Monday (Tuesday) Morning Double-Back

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Go Fins Go!

I admit, I had my reservations about this game. The Colts, and Andrew Luck in particular, got the better of us only a season ago, and Mr. Luck certainly looked primed for another outstanding season after his ultra-efficient first week. The final score was as close as I predicted (go back and check, a four-point difference was my call), and Miami finally let Mike Wallace go to work. The running game took a big step forward, and with our defense now officially playing consistent football, my early prediction of Miami possibly being a wildcard team looks even better as we sit at 2-0.

What We Learned On Thursday

These are not the Patriots we’ve grown accustomed to. What many are failing to recognize, however, is that they look more like the Patriots that won those Superbowls back when Tom Brady first arrived on the scene. They’re winning by playing solid defense, and waiting for the young receivers and a healthy Rob Gronkowski to provide the balance the team will need to take the AFC East yet again. Yes, as a Dolphins fan I am about as tired of it happening as anyone else is, but I can’t help but respect the hell out of a team that continues to maintain as upper-echelon for so long.

The Jets have never been an easy out in divisional games in the Rex Ryan era, so the final score didn’t surprise me. Neither did Geno Smith’s mistake-prone performance. Neither did a defense that will probably end up in the top ten by the end of the season. If their offense didn’t look like my old high school’s, I might actually consider the Jets an underdog for a wildcard slot. But it does, and they’re not, but they should be a tough matchup so long as the defense keeps it up.

What We Learned On Sunday

Week 1 is essentially a preview week, a glimpse of what might be, what definitely isn’t, and the beginning of the mystery that each of the 32 teams represent. Week 2 is the official start of the clarification process, the unraveling of the mystery. By week 6, you’re going to have a solid feel on what the NFL is shaping up to be in 2013. If things continue the way they are, the Broncos are going to the Superbowl, and the NFC is going to fight tooth and nail for the honor.

My main focus this week, beyond my Dolphins, was what I’m dubbing “hotseat watch 2013” for a handful of head coaches around the league. I am not afraid to proclaim that Greg Schiano is officially toasting his own buns in Tampa Bay, losing two games that they should have won in a fashion that screams “discontent”. Something is brewing on that team that is going to spill over before long, and I think you’re going to see an entirely new look to the Buccaneers. Schiano, Josh Freeman and most of the staff are going to be seeking new employment by the team next year begins, mark my words.

While their situation seems slightly more hopeful, Ron Rivera is gone sometime between now and 2014. I can hardly blame the man for the Panthers inability to close out these games, but the proverbial sh*t rolls downhill, and it starts with the HC. The real problem in Carolina? The new offensive system is stifling Cam Newton’s natural abilities, and the secondary is most likely amongst the 5 worst in the league, and was before injuries began to take their toll. If you saw the last play of the game against Buffalo, you realize Chris Berman could have gotten the ball to Stevie Johnson on that pass. Most embarrassing play of the week, and a perfect synopsis of why the Panthers are going to struggle mightily in a division with Drew Brees and Matt Ryan.

Beyond the hotseats beginning to simmer, the main topic of discussion with many analysts at this point is the Washington Redskins 0-2 start. The schedule was unkind to them, make no mistake, as they followed up facing Chip Kelly’s mystery offense with Aaron Rodgers’ Greatest Show In The North. But, much like Carolina, this secondary is a major weakness. I fully expect the entire team to improve as the season progresses, but they’re already in a hole that seems deep enough to keep them out of the playoffs. Lucky for them, they’re in the one division where an 0-2 start means the least.

Ask the Giants about that. Also, somebody ask anyone on the team not named Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks or Victor Cruz to make something happen. Brandon Jacobs is not going to fix the running game; David Wilson calling Tiki Barber and asking him how not to fumble is, and until Wilson learns this vital trait, the offense will remain one-dimensional, predictable and ultimately beatable so long as the opposing team can keep up for about two quarters.

Ravens fans, don’t worry. Stay healthy, keep playing solid defense (nobody playing Denver will be accused of this in 2013, so call that a pass) and you’ll get where you need to be. Just don’t expect the season to end like it did last year.

