Dallas and perhaps Detroit aside, the NFL standings as midseason approaches do not qualify as a series of stunning developments. Especially in the AFC, where six of the eight teams with winning records at this point either made the playoffs last season or have been perennial winners of recent vintage: New England, Indianapolis and Denver all lead the divisions they won a year ago, while Baltimore, Cincinnati and San Diego are once again in thick of the playoff hunt. The only 2013 AFC playoff team that would miss the festivities this time around is, for the moment, Kansas City (3-3), last year’s upstart.
In the NFC, the 6-1 Cowboys and 5-2 Lions are the newcomers to the first-place crowd, but Philadelphia, Green Bay, San Francisco and Arizona all either went to the postseason a year ago or won 10 games and just missed. The Seahawks and Saints are struggling to get back into the playoff discussion, but both teams figure to win most of their remaining home games and can’t be remotely written off in late October.
Drama will almost certainly develop in the season’s second half as the playoff races take shape, but we probably won’t have wholesale changes in the look and makeup of the postseason. I thought you'd want to know. With seven weeks down, and 10 weeks to go, the 2014’s season script is starting to come together.
• Last week: 10-5; Season: 69-36 (.657).
• Best pick in Week 7: Pittsburgh 20, Houston 13, (Actual score: Pittsburgh 30-23).
• Worst pick in Week 7: (Tie) Cleveland 20, Jacksonville 17; Chicago 30, Miami 22 (Actual scores: Jacksonville 24-6, Miami 27-14).
Below are my Week 8 picks. And here’s my pick for Thursday night’s game between San Diego and Denver.
I can’t help but wonder what Mark Cuban thinks of the "hoggy" NFL introducing America to Sunday morning football from London? As if poor Meet the Press isn’t having a difficult enough go of it of late. And just wondering, but if there’s an actual NFL game to watch from roughly 9:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. this Sunday, does that mean the league just got into a head-to-head ratings competition with the pre-game shows of its three TV partners at ESPN, CBS and Fox? Not to mention its own NFL Network? That would qualify as a form of televised pigskin cannibalism, would it not? Have to admit I’m partial to Breakfast at Wimbledon, but I’m willing to give this a shot.
Well, well, well, the 2-5 Titans are finally starving enough for the win that they’re serving up a Mettenberger in the starting lineup against the visiting Texans. It’s about time. Riding with the tandem of Jake Locker and Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback wasn’t getting Tennessee anywhere but loserville. Let’s see what Zach Mettenberger, the sixth-round pick from LSU, can do. Personally I’m hoping he’s the answer for the Titans, at least for long enough so that we’re treated to a tasty Mettenberger versus Ben Roethlisberger showdown when the Steelers play in Nashville in Week 11. That could be fun.
The Seahawks and Panthers were among the NFC’s final four playoff teams last season, along with the Saints and 49ers. Of that group, only San Francisco has a winning record through Week 7, but the Niners are a modest 4-3 and coming off a 25-point shellacking at Denver. The point being, it’s tough to re-climb the mountain in the NFL, and lots of things can change from one year to the next. Defending Super Bowl champion Seattle has not forgotten how to win, but the difference is everybody is giving the Seahawks their absolute best shot week after week, with the perfect example being those gambling Rams, who tried everything but the hidden ball trick. This just in: NFL still stands for Not For Long.
The Bengals are better than they’ve shown the past three weeks, and the Ravens are due to cool down a bit after winning five of their past six, including a couple of cakewalks the last two weeks against the two worst teams in the dreadful NFC South (Bucs and Falcons). Until that tie with Carolina two weeks back, Cincinnati at home was a near lock, and this starts a three-game stand at Paul Brown Stadium for Marvin Lewis’s club, with Jacksonville and Cleveland following Baltimore to town. If the Bengals can take care of business at home, they’ll steady themselves and be right back in the driver’s seat to defend their AFC North title.
So Percy Harvin says he’s "definitely not a perfect person," and when he puts it that way, it sounds like he’ll be an ideal fit for the imperfect Jets. New York is as flawed a team as any this season, and with a league-leading six-game losing streak, the Jets have the results to back it up. And I like Jets general manager John Idzik, but I’d be careful if I were him to not be throwing around phrases like "a potential coup." Could give people ideas... Bad ideas, at least in terms of his current employment status. Let’s let Harvin play a game or two in green and white and then decide if he’s coup material. If you thought there was pressure on Geno Smith before, just let him fail to get Harvin the ball sufficiently enough and see how the trade pans out at that point.
Apparently they don’t have fool-proof alarm clocks on Revis Island. Oversleeping and being late to a team meeting is one of the seven deadly sins in New England, and you get the feeling Darrelle Revis knows he’s really a Patriot now, having visited the inside of Bill Belichick’s dog house. And this didn’t even involve a snowstorm or anything. If Revis can’t bat 100 percent on making it to Gillette Stadium in the fall, wait until he gets a load of winter in Foxboro. Speaking of snow, the last time the Bears and Patriots played, New England skated past Chicago 36-7 on a snowy, blustery day at Soldier Field in December 2010. It was 33-0 at halftime, and only the supposedly cold-weather Bears seemed chilled by the Windy City elements. It didn’t make up for Super Bowl XX or anything, but the Patriots had themselves a little party in Chicago that day.
