The Jaguars and Buccaneers both finally got off the snide this week, allowing the 2008 Detroit Lions to celebrate their incredible winless season for at least one more year.
The Chiefs were on bye, meaning their perfect record will remain intact for at least one more week — two meetings with the Broncos in three weeks should change that. Denver and Seattle both improved their near-perfect campaigns, moving to 8-1 on the season. And the turmoil in Miami finally boiled over as Richie Incognito didn’t just sit down for a revealing interview, but the Dolphins also suffered their fifth loss — on the field at least — in the last six games at the hands of previously winless Tampa Bay no less.
The parity continues to rage on, although it is beginning to wane. There are now 16 teams with a .500 record or better, and only six of them exist in the AFC through Week 10. Five other teams are hanging around the playoff picture, just one win away from an even record, but none seem like viable threats right now.
Ed Reed got released, Jay Cutler went down again and so much more happened over the past week. So, lets dive in and take a look at what other observations there were to take away from Week 10.
Editor’s Note: Each week, I’ll break down 10 thoughts from around the NFL in the NESN.com “First and 10.” That being said, here are 10 more thoughts from around the NFL after another week of football.
1. Ed Reed’s impact — The Texans cut ties with Ed Reed on Tuesday, subjecting him to the 32 teams on the waiver wire. Reed went unclaimed, as teams didn’t want to pay his $412,000 salary the rest of the season, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t interest in signing the nine-time Pro Bowler. Reed, if he wants to continue playing, of course, will wind up on a roster somewhere for the remainder of the season. Where he ends up will be the interesting part.
The Colts, Patriots, Saints and Ravens, with whom he spent 11 seasons, all seem to be likely fits, but that doesn’t mean he’ll make an impact. The Texans might not exactly be playoff contenders right now, but Reed was released for a reason. He hasn’t been playing much in Houston because he’s either not fully healthy or he just can’t do what he used to. Either way, he would be good depth for a contender and should at least add some value in leadership to a contender’s locker room.
2. Patriots are unbeatable off the bye — Since the start of the Bill Belichick era in New England back in 2000, the Patriots are almost unbeatable with an extra week of preparation. They are 10-3 off the bye week since Belichick took over in 2000, and they’ve won nine of their last ten games coming off the bye week. That doesn’t bode well for a red-hot Carolina team.
The Panthers are winners of five straight and the second hottest team in the NFL to maybe only the 9-0 Chiefs. With an extra week to prepare for Cam Newton and the Panthers’ top-ranked run defense, Belichick should have the Patriots ready to go come Monday night. The fact that the Panthers are the early favorite to win the game should only light even more of a fire under Tom Brady and company, too.
3. Learn the name — Tavon Austin. As if you didn’t already know who he was, every NFL fan was exposed to Austin on Sunday. The Rams’ rookie receiver put on an absolute show in Indianapolis, taking a punt back 98 yards for a touchdown before catching a pair of 50-plus yard touchdowns to more than double his touchdown total for the season. With the effort, Austin became the first player in NFL history to return a punt for a touchdown and have two 50-plus yard receiving scores. It might seem like an odd stat on the surface, but given his speed and skills the unusual and unexpected should become something of a trend with Austin.
4. Peyton will give KC fits — The Chiefs’ defense has been dominant this season, leading the NFL in scoring defense and sacks, but they’ve done so against some mediocre opponents. The Broncos, who play Kansas City on Sunday, will be the first team above .500 that the Chiefs play all season. Both the Cowboys and Eagles are 5-5, but none of the Chiefs’ first-nine opponents have a winning record. The quarterbacks that they’ve face have also been a group of listless hacks for the most part. Eli Manning, Michael Vick and Tony Romo are the only quarterbacks they’ve faced who have made a Pro Bowl, meanwhile, five of the 10 quarterbacks they’ve faced this season began the year as backups — Chad Henne, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, Jason Campbell and Jeff Tuel.
