After a week filled with the now infamous Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin story taking up both front and back pages, on the field, the NFL probably had its best week of the season in Week 10. Many questions were answered, and others were created after a competitive slate of games on Sunday and Monday. As we head into Week 11 here is a look at where things are at in the National Football League.
1) Carolina is for Real: Nobody thought the Panthers would waltz into San Francisco and dominate the 49ers the way they did on Sunday. An impressive 10-9 victory was highlighted by the Panthers tenacious defense led by Luke Kuechly who had 11 tackles, two for a loss, a sack and a pass defended. The rookie sensation was incredible, as so was the rest of the Panther defense, which allowed only 91 yards passing by Colin Kaepernick.
The Panthers are one of the best teams in the NFL in defense, ranked fifth in passing and second in rushing. They have adopted the style of their head coach Ron Rivera, a former member of the 1985 Chicago Bears. Watch out for Carolina if they get into the dance.
2) the final AFC Wild Card spot will likely be a 9-7 or 8-8 team: The final AFC wild card playoff picture is pretty cluttered. Right now it is a safe bet that Denver, Kansas City, New England, Cincinnati and Indianapolis will all make the postseason.
The question is who is the 6th seed. The Titans held the key to the six seed entering Week 10, but a loss to the Jaguars dropped the Titans to 4-5, coupled with the loss of their starting quarterback Jake Locker for the season.
With Locker out, and with games against the Colts and Broncos upcoming, it is hard to imagine the Titans finishing over .500 at this point. Therefore the door swings open for the Jets, Ravens, Chargers, Browns and Dolphins.
Right now the Jets are in charge of the six seed, but, it IS the Jets, one of the most unpredictable teams in the NFL. Rex Ryan's hot seat is cooling off, but he has to get the Jets to the playoffs at this point to keep his job. The Ravens and Dolphins are their likeliest competitors, since all three have to play one another down the stretch. The Jets-Ravens game on November 24, and the Jets-Dolphins game on December 1 will be key in determining the sixth seed. Don't be shocked if the winner of the spot has a record of 8-8.
3) The Eagles, not the Giants are the real threat to Dallas in the East: Pipe down all you Giants fans. Big Blue nation has gotten giddy over three wins against mediocre football teams, yet their road to the playoffs is still uncertain. Even if the Giants win their next two games against the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers and the inconsistent Cowboys, it doesn't mean the Giants are heading to the postseason. The Giants still have games against Washington, Seattle, Detroit, and San Diego. Even one loss will TKO the Giants chances for sure.
Therefore the best threat to the first place Cowboys is the Eagles. Over their last three games the Eagles found an identity, ironically it started in a loss to the Giants. They found out in a 15-7 loss to Big Blue that Nick Foles is their starting quarterback, when he couldn't play that game because of injury.
Foles came back the next week against Oakland and lit it up for seven scores. He then threw three more touchdowns in Green Bay this week. Foles has 16 TDs to 0 INTs this year, and has the Eagles rolling. Philly's schedule is also very favorable, so watch out for an Eagles run.
4) the Lions are the Kings in the NFC North: After an impressive showing on the road in Chicago the Lions are now in the drivers seat in the NFC North. It also helps that the Packers are without Aaron Rodgers, of course. The Lions are indeed for real, and unless they suffer a horrible loss down the stretch should win the division. They have some tough games left, but four of them are at home, where the Lions are 3-1. Matt Stafford is having another fine season through the air, and Reggie Bush has stabilized things on the ground. 11 wins is not out of the question.
5) the Packers are nothing without Aaron Rodgers: Want to know how bad a team really is without its star quarterback, look at the Packers. The Packers weaknesses, from a soft ground attack and porous defense have been exposed in their last two games since Rodgers went down in a loss to the Bears. Rodgers is expected to miss the next two-three games, but there is a chance he could miss the rest of the season. Now Green Bay is fighting for its season in the next few weeks. The big news is that they brought back Matt Flynn after experiments with Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien have produced little results. Tolzien is expected to start Sunday against the Giants, but don't be shocked if Mike McCarthy pulls Tolzien if he struggles.
6) the Colts, Cowboys, Bengals, and Saints are too Jekyll and Hyde for a serious run: We knew that the Cowboys were the most inconsistent team in football, but how bout the Colts and Saints?
One minute the Colts looked like a perennial Super Bowl contender after victories against San Francisco, Seattle and Denver; then the next minute, the Colts are getting their doors blown off by Kellen Clemens and the St. Louis Rams. That's right, Kellen Clemens!?!?!?!?!?! Bad losses can happen in a long season, but the 38-8 smack-down is leaving a lot of people wondering about the Colts.
