Fascinating Week Three Upcoming – Random Thoughts on Last Week

I wrote the below post before this week’s games, and there was, as expected, plenty of intrigue.  Below, in italics, are some quick notes on each game, so scroll down to the italics parts to see how I saw the intrigue play itself out.  Expect another intriguing Week Four this weekend…more on that later. 

There are many reasons why the NFL is the most popular sport in this country.  It relates to everyone from the casual fan who just likes an action-packed sport to the die-hard football junkie that understands blocking schemes and coverage packages and everyone in between.  Its athletes are so varied that they can be relatable to most sports fans likes–whether you like the hard-hitting linebackers, the fleet-of-foot wide receivers, the strategic quarterbacks, or the tough and gritty linemen.  But, most of all, I think that the NFL is king because of its schedule structure.  Obviously, the 16-game schedule is a major factor, as each NFL game is the equivalent of 5 NBA games or 10 MLB games, in terms of proportion of a team’s schedule.  But, also, the playoff structure is just about perfect, with just enough teams to keep most teams alive, while providing sufficient rewards for the top seeds, so that no one cruises (like about a dozen NBA teams every March and April).  So, just imagine if, every week, every MLB team played ten meaningful games in the span of about 7 hours.  That is the NFL.  And, because of this phenomenon, each week is jam-packed with drama, intrigue, and excitement. 

Week Three is no exception.  In fact, it may be even more interesting than usual–which is saying something.  Let us look at each game, independently, because it is just about now when early-season questions are answered, mid-season questions begin to form, and the seeds of the all-important late-season questions are planted.

Early games:
Kansas City (0-2) at Philadelphia (1-1)
Let us start with the Birds.  For many reasons.  First of all, Michael Vick is back.  That is going to be the national story about this game–without a doubt.  However, I think that is only a minor factor in the intrigue of this game.  First of all, this is a game that undoubtably favors the Eagles.  It is at home, against a clearly inferior opponent.  So, unlike last week, when the Birds faced arguably a better team, Kevin Kolb has to WIN the game this week.  Simply putting up gawdy passing yardage numbers will not be enough if he doesn’t lead the team to a win.  Also, it should be an interesting game for the defense to see if last week they just got beat by a phenomenal offense or if there really are some question marks here.  The Chiefs were in both of their first two games against Baltimore and Oakland, so they might not be competely terrible.  Plus, their $60-million quarterback is getting healthier.

The only quarterback in NFL history to throw for 300+ yards in each of his first two starts?  Kevin Kolb?  Seriously?!?  Now, call me Mr. Negativity, but is this bad for the future of the Eagles?  Maybe it’s great.  Maybe we have a bonafied backup and future starter.  But, maybe we just think we do–which, I would argue, is worse than knowing that you do not.  Plus, it is not like McNabb is the most emotionally stable QB to ever play.  Either way, the team is in the bye at 2-1…and the Chiefs look TERRIBLE.

Washington (1-1) at Detroit (0-2)
The Skins looked really bad in their win over St. Louis.  A lot of people are saying that the Lions might break their 19-game losing streak this week, at home.  I don’t think so, but it certainly would be awesome.  Either way, this game is very intriguing.

Hahahahaha ahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!  The only thing better would be if the Lions beat the Giants in the Meadowlands, but this was great.  So, now there are two other teams we have to worry about to win the division.  Not saying that the games against the Skins are going to be cakewalks (they never are), but it’s nice to see that they will not be competing in the NFC East.  PS…is “Redskins” the most offensive nickname of a team in any sport?  Ever?  And, it still exists–for the team in our Nation’s Capitol–in uber-politically-correct 2009?  It’s not like this is the Chiefs or the Braves, which could be argued may be racially-based, but it is not derrogatory, but Redskins?  That is really bad.

Green Bay (1-1) at St. Louis (0-2)
The intrigue here is in whether or not the Packers can bounce back, on the road, from a pretty bad loss.  It should be interesting to see if what we think we know about these two teams is really accurate.

St. Louis stinks.

San Francisco (2-0) at Minnesota (2-0)
Did you know that the 49ers are 6-1 under Mike Singletary?  This, surprisingly enough, is probably the Game of the Week.  The Niners defense has been very good, but will be tested.  That Vikings QB is not forcing throws into triple-coverage.  This should be a very interesting game.

