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Late Night Drive, NFL Edition: Falcons Exorcise a Demon, Peyton is Back, Saints & Packers Disappoint, Reid’s Mishandling of Vick….

So week one of the NFL season is almost complete, so it’s time for the late night wrap up of the week that was. Unlike college football with a nationwide ranking system, and of course about 50 games a week, or more, the layout has to be a little bit different, so for week one, we’ll just go game by game.

Atlanta 40, Kansas City 24- In all fairness, this game was really 40-17, that was a garbage touchdown scored by Kansas City, which , fortunately with advancement in football statistics, won’t hardly count for anything at all in the grand scheme of things.

The Falcons were previously 0-3 in games against Kansas City in Arrowhead, having been outscored an absurd 108-23. Their 40 points posted Sunday afternoon nearly doubled what they’d scored in their previous three trips to Kansas City. Matt Ryan accounted for four touchdowns, including two to Julio Jones. The Ryan to Jones combination has the potential to rank among the most, if not THE most, lethal quarterback/receiver duos in the NFL.

The Falcons started slowly, but completely dominated the game in the second half. While the offense clicked all throughout the game, not even punting until just over 3:00 left in the game, the defense sputtered at the outset. However, adjustments were made at the half, and until the garbage time score with under :10 to go in the game, the defense threw a shutout in the second half, including the forcing of a couple of turnovers.

Of some concern for Falcons fans is the continued lack of production in the running game, especially Michael Turner. Only 32 yards coming on 11 carries, with 11 coming on one run. Yeah, your math tells you that’s 10 carries for 21 yards. That’s not good. I think however this coaching staff is smart enough to realize this team no longer goes as Michael Turner goes, it goes as Matt Ryan goes.

Despite that though, no question about it, Atlanta has to feel really, really good about itself right now, as Matt Ryan finally won a season opener on the road. It was also the second most road points scored (45 vs San Francisco in 2009) by the Falcons in the Matt Ryan era. Next Monday night’s home opener for Atlanta against the Broncos just became very, very interesting.

For Kansas City, injuries and suspension hurt their defense, but giving up 40 points at home, in your home opener, and season opener, just shouldn’t be happening. They’ll get a chance to get back on track in Buffalo next week, another team who gave up over 40 points to being the season. The offense moved the ball quite effectively in the first half, but three turnovers were just too much to overcome for Kansas City who saw Sunday night that taking the division from Denver will not be easy.

Denver 31, Pittsburgh 19- What a huge win it was for Denver. And really, it had little to do even with who the opponent was, or what the final score was, what mattered was how Peyton Manning played. Well, I don’t think quarterback is going to be any worry whatsoever in Denver as the season rolls forward.

Manning seemed to have a solid connection already with his new toys, Eric Decker, and Demaryius Thomas, as well as old friend Brandon Stokely. Manning, once allowed complete control and command of the offense in the no huddle, looked every bit like the Peyton Manning we last saw in Indianapolis. The difference he brings to this offense as opposed to Tim Tebow is staggering. Any Tebow fan who argues this team isn’t light years better with Manning seriously needs to consider therapy. Manning went 19 of 26 for 256 yards a couple of scores, and you figure he’s only going to get better as the season goes on.

However, if there is a reason to temper the excitement, it is that the Steelers were banged up on defense, and it is that the Steelers season ended last year, to Denver, with Tim Tebow at quarterback even.

The Steelers just aren’t quite what they were. They cannot protect the passer, and they can’t just line up and run right at you. They have weapons on offense, but without a decent offensive line, it’s hard to consistently use them. Defensively, I’m sorry, when James Harrison and Ryan Clark aren’t suiting up for your defense, against a Peyton Manning led offense, it’s going to make a huge difference.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this game was presence of Georgia Tech and Georgia. Knowshon Moreno and Demaryius Thomas each scored touchdowns, while Jonathan Dwyer had one called back on replay. Dwyer throughout the game exhibited toughness and an ability to finish runs with authority. Behind that offensive line, the Steelers will need that. Furthermore, former Yellow Jacket Keith Brooking saw the field for the Broncos, and Drew Butler, a product of Georgia was the Steelers punter.

Washington 40, New Orleans 32– Kansas City wasn’t the only team who allowed someone to come into their building and put 40 points on them on opening day. But at least they allowed a veteran team who has been to the playoffs in three of the last four seasons to do it. The Saints allowed a team with just three playoff appearances in the last 19 seasons to come in and do it.

