The AFC North and NFC East are, historically speaking, two of the strongest divisions the NFL has to offer. Chalk full of Super Bowls, Hall-of-Famers and the like, a spade is a spade – the two haven’t looked this top-to-bottom mediocre in years.
The Ravens and Steelers are proof. Both lost Sunday, to Cleveland and New England respectively, continuing downward trends for the historic teams. Between Baltimore’s valiant (but, so far, unrewarding) attempt at retooling a Super Bowl defense missing four impact starters and Pittsburgh’s rather abrupt plummet, it makes sense that Cincinnati and Cleveland are sitting one and two at the top of the division.
But let’s not kid ourselves: Andy Dalton, despite a solid recent stretch, still has work to do to inspire much confidence (Thursday’s game against Miami acting as prime evidence), and losing Geno Atkins casts a shade of doubt over the team’s incredible defense. Meanwhile, what the hell are the Browns? Are they actually a solid team so long as they use quarterbacks who aren’t named Brandon Weeden? Or are they going to go full “Factory Of Sadness” as the season ends?
Similarly to the AFC North, the NFC East is proving difficult to figure out; so much mediocrity is there to sift through. Dallas is leading the division, but haven’t we seen this show before? A last-minute victory over Minnesota is all well and good, but some serious demons have to be exercised before we crown Dallas the outright favorites to win the division (like throwing the ball 51 times and running it nine).
Which means that…the Redskins – who, thanks to a constantly improving RGIII, defeated the Chargers in overtime – are going to reap the benefits, terrible pass defense and all? Or maybe the Eagles, capable of dropping but a single touchdown on the Giants a week before Nick Foles tied the NFL record for touchdown throws can overcome their own inconsistencies to rally (a handful of those touchdown went to Oakland favorite, Riley Cooper).
Both historic divisions have had their close finishes over the years, and 2013 should hold steady with that trend. But, while past seasons have played out like epic, titanic clashes, this year’s rendition is going to be all about which teams can do the best job at hiding their warts. We’re in for a great time.
— The scariest moment of the weekend occurred when Texans head coach Gary Kubiak collapsed heading to the locker room for halftime. Houston never looked he same, which sucks because Case Keenum and Andre Johnson had the offense purring like a kitten in the first half. Behind three timely field goal misses from Randy Bullock, Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton were able to orchestrate yet another fourth quarter Colts comeback 27-24.
— Speaking of Kubiak, Broncos head coach John Fox had his own heart scare. While playing golf in Charlotte during Denver’s bye week, Fox had to be taken to the hospital and will have heart valve surgery which is expected to have him out “several weeks.”
— Yep, the Chiefs are still undefeated. KC’s defense once again carried the heavy lifting not only holding yet another opponent under 17 points, but the defense chipped in with the team’s two touchdowns in a 23-13 win over Buffalo.
— Tennessee kept their playoff hopes alive behind a 28-21 victory over the Rams. The game ball goes to Chris Johnson who poured in 150 yards and two touchdowns, including a 19-yard scamper with less than three minutes that proved to be the game winner.
— The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the upset of the year in the palm of their hands. And blew it. Up 21-0 on the road in Seattle, the Bucs let Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks’ defense to get going and eventually lost 27-24 in overtime ensuring a goose egg remains on the left side of their record. Just further proof good things don’t happen to Greg Schiano. It’s a damn shame Tampa let their Tim Tebow jump pass tribute go to waste, too.
— Just an all-around weird game in MetLife Stadium. A week around being throttled by the Bengals by 40 points, the Jets turned right around and handed the Saints their second loss of the season 26-20. Rex beat Rob. Jimmy Graham had yet another Jimmy Graham-type day with nine grabs for 116 yards and two scores. Chris Ivory carved up 139 yards on 18 carries versus his former squad. And Geno Smith was the winning quarterback while only completing eight passes.
— Speaking of an ill-timed Saints loss, they’re not exactly running away with the NFC South as they were this time a month ago. Carolina’s won four straight with their latest being a 34-10 laugher against the Falcons. The $100M man Matt Ryan was picked off three times.
— It may be time to hit the reset button in Pittsburgh. Tom Brady and the Patriots hung 610 yards and 55 points on them Sunday. Having weathered the storm of injuries, the Pats offense could be clicking into full form. The Pats had three receivers with over 100 yards (Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola), Steven Ridley ran for 115 and Brady himself tossed for 432 and four touchdowns.
— We started with a serious note, so might as well close with one. It turns out Jonathan Martin – the Miami Dolphin who left the team indefinitely because of bullying – could be the tip of an iceberg that ultimately sinks those responsible. FOX Sports Mike Garafolo says multiple sources claim Richie Incognito (now suspended and will undergo league investigation) sent text messages and voicemails “both threatening and racially charged in nature.”
As it turns out Incognito has been down this road before and may have officially punched his ticket out of the NFL for good with this latest stunt. Jeff Darlington has a long read on Incognito’s tumultuous career that’s worth checking out.