Thursday, October 15, 2009

NFL 2009 Quarter Pole Report

With a little over a quarter of the season in the books, I thought it would be a good time to check in on how things are shaping up in the NFL, both by looking back at what I got right and wrong coming into the season and what we can expect going forward.  As the flea said to the tick, dig in.

Five Bold Predictions I Got Right (Or That Have A Very Good Chance Of Being Proven Right)

1. Vince Young will return to the starting lineup.
While Kerry Collins is still the starting QB as of today, it is only a matter of time until Young is inserted in Collins's place.  The Titans' season is lost; they might as well find out if Young's career is, too.

2. Darrelle Revis will emerge as one of the league's premier (in not THE premier) shutdown cornerbacks.
Revis has already shut down Andre Johnson (4 catches, 35 yards) and Randy Moss (4 catches, 24 yards), while also helping keep Drew Brees out of the end zone.  Champ Bailey's big plays in the end zone at the end of the Denver-Dallas game are probably the most outstanding individual efforts by a CB this season, but Revis certainly is right there in the conversation as best shutdown corner playing today.

3. Jake Delhomme's career may have been ruined by his playoff performance last season, and he may drag DeAngelo Williams down with him.
Jake Delhomme's struggles have been well-documented, and, although he has been merely mediocre the past few games, his career as a starter certainly does appear to be drawing to a close.  Williams, on the other hand, has quietly been terrible himself, averaging only 3.7 yards per carry while fumbling as many times as he's scored (twice).  While Jake Delhomme has been taking the heat for Carolina's slow start, DeAngelo Williams has quietly been doing little to help his beleaguered quarterback.

4. Philip Rivers will emerge as the clear number four quarterback in the league (behind Brady, Manning, and Brees).
I get partial credit for this, since Brady probably hasn't even been a top 5 QB this season and you could argue that Ben Roethlisberger (1470 yards, 73.8 C%, 8 TDs, 5 INT, 102.6 rating) has been better than Rivers this season.  Rivers is still having a great year, though (1245 yards, 58.7 C%, 6 TDs, 3 INT, 90.6 rating), and his numbers don't compare to actually watching him play.  While Big Ben will move around to create space to make throws down field, Rivers will just hold his ground in the pocket and used his height and bulk to hold off defenders as he deftly zips passes 25 yards down field flat-footed and surrounded by defenders.  I seriously considered Rivers as my pre-season MVP (I went with Tom Brady), and while that certainly looks folly right now, there is no doubt in my mind that he is by far the Chargers' best player.

5. Kansas City will be terrible.
I know that isn't that bold of a prediction, but esteemed minds such as Peter King's forecasted 8 wins for the Chiefs, so at least some people were swindled into believing this team was for real.  The reality is the Chiefs are going to be just as bad as they were last season, except Matt Cassel will have close to 30 touchdown passes (he already has 7 in 4 games) and everyone will tell themselves that they can build on that (played-the-fuck-out-by-Bill-Simmons-and-Mike-Lombardi Herm Edwards reference not intended), forgetting that 90% of those touchdowns came in the fourth quarters of games the Chiefs were losing by 25 points.   

Five Bold Predictions I Missed Worse Than Mike Vanderjagt Misses Clutch Kicks

1. Cleveland will finish 9-7.
See also: Brady Quinn is the right choice for starting QB; The Browns will have 3 All-Pro players; The Browns will be better than the Ravens and will win at least one game vs. Pittsburgh.  Just another reason I should quit making predictions with the boner I get from Brady Quinn's pecs (douchechills!).

2. Matt Forte will be an All-Pro running back.
In my fantasy football league, I was set to use the 2nd overall pick on Forte, assuming of course that Adrian Peterson would go number one.  The freestyle-rapping champion who had the first pick, however, shocked the Free World by taking Drew Brees.  I of course took Peterson, and Forte's sophomore shittiness (271 yards, 3.8 average, 1 TD) has made me doubly glad B-Rabbit himself gave me ADP (in addition to a nifty pencil to write my rhymes with).

