What the NFL Season Has Taught Us a Quarter of the Way Through

Bryan FlynnAnalyst IOctober 8, 2009

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 20:  Quarterback Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants during play against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on September 20, 2009 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Week four of the NFL season ended Monday night with the Vikings beating the Packers. The league as a whole is basically a quarter of the way through the season.

While no team is completely out of a playoff spot at this point in the season there are teams that have to make a quick turnaround. There have been surprises as far as how good some teams are and how bad others are.

Since a quarter of the games this season have been played let’s look at what we have learned so far this NFL season. Starting with teams with the best record we will look at all 32 teams.

4-0 Teams

New York Giants

The Giants could be the best team in the NFL. They have a solid defense and special teams.

The young receivers Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks are getting better each week. Eli Manning has Steve Smith as a dependable target.

New York’s running game is one of the best in the league with the load being carried by Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs.  The offense and defense can carry this team far this season.

The Giants have to be considered top Super Bowl contenders. New York is only two years removed from a great playoff run that ended in a world championship over the Patriots.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts just keep plugging in new players and still keep winning. Indianapolis has lost Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison but there is one constant. That is Peyton Manning at quarterback.

The Colts have moved Joseph Addai and Reggie Wayne in to the starting lineup to keep winning games. As long as the Colts have a defense that can keep games close and have Manning at quarterback the Colts will always be in games.

This team might not have many more winning years in front of it but until Peyton starts to decline as a quarterback this team will be a playoff contender. The Colts are still a Super-Bowl-caliber team this season.

New Orleans Saints

Offense the last couple of seasons have not been a question in New Orleans. Saints quarterback Drew Brees has been outstanding during his time in New Orleans.

The question is can the Saints defense make stops for the offense. The first four games of the season the defense has done its part.

The Saints have to keep winning and get home field advantage if they want to go far in the playoffs. The offense will slow down in the bad weather if this team has to go on the road in the post season.

In the dome the Saints can keep putting up points and not have to worry about the playing outside. The defense will be the key on how far this team will go. Early on that looks pretty far.

Minnesota Vikings

The biggest thing this team might have done was luring Brett Favre out of his second retirement. The Vikings already had the best running back in the NFL in Adrian Peterson.

Minnesota needed a quarterback to help them win games when teams decide to not let Peterson beat them. Favre at quarterback makes Vikings opponents respect the pass.

As long as Favre does not wear out this team will be a contender. The defense will be one of the NFL’s best.

The Vikings were a playoff team last season and the main question this team had was quarterback. The addition of Favre at the quarterback position was a big upgrade.

Minnesota will find out good they are with games against Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and a road game at Green Bay. The Vikings needed a miracle pass to beat the 49ers and have not really been challenged in their other three games.

This team could face a late season slide depending on Favre. If Favre does not have a letdown, this could be one of the best teams in the post season.

Denver Broncos

After the offseason the Broncos had did anyone see them being 4-0 at this point in the season. Denver traded away franchise quarterback Jay Cutler to the Bears for Kyle Orton.

Orton has always been a game manager at quarterback. While he might not win games, Orton, will not lose them for you. He has been doing that since he was in Chicago.

The defense is the real story with this team.  Denver’s defense has only given up 26 points in four games. That is the lowest point total a defense has given up in the NFL by far this season.

This team will run in to trouble if they cannot score points on offense. The defense will keep this team in games.

The offense just has to score when they can and not turn the ball over. Denver will find out how good they are the next couple of weeks. This team could easily win the AFC East, perhaps the weakest division in the NFL.

3-1 Teams

San Francisco 49ers

Mike Singletary has changed the culture around the Bay area. The 49ers now play tough defense, led by Patrick Willis and run the ball with Frank Gore and Glen Coffee.

San Francisco is a great Brett Favre throw and an even better catch by Greg Lewis from being undefeated. This team looks to be for real. The 49ers are also in a very weak division as well.

The Rams, Seahawks, and Cardinals all look to be bad to middle of the road teams. A 9-7 record won this division last season and San Francisco would only have to win six of their last twelve to reach that mark.

That is just playing .500 football and they already have a win over every team in the NFC West. Shaun Hill only has to be Kyle Orton like and just be a game manager.

This team might not go far in the playoffs but will make the playoffs this season. The only way the 49ers will not make it to the post season is a mass injury bug. Plus San Francisco has signed their first round draft choice Michael Crabtree but do not look for much from him this season.

New England Patriots

There are lots of people eating crow after the last two weeks. The New England Patriots spent the first week rallying to beat the Buffalo Bills and losing to the New York Jets.

