With another weekend of NFL action now on the books, Kevin Beirne rounds up last weekend’s action and looks at what to keep an eye out for in week 7.
Notes from the weekend:
1. It was a bad weekend for the AFC South
The AFC South had a particularly bad weekend in week 6, as every team in the division lost. In fact, it was probably the Jacksonville Jaguars who had the best weekend of the lot, as they beat the spread against the Denver Broncos, although the spread for that particular game was somewhere in the mid-twenties.
In one of the shock results of the weekend, the Colts fell to the San Diego Chargers after only putting up nine points. Still, Colts fans shouldn’t panic. They have one of the best quarterbacks in the league and this is a young team who just played the 49ers and Seahawks in consecutive weeks. They were due a letdown.
Texans fans, on the other hand, should be smashing the panic button. Despite having arguably the best player in the entire league in the form of JJ Watt, Houston’s offense is poor and doesn’t show any signs of turning things around any time soon. Even if Matt Schaub comes back from injury, he looks a shadow of his former self.
2. The Patriots are limping along
One of the most impressive things in the NFL is how the New England Patriots have remained competitive every year for a decade now. Even when they lost Tom Brady for the year back in 2008, Bellichick took the Patriots to a 11-5 record under Matt Cassel. Matt Cassel.
This year, the Patriots have somehow started off with a 5-1 record, despite losing Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez over the off-season, as well as not having Rob Gronkowksi so far this year because of on-going injury problems. Danny Amendola has (somewhat unsurprisingly) struggled with injuries since signing as a free agent and rookie tight-end Zac Sudfeld has failed to live up to the pre-season hype.
Despite these setbacks, New England are firmly in control of the AFC East after staging an incredible comeback against the New Orleans Saints last Sunday. Although some credit has to go to the poor clock management by the Saints at the end, it was amazing to see Brady lead his team down the field to win the game. That being said, not even the Patriots can keep winning so many close games, especially now that Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo are done for the season.
3. The NFC North is wide open
Green Bay are currently just a half a game off the lead of the NFC North, despite the fact that the started off 1-2. Following their bye week, the Packers clawed their way back to 3-2, while the Bears and Lions are both at 4-2. Even though all three teams have winning records, it is hard to call who the best of them is.
The Lions and Packers are both incredibly reliant on one player. If Calvin Johnson or Aaron Rodgers go down injured, their team’s season goes down the toilet. The Bears, meanwhile, will win and die based on the play of the inconsistent Jay Cutler. It is hard to pick which one of these teams will end up on top.
The obvious pick would be the Packers, but they are now facing a Patriots-like injury crisis in not only their receiving corps, but their linebackers too. Green Bay can paper over these cracks for a little while, but they need to start getting people healthy again soon. The Lions and Bears, on the other hand, need to prove they can be consistent if they want to win the division.
What to look out for week 7:
1. Peyton Manning’s homecoming
The late Sunday night game (live on Channel 4 in the early hours of Monday morning) is only of the most anticipated games of the year. In case you didn’t already know, Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos take on the team where he spent the first thirteen years of his career; the Indianapolis Colts.
Andrew Luck will be hoping that he can get one over the man he replaced, while Manning will be out to prove that he made the right choice in leaving the Colts. This will be Manning’s first time playing in Indianapolis since his Colts suffered a shock 17-16 loss to Mark Sanchez’s Jets.
There has been a lot of back and forth over this game during the week, particularly with Colts owner, Jim Irsay. Some people are questioning Irsay’s decision to let Manning go, but the truth is that, no matter the result this week, the Colts letting Manning sign for the Broncos before the 2012 season has benefitted both teams hugely.
2. Can the Bengals maintain consistency?
Last week, the Bengals needed overtime to beat a Bills team who were starting a quarterback they had just promoted from their practice squad during the week. The Bengals will travel to Detroit this Sunday to take on the Lions, a game that they will have to win if they expect to take the AFC North crown.
As things stand, the Bengals are 4-2, while the Browns and Ravens are both 3-3. If Cincinnati produce consistently, then they can definitely conquer a division where there is no clear dominant team, despite the presence of the defending Superbowl champions. As good as the Browns have been at times, it is hard to see them challenging in December, while the Steelers’ season is basically already over.
This Cincinnati team is just too talented to allow themselves to fall into inconsistent play. Although they have obvious problems at quarterback, every other area of this team is looking good and they have the potential to lead a playoff run.
3. Can the Falcons get back on track?
Every game for the Atlanta Falcons is now a must-win game thanks to their 1-4 record. For a team that came into the season with the belief that they would be hoisting the Lombardi trophy in February, Atlanta have been incredibly disappointing. Last week was a good week for them, as they gained ground on the Saints, despite not playing.
At this stage, the Falcons have to hope for either a monumental collapse by the Saints, or else aim to sneak into the playoffs as a wildcard. This week, they play a Buccaneers team who have yet to win a game. This is the perfect opportunity for Matt Ryan & co. to stop the rot that has afflicted them so far.
An injury to Julio Jones means that it will be even more difficult to save their season than it was already, while Steven Jackson has yet to justify his signing as a free agent. Everyone on the Falcons roster has to step up, or this season will be a complete failure.
Kevin is an NFL fan from Dublin, who has a Twitter account (@KevBeirne) where he talks constantly about sports.