Nearing the halfway point of the season, rifts are starting to open for some teams. Others need to confirm that early season success was no mere fluke. Week 7 in the NFL carries plenty of consequences.
This week's best games carry consequences. For some, the nagging inconsistencies might morph into full-time problems. For other teams, this week gives them an opportunity to confirm their legitimacy as contenders or have their stories written in just another footnote from the early part of the 2011 NFL season. Firings, new quarterbacks, the draft...week 7 will provide fans and the media with so much more to talk about than just the simple mechanics of winning and losing.
The Dolphins are being chopped up and added into cheap canned tuna on a weekly basis. Head coach Tony Sprano might very well be out of a job if he loses to the visiting Denver Broncos this week. Tim Tebow, Denver's new starting quarterback and local boy done good, is being honored at the game for his previous work in Florida. Clearly, the Dolphins already expect to fire Sprano.
As for Tebow himself, the Broncos now have a free pass to tell Tebow devotees "I told you so." I never really got the impression that the Denver brass sees Tebow as their future, setting up a crash course with a sizeable portion of their fans. What happens if Tebow is solid down the stretch? Trade, keep...the Broncos have options. Either way, they're starting a new chapter this week; we're just waiting to see how long this chapter lasts.
If Detroit loses two in a row, the chattering classes are going to start chattering about them, questioning them. Cable television shouting matches will ensue, message boards will take an even nastier tone and the national media will anoint a new darling for us to love.
Atlanta continued their convincing play against a so-so opponents last week. In three games against opponents with worse than a .500 record, Atlanta has scored 30 points or more. Versus opponents who are .500 or better, Atlanta has failed to score more than 14 points. This is not the team Atlanta envisioned.
The truth of the matter is the season will not end for the loser of this game, and both teams are quite capable of making this the week's best feature. Still, neither team wants to do deal with the kind of scrutiny a loss would bring.
Not content to let the slowing tide of American cultural hegemony beam American football overseas, the NFL insists on keeping the London game on the publicity calendar. People do remember last year's London game...thanks to Josh McDaniels and his wayward videographers. Will this year's game across the pond result in similar drama?
Maybe. Internal friction threatens to consume the Bears at any moment, breaking out into a public melee along one or more of the many cracks in the foundation of the franchise. Jay Cutler's ready to kill Mike Martz because Mike Martz seems more than willing to see his quarterback ground into dust on another seven-step drop back. Players are complaining to the media about contract issues; this is not a healthy locker room.
Tampa Bay is still, somehow, under the radar, despite beating New Orleans last week for first place in the NFC South. Ticket sales are, as usual, slagging in Tampa Bay; they were blacked out last week, just two weeks after their first sellout since 2009. A win this week keeps them in first place, potentially even boosting ticket sales...and cooling the ridiculous talk about the team packing up and moving to jolly old England.
Seattle's development under Pete Carroll enters its awkward youth phase. Everything really is fine, but their identity is still developing. Vulnerable, they meet a familiar face, a father figure in Cleveland. Mike Holmgren steered the team for a decade, giving Seattle the only Super Bowl berth of its existence.
Things in Cleveland are progressing. Holmgren and his new head coach, Pat Shurmur, have done well with a young team. The Peyton Hillis contract dispute is a sideshow, but nothing out of the ordinary for an NFL franchise. At quarterback, however, they have a serious question to answer with regards to Colt McCoy. Can they really build a team around him? A loss will only bring out more doubters, fueling even more speculation in the lead up to the 2012 NFL Draft.
If there's one thing more tedious than foot fetish jokes about Rex Ryan, it's Rex Ryan himself. Nobody in the league, not even players who we expect to be boisterous, does as much yakking with so little to show for it than the Jets' head coach. This week, he didn't even bother talking up the Jets, who are third place in the AFC East. No, Rex skipped right to himself, claiming and then publicly walking back a comment about what might have happened if the Chargers had hired him. Doubtlessly, he would have earned just as many Super Bowl bids as he has with the Jets.
Rex didn't have to look very hard to pick at the scab of disappointment that annually festers in San Diego. Every year since 2007, when Norv Turner, not Rex Ryan, was hired to coach the team, a pretty good season has been sandwiched between a slow start and a disappointing end. Many wonder if the disappointment might not be a thing of the past thanks to a 4-1 start by the Chargers. A loss to the Jets will have fans wondering if San Diego can legitimately compete against the league's tougher teams.