Sitting at 1-1 everyone and their brother was claiming the Patriots regain was over. Low and behold, the Patriots rallied to win their next two games.

Not just any two game but over the Atlanta Falcons and the Baltimore Ravens. Both were playoff teams in 2008 and looking just as strong early in 2009 to repeat as playoff teams.

As long at this team has Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Randy Moss and an improving defense this team will be a contender. The AFC East looks to be a two-horse race between the Patriots and the Jets.

New England might not make a Super Bowl run but will be a playoff team at the end of the year. Note to everyone out their do not sleep on this team. They have been better than just about any other team in the NFL at everything and will continue to be so.

Baltimore Ravens

This team will go as far as their defense and Joe Flacco can take them. The defense has been the strong suit of this team for years led by linebacker Ray Lewis.

Flacco in year two has been solid and only has gotten better. The only problem for the Ravens is that they play in a tough division. The Super Bowl champion Steelers and the improved Bengals are in this division.

The running game should be fine for the Ravens with Ray Rice and Willis McGahee carrying the load. The problem is with this team is the receivers and the only trust worthy receiver is Derrick Mason.

The Ravens need to find a second wide receiver that can be as dependable as Mason. Still, this team could make the postseason. Baltimore has a tough schedule and could get beat up before the end of the season and that could make them miss the playoffs.

Chicago Bears

The Bears are one bad night by Jay Cutler from being 4-0. Since his horrible night in Green Bay in which he threw four interceptions and could have thrown six or more Cutler has been outstanding.

He has helped the Bears win their next three games and has not had to do it all by himself. The defense and special teams for Chicago has been solid as well.

Matt Forte has been good running the ball and Devon Hester has started to look like a number one receiver. The defense is still making plays even without Brian Urlacher.

This is the first time Cutler has had a good defense behind him in his career but does play in a very tough division. The Bears will battle it out with the Vikings and the Packers for the NFC North title.

Chicago will go as far as Cutler and their defense will take them. The Bears cannot afford too many more nights of Cutler throwing to the other team four or more times.

New York Jets

The Jets should not be a surprise at 3-1 this season. This was a team that started 8-3 until Brett Favre’s arm was injured.

The Jets had a solid defense and an only got better with the addition of Bart Scott in free agency. Rex Ryan is a good coach and will have a great defensive scheme every week.

On offense this team has to run the ball to protect rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. In their only loss the Jets were slow to get their running game going against the Saints.

Sanchez looked like a rookie quarterback in the NFL for the first time against the Saints. Now that other teams have seen what the Saints did to him the running game will matter even more.

The Jets will battle with the Patriots for the division title. This team will go as far as the rookie can carry them.

Sanchez will now have Braylon Edwards to throw to but Edwards could tear this team apart with his off the field issues. If this team wants a chance at the AFC East title protecting Sanchez is the key.

Cincinnati Bengals

This could be the first year since 2005 when they went to the playoffs. The only problem is the Bengals could just as easily be 4-0 or 1-3.

Cincinnati was beaten by a fluke tipped pass against Denver, need a late touchdown to beat Pittsburgh, and a field goal in the final seconds of overtime to beat Cleveland. This team could have lost these three games or won them.

Carson Palmer finally looks like he did before his knee injury in the 2005 playoffs against the Steelers. The defense needs to play just a little better if this team wants to battle the Ravens and Pittsburgh for an AFC North title.

The other thing the Bengals have to do is keep Chad Ochocinco (formerly Johnson) under control. The wide receiver is a great player but can become a distraction quickly with his on and off the field antics.

The Bengals might have finally put it all together for their coach Marvin Lewis this season. Cincinnati has the talent to win this division if they can stay focused with their job on the field.

2-1 Teams

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons were rolling right along until they had to deal with a Patriots team everyone doubted. Atlanta was on a bye week in week four.

What we know about the Falcons so far is that Matt Ryan has only gotten better in his second season and Tony Gonzalez was a good trade to make. The defense was supposed to be the weak but has been more than adequate so far.

This team will have to contend with the high scoring Saints for the NFC South title. The Falcons won the South last season and should be just as good this season.

The only things that could keep Atlanta out of the playoffs are injuries or the defense lets this team down. Atlanta should be fine on offense but needs to get the ground game going like last year.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles could not get a bye week at a better time. The week gave Philadelphia a chance to get Donovan McNabb healthy from broken ribs.

The Saints spanked this team in week two but backup Kelvin Cobb helped them bounce back in week three over Kansas City. The only problem with this team is the Michael Vick experiment.

McNabb lobbied for Vick before the season started but during the preseason did not seem to like the use of the “Wildcat” offense. This team could have problems if McNabb starts off slow back from injury.

