Tuesday, November 26, 2013

NFL Week 12 Snap Judgments

How did we already reach the three-quarter mark of the NFL season?  Those sneaky devils who handle scheduling know exactly how to build the season in such a way where fans are left wanting more.  Before we know it, Thanksgiving and the holiday season are upon us and the home stretch of the NFL season is under way.  That's actually a good thing because the best way for any sports league is to keep the fans wanting more.  The three other major sports leagues have insanely long regular seasons, and hockey and basketball's postseasons are also absurdly long.  The NFL gets it right, and the league would do itself a disservice if they chose to pursue the idea of adding two more regular season games.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, may your holiday be blessed with joy, turkey, and football for 12 hours that day.

1. Peyton Manning has proven once again he can't play in cold weather.  Sunday night's game was a textbook example of a tale of two halves, with the Broncos dominating the first half and the Patriots taking over in the second half and overtime.  However, death, taxes, and Peyton Manning's struggles in cold weather once again held true.  Manning threw two touchdown passes, but only a total of 150 yards on the game.  Patriots coach Bill Belichick knew enough about Manning's skill sets that once the game went into overtime, he was better off letting Manning have the ball first and have him throw into the wind.  Manning hasn't thrown well in cold and windy conditions during his entire career, which has to raise the question of how vulnerable the Broncos will be again come January.

2. Once again, an entire division went winless on Sunday, only this time it included a head-to-head match up.  The NFC North looked absolutely awful on Sunday, with the Bears getting blown out in St. Louis and the Lions losing a shocker at home against Tampa.  The booby prize though goes to the Green Bay/Minnesota game, since Scott Tolzien had started the game at quarterback for Green Bay, but was eventually pulled for recently-signed Matt Flynn.  The Packers had to roar back to send the game into overtime, where the two teams traded field goals to end the game in a tie.  The big embarrassment though came after the game, where apparently there are players who still haven't learned from Donovan McNabb.

3. The Goat of the Week Award goes to Matthew Stafford.  Stafford threw 4 interceptions on the day, including a pick-6 and two others thrown in the red zone.  The Lions could have put a stranglehold on the NFC North in Week 11 and Week 12, but they dropped both games instead.  Losing to a two-win team at home is bad enough, but if the Lions miss the postseason because they had stubbed their toes during this stretch they will only look back on themselves with disappointment.  Next up for the Lions: a Thanksgiving Day home game against Green Bay, who may or may not have Aaron Rodgers finally back.

4. How 'bout dem Cardinals!  Anyone who said at the beginning of the season the Cardinals would possess a playoff spot by Week 12, please raise your hand so the rest of us can bop you on the head for lying to our faces.  Larry Fitzgerald cleared 11,000 receiving yards for his career during the game, making him the youngest receiver in NFL history to do so.  The Cardinals' defense is also one of the best in the NFL, which if they do reach the postseason, could make them a tough out depending on their first-round match up.

5. The Jaguars are actually doing themselves a disservice by winning football games now.  Two weeks ago, the Jaguars and Bucs won their first games of the season.  Since then, the Bucs are riding a three-game winning streak, and the Jaguars have won two of three.  Why did either team choose now all of a sudden to actually win a couple football games?  The Texans are now in line for the #1 overall pick in April, and while no head coach in football in his right mind would ever tank a season to get a high draft pick, the Jaguars in particular are doing themselves no favors by winning now.  They may be faced with the prospect of having to trade up to take Teddy Bridgewater in April so no one else can block them.  Even by winning, they lose.

6. If Tamba Hali and/or Justin Houston miss significant time, the Chiefs' defense suddenly becomes quite average.  The Chiefs lost both Hali and Houston to injury on Sunday, and the tandem leads the NFL in sacks by teammates.  With their pass rush taking a major hit (pun intended), the Chiefs may have to rely on their offense to put 30 or more points on the board in the meantime to compensate.  They were obviously able to do that on Sunday, but whether they can do that consistently is another question entirely.  They're still one of the best teams in the AFC, but their chances of making any playoff run depend on having their two best pass rushers on the field.

7. The Ravens are playing the kind of football they had played in 2000.  The offense has to play relatively mistake-free football and put just enough points on the board so the defense can hold the other team at bay.  The big difference is that in 2000 the Ravens had a strong running game built around Jamal Lewis, and now their running game is virtually non-existent.  They have the tools necessary to make another playoff run, but their margin for error between now and their Week 17 game in Cincinnati is as close to zero as mathematically possible.  They have a much better chance at getting the second Wild Card spot, and if they win Thanksgiving night against Pittsburgh they'll be able to build some separation there.

