Every year at this time, we say that we can’t believe the season is nearly halfway over.
But, once again, the season is nearly halfway over.
Here are the 10 story lines to ponder as we prepare for the weekend that will make all of us realize that the 2010 NFL season will be gone as quickly as it came.
1. New York, New York.
The best team in the AFC resides in New York. (OK, New Jersey.)
The best team in the NFC resides in New York. (OK, New Jersey.)
So it’s not too early to think about the possibility of the Jets and the Giants meeting in the Super Bowl. It’s also not too early to think about the possibility of the Jets and the Giants hosting their respective conference championship games.
In the same stadium. On the same day.
Of course, the games wouldn’t happen on the same day. Two years ago, before the Jets’ 8-3 started melted into a 9-7 finish, folks began to fret about the logistical nightmare that this could create, presumably pushing one of the games to Monday night.
It’s time to fret again. Between them, the Jets and the Giants have won nine straight games. Though much can change between now and January, these two teams look to be in the mix to possibly meet in Dallas — or to play the games before that in the stadium they share.
2. London calling . . . for a bucket.
Hopefully, Mr. Creosote won’t be attending Sunday’s game between the Broncos and 49ers. (If he does, hopefully no one will offer him a wafer-thin mint.)
This year’s edition of the English export will be the worst one yet, with a 2-5 team and a 1-6 team squaring off to see whether one of them can have their mathematical elimination from the playoffs pushed another week deeper into November.
If the league plans to continue playing only one game per year in London (and we think that this will change if/when the season expands to 18 games), the game needs to happen sooner than the end of October, at a time when the teams involved don’t have horrible records.
Like the two teams that will be playing in London this year.
3. Bye weeks going buh-bye soon.
This week, a whopping six teams won’t be playing — the Falcons, Ravens, Bears, Browns, Giants, and Eagles. Next week, another six will be off.
As a result, fantasy football players everywhere are uttering the seven words that can’t be said on television.
But there’s good news. After Week 10, when the number of teams on bye weeks reduces to four, the bye weeks disappear. From Week 11 through Week 17, there will be no byes.
Of course, as the last few weeks of the season unfolds, there also will be two or three games per Sunday that fall into the “unwatchable” category. In those instances, a bye would have been better.
4. Take that, baseball.
Several years ago, the custodians of America’s former pastime saw fit to schedule one of the World Series games against Monday Night Football, even though the custodians of America’s new pastime previously had avoided scheduling a Sunday night game during the first weekend of the World Series.
So the NFL finally decided to put a regular-season game against baseball’s premier event on Sunday night, and the powers-that-be picked a good one. Steelers at Saints, in a raucous scene that the folks from the Guinness World Records will be evaluating as possibly the biggest Halloween gathering in history.
Plenty of people will be watching the game from their homes, too. Given that the World Series doesn’t involve a team like the Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, or Dodgers, there won’t be much national buzz, making the overall interest in the best-of-seven contest not all that much different than the Stanley Cup Final.
The result? Well, we’ll let the final numbers speak for themselves.
5. A rare AFC South showdown.
With the Jaguars sliding into the AFC South basement, the division will be decided via a three-way chase.
Two of those three teams — the Texans and Colts — will wrap up their annual series against each other on Monday night. But the third team, the Titans, will play neither the Texans nor the Colts until the Sunday after Thanksgiving. From November 29 through January 4, four of Tennessee’s six games will come against their two top AFC South rivals.
It will make for a compelling conclusion to a compelling season, and the team that emerges from this chase for the AFC South could be in great position to compete with the best of the AFC East and AFC North once the postseason begins.
6. Must-win for the ‘Skins.
For the third straight year, the Redskins have played in Detroit. Two years ago, in a season of 16 losses and no wins for the home team, the Redskins beat by the Lions by only one score.
Last year, the Redskins fell to a Lions team that had been riding a 19-game losing streak.
This year, the 1-5 Lions somehow are favored to beat the 4-3 Redskins.
The indignity should be enough to get the attention of the Redskins, who need to be able to prove that they can win a game that any team that aspires to play beyond the day after New Year’s Day should win.