Since 2008, the Redskins have ranked 28th, 26th, 25th, and 26th in the NFL in scoring. So what do they do in week one against the Saints? Explode for 464 yards and 40 points in knocking off the Saints in the Superdome, which is absolutely no small task.

Obviously Robert Griffin III took the early lead in the, Griffin vs Luck, battle, but this was about more than just outperforming the only player drafted ahead of Griffin in the 2012 draft. This was about Robert Griffin looking like he’d been doing this at this level for years. He got off to a blistering start, cooled for a stretch, and then picked up his play again to ice the win late as the Saints attempted to mount a comeback. Griffin went 19 of 26 for 320 yards with a couple scores, as well as 42 yards on the ground. Perhaps even more importantly? No interceptions and he was only sacked once.

A nice surprise for the Redskins though was the emergence of Alfred Morris. Coming out of camp and the pre-season, nobody seemed to have any idea what Mike Shannahan’s plan of attack would be at the running back positions. Morris got 28 carries and came up just shy of the century mark, as his debut was overshadowed by Griffins.

The Redskins defense played well too, though you might think allowing 32 points says otherwise. Then you remember it was the New Orleans Saints, at home, so really, as long as the defense allows less than the offense scored, they played well.

For the Saints, you wonder how quickly this will squelch the talk of how the Saints will be just fine without their coaches and that the still looming Bounty Gate won’t affect them. Perhaps the defense needs those extra incentives to go out and actually stop people.

New Orleans got down early and basically had to become one dimensional, but still, ten total rushing attempts? I don’t care that Drew Brees is at quarterback, that’s not going to get it done, ever, against anyone in the NFL.

And while the Panthers did not look good in their opener, the way Griffin carved up the Saints defense, New Orleans can’t exactly sleep well knowing that Cam Newton awaits them next week in Charlotte.

San Francisco 30, Green Bay 22- Alex Smith has heard all off-season that last year was a fluke, that the 49ers won in spite of him, that the team needed to add a quarterback to take that next step, yada yada yada. So what did Smith do? Go up to Lambeau field and take on the majority favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and walk away with a 30-22 victory over the Packers. Not only that, he did so by playing a key role, and playing brilliantly.

Smith went 20 for 26 for 211 yards and two touchdowns, but perhaps most encouraging was that four completions a piece went to new receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. The addition of those two weapons to complement Michael Crabtree and what is still a solid running game makes the 49ers offense go from one that simply isn’t going to lose a game, to one that might be able to win a few when called upon.

The feeling now is that last year’s playoff game against the Saints where Alex Smith made play after play to take the victory may have been him taking that proverbial next step.

On the other side, much like the Saints, the Packers couldn’t establish anything resembling a running game. They only ran the ball 14 times, but of perhaps more worry is that Cedric Benson was the only person besides quarterback Aaron Rodgers to run the ball. Worse? He ran it 9 times for only 18 yards.

I know the league is indeed a passing league, and the Saints and Packers are two of the very best when it comes to throwing the ball around and scoring a lot of points. But football is still football, and you cannot be that one dimensional, and that incapable of running the football, and expect to win.

Green Bay will be traveling to Chicago next for a Sunday night game with a healthy, and improved Bears team. Chicago mimics the 49ers in a lot of ways, with perhaps a defense just a notch below, but an offense that’s arguably a couple notches higher with the addition of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey.

Chicago 41, Indianapolis 21- Speaking of Chicago, their debut really couldn’t have gone any better from their standpoint. The defense harassed Andrew Luck into four turnovers and just 2 for 10 on 3rd downs. While the offense reeled of 428 yards, all the while making excellent use of some new toys (Marshall, Jeffrey and Michael Bush) and the return of some injured ones (Jay Cutler and Matt Forte) as the Bears were able to run the ball and throw it effectively.

Chicago may have been behind the Lions and Packers a year ago, but they served notice that this team is going to be in the mix, and a win next week over Green Bay would give the Bears a gigantic early edge. You talk about a big time football game……

Philadelphia 17, Cleveland 16- Seriously Michael Vick, four interceptions? Wait, I’m sorry, the blame there is going to the wrong person. Seriously Andy Reid, 56 pass attempts from Michael Vick? You do know you have LeSean McCoy in your backfield, correct? It’s great that Vick was able to lead the team back down the field late for the winning touchdown. But it’s not great that Vick had to lead the team down the field late for a winning touchdown against the Browns.