8. Tony Romo proves once again he is impossible to figure out.  One week, Tony Romo has the game of his life, like against Denver back in Week 5.  He'll be super clutch like he was on Sunday.  Others, he will do something really stupid like throw an interception to end a game, like he did against the Giants in the 2007 playoffs, or lay a stinker like he did in the final game of the 2008 regular season against the Eagles, or this infamous play:

So who is he?  He has a quality group of receivers led by Dez Bryant and Jason Witten.  On Sunday, he led the Cowboys down the field to kick a game-winning field goal on the road against a divisional opponent.  For every good game he has, he has costly errors that blemish his career.  When you think he will lay an egg, he'll come through, but when you expect him to have a good game, he'll find a way to shoot himself in the foot.

9. The NFL needs to do something to build consistency in refs calling personal fouls.  I don't know what the answer to the problem is, but in the last two weeks there have been multiple personal foul calls that are anything but consistent.  Last week, Ahmad Brooks wrapped his arm around Drew Brees' neck in tackling him, and the refs rightfully called that roughing the passer.  However, on Sunday, the Steelers' William Gay gave Browns QB Jason Campbell a blow to the helmet, sending Campbell to the locker room.  No personal foul was called.  Meanwhile, Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers was flagged for roughing Bears QB Josh McCown on what was clearly a legal sack and forced a fumble.  Then last night, 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith flat out kicked Robert Griffin III in the groin, but the refs somehow missed it.  Smith will likely be fined by the league for his action, but he should never have been able to get away with a dirty move like that in the first place.  Like I said, there is no easy answer to the problem, unless maybe there was an eye in the sky watching the field from up above who buzzed the refs on occasion to alert them to things like Smith kicking RGIII in the groin.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sometimes the Jokes Just Write Themselves

This is going to be a super short post.  You'll quickly understand why.

A friend of mine on Facebook shared a screen shot of a news story that had aired on TV.  The headline simply read, "50 Shades of Grey Book at Library Tested Positive for Herpes."

I'm not kidding.

To prove I'm not making this up, watch this video:

You know what?  I'm not even going to make a joke or comment.  I think truth is stranger than fiction, and this is a perfect example of that concept.

Go ahead and make whatever joke or thought that crosses your mind on this one.  I turn this one over to anyone who reads my blog.

NFL Week 11 Snap Judgments

With six weeks to go in the regular season, over half of the divisions across the league are decided.  New England, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, New Orleans, and Seattle are all in control of their divisions.  New Orleans has the slimmest lead of the bunch, only a game ahead of the Panthers with two head-to-head match ups in December.  However, the NFC East continues to be an incredibly average division, with the Eagles taking a half game lead over the idle Cowboys this weekend.  Winning the East at 8-8 is still very likely, leaving one or both Wild Card teams in the NFC to finish with double-digit wins and one of them having to travel to whoever emerges as the East's winner.  If the 49ers had to travel all the way from San Francisco to play in Philadelphia for a Wild Card game, they would be at a distinct disadvantage, especially if they had to play on Saturday of Wild Card Weekend.

The situation in the AFC isn't much different.  Either the Chiefs or Broncos will be one of the Wild Cards and will finish with 12 or 13 wins.  Those kinds of results will bring us back to the conversation that came about a couple years ago when the Seahawks won the NFC West at 7-9, and hosted the then-defending Super Bowl Champion Saints, who went 11-5 in the regular season that year.  We could face that kind of situation in both conferences this year, and if this trend keeps building in future years, the NFL would have to reconsider its seeding system for the playoffs.  There's no such thing as a perfect playoff seeding system, but the 2010 season is looking less and less like a fluke now.

1. Nobody's perfect.  The Chiefs finally lost on Sunday night in a great game against the Broncos.  Realistically no one was really expecting them to go 16-0 anyway, but there's no reason why both the Chiefs and Broncos won't finish with 12 or 13 wins on the season.  In a classic "win the battle, lose the war" moment though, Wes Welker went down with a concussion for the Broncos.  His status for next week's showdown against the Patriots is highly in doubt at this point.  It's still a winnable game for Denver, but frankly even if he's on the sidelines for at least next week, they have more than enough playmakers on offense to cover his loss.

