Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 7: NFC head and shoulders above AFC
The NFC sure looks substantially better than the AFC seven weeks into the 2012 NFL season. Will Brinson breaks down that that differences and all the other big storylines from the week in Sorting the Sunday Pile.
Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Listen to the Pick-Six Podcast below and go ahead and subscribe via iTunes.
NFC > AFC
With only two games in the afternoon slot to see, something became abundantly clear on Sunday afternoon, as the Patriots struggled to put away the Jets: the AFC is vastly inferior to the NFC in 2012.
You might've had this hunch as well, but the math actually bears it out: the NFC is 19-9 in inter-conference games this season, good for a 67.9 winning percentage. That's not a lock-job formula for figuring out which conference is better, of course. After all, the Seahawks snuck by the Patriots, while the Raiders were nipped in Atlanta. But it's a nice barometer.
I think the case for conference superiority becomes much clearer when you start to look at the playoff picture in the AFC. For instance, check out this scorcher of a wild-card battle going on right now:
Yes, the Chargers are currently in the playoffs and, yes, that whole slog of terrible teams are very much staring down a shot at the postseason. The Bills are one stop of Matt Hasselbeck away from leading their division and being slotted for a wild-card spot at this point in the season. The Bills!
In the NFC, we have eight teams with a winning record. The AFC is sporting just two teams with records above .500. Coincidentally the two teams in question squared off on Sunday, with the Texans pummeling the Ravens (more on that in a minute). It was a dominant performance by Houston, but came just a week after Gary Kubiak's squad was embarrassed at home by the Packers on national television.
Houston's a cut above, too. Then there's the Ravens, Patriots and Broncos who round out the strong teams in the AFC and ... that's really it. Some of teams you see above are dangerous, but none of them really scare.
By contrast, the Redskins, Lions, Saints, Buccaneers and Panthers comprise the basement of the NFC. Not great teams, and all units that are fatally flawed. But they're certainly more dangerous than a few of teams listed above. Top to bottom, the NFC is just better.
The Ravens Are in Trouble
Part of the reason for the NFC's dominance is a lack of clear title contenders in the AFC. Baltimore sure looked like one early in the year, but they've fallen apart on defense. Pete Prisco penned a great column about the Ravens defensive struggles and their changing identity over the past year or so, and it echoes something I've said for a few weeks: the AFC North is a defensive disaster.
There's no bigger nightmare than in Baltimore though, where the Ravens can't stop anyone. At all. Terrell Suggs is an amazing story. To recover from an offseason Achilles injury and pick up a sack in Week 7 is nuts. But he's not saving this defense.
And therein lies the problem, because for the Ravens to succeed this season, they're going to need the offense to shoulder the load. That's all good and well if Good Joe Flacco shows up every week, but Good Joe Flacco is not an every week type of dude. Sometimes he's around, sometimes he's not. It's not always on Flacco personally as to whether he succeeds -- the playcalling is often questionable and the offensive line frequently struggles.
That was the case on Sunday, in yet another example of the Ravens offense not showing up on the road. Flacco's considerably better at home than he is on the road over the course of his career, and with five road games remaining after the Ravens Week 8 bye, they have to be worried, especially as the defense continues to crumble.
The Change Carolina Needs Is Cam's Attitude
The notion that Newton's off-field and/or press-conference attitude should impact the type of player he is gets too much attention, as does Cam's sideline "antics."
"Whether it's me, I don't know. Whether it's the coordinator, I don't know. Whether it's the players overall, I don't know," Newton said. "(But) we got to change that man."
"Everybody has to do better, including myself, and take accountability. The past couple of games it's been the same script by the same director and it's kind of been boring. It's always coming down to the end and we have our opportunity to score points and finish them ... There's no fingers to point. I think you can go around the locker room and expect more out of each person, number by number, including myself."
Newton wasn't described so much as "pouty" this time at the podium, as he was "grumpy." But it's all the same thing. He rolled his eyes. He slouched. His body language was terrible. In general, he looked like a 16-year-old kid who was getting a lecture from his parents.
No one likes losing and the Panthers are doing a lot of it these days. Cam's body language at post-game press conferences won't change the outcome of the game. But it will change the way people focus on the games following a loss.
Packers Heating Up
I mentioned it at the outset of the team-by-team grades (go read!), but I think it warrants mentioning again here: Aaron Rodgers should be starting to scare people. If the season ended today, the 4-3* Packers would make the playoffs as a wild card and I'd happily load some cash on them to win it all.
That's because Rodgers, over the past two weeks, has been untouchable. He's got nine passing touchdowns, 680 passing yards, and he's completed 73 percent of his passes. He looks like the Rodgers that eviscerated defenses during the majority of the 2011 season and that's a terrifying thought. Rodgers is developing a great rapport with Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson's playing like a No. 1 wideout. This is a scary team right now. Be warned.
Why Can't the Patriots Close?
Tom Brady: Put. That. Coffee. Down. (NSFW language warning.) Because you, sir, are not closing. For whatever reason, the Patriots haven't had a killer instinct late in games this year.
They let the Ravens get back in it, they couldn't finish off Arizona, Seattle (and a rookie quarterback) marched down the field on them, and Brady and the Pats offense couldn't stomp on the Jets throat Sunday.
It's tough to win in the NFL and it's tougher to stave off comebacks because of easier passing rules. But it's beyond terrifying if you're a Patriots fan to watch the way they operate late in games, because they're simply not finishing opponents off the way you'd expect.
Robert Griffin III Is Amazing
Rinse, repeat and wash. Or something. The Redskins lost on Sunday to the Giants, but, um, whatever, because RG3 just continues to do things that are beyond ridiculous. Last week it was his burner of a run down the sideline to beat the Vikings.
This week? His escapability on 4th-and-10 late in the game
The only thing better is the response from the Giants' defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, following RG3's run (2:30 mark).
If you're a fan of a football, it's going to be tough to hate the Redskins moving forward, based solely on Griffin's talent. On the other hand, if you're a fan of a specific football team, you should hate the Redskins simply because Griffin isn't on your team.
Jets Aren't Dead Yet
Mentioned this last week, but the Jets aren't finished and not by a long shot. If the Jets were cashed out, the Patriots would've destroyed them. Instead, they kept things close and nearly upended New England.
Calvin Pace told the NFL Network it was the "best collective effort" from the Jets since he's been there.
The reality is that New York doesn't have enough talent to make a deep run this year. They simply don't have enough talent on defense to cover up for the extreme lack of talent on defense.
But the Jets are going to keep things close in most weeks and probably pull off an upset in a few games. Then look at their final five games -- Arizona, Jacksonville, Tennessee, San Diego, Buffalo -- and tell my they can't get to eight wins at some point. They can.
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