NFL Quick Hits – Falcons and Cardinals Flying High

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I was only half watching the condensed version of the second half of the Cardinals @ Lions game as I was making breakfast Monday morning so I lost track of just how out of hand it had gotten until I heard the commentator say that Drew Stanton completed that last pass. Add in that Dan Orlovsky was throwing passes for the Lions and you don’t need to know the score to know that this game was out of hand. The Cardinals rebounded from their hiccup against St. Louis to crunch the Lions and take full control of a lousy NFC West so far this season.

Just an hour or two earlier the Falcons had gone to 5-0 after picking off Kirk Cousins in overtime to win a game they probably should have lost. To put it frankly the NFC is not looking good this year with 10 (yes TEN) teams under .500 in the conference. With the Vikings at 2-2 it means that there are just five teams over .500 and two of those reside in the expected to be weak NFC South.

On the counter the supposedly strong East is a mess with the Giants leading it at 3-2 and the other three teams at 2-3. In the north Green Bay are already two and half games over the Vikings and looking good to secure 10-14 wins this season at least. So without further ado lets go team by team and highlight what stands out for each team and where I see them going from here.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers (5-0)

  • They have actually struggled the last two weeks on offence and have their defence to thank for the fact they have crushed both those opponents by 14 points
  • Rodgers still looks efficient but the run game isn’t helping and when Cobb is shut down he struggles without Jordy to take some of the attention
  • Defensively they hammered the Rams this week with a pick-six and another interception in the end zone producing a 14 point swing on those two plays alone and a week ago they kept San Fran to just three points
  • I cannot see anyone beating them to the division but they do have some tough games in the second half of the season with Denver (week 8), Dallas (with Romo possibly in week 14) and Arizona (week 16) so winning more than 14 could be tough.

Minnesota Vikings (2-2)

Teddy Bridgewater

  • The Vikings have beaten a really bad Detroit team and a probably bad San Diego team but did lose to a bad San Francisco team in the late Monday game. That loss could just be the strange late night circumstances they were playing the game and there other loss to Denver is a loss to one of the best 5 or 6 teams in the league
  • Defensively they are doing ok having given up just 73 points on the season so far but they haven’t come against any juggernauts either. They have a Jamaal Charles-less KC team next week and then they don’t face a truly firing offence until Green Bay in week 11.
  • Offensively they are doing what needs to be done to win but that is really all you can say for them so far but as AP grows into his role more they should get better in both rushing and passing the ball
  • They could easily be a playoff team in this messy NFC but they need to make sure they beat the Lions and Chicago away in weeks 7 and 8 or else they could end up in a bad situation with a tough run of games later in the year.

Chicago Bears (2-3)

  • Winning the last two games has made a real difference to a team people were discussing as a potential 0-16 team and now there is some small optimism in the windy city
  • Offensively they rank 28th in points scored as well as 27th in total yards and pass yards. However, those numbers are destroyed by the shut out Jimmy Clausen pitched in Seattle and also biased by the lack of Alshon Jeffery for most of this season. They will improve on the offence when Jeffery is back but their offensive line mean Jay Cutler is going to have to play like Hercules.
  • Defensively they have actually done really well the last three weeks keeping teams to an average of 21 points considering just how banged up they are in the secondary. At 0-2 with a total of 79 points given up they looked like they could get boat raced every week but Fox has stiffened up a defence lacking talent and now they are good enough to at least give their offence a chance.
  • They face Detroit this week before there bye so if they win that they are back at .500 in this weak conference and all of a sudden a wildcard spots begins to materialize in the distance given what is looking a fairly soft schedule in parts

Detroit Lions (0-5)

  • Wow is it messy in Detroit right now on both sides of the ball. Honestly they look worse than the 0-16 team from a few years back right now
  • They blew a game in San Diego in week 1 and then since then they haven’t scored more than 17 points. The run game is so poor it’s a negative and the Stafford/Calvin Johnson connection isn’t there. Add in the injuries to Ebron and Bell and the disappearance of a certain Golden Tate and you can quickly understand why they are struggling
  • Defensively they have been a mixed bag with a good performance against Denver and Seattle (who may be really bad offences?!) but they have left San Diego, Minnesota and Arizona push them around. Again injuries aren’t playing but they still haven’t fixed a corner back problem that seems to have been going on for years either.
  • This is a lost season for Detroit and now they need to start looking to see if they can get that passing game back or finding out whether they need to go find some playmakers next year. This is hardly being bold but they will not go unbeaten with their schedule which includes two games against Chicago, a game against New Orleans and one against San Francisco.

