We are cruising into the double-digit weeks, folks. January implications abound, with the top of the Power Rankings starting to look more like the playoff field.
Tony Romo might get some MVP votes.â Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) November 9, 2015
True that, DJ. Generally speaking, praise has finally come around the pike for Romo, even if it has taken years, and even if it's of the begrudging sort.
OK, enough about the NFC East. Let's talk about everyone's other favorite division, the AFC South!
Now this is a true blue Titans fan. Setting expectations high. Tennessee did make sweet music this week, strumming its way up the Rankings. The Colts also vaulted upward. And hey, the Texans didn't lose. How about that AFC South?!
For full analysis on all divisions (and teams) see below. As always, feel free to share your hot sports opinion, fresh out the oven: @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Let the dissension commence!
NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our Nov. 3 Power Rankings.
The train keeps a-rollin' ... unfortunately, without Dion Lewis. Terrible injury for the Patriots and especially for Lewis, who had authored one of the cool stories of 2015, transforming from a nowheresville running back into the best third-down back in pro football. On a lighter note, I enjoyed Jimmy Johnson's explanation of New England's onside kick in Sunday's win over Washington during the FOX halftime show. The silver-haired legend said Bill Belichick was practicing for later in the year. You know, like something you do when you're up 45-3. Except New England was only up 7-0 in the first quarter.
Another impressive victory for undefeated Cincinnati, with everyone getting into the act. Tyler Eifert was the headliner with his three touchdown catches, but Mohamed Sanu made plays, Geno Atkins got a sack and, overall, the Bengals showed why they are what their record says they are. One question: Why does Giovani Bernard seem so much more effective than Jeremy Hill? The latter has always been a more patient runner, but Bernard is finding and getting through the creases more quickly. #randomfootballthoughts
The Panthers sure like to make it interesting, huh? Hey, man -- 12 regular-season wins in a row is 12 wins in a row is 12 wins in a row. Not to mention, that was many people's Super Bowl favorite Carolina was pounding in the first half Sunday. The issue, again, was the second half, which featured gassed defenders in the fourth quarter. But how about Devin Funchess? The rookie receiver made an incredible catch, especially considering he was more draped than a '70s playroom with turntables and Pong. Here it is again if you missed it. Thank goodness Packers corner Damarious Randall briefly bobbled his fourth-quarter interception of Cam Newton; otherwise, Randall would've housed it, leaving the Packers just a two-point conversion away from tying it up.
You never want to point the finger at anyone, but ... oh brother, what an ugly finish
in Indy on Sunday. The
Broncos' defense, dominant in every way this season, committed more than a few mental errors. Let's not overreact to the loss, however.
DeMarcus Ware being sidelined in the second half made quite a difference, especially with Denver falling by just three points on the road. If you want to
Peyton Manning not being able to get the ball outside the numbers, feel free. Several throws were lofted out there, becoming what amounted to "50-50 balls." Typically, those occur when you throw it deep and give your receiver a chance --
not when you're tossing 15-yard out routes.
Whatever Mike McCarthy said at halftime, maybe he can double-dip in pregame when the Lions visit on Sunday. Check that -- he should save it for the Vikings on the following Sunday. Before turning it on with 269 yards and 22 points in the second half of the loss to Carolina, Green Bay had produced 273 yards and 17 points in its previous six quarters of play. Of course, all the highlight shows cared about was the Julius Peppers-Ha Ha Clinton-Dix tiff on the sideline, with every sports anchor saying something along the lines of, "There was no ha-ha-ing during that rant ..." Yuk, yuk. Positive note: Nice to see Randall Cobb get back into the end zone.
Spoke to Larry Fitzgerald on "NFL HQ" this past week, and I felt compelled to ask him how Chris Johnson has made such a comeback. (Of course, one could ask Fitz that same question about himself.) Johnson's two fumbles in Week 8 aside, the veteran running back has been brilliant. Would you believe Johnson is third in the NFL with 676 rushing yards? That's 13 more than he had all last season with the New York Jets.
