NFL Goes Awol: Season Notes

After four weeks of football, we definitely get a better picture of how things will shake up. This is a good sample size to see what adjustments should be made, and perhaps any shakeups on the depth chart. Teams usually chop up their goals into four-game windows, but really the goal is to split half of your games at the very least until an identity has been established around week six or seven. As of right now this is what we do know, the assumptions we can make until further notice, and the things to watch for.

Undefeated – Contenders

Denver is rolling on all cylinders and we know they will be a force that makes a deep playoff run. In a couple weeks they will get a pass-rushing boost from Von Miller, on the brink of returning to the field from his suspension. Peyton Manning is on a stone cold mission, leading the most explosive offense to nearly 45 points per week on average. Aside from a botched snap, he has been flawless with a sweet-16 touchdowns without throwing an interception. They have more weapons than a defense can account for and so far Manning is blowing everybody else out the water, making a statement with a strong MVP campaign.

Seattle has gotten over the woes on the road of years past, and it doesn’t look like it matters where they play. Taking the field is the strongest defense we have seen in a few years and they are so relentless that they are actually a threat to score every week. Russell Wilson is looking poised in the pocket, making the right decisions, and smoothly scrambles to move the chains in effortless fashion. This team leans on the beast mode of Marshawn Lynch to move the pile, but you can’t help but picture them with Percy Harvin in the slot. That is whenever he does return to give them that added dimension, but there’s absolutely no rush for these Super Bowl contenders.

New England keeps stringing along victories and going about their business. Right now Tom Brady is surrounded by new faces, Bill Belichick’s defense is finally back on the map, and they will be better than they were the last few years. Losing Vionce Wilfork on the line is a big blow but I still like this upper-tier unit. They have plethora of options in the backfield that are capable of hurting defenses when they’re eventually focused on containing Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola. Although he is not a Wes Welker replacement, he makes for a blue-chip rental while you have him, similar Michael Vick. To those that have Julian Edelman on your Fantasy Football team because of yours truly, you’re welcome.

Undefeated – Identity Theft

New Orleans certainly has the versatile weapons and Coach of the Year candidate Sean Payton, still illustrates quite the game plan after his hiatus. Drew Brees revealed he was a gem and fit perfectly hand-in-hand at exactly the right time with the Saints. No, he was not the same quarterback in San Diego and actually injured his shoulder with a high draft pick in Philip Rivers on the sidelines, who has also made some Pro Bowls so the correct choice was made at the time. In hindsight however, Darren Sproles is a player that every team has tried to find to incorporate into their offense. I realize they have the dominant Jimmy Graham and sure-handed Marquis Colston, but right now this team is winning because Rob Ryan has the defense attacking and giving up less than two touchdowns per contest. That the side of the ball that will have the Saints marching in again, but we need a larger sample size:  Atlanta is banged up, the Buccaneers are in disarray, Arizona and Miami’s offensive line is non-existent. It could totally be the defense that has improved thus far.

Kansas City has doubled last season’s win total already, but to be honest this is the team I expected to show up. I thought the Chiefs to reach the playoffs last year, and chose them again this year. This defense looks great and is the strength of the team as a whole. They won’t allow you to gain any rhythm offensively, ranking first with only 10 points given up on average (ahead of Seattle). Talk all you want about the offense because Alex Smith and coach Andy Reid deserve it, utilizing Jamaal Charles to thew umpteenth degree, but the question is if they can sustain that production. In all transparency, you can only beat who’s on the schedule: Jaguars, Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants. Coach Reid has dominated the NFC East. With that said I believe in this defense, but when it comes to that occasional week and they’re in a shootout, we just don’t know yet if the offense can rise to the occasion.

Buying (3-1)

Chicago was my pick to win the Super Bowl. Sure, there are several teams that look stronger but there’s a long way to go. The Bears usually play better on special teams and I think the defense will find a way to patch up the loss of Pro Bowl DT Henry Melton. I still believe this offense will be challenging to stop once they catch stride.

Indianapolis gets my benefit of the doubt after last year’s turnaround, especially since they added some punch with Trent Richardson. They can put Robert Mathis (7.5 sacks) and the defense in a better position if they protect Andrew Luck, this guy will put up points if you give him time. Telling you right now, he has a ways to go, but I believe Luck to be a future Hall of Fame quarterback when all is said & done.

