Thursday, October 06, 2011

NFL First-Quarter Report

So, with a quarter of the 2011 NFL regular season already behind us, I usually like to take some time to take stock of what we have with some of the teams who have surprised the most thus far in the young season. Although as I've written about previously over the years it seems to be later and later in the season these days before you can really assign a meaningful assessment of many teams' true positions in the league -- in many cases nowadays taking until the third quarter if not the beginning of the final quarter of the regular season in some cases before you really know (see last year's Packers as a perfect example of what I mean there) -- I find that after a quarter of the season is the first meaningful spot to sit down and evaluate just how good these teams are. And with that in mind, here are my random thoughts on the first quarter of the 2011 NFL season, grouped by divisions.

For starters, my first prediction that you cannot find many people to agree with is that I'm still picking the Eagles to win the NFC East. What can I say -- nobody else in that division is as good as them, period. Tony Romo, what a joke, we've seen again in the first four games this year why the Cowboys will never go deep with Romo anywhere, ever. The Giants have generally been more lucky than good so far, and by luck I am including not only Mike Vick getting tackled into one of his own players and giving them the opportunity to come back on the Eagles in the fourth quarter, but also having the referees hand the Giants a game on a silver platter last week when the Cardinals beat them fair and square until the refs made an indefensible call designed purely to keep the NY market happy with a Giants win. And the Redskins, I'm just going to have to see some more of that before I really believe in them. The Eagles on the other hand, beat the Rams handily in Week 1, had a 10-point lead at Atlanta when Vick went out at the beginning of the fourth quarter in Week 2, and they had a 1-point lead vs. the Giants in Week 3 before Vick again went out in the 4th quarter, both of those last two games ending in late defeats. And then the Eagles blew their way to a 23-3 lead vs the 49ers in probably the best game of Mike Vick's career as an NFL player in Week 4, and then gave it all up thanks to not one but two missed field goals and an unbelievably boneheaded fumble on the 49ers' 39 yard line with 2 minutes to go and down one point. So here even two full games behind the Giants and the Redskins, I'm still picking the Eagles to find a way to take down an uncharacteristically weak NFC East.

In the NFC North, the Packers are as good as advertised (with a pretty dubious defense, just like last year), and the Lions are also, officially, For Real. Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson is quickly becoming one of the most potent qb-wr tandems in the league, and Suh is an absolute beast. It's unclear at this point just how good any of the other teams in this division are, but the Pack and the Lions should both be on their way to post-season berths in 2011.

The Saints are once again delivering and look sure to end up in the 2011 post-season, but things are wide open otherwise in the topsy-turvy NFC South. My pick of the Falcons to miss the 2011 playoffs is still looking very doable as this team has been a very inconsistent 2-2 through the first quarter, and as it is that includes an utter gift of a win when Mike Vick went down with injury in the fourth quarter of what was at the time a sheer blowout of Atlanta at home by the Eagles. And don't look now, but yep, that's Rahim Morris and the Buccaneers, who once again are making an early push at 3-1 and could be the ones to nab the Falcons' spot in this year's post-season.

And it turns out the NFC West is not going to be worth any more discussion in 2011 than it was in 2010. Seattle is as bad as expected, and St. Louis and Arizona have both really disappointed so far. And let's not forget the 49ers, who at 3-1 might be among the two or three worst teams in the entire league. Does this sound just like what we said all last year about this embarrassment of ineptitude in the west? Just like last year, it's just sad that we're going to have to watch one of these shitbag teams in the playoffs no matter what in a few months from now.

Moving to the AFC, the East is looking strong as ever, with Tom Brady and the Cheatriots as usual heading the group, but right now it's the Bills who look far more likely to me to make an appearance in the 2011 post-season than the two-time AFC Championship NY Jets. You heard it here first -- after last week's 11 for 35 performance with a pick-6 and two fumbles returned for touchdowns out of young quarterback Mark Sanchez, I'm calling it: the Jets and their unbelievably poor offense for this point in Sanchez's career will not be in the 2011 playoffs. It'll be up to the Bills to see if they can keep up the momentum and make a run of their own to fill the Jets' void.

In the AFC North, I told you in the preseason that the Steelers were getting old, and somehow they got even older this offseason than I had realized and are in my eyes lucky to be even the 2-2 that they currently are. Although I'm not sure their problems are all cleared up yet, unlike with the Jets I still think Ben Roth is more than capable of bringing this team back from the edge of the precipice here, but either way the Ravens look like this is finally the year when they flex their muscles and take firm hold of the division. And although Cincinnati and Cleveland are each tied with Pittsburgh at 2-2 through the first quarter, I'm just not buying any of either of Andy Dalton or Colt McCoy at quarterback.

Times are a-changin in the AFC South as well, where the Colts are just as bad as I predicted they would be without Peyton Manning -- really, truly horrible -- and the Houston Texans are currently tied for first at 3-1 through the first quarter of 2011, who again definitely are For Real this year. But it is the Tennessee Titans and new quarterback Matt Hasselbeck who are making all the noise and looking very much for real as well with the rejuvenated leader on offense. With this past weekend's injury to Texans' star wideout Andre Johnson, this should increase the likelihood that the Titans and Texans battle it out for divisional supremacy for at least another quarter if not more of the 2011 regular season.

Finally, the AFC West has its own share of interest and intrigue, as Kansas City's slump to the rear is definitely for real amidst a team chock full of trouble spots on both offense and defense and a league-worst -77 in net points scored and allowed through four games of the 2011 season, and Denver is once again looking hopeless even now that they are free of Josh McDaniel at the head coaching position. But it's the race between the upstart Raiders and the Norv Turner-led Chargers that seems to be heating up, as the Chargers have the early one-game lead through four games, but the Raiders' running game and defense look to have them positioned for a run at another undefeated season vs. the AFC West on the year.

It should be a great second quarter here in 2011, starting with a few awesome games in Week 5 coming up in a few days, including Tennessee at Pittsburgh, Oakland at Houston, Philadelphia at Buffalo, and then perhaps the three best games of the weekend -- the Jets at New England, Sunday night's Green Bay at Atlanta, and Monday night's Detroit at Chicago.

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4:57 AM  
Blogger Aj said...

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5:21 AM  

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