Interesting week from a divisional race standpoint coming up:
- with a win over Dallas, the Giants could find themselves a full three games ahead of the rest of the pack in the NFC East;
- the Dolphins-Jests game should go a long way to showing us who will try to challenge New England for supremacy in the AFC East;
- the Bears need to emerge victorious in a winnable game against Carolina to hold back the hard charging Packers in the NFC North; and,
- with a win over the Eagles, Atlanta could put itself firmly in the driver's seat in the NFC South, leaving last night's winner, Tampa Bay, to battle it out for a wild card spot.
And those are just four examples. Week 8 in the NFL should help to sort out the races in all eight divisions, unless the upsets I've predicted (Atlanta and New England losing) actually do take place. If they do, those two races will simply tighten up further.
Here are my Friday Football Questions for Week 8:
1. Can the Giants stand prosperity?
New York's two recent Super Bowls came after the team put together late season charges just to make the playoffs, then kept the momentum rolling in the post season. The Giants are at Dallas this week, with a chance to build their record to 6-2 and extend their divisional lead to a full three games over the Cowboys, Eagles and Redskins. Remember, the Eagles take on undefeated Atlanta while Washington is in tough against Pittsburgh. Will the Giants take advantage of this opportunity, avenge their Week One loss to Dallas and start to pull away?
And will that kind of prosperity actually hurt the Giants in the long run?
This game becomes even more important when we note that New York has already lost two of its three divisional games this season (to Dallas and Philly) so they need to start building their tie-breaker case as well.
2. Has the change of defensive coordinators in Philadelphia had an effect?
The Eagles have not performed badly on D this season, giving up just under 21 points per game, but, with the offense turning over the ball with awesome regularity, that performance wasn't translating into wins.
A number of pundits have commented that, since the Eagles' problems have been on offense so far, firing their DC makes no sense. I have to agree with that contention. The Eagles' problems are not on the defensive side of the ball. The issue is that offense that, despite ranking seventh in the league in yards per game (379), is third LAST in points per game (17.2).
The issue, of course, is turnovers. The Eagles move the ball, then give it away on a fumble or pick. The Eagles are last in the league in fumbles (15, losing nine) and only the Bills, Colts and Chiefs are worse in the all-important take/give away stat (Philly is at -3).
3. Will Brian Urlacher, returning from injury, and Jonathan Vilma, returning from suspension, improve on their performances from last week to become difference makers again?
Urlacher looked slow in his first game back, both mentally and physically. I don't think anyone would argue that the Bears' defense was any better with him than it was without him. On the other side, Vilma made his biggest impact simply by returning to the field for New Orleans (to a standing ovation); he didn't play much and he didn't contribute much in statistical terms to a Saints defense that is struggling mightily.
I think the Saints need Vilma to return to form a lot more than the Bears are depending on Urlacher. New Orleans' defense has been giving up a whopping 465 yards per game, worst in the league by far (second worst is Buffalo at 421 yards per game). Even more telling, the Saints have forced only 8 turnovers all season, contributing in a huge way to the team's 2-4 record.
Even with Urlacher battling his injury, the Bears are still currently ranked number one in the league in total defense, giving up just under 300 yards per game (that's 165 fewer yards than New Orleans) and 13 points per game. In that key take-give-away stat, Chicago is again number one at +13. Have the 5-1 Bears missed Urlacher? Maybe, but they've done extremely well without him.
4. Is Arizona's goose fully cooked?
The Cards have followed a 4-0 start with an 0-3 skid. Worse still, Arizona beat quality teams (Seattle, New England, Philly and Miami , all of whom are currently at .500 or better) at the start of the season but has since lost to both Buffalo (3-4) and St. Louis (3-4), two teams that don't scare anyone. And, after last night's game, maybe we have to start to question whether Minnesota (to whom Arizona lost last week) is as good as we thought.
Looks to me like that loss to Buffalo in Week 5 exposed the Cardinal offense, which is currently ranked 27th in the league. Even though the Cards are playing excellent defense (4th in the NFL), 293 yards and 18 points per game from your offense is just not going to be good enough to win games no matter how wellyour defense is playing.
The Cards take on San Fran Monday night in what should be a titanic defensive battle. The Niner offense has shown itself to be controllable by a strong defense so Arizona stands a chance but, if Arizona does lose its fourth in a row this week (with games against Green Bay and Atlanta in the two following weeks), maybe we have to write them off as a playoff contender.