Not sure if you saw Mike Zimmer's press conference after Sunday's win over the Rams, but the Minnesota head coach looked -- to put it mildly -- pissed about Teddy Bridgewater's concussion. In slow motion, the hit by Rams corner Lamarcus Joyner appeared to be a cheap shot. In real time? Bridgewater's slide was a bit tardy, with barely enough time for Joyner to adjust. Close call. The Adrian Peterson- Todd Gurley competition was not as close, at least not statistically. Peterson basically said, "Tap the brakes, young fella; I'm still pretty good," outrushing the rookie, 125 yards to 89, despite facing the best defensive line in pro football. Are Vikings fans thinking wild card or NFC North title right now? (@HarrisonNFL)
Atlanta is at No. 8, only because of the Ben Roethlisberger injury (and the Raiders losing to his replacement, Landry Jones). Still, we saw another brutal performance from the Falcons. Perhaps the biggest mystery in pro football is the erratic play of Matt Ryan. The second-biggest mystery: How does Ryan avoid criticism? His biggest play of the game was a deep ball heaved into double coverage toward Julio Jones at the end of the first half. Ryan's numbers looked OK again (30 of 45 for 303 yards), but the Falcons were 5 for 15 on third down and put just 16 points on the board against a struggling defense -- and those are the figures that count. Especially when the defense provided two takeaways for Ryan and the Atlanta attack.
All eyes are on Ben Roethlisberger, who is set to miss time with a foot sprain, right now. He should be back in time to at least make the wild-card chase interesting. Coolest play of the Steelers' big win over the Raiders on Sunday -- even better than Martavis Bryant's triple-move touchdown or, well, everything Antonio Brown did in his 500-yard game -- had to be DeAngelo Williams' 50-plus-yard jaunt down the left sideline. Forget a piano on his back ... it looked like someone dropped an F-350 Diesel Dually on Williams' back about 40 yards into that scamper. Perhaps even better, the man tasked with running Williams down was 39-year-old Charles Woodson.
Frustrating loss in Pittsburgh, but we got another reminder that this football team -- especially when it comes to quarterback Derek Carr -- is no fluke, given that the Raiders nearly overcame several self-inflicted wounds. Carr lofted a beauty to Michael Crabtree to keep them in it with less than two minutes left. Ultimately, poor technique cost Oakland a 57-yard catch-and-run to Antonio Brown that led to the Steelers' game-winning kick. Of immediate concern is running back Latavius Murray, who left his best game of the season with a possible concussion.
"Chris Ivory is a grown man," said colleague Ike Taylor on "NFL GameDay Blitz." Then, after Ivory's second scoring plunge of the day: "Ivory is a grown man." My kind of analysis. Entertaining contest from the New Meadowlands this past Sunday, with Brandon Marshall making a remarkable catch (with a dash of offensive pass interference) to put the Jets up two scores. Unlike in Gang Green's recent West Coast debacle, the defense stepped up and made plays when New York needed them. Here's looking at you, Calvin Pace and Marcus Williams. #5-3
Wild game in Dallas, with the payoff being that the Eagles are right there with the Giants in the NFC East race. New York is up in the standings with a 5-4 record, but the Giants are also one of the few teams in the NFL to not have had a bye yet. Philly is 4-4 and has the current head-to-head advantage over Big Blue, via a Monday night win over the Giants a few weeks back. I was going to drop another sweet line here, but figured the Eagles' receivers are better at dropping things than me. #poorSam
Big Blue stays ahead of the pack in the NFC East race. While simple logic states the Eagles' win in Big D was not a wonderful development, careful reasoning says it was. If the Cowboys had won, they would have been 1.5 games back, with Tony Romo returning in a couple of weeks. Sam Bradford played well for the Eagles on Sunday night, but both teams being healthy, Dallas is the better ballclub. Big Blue, with Jason Pierre-Paul back and another meeting with Philly on the schedule (in New Jersey), is on track to win the division.
