Fact, Fiction and Farce Heading into NFL Week 8
Fact: New England Patriots fans are spoiled, and I am jealous because of it.
Fiction: Putting Paul Tagliabue in charge of the bounty appeals will make everything better.
Farce: Terrell Suggs' status as an actual human being.
It's that time of week again, football fans, where we separate the fact from the fiction and pick apart the farce like we're kicking it with Scooby-Doo.
So get on board as we break down trends that will lead to glorious insights, sexy knowledge and fantasy football dominance.
Atlanta Falcons Are in the NFL's Driver's Seat
The Falcons have better than a 50 percent chance of making the Super Bowl. At least going off of their record.
ESPN's Pat Yasinskas passed along this eye-grabbing stat:
Of those 37 teams, 35 have made the playoffs. Twenty of those teams have reached the Super Bowl and 10 have won it.
What a heady position the Falcons find themselves in as they come off their bye week. Now the rest of the league needs to hope that Atlanta has grown complacent while wrapped in the knowledge of their overwhelming odds to make the postseason.
While the Falcons are in a great position, this team is not without its flaws.
Atlanta's last three wins have come by just 12 combined points, and the Falcons rank 29th in rushing offense and 28th in rushing defense. Numbers that do not typically indicate postseason success.
Still, this team is loaded with playmakers and it knows how to win. The Falcons also now have the luxury of trying to work out the kinks in their game while owning the league's best record.
Every franchise should be jealous of the Falcons' current position.
Cleveland Browns: Brandon Weeden Was a Terrible Draft Choice
Rookie Brandon Weeden is just over a month older than eight-year pro Aaron Rodgers.
This is the basis of the majority of the heat that the Browns got for selecting the 29-year-old with the 22nd overall pick in the last draft.
Needless to say, it is not unfounded to worry about drafting a rookie who will start aging past his prime in roughly three years.
However, this pick will work out just fine.
Weeden is progressing faster than Cam Newton is regressing. He has a quarterback rating of 72.3 on the season, and he has posted a rating of at least 84.3 for each of the last three games and it has improved in each of those three.
He has also done this while his receivers are catching passes with as much consistency as the Yankees hit with in the ALCS. His No. 1 receiver Greg Little, according to stats, is tied for the third-most drops in the league at five.
Through this all, Weeden is clearly progressing.
He is not making the same mistake twice. He is getting more comfortable in the offense every week, and it is showing in his poise and footwork in the pocket, which leads to more accurate throws. And Weeden can make all the throws
So, Weeden may have just turned 29, but he is already close to being a very good NFL quarterback, and it is reasonable to expect him to maintain that level into his mid 30s, which is roughly half a decade of high-quality quarterback play.
I'd say that's worth the No. 22 pick.
Denver Broncos Will Rise in Second Half of Season
It is only fitting that the Broncos are coming off their bye with a .500 record. This team has spent .500 percent looking awful and .500 percent looking unbeatable.
They will begin to tip the scales more in favor of the unbeatable category as the season goes on.
Peyton Manning has put to rest any concerns about his ability to come back from his neck fusion. He has nine touchdowns and just one interception in his last three outings. This has been a function of him getting back up to game speed and the offense coming together on the same page.
The offense has been at its best when running the no-huddle, and the Broncos have been able to go to that more and more as Manning and the offense get on the same page. This offense is going to put up a lot of points in a hurry, and that is going to put its defense in a position to succeed.
With the likes of Vonn Miller and Elvis Dumervil, this defense is built to rush the passer, and the more points the offense puts on the board, the more this team will give its opposition a need to throw.
This is not just about the Broncos improving either, their opponents are getting worse. After a brutal start to the season, the schedule gods are easing up on the Broncos.
They only have one game remaining against a team that currently has a winning record.
Green Bay Packers: Charles Woodson's Injury Will Doom Pack
The Packers got lucky with Charles Woodson's injury.
I'll explain, but first let me build up the doubt so the logic behind my premise hits like a hand grenade, or at least a Pop-It.
The Packers don't have a player equipped to fill Charles Woodson's shoes. He brings experience, savy and a knack for playmaking, but he also switches from safety to corner depending on the defensive package, and there are very few in the NFL who can handle that.
This leaves the Packers essentially needing to come up with two players to fill the void his injury has created, and he will not be back to resume his role anytime soon.
Fox's Jay Glazer passed along the news:
Big loss for packers. Charles Woodson broken collarbone out 6 weeks— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) October 22, 2012
So, how are the Packers lucky? It's all about the timing. At 36, missing time with an injury was all but inevitable for Woodson.
The Packers still have their bye week ahead, so if he is out six weeks, he will miss just five games. That six-week timetable would put him on the field for Week 14. So, even is he is delayed, he still has three weeks before the playoffs start.
Granted, the Packers have to get there, but if they do, they will possibly be looking at getting Woodson back with enough time to get in top shape for the playoffs, and his body will be fresh.
If his recovery goes alright and the Packers make the postseason, they will have a spry Woodson ready to go out and make plays like a much younger version of himself.
Houston Texans Are the Class of the AFC
I tried to write off the Houston Texans as the AFC's best team after they lost Brian Cushing for the season, and they promptly rewarded my proclamation with an 18-point loss to the Packers in a game where their defense was shredded.
Apparently, that poor showing was just an isolated incident, and not a sign of a crippling weakness.
