As usual, I have nine strong takes on what's going on around the NFL in the latest edition of The Schein Nine.
1. They still might be Giants
"The Giants are paper champs." "Here comes another second-half swoon." "This team isn't going anywhere!"
Please stop talking. I'm getting a headache.
I know the New York Giants have set a precedent over the past few seasons of collapsing in the second half. I know their fans are nervous and the media elite is concerned about how the Giants ended the first half of this season with their worst performance of the year, blowing a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, losing four games in a row last year didn't seem to bother the Giants en route to the Super Bowl. In fact, the players will tell you that the turning point was the Week 15 debacle against the Washington Redskins, after which they didn't lose again.
The Giants are 6-3. They are too well-coached, too battle-tested and have too much championship fiber and heart to collapse. It also doesn't hurt that the NFC East is the worst division in football. Folding up would be impossible for the Giants. They have Eli Manning. They have Tom Coughlin. That means they'll make the playoffs. And once they make it, their upside is to reach the Super Bowl -- and win.
Now, the Giants do have legitimate issues. Their passing attack hasn't had its usual sizzle in recent weeks; Sunday represented Manning's lowest passing-yardage total (125) in a single game in almost four years. Receiver Hakeem Nicks can't stay healthy, and when he's been on the field, he hasn't produced. The same goes for running back Ahmad Bradshaw. Offensive lineman David Diehl came back, but he looked like a recently injured player shaking off the rust.
However, I can't push the panic button based on what this group has accomplished. Victor Cruz has been dynamite this year, and while Manning has been in a minor slump, he's still elite, one of the five best quarterback in the game. I was stunned that the offense put up three three-and-outs in the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh last Sunday. Considering Manning's knack for late-game dominance, I have to believe that was a one-time anomaly and won't become a second-half trend.
Coughlin was spot-on when he called his defense "soft" against Pittsburgh. The tackling attempts on the short pass to Mike Wallace, which turned into a game-changing 51-yard touchdown, were awful. New York's run defense was even worse.
The Giants have given up big plays in the passing attack. Their vaunted pass rush has been ordinary and inconsistent this season. But despite those struggles, the Giants have been solid in the red zone and have had a knack for making game-changing plays. See what happened in wins against the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, for example. Does anyone really believe these pass rushers will be held down all year? I don't.
The Giants are visiting the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. In theory, Bengals receiver A.J. Green should be licking his chops to get a shot at this defense. The matchup might be close; heck, the Giants might even lose. But in reality, the Bengals are the Bengals and the Giants are the Giants. One team thrives while the other fizzles when the pressure is turned up.
2. Watt's the deal?
Literally, I wanted to know just that when I talked to Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt on SiriusXM Blitz this week. The current favorite to nab Defensive Player of the Year honors has a knack for batting balls away at the line of scrimmage. Watt explained that he studies film extensively and added, rather simply, "If I'm not going to get the sack, I need to make a play."
I had to laugh.
Watt acknowledged what a big statement game Houston is facing against the Chicago Bears on Sunday night. The last time the Texans went up against top competition out of conference, they were hammered by the Green Bay Packers.
I love how the Texans have played this year, but I think the Bears are better. Chicago's defense has outperformed Houston's, and that's a statement. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, meanwhile, has been tough. Chicago wins a close one.
3. Baby bear
If Bears cornerback Charles Tillman's wife is having their baby on Sunday, he should be with her, enjoying every second of welcoming a daughter into the world, and not playing football. There is no other option.
4. The next Ray Rice? Try "the first Doug Martin"
Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie running back Doug Martin gets why he's often compared to the Baltimore Ravens' Ray Rice. Both players have thrived under Bucs coach Greg Schiano, for whom Rice starred at Rutgers. But Martin is done with it.
I'm sure Raiders fans had some choice suggestions.
Martin will barrel over the San Diego Chargers this weekend, and Tampa Bay will win.
5. Raider woes
Yes, the Raiders have major issues. As Martin proved (again), Oakland can't stop the run. The Raiders' own running back, Darren McFadden, is hurt. And I'll write it again: They don't have a quarterback.
I don't think the Raiders' quarterback for 2013 is currently on their roster. It shouldn't be Palmer.
6. Coming together in Baltimore
Baltimore Ravens cornerback Cary Williams has been one of the unsung defensive heroes in the NFL this year. He told me this week that the club used its bye to focus on "unacceptable mental busts and stupid plays" on defense.
"We need 11 guys to the ball," Williams explained. "Just worry about our individual jobs. Trust the guys around you. And believe."
I asked Williams which Ravens player had stepped up, from a leadership perspective, in the absence of Ray Lewis. Williams cited Ed Reed and Terrelle Suggs, stressing Suggs' "love for the game." Williams said the effort Suggs gave in a Week 7 loss to Houston despite being less than 100 percent was inspiring, and that effect carried over to their bye week and subsequent Week 9 win over the Cleveland Browns.
7. Rex's vision, Seattle style
"I really appreciate you noticing and saying that on a national stage," Browner said.
New York Jets coach Rex Ryan has probably noticed, too. Ryan might think of his 2009 or 2010 Jets teams when he visits the 2012 Seattle Seahawks in the Great Northwest on Sunday.
The Seahawks are built in a way that's similar to Ryan's vision. Their defensive backfield is rangy, physical, and nasty, and makes plenty of plays. The pass rush, led by reported Jets draft target Bruce Irvin, is intense. Running back Marshawn Lynch pounds the rock with authority.
I think Seattle will beat up on Gang Green.
8. Flying high
Show me something again, Atlanta. You'll have no excuses against the Saints and their bad defense.
I think Atlanta improves to 9-0.
9. Huge Shocker!
Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.