2. The Lions shot themselves in the foot thanks to a faked field goal attempt.  In a classic high risk, high reward move, the Lions faked a field goal attempt with about 11 minutes to go in the 4th quarter when they were up 27-23.  Head coach Jim Schwartz tried catching the Steelers off guard and essentially seal the victory, but instead the play not only didn't result in a touchdown, but the Lions fumbled the ball away and the Steelers recovered.  The Steelers wound up winning, and since the Bears won in a marathon overtime game against the Ravens, the Bears and Lions are tied atop the NFC North.  What could have been a game that would have given the Lions more separation in the division instead brought them closer back to the pack.

3. If Andy Dalton could play consistently at quarterback, the Bengals might be one of the best teams in the league.  In the last three weeks, Andy Dalton has thrown 5 touchdown passes against 8 interceptions, including one touchdown that was a miracle play in Baltimore to send that game into overtime.  Mind you, he has 21 touchdown passes and 15 picks on the season.  Given how dominant the Bengals' defense is, along with factoring in having one of the three best wide receivers in the game in A.J. Green and a great young running back in Giovani Bernard, the only Achilles heel the Bengals really have is Dalton himself.  On Sunday, Dalton threw two more touchdowns along with three picks (including a pick-6), and the only reason why the final score was so lob sided was because of the defense playing some opportunistic football by running back both an interception, a fumble, and a blocked punt for touchdowns.

4. The Goat of the Week Award goes to Geno Smith.  The Jets were the Hyde version of their Jekyll and Hyde season this weekend, and Geno Smith was Exhibit A of that.  A putrid 8 of 23 for 103 yards and three interceptions stat line on the day for Geno, and the Jets once again held form, beaten down by Buffalo after winning an improbable game against the Saints two weeks ago.  They are the first team in NFL history to alternate wins and losses through their first 10 games of the season, so if they hold form again, that means a win next weekend in Baltimore.  But what gambling fan would want to take that bet?

5. Do any of the AFC teams in the hunt for the last Wild Card spot want to make the playoffs?  The Jets, Ravens, Chargers, and Titans all lost this weekend, while the Steelers, Dolphins, and Raiders all won.  Don't look now, but the Raiders and Steelers are right smack in the thick of the playoff hunt since nobody apparently wants to separate themselves for the #6 seed in the playoffs.  Whoever doesn't win the AFC West is a lock for the #5 seed, so those seven teams are all crammed together for the final playoff spot.  Somehow tiebreakers will decide who does get in, but all of these teams don't look ready to make a run down the stretch to grab hold of the final spot.

6. Faint praise for the Giants.  Four weeks ago, the Giants were 0-6 and looked like one of the three worst teams in the league.  No one in their right mind could possibly have expected them to rattle off four straight wins and put themselves in the thick of the NFC East.  A good part of why they've managed to climb back in is due to how mediocre the rest of the division is, with the Eagles currently leading the division at 6-5.  Their next two games are divisional match ups, including the Cowboys coming to East Rutherford next weekend.  The Giants have somehow miraculously brought themselves back from the dead and are now fighting for the divisional lead.  Easily the most improbable comeback so far this season.

7. The Seahawks are about to get a whole lot better, not that they really need to.  How much better can a team who is currently 10-1 and leading their division by 3 1/2 games get?  The Seahawks' main flaw is in their offensive line, but they are about to get their #1 wide receiver and kick returner in Percy Harvin back.  A mobile quarterback with a group of great receivers can mask a weak offensive line, and that's what the Seahawks have.  They are leading the NFC for the #1 seed in the playoffs by 1 1/2 games (their bye week is next week), and they could put a strangle hold on that position once Harvin joins their offense.  In fact, their offensive line is about to get better as well considering their starting left tackle Russell Okung is coming back from injury as well, so he may solve many of their o-line issues.

8. What do we make of Matt McGloin?  In a league where Matt Flynn got a huge contract based on a couple spot starts in place of an injured starting quarterback, should we expect the Raiders to try cashing in on McGloin's good game on Sunday?  Or was he simply someone who looked good because the Raiders were playing against a bad Texans team who didn't have any film on McGloin to study?  Regardless, considering there are at least five teams in the league who lack a franchise quarterback, odds are someone will probably consider McGloin if the price is right.

