By John Jastremski
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There's a reason why you should always expect the unexpected when it comes to the NFL on a Sunday. Andy Dalton could not have looked worse over the last month. On Sunday he torched the New Orleans Saints. The Cleveland Browns appeared poised to make a serious run to the playoffs. On Sunday, they lost to a rookie in Ryan Mallet, making his first NFL start. Mark Sanchez was the toast of the NFL over the last few days, but on Sunday of course he looked like … well… Mark Sanchez.
And lets not forget that the Denver Broncos lost to St. Louis Rams! The St. Louis Rams? Did I mistype that?
No, I did not.
So What Did We Learn This Week?
The NFC South has turned into the NFC West of 2010
How bad are things in the NFC South? The Atlanta Falcons, a football team that went about 50 days without winning a game, is currently in possession of first place in the division. It's mind-boggling that a team is in first place with a record of 4-6, but that's the 2014 NFC South in a nutshell.
You guys may remember the 2010 Seattle Seahawks. They won the NFC West with a record of 7-9. May we have déjà vu in 2014? It's certainly possible in this year's NFC South.
This has been a lousy division all year long, but I was always of the belief that the winner of the division would find a way to nine or 10 wins. That's not happening!
Realistically, when you look at it, there is a legitimate chance that 8-8 may be good enough to win the NFC South.
The Saints, a team that was the favorite going into the year, appeared to be back on track after destroying the Green Bay Packers two weeks ago. Since then, they have lost back-to-back games at home, including a 27-10 whoopin' at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals.
This Saints team is a far cry from the one that would demolish any team coming to visit the Superdome.
They are not alone. The Carolina Panthers, last year's division champion, cannot get out of their own way.
The Panthers lost yet again on Sunday to the Atlanta Falcons. Their defense has taken a major step back and Cam Newton just simply doesn't look right.
As for the Falcons, they are the hot team in the division! They've won two in a row, and a couple of weeks ago everyone wanted to run head coach Mike Smith out of town.
Trying to handicap this division down the stretch of the season will be close to impossible. All of these teams are flawed to the fullest degree, and I look forward to having the opportunity to pick against one of the three in the Wild Card round.
The Patriots Are The Class Of The AFC
Folks, I hate to say I told you so. Any "JJ After Dark" listener can attest that I never wavered for a minute regarding the New England Patriots in 2014. I remember after the rout at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football, the sky was falling in Foxboro. But since then, guess what? The Patriots have yet to lose a football game.
The Patriots once again are dominating the month of November. They took care of the Broncos two weeks ago and on Sunday they were terrific on the road against Andrew Luck and the Colts.
This is the best team in the AFC.
What I loved about Sunday's performance is that the Patriots went about it a different way. They turned back the clock to last year's postseason.
Last year, the Patriots ran all over the Colts, led by LeGarette Blount. With Blount taking his talents to Pittsburgh, it was a different Patriots running back who stole the show.
Unknown Jonas Gray carried the ball 38 times for 199 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-20 victory.
This is what the Patriots do. They find a player who was on the practice squad for the first six weeks of the year and turn him into a proven commodity.
We've seen this far too many times. The Patriots continue to find these diamond-in-the-rough type players over and over again. First it was Julian Edelman, Danny Woodhead and Rob Niknovich. Well, you can add Gray to that list.
The Patriots have a nice balance going offensively and the much-maligned offensive line is starting to gel. They also have their best secondary in years, led by Brandon Browner and our old friend, Darrelle Revis.
Get ready for more January football in Foxboro. What a surprise.
State Of Denial: RG3 Is Simply Not The Same
It's a shame what has become of Robert Griffin III in Washington. The Redskins were demolished by one of the worst teams in the league in the Tampa Bay Bucs on Sunday, and Griffin should be ashamed of the way he handled himself after the game.
Instead of holding himself accountable for his lackluster performance, he was quoted as saying he needs more out of his teammates in order to get the job done. Are you kidding me? Would you ever hear Peyton Manning say that? Would you ever hear Aaron Rodgers say that? Of course not!
The lack of leadership from what is supposed to be the face of the franchise is beyond disturbing. It's just not acceptable behavior from a guy who is supposed to be a franchise quarterback.
I had no problem whatsoever with head coach Jay Gruden telling members of the media that his quarterback should only worry about himself. I feel for Gruden because he has a mess on his hands.
