B.J. Raji had one of the most athletic and incredible plays for a nose tackle perhaps in NFL post-season history. But that was the least impressive thing he did in this video. The big man “listed” at 340 pounds, who is probably closer to 4 bills than 3, picked the Bears QB, Hanie off and returned it all of about 9 yards for a TD.
The ensuing TD dance is legendary. Raji shows off some great dance moves and then flashes his championship belt. Of course, I remixed it a bit to spice it up…
Take a look:
By now you’ve seen the Devin Hester return in the MNF game between the Bears and the Vikings. As you know, it was Hester’s 14th career kick return for a TD which is an NFL record. But that’s not the most interesting part of the play. Somehow, this has gone un-noticed by the NFL, both teams involved, and the national media and with all the emphasis lately on the other sideline shenanigans, I’m shocked!
During Hester’s return, Vikings linebacker, Erin Henderson (#50) clearly runs off the sideline onto the field in an attempt (a weak one) to tackle Hester and stop him from scoring. As you’ll see in the video below, he runs onto the field and fails miserably. As you’ll also see, I demonstrated that he was not just a player who was running onto the field late to make up the 11th player for the Vikings. There are clearly already 11 players on the field when the play starts.
This player is clearly attempting to cheat and tackle Hester to break up his TD. It’s amazing to me that given the Sal Alosi and Tyler Brayton issues as of late that no one has picked up on this. Especially the Bears coaching staff who undoubtedly watched the film in great detail.
Anyhow, take a look. It’s pretty amazing!
NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell has drawn some criticism about his handling of the Brett Favre “Sexting” scandal. Some would say that he and the NFL have purposely delayed the investigation and issuance of the final report to allow Favre to play out his last season without facing any further distraction or discipline.
Given the timeline and Goodell’s elusive and sometimes irritated responses, something sure doesn’t add up. Some will say that Sterger didn’t cooperate which delayed the investigation. I don’t buy it as I believe they had enough evidence without speaking to her to render a decision, but even so, she met with the league office more than a month ago. It has taken the Commissioner’s office more than a month to finalize the report that was only missing the Sterger interview.
Then, Goodell has had the final report for over a week, going on 2 weeks now and seems to be continuing to delay. When asked about the status, he now says that he’s asked his people to follow up on some things. If you don’t think Goodell was involved and aware of the investigation every step of the way, you’re fooling yourself. If there were pieces missing, he would have known as it was happening and wouldn’t first come across them when he saw the report last week.
I can’t say for certain that he’s delaying this on purpose, but doesn’t it seem a little off? Listen to his comments and keep the timeline in consideration. Is it possible that he’s delaying the report until Favre can retire to save Favre and the NFL a lot of embarrassment?
In a surprising turn of events, Brett Favre decided that he could give it one more go last night after being declared as “OUT” on the Vikings injury report. I guess the allure of the first outdoor game in Minnesota in 29 years and his last opportunity to play on MNF was too much to pass up. He began the game and actually looked pretty good leading the Vikings down the field for an opening touchdown.
He would only throw 7 passes however and would be forced to leave the game early after suffering a concussion. Favre was wrapped up by a Bears defensive lineman and when he was thrown to the ground, his head hit the hard turf. Favre would lay on the field for a moment and then walk off under his own power. The final word on the injury was a concussion and this adds doubt to Favre being able to suit up for the rest of the season.
So, was this the ‘Ol Gunslinger’s final play of his incredible NFL career?
During yesterday’s game between the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles at Soldier Field, we witnessed yet another tragedy related to a person falling at a sporting event.
23 year old Stewart Haverty was pronounced dead at Northwestern Memorial Hospital at 5:24 PM after he fell out of Soldier Field and landed on a roof-top on the west side of the Stadium. The incident occured at 4:55 PM during the game according to Chicago Police and Fire officials.
Haverty reportedly fell approximately 20 feet and landed on a small roof-top on of the stadium near Lake Shore Drive. Witnesses report that the man ran up to the ledge and jumped.
It is unknown at this point what the man’s intentions were and if drugs or alcohol were involved. An autopsy is schedule for today.
