Disclaimer: For my first ‘Morning Afterthoughts’ NFL blog, I wanted to hit every team and give you a couple of lists to have fun with that I’ll update going forward. It’s not personal about your QB, I swear. Please don’t come after me on Twitter. On second thought: @Producer_Tom. Have at it.
NFL CLASS RANKINGS
Class 1: The “Good” Teams
Patriots, Packers, Cardinals, Bengals
Yes, it’s early to be completely sold on any team, which is why this is the smallest class of them all. However, I’m comfortable saying all four of these undefeateds will make the playoffs with the intention of doing damage there (barring catastrophic injury at QB, of course).
The Packers & Patriots are both fueled by the otherworldy play of their quarterbacks and the continuity of their programs under Mike McCarthy and Bill Belichick. As almost any analyst will tell you, they are consistently setting a higher level than their conference peers right now.
Just behind the two juggernauts in this group are two incredibly impressive rosters led by QBs at the top of their respective games. Andy Dalton has suddenly looked like a dangerous down field passer this season, a development that has made the Bengals frankly unbeatable through three weeks. The newfound aggressiveness is almost sure to wain as the season progresses and the games get tougher but if it sticks, it could be the factor that unlocks the playoff success so pined for in Cincinnati.
Carson Palmer, meanwhile, continues to excel in coach Bruce Arians’ highly entertaining system, which has seen the 2015 revitalizations of Larry Fitzgerald and Chris Johnson. Hard not to be a fan of this Cardinals team, there seems to be something special going on.
Class 2: The “Almost There” Teams
Denver, Carolina, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Atlanta
I would probably have the Cowboys and Steelers in with the “good teams” if not for frustrating injuries to their QBs. Now their near futures are in the hands of Brandon Weeden and Mike Vick. So not the greatest of spots.
The Broncos have a stellar, big play defense that has made the Peyton-Manning-is-old melodrama irrelevant so far. Cam Newton has become the player the Panthers were dreaming of when they drafted him first overall four years ago. Elsewhere in the South, the Falcons have something in their Ryan-to-Jones connection that is unstoppable right now. This plus the added defensive toughness instilled by fresh face Dan Quinn has Atlanta off to a flying start and looking like a legitimate contender for a playoff spot.
Class 3: Teams “In the Hunt”
Seattle, Minnesota, Oakland, Buffalo, NY Giants, NY Jets, Colts
Each of these teams has experienced a bump in the road so far, but not a single one would shock me if they found more consistent form as the season progresses. The Colts are only here by virtue of a great quarterback (yes I’m standing by that) and embarassingly bad division. The Seahawks are frankly too good for this group, but early-season disjointedness on offense, specifically in the pass game, has them already two games behind the West-leading Cards.
Stunningly, the Bills have looked like one of the best teams in the NFL. Tyrod Taylor’s play continues to amaze, as his accuracy and consistency throwing downfield has put to great use Buffalo’s impressive corps of receivers. We’ll all be watching closely to see if he can keep it up. Also armed with some dangerous weapons and newfound attacking boldness, Derek Carr is getting far more opportunities to throw downfield this season, and the results have been exciting for the Raiders.
The Jets and Giants have already given you plenty of reasons to doubt, but the Jets’ defense with Sheldon Richardson (hopefully) returning Week 5 and the Giants’ pass attack with Victor Cruz set to return in coming weeks (hopefully) are both so scary that giving up on either team at this point would be ill-advised. The Vikings have been a bit of an enigma so far, with obvious potential. I like Teddy, I like Zim, I like the defense, and a determined Adrian Peterson; definitely a recipe for rapid improvement over the course of the season.
Class 4: Teams with Major Issues
Chiefs, Chargers, Eagles, Browns, Texans, Rams, Buccaneers, Titans
The Chiefs are the best team in this group, and shouldn’t be here at all. But Alex Smith has regressed and the defense has underperformed, putting them under early-season pressure. The Chargers and Eagles have to be the most disappointed teams here. San Diego is once again plagued by injuries, unable to protect Philip Rivers and inconsistent on defense. And I have lost Chip Kelly’s signature imprint on the Eagles, who look as tame and average as any other mediocre offense in the league. Bradford seems a poor fit so far in the system and injuries already plague stars DeMarco Murray and Kiko Alonso, among other key players kicker Cody Parkey and right guard Andrew Gardner.
The Browns are fascinating again this year, with QB tension distracting from a breakout start from Travis Benjamin and very encouraging running from the tag team of Isaiah Crowell and rookie Duke Johnson. The Rams have been far less interesting, with Foles scuffling through his first few starts. They have weapons still waiting to show their best on both sides of the ball.
The major issue with the Bucs and Titans is not really an issue at all: rookie QBs. Both have greatly impressed me so far (especially Mariota), noticeably outperforming the early starts from last year’s rookie signal callers.
Class 5: Teams on Life Support
Bears, Saints, Lions, Ravens, Niners, Dolphins, Jaguars, Redskins
Not counting anyone out quite yet, but the Bears, Saints, Lions and Ravens have all started in 0-3 holes and the only one I feel for is the Ravens. They are better than this, but good enough to win 10 of their last 13 and steal a playoff spot? I’m thinking no. Cutler and Forte appear to be on their way out in Chicago, and the Lions and Saints seem headed toward major evaluations of franchise leadership.
Somehow, the Redskins have avoided looking like a bottom-5 team due to surprisingly good play on both lines. They’re still, to me, a big long shot to win more than 6 games, even in a messy NFC East. On the opposite side of the fence, the Dolphins have somehow managed to become a trainwreck, despite apparent talent all over both sides of the ball. Joe Philbin is seeing vultures already.
The Niners are just as bad as everyone thought they’d be (Colin Kaepernick might even be worse) while the Jaguars’ all-time reach-pick Blake Bortles continues his slow development. Wins will likely be at a premium from here on in for these two expected bottom-dwellers.
HOT SEAT WATCH
- Joe Philbin
- Chuck Pagano
- Jay Gruden
- Jim Caldwell
- Mike Pettine
- Chip Kelly
- Jim Tomsula
- Gus Bradley
- Sean Payton
- Tom Coughlin
- Aaron Rodgers
- Tom Brady
- Tony Romo (up)
- Ben Roethlisberger (up)
- Peyton Manning (down)
- Andrew Luck (down)
- Matt Ryan
- Cam Newton (up)
- Carson Palmer (up)
- Andy Dalton (up)
- Russell Wilson
- Eli Manning
- Philip Rivers (down)
- Joe Flacco (down)
- Matt Stafford
- Drew Brees (down)
PICKS LEAGUE YEAR 3
The girlfriend and I are in the third season of a picks league, choosing every game against the spread and dropping the worst week. I have not won yet. She is unnaturally good at this. Here are the standings so far this season:
Me 17-14 (1 push)
I’ll give you BAL -2.5 for Week 4 because I’ve hit five straight prime-time games and I know this will jinx it. Your thank you for making it this far.