Monday night’s slop-fest has led me to believe the NFC is once again inferior to the AFC. If one were to break down the National Football Conference by class, it would look something like this…
Please be advised that current standings were ignored. The Arizona Cardinals are 2-1. If you think they’re a good team, Bernie Madoff would like to discuss some investing opportunities with you. Obviously, three weeks isn’t enough time to differentiate between contenders and pretenders, but I have nothing else to do. Ok, that’s not entirely true. I have nothing else I want to do.
Without further ado, here’s where the sixteen NFC teams stand (at least for right now).
The, favored, supremely talented, yet fatally flawed, division
Green Bay Packers – Their play on Monday night was beyond words. More penalties than points? Check. The Packers were flagged 18 times for a total of 152 yards. You don’t win Superbowls when the yellow laundry is flooding the field. Costly turnover? Check. Driving for what was potentially the game-winning score, receiver James Jones lazily fumbled the ball near the Green Bay sideline. Chicago recovered with just over two minutes left. Missed Opportunities? Check. A blocked field goal early in the second half came back to haunt the Packers, but even more devastating was the dropped interception on the Bears’ game-winning drive – right after Green Bay’s fumble nonetheless. ESPN’s crew somehow completely ignored this, but it appeared that Charles Woodson dropped a relatively easy pick that would have given the ball right back to Aaron Rodgers. Horrible coaching? Check. Let’s take a poll. Would you rather A: Surrender a touchdown and have the ball down seven with just under a minute remaining? Or, B: protect the goal line, force a field goal, and get the ball back down three with only four seconds left in the game? Obviously, the only chance to tie and force overtime is option A. Regardless, the Packers’ coaching staff chose option B. Maybe they just wanted to leave. Believe it or not, this is the best the NFC has to offer. Despite the efforts of his team, Aaron Rodgers was still fantastic. He’s the best quarterback in the conference right now (sorry Drew Brees), and is the only reason Green Bay is considered a conference champion candidate. Fatal Flaw: An awful offensive line, spotty defense, and subpar special teams may be too much to overcome.
New Orleans Saints – The Saints looked rusty in their season opening against Minnesota. First game of the season, long offseason, getting comfortable again – this is understandable. The Saints then got drubbed against the 49ers, yet managed to leave with a victory after San Francisco decided to give the game away on 58 separate occasions – good teams win ugly, I guess. In week three, the Saints continued to play uninspired, disinterested football and needed Lance Moore to keep them in the game before falling in overtime. Fatal Flaw: Despite the offseason guarantees of staying hungry and motivated, the Saints need a big ‘ol kick in the rear… and a reliable kicker too.
Dallas Cowboys – Dallas is as unpredictable as Jerry Jones. They play horribly for stretches and then look like Superbowl favorites. It’s still early, but the Cowboys defense looks like the best in the conference. Tony Romo has enough toys in the passing game to score points, assuming his offensive line can hold up. Fatal Flaw: In addition to the questions on the offensive line, the lack of a running game will haunt the Cowboys in close games against tough defenses. A head coach that struggles to keep his team focused and motivated for an entire season doesn’t help either.
The, lurking and hoping things break their way, division
Minnesota Vikings – If Brett Favre can regain just 75% of his 2009 form, the Vikings will be fine. Adrian Peterson is ready to carry the offense and the defense has yet to surrender more than 14 points in a game. If Sydney Rice returns healthy and ready to contribute, and Favre finds his mojo, the Vikings will arguably be the best team in the conference. I can already hear Troy Aikman delivering the cliché, “You know the injury to Rice early on forced Brett to trust his other receivers, and that’s really made this unit more dangerous.”
Philadelphia Eagles – An explosive offense with endless potential. Michael Vick will face his toughest opponent yet in the Washington defense. If Vick can maintain this level of play throughout the year, the Eagles will be tough to stop. More importantly, Philadelphia needs their young defense to gel and improve to have a real shot at the conference championship.
