The Glass Eye: The NFL After 2 Weeks
Typically, this is the time when I begin my NHL previews…but that will obviously be on hold for awhile with the lockout. So instead, let’s look around the NFL after two weeks and see what trends have developed. I’ll have a more in-depth analysis of baseball, and particularly the Pirates’ grotesque collapse, in a later column.
Fans, analysts, and even some coaches tend to overreact to the first week of the NFL season. Depending on whom you listened to, after the opening week the Super Bowl was already set to be Dallas vs. Denver – or was that the 49ers vs. Baltimore? The Steelers were going to go 6-10, and lose in Week Two to the suddenly powerful Jets’ offense. The list goes on…the folks at FootballOutsiders.com like to call that phenomenon ‘National Jump to Conclusions Week’, and I wholeheartedly agree – one week is just not enough data to determine what’s really happening. As a Steeler fan I saw some things that concerned me in Week 1, especially on defense, but I wanted to see more – from all NFL teams – before making any snap judgments. So what did I learn in Week 2?
-Peyton still has some rust. The three INTs he threw in the first quarter Monday were all very poor decisions, and were very un-Manning-like. Atlanta threw a TON of different looks at Manning and he reacted very poorly early on, and the Broncos never recovered. Now, Atlanta is a very good team and this loss does not mean Peyton is ‘washed up’ – but it did show me that he’s not quite back to the level some had expected. Between Manning’s comeback and the Chargers’ dominant 2-0 start, the AFC West should be a great race all season.
-The Saints are in trouble. I was very skeptical of people this summer who believed that the Saints would be as good or better than ever after all the off-season turmoil. With their coach gone for the season and the interim head coach suspended for six weeks, it stood to reason that they would not be as sharp – after all, NFL coaches typically work 12-14 hour days all season to prepare their teams. If coaching really didn’t matter, why put all that time in? It’s clear now that coaching DOES matter and that the turmoil has really set the Saints back. There’s too much talent there for the team to be truly awful, but the schedule gets considerably tougher over the next two months and the Saints are now in a must-win situation against Kansas City this week. I can easily see the Saints’ record being 4-7 after Thanksgiving.
-I expected the AFC South to be bad – and aside from Houston, it is – but the Texans might be a lot better than I thought. They have allowed only 17 points through two games – granted against two poor offenses. With the Broncos, Packers, Ravens, and Jets coming up over the next five weeks, we will find out just how good the Texans really are.
-When the Patriots-Ravens game is over Sunday night, one of those teams will be 1-2. I’m guessing that was not something anyone predicted in the summer! The Pats’ defense looks much improved, but the offense was terrible this week and appears to be in flux. The Ravens have looked good on offense, but their once-feared defense appears to be in decline. That should be a great matchup!
The NFC East remains an enigma – Dallas looked superb in handling the Giants on Opening Night, but then laid a complete egg in Seattle. The defending champion Giants needed 510 passing yards to get by Tampa and avoid an 0-2 start – and yes, I’m still not at all sold on the Giants’ defense. Washington blew a golden opportunity to start 2-0 when they lost their composure in St. Louis, and they already are wracked with defensive injuries. That leaves the Eagles, who have committed NINE turnovers and managed to win both games. The Eagles never seem to take the easy path, but the wins are in the bank, you have to believe they won’t average four turnovers per game, and I still believe they are the class of the division.
-Overall, I think the balance of power has shifted back to the NFC. New England has looked fairly mortal so far, Houston is unproven, and the Chargers need to show that 2-0 isn’t a fluke. Meanwhile, the NFC has seen the 49ers look overwhelmingly dominant in starting 2-0, the Packers are still plenty tough, the Eagles are 2-0 despite those turnovers (which shows either their carelessness, their talent, or both), and the Seahawks appear to be the next NFC team on the rise.
-Finally, the rumors of the Steelers’ demise, as usual, were greatly exaggerated. Yes, the defense looked ‘old and slow’ in Denver – and not forcing a single punt or turnover in the second half was definitely a bad sign. On the other hand, Roethlisberger had a very good game against the Broncos. I liked the commitment to ball control via the run, and I felt that some of the defensive issues were correctable. This week against the Jets the defense started out looking very much like they did in Week 1, allowing another 80-yard drive – but from there, the defense REALLY clamped down. Big Ben had a very good day, the running backs wore down the Jets in the second half, and the Steelers cruised to victory. I don’t think they are as good as they looked last week nor as bad as they looked in Denver – but I also think that this week’s road trip to Oakland will answer a lot of questions. Oakland is not a good team, but they do have some explosive skill players, and Steelers have traditionally struggled in Oakland. If Pittsburgh can put up another strong defensive showing, then I think we can consider week 1 something of an aberration.
Dave Glass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.