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NFL Week 8: NFC the new power conference

Giants beat the Steelers; the AFC is a muddle; coach sends player to showers; Favre shines for both teams

How Cyd and Jim saw NFL Week 8

E-mail Cyd

Singletary nothing but a jive turkey. I was really disgusted with San Francisco interim head coach Mike Singletary’s performance at his post-game press conference on Sunday. You can see the comments he made about Vernon Davis in Jim’s column. They’re disgraceful. In his first post-game press conference as a head coach in the NFL, Singletary called out Davis in a mean-spirited, nasty way that questioned the manhood of his player. He said he only wanted players who would go out on the field and fight. I’m sorry, was that not Davis streaking down the field after an interception and tackling the defensive player (albeit at the goal line)? Davis was the only 49er in the picture when he pulled that off; How is that not effort? How is that not heart?

What Singletary should have said, instead, was this: “I am ashamed of the way I coached this game. I did not have this team ready to play. I talk a big talk, but I didn’t walk the walk. Maybe I am over my head here.”

E-mail Jim

Power shift: The AFC has been the dominant conference this decade in the regular season (and also won six of the last eight Super Bowls), but things seem to have shifted this season. Through eight weeks, the NFC leads in interconference games, 15-11, though that record is close only because the crappy NFC West is 2-5 against the AFC East. Simply put, the best teams in the NFC are better than the best teams in the AFC.

The NFC East is easily the best division in football, with the Philadelphia Eagles being in last place despite a 4-3 record; the East is 5-1 against the AFC North, with the latest being Sunday’s 21-14 New York Giants win at Pittsburgh. The Steelers are 5-2 and lead their division but both losses have come to the NFC.

Southern hospitality? The big reason the NFC South is doing so well this season is their home record. Combined, the four teams are 16-1 at home, better than even the NFC East's 13-3.

The heartbreak kids. The San Diego Chargers are 3-5, but they have outscored their opponents by 25 points. What does that tell you? They are great frontrunners. When they get up big, they record a blowout; But when the game is close, they choke. Their losses have been by an average of 4.8 points; Their wins have been by an average of 16.3. This is what the Vikings did last year. Their average win last season was by 16.3 and (except for their 34-0 blowout loss to the Packers) their average loss was by 6.3 points. They finished 8-8. Not a recipe for success.

The Jets. I could harp on how bad Brett Favre is, but since the usually Favre-loving analysts on ESPN are finally coming around, I’ll leave it alone this week.

The Pats. When Tom Brady went down, the speculation started: How good could the Patriots be with Matt Cassell at the helm. We’re getting a glimpse. Yes, they have one of the easiest schedules in the league, and that’s why I’m not putting them in my Top 5 just yet. But, at 5-2, they are tied with the League’s fifth-best record. And take a good, hard look at their schedule over the next eight games: Every one of them is either at home or against a team that’s .500 or worse right now. Veeeeerrrrry interesting . . .

Busted fantasy. Over the first five weeks of the season, my fantasy football team was rolling and I was 5-0. These last three weeks have been tough, with injuries to Reggie Bush, Tony Romo and Tony Scheffler taking their toll, and I’m now 5-3. Oh how the fantasy football gods play with your mind!

My Top Five

1) Tennessee Titans. Even with a loss Monday night, they wouldn’t fall from here. They are built to succeed in this league.

2) Carolina Panthers. It took a come-back against Arizona to get to 6-2, but they’ve made a habit of that this season.

3) New York Giants. I said last week that the Giants or Steelers would move into the top 5 when they beat a good opponent. It felt more like the Steelers choked, but the Giants pounced when they had to and made some very big plays.

4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They lost to a Cowboys team that had everything to lose, so I’m not too concerned with that loss.

5) Buffalo Bills. They allowed the Dolphins to come back from the dead, but their future will largely be determined by their game this week against the Jets.

The Giants rallied from being down 14-9 to score on a field goal, safety and touchdown in the fourth quarter. The key to the game was the play of the Giants defensive line vs. the Steelers porous o-line.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked five times and hurried most other times he went back to pass. Big Ben has been sacked 23 times this season, behind only San Francisco’s J.T. O’Sullivan (32 times in eight games) and New England’s Matt Cassell (28 times in seven games).

The Steelers’ leaky pass protection is their biggest problem heading into the second half of the season. In their last nine games, they have only one gimmee (vs. the Bengals). The rest of their schedule is brutal: Washington, Indianapolis, San Diego, New England, Dallas, Baltimore, Tennessee and Cleveland. Pittsburgh is lucky the rest of its division is weak, with Baltimore having no offense and the Browns being very erratic.

