• You think
The Bengals' next three opponents are among the league's Awful Eight this season -- at Oakland next week, then home against Cleveland and Detroit -- and this is finally a Cincinnati team that's mature enough to take care of business against teams it should beat. The Bengals will be 10-2 and about to wrap up a playoff berth by the time they travel in Weeks 14-15 to Minnesota and San Diego -- their only remaining games against winning teams. Cincy suddenly looks like 12-4 or 13-3 material to me, and a first-round bye is definitely in play.
• The NFL's next biggest early season surprise (Bengals aside) is, at this point, the proverbial helium balloon flying around the room backwards. Unlike Cincinnati, Denver looks like its season has already lasted too long. Having lost three straight after that 6-0 start, the Broncos are in real trouble in a division they seemed to own just four weeks ago. What is it about Denver and three-game leads in the AFC West that just doesn't work?
Ironically, the Broncos finally got quarterback
The Broncos had better hope Orton is healthy for next week's AFC West showdown against visiting San Diego, or Denver's decline will continue. The Broncos had minus-8 yards passing in the second half, with Simms, the onetime Bucs starter, going 3 of 13 with one interception.
• There are no bigger frauds in football than
Ryan keeps talking up his team, but it sounds like so much hot air now that the Jets have lost three consecutive home games to AFC opponents Buffalo, Miami and Jacksonville, none of whom played the Jets with a winning record. The Jaguars were the latest opponent to expose New York's once-boastful defense, rolling up 347 yards against the Jets and their shoddy tackling, including 139 on the ground.
Mathematically, the Jets remain in the AFC wild-card picture. Realistically, they're done for the year. That loss to Jacksonville was basically an elimination game. And don't look now, but New York is headed to New England next week. The Patriots, no doubt, have a bit of revenge on their minds.
• Sunday was the most painful day of the NFL season. Like dominoes, the injured players just kept falling on Sunday for playoff-contending teams. Orton went down for the Broncos with that ankle problem. The Steelers lost safety
The Panthers saw offensive tackle
The only word that seems to fit is
• If the Titans are determined to trade
• It's been apparent for a while now that Jacksonville's
Headed for an easy touchdown inside the game's last two minutes, Jones-Drew didn't worry about his stats when he intentionally took a knee at the New York 1, thereby allowing Jacksonville to run out the clock on the Jets, who were out of timeouts. How many players would have had the judgment to make the same choice just before
• With four of their next five games played in the relative obscurity of their home stadium, don't forget about these Jaguars, who are now tied with the Texans for second in the AFC South. Check out Jacksonville's final seven games and you can see a path to 10 wins. It's certainly plausible for the Jaguars to win home games against Buffalo, Houston and Miami, with road victories within reach at San Francisco and Cleveland.
But don't worry Jaguars fans, it's still a long shot that you'd have a playoff home game to get blacked out.
• So that's why the Bengals put the franchise tag on kicker
• Nobody in the NFL has executed a bigger in-season renaissance than Carolina quarterback
Carolina has won four of its past six games after starting 0-3, and the Panthers are still dangerous in an NFC wild-card race that remains wide open and considerably shy of can't-miss contenders.
• Unlike Delhomme,
• I'm sure his fantasy football owners have long since given up on him, but Panthers receiver
• The Vikings looked sluggish at home against the Lions coming off their bye week, but you can't blame deep-threat receiver
No wonder Favre just had to come out of retirement again.
• It was so predictable, and you can see it happening. Everybody the undefeated Saints play these days is giving New Orleans its best shot. The Rams came just a play away from upsetting the Saints at home on Sunday, losing 28-23 when quarterback
Saints fans are probably getting nervous, but keep in mind that New Orleans was playing without three starters in its secondary for some of the game. Free safety
It's the nature of the beast, though. From here on out, everybody's playing their Super Bowl against New Orleans.
• Boil it all down, and while
Cutler didn't win in Denver, and you could blame the Broncos defense. And now he's not winning in Chicago, and the Bears woeful offensive line deserves its share of fault for that. But the bottom line is the same: Cutler hasn't won, and at some point, that's absolutely the only measuring stick that matters.
• And one more Cutler rant before we move on: I don't know how long it has been since I've seen two worse red-zone interceptions than the ones he threw Thursday night at San Francisco. One of those per season is probably too many for a quality NFL quarterback. Two in the same game? Mind-boggling.
• Let's just admit it: The Bucs' magic was gone this week at Miami because those red and pewter uniforms were back. The power of the creamsicle orange was missing.
• Maybe we should call him "Hunter the Passer'' instead of "Hunter the Punter.'' Did you see that beautiful 35-yard touchdown pass launched by Redskins punter/holder
And Smith is no Hunter-come-lately. In Week 1 at the Giants, he rushed for an eight-yard touchdown on another fake field goal. If I'm Smith's agent, I'm seeking more money for my client. He's a triple threat.