It's widely acknowledged that Week 2 in the National Football League is the most difficult week to bet on or predict. The reason being that people too often draw far too sweeping conclusions about where they think teams are headed after just a single game. Anyway, one game's certainly not enough, and two really isn't either. But after three weeks, we can start to get an idea about the players and teams that are shaping up to have fine seasons, and vice versa. Here are some of my musings after three weeks. As always, please jump on in and share your own.
* Let's start in the NFC North - the inter-conference division that the AFC North is paired up with this year. Through three weeks, the NFC North has one of the five undefeated teams in the league (Minnesota), and two other clubs at 2-1 (Chicago, Green Bay). At 8-4, the Norris division is tied with the NFC East as the division with the best record in football. Pittsburgh still has Green Bay on the road, Detroit on the road, and Minnesota at home on tap. If they could win two out of three, I'd be pretty pleased. It wouldn't at all surprise me to see one of the two NFC Wild Cards emerge from that division. This past Sunday, the storyline was Brett Favre leading his team to a last second victory over the San Francisco 49ers in what was a hard fought and extremely tightly contested game throughout. It still baffles me why Adrian Peterson only gets 19 carries a game, but I suppose if they can keep him healthy by giving him the rock a little bit less than they might ideally like to. Congratulations as well to the Lions for getting off the snide. When we travel to play them in two weeks, it's not out of the realm of possibility that that team could make a few huge plays in the passing game; and if they get a turnover or two from the Steelers, then who knows. It seems inconceivable to even think of, but nothing at all is free and easy in this league.
*Here are my three teams from each conference that I think can win it all. Injuries to star players can of course change things - like if Peyton Manning, Big Ben, Drew Brees, etc go down. But assuming we're talking about more or less the same cast of characters we're seeing out there now, here's who I think is good enough to take home the hardware come February.
AFC: Indianapolis, Baltimore, New England, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati
NFC: New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Minnesota
I'd probably put them in that order as well. Some may wonder why no New York Jets? Well, they've been impressive so far, no doubt, but I just can't see a rookie leading a team to a Super Bowl in year one. Not without an amazingly dominant running game, which I don't think New York has. They'll be in a lot of games because of their defense, great coaching and a solid offensive line, but it's not there time yet. I was very impressed by Cincinnati on Sunday. They were much better in the trenches - particularly along the offensive line. They have a brusing running game that they're committed to, and if they can catch a few breaks and keep their entire defense healthy for most of the year, they could sneak in to the playoffs. From there, a talented quarterback, multiple game changers at the playmaker positions and a money field goal kicker are all great ingredients to have for a playoff run. I do wonder if they'll be able to generate enough pass pressure to disrupt the league's most efficient offenses when the stakes go up later in the year. Finally, it's a bit too early to tell with Baltimore, but they sure look outstanding through three games. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has handed over the reins to Joe Flacco in his second year and Flacco's making him and everybody else in purple look good. Let's see how they do on the road against better competition in two of the next three weeks. They travel to New England and Minnesota, and I'll be intrigued to see if their defense doesn't show a bit of vulnerability.
* Through three weeks, only four quarterbacks have thrown the football more times than Big Ben.. They are..
|Name (team record)||Attempts||Completion %|
|Tom Brady (2-1)||142||61.3 %|
|Kurt Warner (1-2)||122||65.6 %|
|Phillip Rivers (2-1)||114||58.8 %|
|Ben Roethlisberger (1-2)||109||71.6 %|
|Byron Leftwich (0-3)||107||54.2 %|
|Matt Schaub (1-2)||107||64.5 %|
First of all, considering how close all three the Steelers games have been, that passing attempts number should tell us something about what our 'identity' is shaping up to be - a passing first team. We can agree or disagree about whether or not that style of play best suits our personnel, but I think we can all agree that we're lucky to have such a top-notch quarterback in Roethlisberger. That's tremendous accuracy for how much he's been asked to throw the ball, and frankly, that number could be even higher if not for a few drops the past couple of weeks. Having thrown just over 36 passing attempts per game through three games, Big Ben is on pace to heave it about 575 times this year. That would be more than 100 more passing attempts than he attempted in 2006 and 2008, when he set and matched a career high with 469 attempts. Will that pace keep up? Probably not quite at that clip. But it appears to be a safe bet that he'll surpass 500 attempts on the season for the first time in his career.
