With 10 weeks of the NFL season now in the books, here are 10 observations about what we have seen so far and what we could see over the final seven weeks of the 2009 NFL regular season.
Big Happenings in the Big Easy
The New Orleans Saints aren’t just the most explosive and exciting team in the NFL; they may also be the best team. Without question, the Saints have an offense that can put pressure on any defensive unit. Ranking in the top five in the NFL in both passing and rushing yards makes them a nightmare for defensive coordinators.
What makes the Saints particularly dangerous is that over the last three to four years they have accumulated an amazing collection of talented athletes on both sides of the ball. Their defense is ranked near the middle of the pack in most categories, but they do what they have to in big situations.
Most specifically, they don’t have one glaring weakness that can be easily exploited by opposing quarterbacks.
Drew Brees has developed into one of the 3-4 best quarterbacks in football, but the best quality for the Saints is that he does not have to do it alone. With a solid corps of runners and receivers, the Saints don’t have to rely on one player to win games for them.
It may seem very strange to say the words Saints and Super Bowl in the same sentence, but unless something dramatically changes over the last half of the season they could have a chance to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl for the first time in the 42-year history of the team.
No Tony Dungy, No Problem
Sure, the Indianapolis Colts should have lost to the New England Patriots, but the scoreboard shows that ultimately they came out on the right side of the scoreboard.
While Tony Dungy deserves his due as one of the great coaches of this generation, the reality is that Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Dwight Freeney are a bit more valuable to the success of the franchise than was the coach.
However, as the last weeks of the regular season unfold, the Colts could discover another missing piece is actually the most valuable of all. Without Bob Sanders, who is now out for the season, I think it will be very difficult for the Colts to win the AFC and reach the Super Bowl.
Are These Really the Bengals?
With season sweeps of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens already under their belt, it might appear to be time to start looking at the Cincinnati Bengals as a potential AFC title contender.
However, given the lackluster history of the team I have a hard time believing they aren’t going to do something down the stretch to mess it all up.
In fact, that something could be the signing of running back Larry Johnson. I know Johnson is a great talent and if Cedric Benson is hampered by injuries they will need another back. However, I think they would be better served signing an old veteran like Warrick Dunn or Edgerrin James than in signing a player who has been a malcontent and troublemaker over the last several seasons.
After years of being able to have team practices at the county jail, the Bengals have finally gotten away from that past and bringing in a player like Johnson seems to have the potential to get them back into the same old habits.
The Cowboys Are Good, but Not That Good
Losing to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field is not necessarily an indicator that the Cowboys aren’t capable of contending in the NFC. Heck, Roger Staubach lost to the Packers at Lambeau in years when the Cowboys were perennial Super Bowl contenders and the Packers were not as good as the current squad.
Dallas has shown over the last month that they can play at the level that many believe their talent warrants. Tony Romo is not quite one of the elite quarterbacks in the league, but he is very good and capable of getting hot and leading his team to victory.
If the usually potent running game can get back to normal, the Cowboys could be tough come playoff time.
Favre Made Right Choice and So Did the Packers
Even though they have not played a particularly difficult schedule and escaped with wins over the Ravens and 49ers, which could have easily been losses, you have to now consider the Minnesota Vikings as legitimate contenders in the NFC.
The addition of Brett Favre seems to be working as he is playing within himself and letting Adrian Peterson be the star. Of course, the presence of Percy Harvin and emergence of Sidney Rice as a Pro Bowl caliber player hasn’t hurt Favre’s performance.
While some may point to the success of the Vikings and say “I told you so” to the Packers, they actually are in pretty good shape with the quarterback now calling the signals. Aaron Rodgers has been nearly as good this season as Favre and they know that he will be with the team for more than one or two more years.
The reason the Packers struggled last season and are just 5-4 in 2009 isn’t Rodgers. It is the fact that the defense that was so great in their big 2007 season has been pedestrian the last two years. If they can bottle the performance against Dallas over the final seven games, then the Packers could return to the playoffs in 2009.
