1. Cleveland Browns
If the season ended today, do you know who would be the AFC North champions, good for the fourth seed in the AFC? That’s right, the Cleveland Browns, still led by Brian Hoyer (and not Johnny Manziel who remains the backup for now). This puts them ahead of the dangerous Bengals as well as the Ravens and Steelers whose starting quarterbacks have three Super Bowl rings between the two of them. The Browns improved to 6-3 after an impressive Thursday night victory over the previous division leaders, the Bengals. Hoyer hasn’t been spectacular this year, failing to even eclipse 200 passing yards this week, but the Browns have a fantastic line and are confident in their running game, as evidenced by their 52 rushes against the Bengals. In a very difficult division it might be too early to crown the Browns as a playoff team, but right now they certainly are playing like one.
2. Seattle Seahawks Running Game
The New York Giants are not a great team, especially on the defensive side of the ball. However, the Seahawks victimized the Giants for 350 yards and 5 touchdowns all on the ground. Both Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson had over 100 yards to themselves, and overall the team averaged more than 7 yards per carry. They beat the Giants with power runs right up the middle with Lynch, and also exposed the Giants in space with bootlegs and scrambles from the speedy Wilson. On a day where Wilson looked shaky throwing the ball, throwing two interceptions despite only 17 attempts, the running game stepped up big time. If the Seahawks are to get back on track to being as dominant as they were last season they will need to continue to run the ball this well to take pressure off their weaker passing game.
3. The Football Gods
Football is full of chance. A ball might bounce one way or a referee might obscure vision for a split second or the wind might pick up just as a field goal is attempted. These are some of the things that we love about football, and this past Sunday was a tremendous reminder of how sometimes the outcome of the game is out of the hands of the players. For example, up only one touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks looked ready to extend their lead as they entered Giants territory. The Seahawks proceeded to fumble the ball in the open field twice inside the Giants’ 40 yard line, only to have the ball miraculously bounce to a different Seahawk on both occasions. This allowed them to continue the drive and score a touchdown which put the game out of reach. Similarly, the Saints attempted a Hail Mary pass as time expired and the game tied. Tight end Jimmy Graham caught the ball in the endzone, but was surprisingly penalized for offensive pass interference. In overtime Drew Brees was hit from behind, fumbling the ball right to a San Francisco player, setting up the game winning field goal.
1. Andy Dalton
What a difference eight weeks makes. Early in the year, I believe I suggested that a different Bengals offensive player should make the Hot List each week because they looked that good. Then they lost to the Patriots, and its been all downhill from there. Dalton crowned their successive poor performances with a historically bad effort this past week. Dalton completed only 10 of his 33 passes for a pathetic 86 yards, 3 interceptions and no touchdowns. It is hard to even put this game in context, no other quarterback, not even a rookie, came anywhere close to Dalton’s numbers. Dalton’s performance has now jeopardized the Bengals’ playoff hopes, so they certainly hope he can regain his early season form.
2. Ben Roethlisberger
Oh wait, there was one quarterback who played almost as poorly on Sunday–Dalton’s division rival and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. To be fair, Ben did throw for a robust 343 yards, dwarfing the 137 thrown by Michael Vick, who started for the opposing Jets. However, Roethlisberger also threw two interceptions and he accumulated 80 yards and his lone touchdown on an 80 yard pass with just over a minute remaining in the game. These numbers aren’t awful on their own, but considering Roethlisberger’s previous games this one was a letdown. Ben had thrown for six touchdowns in each of his previous two games, and facing a notoriously weak Jets’ secondary many expected another big game from Big Ben. Unfortunately, he did his best Andy Dalton impression and led the Steelers to a loss against the struggling Jets.
3. Carson Palmer
Tough week to be a quarterback, as the Cardinals signal caller rounds out the Cold List. Palmer wasn’t playing great, but he also wasn’t playing as poorly as Ben or Dalton. Instead, Palmer makes the list after being forced from the game with what has now been diagnosed as a torn ACL, ending his season. Palmer had just signed a contract extension and had only recently returned from nerve damage in his elbow which kept him from several games earlier in the season. He now will miss the remainder of a season where the Cardinals have surprised just about everybody, jumping out to an NFL best 8-1 record good for first place in the powerhouse NFC West. Should the Cardinals hold on to make a playoff run, it will be a shame that Palmer will not be able to play, and should they collapse then it is a shame that Palmer was unable to help them continue their current pace.
Photo: Aaron Josefczyk/REUTERS