Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 5 Recap

I am terrified to write this post on a Tuesday night.  The last time I wrote a post on a Tuesday night it congratulated New Orleans and Tampa Bay and wondered what was happening with Carolina – only to have seven points in DeMarcus Lawrence stat corrections render my post ridiculous the following day.

As I write this, 8/16 (50%!) games are within 15 points, 4/16 (25%!) are within 5 points, and a ridiculous 3/16 games are within a SINGLE point.  All three involve potential playoff teams.  Man.  It’s great for excitement and tight games, but man it’s weird to be waiting for a single stat correction to decide all of our fates.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 5 Recap

Meanwhile, what did the week show us?

First, it’s HARD to be undefeated.  Detroit and Buffalo had cruised through their schedules to point, obliterating all comers, and KC had taken advantage of a favorable schedule to cruise to 7-0 as well.  Detroit was obliterated by Carolina.  Buffalo took a punch from Cincy and barely surprised, and KC, for now, survived Houston by half a point on stat corrections.

Second, I say it every few weeks, but Oakland literally has the worst luck of any fantasy team ever – year after year.  This week?  After holding a comfortable lead over Baltimore heading into Monday night, the Raiders lost it in the third quarter when an errant Mitch Trubisky passed bounced through the open hands of what should have been a sure interception and ricocheted directly to Zach Miller in the endzone.  At present reckoning, the Raiders have lost by a point.  After a league leading number of losses by less than 10 points last year, the Raiders have already lost two games this year by that amount.

Third, parity is dead.  Regrettably, the league is separating itself neatly (much like American society) into clearly delineated lines of have and have-not.  Only a single decision (the mighty NFC South) has three teams at .500 and above. Only a single division (the mighty NFC South) has three teams within two games of the lead.  And only two divisions (The AFC North and South) have two teams within a game of first place.  Beyond that, a look across the league reveals a tale of division leaders running away, clear wild card teams, and teams competing for the first draft pick.

AFC East: Buffalo @8-0, no other team closer than 3-5.

AFC West: KC @8-0, Oakland at 5-3, nobody else better than 3-5

NFC East: NYG @7-1, nobody else better than 3-5

NFC North: Detroit @7-1, nobody else better than 4-4

NFC West: Seattle @7-1, nobody else better than 4-4

Competitive games.  But not competitive seasons.

Game of the Week:

Buffalo Bills 234, Cincinnati Bengals 222: For a long time on Sunday, it looked like all three undefeated teams would go down to defeat.  The Bengals rode 35 points from TY Hilton and 32 from the Burfict Storm to take a lead over the Bills.  Buffalo punched back with 130 points from it’s defense, and in the irony to top all ironies, survived Cincy’s upset bid behind 42 points from AJ Mother ()&#$*(#$ Green – traded to Buffalo from Cincinnati for the immortal Da’Rick Rogers and a late first rounder.  Youch.  Buffalo stays undefeated, but a game Cincy team served notice that it is not going away any time soon.  And potentially not any time late.

 

Teams Rising: 

Jacksonville Jaguars: And that would be how you announce that you have staying power.  After a pair of strong performances to get into first place, the Jags stay there with a convincing 230-201 win over resurgent Pittsburgh.  As it has been all year, the defense powered the Jags to the tune of 135 points.  Even more remarkable, though, is that the offense has gone from liability to at least moderately credible.  Kareem Hunt, David Njoku, and Cooper Kupp make this one of the strongest draft classes in real deal, as Kupp and Hunt may well be the two best rookie skill players of the draft.  Danny Amendola has also proved to be a strong role player and turned in 22 points.  Jacksonville is playing some great football and at 6-2, could be very hard to beat.  For the Steelers… well, 5 interceptions from the QB will doom just about anyone, but when you can put up over 200 points with that?  And can point to Le’Veon and Jarvis Landry both on track?  Pittsburgh will be just fine.

Minnesota Vikings: Now that’s the sort of game the Vikings were expecting a lot more of.  30 points from Dak Prescott, 18 from Kyle Rudolph, 17 from Duke Johnson, and 115 defensive points where 8/11 players got into double figures and Reshad Jones scored 27.  That’s what Minnesota has been expecting.  Why haven’t they gotten more of it?  The can’t miss draft picks are missing.  Another zero for consensus top 10 pick Laquon Treadwell mixes with a solid but uninspiring 12 for consensus top 10 pick Joe Mixon.  The Vikings are close.  is this the start of putting it all together in Minnesota?

