Ever felt like a kid in a candy store? Even better, have you ever actually been a kid in a candy store? That is what this week was like for me. There are 3 trillion storylines
(plus or minus 34,266), no shortage of material to talk about with each team, and two games to judge them on instead of just the solitary one. Now we are still going by the whole “do not overreact”, but at this point we have enough info to make some real, actual conclusions on some teams. Exciting stuff. We will be getting to every team in some detail today, which means there will be no more “The Rest in a Sentence or Less”. We are going big. Buckle up.
The 2-0 Crew
- The Saints are 2-0 and they should be. They definitely made it harder than they should by not putting points on the board, but sometimes it is best to just survive and advance. The Reggie Bush injury hurts, but they will be alright since they under-utilize him anyway and the defense seems to continue to keep getting timely turnovers. God loves the Saints, and hates Cleveland and Seattle. Fact.
- The Texans are different this year. Yes, I am a convert. The Texans are a team that used to find ways to lose, and would roll over in the face of adversity. This year is different. They are tougher on the field and they rose up in the face of adversity against the Redskins instead of rolling over. They definitely have some defensive issues (see 800+ yards passing allowed in 2 games) and I am not declaring them a Super Bowl pick or anything, but this team is playoff caliber on the field, and in the toughness department.
- The Packers have beaten two teams they should beat and are rightly 2-0. I do not have a ton to say here except that I think they need to make sure they are good with Brandon Jackson at RB with Ryan Grant out. I still picked this team to win the Super Bowl, but the pick was more on talent than readiness. The regular season should still be pretty smooth sailing for the Pack, though.
- The Dolphins have not really impressed, but they have gotten the job done. A 5 point win over Buffalo is certainly not what they wanted, but going into Minnesota in a game that most Dolphins teams would traditionally drop and coming out with a win is big. Put aside the Favre Fiasco for now, just focus on the fact that this team was able to run it against the Vikings and make enough plays through the air to keep 8 out of the box. That is all you really need from your offense going forward. The defense looked to be in mid-season form too with that goal-line stuff and their constant harassment of Brett Favre. Yes, Adrian Peterson beat them up a little bit, butthey can afford that as long as they keep it in check. I am not jumping on any bandwagon here, but there is reason for optimism in Miami.
- The Bears are 2-0. I had them at 4 wins in large part because I did not think the offensive line could protect Cutler and because I thought the defense would get injured. I still think those things, but the Bears have been very good so far. That defense is a real weapon (while it stays healthy) and the offense is just good enough to scare you from week to week. I still have leadership questions, but the Bears have been very good so far.
- The Steelers are a team that has surprised me. The defense is still excellent, though an injury or two away from mediocrity, but the offense has been surprisingly ok. Don’t get me wrong, the offense has still been bad, but not nearly as bad as I thought they would be without Roethlisberger. 5 wins was clearly way too low, but the bigger question is about the ceiling for this team? Can they win the division? Playoffs? What can this team do with Rape-thlisberger gets back? I am not entirely sure, but I think they will finish pretty close to the Bengals in the division.
- The Chiefs were one of my sleeper teams and have started 2-0. However, I am pretty pessimistic about the team as a whole, Matt Cassel is a genuinely bad QB. I was sort of under the impression that he was a used Honda. Serviceable and will get you where you want to go but will not win you any races. However, he is much more an AMC Pacer than a Honda. Matt Cassel is much worse than I thought he would be, but every time he sucks, Pats fans hopefully realize how Tom Brady has never been as valuable as Peyton Manning. The Pats won 11 games without Brady and using Matt Cassel at QB and the Colts might not win a game without Manning. Sorry, had to get on my Colts soap box. The running game is going to have to carry this team and that will be somewhat difficult with this offensive line. I still think they can go 7-9, but they have really not been very good so far.
