....or, "The Week Where We Actually Start Figuring Out Who's Good And Who's Not."
The NFL season is pretty murky for the first month or so, and that's nothing new. Some teams start out super hot but flame out eventually, and others hit stumbling blocks for the first couple weeks before getting their collective act together. We still have six unbeaten teams left - New England, Cincinnati, Denver, Green Bay, Carolina, and Atlanta - but we can't expect all of them to still be in the mix come December.
I was dead wrong on New England. I thought Brady's suspension would have been upheld, and the Patriots would be forced to go with Jimmy Garoppolo for their first four games. If there's some kind of blue ribbon for making dumb predictions, I deserve every bit of mockery that comes with it. The Patriots have steamrolled their competition thus far, and Brady is playing at a level even surpassing his record-setting season in 2007. I looked at their schedule for the rest of the season, and I don't see a game where they even have a chance at losing until Week 12 when they travel to Denver (and they could still be a prohibitive favorite to win that game).
Denver is an enigma. Their offensive line is below average at best, and Peyton Manning hasn't played well in Gary Kubiak's offense. Despite their struggles, they're still winning football games, while Kansas City and San Diego have both struggled in the first month. Oakland looks a heck of a lot better than anyone could have expected after four weeks, but they aren't about to overtake the Broncos in the division.
The NFC South was a putrid division last year, with Carolina being the team that was the least awful (talk about a backhanded compliment). Cam Newton is throwing the football to Ted Ginn, Jr, and a bunch of guys nobody has ever heard of. If you put a gun to my head and asked me to name anyone on their defense besides Luke Kuechly, I'd freeze, though Josh Norman is quickly making a name for himself at CB. Meanwhile, Atlanta has soundly beaten three of the four teams in the NFC East, and their defeat of Houston yesterday was way more one-sided than the final score would indicate. Devonta Freeman is giving head coach Dan Quinn a great problem to have by playing so well, he should be the starter when Tevin Coleman returns from his rib injury. Quinn is even a super early candidate for Coach of the Year in how quickly he's improved the Falcons.
But it's not all coming up roses for everyone because....
1. There are some surprise bad teams in the NFL, too. The Eagles, Colts, Ravens, Chiefs, and Dolphins each have one win apiece, and at least three of those teams were picked by many to be playoff teams. Of those five, the Dolphins and Eagles are arguably the worst of the bunch, though the Ravens aren't that far behind them. Chris Ivory ran circles around the Dolphins defense all day, and that includes Ndamukong Suh, who was supposed to anchor their defensive line. The loss could cost Joe Philbin his job, and we should find out within the next 24 hours or so whether he's been given a pink slip. Meanwhile, the Eagles quite possibly have the worst offensive unit in the NFL, with an offensive line who provides zero protection for both passing and running plays. Their defense isn't doing them any favors either, though being on the field for over 41 minutes will wear anyone out. However, they have the benefit of playing in a bad division, so they actually still have a chance to win it if they can finish 8-8.
2. The 49ers defense is every bit as bad as expected. I don't get to toot my horn very often at all, but one of my season predictions was that the 49ers' defense would give up the most points in the league this year. Right now, they're in 3rd place in that category, but they aren't far off the pace. The Bears and Chiefs are currently tied for first at 125 points, and Tampa is second with 117 points. The 49ers do have the worst point differential in the league at the moment, at -62. Even though the Lions are winless, San Francisco is still arguably the worst team in the NFC.
3. The MVP of the Week is Devonta Freeman. As mentioned above, Freeman is giving Falcons head coach Dan Quinn a great problem to have when Tevin Coleman comes back. He's scored 6 touchdowns in his last two games, and the trio of QB Matt Ryan, Freeman, and WR Julio Jones is the best tandem of offensive skill positions in the league right now. If there's a weakness on their team, I have yet to find it.
4. The Goat of the Week is Josh Scobee. Scobee missed two field goal attempts Thursday night in the 4th quarter for the Steelers in a game where they could have buried the Ravens for the season. Instead, the Ravens won the game in overtime and kept their season alive. Scobee has already been released, and the Steelers are now on their fourth kicker for the season. Special teams can make or break a team, and the Steelers are Exhibit A.
5. Tramon Williams was a close runner up for Goat of the Week. The Browns made a huge comeback against the Chargers, tying the game up late in the 4th quarter. With only seconds to go, the Chargers lined up for a game-winning field goal attempt, which Josh Lambo kicked wide right. Most other games would head to overtime, except Tramon Williams was off sides on the play, which meant the Chargers got a re-kick. Lambo made it, the Chargers won the game, and Tramon Williams made a typical Browns finish to a close game.
6. When was the last time the league had so many young, impact wide receivers? Amari Cooper, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, Jr, A.J. Green, and Sammy Watkins, just to start. I can't remember a time when the league had so many good to great young wide receivers all playing at the same time. Green is just starting to reach his prime, and he signed a long-term extension to stay in Cincinnati a few weeks ago. I realize this is very arbitrary, but in the first round of the NFL draft between 2003 and 2005, a total of 16 wide receivers were drafted in the first round, and of those, only 3 went on to have successful careers in the NFL: Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Roddy White. The league's efforts to protect wide receivers from serious injury may play a role in that, but no one can deny the kind of raw talent this group of guys has.