Two of the NFL's better teams had their respective byes this week, and it showed in the amount of sloppy games played on Sunday.
The Denver Broncos were embarrassed by an upstart Raiders team that shouldn't be talented enough to hang 59 points on any NFL team (OK, maybe the Niners).
Darren McFadden outscored the Broncos on the day, scoring four times (three on the ground, one through the air), and Oakland was aided by Kyle Orton's looked-better-on-paper day; problem is, a 73.6 QB rating doesn't look good on paper.
The Raiders walk away from this game scoring the most points in their 51-year history, and they also take second place in an upside-down AFC West.
Denver came in looking to get back in the postseason hunt and they left with a season in shambles.
The Steelers stole a victory on the road against a better-than-their-record Dolphins team. Big Ben fumbled at the one-yard line with 2:30 left in the fourth quarter with the Steelers down two, but the refs awarded Pittsburgh the ball because of a lack of evidence as to who recovered the football, despite Dolphins linebacker Ikaika Alama-Francis emerging from the scrum with the ball in hand.
Plays like that make me think football is run by Vegas. Just saying.
While the game will show up as a loss in the standings, Tony Sparano should be proud of a Miami group that took the alleged "best team" in the NFL to the brink on Sunday.
Chad Henne has looked the part at quarterback, and his emergence, even without a productive running game to complement him, has the Fins knocking on the door of the NFL's upper echelon.
Without any semblance of a rushing attack (Rashard Mendenhall had 15 carries for a season-low 37 yards), Ben Roethlisberger looked as good as ever on Sunday, hitting the 300-yard century mark for the 15th time in his career.
Just when you write of Hines Ward he goes for 7 catches, 131 yards and a TD; guy's a gamer.
Going forward, the Dolphins, who are still in contention for an AFC playoff spot, may have exposed a chink in the Steelers' defensive armor. The underneath passing game for the Dolphins seemed to be clicking all day, as they continue to get Ohio State product Brian Hartline involved (five catches, 57 yards) in the offense.
The Pittsburgh secondary usually has a handle on any vertical threats that teams throw their way, but against good receiving cores they do have the propensity to give up yards through the air.
Randy Moss could be Belichick's sacrificial lamb in the dissolution of the Patriots' down field passing game. New England's new offensive approach makes the likes of Moss, not a prototypical intermediate threat, and Laurence Maroney, a traditional between-the-tackles back, expendable.
The acquisition of Deion Branch further pushes the changes being implemented in the Pats' passing philosophy, as his repertoire with Brady remains superb, despite their four-year separation. Branch brings a knowledge of the Patriots' complex passing system, as well as the tools to succeed in the short passing style.
(Just for kicks, Branch has 16 catches, 277 yards and two TDs in three games against the Steelers while wearing Silver and Blue).
In a scary win against the Chargers yesterday, New England showed their usual fatal flaws in the secondary, where they ranked 27th in the league coming in. The lack of a true running back is only a successful strategy Tom if Brady can show improvement moving the ball in the passing game.
For the Chargers, maybe LT wasn't the problem in San Diego, as Ryan Matthews continues to break the hearts of fantasy owners (including me) who can't even expect touchdowns from him with the presence of goal-line back, Mike Tolbert.
The late surge proved too little, too late for the Chargers, who showed that the need for a semi-reliable kicker is paramount when competing in high-caliber football games.
Norv Turner and Wade Philips both share the same hot seat because, despite their teams embarrassing loads of riches on both sides of the ball, they have not translated that talent to the field.
Leading us into:
Tonight is a statement game for the Giants and the Cowboys, with only one team able to keep their momentum going into Week 8.
The G-Men's pass rush should be seeing red at the sight of Tony Romo, who has been sacked 13 times by the Giants in eight games against them.
An injury to veteran left guard Kyle Kosier could exploit the foot speed of the interior of an O-line that seems to have developed some stability on the outside with Doug Free and Marc Colombo bookending Romo.
Osi Umeniorya leads a Giants' defense that has had game-breaking potential in recent weeks, notching multiple sacks in each of their past three wins. Justin Tuck seems to be have trouble when he sees constant attention on the left side, but he plays hard for 48 minutes and is an emotional leader for the D.
Speaking of constant motor, Ahmad Bradshaw has quietly crept into the Top 10 in rushing yards (he came into the Week sitting at six), and has been the second best running back in the NFC this season. Since Brandon Jacobs swallowed his pride and reinvented himself as a power back once again, he could churn out a Jerome Bettis-esque season if he keeps his pad level down.
(Bettis had 10 touchdowns in the last nine games of the Steelers' 2006 Super Bowl run, we're getting there).
It looks like Hakeem Nicks will be in the lineup tonight, and anything less than a usual stellar performance from him could severely hurt the Giants' offensive gameplan.
In all reality, Eli Manning's play will determine how the offense ends up faring against a stout Cowboys' defense.
Prediction: Giants win in a slugfest, 28-24. Cowboys need it, history says they won't get it.
The Rundown Top 12:
- New York Jets (5-1): A surprise pick, maybe, but Rex Ryan's gang of arrogant SOBs are winning with star defender Darrelle Revis far from 100 percent. LT's back, maybe Shonn Greene is too?