NFL: Beast or Bust
Every year during the first few weeks of the NFL season we get several surprise teams. Teams that come out of nowhere and get off to a great and unexpected start (09 Broncos, ’10 Chiefs) and teams that are popular Super Bowl or division champion picks (’10 49ers, ’10 Cowboys, ’10 Vikings). So with only a few games in the books, which teams are for real? Who will fade like a cheap suit? Which teams that got off to a slow start will rebound and regain the form that we expected?
So which teams are Beasts? And which teams are Busts?
The Steelers are one of the most consistent and well run franchises in the NFL. With their incredible defense, coaching, and with a 2-time Super Bowl winning QB, they are a threat each year to win the division and to advance in the playoffs. The question this year though, was could the Steelers hang on during Big Ben’s 4 game suspension. Not only would they need to play without their franchise QB, but they had a brutal scheduling starting with Atlanta, Tennessee, Tampa Bay (ok not a power but started great), and the Baltimore Ravens. And to top it off, their next TWO QB’s went down with injury forcing the Steelers to bring back Charlie Batch, their 4th string QB! What NFL team can navigate any schedule with even their backup QB? Let alone a 4th string QB who hadn’t played in years?
As we would come to find out, even though the Steelers were missing their franchise QB, their SB MVP and star WR (Santonio Holmes traded to the NYJ), and were down to their 4th string QB, they did have one key component returning… Their All-World safety Troy Polamalu was back in full force and he certainly seemed to be the key piece to the Steeler defense that struggled last year. They opened up the season with incredible performances against the high powered Falcons offense, 2,000 yard rusher Chris Johnson, and the overmatched Buccaneers. Holding the ATL offense to pedestrian production and holding arguably the league’s best RB to 34 yards and a 2.1 YPC average. With the defense back to doing its thing, it seemed that just about anyone could play QB for the steelers and win as they went on to a 3-0 start and came incredibly close to holding off the Ravens to move to 4-0. All said, a close loss to the powerful Ravens without their star QB isn’t the worst thing that could have happened.
The Steelers not only held on during Ben’s suspension, but they thrived and are well positioned to make a run this year. With the NFL’s best defense against the run and a top 5 overall defense, they will be a tough team to beat as Ben returns. If Big Ben tries to do too much and forces interceptions, there’s a chance they could struggle in the short term as they introduce him back into the NFL, but there is no doubt that he will only bolster the team’s chances to make a SB run. Add this to a great defense and a surprising start to the season by RB Rashard Mendenhall (2nd in the NFL in rushing yards) and the Steelers will be a tough team to beat going forward.
A popular Super Bowl pick amongst “Experts” this year, the Ravens only got stronger as they picked up TJ Houshmandzadeh to add to the offseason acquisition of Anquan Boldin. The team that is known for having its incredible defense lead by Ray Lewis pick up the slack for inept offenses, suddenly have a lot of talent offensively. Lead by Joe Flacco who has had a solid start to his NFL career as well as the versatile Ray Rice and veteran stud Tight End Todd Heap, the additions to the WR corps were outstanding. Although the AFC North rival Bengals got all the attention and fanfare for their WR corps, its clear to any true football fan or analyst that the best additions and overall WR corps is in Baltimore.
For the first time perhaps ever, the questions going into the season weren’t about the Ravens offense, but they surrounded the good, but aging and injured defense. Their leader in the secondary and one of the best safeties in the NFL, Ed Reed, was nursing a hip injury and started the season on the PUP list. You must only referenced the Steelers and Colts defense to see the impact that one player can make (Bob Sanders & Troy Polamalu). Anyone who watched the opening game against the highly hyped NYJ could see that Ray Lewis was as good as ever and had the defense ready. Ray Lewis looked just as fast and nasty as ever and the Ravens defense, even without Ed Reed, was clearly for real.
The Ravens started out 3-1 with a questionable loss to the Bengals (personal foul penalties) and they have the NFL’s best overall defense. Anquan Boldin looks incredible as he has absolutely torched teams like the Jets and Browns. This team has looked as good as advertised, if not better, and the return of Ed Reed (if he comes back) should only add more speed, leadership, and intelligence to an already NASTY defense.