Reid’s handling of Vick is mind boggling, to say the least. Vick has never been, and never will be, a pocket passer. You’re going to have a lot of drives stall when you throw 27 incomplete passes, it’s as simple as that. Further more, the majority of Vick’s injuries in his career have not occurred when he’s running around doing his thing with his legs, but rather when he’s asked to stand in the pocket and abuse the punishment of guys being able to line up their hits on Vick. Barry Sanders rarely got hurt, despite the massive work load he shouldered. Why? Because nobody ever got a clean shot on Sanders because of his elusiveness and quickness. The same holds true for Vick. When he’s standing stationary in the pocket, that’s when he’s most vulnerable. If Reid doesn’t realize this soon, this season may be over soon for the Eagles, and so might Reid’s tenure in Philadelphia

Detroit 27, St. Louis 23- Don’t worry Matt Stafford, I see you too. I won’t let Vick take in all the accolades for throwing the ball to the wrong team too many times and being forced to engineer a late comeback against a vastly inferior opponent. Stafford threw three interceptions but got things together just enough at the end to avoid what would have been an ugly, ugly loss to the Rams.

I heard Tom Jackson say tonight that as a quarterback, what matters most is being able to lead a team to victory regardless of how bad you’ve played all game. Well, if they didn’t play so bad all game, they wouldn’t have to lead a team from behind for a victory, now would they?

New England 34, Tennessee 13- Pay attention Green Bay. Pay attention New Orleans. This is how you win with an elite quarterback and a team that likes to throw the football around. You still establish a running game. Steven Ridley got 21 carries, more than Saints and Packers running backs combined, and ran for 125 yards as New England cruised past the Titans.

Bad news for the Titans was Jake Locker leaving the game with an injury, though, I don’t think at this point it really makes that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. Tennessee was just clearly overmatched by a good football team.

Minnesota 26, Jacksonville 23- In what was perhaps the one game that most featured two teams who are mirror images of each other, it ended as it should have, in overtime.

Both teams have been linked to Los Angeles, both teams had a question about how much playing time their elite running back would play, and both have second year quarterbacks who struggled as rookies at the helm.

For today, Christian Ponder outplayed Blaine Gabbert, and Adrian Peterson outplayed Maurice Jones-Drew as the Vikings got off to a 1-0 start while the Jaguars joined the Colts and Titans at 0-1 in the AFC South in what is already promising to be the worst division in football.

Houston 30, Miami 10- Speaking of that worst division in football, there is absolutely no reason for the Houston Texans not to repeat as division champs, and they quietly went out and took care of business against the Dolphins. The formula was simple, play really good defense, let Matt Schaub be effective, ride Arian Foster and let Andre Johnson do his thing. As mentioned, a division title should be an absolute breeze for the Texans.

New York Jets 48, Buffalo 28- In the game that reminds us again that pre-season doesn’t mean anything, the team that couldn’t score all exhibition season, suddenly couldn’t not score. Rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill from Georgia Tech hauled in two touchdown passes from Mark Sanchez as the Jets made a loud, and emphatic statement.

C.J. Spiller will likely take the award as player fantasy players most wish they had started. The Clemson product took over when Fred Jackson left with an injury and ran for 169 yards, including a 56 yard touchdown scamper. For a Bills team that seriously believed they were ready to jump to the next level of playoff contender, the blowout loss is a serious blow to the confidence. Chan Gailey better get things turned around quickly as next week Gailey gets to face another another wide receiver he recruited while at Georgia Tech as Calvin Johnson and the Lions are next on the schedule.

Arizona 20, Seattle 16- If you wanted to watch good offense, you probably would have had more luck watching the first half of the Georgia Tech/Virginia Tech game last week. No, seriously. The two teams combined to barely top 500 yards of offense. However, the Arizona Cardinals may have finally found a quarterback, though not at all in the manner I’m sure they expected. When John Skelton went out with a bad ankle sprain, former starter, then banished to a backup Kevin Kolb entered the game. Kolb went 6 of 8 and engineered the go ahead drive for the Cardinals. Arizona played solidly down the stretch a year ago, and if they can get remotely solid quarterback play, they might be able to sneak into wildcard contention considering the weakness of Seattle and St. Louis and the potential for four division wins right there.

