Somehow, the 2014 NFL season has already reached the double-digit mark in terms of weeks, so before the tenth round of games, here’s a check in of how all of the divisions are looking:
NFC North 1. Detroit 6-2; 2. Green Bay 5-3; 3. Minnesota 4-5; 4. Chicago 3-5
This division looks like it will be a straight race between the Lions and Packers, with both sides potentially making the playoffs as whoever comes second will have a good chance of taking a wild card spot. Green Bay might have the advantage because of their remaining schedule, only the home contests against the Patriots on November 30th, and the potential division deciding matchup with the Lions in Week 17 look like particularly tough games. There is a good chance they could run the slate and end up 13-3. Last weekend, only the Vikings were active as the other three were on their bye weeks and Minnesota sneaked past Washington, 29-26.
NFC East 1. Philadelphia 6-2; 2. Dallas 6-3; 3. NY Giants 3-5; 4. Washington 3-6
Of the four NFC East teams, only the Giants have managed to keep their starting quarterback on the field for the opening 9 weeks of the season, unfortunately for them, Eli Manning has not been showing anything like the form he showed in 2007 and 2011. It does beg the question, should he be considered an elite quarterback? How come nobody has ever discussed this? Also, I think concussions might be an issue in the NFL…
The Eagles managed to win in Week 9 despite losing Nick Foles early on against the Texans, with former Jets QB Mark Sanchez guiding Philadelphia to a 31-21 victory in Houston. Washington looked nowhere near as good as they had when they beat Dallas in their defeat to the Vikings, especially on defense where they were lucky that Teddy Bridgewater missed a couple of wide open guys or they would’ve given up even more than 29 points. Meanwhile the Cowboys, who many were penciling into February’s Super Bowl if not at least the playoffs, lost Tony Romo and two games within the space of six days and may be forced to start Brandon Wheeden again this Sunday against Jacksonville in London. The one-time veteran-rookie was not good enough to beat the Cardinals last week and if he is Dallas’ quarterback against the Jaguars, victory is far from assured for the Cowboys.
NFC South 1. New Orleans 4-4; 2. Carolina 3-5; 3. Atlanta 2-6; 4. Tampa Bay 1-7
Suddenly, a year on from two teams finishing with 11+ wins, the NFC South has become one of the worst teams in football. The fact that the Buccaneers and Falcons suck is not really too much of a surprise, the Panthers were expected to regress somewhat after their stellar 2013, but the Saints have been appalling this year up until the last two weeks. Of course, it had to be the Packers defense that would help kickstart the Saints’ offense, but more significantly for New Orleans, they managed to get their first road win of the season last Thursday night against the Panthers, giving them the edge in the race for the division title.
NFC West 1. Arizona 7-1; 2. Seattle 5-3; 3. San Francisco 4-4; 4. St. Louis 3-5
Widely considered to be the strongest division heading into this season, the NFC West has flattered to deceive in 2014, with only the Cardinals performing particularly well to this point. Outside of their wins over the Packers and Broncos, the Seahawks have looked a shadow of the team that won the Super Bowl 9 months ago and have struggled to victories over Carolina and Oakland in the last two weeks. The 49ers do not yet look comfortable in their new home stadium and that is clearly costing them, while the Rams victories over Seattle (at home) and in San Francisco are their only two good performances this year, with their sole other win being a 19-17 edging of the 1-7 Buccaneers. Bizarrely, the team that’s first choice quarterback in Carson Palmer – and who have had to play two other guys in that position already this season – have been the most reliable in the NFC West, as the Cardinals have ridden a strong defense to be the only team in the NFL that has not lost at least two games. However, after they host the Rams this Sunday, their easiest game in the final seven weeks looks to be their trip to Atlanta – I think there is a strong chance Arizona will miss out on the playoffs, despite their great position at this point.
AFC North 1. Cincinnati 5-2-1; 2. Pittsburgh 6-3; 3. Cleveland 5-3; 4. Baltimore 5-4
The only division in the league that has all four teams with a winning record and the team that just a couple of weeks ago looked like the favorites to win the AFC North – the Ravens – currently sit at the bottom of the pile. It has been quite a renaissance for the Steelers since they trailed the Texans 13-0 heading into the final three minutes of the first half in week 7 – they have scored 124 points since then with Ben Roethlisberger throwing an incredible 12 touchdowns with no interceptions in their last two contests. The Bengals looked like their campaign was going to fade away, but they have rebounded to beat the Ravens and Jaguars in the last two weeks and have the opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the division when they play the Browns on Thursday night. Cleveland has a good record, but in the last three weeks they have labored to victories over the Buccaneers and Raiders, plus gave the Jaguars their first win of the campaign.
AFC East 1. New England 7-2; 2. Buffalo/Miami 5-3; 4. NY Jets 1-8
Curses on all of those who thought the Patriots were finished after their week 5 annihilation by the Chiefs…which unfortunately includes me (luckily I do not believe in curses though). Last weekend, the Patriots demolished Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos to establish their credentials as one of the best teams in the league, with Tom Brady having played absolutely fantastically over the last five weeks. To play devil’s advocate however, that victory over the Broncos came in the third game of three consecutive home fixtures – a huge advantage to the Patriots – and their upcoming run is far from as friendly. Next up is a trip to Indianapolis, then home for Detroit before back-to-back road games in Green Bay and San Diego – they’ll be 9-4 heading into their final three games I think. Between the Dolphins and Bills, Miami look the most likely to challenge for the division title, or at least be a contender to take on of the wild card spots. Buffalo had their bye last week, but the Dolphins had an impressive 37-0 victory over the Chargers. As for the Jets, well they won their first game and took an early lead against the Packers in Week 2…
AFC South 1. Indianapolis 6-3; 2. Houston 4-5; 3. Tennessee 2-6; 3. Jacksonville
There is exactly one good team in this division, again. It is the Colts, again. Pittsburgh, New England and Denver all have offenses that have been hailed for the number of points they have been putting up, but it is Indianapolis that leads the lead in scoring through 9 weeks. The other three teams are not even worth talking about, so I won’t.
AFC West 1. Denver 6-2; 2. Kansas City 5-3; 3. San Diego 5-4; 4. Oakland 0-8
Peyton Manning has been setting all kinds of records this season, but in their two toughest match ups so far, his Denver team have come up short against the Seahawks and Patriots. I would bet against the Broncos winning the Super Bowl next February, but in the regular season, Peyton can get it done and the Broncos should coast to another division title. Somewhat surprisingly, the team behind them that could grab the wild card might once again be the Chiefs, who have shrugged off talk of regression to record an impressive start to 2014. The Chargers started strongly, but they have been hit by injuries and their offensive line has not been providing Phillip Rivers with any sort of protection, leading them to a three game losing streak. Still, things could be worse, they could be the Raiders. At least Derek Carr looks like a promising quarterback for the future – Los Angeles fans will enjoy rooting for him in the coming years.
Week 10 Picks
Last week, 6-7 (First losing week of the year!); Season, 72-62
Home teams in bold
Bengals -6.5 over Browns
Falcons -0.5 over Buccaneers (Does Vegas know Atlanta beat Tampa Bay by 42 points just seven weeks ago?)
Bills +1.5 over Chiefs
Jaguars +7.5 over Cowboys (in London)
Dolphins +2.5 over Lions
Ravens -9.5 over Titans
49ers +4.5 over Saints
Steelers +4.5 over Jets
Raiders +11.5 over Broncos
Rams +7.5 over Cardinals (Upset special: St. Louis 20, Arizona 13)
Seahawks -9.5 over Giants
Packers -7.5 over Bears
Panthers +6.5 over Eagles