NFC EAST

New York Giants (3-2)

  • Two big giveaway games in the first two weeks have cost the Giants the chance for a potential 5-0 start.
  • Offensively they looked like they were building something but injuries to Odell Beckham and Reuben Randle have cast shadows on the optimism. The run game is poor but Shane Vereen out of the backfield is showing just how good a back he is catching the ball.
  • The defence hasn’t really stood out in either a good or bad way so far this season but has quietly had five interceptions but did allow Colin Kaepernick to look at least decent against them which is a little concerning.
  • The NFC East is the biggest mess of them all right now but with the Eagles showing some interesting signs of life last week the game in Philly this week could be a huge indicator of where we all stand. Facing Dallas again before Romo and Dez return is huge for their chances of getting to the playoffs.

Dallas Cowboys (2-3)

  • Games with Tony Romo 2-0, Games with Brandon Weeden 0-3.
  • Whilst the offence didn’t look revolutionary with Romo it has looked frankly fragile since half time of the week 3 game against the Falcons. After running all over Atlanta early the Dallas scoring dried up as they were beaten by the woeful Saints before being locked out of the end zone by the Patriots. I expect there to be a lot of Matt Cassel talk coming out of the bye.
  • Defensively they started ok before the Falcons stomped all over them in the last three quarters and again this Sunday they looked really nice with the returning Hardy and McClain. Naturally they weren’t going to keep wreaking havoc on Tom Brady all game but what we saw in the first half is a sign that this highly touted defence could be about to come good.
  • A bye this week followed by a trip to New York before getting Seattle in their house could be a key stretch. Go 0-2 and they will sit 3 games below .500 and it could be beyond Romo’s repair especially if New York win their next two.

Washington Redskins (2-3)

kirk cousins

  • The Redskins have had a really odd start to the season going on a LWLWL pattern in their first five games. Losing to Miami now looks a lot worse than it did in Week 1 and beating St Louis looks less impressive after watching Nick Foles on Sunday.
  • Offensively they have been hampered by injuries to De’sean Jackson and Jordan Reed. The run game started hot but then teams realized that Kirk Cousins wasn’t Tom Brady and have played them tougher on the ground the last two weeks and the exciting big plays have dried up. This offence is never going to high octane with Kirk Cousins but Jamison Crowder is an interesting piece to keep an eye on.
  • Defensively they started really well against Miami and St. Louis but have since averaged over 25 points given up a game. With the Jets and Bucs coming to town their run defence will be tested big time after Devonta Freeman ran wild on them last week.
  • Starting the year I thought the Redskins might just tank but the NFC East has been so wobbly that they are only one game out of first place with two winnable games coming up before the bye. If they go into the bye within a game then they could frisky in the race for the East in the second half and have the potential to be a thorn in someone else’s side at the very least.

Philadelphia Eagles (2-3)

  • It has been real ugly watching for Philly fans so far this year as Sam Bradford has labored through the first few weeks of the season.
  • The Kelly offence doesn’t seem to hold the same mystique it did in previous seasons and they are lacking a number one big time. The run game looks to have got going this week with Demarco Murray finally getting some decent yardage. However, the Saints are possibly the worst defence in the NFL right now so let’s see how they fair against far tougher defences these next two weeks.
  • Defensively they have been decent enough taking a back seat behind the galre of a struggling offence. 26 points given up is there season high to the Falcons but since then they have played reasonably poor offences making it tough to judge them too fully on that side of the ball right now.
  • Next week’s game against the Giants has huge implications for a game this early in the season. Win and they are all square atop the division with a tie break. Lose and they two games down with the tie break going against them with a game against the unbeaten Panthers coming the following week.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons (5-0)