Tampa Bay 16, Carolina 10- So this is the Panthers team people were talking about possibly being the spoiler of the Falcons/Saints rivalry and displacing the two of them atop the division? Yeah, okay. Carolina ran the ball 13 times, and got just 10 yards. No, they did not have Jonathan Stewart, but they did have DeAngelo Williams and Cam Newton, and that was all they could muster against Tampa Bay? Not a good sign, at all.

Tampa displayed the toughness that is expected from a Greg Schiano coached team and found a way to a gritty win. If Carolina is going to challenge for the division, they’re going to need to go win some surprise road games, and Tampa seemed one of the most winnable on the schedule. Now they get to come home to New Orleans, where it’s assured that one of the two will be 0-2, and you know how likely it is an 0-2 makes the playoffs.

So yes, it’s only been one week, and even this week isn’t done, as we get two games on Monday night. For some teams, there were some major disappointments, while others excelled, as is to be expected. What will be key is how those faced with adversity or major questions respond in week two, and how those who looked the part of a contender handle that success.

MNF picks:

Ravens over Bengals

Chargers over Raiders

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Are You Serious Hawks?

The Atlanta Hawks had won 9 of 11 games following a disappointing loss to New Orleans on the day after Christmas, including wins on the road against Utah and Miami. Joe Johnson had gotten his shooting legs back under him, and Jamal Crawford had seemed to have put the distraction of his contract status behind him. The Hawks had edged ahead of Orlando, and appeared to be nearing the level of the Heat, Bulls and maybe even Celtics in the eastern conference pecking order.

Oops.

It’s funny, or, actually, it really isn’t; today Mark Bradly wrote in the AJC about the ridiculous futility of which Atlanta sports teams are known. I myself wrote the first installment of a ten part series looking at the ten most heartbreaking moments in Atlanta sports history.

Fittingly, the Hawks gave us a performance that was too dreadful to even be heartbreaking, but it was a beautifully crafted microcosm of the Atlanta sports scene. Seriously, it absolutely could not be written any better, or more accurately.

As mentioned, the Hawks had beaten some quality teams. A team long accused of lacking effort on the defensive end had become one of the more stingy defensive teams in the league.

Guys were hustling, guys were communicating. On offense the ball was moving. You almost had to a double take, this looked like a legit basketball team. An NBA championship winning squad? Of course not, what do you think this is, the NFL, or Major League Baseball? You can count on one hand teams with legit title chances in the NBA.

However, this was indeed a team capable of perhaps spoiling a playoff run for one of those teams, and a team capable of doing itself, and its city proud, in the NBA playoffs.

Having already defeated Orlando twice, they of the historically bad playoff beat down delivered to the Hawks last spring, the Hawks appeared no longer to be that team. This Hawks squad might actually be a threat to win a game in the 2nd round this year (never mind the fact the Atlanta Hawks have never once won a 2nd round series, and only in two different season have ever played a potential clinching game in the 2nd round), and not embarrass themselves.

Uh, yeah, sorry about that.

Tonight was one of the worst performances by an NBA basketball team, ever. Yes, it was one of the worst by an Atlanta Hawks team ever, but also any other team that has called itself professional.

It was the sort of night that makes you wonder how they  look in the mirror and can actually use the word professional to describe themselves.

Oh, we were missing Al Horford and Marvin Williams. Boo-hoo. We have been missing Marvin Williams for the last few weeks, we’ve seemed to be able to get over it.

We lost Al Horford in the 4th quarter, while in Miami, against that Heat squad (you may have heard of them), and still managed to find a way to win.

So you can save the excuses. This Hawks squad still trots out a perennial all-star in Joe Johnson, the league’s best sixth man in Jamal Crawford, and an all-star candidate and one of the best stat sheet fillers in the league in Josh Smith.

That’s enough to be competitive. Well, it should be.

Someone forgot to tell them that.

Down 49-34 at half-time, at home, to a New Orleans Hornets team that, while a good basketball team, and blessed with one of the game’s great players in Chris Paul, isn’t exactly the Miami Heat, is bad enough.

At this point, you have to think, well, we surely can’t put up 34 points in the 2nd half too. This is an NBA team, with NBA players, and some good ones, guys who can shoot, and score.

If you thought that, you were right.

They couldn’t put up 34 points. They could only come up with 25. Yes, that’s right, a professional basketball team, a playoff caliber basketball team, in the NBA, could only score 25 points in 24 minutes. And sometimes people wonder why the U.S. National team struggles. If, in the premier basketball league in the world, with supposedly among the greatest players in the world, you can have a team score a lousy 25 points, in their own building, in a full half of play, you have issues.