Vick wants to be the starter and McNabb wants to stay the starter before the end of the season this could become a controversy.  The Eagles already play in one of the toughest divisions the NFC East.

There is no question that Andy Reid has done an excellent job in Philadelphia. The key parts to this team are getting older and this season or the next could be the end of a great run. The Eagles could be in real trouble at the quarterback position.

2-2 Teams

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers could easily be 4-0 on the season. Bad special teams doomed them against the Bears and a last second touchdown from the Bengals.

The champions look beatable so far this season. Even in their two wins they had to survive a comeback by the Chargers and special team problems from the Titans.

Pittsburgh has been spotty in the running game forcing Ben Roethlisberger to carry the load offensively. The defense has been good but not great and should get safety Troy Polamalu back.

The Steelers will have to fight to win the AFC North with Baltimore and Cincinnati both in the division. Do not look for Pittsburgh repeat as Super Bowl champion but can get in the playoffs if they can stay healthy.

Dallas Cowboys

Like the Steelers the Cowboys could be undefeated at 4-0 as well. The defense could not stop Eli Manning from leading his team to a game-winning field goal in a loss. Bad tackling by the defense led to a Brandon Marshall touchdown for a second loss.

Dallas does have one of the best running games when healthy. Marion Barber, Tashard Choice, and Felix Jones can all be game breakers in the ground game.

The receivers are not great but are serviceable. Tony Romo has not been great but not as bad as he has been made out to be.

The defense has to play better. This group has struggled getting sacks and turnovers four games in to the season.

Every team has to avoid turnover but this average Dallas team really has to avoid them. They cannot get enough out of their defense to help out the opposing offense with good field position.

The Cowboys play in the always tough NFC East and will have a hard time making the playoffs. Dallas can kiss the any postseason shot goodbye if they cannot get better play from their defense and Romo.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers could be in a bad spot this season. The Vikings have Favre and anything less than a division title in the NFC North will be trouble.

Aaron Rodgers will be safe at quarterback, well as safe as he can be behind his offensive line, but coach Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson jobs are on the line.

This team has a good defense that will keep them in most games. The receivers are good and the running backs are fair.

Rodgers needs his offensive line to get healthy or better or both quickly. He cannot keep taking shots like he has the first four weeks of the season.

This team will start to feel more and more pressure if the Vikings are in contention to win the division. Rodgers will start to fall apart from all the hits he is taking as well if the line problems persist.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars have been hard to figure out this season. They played the Colts close and got blown out by Arizona both games losses. Then they beat Houston and Tennessee with ease.

This team has a solid defense and Maurice Jones-Drew does most of the heavy lifting in the ground game. Coach Jack Del Rio and quarterback David Garrard could be facing make or break seasons.

The Jaguars let Fred Taylor go to New England and Jones-Drew is this team’s best offensive weapon. Jacksonville might need a playoff run to revitalize this franchise. Otherwise it might mean a whole shake-up in the organization to sell tickets.

Houston Texans

This was supposed to be the first season the Texans made the playoffs. At 2-2, that goal is very much still possible.

This team has to become constant and cannot keep losing a game then winning a game. The talent is there for Houston to make a playoff run.

The Texans have done a good job drafting a team on both sides of the ball. They were scoffed at for drafting Mario Williams with the first pick of the draft in 2006 but he has turned into one of dominate defensive lineman in the NFL.

On offense, Houston has a nice core of players at the skill positions adding Matt Schaub via a trade and Andre Johnson and Steve Slaton through the draft.

If Houston wants to make it to the playoff for the first time in franchise history they will have to do two things. First they will have to play a bit better on defense and secondly protect Schaub. If they can do those two things they will have a chance.

San Diego Chargers

Looking at the AFC West the Chargers were supposed to be the favorite in a bad division. That was before Denver pulled itself together.

The offense led by Philip Rivers has not been a problem for this team. San Diego is one team that can put up a lot of points fast. The offense will be even better once LaDainian Tomlinson get completely healthy.

Once thought to be a strength the defense of the Chargers is now a liability. San Diego’s defense has only held one team below 20 points so far this season.

The only way the Chargers are going to turn things around and catch the Broncos is to get better play defensively. After a week five bye the Chargers will face three division teams that could make or break their season.

This could be the last season San Diego employs Norv Turner as head coach without a deep playoff run. Linebacker Shawne Merriman could be on the way out the door as well after this season.

Washington Redskins

Daniel Snyder has not had much success with his favorite childhood team the Washington Redskins. Since buying the team in 1999 the Redskins have only made the playoffs three times.

