Posts Tagged ‘week 4’

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It doesn’t seem to matter who the Broncos put in at QB, they keep winning games.

For some reason, I can’t seem to learn. The Denver Broncos have been good, no, great, for over a year now and I continue to deny them the credit they deserve. I picked against them a lot in big games last year, throughout the playoffs, and in the Super Bowl. My most egregious error, however, was previewing the AFC this offseason without even mentioning them.

Why? Why do I keep making this mistake? It’s because they haven’t had a QB I can trust. I’ve strongly believed (and still do, to a lesser extent) that the QB position is by far the most important position in today’s NFL and if you don’t have a great QB, you won’t win a Super Bowl. The Broncos proved me wrong last year and have carried their winning streak into 2016 with two rookie QBs, neither of which we have reason to believe are spectacular talents (yet). At 4-0, the Broncos are proving they can do it again without a great QB. They could very well not win the Super Bowl this year, but their sustained dominance gives us a look into something much more profound: with all the other pieces in place, teams don’t have to “get lucky” with the QB position.

That may sound really obvious, but it should be a comfort to many teams like Cleveland or Los Angeles. The Browns in particular have been searching for “that guy” for two decades now, using top pick after top pick on draft busts. They watch as teams like the Patriots and Steelers have struck gold with franchise QBs, allowing them to build a great cast around them on the way to multiple Super Bowls. They’ve also watched the Seahawks and Ravens find amazing QBs late in the draft, when they weren’t even looking for a franchise guy. Maybe one of these years the Browns will get lucky and find their Russel Wilson. Or maybe they can do it like Denver and pad their defense and offensive cast using the deep pool of talent from college.

This obviously isn’t as easy as it sounds. Realistically, teams like the Browns and Rams are already trying this and have to suffer through 6-win seasons and high coach turnover. It’ll be tough for a lot of teams to get it right, but we’re already seeing signs that a few are on the cusp. The Cowboys, Eagles, and Vikings (combined 8-1) have had amazing success out of the gate without elite QB play. Yes, Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz look very good so far, but do they look like instant franchise guys? They could turn out to be, but the point is they don’t have to be. Prescott and Wentz are helping their teams win games through ball protection and sustained drives. Neither rookie has cracked the top 15 in passing yards or TDs, but both lead the league in fewest interceptions thrown (none). More to the point, the Minnesota Vikings look like a top 5 team with Sam Bradford at the helm. We know Bradford. He hasn’t changed, but his team has. He now has an unbelievable defense behind him and a great coach to give him the plays necessary to succeed. Instead of the Rams looking for Bradford to guide them, it’s now the Vikings looking to guide Bradford. In the past, it didn’t appear this has been the “way” to win the Super Bowl. Now the Broncos have done it this way and so far it doesn’t appear to be a fluke.

It’d be great to see a league emerge where QBs can be relied upon less than they are now. It’s not particularly fun to see the Browns search for a QB year after year. With the college system producing so few NFL-ready QBs these days, it’s almost necessary to see teams win a different way. The Broncos may not have a Tom Brady or Big Ben, but they’ve been the best team in the NFL for a while now. It’s up to the rest of the league to catch up.

New Orleans joined the big boys with their convincing win over Miami.

New Orleans joined the big boys with their convincing win over Miami.

With Week 4 in the books and Week 5 almost upon us, the NFL has reached the quarter mark of the season. Plenty of performances warrant my attention this week. Tennessee and Detroit grabbed their impressive third win when supposedly “better” teams struggled, or are still struggling, to get their first. Philip Rivers and Reggie Bush, assumed to have already reached the peak of their ability, rolled out huge performances in their teams’ wins. I could talk all day about these surprise teams and players, but I want to use this post to talk about the teams that are really taking care of business. The big boys, the undefeateds, the elites, however you want to put it. There are five teams–Denver, Seattle, New Orleans, New England, and Kansas City–remaining without a loss and while they are all playing at a high level, they are doing so in different ways.

