By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
Hey, I thought the NFC East was supposed to be the best division in football?
It’s not even close, actually. And with each passing week, I wonder if anyone will take control and claim it or if the league will just have to award a playoff berth to someone by default.
You have the Eagles, who are victims of a coach who seems possessed in crucial situations and becomes completely unable to make a good game management decision. You have the Cowboys, who are hopelessly inconsistent and don’t even really seem to have a coach, unless you count the owner, who is at the forefront of everything the team does right down to giving injury updates to the press as such. You have the Giants who are drifting, don’t seem to have an identity on offense or defense and have been decimated by injuries in their secondary. And you have the Redskins, who will never, ever win anything as long as the guy who currently owns the team sits atop the throne.
Anyway, it’s not like this is the AFC or NFC West, home to lost causes like the Raiders, Rams and Chiefs. All of the NFC East dwellers felt like they had legit title aspirations headed into the season and three of them, if they can work out some very serious issues, still may. But there doesn’t seem to be any reason to think that after all these years, Eagles coach Andy Reid will suddenly not be rendered totally inept in big games or that Jerry Jones will suddenly realize that the biggest reason the Cowboys haven’t won a playoff game since 1996 is him.
So that leaves the Giants. They may look lost right now, having dropped four straight prior to their bye last week. But they have proven winners on both sides of the ball and a coach who has led them to a championship. Most of their injuries can be overcome. And they have a favorable division schedule down the stretch, with games against both Philly and Dallas at home. I’m guessing that stuff along these lines was discussed during the bye week from time to time and that their dismal recent results, combined with their ugly, late-season collapse last year after being one of the league’s top teams all season will make them angry enough to provide a sufficient spark over the next few weeks.
Come playoff time, that may not be enough against the Saints or Vikings or even the Cardinals, especially on the road. But it should be enough to outlast the Eagles and Cowboys.
This Week’s Five Best Teams
1. New Orleans: The deck on the Good Ship Saints gets creakier and creakier by the week. A hair-raising, skin of their teeth win over the Rams? That’s what happened last week. But New Orleans keeps escaping, even without their two starting corners and all-world safety Darren Sharper, which is why the No. 1 spot still belongs to the Saints.
2. Indianapolis: Two minutes and two yards from sliding down the list, the Colts did what they appear to be able to do in their collective sleep, which is grab an opportunity by the balls and pounce. It says here (as well as several other places) that if it weren’t for Peyton Manning, there would have been no controversial decision last Sunday night in Indy. Of course, with no Peyton Manning, that game would have been over in the third quarter.
3. Minnesota: Brett Favre may get all the attention (luckily for him, otherwise his head might explode, Scanners-styles), but one person in purple who really should be getting more press is receiver Sidney Rice. The third year man from South Carolina is two catches shy of his total from his first two years in the league combined and went off for 201 yards in last week’s win over the Lions. He’s another pretty big reason the Vikes are 8-1 for the first time in 11 years.
4. Cincinnati: The Bengals have now swept both division rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Yes the Bengals. If you can’t take them seriously now, especially after they went into Pittsburgh last week and dominated the Steelers defensively, holding them to 87 second half yards, sacking Ben Roethlisberger four times and not allowing a third down conversion on the Steelers’ last 10 tries, then what will it take? Going unbeaten in the division and on the road? Wrong – they’ve done those things too.
5. New England: Since no one seems to remember anything about last Sunday night except fourth-and-2, here are a few numbers. 477 total yards, 34 points, 35+ minutes with the ball and a defensive effort that held the Colts juggernaut to 14 points, 171 yards passing and 14 first downs through three quarters. I know the fourth quarter counts. But something tells me the Pats are going to be OK.
This Week’s Five Worst Teams
1. Cleveland: The Browns are last in scoring (8.7 PPG), last in passing (116.2 YPG) and last in total offense (214.3 YPG). After they’ve lost their next seven games and finish 1-15 and Eric Mangini gets fired in favor of Mike Holmgren or Mike Shanahan or Fred from the Dawg Pound or me, or anyone, which do you think will happen first? He gets another head coaching job or man evolves into a winged creature that can fly from Boston to Cleveland, bouncing off clouds and somersaulting over rainbows? I vote for the latter.
