Very rarely can hardcore or casual NFL viewers say with confidence that they know what is going to play out after five weeks of games. It’s always fun to predict the playoffs and Superbowl but in reality nobody can say what’s going to happen; not you, not me, not Peter King nor Adam Schefter. However there is one undeniable truth that has emerged from the 2009 NFL narrative thus far and it is that we have six of the worst teams in recent memory all fighting it out for the rights to be considered historically bad.
The Cleveland Browns starting quarterback completed 2 passes, 2 PASSES! on Sunday and WON THE GAME! If you met someone who had never even heard of football and explained the ins and outs of offense and quarterbacking to them then showed them Derek Anderson’s Sunday stinkbomb (2-17, 23 Yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT) even they would presume there is no chance that his team could have won the game. Yet somehow the trainwreck Browns went to Buffalo and beat the Bills 6-3 and set offensive football back about 50 years in the process. Things are so bleak in Buffalo that the only upset the Bills could be associated with is if Dick Jauron still has a job in December.
Speaking of the hot seat, let’s move to the worst 2-3 team in the history of the NFL…the Washington Redskins. In the first 5 games of the Redskins’ season, not one of their opponents went into the game with a win–every single team they played had a goose egg in the win column. There were the Giants in Week 1 (0-0) the Rams in Week 2 (0-1) the Lions in Week 3 (0-2) the Bucs in Week 4 (0-3) and the Panthers last week (0-3. Mercifully they had a bye before they played the Redskins). I was traveling in the DC area in the week leading up to the Detroit game and not since the waning days of the Pete Carroll era in New England had I heard a fanbase so disgusted with its head coaching situation. And this was almost a month ago! Now the Redskins host another winless team in Kansas City this weekend and I would say there is a good chunk of Redskins fans that want them to lose this one because that will hopefully put an end to the Zorn era in our Nation’s Capital.
The silver lining for Redskins fans moves us to the Silver and Black. While it can’t be fun to watch Jim Zorn perpetually mismanage game situations and call ridiculous halfback option plays in the red zone, at least he hasn’t (allegedly) threatened to kill one of his assistant coaches. It appears that Tom Cable’s job is safe in Oakland…that is if he doesn’t get thrown in jail. That’s right, things are so dysfunctional in Oakland that there is actually a chance (albiet a small one) that the head coach of an NFL franchise may have his season cut short because he is going to be prosecuted and put in prison. What I want to know is what led up to this homicide threat? I need more details but if I was a betting man I would say it would have something to do with Jamarcus Russell, who doesn’t belong in the UFL nevermind the NFL. The accuser is former defensive assistant Randy Hanson. Do you think he was the 1,000th guy to point out how bad JaMarcus Russell was that day and Tom Cable just snapped? Like I said we need more information on this, and the sad part is Oakland has one more win than a team who is threatening Detroit’s historic run towards the basement last year: the St. Louis Rams.
I was home in Massachusetts two weeks ago and my Dad is a subscriber to the Red Zone channel which is quite simply the greatest channel in the history of sports channels. As my buddy Jerad put it, “The Red Zone Channel is the equivalent of experiencing 29 consecutive *******, spread out over the course of 6 hrs. Aside from marijuana, nothing in history has been a bigger cause of laziness.” Basically what this glorious channel does is bounce you back on forth between every single NFL Game on Sunday when teams are threatening to score. During the afternoon slate it slows down a bit which means they show longer chunks of games that aren’t in commericals. In my case I got to witness one of the worst plays I’ve ever seen by an NFL Quarterback in the Rams v. 49ers tilt 2 weeks ago thanks to this glorious channel. Already down 14-0 in the 3rd Quarter Kyle Boller rolled to his right looking for someone open–once he read that the entire right side was covered he decided to chuck the ball completely across his body back to the left side of the field to no one. 49ers’ linebacker Patrick Willis gladly accepted the 20 yard heave to nothingness and promptly ran it back for a touchdown. I haven’t played organized football since I was in 7th grade and I can assure you even my middle school quarterback would have been berated for such a boneheaded decision. Keep in mind Boller had rolled outside of the tackle area, if he chucked it out of bounds it’s not a penalty.
