By Mike Ivcic, UltimateCapper Contributing Writer
It’s safe to say that after five weeks of games, there’s been a decided shift in the power from some divisions to other divisions. The NFC East, NFC South, and AFC North were all expected to be very strong, and with Jacksonville excluded the AFC South was supposed to be solid as well. Instead the AFC East and NFC West have emerged with three teams all over .500 when preseason expectations assumed otherwise, while the AFC West has dominated the NFC East with an 8-1 record in head-to-head games. It’s safe to say that, once again, the preseason predictions can be crumpled up and thrown away, because this season has again gone totally “unaccording” to plan.
The End of the Sanchize
Mark Sanchez, “formerly” of the New York Jets, has elected to undergo season-ending surgery on his shoulder. If Geno Smith’s performance on Monday night hadn’t already solidified this fact, it’s now safe to say that he is the future at QB for the Jets. That means Sanchez has taken his last snap under center for Gang Green, and as a fan of the team I can say with total seriousness that it’s a bit of a bittersweet moment. I certainly won’t miss the 52 turnovers over the past two seasons – in which the Jets played a whopping 0 postseason games – but he did lead this team to the AFC Championship Game in each of his first two seasons, going 4-2 in the postseason with all six games played on the road. He won playoff games in Cincinnati, San Diego, Indianapolis, and New England, beating Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady, respectively. That’s no small feat, and I truly believe that he could have been a significantly better QB had Mike Tannenbaum, Rex Ryan, and Brian Shottenheimer not pushed so hard in year three to make Sanchez a vertical passer, something he was never going to be. He was tremendous in a ball-control, balanced offense that used play action to get him outside the pocket where his visibility and accuracy both increased. It’s true that the former USC prodigy is mentally weak, especially when it comes to competition, but from the ridiculous gameplan on offense in year three and the even more ludicrous “Tim Tebow experiment” in year four, the Jets did him no favors. But this is Geno Smith’s team now – a 3-2 team, mind you – and ultimately I’m not sad to see Mark and the Jets part ways.
One caveat here – I don’t get HBO and I’ve never watched any episode of any season, including the Jets season. I don’t really care to follow along with the behind-the-scenes aspect of things – I have my own life to live that occupies me enough that I don’t really have the opportunity to watch someone else’s life. It’s the same reason I don’t watch “reality” shows. As such, I find this new rule passed by the owners at the Fall meetings that they can compel a team to participate in the training camp show if no one volunteers to be dumb. I don’t care if Hard Knocks doesn’t air, especially if it means that players and coaches are not forced to participate against their desires. I understand that it’s a wonderful marketing tool for the league, and I appreciate that many fans enjoy the show, especially when their rooting interest is the team featured on the show. Still, if all 32 NFL teams decide they are uninterested in airing their training camp for the entire nation to watch, doesn’t that also speak to how they feel about the show? I’m not typically one to endorse the feelings and considerations of millionaire athletes, but in this case it just seems like the logical answer. No volunteers, no show. It really should be that simple.
There were six teams I believe made “statement” victories last week, all for different reasons. Allow me a quick thought on each:
Baltimore – The Ravens went into Miami and came out with a win to keep pace in the AFC North. Beating a good team on the road is always a nice statement to make in the NFL, but Baltimore needed it even more so considering the growing doubt that they could repeat as division champions, let alone conference or Super Bowl champions.
Cincinnati – This is an easy one. Yes, they were home and the weather was nasty, but they took the class of the conference over the past decade and one of the best QB’s of all time and held them to a whopping 6 points. This Bengals defense may be the best in the league.
Indianapolis – They already had their staple win over the 49’ers, but then they rallied to beat Seattle at home. While advancing my theory that the Seahawks aren’t the same team away from CenturyLink Field, it also clearly solidifies the Colts as the class of the AFC South and a legitimate threat to Denver in the AFC. What a game that would beâ¦
New Orleans – The franchise had never won in Chicago, so this definitely qualifies as a statement win. The Saints also now own the top overall spot in the NFC, a crucial point considering they still have the Niners at home and a trip to the Pacific Northwest still on the docket.
Philadelphia – Why is a win over an 0-4 team a statement win? One, it was one the road. Two, it makes the Eagles 2-0 in the division – both on the road. And three, they proved they could score (and win) without Michael Vick. Dallas gave Denver a good run, but after three weeks of bashing the Chip Kelly offense, it’s perhaps time to start considering that this team may actually win the NFL’s weakest division.
San Francisco – They already had two losses, and the week one win over Green bay was starting to lose some steam. Then San Fran went out and smoked the Texans. That’s the type of dominating performance that most expected to see from this team. Thanks to the Colts, the Niners just need to beat the Seahawks at home to get back on equal footing in the NFC West.
If The Playoffs Started Today…
I like to do this every so often, just to give you a feel for what the postseason would look like if Saturday was the start of Wild Card weekend:
1. Denver Broncos (5-0)
2. Indianapolis Colts (4-1)
3. New England Patriots (4-1)
4. Baltimore Ravens (3-2)
5. Kansas City Chiefs (5-0)
6. Tennessee Titans (3-2)
Notes: The Broncos win the West over Chiefs because of better division winning percentage (Den 1-0, KC 0-0). The Ravens win the North over Browns and Bengals because of head-to-head winning percentage (Bal 1-0, Cle 1-1, Cin 0-1). The Titans win the final wild card over Jets and Browns based on conference record (Ten 3-2, Cle 2-2, NYJ 1-2). The Dolphins and Bengals were eliminated in divisional tiebreakers to the Jets and Browns, respectively, before tiebreaker with Titans.
1. New Orleans Saints (5-0)
2. Seattle Seahawks (4-1)
3. Detroit Lions (3-2)
4. Dallas Cowboys (2-3)
5. San Francisco 49’ers (3-2)
6. Arizona Cardinals (3-2)
Notes: The Lions win the North over the Bears because of head-to-head victory. The Cowboys win the East over the Eagles because of strength of victory (Dal .200, Phi .111). The 49’ers win the first wild card over the Cardinals because of division winning percentage (SF 1-1, Arz 0-1) and over the Bears because of conference record (SF 2-1, Chi 1-2). The Cardinals win the final wild card over the Bears because of conference record (Arz 3-2, Chi 1-2).
New York Giants @ Chicago Bears
Thu, 8:30pm, NFLN
Line: Bears by 7.5
It is truly amazing to think about just how poorly the Giants have played this season. A team that went 9-7 this year could very easily be one loss away from matching that total by the time 60 minutes of football expire at Soldier Field. The offensive line can’t block, Eli Manning has developed happy feat, the once-vaunted defensive line gets virtually no pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and a secondary known for being porous has been even more exposed. I don’t particularly care that the Giants are only two games back in the division – this team is done. This is a get-well opportunity for the Bears, coming off back-to-back tough losses to Detroit and New Orleans, though they have had the tendency to swing and miss on these types of games. The NFC playoff picture is a bit more wide-open than most anticipated in the preseason, thanks to the fall-off of the Falcons, Vikings, and the entire NFC East, but it’s still not going to be easy to overcome losing to an 0-5 team at home on a short week. I think the Bears come into this game focused and determined to get back to winning football games and cover the touchdown spread.
Pick: Chicago 31, New York 17
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