The NBA and NHL seasons just ended back in June, and they are already starting up. Those seasons are pure dregs where every team plays the other at least three times. I think that’s ridiculous and both leagues need to shorten their season, but my real point is that it’s the halfway point of the NFL season and it still feels like it just started.
While we haven’t had any head coaching changes, the season has been filled with surprises, from the Cowboys and Eagles looking great with rookie quarterbacks to the Bills’ four-game win streak, and Tom Brady throwing no interceptions to the Vikings losing both Bridgewater and Peterson but still being near the top of the NFC. The NFL is great and while television ratings may be down right now, I can’t think of a more compelling overall storyline in a sport, with apologies to the recently-ended World Series. *Editor’s Note: Aaron is clearly insane and lacks the filigreed palate of the year-round sports fan. He also might be a little salty that the football season isn’t longer and that his Dodgers disappointed this year. Please don’t send me angry letters, I won’t read them.*
The NBA and NHL are a straight-up slog sometimes, and the fact that things like playoff standings are cared about this early when there is literally 7 months to go is ridiculous in my opinion. However, the NBA is making money hand over fist right now, so who am I to tell them to change their product? My favorite sports league will always be the NFL, and I’m unapologetic about that.
In Jacksonville, the stories are Jumbo Shrimp and Whiny Jaguars. I’ll leave the wisdom of naming mascots after fried food to other people to analyze, but the Jaguars are in disarray. The team seems to be incapable of doing anything as a team. The players that aren’t used to losing, or have not been in a losing environment (that is, not where everyone is a loser, but rather the team is not doing well), are getting dejected and likely hard to manage. That has caused them to lash out at fans. To be perfectly honest, lashing out at fans is not going to win you any loyalty. The fans spend $40 or more to sit in the sun and sweat, and expect at least a decent product. Not to mention the folks that buy concessions, merchandise, etc. Something happened somewhere between the Green Bay game and the rest of the season. Yes, there are two wins against the Colts and the Bears. But the team that played the Packers right up to the last couple of minutes of the game is not the team that went out and looked awful against the Titans in prime time. Hopefully, they could have some success against a depleted Chiefs offense – but I doubt it. Hopefully, they realize that the fans are what kept the franchise in town in the first place – but I doubt it. Hopefully, Gus gets attitudes to change and starts piling on wins – but I doubt it. Yet, I will always be a fan of the Jaguars, and think that all of the team’s players can improve if they really want to, and that there is a chance for them to win.
But I doubt it.
Anyway, let’s rank and preview the coming weekend.
WEEK 9 TOP FIVE
FALCONS at BUCS – The Bucs took the Raiders to overtime last week, but the injuries have piled up down in Tampa. The Falcons took out the Packers last week and they have scored 24 points or more in the last three games (and 30 in the last two). I am looking for the Falcons to continue to build on last week’s win and continue to keep a leg up in the NFC South.
LIONS at VIKINGS – The big news of the week out of Minnesota is the departure of Norv Turner – will the offense continue to struggle (the Vikes have only scored 10 points in their last two games) or can they turn the corner and end their two-game losing streak? The Lions look like a pretty good .500 team. I think that Minnesota will turn it around at home and beat the Lions, and improve their record and continue their Cinderella-ish season.
STEELERS at RAVENS – The outcome of this game depends on whether Ben Roethlisberger plays. If he does – good for him and the Steelers, who get to come out of the bye and break their two-game losing streak. If he doesn’t, then mark this one in the books for the Ravens. I’m honestly not sure if they will trot Ben out early if he’s not totally healthy with a big matchup against the Cowboys coming next week, but if he’s good to go, call the win for the Steelers.
JETS at DOLPHINS – Two stinky teams, one game. The Jets came very close to losing to the Browns. Enough said there. The Dolphins have surprising wins against the Steelers and Bills. Let’s say the Jets will come away with a win.