The only thing in the Rams way of taking the crown for worst team of 2009 in Tampa Bay who has lost to both the aforementioned Bills and Redskins. Working for the Bucs is that their fan base has no expectations whatsoever and seem to be happy just to be competitive on a Sunday to Sunday basis as the rebuilding process begins. Working against them is the rest of their schedule (in order): vs Panthers, vs Patriots, bye, vs Packers, at Dolphins, vs Saints, at Falcons, at Carolina, vs Jets, at Seahawks, at Saints, vs Falcons. Outside of the 2 games against the Panthers (who may be in the putrid conversation as the season goes on) would you bet on the Bucs to win a single game? Me neither.
How bad are the bad teams? Really, really, really bad. Notice I haven’t even mentioned the Chiefs (winless this year), Titans (winless this year), Lions (1 win this year, 0-16 last year). What does it all mean? If you’re a gambler it means there could be historically high spreads when good teams meet the bad, the disparity between the top of the league and the bottom has never been greater. I’m sure they’ll be shockers along the way but enough about the bottom. Here are the top 10 teams as I see it through the first 5 weeks of the season.
1. Colts (5-0): It’s amazing to think Peyton Manning has been in the league for 12 seasons and in that time he’s won 3 MVPs (one of those he shared with Steve McNair) and set a single season touchdown record at 49 (later eclipsed by Tom Brady) and this looks like it’s going to be his best season yet. The Colts aren’t just beating teams, they are completely shredding them. Manning is the clear frontrunner for another MVP award this season and I am beginning to think that you can put anyone in the slot position in the Colts offense and you can pencil then in for 5 catches and 80 yards a game. The most amazing game the Colts have played so far was the one against the Dolphins, where Miami dominated time of possession but Manning’s offense only needed 15 minutes of game time to score 27 points and win on the road. Despite all his previous accolades and accomplishments I can’t think of a season where Manning has made winning look any easier then the 2009 campaign so far.
2. Saints (4-0): As the Saints get ready to play in the best game of the weekend against the Giants on Sunday I was trying to decide who’s better right now. In the Giants favor is experience (Superbowl Champs 2 years ago) and Eli becoming one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL but who have they played? The combined record of the G-men’s opponents is 6-18 and they’ve beaten 3 of the bottom feeders of this historically bad season (Raiders, Redskins and Bucs). Meanwhile the Saints went into Philadelphia and pounded the Eagles 48-22 (McNabb was hurt but a beating is a beating) and took care of business against the Jets at home. After this Sunday we’ll know who the best team in the NFC is.
3. New York Giants (5-0): Part of being an elite team in the NFL is beating the teams you are supposed to beat and while the Giants’ schedule has had its share of cupcakes New York has thoroughly beaten its opponents thus far outscoring them 151-71. The Giants’ biggest scare was in a Week 2 tilt against the Cowboys at the grand opening of Jerry World. The emergence of Steve Smith and Mario Manningham as reliable targets for early MVP candidate Eli Manning has helped silence the “Their gonna miss Plax camp!” Add in the two headed running attack of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs and the Giants offense should be putting up points all season long.
4. Vikings (5-0): Good news America, everyone’s favorite new Monday Night Football guy has agreed to write a few words explaining the Vikings success, Coach Gruden the floor is yours.
“Thanks Hugh, I tell ya what…the key to the Vikings success is pretty simple when you really break it down, he wears a purple number 4 jersey. Here’s a guy who just loves to play the game, I mean he’s just a kid having fun in the back yard out there! I tell ya I coached him back in the day and got a chance to talk with him last night and nothing’s changed!!!! Same old guy he was 15 years ago, it is truly a joy to watch Brett Favre play football. Now if you excuse me I just soiled myself talking about him, I get pretty excited when he’s around so I gotta run. Vikings all the way, I’m not even going to pretend to not be biased anymore.”
Thanks Coach and good luck with the change of clothes. All I’m going to say about Favre is that last year people thought the Jets were a Superbowl caliber team in the first half of the season. AP is a wonderful luxury to hand off too but when you need a drive and the hopes of the game and season rely on the arm of a 40 year old turnover prone QB it can get dicey.
