The NFL suddenly has the nitty gritty in sight as the 2016 season is now in the second half.
The upset of the weekend was Seattle's win at Foxboro, a game that raised questions about the muscle of the Patriots defense (especially in the final minute of the first half) and also saw a surprising gag job by the Patriots goalline offense to go with a disputed exchange between Rob Gronkowski and Kam Chancellor. Predictable media condemnation of the Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones trades ensued and ignores those players are not making a difference for their present squads.
The Patriots now have the Miami Dolphins to worry about as the Dolphins have surged, winning four straight after a 1-4 start. For the San Diego Chargers their history as the AFC West's chronic last-place team continues and it's now time to end the Philip Rivers era, as Rivers now can no longer win, the Chargers now 4-6 and playoff hopes realistically dead - and coming after rejection of the tax for a new stadium.
The Game Of The Week going in was the Cowboys at Steelers and it exploded to the most stunning finish of the weekend and one of the wildest of the season. Dakota Prescott faced adversity and responded as a championship-capable quarterback does. It was a doubly bitter loss for the Steelers as their playoff hopes took another bad blow, but the weakness of the AFC North could be Pittsburgh's savior.
The Tennessee Titans were home dogs for this game, a reflection that oddsmakers are not paying attention to the weaknesses of Name teams and Name players. Aaron Rodgers is still considered an elite, championship-caliber quarterback - the fact is he's not. When he falls behind he struggles; when he's down two scores he is almost always dead, having won just four career games when down two or more scores (the Lions twice, the NY Jets, and the Redskins). Rodgers' inability to stage a comeback was in graphic evidence yet again while Marcus Mariota, who is developing into one of the best at looking off the opponent defense, outclassed Rodgers, completing his first ten passes and ultimately delivering four touchdowns; the Titans playcalling showed another fit of creativity on a halfback touchdown pass as well as boldness by kicking onsides at the start.
Taylor Lewan's ejection and the later endzone brawl after a Rodgers rushing score testified to the nastiness of this game.
The Minnesota Vikings season is collapsing as the Redskins rallied from blowing a 14-0 lead and Sam Bradford is falling apart as a quarterback.
The most bizarre finish before the Cowboys-Steelers game was the blocked PAT that wound up winning the game for the Broncos after their vaunted defense once again failed to stop the opponent from tying the game - which helps explain why the Broncos are only ninth in points allowed this season (19 points per game). Escaping as opposed to outplaying the opponent has been a trademark for the Broncos the last few seasons.
It is stunning the regression of Blake Bortles amid dismal play by Brock Osweiler as Houston downed Jacksonville.
If you think the punchline of the NFL is the Browns, you'd be right, except Jay Cutler reminded us again why he is also a punchline to football. The Bucs have clawed to 4-5 and are second in the mess that now is the NFC South.
The reason that matters right now is the Falcons are only 6-4 and whenever they appear ready to take the next step they fall down a staircase, as they did at Philly, their third loss in the last five games. It is also Matt Ryan's second time in four games his passer rating failed to reach 90. The Eagles for their part are last in the NFC East, winless in division games so far - and have a winning record (5-4).
The NY Jets finally started Bryce Petty and he now has the highest completion percentage of any Jets quarterback this year (61.8%) but also the lowest yards per attempt (5.4 Yards Per Pass). They're not the only team with a quarterback issue as the Rams, 4-5 and third in the NFC West, are under fire for not playing rookie Jared Goff. Case Keenum remains starter despite throwing just 30 passes with 17 completions for 165 yards, and he got sacked three times (he's been thusly dispatched 23 times this year to date).
The NFC West is still a Seahawks-Cardinals duel even though the Cardinals have only two wins their last four games and Carson Palmer threw two picks against the Niners. Colin Kaepernick shockingly kept the Niners in it until the final drive by the Cardinals.
Pending the Monday Night game the playoff seedings for now are as follows -
Patriots - East champs
Chiefs - West champs
Texans - South champs
Ravens - North champs
Wildcards - Raiders, Broncos
Still with a winning/.500 record and chance - Dolphins, Titans
Longshots - Bills, Colts, Steelers, Bengals
Cowboys - East champs
Seahawks - West champs
Falcons - South champs
Lions - North champs
Wildcards - NY Giants, Redskins
Still with a winning/.500 record and chance - Eagles, Vikings, Cardinals
Longshots - Buccanners, Saints, Packers, Rams, Panthers
So it is what it - for now - is.......subject to later revision, natch.