As we enter Week 10 of the 2014 NFL season, there are a lot of teams that are in "Make it or Break It" mode. Even though no team has been mathematically eliminated, there are a few that may as well pack it in and start planning for 2015: Oakland (0-8), Jacksonville (1-8), New York Jets (1-8) and Tampa Bay (1-7). There are also some traditional "powerhouse" teams that are currently on the outside looking in: San Diego (5-4), Baltimore (5-4), Green Bay (5-3) and San Francisco (4-4). This group of teams cannot afford any more losses. While the AFC seems relatively stable at the top -- New England, Denver, Cincinnati and Indianapolis all currently in first place in their divisions -- the NFC has some surprises with Arizona and Detroit holding onto the first two playoff seeds. Now for a few thoughts from the schoolyard:
1. Debating the best
This is an interesting question. Arizona (7-1) and New England (7-2) can boast the two best current records but are only ranked 2nd (New England) and 5th (Arizona) in the odds for winning the Super Bowl. Denver, Philadelphia and Detroit are all close behind at 6-2 and are ranked 1st, 6th and 10th as potential Super Bowl winners. The next two, in terms of records are Indianapolis and Dallas at 6-3. They are ranked 7th and 8th. Rounding out the Top 10 in Super Bowl odds are 5-3 Seattle (3rd), 5-3 Green Bay (4th) and 4-4 New Orleans (9th). Not sure what to make of all of that.
2. Home Sweet Home
We are halfway through the season -- more or less -- and there are seven teams which have yet to lose in their home stadiums: Denver (5-0 at home), New England (5-0), Cincinnati (4-0-1), Arizona (4-0), Philadelphia (4-0), New Orleans (3-0) and Green Bay (3-0). That home record is very important for the Broncos as 5 of their final 8 games are on the road.
3. King of their conference
Not only is it a surprise that Arizona is boasting the best current record in the NFL at 7-1-0, but it is also surprising that they are currently 5-0 versus the NFC. They have defeated all four of the teams in the NFC East along with division rival San Francisco.
4. Conquerors of the opposite conference
Just as Arizona has gone undefeated against opponents in their own conference, there are eight teams that have yet to lose a game to an opponent from the opposite conference. They are: Buffalo (3-0 vs NFC), Baltimore (3-0 vs NFC), Philadelphia (3-0 vs AFC), New England (2-0 vs NFC), Cleveland (2-0 vs NFC), Dallas (2-0 vs AFC), Green Bay (2-0 vs AFC), Cincinnati (1-0-1 vs NFC).
5. NFC South is now arguably the worst division in the league
How the mighty have fallen. It doesn't seem like it was all that long ago that at least three of the NFC South teams (New Orleans, Carolina, Atlanta) were always considered to be in the playoff hunt. In 2014, we could be looking at a repeat of 2010 when Seattle made the playoffs with a 7-9-0 record. Right now the best team in the NFC South is New Orleans with a 4-4-0 record. The worst team is Tampa Bay at 1-7-0. The NFC South is a combined 9-15 versus the NFC and a combined 1-7-1 versus the AFC. Three of the teams can currently boast a multiple game losing streak: Carolina (3), Tampa Bay (4) and Atlanta (5).
6. AFC North is now arguably the best division in the league
There is not a single AFC North team that is at or below .500. These four teams are a combined 15-3-1 at home and a combined 7-1-1 versus the NFC. It is a wonder that they are not more highly ranked when considering Super Bowl odds.
7. Oakland well on its way to securing the #1 overall pick of the 2015 NFL draft
Let's see: their running back punted a fumble back to their quarterback . . . their wide receiver fumbled the ball twice on the same play before losing it . . . they fired their head coach after an 0-4 start. Now that interim head coach Tony Sparano has gone 0-4 also, should we look forward to his being fired? That would seem to be in character for this year's version of the Raiders. But who do they replace Sparano with? Offensive Coordinator Greg Olsen, whose offense has helped Oakland post an NFL low 129 points? Or maybe Defensive Coordinator Jason Tarver? In any event, with an 0-8 record firmly in place and only one opponent that is under .500 remaining, the Raiders would have to be incredibly unlucky to avoid an 0-16 record and the #1 pick . . . though they will probably be able to fumble-punt that opportunity away.
8. Tired of the Brady vs Manning debate
One of the conversations that we decided we were tired of listening to was the perennial "Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning" debate that goes on whenever those two quarterbacks' teams play one another. Last time we checked, other than the pre- and post-game handshakes, those two players were never on the field at the same time. It most certainly was not Manning who was knocking down Brady passes nor Brady bursting through the line to sack Manning. A much more appropriate discussion would have been how Manning has fared against the New England defense (he's 6-13 versus New England in his career with 43 touchdown passes and 26 interceptions), as well as how has Brady fared against the Broncos' defense (Brady is 5-5 versus Denver with 20 touchdown passes and 6 interceptions).
9. Hope for the Broncos' faithful in Week 10
Something to consider: Peyton Manning's teams have gone 7-2 versus the Raiders during his career. As a Bronco, Manning's team has gone 4-0 versus Oakland with him accruing 1288 passing yard, 11 passing touchdowns against just a single interception.
10. Don't sweat the losses
At least, not if you're playing fantasy football. This year, my wife and her coworkers (college math, engineering and science teachers all) invited me to join their fantasy football league. Many of them broke out their spreadsheets and in-depth player analyses as they prepared for draft day. I was given a fair amount of good natured ribbing for taking Peyton Manning with my first pick and Emmanuel Sanders with my second. And, after a 1-5 start, their heckling seemed justified. But now, after a 3-game winning streak, I've suddenly nabbed the sixth and final playoff position in the league. Here's to hoping I can hold on to it.