First, let’s take a look back in time. One year ago, only three 4-0 teams remained: Atlanta, Houston, and Arizona. The Falcons nearly went all the way, falling to the Niners in the NFC Championship. Houston made it into the playoffs as the AFC South champ, but once again exited early as they had in 2012. And Arizona……..well, their 5-11 record should speak for itself. So which one of the elite teams this year are destined for an extended season like Atlanta’s and which will crumble under the pressure like Arizona?

Who can stop Peyton Manning?

Who can stop Peyton Manning?

The Denver Broncos are the team topping most people’s lists and Power Rankings, including mine. Can you really blame them? The Broncos lead the league with 179 points scored–that’s nearly 45 a game–and Peyton Manning is playing at an unprecedented level. You can marvel at his 138.8 passer rating or 75% completion, but what stands out to me is his 16:0 TD-INT ratio. Peyton is healthy both physically and mentally and it shows when he can avoid throwing any picks while putting the ball in the endzone 16 times. He’s utilizing his weapons so well, finding his new target Wes Welker for six touchdowns. The truly staggering aspect of the receiving corp is the fact that Welker doesn’t even lead the team in yards. He’s third behind Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas. When defenses have to think about a playmaker like Welker as the third biggest threat, the offense is scary good. This doesn’t mean Denver doesn’t have weaknesses. The secondary has been exposed by skilled QBs like Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, and Michael Vick for chunks of yards. They’ll be facing even better QBs in the future that could get on a roll and put up a lot of points. A defense that can contain Peyton’s offense to under 25 points could have a shot at upending the Denver Broncos. After all, Denver hasn’t been facing the stiffest competition. Their opponents’ combined record is an abysmal 3-12. But even having said that, I don’t see a team that can stop Denver in the near future. A Week 7 challenge in Indy will likely be their toughest upcoming game.

Seattle is considered by many to be the powerhouse of the NFC. Their 74-20 point differential at home is staggering, especially when you consider the fact that San Francisco was one of those two teams. Russell Wilson has picked up where he left off in 2012-13, making plays with his arm as well as his legs. What really makes Seattle strong is their ability to fluster QBs. They’re holding opposing QBs to just 56% completion and 3 TDs (only three teams have held QBs to less). Colin Kaepernick was lost in his game in Seattle, turning the ball over four times while throwing zero TDs. There is no denying that Seattle can play good D and dominate at home, but what happens when they’re forced out of their comfort zone? In their debut in Carolina, Seattle was held to just 12 points. The same struggles showed up in Houston when the Texans jumped out to a 20-3 lead. Seattle managed to escape with wins in both games but they may not get so lucky against better teams. Their next road test? Try next week in Indianapolis–who went 7-1 at home last year–led by a smart, mobile Andrew Luck.

If you ever doubt the influence of a good coach, take a look at the New Orleans Saints. With Sean Payton suspended for the year, New Orleans went 0-4 to kick off the 2012-13 season. With Sean Payton back, New Orleans is 4-0 and looking at a huge year. Among the five undefeateds, the Saints have faced the stiffest competition. Their opponents’ combined record is only 6-10, but big wins over Atlanta and Miami stand out. The Drew Brees-Jimmy Graham tandem is one of the best in the league, if not the best. The defense is consistently good, allowing just over 300 total yards per game (6th best) and 55 total points (5th best). Unlike Seattle, the Saints’ run game is slow and the offense relies on Drew Brees to generate points. So far, this hasn’t been a problem. But similar to Seattle, a tough road game might give New Orleans their first loss. They’ve only played one game on the road and it was a last second win over the 0-4 Bucs. I wouldn’t be surprised if New Orleans have one in the loss column by the time they get out of Chicago and New England. If they do happen to get through these two road tests, watch out.

New England is finding ways to win with the pieces they have.

