Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 7 Recap

Ten games in and 23 teams still have legitimate, solid playoff aspirations.  That is not a bad competitive season!  It was a bit of a low scoring week 7, with only 8 teams reaching or breaking the 200 point barrier, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t some associated drama.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 7 Recap

Game of the Week: New England Patriots 206, PIttsburgh Steelers 202

Well, this one definitely lived up to its billing.  The outcome was in doubt literally the entire weekend.  It wasn’t over until Brock Osweiler staggered home with ten points on Monday night, staving off a combined 12 points by the two Monday night Steeler defenders.  When the dust settled, the Patriots had a four point win behind a combined 100 points from Jamison Crowder, Mike Wallace, Frank Gore, and Delanie Walker.  Talk about some unexpected gems that have been huge contributors for the Pats!  Le’Veon Bell scored 30 in a losing effort for Pittsburgh, and the Steeler defense was outstanding – but without Ben Roethlisberger, a zero at the QB spot was too big to overcome.  With the result, the Patriots stay in front of the Wild Card Line at a nice, solid 7-3.   The Steelers, meanwhile, fall to 5-5.  Still a great team.  Still within striking distance.  But they need to move soon.

 

Teams Rising:

Buffalo Bills: It’s awesome to be undefeated.  But in some ways it sort of sucks to be the favorite and go undefeated.  Because then you never really rise.  You’re always meeting expectations, never exceeding them.  So it seems only fitting that this week we recognize the Buffalo Bills for hitting the 10-0 mark behind a quiet, workmanlike, ho-hum 228-98 thrashing of the Miami Dolphins.  Buffalo is on track.  They’ve scored the most points in the AFC and haven’t lost yet.  They haven’t really come anywhere close to losing.  Tyrod Taylor has been good at QB.  AJ Green and Gronk have been as awesome as expected.  Nobody’s even noticed this team hasn’t had AP.  The defense routinely hits the century mark even on a bad day.  Everything is going according to plan.  And that’s a fantastic plan.  It’s the best plan. Believe me.

Cleveland Browns: We mentioned last week that it was a week-to-week league, right?  Scuffling team?  Pair of abysmal performances in a row.  Facing the division leader who happens to be on a roll.  Tough, right?  No problem.  Cleveland bounces back with a 197-173 win behind huge games from Mike Evans (31) and Michael Crabtree (25).  The Bengals have some uncharacteristic struggles on offense (posting three goose eggs) and Cleveland is back in a tie for first place (and own the tiebreaker in a two-way tie).  Now admittedly, the defense remains a problem for the Browns (only 63 total points in week 7 and the last time the defense hit the century mark was in week 2), but things all of a sudden look a whole lot rosier for this somewhat less tortured than it used to be city.

Philadelphia Eagles: I confess that I’ve dogged Philly a bit and haven’t really bought into the hype.  The Eagles seemed like a mediocre team excelling against a weak schedule.  And to some degree, that’s borne out – Philly has scored the fewest points out of the twelve teams who would currently be in the playoffs.   But that’s two straight wins for Philly with solid point totals, and this recent one, a 235-138 pasting of Minnesota, was the third-highest score of the week.  Most exciting, question mark guys like Lance Kendricks, Brian Quick, Josh Huff, and, especially, Ty Montgomery, showed up to play this past week and seem to be finding real roles in their respective offenses.  Coupled with a pair of consecutive Giant losses, the Eagles stand only a game back (albeit without the tiebreaker) and the unthinkable is an actual possibility.