I said on Thursday that “That Vikings QB is not forcing throws into triple-coverage.”  Well, he did throw into triple-coverage on the last play from scrimmage, and it was an absolutely incredible pass.  I hate it, but you have to give the man credit.  And, Greg Lewis–really?  G-Lew?  What a catch!  Anyway, I think this game actually told us more about San Fran than it did about Minnesota.  The Niners are for real, and honestly, I feel better about their playoff chances than I do about Minnesota’s (though I think they will both be there).  The Niners came into Minnesota and, if not for one play, would have won this game.  The Vikings have now beaten Cleveland at home, Detroit on the road, and SF at home.  3-0, but not an incredibly impressive 3-0.

Tennessee (0-2) at N.Y. Jets (2-0)
If I said, two weeks ago, that this game would pit one 2-0 team and one 0-2 team, how many people would say that the Jets were 2-0 and the Titans 0-2?  Not me.  Are the Jets for real?  The Titans went 13-3 last year.  Can they possibly fall to 0-3?  Fascinating game.

This was a great game.  This Jets team might just be, well, good.  And, don’t sleep on the Titans, they are a few plays away from 3-0.  They will probably have a lot of trouble catching Indy for the division, having spotted them 3 games, but this team can still play…I think.

Atlanta (2-0) at New England (1-1)
In, maybe, the most intriguing game of a fascinating week is up in Foxborough.  The Patriots could be (rather, should be) 0-2.  The Falcons look fantastic, but let’s not forget that they played two teams that have yet to win a game.  The Pats were said to be the best team in football at the break of camp.  But, they have looked barely average.  This game is going to be very, very interesting.

It was an interesting game, and the Pats showed why they are this decade’s premier NFL franchise.  Let’s not get too crazed over one game in September, though.  I think the Pats, while a great franchise, may have some holes in this 2009 version.  PS…though this game doesn’t really help my argument all that much, am I totally wrong in thinking that the NFC is not just better, but significantly better than the AFC this year?  If the Pats, Chargers, Steelers, and Titans are as flawed as they seem, and the Saints and 49ers are as surprisingly good as they look, doesn’t that swing the balance a lot towards the NFC?  You throw in the three NFC East juggernauts (Giants, Eagles, Cowboys), and the three extraordinarily talented NFC North teams (Vikings, Packers, Bears), plus the Falcons, and you have got all the answers you would ever need to the Ravens/Colts/Jets supporters.  Plus, for every terrible Bucs team you throw at me, I’ll raise you the Chiefs and Browns.

Jacksonville (0-2) at Houston (1-1)
Are the Jags really bad?  Are the Texans actually as good as some people predicted and just ran into a buzzsaw in Week One?  This is going to be a tell-tale game for at least one of these teams.  And, it might continue the Jags on their way to LA.

This was a digusting game.  I feel bad for Texans fans because their team does stuff like this.  There is no way that they should lose to a very bad Jacksonville team, after a great win in Tennessee.  Ugh.

N.Y. Giants (2-0) at Tampa Bay (0-2)
Maybe the least interesting game of the week because the Giants should hammer Tampa.  But, you never know about a team on the road in the NFL.

The Bucs are the worst team in the NFL.  Their offense is, well, offensive.  PS…can anyone remember a year where there were more absolutely atrocious teams than there are this year?  Think about the following teams and how they are currently constituted.  Any of these teams probably would easily be the “worst team in the NFL” in any other year:  Bucs, Browns, Chiefs, Raiders, and Rams.  Plus, if you were to rank the NFL teams, one of the following would be ranked in the TOP TWENTY:  Redskins, Jags, Lions, Bills, Dolphins, Panthers, Seahawks, and Texans.  That’s absurd.

Cleveland (0-2) at Baltimore (2-0)
Another game that, on paper, looks boring, especially in B-more.  However, don’t ever forget the hatred that these teams have for one another.  Also, the Ravens have a habit of playing to the level of their opposition–be it good or bad–so this may not be the blowout that everyone anticipates.  And, keep an eye on Brady Quinn–he might be running out of chances.