2. Detroit: In the game of the year, the Lions host the Browns this weekend. And they will be huge favorites. CBS may as well send two of their unpaid college interns to broadcast it and bill it as “The Toilet Bowl.”
3. Oakland: After their stench-ridden home loss to the Chiefs last week, one wonders if the Raiders are actually jealous that other teams, namely Cleveland, are even more pathetic and hopeless than they are. The results of the next few games should provide us a definitive answer.
4. Kansas City: The good news? The Chiefs won and are now 2-7. The bad news? It was over the Raiders. Hey, there are no small wins, only small teams.
5. St. Louis/Tampa Bay: These two tie for the Awful Team That Plays As Hard As It Can And Still Loses Despite Being Right There All Day Long award. Cheers to the Rams and Bucs (especially the Bucs , who led at Miami with two minutes to play) for providing their fans with the biggest silver lining they are capable of mustering.
- Randy Moss, Patriots: A virtuoso performance by Moss, who played his best game of the year and made it look like 2007 all over again to the tune of nine catches for 179 yards and twoTDs. His over the shoulder, 63-yard scoring reception was as textbook and as good a catch as you will see all year.
- Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars: Not only did he rush for 123 yards and a TD on just 24 carries (5.1 YPA) against the Jets, he took a knee at the one-yard line when the defense was trying to let him score late in the fourth quarter so it could stop the clock and get the ball back with a chance to win. Jones-Drew’s move worked, the clock ran, the Jags kicked the game-winning field goal and afterward, he even apologized to his fantasy owners for not getting them those extra six points. What a guy!
- The Packers: Two weeks after the Brett Favre Bowl and one week after getting trounced by the lowly Bucs, the Pack smothered the fraudulent Cowboys at Lambeau Field in a game that probably meant their season and may have cost coach Mike McCarthy his job if they’d lost. Green Bay’s No. 4 ranked defense outshone its more prolific offense, holding Dallas to just 278 total yards and without a point until the 2:39 mark of the fourth quarter.
- Jay Cutler, Bears: What will it take for people to stop considering this guy a top-tier quarterback? He threw five more picks against the 49ers, giving him 17 on the season with a whole seven more games to play, then was fined 20 grand the next day for verbally abusing an official. All Cutler has ever done since he came into the league is lost and whined. I just can’t figure out what’s so great about him to some folks.
- The Broncos: Uh oh. From 6-0 to 6-3 after a loss to the Redskins (??!!) and now quarterback Kyle Orton is hurt and out indefinitely. They haven’t won in a month and must now go with Chris Simms, who hasn’t played since rupturing his spleen in a game three years ago at QB. Wherever any of that magic Josh McDaniels used throughout the first six weeks has gone, he’d better find some.
- Rex Ryan, Jets: Now comes word that he broke down in tears during an emotional speech to his team in which he was telling the players how much he still believes in them even though they’ve lost five of their last six.Cornerback Darelle Revis , who was an MVP candidate around the same time Ryan was hailed as a genius for winning his first three games and talking a bunch of smack while doing it, was quoted as saying, “I’ve never been a part of a meeting where a coach cried like that.” I swear, if someone made this imbecile and all of his antics up, no one would believe a word of it.
OK, this will be short and then we can be done with it, I promise.
To Dan Shaughnessy, Ron Borges, Peter King, Pete Prisco, Gene Wojciechowski, Michael Wilbon, and so forth:
Bill Belichick did not decide to go for it on fourth-and-2 win a six-point lead and 2:03 to play last Sunday night because he is arrogant. No did he do it because of hubris or because he has a big ego. Nor does he care that you think he’s a worthless asshole who deserves to be lambasted by you every time he does something you don’t like because he doesn’t really feel like being your buddy and telling you everything you want to hear at all times. He made the decision, which I have openly disagreed with, because he cares about winning and thought that the play would give the Patriots the best chance to win the game. It had nothing to do with anything else, the least of all you. At some point, you’ve all been interesting, thoughtful, talented journalists and craftsmen of words. Please get over yourselves. Your coverage of and public response to this story has been an embarrassment, both to you and your profession.
Thanks very much.