NFL APPROACHES MIDPOINT
October 23, 2013INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
As the NFL approaches the midpoint of the season, the games – and standings – have been close. So there’s a lot to look forward to when the NFL rolls into the second half of the season.
The Kansas City Chiefs are the league’s lone unbeaten team, improving to 7-0 after last week’s 17-16 win over Houston.
“The more you win, the closer you get to the playoffs,” says Chiefs quarterback ALEX SMITH, who joined DIETER BROCK of the 1985 Los Angeles Rams as the only players since the 1970 merger to win his first seven games to start a season with a new team. “As you get later into the season, the stakes get bigger.”
In the Super Bowl era, 31 teams have started 7-0 and all 31 made the playoffs. Fifteen of those 31 advanced to the Super Bowl with nine of those clubs being crowned champions.
“It feels real good,” says Chiefs running back JAMAAL CHARLES, who joined Pro Football Hall of Famer O.J. SIMPSON as the only players to record at least 100 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in each of the first seven games to start a season. “I’m just blessed that we continue to win games, but we’ve still got to play consistently.”
Nothing is a given in the NFL and Kansas City is an example of that. The Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to start 7-0 after posting the worst record in the league the previous season.
And teams can still turn things around this season. Since 1990, 32 teams had a losing record after seven games and advanced to the playoffs. Two teams – Cincinnati and Washington – accomplished the feat last year.
“Every game is big,” says Redskins head coach MIKE SHANAHAN, whose team has won two of three games to climb back into the NFC East race. “You don’t want to dig yourself a bigger hole.”
Also this week, the NFL returns to the United Kingdom. Four weeks after the Minnesota Vikings defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-27 in an exciting display, NFL action will be back at London’s Wembley Stadium. The Jacksonville Jaguars will host the San Francisco 49ers in the second regular-season game of the season played in the UK.
“We’ve done it before,” says 49ers tackle JOE STALEY, who was also a member of the 2010 San Francisco team that defeated Denver at Wembley. “This is our second trip to London. Everyone here is used to long trips, and I think it’s beneficial.”
And, in response to the growing fan support of football in the United Kingdom, the NFL will take another important step in its international development next season when, for the first time, three regular-season games will be played in the UK.
The Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons and Oakland Raiders will each play one home game in London next year at Wembley.
“Our fans in the UK have continued to demonstrate that they love football and want more,” says NFL Commissioner ROGER GOODELL. “Both of this year’s games in London sold out quickly. The fan enthusiasm for our sport continues to grow. By playing two games in the UK this year, we are creating more fans. We hope that with three games in London next year, we will attract even more people to our game.”
Week 8 kicks off on Thursday night when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Carolina Panthers (NFL Network, 8:25 PM ET). The week concludes when the Seattle Seahawks visit the St. Louis Rams on Monday night (ESPN, 8:40 PM ET). Some of the other key games this weekend:
NEW YORK JETS (4-3) AT CINCINNATI BENGALS (5-2) (Sunday, CBS, 4:05 PM ET)
The Jets knocked off AFC East rival New England last week and improved to 4-3. Rookie quarterback GENO SMITH passed for one touchdown and rushed for another as he led New York to its fourth victory of the season. Smith has led a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime in all four wins and he is the only quarterback since the 1970 merger with four such game-winning drives in his first seven career games.
“This was a big victory for us,” says Jets head coach REX RYAN after the 30-27 overtime victory over the Patriots. “We have a ton of work to do and need to improve a great deal as a football team. At the same time, it’s a great team effort.”
The Jets’ defense limited New England to 295 total net yards and stopped the Patriots on 11 of 12 third-down attempts. Safety ANTONIO ALLEN provided a spark, including a 23-yard interception-return touchdown in the second half to cut a 21-10 halftime deficit to four points.
At 5-2, Cincinnati holds a two-game advantage for the division lead in the AFC North. Last week, the Bengals won on the road at Detroit, defeating the Lions 27-24.
“We fought for all four quarters, on the road, playing a really good team,” says Cincinnati quarterback ANDY DALTON, who passed for 372 yards and three TDs. “We’re 5-2 now and it sets us up nicely for where we want to go.”
Against the Lions, Dalton teamed with wide receiver A.J. GREEN to the tune of six catches for 155 yards, including an 82-yard touchdown. The Bengals’ MIKE NUGENT sealed the win with a game-winning 54-yard field goal as time expired.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (2-4) at DENVER BRONCOS (6-1) (Sunday, FOX, 4:25 PM ET)
Washington head coach MIKE SHANAHAN returns to Denver, where he coached for 14 seasons and won two Super Bowls (XXXII and XXXIII). The Redskins have won two of their past three, including last week’s 45-41 win over Chicago.
“Denver’s got an excellent football team,” says Shanahan. “We found a way to win this one. Hopefully we can do that next week.”
Offensively, Washington was led by ROBERT GRIFFIN III (105.2 passer rating), ROY HELU, JR. (three rushing TDs) and rookie tight end JORDAN REED (nine catches for 134 yards and a touchdown). BRIAN ORAKPO made a key defensive play, recording his first career interception and returning it 29 yards for a touchdown.
“It felt like we were in sync,” says Griffin about the win over Chicago. “We were in sync for the entire game and that’s what the scoreboard reflected.”
The Broncos had their 17-game regular-season winning streak stopped last week at Indianapolis but seek to get back on track. Denver leads the NFL with 298 points scored and quarterback PEYTON MANNING tops the league in passing yards (2,565), touchdown passes (25) and passer rating (123.3).
“This is a game we need to learn from,” says Manning about the team’s first loss of the season. “We can learn from it. We certainly have to improve from this game because we weren’t as sharp execution-wise as we’d like.”
GREEN BAY PACKERS (4-2) at MINNESOTA VIKINGS (1-5) (Sunday, NBC, 8:30 PM ET)
The Packers and Vikings met three times last year. The teams split the regular-season series and Green Bay knocked off Minnesota in the Wild Card round 24-10.
Riding a three-game winning streak, the Packers have moved into first place in the NFC North. Last week, AARON RODGERS passed for three touchdowns and rookie running back EDDIE LACY had 108 scrimmage yards with a touchdown in Green Bay’s 31-13 win over Cleveland. Including the postseason, Rodgers has won six of his past seven starts against the Vikings, posting a 121.6 passer rating.
“We’re 1-0 in the division and this is an important time for us with back-to-back division games (Minnesota in Week 8, Chicago in Week 9),” says Rodgers. “We know what kind of environment it is in Minnesota. It’s going to be a challenge.”
The Vikings are looking to rebound from their 23-7 loss to the Giants on Monday Night Football.
“You come in with goals and expectations,” says quarterback JOSH FREEMAN, who made his first start for Minnesota. “I see a lot of areas that are manageable in terms of improvement. We can definitely get better.”
Running back ADRIAN PETERSON has a rushing touchdown in nine of his past 10 regular-season games against the Packers. Last year, in two regular-season meetings, Peterson rushed for 409 yards (204.5 per game) and two TDs.
2013 NFL STANDINGS