Monday, October 05, 2015

NFL 2015 - The First Month

So what to make of the NFL's first month of the 2015 season? Several things -

The New England Patriots are the best team in the league - Despite a transitioning defense that's still raw, the Patriots are stopping everyone they need to stop and are scoring like crazy.

The Bills will not challenge the Patriots - and neither will the rest of the division - Rex Ryan's team is 2-2 yet is undisciplined and Ryan will not hold anyone accountable for sloppy play or penalties. The schedule gets seemingly easier now, but it won't make the Bills better. The Dolphins meanwhile appear to have cashed in the season after firing Joe Philbin; speaking of accountability Ndamukong Suh's postgame presser after the London game indicates he wants nothing to do with accountability.

The Jets are not ready for primetime, but are more professional now - After the Geno Smith disaster the Jets looked primed to collapse right away. Then something happened - they got more professional once the season began. Even in the loss to the Eagles the Jets looked decent; seemingly gone are the train-wreck days of recent yore. Ryan Fitzpatrick is not the long-term answer, but right now he's been better than expected. Keep an eye on Bryce Petty down the road, though - Geno Smith will not be the follow-up to Fitzpatrick.

The Bengals may be better than we thought - I've yet to find an analyst who thinks highly of Marvin Lewis, yet Lewis has made the Bengals a pretty consistent contender from his 2003 start and at 4-0 the Bengals actually appear stronger than usual, especially Andy Dalton, whose command of the quarterback position has always been good but never great; he has shown genuine improvement so far.

The Ravens appear lost - In the bottom half of the league in scoring and defense, the Ravens may still salvage a winning record but have shown no sign yet that they can, especially with five INTs by Joe Flacco, rumored locker-room acrimony sewed by Steve Smith, and a minus-three turnover differential.

The Browns won't miss Johnny Manziel - Their lone win so far was with Johnny Fumbles, yet his play was so erratic the Browns made the right call benching him for Josh McCown. That McCown hasn't won yet is frankly puzzling given he's played more than respectable football, especially in the Chargers game.

The Colts win in spite of themselves - Worthless against the AFC East and just pedestrian against six other divisions in the league, the Colts keep beating their own division opponents in spite of themselves, surviving a mystifying rushing attempt for two points by the Titans and then dodging two missed Jaguars FGAs to win in overtime; they next get a punchless Houston team that can't decide almost from one quarter to the next who their quarterback will be.

The Titans will become a good team again - sooner rather than later - The best 1-2 team in the league, the Titans have a fight they haven't had in years and Marcus Mariota is proving he's the real deal. Growing his game in his rookie season remains the priority but he's so far ahead of the rookie game it's head-spinning. He's shown he can lead comebacks, now he has to finish the job in them, and I feel confident he will.

The Broncos keep winning in spite of themselves - The Broncos are trying to transition away from an aging Peyton Manning, and so far they're 4-0 yet shaky at it, barely escaping the Ravens and the Saints (two teams Manning has owned his whole career), beating a terrible Lions team in subpar fashion, and now escaping a rising but still raw Vikings squad. People rave about the Broncos defense; all its done is beat up pedestrian offenses; it also proved it can't handle good tight ends.

Watch out, the Raiders are getting good again - Losing to Jay Cutler's Bears was a shock; that's how far the Raiders have come in such a short time. Derek Carr has made the Raiders a top-12 offense, and even Matt McGloin looked good in relief action. They need to shore up the defense, but the Raiders now have a direction - one that's positive, to where winning ten games in 2015 suddenly is no joke.

The rest of the AFC West - The Chiefs are now the last-place team thanks to a spent Alex Smith and a clueless Andy Reid, and the Chargers struggled to pull off two hard-fought home wins; the road right now looks too daunting for Philip Rivers and company and it's doubtful now that they'll make a playoff run.


Watch out, the NY Giants are getting something going - The Giants looked awful in the first two games; beating two also-rans may not qualify as improvement but the rest of the Giants schedule suddenly looks a lot more favorable than it did a few weeks ago.