Indianapolis Colts: The Colts looked hung out to dry in the pre-season.  Luck was injured.  Edelman was gone for the year.  The offense looked historically bad.  The defense looked like the epitome of mediocrity.  After a 197-162 dousing of the 49ers, the Colts are all of a sudden sitting at 4-4, just one game out of the wild card, and actually in contention for the playoffs.  The offensive players, particularly guys like Kamara and Gallman have been better than expected.  The defense has risen above mediocre to become downright good (especially in a consistent secondary that averages in double figures), and the schedule hasn’t been fantastic.  A sterner test awaits this week in Tennessee, but Luck is back soon… if they can hold off until then..

Honorable Mentions: Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers

 

Teams Falling:

Detroit Lions: When you are the consensus NFC Super Bowl pick and expected to death march through the conference slate, this counts as a thud.  170 points in an uninspired 65 point loss where only two players on the team (Tyreek Hill and Leonard Floyd) broke 20.  If this wasn’t fantasy, I’d point to the coaching and how hard it is to maintain motivation over the long season.  Look, Detroit is going to be fine.  I still think they are the Super Bowl favorites.  But this was a chink in their facade of invulnerability, and a huge boost to the prestige of Carolina, who rode 23 points from rookie RB Aaron Jones to a 234 point performance and, potentially, home field advantage throughout the postseason.

LA Rams: Welp.  Fair or not, when you haven’t been a competitive team for a long team, when you start to string together good games, you have to go out and prove it in a show me game.  Not so much.  The Rams showed us they don’t quite belong after laying a 40 point offensive egg – of which 22/40 points came from Marqise Goodwin.  Besides him, only two guys hit double digits as the Rams rode Marcus Mariota’s injury to a brutal 118 points, and left a winnable game against division rival Seattle on the table.  Now at 4-4 and behind on the tiebreaker, LA faces a likely insurmountable climb back towards contention.

Philadelphia Eagles: It was a game effort from the Birds of 2017, but it simply wasn’t to be.  Injuries to Derek Carr and Ty Montgomery have scuttled a once promising season for Philadelphia, but just as much the rest of the offensive cast never quite showed up.  The Eagles are 29th in the league in total offense, and trailing such worthies as Miami, Chicago, and San Francisco.  A 3-5 record and four game deficit against the league leading Giants is too much to overcome, and the Eagles have wisely turned their attention to 2018 – and hopefully scoring some points.

Dishonorable Mentions: New York Jets, Green Bay Packers

Games of the Week:

Arizona Cardinals vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Last week’s game against Philadelphia was an elimination game for the scuffling Cardinals.  And while the red birds eliminated the green ones, it can’t be said that they passed the test with flying colors.  Even if they are colorful birds.  It’s more like the colors crawled morosely over the ground and staggered drunkenly across the finish line about two hours after the race officially ended. Coupled with a win, it was decidedly inconclusive.  So they get another shot.  Arizona gets Tampa, whose season mojo has completely changed after their devastating stat correction loss to Carolina.  Instead of 4-1, the Bucs are now 4-4 and in last place, with their season in serious danger of slipping away.  Like Arizona – Philly last week, the winner of this game lives to fight another day.  The loser… well… doesn’t.  Arizona gets Matt Ryan back from the bye, but loses Shady McCoy.  It could be tough.

Seattle Seahawks vs. Cincinnati Bengals: The Seahawks get a chance to continue to run away and hide in their division, while the Bengals reward for playing Buffalo so tightly is a date with the 7-1 Seahawks.  The Bengals remain an enigma – only 14th in fantasy points, mediocre on offense, mediocre on defense, and forced to start Ryan Fitspatrick at QB – and yet only a half game out in the AFC North.  Seattle, on the other hand, makes no secret of it’s secret sauce – offense.  Though the bye week, and the subsequent loss of a lot of starters on both teams makes this one a lot more questionable than it otherwise would be.  Even strength, I go Seattle.  On a bye?  Tough to say.

Detroit Lions vs. New Orleans Saints: New Orleans may be the only team approaching Oakland for sheer bad luck.  Denied an undefeated season by stat correction, denied a victory over Carolina and the division lead by stat correction, the Saints now have the good fortune of catching Detroit coming off it’s first loss in a long, long time.  The Lions will be vengeful, bitter, and fired up.  The Saints will be without Jimmy Graham, Darqueze Dennard, and Jeff Heath.  Doh.

