Predicting the unpredictable:
It is nearly impossible to predict anything in the NFL. History has proven that. Tom Brady was the 199th overall pick, but he may go down as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. Ryan Leaf was sought after in some circles more so than Peyton Manning, so when the Chargers nabbed him at #2 overall, they felt like winners. Leaf fizzled out before the ink on his contract was even dry. But that is merely the personnel side of it, because once you field a team of men who you believe can compete and win, they have to do just that: COMPETE AND WIN! What is the difference between the Saints at home and the Saints on the road? How did Colin Kaepernick go from rising star to overrated? Alex Smith? The NFC East? Any of these topics ringing a bell? After observing the games and storylines that we have so far into this 2013 NFL season, what can we determine? Predicting the success and failures of NFL teams over a 17 week season is impossible.
For starters, let us take a look at the preseason Power Rankings, courtesy of ESPN.com. Spots 1 through 10 look like this:
San Francisco 49ers
Green Bay Packers
New England Patriots
That’s cute. To say that this list has flip-flopped mildly would be a grotesque understatement. It was as if someone appeared each week to take a sledge hammer to this list. Here it is today, November 12th.
Kansas City Chiefs 9-0
Denver Broncos 8-1
Seattle Seahawks 9-1
New Orleans Saints 7-2
New England Patriots 7-2
Caroline Panthers 6-3
Indianapolis Colts 6-3
San Francisco 49ers 6-3
Detroit Lions 6-3
Cincinnati Bengals 6-3
Well, right away we have the top team in the league, the Kansas City Chiefs. That worst to first cliché is one that only a few teams in league history can stake a claim too. It is not too often that a team in ANY sport can have the kind of turn around that these Chiefs have had. Wait, it was done last year, right? Yeah, if you remember correctly, Indy secured the #1 pick in the draft by going 2-14 with a Peyton Manning-less roster. They picked Andrew Luck, the wiz kid from Stanford. The history of that decision is being written as we speak. So am I surprised that the Chiefs are the league’s best team right now? No, not at all. Would I have safely bet that? Maybe with someone else’s money. Kansas City last year suffered from not just inconsistent quarterback play (Brady Quinn, Matt Cassel and Tyler Thigpen all took snaps for them), but they suffered from ATROCIOUS quarterback play (Brady Quinn, Matt Cassel, and Tyler Thigpen all took the snaps for them). This season, with a new head coach (like the 2012 Colts) and a new, more than capable quarterback (also like the Colts, and it is worth noting that Alex Smith led the 49ers to the NFC title game 2011, and before being benched in 2012, led the NFL in passer rating). Statistically, the Chiefs have the #1 ranked defense in the NFL, holding opponents to 12.3 points a game. They had the pieces last year on both sides of the ball (Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe on offense, Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson on defense). They boast a relentless front this season that puts consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The one criticism that can be made about this 2013 edition of the Kansas City Chiefs is their opponents combined winning percentage: .354%. They will be tested in two of the next three weeks, Denver on the road and Denver at home.
Next is the other shocker, the Caroline Panthers. Did anyone besides me think that the success of the Panthers this season would hinge on the play of Cam Newton? Did anyone expect the defense to be #2 in the league? DID ANYONE THINK THAT THEY WOULD GO TO NFC, THE GOLD STANDARD FOR SUCCESS IN THE NFC RIGHT NOW, AND BEAT THEM 10-9????? TO QUOTE MUGATU IN ZOOLANDER: “I FEEL LIKE I AM TAKING CRAZY PILLS.”
But seriously folks, who did you believe would lead the Caroline Panthers to an exceptional start this season: Cam Newton, or Luke Kuechly. This is not a team to get all excited about. Sure, they beat San Fran, but how good is San Francisco? Depleted weaponry on offense, with a quarterback who looks like a shell of the guy who played in the Super Bowl. Like I said before, the success of this season at some point this season will hinge on the play of Cam Newton. Newton shows flashes of other-wordly talent, but at times also looks lost. You can’t win a Super bowl with a quarterback who can’t lead the team. At the end of the season, it will not be Luke Kuechly getting the ball down 4 with 2 minutes to go in the 4th.
New England is New England. Someone, a team with a receiving core that might as well have been drafted off the street managed to hold it together while All-Universe Tight End Rob Gronkowski nursed a bum back and fore arm. Add Danny Amendola to the list of healthy offensives weapons in late November. It has been a little while since Tom Brady won a Super Bowl, but at the end of the day, he is a guy who will put his team in a position to win. They have debilitating injuries on defense. Wilfork and Mayo being out while probably cost this team the opportunity to play Denver in the AFC title game (Spoiler Alert!).
Indy just got blown out by the Rams. Yes, the Rams. The Rams led by Kellen Clemens. Tavon Austin looked like a little boy prior to playing the Colts. The Colts made him look like the most explosive player in the league. I do not know what to think about the Colts, they looked like their time was now earlier in the season when they man-handled Denver, but after that embarrassing defeat, who knows what to think.
Teams I am most certainly not surprised by: Seattle, New Orleans, Denver and 50% San Fran. New Orleans would most certainly bounce back from that historically bad 2012 season. You know how they talk about intangibles in sports? Well, Sean Peyton and Drew Brees work well together, it’s an intangible factor that you have to account for when you play them, especially at home. They just set a record for 1st downs in a game. You don’t want to go there in January. Seattle? Yeah, another place that is pretty hostile, not to mention they have a great defense, running game, and a Quarterback in his 2nd year who gets better every week. That leaves us with Denver and San Fran. Denver is looking like one of the best offenses in league history. Peyton Manning tied the all-time mark for Touchdowns through week 10 with 33. Last guy to have that many broke the single season record (Brady 2007, Leagues highest scoring offense. Ever). They still have to play Kansas City twice and go to New England. Those are the games that the contenders win and the pretenders flush down the toilet. Last season, and I said this before the playoffs started, Denver lost to Houston, New England and Atlanta, who were all amongst the best in the league. They lost in the divisional round to 10-6 Baltimore. This season, they have beaten two teams who are .500, and lost to the only team who is better than that! They play Kansas City, @ New England and @ Kansas City in the next 3 weeks. Finally, the San Francisco 49ers, another team that so far has refused to beat good teams. They looked on top of the world week 1 when they dominated Green Bay at home. Since then? Well, they scored 10 points in back to back weeks @ Seattle and home to Indy respectively, where they lost by a combined 46. They sort of remind me of the middle school bullies who picked on the little kids to make the big kids fear them, but could never stand up to the big kids. Rams, Houston, Arizona, Tennessee and Jacksonville? They got a swirly from the Niners. The Colts, Seahawks and Panthers all sent the Niners to the nurses’ office after getting a dirt nap during recess.
At the end of the season, it is about 3 things: the front seven, the play of your quarterback, and turnover’s. Look at the last three seasons: 13-3 Denver, 15-1 Green Bay and 13-3 Atlanta are ousted by 9-7 , 10-6, and 10-6 teams respectively , all of whom went on to win the Super Bowl off the play of their Quarterback, Front Seven and turnover ratio. You cannot have 2 of the 3. You need 3. It is a proven thing come January. Talk to Tom Brady, he suffered two agonizing losses where his Patriots teams were a combined 33-3 and they lost to two Giants teams that were a combined 25-13. The 2007 Patriots were an all-time team. There is no doubt that they would have gone down as the greatest team in league history if it weren’t for Eli Manning, David Tyree and Plax. So at the end of the day, to these teams in the top 10, if you want people to actually see your true colors, make sure you do those three things.