As we get closer to the end of the regular season, it’s becoming increasingly clearer which teams are at the top of the heap, and which are destined for a top-10 pick in the draft. However, with seven weeks still remaining, we can’t get ahead of ourselves in anointing a team as the “one to beat,” or pegging another as a complete disaster.
So let’s take a look at five overreactions from Week 9’s action.
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The Steelers are no longer a playoff team
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost their fourth game of the season on Sunday, falling to the now-first-place Baltimore Ravens. It was a disappointing loss with Ben Roethlisberger back in the starting lineup, but it didn’t end their chances at a playoff berth. They’re still tied for the best record in the mediocre AFC North despite limping to a .500 record at the midway point.
Yes, they’ve looked stagnant on offense in recent weeks and Le’Veon Bell hasn’t been the dominant back he was expected to be, but there is still plenty of time for them to right the ship. The Steelers have made the playoffs in eight of 12 years Roethlisberger has been the starting quarterback and that’s because they’re consistently one of the best teams in the NFL.
Pittsburgh’s schedule going forward isn’t overly difficult despite their next game being against the Cowboys. The Steelers get two meetings with the 0-9 Browns, as well as the Bengals and Bills. They’ll rebound and make a run at the playoffs.
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The Vikings will miss the playoffs
The Minnesota Vikings have dropped three straight after winning their first five games of the season. Their downward spiral is reminiscent of Atlanta’s from a year ago, but it won’t go as far as the Falcons’ did. The Vikings are still very much in the NFC playoff race, sitting in first place in the division. There are issues to be fixed, mostly on offense, but the defense is still among the best in football.
The Vikings should have won their game against the Lions on Sunday, and it shouldn’t have been an overly difficult victory either. All they had to do was prevent the Lions from reaching the 40-yard line with under a minute to play, or tackle Golden Tate on the game’s final play. Had they gotten that win, they’d be 6-2 and concerns would be much more alleviated than they currently are.
There is still reason to be worried about their chances at a Super Bowl, but the Vikings will make the playoffs in the weak NFC – whether it’s by winning the division or slipping in with a wild-card berth.
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The Cowboys now have an easy decision to make at quarterback
Dak Prescott won his seventh game on Sunday, shredding the Browns’ defense en route to a 35-10 victory. After he struggled against the Eagles, it seemed as though he made the Cowboys’ decision at quarterback that much easier. Well, not exactly. It’s still an incredibly difficult choice to make for the coaching staff and Jerry Jones.
Tony Romo is inching closer to a return as he’s returned to practice and is reportedly healthy enough to play. That’s only going to expedite the tough decision Dallas has to make at quarterback, and while Sunday’s performance was impressive for Prescott, it didn’t make it an easy call for the coaches. Romo is one of the seven-best quarterbacks in the NFL when healthy and likely gives the Cowboys the best chance at winning a Super Bowl.
Regardless of which way the Cowboys lean, they’re going to have success. That is, unless Romo is a shell of himself, or Prescott completely falls apart and goes off the rails in Colin Kaepernick-type fashion. Neither of those are likely, which is why this debate has become increasingly difficult to settle.
Aaron Rodgers is to blame for Green Bay’s struggles
The Green Bay Packers have not played well this season – let’s just get that out of the way. They were expected to be powerhouses in the NFC but have gotten out to a mediocre 4-4 record. Aaron Rodgers isn’t playing like the Aaron Rodgers we’ve come to expect, but he’s not completely to blame for the Packers’ struggles.
Consider this: The Packers have scored 22 touchdowns this season. Rodgers has accounted for every single one of them throwing for 20 and rushing for two others. If that doesn’t show that he’s carrying the team, then nothing will. They haven’t even scored a defensive or special teams touchdown this season, further proving he’s done everything he can to win football games.
Rather than putting this on Rodgers, Mike McCarthy deserves to take some heat. He has failed Rodgers and the Packers offense as a whole, putting together a basic game plan that doesn’t put his players in position to succeed. The route tree for Green Bay’s receivers is far too simple, preventing Rodgers from hitting receivers on the move across the field.
Rather than blaming Rodgers, put the onus on McCarthy – at least somewhat.
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The Raiders are the team to beat in the AFC
The Oakland Raiders came away with a colossal victory over the Denver Broncos in primetime on Sunday night, pulling ahead as the top team in the AFC West. That same win, however, does not make them the team to beat in the AFC. That title belongs to the same team that’s held it since the start of the season: The New England Patriots.
At 7-2, the Raiders are certainly among the best teams in not just the conference, but in the NFL. They’ve proved to be a squad you have to take seriously, even for the Patriots. There are still reasons for concern in Oakland, though. They’ve beaten one playoff contender this season and lost to the other two they’ve played. Not to mention, they play in arguably the best division in football with the Broncos and Chiefs also well above .500.
Oakland has been one of the best stories of the season, but let’s not begin to call them the best team in the AFC. They’ll need to surpass the Patriots to get that title.