Another NFL week is in the books, so let’s recap some of the biggest stories of the week.
Tale of Three Unbeatens
As Arizona and Atlanta played late into the fourth quarter, it looked as if both would end the day with their first losses of the season.
After the Cardinals defense recovered a Miami fumble, Kevin Kolb drove the offense down the field – converting two 4th downs to Andre’ Roberts in the process – and into the endzone for the game-tying touchdown on 4th and 10 with 22 seconds left in regulation. The defense forced another takeaway in overtime to set up Jay Feely’s game-winning field goal from 46 yards out.
To add to the improbability, Falcons QB Matt Ryan started Atlanta’s final drive from their own 1-yard line with 59 seconds left and no timeouts, down by two to Carolina. He play-action faked (it somehow worked) and threw a bomb 60 yards downfield to Roddy White, who actually got behind the corner Josh Norman and the safety Haruki Nakamura. A pass interference call and a few sideline catches later set up Mat Bryant’s 40 yard kick to seal the deal.
Meanwhile in Houston, the Texans were already making dinner plans with a 38-7 lead over Tennessee late in the fourth. The consensus best team in football looked the part on both sides of the ball. QB Matt Schaub completed 71 percent of his passes and wasn’t sacked a single time, while the defense scored two touchdowns and the best defender in the game right now (J.J. Watt) added two more sacks to his season total.
All three are on the road this coming week. The Cardinals travel to St. Louis for a Thursday night game, while Atlanta will be in Washington. The Texans are in New York to face the Jets on Monday night. None of them are gimmes, but after this week it’s really hard to bet against Houston being the last remaining unbeaten.
The Saints still winless
A win against Green Bay wouldn’t have made the Saints playoff contenders, but their 28-27 loss all but assures that they won’t be playing in January this year. Drew Brees was his usual self (446 yards, 3 TDs), but the defense was outclasses for the fourth straight week and Garrett Hartley’s missed field goal late in the game was ultimately the difference. After the game, tight end Jimmy Graham put it best: “We’re not finishing.”
It’s as simple as that, really. New Orleans has lost all four of their games by eight points or less, but blew a 24-7 lead last week against Kansas City and were in too deep of a hole against Washington and Carolina to complete their comeback. But it’s also clear that overall, they aren’t the worst team in the league (I wouldn’t even put them in the bottom five). Their next three games are home to San Diego, at Tampa Bay, and at Denver; all good teams, but I’d be surprised if they are 0-7 after this stretch.
Storylines are what really drive the popularity of the league, but at the end of the day it’s all about the record. Let’s aside for a second and take a look at the division standings up to this point. If you’ve been caught up in the press hype, some of them may surprise you.
AFC East: New England (2-2), New York Jets (2-2), Buffalo (2-2), Miami (1-3)
Easily the biggest misinterpretation in the NFL right now. For all of the talk about how bad the Jets are, how good the Patriots are, and how inconsistent the Bills are, they’re all locked in a three-way tie for first and the Jets are already 2-0 against the rest of the division. Ryan Tannehill has struggled under center for Miami, but he’s playing better and better each week. They’re only a game behind the pack.
AFC North: Baltimore (3-1), Cincinnati (3-1), Pittsburgh (1-2), Cleveland (0-4)
Philadelphia game aside, Baltimore is looking like Baltimore so far. Even better news is that they don’t face Pittsburgh until mid-November. But they have three of their next four on the road, including one against the Texans. After getting demolished by the Ravens to start the season, the Bengals seemingly disappeared from the public conscience. In the meantime, they’ve put together three straight wins and are tied with Baltimore atop the division. With the next three games against Miami, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh, they could be 6-1 entering their bye week. Can’t count out the Steelers, either. Can count out the Browns, though.
AFC South: Houston (4-0), Indianapolis (1-2), Jacksonville (1-3), Tennessee (1-3)
The Colts and Jaguars are playing better than last season, but as far as the division is concerned it looks like a runaway. The only team that we thought had a chance to keep it close, Tennessee, is last in the league in point differential (-70).
