Feature photo courtesy of Keith Allison.
The NFL season is a quarter of the way through, and even though we have a lot of time left, we’ve still seen enough action to form some opinions. Here is one thought on all 32 teams…well, 31 and the Jaguars.
Arizona Cardinals — When Carson Palmer is at the helm, this team can do some damage. We knew that in 2014, and we are seeing it unfold again this year. Someone is filling Larry Fitzgerald’s Gatorade bottles with a magical youth potion, and him and Palmer are leading a dynamic offense that puts up over 400 yards a game. They look like the cream of the crop in the NFC West, and in a division with Seattle, that’s saying something.
Atlanta Falcons — When did the Falcons sign an in-his-prime Barry Sanders and put him into Devonta Freeman’s body? How did I not hear about that move during the offseason? Julio Jones has been dominant, but I expected that. Freeman, on the other hand, has been shocking. This offense has been scary through a quarter of their schedule, and they look like a dark horse contender. If they keep this up, though, they won’t be a dark horse contender — they’ll just be a contender. Watch out for what’s going on in the ATL.
Baltimore Ravens — Their slow start may end up dooming them. I don’t think Baltimore is as bad as the other 1-3 teams — not even close, in fact — but they’re already three games behind the division-leading Bengals. The slow start is unusual for John Harbaugh’s boys, and I expect them to start playing noticeably better beginning this weekend. Will they be able to catch up to Cincinnati, though? I’m not so sure.
Buffalo Bills —I’m not ready to buy into Buffalo yet. It seems like every year, they start out hot in September, forcing people to ask if the Bills are finally legitimate. But then, they flame out, often in embarrassing fashion. Tyrod Taylor is the most talented quarterback they’ve had in quite some time, but a lot of guys can play well for a brief stretch. Can he replicate his strong performance moving forward? That’s a question I’ll be asking of him this season, and one I’ve asked about the Bills for the past handful of years, too.
Carolina Panthers — *Yawns.* 4-0 is terrific, it truly is. It’s not fair to fault Carolina for being undefeated against teams that are putrid, because what are they supposed to do? They can’t control whom they play against. Yet, even though I just said it’d be unfair to downgrade their accomplishments because of whom they’ve played, I’m going to downgrade their accomplishments because of whom they’ve played. The Jaguars, Saints, Texans and Bucs are all 1-3. Let’s talk again after Cam Newton and Co. square off with the Seahawks, Eagles, Colts and Packers these next four weeks.
Chicago Bears — There won’t be too many wins in the Windy City this year; they’re fortunate to have one, honestly. Their defense has given up the second most points in football, and that’s usually the staple of their organization. Who cares, though? Everyone’s watching the Cubs, anyway.
Cincinnati Bengals — The 4-0 start has been striking, but do this with me: Pick up your right foot and violently stomp on the brakes. Winning in September isn’t the thing that’s plagued this franchise; it’s winning in December and January. Props to the Bengals for being undefeated thus far — not commending them on that would be stupid — but I’m not interested in what I learn from them early on. It’s what I see when the weather gets cold and the contests start to really matter.
Cleveland Browns — The Browns are still the Browns. They don’t have a trusty quarterback and they always find a way to lose close games. Hey LeBron, how about you win a freakin’ title already so this city doesn’t have to talk themselves into a Josh McCown-led team week after week?
Dallas Cowboys — Ready for the type of cutting edge, in-depth analysis that you come to The Left Bench for? Dallas’ first four games has shown they won’t be able to survive without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. They may be 2-2 now and tied for first in the NFC East, but they’re about to slide. Fast.
Denver Broncos — Peyton Manning isn’t the same Peyton Manning we’re used to seeing, but Denver’s defense may just be stout enough to carry them through the season and into the playoffs. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware have been attacking opposing quarterbacks just like Drake did after Meek Mill went after him, and so far, offenses playing the Broncos have responded about as well as Meek (hint: not well). For once, it looks like defense will be leading the offense on this AFC West power.
Detroit Lions — Matthew Stafford isn’t a top quarterback in this league, and he won’t be, ever. Sure, we’ve only seen four games, but he’s been trending downward for a while now, and Weeks 1-4 prove that he’s still regressing. Even an offense with Golden Tate, Ameer Abdullah, and a Transformer can’t succeed with a guy throwing the ball like Stafford has been.
Green Bay Packers — Aaron Rodgers is the best signal caller in the NFL, and you don’t need to doublecheck that claim. He leads the league in touchdowns and passer rating, and he’d be higher in yards, too, if he wasn’t so good and his team didn’t jump out to leads so often. The Packers are the best team in the NFC right now, and a tier above anyone else.
Houston Texans — Not even J.J. Watt, otherwise known as the greatest human ever created, can overcome a horrendous quarterback situation. Bill O’Brien’s flip-flopping at the position makes the University of Maryland football’s QB troubles look manageable, and Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett have turned the team that was so fun to watch on Hard Knocks into one that fans can’t stand to tune in to.
Indianapolis Colts —Indianapolis has been underwhelming. Andrew Luck has been turning the ball over at Rex Grossman-ish rates, and the rest of the team is struggling because of it. So far, the normally playoff-bound Colts have been spinning their wheels. It’s time for them to get going.
