or, "The Week Where Football Officially Became a Chore."
I'm going to start off with a fan rant here. I normally try to stay fairly objective as I write these posts, but this time I'm going to be very subjective for a moment.
The Baltimore Ravens are an insufferable team to watch play football.
I honestly can't remember the last time watching the Ravens play was such a frustrating experience. All weekend long, I had zero expectations that they'd have a chance at winning in San Francisco, and the season would be completely lost by game's end. True to form, the Ravens were never really competitive at any point in the game, even at the very end when they had the ball with no timeouts left and Flacco tried leading them down for a game-winning score.
They look lethargic. They look unmotivated. They look sloppy. They lack any heart or fire to their game, except for Steve Smith, Sr. In fact, Smith is the only true leader left on the team, and everyone else is merely going through the motions. The season can't end fast enough for them.
I feel worst for Smith since he had announced this season would be his last in the NFL. I had every expectation that the Ravens would mount a playoff run to try getting Smith a championship so he could pull an John Elway/Jerome Bettis/Ray Lewis, and retire a champion. Sadly, that is not meant to be. I suppose it's possible that the Ravens may try convincing him to return in 2016 and not let this lost season be his last in the league, but there's no way to know whether he'd be willing to change his mind and try one more time next year.
Still, the inarguable fact is that the Ravens are a bad football team. They are one of the biggest disappointments this season in football, and there is a legitimate argument that the Ravens are the single worst team in the NFL right now. Their schedule the rest of the season doesn't get much easier either, with maybe five winnable games left on their schedule.
At least one or two people on the coaching staff have to face a firing squad, and Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees has to be the first man in line. Defensive Backs Coach Chris Hewitt is close behind him, as well. If the Ravens don't win at least one of their two remaining two games before their bye week, both men could be unemployed.
1. I'm still not fully buying into the Bengals. The Bengals are 4th in the league in both scoring and in point differential. They're also 6-0 for the first time since 1988 in franchise history. Andy Dalton is playing like a league MVP candidate; he's tied for second in touchdown passes and is second only to Tom Brady in QB rating. They will even likely be prohibitive favorites in at least their next three games. Despite all those resounding positives, I am still waiting for the shoe to drop for them. It may not happen until the postseason, but I still don't see Andy Dalton playing mistake-free in the clutch. There's too much evidence to the contrary. And realistically, does anyone think they could go into New England and beat Tom Brady in his own building in January?
2. The MVP of the Week is Cam Newton. How in the world are the Panthers 5-0? In one of the most surprising wins of the weekend, the Panthers went into Seattle and beat up the Seahawks in their own building. The Panthers lost their top receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the preseason to a torn ACL, leaving their tight end Greg Olsen as Cam Newton's number one target. He has nearly twice as many receptions as Carolina's #2 receiver, Ted Ginn, Jr (!!!). Newton's numbers thus far are very pedestrian: 55.4% completion, #26 in passing yards, tied for 13th in touchdown passes, and #33 in passer rating. However, he's had to make up for a dearth in quality wide receivers and he's led the Panthers to a very improbable win this weekend. There is a legitimate question as to just how good the Panthers are though, and two of their next three games are against Indianapolis and Green Bay, which could bring them back to Earth a bit. They do also have two games against Atlanta in December, so the NFC South is far from decided.
3. So much for understanding just what is a catch now. The Lions finally won a game this weekend after some really tough luck that didn't go their way in Seattle a couple weeks ago, but the big play in the game was late in the first half when Golden Tate really didn't catch a touchdown. How this play was not ruled a tipped ball interception is beyond me, and I'm merely a lowly fan. The officials are contradicting themselves week in and week out now as to what is and is not a catch. These inconsistencies have already affected playoff games (see: Bryant, Dez), and sooner or later it will happen in the Super Bowl if the league office doesn't do something to clarify the super vague phrase "process of the catch."
4. Peyton Manning is pretty hard to watch now. An undefeated team rarely has as many important questions as the Broncos do this year. Their defense is the predominant reason why they're 6-0 right now, and they had to go to overtime against Cleveland in order to pull out the victory. Manning is playing with less strength each week, and he's being picked off more and more easily along the way. His passer rating is the lowest since his rookie season, He's on pace currently for a 19 TD/27 INT season, which would easily be the worst season of his career. The 2000 Ravens were able to win a Super Bowl with an elite defense and sufficient enough quarterback play from Trent Dilfer that didn't result in many costly turnovers. The Broncos can't win a Super Bowl with their elite defense because Manning is making costly turnovers every game. They may still win the AFC West since they have a healthy lead, but they aren't the powerhouse team they've been with Manning the last 3 years.
5. The Patriots are pretty close to being unstoppable. Yawn. Forget finding a game where they wouldn't be a prohibitive favorite to win this season; find me one they even have a realistic chance of losing. The best three options - and all three are stretches to the extreme - are at the Giants, at Denver, and at the Jets. I'm never one to say something like, "Looks like it'll be Team X vs Team Y in the Super Bowl this year," but I just don't realistically see anyone taking them down, even in the AFC playoffs. I just hope we are spared having to watch them hoist another Lombardi Trophy in February. Imagine how awkward that would be for a moment.
6. The Goat of the Week is Mike Vick. This has to be the first time that a Goat of the Week is a guy on a team who won, but Vick never could play well filling in for the injured Ben Roethlisberger. Despite his terrible performance through three games, the Steelers have gone 2-1 with their only loss coming against the Ravens and lacking a semi-quality kicker to seal that victory. Vick was finally pulled in the second half after throwing for merely 6 yards (!!!!) for Landry Jones. The Steelers' offense was much improved with Jones under center, and Martavis Bryant had a massive first game back following his suspension. Things will get better for Pittsburgh going forward since there is a chance Roethlisberger could return in the next week or two.
7. Chris Ivory and Brandon Marshall have made the Jets an entirely different team. There's little room to argue that any player on a new team has had a greater impact than Brandon Marshall. The Jets have not had a true #1 receiver since Keyshawn Johnson, but they have one now in Marshall. He's made defenses adjust to the passing game, which has only led to great things for Chris Ivory in the running game. Marshall went on record calling Chris Ivory the best running back in the NFL, and while my opinion would lean towards Le'Veon Bell, no one in their right mind could undersell what Ivory and Marshall have collectively done to the Jets offense. The insanity involving Geno Smith and IK Enemkpali during training camp is a distant memory now.