***My apologies for the lateness on this article, simply forgot to post it earlier this week***
The slate is officially clean on win-less teams thank to Tampa Bay's upset of the Packers, which means maybe the creamsicle orange jerseys are a blessing and not the curse they were once thought to be. The Saints and Colts both dodged bullets to stay perfect, the Bengals continue to impress us, the Giants have us scratching our heads, and the Patriots are right near the top again which altogether make the NFL gloriously unpredictable. Let's make our way from No. 1 all the way down to No. 32...
1. New Orleans Saints (8-0)— It was not a signature performance for the Saints as they toughed out a win against Carolina at home, scoring 24 second-half points. Drew Brees was his usual self after a sluggish first half, but the defense will need to address getting gashed for 182 rushing yards before they visit Steven Jackson and the Rams this week.
2. Indianapolis Colts (8-0) —The Colts were the beneficiaries of a missed field goal and a coaching blunder that allowed them to hang on for a three-point victory over the Houston Texans. QB Peyton Manning threw 40 passes in the first half (!!!) but ultimately raised the Colts’ record to 14-1 versus their AFC South ‘rival’. Now it’s on to an actual real rival in the New England Patriots this Sunday night.
3. Minnesota Vikings (7-1)— The Vikings’ only loss was a tight one at Pittsburgh that left us more impressed than we were when they were undefeated. The 7-1 start is no fluke, as Minnesota has been putting up points (2nd in the NFL) and stuffed the run on defense (ranked 6th in the NFL) for much of the year. Hosting Detroit and coming off a bye is a nice way to start the second half.
4. New England Patriots (6-2)— The Dolphins put up a solid fight but the Patriots made big plays to ensure the victory and run their record to 6-2. All the worries from earlier in the season have begun to fade as the offense appears to be clicking again. The Pats are 71-17 in games played after Nov. 1 since 2001, not a good sign for the Colts this week and everyone else for the rest of the year.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (6-2)— The Bengals controlled the ball for 40 minutes exactly as RB Cedric Benson churned out 117 yards on 34 carries. Cincy is now 4-0 versus the AFC North, and will look to run their record to 5-0 when they take on the Steelers this week. They are certainly the surprise team of the first half of 2009.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)— After a first half in which the Steelers could not get anything going offensively, they went no-huddle and shredded the Broncos for 173 yards on the ground, and three touchdowns by game’s end. Big Ben and Rashard Mendenhall shined on Monday night for the Steelers to get to 6-2 and will host a big AFC North match-up this Sunday.
7. Denver Broncos (6-2)— Following a field goal on their opening drive, every Broncos possession ended with an interception or a punt. Kyle Orton was forced into three picks and the Broncos’ previously vaunted D had no answers for the Steelers offense in the second half. Time to shake off two consecutive blowouts; the Redskins may be the cure for what ails them.
8. Dallas Cowboys (6-2)— The ‘Boys have ripped off four straight wins and find themselves atop the NFC East at the midway point of the season. Their offense’s ability to run out the last 4:27 of the game was an impressive exclamation point in their win at Philly, and should have them feeling good as they head to Lambeau this week.
9. Philadelphia Eagles (5-3)— The Eagles’ up-and-down season continues as they dropped a home game to Dallas, failing to hold a 4th quarter lead with a series of miscues including some from the bench. Now Philly travels to San Diego to take on an energized Chargers team, who is surprisingly fighting for first in their division at the halfway mark.
10. Atlanta Falcons (5-3)— The Falcons sacked Campbell five times in the first half—a team record for sacks in a half. While they didn’t play their best game, they did manage to run the ball well and secure a victory over a reeling Redskins team. Next up is Carolina where they will try to continue to run their balanced offense and stay in control in the wild card race.
11. San Diego Chargers (5-3)— Sometimes one drive can turn around a whole season, and that may have happened in the Meadowlands this past week. QB Philip Rivers drove the Chargers to a go-ahead score with 21 seconds left on the clock for a dramatic comeback win against the Giants. That win, coupled with the Broncos loss, has them just one game out of the lead which seemed like it could be a runaway a few weeks ago. They get another chance to prove their worth this week when they host the Eagles.
12. Arizona Cardinals (5-3)— QB Kurt Warner shredded the Bears for five TDs in a game that was really never in doubt. At 5-3, they control the NFC West for now and could deliver an early knockout blow to the Seahawks this week.
13. New York Giants (5-4)— Four short weeks ago, the G-Men found themselves atop this hallowed list (shameless self-promotion) and now goes into a bye week out of playoff contention in Week 10. If one could point to one issue it would be easier to analyze their problems but, right now, several areas are failing them. They will fight back into the playoff picture this season, but injuries and age have made their once formidable defense look ordinary.
14. Baltimore Ravens (4-4) —The Ravens had not given up 100-yard rushing games to the same player in the same season since 1997 until Cedric Benson accomplished the feat this week. They also must have left the game a bit shell-shocked, having held the ball for only 20 minutes and scoring only seven points in garbage time. It’s regrouping time when they play the Browns on Monday night.