This week they’ll finally get a true test to see if this defense is for real when they square off against arguably the hottest quarterback in football right now in Peyton Manning. Even an injured Manning, who appears to have some bad ankle issues, will offer them more of a challenge than Eli, Romo or anyone else has already. I’d bet that the Broncos break that under-17 points streak this week, and maybe even give the Chiefs their first loss of the season.
5. Kaepernick desperately needs Crabtree —Sunday was Colin Kaepernick‘s 16th game as a starter in the NFL, and his numbers aren’t all that impressive. After throwing for 230 yards per game, 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions in seven starts in 2012, Kaepernick’s production has taken a steep fall this season. He has averaged just 157 yards per game and thrown nine touchdowns to six interceptions in nine games this season. A big cause for those struggles, though, might be Michael Crabtree‘s absence.
Kaepernick has completed touchdown passes to just two receivers this season, Anquan Boldin (two) and Vernon Davis (seven). All 31 other NFL teams have at least four receivers with touchdown catches on the year. Crabtree, who was Kaepernick’s favorite target last season and into the playoffs, is expected to return very soon. He will offer Kaepernick some more variety and maybe reignite an otherwise stagnant passing game.
6. No Incognito/Martin missed in running game — The Dolphins are a hot mess right now, and not only off the field either. They let the Buccaneers manhandle them all night on Monday, especially up front in the trenches. Without Richie Incognito or Jonathan Martin on the field, the Dolphins were unable to open up holes for running backs Lamar Miller or Daniel Thomas. The Dolphins managed just two yards rushing on the night, which is not just a franchise low but also a show of just how dire a situation the team is in up front.
7. Bengals can’t win with Dalton — The Bengals still have one of the best defenses in the NFL. That’s not even a debate at this point. What they need is a reliable quarterback, though.
Andy Dalton looked like he had finally turned a corner in Weeks 6, 7 and 8, throwing 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions in that span and moving the Bengals’ offense at an efficient clip. Since then, Dalton has struggled mightily with accuracy issues and has even thrown just two touchdowns to six interceptions over the last two weeks. Maybe he can rectify things again before the playoffs, but, considering his struggles in the postseason each of the last two years, Cincinnati has to wonder if he’s the right guy to lead them.
8. Eagles better with Foles than Vick — The Eagles’ offense was rolling at a crazy pace with Michael Vick under center to start the season. Since he went down with a hamstring injury, they’ve taken on a different identity as more of a pass-first team, but they’ve also been surprisingly more effective.
Nick Foles is running the Philly offense at an impressive clip, including 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions on the year. He’s been even more effective with his deep passing, hitting on seven touchdown passes of 15 yards or more over the last two games, which is more than any other quarterback in the NFL during that span. He’s really sparked a fire on offense for the Eagles and the viability of the passing game has given LeSean McCoy even more space to work with on the ground.
9. Indy still has some growing up to do — Three weeks ago, the Colts looked like the best team in the NFL. After an ugly loss to the Rams on Sunday, there are some serious questions about their ability to win in the playoffs.
Andrew Luck has shown more than enough poise and fortitude in leading comeback win after comeback win, but Indy as a whole still seems like an inexperienced bunch without the will necessary to get it done in January. Wins over the Broncos, 49ers and Seahawks are impressive, but losses to the Rams, Dolphins and an ugly showing against the Raiders raise some eyebrows about their viability. They have some serious growing up to do before the postseason, if they have any hopes of making it to New York.
10. More Like the NFC Best — If I’m a playoff contender right now, the last thing I want to do is see a NFC West team on my upcoming schedule. Not only is arguably the NFL’s best team, the Seahawks, within its walls, but the NFC West also boasts the reigning Super Bowl runner-up and two severely underrated defensive units in the Rams and Cardinals.
The Cardinals (5-4) and Rams (4-6) may not seem like prime playoff contenders, but they’re much better than they appear. The Cards have already beaten the Lions and red-hot Panthers this season, meanwhile the Rams just put a spanking on the Colts. The Seahawks and 49ers still hold two of the best defenses in football as well as the talented young quarterbacks necessary to win on offense. At this point, it’s hard to make a case that any other NFL division is better than this.