Tuesday at NFL West in Culver City, Calif., is usually a ho-hum day. The players are off, the madness of the Monday morning knee-jerk reactions has waned, and we all get on with planning our week.
That is, until your editor assigns the ridiculous task of evaluating the prospects of ALL the 1-1 teams. He's been doing a lot of squats lately, and presumably the P90X (although I can't confirm this), so the tone was a bit aggressive.
Free will for writers? Hardly.
Which 0-2 team will turn it around?
Which of the seven 0-2 teams have the best shot at turning things around this season and making a run at the playoffs? NFL.com and NFL Network analysts debate the topic. More ...
So here goes. There are 18 -- eighteen! -- clubs that sit at 1-1 as we head into Week 3. There are a few that I can buy as playoff participants, like all of the ones who have Drew Brees at quarterback. A handful more are on the proverbial fence, as injuries and self-inflicted wounds make them very challenging to assess at this moment. (Will the real Raiders please stand up?) Lastly, there's a six-pack of teams that I'm selling, one of which was an offseason darling of many league observers.
Here's a look at the morass in the middle of the standings:
They're the best of the lot and it's because of the man under center. Of all the 1-1 teams, Drew Brees is the best quarterback. New Orleans barely lost a tough road trip to Green Bay and handled the Bears in Week 2. I love what Darren Sproles brings to the offense, however, how far the Saints go is dependent on how many turnovers Gregg Williams' defense can create.
This team has too much going for it to not win at least nine or 10 games. Four games left versus the Bengals and Browns plus a trip through the NFC West helps matters greatly. This club needs Sergio Kindle and Jimmy Smith -- both inactive last Sunday -- to develop so the defense can perform up to its reputation.
San Diego plays in the weak AFC West, so a division title is 75 percent probable. That's the first hurdle leaped. Second hurdle: Ryan Mathews' development. He looks better this season which, along with Mike Tolbert, will take a load of Philip Rivers' shoulders and limit the number of opposing teams' possessions.
I trust Dick LeBeau and the defense -- Pittsburgh didn't allow the Seahawks to get on their side of the field until the fourth quarter last weekend -- and the fact that the Steelers will waltz through the NFC West doesn't hurt matters. Ben Roethlisberger has proven time and again he can rally the troops. This year won't be any different.
Atlanta fans hated this week's power rankings, but two facts can't be ignored: the defense allowed 61 points in two games and Matt Ryan is a very good quarterback, not an elite one. He's not effective enough to lift a team that could potentially give up 25 points per game to an 11-5 record. That's at least what it will take to win the NFC South. Still, the Falcons' schedule is not formidable enough to keep them out of the playoffs, at least not with games versus the Seahawks, Manning-less Colts, Panthers, and Jaguars.
Buy this club as a 9-7 team that could squeeze into the playoffs on tiebreakers (like the head-to-head with Baltimore), but only if Hasselbeck continues his solid play. Before you laugh me off the page, consider a docket that includes two games versus the Colts, a home game versus the Blaine Gabbert-led Jags, and winnable contests versus the Broncos, Browns, Bengals, Panthers, and Bills. Yes, those Bills.
Kevin Kolb is neck-and-neck with Sam Bradford as the best quarterback in the division. Beanie Wells may be the most productive tailback in the NFC West, considering Frank Gore's injury history and Steven Jackson's ailing quad. Larry Fitzgerald is the best wideout in the NFC. The pass defense? Dreadful. But, we just need a Week 17 win versus the Passion of the 'Hurst and the Seahawks to solidify a .500 record and a division title.
Tampa Bay Bucs: 8-8. There's a lot to like about the "yungry" Bucs, but the way the defense has played thus far isn't one of them (28th in NFL). Tampa will lose at least one game each to Atlanta and New Orleans. Carolina could steal a game. Houston and Green Bay should also beat this team. That's five more losses to add to the L already on the books. The Bucs also have to play both Chicago and Dallas, which should be good games. At the end of the day, the playoffs will have to wait until 2012.
The defense will keep this group in the NFC West race, but overall Jim Harbaugh lacks the bullets. The secondary can be exploited and the offense is without Michael Crabtree or Braylon Edwards. The slow start by Frank Gore builds little in the way of confidence. Ditto the slow career of Alex Smith. Sell.
Will the Johns' turn it around? Maybe. Denver will lose to Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Gang Green, and New England. They'll probably get swept by San Diego. The Broncos still have to play in Oakland. The defense will be better than last year, and Kyle Orton is better than anyone would lead you to believe, but this team doesn't sniff the playoffs.
When a rookie wide receiver and Cedric Benson are the biggest weapons, well, you get the picture. A.J. Green looks promising and tight end Jermaine Gresham will be a player in this league, but Andy Dalton and an inconsistent defense doesn't harken back to the days of Esiason, Fulcher, and the boys. Give it time.
Blaine Gabbert may turn out to be better than a 10th overall draft pick. Issue number one is how long it will take. Issue number two is a dearth of weapons outside. Issue number three is a suspect pass rush. Issue number four is facing the NFC South, where the Jags could go 0-4. Issue number five is ... sell.
On The Fence
Losing right tackle Gabe Carimi for an extended period almost makes this an instant sell. Yet, you can't write off Chicago, mostly due to a defense that can, and has, risen to the occasion. Exhibit A being last year's NFC Championship, and Exhibit B the Week 1 thrashing of Atlanta. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz fell on the sword this week and took some blame for a putrid run-pass ratio. Listen, if Martz calls a smart game, and the defense plays like it did in 2010, Chicago can still beat anybody.
When a club wins a game with both starting wide receivers hurt, the starting tailback hurt, a starting quarterback playing through a collapsed lung (yeesh), and an All-Pro tight end who can't even raise his arms to catch a ball, then some applause is in order. While Dallas showed a lot of heart, the secondary is not good enough to push the Cowboys in the playoffs. Jerry Jones needs his hurt guys to get healthy real quick.
Hue Jackson is turning this team around. Is it enough to get a Wild Card berth? It's not looking that way. This team isn't taking a step back, as in 5-11 or 6-10 … I'm on the record there. But what to make of all the penalties (23 already!) in key spots? The Raiders should be 2-0, yet the playoffs seem to be a stretch.
An organization can only take so many personnel losses. If Hakeem Nicks goes down (he's playing hurt), forget it. Yes, Green Bay won the Super Bowl last year with double-digit players on IR. But there's a reason that was considered so special. Teams just can't take losing players like Terrell Thomas, Osi Umenyiora, Mario Manningham, Domenik Hixon and Jonatahn Goff. Hopefully Umenyiora and Manningham can rebound and have great seasons. Otherwise, it's sell-time.