(Philadelphia, Pa) —- Like Tiger Woods heading to the back nine at the Masters another great NFL season has made the turn toward the back portion of the toughest course (schedule) in sports. The second half comes after a wild first half with undefeated teams, turnaround teams and record-setting performances. Parity continues to be the rule as several teams have a legitimate chance to make it to the playoffs as there are 19 teams with a .500 or better record including the undefeated Patriots. There are also 13 teams with losing records including two winless teams (Rams and Dolphins, both 0-8), the teams with 3 wins I still believe have a chance to get back in the race. The key for all teams is you want to get “hot” and string some wins to together to make a playoff push in the crucial months of November and December (ex. 2006 Eagles went from a record of 5-6 to 10-6 and playoff spot). We all know the unbeaten Patriots have maintained their huge lead in AFC East and it will not change this week as they have a well deserved bye week. Some may now want to anoint the Patriots as the future successors to the 1972 Miami Dolphins season-long undefeated throne and handing them the Super Bowl XLII trophy, but the Patriots need to show me more before I am a full believer. Each week team after team will get hyped to fight the town bully –1985 Bears and 1998 Vikings, both finished 15-1 with lower level teams rising to knock them off for their only regular season losses – and I personally think either the Steelers – week 14 or Giants – week 17 will knock off the Pats.
Even with the Pats sitting at the top there are seven other teams that have at least six victories and a .750 winning percentage. That group includes four of them that have turned their first-half performance of last year into a winning record this year — Green Bay Packers went from 3-5 in 2006 to 7-1 this season, the Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans all have improved from 2-6 to 6-2 — and they all seem ready to pounce perspective playoffs spots. The team that is red-hot is the New Orleans Saints, who have made a drastic comeback in the first half of the season. The 2006 NFC South Champs started out 0-4, but they have stormed back winning four straight. Led by mercurial running back Reggie Bush, they appear poised to become only the fourth team in history to make the playoffs after starting so bad –1974 Detroit, 1980 Kansas City, 1992 San Diego–. They still have a lot of work to do including playing the winless Rams (0-8) in a possible letdown game, to finish their improbable run. Saints head coach Sean Payton said of the task, “We’ve got a long way to go”. He added “Your record now doesn’t put you anywhere – playoffs or anything.”
Some of the games that I have my eye on this week include:
- Dallas Cowboys (7-1) at the New York Giants (6-2) – “Get your Popcorn Ready”, as this is an old fashioned black and blue NFC East battle. Each team arrives with great expectations fueled by their respective 7-1 and 6-2 records. The key to this game will be can the Giants vaunted defensive line (lead NFL with 30 sacks) can be pressure on Tony Romo to force turnovers.
- Minneosta Vikings (3-5) at the Green Bay Packers (7-1) – With stud running back Adrian Peterson (1,000 yards in only 8 games) in the backfield don’t sleep on the Vikings. The Vikes have a tough battle ahead as they travel to chilly Lambeau field to face the venerable Brett Favre and the improving Pack.
- Detroit Lions (6-2) at the Arizona Cardinals (3-5) – When the schedule came out this game looked like a clunker, but these two doormats are now legitimate contenders. The Lions along with the aformentioned Pack are the NFC’s turnaround champs and they should provide a stern test for the home team Cardinals. Maybe Kitna is part gypsy as his prediction of 10 wins is in sight with the Lions playing ferocious with six wins.
T.O gets fine for having fun – Terrell Owens has said the league just doesn’t know how to relax and sometimes takes the fun out of the game. Owens was fined $10,000 Thursday for violating NFL uniform and equipment rules. Sunday night at Philadelphia, Owens waved a personalized towel on the sideline that was picked up by television cameras. “It’s stuff like that,” Owens said. “People try to make a big deal out of it. It’s not any different than Chad [Johnson] going to the sidelines and taking [out] a coat. All I had was a little towel, and now they want to make that into a big deal.”
Broncos release veteran lineman Simeon Rice – The Broncos granted the wish of former Pro Bowler Simeon Rice to be released. Rice, a 12-year veteran, who has 121 career sacks went to head coach Mike Shanahan, because he had not been playing much in 2007 after signing in the pre-season. The 33-year-old Rice signed a one-year $3 million contract after starter Ebenezer Ekuban sustained a season-ending Achilles’ injury in training camp.
Jaguars are expected to start Quinn Gray versus the Titans – The former Florida A&M star will continue his rise from 3rd string player to NFL starter. Gray said in an interview “I took all the reps this week,” plus “and coach told me that most likely, it’ll be me.” Gray has been playing since starter David Garrard went down with a high ankle sprain.
Feature Game Notes
CLEVELAND BROWNS (5-3) at PITTSBURGH STEELERS (6-2), Heinz Field, 1:00 PM on CBS: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms.
