I would like to start this column with a little bit of reflection for the Colts fans amongst us. And when I say Colts fans, I mean the real fans who realize how lucky we are to have Peyton Manning and incredible stability that most fans would kill for. I bring this up because after the Colts’ loss to Jacksonville, there were “fans” calling for Jim Caldwell’s head.
Allow me to take this chance to call for the heads of those fans. Jim Caldwell won every game but one that he tried to win last year. Do you know how many guys can say that? Zero. The same guy who has continued Dungy’s steady-handed reign. The same guy who, if not for some Pierre Garcon drops, and a Hank Baskett fudge-up on the onside kick, may have lead his team to a Super Bowl in his first season. And you want to fire him? For calling a time out? Look, I get that it was a risky time out given how far up field they were (around the 38 if I remember correctly). He wanted Manning to get the ball back and not risk a coin flip in OT. I know that the majority of Colts fans were not going nuts and calling for his head after Josh Scobee continued a long tradition of AFC South kickers killing the Colts and punching a 59 yarder through.
Even if he made the wrong call, that is not at all why the Colts lost that game. They were down Donald Brown, Anthony Gonzalez and Pierre Garcon, lost Melvin Bullitt for portions of the game, and entered play with both Austin Collie and Joseph Addai questionable. That goes down in my book as an injury crisis. This is also a divisional game which all Colts fans know plays the Colts tough. The Jags ALWAYS give the Colts a good game, especially in Jacksonville. Even after Caldwell called time out, you are better off blaming the defense for not getting that stop, and specifically Kelvin Hayden for dropping that gift from God on the second to last play.
Blame the injuries. Blame the defense. Blame the Jags for playing a good game. But if you blame Caldwell for that loss, I will personally smite you (yes, I have that ability) and henceforth refer to you as Peyton Manning fans as supposed to Colts fans. Stop whining about a 2-2 start.
Whoa. I just had this crazy dream that I went on a diatribe about the Colts and published it. Crazy dreams. Anyway, we have plenty of stuff to cover in the NFL so let’s get to it.
Jets 3-1 (3-0)
Patriots 3-1 (2-1)
Dolphins 2-2 (1-2)
Bills 0-4 (0-3)
After the little round robin +1 tournament the AFC East played, I think things stand about as they should. The Jets have been the best team of the group and their record shows it. Mark Sanchez has been (gasp) a good quarterback and LaDanian Tomlinson looks like he is 26 again. They get Santonio Holmes back too, which should shore up a pass game very dependent on Braylon Edwards and Dustin Keller at the moment. The defense, needless to say, has been very good.
The Pats are next and deservedly so. They still have glaring defensive issues, but as they proved Monday night, their special teams are still top notch, and they still have some guy named Tom Brady. You probably haven’t heard of him. They are still a really good team, but probably still second best to the Jets right now.
The Dolphins are our perennial disappointers, and have not disappointed in that right. They got the Pats and Jets in Miami in prime time and failed to cash them in. Perhaps day games would have been better to use the heat to wear out the opponents, but as a divisional home game for a team that hopes to make the playoffs, those are games the Dolphins should win. Or in the case of New England, at least compete. Chad Henne threw two horribly timed picks that, if the drive would have gone for points and one surely would have, could have put the Patriots in a big hole early. The only really bright spot I will take from the game is the primetime emergence of my main man, Davone Bess. I had not brought him up so much in this column so far, but anyone who knows my taste in football knows that I have a man-crush on Davone Bess and I am glad he got a chance to show the world why he is worthy. Atta boy, Davone! Yes, that was a prolonged and unnecessary shout out.
The Bills suck. Worst team in football. Maybe this time around in the draft they learn their lesson and don’t draft an intriguing side (CJ Spiller) instead of an entrée (QB or offensive lineman). AND their above average defense got obliterated. At least potential local blackouts in Buffalo are a saving grace for fans at home.
Ravens 3-1 (2-1)
Steelers 3-1 (0-1)
Bengals 2-2 (1-1)
Browns 1-3 ( 1-1)
This is another division that I think is about right. Right at the top, we have a rivalry that is fast becoming one of the most fun in the NFL. The Ravens showed us why they
got those big upgrades at WR this offseason and pulled one off against the Steelres in Pittsburgh. In hindsight, we as fans should have expected this. The Steelers snuck by the Falcons in week 1 with a backup QB. Do we think the Falcons are as good as the Ravens? Nope. This was a big division win, though, as the first game is a tiebreaker between division foes. If the Steelers and Ravens both end up as good as we think, that could be big.