For all the doom and gloom that surrounds the Seahawks, it's important to remember they're 4-4. This team is certainly capable of mounting a run, considering the talent on defense and Marshawn Lynch's propensity for going off. Seattle is still two games back of NFC West-leading Arizona. The Cardinals and Seahawks also have two games against each other remaining. That division should get interesting before this deal is over.
Weighty win for the Bills, who were happy to get back not just their quarterback but their running game, as well ... at least temporarily. LeSean McCoy looked explosive before departing with a shoulder injury. Karlos Williams also returned to the fold and did his part, rambling for a long touchdown. From any perspective, this was a huge outcome for Buffalo, which, at 4-4, now finds itself right back in the thick of the AFC wild-card race.
Tough road loss in Minnesota, representing a large missed opportunity for St. Louis on multiple fronts. There was the fourth-quarter missed field-goal attempt by Legatron. The defense couldn't stop the Vikings' Shaun Hill-led offense in overtime. Most importantly, the Rams suffered a conference defeat as they head toward what should be a fierce competition for an NFC wild-card spot. Of course, the NFC West is not out of the question, especially if the Rams can down the Cardinals in St. Louis next month.
Very winnable home game turns into a devastating loss for the Saints' postseason aspirations. What once was a formidable home-field advantage -- perhaps second only to Seattle's -- is at best not what it once was. The Saints have dropped seven of their last 10 games in the Superdome, with one of the wins coming in OT against the Brandon Weeden-led Cowboys. Over the last two weeks, visiting teams have scored 83 points. Drew Brees' arm might fall off if he stays in this rat race.
Respect the Horseshoe. On a night
Colts faithful were supposed to be respectful to
an all-time record going down at
their place by one of
their former players -- representing an undefeated visiting team, no less --
Indy beat the Broncos at their own game. The
Colts ran the football and played defense, forcing two key takeaways. Perhaps the rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated. But come on,
why punt that ball to Omar Bolden? #footballnitpick
UPDATE: These rankings were compiled before the Colts announced Tuesday that Andrew Luck will miss two to six weeks with a lacerated kidney and a partial tear of an abdominal muscle.
Campbellmania (trapsmania?) has slowed to a shrug. The once-mighty Dolphins -- well, the two-game-win-streak Fins -- have now lost consecutive contests by a combined score of 69-24. Ndamukong Suh has 22 tackles and three sacks. The defense is on pace to allow 412 points, which would be the highest total since the halcyon days of Cam Cameron, Cleo Lemon and Channing Crowder.
On the set of NFL Now's "GameDay Blitz," I queried to the other guys, "How bad was Kirk Cousins today?" Apparently, real bad. (I didn't get to see much of the game, thankfully.) Wonder if Washington's receivers thought about catching some of those passes. Nobody likes that. At least the run game made up for it by racking up 37 whole yards. #httr
The Buccaneers got off to a fast start Sunday with another takeaway (the first sign of Lovie ball). Yet, this game got away from Smith's young squad, particularly on third down, where the Giants notched several big conversions. The G-Men also benefited greatly from a number of key Bucs penalties -- and were the recipients of three Tampa fumbles. At least Jameis Winston's postgame getup was for real. He looked like one of Marvin Berry's bandmates at the "Enchantment Under the Sea" dance.
Jordan Hicks must hate the
he hurts Tony Romo. Then
his pick-six completely changes the complexion of the game Sunday night, forcing the
Cowboys to play from behind. (Hicks, though, is now done for the season,
having suffered a torn pectoral muscle. Tough break for football fans. The rook sure went out in a blaze of glory on Sunday night. Just ask
While health clearly is an issue in Big D, the team's stunning inability to force turnovers cannot be overlooked. Tony Romo or no Tony Romo, no NFL team can win consistently with four takeaways in eight games.
