There are 3 teams that are still 3-0, and few would have guessed them coming into the season. Hell, I had them on a combined 16 or 17 wins for the season with the Chiefs taking 7 of those. Shows you what I know, right? Well we have plenty to cover entering week 4, and not all of it concerns the undefeated, so strap in and get ready for some NFL action coming your way right…………………….NOW.
Let me start by saying that two of these teams are fortunate to be undefeated. The Bears got away with one against the Lions and were the benefactors of 6,000 Green Bay penalties, and the Chiefs deliberately start Matt Cassel at quarterback every week. I know, they must not have seen him play. All kidding aside, all three teams have impressed so far and none more so than the Steelers. Apart from the Falcons, they have not really been tested, but behind a fantastic defense and Rashard Mendenhall, the Steelers are probably the best team in football right now. Please read those last two words (right now) because they are a HUGE qualifier. They will not be the best team heading into the playoffs, but right now no one is better.
Next on my list of most impressive at the Kansas City Chiefs. Their new stadium is one of a very small number of brand new home fields that still gives the home team an advantage. We are quickly learning that one thing you cannot do is bet against this team at home, though I might have to make an exception when they host the Colts in two weeks. The running game has been good, and the defense has been outstanding under new coordinator Romeo Crennel (yes, that Romeo Crennel) who was always better suited for coordinating than coaching. I think the Chiefs have a legitimate shot at winning the AFC West, but they are going to need some help and they are going to have to fend off the Chargers who always charge (pun not intended, but inevitable) in November and December. They have a shot, but I would definitely not bet on them to win it despite the fact that I did expect a breakout season from them.
The least impressive of the undefeateds (not a bad thing at all), is the Chicago Bears. Jay Culter has looked magnificent in Mike Martz’s offense thus far, and the defense has been great (notice a theme?). The Calvin Johnson catch and Packers penalties aside, the Bears have really impressed me in all phases of the game. I still think they are a few injuries from completely unraveling, but until those injuries come, there is no reason that defense cannot keep them in every game and no reason the offense and special teams can’t find a way to win. I am still picking the Packers in the division, but with the Vikings in near free-fall, I think this could easily be a playoff team.
Ranking time! Note that teams are not listed in order within their groups.
The Outhouse (Ranked 32-26)
And we turn from the penthouse to The Outhouse. And I’m not talking about the structure, I am talking about the contents. Its inhabitants? Buffalo, Cleveland, Carolina, and the entire NFC West. Buffalo started Trent Edwards in week 1. He is no longer on their roster. Cleveland actually showed signs of life against Baltimore, but then again, so would I if the previous owner of your team who sold the entire city out and moved the team to Baltimore still owns the Ravens. Hey God, what did Cleveland do to you? The Panthers are way worse on defense than any of us would have believed and the Jimmy Clausen era got off to an early start. At least Carolina fans know he can take a pounding. He practiced it for three years at Notre Dame. I am going to get sick of talking about the NFC West. Correction: I AM sick of talking about the NFC West, and we are only 3 weeks in. San Francisco should win the division, but the problem is that they are a crappy team away from home and just in general sometimes. And that they are 0-3. The Seahawks are mid-rebuild and might still win the division with table scraps at 7-9 or 6-10. The Rams are incredibly bad and STILL have a shot at the playoffs this year in some sort of planetary alignment with a Rookie QB, wide receivers most teams would cut, and a running back who is due to miss the rest of the season starting around week 8. Then we have the Cardinals, who are supposed to be relying on their defense and the running game, but whom almost lost to Oakland at home and might drive Larry Fitzgerald to suicide, or at least Dancing with the Stars. Yes, ladies and gents, one of these teams is going to make the playoffs. Here’s the twist. None of these teams should want to make the playoffs. If they are making it at 6-10, that would be good for a top 10 draft pick probably, which could pay dividends down the road. The team that makes the playoffs gets bumped to the 20s and will likely not get the playmaker it needs. We might have a race for the bottom and draft pick in the NFC West, however, in this race for the bottom and draft pick, the producers do not win for getting lower prices, everyone loses because we have to watch one of these teams play a playoff game.
Realistically, a few of these teams could be ranked higher, but I did not feel the need to make them feel better about themselves. Go to the corner, NFC West.
