Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we take stock of where things stand in the NFL as the final four weeks of the regular season come into focus (that's 64 games and counting down if you're keeping track)....
• What's wrong with the Patriots?
Add to that the discouraging reality that New England has swung and missed in terms of the defensive veterans it has acquired in recent years. The level of exposure the Patriots young defensive players are suffering was supposed to be minimized by the likes of cornerback
The Patriots' lack of any threat in terms of pass rush has left their young secondary on an island in far too many games this season, and it's no wonder even the
That said, don't shovel too much dirt on the Patriots just yet. They'll be favored to win all four of their remaining games -- Carolina, at Buffalo, Jacksonville, at Houston -- and they'll still claim the AFC East title and get a first-round home playoff game at 11-5 or 10-6.
They also have a chance to get a little healthier and more potent on offense down the stretch with the likely return of running back
• Got some testy e-mails for bringing it up last week in the Vikings' entry in my weekly
From 2005 on, Favre has thrown 36 interceptions and just 15 touchdowns in the last five games of the regular season, a differential of minus-21. In his first 11 games of those seasons, Favre's touchdown-to-interception differential was a gaudy plus-48, with 99 touchdowns and 51 interceptions. That's a swing of 69 clicks, making it fairly difficult to dismiss as a five-year trend. Or at least a trend of four years and one game.
• I've said the same thing during the Dallas December swoons of the past two years, but
Figuring out how to stop the bleeding is how an NFL head coach truly earns his money. But Phillips seemingly has little knack for that part of the job, and it was all too familiar Sunday evening at Giants Stadium to hear him lamenting how the Cowboys lost to New York only because they did things they do not normally do, like give up big plays or fail to convert on third down. Phillips mournfully shaking his head at those miscues isn't going to get anything corrected.
I actually think Phillips helped sow the seeds for the Dallas loss at New York by choosing last week, of all times, to complain about the lack of respect he and his record as a head coach receives. It was the wrong message at the wrong time. Wins in December would take care of all those perceived slights, and then Phillips wouldn't have to say a word. By bringing up the topic, and then failing against the Giants, Phillips looks like he once again let his focus stray at the point of the year when on-field results matter most.
• With the four most anticipated weeks of the NFL regular season about to play out, you might be surprised to learn that seven teams are already finished with their six-game division schedule, and 12 more have just one game remaining against a division opponent. That means just 13 of 32 teams will play at least half of their remaining four games head to head in the division. Maybe it's no wonder that only three of the eight division races remain undecided as we enter the season's backstretch.
The NFC East, by far, is the division that has the most potential for final month intrigue. All four teams have two division games remaining, and those include arguably the two biggest division showdowns still left on the NFL schedule: This week's Eagles (8-4) at Giants (7-5) game Sunday night at the Meadowlands, and Week 17's Philly at Dallas showdown, which could be a winner-take-all affair in terms of playoff implications. With home games remaining against both the Giants (Week 15) and Cowboys (Week 16), Washington also will have a big say in who wins the NFC East.
Division by division, here are the other division games remaining on the schedule:
• There's a certain clarity that surfaces this time of year as the playoff chase intensifies and teams either eliminate themselves or increase their odds to reach the postseason. Though it never turns out exactly as it appears it will (see the Eagles and Chargers making the playoffs at the last second in 2008), here are a few helpful ways to view the current landscape:
At the moment, there are 13 teams in the NFL with winning records. All but one of them (the 7-5 Giants) would be in the playoffs if they opened today. New York in the NFC and Jacksonville (7-5) in the AFC are the winning teams that appear most in jeopardy of missing the playoffs, although every time I peek at the 8-4 Cowboys' remaining schedule -- Chargers, at Saints, at Redskins, Eagles -- I can see 9-7 and no trip to the dance for Dallas on the horizon.
Eliminating everyone with less than six wins, there are 18 teams still in the running for 12 playoff spots. Actually, with the Saints and Colts both having already clinched a berth, you can think of it as 16 teams still vying for 10 spots.
The AFC field is trickier to discern than the NFC field, because 10 teams are still very much alive, even though five of them are likely vying for the same wild-card berth. The Jets, Dolphins, Steelers and Ravens are all 6-6 and on the Jaguars' heels for that No. 6 slot in AFC wild card.
In the NFC, the intrigue looks to center on the NFC East, where two of the three contenders (Cowboys, Eagles and Giants) likely will make the postseason, with the third going home. If there's a surprise team, it could still be the 6-6 Falcons, but they face difficult must-wins the next two weeks, at home against New Orleans and at the Jets.