NFL Quick Hits: Bengals Roaring as North rivals stumble

Jeremy Hill

The Cincinnati Bengals completed an all-around team performance Sunday to place themselves firmly amongst the favourites within the AFC. The Steelers flat out handed the Ravens the chance to get a win on the board Thurdays and fell to 2-2 themselves and then the Browns handed the Chargers a win to fall to 1-3. The Bengals now have the opportunity to stamp on their opponents whilst their down and take a crushing grip of the AFC North if they can handle a tough matchup against Seattle this week.

With 30 of 32 teams now reaching the quarter post of their season I decided it was time to take a step back and quickly look at how each team is performing. In this article I will focus on the AFC and I have broken each team down into three or four bullet points looking at how they are performing so far and how I feel they can continue. I am going to alternate conferences weekly so that there is always two weeks of action to look back on with each article to prevent it just being a reactionary one game effect.

AFC North

Cincinnati Bengals (4-0)

  • Dalton has this offence ticking and seemingly has all day to throw from the pocket. This has allowed him to utilise the fantastic skill position players around him to put points on the board.
  • The offensive line has been good in pass protection but the Bengals also had four rushing TD’s this week so they are opening holes there as well making this a really tough all around offence. However, they have a big test offensively this week as they face off with Seattle.
  • The defence for the Bengals has also been good this season keeping their opponents in check for large parts of games and keeping the scores down and the pressure off Dalton.
  • The Bengals have a legitimate shout to be one of the top two teams in the AFC with the way Dalton is controlling and marshalling the offence and the way the defence is dominating opposing teams offences for large periods.

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2)

  • If Big Ben was healthy they are 3-1 right now and we have no question marks considering their one loss was against the Patriots in the defending champion’s game to open the season.
  • However, Mike Vick did not look good and if he cannot keep defences honest then Le’veon Bell could begin to struggle as well. Martavus Bryant’s return could be just what the Steelers need to help them stretch the field
  • The defence hasn’t looked as fragile as people feared it would be. However, the Ravens, Rams and 49ers have all looked worse than inept at times on offence so we will have to see how it holds up to sterner tests going forward.
  • The Steelers need something better from Mike Vick going forward or they could easily find themselves below 500 when Ben returns especially if this defence does begin to perform as badly as people expect.

Cleveland Browns (1-3)

  • The Browns looked at least competent last week against the Chargers and had it not been for an offside penalty on the final kick they could be 2-2 now
  • Josh McCown looks competent and if the Browns stick with the gameplan from Sunday then we could be in for something surprisingly exciting going forward
  • The defence has been fairly stout and was even good with Joe Haden in San Diego so they will keep them in games if McCown can just be sensible with the ball
  • I still don’t see how they make the playoffs this year so I think at some point they have no choice but to turn to JFF just to know what they have in him before the next draft

Baltimore Ravens (1-3)

  • Wow did they get lucky against the Steelers in a game they should have lost five times over
  • The offence lacks playmakers with Perriman, Gilmore and Smith all injured and Flacco looks lost at times. The ray of sunshine was that they finally got the run game going last week and hopefully they can lean on Forsett and co. in the coming weeks.
  • The defence looked acceptable against the Vick led Steelers but looked all at sea against the Raiders with Suggs out injured.
  • This team needs to work itself out quick because otherwise they look likely to go 7-9 and achieve nothing this season

AFC East

New England Patriots (3-0)

  • The offence has come out on fire this season with Brady using his Edelman, Gronk and Lewis combination to devastating effect. A bye week give him the opportunity to work out what he has in Keyshawn Martin and whether that could be the guy he uses to stretch the field
  • The addition of Akeem Nicks this week combined with the addition of Bostick last week has added strength in depth to the defence. All they need to do is keep teams under control and the offence could have them out of site by the 4th quarter
  • The two games coming against the Cowboys and Colts look far less scary given how the two teams are playing than they did at the start of the year but expect the Pats to come out of their bye week prepared as if they were playing two 4-0 teams instead of two 2-2 ones.
  • The Patriots are currently the team I see as the best in the AFC but they won’t take anything for granted given and will continue to try and just power through teams.

