We are approaching the halfway stage in the NFL regular season and with the race at the top heating up, Kevin Beirne looks back on week 7 and ahead to week 8. What we learned in week 7:
1) The Broncos are not an unstoppable force (and the Colts are contenders)
The Broncos put up a great fight, but ultimately they were finally punished for not having a defence. This time, Manning wasn’t able to bail out Denver’s D, which has not been up to scratch in many games this season. Manning didn’t come to Denver just to achieve a good regular season record; he has done that enough with the Colts. Although injuries played a part in this loss, Denver still need to evaluate their defensive vulnerabilities if they are to make a run in January. Luck’s Colts, on the other hand, were able to prove to a national audience that they mean business this year.
On Sunday, they added the Broncos to their already impressive list of conquests, which includes the Seahawks and the 49ers this year. Still, they have to show consistency, as they have fallen to the Chargers and Dolphins, while also almost losing to the Raiders. Indianapolis go into their bye week with a very impressive 5-2 record and the control of the AFC South.
2) Cincinnati is a dark horse
It was impressive how the Bengals made the journey to Detroit and left with a win. Although the Lions aren’t exactly the best team in the league, they are still formidable opposition and are tough to beat at home. The game was framed by many as the battle of the two best wide receivers in the league, as Calvin Johnson’s Lions fell to AJ Green’s Bengals.
Strangely enough, both players finished with exactly 155 receiving yards on the night, although Johnson caught two touchdowns and nine catches to Green’s one touchdown from six catches. Although Green is arguably as good as Johnson, the Bengals have other offensive weapons and don’t need to rely on him to carry the team like the Lions rely on Johnson. Cincinnati can hurt you from a number of positions, and if they can get their running game fully established this year, they have the opportunity to upset the frontrunners in the AFC.
Over the last few years, we have seen that it is not necessarily the best team that ends up as champions, but rather the team that gets hot at the right time.
3) The Chiefs might be the worst 7-0 team ever (but they’re still 7-0)
Without a doubt, the biggest turn around this season has been the Kansas City Chiefs going from having the worst record in 2012 to being the only undefeated team left in 2013. While they are definitely a better team this year than they were last season, the change in fortunes has not been as dramatic as the record would suggest.
It may simply be a case of the universe trying to help the Chiefs revert to the mean and missing the mark somewhat, as there is no way that they were the least talented roster in the NFL last year. If anything, their rise from worst to first shows the importance of coaching in today’s NFL, and that sometimes a fresh start is a good thing for a coach. There is also the fact that the Chiefs have faced teams with a combined record (not including each teams’ game against the Chiefs) of 15-26 this year.
Of their opponents, the Texans and Titans both had a back up quarterback starting his first game for the team against Kansas City. That trend continues this week, as they face the Jason Campbell-led Browns at home. So, that’s last week’s action out of the way, but what should you look out for on Sunday?
1) How will the Patriots react to defeat?
Despite their 5-2 record, the Patriots have looked shaky all season. Now that they have suffered season-ending injuries to some of their biggest defensive players, there is even more pressure on Tom Brady to do something spectacular with a very limited supporting cast. The return of Rob Gronkowski will help hugely.
The Patriots have gone 1-2 in their last three games, with the sole victory coming courtesy of a Tom Brady touchdown pass with 5 seconds left against the Saints. This week, they will look to avoid their first consecutive loss since week 3 of last season, as they host the inconsistent Dolphins. Their week 10 bye can’t come soon enough.
2) Can Washington win back-to-back shootouts? In the late game on Sky Sports this Sunday, Washington takes on the Broncos in Denver. Last week, RGIII led his team to victory in a shootout over the Bears, but this week’s opposition is a different animal altogether. Peyton Manning’s Broncos will be looking to make a statement after falling to the Colts last week, so Washington needs to be prepared for a shootout.
The thing is, so far this season, Washington have been held to 20 points or less in half of their games, and have only gone over 30 points once. Their defence, on the other hand, has allowed more than 30 points in four of their six outings. This does not bode well for the team with the controversial name. From Denver’s perspective, this is the perfect opportunity for them to get over last weekend’s loss. Expect Manning to put up big numbers, as he punishes Washington for the pain inflicted by Indianapolis. Only a true optimist would expect Washington to be able to keep pace.
3) The battle at the top of the NFC
From a Dallas perspective, this game represents a chance to extend their lead at the top of the NFC East. If the Eagles fall to the Giants, then the Cowboys can open up a two-game lead. The NFC East seems like the kind of division where nine wins will be enough to top the division, and Dallas looks like the most likely team to get there. The Lions, however, aren't so lucky. Even though they have the same record as the Cowboys going into Sunday’s game, they are in joint second place, behind the Green Bay Packers, in the NFC North.
The Lions can’t afford to lose too much ground on the Packers, as they will be hoping to at least sneak a wild card berth. With one of those places almost guaranteed to go to an NFC West team, Detroit know they will have to fight tooth and nail for that last spot.
Kevin Beirne has been an NFL fan since 2004, so he has never seen his beloved Bills in the playoffs. You can follow him on Twitter @KevBeirne.