Tuesday Trends

These are my weekly thoughts summing up what is going on around the NFL.

1. The Texans and Bears are in precarious situations.

In related news, water is wet.

Both of these teams have great defenses and running games, which is enough to beat a majority of the teams in the NFL, but not enough to win in the playoffs with massive quarterback deficiencies. Houston has an easier route to the playoffs but the Bears also still have a pretty good shot to get there.

Bears fans are hoping and praying right now that Cutler recovers from his broken thumb as soon as possible. Caleb Hanie looked uncomfortable in the pocket in the Bears’ Sunday loss to the Raiders while Texans back-up Matt Leinart went out for the season with a broken collarbone.

Leinart was replaced by TJ Yates, a rookie who Houston drafted in the fifth round out of North Carolina. The Texans have signed Kellen Clemens and worked out Jake Delhomme and Jeff Garcia, none of whom will inspire confidence amongst the fan base other than, “I am confident that they are bad.”

Peter King made an interesting point in yesterday’s MMQB that the NFL trade deadline should be later than Week 6:

Goodell sounds as if he wants the trade deadline moved, which is a good thing. I did my NFL podcast last week with Roger Goodell, and the most interesting thing I heard was that he’s open to pushing the trade deadline back. It currently is the day after the end of Week 6, roughly one-third of the way into the season … way sooner than baseball’s trade deadline, which occurs two-thirds of the way into the season.

My biggest problem with the deadline was perfectly illustrated by what happened with Kyle Orton last week. The Broncos cut him, getting nothing in return when at last one team — Chicago — and maybe Kansas City, Houston and Dallas would have traded a draft choice for him. Kansas City’s thrilled to get him for nothing except his salary the rest of the year, but Denver’s out of luck because they get nothing when they certainly would have gotten a fifth-round pick, minimum, had the trade deadline been after Week 12.

A later trade deadline would allow winning teams with injuries not to have their entire season compromised while losing teams could build up assets for the future. What would the argument AGAINST a later trade deadline be?

2. The AFC West is the most compelling divisional battle.

Really, this is just an excuse to write about Tim Tebow, who continues to ride his magic unicorn to late Broncos victories. In all seriousness, though, it actually isn’t that nonsensical that the Broncos continue to win with this formula. They control the clock and pick up first downs with a formidable running attack, generate relentless pass rush with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil that fuels the entire defense, keep games close, and rely on Tebow to make plays late after the opposing defense has worn down from defending the run the whole game. Yes, some most of Tebow’s passes miss his receivers by a comically large margin. However, his errant throws don’t get intercepted–he only has one pick in 143 pass attempts this season. There is a legitimate method as to why the Broncos keep winning with this formula.

Meanwhile, the Raiders are also incredibly interesting. Gun to my head, I’d say that Hue Jackson actually made a sound decision in trading two first round picks for Carson Palmer. This is cliche but if you had told me on the day of the trade that I would think that right now I never would have believed you. With Darren McFadden likely back this week, the Raiders aren’t going to make it easy for the Broncos to catch them. Here are the two teams’ remaining schedules:

Raiders: @Dolphins, @Packers, Lions, @Chiefs, Chargers

Broncos: @Vikings, Bears, Patriots, @Bills, Chiefs

The Raiders have a slightly more difficult schedule–the Dolphins might be the best 3-8 team in NFL history, the Packers haven’t lost in like a year, and Suh’s suspension will probably be over when they play the Lions. A cursory glance at the Broncos’ schedule suggests that if they keep up the level of play from their last few weeks, they should go 4-1 in the final stretch. They are helped immensely by getting the Bears, without Cutler, at home.

The Wild Card is not out of the question for these two teams either; the Broncos are currently seeded 7th in the AFC–trailing the Bengals by one game–and currently hold the tiebreaker over the Titans and Jets based on win percentage in conference games.

3. The Falcons are hot right now.

They’ve won five of six, their only loss was in that stretch was in overtime against the Saints, and they have a manageable schedule the rest of the way: they play at Houston and Carolina, host Jacksonville, travel to New Orleans, then finish up at home against Tampa Bay. Houston will not have its quarterback situation figured out yet, the Panthers have no pass defense, the Jaguars just fired their coach, the Saints game will be a HUGE challenge, and the Buccaneers may very well quit on Raheem Morris by Week 17. With their schedule, it is hard to see the Falcons’ not locking up one of the NFC Wild Card spots.

4. The Lions and Giants are free falling.

I predict that we look back on the Ndamukong Suh stomping incident as the moment that sealed the Lions’ fate this season. Having lost four of their last six, the Lions still have three road games against divisional leaders–the Saints, Raiders, and Packers. They are going to be hard pressed to emerge from the NFC Wild Card scrum.

The Giants, meanwhile, now have to host the Packers on a short week after getting TROUNCED 49-24 by the Saints last night in a game that was more of a blowout than the score indicates. All is not completely lost for them because they still have two games left against the Cowboys, but, if the Giants want to salvage their season, they need to start this week. The Cowboys play the Cardinals on Sunday which should be a win. If that happens and the Giants lose to the Packers, New York will be two games back with four games left and have absolutely zero margin for error.

5. The Cowboys, meanwhile, are flying under the radar as a team that could go far in the playoffs.

In an oddly quiet manner for Jerry Jones’s franchise which usually receives an insufferable amount of hype, the Cowboys are putting together a pretty impressive run. They’ve won four in a row and, at 7-4, three of their four losses came in games where they led in the fourth quarter.

If Aaron Rodgers wasn’t having a historically great season, Tony Romo would be getting some hype as an MVP candidate–he’s completing 64.5% of his passes and has thrown for 3,026 yards, 21 touchdowns, and nine interceptions.

Of anyone in the NFC who can beat the Packers in a playoff game, the Cowboys might have the best shot after the Saints (who are the only team in the NFC that could conceive of beating the Packers in a shoot-out). When the offense is clicking they can score points in bunches, and, with Demarcus Ware, the Cowboys can get to the quarterback without having to blitz.

The Packers would probably beat the Cowboys in Green Bay eight times out of 10 but 20% probabilities are not numeric outliers. If the Cowboys play a perfect game and get some breaks–a long pass interference call, a muffed punt, and/or a devastating injury perhaps–they could find themselves with a chance to win.

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One Response to Tuesday Trends

  1. aattarw says:

    The trade deadline should be moved, but the Kyle Orton situation is a terrible example. The Broncos chose to keep him in the offseason when the Dolphins were offering draft picks, that one’s on them.

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