The rest of the NFC East - yuck - The Deadskins are still the Deadskins, even at 2-2. The surprise is the dismal start of the Eagles, even as Sam Bradford showed some noticeable improvement in three touchdowns and no picks against the Skins. The collapse of the Cowboys was to be expected of a team too top-heavy to survive on depth and that was overrated to start with.

The Packers remain the anointed of the NFC - even though they still don't deserve it - Green Bay was anointed the NFC champion before the season started, and at 4-0 they have made a decent case for that - except they haven't done well closing out games (especially getting off the gas up 38-14 to the Chiefs and thus giving up 14 points and giving the Chiefs final possession) and also looked downright pedestrian against a punchless 49ers team.

The Vikings continue incremental improvement - Currently fifth in fewest points allowed, the Vikings made a game of it at Denver before imploding at the worst time. Teddy Bridgewater has shown decent form; coming out of the Vikings bye he has to start getting better.

The Lions have become irrelevant again - Matthew Stafford has not taken the step forward. He has not elevated the Lions to win a game so far this season, and his inability to handle quality opponents was on display again at Seattle and has now become too grave an issue to ignore with just four or five potentially winnable games on the Detroit horizon. One now has to wonder, after a very promising 2014 season, if we've seen the best of Matthew Stafford - I sure hope there's more to his game down the road.   Far less deserving of benefit of the doubt is Calvin Johnson - he anointed himself as Megatron and has never justified it despite some gaudy volume stats.   The goalline fumble brings to mind other instances where Johnson refuses to finish a play - the three stops at the Cowboys 1-foot line in 2013 rather than punch into the endzone come immediately to mind; his pedestrian 2014 season also comes to mind.   Johnson is the type of player who basically puts more stock in showing off than actual execution, and it's why he'll never mean anything.

The Falcons and Panthers on the NFC South collision course - Remember how the NFC South couldn't produce a team with more than seven wins? Forget it. The Panthers look like a 12-4 squad at worst (though they do need to score more) and the Falcons have not been this good since - dare I say? - their "Dirty Birds" Superbowl run. Time will tell if they sustain this run, but so far Dan Quinn has made them more dangerous than people expected.

Jameis Winston will have to endure the rookie bug - We're so used to rookies exploding forward than one can forget rookie seasons are usually struggles, and Jameis Winston's subpar start is realistically to be expected of greenhorns. Winston's biggest problem has been his game has been more scattershot than what is needed of an NFL quarterback - he looks like a freelancer rather than a pocket passer. I still think he can be good, but he'll have to go through the rough gauntlet first.

The Cardinals are the NFC West commander - Bruce Arians has taken what even a few years ago was the worst team in league history and has elevated them to a level no one ever thought they'd reach. The Cards are currently in the top-five in both scoring and fewest points allowed and we remember why their 2014 season was derailed - the loss of Carson Palmer. If they keep him healthy they suddenly look like a stronger contender than some of the other NFC hot shoes.

But the Rams have something to say - Jeff Fisher may finally have found his quarterback in Nick Foles. Though only 2-2 the Rams made a statement beating the Cards in their own building and Foles has put up efficient numbers in five touchdowns with just one pick. Defensively the best stats are points allowed and turnover differential, and the Rams are 13th in points allowed with a plus-two differential, having forced a turnover in every game so far; the three turnovers given up in the first Seahawks game inflate the differential somewhat. Now we see what they can do at Lambeau.

The Seahawks need to rebound - Two bitter losses put the Seahawks behind the eight ball and the contract fight with Kam Chancellor is a bad sign for Seattle's cap management. It's the first big test for Pete Carroll as Seahawks coach, but having come as far as they have, one can still feel Carroll will get things turned around - especially the way the Seahawks escaped on Monday Night.

Colin Kaepernick's career may be ending - After a very promising effort against the Vikings, Colin Kaepernick has disintegrated in front of everyone, getting manhandled by an overrated Packers squad and reverting to the sloppy, undisciplined form that wound up killing the Niners' 2014 season. The season takes a decided turn for the worse from here on out, and the talk in some fan circles about starting Blaine Gabbert in Kaepernick's stead merely shows how much the guy thought to be the future of the game has regressed.

 So it goes as the second month of the season beckons.