Who would have thought that the Raiders would be leading the AFC West, with the Broncos right there with them? Photo by Craig Bennett.
By Jason LewisSentinel Sports Editor
A month makes a differenceEvery year in the NFL people get too excited about the first month of the season, and this year is no difference. Some teams start off hot and cool off, and other teams get off to a sluggish start and then find their rhythm. A month ago the Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers, Detroit Lions, and Washington Redskins were playing great. But now, not so much. The Bills were a huge surprise when they started the season 4-0, but now they are starting to look like the Bills that we’ve always known. They are 5-4 and losing their grip on a playoff spot. They are still right there in the mix, but if they don’t get back to winning some games, they are going to find themselves out of the playoff race really quick. The Chargers usually get off to a slow start and then get it in gear in the second half of the season for a playoff run. This year has been different though. They started off 4-1, looked like they were clearly the best team in the AFC West, but now they have lost four games in a row, and quarterback Phillip Rivers has looked horrible. Over the streak Rivers has thrown eight interceptions to only seven touchdowns. This year his quarterback rating is 80.5, which is the lowest of his career since he became the starting quarterback in 2006. It is also the first season that he has thrown more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13).The Lions have not only come back down to earth, they have pretty much crashed into it, and it is not looking nice. They were 5-0, and along with the Bills, they were the feel good story of the league. But since they have lost three out of four games, and it was really ugly last week against the Chicago Bears, who blew them out 37-13. It was like the Bears were playing with two quarterbacks, because Jay Cutler was throwing touchdown passes to Bears receivers, and Matthew Stafford was throwing touchdowns to Bears defensive backs. The Lions are still in the mix at 6-3, but they need to get their act together or they could be on the bubble at the end of the season. The Redskins just stink. Everybody knew it entering the season, so it is no surprise that after a 3-1 start, they are now 3-6. As long as the Dallas Cowboys do not trip over themselves, the Redskins will be sitting at 3-7 by Sunday night. One thing that has not changed from a month ago is that the Philadelphia Eagles are still done. They looked like they were about to make a comeback after a 1-4 start, but they have fallen flat on their faces again. Sitting at 3-6, the season is a wrap. And Michael Vick is not the guy that people thought he would be. The Eagles are lucky that his contract is not fully guaranteed, because there is no way they’d want to be on the hook for $100 million with him. There isn’t much good out WestOutside of the San Francisco 49ers, football in the NFC and AFC West divisions is not looking good. A week ago the 49ers were the only team with a winning record. The Raiders knocked off the struggling Chargers to join them, but Raider fans should not get excited. They were shut out by the Kansas City Chiefs at home, and then run over by Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. After those two bad losses they knocked off a struggling Chargers team and they ended up in first place in the AFC West. That is how bad it has been. Outside of the 49ers, there are no AFC or NFC West teams that have outscored their opponents. The Raiders may have a winning record at 5-4, a half game better than the Broncos, but they have been outscored 208-233 this season. The only team other than the 49ers who are looking good right now are the Broncos, who have won three games in a row, and four out of five, since benching quarterback Kyle Orton in favor of Tebow. The Broncos have been on a wild ride ever since, because Tebow has shown that he is simply not a NFL quarterback, but at the same time he has shown that when he is lined up at quarterback, the Broncos win games. It’s a real head scratcher. If you want to get an up close look at the style of offense that the Broncos are running, go check out San Pedro high school, because they run their quarterback all game long too.Tebow’s stats are pretty bad, but the main stat, wins and losses, are very good. The Broncos are 4-1 since starting him after a 1-4 start under Orton. The notion that Orton gave them the best chance of winning was silly from the get go. Orton posted a 5-22 record over his last 27 starts, and the Broncos did not win consecutive games over that period. But they did have four different four game losing streaks.With Tebow as the starter, the Broncos are on their first winning streak since week 13 of 2009, and they have never lost consecutive games under Tebow. As much losing as the Broncos have been doing, it really does not matter how Tebow looks. As long as they are winning, they are going to ride it. It would be hard to believe that Orton would have produced this turn around if they had stuck with him. Can the Broncos win a championship with this style of play? Probably not. But winning is a whole lot better than losing.AFC North is staying tightJust when it looked like the Baltimore Ravens were going to take a strong hold over the AFC North, the Pittsburgh Steelers flexed their muscles. But just as it looked like the Steelers would take control of the division, the Ravens put them in their place. Unfortunately for the Ravens, each time this season that they have beaten the Steelers, they lost the very next week while the Steelers won. And as of right now, the Steelers are in first place by half of a game, even though the Ravens have swept them. The team that nobody is talking about is the Cincinnati Bengals, who are tied for second with the Ravens, just a half game behind the Steelers. By the end of this week one of these teams will be tied with the Steelers, barring a tie, because the Bengals travel to Baltimore on Sunday. Chad Ochocinco sightingThere was a Chad Ochocinco sighting last Sunday. Incase anybody did not realize it, he still does play in the NFL. Ochocinco reemerged for the New England Patriots, catching two passes for 65 yards, with a long of 53 yards. Those are pretty meager numbers, but seeing that he had not caught a pass since October 9, it was a pretty big deal. Ochocinco has not had more than two catches in any game, and before this past Sunday, the most yards that he had in any game was 45. He has not scored a touchdown yet. There has been a lot of speculation on why Ochocinco has been a no show this season. At first it was that he did not know the playbook, which was understandable because there were not any offseason workouts because of the lockout. But they have played nine games, so he should know the playbook by now. Teammates Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski are both in the top 10 in receptions and yards. Welker leads the league in both categories with 72 receptions for 1,006 yards. Gronkowski is seventh in receptions with 52 and ninth in yards with 709. Ochocinco only has 11 receptions for 201 yards on the season. Welker and Gronkowski have been targeted by quarterback Tom Brady much more than Ochocinco. Welker has been thrown at 100 times, and Gronkowski 73. But those two have made plays, while Ochocinco has not. Welker has caught 72 percent of the passes that have gone his way. Gronkowski has caught 71 percent of the passes that have gone his way. Ochocinco has only caught 47 percent of the passes thrown at him. Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez both have been more productive for the Patriots than Ochocinco. Branch, who has 37 receptions for 484 yards, has been targeted 60 times, catching 61 percent of the passes. Hernandez has 37 receptions for 374 yards, and has been targeted 55 times, catching 67 percent of those passes. The numbers do not lie. Ochocinco just has not been productive, which is most likely why the ball does not come his way.
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