This is not about what New Orleans did tonight, it is strictly about what Atlanta didn’t do. No NBA team is good enough to go on the road, to a team with the talent of Atlanta, and beat them by 41 points without a lot of help from the hosts. Nobody is good enough defensively to limit a team to just 25 points in their own building, again, not without help from the hosts.

That the Hawks allowed this to happen speaks volumes about this team. They aren’t ready to take another next step. They might not even be able to replicate what they did last season.

Yes, this team with Horford and Williams is much better. But this isn’t about how much talent is on this team. Talent hasn’t been an issue for the Hawks in a couple of years now. Few teams can match the Hawks in terms of raw talent and athleticism.

However, you could argue that there are 29 with a substantial surplus of heart, desire, care, and effort.

It wasn’t until 4:43 was left in the game tonight that the Hawks even had enough points to outscore the Green Bay Packers last Saturday night.

 

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Apparently Falcons Are Lucky, Packers Are Good

Well, that’s what seems to be the foregone conclusion among some of the so-called experts who are going to spend the next few days telling all of us what to expect during the NFL playoffs this weekend.

Alas, these “experts” have apparently chosen to not allow facts and reality to get in the way of them tooting their own horn, and continuing to doubt the Atlanta Falcons.

Supposedly the fact that the Atlanta Falcons have won several close games means they aren’t really that good, and are due for a playoff loss. Never mind the fact that the Falcons did what you’re supposed to do, find ways to win. These “experts” conveniently seem to forget that while Atlanta only lost three games, and Green Bay found a way to lose twice that many, of the Packers 10 victories, many of those could have been losses.

Apparently these people forget this is the NFL, where any given Sunday any team can beat anyone else (how else do you explain the Patriots losing to the Browns?). Winning is the name of the game, just getting victories is hard enough. When talking about the health of the game, they love to refer to this as parity. When talking about the Atlanta Falcons, they try to refer to it as weakness on part of the Falcons.

I imagine when examining the Packers schedule and results, they just decided it was parity there too. Sure, Atlanta’s 13-3 could have easily been 10-6, or 7-9. It also very easily could have been 15-1. Just as Green Bay’s 10-6 could have easily been 6-10. But people forget that, don’t they?

The Eagles opener? Could’ve just as easily been a loss (as I’ve heard people refer to the Bengals game as one Atlanta could have lost, so, this qualifies too). I seem to recall the Eagles having the ball, down 7, in Green Bay territory with less than 2:00 to go in the football game. But I guess Green Bay just dominated that game though, right? Had this been the Falcons we’d only hear about how fortunate they were that Vick hadn’t come in the game earlier? Or how fortunate they were that Andy Reid can’t manage a clock or appropriately call plays in short yardage situations.

Detroit, at home, a few weeks later? The Packers win this one by a paltry two points, at home, over the Lions. Detroit, like Philadelphia, had the ball, with a chance to win, in the middle of the 4th quarter. But alas, this wasn’t the Falcons, so it’s a case of a win being a win, who cares how it happened, right? Had it been Atlanta, we’d be hearing about how pitiful it was for the Falcons to squeak by such an inferior opponent.

Minnesota, three weeks after that? Down just four, inside the Green Bay 20 late in the 4th quarter. The Vikings actually scored the go ahead touchdown, but had the play reversed. Minnesota wasn’t able to get the points back. But obviously, this wasn’t a game Green Bay could have lost, was it? Had it been Atlanta, we’d have been hearing about how lucky they were the play was overturned.

In the season finale against Chicago, Jay Cutler and the Bears were marching their way towards a tying touchdown when Jay Cutler had a relapse into the Cutler of old. To hear the experts, it was Green Bay’s defense making a play and rising up. Had this been the Falcons, we’d be hearing about how lucky they were that Jay Cutler made a bad decision there.

Let’s also keep in mind that the three teams Atlanta lost to all made the playoffs this year, two of them won their division and the other would have been the number two seed if not for having to play in the Falcons division. One of those losses came by a field goal, and the other came in overtime.

Keep in mind that Green Bay had losses to the Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions this year. Such losses to such teams don’t exist on the Falcons resume.

Now don’t take this as me undermining what Green Bay has done this year, or to suggest they didn’t deserve those wins, not at all. What Green Bay did this year was make enough plays to win 10 games, not 11, not 9, but 10. Atlanta made enough plays to win 13 games, not 14, not 12, but 13.

