Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Quick Walk Through The League

My gut says that it takes about three weeks in the NFL to start to get an honest read on the quality of the various teams, divisions and races. Too many teams are too close for a couple of random results to overly color our impressions during the first couple weeks of the year. Last year the Bills stomped the Seahawks in week one and then went on the road to beat the Jaguars in week two. Both of their opponents were supposed to contend for their respective division and Jacksonville was the sweetheart pick to win the AFC. Obviously Seattle and Jacksonville were pretenders, and Buffalo eventually came crashing to earth after a moment in the sun.

So now it's time to take a poke at the teams that are surprising and disappointing. Which are the aberrations? Which are the trends? We will start today with the AFC.

Miami 0-3
Trend. I wrote an enormous article in my head around the beginning of August on how the Dolphins entire 2008 was a mirage and that they were bound to be worse in '09. Even Vegas had them as a 7 win team this year, surprising considering the Dolphins are coming off an 11 win season. I'm not going to go into all the reasons here, but the short shot was that Miami was extremely lucky (and by 'exteme' I mean 'statistically outlying') but even so their pythagorean win total would have put them at a little under 9 wins. Take away the luck with injuries and turnovers and yeah, this was probably a 6-7 win team. They won't lose them all but considering their start and considering that the Henne era and associated growing pains may be permanent with Pennington's injury, it is easy to project them as a 4-5 win team this year.

Cincinnati 2-1
Trend. Consider that they are an immaculate deflection away from being 3-0 (as opposed to those pretender Broncos) and it is easy to see this team competing for the playoffs again. Their problems the last two years is that they had no one who could spell Palmer through his series of awful injuries.
They still don't but Palmer is back and apparently healthy the offense may be effective enough to continue to put up Ws. Their defense last year was very good, a fact disguised by the duration and field positions the offense gave them. Palmer has been terribly erratic, but has shown a few flashes of returning to brilliance; in the first half against Green Bay, his game winning (sic: losing) drive against Denver, and then down the stretch today. I expect Palmer to continue to approach his previous level as the season progresses. The offensive line isn't what it once was, but it is also much better than last year's. With Benson providing adequate running this team should ultimately win more than it loses.

Cleveland 0-3
Trend. Pretty obvious one. I have to think that George Kokinis is re-thinking his decision to marry Eric Mangini. Mangini is simply a maniac. He spent his first off-season trying to get rid of every skill position player on the team while pissing off all of the rookies and lesser free agents. The team has scored exactly one offensive touchdowns in their last nine games. Yes they will win games, but I have no clue when or how. Right now it seems impossible.

Denver 3-0
Mirage. This is sort of a softball too. Before the year everyone was predicting a horrible season for this team, the villagers were gathering torches and pitchforks even before the first game, but lo and behold they won. And then won again, and then again. While it is probably fair to re-assess this team a bit the winning was much more a product of one miracle and two opponents than actually putting a quality product on the field. We already mentioned the Cincinnati game that they had no business winning. Their other wins were against Cleveland (noted) and then the Raiders who have problems of their own. Denver's schedule will give them a chunk of wins but this team will level out. The offense will be okay, but this defense which is currently number one can't possibly be in the top half of the league. It has has holes everywhere and talent nowhere. Good opponents will carve this team up and it will be very difficult for the offense to provide enough of a response.

New York 3-0
Trend. As hard as it is for me to believe, there is no reason to think that this team won't continure to play well and win. Their first three games weren't cupcakes and included a psuedo-showdown game with the Patriots. While Mark Sanchez has been the story, the defense has been the reason for the team's success and may be the best in the AFC so far. Their opponents have averaged ~ 10 ppg against them while scoring 25 ppg against their other opponents. The offensive line is one of the top five in football, if not the best and the running game is solid. Oh yeah, that Sanchez guy? He's pretty good too, with the best rookie start since Roethlisberger. He should continue to improve. Set the sun on the Patriots domination of that division, New York is a 12-plus win team. This week's game at New Orleans should be an entertaining meeting of an immovable object and an irresistable force.

There are others. Tennessee has lost three tough games, and there is something wrong with that team. Doesn't matter much, no team has ever overcome an 0-3 start to go to the playoffs. Tennessee won't be the first. Baltimore looks like the real deal but their start is no surprise. Pittsburgh also looks broken and is probably a bit overdue for some rebuilding, but I just can't see counting them out yet.

Time and motivation willing, I will continue with the NFC later this week.

1 comment:

  1. Denver is 3-0 on their way to 4-7.

    Agree that it's premature to pronounce Pittsburgh done. They might need some retooling, but it's a long season and they've proven themselves a resourceful squad. Their offense might be perking up, with Willie Parker showing some life and Limas Sweed increasing his productivity. Troy Polamalu might return in week 5.

    I won't believe they're done until the Ravens get a win over them. They don't meet until Nov 29! (wk 12) Steelers could rattle off 7 straight wins btw now and then.


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