The Browns finally have reason to cheer
Week 9 has come and almost gone (save a Steelers/Bengals match-up tonight). Wade Phillips is now gone, and despite Brad Childress' best efforts to be fired, he still has a job. (Kids- if you ever want to be paid too much, radically underperform at your job, cut one of your best employees (Randy Moss) without ever telling your boss, and STILL not get fired, call Zygi Wilf).
But the NFL- known as a league of parity- has taken that to a whole new level this year. Not one team has less than two losses. Three division leaders have 5 or fewer wins. In the NFC West, the St. Louis Rams, despite not winning a road game all season, are in first place. Pretty simply, anything can happen any week.
So for this week, and this week only, here are the five biggest winners from Week 9.
All season we've heard about how terrible the NFC is, and how all the great teams are in the AFC. Really?
Well New England got blown away by the Cleveland Browns, taking the sting out of a similar loss the Saints suffered to the very same Cleveland Browns. The New York Jets needed OT to beat the Detroit Lions, and they only got there after Lions QB Matt Stafford got hurt and Lions K Jason Hanson was temporarily knocked out of the game (leading to rookie DT Ndamukong Suh attempting and missing an extra point. That gave the Lions 13 points- not 14, allowing the Jets to tie the game up when it was 20-17 on the final drive.)
The Houston Texans? They fell apart! Shocker. They lost at home to Philip Rivers and a bunch of day laborers the Chargers picked up on the way to Houston. The mighty Indianapolis Colts? They were shut down by a suddenly improving Eagles defense, who forced Peyton Manning into his worst game in recent memory (31/52, 294 YDS, 1 TD, 2 INT's, 3 sacks, 65.7 QB rating).
The Giants blew away the (former NFC West-leading) Seattle Seahawks. Are the Seahawks good? I don't think so. But they were also undefeated at home until that game, and the Giants have had issues in the past in Seattle.
And no- the Dallas Cowboys aren't good. But Green Bay still blew them away, with a 42-7 thrashing. Once this defense begins to get healthy, you realize that Green Bay is as talented as any team in the NFL.
NFC East combined record: 16-16
AFC East combined record: 16-16
If I have to hear how great the AFC East is one more time....
I don't think Eric Mangini is a great coach. I live in New Jersey, and I know all about his stint with the Jets, and based off that alone I can conclude the whole "Mangenious" thing was overstated. Still, I have to give credit where credit is due. When this team was 1-5, and had to go to New Orleans with a bye week sandwiched between a face-off against New England, you had to think a 1-7 record was all but guaranteed. But Cleveland went out, shocked New Orleans on the road, and then blew away the Patriots at home. This team has a +/- differential of -4, meaning that though their record is 3-5, they aren't exactly getting blown out of games. Colt McCoy has looked much better than anybody could have expected (he's the first rookie in NFL history to face three Super Bowl-winning QB's in his first three starts- Roethlisberger, Brees, Brady), Peyton Hillis has been a monster anyway he can get the ball in his hands, and the defense has stepped up as of late, limiting the Saints and Patriots to a combined 31 points the last two weeks. Before the season, I thought talent-wise, this was the worst-team in the NFL. I stand corrected.
Before the season, I really believed in Oakland. I thought 8-8 was definitely attainable, and that if enough things fell their way, they could make a run at the AFC West crown. After yesterday's win over AFC West leading Kansas City Chiefs, the Raiders look more like contenders every week. Running back Darren McFadden is averaging over 140 total yards per game, including over 108/game on the ground. QB Jason Campbell has over 740 yards, and a 5:1 TD: INT ratio over the 3-game winning streak. The defense stepped up, even without stud CB Nnamdi Asomugha, (soon-to-be) Pro Bowl TE Zach Miller, and #1 WR Louis Murphy. And just like that, the Raiders are 5-4.
Tom Cable isn't the perfect head coach. He certainly isn't the perfect person. But at 5-4, the Raiders have been in all but one game (a 38-13 season-opening loss in Tennessee). Besides that, the Raiders three other losses have been by single digits. The Raiders ride into the bye with renewed confidence, which they'll certainly need as their first game back is a tough one: on the road at Pittsburgh.
I'm not sure this team will take the AFC West, especially as the Chargers get back Malcolm Floyd, Vincent Jackson, and Antonio Gates and are also picking up momentum. But for a franchise that knows failure too well, any moment to celebrate should be recognized.
I'm sick of the Brett Favre saga too, but he saved the Vikings season with a career-high 446 yards, and two touchdowns in the last 3:34 to force OT, before Ryan Longwell kicked a 35-yarder to cap the improbable comeback.
Favre's 446 yards were 182 yards more than his previous season-high. His 36 completions were 13 more than his previous season-high, and his 9.5 yards/attempt were 1.4 yards/attempt higher than his previous season-high. And that was without Randy Moss and Sidney Rice.
Are the Vikings back? No. The Vikings actually didn't gain any ground on the two teams ahead of them in the NFC North standings (the Bears and Packers both won), but at 3-5, they still have a chance. At 2-6, they'd be all but dead.
On top of that, Percy Harvin's fight with Brad Childress, coupled by rumors of Zygi Wilf dismissing Childress, seem to at least take some of the blame and pressure off of Favre's performance so far.
Remember when Ed Reed was contemplating retirement? In his two games back so far, the Ravens are 2-0, and Reed has three interceptions. He's one of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history, and his addition to an already solid Baltimore defense makes this team very dangerous.
Yesterday they blew away a good Miami Dolphins team (who had been a perfect 4-0 on the road). Yes, there are questions about the offense, as I'm still not sold on Joe Flacco. But they didn't punt once all game.
Yes the defense isn't as good as it once was. But they forced three interceptions and four fumbles on defense, and owned nearly a 2:1 time possession advantage.
Heck, they even successfully completed a fake punt. Nearly everything went right for the Ravens yesterday. At 6-2, their two losses are a combined 8 points. They'll be challenged once again on Thursday night in a prime-time game at Atlanta, where they'll be put up to the test once again.