Matt Ryan

  • This team has been a world away from the team I watched blow a second half lead against Detroit in London in comical fashions in the middle of last season. Dan Quinn has got the Falcons and their fans believing and with a cupcake schedule going forward the hype could easily continue deep into the season.
  • The offence was all about Julio the first two weeks before transitioning to the Freeman show the last three. That isn’t to say Julio isn’t still huge for this team but he has a nagging hamstring injury and the longer Freeman can be the main guy the more chance Julio has of being a beast come playoff time. Matt Ryan struggles last week against Washington but he looks a much better QB this season behind an offensively line that isn’t just a swinging gate.
  • I watched their first game against Philly closely and I was stunned by how fired up they were on defence and that speed and attitude has continued through the first five games. They got gashed by the Dallas run game briefly in week 3 but they stiffened in the second half and have been superb when it has mattered ever since. They bailed their offence out on Sunday numerous times including the game winning pick six in overtime. This young defence looks exciting and a world away from last year’s debacle.
  • I am calling this now; the Falcons have a real shot to be 12-0 in December. Here are there next 7 games: @ NO, @ TEN, vs TB, @ SF, vs IND, vs MIN, @ TB. Where are they losing there if they carry on playing like this? An improved Indy team maybe or a solid Minnesota team? I can really see them marching into Carolina in Week 13 unbeaten and if they win that then let the unbeaten talk really begin.

Carolina Panthers (4-0)

  • A good team or just the benefactors of a really easy start to the season? That is the question we will see answered these next two weeks as they travel to Seattle and then host Philly. Beating half of the NFC and AFC South is nothing to write home about this season so far but that doesn’t mean there isn’t optimism.
  • Newsflash: Cam Newton is actually a really good NFL quarterback. The loss of Kelvin Benjamin was big in the summer and many though Cam would have to lean heavily on his run game to have any success this year. Well that run game has been non-existent (bar Cam himself) and instead Newton has used his stud tight end and the likes of Ted Ginn to do exactly what he should have done these last four weeks, beat bad teams.
  • Defensively they have yet to be truly tested against four mediocre at best offences but some of the signs are really good. Josh Norman is fast developing into a top tier corner back and they have generally kept opposing run games bottled up in the early part of the season.
  • A tough four game stretch coming up now as they take on Seattle, Philly, Indy and Green Bay which could easily see them slip back to 5-3. Win two or more and they are in prime position to either win the division or be one of the wildcard teams

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3)

  • Losses to Tennessee and Houston and wins against New Orleans and Jacksonville are hardly ringing endorsements of a good team given that those four may all finish in the bottom 7 or 8 teams in the league this season. However, they have now won as many games as they did all last season so let’s look at the upside.
  • The defence has struggled this season giving up more than 30 points three times this season. The two times they haven’t was against the struggling New Orleans and Houston offences who managed just 19 points each.
  • The offence has been hit and miss but Jameis Winston has flashed signs that he could be a decent quarterback going forward which is mostly what the Bucs want from this year. The run game, led by Doug Martin, has been effective and both Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans have had good games this season.
  • This season is all about progress for the Bucs and seeing where they need to build in the draft next year. They will use this week’s bye to add more to the playbook for Jameis and try to fix some of the glaring defensive issues that have reared their ugly head this season.

New Orleans Saints (1-4)

  • I really don’t know where this season is going for the Saints because there doesn’t appear to be a rebuild going on and this team certainly isn’t winning anything anytime soon.
  • The offence is devoid of real playmakers with a stodgy running game and an ageing quarterback. Brandin Cooks showed some flashes of his form from last season this past week and Willie Snead has been a target monster for Brees but the offence really lacks that one big central playmaker.
  • Defensively it is as about as ugly as it gets in the NFL. Brownner was the big ticket addition but he has struggled as a number one and the defence really hasn’t put any pressure on a good quarterback. Yes they kept Weeden in check the other week but that is hardly a massive achievement considering the Patriots shut him out of the end zone this week.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals (4-1)