Indianapolis Colts vs. Tennessee Titans: Tennessee enters an obvious trap game with decidedly mixed feelings.  On the one hand, they are solidly 6-2 and boast a top 10 defense.  On the other hand, they just lose OBJ for the year and are somehow tied with a high-flying Jacksonville Jaguars team that has come out of nowhere to give aggressive challenge.  Indy wasn’t supposed to compete with Indy.  But Indy has been competing with other teams.  The Titans should win this game.  Need to win this game.  But in their first contest without OBJ? And still down Sam Bradford?  This one has will require some serious mental fortitude.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Kansas City Chiefs: One of the few old fashioned battles between division leaders happening in an underwhelming week 6 slate, Pittsburgh is in the midst of a rather brutal slate of games (Baltimore, New Orleans, Jacksonville, KC, Cincinnati, Detroit).  How’s that for a tough six game sled?  1-2 thus far, and facing a stern challenge from the rival Bengals, Pittsburgh can’t afford to overlook the Chiefs this week.  Fortunately, neither team is particularly burdened by bye weeks, meaning that this should be a fun one!

Good luck in week 6 everybody!

Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 6 Recap

We begin this week’s recap with a hearty helping of deliciously foul (fowl!) crow.  Roasted in cinnamon, oregano, and cayenne paper and soaked in pickle juice for extra nastiness.

I wrote last week that the Baltimore Ravens had absolutely NO chance against the Giants and predicted a 100 point win for the G-Men.

Let’s see exactly how that turned out for me:

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 6 Recap

Game of the Week: Baltimore Ravens 267, New York Giants 220

So let’s be clear.  This wasn’t a great game for the Giants.  Easily one of their lowest outputs of the season.  A mere 220 points.  They aught to be ashamed of themselves.  Imagine scoring only 220?  But no.  That’s not it.  This was not a game the Giants lost.  This was a game that the Ravens went out and won handily with an epic 159 point offensive performance.  It wasn’t just that Baltimore scored a ton of points on offense, though.  It was WHO.  An unsung offensive cast exploded!  Christine Michael got 26.  Amari Cooper (ok, he’s sung) got 30.  Terrelle freaking Pryor got 31, and Kendall Wright got 35.  Mercy.  The Ravens are now 6-3, averaging more than 200 points a game, and if the season were to end today, would be in the playoffs – and a team nobody would want to see on the opposing line!

Teams Rising:

Cincinnati Bengals: Time to give the Bengals a little credit as they ascend to sole possession of first place in the AFC North at an absolutely flabbergasting 7-2.  Cincy’s latest triump was an 184-175 win over fellow playoff contender New England.  With Cleveland suddenly scuffling and Pittsburgh suddenly without Ben Roethlisberger just as they Steelers were starting to get hot, it looks increasingly likely that Cincy and Baltimore might need to duke it out for the North division title – and the loser may well grab a wild card.  The Bengals defense was the story in week 6, with 6/11 players scoring in double digits and a 20 point performance by one Zachary Orr.

New Orleans Saints: And boom. The Saints are back!  248-201 over divisional rival and Super Bowl Champ Carolina.  This win puts the Saints in a three way tie for the wildcard with Atlanta and Philadelphia, and, just as importantly, only one game back of Carolina.  After a brutal start, New Orleans is baaaaack.  Fittingly, Drew Brees led the way with an absurd 44 point outing, but was paced by Golden Tate (38) and CJ Fiedorowicz (21) on offense.  The Saints knew they were going to have to find some role players to step up and answer some question marks, and boy did they ever this week.  A pick six from Malcolm Jenkins (28 points) added to the cause, as the Saints overcame 30 points from Cam and 23 from some guy named Nick Bellore.  It’s getting crazy again in the NFC!

Houston Texans: Aight, Houston.  Aight.  I see you. After a cool 226-183 win over divisional rival Indianapolis, the AFC South is starting to sort itself out with Houston and Tennessee gaining a little separation from Indy and Jacksonville.  David Johnson scored 38 points on a three score game and nearly outscored the hapless Colts offense by himself to pace the Texans.  Still, there’s no forgetting a defense where 7 players scored in double figures and an 8th got nine.  Houston’s two-back in the division and still a game out of the Wild Card, so they need to keep on moving, but this is a very nice divisional win for an embattled squad.

