The Seattle Seahawks are the best team in the NFC, but midway through the season they're beginning to show signs of vulnerability.
Granted, they just pulled off an improbable victory after trailing by 21 points, but look more closely at what's gone on the past two weeks: They had to go to the mat to beat a pair of bottom feeders that are a combined 3-14, including winless Tampa Bay in Seattle.
Worse, they couldn't stop two rookie running backs, and if that's not a concern now it will be. The reason: The team they must overcome in the NFC West has Frank Gore.
--2. Peyton Manning is a slam-dunk as the first-half MVP, but who's the runner-up? It was Drew Brees until Sunday's loss. Now it looks more like Aaron Rodgers, with Tom Brady closing on the outside.
--3. The first-half's most surprising team? Easy. Kansas City. But the most disappointing? That's where it gets tight -- with Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Houston and the New York Giants the contenders. I'd narrow that field to Atlanta and Houston because both were trendy favorites to contend for the Super Bowl, and neither will. Instead, they're DOA after only nine weeks.
--4. Memo to Michael Vick: Don't hurry back.
--5. I guess Tom Brady's hand isn't an issue after all. Amazing how quickly he heals when Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola return to the lineup.
--6. Is there anything more remarkable about the New York Jets than their 5-4 record? Well, yes. They're a staggering minus-62 in the point-differential department. Only five teams are worse.
--7. According to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Sunday's game vs. New England was a "must-win." OK, fine. The Steelers didn't win. So what does that make the rest of the season?
--8. Credit Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski for the franchise beating Baltimore for the first time in 12 games -- spanning the entire tenure of Ravens coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco. Twice he gambled on fourth-and-1 when he could've played it safe -- once scoring a touchdown and once producing a game-clinching first down. Chudzinski's faith in his offense has his Browns in ... second place in the AFC North.
--9. There are no such things as moral victories ... unless you're Jerry Jones or the Tampa Bay Bucs.
--10. People who say running doesn't matter anymore didn't witness San Diego's latest loss. If the Chargers had someone, anyone, to gain a yard they'd be 5-3. Instead, they failed to give the ball to Ryan Mathews or Le'Ron McClain, ran once in three snaps and failed to gain the three feet needed to beat Washington. Washington didn't win this game; the Chargers lost it.
--11. The more I see of Houston Texans quarterback Case Keenum, the less I understand why he wasn't drafted.
--12. Welcome back, Andre Johnson. The Houston Texans kept the ball in the air and Johnson kept pulling it down. Not only did Johnson catch his first three touchdowns of the season, he hauled in nine receptions for 229 yards (25.4 per reception), promising and resounding evidence of life after Matt Schaub in the Houston offense.
--13. Say this about Washington's Brandon Meriweather: He lived up to his pregame promise. He said he'd aim low with his next hit, and he did -- nailing San Diego's Danny Woodhead at the knees. Guaranteed, the NFL examines every hit by this guy from now on, with everyone -- the NFL, the NFLPA, everyone -- in agreement that he must sit if he targets players' knees.
--14. Maybe the Raiders should cut the charade and go to the wishbone. All I know is that as quarterbacks go, Terrelle Pryor makes a good running back.
--15. To those people who wondered who replaces Reggie Wayne as Andrew Luck's go-to receiver, you just got your answer. T.Y. Hilton, with three second-half touchdown receptions, has stepped forward.
--16. It's hard to take Dallas seriously until or unless the Cowboys make more of a commitment -- any commitment -- to the running game. They played the league's 20th-ranked run defense, yet rushed only five times vs. Minnesota. Instead, they threw 51 times and took three sacks. But that's what can happen when your quarterback is involved in game-planning the next opponent.
--17. For the record, Minnesota is still winless ... in this hemisphere.
--18. Just a hunch, but ESPN's Tom Jackson had Denver in mind when he said this about Kansas City: "What jumps out at me is what happens when the other team scores 30?" What jumps out at me: 1) nobody has scored more than 17 on the Chiefs all season, and 2) Jackson is a former Bronco who, um, wears his heart on his sleeve.
--19. Cleveland's biggest achievement wasn't how it won but when. It became the first team to beat the John Harbaugh-coached Ravens immediately following a bye. Until Sunday, the Ravens were 5-0 under Harbaugh after a weekend off.
--20. Buffalo coach Doug Marrone isn't alone when he says, "I'd love for someone to tell me what the definition of a catch is." Rewind the videotape of Marquise Goodwin's apparent 40-yard reception, listen to what officials had to say, then get in line. I'd love for someone to tell me why that apparent first-half fumble recovery by Indianapolis wasn't a recovery, too. Yeah, I heard the explanation, but, like NBC's Cris Collinsworth, I don't buy it. The eyes don't lie.