Honorable Mentions: Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts

Teams Falling:

New York Giants: Speaking of the G-Men, what on earth is going on?  After looking like they might not lose all season, the suddenly vulnerable Giants have lost two straight games, this one to the lowly LA Rams.  In a lot of ways, though, this is simple schedule misfortune and speaks more to the Ravens and Rams than it does to the Giants.  Combined between the two weeks, New York has still averaged over 200ppg – it’s just that the Ravens and Rams have combined for 511.  Way over both of their season averages.  There are genuine concerns for the Giants (again on defense), where only two week seven starters reached double figures.  But they’ll be fine.  This is more a testament to the fantastic game played by the Rams, who got 20+ points from six players.  LA has been knocking on the door, but this was the signature win the program needed.  Now to see if they can build on it.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Yeesh.  After a gift 116-112 win over Minnesota, the Bucs apparently got the message that they could coast and win against lesser competition.  That was the wrong message, and it bit them in a big way in week 7, as the San Francisco 49ers staggered across the finish line in a compellingly ugly 166-161 sloth race.  The Buc defense came to play and put up 122 points behind a 60 point performance from the D-Line of Emmanuel Ogbah, Jaye Howard, Gerald McCoy, and Jadaveon Clowney.  But that offense… something needs to change fast.  It was a 28.5 point “Seahawk-esque” showing for an offense that got legitimate points (14) only from Emmanuel Sanders.  Quarterback issues loom large for the Bucs, and Tampa faces a daunting climb out of the basement in the brutal NFC South.

Tennessee Titans: With a golden opportunity to put away divisional rival Indianapolis for good, the Titans couldn’t muster the juice to get up for the game, struggling to a thoroughly mediocre 216-164 loss.  Both sides of the ball were similarly average, with 72 points on offense and 74 on defense.  The wrong kind of consistency.  Indy won with their characteristically stout defense, but also with a 74 point offensive game – the highest offensive total the Colts have posted since week 1.  As a result, the AFC South falls back into question, with Tennessee maintaining a meager 1 game lead over Houston (who beat Denver) with the Colts hanging gamely around at 5-5.

Dishonorable Mentions: New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars

Games of the Week:

Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers: The good ship Cardinal seems to have righted itself as Arizona has won three straight and caught up to Seattle to restore balance in what had been a bizarre NFC West.  Carolina remains its strong self, though it hasn’t put out a signature performance in a few weeks.  This isn’t necessarily a “need to have it” game for either side – both teams should be fine even with a loss – but it is a bragging rights game and just some good fantasy football between two excellent teams.  Should Arizona win this, it would be a psychological victory declaring their early-season struggles are history.

Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots: This is what you call “a shot at the champ”.  Does Buffalo need this game?  Nope.  Will they win through to top seed and a playoff bye regardless of the outcome?  Sure.  Does New England need this game?  It’s not desperate, but yeah, they could always use more wins.  Nah, this isn’t a “standings game” either.  What this is is is (yep, three is’s in a row and it’s right baby!) a surprisingly game New England team that is getting contributions from unexpected players throwing its best shot at the league bully.  A good game?  Who knows.  A must have?  Not really.  But drama?  Almost certainly.

Detroit Lions vs. Houston Texans: While Detroit calmly and quietly holds on to a two game advantage in the NFC North, beating exactly who they should beat and rarely facing a huge challenge, life has been a topsy turvy roller coaster for Houston.  After a rather uninspiring 150-137 win (still a win!) over the Denver Broncos, the Texans find themselves only a game back of the AFC South crown.  This IS a standings game.  Houston can’t afford a loss here.  Detroit could.  But best not let the Bears get too close…

Indianapolis Colts vs. Kansas City Chiefs: One big win down for Indy, another in the works?  A week after shutting down Tennessee in a must-win game, the Colts get another division leader in the Chiefs.  The key for the Colts will be to maintain their level of offensive play.  That defense can win against just about anybody, so if the offense can continue to score 75, that’s often going to be enough.  It’s been a challenge to point.  Some key pieces are out on both teams, with Indy losing three primary defensive pieces, and the Chiefs likely without Jordan Reed for yet another week and Tavon Austin on bye.

