageous, and selfless people in the world.

Cincinnati Bengals
Luck is a great thing. Storming back from 17 down to tie the game on a hail mary as time expires often leads to great wins. Unless, of course, your coach is…

Losers

Marvin Lewis
I understand Lewis’ hesitancy to kick a 50 yard field goal in overtime. His kicker did miss from 42 earlier in the game. But if you’re not going to kick it, punt it. Pin the Ravens deep inside their own territory. Of the Ravens’ last seven drives, only one went longer than 10 yards. You know how long that drive was? 26 yards. Cincinnati had all the momentum. Going for it on 4th down and failing gave the Ravens life and handed them the football 30 yards from victory.

Veterans
The most forgotten, underappreciated, and cared for heroes in the world. Shame on us.

Matt Ryan
Poor Matt Ryan is on the losing end of a horrific season. Watch the Falcons and it’s impossible not to pity Ryan. Julio Jones is gone. Roddy White is a shell of himself. Even Tony Gonzalez was injured Sunday. Against Seattle, Ryan was under heavy, relentless pressure. He was only sacked twice but he must have been hit and knocked done a dozen more. Sometimes everything breaks your way and sometimes it’s the opposite. Guess which year Matt Ryan is having.

Human Beings
This Martin/Incognito saga is a depressing realization of the state of our world. We’re all losers here.

Green Bay Packers
A fractured collarbone sounds like a season-ending injury to me. Apparently, it’s not, as the Packers believe Rodgers will return…. Sometime? Doctors say Rodgers could play in a month but could re-injure the shoulder if hit the right (or wrong) way again. My guess is this: If the Packers can manage one win over their next three and come out of Thanksgiving at 6-6, they’ll bring Rodgers back to finish 10-6 or 9-7 and hope it’s enough for a playoff berth. Either way, it’s been a disastrous season for the Packers. Rodgers is the fourth Packer star to miss significant time due to injury (Matthews, Cobb, Finley).

Dwight Howard
It’s hard to make free throws under pressure, but it’s REALLY hard to miss 11 of them in 16 attempts.

Indianapolis Colts
Crushed on Sunday by the Rams. Have yet to see Trent Richardson surpass 60 yards in a game, or even average better than 4 yards per carry. Regardless, they’ll be in the playoffs because…

Wannabes

AFC South
…The AFC South is BAD. Perhaps it’s time to let off the NFC East a little. The Colts aren’t contenders like everyone thought a few weeks ago (I was actually right about this one), the Titans threw away their season to Jacksonville (wrong about that one), and the Texans have been a mess since opening night (waaaayyy wrong about the Texans).

Arizona Cardinals
I really like the Cardinals, especially their defense. I’m not listing the Cardinals here because they’re not as good as they think or what not. They’re here because as much as they’re in the playoff hunt right now, they won’t be in the playoffs at season’s end. There schedule is simply too daunting. After Jacksonville next week, the Cardinals close out the season against the Colts, Eagles, Rams, Titans, Seahawks, and 49ers. It’s a shame, too, because the Cardinals own crucial tiebreakers over both the Panthers and Lions.

Detroit Lions
The Lions will likely win the NFC North thanks to Aaron Rodgers’ shoulder injury, but they’re nothing more than first round toil for the physical defenses of the NFC Wildcard teams. That’s right, in all likelihood Detroit will host San Francisco, Carolina, Arizona, or perhaps even Green Bay if Rodgers returns.  The first three boast fantastic defenses. The Packers boast Aaron Rodgers who pretty much owns the Lions. (Green Bay doesn’t sneak in unless Rodgers is healthy. If he’s out, so is Green Bay.)

Tennessee Titans
I don’t care if your quarterback goes down. There’s no excuse for losing at home to an 0-8 team. The Titans clearly took Jacksonville for granted. The game wasn’t even as close as the score. The Jaguars bullied the Titans all afternoon. I’m ashamed for buying stock in the fraudulent Titans.

Dallas Cowboys
Speaking of fraudulent, everything about the Cowboys is fraudulent. Tony Romo was awesome last season and has been shockingly inconsistent this year. Yes, the defense has suffered devastating injuries but nothing excuses the last few weeks. Dez Bryant cries about being the best and then nearly gets shut out on national TV. Jason Garrett is battling Mike Shanahan for worst coach in the NFC East. His decision to hand the ball back to Drew Brees with a minute to go in the 1st half was “galactically stupid.” I love the Cowboys.

Young QB Rankings

(Let’s face it, the biggest story/stories driving the league right now is the play of young quarterbacks. Since it’s such a big deal, I’ll be sure to rank the top seven after each week starting right now. There are no real criteria other than they must be within their first five years in the league.)

1. Russell Wilson – Wilson’s stats: 63.4%, 2,132 YDs, 17 TD, 6 INT. Luck’s: 58.8%, 2,198 YDs, 14 TD, 6 INT. And it’s not like Wilson is playing with an elite group of receivers. I’ve always liked Wilson better, but this is the first week I’ve objectively been able to rank him higher than Luck.
2. Andrew Luck – Luck’s completion percentage ranks near the bottom, 25th in fact. His disastrous day against St. Louis may have been the low point of his young career.
3. Robert Griffin III – He was near brilliant in Minnesota. He still struggles under pressure because he can’t run yet, but his accuracy appears to have returned in recent weeks.
4. Cam Newton – Newton had another off day but was bailed out by his defense. Newton’s mechanics are often sloppy and it usually leads to poor passes.
5. Colin Kaepernick – The growing pains continue. Of course, Vernon Davis leaving early didn’t help matters.

(Space is to emphasize the guys above are on a different level than the ones below.)

6. Nick Foles – I absolutely considered leapfrogging Kaepernick with Foles. 17 touchdowns to 0 interceptions puts you in elite company.
7. Case Keenum – His numbers were fine yesterday but Keenum struggled to move the Houston offense for most of the 2nd half. His fumble within the first 15 seconds of the game was the difference.

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