The Toilet Seat (25-23)
If the group directly below this in terms of quality is The Outhouse, then this group is the toilet seat. In other words, it is in the neighborhood, just not down with the muck yet. Don’t worry, it will get there. To be fair, a few of the NFC West teams might be more suited for a spot here, but I am not going to ease up on them when they are consistently a weak division. The teams perched majestically on this porcelain throne are the Lions, Jaguars, and Raiders.
The Jaguars are probably the worst among these, as after their respectable performance against Denver, they got blown out two weeks in a row. David Garrard has resembled something between Jabba Hutt, except without the Rancor. He is dangerous, but when you think about it he is pretty laughable and could not really hurt you if you do not help him out. He has been that laughable fat fool the last two weeks and the Jaguars are really just not good enough to overcome any serious mistakes he makes. They are probably closest to the bottom of these teams.
The Lions cannot really be blamed for their Toilet Seat status. With Matthew Stafford, I think they win that Bears game, and they would have a much better shot at the other teams without Shaun Hill giving the lions an uphill battle. However, the defense has been bad enough to earn them this label and it does not get much easier. That schedule is brutal and they could easily find themselves sitting on the 4-12 we had them projected at even though we felt they were better than their record.
The Raiders are just a case all their own. They already dropped Jason Campbell at QB, but still should have beat Arizona last week on the road. The defense has seemed alright and Bruce Gradkowski has been pretty good in most of his fill-in stints. However, the Raiders have come to define unclutch, and Sebastian Janikowski is no exception. You know it is bad when you see the Raiders tied in the red zone with 20 seconds left and you remain unconvinced they will win the game, and they usually make you feel smart for not being sure. Not a very good team, but they have a shot at surprising the Texans this week. Things are not nearly as bleak as they seem in Oakland. Though things are pretty bleak for Al Davis. Maybe there is a connection between the two.
The Upset Stomach (22-20)
Is it about to be a trip straight to the Outhouse, or is it just hunger for that next win? Yes, in this bathroom-oriented NFL Recap, the Upset Stomachs are not a positive, but they are not necessarily a bad thing. The bottom line about these teams is that the jury is still out. They could easily end up on in the Toilet Seat group, or the next group up.
Washington Redskins- Are they as good as they looked against the Cowboys and Texans in the 1st half? Are they as bad as they looked int he 2nd half against Houston or against St. Louis? I would lean toward the latter as Clinton Portis has had a hard time finding running room and the Redskins aerial targets are about as talented as Keenan from SNL (not very good, in case you didn’t get that one). Joey Galloway is the 2nd WR. Yes, that Joey Galloway. I have a feeling they are going to get ripped apart against Philly and it will start a nice spiral out of control in Mike Shanahan’s 1st season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers- I am almost a semi-believer in this team, but at the same time I know that they secretly suck. Josh Freeman has looked pretty good so far except for the Steelers game, and no one is looking good against them so far. The defense has proven pretty respectable, but let’s not forget that the two wins they have are against two teams (Browns and Panthers) with a combined 0 wins. They have a bye this week so the jury will remain out for another week.
New York Giants- Is this the Super Bowl winning team that had discipline issues that then turned it around, or is this just a team in disarray. I personally do not think Tom Coughlin can pull that off again and I think the Giants’ season could very easily start to spiral downward. I still like all their skill position guys and I think the defense is alright, but they are just doing so many stupid things right now that it is hard to pick them to succeed. I thought they had the look for an NFC East favorite after week 1, but it also turns out that Carolina is not good. The jury is out, but I think this team is going to struggle.
No, this is not a division, this is where I can’t make bathroom references any more because they are fairly decent teams. However, since we have only covered 13 teams, and I like the idea of splitting the league in half, so we have one more group dedicated to two teams I love to hate on.
The Carlos Zambranos (19-17)
This one goes out to Big Z for one big reason. He was never really that good (one year with a sub-3 ERA, but he always got credit for being one of the best pitchers in baseball, at least around Chicago. Accordinly, these teams are not that good, but people like to get on these bandwagons for no real reason.
San Diego Chargers- When will we learn? They are a genuinely bad team in the first month of the team. Not an underachieving team. A BAD team. They still are without holdouts Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson, they are missing Ryan Mathews, seem incapable of putting up a fight on the road, and ar entirely too dependent on Antonio Gates to really be successful. They will probably end up winning the division because their division is pretty weak, but they are really not that good. They will get better as they always do, but let’s not get carried away and call them a really good team.
