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• Sideline: Yes, Non–Conference Games DO Count
• NCAA Preview 2009
• Sideline: Time For The Talking To Stop
• Sideline: In Memory of Air McNair
• Sideline: Will Goodell Hand Out Hard Time?
• Sideline: Marshall's Not Joshing
• NFL Draft: No Rush To Judgment
• NFL Draft Analysis 2009 (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts
• Sideline: Will Play For Food
• Sideline: Wonderlic Scores
• Sideline: Manning and Sanchez
• Sideline: 2010 Leagues Sci–fi, or Fantasy? / March Madness
• Sideline: Break Out The Brackets
• Sideline: LaDainian Tomlinson On The Record
• Sideline: The Incredible Sulk Continues
• Sideline: Guildford Heat Fired Up
• Sideline: Super Bowl thoughts from the Valley of the Sun
• Sideline: I know I came in here for something
• Sideline: College Football National Signing Day
• Sideline: 27 Points — 27 Super Bowl thoughts
• Sideline: An Epic QB Matchup?
• Sideline: Appreciating Arizona for What They Were
• Sideline: NFL Divisional Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Bowl Season Hangover
• Sideline: Six weeks Later
• Sideline: Wildcard Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Santa's Sackings
• Sideline: A Weis Decision ...for Now
• Sideline: Eye on the Ticker
• Sideline: Lions — An Anagram of Losin
• Sideline: Ready for the Turkey
• Sideline: Making it to the Big Dance
• Sideline: Brighter Days Ahead for Chargers?
• Sideline: Unnecessary Hits To The Pocket / Upset: BYU
• Sideline: Romo's Pause / Seattle Seahawks
• Sideline: Weekend Prep: Red River and More
• Sideline: College Football's 'Crossroads' Weekend
• Sideline: Gramatical Error
• Sideline: Turning The Page
• Sideline: So Cal 'Quizzed
• Sideline: 3rd Tuesday Panic / Forté Yard Dash
• Sideline: Two and Oh; Oh and Two
• Sideline: No More NCAAffeine
• Sideline: Week 1 College Football
• Sideline: How To Spell Heisman / Chad Ocho Cinco
• Sideline: A Second Slice
• Sideline: The Favre story STILL won't go away
• Sideline: Olympic Notes / Ricky's Still Relevant
• Sideline: Committee Meetings
• Sideline: Let the QB Battles Begin
• Sideline: Slinging The Slinger — More Favre
• Interview: Clint Dempsey
• Sideline: Welcome to the 2008 season
• Sideline: Plus One
• 2008 NFL Draft Review
• Sideline: Draft: The Morning After
• Sideline: Draft: Thinking the Unthinkable
• Sideline: Draft: Ready For The Long Haul
• Sideline: Sofa–bound Sport
• Sideline: Post–Winter Wonderland
• Sideline: Six Impossible Things
• Sideline: Brady's Misdirection Play
• Sideline: Colorful Language
• Sideline: Let the Romo–bashing begin
• Sideline: Bowl Bites: The Wrap
• Sideline: All About The Coaches
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 3
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 2
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 1
• Sideline: Coach Situations Vacant
• Sideline: For Some, The Playoffs Are Now
• Sideline: A Certain Lack Of Welcome
• Sideline: Unrelated Notes
• Sideline: Two Thanksgiving thoughts
• Sideline: Halftime: NFC
• Sideline: Halftime: AFC
• Sideline: London / A Tale of Two Chads / Intimidation
• Sideline: Damp Squib / Other London Notes
• Sideline: Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em / Dolphins – The Aftermath
• Sideline: The Dolphins Did What?
• Sideline: Notes on the Defenses
• Sideline: Habits to be Broken
• Sideline: Overtime
• Sideline: This Week's Starters
• Sideline: USF: Covering The Spread / Fantastic Football
• Sideline: Grossman: The Final Act? / McNabb, the Epilogue
• Sideline: Eagles QB in Slight Controversy
• Sideline: Leftwich's Parting Gift / Boos cruise
• Sideline: Notre Dame M.I.A.
• Sideline: Looking Beyond NFL Wk. 1
• Sideline: Best Hope For Heisman
• Sideline: Coaching Hot Seats / AP Poll Feeling ’Appy
• Sideline: The NFL’s Prime Cuts
• Sideline: Michigan Falls to Killer Apps
• Sideline: Look Out Couch / The Taint's On You, Bud

Observations, Opinion & Occasional Silliness by Richard L Gale

November 8, 2007

With all the teams having played at least half their schedule, it’s time for a little analysis of who’s for real, and who’s blowing smoke. Today, the AFC, tomorrow, the NFC.

