Week 9 was a thrilling one for the NFL, lots of high scoring, some great divisional storylines and some great road wins for a few teams who were not fancied by many pundits.
Lets start off with the Monday night match up, where Chicago rode into Philadelphia and in a stellar fourth quarter comeback, behind the gun arm of Jay Cutler the Eagles had their wings clipped again. The Bears scored 10 unanswered points in the final quarter, as the Bears defence matched up against the running part of Michael Vick's game, Vick was unable to extend plays and when he had to hurry and chase the game after the Bears took the lead, the Eagles could not make a hit. The Bears won 30-24, going to 5-3 still in the hunt behind the perfect Packers (8-0) and the Lions (6-2), in the NFC North. It sets up a tantalising week 10 matchup as the Lions visit the Bears in a match full of wildcard ramifications. As for the Eagles they are 3-5, and behind the better Giants - still they have a chance of getting the wildcard but they cannot afford another loss this week or for the next three games I would suggest. The hype team has met the hyperbole, and the Bears supplied the pin to pop the hot air balloon of hype.
The Sunday night matchup was the week 1 rematch between AFC North rivals Steelers and Ravens. In Week 1, Baltimore convincingly beat up Pittsburgh. Since then, the Ravens have stumbled and stuttered, whilst the Steelers have returned to form culminating with the impressive defeat of the Patriots last week. Many predicted that the Steelers would do much of the same, keep Flacco off the field and keep Rice quiet on the run; get a lead and make Flacco make mistakes.
The Ravens though came up big as Flacco led a 92 yard drive in the closing minutes connecting with Tommie Smith in the endzone for the go-ahead lead as the Ravens became triumphant 23-20 owning a season sweep over their rivals and becoming 6-2 ahead of the Steelers 6-3 and sharing a tie with the Bengals(6-2)
Those Bengals again won, although this time it was Andy Dalton and not the vaunted D as the rookie threw for 3TDs this weeks as they beat the Titans (4-4) 24-17.
The Giants rode into Foxboro and upset the Patriots 24-20, in a mad last quarter were 31 points were scored, Eli Manning led a final second TD drive for his 5th final quarter comeback win of the season. Four turnovers by the Patriots did not help matters, nor the still struggling defence that could not get a stop on Manning's vital drive also the lack of a down the field receiving target (like Moss) means defences know Brady will look for Welker or Branch underneath. Brady still threw for 342 yards (3TD) which means you will always be in the game, but the over-reliance on him is coming back to haunt the Patriots. The Patriots are suddenly sliding and have lost two games back-to-back for the first time in five years, and first loss at home for 20 regular season games. They need to run the ball more and not rely so much on a Brady that will soon have another bad day like he did at Buffalo.
Kudos though for the Giants who are quitely going about their business and now 6-2 leading the NFC East and coupled with the Eagles loss they now have a two game lead over the Cowboys (4-4) who the Giants will not fear. The Giants are legit and will want to be avoided in the NFC playoffs.
And next for the Patriots is away at the Jets (5-3), who were victorious at Buffalo (5-3) as the Jets defence forced 3 turnovers for a 27-11 win which included near 38mins of ball possession for Sanchez who was 20-28 and 230 yards. The Bills needed to win to be considered legit, but unfortunately the Jets are just turning the corner.
Tim Tebow led the Broncos to their 2nd win out of 3 beating the Raiders on the road 38-24, a mixture of playcalling and solid showing by a returning Willis McGahee (20 carries, 163yds, 2TDs) and the inspiration of Tebow who threw better and ran well, whilst the Raiders look lost all of a sudden.
The Packers march on continuing their undefeated season thus far, beating the Chargers 45-38 in a shootout between Aaron Rodgers (247yds, 4TDs) and Philip Rivers (385yds, 4TDs); but slowly there are questions arising with the Packers pass defense but for two more interceptions by Rivers the sorry Chargers might have won this game. Instead the Packers are perfect whilst SD are 4-4 in a division they should be walking.
The Suck for Luck sweepstakes are over, the Dolphins won their first game of the season 31-3 over the Chiefs on the road aswell. The Colts remain winless losing to a professional Falcons unit 31-7, they have winnable games remaining on the schedule but the Dolphins have also, yet the question about Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck on the same roster can be asked.
The Saints got revenge for their loss to Tampa by defeating them 27-16 in the Superdome, Josh Freeman outthrew Drew Brees but the utilisation of the rush attack and his arm led to a vital victory, the Saints are 6-3, the Bucs 4-4 and falling out of the NFC wildcard picture.
The 49ers rise to 7-1 and their schedule looks handsome now. They did the job against the tough Redskins (3-5), with defence coming to the fore. Alex Smith is managing the offence making few mistakes (17-24, 200yds, 1TD) and is helped by another 100+ rushing display from Frank Gore in a 17-11 win.
More storylines to come and we still have 8 weeks left of the season. Here are my playoff picks at the moment in seeding order:
AFC -Ravens, Texans, Jets, Chargers; Patriots, Steelers
NFC - Packers, 49ers, Giants, Saints; Falcons, Lions
Big picks I know as teams like Bills, Bengals, Eagles and Cowboys may miss out. But the season is still only halfway done, and I am never fully right.