New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks: Now THIS is a standings game.  Both teams sit at a quite respectable 6-4.  Both teams badly need this game.  For New Orleans, it’s a function of a slow start and a tough division.   For Seattle, this is a function of really needing to win A game to slow down a recent funk.  In a big break for the Saints, Russell Wilson looks like he may miss this game, and Sterling Shephard is on bye, so this Seattle offense could look like…  ::haunting music:: last year!  A Halloween special.

Good luck everyone!

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 7 Recap

As expected, the Cleveland Browns are in first place, the New England Patriots are tied for a wild card spot, Dallas’ slump continues as the Cowboys fall to 3-7, Green Bay is tied for a wild card spot despite starting duct tape and pocket lint, and the Atlanta Falcons just turned Travis Benjamin into 19 first round picks.  And there’s a three-way tie for the AFC South lead between three 4-6 teams.  Just what we all thought would happen when the season started.  SMH.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 7 Recap

Games of the Week: A pair of close ones in the AFC North provided the highlights of week 7 – and created some serious murk.

Kansas City Chiefs 229, Pittsburgh Steelers 206: The battle of wounded warriors took place with both teams coming in without their best players.  The Steelers were missing Ben Roethlisberger, who tantalizingly suggested he might start before giving way to Landry Jones over the weekend.  The Chiefs had both Randall Cobb and Gio Bernard on bye, and Jeremy Maclin who sat out with a concussion.  Still, both teams performed well and got big plays from the offense (Jarvis Landry 27, TJ Yeldon 21, and Le’Veon Bell 22 paced Pittsburgh, while Jordan Reed returned from the concussion protocol to post a 33 spot for KC).  The difference in this game was the defense, though, where KC won 125-100 – almost exactly the difference in the week.  KC moves two up on unlucky Oakland in the AFC West, while Pittsburgh now faces a three way battle to stave off challengers Baltimore and Cleveland.

Arizona Cardinals 233, Baltimore Ravens 203: Of course, Pittsburgh may not have a lot to worry about, as the Ravens can’t seem to capitalize on Pittsburgh’s missteps to take control of the division. The Cardinals controlled the line of scrimmage in this one, riding a strong ground game (60 combined points between Arian Foster and Darren McFadden) and an outstanding defensive line (59 combined points between JJ Watt, Calais Campbell, and Ian Williams) to the win.  Baltimore countered through the air with 21 from Keenan Allen and 30 from Amari Cooper, but fell just a little short on defense despite a preposterous 39 point effort from LB Telvin Smith (pick six, 9 tackles, two stuffs, and 3 passes defensed!).  The Ravens were hamstrung by Olivier Vernon, Elvis Dumervil, and Nickell Robey, the three of whom together combined for an  entire point.  The Cardinals have now knocked off Pittsburgh and Baltimore in consecutive weeks.  Their reward?  The other North division contender, Cleveland.

Rising:

Cleveland Browns: Speaking of Cleveland, the Browns 168-83 double-up of hapless St. Louis moved them into a tie for first place in the North for the first time in forever.  Mike Evans provided most of the scoring with 41 points, but Gary Barnidge is proving to be quite a catch for the Dawgs, doing more in the TE role than Jordan Cameron ever could.  Excitement is catching on the Cuyahoga, and even more now that the squad has added Michael Crabtree from the 49ers, giving them yet another weapon through the air.  Still, the hard part starts now, beginning with Arizona, as four of the Browns last six games are against teams leading or tied for the lead in their respective divisions (Arizona, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and KC).  Just as concerning, the Browns are only 16th in total points scored with 1786 – for reference, Pittsburgh has scored 2122 (~35 ppg more) and Baltimore has scored 1939 (~15 ppg more).  It’s a special time in Cleveland, but for multiple reasons, the Browns remain the underdawgs in the divisional race.  Seems like that might suit them just fine.

