Ryan, Flacco playing like vets; Will the Lions go 0-16? Colts come back to win a thriller; which D-lineman almost had abs?

How Cyd and Jim saw Week 10 in the NFL:

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What are the chances the Lions go 0-16? At this point, they’re pretty good. The Lions have seven games left. All but one of their opponents has a winning record. The one team they play with a losing record is New Orleans. If they’re healthy, they’ll be tough for the Lions to run with. The Lions do get four of their seven games at home, so that’s going for them. Their three road games are at Carolina, Indianapolis and Green Bay. Their next four games are all against teams in the top 10 in total defense in the league. If they’re sitting at 0-14 on Dec. 15, you can bet everyone outside of Detroit will be clamoring to see it happen.

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Youth will be served: Nine weeks into the season, one expects rookie quarterbacks to be on 2-7 or 1-8 teams, not being in the thick of a playoff race. But Joe Flacco of Baltimore and Matt Ryan of Atlanta aren’t playing like most rookies.

Flacco (right), aided by a great defense, has led the Ravens (6-3) to four wins in a row, the most recent a 41-13 drubbing of the Houston Texans. Flacco was an efficient 15 of 23 with two touchdowns Sunday and was greatly helped by his opposite number Sage Rosenfels, who threw four picks.

An old rule I’ve long disliked. While it doesn’t get talked about much, I’ve long hated the illegal forward pass rule. The rule says that, for a pass to be illegal based on player field position, the player’s entire body needs to be on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage. The problem with that rule is the rule on forward progress. On a tackle, the ball is spotted where the ball was at the point of the tackle. Based on the illegal forward pass rule, a player could extend the ball past the line of scrimmage and then throw the ball, which is what Eli Manning did Sunday night against the Eagles by a full yard. Both rules should be based on ball position; With one based on ball position and the other based on body position, there’s a discrepancy in the rules that isn’t just to the defense.

Pats still chuggin’. They haven’t had their quarterback since Week 1. They haven’t had either of their top two running backs in two weeks. Yet the New England Patriots are 6-3 and sit atop their division with the Jets coming into town on Thursday. If they beat the Jets, they will have a two-game lead over them with six games to go. My guess is their playoff hopes lie on the West Coast. All but two of their remaining games are against teams presently with winning records; Those two games against teams with losing records are at Seattle and at Oakland.

Rookie QB-Coach combo still cooking. With both teams at a shocking record of 6-3, the Falcons and Ravens aren’t just in a race for most shocking turnaround in the NFL this season, but their quarterbacks have to be the two leading contenders for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Two of the last four Offensive Rookies of the Year have been quarterbacks (Ben Roethlisberger and Vince Young). But before them it was 34 straight seasons without a QB winning the award. Right now, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan has the advantage. His QB rating is 10 points higher (89.9), he has thrown for 260 more yards (1,909), four more TDs and two fewer INTs.

NFC South still dominant at home. The best bet in the NFL this season has been the NFC South at home. The four teams are a combined 17-1, and it held true again this weekend as the Atlanta Falcons beat the New Orleans Saints. The one loss was the Saints’ 30-27 loss to the Vikings in Week 3. Incidentally, those same four teams are 6-12 on the road.

When should desperation set in? If there is only one person to blame for the Eagles’ loss to the Giants Sunday night, it’s Eagles head coach Andy Reid. I felt the coaching staff made several blunders (like running the ball twice to end their last full possession). But the biggest mistake was getting desperate too quickly. With 10:08 in the game, the Eagles down 6 and the Giants on the doorstep of another touchdown, Reid challenged a non-fumble ruling that was clearly the right call. And when I say clearly, I mean replay showed the runner’s elbow down, a good half second went by, and then the ball came out. That not only wasted one of the Eagles’ two challenges, it also cost them a timeout; A timeout they could have used eight minutes later. On the next play, Reid challenged another call; it was close and it was a TD, can’t blame him for that. But the previous challenge meant they were without challenges for the next eight minutes until the two-minute warning. The Eagles coaches made several calls that I questioned. But that first challenge was the one call that had absolutely no merit whatsoever and cost the Eagles dearly.

My Top Five.

1) Tennessee Titans. I really thought their game against the Bears was going to be their first loss. Especially since they had a combined 20 yards on 29 carries. But Kerry Collins carried the team: Something I didn’t think he’d do. I guess the loss of Kyle Orton was too much for Chicago to overcome.

2) Carolina Panthers. It wasn’t pretty in Oakland, but they beat the Raiders by more than Vegas thought they would. At 7-2, they look like they did when they went to the Super Bowl.

3) New York Giants. They continue to be very impressive. And now, in the meat of their schedule, they are playing like champions.

4) & 5) I have no idea. There are eight teams with three losses. My gut tells me the Patriots are in the mix here, given how bad other teams look. The Ravens are playing well. The Redskins. The Cardinals. The Colts have beaten two decent teams in a row. I have no idea anymore. And you probably don’t care anyway. So I’m saying no one belongs with the other three.

“He doesn’t get flustered,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Flacco. “Momentum swings don’t affect him too much. He comes out and plays the next series and takes care of business. That’s the kind of person he is. He played well when he had to.”

In Atlanta, overall No. 1 draft pick Ryan (right) has made everyone in Atlanta forget about last year’s debacle that started with Michael Vick’s dog-fighting conviction and went downhill. Ryan is 4-0 at home and, like Flacco, has been greatly aided by his defense. The Falcons picked off New Orleans’ Drew Brees three times en route to a 34-20 win Sunday that boosted Atlanta to 6-3 and knocked the Saints into last place.

