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With the bye week upon us and the Steelers granted some time off from Coach Tomlin, I thought now would be a good time to look back at what's happened to the near-midpoint in the season and what could happen the rest of the way. And in a truly rare moment, I will remove my Pittsburgh-only bias and -gasp- talk about the rest of the league. It's a groundbreaking concept. Anyway, to the bullet points:

In the "team" category: these aren't knee-jerk power rankings per se, but more of a long-term look at the league and how I see each team's chances to win it all.

Super Bowl Contenders: the top 5 (in no particular order)

Pittsburgh - If healthy and focused, they're always in the discussion.

Minnesota - Brett Favre's durability will be a question mark as the season goes on.

New Orleans - As I always point out, Drew Brees has won one playoff game in his career.

Indianapolis - Hot starts are nothing new for this team; hot finishes have been tougher to come by in Indy.

Denver - A nation remains mostly skeptical, but the D is averaging 11 points a game. And who doesn't want to watch Josh McDaniels celebrate again?

Next 5: wouldn't be surprised to see one of these teams in the Super Bowl, but I'm betting against it:

NY Giants - A team that's been to the promised land, but needs to tie up some loose ends. On the good side, no one's shot themselves in the leg this year. Yet.

New England - Not the same Pats as years past, but to use the cliche, any Belichick/Brady team is automatically a contender. That's an NFL by-law.

Arizona - Starting to heat up in a weak division. And who saw that road win at New York coming?

Philadelphia - As Peter King pointed out recently, Andy Reid is basically Bill Cowher before he won the Super Bowl. Unfortunately for the Eagles, I don't see this as the team that gets Reid that first ring.

Baltimore - Fading fast, but I hesitate to count these guys out. I'd sure like to watch them lose three to the Steelers again in 2009.

Playoffs likely, but I don't see this team realistically winning a championship:

Cincinnati - Sorry, but I can't ignore past results; something is bound to go wrong, like an anvil falling on Carson Palmer's head the night before a Super Bowl. It's like Blake Griffin's injury with the Clippers. You just knew it was coming.

Atlanta - I like Matt Ryan, but this team needs to get Michael Turner straightened out this year after that 376-carry monster workload in 2008.

Dallas - In no way could I imagine Wade Phillips hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. None.

NY Jets - Mark Sanchez is not ready to win a championship, but the defense will make things interesting. At least he gave the world a hot dog scandal to pass the time.

Green Bay - Not thrilled with their offensive line, but then again, few were thrilled with the Steelers' last year

On the bubble: probably going to take a good run and some help for these teams to reach the postseason:

Houston - Master of the mediocre; probably will finish somewhere between 7-9 wins. Their last two seasons? How about 8-8 and 8-8. At least they're consistently mediocre.

Chicago - They need a few more weapons to make Sad Jay Cutler happy beyond Johnny Knox and a converted kick returner.

San Diego - Repeat the thought on Dallas, and replace "Wade Phillips" with "Norv Turner."

Jacksonville - Seemed so close after they knocked out the Steelers in '07-08. What happened since?

San Francisco - Will be interesting to see the effect of switching to Alex Smith, who worked out a lot with the now-paid-in-full Michael Crabtree.

Miami - For any Steeler fan who feels bad about Limas Sweed, check out Ted Ginn's game tape from Sunday, and just think: at least the Steelers didn't spend a first-round pick and first-round money on Sweed.

Start planning for the 2010 draft: the awful 11

Buffalo: Terrell Owens is averaging 2.6 catches and 34.6 yards per game. At least he's behaving.

Tennessee: Hoping for comedy purposes that they pull the trigger on Vince Young: Act II. Speaking of comedy purposes, that Jeff Fisher-wearing-a-Colts-jersey gag went over worse with their fans than Big Ben's foray into wrestling went over in Pittsburgh.

Seattle: Quietly 6-16 in their last 22. Is it me, or have they been completely uninteresting even when they were winning?

Carolina: Setting the stage for Bill Cowher: Act II. And just think, $42.5 million/$20M guaranteed for Jake Delhomme. That's some quality general managing.

Washington: Basically the Raiders with more money. At full-blown "embarrassment to the NFL" stage. And that was before they banned fan signs from their stadium for security purposes.

St. Louis: Some mind-blowing Rams numbers: 5-34 in their last 39; haven't won since October 19...2008; losers of 17 in a row. What happened to the Greatest Show on Turf? Where have you gone, Az-zahir Hakim?

Detroit: They've won one of their last 22. But they got rid of Matt Millen!

Oakland: If Washington is Oakland with more money, the Raiders are the NFL's answer to the Isiah Thomas Knicks. Ridiculous front office and ownership, tons of bad contracts, and an infectious negative vibe to all those who enter. Lost 11 or more every year since 2003.