*Also keep in mind, 5 of the Patriots victories this year came by single possession margins, but to suggest this would be complete blasphemy*

It’s funny though, Green Bay was scrapping out wins, and doing just enough to get in the playoffs, and apparently showing us how great they were. Or at least that’s what we are led to believe. The Falcons meanwhile were just the beneficiaries of some lucky bounces and advantageous officiating decisions, or so we’re told.

We hear how Green Bay was the hottest team coming into the playoffs. I’m sorry, didn’t they lose HALF of their last six games? Didn’t they manage a total of 13 points against the Lions and Bears in two of their final four?

I know full well how good a football team Green Bay is. They have an elite quarterback. They have a tremendous attacking defense. They play good special teams. They’ve won quite a few football games. The thing is, the same can be said of the Falcons, only, they’ve managed to win a few more, including one over these same Packers.

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Notes From Football Outsiders Week 2 Ratings

The Packers and Falcons have been, overall, the two best teams in the league over the course of two weeks. That’s really not surprising, considering how utterly dominant both were last week in easy victories. As the year goes on, this may or may not hold true, but I thought the numbers from the first two weeks might help tell us which 2-0 teams are for real, and which 0-2 teams should be just fine.

Green Bay is just about everybody’s darling, and it’s tough to argue with what they’ve done so far this year. The only chink in the armor so far has been their run defense, but that’s largely due to Michael Vick and Michael Vick alone, coming on in the 2nd half against them. So I won’t hold that too much against them (though next to last in the league never looks good). A lot of people picked Green Bay to be a legit Super Bowl contender, and there’s been nothing so far to indicate those prognostications were wrong.

The Falcons being number two might come as a surprise, except when you look at what that defense did to Tennessee, and they way the Steelers won on the road in Nashville, that Pittsburgh loss looks less and less disappointing. The Birds are 6th in offense, and 7th in both defense and special teams. The Falcons offensive ranking definitely benefits when its adjusted for opponent, and with only two opponents played so far, it will take a few weeks before this really rounds into shape. Early returns though are the Duntae Robinson signing to be worth it. The Falcons pass defense has been really good. The run defense is pretty far down the list, but that is basically due to two runs for touchdowns of 130 plus total yards.

What might be surprising is that Tampa is 3rd right now, benefiting from a strong early season defensive showing. They sure will get a great test this week with Pittsburgh. They’ve only beaten Cleveland and Carolina, and neither overly impressive. Still though, this speaks well for this teams chance to be competitive. What’s disconcerting is their offensive line. It’s been average at best, in pass protection, and absolutely horrible when it comes to the ground game. Over 1/4 of their running plays have been stopped at, or behind the line of scrimmage. The good news is they were the last place team in the South a year ago, and we know how that goes.

The AFC East, as expected, looks brutal. Miami, the Jets, and Patriots all come across in the top ten. I’m really looking forward to the Jets/Dolphins game this week. Miami could send a real statement by getting off to a 3-0 start, and if that’s the case, the Jets really can’t afford to be 1-2. Without Revis to put on Marshall, things could get interesting.

Houston has been catching everyone’s eye, and rightfully so. But they only come in at tenth, due to the fact that their defense has arguably been the worst in football so far this year. Manning and McNabb have both shredded them (interesting how far down the rankings Houston’s pass defense is, and how much Atlanta’s has risen). The Texans surely will remain and compete thanks to that offense that averages nearly a field goal per drive. But unless that defense gets shored up, can we really expect them to challenge for much more?

The Seahawks are playing good defense, and really good special teams. Golden Tate could also be used more offensively to provide a boost there. Do not at all rule them out of the post-season, especially since the 49ers seem dependent on beating themselves every way possible.

Pittsburgh and Tennessee are 1 and 2 defensively, and that’s not a surprise, at all. The Steelers run defense has been absolutely sick this year, whereas the Titans pass defense has been tops in the NFL. Unfortunately, only the Bills average fewer yards per drive than these two. No team in football has a worse successful drive rate than the Steelers, and nobody in the league scores fewer touchdowns per drive. The difference between those two teams is that the Steelers know good quarterback play is on the horizon. The Titans? Not so much. Pittsburgh might be scary, scary good this season.

