12 November 2009

Halftime Report

The NFL has reached its halfway point. Every team in the league has played at least half of its regular season slate. At this point, given the huge disparity of records so far, the post-season has already taken on a clearly foreseeable form. The cream of the league, Indianapolis, Minnesota and New Orleans, has risen to the top of the standings and media’s list of priorities. Meanwhile, the dregs, Cleveland, Detroit, Saint Louis and Tampa Bay, have eked out one win each and started research for the draft in April.

AFC East: New England is starting to re-assert itself as the perennial favorite to win the division in this decade. The Patriots have the opportunity to challenge seriously for a first round playoff bye with a game versus the Colts. Miami might seem to have fallen far behind the Patriots for the divisional title. However, the Dolphins 3-1 record within the division still gives them a chance to catch the Patriots.

AFC North: Surprising Cincinnati and reliable Pittsburgh are currently tied for first place. This is a bit deceptive since the Bengals have won the first four divisional games, including a victory over the Steelers. Meanwhile, the Steelers only have one win in the division. This week’s match-up between these two will go a long way toward deciding which one will earn the divisional title. The other one will likely be stuck taking the long and hard road through the wild card route.

AFC South: As the Colts are wont to due, they have bolted out of the starting gate to an undefeated tally so far. The rest of the division already has four or more losses each. One question is whether or not Indianapolis can defeat New England to challenge the Patriots’ 16-0 mark from two seasons ago. Another question is whether or not Indy wastes yet another outstanding start by falling short of the Super Bowl.

AFC West: Denver has cooled down a bit after starting 6-0. The Broncos still hold a one game lead over San Diego thanks to the Broncos’ victory over the Chargers in the sixth week of the season. The Chargers have a shot to even the score in two weeks. The Raiders and Chiefs will battle to avoid the basement of the division.

NFC East: With the Cowboys most recent victory at Philadelphia, they have nudged ahead of the Eagles. These two will face each other in the regular season finale to see which one secures the division title while the other settles for a wild card berth. The Giants have imploded after a 5-0 start. Washington’s management and fans are already debating over the replacement for head coach Jim Zorn.

NFC North: Minnesota is thoroughly plundering the NFC. The Vikings should sail easily through the rest of their schedule with a three game divisional lead which includes a sweep of Green Bay. The only possibility of running aground would be losing both games to the Bears later in the season in addition to dropping one more game. That would allow Chicago to tighten the race, assuming the Bears can start an eight game winning streak. Green Bay and Chicago will have to ratchet up their performances if they want to compete for playoff berths.

NFC South: New Orleans is sprinting away from the rest of the division like a thoroughbred versus a trio of mules. The Saints are on pace to wrap up the division by the end of November. Not only are they undefeated with a three game lead over the closest rival, but they also have a victory over Atlanta and over Carolina. The Saints are competing with Minnesota for the top playoff seed but the Saints control their own destiny for that goal.

NFC West: Arizona appears to have regained some of its momentum from last year’s post-season. San Francisco has crashed and burned in a four game losing streak. The Forty-Niners’ glimmer of hope is their 3-0 divisional record. Also, San Francisco only trails Arizona by two games with eight left to play.

04 November 2009

Chaos or Destiny?

After two months' of college football completed, two diametrically opposed yet equally intriguing outcomes to the regular season could occur. Will we see the finish foreseen by most talking heads during the summer or will unpredicted outcomes of games throw the system into disarray?

The widely predicted a showdown between Texas and the winner of the Southeastern Conference Championship between Alabama and Florida remains probable though not guaranteed. The Longhorns have proved themselves in a league of their own when compared to the rest of the Big Twelve. The top three teams still have to avoid the possible pitfalls in a regular season-ending grudge matches against in-state rivals. Alabama is the only one of the three who will play a team in the Top 25 before the conference championship game. Such a seemingly pre-ordained national title game has not been foreseen so clearly since 2004.

The other extreme is a huge controversy if one or more of the following occurs:

-Texas stumbles in November or is upset by whichever decrepit squad emerges from the mire of the Northern Division of the Big Twelve.

-Neither Alabama nor Florida finish undefeated or, even more unsettling, neither one wins the Southeastern Conference. Although no one seems to consider this possibility, LSU could upset Alabama this Saturday then remember to bring its offense to a rematch against Florida in Atlanta. If that happens, LSU will possibly rise to the Top Two.

-Both Texas Christian and Boise State conclude the regular season as undefeated and find themselves among the Top 5 in the polls, if not higher. Could both expect bids to BCS bowls? Would either finish high enough to play for the national title?

-The only undefeated teams from BCS conferences are Iowa and Cincinnati. Would the lack of respect for their conferences curtail their number of votes, leaving them out of the BCS title game?

Half of this possibility seems tantalizing close to fruition. Would an undefeated Iowa team settling for the Rose Bowl instead of a shot at the national title light a fire under the Big Ten to support a playoff? The obstinacy of the Big Ten in its preference to send its champion to Pasadena on New Year’s Day instead of a multi-team playoff could dearly cost the Hawkeyes.

Here a look at this season’s prominent overachievers so far:
1. Iowa: Kirk Ferentz has recaptured his highly successful formula which he possessed earlier in this decade. The Hawkeyes are in the driver’s seat to win the Big Ten, and with some help, sneak into the BCS title game.
2. Texas Christian: The Frogs have leaped over Boise State in the BCS standings. TCU is well positioned to try to prove that Utah is not the only Mountain West Conference team capable of winning a BCS bowl.
3. Temple: This perennially atrocious program has its first winning season in nearly twenty years. One of the bowls with a tie-in to the Mid-American Conference might invite the Owls. Their hope is that residents of Philadelphia might actually be interested enough to watch a Temple football game for once in their lives.

In contrast, the following are the year’s most notable chokers:
1. Mississippi: The Rebels have crashed hard from their pre-season Top Ten loft. Ole Miss was mathematically eliminated from contention for the SEC Western Division before the start of November. The best case scenario is qualifying for a third-rate, pre- New Year's Day bowl game.
2. Southern California: The huge crashing sound reverberating across the country on Halloween night resulted from the huge number of media and fair-weather fans leaping from the Trojan bandwagon. The decade of domination on the Left Coast by the Trojans is nearly at its end. Will the team and fans throw in the towel already knowing they will not play in a BCS bowl for the first time since 2001?
3. Oklahoma: The season-opening loss to BYU foreshadowed a disappointing year for the Sooners. The only consolation available is sweeping the games in November and an invitation to the Cotton Bowl, assuming their fans still care enough to journey back Dallas for a third time this season.