Honorable Mentions: Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans, Minnesota Vikings.

 

Teams Falling:

Cleveland Browns: Another brutal week for the Browns.  Another loss against a contending time.  Another game where the team simply didn’t look competitive.  Another week where division rivals posted wins to knock them farther back in the race.  46 points on offense with a high score of 10 from Blake Bortles simply isn’t going to be good enough to win most weeks.  Cleveland still leads the AFC North in points scored.  They can still right the ship.  But with Cincy and Baltimore playing as well as they are, they had better do it quickly.

San Diego Chargers: As recently as a couple weeks ago, San Diego looked like they could be a contender in the West, or at least make a solid push for second.  Two losses later, not so much.  The offense failed the Chargers utterly as they managed only 36 points on the offensive side of the ball, and fell to the Denver Broncos (who have suddenly won two in a row!).  At 3-6, the Chargers face a huge hole to climb back into contention, and may not make it this year.

Minnesota Vikings: Yeeouch.  The Vikings have looked better and better this year, posting competitive game after competitive game, but not posting a whole lot of wins.  Well, they got their chance in week 6 as Tampa Bay posted only 116 points.  The problem?  Minnesota posted only 112.  Sure, they had bye issues.  But 45 points on defense is not going to get it done, as everybody not named Andre Branch combined for exactly 32 points.  It’s a culture issue in Minnesota, where the Vikings now have talent – but have to figure out how to win.

Dishonorable Mentions: Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars

 

Week 7 Games of the Week:

Welp, unless we get some upsets, this could be another rough week for good games, unfortunately!  Only four that really seem to me to feature much competition.  But some should be excellent.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns:  It’s a week to week league.  One week you can be on the top of the world, only to come brutally crashing back to earth the next.  Or you can be on the outs, facing a lost season, only to bounce back, dominate, and right the ship.  Right now, big Mo (that’s momentum) is all on the side of Cincinnati, and the Bengals are poised to knock out their rivals with a brutal hook.  But Cleveland isn’t done yet.  And this could be the game that rights the Browns ship.  Lots at stake in the battle of Ohio.  We’ll see who prevails

Indianapolis Colts vs. Tennessee Titans: This is what you call a run away and hide game.  A win by the Titans would move them to 8-2, keep them solidly in control of the AFC South regardless of what Houston does, and pretty much put a nail in the punchless Colts coffin.  Of course, see the above about a week-to-week league.  If the Colts win, all of a sudden the South is right back in play.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. New Orleans Saints: The Chiefs are smarting from a 3 point loss to the Raiders and losing an opportunity to put their own division away.  No time for woundlicking though, because the high-octane, rejuvenated Saints come roaring into town fresh off their demolition of the Panthers.  Both teams are close to full strength, so this game should tell us a lot about the relative prospects of each team – and things are going to be looking pretty rosy for the winner.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots: A tough and tricky game for two teams who need to rebound.  After a nine point loss to Cincy, New England has fallen three games behind the unbeaten Bills and into a tie for the wild card.  They need some wins to stay afloat, particularly given the competitive AFC landscape.  The Steelers, after a brutal start without Le’Veon Bell, have rediscovered their world-beating mojo and posted several fantastic wins.  Of course, they also just lost their quarterback.  How will Pittsburgh fare in a non-Ben world?  Both teams need this win.  Only one will get it.  Drama in the AFC Wild Card!

 

Good luck this week everyone!

 

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 6 Recap

Week #6 was the week of the upset.  And not just a minor underdog knocks off a favorite.  The week of the massive upset.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 6 Recap

Consider:

  • Unbeaten Detroit was knocked off by 3-5 Chicago
  • Wild card contender Green Bay was beaten by previously 0-8 San Diego
  • Unbeaten Tampa Bay was defeated by Oakland
  • Defending Champion and 7-1 Pittsburgh was smacked by Arizona

Don’t get me wrong – Arizona and Oakland are playoff caliber teams.  But those four teams had a combined record of 28-4 and were beaten by four teams with a combined record of 14-18.  Oof.