The Ravens have a brutal schedule down the stretch – Giants, Eagles, Redskins, Steelers, Cowboys and Jaguars – and if Flacco leads them into the playoffs he should get some rookie of the year consideration. The Falcons also have a tough schedule, with only a season-ender against St. Louis a gimme. Ryan is the leader right now for top rookie honors, and a playoff spot would make the Falcons the comeback story of the season.

Game of the year: Indianapolis’ 24-20 comeback at Pittsburgh was the best game I’ve seen all season. Big plays on both teams and high drams that didn’t end until the Colts intercepted a last-play pass in the end zone to seal the win.

For the third time this year Peyton Manning led the Colts to a win on the road despite being down by 10 or more points. Manning threw for 240 yards and three TDs against the league’s top pass defense, but it was three big defensive plays that saved the Colts. No, “big defensive plays” and “Colts” in the same sentence is not a typo.

The Colts picked off Ben Roethlisberger twice and converted both for TDs, while rookie lineman Eric Foster stuffed Mewelde Moore at the 1-yard line on third-and-1 in the fourth, forcing the Steelers to settle for a field goal, and a 20-17 lead instead of a touchdown lead.

Big Ben takes the blame: Roethlisberger, who has a bum shoulder, has now thrown eight interceptions in his last three games, and the Steelers have back-to-back home losses to Mannings (Peyton on Sunday and Eli and the Giants two weeks ago).

You’ll never hear me say ‘I’ anything, but I lost this game,” said Roethlisberger, who appeared to be crying into a towel when reporters entered the locker room. “I take it on myself. I let the guys down on offense and defense. It hurts, but we’ll learn from it.”

Streak ends: The win was the Colts’ first in Pittsburgh since 1968 after losing 12 straight. But it was only Manning’s second game in Pittsburgh and the first since 2002. It’s one of those “streaks” that is less impressive than it first appears.

You heard it here first: I have written about how I am not that impressed by the Tennessee Titans despite their now 9-0 record. I will make this bold prediction that next week Jacksonville hands the Titans their first loss. If I’m wrong, I’ll lead my column extolling the virtues of the Titans.

I know the Titans are a solid team, well-coached and with a terrific defense, but I still don’t like their offense and think they are destined to lose an early playoff games.

People like SI’s Don Banks are raving that Tennessee threw the ball so well in a 21-14 win at Chicago, but the Bears rank 30th (out of 32 teams) in pass defense this season, so it’s not that impressive. The Titans also got a gift in having to face Rex Grossman, who is at best a mediocre QB. Several times Grossman missed open receivers on plays that would have kept drives alive. The Titans for three straight weeks have seen opponents drop interceptions or justmiss on TD passes and in the NFL this kind of stuff evens out.

Almost buff: Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth weighs in at 320 pounds and was the cover boy for Sports Illustrated this week. His teammate Keith Bullock joked that it was lucky Haynesworth was not in the swimsuit edition. Haynesworth said he has been working out a lot and told CBS that he “almost had abs.”

Almost being the operative word for a defensive lineman,” CBS analyst Dan Dierfdorf said. “That’ll get you thrown of the defensive locker room area if you had abs. That’s not cool, not cool at all.”

I doubt than any defensive tackles have abs, but this is not true of of other defenders, such as defensive backs like Tampa Bay’s Sabby Piscitelli.

Pisticelli, left, and Haynesworth

Guts, no glory: The gutsiest call of the season came in San Diego, when the Kansas City Chiefs, down 20-19 with 23 seconds left, opted to go for a 2-point conversion and win instead of an extra point to tie. The Chargers snuffed the play out and the Chiefs dropped to 1-8. Earlier in the game, the Chiefs missed an extra point, which might have influenced the thinking of Chiefs coach Herman Edwards.

I applaud the call, since overtime is such a crap shoot and often dependent on winning the coin flip. And, with only one win, what did the Chiefs have to lose? As Edwards said after: “When you’re 1-7, it isn’t even a question of what you do. These guys deserve to win football games.”

For the Chargers, it was almost deja vu all over again. In Week 2 at Denver, the Broncos beat the Chargers 39-38 went they went for two late instead of settling for overtime.

A Giant step: With consecutive wins, the New York Giants (8-1) pretty much eliminated the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles (both 5-4) from winning the NFC East. The Giants won a wild one, 36-31, at Philly on Sunday. I was going to rip the Eagles’ lousy clock management and inept play calling, but two Outsports Discussion Board regulars saved me the trouble.

From Philly Runner:

I am so disgusted with Andy Reid’s decision making. From two challenges, one of which should have never been called, to calling two run plays on 3rd and 4th down with time running down. This is not a team with a power running game. Pass plays were needed or [Donovan] McNabb had to do something on his own. After 10 years perhaps is time for him to go.

From Joe in Philly:

I hope the post-game quotes from the Eagles players and coaches aren’t all about how good a team they are even though they’re 5-4, and if they got a good break here and there or whatever, blah blah blah. They clearly are a mediocre team. Their defense was shredded most of the night. The offense, while it does well at times, is hampered by inconsistency, mistakes, mismatched personnel playing a one-dimensional scheme that can go high-octane with fancy passing setups but can’t grind out yardage via the running game when needed, and above all, incompetent playcalling at crucial moments. With 3 losses in the division and 4 losses in the conference, a 10-6 record will surely not win any tiebreakers. They’re going to have to win 6 of the last 7, and with only one apparent gimme, next week against the Bengals.

Huge game looming: The NFL Network has a dandy coming up this Thursday night – Jets at Patriots, both teams 6-3 and winner takes the lead in the AFC East. I’ll take the Pats, who have won 11 of their last 12 against the Jets.

It’s a shame, though, that most of the country won’t get to see the game, thanks to the NFL’s snit with cable companies carrying the NFLN.

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