Tuesday, October 13, 2009

NFL Winners and Losers -- Week 5

So I was reviewing the slate of games from Week 5 in the NFL this past weekend, and it struck me how many horrible games there were this week. It certainly seems like there are more of these total dud games -- either one good team and one horrible team, or even worse two horrible teams playing each other -- than in past years, and then it suddenly hit me: there are just a crapload of really terrible football teams in the NFL this year, more than I can remember in the past. Think about it -- the Raiders, the Lions, the Buccaneers, the Redskins, the Chiefs, the Bills, the Browns, the Titans, the Panthers, and maybe a few others as well. These teams are a clear cut below the rest of the NFL, and it really shows as basically more than half of the games each week feature at least one of these objectively subpar teams. The result? Lots of painful games to watch on Sundays.

Speaking of which, let's start this week's Winners and Losers report.


1. Braylon Edwards. Welcome to New York! In his first game as a New York Jet after being traded mid-week from the Cleveland Browns, Braylon Edwards made his presence felt in a big way on a national stage on Monday night by hauling in 5 passes for 64 yards and 1.99999 touchdowns on the day. For those who watched the game, the refs clearly blew a call -- actually they got it right, but ironically on replay they felt they saw the "clear and convincing evidence" needed to overturn the right call and make it the wrong call -- that would have awarded Edwards his second touchdown on the day on a great diving catch right at the pylon. The Jets scored on the next play from the 1 yard line so it didn't affect the outcome of the game at all, but Edwards could be exactly the downfield threat that Sanchise and the Jets will need to turn things around after back to back losses following a 3-0 start for Gang Green.

2. The Atlanta Falcons. Talk about a statement game. The Falcons marched into the West-leading San Francisco 49ers' home stadium this weekend, and promptly took the Niners behind the woodshed and administered an old-style beating. After 2 touchdown tosses from Falcon quarterback Matt Ryan and three more run in by pounding Atlanta runningback Michael Turner, the Falcons headed home with a 45-10 trouncing that certainly seems to answer the question of how well the South frontrunners in New Orleans and Atlanta can compete with the other good teams in the NFC.

3. The Cincinnati Bungles. Clearly it's time I start believing in the Bungles, who are one ridiculous last-second tip to Brandon Stokley away from a 5-0 start in 2009. Carson Palmer has always had talent, but the real winners this week on this Bungles team appear to be the running game and the defense, which has stepped up big-time in the team's last several meetings with the Ravens, over which time the Bungles are 4-2 against their divisional rivals. The D also held the Ravens, which had averaged over 21 points per game through the first quarter of the season, to just 14 points on the day, while Bears castaway Cedric Benson ran for 120 yards, the first time in over two full seasons that a back has gained triple digits on the ground against the Ravens. This was a huge win and it leaves the Bungles alone a game ahead of both the Ravens and the Steelers -- both of whom the Bungles have already beaten this year -- in the smashmouth AFC North.

4. The Denver Broncos. Co-winner of the Time to Start Believing award this week along with the Bungles, Denver really padded their resume this weekend with a thrilling 20-17 overtime victory over the preseason AFC favorite New England Cheatriots. Talk about a defense leading the way for a team -- out of nowhere this year, Denver has given up in its five wins so far this year 7, 6, 3, 10 and 17 points, more than 30% fewer points allowed than even the second-stingiest defense in the Falcons. And now with wins over the 4-1 division-leading Bungles and the 3-2 Cheatriots, there's just no way to keep selling short what Josh McDaniel is doing in the mile-high city. And with the Rockies having been handily dispatched this weekend by Your World Champion Philadelphia Phillies (more on that tomorrow), the sports fans of Denver will have the Broncos to focus on almost exclusively over the coming weeks as the schedule stays rough for a while, starting with divisional rival San Diego next Monday night in Cali.

5. Peyton Manning. Another game, another 36-44, 309 yards and 3 touchdown performance on Sunday night on national tv against the struggling Tennessee Titans. Week in and week out, the elder Manning brother gets it done in a huge way, and nobody in the world makes it look easier than this guy. There are just no words to describe such greatness.


1. The Smackdowns: As I mentioned above, the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens both got smacked down hard this week by conference rivals, raising doubts about the quality of each team. The Niners had a chance at home to show another great NFC team what they were made of, and instead they managed to give up by far their most points allowed this year while also scoring their least. The Ravens made a good game of it with the division-rival Bungles, but a last-minute touchdown and allowing more than 420 total yards eventually caught up with them and left them holding the bag when the final whistle blew. With the Niners heading to Houston and then to Indy in their next two games, while Baltimore plays at Minnesota and then at home against Denver, each team will have ample opportunity in the very near future to show that this week was just a fluke, but for the next several days we can all wonder just how good these two teams really are.