Game of the Week: 

New England Patriots 223, Indianapolis Colts 203: Not an upset, but a big game with some serious playoff implications.  New England keeps rocking behind 37 points from Devonta Freeman and an offensive game where every single player scored in double figures.  Impressive.  Just straight impressive.  Indianapolis put up a good fight behind Luck and Edelman (who else) and a startlingly strong defensive performance featuring 33 points from some guy named Shaquil Barrett.  That said, once again, that Indy offense proved to be an Achilles Heel.  The Colts remain in the driver’s south in the AFC Who Cares division, but must find some sort of consistent O to not be an easy wild card out.  Most interesting is what this opens up in the AFC race, where fully four wild card contenders boast records of 6-3 or 7-2 (NE, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Oakland) and the South is likely to be won by a team with a .500 record or below.  It’s going to be a crazy race in the AFC.

Teams Rising:

San Diego Chargers: So THAT is how you get off the schneid.  Make a massive trade for three ballers and then watch those ballers (especially Travis Benjamin) put up a whole lot of points.  You score 241 against a playoff team and make everybody wonder what the heck happened those first few weeks of the season.  It’s too little too late for a team that is not 1-8, but San Diego just became one of the most interesting spoiler threats in the league – and a potential challenger in 2016.

Chicago Bears: Knock off an undefeated team and you get rising points.  Knock off an undefeated team in your own division and you get extra rising points.  Score 242 points to knock off that team when you are sitting at 3-5 and you assure yourself a place in the Rising list.  It wasn’t just that Chicago beat Detroit to hand the Lions their first loss, it was HOW they did it – 140 points on offense and the RETURN of Martavis Bryant, who led the team with 39 points.  And that was with a goose egg from Davante Parker.  Like San Diego, the Bears have the look of a team that could be much more formidable in the second half of the year than they were in the first half.

Arizona Cardinals: Fair’s fair.  I chastised the Cardinals last week for wasting opportunities to beat elite teams.  So they came out and bounced Pittsburgh.  It wasn’t exactly a beautiful game, as the Steelers struggled to their lowest output (144) in literally years and Arizona only put in a pedestrian 189 – but the Cardinals are 7-2, hold a 5 game lead in the NFC West, and now own a win over Pittsburgh.  That’s nicely done.  Rising sign granted.

Honorable Mention: Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints

 

Teams Falling:

Green Bay Packers: Some years, it’s just not your year.  That’s frustrating when it happens in any year.  It’s especially frustrating when you go above and beyond and pull off trade after trade in order to continue to compete in the face of horrific luck.  But man.  Sometimes you just feel snake bit and feel like you need to eat a 40 pound billy goat and hire an exorcist to try and break a curse.  One week after losing Jamaal Charles (Yet another STUD gone for the year for GB), the Packers get mauled by a San Diego team that has been winless all year and misses being the highest scoring team of the week by one measly point.  Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers get to cheerfully waltz past a Seattle squad that put up exactly HALF San Diego’s score and now sit one game up in the wild card.  Life isn’t fair sometimes.

Tennessee Titans: Not necessarily in the category of falling so much as the category of “missed opportunity” here.  The Titans had a golden opportunity to tie for the division lead with Indianapolis’ loss to the Patriots.  All they had to do was beat a previously 1-5-1 Miami team.  Instead, the Titans lost by 3, 202-199, and remain a game back of the Colts at 3-6, tied with the Texans for second place.  It’s not really a downward effort, as those 199 points definitely constitute a step in the right direction, and it might be more fair to classify Miami in the “200+ points out of nowhere” spoiler category.  But this was a week Tennessee could have used to make some serious hay.  They did not.

St. Louis Rams: Not much else to say here.  It’s a bye week, sure.  Not much was expected, sure.  But 77 points?  That deserves mention on the list, particularly with the dearth of utterly terrible performances.

Dishonorable Mention: Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos

 

Games to Watch for Week 7:

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Kansas City Chiefs: A pair of 7-2 division leaders square off.  This is an interesting game, because while it could ostensibly be a battle for a buy week, neither one of these teams has locked up a playoff spot yet in a powerful and wide open AFC.  The winner will be sitting pretty at 8-2, while the loser may find themselves fighting for their playoff lives.  Both teams will be a bit weak too, with Pittsburgh lacking a quarterback and KC down Gio Bernard, Randall Cobb, Jordan Reed, and potentially Jeremy Maclin and Tavon Austin as well.

