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• Sideline: Yes, Non–Conference Games DO Count
• NCAA Preview 2009
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• Sideline: In Memory of Air McNair
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• 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
We continue our mid–season analysis of the NFL teams, where they've been and where they're headed. Today, the NFC. For the AFC, click here..
Dallas Cowboys (7–1)
Sometimes players go cold once a new contract is signed. Against Philly, Romo proved his love of playing is enough to keep his arm hot – which is important, because through the air is how Dallas is finding its scores. For all the emphasis on Marion Barber as their goal–line back (he's headed for 1,000 yards, so he's more than that), he has 6 of their 10 rushing TDs, while Romo has thrown 19 scores in half a season. A more aggressive style of defense hasn't put them in the top 10 for sacks, but has contributed to a +15 turnover margin. And they're about the healthiest team in the NFL – the only player on IR, DT Jason Ferguson is about to replaced in the line–up by ex–Bear Tank Johnson. Next for Dallas: starting the second half of the season the way they started the first half, by playing the Giants. A win this week should be enough to keep the NFC East at arm's length for the rest of the season.
Green Bay Packers (7–1)
In case we've grown accustomed to the Packers sitting high in the rankings, remember that before last season Brett Favre was broadly laughed at for suggesting that the Packers could contend. They almost made the playoffs last season, but most experts still had Green Bay slated for a 6–10 season this time round. Despite Favre's own frustration that the Pack didn't bring in Randy Moss, Favre has brought out the best in what he has, to the point that WR Koren Robinson returns from suspension unable to get a sniff of a start role; WRs Greg Jennings, James Jones and TE Donald Lee have all emerged. Favre himself is on course for a career high in passing yardage. But this is all sling: there's little running game, the team isn't great on converting 3rd downs, and they are near the top of the league in penalties, all stats that make me wonder if things couldn't turn sour suddenly come the playoffs.
Detroit Lions (6–2)
There are some parallels between the Lions and the Packers: both are riding their passing games without much rush to depend on; both lack the sort of third down efficiency which qualifies their offense in the same category as the AFC's elite (in the case of the Lions, second–worst); and like Favre last year, Jon Kitna predicted his team as a contender against the opinion of the experts. Whether that was just bluster by Kitna, or the sound judgment of an experienced QB, the breakthrough is evident. Matt Millen may now be crowned as a genius (okay, maybe not). The Lions' conversion into the second coming of the millennial Rams is finally happening, not just because the offensive personnel are starting to work together (the passing attack still isn't quite that calibre), but because what the defense lacks in stops, it makes up for in turnovers: league highs in both interceptions (14) and forced fumbles (13). The Lions are no mirage – just ask Denver.
New York Giants (6–2)
Seems like it's all happy families in the Meadowlands these days. Nobody hates Tom Coughlin, everybody's chilled out, and Tiki Barber's comments about Eli Manning have washed away in the Hudson now that the Giants are on a 6–game winning streak. However, the Giants have displayed in past years an ability to self–destruct under pressure, and they're going to have to weather a little pressure in the second half of the season. The October run of the Jets, Falcons, 49ers and Dolphins is behind them now; it's time to prove there's more to their record than bad opponents. Instead: – Dallas visit, seeking to sweep the Giants
– A visit to suddenly in–form Detroit
– No opponent with a worse record than 3–5 to this point
– New England as a season finale.
Washington Redskins (5–3)
The last four games – bare wins over the Cardinals and the Jets, a loss to Green Bay, and a beat–down by the Patriots – leave plenty to prove during a second half schedule stocked with divisional rivals and middling non–divisional opponents. Despite their winning record, Washington's 26th–ranked pass attack is still a work in progress, QB Jason Campbell with just 6 TD passes, 7 picks and 4 lost fumbles, and no receiver with more than 27 catches. That pretty much counteracts a great fight–back season from Clinton Portis, and a top 10 defense. Already with a loss to the Giants, they mustn't lose their December rematch, or Washington will be on the outside of the playoffs looking in.
New Orleans Saints (4–4)
Get ready everybody, here they come...! That offense was just TOO good to stay silent forever, and now that Drew Brees has regained some poise (he's back amongst the top three passers), the threat of the pass has opened up the run for Reggie Bush. Bush still doesn't seem happy as a running back rather than a utility player, but with Deuce McAllister out for the year, he's getting a crash course. The Saints defense is still more hole–y than holy, and the four game winning streak included easy prey the Falcons and 49ers. With none of their remaining opponents boasting better than a 5–4 record, and Tampa Bay only half a game ahead of them, the NFC South is there for the claiming.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5–4)
Jeff Garcia is a fit. Nine touchdowns won't blow anybody's socks off, but only three picks has kept a team with a terminally sick depth chart at running back stay in games and rely on their NFC–best pass defense. That the Bucs are leading their division despite 10 players on IR (including starting RB Cadillac Williams) and as many carrying injuries is evidence of both Tampa's resiliency and the NFC South's lack of killer instinct. With the Saints now on the Buccaneers' tail, the question becomes whether the Buccaneers will complete their break through, or just break down.
