|Steelers running back Baron Batch celebrates a touchdown against the Titans at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., Oct. 11, 2012. (HARRISON McCLARY/Reuters)
FIVE STORIES TO WATCH
1. No last rites for Steelers
Just when the football world was ready to bury the Pittsburgh Steelers, they avoided a 2-4 start with a huge 24-17 AFC North win Sunday in Cincinnati. With the defence of the Ravens (5-2) in shambles, Pittsburgh's dream of winning the division is not so farfetched now that the team has reached level ground at 3-3. Of course, it won't be easy, especially with the electrifying RG3 coming Sunday to Heinz Field.
2. CJ2K is transforming from dud to stud
Sure, Chris Johnson's 195-yard, two-touchdown performance Sunday came against a porous Buffalo Bills defence that is one of the league's worst units. At the same time, the Tennessee Titans back seems to be using his blockers better and being more patient before using his ridiculous speed to bust through holes. Barely resembles the stumbling, bumbling back who was averaging under two yards a carry early in the season.
3. These Saints still have warts
Two consecutive victories. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma is back. So, too, is interim coach Joe Vitt, who took over immediately after the Saint' 35-28 win Sunday over Tampa Bay. We hate to spoil all these warm fuzzy storylines surrounding the Saints, but this defence is still allowing more than 30 points a game. Until that changes, a storybook return to the playoffs is unlikely.
4. Texans eyeing home-field advantage already
Yeah, we know the season hasn't even reached the midway point. But consider this: At 6-1, Houston has only two opponents on its remaining schedule (Chicago, New England) with records above .500. In addition, Sunday's drubbing of the Ravens gives the Texans yet another potential tiebreaker. It's just October, but the stars certainly are aligning themselves for Houston to get home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
5. Brady Quinn will not be the Chiefs saviour
Coach Romeo Crennel announced Monday that Brady Quinn was now the team's starting quarterback and would not have to "look over his shoulder." Good luck with that. Matt Cassel may have been brutal for the Chiefs (1-5), but Quinn was not much better in his Oct. 14 start in Tampa Bay, tossing two picks in a one-sided loss. Len Dawson he ain't!
STOCK GOING UP
Packers WR/KR Randall Cobb
Last week, quarterback Aaron Rodgers said 2011 second-round selection Randall Cobb may be the best draft pick Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson has ever made. After watching the kid make two touchdown grabs, return kicks and even get carries out of the backfield Sunday against the Rams, he might be right.
STOCK GOING DOWN
An already porous defence was shredded by the Texans and now finds itself ranked 26th, allowing 400 yards a game. So much for those glass-half-full theories that Baltimore could overcome injuries to Ray Lewis and LarDarius Webb.
ON THE HOT SEAT
Jacksonville GM Gene Smith
Injuries to quarterback Blaine Gabbert and Maurice Jones-Drew didn't help, but a loss to the struggling Oakland Raiders put the Jags at 1-5 and has Jacksonville fans calling for Smith's head. Given his poor record with high draft picks and the fact there is a new owner in town (Shahid Khan), the restless natives in northeast Florida may get their wish soon.
HYPE WE'RE BUYING
Robert Griffin III
RG3's late-game heroics -- including a Houdini-like escape from the vaunted New York Giants pass rush to convert a fourth-and-10 (to a third-string tight end, no less) -- led to the go-ahead score with 2:07 left. Even though a strike from Eli Manning to Victor Cruz gave New York the 27-23 victory, Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck spoke for his entire team when he said facing RG3 twice a year "is going to be a headache." Point taken. The kid quarterback is special. Even his opponents admit it.
HYPE WE'RE NOT
The Dallas Cowboys allegedly "are back"
Owner Jerry Jones said his team's 19-14 victory over hapless Carolina was "beautiful." Really? What's so pretty about scoring just one touchdown and needing four field goals by Dan Bailey to hold on against the league's 24th-ranked defence? We'll buy into the Cowboys if they sweep the season series against New York by beating the Giants next weekend, But they'll have to play much better to pull that one off.
The Bills woulda found themselves tied with New England atop the AFC East at 4-3 had safety George Wilson squeezed a catchable interception near the Buffalo goal line with just 1:57 to play to preserve a 34-28 lead. Instead, the Tennessee Titans' Matt Hasselbeck hit Nate Washington for the winning touchdown two plays later. Another botched play by a brutal Bills defence.
The Jets coulda avoided going into overtime against the hated New England Patriots had rookie wideout Stephen Hill not dropped a catchable third-down pass late in the fourth quarter that would have given New York the ball in the red zone with a new set of downs. A reception would have allowed the Jets to be in good position for the go-ahead touchdown while leaving Tom Brady little time for a comeback. Instead, New York settled for a field goal and, well, you know how it turned out.
With backfield studs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller at his disposal, Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick shoulda stuck with the running and short passing games in order to chew up the clock and play a field-position game while nursing a six-point lead over the Titans late in the fourth quarter. Instead, Fitzpatrick's poor downfield toss with three minutes left was picked off at Tennessee's 48-yard line, setting up the visitors' winning drive.
GOAT(S) OF THE WEEK
Redskins defensive backs Josh Wilson and Madieu Williams
Your team just took a three-point lead with 1:23 remaining. You immediately are assigned to double-cover Victor Cruz, the Giants best wideout. Your No. 1 assignment; Don't let him get behind you. What happens? You get beat deep. Ridiculous. Have fun watching that play in team meetings this week, boys!
HERO OF THE WEEK
Giants quarterback Eli Manning
Since the start of the 2011 season, he has led his team to eight comebacks in either the fourth quarter or overtime, including Sunday with his 77-yard touchdown to Cruz. He has done it twice in Super Bowls to beat the Patriots. Deion Sanders always says he "believes in Eli." By now, we all should.
ZERO OF THE WEEK
Bills defensive co-ordinator Dave Wannstedt
This team spent $100 million US on pass rusher Mario Williams, brought in another sack master in Mark Anderson via free agency and drafted a defensive back, Stephon Gilmore, in the first round. And for what? To give up an average of more than 32 points a game through seven outings? Expect Wannstedt to take the fall soon if this disturbing trend continues.