By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
November has arrived and that means that things are about to get a bit more interesting in the NFL. Right off the bat, this week features seven games that will either have some bearing on a division or involve potential playoff implications. Dolphins/Pats, Cardinals/Bears, Ravens/Bengals, Texans/Colts, Chargers/Giants, Cowboys/Eagles and Steelers /Broncos all could wind up affecting matters of importance down the stretch, making Week 8 the first hugely awesome, total package weekend of this football year.
I’m assuming the Pats will beat the Dolphins thanks not only to their excellent, post-bye week accomplishments during the Belichick/Brady era but due to both the game being in Foxboro and the Pats just being a better team. In Chicago, two teams that have designs on the postseason and may even harbor some Super Bowl hopes (especially the defending NFC Champion Cards, who trick-or-treated their way through last week’s supposed easy win over the Panthers). The Bears righted their ship somewhat last week but that was against the Browns, who look like they could be beaten by Natick High School these days. The game’s in Chicago so weather could be a factor but I’m not a very good gambler and picking Jay Cutler in an even remotely big game is certainly gambling.
In Cincinnati, the Bengals come off their bye week with a huge chance to potentially bury the Ravens, whom they’ve already beaten, in the AFC North. But the Baltimore defense got well last week against Denver and has far more experience and credibility in situations like this. The Texans are as good this season as they’ve ever been but is that good enough to beat the Colts in Indy? Probably not. The Giants have a huge advantage getting the Chargers at home this time of the year, but they’ve been so bad the past three weeks that San Diego may be able to overcome the long trip into unfavorable conditions and do a little more creeping back into the AFC West race. I have no clue who to take in the Eagles/Cowboys game (see below). And as far as the Denver-Pittsburgh tilt, even though they’re on the road, the Steelers, who are rested, may be the worst kind of team for Josh McDaniels and the Broncos to see just one week after being exposed for the first time this season by the Ravens.
One of the greatest aspects of playoff time in the NFL is the fact that every game on means something. There are no Chiefs/Jaguars or Lions/Seahawks stinkbombs infesting anyone’s HD screens. Weeks like this one coming up are as close to such occasions as there are in the regular season. So with that I say, enjoy.
This Week’s Five Best Teams
1. New Orleans: The Saints turned the ball over four times in winning a tight one, 35-27, over Atlanta on Monday night. As the season goes on, the games are going to get closer and lower scoring for these guys and winning ugly, as they did against the Falcons, will have to do from time to time.
2. Indianapolis: Thanks to the 49ers red zone defense, the Colts had to settle for a bunch of field goals last week and trailed well into the third quarter. But they’re the Colts. So they won anyway.
3. Minnesota: The final tally of snot rockets seen blown by Brett Favre on Fox Sports’ Favre-Cam last week in Green Bay? 461.
4. Denver: Talk about crashing back to earth. A 30-7 loss to the Ravens in which the defense gives up more second half points than in any other game this year combined and Kyle Orton submits a Bears-esque 152 yards and 4.1 YPA. It gets even harder this week against the Steelers.
5. Pittsburgh/New England (tie): Seems like a good time of the year for these two teams to have a bye week. The Pats and Steelers will face off in the AFC title game in January – mark it, Dude.
This Week’s Five Worst Teams
1. Cleveland: On my favorite TV show, “Pardon the Interruption,” the cardboard, head-on-a-stick cutout of Eric Mangini that is part of the set decoration and is used in the “Role Play,” game is of the Browns coach picking his nose.
2. Tampa Bay: The Bucs’ next four opponents? Green Bay, Miami, New Orleans and Atlanta. Hello, 0-11!
3. Detroit: I thought the Lions were supposed to be better this year? I don’t mean like 6-10 better, but at least good enough to beat a team that had scored 16 points in seven games at home. I guess not. By the way, they are now 32-103 since 2001, a .237 winning percentage.
4. Washington: Nice to see owner/tyrant/dictator Daniel Snyder tell the media how disappointed he and the whole organization are regarding his team’s laughingstock status. OK, admitting you have a problem is the first step, Dan. Now let someone who knows what he’s doing take over and get out of the way.
5. St. Louis/Oakland (tie): The Rams are rewarded for their gutsy win at Detroit with a trip out of the top 2 on this list for the first time all season. The Raiders are rewarded for at least giving themselves a chance to win at San Diego last week with charges that coach Tom Cable is a wife/girlfriend beater. At least JaMarcus Russell only turned the ball over twice against the Chargers.
- Chris Johnson, Titans/Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars: Their teams may both suck, but these two backs are awesome. Last week, they combined for 405 yards on just 32 carries and each scored two TDs of over 50 yards. It was the first time in league history that there were four 50+ yards touchdowns in one game.
- Percy Harvin, Vikings: In the Brettfavre Bowl, the Minnesota rookie electrified with five catches for 84 yards and a score, five kick returns for 175 yards with a long of 77 and even pitched in a couple rushing yards.
- The Texans: With its 31-10 win at Buffalo, Houston moved to two games over .500 for the first time in franchise history. They will attempt to move to three games over .500 for the first time in franchise history this week at Indianapolis but will likely come out of that game at one game over .500 for something like the seventh time in franchise history.
- Kurt Warner, Cardinals: Maybe Warner felt bad when he saw Carolina’s Jake Delhomme across the field in last week’s 34-21 loss. There don’t seem to be many more ways to explain why or how he threw five INTs and lost a fumble, Delhomme styles.
- The Giants D: That’s 112 points allowed in three games. The point is, when Justin Tuck, bigmouth Osi Umenyiora and the rest of the vaunted defensive line can’t get to the quarterback, which its done just twice over that three game stretch, the G-Men are toast.
- The Jets: Love the Jets, just love ‘em! First, after losing to the Dolphins again last week, coach Rex Ryan says, “If you look at the stats, you would think we won the game.” Then, fellow blowhard Bart Scott says, “The Dolphins are a great team, just tremendous in every area. They’re obviously Super Bowl contenders. They’re great.” And all of this after idiot No. 3 Kerry Rhodes ran into the Miami end during pre-game warmups, causing a bit of a scrum. New coach, new attitude, same old stupid, loser, 8-8-looking Jets. Outstanding!
Getting back to the Eagles, headed into the week’s NFC East first-place showdown with the Cowboys, things are right about where they normally are in Philly. Last year, they plumbed the depths with a brutal tie against the Bengals followed a week later by getting torched by Baltimore while Donovan McNabb and coach Andy Reid were raked over the coals. This year, they can boast a loss to the (gulp) Raiders as well as the annual criticism that they throw the ball too much that follows Andy Reid around. But since the Raiders game, they are hot, getting well on the crappy Redskins and pounding the reeling Giants. Second-year receiver DeSean Jackson is the man with six TDs, all over 50 yards. Rookie back LeSean McCoy has looked tough in place of the always-injured but still dangerous Brain Westbrook. The defense is making plays, especially in the passing game, as always.
But remember, this is the Eagles we’re discussing. In the aftermath of their destruction of the Giants, I’ve heard them bandied about as potentially on the list of real NFC threats. But don’t be fooled. Throughout Reid’s tenure, they’ve always been just good enough to not win the big one, dating back to their three straight NFC Championship losses in the early part of the decade, to McNabb puking on the field down the stretch of Super Bowl XXXIX, to last year’s run back to the NFC title game only to get beat again, this time by Arizona. Even if the Eagles beat Dallas (and I think they probably will), even if they win their division, there’s no way to take them seriously as real contenders due to the overwhelming abundance of past failures. The three constants with the Eagles over the last 10 years or so are Reid, McNabb and losing the biggest games. The first two are still there so why should this year be any different?