Previously on “What We Learned”
First let me say that I am not the type of writer to hide from my mistakes. So, lets begin Week 2 by looking back at Week 1. First off:
1. Jay Cutler has a lot of work to do.
Its difficult to say I got this one wrong. He did some work, cut down on the mistakes and gave his team the position to win the game against the defending Super Bowl champs. So I’ll chalk that one up as a correct assumption.
2. The Patriots are not going 16-0
Patriots- 9, Jets 16
3. The Titans are in it for the Long Haul.
While divisional games are always wonky, its two weeks in a row that the Titans defense has underperformed when it mattered most. And after watching the Texans get battered by the Jets, I had no reason to assume they would bounce back against a ferocious Titans defense. And so I benched Matt Schaub in my fantasy league. Yeah, not so much. The Titans could be in for trouble if they dont shape up.
4. The Browns are not as bad as they were a year ago.
They are worse :S
5. Philadelphia is the best team in the National Football Conference
I maintain that with a healthy McNabb, this team is the team to beat. But given that McNabb can’t stay healthy, it looks like that mantle has fallen to the Saints.
Record: 2-3 (Not a bad kickoff to the season)
Upsets: Obviously I did not expect all 4 upset picks to be accurate, but 2 came true (Baltimore, hardly an upset and New England). Upsets I missed: Houston over Tennessee and Chicago over Pittsburgh.
Lock: No Surprises there, got that one right.
Now on to What We Learned From Week 2:
5 Things We Learned
1. The Giants are Not Going to Miss Plax
Despite their poor performance at the end of last season, the Giants do not lose their top dog spot due to the recent incarceration of their previous #1 receiver Plaxico Burress. Despite having no run game (3.7 ypc) and a defense like a sive but for big plays (251 yards rushing by the Boys), Eli Manning won a football game. Eli has, for years, lived in the shadow of New York’s vaunted run game and defense. Tiki Barber and Michael Strahan loomed over him like the Empire State Building, eclipsing any achievement. But it appears that Eli has finally arrived.
With a slew of under-experienced receivers, Eli orchestrated a late drive to win against a wild Dallas squad playing in the Palace of Football. Mario Manningham and Steve Smith the Younger combined for 20 receptions, 284 yards and 2 Touchdowns. All of this without a “big play” receiver to take away the safety coverage over top. Now, this is perhaps a quality of playing a rapidly questionable Dallas defense, but still, with no run game and a victory on the line, Eli took his team and won the game. That is the sign of a Franchise Quarterback.
2. The Ravens are the Best Team in the NFL.
With the Colts looking sluggish at times (despite their heroics in Miami), the Steelers getting punched in the mouth by the Bears, the Saints giving up 22 points to Kevin Kolb and the Vikings not playing anybody, the Ravens are the top of the pack. As much as it pains me to say it, I was wrong about Joe Flacco and his receiving corp. I thought the sophmore slump was inevitable, but thus far the Ravens look unstoppable. With their defense and that offense, this team is the presumptive (way way too early) Super Bowl favorite from the AFC.
Flacco is currently on pace for 4o touchdowns (not happening), 16 interceptions (probably not having) and nearly 4,000 yards (not likely). However, does 3,400 yards, 28 touchdowns, 12 interceptions sound too unreasonable? And with a refreshed Willis McGahee and a rejuvinated (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldY2pInMyR4) Ray Lewis, who can honestly stop this team? Now, i’m not going to crown them 16-0 yet, but with a Steelers O-line like that, and the Ravens defense flying around as it is, it seems to be a big time point in the Baltimore camp. The only point to worry about, the Ravens have allowed the 23rd most points of any team through two weeks. Although most of that has been in special teams, its still a worrysome number.
3. The Packers defense is not elite.
at least, not yet. The Packers came out hot in week one, taking the ball away from the Bears a lot. But hidden behind that defensive performance was a lot of yards given up on the ground and through the air. Then against a team which struggled to score against a confusing Denver defense, the Pack let up 31 points. Carson Palmer scored 4 touchdowns on his own and Cedric Benson put up a buck 41 on the ground. Benson has a career average of 3.7 yards per carry, but put up a 4.9 ypc average against the Pack. Green Bay sits at mediocre in the defensive rankings, not where they wanted to be when they made the 3-4 switch.
Many people thought that the struggling Packers defense would be boosted by the presence of Dom Capers and the 3-4. I was not, and am still not, one of those people. The 4-3 to 3-4 transition is a difficult one, and with aging corners and safeties battling injuries, it becomes even more difficult. And if not for the offensive collapse of Jay Cutler, we could be talking about the 0-2 Packers right now. With Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, Jay Cutler in Chicago and Megatron in Detroit, the Packers are in an offensively loaded division. If the defense continues to be shaky, don’t expect the Packers to be playing in January.
4. The Denver Broncos are unknown, and fraudulent.
The Broncos won week 1 by the grace of immaculate receptions, a tipped pass into the hands of Brandon Stockley running into the endzone untouched. Without that play, Orton is throwing for 156 yards and a 72.9 rating. One accident and it goes up to 100.7. Beyond that, it was all Cincinnati, who managed a bucket load of points on Green Bay. However, the win gave McDaniels some breathing room going into the home opener despite a poor showing of offensive firepower and the virtual dissapearance of Denver’s best weapon in Brandon Marshall. Then, in week 2 the Broncos (aided by the bad snap of first round center Alex Mack) put up a meager 10 points in the first half against the Browns before blowing the doors open in the second. So, is Denver back?
