November is here. If there are “dog days” in football, they’re over. Here’s a look at five teams I can see having great months:
1. Green Bay Packers: The defence is finally beginning to look like it did early, which can largely be attributed to Clay Matthews’ return to health. But things are about to get better, with Atari Bigby and Al Harris set to make their season debuts soon. If things come together as they should, they’ll soon have one of the best pass defences in football. It’s also only a matter of time before the passing game clicks. It’s already very good, but Greg Jennings has been off his game and Donald Driver has been hurt. They aren’t quite the same without Jermichael Finley, but they’re still the favourite in the NFC North. A Week 10 bye is sandwiched by games against Dallas and Minnesota, both of whom have badly bruised egos. They should capitalize on both before rounding out the month with a statement victory in Atlanta.
2. New Orleans Saints: The Saints ended October by playing their most complete game of the year. Now, they’ll build on that in November with matchups against Carolina, Seattle and the wreck that is Dallas. Like Green Bay, they get an advantageous late bye (they’re off in Week 10) and get lucky by drawing the Seahawks at the Superdome (Seattle struggles badly on the road). With Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer hurt, it’s been tough for the Saints to establish consistency thus far. With the schedule easing up and those players set to return in the coming weeks, we should see the Saints return to Super Bowl form and take hold of the NFC South this month.
3. Buffalo Bills: Seriously. The Bills have a legit chance to win their next three games. Not sure if a team’s ever started 0-7 before winning three in a row, but with Chicago, Detroit and Cincinnati waiting in line, I see no reason why it can’t happen. Eventually, the Bills need a break or two. They’ve taken winning teams to overtime in back-to-back road games, but now they get Jay Cutler and the messy Bears at Rogers Centre in Toronto before taking on the Lions in Orchard Park. Buffalo matches up very well with Chicago and Detroit, and everyone matches up well with Cincinnati.
4. San Francisco 49ers: Call me crazy, but I still think the 49ers might win the NFC West. They’re still the most talented team in the division and the schedule makes it easy for a run to take place. After a bye this week, the Niners host the Rams and Buccaneers before travelling to Arizona. St. Louis has been great at home, horrible on the road, the Bucs are playing way above their heads and will have to travel cross country for that game, and the Cardinals can’t beat anyone right now. My gut tells me San Fran is going to put things together just in the nick of time to make the playoffs and get hammered on wild-card weekend. But that could also be the burrito I ate for lunch.
5. New York Jets: The Jets are simply better than the Patriots, and in November they’ll have a chance to climb back atop the AFC East. Let’s just give them a mulligan for that Halloween disaster against Green Bay — no team is immune to unexpected disaster this season. The Jets travel to Foxborough in the first week of December. Between now and then, they’ll play Detroit, Cleveland, Houston and Cincinnati. I have a hard time seeing them lose any of those games.
And because it can’t be all sunshine and lollipops, here are three teams that I expect to see hit roadblocks in November:
1. Seattle Seahawks: Sure, they’ve been perfect at home thus far, but they’ve yet to play a team like the Giants at Qwest Field. They’ll fall this week, and then they have to go to Arizona and New Orleans. They finish up the month at home, but that game’s against another quality team (Kansas City). By the time November is through, I expect the banged-up Seahawks to be tied with San Francisco and St. Louis (and maybe even Arizona) for the NFC West lead. And that might be the best-case scenario.
2. St. Louis Rams: St. Louis continues to dazzle at home and struggle on the road, which is quite normal for really young teams like the Rams. Unfortunately, four of their next five games are away from home. Their only game at the Edward Jones Dome between now and Dec. 19? A matchup with the 5-2 Falcons. The NFC West is a bloody mess.
3. Houston Texans: Let me just throw it out there: Houston just isn’t very good. And in the AFC South, that’s a massive problem. In Week 8, they were greatly outplayed by a Colts team so shorthanded that I’m pretty sure they were sure using a traffic cone in a jersey as a decoy receiver. The Texans, who have the worst pass defence in the league and are now having trouble getting to opposing quarterbacks, face Philip Rivers this week, the suddenly red-hot David Garrard the next week, Vince Young and his new weapon Randy Moss two weeks after that, and Michael Vick and the Eagles in the first week of December. Oh, and squeezed between all those games: a matchup with the Jets. Have fun.