If I told you before the season, that the Broncos would be 4-0, the Titans would be 0-4 and the Baltimore Ravens would look better on offense than they did on defense, you would have called me crazy. That is what makes the NFL great; teams rise like Lazarus and fall faster than Andre Smith’s draft stock. I am going to try something new this week and say at least a few words about every team. Let’s start with the teams barely worth talking about.
The St. Louis Rams have scored 3 TDs this year and have an injured starting quarterback.
Sadly, this does not qualify them for the worst in either category as the Cleveland Browns also have only 3 TDs, don’t have a starting quarterback and their best player is Josh Cribbs, a kick returner. Though I will give credit to Shaun Rogers for keeping that game almost a tie.
The Oakland Raiders looked great against the Chargers week 1, but have not looked like an NFL team since and their passing game is so bad, Al Davis might as well be the quarterback.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also cannot be forgotten in the worst teams discussion. They fired their offensive coordinator, changed QBs once, will absolutely do it again, and haven’t held up on defense. Really, the Bucs are just horrendous so far.
Despite its 2-2 record, the Washington Redskins are a horrendous football team. They beat the Rams by 3, the Bucs by 3 and lost to the Lions. Barely any real offense, the defense, which was scary on paper, is really not much more than a paper tiger, and Clinton Portis, for all his hard work, is destined for injury yet again. Say hello to the NFC East cellar Skins fans.
The Detroit Lions have actually showed fairly well. Unfortunately, that second half against the Bears reminded us all why they have a long way to go still. The first half was pretty good though. Just keep your fingers crossed that Matthew Stafford is ok or else things are going to get bleak.
Carolina, Buffalo, Seattle, Arizona, and Kansas City all go into the same category: Have showed heartbeat, but more often than not look pretty dead. Maybe it is unfair to put Arizona in this category, but right now they do not look like a playoff team, even in that excuse of a division. The Chiefs fired their offensive coordinator too and just don’t look like they are fully invested in their season. Arizona will be the best of these teams, but it is probably little consolation in Sun City.
Not sure what to think about Miami. They have an injured QB, but a talented offensive line. They actually might be the only team living exactly up to their expectations. Not bad, but no repeat performances.
Same goes for the Titans. Should probably be better than this, but the lack of pressure Haynesworth put on both opposing QBs and offensive lines has been sorely missed. By the numbers they are tough on the ground still, but it is really more related to their utter lack of anything resembling a pass defense. Sadly for Tennessee, there is no rest for the weary as next week the Colts roll into town.
Jacksonville and Houston get their own division for looking phenomenal one week then laying eggs the next. It doesn’t matter though, because neither was going to the playoffs anyway. AFC South teams work like college football rivalries in that they know each other so well that the games are almost always close, Jacksonville v Tennessee excluded. Not much to say about them except their lack of consistency.
Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Cincinnati and San Diego all go into the not quite there category but for different reasons. Atlanta is st.ill developing a little bit and has had some line problems on both side of the ball. Pittsburgh has been surprisingly inconsistent but should pull out of it soon. San Diego always does this but have the Broncos run away with it? Probably not for good, but it might prove to be a margin too great for San Diego to make up and keep up. Cincinnati has been pretty good, but squeaked out that win against the hapless Browns, and if not for Carson Palmer making Marvin Lewis go for it, it might have been a tie. Green Bay is really more in the category of a horrible offensive line strangling the life out of a potent offense and a budding superstar at QB. Whether or not they can stick with this group has entirely to do with if they can protect Aaron Rodgers. All these teams should get better as the season goes on, except the Packers who need that condition of protecting the QB to improve.
The Cinderella category belongs to the 3-1 Jets and the 4-0 Broncos. Both have impressed on defense and done just enough on offense to be pretty good so far. The Jets impressing on defense was somewhat expected with their new head coach, but the Broncos D seems to have appeared out of thin air. They went from a completely helpless unit to having really shut down every team they have faced this year. The Jets D has shut down all comes as well, but the offense let them down against the Saints giving up points the defense could not even help. Both have been much, much better than expected though.
In the category of “Overrated, But Could Be Good”, we have the Dallas Cowboys. If this team took the example of the New York Giants and just developed a power running game and only passing when needed, they would be a really good team. Tashard Choice, Felix Jones, and Marion the Barbarian are more than enough horsepower and they have enough big boys up front to run all day, but they insist on calling Tony Romo a Pro Bowl QB. The way to turn him into a Pro Bowl QB is not by throwing 40 times a game; it is by developing the running game into a force so when Romo dropped back he wouldn’t have to deal with so many guys dropped back.
This brings us to the teams who are just a piece or so away from being among the elite. San Francisco, Philadelphia, New England, and Baltimore can count themselves among this group. San Francisco is really kind of a Cinderella, but such a dainty term does not fit the bruising, tough style of this team. They are a Brett Favre miracle from the ranks of the undefeated and should be ok even without Frank Gore. They are a little bit behind with the passing game and it is really the only thing holding them back at this point. Philly has been impressive even with McNabb out and the only real question remaining is if the defense can keep up after the tragic death of Jim Johnson. New England is with this group right now, but I would not be surprised to see them move into the ranks of the elite. Their defense has been a little suspect, but once the offense gets on rhythm, it should be scary once again. Baltimore is another team that will probably move to the ranks of elite, but they are not quite there yet. They have got the hype, and deservedly so, but they need to prove it week in and week out in order to really be in the top group.
Speaking of the top group, these teams are the Mt. Everest of the NFL right now. The Saints are for real. They have that potent offense everyone knows about but their defense is not bad at all. They are fast and I cannot name a team that would want to play the Saints right now. Minnesota has looked impressive too, but I am hesitant to crown them as true contenders. I need to see them do it outside in the winter with their 40 year old, as of this week, QB first. They have the pieces to do it, but whether or not Favre can hold up for a whole season still remains to be seen. Indianapolis is second from the top. Peyton Manning is the best player on any field he steps on and when the Colts are ahead, the defense is lethal. When they are behind, like in Miami? Not so much. They have the pieces to do it; they just need to be able to get the defense off the field. They will not blow a lot of teams out because the clock-eating tactics rightfully adopted by other teams keep it that way, but how many guys would you rather give the ball to with 2 minutes left down 3 than Peyton Manning? When Bob Sanders returns, they should be better, but the true testament to the Colts is the fact that such a glaring weakness is so universally known and yet they rarely pay for it in full.
The top of the heap is the New York Giants. Although the elder Manning has had the more impressive season, Eli, despite his plantar fasciitis, has led a really excellent team to a really excellent start. They can run the ball, throw the ball, play pretty good defense, and are experienced. What else can you ask for?
Alright, let’s get a quick rundown of the week.
Not a ton of great tidbits from the NFL this week. Washington and Cincinnati did their best to win by the smallest possible margin against the weakest possible opponents. The Manning Bros. dominated weaker teams. The Broncos D kept Denver in it against an overrated Dallas team (see above) until Brandon Marshall decided enough was enough and showed perfectly just how bad the Dallas defense is at tackling. Pittsburgh also did its best to throw away a huge lead against a typically underachieving San Diego team. Brett Favre impressed on Monday Night Football, Minnesota had better hope the Metrodome activities go this well Tuesday when the Twins and Tigers have their playoff. All in all, it was just another week in the tumultuous but fun, NFL.