By: Shawn Davis
“Adversity” is a word that’s thrown around every week during the football season; you hear it in small snippets from coaches, players and the suits from the front office. It comes across as cliché most of the time because it’s robotic as a response. Analysts on television always pose the question of how a team will deal with it. Many teams faced their own brand of it but I want to highlight two teams before I focus on the first-quarter of the NFL season: the Patriots and the Bills.
Last week these two teams engaged in – probably – the best contest of the young season, where the Bills won 34-31 in thrilling fashion. Make no doubt about it, this game meant more to the Buffalo Bills because they hadn’t defeated the Patriots since opening day…back in 2003! Yeah, it’s been that long. In a sense, that was Buffalo’s Super Bowl and although it was an important division game for both teams, anyone with a bit of football knowledge knew that the Bills cared more about the outcome.
The adversity came in the aftermath; yesterday we saw the Patriots shrug off the loss to defeat a tough Raiders unit while the Bills dropped a game they absolutely had to have against the Bengals. Even though it’s a young season, they absolutely couldn’t afford to drop that one when 4-0 was a few minutes away. Why? Here are the next four games for the Bills: A home meeting with a desperate Eagles team, a road game at the NY Giants, followed by two more home games against the Redskins and Jets. How will Buffalo respond?
There’s a reason that the upper-echelon teams put away opponents that they should – the schedule will eventually put games in front of you that you’re not sure you can win. As the Bills stand at 3-1, in the span of a month it wouldn’t be all that shocking to see them drop the next four.
Going in another direction; what do we make of the Detroit Lions? They routinely spot opponents 20-point leads only to snatch the victory away in the last few minutes of the 4th quarter. It is exciting, but not a recipe to live by every week. Calvin Johnson has 8 tds in four games and is making opposing dbs look like the little brother trying to stop the older one. It’s basic pitch-and-catch between himself and Matthew Stafford. A glaring issue for the Lions is that they’re too Stafford-dependent; they have no running game to depend on. Someone will exploit that because it’s the NFL, right?
What about the 49ers? They sit at 3-1 and could be undefeated if not for a blown call in the secondary last week versus the Cowboys. They came out tough and beat a reeling Eagles team, 24-23. As someone who does like Alex Smith, it’s good to see him play well. When the playbook is opened he seems to respond – and exhibits flashes of being a solid starting quarterback.
Since I’ve returned from a brief hiatus, I’m going to make this a weekly piece (provided I don’t take any impromptu voyages, although I cannot make such promises…ha) and I’ll also do quarterly breakdowns of the season, i.e., week 4, 8, 12, 16; you get the point.
With a 32-team league, initially I wanted to do the breakdown in four divisions, with eight teams each, but the whole story may not be told in such a rigid manner so I’ll tweak accordingly; maybe. The easiest way to do this is from the bottom up so here goes:
Playing For The 2012 Draft
Minnesota (0-4), Miami (0-4), St. Louis (0-4), Indianapolis (0-4), Denver (1-3), Kansas City (1-3), Jacksonville (1-3), Seattle (1-3)
Yeah, it’s that sad already. Four games into the season and these teams are sitting in position to draft Stanford, super qb, Andrew Luck. Weird to see the Colts here, right? Well, Manning being on the shelf with another neck surgery does that for a team. Although I do think they should be better than they’re currently playing.
Minnesota could be undefeated, but I guess that they forgot that NFL games are 60 minutes in length and not 30, ugh. Since they got McNabb to stay competitive – yet, are blowing games, how long until rookie Christian Ponder takes the reins? I give it three games. Being winless in a division with the undefeated Packers and Lions, plus a 2-2 Bears team that plays tough is like being in an eight game deficit. Sorry, Minnesota fans!
Jacksonville head coach, Jack Del Rio, publicly stated that former starter David Garrard wasn’t good enough to start for this team and that’s why he was cut from the roster. Really? This team? Del Rio will probably be an analyst for ESPN or the NFL network in the next year or so.
Kansas City has the injury cloud, let alone an injury-bug; Denver is inconsistent in a way that’s confounding and Bradford is having trouble adjusting to the new offense. Stephen Jackson and Danny Amendola being hurt aren’t helping anything as well. Is there a saving grace for the Rams? Well, Seattle won seven games last year…and made the playoffs so if they can get to six victories, the NFC West could be had.
Seattle? Look above.
I Have No Idea
This category focuses on the teams with records that could be deceiving (one way or the other). Don’t fall in love with any of them or kick them to the curb too easily by judging hastily, like the busty chick you’ve been dating that talks too much; she’s still busty!
San Francisco (3-1), Atlanta (2-2), Dallas (2-2), Buffalo (3-1), Cincinnati (2-2), Arizona (1-3), Chicago (2-2)
Now a compelling case could be made a few of these teams are worthy of “good” status – and I agree – but I’m not sure where these teams are headed. Imagine if Buffalo drops three of the next four (possible) or they split the next four (also possible)? I feel the Cowboys and Falcons are better than 2-2 but are they really? The 49ers lead the NFC West…I’ll just leave it there. Looking at the Cardinals, they could get better as the season progresses because they show flashes, at least offensively, and they compete in the NFC West (I’ll stop dumping on that division already). The Bears? Depends on whether Martz wakes up on the good side of the bed and the offensive line decides to protect their quarterback.