New York Jets:
We all know the hype surrounding the NYJ coming into the season due to the larger than life personality of Head Coach Rex Ryan, some of the personalities on the team, and their coverage on Hard Knocks and love affair by ESPN. There were more questions surrounding this team than any other popular Super Bowl pick though as the QB was viewed as a liability, they lost a 1,400 rusher from a year ago, and their star defensive player was entrenched in a long holdout. These questions were only magnified after they lost to the Ravens in the opening game and the offense looked like one of the worst in the NFL. It’s nothing new for the Ravens defense to make opposing offenses look inept, but coming from the presumptive Super Bowl favorites, this created waves. Mark Sanchez looked awful, the coaching staff looked to be protecting him and not giving the offense any chance of success, and while the defense played “OK” statistically, they were torched by the Ravens WR’s and committed a ridiculous amount of penalties. Was this really a Super Bowl caliber team?
Well we all know the Jets answered decisively over the next few weeks and Mark Sanchez responded to Brian Shottenheimer opening up the playbook. And although they lost Revis again (to an injury) after getting DUSTED by Randy Moss, they did beat division rival New England and ultimately improved to 3-1. The loss of Thomas Jones appears, for now, to be a non-issue as LT looks to have his legs back and Shonn Greene is finally playing up to their expectations after a slow start. With two great wins against division opponents New England and Miami, the Jets are perfectly positioned to win the division and make the post-season run they have been telling us about since last year.
Questions will remain about Mark Sanchez as he’s a 2nd year QB and he’s been fairly inconsistent. Questions will remain about some of the aging stars they brought in (LT and Jason Taylor), and questions will remain about the offensive line as the departure of Alan Faneca is a clear weakness for them. Questions will remain about the chemistry as they’ve brought in some guys with off the field problems (Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes). But they still have a very good defense which will only get better as Revis returns (if he stays healthy) and as Calvin Pace returns. They will also get better offensively this week, with the return of Santonio Holmes from a 4 game suspension. Braylon gets alot of the hype, but Holmes is clearly the best WR on the team and he, along with Keller will greatly help Sanchez’s chances at success. If Braylon can keep his head straight and catch footballs, he will provide a great big play threat and the Jets will be incredibly difficult to match up with for opposing defenses.
New England Patriots:
While they were largely forgotten coming into the season due to the ridiculous media coverage of the NYJ, they still had one of the best coaches in the NFL, one of the best QB’s in the NFL, and one of the best WR’s in the NFL. Well… they HAD one of the best WR’s in the NFL until they got sick of his attitude and public concerns with his contract issue and they shipped one of the all-time greatest WR’s to Minnesota last week. The Pats opened up the year with an impressive beat down of the Bengals and their young and questionable defense absolutely SHUT DOWN the Bengals. Wes Welker looked to be mostly back from his horrific knee injury and Tom Brady looked to be… well… Tom Brady.
Against the rival NYJ, the Pats opened up the first half looking good. Moss ROASTED trash talking Revis and immediately after getting beat deep, Revis pulled up with a hamstring injury. For whatever reason, however, the second half was a different story as Moss seemed to disappear and the Jets took complete control of the game. Sanchez torched the Pats young defense and the Jets pulled away. Despite this bad loss to a division rival, the Pats finished the first quarter of the season at 3-1 and in good position to make another Belichickian run.
While they still have a great coach, a great QB, and a pretty good WR in Welker, there are probably more questions than answers at this point for the Pats. They have some very good young talent on both sides of the ball. Aaron Hernandez looks to be a complete stud and another great draft pick by the Pats at TE. He looks big, fast and plays more like a WR than a TE. Welker is great, but there is a question about what he’ll actually do without the amazing Randy Moss stretching the field and drawing coverage. There is some young talent on defense, but they look lost at times and their youth and inexperience definitely shows. The Pats have little to no running game and the offensive line isn’t as solid as in years past. Its never a good thing when you’re without some of your most talented players (Moss & Mankins). They play in a very tough division and even though they destroyed the Dolphins last week, the Phins are never an easy win.
