The NFL regular season is now one-fourth done. What have we learned?
The power teams of the AFC haven’t changed all that much, with the possible exception of Pittsburgh but that will probably turn around soon once they recover from their annual bout of the injury bug.
Over in the NFC, just about everything is turning around, if not upside down. Chief among the off-kilter examples is the NFC West, which has become home to some of the stoutest defenses and special teams play in the league.
Arizona, Seattle and St. Louis all boast competent squads whose only real lack is a consistent offense. San Francisco has all the pieces but, as witness their performance in Minneapolis last week, they can not afford to leave one of those pieces on the shelf.
It’s been more than a decade since that division had impressive teams from top to bottom.
From a purely football standpoint this is certainly an improvement over topics like replacement refs, Tebow’s charisma, or Dez Bryant’s hands.
Week 5 means we are heavy into the bye week portions of our schedule, so the list gets short as the days grow nigh.
Browns at Giants - Even when Cleveland plays well, which they did against a really tough Baltimore team last week, they find some way to lose, which they did against a really good Baltimore team last week. Eli Manning will not have two bad games in a row, and he will not lay an egg in front of the home folks. I know that’s not going out on much a limb, but until Cleveland regains its pride what more can you expect?
Eagles at Steelers - The much anticipated Battle of Pennsylvania is this week’s Game of the Day choice. Pittsburgh is very tough at home, and getting James Harrison and Troy Polamalu back is very bad news for Mike Vick and his receivers. The Eagles have shown great resilience in playing hard-nosed football, but they’re walking into the home of it.
It all should come down to the Philly defense getting enough pressure on Big Ben to force turnovers or three-and-outs, and even though he’s gotten knocked around pretty good a time or two this year he’s not been suffering those failures yet. Barring major injury I don’t see that changing this week, and having Rashard Mendenhall return to the backfield will not hurt one bit.
Packers at Colts - Indy’s not yet ready for this. Green Bay still has some catching up to do in their division and absolutely cannot afford a loss to a lesser team. Amazing to say, but the Pack is not used to looking up at the Vikings and Bears. It’s given them a complex they must remove by pounding a few horseshoes into submission.
Falcons at Redskins - How do you pick against Atlanta now? What do they not do as a team that is far and away better than anyone else in the NFC right now? I just can’t think of anything. RGIII will pull off a play or two, but it won’t matter. Washington’s defense cannot keep them in this game.
Dolphins at Bengals - Miami has been surprisingly competitive, keeping pace with even the likes of Arizona by forcing overtime on the road last week, failing due only to kicker issues. Still, being competitive is not winning and Miami is 1-3.
Meanwhile Cincinnati has been beating everyone they are supposed to, which is a pleasant surprise because those types of seasons in the Queen City have been few and far between. QB Andy Dalton just has so many weapons it’s highly unlikely the Dolphins will be able to keep most of them down most of the day so a squirrely kicker won’t matter this time unless PATs go by the wayside.
Ravens at Chiefs - The biggest lesson I’ve learned after the first quarter of the season is Kansas City is a total fraud and the attraction I have had for them must be their spiffy uniforms because it sure ain’t been what’s in ‘em. The core of Baltimore’s defense is showing the ravages of age and at some point in the season it will get exposed, but not this week, not by these guys, who would struggle to beat Cleveland or Oakland.