Kansas City: They've won seven of their last 40. And they gave $63 million ($28M guaranteed) to Matt Cassel. On the bright side....Larry Johnson, everyone! That was another wise investment ($43 million/$20M guaranteed).

Tampa Bay: Actually a winning team the last two years, but that was before they hired Raheem Morris, who is absolutely not Mike Tomlin 2.0.

Cleveland: For those with short memories, this was the team that NFL analysts liked to win the AFC North in 2008. Which is reason #17,894 why you shouldn't put too much stock in NFL analysts.

The MVP Watch (again, in no particular order):

Peyton Manning, Colts - looks like he doesn't miss Tony Dungy too much. Almost robotic in his dissection of NFL defenses.

Drew Brees, Saints - nice stats and not much else to this point in his career; is he morphing into this generation's Marino? Then again, Dan played in a Super Bowl in his second season.

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers - probably about time he gets some consideration. All it took was 2 Super Bowl rings to catch people's eye. Completing nearly 71% of his passes in 2009.

Adrian Peterson, Vikings - The most enjoyable running back to watch in the game. That being said, it was nice to see him held under 100 yards on Sunday.

Elvis Dumervil, Broncos - Six games, 10 sacks, one major impact.

Rookie of the Year Watch

Percy Harvin, Vikings - appears to be worth the risk - so far

Austin Collie, Colts - leading rookies in catches and receiving TDs

Mike Wallace, Steelers - leading all rookies in yards, and doing it on a veteran team in the hunt

Johnny Knox, Bears - tied for the rookie lead with four TDs; I know him much better after what he did to the Steelers.

Brian Cushing, Texans - 56 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and an INT in the first seven games

Knowshon Moreno, Broncos - 381 yards leads all rookie RBs

Mark Sanchez, Jets - was probably going to run away with it based on the first month; then, things went a little sideways. Gotta raise that 61 QB rating.

Most Disappointing Offensive Player Watch

Terrell Owens, Buffalo - See the "Awful 11" section

Jamarcus Russell, Oakland - Completing 46% of his passes. But somehow has not been caught eating a hot dog on the sidelines.

Matt Cassel, KC - It's been seven games and he still hasn't cracked 1,000 yards passing for the season.

Larry Johnson, KC - 2.7 yards per carry and two slurs. The ever so hard to attain on-field/off-field disaster.

Willie Parker, Steelers - 187 yards rushing, 3.1 YPC, no rushing TDs, and one lost starting job. If things don't change soon, it will be a sad end to the career of this SBXL hero.

Jeff Reed, Steelers - a post-season arrest, an in-season citation, several key missed field goals and a whiff on a Percy Harvin kick return that went for a touchdown. Probably should've taken that contract when the Steelers offered it.

Darren McFadden, Raiders - another high draft pick that the Raiders have mangled. 146 yards rushing, 3.1 YPC.

Roy Williams, Dallas - has now managed to lose the go-to job to Miles Austin. 12 catches in five games. All he cost Dallas was $45 million/$20M guaranteed, plus a first, third, sixth, and seventh rounder. I wish Jerry Jones would trade with the Steelers once in a while.

Edgerrin James, Seahawks - just had to get out of Arizona. Now he's in Seattle and getting 2.7 yards a crack. The end is near, dear Edge.

Kerry Collins, Titans - on the heels of his overachieving 2008, he's crashed back to Earth with a QB rating of 62 and an 0-6 record. When Vince Young is warming up in the bullpen, that's a bad sign.

Michael Vick, Eagles - 6 yards passing, 22 yards rushing. Was he worth it for all that came with him?

Steve Smith, Panthers - Has unofficially become "the other Steve Smith", which is saying something for a guy with five 1,000-yard seasons under his belt.


So there you have it. The first actual, research-heavy, non-Steeler-wrapup column I've written in quite a while. Think of it as a palate cleanser after two full days of Pitt vs. Penn State, which was compounded by the fact that my modem crashed and my internet access was nil until Wednesday night.

We'll be back on a regular schedule for the rest of the week, including "Treats from the Inbox", coming very soon. Which reminds me, get your pictures and stories in!

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Real McCoy said...

On the bright side in Oakland.

Jamarcus Russell is developing into an outstanding open field tackler. With his high volume of interceptions thrown, that is key.

Anonymous said...

Great article, Don - lots of good predictions!

Louis Lipps no longer accepts my phone calls... said...

What's that towel Santonio is holding up?

Can I get a closeup of it?

Louis Lipps Sinks Ships said...

...more importantly, Penn State would totally beat Pitt this year! Rabble rabble rabble!

HomeRunFromBehindTheMeatballs said...

dey took our joerbs!!!

Unknown said...


It is a "Steel City Stomp Towel"