NFL Debrief: The AFC is a mess

Thomas B. Shea

Week 7 of the NFL confirmed that nobody knows what to think about the AFC, other than the Houston Texans. Elsewhere, a pair of former Super Bowl MVPs each found ways to win this week.

Another NFL Sunday has come and gone, leaving more questions than answers. Let's try to wrap our heads around it all in this week's NFL Debrief.

Beware the game of the week

Two weeks ago, the rematch of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning was going to rekindle our love for famous quarterbacks of yesterday. Last week, the Giants and 49ers met in a game expected to be nothing but hard-hitting trench warfare. This week, the Texans and Ravens had a date to resolve AFC supremacy.

Denver lost by 10 points. San Francisco lost by 23. Houston had its way with Baltimore, finished the game with 30 points to spare in the win.

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(Photo via Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE)

The lesson here: pick something less obvious to make the week's most hyped game.

Houston rules the AFC

The bigger lesson here is that the Houston Texans can honestly lay claim to being the best team in the AFC, for now. They have a 6-1 record and just beat the one team that could legitimately be their equal.

The Texans sacked the incredible disappearing Joe Flacco four times and held the Ravens to just 176 yards of offense. Houston scored a season-high 43 points, which was actually the fourth game this season they topped the 30-point mark. Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Co. have a total of 216 points this season, one point less than the mighty Patriots, who are arguably the second-best team in the AFC this week.

Houston and New England get a chance to settle this thing on Monday night in Week 14, which probably will not be the last time these two teams meet over the next four months.

Speaking of the Patriots ...

Tom Brady's highlight period is over, ceded to Aaron Rodgers and the league's under-30 crowd, but on Sunday afternoon, the two-time Super Bowl MVP announced that he had no plans to fade into obscurity.

Brady completed 26-of-42 passes with a pair of touchdowns on the way to separating his team from the mediocrity that has become the AFC East. More importantly, Brady led a late drive to tie the game. In overtime, Brady led drove the Patriots 54 yards down the field for the game-winning field goal drive.

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(Photo via Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE)

Good teams find a way to win. Don't worry about the fact that they had to go to overtime with the Jets. Brady and the Patriots are winning games again, and that complicates the picture in the AFC.

Giant comeback

There was another quarterback with Super Bowl bona fides finding a way to win in the final moments of his team's game this week. Stumped by Robert Griffin III, the New York Giants lost a lead over their division rivals when the rookie quarterback tossed a 30-yard touchdown to Santana Moss with a minute and a half left.

Eli Manning needed two plays and 20 seconds to change that and toss aside a result that would have buried most teams. He found Victor Cruz for a 77-yard touchdown, the only touchdown pass of the game for Manning, to wrap up the win.

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After stomping a hole in the 49ers on the road last week and gutting out a dramatic win this week, the Giants are rounding into dominance mode much sooner than usual.

Whatever happened to Cam Newton?

Admit it, you thought it looked pretty smart to include the Panthers in those playoff predictions this year. And why not? Cam Newton broke almost every record imaginable for a rookie quarterback. Now, he's mired in a sophomore slump, and the Panthers have lost four in a row.

It's not all on Newton, obviously. Carolina passes when it should be running. It runs when it should be passing.

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Carolina will be fine, eventually, and so will Cam Newton.

CJ2K Reboot

Hey, remember Chris Johnson, the running back for the Titans? He was doing important things again on Sunday, rushing for 195 yards on 18 carries and scoring two touchdowns. That helped pull the Titans to within one game of .500 with a pair of home games coming up.

The talk in the week ahead will center around whether or not the Titans should leave Matt Hasselbeck under center when Jake Locker gets healthy. Lost in the mix is just how much this team struggles because of Johnson's feast-or-famine play.

Johnson topped the 100-yard mark four times last season. He failed to net 60 yards in 10 games. As long as the Titans keep him in a featured role and expect him to be Adrian Peterson, the schizophrenic play will continue.

Shhhhhhh

There's nothing to shush now. America and the football media world can go right back to worshipping Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Sure, they beat up on the lowly Rams this week, but they just did such a perfect job of it. And this was a Rams team that went toe-to-toe with a pair of Green Bay's NFC North rivals already this season, the Bears and the Lions.

Want more proof? Look no further than this fourth-quarter touchdown from Rodgers to Randall Cobb. Is it the perfect play? It's pretty close.

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The Cardinals are desperate

Is Vince Young really ever an answer to a problem? He might be for the Arizona Cardinals. At least he might be better than John Skelton.

With Kevin Kolb injured, the Cardinals were forced to turn to Skelton this week, the preseason favorite to win the starting quarterback job there during the preseason. Skelton turned the ball over twice, including a pick-six to start the second half of the game.

Arizona will have a hard time convincing the NFL that it can coast on the strength of its defense following Adrian Peterson's big afternoon, rushing for 6.7 yard per carry on 23 attempts.

Of course, playing behind whatever that thing the Cardinals call an offensive line borders on negligence.

Know the rules

You don't need replacement refs to dig into obscure corners of the rule book to decide the outcome of the game. The New Orleans Saints got their second win of the season, somewhat improbably, when a Buccaneers' touchdown at the end of the game was negated by a Mike Williams illegal touching penalty.

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Rules aside, the outcome did nothing to assure us that the Saints are anywhere close to the team they used to be, or the team they were with the iron hand of Sean Payton at the helm. Saints bashing aside, Joe Morgan did have the highlight of the day with this touchdown catch.

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Suck for Smith?

Is that what we're going for this year? Most of the league is hovering somewhere around .500, give or take a game. A few teams sit much closer to the top, and a handful of teams just really, really stink. Let's look at the derby for the top pick in the draft, which we assume to be Geno Smith.

  • Jacksonville - A new owner probably means changes are coming, and none too soon.
  • Oakland - The Carson Palmer experiment is over, and the Raiders, thankfully, get a first-round pick in 2013, which will be the first of the post-Al Davis era.
  • Kansas City - The Chiefs didn't even play this week, but the bad taste in your mouth lingers.
  • Cleveland - Jimmy Haslam started the house-cleaning process last week, announcing Joe Banner as the team president. It seems unlikely that the Browns would pull the plug on Brandon Weeden after one season though, especially since he does show real signs of competency.

Finally, the Jets

I don't really know how the Jets managed to hang in there with the Patriots, taking them to overtime. It's probably more of a comment on the state of the Patriots than anything, but the fact remains that the Jets are 3-4. Wins against the Bills, Colts and Dolphins have probably helped stave off the complete meltdown.

Mark Sanchez typifies the Jets. By his own standards, this season is very Sanchez-esque. He does things like this:

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But he also led a fourth quarter touchdown drive to keep things close. Then he fumbled the ball in overtime to wrap it up for the Patriots. The Jets are stuck with him for a while after signing him to a $58 million extension this spring.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world will keep waiting for the wheels to come off and ESPN to see its hopes realized: Rex Ryan turning to Tim Tebow in an attempt to salvage his season and make a run at the playoffs in an extraordinarily weak AFC. We'll all feel kind of empty when that moment comes.

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