15. Houston Texans (5-4)— Gary Kubiak let time run out to the two-minute warning, and cost his team the ball (and crucial points), after a replay reversal. Kris Brown came up empty after coming up so big earlier in the game, which led to a tough loss at Indy. Frankly, turning the ball over three times will keep you out of the win column most times against anybody and almost always when it’s the Colts on the other side of the ball. The Texans will have a long two weeks to think about that loss, with the bye week preceding a Monday night match-up.
16. Green Bay Packers (4-4)— Three interceptions and six sacks allowed go a long way in explaining how the Pack blew a 4th quarter lead and allowed 21 points in the final stanza. High hopes for Green Bay have faded fast for this season with the realizations that they cannot protect QB Aaron Rodgers, or come up with key stops on defense when they need them.
17. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4) —The Jags’ went into ball control mode from the start of the game and held the ball for over 36 minutes. They held off a valiant comeback effort by the Chiefs, and at 4-4, are at least in position to challenge for the playoffs in the second half of the year. Next up: New York Jets.
18. Chicago Bears (4-4)— QB Jay Cutler’s super fantasy stats should fool no one. The offense is not clicking in the way that anyone anticipated, and the defense finds themselves in the lower third of the league in points allowed.
19. San Francisco 49ers (3-5)— The Niners committed four turnovers which led to 24 points for the Titans. Getting run over for 152 yards is not something we would expect out of a Mike Singletary-coached squad.
20. Miami Dolphins (3-5)— There may not be a team fighting harder to get to .500 than the Dolphins. They are giving it all for Tony Sparano, but they just couldn’t get the key stops versus the Pats. They host Tampa coming off their first win and the Fish are unlikely to let them make it two in a row…
21. New York Jets (4-4)— The Jets’ embodied the trials and tribulations of a .500 team as they saw great highs (upsetting hated rival New England) and terrible lows (swept by hated rival Miami) through eight games. One can be sure that head coach Rex Ryan worked tirelessly during the bye week to get the team back on track for this week’s contest against Jacksonville.
22. Buffalo Bills (3-5)— Despite some significant injuries and, at times abysmal play, the Bills can potentially build on their first half. That building process better ramp up quickly as most players and coaches should consider themselves on the hot seat for the duration of the season. Out of their bye week, they go to Tennessee where they hope there is no Music City Miracle in sight.
23. Carolina Panthers (3-5)— The Panthers hung tough with the league’s top team at New Orleans, but three lost fumbles were too much to overcome. Their ability to run the ball so effectively is a sign that they may be one of the struggling teams that rights the ship in the second half of 2009. Hosting Atlanta this week will be a big test.
24. Seattle Seahawks (3-5)— Seattle capitalized on five INTs, turning them into 20 points as they battled back from a 17-point deficit. They travel to Arizona this week in a game that could have their season on the line.
25. Washington Redskins (2-6)— Looking at the box score would not tell the Redskins’ whole story since they matched up well with the Falcons’ stats. Their inability to protect QB Jason Campbell (5 sacks) and to get the ball in the end zone (they have yet to score over 17 points) have everyone, especially Jim Zorn, wishing the second half of the season simply is over quickly.
26. Oakland Raiders (2-6)— When your team can’t score points (30th in the NFL) and can’t stop other teams from scoring (25th in the NFL), it doesn’t need to be said that you’re in possession of a failure recipe. It starts at the top where exceedingly eccentric owner Al David hired a head coach, Tom Cable, who appears to be one of the inmates running the asylum. The Raiders may have more talent on defense than other teams, but there are just too many holes organization-wide for them to be able to overcome the obstacles. This will get worse before it gets better.
27. Tennessee Titans (2-6)— After committing 18 turnovers in their first six games, the Titans have none in their last two (both wins). RB Chris Johnson leads the NFL with 959 rushing yards and with play like this will lead the Titans to a few more wins before the season is over. QB Vince Young is playing his role well and will try to make it three in a row against Buffalo.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-7)— The Bucs make a nice-sized leap out of the basement based on the level of competition that they beat relative to their peers in or near the basement. It may have taken a wild finish to ice the game but came up with six sacks and three INTs to put their newbie QB Josh Freeman (3 TDs) in a position to win. The creamsicle-colored jerseys appropriately had years and years of losing associated with them until Sunday. Maybe they can make it two in a row against Miami…
29. Kansas City Chiefs (1-7)— With the Larry Johnson scandal hanging over their heads, the Chiefs once again fought hard and came up short to the Jaguars. LJ is no longer with the team and head coach Todd Haley will need to figure a way for his 27th ranked offense to get it going along with his 27th ranked defense…it’s a marathon, not a sprint, right???
30. St. Louis Rams (1-7)— The NFL schedule-makers probably even feel guilty about setting the one-win Rams up with the Saints at this stage of the season. I suppose if there IS a week for St. Louis to play them, it might as well be with an extra week to prepare as they come off their bye week.
31. Detroit Lions (1-7)— “In youth we learn; in age we understand.” Matt Stafford threw five INTs and the Lions blew a 17-point first half lead against the Seahawks. These are tough lessons to learn for the young Detroit team and playing the Vikings in Minny coming off a bye may be another one of those lessons…
32. Cleveland Browns (1-7)— The Browns were given a much-needed bye week to collect themselves after a miserable first half of the season that ended with the firing of their GM George Kokinis. Now, head coach Eric Mangini will have to decide whether Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson will be the QB to make the second half of the season a little more productive and save his job in the process.