So here we are. It’s deep into football season, and I’m so disappointed by how my team is playing that I find myself loath to read any articles on JSOnline. Lucky for me, I have 31 other teams to write about, right?
Three weeks ago, I took a borderline-premature look at the state of the NFC. Around that time, the prognosticators were beginning to set postseason plans, Giants fans were booking hotel rooms in Miami, and it seemed like a race to the bottom between Tampa Bay and St. Louis. So, what’s changed?
Well, in the NFC South, the Saints (8-0) continue to find ways to win. While they gave up 149 yds to Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams, they’ve stepped up each week in different phases of the game to come out on top. Consider: they’ve already matched last year’s win total. New Orleans is set to coast until Tom Brady comes to town in W12. Though they beat the Redskins (in more ways than one), the Falcons (5-3) might still be smarting from tough losses at Dallas and New Orleans, and are on the road again this week against Carolina (3-5), a team that could use some good news after losing defensive heavyweight OLB Thomas Davis for the season. Carolina’s unlikely to bounce back with second half games against both NY teams, NE, MN, and NO, and the folks at home know it. And Tampa Bay (1-7), aided by the 2nd coolest helmet in history, are moving forward with a promising rookie under center. There’s nowhere to go but up, right?
Three weeks ago, I wondered if the 49ers could compete outside of the NFC West. After three losing efforts against AFC South teams, and Singletary’s ex-team coming into town, you might think the verdict is in. While the games were fairly close in points, the 49ers (3-5) gave up big plays through the air (147 yds to Reggie Wayne, 123 to Owen Daniels) and on the ground (135 yds to Chris Johnson). Still, while I’m giving vet-led Arizona (5-3) the edge in the divisional race, I expect SF’s young offense (Smith, Crabtree, Gore, Coffee, Davis) to keep that team on the map for years to come. Like the 2007 Giants, the 2009 Cardinals are shaping up to be road warriors. 4-0 on the road for the first time since 1982, Arizona is at the same spot it was last year… and the schedule looks nice and soft up until a W13 rumble with the Vikings. Meanwhile, Seattle (3-5) needed 51 attempts by Matt Hasselbeck to overcome the Lions 32-20 and whispers for a Holmgren return have already begun. And, after having a week off to celebrate their first win in over a year, the Rams (1-7) are wondering if they’ll get another one in 2009. (With the Saints up next, their best bet looks to be W11 v. SEA.)
What’s happening in the NFC East? I worried a few weeks ago that, unless the Giants (then 5-1) sorted out their problems in the secondary, things could get ugly. Well, things have gotten ugly for New York (now 5-4), to the tune of 3 TDs each to Donovan McNabb and Philip Rivers. (Eli Manning beat himself against the Cards, throwing 3 INTs.) As the Giants head into their bye with some pretty serious concerns, the Eagles (5-3) come away from Sunday’s knock-down-drag-out fight with the Cowboys a little bruised. If one trend emerged in Philly since the bye, it’s that the Eagles can’t seem to win the close ones – the wins have come by 19, 10, and 23 points…the 2 losses by 4. With games against San Diego (5-3) and Chicago (4-4) up next, the Eagles have to hope that their worst play is behind them (and that Brian Westbrook can make it off the field in one piece). There will be plenty more about the Cowboys tomorrow, but suffice it to say that they’ve ridden a 4-game win streak to the top of the division and are feeling pretty confident going into Sunday’s game against the Packers. As for the Redskins (2-6), even though they are about to run the DEN-DAL-PHI-NO gauntlet, they still managed to beat the Bucs, so I’m leaving them alone for now.
When we last looked at the NFC North, the Vikings (6-0) were 3 games up on the Packers and Bears going into the Steelers game. Now, 3 weeks later, the Vikings (7-1) remain 3 games up and are looking at easy wins at home against Detroit and Seattle before hosting the Bears in W12. Folks at home are looking past the division race to the postseason, chortling all the way. Injuries and possible suspensions (Tommie Harris is an idiot) are tearing apart the Bears defense, at a time when Chicago (4-4) can least afford to be vulnerable. Coach Lovie Smith’s seat has gotten warmer after miserable losses to the Bengals (45-10) and Cardinals (41-21), and Packers HC Mike McCarthy can relate. Neither the Bears nor the Packers (4-4) have been mathematically eliminated from the postseason, but both teams have yet to prove they deserve to play into January. Finally, poor Matthew Stafford. His reported feud with the top Lions wideout (along with blowing a 17-0 lead) can’t be good news for Detroit. The Lions (1-7) are hurting in every phase of the game (Jason Hanson missed from 34, folks), but there’s hope for another win – they play Cleveland in two weeks.
I’ll take a swing around the AFC later this week. I need some time to translate my “this is how you run a defense, Capers” fury from last night’s Steelers-Broncos clinic into more than just frustrated curses.