Let's take a look at our foes in the AFC North after six weeks of the 2008 NFL season.
Congratulations to the Cleveland Browns on their dismanttling of the reigning Super Bowl Champion New York Giants. The Browns moved up and down the field at will, despite shooting themselves in the foot with unnecessary procedural penalties all night. Even with the plethora of penalties, they were not once forced to punt it away. Wow. All in all, a very impressive win for the Brownies. They were opportunisitc on defense, picking off the Eli Manning we're more accustomed to seeing than the one we saw late last year and early on in 2008. They ran the ball well, particularly on 3rd and short situations. And most importantly, they got good play out of Derek Anderson. He was a touch shaky on certain throws to start the game. But by the end of the game, Anderson had passed each and every test thrown at him by the Giants. He got rid of the ball quickly on slants and slip screens, he threw a couple of beauty deep balls, he hit his deep outs with timing and precision, and he made fairly good decisions with his reads, including his check downs in certain situations. Yes, the Giants had a little more trouble than usual creating pressure, but part of that was because Anderson got rid of the ball before they could make their presence felt in Cleveland's backfield.
You have to give the Browns coaching staff some credit here too. The penalties aside, this was a very prepared and focused team tonight on Monday Night Football. Their season was at stake and they delivered with a fantastic game plan. All the Brady Quinn talk is back on the back-burner where it belongs, and the Browns can now focus on stringing together a solid strech of games. There's no time to pat yourself on the back too much either if you're Cleveland. Back to back road games await against the Skins, who should be fuming after their letdown against St. Louis, and against the Jags, who responded in a huge way at Denver after stumbling against Pittsburgh in a heart-breaker the previous week.
As may be the case with Pittsburgh, Cleveland can still hold out hope at peeking at the right time. A few injurys and some poor QB play to start the season hasn't buried them yet, and for a night at least, they looked every bit the team that was bequeathed with such lofty expectations this offseason.
Streak: Won 2
Next Three: @ Washington, @ Jacksonville, Baltimore
The big, bad, vaunted Ravens defense ran into a buzzsaw in Indianapolis on Sunday. They were smoked 31-3 and all the immediate short-term optimism that surrounded the team at 2-0 must all but have disappeared. Joe Flacco still shows signs of being a fantastic draft choice and long-term solution at QB for the franchise (he completed 28 of 38 passes), but he nevertheless is a mistake-prone rookie (3 of those incompletions were actually completions - just to the wrong team).
The clinic Peyton Manning put on display (19 of 28, 271 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) against the Ravens defense might give you reason to pause about the true legitimacy of their defense, but I think they just ran into an offense that wasn't going to be stopped that day. We'll see what happens as they approach a very managable, and critical, stretch of their season. They head to the road for the bulk of their upcming schedule (four of the next five are on the road), but the opponents include Miami, Oakland, Cleveland and Houston. If they don't win three of those four, you can likely kiss any playoff chances goodbye.
Streak: Lost 3
Next Three: @ Miami, Oakland, @ Cleveland
This is a terrible football team worth very little of my time and effort or our collective thoughts. I say that, yet a tiny part of me is still worried about this coming weekend. It's VERY tiny though, particularly with the news coming out today that Carson Palmer will miss another game this coming weekend when the Bungles travel to Heinz Field. Cincy's latest misfire came against the Jets, 26-14. Backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick threw the ball 33 times for only 152 yards. That's not even double-bogey golf. From the looks of it, the Jets did their best to keep this one more interesting than it needed to be. Brett Favre threw the ball 33 times, was picked off twice, and had a lost fumble returned for a TD in the first quarter.
The Bengals better find a way to stretch the field against us or they are going to be in for a world of hurt. That kind of YPA in the passing game will flat out not get it done against this Steelers defense. Clearly the Bengals are having a hard time establishing the run (they rank 2nd to last in rushing yards per game behind only Detroit), so if defensive coordinators need not worry about getting burnt deep by the Harvard product Fitzpatrick while they stack the box against the run, then it's pretty much lights out for their chances to be competitive in Carson Palmer's absence. Still, like I said, a small part of me remains worried :) One win against a hated rival can make a season for a struggling team. But that's usually reserved for teams with heart and I'm not sure this Bengals team has much of that.
Streak: Lost 6
Next Three: @ Pittsburgh, Houston, @ Jacksonville.