Tuesday Trends

For the rest of the season, I will put together a list of five NFL trends each Tuesday.

1. The Dream Team has Woken Up

The start to the Philadelphia Eagles season has oddly resembled that of last year’s Miami Heat, a team which they were consistently compared to after their offseason free agent frenzy. After signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh to play alongside Dwyane Wade, the Miami Heat faltered out of the gate, struggling to integrate their new roster and playing with a gigantic bullseye on their backs as opponents treated every game like a championship match-up. The Heat started out 9-8 before winning 12 in a row, losing by two points to the Dallas Mavericks, and winning another nine consecutive games.

The Eagles, who started 1-4, have won their last two games handily against division rivals and look to be surging. Against the Cowboys on Sunday night, the Eagles seemed to anticipate every play on both sides of the ball. On offense, when the Cowboys blitzed, the Eagles had a screen called. When Dallas dropped into zone coverage, Philadelphia’s receivers found open pockets. When Dallas HAD the Philadelphia stopped, Michael Vick or Lesean McCoy improvised and broke contain. On defense, Asante Samuel and Nnamdi Asomugha blanketed Dallas’ receivers and Trent Cole lived in the Cowboys backfield.

The Eagles’ match-up this coming Monday against the 4-3 Bears is very likely to have NFC playoff implications. When the Eagles play like they did in the first half last week against the Redskins and the whole game against the Cowboys, they will be extraordinarily difficult to beat.

2. The AFC West is Up for Grabs

Every year around this time when the Chargers are struggling, the inclination is to say, “One year they are going to dig themselves into such a deep hole that they won’t be able to climb out.” Somewhat forgettably, that actually happened last season when San Diego started 2-5, finished 9-7, and the 10-6 Chiefs won the division. It might be on the verge of happening again. Something is OFF with Philip Rivers…his accuracy and velocity are not in line with what we have come to expect and for whatever reason this veteran team continues to self-destruct in close games.

The Chiefs, Chargers, and Raiders are all 4-3; only the 2-5 Broncos are out of contention for the division. Right now, the edge for the division crown would go to the Chiefs, who stole last night’s game against the Chargers after Philip Rivers fumbled a snap in chip shot field goal range at the end of regulation. As far as the Raiders go, the only way I envision Carson Palmer “proving the naysayers wrong” is with a time machine or some sort of instantaneous stem cell surgery.

3. The Saints and Ravens are Enigmas

Last week, the Saints trounced the Colts 62-7. This week, they lost 31-21 to the previously winless Rams who were playing with journeyman backup quarterback AJ Feeley. This game only finished within three scores because the Saints scored a garbage time touchdown with six seconds remaining. This loss was completely inexplicable; prior to Sunday, the Rams had been outscored 171-56 this season. After giving up 183 rushing yards to the Rams, the 5-3 Saints have allowed their opponents to run for over 100 yards in all but one of their games this year.

The 5-2 Ravens, meanwhile, have beaten the 6-2 Steelers, 5-3 Texans, and 4-3 Jets handily but lost to the 4-3 Titans (their three other wins came against the Broncos, Browns, and Colts so they almost shouldn’t count) and 2-6 Jaguars. This week, the Ravens trailed the 1-6 Cardinals 24-6 at the half before waking up and taking care of business to seal a 30-27 victory.

The Ravens have a good litmus test game on Sunday night in Pittsburgh; the resurgent Steelers will be out for revenge after being trounced by the Ravens 35-7 in Week 1. The Saints have a home game on Sunday versus the 4-3 Buccaneers which should give us a better overall idea of the NFC South playoff picture where the 4-3 Falcons are also lurking.

4. The Bengals are Primed for the Future

At 5-2, the Bengals are the biggest surprise in the NFL. While they may or may not maintain their winning ways this season, they have a solid foundation for long-term sustainability. Lost in the Cam Newton hype is that his rookie counterpart Andy Dalton has a higher completion percentage (62.4% vs 60.6%) and two more wins in two less starts. AJ Green, who has 33 catches for 516 yards and five touchdowns, looks like he will be one of the best receivers in football for the foreseeable future. The Bengals defense, meanwhile, is fourth in the league in yards per game given up (297.4) and points per game allowed (17.6). The Bengals also will have two first round picks this year after turning s— into gold Carson Palmer into the Raiders’ first rounder.

As the stars on the Ravens’ and Steelers’ defenses age, the Bengals would be a forgone conclusion for future success if not for the fact that, well, they are the Bengals and have only had three winning seasons since 1988.

5. The 49ers Will Win the NFC West Easily But…

At 6-1, the 49ers are flying high. Nobody else in their division has three wins yet and the 49ers have beaten some legitimately good teams in the Bengals, Eagles, Lions, and maybe the Buccaneers (the Buccaneers are maybe legitimately good; in destroyifying them 48-3 there is no maybe as to whether the 49ers won the game). However, they might be overusing Frank Gore, who is third in the league with 140 carries. Right now, Gore is on pace for 320 carries; this would be the most in his career. He has missed at least two games each of the last three seasons (including five last year) and during this period the most carries he had in a year was 240. In order to win in the playoffs, the 49ers will need Gore to be healthy and, given their cushion for a first round home game via winning their division, they should start pacing him better so he has a better chance at holding up for the long haul.

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3 Responses to Tuesday Trends

  1. mweisburgh says:

    Excellent post, even though you left out your grandfather’s favorite team.

  2. Reefer says:

    The injuries to Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, and Tony Moeaki are too influential to the Chiefs’ roster when the rubber meets the road in the final games of the season. I can’t foresee the Chiefs going into Qualcomm and returning to Kansas City with a dubya. Last night’s loss is not sufficient evidence to consider the Chiefs the leader for the divisional crown. A horrible PI call on Gates on an important drive and an unbelievably horrid performance by Rivers are not telling of this offense. I do however believe that Romeo Crennel can coach the hell out of a defense. He was stuffing the box and showing a ton of confidence in the secondary and it seemed to really put Rivers off of his game in the first half. I like their young defense almost as much as I like the Bengals’s. I’d love to see some line talks appear in some of your posts. I know I would frequent the blog a whole lot more.

  3. Ace Ventura says:

    Thank you for the recap column!

    And there only has been (and only will be) one Dream Team http://bit.ly/sX0E8I. The 1992 USA Mens Basketball Team (in alphabetical order): Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, and John Stockton.

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