Current head coach Jim Zorn has not lead Washington to the playoffs and a loss to the Detroit Lions is not helping is cause in 2009. The Redskins defense has not been the problem this season.

The defense is only giving up 15.5 points a game. The problem has been the offense which is only scoring 14 points per game.

Washington could be looking for a new quarterback if Jason Campbell cannot turn things around quickly. Campbell has not been a popular choice in Washington and requested a trade as the Redskins made a move for Jay Cutler.

So far in 2009, Campbell has thrown five touchdowns and five interceptions. The complete offensive problem is not Campbell’s fault.

The whole offense has looked bad starting with the offensive line. Running back Clinton Portis has not helped ease the pressure off of Campbell.

The Redskins will not be able to make the playoffs unless the offense can shake out of its funk. The defense has to just keep playing the way it has so far. A bad season will be the end of Zorn in Washington.

1-3 Teams

Detroit Lions

Jim Schwartz knew he had his work cut out for him this season. The Lions did not win a game in 2008 the only team to go winless with a 16-game schedule.

In the draft Detroit picked Matthew Stafford with the first pick of the draft. The Lions already had Kevin Smith at running back and Calvin Johnson at wide receiver.

The defense has been retooled and has not been too bad. In four games this season, the Lions have shown flashes of being a very good team.

There was no question this team was not going to make the playoffs. The question was would this team show improvement and break its losing streak.

On both counts the Lions and Schwartz can say through four games both improvement and the end of the losing streak are there. This team might struggle this year and the next but Detroit is building a team that could be special.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks started the season out strongly with a win over the St. Louis Rams in the first game of the season. The next game saw quarterback Matt Hasselbeck suffer a rib injury against the San Francisco.

Seattle lost the 49ers game and has not won since. This team has not done anything defensively since that first game against the Rams.

After pitching a shutout against the Rams in week one the defense of Seattle has been giving up 27.3 points per game. Seneca Wallace has not been bad at quarterback but is clearly a backup.

This team will more than likely be looking to rebuild after this season. New head coach Jim Mora Jr. will need to start anew at quarterback and other positions with this team. This season was a one year shot at the playoffs and the Seahawks will not make it.

Oakland Raiders

This whole organization is in trouble starting at the top with Al Davis who has held on to power for far too long. Davis has been very beneficial to the NFL but it is time for him to step away from the day to day job of running a NFL franchise.

The coaching staff is not much better as head coach Tom Cable is accused of breaking the jaw of a former assistant coach. Cable is being investigated by the league and the police and could face disciplinary action from the NFL even if charges are not filed by the district attorney.

JaMarcus Russell is not a franchise quarterback as he has shown so far. He is only completing 39.8 percent of his passes with one touchdown and four interceptions so far this season.

Russell is in his third year in the league and it is time he started to show improvement. Cable has not even benched him for his bad play.

This team should abandon the pass and just run the ball with Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. The defense has not been great giving up 22.3 points per game.

This team needs to be overhauled from top to bottom. As long as Davis is still in control do not look for the Raiders to reclaim their former glory.

0-4 Teams

Cleveland Browns

This team looks like they are giving up on 2009 season four games in to it. Eric Mangini has traded away wide receiver Braylon Edwards to the Jets and has flip-flopped on his quarterbacks.

Brady Quinn got to start the first three games of the season but has been replaced by Derek Anderson. With Anderson in the lineup, the Browns did show their first signs of life offensively against the Bengals in week four.

While the offense has not been anywhere near the best in the league the defense has been horrible. In four games, the Browns' defense has not held one opponent to under 20 points.

It’s easy to blame the offense for not winning a game but the defense has to get stops and turnovers so the offense does not have to score 30 points to win. Look for Mangini and Cleveland to start rebuilding in 2010.

St. Louis Rams

Clearly the days of the rams being the greatest show on turf are over. The 2009 Rams are not scoring points anywhere near a record setting pace.

St. Louis is in fact the only team to be shutout twice this season. Even with new coach Steve Spagnuolo and Marc Bulger still at quarterback this team is in shambles.

The defense is bad. The offense is bad. The special teams are bad.

This team will be lucky to win one game this season. The Rams are in for a long rebuilding project.

The next two sets of teams all have a common theme associated with them. These last two groups will round out a look at all 32 teams a quarter in to season.

What a difference a year makes

Arizona Cardinals

The defending NFC Champions have gotten off to a slow start this season. The Cardinals have been either really good or really bad in three games this season.

Against the 49ers and the Colts the Cardinals were blown out in games that were not even close. Arizona got its one win this season against Jacksonville in week two.