  • The Cardinals have done a wonderful job of blowing out bad teams so far this season. Their conquests this season have combined for just four wins on the rest of the season. Their loss to the Rams is a casualty of having a really tough division who are always capable of taking games from one another.
  • The Arizona offence has been on fire led by the comeback player of the year in Carson Palmer and the resurgent Larry Fitzgerald. John Brown has been a pass interference drawing machine, the run game has been good with whoever has been leading it and they still have a very talented receiver in Michael Floyd in reserve.
  • Defensively they have been taking balls away left right and center and have returned a few to the house as well. The stats at times will look messy because their offence is capable of putting up points quick and that will leave them in deep defence giving up plenty of yards.
  • The 4-1 start has been really impressive but then they have played some pretty bad teams to start the season. They have a three game run against the NFC north coming now and they are getting both Pittsburgh and Baltimore at a great time so we could be about to see another couple of blowouts

St. Louis Rams (2-3)

  • So we have two impressive performance and three horrific performances to assess the Rams on so far this season. Thy beat both the Seahawks and the Cardinals scoring an average of 27.5 points in those games but have lost to Washington, Pittsburgh and Green Bay whilst averaging just 8.66 points per game.
  • Defensively they have been absolutely superb this season with the headline being that they were the first team to pick off Aaron Rodgers in nearly three years at Lambeau. However, they are going to need points of their defence as well as big stops and turnovers because the offence look really anemic a lot of the time.
  • The offence has been really inconsistent and has relied on gimmicks at times this season. The arrival of Todd Gurley is a big boost but even when he had a big rushing game against the Packers the offence still struggled to put up points. Foles has proven to be inaccurate and made bad decisions but with no big time playmakers he is always going to struggle.
  • Coming off the bye this week they get Cleveland, San Fran, Minnesota, Chicago and Baltimore of which they need to win at least three if they want any shot of making the playoffs this season.

Seattle Seahawks (2-3)

Russell_Wilson

  • Sunday was frankly a disaster for the Seahawks as they gave up yet another big 4th quarter and the legion of boom was at times picked apart by Andy Dalton. They could easily be 1-4 had Calvin Johnson not fumbled two weeks ago and then we would be having real discussion about where this season is going.
  • The defence looks improved in general for getting Chancellor back but his deficiencies in coverage were exposed last week by the Bengals. Add in that Cary Williams is the weakest weak link the secondary has had in the last few years and all of sudden the legion lacks a little boom. The front seven are still really good and at times they had Dalton and the Bengals on the ropes but teams seem to keep finding ways to get off the hook.
  • Offensively they need to get Jimmy Graham more involved because the offence isn’t clicking at all and they gave up a big piece in Max Unger to go and add him this year. Kearse and Baldwin are doing their parts and Lockett will keep having big plays in the returning game and he will offer explosiveness in the passing game as well. Thomas Rawls is an interesting development if Lynch continues to struggle for fitness or looks slows when he returns.
  • A big three weeks leading into the bye as they welcome the Panthers this week before travelling to San Fran and Dallas. Win two or more of those and all of a sudden no one is even debating their playoff chances but lose two and we may see the strains starting to cause some cracks.

San Francisco 49ers (1-4)

  • If I showed you the tape from week 1 and then told you that that team was 1-4 and had given up 40 points twice you would think I was lying to you. After a superb performance on both sides of the ball against Minnesota they have then struggled on both sides of the ball as they have lost 4 straight.
  • The offence has struggled off the back of Colin Kaepernick’s failings this season which has affected all aspect of the offence and led to some struggles for Carlos Hyde. The performance against New York was impressive and a turning of the corner following their single digit weeks against Arizona and Green Bay.
  • The defence got destroyed in weeks 2 & 3 but keeping Aaron Rodgers below 20 points is really impressive work. Last week was less impressive but the Giants offence has some nice pieces when they are healthy.
  • They have a mixed schedule the rest of the way but if they lose to Baltimore and Seattle in the next two weeks then the season could be completely lost and all focus will be turning towards whether CK is the man they are going with next season or if they need to find a QB in the draft.

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