Dallas Cowboys- Oh, my favorite punching bag, I am glad to have you back. They came out and beat the Texans because they had to, but they will almost certainly disappoint when they are needed. Felix Jones is suddenly incompetent along with the offensive line and the stupid penalties continue to kill them. They too may end up winning the division because it lacks an elite team, but there is not really any way of knowing for sure yet. A big part of me hopes they fall flat on their face so I can point out how bad a coach Wade Phillips is, how bad a coordinator Jason Garrett is, and how every ounce of hype they get is undeserved, but that will probably not happen. Notice how both these teams so far have had truly laughable head coaches?
Minnesota Vikings- Once again, mix a laughable head coach with chemistry issues and age and you get a Zambrano team. Brett Favre is still not really on the same page as his receivers and while the defense has been fairly good, they are probably not elite. If Favre gets things straight and Sidney Rice comes back in the right state of mind in week 8, then they can fight with the Bears for the Wild Card, but otherwise, they could have some issues. The hype on this team, which has a grandfather (literally) for a QB was unreasonable and they have the stench of a crash-and-burn candidate.
These teams are not necessarily worse than those ranked ahead of them, but I have a hard time putting wildly inconsistent teams up with the consistently above average teams.
The Bengals Group (16)
Cincinnati Bengals- I had to really fight the urge to not put them much lower in these rankings. Carson Palmer is playing some of the worst football of his career, the running game is not clicking like it needs to, and the defense is not quite as good as it used to be. They still clearly have the quality, and more time together as a team should cure much of what ails them, but they are just not that good right now. They are just good enough to escape the Zambrano teams, but not really good enough right nwo to go much higher.
Yup, they got their own division for that. Not a good distinction, but it is something, no?
The Anthony Morrows (15-12)
These are the teams that could actually be pretty solid in the right situation and could pull off a playoff run with a few breaks.
Chicago Bears- Much has been made of the fact that the Bears could easily be 1-2, but the bottom line is that they are 3-0. The defense is legitimately good and the offense has been fairly efficient so far even though it has hit some definite rough patches at times. I am not sure if this team is genuinely good or just genuinely lucky, but when it comes to looking at the team on the field and wondering if it will win, who cares. They should be able to continue to get wins moving forward even though they are not necessarily that great.
Kansas City Chiefs- We already talked about them, so we will keep this brief. They are not a good team, but they are a great home team, and that is worth something in a somewhat easy AFC West. The defense is solid, the special teams are explosive, and the offense, Matt Cassel aside, is somewhat workable. This team can win the West, but they will need some help.
Denver Broncos- Call it my Colts Kool Aid, but I liked what I saw out of the Broncos last week. Part of the reason I liked it was because they functioned exactly like I said they would in my preview. I thought they could move the ball just fine on offense even without Brandon Marshall (how does 476 passing yards for Kyle Orton sound?), but when it came down to crunch time, they did not have anyone they could go to and be sure they would succeed. It showed as 4 trips to the red zone ended in 6 points and a 14 point loss. They are a pretty solid team, but they do not have anyone to take the last shot, to use a basketball term. If they can keep the game from getting to a point like that, they will be fine. Otherwise, they will find themselves on the unlucky side of the score line too often.
Miami Dolphins- They seem to be perennially disappointing but I have liked what I have seen out of them so far. They had that game against the Jets, but they just managed to throw it away, courtesy of Will Allen’s lack of concentration on 3rd down and his inability to look for the ball on that final pass interference call. They are actually moving it pretty well through the air, which will serve them well against New England, and the defense has been improved, although not that great so far. They could end up being pretty good, or they could end up being just alright like usual.
The Samson and Delilah Teams (11-10)
These teams are Samson, but while wearing a hat that reads “Cut my hair”. In other words, these teams are pretty good, but seem to just have an obvious flaw they will fight all year.
Baltimore Ravens- I am not sure if their clear flaw is the offense or defense, but seems that on any given day, it is bound to be one of them. They just gave up 140 yards rushing to Peyton Hillis. Yes, the 3rd best Arkansas RB in his draft class. Other times, like against Cincinnati, Joe Flacco turns into Joe Ballast and succeeds in sinking the team. Perhaps the Samson does not work so perfectly for them, but they are clearly a team that has not put it all together on any one day so far. i still think they are really good, just not as good as they should be.
