The Buccaneers’ First Half
The Bucs’ season has definitely been up and down this year with some really quality wins against Atlanta and New Orleans. On the other hand, they have looked absolutely terrible in games this year and I don’t even want to think about the San Francisco game. Josh Freeman has been erratic and may have read too many press clippings in the offseason during the lockout. He has shown some late game heroics and has flashed the brilliance which made him the quarterback savior last season. If he calms down and makes better decisions with not throwing the ball into traffic, he should still be able to turn it around this year.
The team has also been bitten by the injury bug this year in the first half with significant injuries to multiple starters. I believe the Earnest Graham injury hurts, but is not a killer. Blount, McCoy, and Foster should all be able to return after the bye week (or shortly thereafter), and will be back to mostly full speed. Faine will remain a wild card as he is over thirty and his injury may linger for weeks as it is his snapping arm.
The Rest of the NFC South
In the preseason forecast column I stated “Either the Falcons or the Saints have just as much chance to be the team that doesn’t live up to the expectations after some tough games.”, and the Falcons have struggled at times. They still look very good occasionally, but not as dominant as they were last year. The schedule is favorable for them, but they will have to win division games to make the playoffs. The Saints are in first in the division despite laying an egg last weekend, and next week’s game against the Bucs will go a long way for the winner and how the division shapes up. The bold prediction is that whoever wins Sunday will win the division; I think the game is that big.
Carolina has surprised some people and Cam Newton has appeared to be the real deal and I admit that I was completely wrong in my predictions of him this season. I still don’t think they can make the playoffs this year, however, as they just haven’t established enough of a run game to help out the rookie.
NFL Division by Division Analysis
NFC East: The Giants have a two game lead in the division, but have looked anything but dominant while getting there. It is a good thing that the only statistic that matters is overall wins. The Eagles started with a huge belly flop, but have looked better of late, and may steal the division as everyone else crumbles. The Cowboys are going the wrong way, and it is painful to watch Dez Bryant as he acts like a complete child and wastes his talent. The Redskins started out on fire, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they only won about 2 more games this season.
NFC North: Green Bay continues to be the best team in the league, but like I alluded to in last week’s column, they are not untouchable. Detroit and Chicago continue to battle for second place and a possible playoff spot, with Detroit the likely to come out ahead as they have a better overall team, and are currently up on the Bears by a game and a half. This is shaping up to be a very good division and it will likely be interesting until the final weeks of the season. The Vikings continue to struggle to find an identity and will go through the growing pains of a rookie quarterback, but they aren’t that bad of a team.
NFC West: The futility of the division continues, but the 49ers will come out on top and will likely be the only team with a winning record. The Cardinals have looked horrible after the first game of the season, which is surprising given their talent level. The Rams won last week, but they just don’t seem to be as competitive this year and Sam Bradford has hit a pretty big sophomore slump. The Seahawks are almost bipolar in how they look great here and there, but then drop games they should win.
AFC South: This division continues to be up in the air, and the Texans are currently leading. Houston has good balance on offense and just enough defense to hold on the rest of the way. The Titans are in second and have been pleasantly surprised by Hasselbeck’s resurgence, but the controversy at running back may create a distraction. The Titans’ defense may just be enough to keep them in it until late in the season. Jacksonville is up and down and may spoil a team or two’s season, but won’t make too much noise the rest of the way. Indianapolis is essentially in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.
AFC East: The Patriots may still be the top team in the division, but this division is a lot closer than in the past. I predicted that the Bills will surprise some people this year, and they have, let’s just see if they can maintain the momentum. The Jets tend to catch fire late in the season, but I just don’t see them making it to the playoffs with the division this competitive. The Dolphins showed some life, but they are essentially in competition for Andrew Luck also.
AFC North: The Ravens and the Steelers are still the better teams in the division, and they will likely slug it out to the end, with the other possibly ending up with a wild card spot. I still see the Ravens coming out on top if they can stay healthy. Cincinnati is one of the feel good stories of the year and who would have thought they would be 5-2 right now. I just can’t see them sustaining it for the whole year. The Browns are competitive again, and have a decent passing attack, but the division is just too tough for them.
AFC West: The Chargers are the most skilled team in the division, but continue to find ways to lose games rather than win them. The Raiders will challenge for the division if, and only if, Carson Palmer can shake off the rust and establish a good relationship with the receivers. The Chiefs have taken a step back in the right direction, and might steal the division after a horrendous start. It will be interesting to see who comes out on top of this division. The Broncos feel like they need to play Tim Tebow to show that he is not the quarterback of the future, and possibly entice another team to think they can make something out of him and trade for him.
Josh Freeman has not outscored Michael Vick thus far this season like I predicted, and it is mostly due to both not living up to expectations this year.
My exceeding expections team for the year thus far would consist of Cam Newton at quarterback, Fred Jackson and Matt Forte at running back, Mike Wallace and AJ Green at receiver, Jimmy Graham at tight end, and the 49ers defense. Once again, kickers don’t really matter. As I have maintained before, wide receiver is the least predictable position every year.
At The End of the Day
I think we should appoint some type of committee to determine what is and is not a catch these days with super slow-motion replay. The Calvin Johnson no catch call last year was horrible, but now the college game has started to join in the lunacy. It all culminated for me when they ruled a no catch on this play (the play is 3 min 12 sec into the video) in the Washington/Arizona game, then upheld it with replay. If a guy takes three steps after catching the ball, then it comes out of his hand when he stretches the ball to try and reach the goal line, it is complete.
For some reason common sense has been completely removed from the decision on whether a reception is made or not. Now a player has to secure the ball, take a couple of steps, do the hokey pokey, make a football like move and take 15 minutes to save on car insurance to be considered a catch. I say we get thee random guys or girls in a room with no interest in the game, but know basic football, send them the play and then give them a couple minutes to vote catch or not – majority rules. You may laugh, but it is better than what we have now.
Until next week, don’t put your hand in a snow blower.