Big weekend in Missouri, with the Rams and Chiefs colliding for the first time in the regular season since 2010, while the Royals go on the road to battle the Giants in the middle games of the World Series. Since they moved to Missouri in 1995, the Rams have never beaten their Show Me-state neighbors, going 0-5 in that span. The Chiefs should be ready for anything after the Rams pulled out all the stops last week at home against Seattle, trying every trick they knew, including making that final-minute Richard Sherman fumble recovery somehow disappear in the eyes of the NFL officiating office. Looked like pretty solid visual evidence to me, Dean Blandino.
Norv Turner says Teddy Bridgewater is "a work in progress," but aren’t we all? I get his point, though; it’s been a mixed bag with the Vikings rookie quarterback thus far, with an impressive win at home against Atlanta, and then so-so showings in losses to visiting Detroit and at Buffalo. He has had flashes of sharp play, but made his share of mistakes as well. How he fares against the struggling Bucs should give us a better sense for how the second half of his season will go. Tampa Bay has its own quarterback situation to monitor. Mike Glennon has done reasonably well in relief of the injured Josh McCown, but Bucs head coach Lovie Smith is a McCown fan and my sense is he’ll soon give the ex-Bear another shot to hold down the starting job. That makes this game very important for Glennon’s immediate future.
Gus Bradley has a shot to match the feat this week, but can you name the most recent Jaguars head coach to win consecutive home games? If you said Mel Tucker, in Weeks 14 and 17 of the 2011 season -- when Tucker served as an interim replacement for the fired Jack Del Rio -- give yourself a vigorous round of applause. That’s a long time ago, but neither of these teams can be picky when it comes to streaks. The Dolphins haven’t won back-to-back games since posting a three-game winning streak last December, and Jacksonville had a three-gamer as well from late November-to-mid-December. The Jaguars and Dolphins are both coming off upset wins in Week 7, and someone’s about to make it two W’s in a row.
It’s impossible to overstate the job Bruce Arians has done since becoming the Cardinals head coach in 2013. Arizona probably thinks the man walks on water by now. (That is, if there was any water to walk on in the desert.) Not only have the Cardinals gone 12-3 overall after starting last season 3-4, but also Arians’ club is 9-2 at home since he arrived, losing only to Seattle and San Francisco in University of Phoenix Stadium.
So that’s what the well-rested Eagles are up against this Sunday in one of the glamor games of Week 8. The first-place Cardinals are 3-0 at home this season and have already beaten San Diego, San Francisco and Washington, developing one of the league’s more reliable home turf advantages and building a 1 1/2-game lead in the tough NFC West.
The Browns face their second consecutive winless team in the Raiders, and perhaps being placed in the favorite’s role is not really doing any favors at this point for first-year Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine, whose guys seem better suited temperamentally to the underdog label. The Browns haven’t had the burden of expectation in so long they don’t even know how to react to it (see Jacksonville, last week).
But a loss at home to Oakland is almost unthinkable. The Raiders are 0-6, and I know this because of Darnell Dockett’s helpful sign last week at the end of the Cardinals’ 24-13 road win at Oakland. Now was that really necessary, Darnell? Do you really think Raiders fans don’t know they’re watching the "Worst Team in the NFL?" Of course they do. Since about 2003 or so.
At least Snoop Dogg was happy with Monday night’s win at home against Houston, with the rapper/Steelers fan telling the NFL Network this week that it "looked like [Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Todd Haley] he was listening to me. He’s starting to put Ben [Roethlisberger] in control running that hurry-up offense."
Maybe, but the Steelers defense had plenty to do with 30-23 win over Houston, forcing three turnovers that led to 17 Pittsburgh points. The Steelers play better at home, but not well enough to break their season-long streak of alternating wins and losses. Indy’s five-game winning streak is already the longest in the AFC, and even without injured receiver Reggie Wayne in the lineup, it’ll grow to six.
One more win for the Packers and they’ll have five in a row, or one for each letter in the R-E-L-A-X message that Aaron Rodgers so memorably sent to panicky Green Bay fans after that Week 3 loss at Detroit. But the X won’t be easy to get, because the Saints are at home, and will be playing with a sense of desperation. And if they’re not, they should be. New Orleans’ 0-4 road record has removed any cushion it might have had in the weak NFC South, and winning in the Superdome is now mandatory for the rest of the season. The Saints have won all 10 of their home games since head coach Sean Payton reported back to work at the start of 2013, and Green Bay’s task on Sunday night will be made even tougher if the Packers are missing two starters in the secondary -- cornerback Sam Shields (knee) and safety Morgan Burnett (calf).
Monday, Oct. 27
Memo to Jason Garrett: Dear potential NFC Coach of the Year, you’ve got this thing working like a well-oiled machine, so don’t take your foot off the gas any time soon. Resist the urge to pull a Stephen Strasburg and put DeMarco Murray on a pitch count. Ignore the noise. Be smart about it, of course, but keep riding him. Keep giving him the ball and using the formula that got you here. I don’t remember Emmitt Smith ever prompting waves of speculation in the first half of a season in regards to how long he might last and when his work load will produce an injury. This season in Dallas has been a long time coming. Don’t forget how long. Keep going. Keep pushing. At least until you’ve got that ninth win and can get rid of that whole 8-8 thing.