New England Patriots- Defensive mastermind Bill Belichick is not looking very happy right now. That is technically a fact since he never looks happy, but even more so now that the defense is so bad. They let Mark Sanchez beat them in week 2, and nearly let Ryan Fitzpatrick bring Buffalo back against the Pats. Ron Jaworski continues to point out how teams are shredding their zone defenses, but I am not sure if they have the chops to go man-t-man either. This is a potentially fatal flaw for the Pats.
Houston Texans- This label was almost entirely named for them. They are a pretty damn good offensive team with balance and toughness. They are perhaps the worst pass defense in the league. They just get absolutely gashed with a fairly scary regularity, and it got so bad on Sunday that they could not even stop Mr. Washed-Up, Roy Williams. They are really really good, except for that one glaring flaw that could cost them a shot at winning the division and will cost them at least a couple games down the line. Ironically, they are not in this next group, which is also named for them.
The Matt Schaubs (8-5)
Once upon a time, Matt Schaub was a backup in Atlanta to Michael Vick. Everyone would say “Oh yeah, Matt Schaub could lead an NFL team and be a good QB”. The amazing part was that they were right. It NEVER works like that. The backup is always a backup for a reason and when you try to turn him into your franchise guy, it just does not work. Except in cases like that. These teams are right up there and part of us knows that they are that backup that really can’t get it done, but they keep showing otherwise on the field.
Tennessee Titans- Can I believe in Vince Young? Probably not. But they win and do it regularly, so until I see otherwise, I am going to keep picking the Titans to succeed. Yes, the blurbs are getting shorter because we are above 3200 words.
Atlanta Falcons- The defense remains a concern, but it still looks like a definite playoff team to me. Especially in an NFC where very few teams are asserting themselves. Let’s see if Matty Ice can put a few starts like his last one together or if he goes back to throwing picks too often.
New York Jets- Frankly, I am still getting used to the idea of Mark Sanchez being a potentially good QB. It very well may pass and open the door for the Pats or Dolphins to take the division, but right now the Jets are clearly the best team. I do not especially think the Jets will win this division, but I have to give them credit for beating their two rivals in the division and doing it with offense in addition to the defense.
Philadelphia Eagles- Michael Vick is the MVP right now. He has given their running game life (both through his legs and distracting the defense while LeSean McCoy runs wild), is making DeSean’s Jackson’s haters look foolish (like me this year, though I loved his chances before the season last year), and most importantly winning games. I am not entirely sold on their defense yet, but the Eagles might even be the favorites in the NFC East if a few things happen, and they are big ifs. IF Michael Vick stays healthy and consistent, they will be good, and IF the defense shores up, they could be very good.
The Early September Yankees (4-2)
These are the teams that we know are really good and are just getting settled in sort of with solid 2-1 starts. They are not in full out juggernaut mode, but they will get there.
Indianapolis Colts- Peyton Manning is off to his best statistical start of all time, Austin Collie looks like a Pro Bowler, the defense is suddenly stopping the run (and not the pass, but don’t get me started on that right now), and everything seems alright with no undefeated teams in the AFC South. They will be contenders once again, and that should surprise no one. Expect a close one against the Jaguars this weekend, but that is only because they always play the Colts tough.
New Orleans Saints- They have hit a few speed bumps, but they should be just fine going forward, Greg Williams is continuing to prove people like me wrong that say the defense cannot consistently create turnovers, and as long as they are getting turnovers, they should be just fine defensively. If not for Garrett Hartley’s chunked chip shot, the defending champs are 3-0. Yes, the same kicker who hit all his long field goals in the Super Bowl. God won that Super Bowl for the Saints, not the players. No, I’m not bitter, why do you ask?
Green Bay Packers- They embarrassed themselves on Monday night doing their best Cowboys impression and throwing the game away with stupid penalties, but are still the favorites up north. They could really use Al Harris, but they can make due in the mean time. They will be there down the stretch without a doubt.
THE BEST TEAM RIGHT NOW (#1)
The Pittsburgh Steelers
Again, please read the “Right Now” part of the title. They will be getting Big Ben back after this week and as long as Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith stay healthy, they should be considered the favorites in the AFC North. They have to prove themselves this weekend against Baltimore, but I think they will pull it out and solidify themselves as the team to beat in that division. Again, we already talked about them, so we are going to cut it short here and let you get to your College Football watching this Saturday morning.