So while it would never surprise me if Belichick and Brady defied the odds and beat more talented teams with their strategy, experience, and intelligence, I’m having a hard time placing them with the elite teams in the NFL. The loss of Moss, in my opinion, will be dramatic this season as he makes everyone around him better. He has historically made average QB’s good, good QB’s great, and great QB’s immortal (Brady ’07). He draws so much attention in the opposing game plan, coverage schemes, etc. that he opens up so much of the field for his other WR’s (Jake Reed in the first Minnesota stint). While I think Welker will be effective still and he’ll get a lot of targets, he won’t be quite as dangerous without Moss. And while the defense will probably improve under the tutelage of “The Hoody”, they’ll likely struggle in big spots. This is tough for me as I picked the Pats to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this year, but they are significantly weakened by the Moss trade and that only amplifies the already existing questions about the running game, O-line, and defense. I don’t think they’ll be a complete bust, as they’ll probably still make the playoffs, but as far as Patriots standards go, they will be a bust.
The Texans have been primed for a breakout season for a number of years now. With some solid drafts and acquisitions they have some incredible talent such as Andre Johnson, Matt Shaub, Mario Williams, Brian Cushing, etc. They have had a high powered passing game for years and it shows no sign of slowing down. The major questions for the Texans would be the defense, running game, and whether they could ever beat the rival Colts. Through the first quarter of the season, they have done everything in their power to answer these questions.
The passing game is as prolific as ever despite a hobbled Andre Johnson. On one leg, he’s better than 90% of the WR’s in the NFL and once he’s fully healthy the rest of the NFL will be in some serious trouble. They’ve also gotten some great production out of Jacoby Jones and they have one of the better TE’s in the NFL in Owen Daniels. The key factor for the Texans in the early season, though, is the breakout perfromance by Arian Foster. Under Kubiak’s zone blocking scheme originated in Denver, they finally appear to have the RB to fit their system. Foster broke onto the scene with a 231 yard performance against the Colts, Foster leads the NFL in rushing and leads the next closest player by more than 120 yards. They absolutely manhandled the rival Colts and sent a message to Indy and the rest of the NFL that they were ready to take the next step.
Not only did the Texans running game run rough-shot on the Colts, but Mario Williams and the Texans defense were outstanding. They have struggled in the secondary but there are some mitigating factors. The Texans score a lot of points and have had the lead for a large portion of the games. This obviously causes opposing teams to pass a lot and inflates the stats against the secondary. With that being said, the secondary is definitely the weak spot on this team, in my opinion. The D-line is very good lead by Mario Williams, and the LB corps will get a huge boost with the return of Brian Cushing from his suspension. If the front 7 isn’t able to get great pressure and help the secondary out, the Texans will likely be forced to be involved in many many shootouts. They’ll win most of the shootouts because of their incredible offense and ability to control the ball with the running game, but I’ll be shocked if they can win many games in the playoffs that way. With very good teams in the AFC North and East, the wild card is likely to come out of both divisions. In order to safely secure a spot in the playoffs, the Texans will need to hold off the Colts for the division crown.
And while the Texans have done everything they can thus far to position themselves to win the South, and although Indy is struggling at 2-2, it’s not going to be easy to hold off Peyton Manning. I think the Texans a very good team and have a solid chance at the division or the wild card, but I’ll put my money on Peyton winning a shootout against Shaub. I know, I know… Shaub just beat him… But as the season wears on, Peyton will get even better and he’ll expose the Texans defense. If the Texans are able to get past Indy, I still have huge concerns with them beating the strong defenses like the Jets, Steelers and Ravens in the playoffs. So I think the Texans are one of the better teams in the AFC and have a great shot at the playoffs, but overall, they wont compete with the elite teams. For the franchise to make the playoffs it certainly wouldn’t be considered a bust, but stacked up against the best, they will bust.