The Steelers took one on the chin this weekend, but they are about to get Rape-thlisberger back and that should cure much of what ails them offensively. No, it won’t make Hines Ward 5 years younger, but it will give the receivers a longer chance to get open. Mike Wallace should be the big beneficiary. As long as this defense remains healthy, the Steelers should be right around the top of the AFC and division all year.
The Bengals are who we thought they were (thanks, Dennis Green). They are enamored with the pass when the running game is their bread and butter. They are unclutch, as we would expect from a team that full of egos, and they just lose the Battle of Ohio to the lowly Browns. I feel no remorse for them. They just are not that good.
Speaking of not good…
The Browns! They have actually shown subtle signs of life this year. Unfortunately, those signs of life have been followed by extremely obvious symptoms of imminent death. I submit the following video as evidence
Notice the staring down of the receiver? The lateness with which the ball is thrown? The lack of surprise you have from seeing the ball get picked? Welcome to Browns football!
Texans 3-1 (1-0)
Jaguars 2-2 (1-0)
Titans 2-2 (0-0)
Colts 2-2 (0-2)
This one is far from settled. The Texans still deserve the top spot at this point, but their pass defense has got to be a concern. Worst pass defense in football for my money,
and it isn’t just because the other team is behind and has to throw. Serious issues there. They are still good enough to potentially win the division, but they are a seriously flawed team right now, albeit a very good one.
The Jaguars are really only in second because of that divisional record. They always play the Colts tough and sometimes they have a side order of 59 yard field goal. Still probably the division doormat. Don’t forget their blowout loss to San Diego.
The Titans have been kind of up and down so far. Beat up on the Giants and Raiders by impressive scores. Hung in there (sort of) with Pittsburgh, and los to Denver in a close one. Still not sure what to think, but I think my original projection of them right around .500 is good. I think I had them at 9-7, which I am not so bullish on, but 8-8 is still very open.
The Colts should be worried about a few things and not worried about a few things. They should be worried about the defense’s inability to stop people when it needs to. They should be worried about injuries to so many key players. They should be worried about losing two divisional games already. However, they should not be too worried about losing those two games the way they did. There were two hugely costly fumbles in that game (one by Collie, and one by Wayne), and if they hld onto those, the Colts may well be 4-0. Don’t take my home word for it, rewatch teh games (if that is possible) and you will see what I mean. Absolutely horrible timing on those fumbles. The Colts are fine, just with a little less of their usual shine.
Just for the record, Peyton Manning has played like 4 perfect games. The pick against Jacksonville (his first) was not even his fault, and fumbles by the receivers have been the only things to hold them back. Here is the thing that shows you Peyton Manning is special. He doesn’t have a bad game. Ever. It is never a matter of if the offense will score, but when. Tom Brady had a bad game against the Jets a few weeks ago, and Aaron Rodgers had a fairly down day against the Lions this week. Peyton Manning NEVER has a bad game. His worst statistical game (against the Giants) was the result of Peyton personally calling running plays to attack the Giants. I am lucky as a Colts fan to witness this every weekend.
Chiefs 3-0 (1-0)
Chargers 2-2 (0-1)
Broncos 2-2 (0-0)
Raiders 1-3 (0-0)
This is a really interesting division if you ask me. The Chiefs were saved as the only undefeated team remaining, although it was largely in thanks to the bye. They play the
Colts next week, so we will find out more about them really soon. Over the last 10 years, the last undefeated team has had pretty good fortunes with Super Bowl appearances, but forgive me for not jumping at that prediction. They are a better team than most expected, but they are far from a finished product.
The Chargers are right in the middle of their usual early-season swoon. Give it a a few weeks and they will be in the middle of their December rampage through the division and the NFL in general. However, there is reason for concern in Chargertown. They are without Vincent Jackson and Mmarcus McNeill, two players who are without a doubt 2 of their top 4 offensive players, and are unsure of Ryan Mathews status going forward. The record should be fine but this team is going to struggle more than most fans expect.