The Giants, on the other hand, are a quality team playing in a tough division. Unlike past years, 10 wins should be enough for an AFC playoff spot, but might be only good for third place in the NFC East, meaning teams like the Giants, Cowboys, Redskins and Eagles have little margin for error.

In contrast, the AFC is bereft of teams that are that good. Only unbeaten Tennessee has played at a peak level all season. Buffalo has lost two of three, the Steelers can’t block anybody, Denver and San Diego can’t stop anyone, Jacksonville and Indianapolis are just average, and the shaky Patriots have benefitted from playing weak opposition (they barely beat a Rams team Sunday missing stud running back Steven Jackson).

Watch out: An AFC playoff sleeper is the Houston Texans, winners of three in a row after starting 0-4. If not for an overtime loss to Jacksonville (the Texans led very late) and blowing a 17-point lead to the Colts in the final four minutes, Houston would be on a five-game win streak. They have an awesome receiver in Andre Johnson, a nice-looking rookie running back in Steve Slaton and a quarterback in Matt Schaub who is playing at a high level.

Sneaky: The Carolina Panthers spotted Arizona a 10-point lead and still came back to win, 27-23. The Panthers are the most quiet 6-2 team in the league. After struggling at home the past few years, the Panthers are 5-0 in Charlotte this year. The bad part of this is that five of their final eight games are on the road.

London calling: After last year’s Giants-Dolphins snoozearama in London, my guess is that few Englishmen became NFL fans. That might have changed this year after the Saints held off the Chargers, 37-32. The fans saw 860 yards of total offense, including 680 passing. It was the equivalent of a 3-2 soccer match with less rioting.

At 3-5, the Chargers are one of the underachievers this season. Being ranked 32nd in the league against the pass is one big reason; losing pass rushing star Shawne Merriman for the season after Week 1 makes it hard for the Bolts to put any pressure on the quarterback. San Diego is lucky in that division leader Denver is 4-3 and has an even worse defense than the Chargers.

Called out: New San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary ripped into his team after its 34-13 home loss to woeful Seattle. His benched quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan, a turnover machine, and told tight end Vernon Davis (a former No. 1 pick and total bust) to get lost.

"I told him that he would do a better job for us right now taking a shower and coming back and watching the game than going out on the field," Singletary said. "Simple as that."

Singletary was upset by what he said was Davis’ nonchalant attitude; translation – he was dogging it.

"I'd rather play with 10 people and just get penalized all the way until we have to do something else rather than play with 11 when I know that right now that person is not sold out to be a part of this team," Singletary said. "It is more about them than it is about the team. Cannot play with them, cannot win with them, cannot coach with them. Can't do it. I want winners. I want people that want to win."

I like Singletary’s attitude, but he doesn’t know his rules – The NFL does not penalize teams for playing with 10 guys; the 49ers might be better off.

Save the T.O: First-year Atlanta coach Mike Smith learned the value of saving his timeouts. Down 20-14 with 2:28 to go against Philadelphia, the Falcons were about to get the ball back. But returner Adam Jennings misjudged a punt and the Eagles recovered to take over; two plays later, Brian Westbrook ran 39 yards for a TD to ice the game.

One problem – replays showed that Jennings never touched the punt, meaning it should have been Falcons ball. But Smith had used all three timeouts and the only way to challenge a call outside of two minutes is to have a timeout left. The refs clearly blew the call, but Smith will think twice in the future before burning all his timeouts prior to the two-minute warning.

Good Favre, bad Favre: Don Banks of Sports Illustrated sums up perfectly why Jet quarterback Brett Favre can drive both his team and the opponent nuts.

Does any other NFL quarterback keep both teams in the game at all times quite like No. 4? Favre threw three more picks against the Chiefs -- all of them being of the forehead-slapping variety -- and is tied for the NFL-lead with 11 in seven games. … Kansas City's defense entered the game with just three interceptions all season.

Favre also had two more touchdown passes, including the game-winning 15-yarder to Laveranues Coles with 1:05 remaining, boosting his season total to 15 in that department. Last year, when we were treated to all those stories about Favre's new-found focus on taking care of the football, he had just 15 interceptions to go with his 28 touchdown passes for Green Bay.

Disguised as seats: One always hears about what great fans they have in Pittsburgh, and that is normally true. So I was surprised when Fox did a wide shot of Heinz Field with more than two minutes to go and the Steelers only trailing the Giants by a touchdown. At least half the seats must have been empty.

The same was true in Jacksonville, where there were a lot of empty teal seats from the kickoff on. The Jags do not do well in their home market and this is the team I think would have the best chance of bolting to Los Angeles.