AFC West: San Diego (3-1), Denver (2-2), Oakland (1-3), Kansas City (1-3)
Every year there’s a trendy “dark horse” to win a division that doesn’t pan out. Meet the 2012 Kansas City Chiefs. San Diego and Denver are the class of the division and they have their first meeting next Monday night.
NFC East: Philadelphia (3-1), Dallas (2-2), Washington (2-2), New York Giants (2-2)
With all of the turnovers the Eagles have committed thus far, they’ve still managed to lose only once. All of their wins have been by either one or two points, too. The rest of the division is only a step behind. New York is already 0-2 in the division, while Washington has yet to play one. It’s still early, but we may be looking at another photo finish in the NFC East.
NFC North: Minnesota (3-1), Chicago (3-1), Green Bay (2-2), Detroit (1-3)
I expected Chicago to play well up to this point, but Minnesota? Christian Ponder has been terrific. Their upcoming six game stretch looks pretty favorable. Green Bay is a game behind and will end the season with four of their six games in the division. Detroit’s next two against Philly and Chicago will likely decide their season.
NFC South: Atlanta (4-0), Tampa Bay (1-3), Carolina (1-3), New Orleans (0-4)
Another runaway. The the most competitive division on a year-to-year basis will crown a new champion again this season, barring a miracle in New Orleans. Tampa Bay and Carolina aren’t totally out of it, but they certainly don’t look in it at this point.
NFC West: Arizona (4-0), San Francisco (3-1), St. Louis (2-2), Seattle (2-2)
The only thing more surprising than San Francisco not taking a step back is Arizona taking such a leap forward. Their QB situation looked dead to rights in the preseason, but Kevin Kolb has impressed me so far. Nowhere near ready to put this one to bed; each team can win on any given day.
All-22 Games of the Week
So I decided to change the “Game Rewind” title for my weekly breakdown of games and call them the “All-22 Games of the Week”. All-22 is the footage that I’ll be using to look back at the games. As I mentioned a few days ago, I’ll be doing the three primetime games and at least two games of my choosing. This week, I decided to choose Seattle vs. St. Louis and Tennessee vs. Houston. Expect all five by Saturday.
Things that stood out during the week which I haven’t covered yet.
- Is this New England rushing attack here to stay (Steven Ridley and Brandon Bolden both over 100 yards on the ground)? If so, we could be talking about the most balanced offense a few weeks from now.
- Ryan Fitzpatrick is still Ryan Fitzpatrick. Leads the league in touchdowns (12) and is tied for 2nd in interceptions (7).
- Make no mistake about it – this Vikings offense will live and die by Percy Harvin. Keep getting the ball into his hands.
- A week after finding a run game, Detroit lost it again (20 carries, 55 yards).
- Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel’s favorite target, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, has been targeted 49 times already this season.
- Rams receiver Danny Amendola is quickly becoming Sam Bradford’s safety blanket in St. Louis, too.
- With Santonio Holmes likely out for the season and Houston coming into town, I already hear the “Tebow” chants on Monday night.
- The Cardinals defense made Miami’s Brian Hartline and Davone Bess look like All-Pro wideouts this week.
- As if I needed another reason to hate passer rating- Tony Romo’s five interception day still netted him a higher rating than Brandon Weeden’s one interception day. Why haven’t we written it off as useless yet?
- And don’t get me started on ESPN’s Total QB Rating. May be just as bad, but they still won’t share how it’s calculated.
- Gotta say that I love watching Jay Cutler connect with Brandon Marshall again.
- While we’re on the subject of Cutler, ESPN has to stop demonizing players’ actions on the sidelines. First, Cam Newton’s overblown body language and now Jay Cutler blowing off offensive coordinator Mike Tice. Players showing emotion is far from a new occurrence. Stop pretending that it is.
The most interesting games on tap for next week.
Manning vs. Brady: The historic quarterback duel sees one in a new uniform. The key will be the Broncos defense stopping Tom Brady, who torched them twice last season.
Arizona vs. St. Louis: Thursday night in St. Louis? Could mean trouble for Arizona. The key will be whether the Rams O-line can keep Bradford upright and comfortable in the pocket.
Philly vs. Pittsburgh: James Harrison and Troy Polamalu’s return could spell a nightmare of a day for Vick. Forget turning it over – I just hope he makes it out in one piece.