We've now hit the halfway mark of the 2010-11 NFL season, and every team has played at least 8 games. There are a couple that have played nine, but for all intents and purposes, we're halfway to the playoffs. I figured that by now, the good teams would be firmly separated from the not-so-good (and the downright putrid), but wouldn't you know it? I'm just not that lucky. What we have is a glut of 6-2 teams, with some 5-win teams thrown in for good measure. Parity/mediocrity reigning supreme? Or is everyone vulnerable at a certain point in time? Honestly, I think it's a little of both; everyone is capable (almost) and everyone is vulnerable to at least one bad loss. Let's go!
1.) Pittsburgh (6-2) [+2]
After nearly hurtling their way out of the Rankings (but being very lucky by retaining a 5-2 record and thus not moving at all), the Steelers took on a game Cincinnati team and got pushed fairly hard. They went up 27-7 on the Bengals and then mysteriously let up two TD's to get to the final margin of 27-21. Of course, the Steelers' defense stepped up when absolutely necessary, preventing the game-tying TD (whose extra point would have made it 28-27, actually). A solid effort, but the defense giving up scores late has to be too reminiscent of last season's rather epic collapses for Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau to tolerate. Their two losses were to Baltimore and New Orleans (home and road, respectively).
2.) Baltimore (6-2) [+3]
An impressive effort against the "road warrior" Dolphins vaults the Ravens to the 2-spot this week. They pretty much dominated that game, even if they had more FG's than TD's. I moved them ahead of the Jets based on that performance, as well as the Jets going into OT against the Lions, of all teams. Their two losses were to Cincinnati and New England (both road games; NE in OT). After seeing Cincinnati play the last few weeks, that loss must sting somewhat.
3.) NY Jets (6-2) [+1]
A slight upswing for the Jets with the win. But seriously, going to OT against the Lions? No, really, seriously? That's ridiculous. So the Jets are no longer the best team in the NFL, but they are definitely in the mix. Right now, today, the two teams above them look better. All three teams should be tough outs in the playoffs, of course. The Jets' two losses were to Baltimore and Green Bay (both at home). However, they've won all three division games they've played.
4.) Atlanta (6-2) [+2]
It looked like a good game against Tampa Bay, and the result seems to show that. But the Falcons proved they are the better team, and in my mind the best team in the NFC. I have the Falcons above the Giants because they play in a better division, and they have a better record against the AFC than the Giants. Of course, they also have a better QB/RB tandem. And better receivers. The Falcons' two losses were at Pittsburgh and at Philadelphia. So if they can stay out of the state of Pennsylvania for the rest of the season, there should be no problem, right? Tough matchup against Baltimore this Thursday, even if it's at home. It should be quite telling. Coming out of that game 7-2 (and 3-1 against the AFC) should cement them as the best team in the NFC unanimously.
5.) NY Giants (6-2) [+2]
What else can I say but "beatdown"? There are no words for that demolition that the Giants put on Seattle. With their fifth win in a row, they are looking pretty solid in the NFC. Are they the best? Not yet. There is very little margin of error, though. So this time next week, the Giants could find themselves moving up. Their record against the AFC is still terrible, and I'll be wondering how they can compete with the better conference up until the Super Bowl (assuming they get there). Their two losses were at Indianapolis and against Tennessee. Both were bad losses, too. But right now, the Giants are on the up-and-up, with only Philadelphia as a legitimate threat in the division.
6.) New England (6-2) [-5]
What happens when a great team loses? They take a tumble, just like anybody else. The Patriots looked terrible against Cleveland, and I wonder if it was as close as the score indicated. Maybe not. Still, the Patriots have been one of the better teams in the league this season, and if they had pulled that one out, they would have been the unanimous best team in the league for a second week. So what did they do? They went out and lost a trap game. I'm not sure it was a "trap" in the usual sense. Cleveland has a heck of a QB/RB tandem and their defense is for real. Just ask New Orleans. The Patriots two losses were at the NY Jets and the other day at Cleveland. Also not a good indicator of future performance. Their schedule tightens up considerably now; they go to Pittsburgh next Sunday Night before taking on Indianapolis and then at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. Tough sledding.
7.) Green Bay (6-3) [+3]
Speaking of beatdowns, the Packers absolutely stunned the Cowboys on Sunday Night. Well, stunned, then KO'd, then flatlined. It was ugly. Luckily, they get a reward by having their bye in Week 10. Finally. The two weeks after the bye are at Minnesota and at Atlanta, so the schedule doesn't really get easier. It would say a lot if the Packers won both of those games.
8.) Indianapolis (5-3) [-6]
The biggest fall of the week goes to the Colts, who lost on the road to Philadelphia. Not a terrible loss, by any means, but they certainly could have won. And now that they're 5-3, they've got issues. Now the AFC South is looking like a dogfight again, with all four teams separated by a game. Luckily, three of their last four are against division rivals. I guess that means no coasting at the end of the season, unlike last year.
9.) New Orleans (6-3) [-]
Finally, the defending champs showed like they should have been all season. It was a resounding beatdown of Carolina. Their schedule is getting somewhat easier, with the only true challenges being at Baltimore and at Atlanta in December. 11-5 is not out of the question, and with a win at either of those they could be 12-4 and poised for another playoff run. Hard to believe, in a way.
10.) Philadelphia (5-3)
Michael Vick returned to the lineup, and the Eagles responded by beating the Colts narrowly. It really was a great game on both sides, and Vick showed why he was considered an MVP candidate before he went down with the rib injury against the Redskins. With Vick back in the fold now, the Eagles have to be considered contenders in the NFC. Especially if the Giants or Falcons show any sign of slippage in the next couple of weeks. They still have to play the Giants and Cowboys twice, as well. So it's safe to say that we will find out just how good this Eagles team is.
Thanks for reading. See you next week.