Deja Vu All Over Again
No, you did not fall into your hot tub and, no, this is not 2011: the Giants and Cowboys are making things interesting in the NFC East again. Dallas, winners of one straight, are getting some help from the Giants, losers of two straight early November games for the second year in a row.
Last season, the Giants raced out to 6-2 and proceeded to lose four games in a row, hitting .500. At the same time, the Cowboys won four straight games. And before we knew it, Dallas had a shot to finish off the Cardinals and bury the Giants the next week in a Week 14 home game. One icing of his own kicker later, Jason Garrett's squad found themselves tied for the division lead instead. And before anyone knew it, the season unraveled for Dallas.
All of that's a long way of saying don't count the Cowboys out quite yet. There's a school of thought that Eli Manning might be dealing with a dead arm, even though he's denying it, and his struggles are contributing directly to the Giants' November skid. Eli hasn't thrown a passing touchdown since Week 7. In his last three games, he has thrown for 532 yards combined.
The Cowboys will play the Browns in Week 11 and then get the Redskins on Thanksgiving before the Giants next game on Nov. 25 against the Packers. If Dallas wins both and moves to 6-5, Eli and Co. will be staring at an NFC East tie before they even kick off their next game. It's asking a lot of the Cowboys to win two clutch games, and losing to Cleveland would be bad-bad-bad for Garrett's future.
But this race looked over when the Giants held off the Cowboys' furious comeback a few weeks ago. Somehow, Dallas isn't dead. Not even close. The NFL is fun like that sometimes.
Burden of Expectations
If the Vikings, Buccaneers or Seahawks miss the playoffs this season -- and at least one and perhaps two of them likely will -- no one's going to be angry. I mean, fans of those teams won't be happy, but falling just short of the postseason is a borderline accomplishment relative to what we expected from those teams. Sitting at home in January won't get Leslie Frazier, Greg Schiano or Pete Carroll fired.
On the other hand, if they'd been chosen as heavy playoff sleepers before the year, those coaches might be in trouble. Just ask Chan Gailey or Ron Rivera, whose respective Bills and Panthers teams continue floundering despite the preconceived notion they'd succeed this season.
There are plenty of other examples: Andy Reid's Eagles are the classic case; the 2011 "Dream Team" gave way to 2012's "9-7 or Bust" unit that has been unfathomably more depressing for any number of reasons.
And, of course, there's Rex Ryan, the ringmaster of the NFL's most bizarre circus. Ryan hypes his team up for a big season every year. When the Jets come close to delivering, he looks tough and brash. When they melt down and end up at 3-6 and look awful on both sides of the ball, Ryan looks like a blowhard.
That's how expectations work. Oftentimes, there's nothing a coach or team can do in order to prevent them from building up: Cam Newton's rookie success and the Bills' big offseason was going to create hype no matter what. Same with the Eagles, although it's a little more self-inflicted in that case.
The point being is this: You don't want to tell people not to trust your team or make your players think your squad stinks. But if someone tries to pump you up before the season starts, kindly remind them the football is played in the fall, on the field.
How QB Concussions Will Affect the Playoff Race
A trio of quarterbacks suffered concussions on Sunday afternoon, with Alex Smith, Jay Cutler and Michael Vick all missing extended time. We've discussed the backup outlook for these teams elsewhere, but you know what's real interesting about this? San Francisco and Chicago play on Monday night in Week 11.
That means the No. 2 seed in the NFC might hinge on who's better between Colin Kaepernick and Jason Campbell. That's a terrifying thought for both teams, obviously, but I think it's less terrifying for the 49ers.
Jim Harbaugh's team is more run dependent, doesn't lean on one wideout (Brandon Marshall) to push the offense and suffers a much smaller dropoff from Smith than the Bears do with Cutler.
That's mainly because Cutler's better than Smith, but also because Kaepernick's more dynamic than Campbell, who's stock is reduced because of the turnstile offensive line that he works behind. San Francisco fans should be licking their chops even if their starting quarterback is out.
