Lawrence: Surging Forward In The NFL

By Amy Lawrence

You are what your record says you are. It’s simple, cut and dried, black and white.

In the NFL, what matters is the number of wins and losses you accumulate. There are no committees or polls to determine which teams make the playoffs and which teams stay home. Ratings and rankings don’t matter. Strength of schedule, quality wins and losses, margin of victory — all irrelevant. Instead of a group of humans poring over cumulative resumes to decide the teams most worthy of the postseason, you are what your record says you are. It’s one of the great advantages professional sports hold over their collegiate counterparts. Win-loss records require zero interpretation.

When a hard-fought victory goes up on the scoreboard, it doesn’t matter how aesthetically pleasing the process. A win is a win is a win. Conversely, whether defeat comes by way of a blowout or an excruciating fight to the final play, the number in the loss column is coldly indifferent to the struggle — which can be a blessing and a curse. Each weekend is a clean slate, but NFL franchises only get 16 chances. Now through Week 9, several teams are sporting records that tell a completely different story than the first month of the season.

The Miami Dolphins are finally taking advantage of their opportunities. After falling to 1-4 and the bottom of the AFC East, the Fins kicked off against Pittsburgh in mid-October with their offensive line completely intact. All five starters played together for the first time, and the difference was palpable. Running back Jay Ajayi rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns, and a star was born. Against the Bills the following Sunday, Ajayi duplicated his efforts, and Miami won on back-to-back weekends.

Ajayi did not become the first back in NFL history to reach 200 yards in three consecutive games, but a balanced offensive attack remained crucial in a third straight victory over the Jets. Not only is the line creating running room, but Ryan Tannehill can afford to be more patient and judicious with his throws since he has extra time in the pocket. Don’t look now, but the Dolphins are back to .500 and up to second place in the AFC East.

Read more commentary from Amy Lawrence.

Unlike Miami with its new head coach installing new offensive and defensive schemes, the New Orleans Saints didn’t start the season with a major transition. Instead, it was pretty much status quo: Drew Brees piloting the high-powered scoring offense that’s needed to compensate for holes on defense. And in the first month, the results were largely the same as New Orleans stumbled to an 0-3 mark. Too much dead money under the salary cap and not enough spent on talent — the refrain and the woeful start to the season was familiar to fans. Yet in the last five weeks, the Saints have offered more balance and consistency. Against the Chargers, the defense produced three turnovers in the final quarter to kindle a stunning comeback. New Orleans rallied from double digits down to surprise the Seahawks, thanks to a rejuvenated ground game and 123 rushing yards.

In winning their fourth game in five tries, it was all hands on deck for the Saints. Four takeaways by the defense and a whopping 248 rushing yards. Yes, Brees will be the MVP of that franchise until death do they part; he’s already thrown for 21 touchdowns and only five interceptions. But the rest of the roster is also pulling its weight — from a trio of young wide receivers to backs Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower to a defense getting healthier and more experienced every week. Their record has them back to .500 and up to second place in the NFC South.

A month ago, the New York Giants were floundering amidst three consecutive defeats and off-field distractions. But wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is back to catching touchdowns instead of throwing tantrums, and the defense is coming through with big plays in critical moments. Against division rival Philadelphia last Sunday, the Giants squashed the Eagles’ late rally with a fourth down stop. They also picked off Carson Wentz twice. Safety Landon Collins put together a monster first half of the season and leads the Giants in tackles, sacks and interceptions. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins is proving worthy of his price tag as he battles the league’s top targets every weekend.

A career-high 222 receiving yards for OBJ against the Ravens sparked the Giants’ three-game win streak. And while Eli Manning is wildly inconsistent and not always in sync with his guys, the blame doesn’t fall entirely on him. The Giants have absolutely no run game to speak of. They are dead last in the NFL in total rushing yards (546) and rushing yards per game (68.3)! Despite the lack of balance, the team’s 5-3 record puts them squarely in second place in the NFC East.

After a rocky road out of the gate, the Dolphins, Saints and Giants ARE what their records say they are: alive and kicking, jockeying for position, crashing the party and grabbing attention.

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 @ALawRadio.

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