There are now just 2 undefeated teams in the NFL after Houston downed Cincinnati, 10-6, Monday evening. Interestingly, the schedule makers didn't pair up The AFC North and East (New England) leaders in what would've been the game of the year in the regular season. That means the only time the Patriots and Bengals would meet might be the AFC title game in January.
While I didn't see the game, the reigning Super Bowl champs escaped their first visit to the Meadowlands with a 26-24 verdict over the Giants, thanks to a Stephen Gostkowski field goal on the last play from scrimmage. The road for New England just got a wee bit easier, though, as a road match vs. Denver on November 29 just lost its lustre.
That's because pizza & insurance salesman Peyton Manning is out "indefinitely" with a partially torn ligament in his foot. Couple that with various other injuries that have accumulated, and you might as well pencil Manning in for the injured reserve list. That would allow the Broncos to take a longer look at 4th year pro Brock Osweiler, who was drafted out of Arizona State in 2012, but has been mostly mopping up or holding a clipboard for his first 3 1/2 seasons. Osweiler was inserted into the game Sunday against Kansas City after Manning threw 4 interceptions.
Bottom line? Sometimes, your body will tell you something your brain doesn't want to hear, like when it's time to quit.
For New England, however, four of their final seven games are on the road, as they also have rematches with Miami & the Jets after Christmas. Their detractors will claim it's business as usual, and that owner Robert Kraft was compensated for the Deflate-Gate mess with a favorable schedule.
Consider the harsh reality we were left with on Sunday. Green Bay has lost three in a row for the first time in what seems like an eternity, and fell out of first place in the NFC North (Does ESPN's Chris Berman still refer to it as the Norris Division?), a game in arrears of Minnesota. Whomever comes out of the NFC Least with the division title, regardless of who it is (and it's still up for grabs), is assured of a 4 seed in the playoffs unless one team gets hot at the right time. And is it possible that Seattle, after 2 straight Super Bowls, could miss the playoffs? They've lost 2 games at home this season (Carolina & Arizona), and at best will be fighting for a Wild Card in the final 7 weeks. Who'dathunk?
Back to the Packers. Insurance salesman Aaron Rodgers was more concerned about some moron in the stands making some ill-timed remarks during a moment of silent prayer prior to Sunday's game vs. Detroit. Teams all over the league were honoring the victims of a massive terrorist attack in France, and some already-soused halfwit decided to ruin the moment. While I get that some folks are a little too jingoistic in the Midwest and certain Southern states, that doesn't give someone license to show disrespect. Green Bay conceivably still can make the playoffs as a Wild Card (since only 1 team from the NFC Least will make the playoffs), but it just won't be the same to the community-owned Packers.
Consider, then, how the division leaders would rank if the playoffs started next week:
AFC: 1. New England. 2. Cincinnati. 3. Denver. 4. Indianapolis/Houston.
NFC: 1. Carolina. 2-3: Arizona/Minnesota. 4. Giants.
The wild card field in both conferences is too crowded to figure at this juncture.
Back to the Patriots for one final thought. Their status as the NFL's Evil Empire aside, the team also comes off as being Raiders East, due to the player reclamation projects they've engaged in the last few years, most of them on offense, such as upstate NY product Dion Lewis, plucked from the scrap heap after injuries (Cleveland) and lack of playing time (Philadelphia) seemed to cut his career short. Lewis, who still calls Albany home, played his high school ball at Albany Academy for Boys, but his season ended with a torn ACL nine days ago vs. the Washington Congressionals. That, coupled with a foot injury to WR/KR Julian Edelman, makes the Pats' decisions to cut running backs Jonas Gray (Miami), Stevan Ridley (Jets), & Shane Vereen (Giants) in the off-season all the more ridiculous. Like, who besides another reclamation project in LeGarrette Blount, the only back they kept from last season, can provide some depth at the position with Lewis gone? Eventually, teams will see New England as one-dimensional (guess who?), and eventually figure out a way to shut them down. My brother, a converted Patriots fan while he was in college, wondered why teams haven't copied the Giants' blueprint that Tom Coughlin used to beat them in 2 Super Bowls, and nearly did it again on Sunday.
The simple answer is that every other coach thinks he has his own answers. Peyton Manning's been reported in the press as being a bit paranoid, per reports that the Pats supposedly bugged the visitors' locker room at Gillette Stadium, which only adds more credence to the CIA mentality exhibited by either Brady, if not Bill Belichick, or Kraft, to win at all costs, and rules be damned. Eventually, the league needs to have its own house overhauled, and let some people who actually know something about enforcing rules and laws deal with the Evil Empire. Until that happens, it's going to be, as David Byrne once sang, the same as it ever was.