Necessary Roughness, Week 4: Taking Stock of Each Division a Quarter of the Way Through the Season
After tonight’s Lions/Seahawks game, we will officially be four weeks deep into the NFL season, which means most teams (Tennessee and New England had byes this week) are a quarter of the way through the year. Hard to believe, really, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized more and more that time is round, and it rolls quickly. Sure, the season is still young, but in the NFL every week has playoff implications. Every game is important, and momentum can shift at the drop of a hat. Or the drop of a pass. So after four weeks of football, it’s probably too early to crown anybody or count anybody out, but it’s not too early to at least start THINKING about it, right? Here’s my Week 4 breakdown, by division.
NFC East: The Cowboys get Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain back from suspensions, which will help their defense, but I can’t help but think this team might be in trouble. Just too many injuries at key positions. It’s a wide open division with everyone at 2-2 aside from the 1-3 Eagles, but remember, the Giants could easily be a 4-0 team if not for two heartbreaking losses in Weeks 1 and 2. With the Eagles just not looking even remotely like the team I thought they would be, and the Redskins’ schedule on the verge of getting brutal (they’ll face the Falcons, Jets, and Patriots in three of the next four weeks), it’s hard to argue against New York being the team to beat in this division.
NFC West: Man, Arizona looked so good until yesterday. What happened? They just couldn’t get anything going in the red zone and lost a tough one at home against the Rams, a divisional opponent. A lot will hinge on what happens tonight, but I fully expect the Seahawks to do work on the Lions and their struggling pass defense. Ultimately, I still think this division is a two-horse race between Seattle and the Cards. The Rams just don’t have enough offensive weapons and let’s be honest here, the 49ers look a damn mess out there.
NFC North: The Lions are about to be 0-4, the Vikings’ pass protection is woeful, and the Bears, despite beating the Raiders, aren’t going anywhere. This might be the most lopsided division in the league and it looks like the Packers will waltz right into the playoffs with a first round bye. And I will actually be shocked if Green Bay loses a divisional game all year.
NFC South: What a far cry from last year, right? This time a year ago it looked like no one wanted to make the playoffs in the South. This year we have two of the six unbeaten teams residing in this division. The Falcons and Panthers are both 4-0. It pains me to say it, but I think the Falcons look like the more complete team of the two. The Panthers have lucked out with a light schedule so far but it’s about to get brutal, and they are banged up at some key positions. Newly acquired Jared Allen MAY help their pass rush, but yesterday he looked kinda old and slow to me. The Saints finally got on track yesterday, and they could make a run when it’s all said and done now that Drew Brees’ shoulder is healthy. I’m also impressed with Mark Ingram so far this year. The Bucs will likely remain in the cellar here, but they actually move the ball pretty damn well. Their problem is turnovers (Winston threw four picks yesterday) and not having a reliable kicker (old boy has missed like two extra points and four or five field goals).
AFC East: First of all, the Dolphins are in a bad way and I’d be surprised if Joe Philbin escapes the season with a job unless something miraculous happens. The team was an atrocity in London, and with expectations being high coming into the season, Dolphins fans are bumming hard. The Jets, on the other hand, look pretty damn good under Todd Bowles. They are heading into a bye week at 3-1, after which they will have a very winnable game at home against the Redskins. In Buffalo, things are starting to look bad for Rex Ryan. Not as bad as that weird foot video he made of his wife a few years ago, but bad nonetheless. The Bills earned a whopping 17 penalty flags against the Giants, after getting flagged 14 times the previous week. Maybe a lack of discipline? All this basically adds up to this: the stankin’ ass Patriots are probably going to win the division. Again. Cheaters.
AFC West: Looks like it might be Denver’s division again this year. San Diego hasn’t been very impressive, and it took everything they had to squeak out a win against Cleveland to pull to 2-2 on the year. I’m not ready to count KC out just yet. They’ve had a gnarly schedule so far. But if they want to make some waves in the West they have to protect Alex Smith better. He’s just taking way too many hits. The Raiders are interesting, and had they beaten the Bears like they should’ve, I’d really be singing their praises. They should be 3-1.
AFC North: The Bengals are 4-0 and Andy Dalton has been terrific running a balanced offense. And with the Ravens and Steelers being hobbled by significant injuries, Cincy has everything going their way, at least for the time being. Cleveland at times has shown promise, but they have to get their defense tidied up big time, in particular against the pass. Philip Rivers went ballistic yesterday with 3 TDs and over 350 yards passing. Still, Cleveland could’ve won that game. This division could get interesting late in the season but for now the Bengals are in control.
AFC South: This division sucks.
And I’m done. I’m in the Mecca of black metal: Oslo, Norway. So I need to hit the streets and get grim in preparation for tonight’s gig. So long, folks. I’ll be back stateside for next weekend’s games and I can’t wait to be a total lump of shit and watch football All. Damn. Day.