The week isn’t over yet, but on Sunday, some teams lost more than a single game. It’s still early enough that anything can happen, but some teams may be watching their seasons fall apart. Let’s take a look at the early casualties.
- San Francisco 49ers. You knew the Titans were a dangerous opponent. With Vince Young quarterbacking and Mike Heimerdinger calling plays, the Titans were sure to rely on a conservative attack and their ability to pound the rock and force turnovers. That’s exactly what happened. The Titans won 34-27 on the road and forced Alex Smith into a sloppy, hurried game. Frank Gore was dynamic and versatile, but he didn’t dominate the action like he did before the Viking game. Suddenly, a team that began the season 3-1 with quality wins over division opponents is sitting at 3-5. The bad news is that first-place Arizona won at Chicago on the strength of a 5 td performance by Kurt Warner (without Anquan Boldin). The good news is that the Niners only trail them by 2 games — and already have a win at Arizona. Mike Singletary has changed quarterbacks. They score more points with Smith, but have less ball security than under Hill. Next up: the Bears, Packers, Jags, Seahawks. There is no reason this team can’t be 7-5 in a month. Book It: If they’re +8 or better in turnovers over that time frame, they’re going to the playoffs.
- New York Giants. If the playoffs began tomorrow, the New York Giants would have the same vantage point as the New York Yankees, and you and I. They’d be watching from home. The Giants have lost at home to the Arizona Cardinals and San Diego Chargers. They’ve lost on the road to the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles. There really is no shame in losing to any of these teams. The Saints finished in last place last season, but they’ve been remade and have yet to lose a game this season. Arizona and the Eagles played in the NFC Championship game last year. San Diego is a perennial playoff contender. That the Giants have lost to these teams in consecutive weeks is surprising. That the Giants have failed to score more than 20 points in any of these games is shocking. The Chargers have been an enigmatic bunch all season. They’re 5-3, but could be 7-1 or 2-6. They’re inconsistent and have been unable to stop the run since the injury to Jamal Williams in September. All of that sounded like a recipe for resurrection in the Meadowlands. It didn’t happen. Instead, the same depleted secondary that was undressed by Drew Brees was dissected by Philip Rivers. The Giants could do “soul-searching” or any number of things on their bye week, but the answers (like the problems) are on the field. The execution is simply what it has been — on either side of the ball. When the sun rises tomorrow, the Giants will be 2 games behind the leader of the NFC East. Next up: Atlanta, Denver, Dallas, Philadelphia. This could get much worse before it gets any better. Book It: If the Giants are not able to defeat second and third tier quarterbacks like Matt Ryan and Kyle Orton, the season will be over before they meet host Dallas and Philadelphia in consecutive weeks.
- Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens are kicking themselves tonite for taking the Bengals lightly. I don’t know why they continue to do that. It seems they forget that they have a 3-8 record vs. Carson Palmer. They don’t scare him. He torches them more regularly and scars them more deeply than any QB in the league. Really, if they think about it, they’re his bird bitches. They probably don’t like to admit it, but 8 wins is 8 wins. The Ravens know they will not be winning the AFC North this season. They will not be beating the Steelers twice. They may not even beat them once. The good news, though, is that they hold tie breakers over the Broncos and Chargers. Only 1 of them can win the division. If the Ravens can somehow manage to get to 10 or 11 wins, they can sneak in as the 3rd in the AFC North. New England, a probably division winner is the only team they’ve lost to in the AFC aside from Cincinnati. It means their destiny is still in their own hands. Baltimore can win 6 or 7 of their final 8 games. If they do, they’re in because of their wins over the AFC West. Next up: Browns, Colts, Steelers, Packers. They get Indy and Pitt at home. Book It: If Baltimore finds a way to win these 4 games and wins out until their Dec. 27th game in Pittsburgh, they’ll beat whomever they play in the Wild Card round.
Teams like the Bears, Texans and Packers lost games yesterday that likely surprised their die-hard fans. What Bears fan doesn’t expect to beat the Cardinals in Soldier Field? In all honesty, the Bears simply are not the same team they were at the beginning of the season. The Bears were fortunate to beat the Steelers this season — and that win has been the cause of all “great expectations” since the signing of Jay Cutler. It was a quality win. It was something the Vikings were unable to do. Still, there hasn’t been much for the Monsters of the Midway to hang their hats on. Without Urlacher and Hillenmeyer, I don’t expect much.
For all their talent and perennial promise for unleashing potential, the Texans simply cannot be expected to win at Indianapolis. I expect them to do what they did — play tough, play a little less than smart, and lose.
The Packers simply are not a good team. They play unevenly and had to be flatter than week-old Coke after playing against Brett Favre under the national spotlight at home last week and then traveling in anonymity to lifeless Raymond James Stadium for a late game vs. a rookie quarterback and a rookie coach. Teams that lose games like this don’t really belong in the post-season. Green Bay will find their way out.
- Philadelphia Eagles. Anytime you lose at home to a division rival, it’s painful and it adversely impacts your playoff positioning. This version of the Eagles is losing games they are supposed to win. They’ve lost at Oakland…and now this. If you don’t think the Eagles are going to regret this loss, consider that over the next four weeks, they will be on the road at San Diego, at Chicago and at Atlanta. The Eagles could lose every one of these games. The last time the Eagles played on the West Coast, they lost to Oakland. Against Dallas, the Eagles only ran the ball 23 times. They didn’t run many plays overall. Philly only converted 4 of 12 first downs, including some notable failures on 3rd and 4th down with short distances to go. Jason Peters was injured. Asante Samuel was roughed up. Sheldon Brown was toasted. Brian Westbrook was inactive. Michael Vick was ineffective (He’s got time.) McNabb looked like his ribs are still sore…and he also looked like he always looks.