Selling (3-1)

Detroit has the offense you want to use in Madden 25. The defensive line continues to anchor the defense but they have to be consistent unlike year’s past. You can’t deny the elusiveness between Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, but the other guys have to get involved as well. Maybe they should watch the Bills and how they incorporate C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, and Stevie Johnson into the offense, so they can keep the other running back Joique Bell involved.

Tennessee has been looking gritty as some expected. I’m still not drinking the kool-aid but I love me some Jack Daniels. There was something about Jake Locker that was starting to unfold, but his injury takes away the dual-threat at the helm. The defense could keep them in games, however Ryan Fitzpatrick has to take care of the football as his targets need to get open.

Miami has produced and gained early success against a formidable schedule: Browns, Colts, Falcons, and Saints who snapped their streak on Monday Night Football. They are an under-the-radar team with talent to thrust them into the playoff picture, I just don’t trust either side of the ball at this point in time.

Separate From The Pack (2-2)

Cincinnati might have gotten big-headed based off of last year’s progress and these season’s expectations. It’s not the end of the world because they are tied atop the division without tapping into their potential. They will distance themselves from the Super Bowl Champs in Baltimore, as well as Cleveland. The defense is elite and the offense has the makings of something special, even if they don’t peak this year they will be good enough to compete in the playoffs.

Houston should have realized a year ago that Matt Schaub was just another guy, which was stated on NFL Goes Awol last year! Now that everyone is catching up to this “breaking news” after spolitting the first two games, let us keep things in perspective. This team was built over time to last, and that’s exactly what they will do as we’ve come to expect from them. They’ll be in the hunt, just not for the Lombardi that a lot of people predicted.

San Francisco is having a rough start in multiple ways, but they find themselves at .500 with better football ahead. They will miss Aldon Smith but that defense will pick up the slack when Pat Willis rejoins Navarro Bowman in the middle. The D is strong and the offense gained steam against a division rival. They had extra time after Thursday Night Football to heal up and go back to their usual ways.

Surprise, Surprise

Cleveland I thought would compete as they were, just not in the unpredictable style that has come to fruition. They obviously felt like they knew what they were doing when they traded Trent Richardson for a first round pick that should turn into a starter next year. Since then, they have given the keys to the offense to Tom Brady’s former backup, Brian Hoyer. He has shown leadership, is taking shots downfield to breakout candidates Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon, and is 2-0 so far after the Browns lost the first pair of games. And how about that defense, bet you didn’t know they were ranked third so far. They have a good, veteran coaching staff, give them a chance before you write them off.

Arizona looks like such a tease on paper. The defense gets a boost with the return of Daryl Washington from suspension, and that could catapult the Cardinals to the elite level that their division rivals are on, in terms of defense. They have a couple of unsung heroes on that offense, unfortunately the line is the worst and weakest link to have. If history tells us anything, it’s the fact that coach Bruce Arians worked wonders with offenses, especially without good O-lines (refer to Colts/Steelers that are struggling without him).

They Are Who We Thought They Were

Dallas does not strike fear into any opponent. They are who they are despite wishful thinking, although they may be the beneficiaries of a poor division. Somebody has to win the NFC East, yet the Cowboys will probably find a way to keep the “race” interesting by barely being ahead of the pack. They do deserve credit for improving on both sides of the ball, the play calling, and beating the teams they are clearly better than. Just not the coin toss matchups that are up in the air for interpretation.

San Diego just might have what it takes to compete, the thing is that they are already a couple of game behind the undefeated Broncos and Chiefs, with four games against the two on the schedule. The defense finally got some pieces back so that we have to wait and see, but as far as the offense is concerned, they go as the running game takes them. It’s great to see Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates revitalized, but quietly the ground game by committee keeps defenses off guard while assisting their own.

Baltimore had the great run to win it all that every team hopes for. Snap back to reality and you see that the Ravens lost too many players as most winning teams do. They don’t have a standout quarterback and I hope that Joe Flacco throwing 5 picks in a loss against the Bills finally shows the bandwagon fans that. Ray Rice is a one-man offense that is getting swarmed, but good for Torrie Smith that he is beating the single coverage. The defense remains in the top half of the league, just not on the elite level that they’re used to, to overcompensate for the offense.

Buffalo has their moments where they shine and show so much promise. I like the strategy of prioritizing both running backs and sharing the wealth through the air. The defense should improve when safety Jairus Byrd gets back on the field, but they need that defensive front-seven to play up to the level that the team invested in them.