Seattle Seahawks (4–4)
Running back Shaun Alexander, the league leader two years ago, is carrying a rash of niggling injuries, and hasn't been fully fit in over a year. QB Matt Hasselbeck, TE Marcus Pollard, WR Deion Branch and T Walter Jones are also banged up. But the biggest of all injuries might be the career–ending neck injury to FB Mack Strong, which has contributed to a 23rd–ranked rush offense. Luckily for Seattle, the NFC West is a terrible, terrible division, and a bare 8–8 record may be enough.
Arizona Cardinals (3–5)
It's not too late for the Cardinals. Kurt Warner is returning to a brittle level of fitness, the threesome of dangerous receivers are all ready and waiting for a QB who's upright long enough to loose the ball rather than lose it, and the defense is top ten in yards allowed. And, as we mentioned, the NFC West is a terrible, terrible division. But they're still going to have to step up against Detroit, Cleveland, and New Orleans in the second half of the season.
Carolina Panthers (4–4)
With David Carr and Vinny tag–teaming starts at QB, we begin to see just how good the injured Jake Delhomme is – and how poorly the Panthers are protecting their passers. With six defenders joining Delhomme on IR, and Matt Moore already having taken snaps (their no.5 QB – Brett Basanez is also on IR), there's little reason to think the Panthers are the divisional pick against the battling Bucs and the re–emerging Saints.
Minnesota Vikings (3–5)
They have the top rush defense in the NFC, while Adrian Peterson gives them the best rushing attack in the league. If only they didn't have one of the worst passing attacks in the league. If only the rush defense stats weren't skewed by teams preferring to throw against their NFC–worst pass defense. And if only they had a QB, they might be dangerous. The experiment with Tarvaris Jackson might have to go on the back–burner.
Chicago Bears (3–5)
The problem, so it seemed, was the passing game. But just as Brian Griese supplanted Rex Grossman, the defense fell apart through injuries and ineptitude, and running back Cedric Benson, freed to enjoy the start role alone after Thomas Jones was traded, now keys a 31st–ranked rushing attack. The Bears are statistically still in the hunt, but with the Lions and Packers way ahead, this is looking like a slump.
Philadelphia Eagles (3–5)
The Eagles just look like they're wading through treacle out there. Brian Westbrook aside, there's no speed on this team, no deep threat. Every third and long is like an inevitable punting situation. There's still the occasional big game from McNabb, but it's beginning to feel like the end of an era. Coach Andy Reid's home woes probably don't help, but the Eagles need a wider personnel re–vamp.
Atlanta Falcons (2–6)
On goes the silliness: older players fearing for roster changes complaining about Bobby Petrino, speculation he might be losing on purpose to get a higher draft slot next year, a QB battle between Byron Leftwich and Joey Harrington. Quote: "They keep telling us, 'Trust us, trust us.' We've been trying to trust them the whole time". Those were the words of TE Alge Crumpler, "The whole time" equating to all of five games from a rookie coaching crew. Would it be wrong of me to suggest that some of this mess might be connected with Michael Vick's slight legal booboo? Which, incidentally, is soon to add its next chapter. 2008 can't come soon enough in Atlanta.
San Francisco 49ers (2–6)
Just as they were expected to get better, the 49ers got a whole lot worse, especially on the offense, and especially at QB, which ranks dead last in the league at 132 yards per game. Alex Smith has taken such a step back he looks like he's attached to his own goal post by a bungee cord, with 2 TDs in 6 games. Trent Dilfer's 55 QB rating is actually worse than Smith's. RB Frank Gore, considered one of the top five at his position going into the season, may not crack 1000 yards. The top receiver on the team has 273 yards. In that hopeless NFC West, the 49ers don't even have a hope of contending.
St Louis Rams (0–8)
Tackles Orlando Pace and Todd Steussie are both on injured reserve, RB Steven Jackson is day–to–day, and marquee QB Marc Bulger has thrown 3 TDs this year, making the Rams' once–mighty offense one of the most docile in the NFL. Sadly, the Rams and Dolphins don't meet this year. I have a suspicion that even if they did, the Rams still wouldn't win. Is this the worst team in football right now?
For AFC analysis click here.