Arizona Cardinals vs. Baltimore Ravens: Who plays big games every single week?  The Arizona Cardinals do!  Startling, given the state of their division.  Two weeks after a loss to Detroit and a week after a big win over Pittsburgh, the Cardinals get the other challenger for the AFC North for the first of two matchups, and will attempt to provide some balance in the division.

Carolina Panthers vs. Philadelphia Eagles: The two most likely wild cards in the NFC tangle this week in a compelling matchup.  The winner will have a nice cushion (including H2H tiebreaker) in the wild card standings, while the loser will slip a game closer to the ever lurking, never say die (but still pretty damn cursed) Packers.

 

Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 6 Recap

Another week, another bunch of big games in the books. This is the time of year when the season really starts to heat up. The contenders are identified. Practice Squad eligibility is ending. And there are somehow only SIX games lost in which to make a move. It’s now or never, people!

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 6 Recap

Game of the Week: Houston Texans 227 over Indianapolis Colts 197.

There were a few possible choices this week, from Chicago’s one point stat-correction squeaker over Atlanta (who knew Desmond Bryant was good enough to score the game-winning points 36 hours after his game was over? That dude is CLUTCH!) and Dallas’ continued assertion of NFC dominance.

But I think Houston’s victory over Indy was the game of the week because of the fascinating playoff picture it creates in the AFC South. Coupled with rapidly rising Tennessee’s win over Jacksonville, all four teams in the AFC South are within one game of each other – and within one game of the Wild Card – setting up a drama-filled final four weeks of the season.

The game itself featured characteristically strong Quarterback play from the Colts (25 for Luck) and an also characteristically strong defensive effort (96 points). Julian Edelman continued his excellent play also with 23, and the Colts put up a very nice effort.

This game, though, belonged to the big play Texans, and featured the re-emergence of Arian “Australian for Running Back” Foster (31.5), the best game of Derek Carr’s young career (matching luck with 25), and a 15 tackle, 28 point performance from Jonathan Cyprien. But the biggest came of all came from the Texans biggest stud, the possibly immortal JJ Watt, who threw down an unheard of 40 point game behind 7 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 passes defensed and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

While the NFC East is clearly the strongest division, the AFC South has become the most intriguing down the stretch.

 

Stock Rising:

Carolina Panthers: This team has gotten no publicity and no buzz this year (my fault!) and has flown very far under the radar. But following a 217 point win over the Bengals, the Panthers have won three straight, hit .500 and are the #10 team in the league in Fantasy Points Scored. Even more surprisingly, the Panthers have very quietly become the #3 ranked offense in the league behind the likes of Cam Newton, Greg Olsen, Steve Smith, Robert Woods, Zach Ertz, LeGarrette Blount, and Eddie Royal. The defense will have to improve for them to truly make a run in a very tough NFC South – and the schedule is tough, with back-to-back-to-back games with Green Bay, New Orleans, and Seattle. But if the Panthers can win 2 out of 3…

Pittsburgh Steelers: Man it must be nice to be the Steelers. Darren Leung’s team has absolutely run away and HID from the rest of the AFC North. If the AFC South boasts the bests divisional race in football, the AFC North boasts the worst. With a 206-160 thumping of the Browns, the Steelers have moved to 8-2 and taken a four game lead in the division, which would be damn near impossible to lose.

I couldn’t have been more wrong on the Steelers, who I picked for a miserable 4-12 finish in the pre-season, and now seem to have a first round bye on lock-down. The Steelers are riding a strong defense (2nd in the league) and getting outstanding contributions from young receivers Jarvis Landry (31 points against Cleveland) and Markus Wheaton, who join Le’Veon Bell as young building blocks for a team on the rise.

San Francisco 49ers: Who is that all alone in first place in the NFC West? That’s right – it’s the Niners – fresh off a 227-106 obliteration of the Saint Louis Rams. San Francisco now leads the West in wins, in fantasy points, and in divisional record (4-1). More encouraging, QB Colin Kaepernick is picking up the pace, Vernon Davis is back (and making Vance McDonald drop touchdowns in the back of the end zone) and Alshon Jeffery is rounding into form, giving this team a formidable offense. The 49ers don’t have a very easy schedule the rest of the way, though, with games against Denver, New Orleans, and the Giants twice, interspersed around what should be easy wins against Washington and St. Louis. A 4-2 finish isn’t out of the question, and would give the 49ers a 10-6 season and a likely playoff berth.