The Broncos are a really interesting team. They are basically running the offense Tom Brady ran a few years ago( with McDaniels), but the Broncos have taken the talent Brady has, reduced it to Orton, and spread the wealth to better receivers. The issue remains, as I have harped on for weeks, that in crunch time, I am not sure if they have someone they can go to with any confidence. They will leave wins on the field and for that reason, I cannot have them winning the division, though no one will want to play them. Kyle Orton is playing great football right now, but I think they lack the clutch-time guy they would need to win the division.
The Raiders are not as big a joke as usual. They have been moving the ball fairly well and have been the victims of a difficult schedule thus far along with a missed game winning field goal that would have them at a deserved 2-2. Gradkowski has been great so far and Darren McFadden is finally running like he means it. I like this team just enough to pick them to upset people, but not neatly enough to win many games, They get the Chargers at home this weekend… Don’t tempt me. I’ll do it. Maybe. Tune it later.
Redskins 2-2 (2-0)
Eagles 2-2 (0-1)
Giants 2-2 (0-0)
Cowboys 1-2 (0-0)
This division is just jumbled up like crazy. Ultimately, it is really just not a very good division. Every team has serious flaws and little way of fixing them, and that makes for a division that will be fun to follow, but not because all the teams are that good. Should make for plenty of “upsets” but with the teams so close, who knows what an upset is.
The Redskins got a big break this weekend, though I guess you could argue they made their break by breaking Michael vick’s ribs. They are really not a very good team, but they are just good enough to beat mediocre teams or teams that hand them games (lookin at you, Dallas). I would not expect a ton from them moving forward, but they could end up with 7 wins.
The Eagles are still tough to judge because it depends so heavily on Michael Vick. However, they get San Francisco next week, and that is good news. EVERYONE is going to jump on that 49ers bandwagon for the game and that is the best possible way to guarantee a 49ers loss. The Eagles are one of the division favorites with Vick, but without him they are just a somewhat below average team. Kevin Kolb is not chopped liver, but arm strength is just as important in that offense as accuracy, and Vick has had both recently.
The Giants are about as schizophrenic as always. One week they get trashed by the Titans, and the next they humiliate the Bears. Go figure. Tom Coughlin certainly had them playing with heart, but it remains to be seen if that was just the Bears offensive line finally crumbling like we thought it would, or the Giants really coming on strong. They get the Texans next week and that should teach us a lot.
The Cowboys seem to have moved up by not playing here. All the other teams seem to still be huge question marks and the Cowboys got to sit back after their win against Houston and build on that win (probably). We could still see discombobulated, pathetic, self-centered Cowboys next week, but far more likely is motivated, quality Cowboys. That should last them well into December when they can get back to disappointing.
Bears 3-1 (2-0)
Packers 3-1 (1-1)
Vikings 1-2 (1-0)
Lions 0-4 (0-3)
This one is going to get crazy. The Bears FINALLY did what I assumed they would and just completely crumbled against the pass rush. I think we all sort of forgot about
that problem after those first 3 weeks, but we are not likely to forget now. Jay Cutler is not likely to forget either, though maybe the concussion will make that happen. That remains to be seen, but we do know a few things. The pass rush can undo the Bears, but their defense and special teams can keep them in games long enough to keep the game close. No Cutler going forward would be catastrophic, but I think he will be fine and the Bears will be fine as long as they can stop someone from rushing the passer. Big If judging by last night.
The Packers are still not at full strength, and those two Jordy Nelson fumbles and some rare picks by Rodgers were evidence of that. However, they are still the division favorites if you ask me, and by early November, the offense should be hitting on all cylinders and blowing people out. No worries in Wisconsin.
The Vikings are still pretty iffy in my book. They should get Favre and the receiving corps on the same page during the bye week, but I am not sure if it will be quite enough with how the division is looking right now. I think they will be fine, but that some trouble could be in the offing as their divisional games get under way.