9. The Patriots got hosed.  When was the last time those words found themselves in the same sentence?  Down four points with 3 seconds left in the game, Tom Brady threw a pass over the middle for Rob Gronkowski, who was bear hugged by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly.  Oddly enough, a flag for interference was thrown, but then the head referee said there was no interference because the ball was deemed uncatchable.  Rewatching the play will clearly show the ball was very catchable; it's not like it was four feet high or thrown out of bounds.  The only reason why Gronkowski couldn't make a play on the ball was because he was held back by Kuechly.  The Patriots have a short week now to prepare for another tough game against the Broncos Sunday night, which could go a long way to determine whether they could claim one of the top two seeds in the playoffs.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Taking the Fun Away From Holiday Shopping

When I was a kid growing up in eastern PA, my family never went out shopping on Black Friday.  I recall many Thanksgivings where we'd have our big turkey dinner with all the usual side dishes, and then spend the evening watching TV together.  The commercials were always entertaining, since retail stores would promote their Black Friday sale specials, and my dad and I would check out the deals for big screen TVs on big discounts.  They heavily mentioned they'd open their doors at 5 a.m. but we never went out shopping.  My family was smart enough to know that if the sun wasn't awake, nobody else should be.

Still, I'd always turn on CNN the next day, and they would have reports from retail stores all over the country and show video of early morning shoppers trying to be the first to get the big ticket items everybody wanted.  The sad reality is that the onset of Christmas shopping always managed to bring out the worst in people, as video would show fights break out at stores like Wal-Mart for toys and electronics.  I often wondered what it would be like to be there as a store had opened its doors to let its first customers in to be part of the first round of shoppers, but I never went.

Two years ago was my first ever experience going out shopping with the looney toons in the wee early hours of Black Friday.  By this time, many retail stores were opening their doors at midnight, some even at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving night.  I had a couple big ticket items I had wanted to buy, so I figured since the opportunity had presented itself, I chose to go out.  By 4 a.m. or so I had enough, and went home to get some sleep.

Last year was my second straight midnight shopping experience on Thanksgiving into Black Friday.  Many stores were following others' suits from the previous year, and opened up by 9 p.m. Thanksgiving night.  I stood outside a local Kohl's, and made small talk with some other people in line who had already been to Target and Wal-Mart that night.  I got what I had wanted, and did some other shopping throughout the night before heading back home.

Other people in my family, namely my father, don't like dealing with Christmas shopping in general.  The crowds in malls and stores can certainly be stressful all season long as everyone is on a mission, and I can understand that much.  There are always one or two people on my shopping list every year who I have no idea what to get them, and that's tough when dealing with thousands of other people roaming around.  I always managed to have fun every year in shopping for my family and other people on my list because I enjoy finding the perfect gift for everyone.  I tend to make a list with specific gift ideas that help shorten my trips, so I know exactly what to get and where to get it.

My point is that I'm once again planning on going out shopping in the wee hours of Black Friday morning this year.  I've put together a list of who I need to buy for and what I would like to get them, and which stores will likely have what I want.  I'm going to the Ravens/Steelers game that night so I won't be starting my shopping till well after midnight, but I've noticed many major retail stores like Target, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and Toys R Us are opening their doors much earlier than even last year.

You may ask, "How early?"

Try 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving night.  Toys R Us is actually opening its doors at 5 p.m. Thanksgiving night.

This to me is insane.  There are many families who are still having dinner at 5:00 on Thanksgiving and probably watching football while they eat.  Now with stores opening as early as they are, families won't be together since either a.) they're going to line up to shop for those big ticket TVs and appliances, or b.) one or more family members will have to leave early because they have to work that night at one of these stores.

Ten years ago I was fresh out of college and took a part time job working a holiday shopping season at Best Buy for some extra income.  I had to work the night of Black Friday, and the parking lot was absolutely insane with cars and shoppers coming and going.  Employees had to work a minimum of 6 hours that day unless they were dying (not exaggerating - we had a store meeting a couple weeks prior to Black Friday and they were dead serious that everybody had to work unless there was some dire medical reason).  Management had even ordered pizza and soda for all the staff so they wouldn't have to leave the parking lot, which actually made a lot of sense since we had to deal with the public in just getting into the store.

