Snap Judgments: Bengals Fever hits Cincy, the phony Jets and more
The Jets have proven to be frauds and are likely out of the wild-card picture
Cincy has three easy games on the docket: Oakland, Cleveland, Detroit
Nobody has executed a bigger in-season renaissance than Jake Delhomme
INDIANAPOLIS -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we draw near to putting the finishing touches on Week 10 ...
You think Bengals Fever is raging now? Just wait. As good as things look for Cincinnati in the wake of its 18-12 overture-of-a-win at Pittsburgh, the first-place Bengals haven't begun to reach their peak. The hard work is mostly done for Cincinnati, now 5-0 in the division, having swept both Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the same season for the first time since 1998. Thanks to holding tiebreakers over their division rivals, the 7-2 Bengals lead the Steelers (6-3) by what amounts to two games, and the Ravens (4-4) by 3½.
The Bengals' next three opponents are among the league's Awful Eight this season -- at Oakland next week, then home against Cleveland and Detroit -- and this is finally a Cincinnati team that's mature enough to take care of business against teams it should beat. The Bengals will be 10-2 and about to wrap up a playoff berth by the time they travel in Weeks 14-15 to Minnesota and San Diego -- their only remaining games against winning teams. Cincy suddenly looks like 12-4 or 13-3 material to me, and a first-round bye is definitely in play.
The NFL's next biggest early season surprise (Bengals aside) is, at this point, the proverbial helium balloon flying around the room backwards. Unlike Cincinnati, Denver looks like its season has already lasted too long. Having lost three straight after that 6-0 start, the Broncos are in real trouble in a division they seemed to own just four weeks ago. What is it about Denver and three-game leads in the AFC West that just doesn't work?
Ironically, the Broncos finally got quarterback Kyle Orton to stretch the field on Sunday, with two long touchdown passes (40 and 75 yards) to Brandon Marshall on their first two possessions. Orton had 193 yards passing in the first half, and looked primed for maybe his best game of the season. But he injured an ankle on a late first-half Brian Orakpo sack, and Denver's shot at a seventh win quickly evaporated with backup Chris Simms under center.
The Broncos had better hope Orton is healthy for next week's AFC West showdown against visiting San Diego, or Denver's decline will continue. The Broncos had minus-8 yards passing in the second half, with Simms, the onetime Bucs starter, going 3 of 13 with one interception.
There are no bigger frauds in football than Rex Ryan's big-talking Jets (4-5), losers of five of their last six games after that 3-0 start. And let me quickly remind everyone that I had fully bought into New York before it got off to a fast getaway, predicting in the preseason it would be an AFC wild-card qualifier. Missed that one.
Ryan keeps talking up his team, but it sounds like so much hot air now that the Jets have lost three consecutive home games to AFC opponents Buffalo, Miami and Jacksonville, none of whom played the Jets with a winning record. The Jaguars were the latest opponent to expose New York's once-boastful defense, rolling up 347 yards against the Jets and their shoddy tackling, including 139 on the ground.
Mathematically, the Jets remain in the AFC wild-card picture. Realistically, they're done for the year. That loss to Jacksonville was basically an elimination game. And don't look now, but New York is headed to New England next week. The Patriots, no doubt, have a bit of revenge on their minds.
Sunday was the most painful day of the NFL season. Like dominoes, the injured players just kept falling on Sunday for playoff-contending teams. Orton went down for the Broncos with that ankle problem. The Steelers lost safety Troy Polamalu for the second time this season with a left knee injury. Bengals running back Cedric Benson left in the first half with a bum hip. Atlanta running back Michael Turner had a monster day at Carolina cut short by a right ankle sprain.
The Panthers saw offensive tackle Jordan Gross felled by a broken ankle. The Saints' already thinned secondary lost play-making cornerback Tracy Porter to a knee injury. And early in Dallas's game at Green Bay, right offensive tackle Marc Colombo was forced out with a broken fibula, while the Packers guard Daryn Colledge left with an ankle injury.
The only word that seems to fit is ouch.
If the Titans are determined to trade Vince Young this offseason, I figure his market value is going up approximately one round per week, in terms of what draft picks he'd yield in return. The Titans are 3-0 since Young took over for Kerry Collins, and his 68 percent completion rate in Sunday's 41-17 win over Buffalo was certainly eye-opening. Young was 17 of 25 for 210 yards with one interception and one touchdown. He looks once again like a quarterback who has a future worth investing in.
It's been apparent for a while now that Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew is a better NFL running back than the player who was his more celebrated collegiate cross-town rival and fellow member of the 2006 draft class: New Orleans' Reggie Bush. But on Sunday in that win over the Jets, Jones-Drew became a personal favorite of mine for being both smart and selfless in a way that far too few NFL players would have been.
Headed for an easy touchdown inside the game's last two minutes, Jones-Drew didn't worry about his stats when he intentionally took a knee at the New York 1, thereby allowing Jacksonville to run out the clock on the Jets, who were out of timeouts. How many players would have had the judgment to make the same choice just before Josh Scobee's game-winning 21-yard field goal in the 24-22 final? You might be able to count them on one hand.
With four of their next five games played in the relative obscurity of their home stadium, don't forget about these Jaguars, who are now tied with the Texans for second in the AFC South. Check out Jacksonville's final seven games and you can see a path to 10 wins. It's certainly plausible for the Jaguars to win home games against Buffalo, Houston and Miami, with road victories within reach at San Francisco and Cleveland.
But don't worry Jaguars fans, it's still a long shot that you'd have a playoff home game to get blacked out.
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