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Muddying the Waters

November 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Week 8 in the NFL was one of shocks, both big and small, as we came no closer to finding out how things might pan out in the remainder of the 2011 regular season. It only succeeded in complicating matters significantly.

Saints at Rams

Just one short week ago it was a no-brainer. The Patriots would carry the flag for the AFC, whilst Green Bay’s closest rivals in the NFC would be the New Orleans Saints. The Philadelphia Eagles were well out of the equation and the early pace-setters from Detroit and Buffalo had already faded into the background. Very clear cut.

Scrap all that.

The biggest shock this weekend came in St. Louis, where the previously winless Rams stormed to a 31-21 victory over the Saints. That the win came despite the absence of quarterback Sam Bradford made this result all the more surprising. And it must have been a real hammer blow for the Saints. They still hold a 5-3 record, but division foes Tampa Bay (4-3) and Atlanta (4-3) are closing in.

The road to the playoffs has now become a much more difficult and treacherous one for Sean Payton’s men.

Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh – where no home victory will ever be classified as a major shock – we had a minor upset. But a very significant one. The Steelers defense came up big in a solid 25-17 victory. It was the Patriots second defeat of the season. Ben Roethlisberger was at his clinical best, throwing for 365 yards, whilst Tom Brady was limited to 198 yards.

The Patriots’ postseason appearance is not under threat, but the Steelers are emerging as the AFC’s best. Again.

Then there’s the Eagles. If Sunday night’s win over rivals Dallas was predictable, the manner in which they achieved it certainly wasn’t. A rout from start to finish, Michael Vick was back to something approaching his best as his side romped to a 34-7 victory. Vick threw for 279 yards and ran for 50, signalling an awakening in Philadelphia from their early-season slumber.

Now 3-4, the Eagles are hitting form just in time to launch an assault at the playoffs.

As are the Detroit Lions and the Buffalo Bills. Two teams that surprised everyone with their form through the first five weeks, regained some momentum in Week 8. Detroit hammered a hapless Denver 45-10, whilst Buffalo shutout the Redskins 23-0, in Toronto. With these important wins to get their respective seasons back on track, don’t rule out the Lions or the Bills just yet.

If the two conferences are difficult to predict, then the individual divisions are downright problematic. None more so than the AFC West, where Kansas City’s overtime victory against San Diego on Monday night threw the division wide open. Two weeks ago the Chargers were cruising at 4-1, but they now find themselves tied with both the Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders at 4-3. Only the Denver Broncos (2-5) can be safely ruled out of the playoff equation.

Some things are as predictable as ever.

Categories: Uncategorized

Comeback Kids

October 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Another sensational Sunday in the NFL. The Detroit Lions went into Dallas, trailed at half-time by 24 points, yet finished the game as three point victors.

Philadelphia Eagles looked for all the world like they would reach the dizzy heights of 2-2 as they led San Francisco by 20 points at half-time at Lincoln Field. The 49ers won the game. That’s right… the tame, toothless, lacklustre 49ers. Beating the ‘Dream Team’ from 23-3 down.

This Eagles collapse was much worse than that of the Cowboys. The most hyped, expensively-assembled defence in the history of the game falling to Alex Smith and Frank Gore? Few saw that coming in the third quarter of this one. We’ve spent the best part of the last two weeks listening to news on the health of Michael Vick. The former Atlanta quarterback passed for 416 yards and rushed for a further 76. The game looked home and hosed. Philly still couldn’t get it done.

It’s easy to say that this Philadelphia side have too many individual talents and don’t work well enough as a unit. That may be true, but the problems here are actually more fundamental than that. The offensive line is like a sieve, and the defence have succumbed to the run with horrible ease. When the going gets tough in the final part of games it is these areas that become exposed, and it doesn’t matter how many quarterbacks you have, or multi-million corner backs. The team needs to knuckle down and do the basics. It just isn’t happening.

The pressure now turns on one man, Andy Reid. Thoughts of Super Bowls can be put in the back seat for now, as the playoffs – while still a real possibility – become a target moving off into the distance. If the Eagles don’t reach the post-season Andy Reid is gone. He could be gone even if they do. And someone else will be left to instil some steel into this group of players who have yet to prove themselves as true winners in the NFL.

Philadelphia go to Buffalo this weekend. Huge game. And a great opportunity for them to get back on track. 2-3 and the post-season is back on. 1-4 and you’d imagine it’s lights out, especially the way the NFC East is shaping.

Fantastic comeback win for Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers by the way. They smelt blood and finished the job. But unfortunately they don’t get any credit after days like that.

And with all the hype Dallas receives, neither have the Detroit Lions. A gutsy, aggressive win. An opportunistic team who take their chances and refuse to lie down. This was supposedly the game that would tell us If Jim Schwartz’s charges were for real. Of course you can’t be sure about them after only four games. But that was some serious character they showed in Arlington, pulling out a 34-30 win

Calvin Johnson produced a masterclass of wide receiving skills. He has now scored two touchdowns in all four games this season. Quarterback Matthew Stafford just has to hang the ball in the air, and chances are ‘Megatron’ will come down with the catch. That is turning into an electric partnership. The Lions now play Chicago, San Francisco and Atlanta in the next three weeks. All winnable games, but with each impressive victory the pressure mounts. Can they thrive? Or will they crumble under the heat like Philadelphia have so far?

Either way, we’re about to find out a lot more about these Lions.

So what of the Cowboys? Another devastating loss, made all the worse by putting in such a fantastic first-half performance. Broken rib or no, Tony Romo looked like pro-bowler we all know he is, finishing the game with 34-47, 331yds, 3 TDs. But there was room for another ‘3’ in his stats… under the INT column. Big, dramatic plays that took all the momentum from Dallas and Detroit lapped it up.

At 2-2, the Cowboys are still in decent shape. The Eagles are struggling and Washington have yet to really convince. The NFC East is still a viable target for Jason Garrett’s men. They have showed glimpses of exceptional play thus far, but it isn’t much use when careless mistakes prevail. Tighten up and they’ll be in the post-season.

Continuing on the comeback theme, Sunday also saw a late victory for the New York Giants in Arizona, albeit ably assisted by one of the strangest umpire decisions you’ll ever see. The Giants trailed 27-17 with just over five minutes left on the clock, but Eli Manning entered the fray to show unerring calm, throwing for two touchdowns within the space of a minute to secure victory. The aforementioned umpire decision happened on the second of these touchdown drives when Arizona thought they had recovered a Victor Cruz fumble after Cruz appeared to leave the ball behind him. The umpires ruled that Cruz gave himself up on the play and was therefore down. Cue Arizona fury. But it’s a New York victory in the books.

Mention also to the Cincinnati Bengals who came from 14 points down to defeat the previously undefeated Buffalo Bills. Mike Nugent kicked the winning field goal with only seconds remaining to secure a 23-20 victory. Just seven day earlier Buffalo had came from 21 points behind to defeat New England. What a difference a week makes.

Categories: Uncategorized