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Still waiting for dominant team to emerge amid surprises

Kathy Willens / Associated Press
The Cowboys were able to snap a five-game losing streak by stunning the Giants on Sunday.


With 10 weeks of football in the books, no one team has separated itself as a Super Bowl favorite. No team is playing its best yet, and that is what makes the NFL so special.

It's has nothing to do with parity, but more about how each team matches up on a weekly basis. We all know the league really takes on a new perspective in late November and the eventual best team is just starting to peak. Finding that team is not easy. It seems that every Sunday night my initial reaction is always different and I'm left with more questions than answers.

My first reaction watching Week 10, where has that been? Where have those Cowboys been? Why haven't those Broncos shown up all year? Where have the Bills been hiding that running game? Why haven't the Seahawks unleashed that offense before?

My second reaction to Sunday's action was more of the same. That looked like the same bad defense by the Texans, the same inconsistent poor road play by the Vikings and the same old turning the ball over by the Bengals. As much as things change each week, some things stay the same.

So what did we learn? What we always knew. Football is played with passion, discipline and fundamentals. Clearly, the Cowboys were not playing passionately for old coach Wade Phillips, were not playing with discipline for him or any fundamentals. When the 'Boys do play with those essential qualities, they can soundly beat what most -- including me -- thought was the best team in the NFC.

We learned that Denver can actually score points. The Broncos are not just a team that can move the ball up and down the field between the twenties (my tag for them has been a 20-20 team). When they can mix in a little running game, they can compete with anyone. If they get some key starters back, specifically outside linebacker Robert Ayers, they are going to shake up the AFC West. The Broncos might not win it, but they could decide who does, starting with a Week 11 game in San Diego on Monday night. In a rare offensive display, the Broncos scored touchdowns on their first four possessions -- something that was nonexistent the first eight games of the season as they failed to score on an opening drive.

We also learned that the Bengals make for good reality television, but in reality, stink. The Seahawks went from getting dominated to being a dominating team -- winning on the road is hard for Seattle. The Bills finally closed out a game. Maybe the Bears can win the NFC North.

The most prevailing lesson, we need to find the team that is peaking. Based on the weekly clues, it is going to be hard, extremely hard.

Sunday's best

» When I watched Tom Brady in warm-ups in Pittsburgh, his look, his body language was the same as it was in Miami a few weeks back. When he has that certain "look," I know he is going to play well. And he got my MVP vote with that performance against the Steelers. Brady is part quarterback, part leader, part coach and, most of all, everything about what the Patriots stand for. He is the experienced player, the one coach Bill Belichick uses to help him focus this young team. He was great in beating the Steelers but, for me, he was even better off the field. He demanded from his teammates and pushed them to stay focused. Brady allows Belichick to concentrate on making the right decisions and coaching the game. Right now Brady has my vote.

» The Jets as a team belong here. Yes, Mark Sanchez was good, as was Santonio Holmes, and many others. But what impressed me about their second straight overtime win, was their never-ending competitive streak to finish the game strong. Like a tired, old boxer who knows how to win the later rounds and eventually the fight. The Jets don't have to apologize for their victories, they just have to keep piling them up.

» Troy Smith was the other Heisman Trophy winner in the Rams-49ers game. He has proven in the last few weeks that he is deserving of being the starter and the 49ers seem to believe in him and rally around him. He protects the ball, makes good throws and gives the 49ers some hope for the remaining seven games. Owner Jed York might be proven correct with his predication of San Francisco winning the NFC West.

Pro Bowl voting

The Pro Bowl ballots are open, so vote for your favorite players to earn a spot in the Jan. 30, 2011, event in Honolulu's Aloha Stadium.

» Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant could be in this section every week if they give him the damn ball -- sorry Keyshawn Johnson. Bryant should go to the Pro Bowl and, like Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, will be in the top 100 players when NFL Films revisits the show in the year 2030. Wow, is he good. He is fun to watch. Just keep getting him the ball Jason Garrett, and you might be the full-time coach next year.

» And why is it that it seems like most games CBS play-by-play man Gus Johnson does, something weirdly spectacular happens? His calls are great, but most of the material he gets to work with of late -- Jets-Lions, Bills-Chiefs, Bengals-Falcons, Chiefs-Texans -- is even better. Jaguars quarterback David Garrard made a great last-second throw and, of course, the Texans made a defensive blunder. However, that does not take away from a great Jacksonville win.

Sunday funnies

» I believe strongly as a personnel man that the purest evaluation of your team comes on the road, especially for dome teams. The Vikings, who continue to lose on the road, keep wasting their season with their inability to play well away from Minneapolis. They had to beat the Bears, but dropped their eighth straight regular-season road game. Some things never seem to change. The season is coming close to an end and the Vikings are far from peaking. Unless coach Brad Childress can turn this team around --yes, I wrote that, but I do not believe it -- they are finished. From watching Sunday, they look done.

» The Bengals held Peyton Manning to 185 yards passing and the Colts to 256 total yards, but still lost for the seventh time, basically ending their season. The Bengals love to turn the ball over and get behind. Even though they might have good offensive numbers, most of the stats have come when the game was essentially over. Cincinnati's offseason will be filled with many changes.

» I was told by a reliable source that Titans QB Vince Young did miss treatment last week and Friday meetings. The feeling in the Titans building is that he is extremely unreliable. His work ethic will need to improve if he is going to turn his career around. Young has not endeared himself to teammates, who know the real story about his work ethic. He did not even try to work out before Sunday's game, just accepting his number two status. He then showed, when he had to play when Kerry Collins got hurt, he was more than capable. The Titans need Young to grow up fast, and stop making excuses.

Three-step drops

» The Bears were one of the worst teams on third down, yet converted 11 of 19 against the Vikings. Minnesota's defense is not as dominating as we might think, and when the Vikings cannot control the game with their defensive line, all hell breaks loose. ...

» Tampa Bay soundly beat Carolina. Based on the schedule the Buccaneers have the rest of the way, they are capable of 10 wins. But does this make them good? For me, it makes them better, but not the best in the NFC. ...

» Kansas City has to regroup. The Chiefs were soundly beaten and now face the toughest challenge any young team has to overcome -- dealing with and overcoming adversity. Being able to beat a bad Arizona team this week would be a good start. ...

» The Steelers are clearly not the same team offensively as they were before their line injuries. It is going to be hard for them to overcome the missing personnel, on both sides of the ball. ...

» Is it me or is Troy Polamalu not having his best year? He is not the same player he was two years ago -- he is good, still effective, but not dominating. ...

» We now know how former Lions receiver Mike Williams became a first-round pick. He never showed these skills before, but is the real deal in Seattle. ...

» The Cardinals are bad on offense and defense, yet had the Vikings beat until Brett Favre got hot last week. What does that say about the Vikes? ...


Relive every game this season online and on-demand with enhanced viewing features, including the "All-22" coaches film. Get NFL Game Rewind.

» It is a really smart move by the Jets to use Shonn Greene more because LaDainian Tomlinson is not the same running back now as he was earlier in the year. ...

» Jacksonville put up 495 yards on Houston. When the Texans decide to get tougher all through their organization, then I will pay attention. ...

» I love Tyler Thigpen. Loved him in Kansas City and he is not a third stringer. He now has his chance and will not allow the Dolphins to miss a beat. ...

» Checking out of my hotel Sunday, my bellman was a huge Giants fan -- and was expecting an easy win over the Cowboys. He might have been like the Giants, who looked ahead to the Eagles and took the Cowboys for granted. Who could blame him, so was I.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.

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