Week 12 WON v. Eagles 31-28
Week 13 WON at Ravens 27-24
Week 14 at Steelers (9-3)
All of a sudden, this NFL season has gotten a lot more interesting. The reason is that in the last 2 weeks, the Patriots have lost their air of crushing invincibility.
They have back to back nail biter wins over a couple of very mediocre teams. The superhuman passing game now looks merely very good, and the defense is getting ripped up by the Kyle Bollers and AJ Feeleys of the world, not to mention Willis McGahee hanging 138 rushing yards on them on Monday Night.
If the Patriots beat the Steelers this week, they are going to go 16-0 in the regular season. Their remaining games should all be wins. That doesn't necessarily mean though, that they are going to go 19-0. I'm beginning to think the Patriots are going to have their hands full in the AFC Playoffs, and in the Super Bowl against Dallas or Green Bay. The Pats can't run the ball, and when the other team decides to stick to a running game, they have problems keeping them from succeeding. This team is beginning to reek of the peaked to soon 2005 Colts to me.
2. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 10-2
Week 12 WON at Falcons 31-13
Week 13 WON v. Jaguars 28-25
Week 14 at Ravens 4-8
Another year, another AFC South title for the Colts. Their 28-25 win over the Jaguars last weekend pretty much sews up a 4th straight division title, which is a pretty great achievement given the parity in the NFL in general, and the relative difficulty of their division in recent years.
This team continues to hang on. They've been without Marvin Harrison, which leaves them with only one real wide receiver target for Peyton Manning to rely on, and they've lost pass rusher Dwight Freeney for the season. Even with those huge losses, they rank 2nd in the league in pass defense, and Manning seems to be pulling out of the midseason rut he was in, throwing a Peyton Manning like 4 TD passes in the win over Jacksonville.
Indy's toughest game the remainder of this season should be this week's Sunday night tilt at a Ravens team that gave the Patriots all they could handle last week. After that, it's a road game at Oakland followed by a pair of divisional home games, and the Colts almost never lose at home. Looks like the Colts will get a much needed first round bye, and if they can get healthy during that off week, they could be a big threat to repeat as Super Bowl champs.
Week 12 WON v. Dolphins 3-0
Week 13 WON v. Bengals 24-10
Week 14 at Patriots (12-0)
The Steelers are being painted as the biggest threat remaining to an undefeated regular season for the Patriots. In fact, there's a lot of people predicting the Steelers will upset the recently staggering Patriots this week.
That would be the same Steelers who lost to the Jest a couple of weeks ago, and were fortunate to escape with a 3-0 victory at home against the winless Dolphins the next week. I'm not buying it.
Willie Parker has been held under 100 yards rushing 3 weeks in a row, by the terrible defenses of the Jets, Dolphins, and Bengals. He could be wearing down after lugging it 337 times last year, and 285 times already this year. The passing game isn't picking up the slack either. In the last 4 games, Ben Roethlisberger has looked more like 06 Bad Ben, throwing 5 picks and 5 TDs, than the Resurgent Roethlisberger we've seen this year.
The Steelers have a virtual 3 game lead in the AFC North, so they have that division sewn up. What they are after now is passing the Colts for the 2 seed in the AFC and getting a first round bye. That's not going to happen unless they play better than they have recently.
4. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 7-5
Week 12 WON v. Ravens 32-14
Week 13 WON at Chiefs 24-10
Week 14 at Titans (7-5)
Are everyone's favorite underachievers finally getting it together? An impressive win against the Ravens and a workmanlike one on the road against the Chiefs would suggest that they are.
Maybe most importantly, the team's superstars, LT and Shawne Merriman, both played like superstars at the same time in the win over KC. Tomlinson rushed for 177 yards and 2 TDs, showing his 2006 MVP form for the first time this year, while Merriman broke out with 3 sacks after getting only 6 1/2 the whole season prior to last week.
This week's game against Tennessee will tell us a lot about where the Chargers are. With the Patriots wobbling of late, the Steelers limping to victories, and the Colts struggling with injuries, the Chargers once again look like they may be a contender in the AFC. A win on the road over the 7-5 Titans would help build their case.
5. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 8-4
Week 12 WON v. Bills 36-14
Week 13 LOST at Colts 25-28
Week 14 v. Panthers (4-8)
I've decided that the Jags are the NFL's version of the NBA's Chicago Bulls. Their whole is greater than the sum of its parts, they have a bunch of solid players but no superstars, they make the playoffs every year, and they'll never ever come anywhere near winning a championship.
The Jags just don't have the one player they can lean on to counter the power of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or LT. They're measurably better than the weak teams in the league, but they're also not as good as the primo teams. It's a level they've stagnated at for the last 3 years, and I don't see how they plan on progressing past that level.
The loss to Indy was a close one, but it's also got to be a frustrating one. To the Jags, taking the Colts place as the top team in the AFC South is everything. Now they are resigned to second fiddle again, having lost to the Colts twice this year. Will they now do their annual routine of taking a wildcard spot and making another likely early playoff exit? Will they make it their mission to earn a 3rd meeting with the Colts in the playoffs and beat them this time? Or will they become discouraged and disintegrate down the stretch?
6. CLEVELAND BROWNS/TENNESSEE TITANS 7-5
Week 13 Browns LOST at Cardinals 21-27; Titans WON v. Texans 28-20
Week 14 Browns at Jets (3-9); Titans v. Chargers (7-5)
If the Browns are serious about this making the playoff thing, losing to the Arizona Cardinals can't happen, whether it's on the road or not. They played too sloppily, turning the ball over 4 times, and once again were powerless to stop the run, even against the Cards' subpar rushing attack.
This week they have another game they should win. They travel to the Meadowlands to face a Jets team that is 3-9, but has won 2 out of their last 3 games, and perhaps most dangerously for the Browns, have been running the ball well of late. Another loss in a game they should win would be a bad development in what's been a great season for the Browns so far.
The Titans snapped a 3 game losing streak last week by stirring themselves to come back from a 21-10 deficit to top the Texans last week. It wasn't exactly a resounding statement that they have righted their ship. They now face a Chargers team that looks like it's finally playing up to their talent level. If they play like they have the last 4 weeks, they're gonna get killed, and their playoff hopes look like they're hanging by a thread at this point.