The NFL will make a liar out of you. Like a mirage or optical illusion, the NFL will cause you to question everything you think you see and everything you think you know. Just when you’ve got it figured out, just when you’ve made some sense of the madness, just when you’ve settled comfortably into your predictions, the NFL makes you look silly. Week after week, game after game, it stuns and surprises you.
The mountain of evidence is astounding. Cam Newton is the MVP front-runner as the quarterback of a team with 17 consecutive regular season wins. This success comes on the heels of a losing record last year and a training camp ACL for its top wide receiver. The Panthers are the only team in the NFC South above .500 even though the Falcons soared to a 5-0 start. Atlanta is free-falling through a six-game skid and now sits tied with Tampa Bay whose rookie quarterback is saving jobs.
In the AFC South and the NFC East, none of the teams reside above the Mendoza line. Popular preseason Super Bowl pick Indianapolis is just 6-7 after a whipping by the Jaguars. Behind Blake Bortles’ 28th, 29th, and 30th touchdown passes of the year, Jacksonville scored a franchise-record 51 points. The Texans neck and neck with the Colts, despite allowing nearly 50 points each to the Falcons and Dolphins, neither of which will be playing for the title.
At least the NFC East boasts a lively first-place battle. The Giants, Eagles, and Redskins are fresh off wins that lifted them to 6-7 and extended their playoff aspirations. New York finally discovered the secret to protecting a lead down the stretch, but only after blowing it five times this season. The reports of Chip Kelly’s departure from Philadelphia may have been premature, and Kirk Cousins is quietly maturing into a viable QB. That leaves the hard-luck Cowboys and a guaranteed losing campaign because Tony Romo broke his collarbone twice in just four games played.
In the AFC East, it’s no surprise the Patriots claim their seventh straight division crown. But it’s fairly remarkable that Rex Ryan’s former team is 8-5, challenging for a wild card berth, while his current team is likely headed for a 17th straight year out of the playoffs. The Jets are thriving under new head coach Todd Bowles, while the Bills look as undisciplined under Ryan as the Jets did when he was in charge there. Not to be outdone, the disappointing Dolphins already eliminated themselves from contention. Their run defense is 30th in the league, even though the team signed high-profile defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to the richest contract for a non-quarterback in league history.
The Bengals and Broncos controlled their own fate for byes in the AFC–until Andy Dalton broke his thumb trying to make a tackle after an interception and Khalil Mack bullied the Denver offensive linemen, stole their lunch money, and sent them packing. With both teams losing at home on Sunday and both facing questions under center, New England is back in the driver’s seat after a one-week hiatus. Of greater concern, the AFC North and West division titles can’t be counted as certainties. The Steelers are within two games of the Bengals, despite utilizing three different quarterbacks. The Chiefs are creeping up on the Broncos, though Kansas City was on life support with a 1-5 start and Jamaal Charles’ season-ending knee injury. Seven victories in a row without your best player makes no sense at all!
In the NFC North, the Packers seem to have righted the ship after scuffling through four losses in five games. They can point to a 61-yard Hail Mary with no time on the clock and a dominant performance by a previously-benched running back in the mud and muck at Lambeau Field. The Vikings could soon return to the postseason behind the NFL’s 30-year-old leading rusher. Detroit will get nowhere close. Bizarrely, the Lions plummet from double-digit wins last year to basement of the conference this year.
Maybe no one should be astonished the two-time NFC Champion Seahawks are riding another December surge. After all, they won six straight to grab the top seed last January. But Seattle stumbled out of the gates at 2-4 when the offensive line couldn’t stand up to a garden hose, and Russell Wilson looked shaky and unsure of himself. Fast forward a couple months, they’ve won six of their last seven with Wilson playing out of his mind (16 TDs in 4 games) behind a line that looks impenetrable.
The Seahawks are the aberration in the league because they’ve only needed one quarterback. Nineteen of the NFL’s 32 teams have used multiple QBs because of injuries or ineptitude. Would you believe a half dozen of those teams have used at least three?? The Year of the Backup Quarterback is truly keeping the whole league tilted on its axis.
The NFL will make a liar out of you because it completely defies logic. It blows your mind, ties you in knots, and gives you fits. But it always leaves you wanting more.
A well-traveled veteran and pioneer of sports radio and television, Amy Lawrence is the host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program ‘After Hours with Amy Lawrence.’ The show can be heard weekdays from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Follow her on Twitter @.