TheSTN – NFL: Close Games & Standings Highlight Competitive NFL

Six weeks into the NFL season, the games on the field have been close… and so are the standings.

In Week 6, half of the games (seven of 14) were decided by three points or fewer. And that’s nothing new for the 2012 season. So far, 27 of the league’s 91 games (29.7 percent) have been decided by three points or fewer. That puts 2012 on record pace to pass 1997 (27.9 percent; 67 of 240 games) as the highest single-season mark since the merger.

“You need to stay resilient,” says Detroit Lions head coach JIM SCHWARTZ about winning close games. “That’s the NFL. It’s been proven time and time again that every week is going to be a battle.”

Week 6 also featured exciting comeback wins as the Lions erased a 10-point deficit in the final 3:32 of the fourth quarter, the Seattle Seahawks stormed back from being down 13 in the fourth quarter and the Denver Broncos became the first team in NFL history to win by double-digits in a game it trailed by at least 24 points.

A look at the standings shows the competitiveness and unpredictability that is the National Football League. All four teams in the AFC East are tied, the first time since realignment in 2002 that a division has had all four teams tied in Week 6 or later. In the NFC West, all four teams are .500 or better and separated by only one game, including three teams at 4-2.

Through the first six weeks, there are 20 teams with a .500 or better record. Four divisions – AFC East (4), NFC West (4), NFC East (3) and NFC North (3) – have at least three teams with a .500+ record.

“We think of ourselves being 1-0 every week,” says head coach JOHN HARBAUGH of the 5-1 Baltimore Ravens. “It’s tough to be 1-0 every week in this league.”

And there’s now only one team that has remained 1-0 every week: the 6-0 Atlanta Falcons, who are off to the best start in franchise history.

“The bottom line is that we just need to keep winning,” says Falcons quarterback MATT RYAN. “We all need to have the mindset that we need to improve, and we do. At this point in the NFL regular season, it’s all about getting wins and we’ve done a good job of that so far.”

Some of the key games this weekend:

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (4-2) at SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (4-2)
(Thursday, NFL Network, 8:00 PM ET)

Seattle and San Francisco will kick off Week 7 with a key division matchup. The Seahawks, 49ers and Arizona Cardinals all enter the week tied for first place in the NFC West at 4-2.

Rookie quarterback RUSSELL WILSON threw for a career-high 293 yards and three touchdowns as he led the Seahawks to a 24-23 come-from-behind victory over the New England Patriots in Week 6. Trailing by 13 points in the fourth quarter, Wilson threw TD passes to BRAYLON EDWARDS (with 7:21 left) and SIDNEY RICE (with 1:18 remaining) for the win.

“We just focused in,” says Wilson. “The key was to continue to stay focused on what we can control and play one play at a time. Stay in the moment and stay in the now. And we definitely did that. The defense made some huge stops and we got the opportunity we did and came up big.”

San Francisco, the defending NFC West champions, aims to rebound from last week’s 26-3 loss to the New York Giants.

“We need to go out and work and get ready for the Seahawks,” says 49ers cornerback CARLOS ROGERS. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. This game is going to count more because it’s in the division. This is our division to win.”

WASHINGTON REDSKINS (3-3) at NEW YORK GIANTS (4-2)
(Sunday, FOX, 1:00 PM ET)

Two NFC East rivals will meet at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. Both teams are coming off impressive Week 6 wins.

The Redskins knocked off the Minnesota Vikings 38-26 behind rookie quarterback ROBERT GRIFFIN III. The No. 2 overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first rookie QB to rush for at least 100 yards and two touchdowns in the Super Bowl era. With Washington clinging to a five-point lead and facing a third-and-six with less than three minutes remaining, Griffin sealed the victory with a 76-yard touchdown run.

“When Robert gets in top gear, it’s like watching a track meet,” says wide receiver SANTANA MOSS. “And he’s not coming in second.”

New York is coming off a 26-3 victory at San Francisco. The Giants recorded at least six sacks and three interceptions while holding an opponent to three points or fewer for the first time since November 24, 1985. Safety ANTREL ROLLE had two interceptions for the defense and running back AHMAD BRADSHAW powered the offense with 116 rushing yards and a touchdown. The Giants are now 10-0 when Bradshaw reaches the 100-yard mark.

“That was a good, tough, hard-nosed football game, like we expected it to be,” says Giants head coach TOM COUGHLIN. “It was a very good football game for our team. Here we go now with division games coming up a couple weeks in a row.”

BALTIMORE RAVENS (5-1) at HOUSTON TEXANS (5-1)
(Sunday, CBS, 1:00 PM ET)

The two teams with the best record (5-1) in the AFC will meet on Sunday at Reliant Stadium.

The Ravens defeated Dallas 31-29 in Week 6 and Baltimore’s JACOBY JONES tied an NFL record by returning a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown.

“To set the National Football League record for a kickoff return, in what turned out to be the difference in the game, is pretty special,” says Ravens head coach Harbaugh.

Running back RAY RICE rushed for two TDs for Baltimore and quarterback JOE FLACCO improved to 31-5 at home.

Houston suffered its first defeat of 2012 last week after the team’s first 5-0 start in franchise history. The Texans will look to rebound with a win at home.

“We didn’t play up to our standard and our level of expectations,” says Houston quarterback MATT SCHAUB. “We’re going to have to put it behind us. The good thing is that it only counts as one. We’re going to have to refocus, watch the film, be hard on ourselves and correct the mistakes we made. We’ve got to go get ready for Baltimore.”

DETROIT LIONS (2-3) at CHICAGO BEARS (4-1)
(Monday, ESPN, 8:30 PM ET)

NFC North rivals will meet on Monday night at Chicago’s Soldier Field. The Lions look to build on the team’s come-from-behind victory at Philadelphia while the Bears, who are coming off a bye, hope to improve to a division-best 5-1.

Detroit rallied from a 10-point deficit to the Eagles by scoring twice in the final 3:32 to send the game into overtime. Kicker JASON HANSON connected on his fourth field goal of the day in OT to give the Lions the win. Detroit quarterback MATTHEW STAFFORD passed for 311 yards, including a 17-yard TD to NATE BURLESON to start the comeback.

“It’s hard to lead comebacks when you’re down 10, but Matt can do it,” says Lions head coach Schwartz about Stafford.

The Bears are 4-1, including a 2-0 mark at home. Chicago had a bye in Week 6 after the team’s 41-3 victory at Jacksonville in Week 5.

Chicago has been led by its opportunistic defense. The Bears are the first team in NFL history with five interception-return touchdowns in its first five games. Chicago has returned an interception for a touchdown in each of its past three games, the first time in franchise history the Bears have accomplished the feat. And linebacker LANCE BRIGGS and cornerback CHARLES TILLMAN are the first set of teammates in NFL history to each have an interception-return touchdown in consecutive games.

“We know we win when we score on defense,” says Bears head coach LOVIE SMITH.

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