New England is finding ways to win with the pieces they have.

New England is the team that interests me most out of these five. They escaped with ugly wins against Buffalo and New York and followed them up with a blowout over Tampa and a dominating road performance in Atlanta. Tom Brady isn’t putting up the kinds of numbers he usually does but the fact that he’s winning with a huge lack of weapons, notably Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, speaks volumes. Peyton Manning is torching secondaries with all kinds of offensive help but Brady is having to be resourceful, finding unproven rookies like Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson in the open. Brady has done a fantastic job so far but the road is already getting tougher. The loss of DE Vince Wilfork for the year is a significant one and Cincy and New Orleans sit on the horizon. The mark of a truly great team is their ability to win in adverse situations. New England has been placed in an adverse position. Now can they win?

Last but certainly not least is Kansas City. The Chiefs are the feel good story of the year. Having won just two games in 2012-13, KC has turned it around with new personnel and are on the early road to a playoff berth. New QB Alex Smith has been playing smart, using his running ability to pick up crucial first downs. Jamaal Charles is a strong asset in the backfield as always. What is leading the charge, however, is the KC defense. The D is tearing up offenses, notably those from the NFC East, with 12 takeaways (leads AFC) and 41 total points allowed (second only to Seattle). In case you didn’t forget, this is the same Kansas City that fielded one of the worst defenses in 2012-13. Andy Reid has done a fantastic job so far in turning this team around. They’ve been winning comfortably and have put Alex Smith at ease. But when the time comes where Alex Smith has to make plays late in games, will he be that QB? These are the games that will determine if KC is ready for the playoffs.

In case you’re not caught up, I’m posting Power Rankings every two weeks this season. Substantial jumps and falls in the ranks should be expected. Weeks 3 and 4 didn’t clear up everything, but it certainly gave us a better indication as to where these teams stand. I’m especially excited at the prospect of unexpected success, like the kind we’re seeing in Tennessee, San Diego, Detroit, and Kansas City. Which of these teams are showing us their true colors? Weeks 5 and 6 may answer even more questions. After four weeks in the books, here’s where each team stands:

The ELITE

1. Denver Broncos (0)-A couple more offensive explosions–giving them 179 points scored on the year–should leave no doubt in anybody’s mind as to who’s playing the best football right now.

2. Seattle Seahawks (0)-Another road scare at Houston doesn’t exactly convince me that Seattle can excel on the road. Nevertheless, I have to give them credit for hanging in the game and winning their fourth straight.

3. New Orleans Saints (↑2)With Sean Payton back at the helm and Drew Brees playing at his consistently elite level, it’s safe to say the Saints are back.

4. New England Patriots (↑6)Last week I said the Pats need to figure it out on offense to stay undefeated. Racking up 30 on the road in Atlanta is exactly the kind of performance I needed to see from a resourceful New England team. 

 

The GOOD

5. Indianapolis Colts (↑12)After struggling against Oakland and losing to Miami, Indianapolis made a statement on the road in San Francisco. This team looks scary when they are on.

6. Kansas City Chiefs (↑7)It’s an all-around effort in KC, where Alex Smith is making smart throws (only two picks) and the defense is keeping every team under 17 points thus far. That’s a formula for success. With the Titans and Raiders on the slate, a 6-0 start for these new-look Chiefs is a real possibility.

7. San Francisco 49ers (↓4)-Two bad losses to Seattle and Indy can’t be ignored, but I trust Jim Harbaugh to have this team on track following the dominating win in St. Louis.

miami-dolphins-logo-hi-res-20138. Miami Dolphins (↑4)One bad loss to the Saints is the only blemish on Miami’s otherwise great start. Picking up a win against the Ravens the following week will go a long way for the team’s psyche.

9. Baltimore Ravens (↑2)-I loved what the Ravens showed me against the Texans, but I hated what I saw against the Bills just as much. That’s a game Baltimore probably feels they could have won. Their response in Miami next week will show me if they have what it takes to go the distance this season.

