By Jean-Paul Bergeaux
The NFL is having a great year. Not particularly because of great play, but because of how tight every division is. With 5 games left to play, not a single division has a clear leader. In fact no division leader is ahead by more than 1 game. In fact there are 19 teams within 1 game of the lead in their division. That’s 60% of the league not only in contention, but within 1 game and 72% within 2 games! The division games scheduled for the next 5 weeks have more meaning than ever.
Spy Gate II is not why Josh McDaniels should be fired. The Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen has come out and said that Josh McDaniels’ job is safe. And there is more to learn about Spy Gate II before it should affect McDaniels’ job. However, maybe the product on the field should affect his job security. The Broncos are 1-6 in the last 7 games and the star players McDaniels ushered the door in the last 18 months are doing well around the league. Maybe McDaniels needs to get more experience under someone other than Hoodie before trying this head coaching thing.
The Cowboys and Vikings are not winning their divisions. With all those teams within two games of their division lead, these two pre-season SuperBowl favorites are not two of those teams. So can the media stop talking about them and actually talk about teams that are doing well? Seriously. With such a great competitive year in the NFL, all the media seems to talk about is Brett Favre and the Cowboys. There are many teams still in the hunt being relatively ignored (for good or bad) because of it. Let go of Brett and Jerry please.
Things I think I know.
The penalties on defenders continue to be a problem. No hit to the helmet, no late hit, but defenders are being penalized and fined (hefty fines too) for hits that most coaches would be proud of. In fact there was one hit on primetime that it appeared that the receiver dipped his head to purposefully hit the DBs helmet and the defender was penalized. It’s making it hard for defensive players and coaches to know how to even coach and play the game. The stated goal of player safety sounds noble, but anyone with knowledge of football and the human anatomy can tell that these rules and their enforcement are not effective, they’re confusing.
The Chicago Bears are not on top of their division by accident. Urlacher is playing some of his best football in years. Cutler is making fewer mistakes than earlier in the year (and last year). Matt Forte is starting to run like he did in his rookie year. The Bears have won their last four games and the last two over teams with winning records. Maybe the NFC North was not a foregone conclusion for the Green Bay Packers after all. We’ll find out in the next 5 weeks and for sure week 17 when the Bears try to make it 2-0 against the Packers. The Bears play the Patriots and the Jets before then though. Ouch.
The San Francisco 49ers are quietly getting it together. The 49ers are 4-7. Without looking at the divisional races, one would suspect that they are in bad shape. However, at 5-6, the division leaders are not giving them much of a fight. SF is 3-1 in the last four games and is the only team in the NFC West that has a winning record in the last four games. They are in this position because they started out 0-5. They play both teams above them (Seattle and St Louis) in the next several weeks and if they can pull out both of those, have a chance to win the division even if they don’t have a winning record!
Things I know I don’t know.
Maybe the officiating is actually getting worse? A few weeks ago in this column the discussion was about expectations and perfection not being obtainable. However, the mistakes happening blatantly on primetime are getting out of hand. These calls affect games. Luckily some of them have been caught by coaches and fixed by replay, but not all of them can be fixed by replay. Obvious facemasks missed or incorrectly called, obvious holding calls (heck practically tackles) missed, WR push offs called that don’t exist and not called that were obvious. It’s probably just the primetime nature of these bad calls, but they are happening and are obvious.
Did Derek Anderson just pull a Denis Green? Anyone can get his frustration, but you can’t lose it like that. In a three hour game, there are times that a teammate can be trying to cheer you up and make you laugh even though you are losing. It happens. The question was probably intended to push Anderson, or possibly embarrass him, but his response was probably more embarrassing than the question. This is the NFL today, if you can’t handle dumb, pushy reporters asking questions, you can’t be on a podium.
Should Jeff Fisher be held responsible for coaching a “dirty team”? In the fall out of the Finnegan-Johnson fight, the topic of the Titan’s dirty play has come up. This isn’t the first time that the Tennessee Titans dirty play has been discussed. Remember Albert Haynesworth’s head stomp? Rodney Harrison’s knee injury? (No honor among thieves?) This team is well known for being a “dirty team” and it’s rumored to be coached to provoke responses from the opponent for an advantage. There are more instances, but the question is whether Fisher should be held responsible. At some point it comes back to the coaches and what they tell the players they can or should do. On the other hand, John Madden, coached the 70’s Raiders who were proud to be the dirtiest, most penalized team in the NFL and he didn’t suffer much consequences.