Bill Parcells said a few years ago that “you are what your record says you are” and the majority of the time it is that simple. As a matter of fact, ultimately, it IS that simple.
No Easy Out
They will fight and scare better teams with their aggression.
Oakland (2-2), Carolina (1-3), Cleveland (2-2)
Rookie quarterbacks aren’t supposed to be this good. Right? Cam Newton will now put ample pressure on any rookie signal caller – right along with the Bengals’ Andy Dalton – when they’re given control of a team. Yes, the Panthers are 1-3 but I think they are better than all the other teams playing for next year. He’s averaging 346 passing yards a game, looks confident (and comfortable) in the pocket and is playing like a veteran. They are airing it out too much though – they’ve got to get the ball into the hands of Williams and Stewart. If they do that they could make a late charge in the division, but they are way too green in other spots.
Darren McFadden has finally bloomed into the back the Raiders thought he would be when they drafted him a few years back. He’s big, elusive and breaks tackles with ease; he’s on the cusp of being one of the best backs in the league, if he didn’t crash the list already. Their front seven, anchored by Richard Seymour, is tough and their group of playmakers at linebacker can compete with any other teams set of players at the position.
Colt McCoy is a solid quarterback but I think he needs a few more weapons for the Browns to be taken seriously, although I think their arrow, in terms of potential, is trending upward. Their secondary leaves a lot to be desired!
It’s a long season and it’s only been four games so far. Relax before you make arrangements for the playoffs.
Houston (3-1), Tennessee (3-1), Washington (3-1)
Matt Hasselbeck signing with the Titans has to be the biggest acquisition at the quarter mark, right? He’s rejuvenated and is off to a career year, thus far. The Titans are also doing this as Chris Johnson is just beginning to find his stride. With the Colts having an off-year, the Titans should have a valid claim to the AFC South. Why not?
Houston has been a chic media pick the last few years and I’m not a bandwagon type of guy so that’s why I’m reticent to give too much credit. Funny thing, I actually like the team. One of my favorite players is Andre Johnson (thank God he didn’t blow out his knee against Pittsburgh), I liked Schaub when he played in Virginia and thought he’d be good if the chance came and I respect how the franchise has built around those two but I need to see more. Beating Pittsburgh was huge but with them being anointed to win the division for the last 3 years, it seems, I want to see them prove it.
Washington’s defense is keeping them in games and Rex Grossman is making just enough plays to win.
Do I need to explain?
Baltimore (3-1), Detroit (4-0), NY Giants (3-1), Tampa Bay (3-1), NY Jets (2-2), San Diego (3-1), Pittsburgh (2-2), Philadelphia (1-3)
Don’t be quick to bury the Eagles! They are too talented not to turn things around. Remember there are 12 games left on the schedule and the season is in its infancy; there’s time. Same thing goes for the Jets and Steelers; it’s way too soon for sweeping judgments.
Detroit is amazing, I mean really. They’ve been spotting teams 20 point leads only to come back in a blaze. It’s still early but I like their chances for postseason play and that city deserves a good team. Josh Freeman is making game winning drives seem routine and he’s going to be in the discussion of top quarterbacks in the next couple of years. The Bucs are young and have talent everywhere. Decimated with injuries coming into the season, the Giants were written off and have proven that they will not be an afterthought; I like their toughness.
Baltimore is a beast of a team (I would rank them 4th if this was a power rankings list but it isn’t so keep reading) although the Sunday night game with the Jets had to be one of the weirdest defensive contests ever. They scored 3 tds on that side of the ball so the offense didn’t need to show up. But I think that is holding this team back, thus far; they need Flacco to be sharper. They are a contender though.
Playing For The Trophy
Green Bay (4-0), New England (3-1), New Orleans (3-1)
Rodgers wears the quarterback title right now (referencing his title belt celebration) and they are out in front as the best team in the league. Yesterday he threw for over 400 yards with four passing tds and two rushing! GB can run and they also spread you out with Jennings, Driver, Finley, Nelson and Jones so a secondary cannot focus on taking away one threat because the Packers have so many.
Woodson is 35 and is playing like he’s 24. The Packers have surrendered a lot of passing yards in their games but the end result is they have Rodgers on offense and other teams just do not. I might just put them in their own category.
New Orleans, I feel, is the only team that can really keep up with the Packers when they’re clicking (as they proved on opening night) but they also haven’t been maximizing their drives. They beat Jags 23-10 last week when they should have scored in the 30’s. Like the Packers, they are vulnerable through the air, but only the Pack has managed to knock them off.
Tom Brady is playing on another level and even with the slight hiccup against a hungry Bills team; they look solid enough to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Problems? You bet. Teams that run against them and push them around have success; see the Jets victory against them in the playoffs last year and the Ravens the year prior for proof. On defense the Pats don’t generate any type of pass rush worthy of mention – and on offense they don’t have balance. It’s all about the pass with them so they will need to balance out their attack on the ground.
See you next week.
Photo: Bills, 1045theteam.com; Luck, everyjoe.com; Rodgers, 12xworldchamps.blogspot.com