Texans, Ravens heavyweights of AFC

If the Broncos beat the Chargers on Monday, the Texans and Ravens will be the only two teams in the...

If the Broncos beat the Chargers on Monday, the Texans and Ravens will be the only two teams in the AFC with winning records. (JONATHAN ERNST/Reuters file photo)

JOHN KRYK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:18 AM ET

FIVE STORIES TO WATCH

1. Showdown of the AFC heavyweights

After the Denver Broncos knocked off the San Diego Chargers on Monday night, only two teams in the AFC now have winning records: the 5-1 Houston Texans and the 5-1 Baltimore Ravens. The Texans and Ravens square off Sunday in Houston. The winner will have Super dreams until the playoffs start in January.

2. The Niners must bounce back, and fast

Head coach Jim Harbaugh and his San Francisco 49ers are still hacking up shards of humble pie after their mojo-crushing loss to the New York Giants on Sunday. No time to lament. Thursday, the Niners play host to the Seattle Seahawks, coached by Harbaugh’s arch-nemesis Pete Carroll. The loser drops to second or third in the NFC West.

3. The Pack is back

It was only a matter of time before quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers offence found their range. That happened Sunday night in deep Texas when Rodgers strafed the Houston Texans secondary for six touchdowns. The Packers defence has also improved. The coming NFC North intra-division battles should be fun.

4. Surprising Redskins eye first place in NFC East

Who would have believed it? If the Washington Redskins can somehow upset host New York Giants this week, both teams will be 4-3, tied atop their division. Sunday, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III ran and passed for 320 yards in a victory against the Minnesota Vikings, whose defence had been pretty good. You never know.

5. Will the Patriots get back on track?

As quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots try to reacquire all that offensive momentum they lost out west in Seattle, the New York Jets finally reacquired theirs against the Colts. The Jets visit the Patriots on Sunday. The winner grabs at least a share of the AFC East lead at 4-3, while the loser falls to the cellar at 3-4.

STOCK GOING UP

Rookie quarterbacks

Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Russell Wilson had an average passer rating of 92.3 Sunday a week after averaging 86.1. All five are improving and fast. Their teams are also winning (7-3 over the past two weeks). Hell of a story.

STOCK GOING DOWN

The Cincinnati Bengals

Two weeks ago the Bengals were 3-1 with games against the 1-3 Miami Dolphins followed by the winless Cleveland Browns. The Bengals ended up losing to both and sit 3-3. They next face the Pittsburgh Steelers, followed by the Denver Bronos and New York Giants.

ON THE HOT SEAT

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett

His offence is too complicated, his offensive linemen false-start more often than sprinters at a skeet-shooting range and his owner has less patience than an online gambler besieged by pop-up ads before the river card.

HYPE WE'RE BUYING

The New York Giants

The defending Super Bowl champions put the whole NFL on notice Sunday that Eli Manning and the offence are better than ever in 2012. When they’re jacked for a big game and when the front-seven shows up on defence -– as it did in humiliating the supposedly indomitable 49ers offensive line -– there might not be a team in the league that can keep up with them.

HYPE WE'RE NOT

The Atlanta Falcons’ 6-0 record

Without a run of extremely good fortune over the past three weeks, the Falcons might be 3-3. They beat the Carolina Panthers because of an unlikely Hail Mary reception that allowed them to eke out a win with a field goal. They beat Washington only after Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was injured. Without Carson Palmer’s late gift pick-six, they probably wouldn’t have defeated the Oakland Raiders.

WOULDA

Here’s the deal when players such as running backs and wildcat quarterbacks are asked to pass only if the receiver’s open: They’re going pass no matter what. Bills coach Chan Gailey should not have been surprised his wildcat quarterback Brad Smith was picked off late in Arizona. It would have cost Buffalo the game had the Cardinals not given possession right back.

SHOULDA

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett should have called timeout the moment his wideout Dez Bryant was tackled after a one-yard grab at the Baltimore Ravens 33-yard line with just over 20 seconds left. Garrett wasting 14-16 seconds was criminal clock management, especially when his kicker Dan Bailey hadn’t booted a 50-yard field goal in ages. Bailey missed. Baltimore won.

COULDA

The Oakland Raiders could have been 2-3 and still in the hunt for the AFC West title if they hadn’t ruined a great day’s effort with late-game gaffes against the Atlanta Falcons. Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer had a fabulous game, scorching a good Falcons secondary for 353 yards. But his late pick-six, and subsequent defensive collapse, frittered it away.

GOAT OF THE WEEK

Left side of the Arizona Cardinals offensive line

Not because it couldn’t protect either of the team’s quarterbacks, but because on the final play of regulation, all it had to do was ward off the Buffalo Bills’ defensive linemen so Jay Feely could make a 38-yard field goal. It couldn’t. Bills lineman Alex Carrington tipped the ball, redirecting it into the left upright. Buffalo won in overtime.

HERO OF THE WEEK

Aaron Rodgers

The Green Bay Packers quarterback was as good as ever Sunday night in Houston. The Texans defence had allowed 73 points in five games before Rodgers and the Pack hung a 42-spot on ’em. Rodgers threw six touchdown passes. Yes, the Pack is back.

ZERO OF THE WEEK

Alex Smith

The San Francisco 49ers quarterback had a 8-1 TD-to-INT ratio going into Sunday’s game against the New York Giants. Afterward? 8-4. Smith was awful. Period. So much of his hard-won respect just went pffft.


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