Greetings, readers. After some turmoil earlier in the season, it looks like things are finally settling down and becoming a bit more predictable. Well, mostly...there are still some teams who defy prediction and lose when they ought to win. At any rate, let's get to the stories from this week.
Speaking of losers, we start with the Thursday night game, if anybody still remembers it. I'm sure Bills fans do, and they should be happy that their team pulled off a win against Miami. It has to be disappointing for the Dolphins, though, because they went up against a team with a terrible defense and couldn't score enough to win. I guess the Bills are starting to turn it around defensively. But since both teams are 4-6, I think we can say definitively that both should be excluded from the playoff discussion.
The top two teams won this week: Houston & Atlanta both pulled off some rather lucky and stunning wins. It's funny, since neither one of those games should have been as tough as it looked. Yet the Texans and Falcons have made their bones winning close (and in Atlanta's case, close and late), so it's not necessarily a surprise that both teams won, just that they had to go so far to win. They're both 9-1 and firmly in control of their divisions and perhaps even conferences. While the AFC is supposedly the "weaker" conference this season, Houston cannot rest on its laurels just yet. Baltimore, New England, and Denver are all looking formidable; despite the Texans holding the tiebreaker on two of those three, I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see one of them pass up the Texans for the 1-seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. As for the Falcons, I don't really see anyone catching them in the regular season. But in the playoffs, neither team is proven.
There were two other overtime games besides Houston/Jacksonville. Tampa Bay and Dallas also won in OT on Sunday. I don't usually like to bring up the Cowboys; normally they're doing something stupid like losing or playing particularly poorly. I also don't want this blog to have the stench of homerism hovering over it. I would like to think I'm objective, despite not being a "professional" journalist (or really, an amateur journalist; I'm just a guy)! However, I think this one merited a few words. While the Cowboys didn't play well (going to OT against Cleveland is proof of that), they did get the win and can now make some noise in the division. In fact, with a win this Thursday, they'll be 6-5 and just a half-game behind the Giants for the division lead. Let's not count our chickens, or anything, though. Tampa Bay's win was arguably more impressive, though it came against a similarly bad opponent. Of course, Carolina is in their division, so maybe they should get some points for that. Josh Freeman made the throws when he needed to; he secured the game-tying TD + 2 pt. conversion and then threw a TD pass in OT to Dallas Clark that won the game. An impressive showing, to be sure.
Not to be outdone by the early action, a couple of teams playing late broke out the hammer. In this case it was New England and New Orleans. Denver also won late Sunday, but their game ended up being a little too close to be a real beatdown, even if the game wasn't as close as the score would indicate. New England took on the Colts and handed them a 59-24 loss. New Orleans won 38-17 against Oakland, and that score doesn't tell the whole story either. While some might consider the Saints a playoff contender, I do not. Let's not forget, they started 0-4, and only one team in the HISTORY of the NFL has ever made the playoffs after starting 0-4. Drew Brees may be a god among QB's, but this mountain is too large to climb. Tom Brady &co. now sit at 7-3 and even without super TE Rob Gronkowski for the next 4-6 weeks, should have enough to maintain and perhaps finish out the season with 12 wins.
The last game on Sunday provided the least drama, considering that everyone expected it to be great (myself included). Baltimore went up to Pittsburgh and with a number of stars missing on both sides, an ugly game ensued. Byron Leftwich started out nicely, but apparently sustained multiple injuries through the course of the game and the finish was nothing to write home about. Joe Flacco (who anointed himself "elite" mistakenly) was his usual inconsistent self; after posting 55 against Oakland the previous week he reverted back to his usual do-nothing ways. Baltimore's offense was particularly moribund on third down, converting a pathetic 3-for-14. It's one thing to say that it's the Pittsburgh D, and another to say that Flacco is not an elite QB, should keep his mouth shut, and should freakin' play better. Personally, I don't think it was the Steelers D that kept the Ravens offense in neutral for the entire night. I think Flacco is a mediocre QB. His play against the Steelers was just the latest example of that. Unless he becomes more consistent, it is difficult to see the Ravens as a Super Bowl contender this season. That said, I do think of them as one of the few teams that is set up to be a contender every season. So, really, all they have to do is get more consistent QB play and manage the injuries so that they have their guys back come playoff time.
Monday's game was probably one of the more surprising results of the season. With Alex Smith sidelined due to a concussion (and his counterpart Jay Cutler the same), Colin Kaepernick started for the 49ers and led a beatdown to remember. The Bears defense and offensive line were both destroyed by San Francisco. To call this game lopsided is being kind, practically. What's funny is that Kaepernick was making his first start and now sportswriters all over are calling for the kid to start in New Orleans in Week 12. I wouldn't go quite that far, unless Alex Smith continues to have post-concussion symptoms. I think it's better to avoid controversy whenever possible when it comes to QB's. Since Kaepernick has been acknowledged as the backup, he should have no problem sitting if Smith is healthy. If Smith isn't healthy just yet, Kaepernick showed himself to be capable, at least. Whether or not he can reproduce that effort is still under question, especially in New Orleans. But let's not forget that the Saints defense is one of the worst in the history of the NFL.
Here are the Rankings for Week 11:
1.) Houston (9-1) [no change]
Going to OT was bad, but at least they won and saved themselves a lot of questions.
2.) Atlanta (9-1) [no change]
Five INT's from Matt Ryan. Yeesh. There are certainly issues to be corrected here.
3.) Baltimore (8-2) [no change]
Joe Flacco needs to find that "elite" play again. If he ever had it to begin with.
4.) San Francisco (7-2-1) [no change]
Kaepernick subbed well at home; let's see if that changes on the road.
5.) Green Bay (7-3) [+1]
It wasn't pretty against Detroit and now they get a Giants team coming off the bye.
6.) New England (7-3) [+1]
The only question is can they continue to whip up on teams without Gronk?
7.) Denver (7-3) [+1]
Peyton Manning continues his quest toward Comeback Player of the Year as well as MVP.
8.) Chicago (7-3) [-3]
I don't know if Jay Cutler can help them get back up if the O-line is that bad.
9.) Tampa Bay (6-4) [-]
The Bucs are back in after an impressive win that probably should have been better.
10.) Indianapolis (6-4) [-1]
Down, but not quite out. RGIII outplayed Luck this week too.
That's all for this week, see you next week.
Three Games to Watch (Week 12):
Minnesota @ Chicago (Sunday, FOX)
Atlanta @ Tampa Bay (Sunday, FOX)
Green Bay @ NY Giants (Sunday, NBC)