Honorable Mentions: Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

Stock Falling:

Miami Dolphins: After a nice 6-2 start, the Dolphins have suddenly dropped two straight, wasting a 30 point performance by TY Hilton to fall to the Packers. Worse, the Bills have just continued to win, and the Dolphins now find themselves 3 back with 6 to go – a lot of ground to makeup. Their record places them on the cusp of the AFC Wild Card, tied with the Indianapolis / Houston loser for the 2nd AFC Wild Card. It should be noted that Miami is the tough luck team of the year, with 2 1 point losses. Take those away and the lovable aquatic mammals are 8-2. The good news for Miami is that they don’t play another team with a winning record until a week 11 rematch with the Bills in the penultimate game of the year. The other plus for the Dolphins is that they have stayed pretty healthy, with only one IR player and nagging injuries to Stew Beef and Perry Riley to mar their starting lineup.

New York Giants: Not a great week for the erstwhile East Rutherfordites. It’s one thing to have a flat game here or there. It’s another thing to come out dead flat in a prime time game against a divisional rival that may well determine a playoff spot. No way around it, the Giants offense let it down hard against the Eagles, scoring only 57 points. The Victor Cruz injury also hurts, but the Giants have always had pretty spectacular WR depth, and still boast a rather stunning WR corps of Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, Torrey Smith, and Antonio Brown. More concerning for the Giants is that they are now tied for the final NFC Wild Card spot, with the hardest schedule in football remaining: Dallas, SF, Indy, SF, Seattle, Dallas. That’s a brutal schedule with which to make up ground.

St. Louis Rams – Thud. Led by an emergent Knile Davis, the Rams went on a tear to start the season, racing out to a surprising 4-4 start with some nice victories to their name. This was a team that appeared to be way ahead on a rebuilding project, and one that could even contend for a playoff spot. Back to earth. Back to reality. Back to the 80’s. Whatever. 121 total points. Only 34 on offense. Against a division rival. Not even on a bye week. The Rams fall to 4-6 and are absolutely trending the wrong direction. Sure, Knile Davis will be back this week – but a second string running back won’t be enough to get St. Louis back to the playoffs. It was a nice and hopeful start that galvanized the Rams faithful to believe in a promising future – but the season is officially breaking the way it was expected to.

 

Games of the Week – Week 7:

Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants: Murderers row continues for the Giants, and it couldn’t have come in more challenging fashion. The Cowboys scored under 200 points for the first time all year in week 6, but still won comfortably and come roaring into this divisional showdown with a chip on their shoulder, looking to extend their lead in both the division and the conference. The Cowboys strength has been their franchise players, with the triumvirate of Romo, Murray and Bryant putting up stunning numbers. The Giants, on the other hand, really need a win to keep pace in the NFC Wild Card chase, and must get a bounce-back performancefrom Eli Manning to compete.

Denver Broncos vs. San Francisco 49ers: A pair of western teams with the upper hand in their respective division races, something has to give when the 49ers and Broncos square off this week. It’s a case of conflicting styles as well – the Broncos boast a very strong offense (6th), but are very mediocre on defense (28th). The 49ers are only middle of the road on offense (17th), but boast a top ten defense.

Detroit Lions vs. New Orleans Saints: This one could be a heavy-weight shootout. The Lions mustered a much needed win in week 6 to return to .500, but need to keep a good thing going against the mighty Saints. The Saints, on the other hand, suffered a disappointing bye-week loss and only a late stat correction kept them in front of Atlanta in the division. Both teams could really use a win, and both teams will have to get it without their best players, as both Calvin Johnson and Jimmy Graham are expected to miss this game. Which team’s supporting cast will come up big in this pivotal week?

Houston Texans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: No rest for the weary Texans, who come off an emotional win over division rival Indianapolis to get the 8-2 Pittsburgh Steelers. The Texans can’t afford a let down, as the victory over the Colts was enough to put them into contention – not enough to buy them a break. The Steelers, meanwhile, will look to extend their winning streak and improve their record against teams outside of their division (Pittsburgh is 4-0 against the AFC North, only 4-2 outside). A win for the Texans puts them in the drivers seat of their playoff fate. A win for the Steelers further establishes them as a team to beat in the AFC – and brings them closer to a playoff bye.

Great week! Good luck everyone!