Vince Young: All He Does Is Win
Is it a coincidence that Vince Young has started the last three games for the Tennessee Titans and they have won each of those games after starting with six straight losses?
It is painfully obvious that Young will never be confused with Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Tom Brady when it comes to ability as a passer. However, when he has been in the lineup during his career he has shown the ability to lead his team to victories. He is now 21-11 in games he has started for the Titans since 2006.
With Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson averaging 6.4 yards per carry and assuming much of the offensive load, Young doesn’t need to create spectacular plays. Instead, he simply needs to make good decisions, make an occasional big play and keep from making mistakes that can cost the team.
That he has completed 65 percent of his passes since his return and been sacked only one time is a good sign that Young understands what he needs to do.
Obviously the Titans have figured something out as they have averaged 35 points per game the last three weeks.
Lots of Contenders for “Worst Team” Label
The Cleveland Browns showed in their Monday night embarrassment against the Baltimore Ravens that they deserve to be in the conversation for the worst team in the NFL.
Of course, the Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Kansas City Chiefs all are also vying for the distinction.
What seems particularly obvious this season is that there are a lot of really bad teams in the NFL.
It used to be that half the league would finish between 7-9 and 9-7. This season is seems like half the league could finish with 10 or more losses. So far this season, 10 teams have at least six losses with four teams all boasting only a single victory.
We all know that last season the Lions set the new standard for futility, but this season they have some companions at the bottom of the pile.
Tampa Bay has shown some signs of life over the last couple weeks with rookie quarterback Josh Freeman and could see some improvement over the next seven games, but the Browns, Rams, Raiders and Chiefs have not shown much hope that they can get to respectability in the near future.
Is Chad Henne the Next Tom Brady?
Tom Brady and Chad Henne seem to have much more in common than the fact that both players are former Michigan Wolverines.
If you remember back to 2001, the Patriots seemed headed to an awful season when starter Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury and second year pro Tom Brady had to enter the lineup.
Of course, the Patriots found their legs with Brady under center and went on to win the Super Bowl.
When Chad Pennington went down, the Miami Dolphins were 0-3 and many thought they were in real trouble with an inexperienced quarterback.
Henne has been solid in place of Pennington and the Dolphins have clawed back to a 4-5 record.
After averaging 14 points per game in their first three games, the Dolphins have averaged 29 points per game in their last six contests.
Henne is not yet a superstar, but if you will recall, Brady didn’t have eye-popping stats in his first couple years, he simply made the plays when needed and made few mistakes. If Henne can duplicate that formula, the Dolphins could sneak into the playoffs this season.
Rookie Quarterbacks Are Getting Mixed Reviews
Given the early fanfare surrounding Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez, it is kind of ironic that Josh Freeman has been the best looking of the rookie quarterbacks over the last couple games.
After a promising start, Sanchez has wilted under the pressure of leading a team that has just enough talent to frustrate their fans, but not enough to really be a contender. It will be important for him in the next couple weeks to minimize mistakes and get back to what was successful during the 3-0 start.
Stafford was sidelined for a while with a knee injury, but is now back in the lineup. He has shown some promise, but with 12 interceptions already, he is making the kind of mistakes that can be expected from a rookie. Like Sanchez, over the next few weeks, he will need to minimize mistakes and instead try to make solid decisions.
Could the Falcons Really Be Cursed?
When the Atlanta Falcons started with a 4-1 record it looked like there was little doubt that this would be the year that the Falcons registered consecutive winning seasons for the first time in team history.
However, after losing three of their last four games, the Falcons now are starting to make their quest for history a bit tenuous.
Fortunately, they have a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way with two games against Tampa Bay and games against the Jets and Bills remaining. Overall, they are 4-0 at home and still have four home games, so a nine win season still seems like a good possibility.
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