The same can be said about the Saints, who lit it up against the Cowboys on Sunday, only a week after getting smacked around by the Jets of all teams. Just goes to show you that the Saints are a product of their building; take the Saints out of the dome and they are not nearly the same football team. That is a concern for the playoffs.
Honorable mention: Remember the Cincinnati Bengals team that won 49-9 over the Jets two weeks ago? Yeah, that team has disappeared the last two weeks in losses to the Ravens and Dolphins. Talk about inconsistent.
7) Yes, the Arizona Cardinals are in the mix: Don't look now but the Cardinals are 5-4 and in the mix for the wild card. With San Francisco's loss to Carolina, the Cards are only a game out. The schedule isn't easy with games against the Seahawks, 49ers, Colts and Eagles remaining, but what a story it would be if the Cardinals do in fact make a run down the stretch.
8) the Jaguars and Buccaneers are no longer winless: Yes, finally the Bucs and Jags are winners, at least for one week. All the talk about 0-16 can go to the back-burner, now the question is will both teams lose enough games to keep the 1 and 2 slot in the NFL draft? That's a legit question, because the schedule for both clubs is conducive to some victories down the stretch -- especially Jacksonville. The Jaguars have games against the Titans, Bills and Texans on their schedule. Jacksonville could play their way out of the number 1 pick in April's draft. Personally, I don't think the players or coaches care about that. Just win, baby.
9) the Broncos and Seahawks are still the top two teams in the NFL: As the smoke cleared on week 10, one thing is clear, the Broncos and Seahawks are still 1 - 2 in the NFL power rankings. Without their head coach, the Broncos held off the
The Seahawks were teetering on the brink of becoming a Jekyll and Hyde team when they nearly lost games to the Rams and Bucs, but they rebounded nicely with a dominating effort against the Falcons in Atlanta. It was easy to pick against the Seahawks on the road after two shaky performances, but they put that to rest with a 33-10 win. The Seahawks are really, really good, and probably the likely NFC representative in the Super Bowl later this year.
10) NFL Coaches Hot Seat update:
Rex Ryan - NYJ - Seat: luke warm -- If Gang Green wins, he's ok.
Joe Philbin - MIA - Seat: Red Hot -- the Incongito/Martin mess, coupled with a 1-5 record in their last six games could mean curtains for Philbin and his staff. Owner Steven Ross is conducting his own investigation into the Incongito/Martin case, which won't be good for the coach.
Doug Marrone - BUF - Seat: luke warm -- status unchanged, it was a bad situation to begin with.
Marvin Lewis - CIN - Seat: Cool --- But a second half collapse or another quick playoff exit will make people wonder if Lewis should go.
Mike Tomlin - PIT - Seat: Snowman Cold --- Tomlin is not at fault for a 3-6 season thus far. He will be allowed to figure it out next year.
Mike Muncheck - TEN - Seat: Warm -- Losing to the Jaguars and losing his starting QB could mean a second half swoon for the Tiatns, and for Muncheck, who was on the hot seat to enter this year means adios amigos.
Gary Kubiak - HOU - Seat: luke warm -- considering what happened to Kubiak with the mini stroke, it could mean that the Texans will realize how hard this year has been on him and give him another chance ... maybe.
Gus Bradley - JAX - Seat: Cool -- he's building a program here, and the Jags could end up with 4 wins by season's end a good launching point into 2014.
Dennis Allen -- OAK -- Seat: Warm -- the hot seat is always cooking in Oakland.
Tom Coughlin -- NYG -- Seat: Snowman Cold. Not going anywhere, unless he retires.
Jason Garrett - DAL -- Seat: Red Hot: Likely to get fired if Dallas doesn't make playoffs, or loses in 1st round.
Mike Shanahan - WSH -- Seat: luke warm: Not sure what the Redskins are thinking yet, but at 3-6 and still struggling, Shanahan may take the fall, especially for his work with RGIII.
Mike Smith - ATL -- Seat: Warm: Hard to believe that Mike Smith, a guy who is the winningest coach in Falcons history would get the ax, but if things continue like this, I wouldn't be shocked if Arthur Blank makes a change at coach.
Greg Schiano -- TB -- Seat: Red Hot: One win doesn't change anything. Schiano is good as gone.
Leslie Fraizer -- MIN -- Seat: Red Hot: Fraizer's coaching has been bizarre all season. From his handling of the quarterback to in game decisions, he's asking to get fired.