Minnesota, you have my sympathies. The amount of great plays you made in that game would equal a win in about 80% of games, but the Bears are clicking on all cylinders, and Jay Cutler isn’t “seeing ghosts anymore” (direct quote), and as I predicted, the Bears are going to be the team battling with the Packers for the North this year.

It certainly isn’t going to be the Lions. Something has to change in Detroit, and soon.

Chip Kelly is going to have to learn when to let off of the gas. Hopefully, he’s being sincere when he’s blaming himself for not running the clock on that last drive. Situational football is a big part of the NFL, a small part of the college game; you can’t expect him to learn that lesson without firsthand experience. Let’s see if it sticks. We just saw Michael Vick do what he’s been capable of since he entered the league, and shame on every coach who ever had him at their disposal and couldn’t figure out how to use him. A tough loss, but these Eagles are for real. Just turn your head when their defense is on the field, and you’ll start seeing things my way.

Sunday Night was one of the absolute worst officiated games I’ve ever watched. I wish I could say it benefited Seattle as I was convinced Colin Kaepernick would work his stuff and quiet the infamous 12th Man of Qwest Field. The calls went against both teams, and the majority of them were ridiculous at best and utterly laughable the rest of the time. In between all the flags, the Seahawks dominated their division rival in a fashion that makes me a little uncomfortable about calling them overhyped. I still don’t see them in the Superbowl, but the next month will be more telling.

What We Learned On Monday

Remember when I said this was going to be a long year in Pittsburgh? Well, they have fight in them, I’ll give them that. Of course, that’s what you say about every team in the league who loses close games more often than they win them, and Steelers fans better get used to the taste. There is a hole bigger than Roethlisberger’s bank account around him in terms of talent, and Todd Haley is proving quickly to not be the answer as an offensive playcaller. I swear I saw an end around to Jericho Cotchery, who couldn’t outrun Vince Wilfork if Wilfork spotted him a few seconds. What?

The Bengals are for real, but they should have been more convincing tonight. Dalton’s stellar week one performance was followed up by a 25-45 day, representing the inconsistency that has plagued him so far in his short career. Hey, 14 more games to work on it, right? You’re certainly on the right track, Red Rifle, and you’ve got the supporting cast to make up for your bad days.
It’s The Numbers, Stupid (Part 1)

After two games, Alex Smith has more rushing yards than the entire New York Giants team. That’s Alex Smith, the quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs.

What Are You Doing, Richard Sherman?

I’m not a fool, and I’m not going to dismiss the man’s talent; he’s at the very least a top-5 CB at this point in his career. But can this man open his mouth without making an absolute fool out of himself? Putting a microphone and camera in front of him is akin to filming a train wreck; if you don’t cringe at the results, you need to reassess some things.

What Are You Doing, Nmdamakong Suh?

Nothing. We’re going to be keeping a tally on Suh this year, folks. So far, he’s one for two in terms of getting through 60 minutes of football without a deliberate attempt to maim, insult, or end another player’s career. Is his glass half empty, or half full?

It’s The Numbers, Stupid (Part 2)

The top defense in the league after two weeks (Seattle) is giving up a whopping 5 points per game. The worst defense (Washington) is giving up 35.5.

It’s The Numbers, Stupid (Part 3)

Between the three of them, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers (!) have thrown a combined 23 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. In two games. Two of these teams have played the Washington Redskins.

Weekly Awards

QB Of the Week: EJ Manuel. I can’t imagine a better scenario to get your first NFL win for a QB. I think you just might have found your guy this time, Buffalo.

RB Of The Week: Marshawn Lynch. Beast Mode wasn’t in full swing, but against the 49ers defense, that stat line looked awfully impressive. Without him, Seattle might still have won, but to a less impressive tune of 9-3 or something silly like that.

WR Of The Week: Julio Jones. Questionable all week, game-time decision on sunday? 11 Receptions, 182 yards and a TD. When do we start calling him Atlanta’s #1 target?

Offensive Line Of The Week: Seattle Seahawks. It ties in with the Lynch pick, but they also played the majority of the game without their stud LT and (mostly) manhandled the vaunted 49ers D regardless.