Because they followed up that stinker by humiliating the only other team in the AFC that had any right of being in the discussion for the AFC's best with the Texans, the Baltimore Ravens.
Baltimore gained a total of 176 yards against the Texans at 3.0 yards per play. They dominated the Ravens in every facet of the game, and the Texans looked better than they have all season.
They simultaneously reinforced their own greatness and cast doubt upon the Ravens legitimacy as contenders.
This is the most balanced team in football, and they are unquestionably the best team in the AFC.
Minnesota Vikings' Defensive Line Is Elite
The surprise Vikings are going to make the playoffs because their defensive line won't allow them to do anything else.
Overall, this defense entered this season with serious question marks after they spent last year playing tough against the run but allowing teams to pass all over them.
That's not happening this year. Minnesota is 12th in passing yards allowed and seventh in yards allowed per pass.
Obviously, the Vikings have enjoyed improved health and play in the secondary, but that is being made easy on them by the dominance of their defensive line.
The Vikings are sixth in sacks, and they are doing that without having to rely on the blitz. Last Sunday, they did not rely on the blitz at all, and that is not an exaggeration.
ESPN's Kevin Seifert shared this gem:
The Vikings recorded seven sacks Sunday without sending a blitz on any of the Arizona Cardinals' 69 snaps. It was an understandable,.
As the chart shows, the database at ESPN Stats & Information shows five other occasions when a team has used its standard rush on every defensive snap over the past five seasons. In other words it happens about once a year. And before Sunday, it hadn't worked well. Those teams combined for seven sacks in five games.
Now, the Cardinals' offensive line is terrible. They are giving up sacks left and right, but don't let that diminish the fact that this defensive line can take over games.
The ability of the front four to get pressure on the quarterback not only hurries the opposing passing games, but it allows the Vikings to keep seven back in coverage while doing so.
This is a recipe for success.
New England Patriots Fans Are Spoiled
Yes, Patriots fans, you are spoiled. Be happy about it, and relax. This season will still have plenty of success.
In case you missed it, the Patriots fell under a certain amount of criticism for essentially not blowing out the Jets this past Sunday.
Maybe we just spoiled some people in the meantime because it's hard to win, man. It's hard to win.
After offseason upgrades to an offense that was already dominant and some premium draft picks spent on defensive talent, the Patriots entered the season with high expectations, and they have built an amazing recent history of fulfilling expectations.
So it is easy enough to understand the fans panicking over a narrow win, but this doesn't mean they should be.
The Patriots are 4-3, and they have not lost a game by more than two points. Sure they have had some late-game failures, but those will begin to fade.
This team is still a work in progress. The young defense will improve, and the offense will continue to jell.
The "problems" expressed by fans of the 4-3 Patriots are problems most other franchises would love to have.
Oakland Raiders: Carson Palmer Is Worth a Fantasy Start
It's time to knock the fantasy dust off of Carson Palmer. The 32-year-old is playing solid football, and he has a favorable matchup this week against the Chiefs. And there is also a decent shot he is available on the waiver wire in your league.
Palmer is owned in just 57.1 percent of standard leagues on NFL.com.
He has thrown at least one touchdown pass in all but one game this season and has thrown for at least 297 yards in four of six games this season.
He doesn't have a lot to work with on the Raiders offense, but that offense also can't get the running game going, which means Carson will spend plenty of time throwing. He will be doing so this week against a Chiefs team that has allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks this season.
That number would undoubtedly be higher if the Chiefs haven't spent almost the entire season trailing.
Carson will have a nice game—look for over 300 yards and at least two touchdowns.
San Francisco 49ers Need More from Their Rookies
There is not another team in the league getting less from their rookies than the San Francisco 49ers, which is not surprising since the Niners have gotten nothing from their rookies. That is not just a turn of speech either.
They are literally getting nothing. ESPN's Mike Sando pointed out the following:
The 49ers are the only team in the league with zero snaps from their 2012 class. The 6-0 Atlanta Falcons' draft choices have played 25 snaps, the second-lowest total. The 30 remaining teams have gotten at least 215 snaps and an average of more than 700.
Now, part of this is because the 49ers' roster is loaded with talent, but still, the 49ers undoubtedly had bigger plans for wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, the team’s first-round pick from Illinois, and running back LaMichael James, a second-round pick out of Oregon.
The 49ers need that to change. As we have seen, this team is in trouble if they fall behind. They do not have the offensive playmakers to rattle off quick scores, which is a big reason why Jenkins and James were drafted in the first place
Those two need to start translating the explosiveness that earned them such a lofty draft status onto the NFL field to alleviate this team's biggest weakness.
Tennessee Titans' Pass Defense
If you are in a pinch for fantasy options in the passing game, check out who is available on the Titans' opponent for that week.
They are 27th in passing yards allowed and 26th in yards allowed per pass.
These numbers are far more about their failures than their opponents' successes, too.
This secondary has suffered more after the offseason departure of Cortland Finnegan than most imagined. All of their corners seem in over their head now, and the safeties are not capable of picking up the slack. At 29th in sacks, the pass rush is not doing this defense any favors either.
Football Outsiders ranks them with the 31st pass defense. They also rank them 32nd against No. 1 receivers and tight ends, 31st against running backs (in the passing game) 21st against third receivers or lower and 19th against No. 2 receivers.
The bottom line is that this pass defense is terrible, and they are not getting any better.