- Pittsburgh Steelers (5-1): Big Ben is back, but Mendenhall's no-show has the Steelers hoping it's an outlier performance and not a growing trend, since he'll be needed to counteract the slew of talented secondaries that the Steelers face in coming weeks (Cincinnati and New Orleans to name a couple). The defense was beaten up a bit today, but they remain among the elite in the NFL and have stability at all 11 positions on their side of the ball.
- New York Giants (4-2): Call me a homer because I am one, but hear me out. How many real problems do the Giants have? You can point to the offensive line, where there have been bouts of injuries and ineffectiveness, but the Giants' offense ranks ninth in the NFL in total offense and the line has yielded only 11 sacks on the year. Jonathan Goff has made believers of a New York fan base and media that has high expectations at the linebacker position, especially in the middle, where he has to replace fan favorite-turned underrated ESPN analyst Antonio Pierce. Gotta love those ex-Giant commentators (Not you Tiki, you suck).
- Indianapolis Colts (4-2): I look ridiculous picking the Colts fourth because A) They are now third in the AFC South, B) They barely scrapped by against an overrated Redskins team and C) At least rank them ahead of the Giants considering they trounced them in Week 2. I am a Peyton Manning fan, not lover, but he's too good to bet against, especially with Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon all carving up opposing secondaries this season. Dallas Clark will be missed most in the red zone, but Wayne has been under-utilized by the goal line this season, despite success there in years prior. The defense puts enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks to aid an injured (guess who, Bob Sanders), yet still somewhat effective Colts secondary. Manning, off a bye against a Houston secondary that made Bruce Gradkowski and Matt Cassell look like competent starting quarterbacks seems too much for me to handle. Can't make a Sportsbook......I actually love Bruce (first-name basis), but we'll touch on that when he's healthy. Too long of a rant: Manning + Bye + Horrid Pass D + Division Rival = Colts Win.
- New England Patriots (5-1): The best of the second tier of NFL teams. The next five teams all have the same massive problem: awful aerial defenses. The Pats D makes huge plays when it needs to and it is a big reason why New England has an outstanding +10 turnover differential after Sunday's game. Simmons has poisoned my mind and I actually almost like the Pats this year, but Brady's overall douchebag level remains too high for my taste. For the Patriots to stay hot, they need Brady to pick it up a notch. Done.
- Atlanta Falcons (5-2): Leaders of a confusing AFC South Division, Roddy White is making a run at an All-Pro nod, but the defense needs to find consistency. Dunta Robinson's absence hurt them, but they did limit the big play against a fast Eagles offense.
- Baltimore Ravens (5-2): Fluke game, but a telling story of a pitiful secondary. The days of Chris McCallister and Samari Rolle are behind them now, and the Ravens need Ed Reed to revitalize a downtrodden back four. Joe Flacco and Ray Rice lead a weapon-heavy offense that still hasn't found an identity, but watch out if they get it together.
- Houston Texans (4-2): Big bye week for a team in need of a break. Big game coming up, hopefully Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson can outduel the Manning-Wayne combo, in what could turn into a two-on-two matchup.
- Tennessee Titans (5-2): Very much in the playoff hunt with Kerry Collins under center, the Titans need their secondary to step it up. Littered with playmakers in the defensive backfield, Tennessee needs to continue to progress and show it can stop a solid passing attack. Love Kerry Collins, old Giants nostalgia.
- Kansas City Chiefs (4-2): Love the Chiefs and Todd Haley. They have all the ingredients to be a tough out in the playoffs, especially if they get into slugfests with Pittsburgh or Baltimore. Thomas Jones running for 70 yards explains everything about the Chiefs' running attack, and the still-hidden gem that is Jamaal Charles. Let's go Matt, one of only two starting QBs in the NFL that hail from USC.
- Philadelphia Eagles (4-2): Michael Vick needs to start. The Eagles have a different energy, a different style, and a different gameplan. They are built for Vick if you really think about it: Two dynamite receivers in Desean Jackson and the perennially-underrated Jeremy Maclin, who consistently take advantage of number seven's arm strength down the field, a Brian Westbrook clone in Lesean McCoy (no exaggeration), and a field-stretching tight end in Brent Celek. Play Vick. Kolb's too ugly to be an elite QB, there I said it, somebody had to.
- Miami Dolphins (3-3): I would rank them higher, but they have shown an inability to close out games. We spoke of them before, love Miami. They need Ronnie Brown to be his normal self because Ricky may need to make the move West in search of legal blunts if Prop 19 gets passed.
32. San Francisco (1-6): The amount of talent on that team makes it laughable that the Niners could lose to the Panthers. Love Mike Singletary, but maybe as a D-coordinator? Quarterbacks are key and Alex Smith is out of his league.
Jesse Paguaga is an intern for Bleacher Report. He is a regular contributor to Baseball Digest in the BD Baseball Fantasy Department. Jesse writes for Gotham Baseball, along with Gotham Hoops and Gotham Gridiron. He can be reached at Paguaga@usc.edu and can be found on Facebook and on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/@jpags77.