HERE'S SOME WISDOM – AND PERSEPCTIVE – FROM THE WIZARD OF OZ
Let me get this straight. The 3-6 Browns thumped the 7-2 Patriots, 34-14, two weeks ago.
The Patriots then go to the Steelers last Sunday and rip Pittsburgh, 39-26, after gaining 29-10 and 36-18 fourth-quarter leads – at Heinz Field no less.
The 7-2 Jets, after getting shut out at home (9-0 to the visiting Packers), go on the road to play the Lions and Browns, two teams that have combined for five wins this season, and set an NFL record by winning back-to-back road games…in overtime.
The 2-7 Cowboys, who had just lost consecutive games by a combined score of 80-24, went to New Jersey last Sunday and ripped the host 6-3 Giants, supposedly one of the NFL's elite this season, 33-20.
Those are just a few games in the last few weeks off the top of my head.
In the name of Vince Lombardi, what the hell is going on here?
I've written before that the NFL wants to get all teams to 8-8, and they are getting closer to that. Rules regarding scheduling, the draft and free agency are geared to making the most successful teams fall back and the worst teams better.
Well, NFL owners, it's working. That means all of us can have doubts about winning every week. Or, as ESPN's Chris Berman loves to shout out: "That's why they play the games!"
You think the first nine games of the season provided a wild ride, strap it up for the next seven weeks. We're tightening our chin straps, pulling the seatbelts tight, because we know it's going to be thrilling with unexpected twists and turns.
THE WIZARD'S THOUGHTS – OZZIE'S, NOT HARRY'S
Since another Harry Potter movie debuts tonight, I thought it was time to check with our Wizard of Oz. Ozzie Newsome is the most educated and knowledgeable football person I know, I asked him why there are more so-called power teams losing to what are perceived as lesser teams every single week in the NFL.
First, Ozzie agreed it is happening more than ever before. "Why?" I asked. "I think offenses are ahead of defenses right now," Newsome said. "We've had teams score 59 points (Oakland and Philadelphia) each of the last two weeks. That's unheard of.
"The Patriots scored 39 IN Pittsburgh. The Giants – at home – gave up 33 to the Cowboys. Cleveland scored 34 against the Patriots," Newsome continued. "You're talking about some of the best defenses, right?"
Yes, Oz. The Giants, even after the Cowboys' thrashing, are first in the NFL. The Steelers are currently ninth. (Ravens are 10th, by the way.) Chicago, who looked impressive last night facing a third-string QB, is fourth. (The Chargers are second; the Saints, who gave up 34 points in a home loss to the Browns two weeks ago, are third, and the Jets are fifth.)
Does that mean that there are not good defenses out there?
"No, no," Ozzie explained. "There are good defenses. I think we have one. I think Rex [Ryan] has a very good one. The Steelers are still hard to score against. I've been impressed by others like the Giants. But, offenses caught up with defenses in the last few seasons and now have passed them."
Why? (And, remember, Ozzie is a prominent member of the NFL's Competition Committee, the group suggesting rule changes every year – and the committee's recommendations are almost always made into NFL rules.)
"Fans wanted more scoring, and we've made rules to help that. Plus, it has something to do with the quarterbacking we're seeing right now," Newsome said. "More and more colleges have been playing spread offenses, just like we do in the NFL. Quarterbacks are now more ready to run those offenses, and they're tough to stop. You spread receivers, tight ends and backs all over the field, it's hard to cover everybody – and then put a quarterback back there that can read it and deliver the ball to the open man. It's tough to stop, very tough."
Ozzie also noted that the emphasis to make the game safer for the players is helping offenses: "I see some hesitancy by defensive players as they adjust to how the game is being called – and fined.
"Look, I think our defense is good. Can we be as intimidating as we once were? Can the Steelers or the Jets? Can any team? I don't think so right now. But, it has more to do with offenses than defenses."
See why we all have to strap in for the next couple of months?
MORE ABOUT THE LOSS TO ATLANTA
From Mike Wilkening of Pro Football Weekly: "Of this I am convinced: The Falcons have a real shot at playing in Super Bowl XLV in Dallas. With seven wins already in the bag in a wide-open NFC, a strong home-field advantage and a potentially galvanizing, season-altering rally vs. the Ravens atop their resume, what is not to like about the Falcons?
"But here's my question: What did we learn about the Ravens in the loss in Atlanta? This was a team some thought might be the best in football entering the game. And let there be no doubt: The Ravens can be that good, especially this season, with no dominant team emerging. Their best game…well, I don't know if we've seen their best, which makes them so intriguing."
And this from Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson: "You always wait for that statement game. You wait to play a team that everybody has put up on a pedestal so you can say, 'We arrived.' We know now we can play with the best of them."
I HATE THESE GAMES
Some friends, family and media members have told me, "You'll win easily this week." Last time so many told me this was Buffalo week. There are no layups in the NFL. Every game is hard. Reason I hate these games – those when everyone believes we'll win – is threefold: 1)If we win, it's not considered a big deal; 2) If we don't win by a large margin, we're roundly criticized; and 3) If we lose, we're village idiots, and we'll be buried.
That said, let's go beat the Panthers. Talk with you next week.