* Even though I've lamented the dropoff in the play of the defense compared to last year, the Steelers are still ranked 7th in the NFL in scoring defense, ranked 6th in rushing defense, but just 15th in passing yards allowed. By Football Outsiders metrics, the Steelers were ranked 12th overall in DVOA, through the first two weeks (Week 3 has not yet been added to their calculations). That's a respectable number, but I imagine it will dip even lower after Sunday's loss to the Bengals. By their calculations, the Steelers have been quite poor against the pass, coming it at just 22nd compared to 15th by traditional yards per game statistics. That's not going to cut it over the long haul.
* Jack Del Rio may have saved his job on Sunday by beating the Houston Texans on the road 34-31. The Jaguars looked pathetic the week before against Arizona. They weren't just bad either. They looked like they weren't even playing hard and had totally given up on the game (and their coach). This is following in the wake of last year's disaster for the Jaguars when reports surfaced later in the surface about the lack of confidence and respect the team had for their head coach. Del Rio's probably gone by year's end anyway, if you ask me, unless Jacksonville somehow made an unexpected run to the playoffs. That's not likely though whatsoever. Before moving on, has there every been a quarterback less deserving of all the money he got than Jaguars signal caller David Garrard? I mean, he didn't really do all that much to deserve the mega-extension he signed in 2007 (if I recall correctly). He had won some games, protected the football nicely and allowed his two-headed running attack (MJD and Fred Taylor) do most of the heavy lifting. Anyway, since that extension, Garrard has been pretty darn average. He went 5-11 last year as a starter and threw only 15 TDs and 13 INTs. Not horrible numbers, but franchise quarterbacks are paid to lead their teams to better records than that. So far this year, Garrard's been uninspiring as well, completing under 55% of his passes.
* Everybody's loving on the New York Jets for their 3-0 start, so I'll take a rain check and not comment except to say that the I love what Rex Ryan brings as a football coach - someone who just truly LOVES everything about his job and the game. That said, I don't think they have the horses to really be a threat this year. Not enough weapons on offense or defense, even if they get really lucky injury wise. Their offensive line is quite good and they're athletic on defense, but I still think they are a player or two away from really being great in Ryan's system. It won't hurt to get Sanchez a little bit of seasoning either. Even though I don't think they can win it all this year, I do think the Jets defense will hold up pretty well and keep them in plenty of games. A 3-0 start featuring wins over Houston, New England and Tennessee is impressive, but Houston may not be as good as some thought having lost two home games already (surprise, surprise!); the Patriots were still finding their way in Week 2; and Tennessee may very well be 0-6 after three more weeks have passed. I'd just say echo what the Big Tuna once said, let's put the anointing oil away for now. For starters, let's see how that defense holds up next week at the Super Dome in New Orleans, and how Mark Sanchez does when he's forced in to his first NFL shootout potentially.
* Speaking of New Orleans, if I had to guess right now, I'd say the MVP race will come down to Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. Purple Jesus, aka Adrian Peterson will be in the running, but I wonder if he'll get enough carries to really put up a huge number and contend for individual hardware. Something tells me Brett Favre may be getting the ball put in his hands more and more as the season goes on. That'd be a mistake, but something tells me that's in store. Anyway, Manning and Brees are essentially stride for stride through three weeks and show no signs of slowing down. Saints fans should rejoice in the fact that their two Eastern seaboard road games (Philly, Buffalo) came in September rather than when the weather turns. Now all they have left in terms of road games are trips to Miami, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Washington, Atlanta, and Carolina. That's two domes and two non hostile Florida venues in addition to those home games where the Saints are extremely tough to slow down offensively.
