Every Sunday night, Around The League takes a closer look at four of the day's most interesting subplots. We call it The Filthy Four ... mostly for alliteration purposes.
Can't spell 'elite' without Eli
Is Eli elite now? Prepare yourself for that question, because you're sure to hear it plenty this week after Eli Manning channeled the ghosts of Super Bowl XLII with a game-winning touchdown drive against Tom Brady's Patriots on Sunday.
At 30, Manning is having his finest statistical season, and his ability to make plays (and cut down on mistakes) is a huge reason behind the Giants' 6-2 record and perch atop the NFC East. That said, we still won't be convinced Eli belongs at the big boy table reserved for the likes of Brady, Brees, Rodgers, and Eli's big brother.
And that's fine. Consider Eli the Foo Fighters of NFL quarterbacks -- steady, durable and capable of special moments. What else do you really need?
A-Rod is a god
We figure a shaky pass defense will get the Packers picked off one of these weeks, but then again, who in their right mind is going to count out Aaron Rodgers at this point?
In a year that has been defined by excess on offense, Rodgers is on pace for the greatest season in the history of the quarterback position. If you extrapolate his numbers over 16 games -- Green Bay is halfway home at 8-0 -- Rodgers is on pace to throw for 5,238 yards, 48 touchdowns and just six interceptions. His quarterback rating is 125.7, and his completion percentage of 71.5 is enough to make Steve Young green with envy.
And then there's our favorite stat of Week 9: The Packers scored 28 points in the first half against the Chargers, the third time this season Green Bay has scored at least 28 points in the first half. That matches the total of the other 31 teams combined. Wow.
Rodgers has turned the NFL into his own personal "Madden" game with the difficulty level set on easy.
Flacco is no fluke-o
It remains to be seen if this is the year the Ravens finally navigate their way through the AFC playoffs and return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2001, but Ray Lewis and Co. are in a great place after a thrilling comeback win over the hated Steelers in Pittsburgh.
This one is all about Joe Flacco, who overcame some killer drops by his receivers -- really, there was a serious case of the Houshmandzadehs going around -- to lead the Ravens on a game-winning 92-yard drive in the final minutes that clinched a season sweep of the Steelers. It's a signature win for the 26-year-old, who badly needed a game like this in a season in which he's struggled mightily at times.
We suppose this means the Steelers are old and slow again, but for now we're going to enjoy trying to figure out how the AFC North shakes out. Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton is the dark horse in all of this, ironic because he is a glowing ginger man.
Can we blame this on LeBron?
We had planned to ignore the underwhelming slate of early games but ultimately decided we should touch on the plight of the Cleveland Browns' fan community.
We received the following dispatch via text from an NFL.com colleague who had set up shop Sunday at Central, a Browns bar located in Santa Monica.
"Mood? People are ordering rat poison from the bar with a chaser of Ebola virus juice. In deep hell."
And that was just halftime. Our colleague was (probably) kidding, but this effectively sums up where the Browns are right now. Cleveland lost for the fourth time in five games, managing just 172 total yards in a 30-12 loss to the Houston Texans.
We'd say the bizarre circus that's enveloped Peyton Hillis is a distraction, but that's probably just a convenient excuse for a team and franchise that appears rudderless. Even worse, Cleveland's three victories effectively took them out of the "Suck For Luck" competition. Even when the Browns win, they lose. Pass the rat poison.