Okay, now it’s all starting to make sense.
No, really. It is. The picture is coming into focus. The fog is clearing. The light is rising.
Just don’t think about Tampa Bay. Or New Orleans. Or New England, Buffalo, Washington, Carolina, Philadelphia.
Ignore all that.
Go Fins Go!
Far above my expectations, the Dolphins were at home in London and the Raiders were…well, there. I can’t take too much from this game beyond the W and some renewed confidence in Ryan Tannehill. Also a nice little caveat that we were the team to force the first head coach firing of 2014. Too bad that doesn’t count in the standings, too.
It Makes Sense
So, these apparent upsets? These games where the better team isn’t better for a game? Well, I’m starting to figure them out. After four weeks of truly unexpected outcomes in around half of the games, I’m on the case. Here’s how this week’s ‘upsets’ break down:
Pittsburgh Loses, Buccaneers Can’t Refuse Win
Head honcho Mike Tomlin summed it up perfectly during his post-game press conference. You cannot expect to beat anyone when you’re penalized so often. This only tells a small part of the story, however. This is a team in Pittsburgh, much like all the good-but-not-great teams that make up the vast middle of the pack of the NFL, that has a hard time balancing themselves out from one week to the next. Riding the high of the victory over Carolina, the Steelers were not only undisciplined, but simply unprepared to take a game they held by a thread for 58 minutes. The great teams will seal that deal, even if it is at the last second. The good teams will often find a way to lose their grip. I love the look of the Steelers right now, but I would expect them to lose four or five more games in similar fashion before the year is out. They’re getting there…
…and the Buccaneers are getting nowhere. Despite my claim of them being as bad as they appeared, they managed to win against a superior opponent. But, mark my words, this team is a handful of plays from disaster every single week. The margin for error is so slim that, save for a few pivotal defensive plays, they would have lost whether or not Pittsburgh tried to hand it to them.
Missing Pieces For Panthers, One Fits Nicely In Baltimore
First, and as usual, I’d like to admit I was wrong about Steve Smith this week. I couldn’t look past my gut feeling when it comes to hype and how it almost always leads to a letdown.
If, by ‘blood and guts’, Smith meant ‘yards and touchdowns’, he delivered both in ample quantities.
Smith’s invaluable assistance in balancing the Ravens’ offense is just one piece of their overall improved team this season. Likewise, Smith’s absence, while visible in a receiving corps that features rookie Kelvin Benjamin and not much else, is just one factor of the Panthers’ decline.
Looking at it in-depth, the defense just isn’t the same without The Kraken (Greg Hardy) on the line. I think the gaps in their defense run deeper, but they’ve been out-muscled and outplayed the past two weeks on that side of the ball, and you can only look at what they’re missing from last year to explain why this year is any different. Still might be an illusion, a hiccup, but I’m starting to doubt it.
The Saints…or the Aints?
This is tough to figure out. I predicted an upset at the hands of a Cowboys team who, I assumed, hadn’t forgotten the shelling they took in New Orleans last year. But, by the end of this game, it didn’t feel like an upset.
It felt like the better team had won.
I’m not sure I believe that, but what other choice do we have but to? Dallas is playing smart, efficient football, a revelation that suddenly seemed to dawn on them. The truth is actually much more simple: they’ve drafted and cultivated a formidable offensive line, which in turn is allowing DeMarco Murray to shine and Tony Romo has more room to operate. It’s a beautiful domino effect that may or may not be allowing the previously suspect defense in Dallas to play far above expectations so far.
Take all that, and compare it to what the Saints have done.
For starters (and perhaps in closing, too), Rob Ryan’s defense is not what it was last year. It isn’t even close. Why? I don’t know. Overcomplication, more of the same, new pieces not coalescing, young players not maturing. The reasons are not evident, but the results are plain as day depressing. On the other side, Drew Brees has no excuses. The offense looks almost exactly the same as 2013 (minus Darren Sproles, which I don’t think is enough of an excuse to justify their recent struggles). The running game is there, the offensive line is decent enough, just…I don’t know. It’s starting to make sense that the Saints are a poor road team. Hell, we’ve seen that for years now. But they can’t expect to be blown out of the water when they’re away from home and still achieve their long-term goals.
Doug Marrone Plays Politics, Achieves Nothing
There is zero justification for the benching of E.J. Manuel for Kyle Orton. Zero. In his second year, Manuel has made his share of mistakes…but he’s also made some excellent plays as well. This sort of balancing act is what most teams come to accept from young signal callers, as long as they see progress. We see progress, and so do they.
New ownership is shaking the system up at the worst possible time for Buffalo: when they’re close to being relevant again.