The Colts have looked, well… average, even with the best QB in the NFL. Honestly, Peyton is the only thing holding the team together at this point. Their defense was GASHED by the Texans in week 1, and they lost Bob Sanders (AGAIN) for the season with an injury. The WR’s have been injured and even though un-drafted, no-name WR’s are getting playing time, Peyton makes them look like Pro-Bowlers. The O-line struggles more than stats will show as Peyton is so good at reading defenses and getting rid of the ball before he can be sacked and they have struggled to run the ball consistently. Addai had one good game which is more than he usually has in an entire year and does so some signs of life. The defense has been awful and allowed the Jaguars to drive down the field in the 2 minute drill after Peyton put them ahead late in the game. The defense was embarrassed throughout the game against the Jaguars as they made Garrard look like Mike Vick.
Peyton Manning legitimately means more to his team than any other player in the NFL. He is putting up his normal, ridiculous Peyton numbers with a bad O-line, no running game, and average to below average WR’s. The Colts would be LUCKY to win 4 games without Peyton. With all those issues, Peyton is so damn good, that he will have the Colts in a position to make the playoffs and advance by the end of the year. They certainly look like a bust at this point and they as many holes on their team as any contender, but it is all outweighed by the “Peyton Effect”. Despite all the weaknesses, Peyton will lead them to the playoffs and they will be a factor in December/January.
Verdict: BEAST (eventually)
Kansas City Chiefs:
Probably the biggest surprise team in the NFL through the first 4 weeks, the KC Chiefs are positioned atop the AFC West at 3-0. They opened up with an ugly win against division rival San Diego. Many, including me, wrote this off to the Chargers typically slow starts as the Chiefs won with defense and special teams and the offense was unimpressive. The next win against the Browns was also discounted as they snuck by the Browns who appeared to have one of the worst offenses in the NFL. They went on to beat a quality, but struggling SF team in blowout fashion. Cassel has looked average, but the running game with Thomas Jones and Jamal Charles has been very good. The young defense is playing well with some very good players acquired in recent drafts and veteran leadership in Mike Vrabel.
Perhaps the most impact, however, has come from the reunion of former Patriots coaches, Charlie Weiss and Romeo Crennel. Both struggled as head coaches at South Bend and Cleveland respectively, but no one can deny their effectiveness as coordinators in the NFL. Both have immediately improved their units and under the leadership of Todd Haley, the Chiefs are a surprising 3-0. But surprise starts are not uncommon. Look at the Denver Broncos last year who looked great and then tanked. So are they really the best team in the West? Or are they the beneficiary of some helpful events?
Look, the Chiefs are ALOT better than in years past and they’ve made some very good draft picks on both sides of the ball. Jamal Charles is becoming a very good back, Dexter McCluster looks to be a dynamic player and they acquired Thomas Jones and Matt Cassell to bolster the offense. They’ve selected Derrick Johnson, Glen Dorsey, and Eric Berry and acquired veteran LB and former Patriot, Mike Vrabel. They are by far a better team than they’ve been in some time. But they are NOT one of the NFL’s best team and I’ll be shocked if they end up winning the AFC West. The Chargers have their own issues, but they typically start slow and finish strong. The Chiefs have to face Peyton Manning this week and I fully expect them to start losing some games.
San Diego Chargers:
As discussed above, the Chargers lost to the Chiefs and got off to their usual slow and pathetic start to the NFL season. They have a lot of talent, but have also lost some of their key players from past years. Vincent Jackson is one of the NFL’s most dynamic WR’s and has not and will not play due to suspension and contract arguments with asshole GM AJ Smith. Marcus McNeil missed several games but finally signed his tender, but how good will he be after missing that much time and surely being disgruntled. Other key departures include LT and Cromartie to the Jets and both appear to be adding great value to their new teams.
The Chargers always start slow, but will they be able to recover this year? The running game has been bad for a number of years even with LT, but the passing game has been so dynamic that it didn’t matter. Phillip Rivers emerged as a top flight QB and has had weapons everywhere. The loss of Jackson, even with Gates playing well, has hurt the Chargers and will continue to hurt them. The defense has struggled for years and doesn’t appear to be any better. Their one-time strong pass rush with Merriman and Phillips has been average as Merriman hasn’t been the same since serving his steroid suspension.