Buffalo Bills: Why Buffalo?  Because they are MASHING people with robotic consistency.  They are like a cyborg with a serrated cleaver.  I might dress up as them for Halloween.  The Bills point outputs this season have been: 197, 217, 274, 220, 219, 223, 234.  That’s right.  They’ve scored 217 or more points in six out of seven weeks, and the lowest output they have had so far has been 197.  That is silly consistency from a team that seems well-poised to cruise into the top seed in the AFC without much notice.  Gronk has been great, and Derek Carr has been a revelation, but it’s been the defense that has truly driven the charge.  The Bills rank 2nd in the league in defense and that is without a single defensive touchdown and only two turnovers – lowest in the league.  When those luck-driven big plays start pilling up… look out.

Green Bay Packers: How the Packers are still here, I have absolutely no idea.  But they are.  Somehow, despite losing a stud a week it seems, the Packers just laid 249 points on a Denver team that simply rolled over (70 points).  Not only are they somehow still scoring at a high clip, but they are, at 6-4, tied with the Eagles for the final wild card in the NFC, and get another game with Denver coming up this week due to a scheduling quirk before an opportunity to overtake Carolina for the top wildcard spot.  Whoda thunk it?  If Lamar Miller keeps throwing down 47 point weeks and TY Hilton is getting 40, this team is going to keep making noise no matter how many guys they lose.

Honorable Mention: New England Patriots, New York Giants, Drama in the AFC South, Kansas City Chiefs, Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals, New Orleans Saints

 

Falling:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Remember two weeks ago when the Bucs were 8-0 and appeared to be cruising towards an easy division championship? Not any longer.  Two straight losses have brought Tampa back down to earth, and this last loss, a 245-193 bludgeoning at the hands of the much maligned Washington Redskins, is a tough one to take.  Coupled with a pair of Carolina Panther wins, a once insurmountable 3 game lead has shrunk to a single game, and Bucs fans are starting to feel a little jittery.  Still, all should still be well in Bucs-ville.  Tampa ranks 6th in overall points, suggesting that their 8-2 record is no fluke, and their closeout schedule of Atlanta, NYG, Dallas, Philly, Chicago, and Indy is quite manageable, aside from the auto-loss to New York.  Simply put, Tampa needs more (and should get more) from its playmakers.  2 points from Vincent Jackson, 1 from Alfred Morris, and -1 from Torrey Smith simply won’t cut it – but when those guys return to producing at decent levels, the Bucs should be fine.

Philadelphia Eagles: Despite having very few actual NFL Eagles, the RDFL Eagles have certainly mirrored their counterparts in the shakiness department.   It isn’t that this week’s loss to Carolina was particularly bad – the Panthers are quite a good team – but it was definitely a winnable game (196-167) and the Eagles couldn’t capitalize, even with Shady McCoy back in the lineup.  Kaepernick has been terrible and shows no signs of reinventing himself, and the defense has been hit or miss (five players with zero or one points last week).  The Packers injury troubles have left openings for Philadelphia, but the Eagles need to turn things around quick.  And Buffalo, who the Eagles face this week, is no one’s definition of a get well game.

Bad Teams: The point totals this week were simply atrocious in a number of arenas.  Anything below 100, even on a bye week, is cause for serious concern, and less than 100 on a non bye-week is cause for straight up embarrassment.  This past week, five teams scored below 100 – Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, Seattle, and Denver.  Denver scored only 71 points and simply did not insert bye week replacements with strong performances.  The problem is magnified in the AFC South where Tennessee, Houston, and Indianapolis are wearing frilly dresses and half-heartedly whacking at each other with heart-shaped plastic wands rather than playing football.  The three contenders are 18th, 20th, and 22nd in points scored respectively and all are averaging less than 175 points per game.  And one of these teams is going to make the playoffs.

Dishonorable Mention: Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets (besides those already mentioned)

Games of the Week:

Arizona Cardinals vs. Cleveland Browns: Arizona continues its demolition tour of the AFC North looking for the trifecta!  A win and the Cardinals will have beaten Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Cleveland on consecutive weeks – and will officially clinch both the NFC West and AFC North divisional titles.  It’s way too early in the season to say that, but with a six game lead already, the Cards can make it mathematically impossible for anyone to catch them with another W.