10. San Diego Chargers (↑4)With 1,199 passing yards, 11 TDs, only 2 picks, and a 118.8 passer rating, Philip Rivers is one of the top three QBs in the league right now. San Diego needs to pick up wins while Philip is hot.

11. Houston Texans (↓3)Houston’s issues finally caught up with them. After escaping with wins against San Diego and Tennessee, the Texans paid dearly against Baltimore and got bit late by Seattle. A tough contest at San Francisco might mean a third-straight loss for the underachieving Texans.

12. Cincinnati Bengals (↓3)At 2-2, you might say Cincinnati’s division champ bid isn’t going well so far. Lucky for them, the rest of the AFC North is struggling at 2-2 or worse. Still, I have to believe that Cincy’s play will need to improve if they want the AFC North crown.

13. Green Bay Packers (↓9)-Green Bay’s two losses have come in shootouts. A timely bye week should patch up some problems on defense. If not, it could be more of the same against a Detroit team who put up 40 on the Bears in Week 4.

14. Detroit Lions (↑6)-The one loss to Arizona is the only thing standing in the way of a 4-0 start. Hard to believe, but sure enough Detroit has come out of the gates playing tough and winning games.

 15. Chicago Bears (↓8)What looked to be a dream start for the Bears came to a screeching halt against the Lions. The 40-32 final score is a lot closer than the game really was and it might get ugly against an even better offensive Saints team next week. Can Chicago hold their own?

 

The AVERAGE

16. Atlanta Falcons (↓10)-Atlanta is without a doubt the best 1-3 team out there right now. They’ve lost to quality opponents, which is cause for concern come playoff time. Up next for Atlanta is the Jets, Bucs, Cards, and Panthers. If they aren’t 5-3 by Week 9, there is a real problem.

17. Tennessee Titans (↑10)He may not have been the most accurate QB, but Jake Locker was having a strong year. His hip injury will now sideline him for 4-8 weeks. Not the best time for your QB to go down with KC, Seattle, and San Francisco coming up.

18. Buffalo Bills (↑7)Don’t mess with the Bills at home. Unfortunately, half of Buffalo’s games are on the road and they might run into trouble. EJ Manuel’s work is cut out for him.

19. Dallas Cowboys (↓3)The Cowboys are certainly not playing like division leaders, but that’s where they find themselves. They need to take advantage of the good standing and pick up key wins against Washington and Philly in weeks 6 and 7.

20. Cleveland Browns (↑10)-Cleveland is putting itself in a position to win most games and have come away with two straight. Brandon Weeden’s injury may have been the break Cleveland needed, as Brian Hoyer has filled in nicely. With a rugged defense behind him, Hoyer won’t have to put up spectacular numbers for Cleveland to win.

21. Carolina Panthers (↑5)-The bye week (obviously) didn’t help me figure out Carolina. The big win over the Giants could be a mirage of success. With some easy teams coming up, the Panthers have a real chance to show me that they belong in the conversation with some of the better teams in the league.

 

The BAD

22. Arizona Cardinals (↓3)-I’m not afraid to admit that I don’t believe this team can compete until the very end. We’ll see where they are by week 10, after facing San Fran, Seattle, Atlanta, and Houston. It’s up to them to prove me wrong.

 23. New York Jets (↑5)New York’s poor performance in Tennessee was a bit of a reality check. Geno Smith is turning the ball over too much, putting immense pressure on the D to deal with tough field position.

24. Philadelphia Eagles (↓9)-It didn’t take long for Philly’s new offense to be figured out. Being efficient on offense, as Denver, KC, and San Diego were, keeps Vick and McCoy on the sidelines. This works against most teams, but Philly has yet to find a way get past it after three-straight losses.