New York Jets (3-1)

  • The Jets offence has gone about its business quietly to start the season and unsurprisingly their blip came when Chris Ivory was inactive. Ivory has ran really well this year and if they can keep him healthy they have a real shot to just bulldoze some teams especially if they can get up big.
  • However, the offence did look disjointed against the Dolphins in London and had it not been for the fact the Dolphins are broken from top to bottom the Jets could easily have blown this game with some odd play calling and poor execution
  • The defence looks something special anchored by a really impressive pass rush and some quality defensive back play from Revis, Cromartie and Skrine to name just a few. They constantly harassed Tannehill and had it not been for penalties the Dolphins may not have scored in 20 quarters let alone four.

Buffalo Bills (2-2)

Tyrod Taylor

  • They dominated the Colts and Dolphins, who now look to be worse than we first thought, got handled by the Patriots, who are the AFC’s best team, and looked inept against the Giants, who may actually be secretly decent.
  • The Bills have been a real Jekyll and Hyde team this year but in a conference who have a lot of on the border teams they can stay in the wildcard race and maybe sneak into the post season.
  • The defence looks really good upfront and have kept all non-Patriot teams below 20 points so far this season
  • The offence looked really poor against the Giants but there were still positives which they will need to focus on if they are to bounce back.

Miami Dolphins (1-3)

  • This season has gotten ugly FAST. As someone who witnessed first-hand the debacle at Wembley I can tell you that the offensive line is overwhelmed and Tannehill looks scared to make plays. They rely so heavily on Jarvis Landry that you are stunned when they throw an actual attempt to someone else.
  • They need to get their run game going and they really need to start working Devante Parker and Kenny Stills in more going forward if they want to have a chance of salvaging the dumpster fire this offence is becoming (They spent forever in the Jets redzone at one point last week and scored NOTHING!!!!)
  • The defence just looked bleh. The pass rush was non-existent with their only sack coming from Ryan Fitzpatrick tripping over his own centre as he snapped the ball. The bright side is that when Cameron Wake was on the field he did look like he was getting there but Suh is conspicuous by his absence from anything good.
  • Sacking Philbin happened a year later than it needed to be done but now they have the opportunity to start building towards next year and seeing what they have in their young talent. A Parker, Stills, Landry wideout combination with Cameron at tight end could be something exciting for Tannehill to work with but there is a long way to go before that happens.

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts (2-2)

  • Two ugly wins and two bad losses have the Colts top of the South but solely because this division is so bad its funny
  • Luck has struggled under pressure and has now missed a week through injury with a separated shoulder. If it isn’t desperately clear that they HAVE to focus on their O-line this offseason then everyone in that organisation should be sacked.
  • The defence has actually looked OK this season and is the strength of the team right now. Vontae Davis is the shutdown corner we all thought he was and they have got some pass rush from their two young defensive ends out of Stanford
  • There was talk Luck almost played this week so chances are he will be back soon but this offence is built around the big play and he cannot do that if he is being hit continuously. Moncrief, Hilton, Dorsett and Allen is an interesting receiving combo and if they can get SOMETHING out of Andre Johnson then they will coast to this division title.

Tennessee Titans (1-2)

  • After a stunning week one the Titans came back down to earth with a bump as the lack of talent and experience showed against the Browns and Colts
  • Once they get Green-Beckham more involved then they will have a decent receiving combination. If they can develop one running back and make him their bell cow then the whole offence can roll around that and Mariota will be able to make the plays that we all think he is capable of
  • The defence showed up big time in week 1 but went missing against the Colts. With future HOFer Dick Le’beau coordinating them they will have weeks where they look really strong but there will also be weeks where they get found out
  • The Titans have no expectations this season but if they can get their offence rolling and the Colts keep looking dreadful then we could have race on our hands in this mess of a division.

Houston Texans (1-3)

Arian Foster

  • The Texans have had a stuttering start to the season. They flipped quarterbacks after three quarters of the first game, haven’t had their number one running back and have played two teams who are 4-0 on the season.
  • The defence, led by Watt and Clowney, was meant to be one of the strong elements to their game but so far they have given up 108 points including going 42-0 down against the Falcons this last week. When your quarterbacks are among the bottom 10 starters in the league you really need your defence to keep games close and they haven’t been doing that.
  • With Foster returning and a run of games against the Colts, Jacksonville, Miami and Tennessee coming up we may very well find out just how good they are by their bye week. I could easily see them going to their bye 4-4 but I can also just as easily see them at 2-6.
  • With these two QB’s I just don’t see where they are going as a franchise and if they don’t react quick they could find themselves left behind as the Titans and Jags strengthen as their young players gain experience.