The Ravens are the best team in the NFL, aren’t they?  Maybe I have just been brainwashed by living in this city, but what does this team not have?  They still have that F-you defense that will stand up to anything.  They have a serious running attack, especially with McGahee playing like his career is on the line.  And, they now have a bonafied, downfield, playmaking quarterback, who is (trust me, I’ve seen pretty much every game of his career) the most POISED second-year QB I have ever seen.  From day one in this league, this guy played like a 10-year vet.  I actually think his talent is overstated (see the last sentence that I wrote–I don’t totally believe it), but his poise (which I think is MORE important for success as a quarterback) is unmatched at his young age.  This team is good–very good.  PS…as much as I am starting to like the Ravens (I can’t believe it, I really can’t), I still root VERY hard every year for a Browns sweep on the Ravens.  Just as a big F you from the scorned city of Cleveland to money-hungry, evil owner, Art Modell.

Late games: 
Chicago (1-1) at Seattle (1-1)

Simply a fascinating game.  Plus, throw in the fact that Matt Hasselbeck is considering playing with a broken rib, and you have got some intrigue here.  Either way, this game is going to say a lot about both of these teams.  The Bears looked bad in a loss to the hated Packers, then looked much better in beating the defending Super Bowl champs.  Seattle crushed the Rams in Week One, but then lost to San Fran last week in a big NFC West game.  The Bears are probably the better team, but the Seahawks have a great homefield advantage.  This game is going to be good.

Am I the only one that kind of liked those uniforms, in a pretty awful, hysterical kind of way?  Everyone still talks about the awfulness of the old unis of the Astros, Padres, Chargers, or Nuggets, but in an honest moment–aren’t they all pretty great?  Why can’t these neon green Seahawks jerseys be pretty great too?  One more thing about this game:  How can Jim Mora, Jr., go on and rant about his kicker missing two kicks when he made FOUR field goals, including one that put them up with less than 5 minutes left?  The offense (HIS offense) scored one touchdown.  And, it’s not like they lost by a point–they lost by 6.  So, even if he makes them both and goes SIX-FOR-SIX, they still only have 25 points and the game is tied.  He’s awful.

New Orleans (2-0) at Buffalo (1-1)
Another late game that I will be looking forward to all day.  The Bills should be 2-0, but are getting completely overlooked.  The Saints are 2-0, and are getting all the hype in every media market out there.  The Saints caught a bit of a break playing road games in Philly and Buffalo in September, instead of November or December, but the Bills fans always bring it.  This game is going to be closer than many think, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bills were in it the whole way, with a chance to win in the end.  But, then again, maybe the Saints are just that good.  We will know a little more after this game on Sunday.

Is this Saints team really, really good or are the Bills pretty bad?  Or both?  This was a nice win for New Orleans on the road.  PS…I am far from a TO supporter or even an apologist, but give the guy a break.  He was asked several questions in which he could have thrown his QB under the bus and he didn’t do it.  So, he gets ripped for that, too?  Yes, he has been atrocious to quarterbacks in the past, but does that mean that every, single thing he says is somehow construed to being a shot at the quarterback…or, I guess the media, in this case?  Come on, guys.  He had NO catches; he is no longer news.

Miami (0-2) at San Diego (1-1)
I’m not going to lie, I kind of think the Wildcat is a fad, closer to the Run-and-Shoot than a revolution like the West Coast Offense.  But, like the Run-and-Shoot, it might not be as simple as watching tape and figuring out how to stop it.  It may look complicated and gimmicky, but actually its brilliance is in its simplicity.  It is basically a throwback to the 50’s and the Single Wing offense.  If you are snapping the ball directly to the ball carrier, then you don’t need the quarterback to hand the ball off, therefore, you have an extra blocker.  It is just that simple.  You have one extra guy blocking for a running play.  It is not a gimmick.  And, I love watching it–just like I loved watching the Run-and-Shoot.  But, it is not going to win Super Bowls.  And, as intriguing as the plight of the Wildcat in Miami is, the real intrigue in this game probably lies with the home team.  The Chargers barely beat the Raiders in Week One, and then got beat, at home, last week to the Ravens.  (By the way, that play by Ray Lewis was incredible and is a complete microchasm of his Hall of Fame career).  This game is big for San Diego because if they come out flat and bored, they will lose…at home…again.

