Week Nine gave the top teams some separation. With so many bad teams, the playoff picture is starting to take shape early this year after big performances. With huge games in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis in Week 10, the AFC's top teams could also separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Atlanta (5-3) def. Washington (2-6), 31-17: Washington made a little bit of a comeback late, but they had dug themselves too big of a hole. Michael Turner is rolling now, which helped Atlanta to one of their best offensive outputs of the year against a decent defense.
Arizona (5-3) def. Chicago (4-4), 41-21: The Bears have to get their stuff together. Their defense, recently one of the best in the league, has been horrible in their last two games against NFL opponents.
Yes Brian Urlacher has been hurt and Tommie Harris stupidly got himself ejected from the game, but those are no excuses for these performances. The Cards just destroyed them. And how much confidence do the Cards have in Matt Leinart?
Cincy's underrated defense made Baltimore look foolish and out of rhythm all game. Now that they've been swept by Cincy, Baltimore may have to focus on a Wild Card berth.
Indianapolis (8-0) def. Houston (5-4), 20-17: Houston made a ton of mistakes, but they still had a chance to take the into overtime. Indy let them hang around, but Houston couldn't finish off the comeback. This game showed that they're not quite ready to be a great team.
A critical spot in the game came when Houston back Ryan Moats fumbled inside the five yard line. Indy didn't immediately challenge it after he was ruled down, but Houston let ten to fifteen seconds run off the clock until the two minute warning.
The Colts eventually challenged the play and it was reversed. Horrible clock management by both Matt Schaub and Gary Kubiak that may have cost them points.
New England (6-2) def. Miami (3-5), 27-17: Miami is better than they're 3-5 record, but they will not see better results unless they pass the ball better. The Wildcat is fine, but they will never go deep into the playoffs with that as their primary weapon.
New England were ready for it and while they didn't completely stop it, they were able to control it. The Patriot offense is hitting their stride just in time for their big game next week.
Tampa Bay (1-7) def. Green Bay (4-4), 38-28: Green Bay is in trouble. After losing two to the Vikings, they need to beat bad teams like Tampa. The Bucs stepped up in the fourth with 21 points behind Josh Freeman, who looked pretty good. The Packers have got to get everything figured out and very quickly.
Jacksonville (4-4) def. Kansas City (1-7), 24-21: Jacksonville has quietly crept back into contention, but don't expect them to stay there. Beating Kansas City is nothing to be overly proud of especially when you have to hang on to do so. Mike Sims-Walker continued his breakout season, posting big numbers again.
New Orleans (8-0) def. Carolina (3-5), 30-20: New Orleans started out slowly but Carolina couldn't hold them off. The Cats finally decided to get their running game going at the beginning of a game, but they seem afraid to put the ball in Jake Delhomme's hands with the game on the line: which is why they are 3-5.
For the Saints, they cannot keep getting off to starts like this, especially against good teams. It doesn't matter how explosive an offense is if they fall too far behind teams better than Miami or Carolina.
Seattle (3-5) def. Detroit (1-7), 32-20: Detroit uncharacteristically got off to a huge start, but like Carolina couldn't sustain it. They pushed the ball up the field, but Matt Stafford turned the ball over way too much. Seattle showed some life on offense in coming back from being down by 17 points.
San Diego (5-3) def. New York Giants (5-4), 21-20: The Giants completely blew this game. It should've been over after Philip Rivers' late pick that put the G-Men inside the red zone. Instead, they had to settle for a field goal and then let Rivers easily go down the field for the game winner. The way the Giants played defense on the last drive was embarrassing and essentially guaranteed them their fourth consecutive loss.
Tennessee (2-6) def. San Francisco (3-5), 34-27: The Titans will not be playing in the postseason, but they are playing inspired ball. The defense still isn't looking great, but they look like a different team. Alex Smith was just average, turning the ball over in bad spots while Vince Young looked poised throughout.
Dallas (6-2) def. Philadelphia (5-3), 20-16: Philly's offense is built on the big play and when they don't hit a few, they won't be successful. Dallas limited Philly's explosive receivers and got the big play they needed from Miles Austin. This was a good win for Dallas.
With that said, nothing Dallas does will be impressive until they win games in December. They've always played well from September to November, but they always fall apart in December. They will not have done anything until they win late in the season.
As for Philly, most have been second-guessing Andy Reid's decisions. The first challenge was not a smart one. The second challenge was risky only because they had just one timeout but even after all the replays, it looked like McNabb got the first down. The field goal was fine as well. The defense had played well enough to that point to get the ball back to their offense.
Pittsburgh (6-2) def. Denver (6-2), 28-10: This was the most complete game the Steelers have played all year. They couldn't get anything going in the first half on offense, but they dominated the second half. The best part for Pittsburgh was that they emphatically shut the door with their running game, something they've been unable to do all season.
For Denver, they got dominated for the second straight week. The defense has looked vulnerable and the offense is not producing. Suddenly, they have a considerable amount of problems with the Chargers right behind them.
Top 12 Teams (Last week's ranking in parenthesis)
- New Orleans Saints (1): They're not a perfect team, but they also won't be tested at all until the Pats come to the Superdome in a couple of weeks. Next week: at St. Louis (1-7)
- Indianapolis Colts (2): They're very good, but we'll know if they have the ability to make a deep playoff run after this Sunday night. Next week: vs. New England (6-2)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (3): They dominated Denver in Denver and the running game is starting to take off. Next week: vs. Cincinnati (6-2)
- Minnesota Vikings (4): How good of a bye week did they have? They got some much needed rest and their two closest division opponents suffered horrible losses. Doesn't get much better than that when you don't even play. Next week: vs. Detroit (1-7)
- New England Patriots (5): Tom Brady is looking more and more like his 2007-self. That's bad news for the rest of the NFL. Next week: at Indianapolis (8-0)
- Cincinnati Bengals (8): They throttled the Ravens and now they have their biggest game in years against the Steelers this week. Next week: at Pittsburgh (6-2)
- Arizona Cardinals (10): Very good bounce back performance, but they need to build on it. Next week: vs. Seattle (3-5)
- Dallas Cowboys (11): This was a big win for Dallas' fragile psyche. They are now in control in the NFC East. Next week: at Green Bay (4-4)
- Philadelphia Eagles (6): They have to find a way to score when the big plays aren't working. They won't win very many games if they don't. Next week: at San Diego (5-3)
- Atlanta Falcons (12): They have finally gotten Michael Turner going, which is critical to their success. Next week: at Carolina (3-5)
- Denver Broncos (7): They have to start throwing the ball down the field. Their offense is too safe to be effective against good teams. Next week: at Washington (2-6)
- Houston Texans (NR): They came very close to taking Indy to overtime on the road. Penalties killed them, but they still played well. Next week: BYE
Team to Drop Out of the Top 12
Baltimore Ravens: Aside from the Denver game, they've looked average on defense. Now the offense looks stagnant. They are simply not one of the 12 best teams in the league.
That's all for this week's wrap-up. Since there's a Thursday game this week, my picks will be in on Thursday afternoon. Check them out if you get a chance!