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3)

  • The Jaguars offence has yet to really get going this year as they have only scored more than 20 points once. However, Bortles is getting there and has shown some signs he might be coming around. His receiving group is very young and we will really see what this offence has when he gets Julius Thomas back soon.
  • The defence has been really good apart from the mauling up in New England. Besides that game they have given up just 56 points and have held the opposition relatively in check. They are doing exactly what they need to do and giving Bortles a chance and if they keep doing it I am confident we will see some W’s on the board for the Jags
  • They get the team I think are the worst in the NFL this week, Tampa Bay, and then they get Houston potentially with Thomas back so hopefully by the time they travel to London I will be able to tell you just how promising this Jags team looks for the future.

AFC West

Denver Broncos (4-0)

  • The story of this team has obviously been the declining passing abilities of Peyton Manning but he has just managed to do enough with this offence to win games. The reason he can do this is because the defence has been so good and have shut down opposing offences.
  • The defence looks a constant threat with Ware and Miller causing havoc off the edges, Talib locking down one side of the field and TJ Ward swarming all over everything. They caused fits this week for Teddy Bridgewater and managed to keep the Vikings at bay a week after winning the game against the Chiefs with a fumble recovery
  • The running game looks rubbish and Demarius Thomas is trying to beat teams single handed meaning he is dropping passes and losing yard but they are just doing enough. However, Peyton has had a ton of interceptions dropped and if some of them start being caught then there may be nothing this elite defence can do but watch teams wear them down.
  • The other three teams in this division don’t look likely to win 10 games and so the Broncos should still make the playoffs but Peyton is struggling already so by December and January they really may be limping into the playoffs on the back of their defence.

Oakland Raiders (2-2)

Amari Cooper

  • Hard not to be impressed with the Raiders even if their schedule has been soft so far this season. If they could have come out of Chicago with a win then they would actually be in the hunt for a wild card spot but as the schedule stiffens I think the inexperience shows and they fall away.
  • Charles Woodsen is a one man wrecking crew in the defence making plays despite playing injured but the rest of the defence need to feed off that. Oh and they could at least TRY and stop opposing tight ends occasionally.
  • Derek Carr and Amari Cooper have clicked immediately with Michael Crabtree making a really nice complementary piece on the other side. However, the Broncos will be a massive test this week for the young offence especially if the run game is taken away completely.
  • This week will be a big test of where they are because the Broncos have somewhat limped top 4-0. If the Raiders can be frisky and hang around then we may have something on our hands down the stretch but if the Broncos dispatch them the way the Bengals did then this excitement really is schedule created.

San Diego Chargers (2-2)

  • 2-0 at home and 0-2 on the road is interesting considering many consider the Chargers to have the worst home field advantage in the league. However, the teams they have played on the road are 6-4 vs 1-7 for the teams they have played at home
  • Offensively they have flashed something but when the game ended Sunday they had a grand total of two fully healthy receivers and one of them I hadn’t even heard of before Sunday. However, Keenan Allen looks back to his best, Danny Woodhead is a big threat in the passing game, Ladarius Green has caught two TD’s and they get Antonio Gates back so there is some reason to be excited. If they get Melvin Gordon rolling then they could have a decent run.
  • Defensively I have big concerns because they gave up 27 points to the Browns and 28 to the Lions who have both been pretty poor on offence the rest of the time. Philip Rivers can shoot out with the best of them but they cannot beat the good teams if they let the bad ones score 25+ points regularly on them
  • A win on Monday night against Pittsburgh would go a long way towards making things seem rosier in a conference where the wildcard spots look wide open. That game becomes more crucial when you consider they travel to Lambeau the following week.

Kansas City Chiefs (1-3)

  • It started so promisingly for the Chiefs with a comfortable win over Houston before their world crumbled in the dying minutes against the Broncos. To compound it they then travelled to Green Bay and Cincinnati where as expected they were comprehensively beaten
  • Offensively they are in the top 10 for points scored and top half for total yards. However, there is still some frustration over the reluctance to throw the ball deep occasionally and there appears to be a lack of urgency in the offence.
  • Defensively they have now given up 30 points three weeks running but they have played two offences that will end the season somewhere near the top 5 and they got beaten by a good defence in week 2.
  • I think this is a playoff team but with Denver already 3 and half games up I think their route is already looking likely to be the wildcard. They need to be back at 4-4 by their bye week after they play Detroit in London or they could be looking somewhat down the barrel.

 

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