Jacksonville Jaguars — Is there a minor league system we can send the Jags to? Or can we get them involved in Arena Football? They just never seem to matter in the NFL, and in 2015, it looks like the same old story. A couple of young playmakers are developing for them, but other than that, there’s not a whole lot to get riled up for when looking at Jacksonville.
Kansas City Chiefs — The Chiefs’ defense has gone from the second best last year to tied for last this year, dropping quicker than a phone call in the mountains. Alex Smith, meanwhile, tends to throw the ball roughly four yards in the air at a time, making the offense very unintimidating. I was high on them before Week 1, but now, not so much.
Miami Dolphins — Ndamukong Suh’s $114 million contract looked pricey before, but now, it looks like a colossal mistake. Miami has already totally fallen apart, they’ve fired head coach Joe Philbin, and Suh has been absent on the defensive line and apparently already ignoring coaches. The Dolphins are drowning.
Minnesota Vikings — All of the preseason hype surrounding Teddy Bridgewater becoming the next young stud under center was a bit premature. He’s been fine, yes, but only two touchdowns and 774 yards through four starts is not exactly a stat line that inspires a bunch of fire emojis. Looks like Minnesota will only go as far as Adrian Peterson’s powerful runs can take them.
New England Patriots — There’s no Super Bowl hangover with this team, and there’s no DeflateGate hangover with this team. Tom Brady is unleashing his fury on the other 31 franchises one bullet-pass to Rob Gronkowski at a time, and it doesn’t look like much can get in the way of New England at this time.
New Orleans Saints — The Saints had to go to overtime versus a wounded Cowboys team just to get their first win on the year. That’s not promising. These Saints don’t have the quick strike ability that Sean Payton’s outfits have had in recent campaigns. Barring a miracle turnaround, they won’t factor into the NFL playoff picture.
New York Giants — The Giants are taking the ball away (five picks and two recovered fumbles) and protecting it, too (only one thrown interception and one lost fumble). Staying on top of the turnover margin looks like it may be enough for them to take over a sloppy division.
New York Jets — The Jets’ defense is playing out of its mind, and they need to be. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been decent, but the problem is, that’s his ceiling. Todd Bowles looks like a really good head coach thus far, but let’s wait this one out. Fitzpatrick has fooled us before into thinking he’s a viable starter.
Oakland Raiders —OMG, don’t look now, but the Raiders are actually fine! Derek Carr and Amari Cooper are flowing like they got matched on Tinder, and Latavius Murray has emerged to make the offense — and I can’t believe these words are making it onto my keyboard — dangerous. They probably need a few more playmakers on both sides to seriously contend, but it’s nice to see that Oakland seems to have dug themselves out of their bottomless pit of despair.
Philadelphia Eagles — Chip Kelly may have outsmarted himself on this one. Trading for Sam Bradford, getting rid of LeSean McCoy, and gutting his offensive line has led to his squad looking inept through the season’s opening quarter. This offense has to click, and starting soon, or else Chip will be drinking his special smoothies on a beach this offseason.
Pittsburgh Steelers — The Steelers are like the half-Cowboys: They lost their franchise quarterback but still have their top wide receiver. In addition, they have Le’Veon Bell, a guy who defenses should not be allowed to face unless they’re wearing double ankle braces. Unfortunately, those two will have to carry the team as Michael Vick starts until Big Ben returns. I think that’s going to prove to be too tough a task.
San Diego Chargers —Philip Rivers is tossing the ball all over the place, and is currently the league’s leading quarterback in terms of yardage. Keenan Allen has been reliable, and Antonio Gates will be making his return this weekend. As long as the defense stays in the middle of the pack, the Chargers have hope.
San Francisco 49ers — Remember when Colin Kaepernick was supposed to be the next huge star? Yeah, that was fun. Things are bad in San Francisco, and while we knew they would be, we didn’t know they’d be losing games by 25 and 40. You know it’s rough when the most exciting story surrounding your team is whether your coach farted or not in a press conference. Yikes.
Seattle Seahawks —A slight disappointment, and if it weren’t for a refereeing crew forgetting the rules of the sport they’re supposed to understand, they’d be a bigger disappointment. Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch have yet to get in rhythm, but the addition of Kam Chancellor should prove to be vital. On paper, they’re better than Arizona, but so far, they haven’t played like it.
St. Louis Rams —The Rams are up to their usual Rams things. They’ll beat franchises they shouldn’t (Seattle in Week 1, Arizona in Week 4) and lose to ones they shouldn’t (Washington and a Roethlisberger-less Pittsburgh in Weeks 2 and 3). Todd Gurley looks like a difference maker, and their defensive line is borderline unfair, but I don’t see a Nick Foles-led offense making enough noise in the very stacked NFC West.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers —The team below this team has a rookie quarterback that has looked mature, and is giving the entire fan base hope.
Tennessee Titans — The team above this team has a rookie quarterback that has looked lost, and is giving the entire fan base headaches.
Washington Redskins — The Redskins are significantly better this year, and Kirk Cousins deserves some credit for that. However, the real reason for the improvement in D.C. is the other side of the ball: New defensive coordinator Joe Barry has his unit getting off of the field and tackling better than any ‘Skins defense has in the past five years, and they should help Jay Gruden’s bunch compete throughout the rest of their schedule. Will they be NFC East champions? I’m not quite sold. But are they a competent football team that doesn’t make their fans feel extremely nauseous and ashamed on Sundays? Yes. And that’s a big jump from years past.
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