Detroit Lions vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Fresh off a surprising and invigorating win at Pittsburgh, the Chiefs run smack dab into a fresh Detroit wrecking screw that just scored 274 points and is cruising towards a bye week in the NFC.  KC gets Cobb and Bernard back from the bye, but Detroit is healthy, good, and barely inconvenienced by any bye weeks.  This one should be another smackdown, and bring the Chiefs right back to earth.

Baltimore Ravens vs. San Diego Chargers: So this shouldn’t really be a game of the week candidate.  San Diego is 2-8.  But this is the weirdest 2-8 team ever.  After a meek, mild 0-8 start, the Chargers promptly traded away their first round pick (in contention for first overall!) and future star Kevin White for a series of “help me now pieces” like Kelvin Benjamin.  In the two weeks since, they have scored 427 points and demolished playoff hopefuls Oakland and Green Bay.  The Chargers still have absolutely no chance to make the playoffs, making their trade a complete headscratcher, but does anybody want to bet against them when they take on yet another playoff hopeful?  Anybody?  Didn’t think so.  This team is the scariest 2-8 team I’ve ever seen in my life.

Buffalo Bills vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Sometimes when you are struggling, you just need a get right game.  You need to play against somebody terrible to work out what ails you and get some confidence back. That’s exactly what Philly does NOT get against the Bills.  Remember that stat about 217 points or more every single week?  The serrated cleaver?  That’s just what the Eagles do not want to see as they seek to stay above the cut line vs. Green Bay.  Even the bye week won’t be much help as Buffalo will field a full lineup that really does not rely much on Bills players to be successful.

Carolina Panthers vs. Indianapolis Colts: We return to the lovable, huggable AFC South for all the games none of us want to watch but have to.  In the first, Indianapolis will try to score some actual points for the first time all year against the steadily rising Carolina Panthers.  An Indy win brings them back to .500 while a loss drops them out of first place.  A Carolina win would give Carolina a nice two game cushion in the wild card, and possibly even bring them even with Tampa Bay for the division.

Houston Texans vs. Tennessee Titans: It’s possible I should have lead with this epic heavyweight show down.  It’s actually startling how similar these two teams are.  Same record.  Houston averages 166 ppg, while Tennessee averages 163.  Similar struggles with underperforming youth.  And a similar opportunity – in all likelihood, the winner of this game seizes control of the AFC South.  Will this game kick off a return to respectability for the team and the division?  Tune in to find out!

Good luck in week 8 everyone!

Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 7 Recap

Separation Week.  Most weeks, the Real Deal Football universe is a terrifying place, replete with upsets.  Good teams go down, bad ones startle and surprise.  It’s the chaos of fantasy football and we experience it every single week we play.

Except this one.  Week 7 was like March Madness without the Mad.  Chalk.  Worst bracket ever.  Let’s examine:
Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 7 Recap

The favored team went 13-3 in week 7 – and the only exceptions were barely exceptions:

  • The New York Giants (a trendy Super Bowl pick in week #1) knocked off the Dallas Cowboys.  It’s a divisional rivalry game between two great teams.  It’s going to happen.
  • The Detroit Lions (my Super Bowl favorite in week #1) knocked off the New Orleans Saints.  Another major NFC showdown with no clear favorite – but a desperate Lions squad.
  • The Washington Redskins upset the Tennessee TItans (an anti-super bowl favorite in week #1).  This one legitimately qualifies as an upset – or as legitimately as it can when the team being upset is 5-5.

