Going both ways. Big kudos have to go out to Denver rookie Spencer Larsen. A late-round pick in the draft, Larsen started on both sides of the ball on Sunday and also played special teams! He started at fullback for Patrick Hillis (who started at tailback because of injuries) and at middle linebacker. He’s the first Bronco to do it ever, and he was iffy to make the squad at all! Crazy. Given they got the win, you’d think he’d be a lock for the roster the rest of the season. But, with Mike Shanahan, you just never know.
A drive to build a team on. The Patriots lost in excruciating fashion to the Jets last week, but I have to wonder if they might not have won a bigger battle in the process. First, I don’t believe this hype that Matt Cassell is some team’s long-term answer at quarterback because he threw for 400 yards and ran for 50. That was a great performance, but I just don’t buy it (Though, I was saying the same thing about Tom Brady seven years ago.
But never did I think this Patriots team could come back from a 24-6 deficit at any point in a game. But they did, and they lost when they lost the coin toss and the defense played terribly on 3rd and 16 in overtime. They should have never been in that situation, but they were and they still could have won.
I was also blown away by their offense on their last drive. They got the ball at their 38 with 1:04 left and no timeouts. The discipline that every player exhibited on that drive was incredible. The way even the offensive line raced to the line of scrimmage and set themselves was remarkable, over and over and over. It allowed them to work the middle of the field with Ben Watson and Wes Welker, where the Jets were allowing them to run free. It was an incredible drive, even better than the Pats’ last-minute Super Bowl drive against the Rams. I’d never seen anything quite like it.
The Packers riding Ryan Grant. I’ve written before about how the Packers’ woes this season aren’t because Brett Favre left, but because Ryan Grant hasn’t been able to run with the ball very well. This week, he ran for 145 yards on 25 carries and they won by 34. Last season, he didn’t carry the ball more than three times in a game until Week 8 and ran all over the NFL. I’m wondering if he, for some reason, finds the second half of the season more forgiving. As defensive linemen wear down, he may be finding new life. He’s topped 20 carries in only three games this season. Watch out for him to possibly take control in the NFC North.
Division races over? It's odd that three division races are, essentially, over. The Titans and Cardinals both hold four-game leads with six games to go, and the Giants are three games up in theirs. All three of these teams are undefeated in their division; everyone else in their divisions have at least two divisional losses. It's impossible to see the Titans or Cardinals not winning their divisions, and it's very difficult to see the Giants not winning theirs. Though, the Giants play the Cardinals this week, so someone's divisional race is going to get tighter.
My Top Five
1) Tennessee Titans. I picked them to lose last week; they won. Jim picked them to lose this week, they won. Now Cris Collinsworth is picking them to lose to the Jets. From here on out, they would probably have to have a rash of injuries for me to drop them at all.
2) Carolina Panthers. It took some smart defense and their great running game to beat the Lions, but every team has its tests against bad teams. They have a brutal stretch the rest of the season; We’ll see how they do against good teams.
3) New York Giants. They seem to be most people’s pick for best team in the NFL. And they are playing great. For some reason, I’m just not there; Which just fuels the “we don’t get no respect” mantra they and other teams love.
4) Indianapolis Colts. They just keep not playing particularly well. One week it’s the passing game, next week it’s the running game, then it’s the defense. I don’t get them, but I do get this: Other than Tennessee, they’re the team I’d least like my team to have to play in the playoffs.
5) Pittsburgh Steelers. I’m still not sold on them, but when I look at the NFL stats and they are No. 1 in rush defense, pass defense and total defense, you have to take notice.
How far can they go? The Titans will be solid favorites against Cleveland, Houston and Detroit, so that should be three more wins. The other three games are a lot tougher -- the Jets (7-3), the Steelers (7-3) and a season-ender at the 6-4 Colts. The Titans could win or lose all three.
I doubt they will go 16-0, but they will almost certainly be the AFC's top seed. After that, who knows? I still see them ripe for a playoff loss, since I can't believe Kerry Collins will QB a team to a Super Bowl title. But I have been wrong about them so far, so take my opinions for what they have been worth so far.
Lame game: The Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals stumbled and bumbled their way to a 13-13 tie, the first in the NFL since 2002. It was the most boring overtime game I’ve ever seen, and was predictable that Bengals kicker Shayne Graham would miss a 47-yard field goal with eight seconds left in overtime.
