If the NFC were being judged by a panel of figure skating judges, they’d look at the perfection of the Green Bay Packers and the nearly perfect failure of the St Louis Rams and just cancel them out. Then they’d pore their way through the rest of the field, assessing technical merit and — of course — awarding points for style.
About the only thing Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears could have done to improve on their complete domination of the Detroit Lions, technically near-perfect, was to bedazzle those blaze orange unis and eschew the eyeblack for club glitter.
I’ll give you a minute to let that image marinate on your brain, and then let you be thankful that this isn’t figure skating. Here’s how this week’s action affected the divisional races in the NFC.
Dallas wins, Giants, Redskins and Eagles lose
The completeness of the Eagles’ fall is stunning, as they wake up in the same gutter as Mad Mike Shanahan’s Washington Redskins. Again. Waking up in a gutter after a lost weekend is one thing if you’re young, but it’s something else again once you get old enough to know better. And everyone associated with this Eagles should know better.
The Giants loss to an increasingly legit San Francisco team makes things superficially interesting for all four teams, but clearly the division’s only challenger is the Dallas Cowboys. Jason Garrett has jump-started his team by finally finding a feature back after years of juggling misfit runners Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. Turns out the answer was D) None of the above.
The two games remaining between Dallas and New York, in Week 14 and 17, stand to be the kingmakers of this division.
Packers and Bears romp, Lions and Vikings get stomped
Mike McCarthy is pulling from the New York Yankees playbook: build a lead so large that you can start resting your aces. He had the luxury of pulling Aaron Rodgers from the game with more than 10 minutes remanining in regulation, giving Matt Flynn mop-up duty. Presumably Flynn and Hector Noesi might have a lot to talk about … namely, wondering why so few people know their names.
Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions seem to be in full-blown WWE mode, caring more about causing mayhem and relishing the boos that rain down on them than in actually playing good football. Ndamukong Suh (3 sacks) has nearly disappeared from the NFL stat sheets, but continues to add to his highlight reel with his signature “rip the QB’s helmet off” move. He isn’t showing the same explosion as he did as a rookie. Maybe he got fat, literally eating up all the positive press about him this offseason.
Even with the loss, and even with Matthew Stafford apparently hiding a broken index finger inside his glove, the Lions still hold a tenuous tiebreaker advantage over the Bears. But the mojo arrow is pointing to Chicago.
Saints escape, Falcons blow it, Panthers and Bucs just blow
Mike Smith’s legacy in Atlanta, already shaped by their amazing jump back into contention in Matt Ryan’s rookie year, then dimmed by their failure to get past the Packers in the playoffs, might come down to a single desperate gamble.
Having charged back to tie the game at 23 at the end of regulation, Smith’s Falcons might have thought they were unstoppable. Certainly Smith thought nothing could come between his team and a few inches of turf, pulling his punting team off the field on a 4th down on their own 29 yard line. The team had most of the overtime ahead of them, but thought they had the Saints in a grave and were ready to shovel on dirt. The only problem: the Saints weren’t dead.
There are several games yet to play, but this one might have been the decider. The Falcons continue to be known as an “almost-there” team.
49ers win. Cardinals win. Seahawks win. Rams win.
Every week, ESPN beat writer Mike Sando prepares a “Silver Linings” column for the team (or more often, teams, plural) in the NFC West who lost. He has to scour through the negativity surrounding the near-constant losing that he has to cover every week, and find something positive to say. Sometimes, those columns are pretty tough to write. There’s only so many times you can praise a team for trying hard, or give a game ball to a punter.
On Monday, for the first time in the existence of the new NFC West, Sando didn’t have to write that column. You don’t have to find silver linings when everybody wins.
There were two legitimate stunners in this mix, as the Cardinals went into Philadelphia and stunned the Eagles, and the Seahawks punctured the Baltimore Ravens’ fragile pride. Again. The Rams stole a win from a loss, and San Francisco now has a pretty clear path to a bye week in the playoffs, even with Frank Gore hobbled.