Monday night marked the fifth game in a row where Jay Cutler balled in the fourth quarter, making clutch throws when his team needed them. And this time, Jeremy Langford played up to the moment, too. Not to quibble, but wondering if Cutler could have taken something off that Nolan Ryan fastball to Zach Miller. Dude stabbed it out of the air like Mike Stanley or (insert any early-'90s spare Rangers catcher here. Geno Petralli?). What a game for the Bears, who have patched together three wins in their past five outings. Sid Luckman is smiling from somewhere in that big NFL title game up in the sky -- where the score is always 73-nothing, good guys.
Don't look now, but the Chiefs are in the playoff hunt, sitting at 3-5 and carrying a two-game win streak out of the bye. Sure, the club is without its best player, but if the defense stays hot and the offense fares as it did overseas, maybe Kansas City can make some noise down the stretch. A big key to that potential development: How much balance can Charcandrick West provide to the offense in Jamaal Charles' stead as the weather turns?
Sweet revenge for Blaine Gabbert. Not on the Falcons, mind you, but rather all the naysayers who felt his career as a starter was over after one stop. Never mind that Gabbert's first stop has been a last stop for a lot of young players. (Thank you, Jaguars.) Gabbert made several big throws Sunday, including a beautiful ball on an interception. Jerome Simpson apparently decided to catch that gem with his shoulder pads. Not a great plan. On another note, who does Blaine Gabbert look like to you?
Another loss, another frustrating week for Browns fans. While Johnny Manziel showed signs of development in the first half last Thursday night, the second-half regression exemplified typical Brownies football. (Coming at you again since 1999!) Cleveland went three-and-out on its first four drives after the break. It wasn't all Manziel's fault, as two balls went off guys' helmets (how does that happen? prime-time glare?) and another off a knee (how does a guy let a ball carom off his knee before getting his hands on it?). So I guess what we're saying is that the Browns at least find entertaining ways to drop footballs.
The Ravens finally earned themselves a little momentum with the win over San Diego, and then got to capitalize on it by ... drum roll ... having a bye. Oh boy. Could Baltimore still have hopes for a wild card? Believe it or not, yes. The Jets and Steelers own the two wild-card spots for now, and Baltimore has a win over the latter team. Anything is possible. Though having Steve Smith Sr. in the lineup sure would help. #captainobvious
Hard to believe, but at 3-5, the Texans are alive and well in the division race. (AFC South, you're ... something.) Improved play from Brian Hoyer and the defense are both hugely important going forward. The latter was supposed to be the strength of this team, but Houston has allowed the most quick-strike drives (fewer than four plays) in the league, while being the weakest red-zone defense in the AFC. The pieces are still there on that side of the ball.
Marcus Mariota, take a freaking bow, man. Related question: Where are all those skeptical draftniks, analysts and 14-year-old draft nerds who read Draft Insider's Digest 146 times between games of "Star Wars Battlefront III"? (Actually, SWBIII doesn't come out until Nov. 17.) The rookie from Oregon hasn't exactly set the NFL ablaze on a weekly basis, yet he has outperformed Jameis Winston to this point -- recording his second four-touchdown game of his first six starts on Sunday. Props to Delanie Walker, as well, who had himself a day in New Orleans -- including this double-tapped, gift-wrapped touchdown, courtesy of that menacing Saints secondary.
"I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help I get no help."
-- Philip Rivers, either in third grade or early Tuesday morning.
Another volume game from Blake Bortles: 381 yards and two scores. But once again, the second-year pro forced a ball that should not have been thrown. This time, at the end of the game, with enough time remaining for Jacksonville to live to play another down and make a run at the Jets. Meanwhile, the Allens are almost inseparable: 121 yards for Robinson and 122 from Hurns on Sunday. Not sure there is a more consistent WR pair in the league right now.
It was a bye week for the Lions, which means extended time to sit and reflect on what went so wrong in London (or the whole season, for that matter). We've already seen massive changes in the coaching staff and front office. Now there are reports that the team could release Matthew Stafford at the conclusion of the season. From 41 touchdown passes in 2011 to this. It's hard to fathom. Then again, it's harder to fathom a guy playing below sea level averaging over $15 million in annual income.
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.