- The Buccaneers have been another of the surprises. I really liked what they did coming into the season by grabbing Gerald McCoy and Brian Price in the draft, but thought they lacked any semblance of an offense. They still may not, but Mike Williams is making a name for himself and Josh Freeman is looking surprisingly polished so far. They really took it to the Panthers in Carolina and can be solid, though unspectacular going forward.
Ready for the fun part?
Only 4 of those teams are making the playoffs. You cannot win a division in the first two weeks, but you can sure as hell lose one. Just ask some of these teams.
The Levels of 0-2
Level 1- The matchup 0-2
This level is the best level of 0-2 to be on because it means it was more about the other team being fantastic and you being awful. The only team I have on this level are the Detroit Lions, who have played two very tough teams and nearly come away with 2 wins instead of two losses, one time without their #1 pick QB. Jahvid Best is turning out to be the stud I thought he would be and with Stafford, this team could give a lot of teams a run for their money. Hell, they did even without him against Philly. This does not mean they are better than the teams on some of the lower levels, it just means that they are a more acceptable 0-2. The key to this level is that the matchups are the reason that the team is winless, not just another factor. The Bills opened against tough teams and will not be found on this level.
Level 2- Stumble out of the Gates
Notice this is “stumble” not “complete collapse”. They may well collapse completely, but they are still on their feet for now. The Vikings are the top team at this level. They have certainly had tough matchups, but more to blame is Brett Favre’s awful chemistry with his receivers right now. I think it will get fixed if Favre wants it fixed, but there is some doubt there as well. The next team is the Cowboys. I have been critical of them and will continue to be because they are just a stupid group of individuals. I stand by that 100% and do not expect that to change so much over the course of the season. However, they have shown glimpses of maturity this week, and I fully expect them to beat the Texans next week in what is a de facto Super Bowl for them. They are no longer my favorites in the division (no one is, it is a really close division without any really good teams), but they still have a shot at the playoffs.
Level 3- Not Sure Yet
There is one team (49ers) at this level, but we will get to them later. I thought it important to bring up because it does not go from Stumble to our next level so quickly. There is a gradient.
Level 4- The Bad Football Teams
Yikes. I am not even going to bother to rank these teams because they are not really deserving of it. In no particular order, the bad football teams (among 0-2 teams) are the Panthers, Bills, Rams, and Browns. These may not be the cause of their bad play, but all these teams are showing at least a few of the symptoms of a bad team.
- Poor QB play
- Matador Defenses (Ole on tackles)
- Moments in every game where fans are just speechless with awe about how bad their team is (Seneca Wallace’s pick-6 to Brandon Flowers comes to mind)
- Head Coach looking around the sidelines looking lost
- Playing in Cleveland
These are just a few of the symptoms, but as the season goes on, there will be plenty more to come. I am frankly surprised to see Carolina here as I thought they could be decent, but I guess not. Jimmy Clausen is in and I do expect improvement over Matt Moore, just in small steps rather than leaps and bounds. The running game needs to be the focal point and the defense needs to stop getting gashed at every possible chance. The other three teams are fairly helpless.
Alright, this has been getting a little bit thick to read, so let’s lighten it up for a second.
Wanna hear a joke?
The NFC West. I think it can be best summed up with the following question: If you had to pick a starting QB from the division to start for you next Sunday (not looking ahead), who do you choose? Matt Hasselbeck? Alex Smith? Derek Anderson? Sam Bradford, who has two career starts? There is really no winning there. No matter who you choose there, you are getting a guy who turns it over like Russell Westbrook (Matt Hasselbeck), two guys who have proven they are not good at football (Derek Anderson and Alex Smith), or the kid with two starts who started the game 9-9, then went 0 for his next 12, then 5-5 in garbage time to drag the Rams within 2 against the Raiders.
I mean regardless, you are losing the game because these guys are starting, but who the hell are you supposed to choose? I personally would go with Bradford because I do not think Smith can re-create the heroics of Monday Night, and because the other two quarterbacks will undoubtedly sink me. Bradford only has a chance of sinking me.
