1. Fourth Quarter - A few years ago, I had occasion to work with a prominent NFL referee on a business deal. He told me that people around the league said that an NFL season contains four distinct levels of competition and intensity: preseason the first 12 regular season games, the last four regular season games (with play-off spots and contracts at stake) and the postseason Here comes Level 3 - the homestretch of the regular season. Plenty of good football ahead for the next month 2. The Browns, Bengals and sad sack Colts will have a big say in determining the AFC play-off seedings. The Browns play the Steelers (twice) and the Ravens, while the Bengals play the Ravens and Texans, both of whom have bye weeks (i.e., games with the Colts) remaining. It's hard to hold out much hope for any outside help here for the Patriots. The Browns are - as ever - the Browns, the Bengals are fading fast and the Colts would be underdogs to Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (more on this later). Since the Colts are one of the few "football" teams in North America that is not NCAA bowl eligible, they will be spared this particular indignity (playing Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, that is) . 3. The debate rages on about just how bad the Patriots' defense is in 2011. Well, maybe it's not so much a debate but rather a prolonged episode of public group self-flagellation, a longstanding and curious affliction epidemic among sports fans here in New England. In an era where the NFL has in so many respects tied the hands of defensive players, the Patriot defense is, well, ordinary. But not the worst in the league. Not by a long shot. 4. The Patriots' three losses in 2011 have been by a total of 15 points. Blame the defense if you like, but a closer look reveals that the losses were also (N.B. - I did say "also") the three worst offensive outings of the season. In any close loss, you can find a number plays that could have (or should have) been made in all three phases that might have made a difference. Win as a team, lose as a team. 5. Big Sey - For the second time in his illustrious Raider career, Richard Seymour got himself tossed from a game. Does he get paid extra to be a role model for Ndamukong Suh? Wonder if we'll ever know the real story of how Ron Borges' favorite draft pick got himself exiled to Ron Borges' favorite team. 6. Misery Loves Company - Meanwhile, after the Packers-Giants game on Sunday, I heard from friends in Milwaukee and they are scared to death of the Packers defense. Scared to death. Compare Giant QB Goober Manning vs. NE (20-39, 250 yards, 2 TDs, 1 int, QB rating 77.9) and vs. GB (23-40, 347 yards, 3 TDs, 1 int, QB rating 100.7). The Packer secondary looked hilariously inept trying to tackle Giant WR Travis Beckum at the end of his 67 yard TD reception on Sunday. Never saw that many matadors in one place at the same time before. Read more on the Packer defensive woes here: Green Bay Packers news | Can the defense turn it around by January? | Green Bay Press Gazette A lot of this will look familiar. 6. My New Buddy - Fat Rex announced this week that former Colt offensive coordinator Tom Moore has been promoted from consultant to "mega-consultant." Not sure what this is supposed to mean, but it must do wonders for the confidence of beleaguered offensive coordinator Brian (son of Marty) Katzenjammer. Anyway, would you rather while away the hours at Taco Bell with: a mega-consultant or some clueless numbnuts offensive coordinator who is only in the league because of his (incompetent but nevertheless well-connected) father? 7. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, etc. - Look out: the College Bowl season is upon us. And God help us, every one. A veritable army of sportswriters, accountants, marketeers and computer geeks have used an impenetrable and sophisticated algorithm to assemble 70 (yes- 70!) of the finest NCAA football teams in existence to play 35 (yes - 35!) or so bowl games. For those of you who haven't been paying attention, this onslaught of pigskin mediocrity is conducted with the sole intent of preserving The Purity of Amateur Athletic Competition at Institutions of Higher Learning. It has nothing - I repeat NOTHING - to do with the fleecing of seemingly hundreds of gullible TV networks (ESPN 1 through infinity, and so forth) out of $millions. Nor is it an attempt to entice boozy school alums to relive their misspent youth by dressing up in their favorite bright green and yellow whale pants, traveling to faraway places they never dreamed of going (like Memphis and Boise) and spending their hard earned semi-disposable income in the local hotels, restaurants, bars and other generally disreputable establishments. This is the single most crass undertaking in all of sports. Nothing short of a brutal hangover (ed. note: this has been known to happen!) coupled with an inability to turn off the TV or change the channel would even remotely tempt me to watch any of it. Although I do confess a certain morbid curiosity about the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. But just the half time show. 8. Flex This - The College of Cardinals could elect a new Pope in less time than it took the NFL to decide when the Patriots-Broncos game would be played. 9. What Are We Gonna Do with Pop? - Manning Inc. fiercely guards The Family Brand with great care. So it's fun to watch them frantically try to walk back the comments of Manning the Elder, who this week wandered far off the family property by weighing in on the impending incompatibility of son FiveHead and the Once-and-Future-QB-Wunderkind Andrew (Can't Believe My Dumb) Luck. Looks like FiveHead and Goober may have to tie up Pop and leave him in the barn with a sock in his mouth until he gets over the urge to go out and talk with folks. 10. Cretin of the Week (Pseudo-Journalism Division) - Ever heard of Mike Dunphy? Well, me neither. He's the editor-in-chief of the new NFL Magazine who is responsible for the story in the inaugural edition proclaiming Fivehead to be the league MVP in 2011. Either this is a transparent and cynical ploy to draw attention to the fledgling publication or Mr. Dunphy isn't terribly bright (you decide which for yourself, but you cannot in good conscience subscribe or even look at this wretched rag.) By the way, had Manning played this year, the sad sack Colts would in all likelihood still be languishing below .500, comfortably out of play-off contention. Then Dunphy's great insight no doubt would have been how Manning was on the downside of his career. 11. Mike Shanahan is one creepy dude, but he's given BB fits over the years. Let's hope the Patriots can take care of business in D.C. this weekend.