25. Minnesota Vikings (↓4)-Minnesota finally broke out of the 0-fer club, but against the woeful Steelers. The bye week will need to be utilized well because Minnesota still has plenty of issues, starting with their worst-ranked pass defense.

26. Washington Redskins (↓2)All of Washington let out a sigh of temporary relief as they scraped past the Raiders. Can they possibly turn this into something to work off of?

27. New York Giants (↓5)-It’s a dark time for New York after being crushed late in their last three games. The team is still hopeful, but I can’t help but wonder when there first win will come. It may sound crazy, but thanks to an awful start for the NFC East, New York isn’t completely out of it yet.

28. St. Louis Rams (↓10)St. Louis was such a tough team to beat last year and things were sure looking up. They’ve been exposed early this season.

 

The UGLY

29. Pittsburgh Steelers (↓6)Big Ben says Pittsburgh may be the worst team in the league. I don’t think it’s quite that bad, but he’s not far off. What is this team doing?

30. Oakland Raiders (↑1)-Oakland may not be as bad as we first thought, but then again, their one win is against Jacksonville. Oakland just needs to focus on what they can do right and build on it each game.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (↓2)-Mike Glennon didn’t impress in his first start, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. How prepared will he be after a bye?

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0)-You know it’s bad when Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, and Oakland are finding comfort in saying, “Well at least we’re not as bad as Jacksonville.”

Biggest jump: Indianapolis Colts (↑12)

Biggest fall: St. Louis Rams, Atlanta Falcons (↓10)

Yikes, I really got hammered in my picks last week. My upsets are also taking a beating. I’ll chalk it up to being on the wrong end of a lot of close games. The Week 4 slate features eight interleague games, a category the AFC has dominated in so far. Unlike last week, one of the undefeateds has to fall this week as New Orleans hosts Miami on Monday night. Ironically, that may not even be the most intriguing matchup this week. New England heads to Atlanta and Seattle takes on Houston on the road. On another note, Green Bay and Carolina have byes. Here’s how things will shake out in Week 4, or so I think.

Last Week: 6-10 Overall: 26-22

Cold Hard Lock: 3-0 Upset Pick: 0-3

(Home teams are in CAPS)

Niners over RAMS

CHIEFS over Giants

Ravens over BILLS

Bengals over BROWNS

Bears over LIONS

Cardinals over BUCS

Colts over JAGUARS

Seahawks over TEXANS

VIKINGS over Steelers (played in London)

Jets over TITANS

Redskins over RAIDERS

BRONCOS over Eagles

Cowboys over CHARGERS

FALCONS over Patriots (SNF)

SAINTS over Miami (MNF)

Cold Hard Lock: BRONCOS over Eagles; For the lock, I’ll go with the best team in the league at their favorite place to play. Philadelphia’s offense started off hot against Washington in Week 1 but has been exposed by prepared defense coordinators. Denver’s defense will be able to handle whatever Philly throws at them. And if there is any doubt, let’s not forget about Peyton Manning, who is literally playing at a record-breaking level (most TDs in first three games ever).

Upset Pick: Jets over TITANS; Both squads are coming off a win and are surprisingly 2-1 at this point. Two wins in three weeks is hardly a reliable measure of future success but these guys know how important it is for them to win as many early games as they can. Tennessee is the favorite at home but I expect the so-called “laughing stock of the NFL” to have the last laugh. New York’s defense is impressive and will give Geno Smith plenty of opportunities to score. Mark down New York’s third win in four weeks as an early surprise in the NFL.

Tom Brady will need to use his limited weapons well to win in Atlanta.

Tom Brady will need to use his limited weapons well to win in Atlanta.