But apart from that little example, we have plenty to talk about in the NFC West, and not much of it is good. The Rams cannot play 60 minutes of good football. 10? Sure. 30? Even there, yes. But they cannot put it together for long enough to win a game. I mean they have had a shot at Arizona and Oakland so far and come away empty handed. That should be a good sign. Steven Jackson is still awesome, but when he gets injured, things are going to really start to suck for the Rams.
The Seahawks are just sort of weird. They came out and put the beatdown on a 49ers team that looked awful that week, and then came out and laid an egg about an ok-but-not-good Denver team. What gives? They do not really have any weapons on offense that they routinely use, they have a defense that is alright, but clearly nothing special, and they play in Seattle. Sounds like they are mixin’ up a delicious batch of suck for the foreseeable future. They will probably steal a game here and there, but I still think they are the 3rd best team here and that is saying something.
The Cardinals are not very good either. I would not read into the blowout loss too much, as it was a west coast team playing an early game in the eastern time zone, and that is always a mess, but they clearly have issues. Derek Anderson is an issue all his own, and they should consider using Max Hall longer term here purely because nothing good happens when Derek Anderson has the football. Nothing. Beanie Wells is like a bull in a china shop, except he is the china shop, and the bull is everyday life. Larry Fitzgerald is really missing Anquan Boldin and Kurt Warner. The defense looks ok, but that should change as the season wears on and they get that sense that it is them (being the defense) vs. the other team AND Derek Anderson.
The 49ers. This is the best team in the division, but still may only finish 8-8, which may be enough to win the division by 3 games (that is not a joke). 0-2 means much less when your division will probably have 80% of its wins against each other. They showed me a few things against the Saints that I thought were worth noting, so let’s make it a list.
- If possible, this team will find a way to lose. Think of them like the Texans from last year in that sense. 3 turnovers inside the Saints’ 30, and a muffed punt at a truly awful time. You couldn’t pay most teams to be that un-clutch.
- Frank Gore needs to get the ball 30 times a game (in whatever fashion) to give this team its best chance to win. They have talent at wide receiver in Michael Crabtree and talent at TE with Vernon Davis, but the key to this is not Frank Gore, who is really, really good. The key is that it will keep the ball out of Alex Smith’s hands. At the very least it will keep him throwing it to Gore on the outside instead of throwing over his offensive line. A lot of those interceptions looked unlucky because they were just batted balls that got picked, but the reason they were batted was because Alex Smith is not tall enough. So while there was certainly some bad luck involved, it could have been avoided by not having Alex Smith starting at QB.
- Alex Smith may have had a transformational drive at the end of the game. I mean, I would rather bet on Rex Ryan to stay quiet for a week than bet on that, but he drove that team down the field when few thought he would. I fully expect him to go back to being the Saboteur of San Fran, but maybe, just maybe, he had a moment there.
- The defense is just good enough to get you excited, and just bad enough to be as stiff as spaghetti when it counts. This is probably the best possible way to lose games when they matter. You know why the Colts win close games (apart from having the best QB of all time)? Because their defense gets stops when they need them, almost without fail. This team will be 8-8 or 9-7 instead of 10-6 because they will find ways to lose games with their defense rather than finding ways to win games.
The Middle Way
Sometimes 1-1 means nothing. Sometimes it means you blew a game and should be 2-0 and sometimes it means someone else blew it and you should be 0-2. Not all 1-1s are created equal.
The Many Faces of 1-1
The Colts helped me out last Sunday night. I needed to see that the defense was just shaky under the situation they were put in rather than shaky all around and I needed to see the offensive line look good. I saw both those things against a Giants team I think is pretty good. The jury is still out on the run defense, but as long as the Colts are up, it does not matter. Just like old times. It is not like this whole “run to beat the Colts” idea is new, I mean is has been the main tactic employed since the AFC South was created and it did not stop the Colts in the past so there should not be too much reason for concern now that we see they can stop some teams.