I say all that because even though retail shopping has evolved in many ways in the last ten years, I understand why retailers are so focused on the Christmas shopping season.  Most companies don't see true profits until they get to the Christmas season, so they want to be in the black as quickly as possible, hence the term "Black Friday".  I also know what it's like to work with people who had to leave their family by midnight on Thanksgiving since the store opened up Black Friday morning around 4 a.m.  That isn't fun but it's the nature of the beast.  Now imagine if Joe Schmoe works at Best Buy and has to be at his store at least two hours before the store opens at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving night.  Either he will have to have a super early dinner with his family, or leave in the middle of dinner and not get to relax and watch football the rest of the night.  On top of all that, most retail stores extend their operating hours as the calendar gets closer to Christmas, so instead of stores closing at 9 p.m., they could be open as late as 11 p.m., even on Sundays.

How did we get to this position?  You'd think that with so many people doing their Christmas shopping online, there would be less need for overworking retail employees like this.  I realize that I'm perpetuating the problem somewhat since I started this entire post talking about my habit of shopping on Black Friday now, but I wouldn't sacrifice the holiday being around my family in the name of buying a big screen TV at a huge discount.  Considering I know the kind of mark up TVs have, I can tell you retailers are still making huge profits off them even with those discounts anyway.

Fortunately there are at least a few major retailers who still value their employees enough that they won't open their doors until sometime on Black Friday.  Costco, Nordstrom, Home Depot, and Lowe's are a few notable companies who will allow their employees to stay home with their families on Thanksgiving.  Hopefully this list won't keep shrinking in future years.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

NFL Week 10 Snap Judgments

Before I get into this week's recap, I'm going to talk about something much more important.  Yesterday was Veteran's Day, and the NFL commemorated the day with special appearances by members of the Armed Forces at every game this weekend.  While it's the right thing to do to pay respect to those who defend our freedom around the world, why do we only take a couple days out of the year to pay such respects?  Memorial Day, July 4th, and Veteran's Day are really the only three days when we are mostly conscious of saying "Thank you" to veterans we come across on the streets or on Facebook, when in reality we should be thanking them every day throughout the year.  God knows I've been guilty of not openly expressing gratitude when I see military personnel in fatigues or dress uniform out and about, and I've made a point in the last few weeks to change that attitude.  It's amazing how a simple handshake and expression of thanks is appreciated by a man or woman in uniform, and it's what those of us who enjoy this country's freedom should do every single day.

1. Maybe the Colts were the ones who got hosed in trading for Trent Richardson after all.  Most football talking heads thought the Browns were crazy to trade away a young running back with a promising future so early in his career.  Sure, they got a first-round pick in 2014 in exchange, but the general consensus was that the front office had decided to tank the season and stock pile picks in future drafts to rebuild the team how they had wanted.  Trading Richardson seemed like a mistake, since most thought he could be the type of player the team could build around.  However, in the seven games he's played since joining the Colts, he's rushed 88 times for a total of 250 yards with two touchdowns.  That's not even close to the kind of production the Colts had wanted from him.  Their offensive line isn't very good, but Richardson looks like he isn't the kind of franchise running back he was expected to be either.

2. No soup for us! The Jaguars and Bucs both won this weekend!  The Jaguars won in especially dramatic fashion, going on the road against a divisional opponent and winning soundly.  Congratulations, guys - you won't go 0-16 this season.  Now the question becomes which team will wind up with the first overall pick in next year's draft.  Every year around this time, guys on sports talk radio bring up the subject about whether a team should tank the rest of the season in order to secure as high a draft pick as possible.  They talk to ex-coaches about their thoughts on the subject, and the answer is always the same: A coach will only care about winning a football game on Sunday.  Worrying about getting a high draft pick is never something that they are interested in.

That philosophy makes sense, too.  If a team has the kind of season the Bucs or Jaguars are having this season, more often than not the GM and/or head coach could be fired by season's end.  The Jaguars' regime is not even a year old, so they knew going into the season they were rebuilding for the future.  Greg Schiano has been on the coaching hot seat all year long, however, and it's almost certain he'll be fired by Black Monday after the regular season ends.  Why would he care about tanking a season if he won't be around to draft a player of his choice in April?

3. The Lions are for real.  I clearly picked the wrong team who had finished in last place in 2012 to bounce back and win its division this season.  I thought it would be the Eagles, and while they aren't quite as dead as I thought they were a couple weeks ago, the Lions are starting to pull away with the NFC North.  Jim Schwartz has managed to save his job amid speculation of a lack of discipline among his players, and the Lions have sole possession of their division lead for the first time since Week 5 of the 2005 season.  Reggie Bush gave them the running game they needed for their offense so badly, keeping opposing defenses on their toes between him and Calvin Johnson.