New England Patriots (9–0):
Unbeaten. Proving they can tough out a close one against their closest rival as well as rolling up showy stats against lesser folk, the main challenge for the Patriots is not maintaining their unbeaten status, but not letting that millstone distract them from their purpose. As they do have to play somebody other than the Colts, the Patriots still face a December that includes:
– the formidable Pittsburgh Steelers
– a cruddy Dolphins team aching to end the streak the way they did for the ‘85 Bears
– a week 17 visit to New York just when a 15–0 Pats team may be on auto–pilot and the Giants will still be battling for either the NFC East title or a playoff seeding.
Indianapolis Colts (7–1):
By sitting WR Marvin Harrison and LT Tony Ugoh, the Colts made a statement against the Patriots: that they’re pacing themselves. The Patriots still didn’t get to see the best of the Colts offense, while the Colts defense proved that they can at least limit the Patriots in a way other teams haven’t approached. Indianapolis conceded a tie–breaker and the No.1 ranking to the Patriots, but remain focused on being in the game – and fit – when the AFC Championship comes around. Even if the Patriots feel like the heir apparent, the Colts still played like reigning champions.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6–2)
Everybody was so impressed by the 5 touchdowns thrown by Ben Roethlisberger against the Ravens, that nobody commented how flat the Steelers rushing game was, how Willie Parker just ran into the line. Two weeks earlier in a 28–31 loss, they’d failed to take advantage of Denver’s terrible run defense. While one was a bare loss, and the other a blow–out win, both games illustrate that the Steelers’ tradition of hard–running is no given, even if their run is ranked second in the league. WIth Roethlisberger averaging 3 TDs per game over the last month, do the Steelers have the balance to challenge the Patriots and Colts, or is there going to come a night, somewhere in the playoffs, when the Steelers really need to jam it up the middle, but forget how to?

