After each week that passes in the NFL season we learn new things, develop new questions and are completely baffled by some things that take place on the gridiron. This past weekend during Week 7, things were no different for this handicapper who’s now completely given up faith in one specific team. But a little more on that later.
To begin with, if we hadn’t already realized it after the first seven weeks of the year, this season has shown that despite the much talked about parity in the NFL, right now there could quite possibly not be any less. There has arguably never been a time in the league where the league’s elite teams have been able to consistently dominate the bottom feeders to the extent to which they are now. After seven weeks there are still three teams who have yet to find the win column and another three who’ve managed only a single victory. Overall I would put a good third of the league, or at least 10 of the 32 teams into a category which can only be considered utterly awful, and no I’m not even counting you Jacksonville, or you Seattle. The following teams have a shocking 12-55 combined record and by virtue of either their record, overall lackluster play or a combination of both are clearly some of the league’s worst. They include: Buffalo (3-4), Cleveland (1-6), Tennessee (0-6), Oakland (2-5), Kansas City (1-6), Washington (2-5), Detroit (1-5), Carolina (2-4), Tampa Bay (0-7) and St. Louis (0-7).
Some of these teams were expected to have down years, others were expected to compete and some has underperformed to a greater extent than anyone could’ve imagined. I won’t go too in depth with them all but here are some overall thoughts on this group. The Bills may have the best record of this bunch at 3-4 but wins over the winless Bucs, needing six turnovers by the Jets to narrowly escape victorious in overtime and their most recent win in spite of themselves vs. Carolina, hardly instils confidence. While we’re on the topic of the Panthers, they are my candidate for most disappointing team so far. Actually to be fair, it may be more accurate to say their QB Jake Delhomme is the most disappointing player this year. Why this guy is throwing the ball is anyone’s guess. I’ve never seen someone go from being one of the more reliable QBs in the league to one of the worst in such a short span of time. The Panthers may have lost 20-9 to the Bills this Sunday but they outgained them 20-9 in first downs, 425-167 in total yardage and 34:20-25:20 in time of possession. For most teams this would be enough to easily put away the Bills, a team who only two weeks prior lost 6-3 at home to Cleveland. However Jake Delhomme once again decided to gift wrap a victory for his opposition by tossing 3 INTS. On the year Delhomme is 106/177 with 1172 yards, with 4 TDs compared to a mind boggling 13 INTS. As someone who had more than one ticket riding on the Panthers this week to cover as home chalk, I can clearly say that after seven weeks of play I have definitely learned that the Panthers and specifically Delhomme are no where near the team they were last season when they went 12-4.
Besides teams dealing with injuries, three teams from this group have already pulled the plug on their starting QBs and have opted to see what they can get from their backups. Josh Johnson already supplanted Byron Leftwich in Tampa back in Week 5 which hasn’t helped turn things around. What else I’ve learned is that in no way, shape or form is Browns’ QB Derek Anderson any kind of upgrade over Brady Quinn. Since taking over the starting duties for Quinn, Anderson is 60/137 with a 42.8 completion percentage, and has 2 TDs and 7 INTS. Does 2/17, 9/24 and 12/29 sound like the numbers of a starting QB? Some questions to keep an eye on are how Alex Smith and Bruce Gradkowski fair after replacing their incubents, Shaun Hill in San Fran and JaMarcus Russell in Oakland respectively. Both faired slightly better than their predecessors but it’s too soon to tell.
On the positive side we’ve learned that as bad as some teams are, the crème of the league’s crop has been truly outstanding thus far. We still have three undefeated teams and another, Minnesota at 6-1. Each week we are privy to watching quite possibly three future first ballot Hall of Fame QBs work their magic. Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady have been near flawless so far and make sure their teams are never out of any game. The Colts behind Manning have now won a remarkable 15 straight games in the regular season. In Week 2 although the Colts were badly outplayed, including losing the time of possession battle at 45:07 -14:43, Manning signal handily kept his team in the game against the Dolphins in Indy’s eventual win. Speaking of the Fins, they dominated the Saints this weekend, but Drew Brees came out after half time and led New Orleans back for a dramatic comeback victory. Oh and that other guy, Tom Brady? In his last three games he’s thrown 11 TDs for 903 yards and in two of those games the Pats won 59-0 and 35-7.
Finally, we’ve learned that a few of these “second-tier” teams may also be for real. At 6-0 and allowing the least points in the league with 66, the Denver Broncos look to be for real. With wins over New England and San Diego and practically not being scored on at all in the second half all year this team has flat out committed to what new Coach Josh McDaniels is preaching. The Bengals also look to be for real as they compete with the Steelers for supremacy in the AFC North. Cedric Benson’s 720 league-leading rushing yards and Carson Palmer’s 5 TD day over the Bears are testament to this. One last team who’s proved to me thus far they are worthy of my backing are the boys from the desert, the Arizona Cardinals. After a slow start to the year they are now leading their division and don’t look to be suffering from the Super Bowl losing hangover many teams fall victim to. For a team which often struggles when travelling to the east coast, their 24-17 win over the powerhouse Giants is proof they are still a force in the NFC.
Looking forward the questions have to be who will be the last teams to remain both undefeated and winless, as well as how high will bookmakers need to make the point spread to stop the favourites from covering? Overall straight up favourites are 72-31 and 56-45-2 ATS. In Week 7 favourites went 10-2-1 and both double-digit favs easily covered the number. Each week offers new questions and insights and we’ll have to see if the trend continues into Week 8 as four teams are already favoured by 10 or more, with two others looking like strong potentials.