This is the renewal of the “Rust Belt Rivalry” as these two AFC North teams separated by only 132 miles meet again as the Browns aim for 4 consecutive wins for 1st time since 1994. The Browns lead the all-time series 55-54 but the Steelers have one 13 of the last 14 games. Both teams are coming off wins in week nine as the Browns beat the Seahawks in overtime and the Steelers dominated the Ravens on the Monday Night Football. The upstart Browns are led by quarterback Derek Anderson (2,108 passing yards with 17 touchdowns) will be looking for revenge of their week one loss to the Steelers. In the game, the Steelers pounded the Browns by a score of 34 to 7 with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throwing 4 TD passes to 4 different teammates as Mike Tomlin wins NFL head coaching debut.
Anderson is on a pace to set franchise records for yards (pace: 4,216 yards – Brian Sipe; 4,132 in 1980) and touchdowns (pace: 34 touchdown passes — Sipe, 30 in 1980). Two other key players on the Browns offense are WR Braylon Edwards (736 receiving yards w/ 9 TDs – 3rd in NFL) and TE Kellen Winslow (leads all NFL tight ends with 657 yards). The pair is on track to become the first Browns’ receiving duo to reach 1,000 apiece in the same season. All these offense numbers are possible, because of the offensive line led by rookie tackle Joe Thomas. The second overall pick has not allowed a sack and he can become only the second Browns’ rookie offensive linemen to start all 16 games (Steve Everritt 1993). Defensively the Browns are improving, but they need to get better play from their front four. The best player on the defensive unit seems to safety Sean Jones (two fourth down stops last week).
The AFC North leading Steelers are off to a 6-2 start and rookie head coach Mike Tomlin it trying to become only the second rookie head coach in franchise history to lead Pittsburgh to a winning record (Bill Cowher, 11-5 in 1992). Anderson is not the only quarterback to break a franchise record as Roethlisberger, who has 20 touchdowns is on pace to pass Terry Bradshaw’s 29-year-old team record of 28 TDs in 1978. The Steelers will also look to get the ball to running back Willie Parker (187 rushes for 768 yards (#1 in AFC), 4.2 ypc w/ 2 TDs), who is looking to join Barry Foster (1,690, 1992) and Jerome Bettis (1,665, 1997) in the Steelers 1600 yards in a season club. Defensively the always tough Steelers defense is ranked number one in the NFL in yards allowing 237.8 and they also sport a healthy +6 turnover ratio. The breakout player on the Steelers defense is LB James Harrison, who leads them with 6.5 sacks.
Other Week 10 Games
Byes: Houston, New England, N.Y. Jets, Tampa Bay
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Lambeau Field, 1:00 PM on Fox
MIN: T.Jackson (51-110,600), A.Peterson (158-1036)
GB: B.Favre (205-308, 2406), D.Wynn (50-203)
Arrowhead Stadium, 1:00 PM on CBS
DEN: J.Cutler (144-219,1690) , T.Henry (128-580)
KC: D.Huard (157-247,1683) , L.Johnson (158-559)
Dolphin Stadium, 1:00 PM on CBS
BUF: T.Edwards (80-121,790) , M.Lynch (177-690)
MIA: T.Green (85-141,987) , R.Brown (119-602)
Superdome, 1:00 PM on Fox
STL: M.Bulger (119-209,1300) , B.Leonard (77-276)
NO: D.Brees (225-335,2175) , R.Bush (113-434)
FedEx Field, 1:00 PM Fox
PHI: D.McNabb (172-287,2044), B.Westbrook (126-601)
WAS: J.Campbell (133-227,1520) , C.Portis (151-629)
Bank of America Stadium, 1:00 PM on Fox
ATL: J.Harrington (149-238,1545), W.Dunn (122-392)
CAR: J.Delhomme (55-86,624), D.Foster (133-529)
LP Field, 1:00 PM on CBS
JAC: D.Garrard (98-148,1141) , F.Taylor (109-474)
TEN: V.Young (93-151,855) , L.White (170-613)
M&T Bank Stadium, 4:05 PM on CBS
CIN: C.Palmer (190-294,2193) , K.Watson (89-412)
BAL: S.McNair (116-179,985) , W.McGahee (158-689)
University of Phoenix Stadium, 4:15 PM on Fox
DET: J.Kitna (170-253,2000) , K.Jones (79-343)
ARI: K.Warner (82-142,1055) , E.James (164-618)
Giants Stadium, 4:15 PM on Fox
DAL: T.Romo (170-264,2308) , M.Barber (100-535)
NYG: E.Manning (145-249,1584) , B.Jacobs (80-450)
McAfee Coliseum, 4:15 PM on Fox
CHI: B.Griese (124-203,1411) , C.Benson (149-466)
OAK: D.Culpepper (70-125,817) , L.Jordan (129-521)
Qualcomm Stadium, 8:15 PM on NBC
IND: P.Manning (168-259,2058) , J.Addai (149-704)
SD: P.Rivers (142-231,1639) , L.Tomlinson (155-657)
Monday, November 12, 2007
Qwest Field, 8:30 PM on ESPN
SF: A.Smith (82-165,800) , F.Gore (110-435)
SEA: M.Hasselbeck (173-280, 2023) , S.Alexander (149-492)