NFL Week 9 breakdown
Tuesday, November 04, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
We're now officially at the halfway point of the season. Let's get right to the action.

And then there was one. The Tennessee Titans defeated the Green Bay Packers to remain the sole undefeated team in the league. They are on well on their way to securing a playoff spot ridiculously early in the year, going 4 games up on their nearest divisional rival. That's an almost insurmountable lead, so the Titans are looking at at least 1 guaranteed home game in the post season. It remains to be seen how Kerry Collins will really do when the pressure is on, because opponents have been unable to figure out how to score on the Titans tenacious defense, or how to stop the pounding running game. The stats don't accurately reflect the impact Collins has had on this offense, since his numbers are modest at best, but he's shown great ability to manage the game and make smart decisions with the ball, committing few turnovers. Right now, they're the #1 team in the NFL, because they have balance on all sides of the ball: offense, defense and special teams. Chris Johnson is gunning for rookie of the year with his performance (and consider that his stunning numbers come in a system that has him sharing a good chunk of the carries with another back who's also having a great year!). Albert Haynesworth spearheads a terrifying defense, solid on both the line and in the secondary. The Titans have got to be thinking Super Bowl at this point in the season.

On the flip side of the coin, there's also only one winless team left in the league now that the lowly Cincinnati Bengals have managed to squeak out a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Detroit Lions threatened to crack the win column, playing a surprisingly close game with the Chicago Bears. However, key mental mistakes in the end, crushed the Lions' hopes yet again. The countdown clock on Ron Marinelli's career continues to tick down week after week at this point. There are a few signs of hope: despite a boneheaded interception throw in the endzone at the game, Drew Orlovsky had some nice looking throws. Calvin Johnson is inexplicably better now that Roy Williams is gone, and has hauled in 3 TDs in the last 2 games. However, until their horrible defense can step up and show they can make a stop when it counts, this team is going to be haunted by the possibility of going 0-16 on the year. update #1: since I wrote this yesterday, I saw the news that Orlovsky is definitely out for several weeks with a thumb injury, meaning newly signed Daunte Culpepper will be taking over at QB. He will need to show us whether or not he's been staying in shape while "retired".

Where have you been this whole time? Several teams finally looked their old 2007 selves after terrible starts to the season. Peyton Manning finally looked confident in the pocket and made some nice throws to his favorite targets, Harrison and Wayne. Most importantly, he didn't throw an INT this week, giving his team a chance to win in the end. Having Joseph Addai back in the lineup also helped the Indianapolis offense regain some balance as well. The defense was clearly lifted by the return of Bob Sanders. The Colts have all but conceded the divisional title to the Titans, ending their 5 year reign at the top of the AFC South, but they can still hold out hope at a wild card spot, if they turn it on and several other teams give them a little help by faltering late in the year.

The Cincinnati Bengals also looked a bit like the team of old yesterday. Chad "Ocho Cinco" Johnson caught his first (!) TD of the season, and then followed it up by another spectacular TD catch later in the game. In a nice departure from last year, Chad did not celebrate the TDs with some riduculous "all about me" stunt, but rather just ran to the sidelines like a normal player. Perhaps (just perhaps) this season has humbled Chad in a way that might make him slightly less obnoxious to watch. Meanwhile, while Ryan Fitzpatrick is no Carson Palmer, he at least seems to be catching on to a few things about the offense from week to week. I will admit, it was nice to see Marvin Lewis finally smile for a change. I'm not sure that he'll be around after this season, but at least for this week, he's a winner.

A player who's looking a lot like the player from 10 years ago who won several league MVPs is Kurt Warner, doing his best to make the Arizona offense the new Greatest Show on Turf. This puts the Cardinals in a bit of a quandry, since they have a first round, highly paid QB sitting on the bench in Matt Leinart who they need to decide on soon. Warner, for all his glory, is 38 years old and probably only has 1-2 more seasons left in his illustrious career, so if he wants to return, I can't see how they wouldn't give him the starting position. However, that leaves Leinart sort of out there, collecting his big paycheck, holding a clipboard on the side. In many ways, this was the dilemma that Green Bay had been staring down the past few seasons with the Favre/Rodgers situation. It remains to be seen whether Leinart will have the success that Rodgers has found this season, though, so it's going to be a tough call one way or the other, assuming Warner leads the Cards to their first playoff game in over a decade.

Studs of the week. With another big performance, Kurt Warner (335 yds, 2 TD) isn't about to concede the league MVP award to Drew Brees just yet. Props to Jonathan Abraham for his defensive performance (3 sacks) in the Oakland game. Ray Rice rushed for 154 yards. Derrick Mason looked like a man 10 years younger, catching 9 passes for 136 yards and 1 TD. Donovan McNabb (28/43, 349 yds, 2 TD) had a great day passing, as did Jeff Garcia (31/43, 339 yds, 1 TD) who has no intention of losing his spot to Brian Griese again.

Teams I like this week. I like the Tennessee Titans, for the reasons listed above. Also coming to the table with a similar team composition of balanced offense, defense and special teams are the New York Giants, who devastated the hapless Dallas Cowboys to remain atop the tough NFC East. I also like the Atlanta Falcons and the Baltimore Ravens, whose brave decisions to start their rookie QBs are now paying off, both with the short term success in the form of wins, and in long term in that the futures of their franchises are getting invaluable playing experience that will serve them in the years to come. The Miami Dolphins are led by arguably the best QB in the AFC East right now, and are playing inspired football for Tony Sparano. With their weak schedule, they should win at least 8 games this year.

Teams I don't like this week. I said that the game against the Jets was must-win for the Buffalo Bills, and they let me down by losing in a mistake-filled game. Trent Edwards, who looked so sharp in the beginning of the season, suddenly looks tentative in the pocket, holding the ball too long and show a lack of pocket awareness that has led to several fumbles as well. Marshawn Lynch isn't getting enough touches either. Speaking of teams that aren't doing enough to run the ball, I also don't like the Denver Broncos. Their defense leaks like a sieve, and Jay Cutler has regressed since his red-hot start, throwing 6 INTs in the past 3 games. There's absolutely no threat of a running game, meaning defenses are now free to jump the pass routes with impunity. The Cleveland Browns need to think about putting Brady Quinn in there to see what they've got, because they can't afford to pay 2 QBs such exorbitant salaries and get such poor returns on their investment, winning only 3 games so far (update #2: Apparently they're going with Quinn to start this Thursday against the Broncos, making that game a lot more worth watching now). The Dallas Cowboys look like a team in crisis, and you've got to wonder if even the return of Tony Romo can lift the spirits of that locker room in time for the playoffs. I have no idea what happened to the outstanding 2007 Jacksonville Jaguars team, because they look awful this season.

Team I REALLY don't like this week (extra super bonus). The Oakland Raiders were pathetic yesterday. I mean, REALLY pathetic. So pathetic that we need to address this in a section just for them. In the first half, they had -2 yards of total offense . Achieving negative yards in a half is an impressive feat. They only managed 77 yards for the whole game, in which they held the ball for only about 15 total minutes. Good to see that firing Lane Kiffin is working out so well for that franchise. Good to see that all that money spent on high profile washouts like Javon Walker and unproven rookies like JaMarcus Russell (6/19, 31 yds, 1 INT) was invested wisely.
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