Bears fans ought to know all too well how badly they need Cutler back. Campbell was signed this offseason after the Caleb Hanie Experiment went belly up down the stretch. Chicago's 7-2 and in good shape for the postseason. But at San Francisco, Minnesota, Seattle, at Minnesota, Green Bay is a five-game stretch that doesn't guarantee anything. Remember, it was just under a year ago when Cutler went down and the Bears' battleship fell into a pit of quicksand. Different injuries, a better defense and Matt Forte should keep them afloat, but it warrants watching, especially with the first test on Monday against another team facing the same issue.
Joe Philbin Doesn't Beat Around the Bush
Reggie Bush found the bench for the Dolphins during an embarrassing blowout at home on Sunday. The running back fumbled just four carries into the game, handed the Titans good field position and Joe Philbin parked him on the pine.
Bush apologized later:
I have to apologize to Dolphin Nation my performance these past few weeks has been poor & I'm embarrassed right now! You guys deserve better— Reggie Bush (@reggie_bush) November 11, 2012
That's a good thing. But a report from CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora from earlier Sunday got me thinking about this: Why would the Dolphins keep maxing out Bush for the rest of the season if he's going to bounce after this year, anyway?
They obviously want to win games. Few teams in the AFC are playing for 2013 yet. But if I'm Miami, I want to see what I've got in Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller. I don't want to waste a bunch of carries from Bush and pile up wear-and-tear on the younger guys, but I want to see if those two can carry an offense. Heck, I might limit the number of carries for Bush to suppress his market value, anyway.
Or maybe the Dolphins will keep feeding him. Just because something happens a certain way doesn't mean it makes sense. But it warrants watching how many carries the Dolphins give Bush down the stretch, particularly if they're eliminated from playoff contention.
Wanna know how hot things are getting in San Diego? Straight-up sticky, y'all. How do we know this? Because Norv Turner, one of the calmest guys in football, went nuts during his postgame press conference.
Well, nuts might not be an ... acceptable description. But he still lost his cool at a reporter when asked if he was OK with what was happening on the field as the Chargers continue to spiral.
"What do you think? What do you think the answer to that question is? Answer it for me. Is it acceptable? No it's not acceptable," Turner ranted. "Is it acceptable having a blocked punt and an interception return for a touchdown? No. OK. That's not what we're trying to accomplish out there. We're trying to go win games. And those things are keeping us from winning them. No, it's not acceptable. It's not acceptable to play hard and not win. But that's what happens."
The good news for Turner is that "acceptable" might just equate to "the playoffs," provided the Chargers don't sneak into the postseason with a losing record and get embarrassingly bounced from there. They're on deck for a wild-card spot at the moment, despite their 4-5 record. Pittsburgh's likely to put some distance between them with a win over Kansas City on Monday night, but there's lots of football to be played and San Diego needs to just make up two games in either the division or the overall AFC standings.
It's still a long shot: Remember how I said to chill on their victory over the Chiefs? That still looks like sage advice. A string of four tough games coming up will let us know if they can even compete for a postseason longshot, and I can't completely bury them while talking about their NFC doppleganger, the Cowboys, having a chance. But there's a reason that Turner's shouting in San Diego, and it's not related to him feeling comfortable about his job.
John Fox Rubs It In
Before his return to Carolina, John Fox downplayed what this game meant to him. OK, sure, coach. Then why were you chunking the ball deep with five minutes remaining in the game while holding onto a 15-point lead?
Fox admitted afterward that this game was a little bigger for him than he might have let on.
"This game is fun when you win, anytime you get a victory on the road," Fox said. "I think the guys kind of knew what this was going to be like for me, and it was very generous of them."
The irony of a guy who doesn't care for the passing game running up the score on his old boss shouldn't be lost on the folks who watched the Panthers on Sunday. And the way the Broncos piled on -- with Von Miller, who was outstanding on defense, mocking Cam Newton's Superman celebration -- is a little funny.
But there's nothing humorous at all -- at least for Ron Rivera -- about Fox's decision to pile on and what it could mean for Rivera's future in Carolina. There's no intermediary between Jerry Richardson and Rivera now, and it's possible the owner might want to wait for a new GM to do the hiring and firing. But it's also possible that he's seeing red after watching his old coach dismantle his current one. At the very least, things are only getting more tenuous for Rivera in Charlotte, and his predecessor rubbing it in probably didn't help too much.
GIF O' THE WEEK