Through 10 weeks of the 2011 NFL season, I count 20 teams that are still legitimate contenders for a playoff spot. The NFL is all about parity and that's playing out this season as six of the eight divisions have at least one team within a game and a half or less of the division lead. With only two divisions, the NFC North and NFC West, can you safety pick the division winner at this point.
Lots of things happened but let's start with one of the most improbable.
Tim Tebow and the Broncos beat the Chiefs by completing just two passes. It wasn't even that the Broncos rushing attack was that dominant -- the Chiefs had better yards per carry. Broncos RB Lance Ball entered the game after both Willie McGahee and Knowshon Moreno exited with injuries, and carried the ball 30 times for only 96 yards. Tebow attempted just eight passes and completed two -- one into the flat for 13 yards and then a perfect strike to Eric Decker for a 56-yard touchdown. Say what you want about Tebow, but the Broncos are 3-1 with him in the lineup this year and 1-4 without him.
Clarity in the AFC East as Patriots beat Jets. Finally, we know a little more about the AFC East. The Bills lost this week, moving them to 5-4 on the season, while the Patriots advanced to 6-3 on the season defeating the 5-4 Jets. The Patriots hold a one-game lead in a division that, last week, was all tied up.
Not so much clarity in the NFC East. The NFC East is starting to separate into the contenders (Giants, Cowboys) and pretenders (Eagles, Redskins). We figured the Giants and Cowboys would be competing for the division lead but, before the season, many of us figured they would be chasing Philly. Not so. The Eagles lost -- to the Cardinals! -- over the weekend moving them to 3-6 on the season and effectively out of the NFC playoff picture.
Where does San Francisco rank in the NFL? The 49ers have now won seven games in a row and hold a massive lead in the NFC West. They might be on their way to clinching a division title before November ends. Early in the season we talked about the Lions and Bills as the surprise teams of the year and the 49ers seemed to fly under the radar. With an 8-1 record (and their only loss coming in overtime to the Dallas Cowboys), San Francisco would be making a case for the best team in the NFL if it weren't for Green Bay's dominance. Yeah, San Francisco. Best team in the NFL. Those words were actually just typed.
Biggest injury of the week is to a cornerback. Matt Cassel was dinged up in the Chiefs loss, as was Matthew Stafford. Rookie receivers A.J. Green and Julio Jones also suffered injuries. But the biggest blow of the day is the news that Bengals CB Leon Hall is done for the season after tearing his Achilles' tendon. The Bengals haven't been good in a while so not many people realize how good this guy is but it's a significant blow to a team that needed to be at its best in order to make a playoff run.
The AFC North is awesome this year. If you're a fan of defensive football, then the AFC North is for you. The Steelers, Ravens and Bengals are among the league's best defenses and they're all cramped together at the top of the division. The Steelers beat the Bengals on Sunday, moving Pittsburgh to 7-3 and Cincy to 6-3, while the Ravens dropped a surprising one against Seattle moving them to 6-3. So through 10 weeks in the AFC North, we have three legitimate contenders.
Bad teams win in Week 10 (except for the Colts). The Dolphins are now winners of two in a row and the Rams, thanks to a botched field goal at the end of the game, now have two in the win column. That means the Colts, 17-3 losers in Week 10, are firmly entrenched as the worst team in the league. They're 0-10 and more than a few people have said their best shot at a win this season was last Sunday against Jacksonville. That whole 'How will Peyton Manning react if the Colts get a shot at drafting Andrew Luck' thing? Yeah, we're probably going to find out what happens.
Lions and Bears go at it in Chicago. This is an old-school rivalry and the Bears and Lions demonstrated their distaste for each other when they rumbled (a few times, actually) in Chicago. The big fight came when Matthew Stafford threw a D.J. Moore to the ground and Moore returned the favor railroading Stafford. The play drew a penalty, Moore was ejected and the Bears and Lions slugged it out. Oh, and there was a football game, too -- the Bears won, 37-13.
The Texans are making the case as an elite team. At what point does someone say, 'The road to the Super Bowl goes through Reliant Stadium?' Actually, our Texans blog, Battle Red Blog, is on the verge of saying that already. The Texans are 7-3, ranked second in defense and eighth in offense. We knew that offense was good but they're doing it without Andre Johnson and a not-as-effective-than-last-year Arian Foster. The defense was among the league's worst last year and, even without Mario Williams, they're now among the league's elite. If your team is using injuries as an excuse for not playing well, look to the Texans' success and stop those excuses.
Chiefs rookie makes one of the best catches I've ever seen (and it didn't count). A few years ago, Alabama WR Tyrone Prothro made one of the most unbelievable catches we've ever seen on an NFL field when, with a defender right on top of him, he made a blind catch trapping the ball between his hands and the defender's back. (You can see video of that play here). Chiefs rookie receiver Jonathan Baldwin made a similar, unbelievable catch on Sunday -- but it didn't count thanks to a penalty. Check out the video of the catch here.