Whether getting Washington’s attention will get the job done remains to be seen.
7. Favre will play, but Tarvaris will be ready.
Before Wednesday’s “broke foot” press conference from Brett Favre, we were convinced that Favre would not play on Sunday against the Patriots. After watching and listening to Favre, we became convinced that he’ll play, even if he’s taking snaps from a wheelchair.
We also think that the Vikings and coach Brad Childress possibly have overstated the seriousness of the injury, in order to force the Patriots (who have been overstating the “right shoulder” injury of quarterback Tom Brady for years) to prepare both for Favre and for Tarvaris Jackson. (As Peter King of SI.com explained earlier in the week, an NFL team orthopedist called the “broke foot” — Favre’s words — a “glorified ankle sprain.”)
So here’s what we think. (As if anyone cares.) The Vikings will keep the situation tightly under wraps until Sunday. Not even Favre or Jackson will know the answer, to ensure that they won’t be blabbing about it. Smoke signals will emerge (as they already are) that Tarvaris will get the nod. Then, at some point in the middle of Sunday afternoon, we’ll be told that Favre is the starter. And he’ll play until he struggles. And at that point he’ll get the hook. And the reason provided will be the “broke foot,” even if the reality is that Favre’s freelancing finally broke Chilly’s back.
8. Reggie needs to earn his $8 million.
Let’s see if we understand this one. Saints running back Reggie Bush has been medically cleared to play after suffering a fractured leg nearly six weeks ago. But he’s apparently not ready to play.
We realize that no one knows a player’s body better than the player. But Bush has been medically cleared. And his team is 4-3. And they’re not the same without him. And he’s getting $8 million in base salary this year.
How can he not play? Even if he fears he may not be as good as he’d like to be, why not try? If nothing else, he can serve as a decoy, something the Saints’ offense desperately is missing.
Given that coach Sean Payton apparently isn’t happy with Pierre Thomas’ slow recovery from an ankle injury, Payton likely is flat-out pissed about Bush’s decision not to play. Though Payton really can’t do anything about it now, Bush’s unwillingness to play ball could make the Saints far less willing to pay him a base salary of $11.8 million in 2011.
9. Bo knows rivalries.
From 1977 through 2001, t
he Raiders and Seahawks met 50 times, 49 of which came during their mutual membership in the AFC West. (It’s an odd number because they squared off only once during the strike-shortened 1982 season.) In the nine years since the Seahawks moved to the NFC West, the former rivals have squared off only twice.
Chapter three comes Sunday, when the Seahawks return to Oakland for the first time since 2002.
Though Seattle will play each of its former AFC rivals in 2010, the Seahawks-Raiders clash was one of the best of the 1980s, with Seattle winning 11 times (including the 1984 AFC wild-card game) and Oakland winning 10 (including the 1983 AFC title game).
Those games included Bo Jackson’s memorable Monday night against Seattle, which featured a 91-yard touchdown run and a flattening of Brian Bosworth on the goal line.
Four years ago, the teams met on a forgettable Monday night, where the guy wearing number 91 for the Raiders, Tyler Brayton, was tossed for putting a knee into the crotch of a member of the Seahawks. The fact that the recipient of the illegal maneuver was Seattle tight end Jerramy Stevens likely tripled the size of the Tyler Brayton fan club.
Hopefully, the 53rd meeting between these teams will involving more stellar plays than shots to the crotch. Unless Jerramy Stevens shows up at the game.
10. Raheem’s team needs to prove it. Now.
Bucs coach Raheem Morris, taking a page from the Rex Ryan playbook, has said that Tampa’s team is the best in the NFC. The fact that the Bucs have lost at home to both the Steelers and the Saints by 25 points each makes us seriously question that.
Tampa’s best chance to prove Morris right? Start beating teams other than the 2-5 Browns, the 1-6 Panthers, the 2-4 Bengals, and the 3-4 Rams.
They can start by sweeping their next two games, road tests against the 3-3 Cardinals and the 5-2 Falcons.