COWBOYS at BROWNS – Okay so I’ve taken the last couple of weeks to treat the Browns like a joke, because they kind of are. But the more I watch of them the more I think they really do have some decent offensive talent. I mean, Terrelle Pryor has actually turned into a good WR. Isaiah Crowell is a solid RB. If they get a quarterback that is talented AND can stay healthy, they may get something going (like winning football games). That being said, there is no way they beat the Cowboys this week. America’s (New/Old) Team looks unstoppable. Dez Bryant looks totally healthy now. Look out – he will bring it for the team the rest of the year. The Cowboys will win.
JAGUARS at CHIEFS – The Chiefs will be without their starting QB and RB, and yet I still don’t think the Jaguars have a chance of winning this game. The Chiefs’ defense has been good this year, and haven’t given up more than 27 points this season. The Jaguars are going to have to win offensively if they’re going to hope for a win, and that means that Blake Bortles has to play well and the run game has to get going. Not sure if that is going to happen. I’ve not picked against the Jags since I began this column. However, I just don’t see it happening – especially if the team who looked like they didn’t care against Tennessee last Thursday shows up in KC. Reluctantly, I call this for the Chiefs.
EAGLES at GIANTS – The Eagles, in my opinion, are in sort of a “must-win” mode here because they need to keep their status as second place in the division to the Cowboys cemented so they can at least earn a wild card berth, or make that week 17 game against Dallas a significant one. The Giants have the same record but only one division loss. That makes them dangerous, as do Manning and Beckham. This will be a fun game to see because both teams know this can shape the way their season shakes out. I think the Giants will pull this one out at home… but just barely.
PANTHERS at RAMS – Rams win at home, I think – not much else to say. Both of these teams are awful right now; the surprise is the Panthers. I think a level of jetlag or whatever you want to call it has been expected in L.A. – I’m surprised they’re 3-4 and not worse. But here we are. I don’t think the Panthers travel well in this case and the Coliseum can get loud, especially since it’s been nearly a month since the Rams have been there.
SAINTS at 49ERS – I think we know who the bottom of the NFC West is, and it’s the 49ers. People are already predicting Chip Kelly’s quick exit back to the college ranks at the end of the season. We’ll see what happens there, but the Niners’ D will not be able to hang with the yards that Drew Brees and the Saints can put up. This should be an easy, confidence-building win for the Saints.
TITANS at CHARGERS – It seems that Philip Rivers singlehandedly keeps the Chargers in games. DeMarco Murray singlehandedly keeps the Titans in games. I think that the Chargers have the home-field advantage in this, and also the Titans have more trouble with higher-powered offenses, which is what Rivers threatens whenever he plays. I’ll call this one a Chargers win.
COLTS at PACKERS – This is a very interesting game, because Andrew Luck can almost singlehandedly win most of his games (he has the offensive weapons, but not the offensive line). The Packers have Aaron Rodgers who is capable of the same thing, but has no running game to speak of right now. So who wins? It kind of boils down to defense, and the ability to contain TY Hilton (if healthy) to a large degree, and Moncrief and Dorsett as well. Luck had a bad game last week and the Chiefs took advantage. I think the Packers are more talented, but if Luck has luck on his side (sorry), the game should be a close Packers win.
BRONCOS at RAIDERS – This is my GAME OF THE WEEK. The Broncos are dominant on defense, and quarterback Trevor Siemian has developed some great chemistry with his primary receivers, Demariyus Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. They pretty handily won last week against an offensively powerful Chargers team, and they have another challenge this week. The Raiders are looking every bit as good as the Broncos, but are still somewhat immature – they committed a massive amount of penalties last week. They are also 1-2 at home so far this season. For prime-time Sunday night, though, the home crowd should come out. I think, though, that the Broncos are too strong for the Raiders still. Let’s expect another fun Sunday night game and the Broncos to win.
BILLS at SEAHAWKS – The Bills are back down to .500 after an impressive 4-game winning streak. They need to grab a win to give them momentum going into the bye week but without their star RB LeSean McCoy, I’m not sure that can happen. They signed Percy Harvin off of whatever street he was lingering on, but until he gets on the field I’m not sure how much of a difference that makes. The Seahawks are looking about like they normally do, and they probably won’t get dominant until the last quarter of the season. I think at home, the Seahawks have a strong chance of winning.