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Original Issue


A wild—and weird—eight weeks have left plenty of issues still to be settled

1 Will a Bill Belichick team finish last in total defense?

Yes. The Patriots are allowing a league-high 424.1 yards a game. Their high-scoring offense isn't built for ball control, giving opponents plenty of opportunities to remind us that game plans are only as good as the players who execute them.

2 Can Buffalo win the AFC East?

Yes. The Bills are tied for the league lead in takeaways, have a capable passing attack and feature one of the game's more underrated backs in Fred Jackson. Plus, they've already beaten the Pats.

3 Will things get better for Chris Johnson?

Not dramatically if the problem isn't physical—and he says it's not. The NFL's most dangerous back the past three seasons has been held under 35 yards in four games and was outrushed 60 to 34 (on the same number of carries) by his backup on Sunday. That does not bode well.

4 Who's the league's hottest back?

Frank Gore of the 49ers has run for at least 125 yards and a TD in four consecutive games, which helps explain why QB Alex Smith is playing so efficiently and why San Francisco is 6--1.

5 Who is the real Joe Flacco?

If you know, please tell the Ravens. They thought their QB would take his game to the next level, but over his last four games he's thrown one TD with four picks and is on pace to finish with the worst completion percentage and most INTs of his four-year career.

6 Who'll win the Andrew Luck sweepstakes?

It's a race between the winless Dolphins and Colts. The nod goes to Indy, which is getting worse by the week. Miami at least waits until the fourth quarter to collapse.

7 Which team will clinch its division first?

The Niners—they already have a four-game lead in the NFC West, face the free-falling Redskins on Sunday and have five of their final eight against teams with two wins or less.

8 Can the Eagles live up to the Dream Team moniker?

If that means winning the NFC East after a 1--4 start, yes. But don't expect a deep playoff run. Philly's run defense and O-line are too inconsistent.

9 Will the Carson Palmer experiment pan out?

How could it not? Simple: 31-year-old QBs don't sit out an entire off-season, miss the first month and a half, then play consistently at a high level.

10 Will Matt Forte finally get paid?

Not before year's end. While the Bears were quick to throw money at outsiders like Julius Peppers, Jay Cutler and Chester Taylor, they're playing hardball with a homegrown back who leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage, is a close second in the MVP race and is making just $550,000 in the final year of his rookie deal.



GORE CAMPAIGN The 49ers back has rushed for 125 or more yards in four straight to help San Francisco assume an unassailable spot at the top of the NFC West.