By Mike Ivcic, UltimateCapper Contributing Writer
Once again, a solid week straight up for me, with a 34-14 record overall now. Looking at the AFC East standings confuses me a bit, though, because I’m still pretty sure the team at the top isn’t very good, but that’s for a bit further down this page.
THREE THINGS WE KNEW
1. The Packers are the class of the NFC North. True, both the Pack and the Lions are 3-0, but Green Bay answered the bell Sunday by pummeling the Bears in Chicago to stake their claim to the top of the division. Detroit has beaten Tampa Bay, Kansas City, and Minnesota this year â one solid win and two victories over going-nowhere teams. The Packers, meanwhile, just started their Super Bowl defense by beating two of last year’s five other NFC playoff teams. They get Atlanta in two weeks in the Peach state, but surround it with home games against Denver and St. Louis and a Monday night in Minnesota before their week eight bye. Sure, there are plenty of traps left on the schedule, but barring an injury to Aaron Rodgers, the road to Super Bowl XVII goes through Lambeau Field.
2. Running the football is still the easiest way to success in the NFL. The common belief is that today’s NFL is a passing league. While there’s certainly no way to argue the statistical proof to support that theory, there’s also nothing that says you HAVE to pass well to win. Take, for example, the Oakland Raiders, who are now 2-1 after their win over the Jets on Sunday. Jason Campbell is not in the top half of the league’s quarterbacks, but Darren McFadden is really, really good, and as a result the Raiders torched the “vaunted” New York defense in their 10-point win. Note to Rex Ryan: the Baltimore Ravens like to run the ball, so maybe figuring out a way to allow less than 200 yards on the ground might be something worth trying at practice this week.
3. Michael Vick won’t play 16 games this season. I was tempted to put this in the next category, but then we’re really just kidding ourselves. We all knew he wasn’t going to stay healthy for the entire season, and now the Eagles are finding a once-promising season in danger of slipping away quickly. They’ve already lost two games to fellow conference playoff contenders, and now face a virtual must-win at home against San Francisco this week because of two suddenly tougher-than-expected trips to Buffalo and Washington that follow this week’s home game. Remaining on the schedule are the Jets, Patriots, Cowboys (twice), and that return meeting with the Giants, so whether it’s Vick, Vince Young, or Mike Kafka under center, it better be a “W” at the end of the week or the Flyers-Rangers New Year’s Day outdoor hockey game could also signal the start of the Eagles offseason.
THREE THINGS WE THOUGHT WE KNEW THAT WERE PROVEN TRUE
1. Stats can prove anything when it comes to head-to-head matchups. New England had beaten Buffalo 15 straight times. Done. Philadelphia had won five straight over the Giants. Finished. Detroit had lost 11 straight in Minnesota. Over. Meanwhile the Jets remembered how much fun it is to travel to Oakland, where they’ve been eight of the last 11 years (I really need to figure out how) and, like six of those times before, managed to lose. Washington still can’t figure out how to win in Dallas. The reason these trends are kept is because it makes it that much easier for talking heads to dissect when it ends. Remember Baltimore’s pounding of Pittsburgh in week one? Sometimes streaks are overvalued, and this week three pretty big ones were laid to rest. The take away from it all? Nothing lasts forever.
2. The Houston Texans are the class of the AFC South. Except that was last week. This week it’s now, “The Houston Texans need to beat someone worthwhile before we crown them as the class of anything.” At a closer look, they beat a Peyton Manning-less Colts team in week one and a “We-can’t-win-at-home-for-anything” Dolphins team in week two. Get excited! They were brought back down to earth when â as I predicted â they finally met an offense that could match them point for point. The Texans need to learn to lock down late in games and have the defense win one of those contests. Otherwise, even if they win the division as they rightfully should, their postseason stay will be cut rather short.
3. It’s better to be lucky than good. Bills fans, stop reading. Buffalo played an excellent game and captured a huge win, but they won’t make the playoffs, so let’s everyone calm down and take a giant step off the bandwagon. Tom Brady threw four interceptions last game after throwing four interceptions all of last year! Two of those picks were deflected, including the game-changing pick-six by Drayton Florence. The Bills got good breaks, and maybe the Pats got surprised after jumping out to another huge lead on what looked like another big statistical day and simply let up a bit. Nothing can be taken for granted in the NFL, but Buffalo served notice to the league this weekend, and no one else will mistake them for a cakewalk the rest of the season. With the Eagles, Jets (twice), Giants, Cowboys, Chargers, and â of course â the Patriots rematch still waiting on the docket, this could be a similar situation to last year’s Buccaneers â a very good double-digit win team that’s simply locked up in a division with two better teams. And please, no hate mail â one game does not undo the past two seasons that saw New England win back-to-back AFC East titles and the Jets reach back-to-back AFC Championship Games. I’m not buying the Bills until they mathematically clinch a better record than one of those two squads.
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. At home or on the road, against good teams or bad teams, a “bad team” is and always will be a “bad team.” Sure, that line makes total sense when you actually read it, but how many times have we talked ourselves into thinking, “Well this team could get it done if things A, B, and C all go right and the other team screws up?” That thinking needs to stop right now. For the rest of the year, the following ten teams need to be recognized as bad teams: Arizona, Cincinnati, Denver, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Miami, Minnesota, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Seattle. One more loss by Cleveland to anyone in this group and they automatically join them. Indianapolis is still on a probation period because they’ve never had to play without Manning before, and might actually become somewhat feisty if they can figure it out â but if they get blown out this week in Tampa Bay, they would then also join this list. Teams on this list must never be selected straight up against any team not on this list, and games involving two teams from this list must always defer to the favorite â Vegas isn’t stupid. Teams on this list may be picked to cover the spread against a team not on this list if and only if the point spread is more than a touchdown for the bad team at home, or by double digits for the bad team on the road. Deal? Deal.
2. The NFC East is wiiiiiiiiiiiide open. The team widely picked to finished first is now the only team with a sub-.500 record, as the Eagles sit at 1-2 looking up at a trio of 2-1 teams. Dallas has beat Washington, who’s beaten New York, who’s beaten Philadelphia. All we need now is an Eagles win over the Cowboys and the tit-for-tat will be complete. This could really be a last-man-standing situation, and since all four teams are clearly competitive, it virtually eliminates the idea that this division will produce a wild card. And who said college football is the only place where the regular season is a playoff?
3. Double digit point spreads are dangerous. I was slightly concerned with Pittsburgh giving away 10.5 points to Indianapolis last week, but I was also supremely confident in the Chargers beating the Chiefs by more than two touchdowns. Turns out both picks were mistaken. In fact, if you consider the 9.5 line the Packers gave the Panthers in week two (which is basically a 10 point spread to cover) teams are just 1-3 against a double-digit spread. Only the Steelers win over Seattle (see: #1, Things We Learned) saw the favorite actually cover the spread. I don’t know what this means after just four games in three weeks, but if I see a 12-point spread this week, just assume I’m taking the underdog to cover. But not to win, though â all four double-digit spread favorites have actually won the game. Just some food for thought as we head towards October. See you Thursday for a look at the baseball playoffs!