By Mike Ivcic, UltimateCapper Contributing Writer
We’re now an eighth of the way through the NFL season, and maybe we’ve started to see some separation and definition within the league. Clearly the Seahawks and Packers are good at home, the Broncos are anywhere, and the Jaguars are just about as far away from good as any NFL team I’ve seen since the infamous Rich Kotite-led Jets went a combined 4-28 over two seasons. The Jags may actually threaten that record, because finding more than 2 wins after their 2-14 campaign last year seems like a pretty tough chore. What else do we think after two weeks? It’s time for our four downs…
After week one, much of the focus was on the Eagles offense as opposed to anything the Redskins did or didn’t do, but they can’t shake that scrutiny after their even worse performance at Lambeau in week two. Yes, the Packers are good, but the Redskins have now been outscored 50-7 in the first half this season – and that touchdown was a defensive touchdown, DeAngelo Hall’s fumble return for a TD that started the scoring in week one. That means Washington has now surrendered 50 consecutive first half points. It won’t get much easier with the Lions due up this week, so Mike Shanahan needs to figure out how to get RG3 and the rest of the offense on track and keep his defense from getting carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey in order to avoid an 0-3 start. If they can’t win this week, it might suddenly become a very long season in D.C., because what initially looked like an easy schedule could actually produce a 3-13 season if they can’t get their offense operating significantly more efficiently.
You may have heard this stat thrown around, but over the last four years not a single team has started 0-2 and made the playoffs. That doesn’t bode well for the Redskins, Browns, Vikings, Steelers, Giants, Panthers, Buccaneers, and Jaguars, the eight teams currently 0-2. There should be significantly more hope for Washington, Pittsburgh, and New York than the other five, since those three only trail their respective divisions by one game and will have plenty of chances to make up that deficit. I actually do think this is the year that four year streak comes to an end, because I don’t really see any reason to jump an NFC East team ahead of the Giants just yet. That’s a terribly flawed division and all four teams should be feeling like they have at least an outside shot at winning it, and when that’s the case I tend to believe that talent will ultimately win out over the course of a 16-game schedule. Still, 7 interceptions is way too many balls thrown to the opposition, and if Eli Manning doesn’t fix that immediately there won’t be any hope a home team playing in this year’s Super Bowl. Beyond that, the only other team that may even make an outside run at the postseason is Minnesota, but as I wrote in the preseason preview they’re going to be the recipient of a ridiculously difficult division and conference that will ultimately keep them on the short end of .500.
‘Fins Ahead of Pats?
It may be that I just totally undervalued the Jets defense and the Bills offense, but I think it’s significantly more likely that, despite knowing the Patriots would take a step backwards, I underestimated just how mortal New England would be this year. Yes, they are still 2-0 with both wins coming inside the division, but having more punts than first downs – as New England’s offense did Thursday night – is not typically a recipe for success. That won’t produce a victory too often, especially as the schedule grows more difficult for Brady and Belichick. Meanwhile, maybe it’s time for me get off the Dolphins’ case just a little bit. I wasn’t overly impressed with their week one win over Cleveland, but they were surprisingly solid in knocking off Indianapolis on the road last week as well, so perhaps they’re more legitimate than I originally anticipated. We should find out a lot more this week as they host Atlanta in their home opener. Even keeping that game within one score until the final minutes would probably be more than enough to convince me that Miami could win the AFC East – especially if the Patriots struggle at home against Tampa. Suddenly week 8 and week 15 are looming large for these two teams that appear to be headed in opposite directions.
Prior to the start of the season, the consensus from just about anyone that knows anything about football was that the NFC was far superior to the AFC. Well, through two weeks and six cross-conference games, that has been proven anything but true. The AFC has posted a 5-1 record thus far, with the Bears week one victory of the Bengals as the conference’s only blemish. Much of the credit for the AFC’s success can be attributed to the West, which flexed its muscles against the NFC East this past weekend as the Chargers beat the Eagles, the Chiefs held off the Cowboys, and the Broncos smoked the Giants. Even the lesser AFC teams have beaten their lesser NFC counterparts, as the Jets and Bills have recorded wins over the Buccaneers and Panthers, respectively. In the interest of fairness, the NFC North is 1-0 against the AFC North, and the NFC West – which suddenly might have a legitimate claim as the best division in football – hasn’t played a single game against the AFC South – which suddenly might have a legitimate claim as the worst division in football – so the jury is still out on which conference is superior. Still, the early returns are a positive sign that a conference so many assumed had only two or three true contenders has held its own through the first 32 games of the season.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Philadelphia Eagles
Thu, 8:00pm, NFLN
Line: Eagles by 3
There were high school teams that could have hung 30 on the Eagles with the way their defense played last week – and yet, they’re still field goal favorites at home against their former coach, Andy Reid. Chalk that up to a very good offense that does a great job of getting the ball to their playmakers with lots of space – even if Chip Kelly’s “clock management” appears to be just about as popular on the Philly sports talk shows as Andy Reid’s “clock management.” It’s actually possible that the team that wins on Thursday will be the team whose coach screws up the in-game strategy the least, which says a whole lot about the state of both of these franchises. Still, one of these teams will leave Lincoln Financial Field guaranteed of at least a share of their division lead at the end of the week, something I don’t think fans in Kansas City or Philadelphia would have expected after three games. I debated taking the Chiefs outright here, but Thursday night road teams are historically bad plays and the Reid-back-in-Philly factor should create a great atmosphere for the Eagles. The passion and drama will definitely be palpable through your television set because this fan base will consider it catastrophic if their team loses to its former coach and will thus come ready to roar. Plus, I did pick Philly to win in the preseason preview… but after watching Philip Rivers carve up the Eagles secondary I think I at least need to go with a KC cover to hedge my bet.
Pick: Philadelphia 34, Kansas City 33
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