So it was a boring week.  But it was a SEPARATING week.  When the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, playoff races take shape.  By my calculation, only 9 teams in the AFC and 9 in the NFC remain in contention for the 12 available playoff spots.   The story of the next five weeks will be to determine which 3 teams are tough luck pretenders from each league – and which twelve will keep fighting for the Super Bowl.
Game of the Week: New York Giants 253 – Dallas Cowboys 214

Is it just me, or is the game of the week always between the Dallas Cowboys and whoever they play?  What gives?  The Cowboys (who, by the way, are 9-2 with the most points scored against them in the league – nobody else is allowed to complain about strength of schedule), kept their streak going, to go over 200 points for every single game this year.  The story of this game, though, was not the Cowboys, but their archrivals, the New York Giants.  The Giants bounced back from last weeks dud against the Eagles to salvage an NFC East contender split with a Monday night comeback victory over the East leaders.  A week after losing Victor Cruz for the season, the Giants proved that their WR corps was not going to be in trouble – or perhaps it is exactly the kind of trouble they were hoping for!  Sammy Watkins, Torrey Smith, DeAndre Hopkins, and Antonio Brown combined for a whopping 104 points (26 point average) and the outcome was never really in doubt.  It is very possible that the East could end up with three teams in the playoffs – although the Giants face a brutal stretch run of contenders.

Stock Rising:

Indianapolis Colts – A week after losing their hold on the South, the Colts put in a workmanlike effort against the Bengals to reclaim it with a Texans loss.  Strong games by Andrew Luck and Ahmad Bradshaw overcame a Reggie Wayne injury and a lackluster defensive performance to notch the win.  If the Colts can survive the next two weeks (brutal tests against Pittsburgh and the Giants), they come home with winnable games against the Vikings, Patriots, and Jaguars.  A 3-2 record should be enough to secure the South title at 10-6 – can they get there?

Pittsburgh Steelers: Don’t mess with Pittsburgh.  Just don’t do it.  You don’t know how they will win.  But you know they will put up points and obliterate you.  On the flip side of the Southern ledger, the Houston Texans ran into a buzzsaw in the Steelers, who answered the challenge by obliterating the Texans by a solid 100 points.  It was a great game for Le’Veon Bell (29 points), Doug “Percy who?!?  Child, Please” Baldwin (31), and a crushing defense (115 points) that received over 50 points from an always solid linebacking core.  Pittsburgh’s magic number is exactly ONE, with 5 games left, and the only question the Steelers are asking is whether or not they can hold off Denver and Buffalo for one of the two AFC byes.  What a year for the Steelers.

Detroit Lions: When a good team gets down, you have to step on their neck.  Hard.  Repeatedly.  And with prejudice.  Otherwise, you might miss your chance.  It happened to the AFC with Denver.  And the NFC had better watch out for Detroit.  Once left for dead in a competitive division, Detroit has followed up it’s “get well” victory over the Vikings with a much more noteworthy victory over the Saints.  At 6-5, the Lions are hardly beating the world – but a weird scheduling quirk gives them back-to-back opportunities against fellow Wild Card contender Atlanta, and close out games at the end of the year against New England and Arizona.  A playoff spot is not out of the question quite yet.

Honorable Mention: Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, Seattle Seahawks

 

Stock Falling:

Houston Texans:  Owwww….. Nothing like fighting your way into a tie for first place only to get obliterated in a potential game of the week.  Make no mistake, this was a nightmare outing for the Texans, and every element of the offense came out totally flat.   Derek Carr and Carlos Hyde regressed on their way to a 36 point performance – half of which came from Andre Johnson.  But most worrisome for the Texans?  Zac Stacy didn’t even sniff the field, as Tre Mason started and finished.  The Texans have to hope that this is a temporary development, particularly while Arian “Australian for Running Back” Foster is posting 22 point games.  The Texans certainly have hope – but they need to put this game behind them quickly, and get the ball back in the end-zone.

