Thursday, November 5, 2009

NFL 2009: Week 9: As the Weather Cools, the Competition Heats Up

The 2009 season is taking shape as all teams will have reached the halfway point by the close of business for week 9. Clearly, the New Orleans Saints are for real and calling them the best team in the NFC is well-deserved. The Indianapolis Colts are the toast of the AFC as the other undefeated team so far but the competition in the AFC is definitely tougher.

The main contenders in the NFC are Minnesota, Philadelphia, and Dallas. Arizona leads the west but has not looked strong for most of the year en route to a 4-3 record with the San Francisco 49’ers nipping at their heels. Green Bay, Chicago, Atlanta, and New York all share three losses. The Giants have one more victory. IT would appear one of these teams along with the second place team in the East contend for the Wild Card. Dallas is quietly regaining respectability after a pathetic start. No assessment of Dallas can be honest without noting how horrible their record after Thanksgiving has been in recent years, however.

The AFC finds Cincinnati tied with Pittsburgh in first place in the North at 5-2 both a game ahead of the Baltimore Ravens (4-3). Houston continues to improve at 5-3 in second in the south. San Diego rests at 4-3 looking like damaged goods one week but then looking like the makings of a contender the next. Finally, at 4-4, the New York Jets are capable of playing dominant football. They’re also capable of looking like asses. It’s tough with a rookie quarterback and many new players in key positions led by a first year coach. Of the rest of the pack, all with losing records, Miami at 4-3 is the only team with significant bright spots.

Perhaps the big story this year could be just how bad some of the bad teams are in a league that has labored so hard to achieve parity. This column discussed these teams before but the level of depravity only gets deeper as time passes, the failure and frustration intensifies. While Detroit isn’t the butt of jokes they were in their winless season of last year and there was some real hope starting the season, the results on the field remain frustrating spare the one win against the Washington Redskins. At least none of the really hard core bad episodes have blue and silver team colors among the cellar dwellers. Tampa Bay remains the one winless team and the record speaks for itself. While the Bucs have not gathered the unsavory headlines of some of the other big time losers, they’re seldom more than good enough to lose. Washington, Cleveland, and Oakland are in complete chaos with the local press screeching with negative publicity, personnel on thin ice, and the kind of play and coaching decision making that drives the fans to sheer madness. The Browns known for knee-jerk, poorly considered decisions, such as who to start at quarterback, fired GM George Kokinis who has not served a full year with the team yet. The team on the field is barely his responsibility. Some suggest that he got torpedoed by the “Man Genius” while the official story is he was fired by owner, Randy Lerner, for just cause not fulfilling his contract and was escorted out of team headquarters earlier in the week.

No personnel moves have been made for the Washington Redskins other than the bizarre decision to rip play calling from the head coach Jim Zorn by team VP, Vinny Cerrato. Sherm Lewis, just hired a couple weeks prior to the decision as a consultant now is the decision maker from off the field not being officially named Offensive Coordinator.

Meanwhile things couldn’t get uglier in Oakland who fired their coach during the bye week last year. Coach Tom Cable avoided charges of busting the jaw of one of his assistant coaches while charges of other misconduct including abusive conduct toward women surface to which Cable admitted striking his first wife with an open hand years ago. Supposedly, Cable met with owner Al Davis recently, but no decisions appear forthcoming.

It’s ironic that three of the absolute worst teams are all off this week, Cleveland, Oakland, and St. Louis. Buffalo also has the week off, but they at least have a couple quality wins on the record for 2009, but clearly the Bills are a team needing more than a little refresh.

Week 9 features some fine match ups with some key conflicts among key players looking to nail down life after the regular season.

Baltimore (-3) at Cincinnati
The Ravens are favored despite losing to Cincinnati at home in week 5 and being one game behind the Bengals in the standings. Surely, if the Ravens play with the kind of precision and intensity that lead them to hand the Denver Broncos their first loss, they’ll whack the smirk off of Ochocinco’s ugly mug.

Washington at Atlanta (-10)
Nothing can help the Falcons feel headed back to the Promised Land than what should be an easy win back home against the miserable Washington Redskins. Smarting from a tough Monday night loss to the seemingly unstoppable New Orleans Saints, Atlanta will be ready for a strong victory.

Arizona at Chicago (-3)
Both teams stand at 4-3 and both teams have looked brilliant at times and sloppy and confused for games they should have won. Arizona benefits from being in a weak division where 4-3 leads the division. Chicago has company in second place shared with Green Bay looking up at Minnesota with a two game advantage. Both teams are pretty close in points scored and points allowed. Chicago appears to have the slight edge at home.

Houston at Indianapolis (-9)
This is the 2nd place team in the AFC south playing the 1st place team. How it would help Houston gain some respect to win this game. However, even if they pull the improbable upset, they’d still be two games be the Colts. The Colts should win this home game with ease.

Kansas City at Jacksonville (-6 ½)
Jacksonville wasn’t good enough to subdue the winless Tennessee Titans but most would agree that’s not the case against Kansas City. Is it because the Titans aren’t that far removed from success a year ago? On paper, they’re worse than the Chiefs. Regardless, we have to figure the Jags will win even if the fans don’t show up again.

Miami at New England (-11)
Miami is still adjusting to find its winning ways which is one tough task facing New England. New England should win with ease.

Green Bay -10 at Tampa Bay
It’s the battle of the bays and Green Bay will be ready to win big to put their hurtful defeat to the Vikings behind them.

Carolina at New Orleans (13 ½)
Carolina showed much improvement defeating Arizona last week, but they travel south to New Orleans against the talk of the sport so far this year. They’ll have a big fight just to beat the spread.

Detroit at Seattle (-10)
Detroit’s going to win another game possibly catching another team sleeping but travelling to the West Coast to Seattle won’t be the recipe for success. Seattle should win.

San Diego at New York Giants (-5)
Some would call this the battle of the under achievers as both teams should look better than the 4-3 and 5-3 marks they’ve achieved so far. How much of the Giants’ five point edge over San Diego is for the West Coast team playing on the East Coast handicap is hard to determine. If the Giants can smooth out a couple rough spots on offense, they’ll win.

Dallas at Philadelphia (-3)
Always a hot match up, the winner of this game will lay claim to the NFC’s best team. The loser will fall back into a heavy pack of wannabe’s. The Eagles look like the stronger team especially after their dominant performance last week.

Pittsburgh (-3) at Denver
If Denver truly is a special team, they need to put their loss to Baltimore behind them and show why they went seven games before their first loss. They’re facing the guts and experience of the defending champs. While Ravens fans would love a Denver win, reality check puts Pittsburgh in the driver’s seat.

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