Chicago Bears – I placed the Eagles above the Bears because Jay Cutler turned into Jay Cutler v. 2009 in the 4th quarter on Monday night…and that’s a scary thing for Chicago. I know he eventually led the Bears to the game winning field goal, but he also threw two interceptions on that drive. The first was dropped and the second called back to due to (surprise!) a Green Bay penalty. Otherwise, we’re talking about Cutler choking again. Chicago’s defense is much improved but they’re not good enough to overcome Cutler’s back-breaking turnovers.
New York Giants – New York’s defense can’t possibly be this bad for an entire year, and Eli Manning will hopefully remove the left handed throw from his arsenal. I know I should be giving up on the Giants like most everyone else, but their win in week 4 over Chicago will quiet the naysayers.
The, it wasn’t supposed to go down like this, division
Washington Redskins – Steve Spurrier bombed. Marty Schottenheimer failed. Joe Gibbs (second tenure) accomplished very little. Now Mike Shanahan is learning it’s simply impossible to win in the nation’s capital under Daniel Snyder. The Redskins hoped to have a decent offense entering the 2010 season. They were wrong. Clinton Portis is finished, the offensive line is shaky, and McNabb needs another receiver.
Seattle Seahawks – They’re 2-1 now, but give it time. Two kickoffs returned for touchdowns were all that saved Seattle on Sunday. That won’t happen every week. The rebuilding phase is on in Seattle.
The, too soon, but making progress, division
St. Louis Rams, Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – There’s one thing that separates these teams from the three listed below; a quarterback. If you have a quarterback to build around, you’re going somewhere. Without one, you’re simply wandering the desert. The Rams have Sam Bradford, the Lions, Matthew Stafford, and Tampa Bay uncovered the surprising Josh Freeman. Stockpiling young players and successful drafts will have these franchises competing for division titles in the near future. Unfortunately for the Rams, Lions, and Bucs, they’re more likely to retain their titles as division doormats than compete for the playoffs in 2010.
The, your day will come, just not anytime soon, division
Carolina Panthers – Jimmy Clausen may be the guy in Carolina, but it’s way too early to tell if he’s a quarterback to build around. As a team, the Panthers have underachieved dating back to their embarrassing loss in the 2008 playoffs. While the Panthers are one of the youngest teams in the NFL, they’re currently headed in the wrong direction. A new coaching regime will probably turn that around quicker than John Fox.
Arizona Cardinals – The Cardinals thought they addressed the long-term quarterback situation when they drafted Matt Leinart. Leinart’s reign as franchise quarterback was an entire half shorter than Kevin Kolb’s. Now that’s impressive.
San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers rebuilding efforts of the past five years appear to be crumbling. Alex Smith is once again struggling, the coaching staff is being questioned, and the supposedly strong defense has surrendered more points than anyone else in the league – to the Seahawks and Chiefs nonetheless. The 49ers aren’t improving anymore. In fact, they’re going backward.
The, talented, flying under the radar, no obvious fatal flaw, I can’t believe it’s the Atlanta Falcons, division
That’s right. After three weeks of NFL action, the Atlanta Falcons look like the best team in the NFC. As it turned out, their week one loss in Pittsburgh wasn’t as bad as once thought because the Steelers are significantly better than expected. Additionally, Atlanta’s week three win in New Orleans proved the Falcons addressed some of their defensive issues from 2009. Offensively, the Falcons are the most balanced team in the conference. Michael Turner and Jason Snelling provide a bruising north-south rushing attack that only Minnesota can match in the NFC. Matt Ryan is one of the top five quarterbacks in the conference, and only Miles Austin can challenge Roddy White as the NFC’s best receiver. Head Coach, Mike Smith blew the call when he chose not to punt late in the 4th quarter in New Orleans, but he’s a solid coach who normally won’t hurt his team. The NFL season is only three weeks old, so a lot can, and undoubtedly will, happen. However, until proven otherwise, the Atlanta Falcons are the top team in the NFC.
And even they wouldn’t crack the top five in the AFC.