2013 NFL: The NFC North Gets Sloppy + Other Week 12 Thoughts

Fineartamerica
Fineartamerica

It was easy to pile on the well below mediocre football that was being played in the NFC East during the first two months of the season. At one point it sure looked like the winner of the putrid division would finish at 8-8 or possibly even 7-9. Thanks to the hot streak by the Eagles and a big win by the Cowboys in New York, the division doesn’t look like the giant mess it once did and in fact the division has pulled into almost a direct tie with the NFC North.

That’s right, the NFC North has been just as bad as the NFC East. Here’s the combined record for both divisions (note, these records reflect the total numbers before the Redskins host the Niners on Monday night)

19-24 East

19-23-2 North

It’s time to mention that the NFC East could still obtain the three seed and avoid the Panthers or the Saints in the wild card round, which at this point is just as important as getting a bye. Sure the Saints are a much different team on the road (and I’ll get to the Panthers in a minute), but a matchup against the Cardinals or Niners on the road seems much more manageable then a game against Cam Newton and Carolina’s front seven, or Drew Brees/Sean Payton and the Saints improved secondary.

This is especially true if you’re the Lions, who looked like they were a little too happy just to be in the playoffs two years ago when they lost to the Saints. Detroit’s front seven is impressive against the run, which would make a game against Carolina more manageable then a wild card game against a team in the Saints that could very well be Detroit’s playoffkryptonite.

It would have been easy to pencil in the Lions as the division winner if they could have just gotten out of their own way. I know it’s only a week old, but I really believe the decision to run a fake field goal with a four point lead in the middle of the fourth quarter against the Steelers may have been the beginning of a black cloud filled with bad decisions and bad luck that hovers over this team for the rest of the season.

The loss to the Bucs this past Sunday wasn’t due to a bad play call, but rather a couple of terrible throws that finally caught up to Matthew Stafford. He’s had numerous throws this season that have missed receivers high and could have easily been intercepted if the safety or corner was behind the receiver. Those missed throws and bad reads finally caught up to Stafford as he was picked off four times by Tampa Bay (granted the last one was just a drop by Calvin Johnson, so the interception should be charged to him and not Stafford). The third interception stood out to me because it was the classic case of Stafford locking onto Calvin Johnson and not looking off the safety (or in this case a corner, Keith Tandy, who played the role of a safety on this play), which resulted in an easy interception.

Between Stafford’s three interceptions, the drop by Megatron that resulted in an interceptions and a crucial fumble lost by Kris Durham in the fourth quarter, the Lions coughed up a chance to gain a game on the Bears and further separate themselves from the Packers.

Instead the Lions have given Aaron Rodgers a chance to possibly save the Packers, if he’s able to come back this season. Don Capers’ defense is starting to show signs of a unit that is falling apart in front of our eyes, but all will be right in cheeseland when, or again if, Rodgers comes back. Give credit to Matt Flynn who possibly saved the Packers playoff hopes if they do indeed win the division by a game. A tie with the scenario they faced in the fourth quarter on Sunday is just as good as a win.

The aurora surrounding Josh McCown took a hit after he became the latest victim of a rejuvenated Rams defense, but at least he’s kept the team in the playoff mix, which is something the Bears run defense cannot say. In two weeks the Bears rush defense has made the trio of Tavon Austin, Zac Stacy and BENNY CUNNINGHAM look like the new greatest show on turf and gave Ray Rice’s fantasy owners hope that he could actually produce in the fantasy playoffs.

If the Lions suffer a loss on Thanksgiving to either the Matt Flynn or Aaron Rodgers led Packers, then the division becomes nothing short of an over the top rope battle royal during the last five weeks of the season.

 

Side note of the week

Give the Bucs credit, the team hasn’t given up on the season. I wondered if last week was the beginning of Greg Schiano turning the ship around, but Sunday’s victory in Detroit was a much more impressive victory than a thrashing of the 2-9 Atlanta Falcons.

 

The Rams!?

The Rams resurgence after the loss of Sam Bradford is something that needs to be talked about. Seriously a 40 point game and a 38 point game against two possible playoff teams, AFTER Sam Bradford was lost for the season and Zac Stacy was lost for the second half of the Bears game. Once again BENNY CUNNINGHAM had 100+ yards. Yet another running back that I had for a week and then dropped. Somehow I’m still in the playoff hunt, thanks Adrian Peterson!

It’s clear that offensive coordinator Marty Schottenheimer has flipped the playbook and discovered all of the correct ways to use Tavon Austin. It’s a shame this couldn’t have happened with Bradford to help his case as a legitimate franchise quarterback, but it’s great to see Austin finally produce. The fact that they’re still in the mix for a wild card spot is a testament to the coaching staff’s amazing job on both sides of the ball.

How important is the first round bye for the Panthers?

The Panthers win on Sunday was everything you could have hoped for, if you’re a fan of Carolina’s professional football team, if you’re a fan of any other team in the NFC who might make the playoffs, it was not the result you likely wanted to see.

This was a game that Miami won with the eye test, but did not win on the scoreboard, which is the only place where it matters. The Dolphins pounded Cam Newton early as they hit him often in the first half, but Newton is just a different animal this year. If this game had taken place last year, it would have featured a classic sad Newton press conference, in which he described all of the things that went wrong. This game was just further proof that Newton has finally grasped the steep learning curve of being a successful quarterback in the NFL and it only further proved that you just can’t stop Riverboat Ron.

It’s fair to wonder if Carolina could follow the blueprint of a team that emerges, skyrockets to one of the first round byes, but comes out rusty due to the extra time off. The extra week off  easily crushes their routine of getting ready for games once a week. I’m no psychologist, but it’s pretty safe to say that the brain doesn’t function the same with an extra week away from the game. In that extra week a team is given time to process the possible opponent and scenarios that may or may not happen. There’s a reason the Packers are much more dangerous after they get hot at the end of a season, in order to be a wild card team or win an ugly division as opposed to when they run away with the NFC North and then lose after the bye.

For those of you who might say, well every team has a bye during the season, why would the first round bye be any different. Understand that the bye in the regular season can help a team who needs to fine tune multiple aspects of their team for the next stretch of games and it essentially breaks the season up into two sections, before and after the bye.

The playoff bye week is great for teams who need a key player to heal up if they have an injury that would have hindered their level of play, but for a group that hasn’t experience a playoff game, having the bye with an extra week for expectations to build, might not be the best scenario.

Follow me on Twitter @Scottdargis

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