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NFL Debrief: Seeking consistency and taking the wind

Which division is the saddest in the NFL? Sorry, NFC East, you lose again.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

1. "They'll Take the Wind" ...

... sounds like a track that didn't make the final cut on an Eagles album — a reunion album. I could tell you what it was about, but it doesn't matter. All Eagles songs are the same terrible four-minute, soft country ballads about high lonesomes playing by their own rules.

Marty Mornhinweg's Wikipedia page was the busiest spot on the internet when the Patriots and Broncos went to overtime on Sunday night. But Bill Belichick's decision to kick the ball to start overtime wasn't quite as risky as Mornhinweg's 2002 decision as Lions head coach. Changes installed to overtime rules in 2012 made it impossible for a team to win with a field goal on the opening drive of the extra frame. That didn't make it any less ballsy.

He could have just called on the golden-armed golden boy. Tom Brady is no stranger to throwing in and out, around and through a blustery New England night. And he'd have that too, but the wind was one more advantage that came in handy three times in overtime.

Belichick probably doesn't listen to the Eagles. Or music (not during the season). Even if he did, none of that SoCal, LoCal stuff for him. This isn't a man who likes to drift with the wind. This is a man who wants to control the wind. That's Motorhead territory.

2. Seeking consistency

We didn't dislike replacement refs for their Clouseau-esque officiating. At least there was an element of hilarity to that. The problem with the scab refs was their inconsistency, week to week, quarter to quarter, drive to drive. Rules work best, or at all, when they're applied consistently.  And by that standard, it's been a rough stretch of season for NFL officiating.

Let's start with Week 11, when Ahmad Brooks got flagged for a 15-yard personal foul penalty when he generously tried to stretch Drew Brees' neck, giving the Saints quarterback a couple more inches. He also got fined more than $15,000 for the hit.


In Week 12, during Thursday night game between the Falcons and Saints, this happened to Matt Ryan:


Hicks did not get a flag for that one.

Fast forward to Sunday, when this happened to Browns all-universe quarterback Jason Campbell in a loss to the Steelers:



That was not flagged. Jason Campbell was hurt and left the game after the hit. William Gay gets him in the noodle on first contact.

Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers got called for roughing the passer on this play by Jerome Boger's crew.



The explanation here was that Brockers led with his head, a helmet to the chest. Rams fans weren't very happy with the call.


This is a third-quarter hit on Tony Romo. Mathias Kiwanuka got flagged for roughing the passer on the hit.

"You can't make forcible contact to the head or the neck area, even if the contact starts below the neck and rises up," NFL vice president for officiating Dean Blandino told the NFL Network after Brooks' hit on Brees in Week 11.

"If there's force to that contact, it's a foul. Watch the initial contact, maybe around the shoulder, but it rides up into the neck area and brings the quarterback down with force."

These aren't completely identical scenarios, except for the first two. Use Blandino's remarks as a guide for what should and shouldn't be a penalty. Notice the problem?

Every officiating crew needs to be calling these plays the same, every week. You can add more layers of replay or some big brother review crew at league headquarters, but you can't completely replace the humans on the field (owners tried that with lower paid, non-unionized humans last year). Officials go through intensive training so they can spot penalties and enforce the rules. They have to have a better batting average on these calls than they do now.

3. Lowered expectations

Worst division in football right now? Take your pick.

The NFC East's status as a Superfund site has been well established. Dallas, mercifully, ended the Giants' playoff hopes, but only after forgetting to tackle Brandon Myers on a touchdown catch. Tony Romo might be the only one with a blue star on his chest that knows what he's doing.

Winter in the Rust Belt hasn't been this bleak since America's industrial might got shipped offshore 30 years ago. There is one team with a winning record in the usually tough AFC North. That's the Bengals, at 7-4, but they occasionally do things like lose to the Miami Dolphins.

Those divisions have nothing on the AFC South, a factory of sadness. In August, we expected the Colts and the Texans to battle all the way through the season for the division title. Houston crashed right out of the gate, one Matt Schaub pick-six at a time. Indianapolis had a better start, beating Seattle and Denver in the first seven games of the season.

The Colts now have two ugly losses, to the Rams and the Cardinals, in their last three games. An offseason spending spree, quarterbacking prodigy, and a quick start to the season make the Colts' losses that much harder to swallow. Don't forget GM Ryan Grigson used his first-round pick in 2014 on Trent Richardson. Just think about the offensive lineman, cornerback, defensive lineman, wide receiver, etc. the Colts could have had with that pick.

Parity is a nice way of saying mediocrity this year.

4. Reprieve for the Schiano Men?

Don't look now, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are scorching through a three-game win streak. Sunday's win over the Lions marked the Schiano Men's biggest achievement since flouting HIPAA. So what happens to embattled head coach and keeper of the thermostat Greg Schiano?

A month ago, he was the perfect heel. We openly wondered if he might get the boot after his team's Thursday night loss to the Panthers in Week 8. Then, the Bucs went to Seattle and nearly caught the Seahawks sleeping. The wins started coming after that. So did the expected about face from pundits.

And now the Glazers are in public with the vote of confidence.

Don't let the wins or fickle media folks re-write the narrative here. Tampa Bay's current winning streak started when the Miami Dolphins out-bumbled them in Week 10. A week after that, the schedule gave them the Falcons. This week, Schiano tried to challenge a field goal ruling. This man's foxhole conversion is mostly cosmetic.

The most notable change the Bucs have made is finally loosening up the defensive scheme, including putting Darrelle Revis in man coverage and not blitzing like their lives depended on it.

We've got five more games to find out just how much Greg Schiano has changed. He's still reading from his little red book about culture change and personnel purges like a Maoist missionary. Steve Spagnuolo took a similar approach in St. Louis, squeezing a 7-9 season out of his team in 2010, but his uncompromising approach ultimately failed. It usually does in today's star-centered league.

Schiano's won with the Buccaneers before. They were 6-4 after 11 games last season, with Josh Freeman, and then Tampa Bay followed that with a 1-5 finish.

Three of the Buccaneers' next five games include the Panthers, 49ers and Saints. The spaces between those games are filled with the Bills and the Rams, not exactly slam dunks. We'll hear more about Schiano and the Bucs as the season goes on, but be weary of the quick narrative. Changing a person isn't the same as changing a defensive scheme or writing new pages into the playbook.

5. Rematch

Last week's prime time game between the Broncos and the Chiefs was supposed to be the game of the century of the week. It was just OK. Monday's battle between the Panthers and the Patriots took some of the sheen off of it. So did the Week 12 game between the Broncos and the Patriots.

But the Chiefs and Broncos are set to do it again in Week 13, at Arrowhead where people get married in Zubaz, the ultimate home-field advantage.

I thought last week that the Chiefs would have a good shot at winning that game. The main thing was that Andy Reid needed to find a way to wake up his pass rush, which left Peyton Manning mostly unmolested in Week 11.

Then the Chiefs lost to the Chargers, in Kansas City. Worse still, Reid's defense lost Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, his two best rushers. Their status for this week is still to be determined. Tom Brady and the Patriots reminded the rest of the league that you have to be able to score points to beat the Broncos, something the Chiefs don't do especially well.

Keep a close eye on the injury report this week. Without Hali or Houston, it makes Reid's job that much harder in Week 13. If the Broncos beat the Chiefs again, it's between Manning and Brady for the top two seeds in the AFC.

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