We have passed the halfway point of one of the most unique NFL seasons in recent memory. The return of the NFL from the lockout has been filled with suprises, disappointments, emerging stars and great games.
Week 9 was no exception. While many teams have failed to established themselves as favorites, many teams showed that they won't be fading away anytime soon. Here is a list of things we learned in week 9 in the National Football League.
Don’t look now, but the Cincinnati Bengals are 6-2 and are tied for first place in the AFC North. Even though the schedule has been pretty easy, and winning the division or even a wild card looks like a long-shot right now, the Bengals have shown a glimpse of the future, and it’s pretty bright.
That future will get even brighter when the Bengals use two mid first-round draft picks next year. Carson Palmer was done in Cincy, and yet the Bengals still got a first-rounder out of him. They couldn't be happier.
Meanwhile, the Raiders are 0-2 since trading for Carson Palmer, who has been far from impressive. The Raiders hoped Palmer could come in and make an immediate impact by replacing injured Jason Campbell. If Palmer leads the Raiders to the playoffs, this could turn out to be a pretty good trade, but as of right now, it looks pretty lopsided.
The Houston Texans, without arguably their two best players, have put themselves in good position to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The AFC has been dominated by the Colts over the last 10 years, but Peyton Manning's absence has left the division up for grabs.
Right now, the Texans are running away with the division. Literally. The Texans top-ranked rushing attack can't be stopped, and the return of Andre Johnson can only help the offense.
However, the biggest difference between this year is the much improved past defense. Houston's pass defense was ranked dead last year, but find themselves in the top 10 this year. The addition of Jonathon Joseph has been huge for the Texans. With a relatively easy second half of the season, the Texans should have little trouble winning the AFC South.
I think it is safe to say that the 49ers are the biggest surprise in the NFL this season. In Jim Harbaugh first season as head coach, the Niners are 7-1 and have pretty much clinched football's worst division.
Don't overlook the 49ers because they play in such a bad division. Alex Smith is playing effective, mistake-free football and Frank Gore has put together a great season. However, it is the defense that has carried this team. The Niners defense has given up the fewest amount of points the the NFL.
San Francisco has a few tough matchups against playoff-caliber teams remaining on the schedule. Even though the Niners are a lock for the playoffs, but it will be interesting to see if they can continue to play at such a high level for the rest of the season.
Speaking of Harbaughs, the Baltimore Ravens and coach John Harbaugh emerged as AFC favorites Sunday night. Joe Flacco marched the Ravens down the field to beat division rival Pittsburgh in the final seconds.
This was a very impressive win for the Ravens. Pittsburgh had a lot of momentum after beating New England last week. The Ravens had struggled the two previous weeks with pretty weak opponents. Yet Baltimore was able to come into Pittsburgh and put together a win.
The Ravens have always had the most dominant defense in the NFL for the last 10 years, and this year is no exception. However, the missing piece of those Ravens teams has been really good quarterback play. Joe Flacco has proven that he can be a top 10 NFL quarterback this year. This could be what the Ravens need to get back to the big game.
There was another game-winning touchdown drive on Sunday, except this one was led by Giants quarterback Eli Manning. In a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, the Giants were victorious once again. Just as he did in the Super Bowl, Manning marched down the field to shock Brady and the Pats in the last minute.
This was a good start to a brutal stretch of six games for the Giants, who sit atop of the division. If the Giants can make it through the next few games, they should have a good shot at winning the NFC East. The Eagles will have a tough time recovering to make the playoffs, and the Cowboys have a lot of question marks.
Since the Giants have the only winning record in the division, one that consists of some quality wins, they are the best team in the NFC East. We have seen the G-men collapse towards the end of the season, but if Eli Manning keeps playing the way he is, Giants fans won't have to worry about a thing.
With the Patriots' two consecutive losses and the Jets win over Buffalo on Sunday, a three-way tie has formed atop of the AFC East standings. The race has truly been blown wide open, with the exception of Miami.
That being said, the Patriots will visit the Jets this Sunday, and that should clear up some confusion. It feels like opposing defenses have figured out ways to slow down Brady, and the Jets fifth-ranked pass defense plans to do just that. The Jets defense came up huge against Buffalo. If they can shut down the Patriots, the division race might just swing in their favor.
All three teams have had ups and downs this year, so it is hard to predict a front-runner. While the Jets are currently the hottest of the three teams, all that matters are the standings after Week 17.
I don’t know about you, but Sundays Broncos/Raiders game sure left me scratching my head. Tim Tebow’s awful performance against Detroit led me to believe that the “Tebow era” in Denver was coming to an end. The decisive win at Oakland puts the Broncos back into playoff contention in the weak AFC West.
While Tebow didn’t put up huge numbers, he made very few mistakes and helped move the ball on the ground. The Broncos have a pretty difficult schedule ahead, and time will tell if Tebow is for real, but the last thing we can do right now is count Tebow out.
The Pack need a little more of this.
Aaron Rodgers' spectacular play in last year's playoffs has carried over into this season. The defense, on the other hand, wandered off somewhere between April and August.
The Packers are 30th in total defense, and 17th in points alowed. The Packers have the ability to create turnovers, but you can't rely on your opponents to make mistakes. I know Clay Matthews can disrupt plays, but the Packers need to get him to the QB. There has been little pressure on the quarterback this season, and that puts alot of pressure on the secondary.
Yes, I understand the Packers are 8-0. I also know Rodgers is super-human, but there is no way he continues to put up these kind of numbers throughout the season and playoffs. The Packers are going to need the defense to step up if they want to replicate last season.
The AFC West consists of four mediocre teams jumbled all together in the division standings. There is a three-way tie for first, and Denver sits behind very closely in second place.
San Diego has been a major disappointment but can still salvage their season. The Chiefs have been plagued by injuries, but are still sticking around. The Raiders started out hot, but have looked very bad the last few weeks. Then you add Tim Tebow to the mix, and you have no idea what to expect.
This should be sorted out a little when Denver and KC face off and Oakland plays San Diego Thursday night. However, all we learned on Sunday is that there is no front-runner in the AFC West.
Just when we thought the "Dream Team" had turned the corner on what was supposed to be a magic 2011 season, the Eagles are in big trouble once again.
After two straight wins, the Eagles lost a fourth quarter lead to the Bears, sending the Eagles into panic mode. There is still a lot of football to be played, and the Eagles have more talent than any team in the NFL. Yet the Eagles just aren't getting the job done.
Football is about making players, and the Eagles' explosive playmakers are being held quiet for a majority of the game. The Eagles must also do a much better job of protecting Mike Vick, who is hit more than any NFL quarterback.
The Eagles are only 3-5 and can still make the playoffs. What America saw Monday night was not a playoff team. The Eagles can try to gain some momentum against Arizona this Sunday before facing the Giants and Patriots. But until then, the Eagles have dug themselves into a pretty deep hole.