Here's the harsh reality. Aside from the 2012 season, the Washington Redskins have played atrocious football with RG3 at quarterback. The 'Skins have lost eight consecutive games that Griffin has started and played the entire game.
Sadly, due to injuries, he just simply hasn't looked like the same quarterback we saw in his rookie year. I remember a time when you put RG3 right up there with Luck and Russell Wilson.
That player, sadly, is long gone, and you wonder whether RG3 can ever be that player again.
JJ's Studmuffin Of The Week
Aaron Rodgers - Quarterback - Green Bay Packers
It's good to be Rodgers these days. His team has a record of 7-3, he's led the Packers to back-to-back 50-point performances and he's happily dating "The Newsroom" starlet Olivia Munn. I'd say life is pretty good for Mr. Discount Double Check.
Rodgers was masterful on Sunday against the Eagles. 341 yards and three touchdowns is a tame stat line compared to a week ago, but Rodgers has the Pack on a roll atop the NFC North.
He plays the position as well as anyone in football and is putting himself right into the MVP Award mix.
Charlie Brown Of The Week
Eli Manning - Quarterback - New York Giants
Throughout the 2014 season, Manning has been the least of the Giants' problems. However, that was not the case in Sunday's 16-10 loss to the 49ers.
Eli looked like the quarterback we saw a year ago when he led the league in interceptions. He threw five of them on Sunday, including one on the final drive of the game that sealed the Giants' fifth straight loss.
It was one of the worst performances in Eli's tenure as Giants quarterback.
However, I'll give Eli credit this week for being accountable after the game for his poor play. There's another quarterback in the division who should take notes.
Game Of The Week
Baltimore (6-2) @ New Orleans (4-6)
This may not be the best matchup on paper, but it's the most fascinating to me for a lot of reasons. Two teams with their playoff futures in doubt? Sign me up for that!
I'm curious to find out who exactly the Baltimore Ravens are.
One of the main concerns I had about Baltimore going into the year was their ability to run the football in the absence of Ray Rice. They have answered the call with the emergence of Justin Forsett, who is amongst the league leaders in rushing.
The Ravens will need Forsett to control the clock to keep Drew Brees and the Saints' offense off the field.
In a hotly-contested AFC North, every game is crucial for the Ravens. This one all of a sudden appears a lot more winnable.
We know at the moment that the New Orleans Saints are a mess, but primetime games at home are usually when star shines the brightest. Drew Brees should be able to pick apart the beat-up Ravens' secondary if he's given time to throw.
I want to see if the Saints can somehow get back to being the Saints. That means big plays, a juiced up Superdome crowd and a big effort in primetime.
This should be a very telling game regarding both of these teams
JJ's Sucker Bet Of The Week (1-2)
St. Louis +6 @ San Diego
Hallelujah! The Sucker Bet of the Week finally got the goose egg off our back!
The Rams stunned the football world by defeating the Broncos at home. They have also defeated the 49ers and Seahawks on the year. Take the six, right?
Guess again. The San Diego Chargers are getting healthier by the minute, they have a lot more to play for and they are a much different team at home.
There's no way I can feel good about Shaun Hill on the road, either. I know he did a nice job managing the game against the Broncos, but back-to-back solid performances? I'm skeptical.
I just get the feel this has letdown city written all over it. I expect Rivers to make some plays, and the Chargers' defense looked a lot better. I expect San Diego to win this game rather comfortably on Sunday.
JJ's Lock Of The Week (3-0)
Colts -13.5 vs. Jacksonville
I'm about to break one of my own rules: Never take a double-digit favorite in the NFL. However, this game makes way too much sense.
The Indianapolis Colts should be an angry football team after Sunday's loss to the Pats. And the fact that they have the Houston Texans breathing down their necks in the division should only heighten their sense of urgency.
And let's not forget one thing. The Jacksonville Jaguars are one of the worst teams in the NFL!
They have a rookie quarterback in Blake Bortles who is prone to mistakes, and the Colts have a terrific secondary led by Vontae Davis that should be able to capitalize.
I'd look for Luck & Co. to have a big day as well. Lay the wood. Take the Colts with the points!
John Jastremski was the winner of Fantasy Phenom in 2011 and can be heard on his program, "JJ After Dark," on WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. (This week: Sunday 2-6 a.m. on WFAN and Monday 2-6 a.m. on CBS Sports Radio.) Follow him on Twitter — @john_jastremski.
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