This is pretty much the same team that won the NFC West last season. Ken Whisenhunt is still the coach and Kurt Warner is still starting at quarterback. The defense has not been very good in either the losses or the win. The offense has not scored like it did last year.

With a week four bye week the Cardinals will have a chance to regroup and try to catch the 49ers in the division. This team has put itself in a hole but not a hole to deep to climb out of.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins made the biggest jump in win total from one season to the next in NFL history in 2008. Miami went from winning one game in 2007 to 11 wins in 2008 and an AFC East title.

Ronnie Brown running the “Wildcat” was a big weapon for the Dolphins last season. Chad Pennington a solid game manager last season has been lost this season.

Pennington’s injury has left Chad Henne as the starter. This team has not been able to stop anyone on defense but Buffalo so far.

The Dolphins inability to make a defensive stop cost Miami a win against the Colts in week two of the season. The offense is not without its problems as well. The Dolphins have to find away to score touchdowns not field goals.

There is time to turn things around but in the AFC East the turnaround has to come fast. Tony Sparano will get a bye in week six to figure the problems out.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers began 2009 like they ended 2008 with the once solid defense not being able to get off the field and the offense turning the ball over. The defending NFC South champions have put themselves in a semi-deep hole.

Carolina is 0-3 and their main problem is fixing Jake Delhomme’s turnover problems. Delhomme has had trouble throwing interceptions and fumbling the ball.

Coach John Fox will have to make a change quick if the Panthers cannot turn things around quickly after their week four bye. One thing that would help Carolina is if the ground game could get going with DeAngelo Williams.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans played the Steelers close in the first game of the season losing off missed two field goals by kicker Rob Bironas. Since then the wheels have fallen off for Tennessee.

This team has been bad defensively and has turned the ball over numerous times. Running back Chris Johnson has been the one bright spot.

The Titans have to turn things around fast if they want to defend their AFC South title. Tennessee could make a change a quarterback if things do not get better.

Right now Kerry Collins is the starter but Vince Young could come off the bench to provide a spark for this team. The Titans cannot wait until their week seven bye week to get things going in the right direction.

Coach Steve Fisher’s job could be on the line if the Titans do not get a win fast. To get that win this team will have to play better defense and stop turning the ball over.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs: 1-11 combined record

All three of these teams have one thing in common. All three fired their offensive coordinator just before the start of the 2009 season.

Buffalo fired Turk Schonert in the preseason. Since then the Bills have slowly been bad on offense. The firing did not show up in week one against the Patriots but has as the season has gone one.

The Bills only win came against Tampa Bay another team that let its offensive coordinator go in the preseason. The last two week the Bills have only been able to mange 17 total points in two games.

The main question is when will wide receiver Terrell Owens start to rip coach Dick Jauron and quarterback Trent Edwards for not getting him the ball. Owens did not even have a catch in the Bills week four lost to Miami.

At 1-3 the defense has to get better and the offense has to find away to score points. This team was supposed to compete for the AFC East title. Jauron will be out of a job with nothing less than winning season.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski as well in the preseason. Tampa Bay played well in a loss against the Dallas Cowboys in week one.

Since then it has been all downhill for the Buccaneers. Rookie head coach Raheem Morris will catch all the heat for the fire.

Since scoring 21 points against the Cowboys the Bucs have been shutout once and only scored 20 points once as well. The defense does not get a break either since it has not stopped anyone either.

Morris might be a rookie head coach but as the losses mount have long can he keep his job. He might make it through this season but Morris has already benched Byron Leftwich for Josh Johnson.

The Kansas City Chiefs are the third team to fire an offensive coordinator in the preseason. Head coach Todd Haley fired Chan Gaile before the start of the season and this team did not recover.

Since scoring 24 points week one versus the Ravens the Chiefs have not scored over 16 points the other three games. Kansas City has been so bad this season they could not even beat the Raiders.

The Chiefs head coach Haley is a rookie as well and the losses could cost him his job in year one as well. Kansas City was a major rebuilding job to begin with but Haley might have made this job a lot harder.

Kansas City was able to get Matt Cassel in a trade in the offseason. One problem is the Chiefs have a bad offensive line, no running game, and no big name receivers. Haley will have to hope he does not find himself on the chopping block by the end of the season.

A quarter of the way through the NFL season and here is the good, the bad, and the ugly so far. Some teams have dug a deep hole already, some could go either way, and some have built a good start.

There is still a long way to go this season and anything could still happen. As the season goes on some head coaches will be on the hot seat and some could get fired.

The NFL season will come into a sharper focus by the half way point of the season. There is still hope for over half the NFL to turn it around if your team is not doing well so far.


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