Defensive Performance Of The Week: Kansas City Chiefs. I honestly don’t care what the pundits say, that Dallas offense is dangerous, and holding it to one touchdown is an impressive feat. Dontari Poe may not be the bust we thought he was last year after all.

Goat Of The Week: Eli Manning. Hell, I feel terrible about this pick, but 4 interceptions against a defense that certainly isn’t as good as that number might seem just…the lack of a running game generated all those throws, but Eli is supposed to be the calmer, cooler Manning brother, and this was obviously the biggest game of the year so far for the Giants.

Coach Of The Week: Sean Payton. Remember John Harbaugh’s words: “It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t perfect, but nothing ever is.” The playcalling on that game-winning drive could not have been more perfect if it was scripted in Hollywood. In a game that close, knowing how to deliver the knockout punch at the last second is something that was missing from this team without Payton on the sideline in 2012.

Kev’s Fantasy/Pick ‘Em Standings

Big fantasy letdown after a 3-0 start in all leagues, as I turned around and lost big in all three leagues, including a particularly embarrassing beatdown courtesy of my brother.

An impressive 11-4 this week picking winners, 20-11 on the year after two weeks. There are people who get paid to do this who have worse numbers (it’s true, I looked it up). In the goofy words of Deion Sanders, “Pay That Man”. That man being me.

Just as an aside, I apologize to anyone who started Jared Cook or sat Matt Ryan in fantasy due to my advice. I’m not always right, but when I’m wrong, especially when advising my readers, I feel a sense of responsibility to at least offer an apology. Seeing as how I lost in three different fantasy leagues, however, don’t expect any sympathy from me this week. That well is dry at the moment.

What’s Next?

Dolphins are 2-0 on the road to start the season, but I am dreading our home opener. Atlanta is not a team to trifle with, and are by far the toughest test so far. It sickens me to pick against my team, but I’m leaning towards Atlanta (but it’ll be close, I promise you that).

Thursday night matchups are, generally speaking, terrible and get progressively worse as the season goes on. Andy Reid’s Philadelphia homecoming may be the best Thursday game of the year, so don’t miss it. Those fans are going to be bouncing, one way or another, for four quarters and then some.

The Giants and Redskins will have prime opportunities to patch their sinking ships this week, with favorable matchups against the Panthers and Lions, respectively. I know the Lions can rack up the points, but they’ll be traveling this week, and they’re not exactly a force to be reckoned with on the road. If either of these teams fall to 0-3, it’s time to start seriously considering major changes across their rosters going forward. The NFC East can be won by a team that starts 0-3, of that I have no doubt…but do you really want to have to win it like that?

To me, the most intriguing game this week will be Cincinnati and Green Bay. If the Bengals take that game, and Baltimore looks as ugly as they did in their 14-6 win over the lowly Browns in this week’s game against the Texans…well, it’s never too early to start thinking my preseason Power Rankings may have been incorrect.

The 49ers already got the doubt train rolling on that front.

Final Thoughts

The NFL is a pass-first league, but if you can’t run the ball at least averagely, you’re not going to go far. The majority of Superbowl winners in the past decade have had running games that ranked in the top half of the league during that particular regular season. Anyone who watches playoff football closely knows especially how important it is to control the clock, keeping the ball out of the hands of the likely elite QB on the other sideline. Just something to keep in mind as the season progresses, and certain playoff hopefuls struggle to get their ground games going.

I love the NFL Network, but I also have my criticisms. The most obvious is their desire to utilize former players as analysts. If you’re going to do this, try to choose those who can do more than look good in front of a camera. Anyone who tells me Deion Sanders, Michael Irvin or Warren Sapp are good at their new jobs can buy a bridge off of me. Dirt cheap.

Larry Fitzgerald, if you’re reading this, I own you in each of my three fantasy leagues. If you’re up for it, I can get you the HGH you need. I’m not a trained doctor or rehab specialist, but I’ll also fly to Arizona and spend the flight reading books on hamstring injuries and how to treat them, and do whatever I can to get you back to where you need to be. Just let me know.

Never forget the butt fumble. Never forget.

Until next time, remember this: Eli is a one sharp punch to Peyton’s shoulder away from getting even for what happened Sunday. Anyone with a brother will understand how and why it works this way.

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