Officially halfway through the season now, which means the long winter nights will soon be upon us. This also means that the hitting will feel harder and each game becomes more and more crucial. Teams have jostled for position and have set down a marker, now it’s time to build a playoff run. There are favourites of course, and those that have made shock starts to the season, but as seen over the past few years it’s not how you start but how you finish. With that in mind let’s cast an eye over what Week 9 in the NFL meant in the race for post-season glory.
BENGALS 20 DOLPHINS 22
Just when you think you’ve got everything sorted out – again – along comes an upset that brings all rational thought tumbling down. So that may be a little over the top but no one really saw Miami ending the win streak of Cincinnati, and if they told you they did it was probably after the game. It went to overtime and was settled by a disputed safety, although the correct call was made, that proves how strange the game was. The win puts the Dolphins back in the mix, and the loss puts the Bengals in the land of question marks. Are they for real and if so shouldn’t they beat teams of Miami’s calibre with ease?
FALCONS 10 PANTHERS 34
On the subject of teams being for real we have Carolina. They are arguably the best team in the NFL now. Doing a job quietly but very effectively, they are challenging the Saints in the NFC South and have to play them twice in the second half of the season. No longer flying under the radar, they are visible and have to guard against being shot down. Atlanta had already lost the season but will look to play much better than this over the closing weeks. Yes, they’ve had injuries but all the major teams have this year. Losing, like winning, is a hard habit to break.
VIKINGS 23 COWBOYS 27
The Dallas Cowboys won a game they were meant to win. Once again they did it in their own unique way. The hard way. Minnesota with just one win all year was meant to come into Texas and just roll over weren’t they? Well what NFL team has that mentality? Not one with AP in their team that’s for sure, and as he dragged virtually the whole defence of the Cowboys over the line for a go ahead touchdown late in the game all looked good for win number two. Tony Romo though had other ideas and actually played a flawless last drive to win the game and put the cowboys back above .500 and in control of the NFC East again.
SAINTS 20 JETS 26
Jets beat Patriots – NFL world stands up and applauds. Jets get smashed by Bengals – NFL world shakes collective head. So when the New York Jets rolled over the New Orleans Saints this week it was hard to believe it was the same team as a week ago, but ten we remember what they did to New England. Being realistic it’s still very unlikely the Jets make the playoffs, but with this type of performance anything is possible. The Saints had a rare off day, best to have it now than in January, because unlike the Jets the Saints are a playoff team. They will need to get this win out of their system quickly.
TITANS 28 RAMS 21
Last week the St.Louis Rams almost beat the Seahawks, this week they failed to live up to the billing of almost spoilers and couldn’t see a way past a very stubborn Tennessee team that is playing better than their 4-4 record would suggest. The Titans will come away from the season knowing that they are not too far away from being a very good football team that can play in contention in 2014. That was the case also for the 2012 Rams, they punched above their weight and put themselves up there to be shot at this year, they are another team with injuries but not enough depth to help them out.
CHIEFS 23 BILLS 13
Has the bye week come at a bad time for Kansas City? Many times over, the bye is seen as a chance to heal up and regroup, I’m sure that the Chiefs would rather keep rolling through the year, week after week confounding all the critics and experts. This group is now 9-0 and when you consider that it probably takes 10 or 11 wins to see post-season play they have one foot in January already. They are also the first team in 80 years to go unbeaten this far and keep their opponents to under 17 points in each game. Buffalo will not take too many positives from the game, spotting another young QB a start was one, and not being overawed by an undefeated team will be another. They can compete but they are not playoff ready on this showing.
CHARGERS 24 REDSKINS 30
Two very good football teams played out an overtime thriller. Well the overtime period itself wasn’t thrilling as RG3 marched his team down the field from the kickoff to paydirt in a way that will have the rest of the NFC aware they are still alive and a potential threat should they get to the playoffs. San Diego will look at another game lost that potentially should have been a W. Once again their lack of recent experience of putting a win streak together has come back to haunt them, and this will be a worry as the season winds on.
EAGLES 49 RAIDERS 20
Nick Foles is now in the same bracket as Peyton Manning. Well at least in this particular part of the record book. The Philadelphia QB has surely booked himself another start this week after a 400 yard 7 touchdown game that was every bit as spectacular as it sounds. The Oakland defence was simply shredded as nearly every time the Eagles passed the ball they scored. This was the entertainment we were looking forward to from a Chip Kelly offence. It keeps the Eagles in with s hot of the NFC East, whereas the Raiders will have to say their season is probably over in terms of any playoff aspirations go.
BUCCANEERS 24 SEAHAWKS 27
Here’s another confusing conundrum. Seattle survived a scare last week against the Rams. That scare should have been the kick they needed to push on, but no. Tampa Bay may be winless but they took the game to one of the Super Bowl favourites and raced out to a three touchdown lead. A serious upset was on the cards, until Russell Wilson remembered that he is one of the best QB’s in the league and steered his team back from the brink. Are we seeing a Seattle team exposed, or is this their blip on the season just like their rivals the 49ers had in the early part of the season?
RAVENS 18 BROWNS 24
Cleveland is hanging around in the AFC North, they are a long shot now but its games like this one that show off their toughness. Baltimore is a far cry from the team that won it all last February, but then we knew that would be the case. The stars of the defence left and that’s where the problem was meant to be, instead it’s a lacklustre offence that is slowing down their progress. Of course it’s this time of year that teams start to pick up and make a run, could it happen again? Either of these teams could still be in the playoffs.
STEELERS 31 PATRIOTS 55
The 55 points that New England put up on the Pittsburgh defence was the highest total given up by the Steelers in… well, forever. This was the final rites of the Pittsburgh season and maybe the notice that the franchise needs to overhaul its playing personnel. The Patriots were due a big day, but not many would have expected it to happen against the Steel Curtain. It would be easy now to say that the Patriots are back to their good old best, they will do well to remember though that this was a poor Steelers team that has been scored upon heaps so far this season. The Patriots are not the complete picture, but they do know how to win when the pressure is on them. Write them off at your own risk AFC.
COLTS 27 TEXANS 24
Think back to when you were making those pre-season predictions. You looked at the strengths of teams and the schedule and worked out who would win which game and make the playoffs. Well I’m sure you had both of these teams coming out of the AFC South. Also at that before season stage you would have looked at this game and thought that it would be a great game. You weren’t let down. The only problem is these two teams are going in completely opposite directions and this showed in a game of two halves. Houston was for so long the team that were next year’s men, and then last year that year came. Then it went just as quick. Indianapolis is very much the team in the ascendency and this, another comeback win, shows that they have a growing maturity. This could be the team to watch as the season goes on.
BEARS 27 PACKERS 20
Chicago dealt a huge blow to the Green Bay season, not just by winning this game, but in taking out their main weapon. Aaron Rodgers was having another MVP-type season, now he is spending an indefinite time out on the sideline because of a fractured collar bone incurred early in this Monday night loss. This not only helps the Bears in the race for the North title but also the Lions in the same division, and the whole of the leading pack in the NFC. The loss of Rodgers is huge for the Packers, but it does mean we get to see just how they react to his loss. Chicago will be buoyed by this win and will now look to get their own starting QB back in the line-up this week. Could be an exciting end to the season in that division.