We’re over half way through the 2012 NFL season and the playoff picture in both the AFC and NFC conferences is becoming much clearer with each passing game. Here’s a look back at some of the key games that took place over the weekend.

Green Bay Packers 31-17 Arizona Cardinals:

Over the last few weeks both of these sides have experienced very different fates. By coming out on top with the victory on Sunday, the Green Bay Packers have won their last four games on the trot, while the floundering Cardinals have lost their last five after starting the season with a surprise record of 4-0. The win itself didn’t come as a major shock as the Packers came into the game as big favourites, but the manner in which they won was a pleasant surprise to the Lambeau Field faithful.

Over the last couple of seasons Green Bay has built its reputation as a high powered passing offense that has been held back at times by its poor running game. However, the Packers were able to get success against the Cardinals, running for a season-high 176 yards on 39 carries. That rushing total is the highest the team has had in over two years. League MVP Aaron Rodgers didn’t put up the gaudiest stat-line in terms of pass completions or yards (14 0f 30 for 218 yards), but threw four touchdown passes, bringing his total for the season to 25.

Rodgers is now the only Quarterback in NFL History to throw 25 touchdown passes through nine games in back to back seasons. The victory was overshadowed however due to injuries to more of the Packers key players. Wide Receiver Jordy Nelson came out of the game early on after picking up an ankle injury while star Linebacker Clay Matthews also suffered a hamstring injury. Matthews is likely to be out for at least two weeks. Both teams are on their bye weeks next.

Chicago Bears 50-21 Tennessee Titans:

The Chicago Bears defence continued its dominant streak and manhandled the Tennessee Titans in front of their home crowd at LP Field, to increase their record to 7-1. The Bears defence forced three turnovers in the first 13 minutes of the game and scored a franchise record 28 points in the first quarter. Cornerback Charles Tillman had an astonishing four forced fumbles in the game and veteran Linebacker Brian Urlacher returned an interception 36 yards for a touchdown as well.

That pick-six marked the Bears’ seventh of the season, a club record. In seasons past many have believed that the Bears offense has held its great defensive teams from advancing deep into the playoffs. However, this season has proved so far that a different culture is emerging in Chicago. The reunion of Wide Receiver Brandon Marshall with his former Quarterback in Denver Jay Cutler has reaped dividends so far, with Marshall having another stellar game on Sunday (9 catches, 122 yards, 3 touchdowns). The running game has also been excellent for Chicago, with leading back Matt Forte having a Pro-Bowl calibre campaign.

The lone bright spot for Tennessee was the performance of Running Back Chris Johnson who gained 141 yards, including an 80 yard touchdown run, against the league’s highest ranked run defence. The Titans travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins next week while the Bears welcome Houston to Soldier Field in a clash of two of the NFL’s best teams.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24-20 New York Giants:

The Pittsburgh Steelers rallied from being down 20-10 to get the win and halt the Giants’ four-game winning streak. The turmoil caused in New York City by superstorm Sandy definitely had an impact on the two teams, both in pre-game preparation and their play on the field. Due to travel problems caused by the storm, the Steelers only arrived in New York a couple hours before the game and in the early goings it looked as though they were showing signs of rust.

The Giants were able to take a 14-7 lead after Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had the ball stripped away by Defensive End Osi Umenyiora and returned 70 yards by Michael Boley. The Pittsburgh defence stepped up in the second half and held Quarterback Eli Manning to one of the worst performances of his career (10 of 24, 125 yards and an interception). Steelers Running Back Isaac Redman had a career game running the football, totalling 147 yards on the ground and scoring the eventual game-winning touchdown with under four minutes left to play in the game.

After a slow start to the season the Steelers have now won their last three in a row and are in position to challenge the injury plagued Baltimore Ravens for the NFC North title. They will host the lowly Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football while New York travels to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals.

Atlanta Falcons 19-13 Dallas Cowboys:

The Atlanta Falcons yet again did just about enough to win and remain the only undefeated team in the NFL after they defeated the Dallas Cowboys in a defensive struggle at the Georgia Dome. MVP front-runner Matt Ryan had another solid performance, eclipsing the 300 yard mark in passing yardage but failed to throw a score through the air. The star Receiver duo of Julio Jones and Roddy White also posed problems for the Cowboys secondary, with both players gaining over 100 yards receiving.

For the most part, it was the defences that were enjoying the success as it was a game of field goals up until the fourth quarter when Running Back Michael Turner scored to give the Falcons their first lead of the game. Cowboys Quarterback Tony Romo completed all six of his pass attempts on a drive that was capped off by a 21-yard scoring pass to Kevin Ogletree with just under six minutes to play. However, Atlanta did an excellent job of managing the clock and drove down the field for Matt Bryant’s fourth field goal of the game to take a 19-13 lead with 17 seconds remaining. Both teams will be on the road next week to take on divisional rivals, as the Falcons take on the Saints and the Cowboys face off against the Eagles.

Offensive Player of the Week:

Doug Martin, Running Back, Tampa Bay Buccanners:

Doug Martin is my player of the week for the second time in a row after having one of the greatest performances by a Running Back in NFL history. Martin ran for 251 yards and four touchdowns against the Raiders on Sunday, falling just short of Adrian Peterson’s single-game record of 296 set in 2007. If Andrew Luck wasn’t having such an amazing season, Martin would have won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award already. It’s only nine games into his rookie year, but it already looks as though Martin could be one of the league’s best backs for the next decade.

Defensive Player of the Week:

Charles Tillman, Cornerback, Chicago Bears:

In reality you could pick any member of the Bears defence and it would be a legitimate choice. What Tillman has done so far this season is remarkable. It’s very rare we see a player at the Cornerback position dominate games and have this much of an impact but that is exactly what Tillman has done. Through nine games, Tillman has two interceptions, both of which have been returned for touchdowns, and SEVEN, yes SEVEN forced fumbles. That my friends, is insane.

 

Top Ten Power Rankings:

1.     Houston Texans (7-1)

2.     Chicago Bears (7-1)

3.     Atlanta Falcons (8-0)

4.     San Francisco 49ers (6-2)

5.     Green Bay Packers (6-3)

6.     New York Giants (6-3)

7.     New England Patriots (5-3)

8.     Baltimore Ravens (6-2)

9.     Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)

10.  Denver Broncos (5-3)