The New York Jets are all in on rookie QB Geno Smith, and Bilal Powell is doing everything he can to be the catalyst of the offense. Rex Ryan is slowly but surely regaining his defense’s form by turning games ugly. They are ranked second right now without Darrelle Revis, so they obviously have a good scheme. With that unimpressive offense though, they are who we thought they were. If only the football media would grow a pair and start reporting on relevant teams until they prove otherwise.

Bounce Back

Falcons have had tough luck and no one feels sorry for them. They found a way to put a W in the standings and should be rounding into form in the next few weeks with a boost in health: Julio Jones, Roddy White, Steven Jackson, Asante Samuel, and Sean Weatherspoon. All of their losses have been close to where they could flipped the results in their favor. These contenders will bounce back.

Packers had their bye week early and I hope they attended to the defense. The secondary needs the injured Morgan Burnett and Casey Hayward back on the field, as most teams would need their starters. Green Bay is tough to beat and will never go away, these guys are real just had a slow start. The offense is clicking just as Jermichael Finley is recuperating from a concussion he sustained before the bye.

Panthers attract a lot of attention when they pull off wins. Cam Newton, Deangelo Williams, and Steve Smith do what they can as they have to grind every game out. Williams has taken the lead role and literally run with it in the absence of Jonathan Stweart, posing the league’s third best ground game. The defense is where most of the improvement should come from, the front-seven looks pretty good and even though they don’t have a flattering secondary, at least a good front-seven makes their jobs easier.

Tunnel With Sliver Of Light

The Eagles have the second best offense in the NFL, behind the obvious and explosive Broncos that jsut ran them off the field this past Sunday. They could be in the bounce back group of teams listed above, but there’s no way you can depend on Michael Vick not turning the ball over, let alone a non-existent defense. Enjoy the season LeSean McCoy is having, because he could be having one for the ages (following up A.P.’s amazing-ness). I told you he would offensive player of the Year, that is if this Barry Sanders-esque workhorse stays out of harm’s way. It hurts not to have Jeremy Maclin but they’re moving the chains without him, maybe the defense should stop playing zone to be somewhat of a presence.

The Vikings always have a shot when reigning MVP Adrian Peterson puts on his cleats. The thing is, if they can get either Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel to keep things simple, they should keep scoring with the overlooked receiving corps that they have assembled: Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Kyle Rudolph. Baffled by the lack of defense, they have the playmakers and leaders to anchor that unit after an embarrassing start: Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Chad Greenway, and Harrison Smith.

Raiders play better football with Terrelle Pryor and Darren McFadden suited up. Although the new regime is doing a good job in the front office of ridding the unwanted salaries and drafting their own players, that doesn’t translate to being good on either side of the ball this year. If they stay healthy they’ll be exciting and will put in some good occasional efforts.

Rams let Stevan Jackson go and he was a big portion of the offense and defense when you reflect on his impact. Sam Bradford gets to air it out but he has to make his targets better as he is the veteran. The defense would probably play better if they got any help whatsoever, they certainly have the talent to be in the top 10.

Redskins are proving me right with their less than stellar play thus far. The bye week came at a good time for them, coming off their first win of the season, and it allows RGIII and Alfred Morris to get right mentally and physically. Not sure if the defense can be cured but they look above average on paper.

TKO

Pittsburgh is old and will struggle to win six games but fans can reminisce about their six championships. At least Le’Veon looked promising in his debut. At least they’re only a couple games back in the division, to me it’s not the same Steelers that we’ve seen over the years. Forget the O-line if the defense can’t even get it together.

The New York Giants are terrible, I tried to tell you that I don’t believe in Eli (unlike Prime Time, Deion Sanders). They have a world of problems, love Victor Cruz though. The offensive line and entire defense is a problem that won’t be solves overnight. Maybe running back Andre Brown can find some holes and give this team a lift in a few weeks, recovering from a broken leg.

Chaos in Tampa Bay. I’ve got two words for you, Mike Glennon. This is actually a playoff-ready supporting cast but the division is challenging. They’re so distracted they forgot that Tim Tebow lives in Florida. Vincent Jackson is good and all, but hopefully he doesn’t drown his sorrows then try to drive away from them.

Jacksonville is unbelievable. Speaking of that guy, they should just make the call. Timothy on line one. TE-BOW, WO-OAH! Why not put fans in the stands and tout a rushing attack in the league. What’s wrong with being relevant? There’s no sure college QB prospect that has distanced himself from the rest.