3. Mario Manningham is a draft bust.
Mike Williams (the wide receiver with 44 career receptions, not the white boy representing the 313 I mentioned earlier) is a draft bust.  Mario Manningham (20 catches, 342 yards, 17.1 average, 3 TDs) is a mid-round stud.

4. Denver is comparable to Oakland (at least in terms of batshit crazy shenanigans).
Oakland is on the verge of losing their head coach to prison and start one of the worst quarterbacks in the history of the league.  The highlight of their season was an opening-night loss to the Chargers, and their controversial first round pick--Darius Hayward Bay--has 2 catches for 36 yards (but has completed his only pass for 20 yards, which is more productive than JaMarcus Russell has been since he ate 20 pies to win 1 trophy last July).  Denver is the feel-good story of the first quarter of the season, lead the division with a 5-0 record, are quarterbacked by a plucky, Jack Daniels-swilling beardsman, and look like the next great example of "nobody believes in us but the people in this locker room."  On top of it all, the Broncos also completed the signature play of the season so far.  So, no, these two teams are actually not all that comparable.

5. San Francisco will be bad.
While I don't think the 49ers are actually as good as they've played thus far, I don't think they're as bad as I thought, either.  Mike Singletary actually has them playing with pride, which, in a season that has already seen at least 3 teams quit (Buffalo, St. Louis, and Oakland, with Cleveland, Kansas City, Washington, Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Jacksonville all looming as potential quitters), is probably enough for 6 wins on its own.  Add in the return of the injured Frank Gore and the insertion of Michael Crabtree into the offense, and San Fran should be able to hang with Arizona and Seattle all season long. 

Five Things We've Learned So Far

1. There are a lot of really, really bad teams.
In my updated NFL Standings projections, I have Buffalo and Oakland both finishing with 2 wins, and they would have to flip a coin to see who gets to pick 3rd.  While I don't see another team going winless this season, there certainly does seem to be a much bigger collection of teams that will lose more than 10 games (by my count, 7).  Inversely, the abundance of awful teams means we should also see some pretty big win totals by the teams at the top of the divisions.  This could be another one of those years when ten wins will still send a team home for the playoffs.

2. Peyton Manning is really, really good.
With all of the buzz coming into this season surrounding Tom Brady's return and Drew Brees's run at the record books, Manning was kind of forgotten.  Oops.  While Brady has struggled with his mechanics and confidence, and Brees has cooled off after a blistering hot start, Manning has thrown for over 300 yards in each of his first 5 games, led the Colts to an undefeated start, and pretty much coached this team himself (seriously, have you ever seen Jim Caldwell?  Do you even know who I'm talking about?).  While Manning is the clear front-runner for the MVP right now, here's how the rest of the field has done through the first 25% of games (as well as who is in the lead for some of the other awards):

1. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis
2. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
3. Drew Brees, New Orleans
4. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
5. Eli Manning, New York Giants

Offensive Player of the Year: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis
Defensive Player of the Year: Jared Allen, Minnesota
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Percy Harvin, Minnesota
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Rey Maualuga, Cincinnati
Coach of the Year: Josh McDaniels, Denver

All-Pro Team

QB Peyton Manning, IND
RB Adrian Peterson, MIN
RB Cedric Benson, CIN
WR Steve Smith, NYG
WR Reggie Wayne, IND
TE Antonio Gates, SD
T Jake Long, MIA
T Ryan Clady, DEN
G Chris Snee, NYG
G Steve Hutchinson, MIN
C Nick Mangold, NYJ
K Lawrence Tynes, NYG
KR Josh Cribbs, CLE

DE Jared Allen, MIN
DT Kevin Williams, MIN
DT Tommie Harris, CHI
DE Antwan Odom, CIN
OLB James Harrison, PIT
OLB Terrell Suggs, BAL
ILB Patrick Willis, SF
ILB Ray Lewis, BAL
CB Darrelle Revis, NYJ
CB Champ Bailey, DEN
S Darren Sharper, MIN
S Ed Reed, BAL
P Shane Lechler, OAK

3. Pittsburgh's defense isn't the same without Troy Polamalu.
The Steelers are allowing nearly 6 more points per game this season without Polamalu, and even the Duante Culpepper-led Lions could move the ball on them.  If the Browns can even sniff 20 points this weekend, I nominate Polamalu for most valuable player of this decade.