4. Will the Bills ever actually turn the corner?  For about the past five years, the Bills have been seen as a trendy pick to make the playoffs.  I thought they would get a Wild Card spot a couple years ago, but for some reason they just can't quite put a winning product on the field.  They have a franchise quarterback in E.J. Manuel, they have a quality receiving corps led by Stevie Johnson, and Mario Williams anchors their defense.  C.J. Spiller has somehow managed to underachieve at running back, but he can't be the single reason why the team can't put themselves together all the way.  I can't put my finger on why the team struggles so much, but they always seem only a step or two away from winning.  It's a mystery.

5. The NFC Wild Card race is going to be the best race to watch down the stretch of the season.  Better buckle your seat belts, because this is going to be fun.  Right now, the Panthers and 49ers lead the Wild Card standings with records of 6-3 (and the Panthers would be the #5 seed since they beat the 49ers this weekend).  Right behind them at 5-4 are the Cardinals, Bears, and Packers, and the Eagles and Cowboys are both 5-5.  Obviously there could be plenty of changes in these standings over the course of the next several weeks (especially since there are quite a few head-to-head match ups between some of those teams), but the AFC playoff hunt may not be half as exciting.

6. With all the talk of Joe Flacco's contract, nobody is paying attention to Ray Rice not earning his money.  This is a classic example of quarterbacks getting too much credit and too much blame.  Flacco got a huge contract deal in March in large part to leading the Ravens to winning the Super Bowl, and he's gotten plenty of flack for not playing up to his expectations this season.  What many people aren't noticing is how Ray Rice is doing an even worse job at playing to his expected level.  Sure, the offensive line play has been completely terrible, but Rice doesn't show any of the speed or tackle-breaking ability he had in previous years.  He's also due to make $8.75 million next season, which leads me to wonder whether he'll be a salary cap casualty come March.  The Ravens have Bernard Pierce, and even though he's struggled as well this season, he isn't making nearly as much as Rice is.  Of course, if Rice does wind up being cut, it will all somehow be Flacco's fault in the end.

7. Oh, so this is the Tavon Austin we've heard so much about.  Back during the preseason, Rams coach Jeff Fisher hinted that he hadn't tipped his hand on how the Rams had intended on using their top draft pick in April during the regular season.  If Sunday's game is any indication, the only question is why wait until November to really show what Austin can do?  The kid has incredible dynamic speed, so unless he simply needed till now to learn how college football was different from the NFL, I don't see why the Rams chose to wait so long to use him properly.  And if they continue to use him like they did on Sunday, they have an amazing weapon to use long term.

8. The Goat of the Week Award goes to the Tennessee Titans.  Sorry to pour some salt on an open wound here, but considering the aforementioned game against the winless Jaguars, there's nowhere else to point but the Titans.  They found themselves down 20-7 at one point - at home, no less - and had to fight to even make the game somewhat close by the 4th quarter.  Then, down 22-20 with about 2:33 to play in the game, the Jaguars' Will Blackmon just flat out took the ball from Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's hand, and ran it back for a touchdown to essentially seal the victory.  A couple Titans players were quoted after the game as being embarrassed and disgusted over losing to the Jaguars, and they darn well should be.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

NFL Week 9 Snap Judgments

Statistically speaking, we know who the good teams in the league are right now.  They're the Broncos, Chiefs, Seahawks, 49ers, Patriots, and Saints.  An argument could be made for the Packers, Bengals, and Colts too, but I think they're all slightly below the other six teams.  However, this weekend proved to be a bit of an equalizer since the Saints and Bengals both lost, the Seahawks nearly lost, and Chiefs only won because of their defense.  One could even argue the Broncos could be picked off at the right (wrong?) moment, given how they had won 10 straight games last year before losing in the Divisional Round of the playoffs to the Ravens.  That really leaves the 49ers as the only truly complete team, considering they've outscored their opponents by a whopping 113 points over the last five weeks.  But who's to say they can't be slowed down at some point?

Speaking of figuring out who's really good and who's really not so good....

1. Will the real Nick Foles please stand up?  Just who is Nick Foles?  Is he the guy who torched the Buccaneers and Raiders, including a whopping 7 touchdown passes on Sunday, or is he the guy who looked incredibly ineffective against the Cowboys?  Is he the long-term answer at quarterback for the Eagles, or will Chip Kelly look in the 2014 draft for a future franchise quarterback?  These are all legitimately genuine questions, so if someone can answer them for me I'd appreciate it.