The Eagles are going with Michael Vick at QB, and I think it is clearly the right decision. He can single-handedly be that running game Andy Reid always lacked. He does not have to run for 80 yards a game, but he can pick up those first downs that a west coast offense struggles with (3rd and 2 or so) and LeSean McCoy can help as well. Keep in mind I was big on Kevin Kolb entering the year, I just think Michael Vick is the better fit. The defense has looked porous at best as they almost let Shaun Hill led Detroit back into the game last week and seem to have lost their fire without Jim Johnson.
The Redskins are somewhere between optimism and pessimism. They beat the Cowboys to start the season, then imploded against the Texans and it leaves them unsure of how good they really are. McNabb looked good against that suspect Texans secondary, but Portis never really got going and the defense could not get a stop when they needed. On the other hand, I had this team pegged for 4-12 so 1-1 and looking alright is not a bad thing at all.
The Raiders are still not very good, but just good enough to spring a trap on a team. Basically, they are the same as they always are. How exciting……
The Broncos are good enough to beat the bad teams handily, and bad enough to get handled by the good teams. Classic middle of the road team.
The Jaguars are the exact same as the Broncos.
The Chargers have a lot to be excited about but some concern as well. Ryan Mathews’ injury could really hurt them, but they were miles better against the Jaguars than they normally would have around this time of year. I still think they need Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson to be contenders, but they looked very good on Sunday. The defense especially impressed me turning Garrard over 4 times and holing MoJo down.
The Patriots are right up there with the Redskins for teams that should be optimistic and pessimistic. Their offense looked great for 6 quarters, then could not find a first down if it was staring them in the face. Their defense got beat up by a really weak Jets offense, and they just generally did not look good. On the other hand they looked great against Cincinnati, so we know the team can succeed, we just do not know when it will do so. Nerves should be under control, but present in New England.
The Jets are still enigmas. They were for much of last year and it is more of the same right now. They look great for a half, then look like Braylon Edwards taking a sobriety test (a.k.a. FAIL). The defense is good, the offense is inconsistent, and the discipline is almost non-existent. No wonder they are unpredictable.
The Titans have maybe the biggest gap from week 1 to week 2. Granted, the Steelers are miles better than the Raiders, but the Titans went from a legitimately scary offensive unit to a turnover prone one that manages to get Kerry Collins to throw it 25 times in the fourth quarter. The jury is still out on this team as a whole.
The Falcons are going to hang in 1-1 limbo here for a bit. They killed the Cardinals (like they should) but could not clean up the Steelers in week 1 leaving everyone wondering how good they really are. A win in the Superdome would go a long way, but I have a feeling the dirty birds are going to get blown up in the Bayou. Play it in Atlanta and they win, but it a road game changes everything. I still like this team, but not nearly as much as I used to.
The Giants are sort of in the same situation, except we know they are not elite because they just got absolutely slaughtered by a motivated Colts team. However, they seem like they have potential and if they can figure out how to consistently run the ball, they should be fine in a good but unspectacular NFC East. This inability to run the ball is a definite concern, however, and if they do not figure that out, they might find themselves unable to cash in on a somewhat weak schedule. Their game against the Titans next week will tell us a lot.
The Bengals are yet another team hanging in limbo after completely different week 1 and 2 performances. I have really cooled off on this team, but still think they can get 8 wins if they really grind for it. Cedric Benson had better get it together if he wants his contract year to be a good one.
The Ravens are fine, but not without pause. They played a very emotional Monday night game to open the season then had to go on the road in the division. That is tough. I think Flacco bounces back against the Browns and the Ravens get back on track without too much of a problem. Reason for pause, but not concern in Baltimore.
Yes, that just happened. 3500 words of NFL knowledge and it would be more if I did not have other responsibilities as both a human and a student. We will be back next week without a doubt, so stay tuned for the Picks column and get ready for another week of NFL action.