4. The Patriots are finally getting old...
...but their inevitable collapse is probably a year away.  They should be able to eek their way to another division title with moxie and smart football, but eventually Bill Belichick is going to have to develop some young talent (at linebacker, especially, unless Junior Seau is just going to happen to be free and alive six weeks into every season for the next 5 years).

5. St. Louis needs to trade everyone (EV-ER-Y-ONE).
They brought in a new coach, they were trying to bring in a fun celebrity owner, but nothing seems to be taking with these guys.  The Raiders think the Rams lack heart, and the utter lack of pride in St. Louis has been evident for 3 years now.  Besides completely blowing this mess up, the only other option the Rams are left with is rolling the dice on some Jesus magic again and taking Tim Tebow number one overall.  (Even with Tebow and Jesus, though, the Rams should probably still blow the whole thing up.)

Five Questions Going Forward

1. Can Mark Sanchez get back to his early-season form, or have NFL teams figured him out? (And will the Jets defense rebound from two subpar performances against New Orleans and Miami?)

2. Is LaDainian Tomlinson really, truly done, and, if so, can the Chargers still be an elite team?

3. Once the weather turns, can Eli Manning still hit his collection of fun-time receivers in stride, or will the wind again turn his goofy grin sour?  And will his foot be a problem throughout the rest of the season?

4. Will Brett Favre remain the safe, steady game-manager he has been so far, or will the old gunslinger return to his forcing-the-ball-into-triple-coverage ways once the stakes get higher and the spotlight gets brighter?

5. Can Matt Hasselbeck stay healthy and lead the Seahawks back to the playoffs?  If he can't, will the 49ers or Cardinals play with enough consistency to climb to the top of the division?

Five New Bold Predictions

1. Denver, Cincinnati, and Green Bay will all miss the playoffs.
2.Willie Parker will finish the season with fewer rushing yards than Rashard Mendenhall.
3. Philip Rivers will be right behind Peyton Manning and Drew Brees in statistical production, but will still be passed over for the Pro Bowl in favor of Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco.  Tom Brady will also miss the Pro Bowl.
4. Wade Phillips, Dick Jauron, Jack Del Rio, Gary Kubiak, Jeff Fisher, Tom Cable, Jim Zorn, and John Fox will all be ousted or step down as head coaches by the time the Super Bowl starts.
5. The Philadelphia Eagles will defeat the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.

New Projected Standings (win differential from my original projections are in parentheses)


y-New England 11-5 (-3)
x-NY Jets 11-5 (+6)
Miami 8-8 (+1)
Buffalo 2-14 (-3)

y-Pittsburgh 12-4 (0)
x-Baltimore 12-4 (+4)
Cincinnati 8-8 (+2)
Cleveland 5-11 (-4)

z-Indianapolis 14-2 (+2)
Houston 7-9
Jacksonville 6-10
Tennessee 5-11

y-San Diego 11-5 (-2)
Denver 9-7 (+4)
Kansas City 3-13 (+1)
Oakland 2-14 (-4)

Wild Card Round
New England over NY Jets
Baltimore over San Diego

Divisional Round
Indianapolis over Baltimore
Pittsburgh over New England

Conference Championship
Indianapolis over Pittsburgh


z-NY Giants 13-3 (+1)
x-Philadelphia 10-6 (-1)
Dallas 7-9 (-3)
Washington 6-10 (-1)

y-Minnesota 11-5 (+1)
x-Chicago 11-5 (+1)
Green Bay 10-6 (-1)
Detroit 6-10 (+2)

y-New Orleans 12-4 (+3)
Atlanta 10-6 (+5)
Carolina 7-9 (+1)
Tampa Bay 1-15 (-5)

y-Seattle 9-7 (0)
San Francisco 8-8 (+4)
Arizona 8-8 (+1)
St. Louis 1-15 (-1)

Wild Card Round
Philadelphia over Minnesota
Seattle over Chicago

Divisional Round
Philadelphia over NY Giants
Seattle over New Orleans

Conference Championship
Philadelphia over Seattle

Super Bowl
Philadelphia over Indianapolis

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