New Orleans Saints: Bye weeks suck.  They simply do.  Anything can happen (and usually does), on a bye week, as the nearly traumatized Philadelphia Eagles almost discovered.  So the Saints bye week loss to the Chiefs wasn’t anything to worry about.  But this was not the bye week.  Jimmy Graham WAS in the lineup.  And the Saints still managed only 157 points in a lackluster loss to the Lions, to drop back into a tie for the division with the Falcons.  It’s even worse – more than 25% of the Saints total points (40 of them) came from a career game from Golden Tate, meaning the other NINETEEN guys scored only a total of 117 points, including a combined 0.5 point from Khiry Robinson and Jimmy Graham.  Up next is a very tough game against Green Bay.  Can the mighty New Orleans Saints really lose three in a row?  It’s possible.

Tennessee Titans: Speaking of AFC South teams with tough letdowns, the Titans had fought themselves back into divisional contention with some nice wins.  But a brutal 139 point stinker of a loss to the woeful Redskins may have undone all the recent good work the Titans have accomplished.  At 5-6, they are now two full games behind the wild card and divisional leaders – but much more dangerous, every team in the division is between them and a playoff spot.  The Titans probably need to win out from here to have a realistic shot – and Green Bay, Philly, and Pittsburgh all loom in their final five.  Even finishing at .500 might be a stretch.

Dishonorable Mention: Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets

 

Week 8 Games of the Week:

Houston Texans vs. Tennessee Titans – Can you say elimination game?  Both teams have put forth very strong efforts this year, but both are also reeling from brutal, non-competitive, bubble popping losses.  The resilient team will have a shot to put together a playoff run.  The loser is, in all probability, out.  Who has a short enough memory to shake off week 7 and rebound?

Atlanta Falcons vs. Detroit Lions – In the immortal words of Ernie Banks “Let’s play two”.  In a bizarre scheduling quirk, the Lions and Falcons play back to back non-divisional games in weeks 8 and 9.  To make this even more interesting, both of these teams are fighting for a coveted NFC playoff spot, and these two games will go a long way towards determining who gets it.  Both teams are looking good, but also vulnerable, with the last 200 point performance by either team several weeks back.  This will be a fascinating game to keep tabs on, particularly to see if Arian Foster can duplicate his inaugural effort and how Calvin Johnson looks, should he return.

Green Bay Packers vs. New Orleans Saints – In a battle of two heavyweight competitors moving in opposite directions, the Packers have put their early season inconsistency behind them and gone into cruise control, mounting a solid two game lead over Detroit behind a series of impressive offensive performances.  The Saints, on the other hand, are struggling offensively, have lost two straight, and find themselves tied with the aforementioned Falcons.  Can the Packers keep the Saints slide going, or will the Super Bowl champs bring out the best in their NFC rivals?

Indianapolis Colts vs. Pittsburgh Steelers – It’s always a good game when division leaders clash, and this time it is Indianapolis’ chance to take on the surprise Steelers.  Pittsburgh has eviscerated all comers, and will bring their “A” game in an attempt to take another step towards an AFC bye.  But Indianapolis needs this game to stay ahead of the competition in the South.

Miami Dolphins vs. Jacksonville Jaguars – In the under-the-rader wildcard game that nobody is talking about, both Miami and Jacksonville are mounting a nice push for the 2nd AFC wildcard spot.  The Jaguars are very quietly sitting only a game back of the Colts in the South, and the Dolphins have a nice 7-4 record that could very easily be 9-2.  The winner of this game has a real nice shot to take home a playoff spot in the AFC – while the loser will face an uphill climb.

New York Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers – A lot of good games this week!  In the East vs. West edition, the Giants are two games into their ridiculous gauntlet of doom closing schedule.  Their reward for a tough loss to the Eagles and bouncing the Cowboys?  The first of two dates with the 49ers, who suffered a tough, come from ahead loss to Denver when Peyton and Demaryius went nuts on Sunday night.  Every game counts for these two NFC powers, both of whom are in a dogfight for a playoff spot.

A huge good luck to everyone this week!  It’s starting to get really fun!