With the absolute bludgeoning the New England Patriots laid on the Pittsburgh Steelers last night, Sunday Night Football illustrated better than any writer, stat sheet or coach could the point that this year’s NFL does not have a single team that can be pegged as a sure-fire playoff team.
This year more than ever the cliche “any given Sunday” has taken on real meaning. Two weeks ago the Patriots were dominated by a 2-5 football team. The Browns had played teams tough, but couldn’t do enough to win most of the time and the general consensus was that they would have to play a perfect football game in order to even have a chance at beating the Patriots. They played nearly perfect and not only won, but dictated the game from start to finish.
The consensus among football circles was pretty much the same. If New England, now further exposed as a flawed team, wanted to beat the Steelers, the perceived league powerhouse, the Patriots would have to play flawlessly. They did. And while it was only a 13-point margin at the end, it was clear to those who watched that the Patriots won the game by more than 13 points.
So is there any team that can be looked at as a favorite to win the Super Bowl this year?
Pittsburgh and New England are both still fine football teams, but both have shown obvious weaknesses, especially in certain 1-on-1 matchup scenarios.
The New York Jets are also 7-2 and they easily could be 4-5. Sure, the point is that they’re not and Mark Sanchez just threw a winning touchdown pass, but before that, he threw a big interception in overtime. Would a better team have turned that against the Jets?
Baltimore’s defense is not the juggernaut of the past, especially in the secondary and there just doesn’t look like there are enough bullets in Joe Flacco’s gun to make up for it.
The Colts now lead the AFC South all by themselves, but the defense in porous and injuries plague them on both sides of the ball.
In the NFC, Matt Ryan and the Falcons sit at 7-2, but they won last week because Roddy White pushed a defensive back to the ground on a blatant offensive pass interference that wasn’t called against the Ravens. White even admitted doing it after the fact. Is that the sign of good hustle, or a team that still thinks it’s desperate for wins?
The New York Giants are turnover machines and you have to think that that will come back to bite them eventually.
New Orleans is getting healthier and have back-to-back wins, including one against Pittsburgh. Could they be primed to make a run coming off the bye? If so, the defense will have to do better than it ha in terms of takeaways. That’s what made them so successful last year.
Can any of these teams be called a clear-cut favorite? No way.
But you know what? That’s alright. And the league should think it’s alright, too. While there is a perception that a marquee team is needed in order for there to be a marketable, recognizable “brand” out there on the football field, the fact that there are so many teams with a chance is a huge positive for the league.
When you look at the standings, there are only a handful of teams that are truly out of the running for the postseason at this point. Along with that comes stronger interest from multiple markets that are filled with fans who want to know if their team could take advantage of the year without Goliath.
It’s good for fans and it’s good for football. While as a fan you hope your team will simply crush every team they face and bring home a championship, as someone who appreciates the game, it’s a very exciting time.