Everyone in the NFL is three-fourths of the way through the season with 12 games in the books. And if your team is in first place in December, it probably feels like things are sailing along just fine. But I was recently reminded of a BBC game show called “The Weakest Link,” which also made its way to these shores for a short while about a decade ago. Now, this was before the Brits sent us Simon Cowell and all those talent shows. This was classic in-your-face stuff. The show’s host, Anne Robinson, would declare which contestant was the weakest link and then boot them off the show with a snippy, “Goodbye!”
Just like the TV show, football teams have their weakest links – even the teams looking so good as we hit enter the fourth quarter of the 2012 season.
AFC Division Leaders:
New England, Clinched AFC East: The Patriots are 29th in passing yardage allowed per game. I know teams are always playing catch up to Tom Brady, but so does the defense! The Pats traded for Aqib Talib, the former first-round pick of the Bucs. While he’s not a Boy Scout, Talib can cover. A pick-six in his first game as a Patriot showed Talib can provide immediate help.
Baltimore, Clinches AFC North with win and Pittsburgh and Cincinnati losses: No, it’s not Joe Flacco. The Ravens’ run defense, for all the smoke and dancing, is 23rd in the NFL and allows 126 yards per game. And that number doesn’t come from a few big runs — Baltimore has only allowed six of 20 yards or more in 12 games. The leaks are just a steady drip, drip, drip that leads to 4.0 yards per carry against, and 33:20 of ball control for the opposing offense.
Denver, Clinched AFC West: The Broncos lost their legs when Willis McGahee went down. Knowshon Moreno needs to stay healthy and pick up those blitzing linebackers. Next in line to be Peyton’s personal protector: 5’9″, 185-pound rookie Ronnie Hillman.
Houston, Clinches AFC South with win and Indianapolis loss: Houston, we have a problem: not-so-special teams. In the off-season, the Texans let Jacoby Jones fly off to the Ravens, where he has returned two kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns. And in-season, Houston cut Trindon Holliday, who returned a punt for a touchdown in his new Bronco uniform. And the coverage teams aren’t faring much better: the Texans have allowed a punt return and a kickoff return for a touchdown.
NFC Division Leaders:
New York Giants, One-game lead in the NFC East: When trying to repeat as Super Bowl champs, just standing on your own feet is tough enough. The surgically repaired feet of Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks give me the willies. I have that same type of screw in my foot and I can’t run 4.4 40s any more. Plus, I’m 56.
Green Bay, Tied with Chicago atop NFC North but currently owns tiebreaker: Kicker Mason Crosby is one of seven from 50 yards or more. From deep, it’s all been hook, slice or shank — much like my Sunday Night Football broadcast partner Dave Sims’ golf game.
Atlanta, Clinched NFC South: I know the Falcons have retooled their offense into a high-flying passing attack, but they didn’t need to leave the running game grounded. Michael Turner’s career rushing average heading into this season was a hefty 4.6 yards per carry. In 2012, it’s a a slimmed-down 3.8.
San Francisco, 1.5 game lead in the NFC West: Two starting quarterbacks. Two guys with “hot hands.” One guy smiles, while the other guy tries to smile. I guess it could work out. As they say, there is a first time for everything.
— James Lofton
James Lofton is the analyst for Westwood One’s coverage of Sunday Night Football. This week, James and his high-handicapped golfing (and broadcast) partner Dave Sims will be in Green Bay as the Packers host the Detroit Lions. Coverage of Sunday Night Football begins with Scott Graham on NFL Sunday at 7:30 PM Eastern along the Westwood One Radio Network.