* How quickly has LaDanian Tomlinson's career come grinding to a halt? What's the latest on his status for Sunday's game at Heinz Field?
* Do you think Byron Leftwich wishes he was backing up Big Ben in Pittsburgh rather than being pummeled around on a sorry Tampa Bay team that's looking for any reason to see what they have in rookie Josh Freeman? Poor Leftwich, he was TKO'd out of Sunday's shutout loss to the Giants and likely won't see the field again with the Buccaneers. Actually, scratch that. It's Josh Freeman. He'll forfeit his right to playing time at some point in the not too distant future. But for not anyway, Leftwich will sit, beaten up physically and mentally.
* On a somewhat similar note - poor Jake Delhomme. It's hard not to like the Louisianian. But his days may be numbered after throwing yet another devastating interception in Monday night's 21-7 loss at Dallas. Delhomme's got mental problems at this point and at 34 years of age, he may not get a chance to work through them, be it in Carolina or elsewhere. I hope that's not the case though. Seems like a good guy, whose teammates are always sticking up for. Kinda reminds me of Woody Harrelson's character, Billy Hoyle, in White Men Can't Jump. An aw shucks attitude, talented, but at the end of the day, kind of a head case that you don't really want to put your faith in.
* Fantasy Question of the Week for you - would you trade Chad Ocho Cinco for Matt Forte? Forte's value is fairly low right now after three non productive weeks. Ocho Cinco meanwhile looks to be back to his old ways, but from the looks of the Bengals' offense, it looks like they will continue to lean on the running game and distribute the ball fairly equally between their triumvirate of wide receivers - #85, Laverneus Coles and Chris Henry.
* This week's Hothead Coach of the Week is Jim Mora of the Seattle Seahawks, who called out his kicker Olindo Mare after the game publicly for missing two crucial field goal attempts in Seattle's loss to the Bears. Mora said:
"There’s no excuses for those. If you’re a kicker in the National Football League you should make those kicks – bottom line. End of story. Period. No excuses. No wind, doesn’t matter. You’ve gotta makes those kicks."
True, but what Mora failed to mention was that Mare converted on four other field goal attempts, two of which came from 46 yards out. Check out Field Gulls for more commentary on Mora's unreasonable rant, something we've never, and will never see out of head coach Mike Tomlin when things go awry.
* Tennessee is done. At 0-3, they're in a huge hole considering they haven't faced Indy yet. All three losses have come against AFC teams too, meaning it's highly unlikely they'll be able to win a tiebreaker for a Wild Card. They also play at Jacksonville, then host Indianapolis, and travel to New England before their BYE Week. 0-6 is a distinct possibility. Time to move on from Kerry Collins, that's for sure. He kept them afloat last year with some decent play, but he looks bad this year and isn't worth sticking with. Makes much more sense to play Vince Young, evaluate how he does, then decide to ride with him or trade him away for pennies on the dollar at season's end before his cap hit gets too high in the future. I also wonder if the Jeff Fisher era may be coming to an end in Nashville. He's the longest tenured coach in the league currently, and certainly deserves credit for what he's accomplished. But his brand of football isn't all that aligned with how the NFL is trending as a league. He's also never really broken through, despite hanging around .500 or better and making the playoffs plenty of times in his long career. Cowher had his flaws as a big-game single-game coach, but he was consistent like Fisher in the regular season. The difference though is Cowher won his division eight times compared to four for Fisher, and advance to six AFC Championship Games compared to just two for Fisher. He's been a very good coach. Just not that great. And his time may be coming to an end, particularly if the team opts to start fresh with Vince Young under center in 2010 and beyond.
* My Offensive Offensive Players of the Week (i.e. those guys who stunk it up): Cleveland QBs Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson (combined 17/27, 126 yards, 4 INTs in 34-3 L to Baltimore). How bad are things in Cleveland? And to think there was a quarterback 'controversy' the past two years. Neither one's good enough to lead Cleveland to victory. It's a shame for Cleveland and their fans because it looked like they were legitimately ready to turn the corner just 12 or so months ago.