Beyond Nova Nation: Playoff picture begins to clear in NFL

Patrick Mullaney

As the National Football League playoff picture begins to take shape, several teams and players have surprised the nation with performances either far above or below expectations. From a surprise rookie quarterback, to the troubles of America’s Team, the league continues to shock fans entering Week 11.


The New York Giants: The G-Men have taken all the football experts by surprise and find themselves with the second-best record in the league. Some predicted that the New York Giants would finish dead last in their division even before they lost defensive end Osi Umenyiora to a season-ending injury.

Coach Tom Coughlin deserves a lot of the credit here. His no-joke coaching mentality keeps the Giants focused and ready for each week’s matchup.

The so-called “Earth, Wind and Fire” (Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and Derrick Ward) rushing attack has continued its effectiveness throughout the season. They are first in the league in rushing per game. And with Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning as poised as ever, the Giants could find themselves in their second-straight Super Bowl.

Tennessee Titans: Unless you are John Clayton of, you did not predict the Titans would be 9-0 at this point in the season (and he’s probably lying anyway).

Vince Young’s problems have not hindered the performance of the team, and that is the mark of a good team: It can rise up and overcome player personnel conflicts and does not let it affect them on the field. Old-timer Kerry Collins has managed games well.

The running attacks of Chris Johnson (Lightning) and LenDale White (Thunder) have helped the Titans garner a perfect first half. Johnson already has 723 rushing yards on the season, which puts him on pace for almost 1,300 yards.

Matt Ryan: This Pennsylvania native has thoroughly pleased Atlanta fans by having the Falcons at 6-3. It is not often that a rookie can have such an effect on a team this quickly.

He has done well to put the Mike Vick debacle behind the Falcons. With the division they are in, it will be hard for the Falcons to get into the playoffs, but Ryan will make them a viable playoff contender for years to come.

He is certainly a future star of the NFL.

Notable Mentions: Arizona Cardinals, Washington Redskins, Aaron Rodgers.

Meeting Expectations

Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers are always Super Bowl contenders before a season even starts. At 6-3, they are well on their way to a possible appearance.

Adrian Peterson: This should go under “nice expected performances.” Everyone’s favorite rookie from last year has continued his fantastic performance. After Week 10, he has 1,015 yards on the ground. He has said that he hopes to rush for 2,500 yards one season. While it is doubtful he will get it this year, he could find himself over 2,000 at year’s end.

Clinton Portis: This could go under surprises, but Portis is always a solid back, and he has been among the league’s best so far. He is second in the league in rushing with 995 yards. With a dominating offensive line in front of him, Portis makes the Redskins a contender for a playoff spot in the NFC.

Notable Mentions: San Francisco (remembering that they are always bad), Detroit Lions, Drew Brees.


Tom Brady’s Knee: No one saw it coming. No Patriots fan could ever imagine it happening, but it did: Brady was injured at the very beginning of the season.

Now, despite this unfortunate occurrence, the Patriots are doing quite well with a record of 6-3. Bill Belichick has probably done some of his best coaching during this season, even with Brady’s absence.

Hopefully for Pats fans, Matt Cassel can do just enough to get them into the playoffs.

San Diego Chargers: Everyone thought this team would sprint out of the gates at the beginning of the season, but that has not been the case for the 4-5 Chargers.

They are like Jerry McGuire after getting fired – with no hope of things getting better. Unlike McGuire, the Chargers will not recover from this. The only thing that helps them is that they have the Raiders and the Chiefs in their division. In theory, that should equal four easy wins. They play the Chiefs twice, but other than that, their second-half schedule does not look so easy.

If they do turn it around, their final game against the Broncos could determine whether or not they gain entry into the playoffs.

Dallas Cowboys: While this team can turn it around, a lot of people expected the Cowboys to be atop the NFC East right now. However, they are just 5-4 and at the bottom.

Tony Romo’s injury did not help matters, as Brad Johnson has not done well in his absence. Johnson’s best years are far behind him, and Romo needs to come back quickly because Brooks Bollinger does not cut it either.

Cleveland Browns: This is a team from which a lot was expected after an appearance in the playoffs last year. Unfortunately, they are playing like football’s Yankees without the monstrous contracts. With recievers Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow, they have all-star caliber players, but they are just not performing well. Maybe the change at quarterback from Derek Anderson to Brady Quinn will fire-up this lagging squad.

Notable Mentions: Seattle Seahawks, Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals.