Monday, November 21, 2011
It began in training camp with the debate over whether or not Tebow or Orton should be the Broncos week one starter. Eventually, coach John Fox declared Orton to be the starter and every news media outlet reported that Tebow couldn't even make second string, losing that right to former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. Fans who don't watch the preseason but read distorted headlines found this information to be humorous, and eventually Tim Tebow became a punchline for the casual fan.
Then, in case you missed a bulk of the summer Tebow bashing, Merril Hoge stepped in to make sure you caught up in time for the preseason.
For those unfamiliar with Hoge, he was an NFL player who spent seven seasons as a fullback with the Pittsburgh Steelers and five games with the Chicago Bears before injuries and ineffectiveness lead to his retirement. Hoge was an average blocker, though he did help Barry Foster become a Pro Bowl running back, and Hoge himself was more of a running fullback, and at times a very effective one. Nevertheless, today Hoge presents himself as a film-room guru and a quarterbacks expert on various ESPN shows, and this summer Hoge went out of his way to tweet "...It's embarassing to think the Broncos could win with Tebow!!"
Then came the actual preseason, where the Broncos quarterback situation was the most talked about positional battle in the NFL. In limited action, Tebow looked solid, though because none of his play was with the first team, the media and such found ways to ridicule Tebow's play, and began to designate a place for him on the "all-time busts" list.
But the fans in Denver and around the country never bought in, and after a week one loss at home to the Oakland Raiders where Kyle Orton was completely ineffective, it became even more apparent that despite what the media was saying, the fans who watch the NFL wanted to see Tim Tebow. A 1-3 start, a silly billboard outside of John Fox's office, a couple of plays at wide receiver, and talk about drafting Andrew Luck ensued until Tim Tebow finally got to play quarterback for the 2011 Denver Broncos, and Tebow put together a strong effort, almost guiding the Broncos to an improbably come from behind victory against then division leading San Diego. The Broncos were 1-4, but Tebow looked to be the Broncos starter.
Six weeks later the Broncos are 4-1, with victories of Miami, Oakland, Kansas City, and the New York Jets. Tebow's name has been dragged into MVP discussions, and at this point he's probably the second most deserving player of that award in the league behind Aaron Rodgers. Tebow is also probably to fill the third quarterback spot for the AFC in the Pro Bowl, and right now the Broncos sit one game out of first place in the AFC West.
He's become a cultural phenomenon. "Tebowing" has replaced "planking" as the thing drunks and tourists are most likely to do with their spare time. In a season with no Brett Favre and no Peyton Manning, Tebow has filled the void of "celebrity" athlete that Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers have had trouble filling. He leads off every SportsCenter or affiliated show. He may not be the most beloved player in the NFL, but right now he's certainly the biggest, and most importantly he's backing up his celebrity with big, dramatic, wins.
Now the question is will it sustain? Intangibles have gotten Tim Tebow to this 4-1 record, but can intangibles take Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos to the playoffs? Conventional wisdom would say "no." Conventional wisdom also told us that a quarterback can't win going 2 for 8. Conventional wisdom told us that Kyle Orton gave the Broncos the best chance to win. Conventional wisdom told us that down 15 with less than three minutes to go on the road there was no chance the Broncos would beat the Dolphins. Conventional wisdom told us that Tebow couldn't win on the road in Oakland a week after getting embarrassed by the Detroit Lions. And of course conventional wisdom told us that "it's embarrassing to think that the Broncos could win with Tim Tebow!!"
Sometimes conventional wisdom is wrong.
Now I've always said, and I'll continue to say that I think Tim Tebow will be successful in the NFL lining up under center. He's not a tight end, he's not a full back. Tim Tebow is a quarterback. While he may not be a starting quarterback that can win a Super Bowl, Tebow is certainly a piece that a team can use to win one. A team like the Pittsburgh Steelers or the New York Jets who could use Tebow in red zone and short yardage packages where Tebow could come in and move the chains or score, much like Tebow did on the 2006 Florida Gator national championship team. Perhaps a coach like Bill Belichick will see in Tebow the opportunity to fix a run game that has been plaguing his team in big games since the retirement of Corey Dillon. Perhaps Andy Reid or Sean Payton or some other coach not afraid to experiment will bring Tebow in. But the bottom line is that someone out there eventually will.
And before that happens Tebow first needs to come down from the high that he's on now. It would be great to see the 2011 Denver Broncos go from 1-4 to the playoffs. I think that will happen. After that, who knows? But one thing I can say is that thus far, conventional wisdom has been wrong. You can say NFL defenses will eventually catch up, "but catch up to what?" is what I'd reply. Tebow hasn't been playing quarterback well at all. Some might even arguing he's playing the worst quarterback that any QB with a 4-1 record has ever obtained. And conventional wisdom would state that Tim Tebow's passing will only get better as he sees more in game action.
Maybe this time conventional wisdom will finally be wrong, but I wouldn't bet on it.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
In football, two years can be a lifetime, and for Clausen it only took 10 starts for the Carolina Panthers to give up on their 2010 2nd round pick. Cam Newton, Carolina’s 2011 first round draft choice, is more than just the quarterback of the future in Carolina, he’s the identity the franchise had been searching for since their inaugural season in 1995. He’s what some in Carolina had hoped Jimmy Clausen could be.
But thus far Jimmy Clausen has been nothing but a powder keg of potential. Countless reports have been written about how good Jimmy Clausen was going to be since his junior year of high school in 2005. He was called the “LeBron James of football,” and every big name school from USC, near his home in Thousand Oaks, California, to Tennessee, where his brother Casey lead the the Volunteers to three winning seasons, tried to recruit Clausen. Clausen opted for the glory of Notre Dame, where then head coach Charlie Weis salivated over the opportunity to inject Clausen into his pro-style offense.
But the Clausen/Weis era was a disaster for Notre Dame, leading to Weis’ firing after the 2009 season, which lead Clausen to declare himself eligible for the 2010 NFL draft. Early projections saw Clausen going in the early first round, but draft day 2010 was less kind. Teams such as Buffalo, Jacksonville, San Francisco, and Cleveland, all seemingly needing quarterbacks, passed on Clausen until he ended up in Carolina, a situation that looked excellent for the young passer, given that long time Panthers starter Jake Delhomme was moving on, and the Panthers were a team only a year removed from the two seed in the NFC.
But 2010 was such a disaster in Carolina that John Fox, the head coach who drafted Clausen, lost his job. Wide receiver Steve Smith publicly griped about Clausen’s poor play, and it was even rumored that Clausen’s teammates vehemently disliked him, a reputation that had been following the young passer since high school.
But Clausen is still young, and at age 24 he’s played in a lot of games, seen a lot of adversity, and has played for some excellent coaches to potentially learn from. In the long run, his awful rookie campaign and this year on the bench could supplement his three years as a starter at Notre Dame towards developing Clausen into a better NFL player. Perhaps he learned from his shortcomings as a leader in Carolina and can one day become a captain elsewhere.
But right now there’s nothing Jimmy Clausen can do. Barring a major injury to Cam Newton, Clausen will not see the field the rest of the 2011 season. Odds are that Carolina will fully endorse Newton at the end of the year and part ways with Clausen’s salary, allowing Clausen and his agent to decide where the best place for Jimmy Clausen to continue his NFL career will be.
But there’s one problem: teams traditionally don’t invest their future in other teams damaged goods. Clausen will also hit a market that includes Kyle Orton, David Garrard, Vince Young, Brady Quinn, Chad Pennington, Matt Flynn, and potentially Peyton Manning. Though Clausen is likely viewed as having more upside than those players (based entirely on age), odds are that at least some of those players are going to inherit the open starting jobs, forcing Clausen to follow Matt Leinart and the aforementioned Young in taking backup jobs in situations they seem as potentially fruitful.
Or maybe Clausen won’t be so lucky. Maybe teams like Jacksonville, Cleveland, St. Louis, Minnesota, Seattle, or Arizona won’t want him. Maybe Clausen will be forced to sign on as a backup to a well-engraved starter such as Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, or Matthew Stafford. But Clausen doesn’t deserve that, not yet.
But for Jimmy Clausen it’s never been about learning, growing, and developing. Dating back to his days in high school he’s been expected to be great, resulting in a sense of entitlement. And while the LeBron James comparisons have become laughable, Jimmy Clausen should get another shot to be an NFL starter. Clausen has potential and he has talent, what he didn't have were the intangibles, but this summer some NFL team will buy into what the scouts have written one more time, and give Jimmy Clausen one last chance to prove they're right.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Here we are now in week 8 of the 2011 NFL season and the 49ers, under new head coach and former Pro Bowl QB Jim Harbaugh, are 5-1, and Smith is having a consistent, successful, though not flashy, season in which his TD to INT ratio is 8-2. Sometime we forget that Alex Smith is only 27 years old. Perhaps it’s because he’s been in the league for six years, or perhaps it’s because he was drafted ahead of Aaron Rodgers, but either way it’s safe to say that at this point in his career, with zero playoff appearances, a 74.3 career QB rating, and a 59-55 career TD to INT ratio, Alex Smith has not lived up to the billing of first overall pick, or franchise quarterback.
But was Smith ever given a chance? We’ve all heard the stories about how in six seasons he’s had five different offensive coordinators. On top of that, his team has consistently ranked near the bottom of the league in team defense. In many ways, Smith was a product of an unstable organization that made a lot of bad moves internally, while making some good player personnel moves over the same time period.
Enter Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh brought an energy to the 49ers that only a local college football hero could bring. The idea of Harbaugh as the head coach of the 49ers excited the fans to believe in Smith because Harbaugh believed in Smith. On the field, Harbaugh inspired because he was young enough to relate to the players, and unlike mostly every other head coach in the league, has notoriously successful and inspiring NFL experience as a player. As a quarterback, Harbaugh could relate to Smith’s troubles, having gone through similar troubles with the Chicago Bears who drafted him, until he found success in the mid 1990’s with the Indianapolis Colts.
And so Harbaugh gave Smith a shot, and thus far Smith has performed, not by putting up gaudy stats, but by out-managing opposing QB’s such as Josh Freeman and Michael Vick. In a road game against a daunting Detroit Lions team, Smith had his worst game of the season, but still did enough to lead the 49ers to their most impressive win of the season.
And so it looks like the 49ers have their quarterback of the future. For now, Colin Kaepernick will be relegated to the bench, and for now that’s totally fine with Jim Harbaugh and the fans in San Francisco, because right now Alex Smith is starting to look like the franchise quarterback that they drafted him to be in 2005.
And there’s a lesson to be learned around the league from this as well. So often the top prospect quarterbacks land in volatile situations. There’s a reason that the Rams had the first overall pick to draft Sam Bradford with to begin with. As fans we see the successes of rookie QB’s such as Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Mark Sanchez, and Joe Flacco, and condemn the QB’s who don’t win immediately, which is absurd.
It’s easy to forget that the 2002 Steelers, a team with Roethlisberger inherited two years later, were a second round playoff team, and in 2001 were the number one seeded team in the AFC playoffs. The 2008 Jets were a 9-7 team that collapses at the end of the year, but the personnel was in place for the Jets to be a playoff team in 2009 when Mark Sanchez took over. The 2006 Ravens, which Joe Flacco inherited in 2008, were a 13-3 team with a first round bye in the AFC playoffs. And the 2009 Bengals won perhaps the toughest division in the NFL, before a step back year in 2010 allowed them to draft Andy Dalton early in the second round. Tom Brady inherited a team that was a Super Bowl contender through the late 1990’s before a step back year in 2000 made them the surprise team of 2001. In 1998 Peyton Manning took over a team that was in the playoffs in 1996, and were in the AFC title game in 1995. Aaron Rodgers inherited a team that was an overtime loss away from going to the Super Bowl. More than any sport Football is a team sport, and the situation that a quarterback falls into often defines their success. Steve Young and Vinny Testaverde both failed miserably with an awful Buccaneers team, yet had success elsewhere. Was it because they got better, or was it because the personnel around them in San Francisco and New York was better?
Still much of the personnel from their last Super Bowl run was in place when Brady took over in 2001. In 2010 Sam Bradford inherited a team that hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2004, and in 2005 Alex Smith inherited a team that hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2002. Now, here we are early in Bradford’s career where the fans are already contemplating ridding themselves of Bradford, who was at one point a “can’t-miss” prospect, for Andrew Luck, this year’s “can’t miss” prospect. While in San Francisco, many are wondering if they should have drafted Colin Kaepernick so early.
I believe that a quarterback should be given time, and it won’t be the worst thing in the world if they sit and learn the game for awhile before they’re thrown into the fire, or given up on. It used to be commonplace for a quarterback to watch for a while. Joe Montana, Phil Simms, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and countless other all time great quarterbacks watched and learned for full seasons before they became starters.
Unfortunately, the same patience is no longer granted in this era of free agency and rookie contracts, a team needs to know if a guy is a franchise quarterback right away, and the rule changes have made it easier for a quarterback to obtain success earlier.
Still, it would have been easy to give up on Alex Smith, and in a way the 49ers kind of did. But it looks like all he needed was the right situation.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Right now, the phenomenon that is Andrew Luck has captivated so many who have never watched Luck play that he has been a major storyline in a season in which he’s still playing in the Pac-12, not the NFL. To be fair, Luck was a major storyline this offseason when he decided to stay an extra year in college, thus shuttling Cam Newton, the Heisman Trophy winner, Maxwell award winner, and BCS National championship quarterback to the number one pick in the draft. Thus far, Newton has set a standard that would be next to impossible to match for Luck, yet Newton continues to be overshadowed by Luck, who remains in college.
But if there’s one thing any football historian has learned, it’s that for every Cam Newton there’s a JaMarcus Russell, meaning that for every franchise quarterback that goes in the first round, there’s (at least) a bust to go along with him. A lot of this has to do with the situation the quarterback falls into, but is that all?
Since 1990, 13 quarterbacks have been drafted first overall: Jeff George, Drew Bledsoe, Peyton Manning, Tim Couch, Michael Vick, David Carr, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Alex Smith, JaMarcus Russell, Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford, and Cam Newton. Of those, George was a total bust for the Colts, Couch, Carr, and Russell have been outright busts. So that’s 4 out of 13 that are complete busts. Michael Vick and Carson Palmer had strong moments for the teams that drafted them, but at the end of the day were not able to deliver championships for those teams, and the good always came with the bad. So that’s 6 out 13 teams that didn’t get their “franchise” quarterback with the first overall pick. It’s too early to predict Smith, Stafford, Bradford, or Newton. Bledsoe took the Patriots to a Super Bowl (technically two), and the two Mannings have each won a Super Bowl. It’s important to note that of those thirteen quarterbacks taken first overall since 1990, only Peyton Manning is a guaranteed Hall of Famer, and if all of their careers ended tomorrow, Peyton would be the only one with a chance at Canton enshrinement.
So since 1990, 13 quarterbacks have been draft first overall, and only one of those quarterbacks has ever won an MVP award, only two of those quarterbacks have ever won a Super Bowl in which they were the starting quarterback, and only one of those quarterbacks is a Hall of Famer. Of course in each instance, we’re referring to Peyton Manning.
So if only 1 in 13 quarterbacks drafted 1st overall become Hall of Famers, what exactly defines a “sure thing,” which is what the media and the scouts have deemed Andrew Luck? Of the 9 quarterbacks who we can judge, 5 of them took their teams to the playoffs, making the odds 9:5 that the QB will become a “playoff caliber” QB. If a “sure thing” means playoff caliber QB, than I like those odds that Luck will become a “sure thing.”
But I don’t think that’s what the media is suggesting, unless there wouldn’t be talk of the Colts getting rid of the injured Manning for the young Luck. There wouldn’t be talk of the Rams trading the expensive Bradford for the cheaper-due-to-rookie-wage-scale Luck. And there wouldn’t be rumors that the Seahawks, Dolphins, and Redskins are all willing to trade a generations worth of draft picks for the rights to draft Luck. If you’re going to do that, then you have to be expecting more than the playoff career of Carson Palmer.
And while saying that Luck has a better chance at becoming Carson Palmer than Peyton Manning may be unfair, there are some comparisons between Palmer and Luck worth looking at, specifically the level of competition they face weekly in the Pac-10/12, a conference that has had a more than unstable history of first round QB’s since 1990, let’s take a look: Todd Marinovich (’91, USC, Raiders), Tommy Maddox (’92, UCLA, Broncos), Drew Bledsoe (’93, WSU, Patriots), Ryan Leaf (’98, WSU, Chargers), Akili Smith (’99, Oregon, Bengals), Cade McNown (’99, UCLA, Bears), Joey Harrington (’02, Oregon, Lions), Carson Palmer (’03, USC, Bengals), Kyle Boller (’03, Cal, Ravens), Aaron Rodgers (’05, Cal, Packers), Matt Leinart (’06, USC, Cardinals), Mark Sanchez (’09, USC, Jets), Jake Locker (’11, UW, Titans). Again, we have 13 quarterbacks. This time we only have one Super Bowl champion, who will also likely be this year’s MVP, and I project will one day be a Hall of Famer, that being Aaron Rodgers, who inherited a team that went to the NFC title game the year before he took over as starter; Luck likely won’t be privileged enough to have that sort of situation bestowed upon him. I also feel as though it’s too early to call Mark Sanchez a bust, although he’s certainly not a “franchise” QB, and it’s too early to look at Locker, who has yet to start an NFL game.
So let’s look at the other ten guys: Marinovich was a total bust, as were Maddox, Leaf, Smith, McNown, Harrington, Boller, and Leinart. That’s 8 of 11 QB’s drafted out of the Pac-10 from 1990-2006 who were absolute busts. I’d throw Palmer into bust category more than “hit” category because he never reached his potential, and there were more losing seasons than winning seasons when he was QB of the Bengals from 04-10. So that’s 9 of 11, with only Rodgers and Bledsoe being successful as Pac 10 QB’s drafted in the first rd of the NFL draft.
Before you say “that has to be the same for every league” let’s take a look at the SEC in the same time span: Heath Shuler (’94, UT, Redskins), Peyton Manning (’98, UT, Colts), Tim Couch (’99, UK, Browns), Rex Grossman (’03, UF, Bears), Eli Manning (’04, Miss, Giants), Jason Campbell (’05, Auburn, Redskins), Jay Cutler (’06, Vanderbilt, Broncos), JaMarcus Russell (’07, LSU, Raiders), Matthew Stafford (’09, UGA, Lions), Tim Tebow (’10, UF, Broncos), Cam Newton (’11, Auburn, Panthers). That’s 11 QB’s since 1990. Two Super Bowl champions, three Super Bowl QB’s, and only Shuler, Couch, and Russell can be considered busts at this point in time. That’s a 5 of 8 success rate, with Stafford and Newton looking like “franchise” QB’s more than Smith or Sanchez are.
What this tells us is that the SEC prepares QB’s for the NFL more than the Pac 10/12 does, and that because of the lower level of competition in the Pac 10/12 lesser skill position players can look better. Think that sounds harsh? Here are the non-QB Pac 10/12 skill position players to be taken top 10 overall since 1990: Tommy Vardell (’92, Stanford, RB, Browns), Curtis Conway (’93, USC, WR, Bears), J.J Stokes (’95, USC, WR, 49ers), Keyshawn Johnson (’96, USC, WR, Jets), Reggie Williams (’04, UW, WR, Jaguars), Mike Williams (’05, USC, WR, Lions), and Reggie Bush (’06, USC, RB, Saints). While I wouldn’t call all seven “busts” I would say that none of the seven lived up to a top ten pick, given that none of the seven were ever amidst the top three at their position, with Johnson coming the closest in the 1998-2002 time span.
For the sake of comparison, we’ll again look at the non-QB skill position players drafted in the top ten from the SEC in this time span: Garrison Hearst (’93, UGA, RB, Cardinals), Ike Hilliard (’97, UF, WR, Giants), Fred Taylor (’98, UF, RB, Jaguars), Jamal Lewis (’00, UT, RB, Ravens), Travis Taylor (’00, UF, WR, Ravens), Ronnie Brown (’05, Auburn, RB, Dolphins), Cadillac Williams (’05, Auburn, RB, Bucs), Troy Williamson (’05, SC, WR, Vikings), Darren McFadden (’08, Arkansas, RB, Raiders), A.J Green (’11, Georgia, WR, Bengals), and Julio Jones (’11, Alabama, WR, Falcons). Of those 11 players, there are two potential Hall of Fame running backs in Taylor and Lewis, a few pro bowlers in Ronnie Brown, Garrison Hearst and Darren McFadden, and a young WR who looks special in A.J Green. There are some busts such as Travis Taylor and Ike Hilliard, but of these 11 you could honestly say that 7 or 8 have been all star caliber players.
So does this mean that Andrew Luck will be a bust because he’s a first overall pick? No. Does this mean that because he plays in the Pac 10/12 and not the SEC he’s going to be a bust? No. But does it mean that the Colts should trade Peyton Manning? No. Does it mean that the Colts should draft Luck and keep Manning? No. If the Colts end up with the first pick they should cash the pick out for a couple of firsts, a couple of mid round picks, and even a veteran player or two. If the name of the game is to win championships, and Peyton Manning had this team in championship contention a year ago, think about what he can do with an upgraded team, instead of starting from scratch with Luck.
Does this mean that the Rams should draft Luck and trade Bradford? No, but the Rams situation is more delicate than the Colts. The Rams are in a bad cap situation, and Luck will come at a cheaper price than Bradford, who was drafted before a rookie wage scale. But giving up on Bradford after two years could be bad news for the Rams, who could learn from the Rivers/Brees situation in San Diego.
And what can the Dolphins take from this? The Dolphins need Luck because they need an identity, but they should be cautious if the Colts or Rams get the first pick to trade the entire franchise for him. You’ve seen the odds now, he’s not a “sure thing.” But if they have the first overall pick, they should absolutely take Luck. This is a franchise that could use a Carson Palmer, let alone a Peyton Manning.
There’s talk about teams with veteran or young quarterbacks in place that might make a trade for Luck. The Broncos are a natural fit because of Elway’s Stanford connection. The Jaguars can use an identity that they’re not sure Blaine Gabbert will give them, especially with a new head coach potentially coming in. Pete Carroll knows all about what Luck can do and wouldn’t mind bringing him into Seattle if the price were right, and the Redskins and Browns can use Luck as a chance to preserve the careers of Mike Holmgren and Mike Shanahan.
Of those options, it’s Denver and Miami that I believe would make the most sense for Andrew Luck and the franchise making the move for him. Denver wants out of the Tim Tebow situation ASAP, and unless Tebow finishes the season with a winning record as a starter, chances are that Elway, John Fox, and the rest of the Denver brain trust would love to cash him out for Luck. At this point Tebow should fetch at least a third round pick, and potentially a second round pick, and don’t be shocked if a team like Indianapolis, New England, New Orleans, or Philadelphia make that move in a move to not only give their teams another weapon, but also to protect their quarterback position. Sean Payton and Bill Belichick both contemplated drafting Tebow if the “spot was right.”
But at the end of the day the best thing for Andrew Luck is for Miami to finish with the worst record in the league, and they end up drafting him. That will alleviate a lot of the pressure that is being put on Andrew Luck right now, and a lot of the pressure that would come from a trade, or replacing Manning, Bradford, or Tebow.
Almost every year since 1998 there has been a new “Andrew Luck.” Not all Andrew Luck’s have gotten this much attention, but that’s because Andrew Luck’s of the past had to play against the celebrity of players like Eric Crouch, Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy, Ken Dorsey, Matt Leinart, or Jason White. In 2009 his name was Matthew Stafford. In 2010 his name was Sam Bradford. Last year, his name was “Andrew Luck,” but instead of getting the real Andrew Luck, we may have gotten the closest thing to what our imaginations project Andrew Luck to actually be.
And yet we don’t appreciate it, because what comes in the future is always better than what we already have.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
01. Green Bay Packers - I won't say this again for a few weeks, but this team could go 19-0. I'm just saying. No team has made it look this easy since that team that went 18-0 a few years ago, and this team is younger and has a better defense. Beware.
02. New Orleans Saints - The Saints got another win this week on the road against a division rival that is way better than their record. A win this week and they could easily be 8-1 heading into Atlanta in mid November.
03. Detroit Lions - The Lions had another huge victory on Sunday and the playoffs are all but a sure thing for Detroit right now. If they can get the defense to step up and become the top unit of the playoff teams (which they may already be), the Lions could shock the world and bring home the Lombardi Trophy.
04. New England Patriots - The Pats got the win they needed on Sunday and barring any major injuries or catastrophes the Pats should be smooth sailing towards a first round bye. This is the year the Pats need to get back to the Super Bowl because with a down trodden Steelers team and no Peyton Manning, The road back may never be this easy.
The Very Good
05. San Diego Chargers - They don't have a trademark win yet, but they're 4-1 and they're playing without their difference maker in Antonio Gates. This is a team that is in perfect position for a bye, and if they can somehow finish with the best record in the AFC will have a real shot to go to the Super Bowl.
06. San Francisco 49ers - The 49ers are 4-1 and the division seems like all but locked up. They've had a statement win, a comeback win, and Alex Smith is playing pretty well. I still think that they'll be one and done come January.
07. Baltimore Ravens - The bye week didn't do the Ravens any favors, but they're still sitting on that week one win against the Steelers and for now that's enough to keep them atop the AFC North. Their schedule even gives them a shot at the one seed.
08. Buffalo Bills - The Bills really wish they could have that Bengals game back, but still, they're 4-1 and if you're Buffalo you have to take that. Their next four games are really tough, but if they can get through them with a .500 record, 10-6 and the playoffs are a possibility. This may even be a year that a 9-7 takes a wild card.
09. Oakland Raiders - Don't look now but the Raiders are a quarterback away from being total favorites to win the AFC West. I'm still not sold that this is a playoff team, but they're going to be playing with a lot of emotion.
10. Washington Redskins - If the bye week didn't help the Ravens much, it sure helped the nearby Redskins a ton. The Giants lose at home to the Seahawks and the Eagles continue to melt. No one is a believe in this team yet, but a win this week against the Eagles would make the NFC East a three team race with the Redskins out in front. A loss and they'll likely fall off sometime in the near future.
11. Houston Texans - There is some sort of hex on the Houston Texans franchise. Just as things start to really look good after a win over the Steelers, Mario Williams gets injured for the duration of the 2011 season. This was Houstons year. They could have had a first round bye, and their defensive scheme mixed with their offensive fire power was enough to give the Patriots, Ravens, or Chargers are a close game. Not anymore.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers - The Steelers got the major win that they needed this week that they desperately need, even if that major win was against Tennessee. They have Jacksonville and at Arizona as their next two games, which should be enough to make this team 5-2 before the schedule toughens up with New England and Baltimore, but after that there is maybe one loss remaining on the schedule. Meaning that despite being incredibly mediocre, the 2011 Steelers should be in the playoffs. Then again you still have to play the games, and the 2011 Steelers look like a team that can lose a lot of games.
13. New York Giants - The Giants blew a golden opportunity to become 4-1 and take control of their own destiny. Instead they lost at home to a Seahawks team that many feel is still the worst in the NFL. Blown Opportunities: The Story of the Post-Super Bowl 42 NY Giants.
14. Dallas Cowboys - Dallas return from their bye week and enter a gigantic game against the Patriots. A win and a 3-2 record and they will likely have enough momentum to be the team to beat in the East. A loss, and Dallas will having a losing record and will be stuck looking for answers.
Hanging In There
15. Tennessee Titans - The Titans fell back down to Earth on Sunday and is it just me or do you expect this team to fall a little further? The good news is that falling further in the AFC South with a beat up Texans team and no Peyton Manning could still lead to a home playoff game.
16. Cincinnati Bengals - The Bengals are 3-2 and they look like the may be on to something moving forward. Somehow, some way, Marvin Lewis continues to preserve a job that he should have lost by 2008.
17. Seattle Seahawks - Let's get one thing straight; the Seahawks are not the 17th best team in the league, but that's not the point of power rankings. Power rankings tell us who has the best chance to win the Super Bowl, and in order to win the Super Bowl you need to get to the playoffs and the Seahawks are the only team in the NFC West not named the 49ers with any chance of making the playoffs. From there it will still take a miracle to make it to the Super Bowl, let alone win it.
18. Cleveland Browns - The Browns are still at .500 thanks to the bye week but we're soon going to find out what this team is made of. They're at Oakland this week, then home for Seattle next week. If they're 4-2 then we need to start taking them seriously. If they're 2-4 then we need to start evaluating their draft needs. And if they're 3-3, well then I guess we just continue to wait a few more weeks before we start evaluating their draft needs.
19. New York Jets - The positive if you're a Jets fan is that they lost to three teams in the top 10. The negative if you're a Jets fan is that they lost to three teams in the top 10. I've already discussed why Rex is likely a problem, maybe it's time to discuss whether or not Pete Carroll was right when he said that Sanchez needed another year in college to work on his skills. Carroll also evaluated Sanchez as a second round pick "at best." The Jets selected him fifth overall.
20. Atlanta Falcons - The Falcons had an opportunity to give a boost to their 2011, but now they'll spend the rest of the season trying to play catch up with a Saints team that is simply just much better than Atlanta. That's been the story of the Atlanta Falcons franchise. One step forward, another step back.
21. Chicago Bears - Remember my rules about teams falling off and not making the playoffs the next year. Something like at most 3 repeat teams in the NFC and at most 4 in the AFC. The Bears have pretty much assured that they will be one of the three teams to fall out in the NFC (along with the Eagles, Seahawks, and maybe even the Falcons). The defense is average, but the offense is bad.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - A week after barely beating the Colts on Monday Night, the Bucs got destroyed by the 49ers. The only thing you can really say is that this team is close, but still really far away. Contending teams don't have losses like that. Not to the 49ers.
23. Kansas City Chiefs - The Chiefs got another win on Sunday and successfully took themselves out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. The Chiefs are also now in danger of losing out on Landry Jones. As I said earlier in the season, if any team needs to take a shot at a franchise QB it's the Chiefs, who haven't had a franchise QB in their prime since Len Dawson.
24. Carolina Panthers - At what point do we start getting on this team for not being able to close out these close games against elite teams? Not until 2012 the earliest. This defense is awful and Cam is pretty much a one man show making this offense top five in the NFL.
25. Philadelphia Eagles - I was never big on the 2011 Eagles because I knew the history of teams lead by Michael Vick. Thus far, the 2011 disaster hasn't been totally Vick's fault, although his injuries have played a large part. But the offense in Philly is great when Vick is healthy, it's the defense that looks atrocious. Can Steve Smith, Vince Young, or Ronnie Brown play defense? Because they're not doing much of anything on offense.
26. Minnesota Vikings - The Vikings finally got in the win column on Sunday and their entire 2011 will likely go down as a "what could have been" based on how the first four weeks went for them. Jared Allen has been a bright spot for this team.
27. Denver Broncos - It was announced today that the Tebow era in Denver has officially begun. I always thought that Tebow would have success in the NFL, but I never believed that success would come in Denver, so I really see no hope for this team.
28. Arizona Cardinals - A lot of people thought this team would be contenders, how silly that seems now. The Seahawks are better coached, the 49ers have the better roster, and the Rams have a glimmer of hope that Bradford could become really good. The Cardinals? They'll likely fall into mid 2000's form. The question now becomes do they draft Matt Barkley and bring in Brad Childress? That was a Leinart and Denny reference. Anyone? A chuckle at least? Does anyone even read this blog?
29. Jacksonville Jaguars - The Jack Del Rio era in Jacksonville is all but over and this is a team wondering if they should of just drafted Tim friggin Tebow. Gabbert is no bum, but there is no excitement in one of the markets that needs it the most.
30. St. Louis Rams - The Rams need to start winning games, but they're so beat up. This is a team that I really thought would take a big step forward, but they're really not making any progress. What a shame. I hate to say it but they probably should have drafted Suh over Bradford and mortgaged their future on a top flight defense and one of the 2011 QB's. Who knows, they may have even been able to get Newton in 2011.
31. Miami Dolphins - Chad Henne is out for season, and the Dolphins best shot at a future is to either get the number one pick, or try to trade with Indy by swapping #1 for #2 so that the Colts can draft Kalil out of USC. Anything other than Luck is a disaster for this franchise.
32. Indianapolis Colts - No excuses this week at the Colts blew a sizable lead to the Chiefs who I honestly thought were the worst team in the league. If they don't beat the Bengals this week, which is easier said than done, then this team will probably have Andrew Luck next year, and the Colts will likely enter a rebuilding phase, bidding farewell to names like Wayne, Mathis, and Saturday.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
At the top of the league, the Patriots and Ravens may be separating themselves from the rest of the AFC while the NFC looks like they have the three best teams in the NFL with Green Bay, New Orleans, and perhaps Detroit.
01. Green Bay Packers - The Packers have a test this week @Atlanta, but if they get through it then things start to look like smooth sailing unitl November. Aaron Rodgers is the NFL's MVP until he loses it. It doesn't matter what Brees, Calvin Johnson, Tom Brady, or anyone else does, it'll be about what Rodgers does or doesn't do.
02. New Orleans Saints - The Saints are quietly the second best team in the NFL, and they're a yard shot of being considered the best right now. This is a team that really wants a one seed, and looking ahead at the schedule this is 13-3 team at worst. The 2009 Saints were a 13-3 team as well. Or should I say 16-3.
03. Detroit Lions - I said it at the beginning of the season and friends called me crazy, but I'll continue to say it. The Lions can win the Super Bowl. Stafford is young, but so was Aikman when he won his first Super Bowl, and like Aikman, Stafford has a supporting cast filled with a few elite players, particularly Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh.
The Very Good
04. New England Patriots - The Patriots may have the best offense in the NFL, but their defense continues to look average at best. Losing Mayo at Linebacker for an extended period of time will likely prevent that defense but getting any better. We'll have a better understanding of what the Patriots are about after these next two home games against the Jets and Cowboys.
05. Baltimore Ravens - The Ravens won ugly on Sunday night but they still beat a Jets team that were considered one of the toughest on their schedule. The Ravens goal needs to be to win the division and take it from there. The defense can carry this team to a home playoff game, but they can't carry them to a bye.
06. Houston Texans - The Texans continue to impress, beating the Steelers this week. A home game this week against Oakland will continue to define whether or not this team is for real, but the win over the Steelers put them in great shape for 12-4, maybe 13-3, and potentially the one seed in the AFC.
07. San Diego Chargers - The Chargers are quietly 3-1 and have an easy game against the Broncos this week. Rivers isn't the MVP candidate many thought he will be, but the quieter this team stays, the better off they'll be in the long run. 3-1 is the best start to a season this team has had in a while.
08. Washington Redskins - The Redskins enter their bye week on top of the NFC East but the signs of Rex Grossman erupting with turnovers are beginning to show. Still, no one expected this team to be 3-1, and they have two weeks to prepare for Michael Vick and the Eagles.
09. New York Giants - The Giants pulled off a cardiac win this week against the Cardinals and they're now 3-1 after a week one loss that had a lot of people writing Eli Manning off. Home games against Seattle and an improved Buffalo, followed by a bye and the Dolphins could have the Giants at 6-1 before their schedule gets really difficult.
10. San Francisco 49ers - The 49ers are in control of their division and just need to hang on. Alex Smith had his first convincing victory this week and this is a team who could only benefit from a playoff berth moving forward.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Buc's squeaked one by Indianapolis this week but a win is a win and you'll take them however you can get them. I'm not convinced that this is a playoff team, but they'll definitely be around all season.