(By the way, although everybody speaks of it being the Colts and Patriots and then everybody else, in case anybody didn’t notice, those last THREE teams represent the last three Superbowl winners.)
Tennessee Titans (6–2)
Last year, the Titans nearly made the playoffs by winning ugly with Vince Young, but in their second year ...well, they’re winning ugly with Vince Young. If this is a measure of how many wins ‘ugly’ is worth, just imagine how dangerous they’ll be if Vince Young (14–7 as a starter) starts having 200–yard passing games. Much overlooked: RB LenDale White is headed for a 1000–yard season and the Titans are third in the league in rushing. Underappreciated: the Titans are tied with the Ravens for second–best in the NFL in defense. How close are the Titans to being a contender? If Adam Vinatieri’s crossbar–hitting kick in their week 2 match–up with Colts had bounced back instead of through, it would be the Titans leading the AFC South right now.
Cleveland Browns (5–3)
When the Browns lost their opener 34–7 to Pittsburgh, and then immediately jettisoned their starting quarterback, Charlie Frye, it looked like another year on the floor of the NFL for the Browns while they waited for Brady Quinn to ascend to franchise QB status. They’re still waiting, but only because Derek Anderson has been a revelation. Right now, Anderson is hot enough that QB isn’t even a controversy. With one of the most productive offenses in the NFL, the Browns are beating the right teams to show they’re a better than average team. Next week, they get to prove how much progress they’ve made – in a rematch with the Steelers with the division lead at stake.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5–3)
Jack Del Rio’s decision to part with Byron Leftwich and go with David Garrard at QB was brave and inspired, defusing a potential controversy, and allowing the Jags to focus. What he has now is a team with enough offense, defense and discipline to emerge from the pack. The two negatives evident so far: their backup QBs aren’t as safe while David Garrard is hurt; and the occasional game when part of the defense simply vanishes. If the two combine (and interceptions do tend to give opposing teams more opportunity), the Jaguars are in the wrong division and conference to win a late–season dog–fight.
San Diego Chargers (4–4)
The same question we asked at the start of the season: they have the talent, but do they have the coaching and coordination? The recent loss to the Vikings was a perfect example, as Norv Turner’s men failed to get their offense in gear long enough to either stop the rhythm of Adrian Peterson, or establish LT’s own rhythm. Seemingly lacking commitment to – or the ability to carry out – their own gameplan, the Chargers are the default pick in the AFC West, but by no means a lock if they continue to yo–yo.
Baltimore Ravens (4–4)
The Ravens profile is that of a team with an awesome defense, occasional sparkling moments in an otherwise unexceptional offense led by Steve McNair, and a powerful running game that helps key wins in close situations. And then there’s the ‘07 reality: outside the top 10 in yards allowed, near the bottom in forcing fumbles, middle of the pack in sacks; becoming ever less adventurous with their passing attack, with McNair likely to give way to Kyle Boller, on top of being the most penalized team in the NFL. With Cleveland, San Diego, New England, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh all still on the schedule, it isn’t looking good. Their only hope is that the return of Jonathan Ogden galvanizes the O–line.
Buffalo Bills (4–4)
They’re on a three–game winning streak and have won 4 of their last 5. Their four losses include games against Pittsburgh, New England and Dallas. And they still have to play Miami twice. AND they’re second in the league in passes defensed. All of which is a very positive reading of a team that has beaten only the Jets (twice), defenseless Cincy, and Baltimore, and which is going back and forth between QBs. All the same, they’re in the hunt. So why do I have this gut feeling they’re going to gift Miami their first win this week?
Kansas City Chiefs (4–4)
I’m still not sure I believe in the Chiefs. Offensive yards are third from bottom, Larry Johnson is gimpy and not at his best in any case, and even the defense is mid–pack in pure yards allowed. Take away their win over the unpredictable Chargers, and the remaining victories are over bottom feeders Cincinnati and Oakland, and a Vikings team (before they saw sense and rode Peterson). Meanwhile they wilted at home to quality opponents like Jacksonville and Green Bay. Hosting Denver this week, they could rise to 5–4, but this still doesn’t feel like a winning record in the making.
Houston Texans (4–5)
Bizarre facts: In the super–competitive AFC South, the Texans have the top pass offense; they’re getting results from retreads like Sage Rosenfels and Ron Dayne; and second–year DE Mario Williams is actually following the learning curve that sensible evaluators predicted for him, and is second on the team in sacks. Now if they only had an offensive line... (et cetera ad infinitum). The injury to starting QB Matt Schaub has to be one of the most predictable notes from the first half of the season. The hype surrounding the first meeting of Williams and Reggie Bush will be the most predictable of the second half. Yet the depressing fact that really matters: the only teams the Texans have beaten in the last seven games are Miami and Oakland.
Denver Broncos (3–5)
With the deaths of two players since last season, center Tom Nalen out for the year, receiver Javon Walker out for several weeks and Rod Smith on injured reserve, three DEs on IR including 1st round pick Jarvis Moss, QB Jay Cutler listed as day–to–day, and RB Travis Henry perhaps facing a league suspension... well, you get the picture. There isn’t much room for error if they are to get anything out of this season, and they’d be forgiven if they missed out on the playoffs again.
Cincinnati Bengals (2–6)
The Bengals are a dream team for fantasy owners, with Chad Johnson a TD threat, Carson Palmer racking the playing–from–behind yardage, and TJ Houshmanzadeh on course for a 120–reception season. Back in the real world, defense matters too, and the Bengals are allowing almost 400 yards a game, and have managed only 12 sacks this season. With LB Ahmad Brooks now out for the season, that situation isn’t likely to change much. The only distant hope is that the return to health of RBs Rudi Johnson and Kenny Watson, and the return from suspension of WR Chris Henry give the Bengals so much offense that they can start outscoring some opponents.
Oakland Raiders (2–6)
The Raiders seem locked into a QB limbo, going with McCown, then Culpepper, now back to McCown. It can only be assumed that the late–signing JaMarcus Russell is still so far from understanding the offense that he is little more than a mythological hope. When playing from behind, their creditable rushing attack is less use to them, WR Jerry Porter is getting shut down, and Randy Moss is just a distant memory. Factor in the traditional penalties, and Raiders fans are witnessing another season vanishing into the abyss.
New York Jets (1–8)
I was wrong about QB Kellen Clemons. I’m not wrong about the effect the change of passer has on the Jets’ ability to win. This defense just isn’t stopping anybody, even in their lone win of the season (over the Dolphins, of course), when they won 31–28. Inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma is now headed to injured reserve. Still, it could be worse...
Miami Dolphins (0–8)
Good grief.

For NFC analysis click here.


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