The Lions, to me, are the story of this division. They have played the Packers at Lambeau, the Vikings at the Metrodome, the Eagles with Vick, and the Bears at Soldier field with a backup quarterback. In those games, they lost to the Bears on the Calvin Johnson no-catch in the end zone, by 3 to the Eagles, and by 2 to the Packers. That is damn impressive. Coach Jim Schwartz said that everyone around the team knew how close they were but that they need to get out tehre and win, and I could not agree more. I think this is going to be a pretty good team this year (just like I thought preseason), but winning will be difficult. However, they have a big part in the playoff race. The Lions have all their home games remaining against their division opponents, and I could very easily see them knocking the Vikings out of the playoffs during their week 17 clash. Love this team without Shaun Hill.
Falcons 3-1 (1-0)
Saints 3-1 (1-1)
Buccaneers 2-1 (1-0)
Panthers 0-4 (0-2)
This one still has plenty of work done on it before it is right, but it is not so far off. The Falcons are a bit lucky not to be 2-2, but they have played a fairly difficult schedule so far. They were pretty underwhelming against the 49ers, but did came out with the win to keep them squarely in the discussion for the NFC South. This team has to work on its consistency, but if they can get some consistency out of Matt Ryan and the defense, the dirty birds could be flying high.
The Saints are still the best team, and if not for a shanked field goal, would be 4-0. They are still definitely in the feeling-out process with the offense, but I think they will get it worked out in time to bury the Falcons and take the division. A work in progress, but much further along than most works in progress around the league.
The Bucs are still somewhat of an enigma, but I am thinking more and more they will be like a worse version of the Redskins. They will beat the bad teams in the league, but not really anyone else on their way to sub-mediocrity. Upset specialists only here. That Charlie Batch torching is a big factor in not trusting them.
The Panthers pulled a Jaguars and played the best team in teh division tough. It is no surprise give it is a really tough team that is just struggling to put it together right now. I still trust Jimmy Clausen to do a fairly good job, thought any games they win will be mostly thanks to the running game. The defense is still fairly porous, but they held the Saints down fairly well so they can’t be that bad, right? Another work in progress, although their best possible finished product is still likely around 6-10.
Cardinals 2-2 (1-0)
Rams 2-2 (1-1)
Seahawks 2-2 (1-1)
49ers 0-4 (0-1)
This is painful to look at, so let’s get it over with fast.
The Cardinals suck. The Derek Anderson Era looks like it may be over, but do not be fooled. Any Browns fan can tell you he is some sort of mythical creature that you just cannot kill, like the Chimera, or the Cockroach from Men in Black (just to make it mythical). Just when you think you have gotten rid of him, he finds a way to get back into the game. It is comical for everyone else, but really just painful for the fans. The Max Hall Era should be starting soon here, though he will get hurt to get Anderson back in somehow.
The Rams are (gulp) the favorites. They also suck. The 6-10 favorites mind you, but the favorites. They seem to do the least wrong, and that is more than enough in this division. They would really be better served losing out and enjoying twice as many wins as last year, but I think it is far more likely they win their 6 or 7 games and make the playoffs. I like Sam Bradford and the defense has been just good enough.
The Seahawks suck. They just do not do enough things right for me to tip them for division champs. They have a fairly anemic offense, a spotty defense, and a college coach who I cannot make my mind up about. They will probably be pegged as division facorites by many, but I believe Seattle is where success goes to die, at least recently, so I cannot pick them. Sorry, Seattle, that was a bit harsh.
The 49ers are good. Just kidding, they also suck. It is evidently all the rage out west to suck and the 49ers are living in high style. They even managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when Roddy White once again strripped the intercepting player and got Atlanta the ball back. Atlanta went on to win. I also expect the 49ers to fall on their face when they play the Eagles. Why? Because that is what they do. They play well when no one expects it (like Atlanta) and play horribly when they are supposed to play well. Classic 49ers. Some things never change. Like Alex Smith. Remember when people thought he had a transformational moment against the Saints? Lesson learned! You can transform crap into fertilizer, but it will still stink.
Since we are only at 3500 words and that is far less that we have been giving you, let’s get a Clown of the Week in here!
Clown of the Week
As if it wasn’t enough to kcik the 49ers when they were down, here comes deja vu. Last year Roddy White did the same thing to the 49ers. Nate Clements did not remember that. Skip to the 2:08 mark.
Go to the corner and cry into your puffy red nose, Nate Clements. The loss wasn’t blamed on him, but as a consolation prize, he gets this prestigious award.