The Green Bay Packers
Season Record: 10-2
Key Injuries: Bret Favre, QB; Bubba Franks, TE; Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, DE; Charles Woodson, CB; Mark Tauscher, T.
Noteworthy: The Packers rank in the top five in most offensive categories, except rushing yards.
The Cowboys-Packers game was another match-up for the ages. And I have Comcast, so I missed it. Dang it. Is it just me or are these two teams about as evenly matched as any two teams in the league? Had the Packers been a little healthier, I think they would've taken that game. Although I heard McCarthy had another one of those head scratching game-calling episodes. But I think the most frustrating splinter in Packers fans' minds right now has to be the injury to Bret Favre. Will he be healthy enough to start in ten days? Will his streak of consecutive regular season games end at 249? If not, can the Packers win with Aaron Rodgers? He looked pretty darn good against the Cowboys. Despite the fact that Rodgers looked impressive, I'm sure Packers fans are on pins and needles right now. I'm going to go out on a limb and say the Packers will play in the NFC Championship game with or without Bret Favre. The only teams in the NFC that should scare them are the Cowboys and maybe the Seahawks.
The Indianapolis Colts
Season Record: 9-2
Key Injuries: Ryan Diem, T; Marvin Harrison, WR; Dwight Freeny, DE; Bob Sanders, S.
Noteworthy: The injury bug has hit harder than the list above indicates. They've placed nine players on injured reserve thus far this season. Tony Ugoh was out for a good portion of the season, and now Ryan Diem is hurt on the other side of the line. Bob Sanders is dinged up too.
Their defense is ranked second in the NFL in yardage allowed, and their offense is ranked in the top five despite injuries. If you throw out Peyton Manning's six-interception gaff, and their surprisingly difficult win against the lowly KC Chiefs, what's there to obsess about? This is a team that improved in the offseason despite winning the Superbowl, and they're still widely regarded as the second or third best team in the league! The Patriots have improved by light years and leap-frogged the Colts with some amazing off-season moves. I mean, does anyone outside of Indy think they'll win a Colts-Pats rematch in January? If they're still riddled with injuries, can they take the Steelers down? If I were a Colts fan, I'd be a little frustrated right now... And I'd be sticking needles into a Tom Brady and a Ben Roethlisburger doll every Sunday from here until the Superbowl!
The Pittsburgh Steelers
Season Record: 8-3
Key Injuries: Ryan Clark, FS; Dan Krieder, FB; Santonio Holmes, WR; Troy Polamalu, S; Marvel Smith, T.
Noteworthy: This is Mike Tomlin's first season as the Steelers' head coach.
A loss to the terrible Jets, a 3-0 win vs. Miami, and New England on the horizon? Ouch. I still believe they're a good team, #4 in the entire league probably, but wow, they haven't looked good the past two weeks. At least the Steelers' faithful can say, "Hey! We're breaking in a new coach and we're still in contention for home field advantage throughout the playoffs!" And that's saying quite a bit. Big Ben has a passer rating of over 100 for the season. Willie Parker has over 1,000 yards already. Hines Ward is doing well, but Santonio Holmes was the best-kept secret in the NFL with over 600 yards receiving and seven TDs on the year. Holmes is hurt, but I don't know how serious the injury is. Hopefully for the Steeler Nation, the injury isn't season ending. The defense is ranked first or second in most major categories. Barring a catastrophic string of injuries, this is a team that should be playing into January despite the November angst their fans are going through.
The New York Giants
Season Record: 7-4
Key Injuries: Mathias Kiwanuka, OLB; Gibril Wilson, S; Plaxico Burress, WR; Brandon Jacobs, RB.
Noteworthy: Eli Manning had a passer rating of 86-something before last week and has ripped up and down by the New York media all season. Maybe it's my mild-mannered midwestern upbringing, but I don't get it. 86 and change is acceptable, isn't it? Maybe I'm missing something.
Is this team really good or is it just smoke and mirrors? We know they can rush the opposing QB, but what about the rest of the team? The Giants must be driving their fans (and bookies everywhere) nuts this year. The G-men strung together a six-game winning streak this season, which is pretty impressive... Until you consider that they beat the Redskins, Philly, the Jets, Atlanta, San Fran, and Miami. Those first two wins are pretty impressive since they were against division rivals who were playing pretty well at the time, but the other four teams have eight wins between them. Recently, they beat Detroit in the Millendome, and then lost to the Peterson-less Vikings in New Jersey. It's hard to tell how good this team really is. What's on tap for the rest of the season? They've got Chicago, Philly, and cross-state rival Buffalo on the road; and Washington and New England at home. It doesn't look tremendously easy, but they're not sunk yet. They should be able to take three of those games and get the first wildcard spot, or at least two of those games to get the second wildcard spot... Unless they implode again.
The Detroit Lions
Season Record: 6-5
Key Injuries: None that I could find. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
Noteworthy: The Lions have given up a league-leading 47 sacks this season.I give John Kitna a lot of credit for having the cajones to guarantee a ten-win season. But it doesn't look like that's going to happen. This is a team that features a formidable run defense and a good passing attack. However, the Lions have trouble defending the pass or establishing a running attack, which has greatly attributed to their recent three-game slide. With opposing defensive linemen pinning their ears back and gunning for the QB, they can't keep anyone off Kitna's back. I can't believe I voted against Cassidy's House and said they'd get ten wins earlier this season. Right now I don't see how Kitna's prediction can possibly come true. With six teams breathing down their necks for that last wildcard spot, they're in trouble unless they can figure out how to protect Kitna. The Lions' remaining schedule? At Minnesota, Dallas, at San Diego, Kansas City, and at Green Bay. Do you see four wins in there? Me neither. Dang it. Methinks Cass was right! Is it too late to change my vote? Anyway, they can still hold on and get nine wins for the season, which might be enough to grab the last wildcard spot. They have the division and conference record tiebreakers over the Vikings and the Bears. But ten wins? No way. Sorry, John, it ain't gonna happen.