KC is the Rodney Dangerfield of the league. Despite being 9 – 0 after beating the Bills last Sunday, they were actually ranked behind both New England and Denver by Tony Dungy on the Sunday Night Football pre-game show. Nobody seems to think they are for real, despite putting up eye – popping numbers on defense and special teams, with a fairly pedestrian offense. Even having the possibility of an effective passing game has opened up the field for Jamal Charles. KC will lose at some point, but they are a good team as long as Charles stays healthy. The Chiefs are not getting penalized or turning the ball over, and are playing superb defense. That seems to remain a winning formula in the NFL. Who knew?
The Broncos had a hiccup against the Colts and Peyton Manning showed that he remains a human being and not some Cyberdyne Systems Mark III (QB Variant) Terminator put together in a secret Rocky Mountain laboratory in the off-season. Head Coach Fox will be on the shelf for a few weeks and it remains to be seen how that will affect the Broncos. My bet is that Jack del Rio will run the Broncos just fine until Fox returns.
Oakland remains bad. Terrelle Pryor has proven to be a fantastic athlete and runner, but his QB skills are still not NFL quality in the passing game. I suspect that Oakland will give him this season and the next to settle the question of whether he is a franchise QB. There is still a lack of talent on this team, but their front-office / coaching combination may be given an extra-long leash to at least provide some continuity to a franchise that has been in constant turmoil for more than a decade. This is not the season for them to be anything more than an occasional irritant.
Who else is looking forward to the 49ers – Seahawks rematch? I know I am! The Seahawks keep finding different ways to win while they are dealing with injuries. The ‘niners stumbled early, but seem to have gotten it together and will soon get Mario Mannigham and Michael Crabtree back to join Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. Arizona seems to define mediocre really well; they beat bad teams and lose to good ones (with a peculiar loss to the Rams in there). Remember when the Cardinals came within a couple of spectacular plays by James Harrison of winning the Super Bowl? Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? The Rams have a decent defense, but no credible running game (in spite of Zac Stacy) and no Sam Bradford. Personally, I’m hoping that the wheels come off, resulting in a Jeff Fisher retirement and this time, staying there.
This is developing into an intriguing divisional race, perhaps the most intriguing race in the NFL. Three teams are all at 5-3. All have their own strengths and flaws. The Bears will get Jay Cutler back soon and in so doing, may be in the best position down the stretch. Chicago has to feel pretty good about its chances with Cutler returning. The Green Bay Packers were relying upon Aaron Rodgers (which is usually not a bad thing), but he has gotten hurt, adding to a mind-numbingly high amount of serious injuries among key players. The Detroit Lions are kind of there, with an explosive offense and a questionable defense. The Lions may just pull this thing out. The Turkey Day game between the Bears and Lions in Detroit may be HUGE when we get there in four weeks. The Vikings seem bent on a soap opera situation at QB, with an unsteady and inconsistent Josh Freeman now competing for the starting job with a limited Christian Ponder.
The NFC Least is living up to its name. The Eagles, after beating the crap out of the vilest team in the league 55 to ‘who cares’? on Sunday, are one game behind Dallas, with a 4-5 record. This is an illusion; the combined record of the teams the Eagles have beaten is 8-24. Dallas is trying to hang on despite injuries and its own Bill Callahan version of "let’s set-up bizarre game plans and call bizarre plays" style of coaching. Dallas’ injury depleted defensive secondary made Christian Ponder look like a competent QB last Sunday, so my article about the Bolts and ‘boys being similar teams remains semi-valid. Robert Griffin III seems to be getting healthier, but the Redskins have probably dug themselves too deep of a hole to return to the playoffs this year. The New York Giants are already looking forward to a high draft choice and perhaps a new coach.
The New Orleans Saints are back, despite laying an egg in New York against the Jets. The Saints are overcoming an uneven running game and still questionable defense. Rob Ryan is using Kenny Vaccaro in many creative ways, and the defense has been showing signs of keeping its end of the deal. After starting badly and having many calls for his head, Ron Rivera’s Panthers have ripped off a four game winning streak and are breathing down the Saints’ necks. They are getting better play out of Cam Newton and good red-zone efficiency with Mike Tolbert…(grrrrr) The Atlanta Falcons are pretty much done, with its top playmaker on the shelf for the year, a shaky defense, and first-hand look at why the Rams let Steven Jackson walk. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a leading candidate to have a mid-season head coach firing. 0-8 is bad enough, but reports of a toxic atmosphere on the sideline and practice fields, together with the Freeman fiasco paints a pretty damned dysfunctional picture.
Speaking of dysfunctional football teams in Florida, what in the blue blazes was going on in Miami’s locker room? As an answer to the former coaches and players wondering where the veteran leadership was on the Dolphins, a really ugly picture is emerging. Incognito actually WAS the veteran leadership tasked by his coaching staff with "toughening up" Martin. Now that the Dolphins have lost the left side of their offensive line, their promising start (already ruined by a now not so inexplicable slide) seems to be for nothing but another mediocre (or worse) season. I (and others) started to kick dirt too early onto Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the Patriots. Chalk it up to wishful thinking, I suppose. Like a zombie that has taken a full magazine of torso shots, they don't look quite as great as they used to, but are still coming. The Jets seem to be putting together quite a roller-coaster of a season; win-loss-win-loss-repeat. That will probably not get it done, but it’s a lot better than Rex’s 3-ring circus seemed destined for in late August. And finally the Buffalo Bills, with great running backs and a rising defense, but no QB, seem to be doomed to another bad season.
The story of the AFC North will not be the Bengals getting to the playoffs for the third straight year; it will be how badly the situation in Pittsburgh has deteriorated. It is somewhat remarkable to think that the Browns are the 2nd place team in this division. The Ravens join the Steelers as being a team in trouble, but there may be more in the cupboard in Baltimore than there is in Pittsburgh. The Bengals have to be delighted with the prospect of not having to face the Texans in the play-offs this season. That may give them a chance to actually win a game in post-season play.
The Indianapolis Colts were cruising to a divisional title until Reggie Wayne was lost for the season. So far, they are still operating at a playoff caliber level, but one half of the season needs to be played still. Do not count out the Titans. Jake Locker is back and starting to look competent, plus Chris Johnsonshook of his two season hibernation and ripped off a 150 yard game last Sunday. I do believe that the Houston Texans have a run in them, but injuries to key players and a nearly Leaf-ian performance by Matt Schaub may have doomed the Texans to watching the playoffs like it was 2010 again. The Jacksonville Jaguars, on top of everything else, lost Justin Blackmon for the rest of the season to a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.
So who do you think are the biggest surprises and disappointments so far? I figured KC would be better, but not this much better. And I am shocked at how badly the Texans have done so far this year, given the talent on that roster.