The NFL has reached the quarter pole (or the 23.529% pole to be exact) for 2010. Four games (or three games for 4 teams) usually gives an indication of what a team has in store for the season. I am not sure that this year four weeks has told us much. 24 of the 32 teams sit at 2-2 or better, including 13 of the 16 teams in the AFC. Not coincidentally, 22 of the 32 teams are within 1 game of first place. It does appear that defenses are ahead of the offenses and that big plays are down considerably. If you want offense this year, turn on a Pac-10 game on Saturday, because even the ever-reliable Saints games have been defensive struggles to a point. Remember at this point last year, the Giants and Broncos were each undefeated. Neither team made the playoffs. So what do we really know? Probably nothing - but here is my look at the first 23.529% of the season - by division, with a little outlook for the last 76.471%...
Better than I thought - LaDainian Tomlinson, NY Jets - it appears, at least for now, that L.T. is back. And this has been terrible news for the rest of the AFC East, as he helped the Jets bounce back from an "offensive" performance in their opener to sweep three consecutive division games. The passing game has opened up and combined with L.T.'s running and a stingy defense, the Jets have looked the part of a complete football team.
Worse than I thought - Bill Belichek's ego - How else can you explain a 3-1 team trading away its most dangerous offensive weapon. Coach Sweatshirt thinks he can win with anybody. Maybe he has something else up his hoodie? With a young defense that has been giving up points, you wonder if Coach S and Tom Fabio can put up enough points.
Exactly what I thought - Buffalo Bills - the Bills stink. period. next!!
Outlook - This appears like the Jets division to win or lose. They have weathered the "Hard Knocks", the "Holdout", a DUI, injuries, and a suspension. As long as the offense, now with Santonio Holmes back, keeps putting up points, they will be in the running for home field advantage. The Patriots and Dolphins are wild-card contenders, but may have too many holes to beat out some of the teams in the North and South for those last playoff spots.
Better than I thought - The Pittsburgh Steelers defense - I did not think the Steelers could come out of the first 4 games at 3-1 with their mess at quarterback. They have proved to me why I think Mike Tomlin is a Top 5 coach in this league already. The defense is back at championship level and now they get Big Ben back.
Worse than I thought - The Cincinnati Bengals passing game - Carson Palmer has looked average at best. With the two talented reality show stars, plus rookies Jordan Shipley (Wes Welker calls him Mini-Me) and Jermaine Gresham, one would have thought this offense could be potent. With a solid defense, it has the makings of another big year in WKRP country. Right now, they are one of the many Jekyll and Hyde teams. If they can find this passing game, lookout.
Exactly what I thought - Baltimore Ravens - solid, if not unspectacular. In every game. Hard-hitting defense (minus Ed Reed). Baltimore is right where I thought, sitting at 3-1 atop the division.
Outlook - Its at least a two-horse race, maybe three if Cincinnati can pull it together. Baltimore and Pittsburgh will be in every game, and with Roethlisberger back and Flacco turning into a mini-Roethlisberger before our eyes (minus the co-ed cravings), these two teams should go down to the wire for the division title, with the runner-up a strong wildcard candidate. Cleveland is better than I thought, but with a brutal schedule, their record will not be indicative of their progress this year.
Better than I thought - Houston Texans - this team has been on the cusp, but I thought they might be in for a mini-step backwards with the suspension of Brian Cushing and the lack of a consistent ground game. Well, Brian Cushing is back now, Arian Foster has been amazing and the Texans are 3-1. They also finally beat the Colts, which may be the confidence boost that can take them through an entire season.
Worse than I thought - Indianapolis vs AFC South - The Colts have absolutely dominated this division for years, yet have inexplicably started 0-2 in the division this season. The defense has definite holes and Peyton Manning can only do so much. Its also time to come to the realization that Bob Sanders career will never be what it could have due to injuries.
Exactly what I thought - Vince Young - The former Longhorn is madly inconsistent - which comes as no surprise after watching his play over his early career. The Titans have a very good defense and a top-notch running game, they just need Vince to make a few more plays. He will in some games. He won't in others. That is who he is.
Outlook - I am not going to doubt the Colts until they prove me wrong. They will likely find a way to sit at the top when the dust clears. Houston and Tennessee will not make it easy, and the longer the Texans go, the more confidence this young team will have. The Jaguars have the look of a solid 6-10 team.
Better than I thought - Kyle Orton - The 2nd most passing yards through 4 games in NFL history now belongs to Mr. Orton. The man the Bears tried to hide and were afraid if he threw a pass. Orton has been exceptional thus far, although it has only translated into a 2-2 record. I don't think Dan Marino needs to be worried.
Worse than I thought - San Diego's Special Teams - OK, I had no pre-conception of the Chargers special teams. But they have been terrible. The argument could be made they have cost the Chargers two games. In the NFL, you can't give away games.
Exactly what I thought - Oakland Raiders QB - Oakland can just not figure it out. They might have the Jamarcus Russell curse to deal with for years and years. Pick a quarterback, and go with him. Yanking Jason Campbell after 6 quarters makes absolutely no sense - for any team other than Al Davis and is Raiders. I am guessing Mr. Leisure Suit called down at halftime and made the change himself.