Game of the week: New England Patriots at Atlanta Falcons; Among a few great games this week, this one is my personal favorite. Who the heck are these teams? New England hasn’t played like one of the better 3-0 teams and no, a 20-point win over Tampa Bay isn’t convincing enough. A big win over the Falcons would hold a little more weight in my book. Speaking of which, Atlanta is 1-2! This is the same Falcons team with Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez being thrown to by Matt Ryan. To be fair, Atlanta’s two losses have come against 3-0 teams and all their games have been decided by a touchdown or less. This is why this game is so intriguing. I don’t know what to make of either team but I have a feeling we’ll have a better idea on Monday morning. Don’t miss this telling Sunday Night Football matchup.

Indianapolis led the charge in a huge week for the AFC.

Indianapolis led the charge in a huge week for the AFC.

At the start of the season, it didn’t look good for the AFC. Defending Super Bowl champ Baltimore was hit hard in the offseason, New England lost Wes Welker and others, Houston was expected to be good but not really a powerhouse of the league, and then to add insult to injury, New York, Jacksonville, and Oakland bottomed out the conference as perhaps the three worst teams in the NFL. Oh, and don’t forget the Browns. The one bright spot was Denver, a legitimate Super Bowl contender predicted by many to face one of the many superpowers from the NFC. Green Bay, San Francisco, Seattle, etc.

I include myself in these predictions. The NFL is always competitive, but there was no question in my mind who the dominant conference was. The NFC was, and still is, lined with potential.

Well here we are in Week 3 and the so-called weak AFC has come out playing angry. The first two weeks was an impressive start for the AFC, going 5-2 in interleague play. But Week 3 was when they really kicked it up a notch, shocking their NFC counterparts with six wins and only one loss. That’s 11-3 for the season, just to keep track.

The biggest statement came from the Indianapolis Colts on the road against the Niners. Four of Indy’s five losses came on the road last year and San Fran is dominant at home. Also, the 49ers are pretty damn good! The Colts didn’t care what was supposed to happen, they made their own headlines. It started with an unprecedented defensive performance out of the Colts, holding Colin Kaepernick to just 150 passing yards and no touchdowns. They harassed Kap all day, sacking him three times and forcing him to turn the ball over twice (fumble, int). It ended with a tremendous running game, led by Ahmad Bradshaw with 95 yards and a TD. Former Brown Trent Richardson also picked up 35 yards and a TD. Even Andrew Luck got in on the action, scrambling four times for 24 yards and a TD. It’s also important to note that not one Colt turned the ball over. The passing game wasn’t spectacular but it certainly still added to a fantastic all-around effort by the Indianapolis Colts. I’ll admit it, I did not see that one coming.

The Week 4 bye comes at a good time for the 1-2 Packers.

The Week 4 bye comes at a good time for the 1-2 Packers.

Indianapolis wasn’t the only team to earn a big win for the AFC. Cincinnati and Miami both scored late to stun two NFC playoff teams (Green Bay, Atlanta). Kansas City picked up its second-straight interleague win with a defensive shutdown of the Eagles. Even Cleveland shined behind the defense and Brian Hoyer in his first career start. The one win for the NFC came from Chicago–beating Pittsburgh–who incidentally has two of the three interleague wins for the NFC (Seattle has other).

So what’s the deal, NFC? Is this indicative of how the season will go?

It’s still early, of course. The NFC, although beat up these opening weeks, still has a lot of great teams that have yet to reach their potential. Expect the NFC to fight back throughout the course of this season. It’s certainly something we’ll have to keep an eye on. Next week will be a great chance to see how it continues to play out with a whopping eight interleague games on the Week 4 slate.

I couldn’t find good videos of some of the plays I liked this week, so here they are in gif form, sorry for the size and no sound. Feedback on these gifs is welcome.

Miami game-winner over Atlanta.

Miami game-winner over Atlanta.

Cleveland game-winner over Minnesota.

Cleveland game-winner over Minnesota.

Cincinnati game-winning fumble recovery over Green Bay.

Cincinnati game-winning fumble recovery over Green Bay.

 

 

Dolphin's huge hit on Atlanta return man,

Dolphin’s huge hit on Atlanta return man.