12. Buffalo Bills - Just when you thought the Bills might turn a corner they go an lose to the Bengals. I think that will be that for Buffalo and they'll be below .500 by Thanksgiving, but I hope I'm wrong. As of this moment in time they're still in first place in the AFC East.
13. New York Jets - The Jets offense looked awful on Sunday night, and this is a team that may be in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs. @ New England and vs San Diego are sandwiched by vs Miami. This team could be 3-4 heading into their bye with games on their schedule remaining against New England, the Giants, @ the Eagles, and @ Washington. There is no room for division game slip ups if they fall to 3-4, and the AFC wild card teams will need to be 10-6 this year.
14. Tennessee Titans - The Titans are surprisingly 3-1 and Matt Hasselbeck looks pretty good right now. The former Seahawk Pro Bowl QB has gone from keeping the seat warm for Jake Locker to giving the Titans a legitimate shot at a postseason berth. The game this week at Pittsburgh is a must win if the Titans want to be playing meaningful football in January.
Hanging In There
15. Dallas Cowboys - The Cowboys had another disastrous collapse, causing Romo and company to fall to 2-2. Still, despite the awful loss on Sunday to the Lions, this is a team that is talented, has been in every game until the final play, and can potentially get it together and win their division. They're only a game out of first.
16. Oakland Raiders - The Patriots proved this week that the Raiders are good, but they're not legitimate contenders. Jason Campbell's red zone interception in the second quarter is the leader thus far for most hilarious interception of the year.
17. Chicago Bears - The Bears have to opportunity on Monday Night to bring the Lions down to Earth, and this is a huge game for the 2011 Bears. A loss and the Bears will be playing catch up with Detroit and Green Bay until they're eventually knocked out of the playoffs sometime in early December, a win, and it's a brand new race in the North.
18. Atlanta Falcons - Mediocrity seems to be the defining word of the 2011 Falcons, though disappointment may be the final word. The fact that the game against the Seahawks was a game in the fourth quarter is a bad omen for the Atlanta who face Green Bay this week.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers - They're 2-2 and James Harrison is out indefinitely. The truth is the 2011 Steelers simply aren't very good and they'll continue to linger around mediocrity the rest of the season, living off a reputation that they built in season's past. They were in the Super Bowl last year because the Patriots had a fluke loss and the Colts were beat up.
20. Philadelphia Eagles - The Dream Team are 1-3 right now, but they're not awful. The losses to the Giants, Falcons, and 49ers could have all been wins, but now these next two @Buffalo and @Washington are must wins. If this team fails to make the playoffs this year what do they do?
21. Cleveland Browns - The Browns squandered an opportunity to legitimize their season and now the focus has to be to just get better. This team is probably not a playoff team, but they're not awful either. They need to continue to develop Colt McCoy and eventually get him a go to weapon.
22. Cincinatti Bengals - The Bengals beat a Bills team this week that many expected to roll past Cinci. This is playing hard for Marvin Lewis, a coach that has been on the hot seat for about five years.
23. Carolina Panthers - The Panthers may be losing games but at some point they'll be winning them. Cam Newton continues to prove that he's the real deal and that's good for the Panthers and their fans, they needed it.
24. Arizona Cardinals - The Cardinals aren't a playoff caliber team but it's not because of Kevin Kolb. The defense is pretty bad. This is a team that might be able to make waves in the NFC as the season progresses and beyond.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars - Despite the atrocious output thus far, the Jaguars are doing the right thing throwing Gabbert into the fire. He'll be better for it one day, and so will the Jaguars.
26. Seattle Seahawks - This team isn't very good and due to the 49ers recent string of victory's, the Seahawks 2011 is toast. This team has a long way to go but a Barkley/Carroll reunion in Washington would be a great first step.
27. Kansas City Chiefs - The Chiefs got a win against the Vikings that they probably didn't need, but they're still contenders for Andrew Luck. A loss this upcoming week to Indianapolis would go a long way, a win and this team will either draft Barkley or Jones, or be stuck in average-QB-ville where they've resided since Len Dawson called it a career.
28. Denver Broncos - John Fox put Tim Tebow in for one play on Sunday. The play went for -1 yards and Fox didn't go back to Tebow again. This Tebow thing is going to end badly for all party's involved.
29. Minnesota Vikings - At one point in time Donovan McNabb was without a doubt a top five quarterback in the NFL. McNabb will also end up in Canton one day, and he's probably the greatest Eagles quarterback of all time. Right now McNabb isn't the problem in Minnesota, but he's not the solution either, and once Leslie Frazier makes the move to Christian Ponder that will be curtains on the starting quarterback career of Donovan McNabb.
30. Indianapolis Colts - For the second week in a row the Colts made a game that they were written off in interesting. If Peyton Manning was playing right now the Colts would be 4-0 and in control of AFC.
31. St. Louis Rams - What happens if the Rams go 2-14 and end up with the worst record in the league? Do they draft Luck and trade Bradford? Do they sell the pick for as much as they can get? They could probably get a lot for Sam Bradford as well, and Luck's contract won't be half as crippling as Bradford's. The contract is what makes it something to think about.
32. Miami Dolphins - This is a team that not only needs Andrew Luck, but unlike the Chiefs it looks like they actually want Stanford's current starting quarterback. The question now is, will this team lose enough games? And will Sparano last all season? I say "yes" and "yes."