|Last night's loss may have confirmed that the Redskins are now occupying a spot at the bottom of the NFC, along with the Buccaneers & Rams, whom are we winless, but we barely beat, and the Lions, whom we lost too. And the only real question right now is who the next coach is going to be and when he'll get here. But there's still a world in the NFL beyond our suffering one. Let's take a quick snapshot of the NFC and see how each division is shaping up...|
It's going to be a good race. The Giants, Cowboys and Eagles all have their strengths, and you can also poke a lot of holes in each one. Philly's key weakness has always been receiver and I really like DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin there as the new kids putting some fresh life into the offense. But that loss to the Raiders is the kind of ugly one that, even if it was just a fluke, is one that sits up on the board and haunts you all year long. New York, like the Eagles, is very well-coached, but here the problem of big plays is an issue. As is the fact that Eli Manning has never been an elite quarterback, in spite of a Super Bowl ring and that fact seems to become clearer every day. Dallas has the talent, but there's just no way a Wade Phillips team makes it through a season without a lack of discipline doing them in. At the start of the year, I gave the Giants a cautious edge on the Birds, with the Pokes coming in third. No reason to change now.
Speaking of no reasons to change a pick, my choice of Minnesota to reach the Super Bowl falls into that category. The Vikes have played great and Brett Favre has been even better than I expected. They still have some big games ahead--both matchups with the Bears and the ultimate showdown next week in Green Bay, but they are also done with the Steelers & Ravens, which is no small thing. One team not to sleep on is the Packers. Since playing poorly against Minnesota on October 5, they've had a bye week and then took advantage of playing the Lions and Browns to get their defense in order, allowing only a field goal in both games combined. Whether that will hold steady against a really good team remains to be seen, but being able to dominate a bad one does suggest a real contender. Chicago looks like they are well on the way to being a heartbreak team with Jay Cutler--good enough to have some great games and inspire fear in any opponent, but more than capable of the kind of turnover-ridden effort they turned in against Cincinnati. I had the Bears as a playoff team at the start of the year. Now I suspect they will be in the 8-9 win area and on the outside looking in.
It's a two-horse race between New Orleans and Atlanta. I'm proud to say I liked the Saints at the start of the year, but in no way did I think they would be Super Bowl-caliber. But here they are, with Drew Brees firing away to what looks like an MVP campaign and sitting on a 7-0 mark. It's great to see Gregg Williams thriving down in the Bayou, running the defense, after getting spurned on the Redskins head coaching job two years ago. If New Orleans keeps this up, Williams will get another shot at a top job in a more functionable organization. Good for him, bad for us. I respect the Falcons and the way Matt Ryan is turning out. They are definitely wild-card caliber--but so are Philadelphia, Dallas, Green Bay and Chicago and only two of those teams can make it. Atlanta gets a crack at New Orleans this coming Monday to keep themselves in the division race and strengthen their wild-card chances.
The Cardinals may have gone to the Super Bowl and may be coming off an impressive win over the Giants, but this is still football's most boring division. On the flip side, it's still the one most likely to produce a surprise. Arizona is in a little bit of a groove right now at 4-2, but the Seahawks are only a couple games. And the 49ers are at 3-3, but I am very disappointed in the way they have responded the last two weeks, suffering a 45-10 loss to Atlanta and then losing at Houston. San Francisco was that preseason oxymoron--a trendy dark horse, including in this space. They haven't been the same team since Favre ripped their heart out in the Metrodome. Fortunately, their division's weakness and their early head-to-head win in Arizona keep them in the mix. Here's another case where I'll stick with my preseason choice until they are out of it, or someone else really impresses.
Wildcards: Eagles & Falcons
Conference Champ: Vikings
AFC coming up next...