5. Broncos (5-0): 3 weeks passed and everyone thought these guys were frauds dressed up as a 3-0 NFL team. Then they beat Dallas and still people were chirping that the Cowboys aren’t that good to begin with, then they came back from 10 points down to beat New England in overtime and now the Broncos are looking more legit. 3 wins against the Bengals (fluky win, but still a win), Dallas and New England is legit, end of story. Josh McDaniels has Kyle Orton doing enough to win games (the story of Orton’s career) and Mike Nolan has turned Denver’s awful defense of a year ago into a top unit in the NFL. The Broncos can move the ball on the ground and through the air and play solid defense for 4 quarters. They also have Brandon Marshall playing like he is capable of playing and haven’t has a single brush up of nonsense since his preseason preschooler act. The Broncos have a brutal schedule ahead starting this Monday night in San Diego, but this doesn’t appear to be a team that you can blow out and the more they hang around the more dangerous the seem to become.
6. Bengals (4-1): Child, Please. The Bengals doubters are being forced to kiss the baby. 3 of the 4 Bengals wins have come against the Packers (blew them out in Lambeau), the defending Superbowl Champion Steelers and the Ravens. Cedric Benson is running like a man possessed, which begs the question: with Cedric Benson checking in as one of the best running backs in the NFL so far and Kyle Orton outplaying Tom Brady in the second half of Sunday’s game, is the Chicago offensive coaching staff not getting enough out of what they have or do they just not have enough? Either way the Bengals are for real and will be a problem for anyone moving forward. They can run, play defense and Carson Palmer looks healthy for the first time in a while. We have a long, long way to go but imagine if that tipped ball against the Broncos in week 1 is the difference between a first round bye and Wildcard weekend?
7. Eagles (3-1): Philadelphia has a lot to prove seeing as how their 3 wins have come against Carolina, Kansas City and Tampa Bay but they weathered the McNabb injury and look like a high flying offensive team. Philadelphia gets to feast on the Raiders and Redskins these next two weeks but then have 4 games against the Giants, Cowboys, Chargers and Bears. We’ll have a pretty good idea about how good this team is at the end of that stretch.
8. New York Jets (3-2): The Jets are coming off two tough road losses in a row in New Orleans and Miami but the pick up of Braylon Edwards cannot be overlooked. He had an immediate impact against the Dolphins and with some better clock management by Rex Ryan against the Dolphins New York could be 4-1. Ryan left 2 timeouts on the clock in Miami when his defense was obviously gassed. Miami took full advantage of a tired Jets D and wildcatted their way to a second straight win. We hear a lot about home field advantage in December but what about when you have a 350 pound man calling plays in 95 degree heat and humidity? That has to play in the Dolphins favor right? Was Ryan just too hot and uncomfortable to keep going? Did he forget about his timeouts because he was getting delirious? Was he just wanting to get into air conditioning as fast as possible? There is no explanation to leave those unused when your defense is that tired and just needs 1 stop.
9. Patriots (3-2): Here’s a stat courtesy of Mike Lombardi at the National Football Post:
Peyton Manning through his first 5 games last year coming off a knee operation:
3-2, 63.1%, 1,302 Yards, 8 TDs, 5 INTs
Tom Brady though his first 5 games of 2009 coming off a complete knee reconstruction:
3-2, 61.3%, 1,344 Yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs
Almost identical. I think the lesson is that this is going to take time, many Pats fans (myself included) were expecting immediate blowouts and majestic bombs to Randy Moss which, in hindsight, just wasn’t realistic. The good news is the Patriots are going to be better in December then they are now. Brady’s season has been about a C+ so far and a C+ was good enough to beat the Falcons and Ravens. Once the timing comes back and the Patriots round into form they are going to be formidable down the stretch and into the playoffs. The defense has been a pleasant surprise and if Tom Brady brings his grade up to a B or an A, New England will get rolling.
10. Falcons (3-1): Coming off an impressive win against the 49ers after a bye week Atlanta’s offense looked as dangerous as anyone in the top 10 with Michael Turner running wild and Roddie White earning his contract extension. Atlanta is a hard team to figure out, they were 2-0 after wins against Miami (mediocre) and Carolina (bad) then looked lost in New England. Now they come out and thump a San Francisco team fresh of a 35-0 victory over the Rams in which their defense scores 3 touchdowns. Is Atlanta really good? Time will tell on whether this game was an abberation or Atlanta is for real, like with most things in the NFL nobody really knows.