Marrone has taken responsibility for the QB change, but his reasons are ridiculous. Behind the scenes, I can only assume that Marrone and the management are concerned about their jobs, believe that winning now is the only way to keep them, and think Orton has more potential to make that happen. I think he does, too, but what happens when/if he doesn’t?
This is a bad situation that just didn’t need to happen. They’ve lost two in a row, but they’re still growing. They may have just stopped the growth of their most crucial piece.
Kirk Cousins…Cam Newton…Nick Foles…Oh no.
Three young, promising, talented QBs.
They all lost this week. Their teams helped, but not one of them helped tip the scales in the opposite direction.
Cousins looked the worst, throwing four interceptions, three of which were blatantly his fault.
Foles and the Eagles offense did less against the 49ers’ banged up defense than anyone could have predicted. It brought to mind last year’s shaky performance from Foles against Dallas. It’s something you don’t expect to trend, but hate to see. Unless you’re a 49ers fan.
Newton is so banged up right now, especially after this week’s game, that I’m not sure he should be taking the field. If the RB corps wasn’t a M.A.S.H. unit, I think the Panthers would be able to win without him. As it is, I don’t know if they can win much either way.
Let’s just hope it continues this way, shall we?
Alright. All bias aside, what’s going on in New England needs clarification. A week or two more of similarly terrible performances will clear things up. As it stands, I’m not ready to sign off on this team, and nobody else should be, either. They’re the high standard of NFL adaptability, and until they show otherwise, you can’t count them out.
But you can want to. You might have even wanted to for the past thirteen years of your life. Like some of us…
First Quarter Power Rankings Coming This Week!
Yep, it’s that time already. First month of the year is in the books, and now we take stock of where the teams sit based strictly on what they’ve done so far. So, just for clarification and also an early taste of the rankings, don’t expect to see the Seahawks sitting at #1. They haven’t been the best team in the NFL so far this year. That much should be clear to anyone.
Oh, and kudos to the teams that won this week. Particularly the Packers, who needed it in the worst way and got it in the best way; within their division. R.E.L.A.X.
QB Of The Week: The NFC North doesn’t like to share, but Aaron Rodgers and Teddy Bridgewater both deserve it this week. The young Bridgewater looked excellent in his debut start, and Rodgers looked like Rodgers; the best QB in the NFL.
RB Of The Week: Welcome back, Jamaal Charles. It’s amazing how one man can plug a leaking ship, isn’t it?
WR Of The Week: Mr. Blood and Guts. Good show, old man.
Offensive Line Of The Week: The Cowboys might have the best offensive line in football. They certainly continue to put their stamp on opponents, doing it in particularly efficient fashion against the Saints this week.
Defensive Performance Of The Week: Many teams won on the strength of their D this week, but no team needed a better performance, and received it, than the 49ers. The Eagles went nearly the entire game without a single offensive snap on their opponent’s side of the 50 yard line.
Goat Of The Week: As if it was all Dennis Allen’s fault. He left the team in better shape than they were when he arrived, and sitting at 0-4, that’s saying something. Tony Sparano is going to celebrate field goals until he’s out on his ass, and if anyone actually thinks Jon Gruden is coming back to town at this point, they’re as delusional as Mark Davis is in not firing his GM.
Coaching Performance Of The Week: The Brothers Harbaugh share it this week. John laid out the perfect plan against the Panthers, and Jim inspired his team to a huge victory. The fact that Jim is actually being accused by some idiot who used to be a great football player (unnamed source who I can only refer to as “21”) of losing his locker room, after that kind of victory, is so laughable that I cannot believe media outlets have run with the story and were dumb enough to start questioning Niners players about it.
Who’s got it better than Jim? Noooooo….uh….somebody. Or somebodies. I don’t like the guy, but please, do us all a favor and…
Tomorrow, the Vikings and Packers will meet up for the year’s best NFC North divisional matchup to date. Believe me, it’s going to be a good one.
Can the Panthers right the ship with the Bears coming to town? Can two ships be righted in one game?
Philadelphia should be able to bounce back smoothly against a struggling Rams squad. They damn well better, because my plate is full trying to figure out all these upsets and poor performances from (apparently) strong teams.
Same deal with New Orleans hosting the Bucs. You don’t lose at home against lesser talent, New Orleans. Don’t you dare…
I’m somewhat intrigued by the Texas bowl, being played in Jerryworld. I want to see if J.J. Watt can single-handedly stop what has been the best offense in the NFL for the past few weeks.
I don’t doubt it.
Ravens. Colts. Big stuff. Tune in.
The winners of these two will instantly change perceptions and/or cement their standing. Bigger stuff.
Early condolences to Redskins fans.