2. Will the real New York Jets please stand up?  Meanwhile, who are the Jets?  Are they the team who eked out some gutsy and big wins over the Patriots, Falcons, and Saints, or are they the team who were smoked by the Titans, Steelers, and Bengals?  If there's a team looking more like a Jekyll and Hyde combination, I don't know who that is.  Still, an 8-win season would be about double what I had expected from this time this season, so they're already playing with house money.

3. At least we know who the real Bucs are.  The Bucs nearly pulled off the most unexpected upset of the season by jumping out to a 21-0 lead over the Seahawks, featuring a jump ball pass from running back Mike James to tight end Tom Crabtree.  The Bucs came back to Earth soon enough, but the Seahawks also have to be aware of their weaknesses on their offensive and defensive lines.  They're still the best team in the NFC, but a team like the Saints or 49ers could very possibly pick them off in the playoffs.

4. The real Chiefs will clearly be exposed in the final two months of the season.  The Chiefs' turnaround from last season has been beyond remarkable.  Andy Reid has already sewn up Coach of the Year for himself, though that obviously won't be as valuable or memorable if the Chiefs don't make a deep playoff run in January.  But in looking over their remaining schedule, the Chiefs have 5 divisional games left, including two against the Broncos and another two against the Chargers.  They also have to travel to Washington, and are home against Indianapolis.  Even if they go a meager 4-3 in their final 7 games, they'd finish with a record of 13-3.  They've looked shaky the last couple games, especially against the Bills on Sunday, but they've been playing with house money just like the Jets have for the last few weeks.

5. Jerry Jones is wrong.  Following the Cowboys' 27-23 victory over the Vikings on Sunday, Jerry Jones said, "There are no 1-7 teams in this league."  He was obviously trying to pay some respect to the Vikings, which in theory is the polite thing to do.  However, the Vikings are a team whose only win was in London over a pathetic Steelers team.  There is a quarterback carousel every week in Minnesota, where it's a question of which option will suck less than the other two.  Moreover, Jones' comment is ironically in direct contrast to his own former head coach's philosophy.  Bill Parcells once famously said, "You are what your record says you are."  He was right, and the Vikings are clearly one of the worst teams in the league.  There's no way to sugarcoat it or make the stench slightly more bearable.

6. The Ravens are in deep, deep doo-doo.  After their loss to the Steelers two weeks ago, linebacker Terrell Suggs said the Ravens were in a "state of emergency" heading into their bye.  Head coach John Harbaugh said plenty of the right things in order to get the team back on track for the second half of the season.  Words truly are just words, and their game against the Browns Sunday showed that.  All the same kinds of issues the team has been dealing with - primarily starting with shoddy offensive line play - were evident, and their next game is against the division leading Bengals.  They are currently on the outside looking in at the playoff hunt, and even if the team gets Dennis Pitta back before the end of November, he may not be the team's saving grace since he wouldn't help the offensive line at all.

7. The Colts have the kind of mojo that championship contenders need.  Talking about how good Andrew Luck is in only his second year in the league is already becoming old hat.  After falling behind the Texans 21-3 by halftime Sunday night, Luck led the Colts to roar back in the second half, ultimately winning 27-24.  And this latest victory was without their best wide receiver in Reggie Wayne.  Whether they can beat the likes of Denver or New England in January remains to be seen, but they will definitely be a heavyweight in 2014.

8. The Goat of the Week Award goes to the Raiders' defense.  Can it really go to anyone else?  The Raiders gave up 7 passing touchdowns to Nick Foles on Sunday, a week after they shut down the Steelers for most of the game.  They consistently let Riley Cooper beat them down field while bringing no pressure on Foles in the pocket at all.  It's amazing that the Raiders can actually look like they're making progress as a team with Terrelle Pryor at quarterback, and then they take three steps backward this weekend.

9. Depending on the severity of Aaron Rodgers' injury, the Packers could be done.  If Rodgers misses the next two to three weeks, he could return by Thanksgiving for a big game against Detroit.  If he misses the rest of the season, the Packers' season is essentially over.  The team has been ravaged by injuries all season long like few other teams have been; the one constant holding the team together had been Rodgers.  If they have to rely on Seneca Wallace or bring in another quarterback to run the offense, they probably won't even make the playoffs, much less make a Super Bowl run.