For the Eagles, Donovan McNabb was awful, going 28 for 58 with three interceptions, several tips and at least one more pass that should have been intercepted in overtime. At 5-4-1, the Eagles are seeing any playoff hopes disappear; not beating a Bengals team that came into the game 1-8 is pathetic.
The Philadelphia Eagles had a great headline from the game: "One Hideous Tie."
Numerology: There have been 12,837 NFL regular season games played and until Sunday, there had never been one that ended 11-10. But that was the odd score as Pittsburgh beat San Diego.
The final should have been Pittsburgh 18, San Diego 10, but the NFL admitted it screwed up on a call on the game's final play that deprived the Steelers of a touchdown. (See explanation here). The botched call did not matter in who won the game, but was huge in which team covered the pointspread. Pittsburgh was a 5-point favorite and Steeler bettors would have won had the proper call been made and a touchdown awarded. However, it was Charger bettors who got a gift from the gambling gods. This game is more evidence of why I don't bet on football.
Season-saver: The Cowboys 14-10 win at Washington was a snoozer, but it saved the Cowboys' season. At 6-4, the Cowboys are tied with the Redskins in the wild card race; a loss would have left Dallas two back and might have resulted in the firing of coach Wade Phillips. In his postgame interview, Phillips looked less like a winning coach than someone who just cheated the hangman.
5-8 but a huge presence: The Indianapolis Colts were without last year’s defensive MVP Bob Sanders, inactive with a knee injury and it’s stunning how bad their run defense is without him. This was very evident in the Colts’ 33-27 win against the Houston Texans
The Texans ran for their season-high 177 yards against a Sanders-less Colts defense. Last week, in contrast, the Pittsburgh Steelers gained only 61 yards against the Colts with Sanders.
The Colts won the game with their offense, as Peyton Manning was brilliant as he led the Colts to three touchdowns and two field goals on their final five drives. Manning also had five passes dropped, two of them that would have given the Colts first downs instead of settling for field goals. Manning threw nine interceptions in his first seven games, but has none in his last three (all wins) and seven TDs. He also has been sacked only twice in those three wins, a sign that his battered offensive line is finally healthy. At 6-4, the Colts have an inside track to a wild card spot, but they need Sanders back to make it happen and make any sort of Super Bowl run.
Hot jock: The hottest new receiver I’ve seen this season is Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson, a 6-3 rookie from Kansas State. I’m not the only one who has eyed Nelson. He was among the “hottest males” on SI’s Fan IQ site.
Easy pick: The game I was most confident about picking this week was the Giants routing the Ravens. Baltimore came into the game 6-3, but had only one win against a team with a winning record (Miami). The last time the Ravens played a really good team (in Week 6), they got blasted 31-3 by the Colts. And the 9-1 Giants are better than the Colts.
The Giants ran for 207 yards against the Ravens defense, their third straight game rushing for more than 200 yards. Right now, the Giants would be my pick to be the NFC Super Bowl rep. They play well on both offense and defense and having a good running game in winter games in the Northeast is money.
As for the Ravens (6-4), they won’t make the playoffs given their killer schedule (they finish with Washington, Pittsburgh, Dallas and Jacksonville).
NFC mediocrity: After 10 games, the 5-5 Vikings, Packers and Bears are tied for the NFC North lead. I doubt a wild card will come from this division. The Bears were embarrassed, 37-3, at Green Bay, while the Vikings were held scoreless in the second half of a 19-13 loss at Tampa Bay. The Packers have the best QB (Aaron Rodgers) and offense among the three teams and the Vikings the best overall defense; the Bears, meanwhile, have lost three of four and much of their swagger.
Winning ugly: The Miami Dolphins are 6-4 and have won four in a row, but they need to play much better if they want to be a playoff team. Last week, they struggled to beat woeful Seattle by 2, and Sunday needed a last-second field goal to beat even more woeful Oakland, 17-15. The Fins won only one game a year ago, so their fans will take victories any way they can get them. But with division games against the Patriots, Bills and Jets down the stretch, Miami needs to step up its game to still be playing in January.
No hangover: After their gruesome last-second loss at Arizona Monday night, one could have forgiven the San Francisco 49ers for playing in a funk Sunday. The Niners, though, were lucky to get St. Louis at home and that was the perfect cure. Niners 35, Rams 9.