Week 9 began with a bizarre finish won by the Miami Dolphins, and it's ending with an even more disturbing story involving the Miami Dolphins. That leads off this week's takes on the league -
The story that Dolphins O-lineman Richie Incognito has been bullying other teammates, notably Jonathan Martin, to where Martin left the team, stories exploded about teammates extorted out of all their money, and Incognito blew up at Adam Schefter's report on this burgeoning scandal, ought to serve as a league-wide (and sports-wide) indictment of the culture of hazing rookies - basically torturing rookies for no reason beyond the sadistic enjoyment of the veterans. Hazing is basically selling out your own teammates; I've heard the defense from former Patriot Matt Chatham to the effect that hazing is about making rookies learn toughness to be able to handle situations. I don't buy it, because breeding toughness and courage in players can be done without selling out your own teammates. And it comes from a Dolphins team that, despite not being up to challenging the Patriots, is nonetheless on a steady upswing, shown in the overtime win over the Bengals.
As for the games and teams with Week Nine -
Patriots - They have long been the best team at winning while rebuilding and they took a major step forward against Pittsburgh; notable is Aaron Dobson, who has grown as a receiver to the point where he changed the route on his 81-yard score, raised his hand a la fellow Marshall alum Randy Moss to signal the change and that he was open, and Brady nailed him.
NY Jets - They remain consistently inconsistent - they've won one week and lost the next week every week.
Bills - They simply cannot advance their game, even with genuine and commendable efforts to do so.
Steelers - It is a lost season for Pittsburgh and they have major issues in their roster construction.
Ravens - It appeared before the season the Ravens would go through a transition year; it's obvious this counts as one of the rougher ones.
Bengals - The Bengals may have some issues with the O-line to have given up the safety like that. They're still on a good path, though.
Browns - It may be going in fits and starts, but the Browns are showing improvement; 2013 may not be a contending year, but these aren't the same old Browns.
Colts - They're still the Colts yet this win they didn't really deserve.
Titans - Their schedule is 7th-easiest the rest of the year, and they're 4-4 even amid losing Jake Locker for two games; there's reason for optimism for the Titans. Locker had a bit of an ugly game but still put up enough to win; Chris Johnson broke out for once and needs to do it again.
Texans - Blowing a winnable game like they did with three missed FGA's is a bitter pill to swallow, especially as Case Keenum showcased superb effort and looks like he can take over that team. 2013 is a lost year; the Texans can use the rest of the year to develop and improve Keenum for down the road.
Chiefs - People will now see if the Chiefs can handle the iron of their schedule.
Broncos - The hits came hard with John Fox's illness; they now have Jack Del Rio as interim coach, not a good sign as his defenses have been gashed and he's done little to prove he isn't a boob.
Chargers - How is it the Chargers cannot establish any kind of momentum? Losing to the Redskins was ugly for a team as talented as the Chargers are even though there remains reason for optimism.
Raiders - It's still the same old Raiders, once again giving up a record-setting performance by an opponent.
Cowboys - They keep winning even though they're not stopping anyone and they keep proving between Tony Romo and Dez Bryant that they're not capable of it.
Redskins - They're not a playoff team, yet they somehow pull off improbable wins.
Eagles - Seven touchdowns from Nick Foles - weren't the Eagles supposed to be doing this all season?
Panthers - They will now challenge for the division.
Falcons - Matt Ryan is now declining as a quarterback and the Falcons' roster construction approach is blowing up in their face.
Saints - The Saints have not been consistent enough to be the juggernaut they once were, and now the Jets have shown the rest of the league how to beat them.
Buccaneers - Blowing the ultimate opportunity they had will get Greg Schiano fired.
Packers - That they won four straight was mildly surprising; that they're a house of cards was evident when Aaron Rodgers was starting, and now with Rodgers possibly out for several weeks the Packers' season suddenly isn't so sure a thing with Seneca Wallace now starting for the time being and not particularly proving himself.
Bears - The defense is in the bottom quarter of the league, but the issue remains Jay Cutler, still inconsistent and looking worse with Josh McCown's solid performance in the Monday Night win over the Packers.
Vikings - Head shaking that they keep losing even amid genuinely quality performances by their guys.
Lions - Though on their Bye, it's worth noting how good the Lions now are to put up 488 passing yards and thus nobody notice they still rushed for 143 yards against the Cowboys. Matthew Stafford is becoming an elite quarterback in front of everyone's eyes.
Seahawks - The Seahawks show toughness but they're also flirting with disaster; more and more they are getting weaker, especially when attacked up the middle.
Rams - Zac Stacy is the breakout story of a bitter loss; Stacy may become a star for a Rams team whose season may now be lost.
So we await Week 10 with the ice cream headache of parity in the NFC North.