After 6 weeks, patterns are beginning to form in the NFC about which teams can expect to compete into next year, and which teams will be out of the race before December. Of the two undefeated teams, the Saints have a 99-point advantage over their opponents, and, if they can make it past the Dolphins and Falcons, they’ll have a nice three-game cushion (Carolina, St. Louis, and Tampa Bay) before hosting Tom Brady and his 5-TDs-in-the-2nd-quarter. Sean Payton took $250,000 off his own salary to bring Gregg Williams to New Orleans, and now the Saints defense is scary good (thanks in large part to ex-Packer and – thank goodness – ex-Viking Darren Sharper). I know he’s not his brother, but if you can hold Eli to a 61.0 passer rating and hold the Giants tandem of Jacobs and Bradshaw to 81 yards total, you’re doing something right.
So, as far as the NFC South is concerned, the Saints rule the roost. Yes, Atlanta is 4-1, but they just lost their starting CB for the season, and niggling injuries to their RBs may cost them when Michael Turner needs a moment to breathe. Carolina continues to cling to the INT-machine that is Jake Delhomme, but the Panthers are still 2 games ahead of Tampa Bay, a team that seems hell-bent on taking the winless season record back from the Lions.
Moving to the West, both the 49ers and Cards are 3-2, but that may be somewhat deceiving – all of San Francisco’s wins have come within the division. Michael Crabtree is due to make his debut against Houston this Sunday, and with the Cards facing off against a Giants squad looking for blood, there’s a good chance the 49ers will keep control of the West. After all, the Seahawks lost LB Julian Peterson to the Lions in the offseason, and now will be sorely missing Lofa Tatupu (who tore his pectoral muscle) for the rest of 2009. Add in Patrick Kerney aggravating a groin injury, and the Seahawks only look marginally better than the St. Louis Rams, who have almost won 2 games (but haven’t won any in a year).
In the NFC East, the Giants hold sway at 5-1, but Drew Brees made it clear that the Giants secondary can be had (to the tune of 4 passing TDs). New York better fix its problems quickly, because Kurt Warner, Donovan McNabb, and Phil Rivers are all salivating to take their shot down the field. Speaking of McNabb, his team looked dreadful against the Raiders, but the Eagles are still tied with the Cowboys at 3-2. And, happily, the Washington Redskins are coming to visit on Sunday, having been generous enough this year to give the Giants, the Panthers, the Lions, and now the Chiefs their first wins of the season. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have discovered yet another stellar running back in Tashard Choice. In relief of Marion Barber and Felix Jones, Choice has racked up 290 total yards and 2 TDs in 3 games. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a solid running back?
And, in the North, the undefeated Vikings have 3 games on the Packers, who sit 2nd thanks to ownership of the tiebreaker with the Bears from Week 1. The Vikings face the Steelers on Sunday, whose defensive unit welcomed playmaker S Troy Polamalu back on the field even as DE Aaron Smith was placed on the IR. (Of course, it’s worth noting that Steelers K Jeff Reed was cited for public intoxication after Sunday’s game. Reed was attempting to come to rescue of TE Matt Spaeth…who was cited for urinating in public. Classy.) Meanwhile, the Bears lost to the Falcons (hurrah), managing only 83 yards on the ground (34 from Cutler). OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa, injured against the Pack in W1, suffered another knee sprain, and the Chicago Sun-Times has decided that Jay Cutler can’t play night games. And Detroit…is Detroit.