The aftermath of NFL Week 3 is recriminations over the officiating and that’s quite understandable and justifiable. The replacement officials have now undeniably decided one game and the terrible calls already had me poised to shut off the TV, as the constant ticky-tack flags effectively ruined what were otherwise great games on both Sunday & Monday night. But since I don’t know what there is to add that hasn’t been said already, and because I agree with the mainstream media thought current, and furthermore, because each team has 13 games left this year, TheSportsNotebook will just move onto its division-by-division thoughts of where we’re at strictly in football terms…
NFC EAST: If the New York Giants are going to run the ball the way they did on Thursday night, we might as well call this division race right now. Playing on the road, with injuries on the offensive front and in the backfield, the Giants get 113 yards from Andre Brown in their easy victory over Carolina. That’s the New York formula circa 2007, and Eli Manning is a much better quarterback now than he was then.
NFC NORTH: Minnesota suddenly has reason to feel pretty good about itself, with Green Bay and Detroit in 1-2 holes and Chicago a mediocre-looking 2-1. Sure, the Vikes are only 2-1 themselves and still have that Week 2 loss to Indianapolis. But they played to their strength against San Francisco and ran the ball, along with stopping the run and for the third straight game Christian Ponder was at least above average. A long way to go, but Viking fans have to like the progress and feel good about their chances of competing week-to-week.
NFC SOUTH: Carolina and Tampa Bay both have reasons to be concerned about their quarterback, as Cam Newton threw three interceptions against the Giants and Josh Freeman played a poor game in a winnable situation at Dallas. Each team has other problems along with it, but if Newton and Freeman can’t play to expectations, Atlanta will spend the entire year worrying exclusively about playoff seeding, not about whether they win the NFC South.
NFC WEST: Say what you will about Seattle should have lost, and indeed they should have. The Seahawks still looked like a team that will be right on the playoff bubble all year. They got a decent running game from Marshawn Lynch, the defensive effort was tremendous and Russell Wilson is the right kind of quarterback to manage games in this system. With Arizona looking Super Bowl-caliber after the dismantling of Philadelphia and San Francisco still seen at that level, the Seahawks will be hard-pressed to rise above the third.
Think about this playoff scenario—Seattle scrapes in as the #6 seed. Green Bay wins the NFC North, but aided by the loss last night slips behind a couple of division winners and ends up seeded #3. That sets up Packers-Seahawks in Lambeau come January. Think the locals might be out for blood?
AFC EAST: Buffalo’s the AFC version of Minnesota—the team that shouldn’t get carried away with expectations, but still has every right to feel good. The Bills got 91 yards rushing from Tashard Choice, and they’ll also get Fred Jackson back, suggesting they may able to manage the loss of C.J. Spiller for a couple weeks. Mario Williams also got into a pass-rushing groove in the win over Cleveland. Suddenly the Bills have a chance to get two games ahead of the Patriots when the two teams meet in Buffalo on Sunday.
AFC NORTH: I was down on Baltimore at the start of the year, and while a lot of the NFL world had them in the Super Bowl, or close to it, I had them missing the playoffs. I’m prepared to acknowledge I overstated the decline, but after Sunday night’s wild win over New England, I’m still convinced the public perception is also too high.
This team’s defense is just not very good right now and while the emergence of Joe Flacco can cover some of that up, Baltimore isn’t great without a big-time defense. Right now they’re a long way from having that.
AFC SOUTH: Houston did everything that could have been expected on Sunday at Denver. They ran the ball well, with Arian Foster going over 100 yards. Matt Schaub was efficient in the air and also made some big plays. While Peyton Manning got his yards—330 in all, it took him 52 attempts to do it and the Bronco quarterback only completed half of his throws. Houston shut down the Denver running game and got a road win over a team that was coming off a loss.
AFC WEST: I panned Kansas City and Oakland last week, but the events of Sunday have thrown this division back into flux. The Raiders win over the Steelers wasn’t entirely surprising for those of us who are down on Pittsburgh, so I won’t get carried away with Oakland.
But you had to be impressed with the breakout performance Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles had in New Orleans, rushing for 233 yards as his team rallied from 18 points down to win in overtime. Then add in that San Diego’s abject humiliation at home by Atlanta tells us there is no real power in this division. Everything’s back to being completely up for grabs in the West.