San Diego has their share of holes, but they have the benefit of playing in the 2nd weakest division in the NFL. The true threat to the AFC West title in my mind will come from Denver who is well coached and is playing very well. The Chargers will surpass the Chiefs and likely win the division as they have slightly less holes than Denver does and I think they’ll eventually get it rolling and defend the division title.
Verdict: BEAST (by default)
One of the other surprise teams in the NFL thus far has been the Chicago Bears with some very impressive wins against the Cowboys and Packers (two popular Super Bowl picks). Jay Cutler is slingin’ the ball around all over the place and making better decisions. The addition of Mike Martz certainly seems to be helping Cutler and the Bears offense as they have been very impressive early in the season. Forte is looking good again after a couple down years and is a true double threat. Greg Olsen is a monster and will eventually develop into a top TE and Cutler is spreading the ball around to the WR’s. The addition of Chester Taylor has also brought veteran leadership and a very good 3rd down back to the offense.
The addition of Julius Peppers and return of Brian Urlacher have the Bears defense playing pretty well also. The secondary is a huge concern, but their conservative Tampa 2 defense protects them to a degree. Bottom line, the Bears are 3-1 and 2-0 sitting atop the NFC North. The high powered Chicago offense was more than exposed last week against the NYG as Jay Cutler was sacked 9 times in the first half. The O-line was putrid and Cutler was concussed. So which team are the Bears? The team that beat the SB contending Packers and Cowboys? Or the team that got demolished by the Giants?
It’s my opinion that while the Martz offense is high flying and exciting in September and October, there is NO WAY it will hold up in the NFC North in November, December and January. The weather and wind in Chicago and Green Bay will be a huge detriment to this offense and for a team that cannot run the ball or protect the QB very well, they will struggle offensively as the season progresses. The defense will likely continue to be solid and might improve throughout the year pending injury, but the defense isn’t good enough to cover up a bad offense. The Bears will fall and fast.
Green Bay Packers:
With Aaron Rodgers playing like one of the top the QB’s in the NFL just behind Manning, Brees and Brady, and with a very solid WR corps, GB is formidable team in the NFC. With the #2 defense in 2009, the Packers also have a very good defense this year. Clay Matthews has emerged as one of the top pass rushers in the NFL so far this year and they have the defending Defensive Player of the Year in Charles Woodson. When the Packers get some of their injured secondary players back, they will only improve.
The biggest question for GB will be their ability to run the ball in the weather of the NFC North. They’re a questionable running team at best, and when they lost their starting RB Ryan Grant for the season, this question is amplified. Is Rodgers good enough to carry this offense with NO running game in the elements of the AFC North? Along with the very good and underrated defense, I think so. It won’t be easy, and any time you’re one dimensional, bad things can happen…. but I do think they’re the class of the division, despite the talent of the Vikings.
The Vikings came very close to representing the NFC in the SB last year and despite so many “look at me” moments by Favre in the off-season, he finally returned as training camp ended. This is not the same Vikings team from last year though as they lost a very underrated Sidney Rice (who made Favre look much better than he should have last year and covered up his mistakes) to a hip injury and Percy Harvin has struggled with various ailments so far this year. The loss of Chester Taylor while rarely discussed is also a huge blow to the offense as he was a big part of their success. The O-line was exposed by NO last year and doesn’t appear to be much better. The defense which was incredible last year in getting pressure with the outstanding front four has looked average this year. Favre, the ESPN favorite, has looked awful and everyone is making excuses for him. So how bad are they?
Before the season started, I thought they’d be lucky to make the playoffs. After the first 3 games, I felt pretty comfortable in that prediction. Favre looked bad, and would FINALLY catch some heat for his nude pictures he sent to a Jets sideline reporter that ESPN tried to protect him from for the past 3 months. But with the acquisition of Randy Moss last week, all bets are off. Moss has routinely made QB’s look better than they really are and I think that will continue this year. He will bail Favre out and salvage his season and he will instantly revive the passing game. Not to mention, Peterson has been impressive all year and will only be better with Moss stretching the field. If the offense can finally play up to expectations, they will stop putting the defense in bad situations and the defense should regain its form from a year ago.
