Greetings, readers. It looks like a few teams are beginning to separate themselves from the pack. That said, the records still indicate that parity is the name of the game in 2012, despite a few that are well above .500. No team is without flaws, either. Let's get to the stories from Week 9.
We start out with the Thursday night game. As usual, it was lopsided. The Chargers played ...well, if not quite up to their capability, then closer to what fans, media, and other outside observers expect from them on a weekly basis. Philip Rivers looked a little shaky in the first half, especially on the end-zone INT. But the second half was all San Diego. I think we can stick a fork in Kansas City; they might not be mathematically eliminated just yet, but they're most definitely done.
A more inspiring story comes from Indianapolis. Head Coach Chuck Pagano met with his team before and after the Colts' hard-fought win against the Dolphins. Andrew Luck played about as well as could be expected, if not better, leading his team to the win while staring long third downs in the face and pulling through just about all day. Not only that, he was under pressure fairly consistently and not only escaped it, but made great plays at the same time. The Colts are now 5-3 and play in a fairly weak division; beside the Texans, the Colts are the only good team in the AFC South. If they can continue this pace, they should secure one of the Wild Card spots. My hope is that they end up playing Denver in the Wild Card Round, as that would make for some fabulous TV. Plus, think of the serendipitous nature of that match-up: Peyton Manning playing the man that replaced him in Indianapolis? Fantastic. Unbelievable. Perhaps even a little insane. But definitely worth watching, no matter what.
Some have said that teams in the NFL can no longer play defense. Obviously, the Chicago Bears are scoffing at this notion, while they forced turnovers at a rate no one else can match. Not only are they turning other teams over frequently, they're also turning those TO's into TD's. The defense is playing so well that Jay Cutler and his maligned offensive line are getting less attention than they were earlier in the season. This can only be a good thing for that unit. Cutler did make some good plays, but they'll probably be forgotten since the defense was so dominant. Honestly, anything that keeps the attention off of Cutler is probably a good thing. Even if it's the image of Brian Urlacher rumbling into the end-zone after an INT.
Robert Griffin III's rookie season has been synonymous with two things: excitement and failure. Excitement because anyone can tell that he's going to be something special for a long time to come. Failure because he hasn't won much and the rest of the team has let him down on numerous occasions. There is really no way that Washington should have lost to a bad Carolina team at home. Even with a TD that the NFL later said should not have counted. By the way, if that TD was disallowed, Carolina still would have won by a point. For RGIII and company to only put up 13 points against a bad Carolina defense is unacceptable. The man clearly needs more playmakers around him. Hopefully this is something that gets rectified in the future, or else Mike Shanahan (and his son the offensive coordinator) might find himself without a job. He might not be in any danger this year. but if RGIII plays anything like Cam Newton has next year, trouble will be at Shanahan's doorstep.
It's always a little unusual when a running back storms onto the scene as a rookie with consecutive great games. Yet that's just what Doug Martin has done. In consecutive games against the Vikings and Raiders, Martin has rushed for a bunch of yards (including the 251 he put up on Sunday) and scored a number of TD's. Sunday's performance in particular was one of the more impressive I've seen lately, especially from a rookie. Before the Vikings game, it looked like the Bucs might be dead in the water; now they're looking like they've got a pulse, if nothing else. And with the Chargers coming to Tampa in Week 10, I think a third straight win is in order. But coach Schiano has to commit to running Martin. No more running Blount in the 4th quarter when it looks like the game is wrapped up. Stick with the hot hand, coach.
Pittsburgh had some unusual circumstances to deal with in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. With no power in the team hotel in New Jersey, they flew from Pittsburgh to East Rutherford before the game and left shortly after the game. In the midst of that, they somehow managed to pull out a win despite some bad calls and an up-and-down performance from Ben Roethlisberger. None of the elite QB's have been all that great in 2012 so far, and Roethlisberger is no exception. But on Sunday he made the throws he needed to and committed fewer dumb mistakes than he has in other games this season. The result is still a surprise, though, as I'm sure most expected the Giants to win and it certainly looked like they would. Then Roethlisberger tossed a short pass to Mike Wallace...and the rest, as they say, is history. Wallace outran the secondary to the pylon and the game-winning TD was secured.
Lastly, the final undefeated team in the NFL. While not looking their best (as usual), Atlanta somehow figured out a way to win, even though Dallas didn't turn the ball over as is their wont. All of the Atlanta receivers came to play and Matt Ryan was up to the challenge. Through the halfway point, Atlanta is now 8-0 and in firm control of their division. Chicago and San Francisco are the only teams that look like they can challenge for the #1 seed in the NFC. The Falcons' schedule is not particularly tough, either; currently, the only winning team that they'll face is the Giants. I don't think they'll finish 16-0, necessarily. But these Falcons are clearly the class of the conference at this point.
Here are the Rankings for Week 9:
1.) Atlanta (8-0) [no change]
Matt Ryan is playing like an MVP and the defense is solid. Should stay undefeated in Week 10.
2.) Houston (7-1) [no change]
Probably the toughest matchup for the Texans in Week 10. Ballhawks all over Soldier Field.
3.) Chicago (7-1) [no change]
Whereas for Chicago, it shouldn't be too difficult, as long as they can keep Arian Foster in check and force Schaub into mistakes.
4.) San Francisco (6-2) [+1]
I too am a turkey. And people call Philip Rivers "captain checkdown"? Still, they moved up on a bye. Not bad.
5.) Baltimore (6-2) [+1]
Joe Flacco continues to underwhelm, but since the "elite" QB's are doing the same as he is, I guess his view is justified.
6.) Green Bay (6-3) [+1]
Tempted to say Rodgers &co. are rounding into form. But without Jennings and maybe Nelson, how far can they go?
7.) NY Giants (6-3) [-3]
That loss has to rankle. Eli Manning didn't look anything like how the media continually portrays him.
8.) New England (5-3) [no change]
Brady &co. got the bye after London and now get Buffalo at home. Wow.
9.) Denver (5-3) [+1]
Is Peyton Manning rounding into form? That'll be the weekly question. Two INT's to Terrence Newman doesn't help.
10.) Indianapolis (5-3) [-]
I think it's safe to say Andrew Luck has rounded into form.
That's all for this week. See you next week.
Three Games to Watch (Week 10):
San Diego @ Tampa Bay (Sunday, CBS)
Atlanta @ New Orleans (Sunday, FOX)
Houston @ Chicago (Sunday, NBC)