Outlook - Oh Snap, did I forget to mention the Chiefs? Shouldn't they have been in the better than I thought area? Nah - they are this years Broncos. They have a lot of speed, they use the home crowd to their advantage and actually have a decent schedule. They will find their way to 8-8, with the Chargers finding a way to win this division again. Denver will hover around .500 and the Raiders, well, they are still the Raiders.
Better than I thought - Washington vs the NFC East - The Redskins may have lost bad to the Rams, but they have started 2-0 in the division, including a road win at Philadelphia. In a division so tightly bunched, this could be a key factor as the season plays out. Washington has been the 4th sister in this division the last several years and all indications were that things would not change. Maybe they won't, but you can't take those two division wins away from them.
Worse than I thought - Dallas Cowboys offense - The signs were showing in the pre-season that the offensive line was a shambles. At the other positions, this team is loaded with talent and I thought they could overcome some of those line deficiencies. They still might, but a meager running game and lack of protection have almost cost the Cowboys the season through 3 games. And if Tony Romo goes down, dreams of playing as a home team in February will become a nightmare.
Exactly what I thought - Eli and the Giants - Maybe they found that edge in their absolute physical domination of the Bears. Or maybe the Bears were playing on short week after an emotional division win over their biggest rival. The G-Men (add your own Chris Berman tone to it) are now 5-10 in their last 15 games. They turn the ball over way too often. Eli can look great, but also has some un-Peyton-like moments that leave you scratching your head. This is the Giants folks.
Outlook - Along with the NFC West, which is wide-open for a different reason, this division is loaded with really good football teams, but apparently no great ones (Sorry Dallas). This has the looks of a 12-round fight, only its 16 rounds with four teams and likely only one will be standing with a playoff berth in hand when all is said and done.
Better than I thought - The Chicago Bears - I had them at 5-11, which would mean a 2-10 finish. I also had them at 5-11 because I did not believe Jay Cutler would make it through the season and the Giants came very close to making this reality. The defense is playing better than a year ago. They still can't run the ball. But victories over the Cowboys and Packers are still impressive. Cutler will miss one game, but they need to keep him upright.
Worse than I thought - Injuries - Key injuries are having their effect on this division. I mentioned the Cutler concussion above. Matthew Stafford's shoulder. Ryan Grant and Nick Barnett of the Packers. Sidney Rice and to some extent, Percy Harvin of the Vikings. Which team can survive these injuries? Or, which team will make the proper moves to compensate (Wake-up Ted, the Vikings didn't just sit around)?
Exactly what I thought - Brett Favre - I watched him long enough to know last season was too good to be true. He is older. He is not 100%. And he has as many moments of ugh as he does of greatness. Welcome to my world of 15 years Viking fan. I hope you enjoy the ride.
Outlook - The Randy Moss deal may have altered the landscape once again. If the Vikings can weather the next 6 weeks of a brutal schedule with their new-found toy, they might emerge as the team to beat again. Green Bay is good, but attrition might play a bigger role in their season. I talked about Chicago above and Detroit is 0-4, what else is new.
Better than I thought - Tampa Bay Buccaneers - I am giving Tampa credit where I didn't Kansas City, which might be hypocritical, since I think the Bucs are more of a fraud than the Chiefs. But they are 2-1 and there are really no other positive surprises in this division.
Worse than I thought - New Orleans Saints offense - Where is that juggernaut we came to expect in the Big Easy? Injuries have played their part, but Drew Brees has become Mr. Dink and Dunk and the big plays have all but disappeared. Colston, Henderson and Meachem have to start to stretch the field. They are a missed FG that my Grandma could have made away from 4-0 (not coincidentally, they now have Father Time kicking for them in John Carney), so all is not lost. If this offense can get going, watch out NFC.
Exactly what I thought - Atlanta Falcons - The Atlanta Falcons are a darn good football team. Are they a great team - nah - they are not spectacular on either side of the ball. But they will stick right with the Saints and may even surpass them if the Saints can't get it all figured out. They are about as solid as it gets in the NFC right now.
Outlook - Atlanta and New Orleans should battle it out and my guess would be the other is still a playoff team. Tampa Bay will come back to earth a little, although they are definitely not as bad as I thought. Carolina is much worse, and with a rookie quarterback, things are likely to stay that way.
Better than I thought - The St. Louis Rams - Sam Bradford has stabilized the offense for the first time in years and the defense is not the sieve it was advertised to be. If Steven Jackson can stay healthy and provide that consistent ground game, this will be the surprise team of 2010.
Worse than I thought - The San Francisco 49ers - Mike Singletary - I thought you were better than this. Your team looks unprepared at times. You can't figure out an offensive identity. Everyone thought you would coast in this division. You still might win it, but I actually don't see it anymore. I was fooled. Tricked. its what happens when a Packer fan trusts a former Bear.
Exactly what I thought - Arizona Cardinals QB - What is Kurt Warner doing these days? Oh yeah, he is dancing. Problem is, Anna Trebunskaya would be a better QB than Derek Anderson or Max Hall. I can't believe that Arizona is 2-2. I will believe when they are 4-12.
Outlook - Yes, San Francisco can still win this division. But are they good enough to go 8-4 the rest of the way? Because Seattle looks unbeatable at home and unwatchable on the road, which translates to 7-9 or 8-8. And St. Louis is primed to stay in this as well. Realistically, the division winner could be 8-8, or gulp!, even 7-9.