Can a non-QB really make that big of a difference? When it’s Randy Moss, yes. He creates such an impact for teams, I see him instantly covering up many flaws of Favre and the offense. They do draw the Jets this week, and that will not be an easy win with or without Moss. They may lose this week to the Jets, but in the long-term, I see them rebounding and making a run for the division or the wildcard.
Although they started off very slow and looked awful for the first 2 weeks, they rebounded with a solid victory over a very good Texans team going into the bye week. There is no question, the Cowboys are one of the most talented teams in the NFL, but the concerns have always been with the coaching and clutch play of the QB. This, along with the porous offensive line are still major concerns. Despite having 3 very good backs and pretty good run blocking o-line, Jason Garrett has been pass happy in underutilizing these RB’s. But the potential is certainly there and if Romo can stay upright, they have great talent on the perimeter.
The defense got hot late in the year last year and I think they can do the same this year. Led by stud at OLB Demarcus Ware, they should improve each week and start to wreak havoc for opposing offenses. There are certainly question marks surrounding this team that I think will keep them from doing any major damage in the playoffs, but the NFC East is less than impressive this year. The Cowboys, despite their horrible start, are well positioned to win the East as I don’t see any other team being consistent enough to hold them off. The Eagles might make some noise if Vick returns and continues to impress, but they have way too many holes on the O-line and defensively to compete.
Verdict: Beast (eventually)
New Orleans Saints:
The defending Super Bowl champions came into the season positioned for another strong playoff run. They’re returning Drew Brees who is one of the best QB’s in the NFL and the offense shows no signs of slowing down. The biggest question would be with the Saints running game and whether or not the opportunistic defense would be able to repeat the magic from a year ago.
4 weeks into the season, the Saints offense has looked average. The high powered offense that we’re used to seeing from Drew Brees and Sean Payton was surprisingly grounded. The defense, without safety Darren Sharper, doesn’t look nearly as good as it was last year either. The running game has always been a concern and they lost the versatile Reggie Bush for several weeks due to injury. At this point, nearly everything is working against the Saints as they even lost a close divisional game to the Falcons due to a shanked FG by Hartley (who sent them to the SB last year).
The Falcons look strong, and with the Saints struggles, is it possible for them to repeat as division winners? Let alone make another deep playoff run? I actually think they can. Despite all the issues and early misfortunes, they are still 3-1 and just behind ATL in the division. The offense will eventually get going and when Sharper returns the defense will be much improved. I don’t see them repeating as super bowl champs, but they will certainly make some noise.
The Falcons have been building on solid drafts and good seasons for the past couple years and many people picked them to knock off the Saints as division winners in 2010. Only losing a very close game to a tough Steelers team, the Falcons appear to be for real. Despite injuries to their RB’s, they have been able to effectively move the ball on the ground with backups and Matt Ryan, while not spectacular, has been good. Roddy White and Tony Gonzales are great options and when Michael Turner returns to form, this will be a dangerous offense.
Despite the lack of big name stars on defense, they have played very well on this side of the ball. They have a solid front 4 with John Abraham and Jamaal Anderson and a solid LB corps. Although they could’ve very easily lost the game to the Saints, they showed that they can certainly play with the defending Super Bowl champs. Mike Smith seems to have this team poised for a run at the division and the playoffs.
It’s a toss up to me which team wins the division, but I’ll be surprised if both teams aren’t in the playoffs. The Falcons should continue to get better and with their running game and solid QB play, they can do some major damage in the NFC playoffs.
San Francisco 49ers
There are actually no teams that can be considered BEASTS, as this is the weakest division in football. But given the 49ers’ high hopes coming into the season and being basically awarded the division before the season started, they are certainly on the list as a BUST. They should have one of the best defenses in the NFL Patrick Willis and Nate Clements leading the defense and Clements actually threw away their first win of the year last week against the Falcons. They should be able to run the ball very effectively with Frank Gore and Vernon Davis is an outstanding TE.
They got out of the gates at 0-4 however, and while they can potentially recover and win the division by default, they are a huge bust. I wouldn’t be surprised if either St. Louis or Seattle end up winning the division, but bottom-line is, no team from this division will make any waves in the playoffs.