The answer is no. They may end up 3-0 to start the season (due to the inconsistent Bengals, the terrible Browns and the out of sync Raiders) but with 8 straight games against .500+ teams over the next 9 weeks and games against Indy and Phily to round out the last 4 weeks, the Broncos are going to get destroyed. They may end the season at 8-8 but they will limp to it. The defense is still a big question mark, and the offense has not yet been challenged. Their cheif playmaker is non-existent and their offensive line is not as sturdy as it has been in the past. With all of that in mind, does anyone really think the Broncos go 10-6 or better against the likes of Dallas, new England, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and San Diego?
5. The Saints are the 2005 Bengals.
Remember back in 2005 when Cincinnati finally climbed the mountain and reached the playoffs? They had a semi-decent run defense and scoring defense and a pretty bad pass defense that managed a lot of turnovers. And if not for the Steelers knocking Carson Palmer out of the post-season who knows how far they could have gone. Well right now the Saints have an unstoppable offense based soley upon their Quarterback, a semi-decent run and scoring defense and a pass d that can create turnovers but little else. Now, if Drew Brees stays healthy, who knows how long they’ll run. The Saints will continue to be a dominant force and baring injury will win the AFC South.
The Big 5 and the Little 5
1. Baltimore (2-0): Best combo of offense and defense thus far.
2. Minnesota (2-0): With perfect games like Favre just had, its hard to pick against Minnesota.
3. New Orleans (2-0): Nigh unstoppable on offense, mediocre on defense.
4. Philadelphia (1-1): I maintain that a healthy McNabb beats New Orleans
5. Atlanta (2-0)/New England (1-1): The winner of this game proves a lot next week.
5. Jacksonville (0-2): After blowing the Indy game, they laid an egg against a fitful Arizona.
4. Kansas City (0-2): Down 2 in division with a pathetic performance against Oakland.
3. Cleveland (0-2): Cleveland has the best first half defense in the league, worst in the 2nd.
2. St. Louis (0-2): Against a sloppy Washington, the Rams looked sloppier.
1. Detroit (0-18)
1. New York Giants (2-0) @ Tampa Bay (0-2)
The Giants are rolling into Tampa Bay well aware that they are the better team. Eli is coming off a huge performance aganinst the Big D, while Tampa is coming off a failed performance in their first ever trip to Buffalo. However, there is more to this game than that. Tampa is a 9 win team from a year ago who has some offensive fire power. Against good defenses in Buffalo (held New England for 3 quarters and Dallas which shut down New York’s run game. The Buccs have compiled over 500 yards passing and Leftwhich has more touchdowns than picks thus far. And if Cadillac can explode againt the Giants, New York could be in for a serious suprise on the road in Tampa.
2. Cleveland (0-2) @ Baltimore (2-0)
Unlikely, but nutty things happen in rivalry games. Baltimore is supremely confident and may be caught looking forward to a big game against the Patriots in week 4. With the Browns against a wall, desperate for a win and Brady Quinn in serious need of a good game, Cleveland could be a prototypical “Trap Game” for Baltimore. The Ravens’ weakness is their special teams, so a big game from Josh Cribbs and Phil Dawson (of the “Bounce” fame) would be a necessity if the Browns want to sneak one in on the Ravens at home.
3. Denver (2-0) at Oakland (0-2)
The Raiders are another team, like Cleveland, playing against a divisional rival with nothing to lose. The Broncos seemingly have nothing to lose. McDaniels is now assured after two wins that his way is the correct way, and that all the moves he has thus far made will pan out. Meanwhile Tom Cable is under seige. Failures at Quarterback, defensive collapses and mistakes are going to haunt him all season if he doesn’t shape up soon. Starting 0-3 could end the Cable Era before it really begins, and he can’t allow that to happen. After nearly doing it to the Chargers and the Chiefs, I think the Raiders could very well get their first divisional win this weekend.
4. Washington (1-1) at Detroit (0-2)
The “sexy” pick for an upset. But given Washington’s offensive performance and Detroit’s, who can be surprised. It could come down to a shootout in the Motor City, winner being the team who gets the ball with 2 minutes left.
Stone Cold Lock
Jacksonville at Houston- The Texans right now are rolling off a huge confidence building victory over their rivals in Tennessee last week. The Jags meanwhile are on the ropes, and while they are a desperate team (and therefore dangerous to pick against) they just don’t have the defense to keep Andre Johnson in check. Derrelle Revis did it, but he also kept Randy Moss contained. As good as Mathis is, he is not going to be able to shut down Andre Johnson by himself, meaning that already suspect defensive line will be left on an island. I expect big things out of Steve Slaton this week as the Texans handle the Jaguars at home for a big win to go 2-1, with two division wins.
Matchups to Watch
1. Jim Zorn vs Jim Schwartz- One coach who has been an epic failure in the redzone against a defensive guru looking for his first stand. This one could decide the fate of Jim Zorn in Washington.
2. Peyton Manning vs. Kurt Warner- Two old dog QB’s battling it out through the air to overcome their pathetic defenses. Winner will be the man who audibles at the line the most.
3. Tennesse Running Game vs. New York Jets Defense- The premier matchup of the week in my book, watching the Titans batter themselves against the Jets wall of defense will be an exciting matchup and could well determine if the Titans have any shot at the playoff this year.
4. Jay Cutler vs. Ken Lucas- With their starting corner out, the Seahawks will call upon Ken Lucas to keep Jay Cutler from unloading on them. If I’m Seattle I am very very worried about this matchup.
5. Pittsburgh v. Cincinnati- Are the Bengals for real? We’ll found out.