As October draws to a close, let's congratulate the New York Yankees on yet another World Series title. As the NFL hits the halfway mark in the 2012 season, we're wondering whether or not the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots will continue their dominance and remain on their Super Bowl collision course.
Confused? Don't be. This is how the situation was supposed to be on October 31 according to us "experts" in the media. While we all may claim to be reporters of the news, nobody loves a good "story" better than sportswriters.
The truth is that many of the narratives we spin are just that, almost fictionalized accounts of what we want to be so rather than what reality dictates. Sometimes I think our columns all ought to begin with "based on a true story."
With that in mind, let's look at three popular media memes right now that, while based in some reality, ain't necessarily so.
Yes, this little fairy tale is rooted in reality. To this point in the season, the NFC holds a 19-12 advantage in head-to-head matchups against teams from the AFC. That's where the facts end, however. Some important factors have gone into that perception that the AFC lacks talent:
- Three of the NFL's four worst records belong to teams in the AFC (Cleveland, Jacksonville and Kansas City). Those three are a combined 1-7 in their interconference games. Meanwhile, the NFC's worst record belongs to the Carolina Panthers who have yet to play an interconference game. If we throw out the games involving those teams, it's just a slight edge for the NFC at 12-11.
- The Indianapolis Colts are 2-1 against the vaunted NFC North. The Colts have knocked off Minnesota and Green Bay (with a combined 11-4 record) and lost to Chicago in the season opener. Right now there's a better than average chance they can go to Detroit and knock off the Lions. While Green Bay's win in Houston was impressive, they nearly laid an egg at home against the lowly Jaguars who were playing without Maurice-Jones Drew.
- The New England Patriots have lost two heart-breaking games to Arizona and Seattle, games they had no business losing. Stephen Gostkowski inexplicably shanked a game-winning field goal and somehow the New England safeties let a Seattle receiver get behind them in the closing seconds.
Peyton Manning is back and the Broncos will make a deep playoff run.
As college football's Lee Corso would say, "not so fast, my friend." Yes, Manning and the Broncos have survived a brutal early schedule and Manning's statistics look pretty gaudy. But the numbers don't tell the entire story.
Denver has notched three of its four wins at home. Their lone road victory was a great comeback win at San Diego where Philip Rivers and the Chargers gift-wrapped a win by committing six turnovers and allowing two defensive scores. Manning was very good in that game, but no way the Broncos win without the considerable help provided by the Chargers. Without that win, the Chargers are sitting at 4-3 and the Broncos at 3-4 and the conversation sounds very different this morning.
Manning's numbers have certainly been impressive. He's still a top-flight quarterback, but a closer look at those numbers reveals some inflation that makes them appear better than they are.
In Manning's first three games, he faced teams who are ranked in the top half of the league against the pass. The Broncos went 1-2. His last four games in which the Broncos are 3-1 have been against teams ranked in the bottom third of the NFL against the pass.
In four of Denver's seven games, they've trailed by 20 points or more. Read that again. In the majority of the games Denver has played, they've trailed by three touchdowns! Thanks to San Diego's generosity, they won one of those games. It also indicates the types of coverages Manning has seen in the majority of his games. Yes, he's putting up some gaudy numbers, but he's doing so against defenses who are have been largely giving him high percentage passes.
Manning's a wily enough veteran to be able to take what the defense gives him in these circumstances. But can he and Denver really count on this repeating itself for the rest of the season? We'll know more after this weekend when Denver travels to Cincinnati. Denver hasn't played a road game yet where they've not gotten behind big in the first half. Don't count on Andy Dalton and the Bengals being as generous as San Diego if that's the case.
On the plus side for Denver, they face only two more defenses currently ranked in the league's top half (Baltimore and Tampa Bay) and one of those (Baltimore) is now playing without its best cornerback. On the minus side, five of those games are on the road.
Atlanta and Houston can book their trips to New Orleans.
Atlanta is the league's lone remaining unbeaten team and Houston has a lone loss to Green Bay. Yet Colts fans know only too well that leading the conference at the league's halfway mark doesn't guarantee post-season success. In the last five years, we've had only one season (2009) where the teams with the best record in their conference have made the Super Bowl. We've also seen two wild-card teams win the Super Bowl (New York '07 and Green Bay) and two 9-7 teams make the Super Bowl (Arizona and New York '11).
If that trend holds true, some team sitting at 4-3 or 3-4 right now still has a good chance to be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on Bourbon Street at the end of the year. Hey, aren't the Colts 4-3? Sounds like a good story to me.
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