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
--1. Ground and Pound lives. Yep, that was 198 yards rushing the Jets hung on New Orleans, and that ... plus a suffocating defense ... launched them to the upset. Hmmm, sounds a lot like a theme that launched launch the Mark Sanchez-led Jets to two conference championship games in 2009-10.
--2. Carolina is legit. The Panthers aren't just 5-3 this season; they're 10-4 over their last 14 starts. People talk about how well Cam Newton is playing, but it's the underrated Panthers' defense that makes Carolina a tough out. Until a Tony Gonzalez score Sunday it hadn't allowed a first-half touchdown all season.
--3. Don't schedule the New York Jets after they lose. You have no shot. It's one up, one down with these guys, and you can look it up. They followed their four losses this season with four victories.
--4. Chris Johnson hasn't gone away. He just went on an extended furlough to annoy fantasy football owners. The Titans said they planned to give him more touches the rest of the season, they did and look what happened: Tennessee rediscovered its most dangerous weapon.
--5. Pittsburgh is toast. Tell me the last time you heard this: The Pirates are better than the Steelers. Reason: They can hit. The Steelers' defense is broken, giving up way too many points and not producing enough sacks, tackles or takeaways. Look for a wholesale makeover in the offseason.
JUST ASKING BUT ...
--How many fantasy football owners played Darrel Young? Somebody? Anybody?
--Why did the St. Louis Rams draft Tavon Austin if they won't give him the ball?
--Will the real New York Jets please stand up?
--Is it too soon to count out Baltimore?
--Does the Black Hole refer to the Oakland fans or its secondary?
FIVE GUYS WHO HAVE SOME EXPLAINING TO DO
--1. Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. He passed -- and I mean that literally -- on third-and-3 with just over two minutes left, the ball at the San Diego 45 and Washington up by three. So what? So he'd been gashing the Chargers with the run all afternoon (Washington wound up with 209 yards). Had Washington lost, the Shanahans -- Mike and offensive coordinator son Kyle -- had a lot of explaining to do.
--2. Referee Tony Corrente. After reviewing a possible end-zone interception, Corrente said the Falcons' Robert Alford "was able to keep one foot inbounds and drug the other." You gotta be kidding. If refs are going to make public addresses they should be able to pass a sixth-grade vocabulary test.
--3. Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. In the last two games he has seven interceptions, including one that Sunday was returned for a touchdown. Yes, the Falcons have a ton of injuries, but when you wonder what's wrong with these guys you better look at Ryan, too.
--4. Buffalo Bills quarterback Jeff Tuel. It's third-and-goal at the Kansas City 1, and he makes a perfect throw ... to the Chiefs' Sean Smith, who returns it for a 99-yard touchdown and turns the game inside out. Had Tuel been more patient, he would have found wide receiver Steve Johnson wide open in the end zone. Bad things happen to bad team, and Buffalo fans are used to them by now.
--5. Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier. He passed on a possible 53-yard field goal at the end of the fourth quarter, and it cost him. With a fourth-and-5 at the Dallas 36, Frazier tried to sucker Dallas into jumping offsides ... but, when that didn't work, he took the delay-of-game penalty and punted. Reasonable? Not really.
Here's why: 1) He was ahead by only three; 2) his defense is anything but trustworthy; 3) Dallas can score points in a hurry and; 4) he has one of the most accurate long kickers in the game, a guy (Blair Walsh) who missed only one of 13 field goals from 50 yards and out. When GM Rick Spielman last week said Frazier "is not going anywhere," he knew what he was talking about.
NUMBERS THAT MAY MEAN SOMETHING
--1 -- First-quarter TDs allowed by Seattle this season
--5-11 -- Combined records of Baltimore and Pittsburgh
--4-0 -- Geno Smith after losses
--7-2 -- Tom Brady's record vs. Pittsburgh
--10 -- Andrew Luck fourth-quarter or OT comeback victories
--12-0 -- Russell Wilson's home record
--28-5-1 -- Alex Smith's record since 2011
--70-17 -- Kansas City vs. opponents in this year's fourth quarter
--158.3 -- Nick Foles' passer rating, the season's first perfect score
--190 -- First-half yards receiving by Houston's Andre Johnson
NEXT WEEKEND'S FIVE BEST GAMES
--Cincinnati at Baltimore
--Detroit at Chicago
--Carolina at San Francisco
--Denver at San Diego
--Dallas at New Orleans
-- Clark Judge, a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange, has covered pro football since 1982 and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selections Committee.
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