2. Larry Johnson. The Chiefs one-time scoring machine has been absolutely absent this year, and his time as the starting back for the team should probably be coming to an end shortly. So far in five losses in 2009, LJ has taken the ball 93 times for a total of 226 yards, a less than 2.5 yards per carry average over close to 20 carries a game. What's more, in stark contrast to LJ's early days when he took over the job from an aging Priest Holmes, LJ has scored exactly zero touchdowns on the year, showing a complete inability to find the end zone even though his team has moved the ball and gotten into the red zone a fair amount of times so far over five games. With Washington next week and then San Diego after that, these might be LJ's last couple of weeks to show new head coach Todd Haley something or he might find himself on the bench replaced by a younger, hungrier version of himself.

3. The Washington Redskins. For those who didn't watch, the Redskins were up 17-2 early in the third quarter on the road at 0-4 Carolina, and they still managed to find a way to give up the final 18 points and turn the easy victory against a horrible team into a loss. Skins' quarterback Jason Campbell continues not being able to lead his team to victory, and the team's lack of a running game combines with a fairly porous defense to make it very hard for this squad to hold on to the scarce leads they have managed to rustle up early in a few of these games. Sure, the Skins are only 2-3, but when you consider that they were gifted a Bully schedule to beat up on a bunch of pancakes in the early part of the season (the Skins so far have played the Giants, the Rams, the Lions, the Buccaneers and the Panthers), that's actually about as horrible a record as one could imagine given those opponents in the first five weeks of the 2009 season.

4. The New York Jets defense. I don't even know what to say about how horrible Rex Ryan's vaunted Jets defense played on Monday night against the Dolphins. Mark Sanchez had a very solid game in bouncing back from last week's dismal performance in New Orleans, leading the team to 27 points against the 1-3 Miami squad, but the Jets could do absolutely nothing to stop new quarterback Chad Henny and the Dolphins from moving the ball all throughout the night in southern Florida, especially when it counted most. The Jets gave up two long drives in the fourth quarter, including 11 plays and 78 yards over the final five minutes to turn victory into defeat on Monday night, and they allowed the Fins to gain more than 7 yards per attempt out of the wildcard formation, and over 400 yards of total offense overall. Basically, any time Miami needed yards, they got 'em, all through the night, including several wide open long throws from Henny who, as Rex Ryan himself aptly put it, the Jets "made look like Dan Marino out there" on the day. Now we'll see if the Jets can bounce back against Buffalo and Oakland in the next two weeks before taking on the Dolphins again on November 1, this time at home sweet home in New Jersey York.

TO watch: Bills' wide receiver Terrell Owens had cour catches for 44 yards on Sunday, with no touchdowns and only one drop. TO's aggregate stats so far in 2009: 12 catches for 202 yards and 1 score.

No, not in just this past weekend's game. Through five games.


Jamarcus Russell watch: I was pleased to see that Jamarcus recorded a downright outburst of efficiency in the Raiders' game against the Giants on Sunday. In a game where the Raiders were down three touchdowns just minutes into the second quarter and losing 31-7 at the half, Russell played the whole game and went 8 for 13 for 100 yards, with no touchdowns. So even though his team was way behind and seemingly had to throw to try to have a chance to come back, the Raiders' qb somehow attempted only 13 passes on the day, and gained only 100 yards through the air as his team amassed only 124 yards of total offense against the G-Men. Oh, and Russell lost three fumbles as well. Well played.

Jamarcus Russell Stat of the Week: Cleveland Browns quarterback Derek Anderson, the winning quarterback in this weekend's brutal 6-3 victory over the hapless Buffalo Bills, finished the win with 2-17 passing for 23 yards. 2 for 17. 23 total yards passing on the day. And his team won!

The Big Bully award: As I mentioned above when discussing the hapless Washington Redskins, both the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants have actually amassed good records but have done so largely by beating up on the league's copious weak teams without having much chance to show how good they are against strong competition. It's uncanny if you look at it, how easy some of these schedules have been so far thanks to how bad the bottom of the NFL has gotten in a hurry this year. The Eagles have crushed the Rams, the Chiefs and the Buccaneers and gotten crushed by the Saints for a lofty-looking 3-1 record in Philly, although the only decent team they played in New Orleans spanked the Eagles good. The Giants, meanwhile, who admittedly have looked pretty much dominatory throughout the 2009 season so far, have smushed the Chiefs, the Raiders, the Buccaneers and the Redskins, while rounding things out by besting the Cowboys as well so far in this young season. For the Giants, things get tougher in a hurry, as the team's next six games will be against the Saints, the Cardinals, the Eagles, the Chargers, the Falcons and the Broncos, while the Eagles face an easier path in playing the Raiders, Redskins, Giants and Cowboys in their next four games.

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