Baltimore’s offense has got to get it together. They are next to last in points per drive, and 2nd to last in terms of how often they turn the ball over per drive. Their defense is good, but it’s not good enough to make up for that kind of horrible production, as we saw against Cincinnati. If their defense can’t wreak absolute havoc and force turnovers, they might be in trouble. Joe Flacco has seemingly taken several steps back. Perhaps it is just an apparition, and he’ll right the ship. He better, because they are going to have a difficult time beating teams who take care of the football if they don’t.

The Chiefs have been mid-pack on offense and defense. It’s special teams where they’ve shined, and it’s where they will have to continue to shine to probably seriously contend for a playoff spot. If Matt Cassell could pick his play up a bit, that would go a long way to making this team more legit. The running game is solid, but would be helped if there was something resembling a threat via the passing attack.

The Eagles are probably in more trouble than people are willing to say, even with Vick and his talents under center. The defense has been terrible, and it’s been bad against the run and pass. The offensive line is in shambles. A bad defense and bad offensive line means bad things. The offensive line appears to be faring better in run blocking, but that’s rather misleading. A ton of the Eagles rushing yards have come in the open field, and have been courtesy of runs of 10+ yards. The line hasn’t exactly done a good job of moving defensive lines off the ball. And with pass protection, well, no team has been worse.

Cowboy fans need not panic. They may be 0-2, but they still rank mid-pack, and they have clearly played poorly these first two games. This team still oozes with the potential to be very good. The Cowboys would be better served to run the ball more. They do it well, and if they did, they could increase the number of explosive plays in the running game (they do have Felix Jones back there), as they rank near the bottom of the league. Only the Saints have been less effective at making plays out in the open field (and I find it shocking that teams with Reggie Bush and Felix Jones rank at the bottom of this category). Defensively there could still be some concern with Dallas, it’s almost in the bottom fourth, and it’s largely due to ineffective pass defense. If their pass rush can’t get there, quarterbacks are having way too much fun against this secondary.

The Saints may be 2-0 right now, but they have not at all done it in the impressive manner with which they played last year. The offense has been good, but not spectacular, and just lost Reggie Bush (who I contend is still overrated, but that’s for another day). The defense though has had plenty of problems. Did you see San Francisco march all over them Monday night? This Falcons team is going to provide them a real test. The Saints seem to be getting knocked around a bit more, on both sides of the ball. Their run defense ranks 30th. On the other side of the line of scrimmage, In short yardage situations, the running game has been almost useless, converting on just 33% of their attempts. That’s bad.

Minnesota is 0-2 for a reason. Their offense stinks. Their defense stinks. And their special teams are just average. 16th in yards per drive, but only 29th in points per drive tells of a team who can’t put the ball in the endzone in the redzone. The good thing for the offense, is Sidney Rice, healthy, can definitely fix what ails them. The passing game has been downright terrible, and the offensive line isn’t completely to blame. On the other side of the ball, the pass defense has been pretty bad too. There’s still hope for this team, however, 0-2 Dallas looks in much better shape.

I don’t care what Donovan McNabb does, the Redskins defense better get better, and in a hurry. It’s bad all the way around. Granted, they did face the Texans offense, but they did so with a 17 point second half lead that they squandered. Yeah, the defense in D.C. is bad. Sure, the Skins are one 4th down stop away from being 2-0, but they are also some common sense by the Cowboys away from being 0-2. Don’t get your hopes up Redskins fans.

The Lions are indeed 0-2, but they’ve had a chance to win both their games, and rightfully won their opener against the Bears, but that’s neither here nor there. What’s a good sign for them is that they aren’t in the bottom fourth of either offense or defense. That’s improvement. The special teams are solid. This team isn’t going to the playoffs, but everyone who plays them better be ready to fight for 60 minutes. Give them one more off-season to address the offensive line (which is the worst run blocking line in the league thus far), and they may be okay.

Shocker, tell me if you heard this before. The Raiders are in the bottom 5 of the league, again. The offense is once against worthless, and the blame doesn’t go all on the offensive line. The running game has been solid, and the pass protection, while nothing to write home about, hasn’t been as bad as some. The change to Gradkowski definitely sparked some life into the offense. It will be interesting to see how they play the next couple of weeks. If only they had some wide receivers. And, well, maybe a run defense.

The Cardinals fall from grace is going to be a very, very rough one. Their quarterback situation is an absolute mess, and their special teams are horrible. Bad field position with a struggling quarterback is a bad, bad thing.

And surprise, surprise, the Bills are the worst team in football, and it’s a spot they will probably occupy all season long.

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