The Chargers don’t look good, but they don’t have to be good to win that division. 

Denver (2-0) at Oakland (1-1)
Speaking of the Raiders, they should be 2-0.  And, this week, they get to host a team that has absolutely no right being 2-0.  The Broncos are a very bad 2-0…I think.  Are they?  We will see.  I kind of think that the Raiders are much better than people give them credit for, but we will see.  This game could have significant NFC West implications, as the Raiders cannot afford a second home loss in the division, while the Broncos could really set themselves up with a 3-0 start.

The Broncos are 3-0.  They are not very good.  But, they’re 3-0, and that is all that matters.  I said from the very beginning (pretty much against everyone else’s opinion) that the Bears gave up WAY too much for Jay Cutler.  Yes, Kyle Orton is not flashy and probably not really very good, but he WINS.  And, in the NFL, that is what matters.  Orton doesn’t make the stupid throws that Cutler makes, and because he isn’t good, the Broncos have gone back to running the ball.  And, it’s working–against bad teams.  And, the best (and worst) part about it is two of the key players in the Broncos resurgence on both sides of the ball are named Correll Buckhalter and Brian Dawkins.  And, how have the Eagles replaced these two?  With rookies.  I am still not willing to say that either was a grave mistake (clearly not Buckhalter), but these two are both playing VERY well.

Pittsburgh (1-1) at Cincinnati (1-1)
And, yet ANOTHER fascinating game.  Everyone knows that the Steelers have just about everyone back from their championship team last year.  But, does that mean that they are a lock to be right there again? Not in the NFL.  They lost a tough game last week that shouldn’t really hurt them, but they have to bounce back.  They should be able to do that against a division rival that they have owned recently.  However, on the other side is a Bengals team that should be 2-0 and is competing primarily because of their defense.  If the Bengals think they are contenders (and though no one else may think it, I believe they do consider themselves contenders), this is a game they really should win–a home game against a division rival.  This is it–show up or shut up.

Wow!  The Bengals are 2-1 and their only loss is to a 3-0 team.  They have a win in Lambeau Field and a win against the defending champs.  What is going on?  It’s early, right?  There is no way that this team is good, right?  Either way, they sure have played havoc on suicide pools around the country.

Sunday night:
Indianapolis (2-0) at Arizona (1-1)
The Colts have two unimpressive wins, but they are two wins nonetheless.  The Cardinals have a bad loss and a road win in very impressive fashion–against a team that gave Indy trouble in Week One.  Plus, throw in the fact that Arizona is still trying to justify their NFC Championship from a year ago as not fluke, there is a good bit at stake for them in this game.  Very interesting…

This was an incredibly impressive win for the Colts, especially considering the circumstances.  They won in Miami on Monday night, then got home Tuesday, practiced all week, before flying the other way to Arizona, where they simply dominated the defending NFC champions.  Peyton Manning is as good at his profession as anyone in the world is at theirs.  Maybe the Cardinals are not as good as they appeared last January, but these back-to-back wins for the Colts are very impressive, nonetheless.

Monday night:
Carolina (0-2) at Dallas (1-1)
The Tale of Two Troubled Quarterbacks in Turmoil.  I don’t know why everyone is so down on these two quarterbacks.  First of all, Jake Delhomme has won more games than any other NFC quarterback since 2002.  Yes, he had 11 turnovers in two games, but the guy has won consistently in this league.  Tony Romo’s reputation is that he doesn’t play well in big spots.  Yes, I know his record in December, but if he is so “un-clutch” why does he have the best fourth-quarter passer rating of any quarterback in the NFL over the past three years?  Either way, the loser of this game is in a lot of trouble because both teams are in hot water with their fans and play in ridiculously competitive divisions that do not give you any breaks.  It is a little early to call anything an elimination game, but this might be as close as there is in Week Three.

A nice win for the Cowboys.  It wasn’t pretty, but it doesn’t have to be.  I think we might be able to stick a fork in Carolina already, but the Cowboys certainly have a pulse.  And, that stadium is ridiculous.

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