Well, we're starting to get into the nitty-gritty of the sporting schedules. Although there is no baseball to really discuss, the other three main sports organizations are in full swing. The NFL is the closest to ending, even with a drawn out playoffs schedule. The NBA is starting to get interesting as it approaches the one quarter mark of the season. The NHL is one third of the way through it's regular season as we approach the most wonderful time of the year. Let's dive right into the fun things I've seen or been told about from the NFL!
We'll start in the NFL, as the AFC and NFC do not look like they usually do. Both sides appear very weak. The only stand out teams seem to be the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots. Some of you might argue more teams deserve to be on that list, and I will combat you.
The only two teams they have fallen to are the Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. Put those losses to the side a moment, the only game the Broncos have been held below 30 points was (still a win) against the Kansas City Chiefs (who were undefeated at the time) 27-17. Even in their two losses they scored over 30. Let's dig a little deeper, take away the two losses and the outlier game against the Cowboys and the Broncos haven't allowed more than 30 points a game. However, you can't do that, so in their two losses they gave up the most points all season in 34 to the Pats and 39 to the Colts, (the 'Boys scored 48 but lost late to Denver). Again, the only times they've lost is when they give up more than 30 points. The obvious answer is to play better defense, but that's a cop out. The Broncos need to rush the passer more and make it count. The last 4 games they have recorded a total of seven sacks. SEVEN. There were no sacks by either the Chiefs or Broncos in their last game. The Broncos only sacked Tom Brady twice. In order to beat good QBs like Brady and Luck, you need to get their butt on the turf. In their last four games they've caused or gotten only five turnovers. Broncos defense, as Cris Carter would say, where you at? Injuries have plagued the defense, and the Broncos certainly miss Elvis Dumervil, but there is no time for excuses. The Broncos "Next Man Up" mentality needs to take shape and start sinking in more. The Broncos have a very winnable schedule heading into the final quarter of the season. They're going to need to finish strong and win home-field throughout the playoffs, because they're not going to want to battle Brady in Foxborough again.
The only one-loss team left in the NFL looks like they might stay that way. The only real challenge is this week in San Francisco to play the 49ers. The only team the Hawks have lost to is also the Indianapolis Colts. (Why aren't the Colts a standout? I'll explain later.) Anyway, the Hawks have been frightening, remember when they couldn't win on the road? Neither do they. Seattle is 5-1 on the road this season. Although the loss to the Colts is a stain on the Seahawks, they shouldn't hang their heads, when the two teams played the Colts actually looked good. Their last four games haven't been as daunting as Denver's, but they did have to put up a solid fight against the upstart Buccaneers at home. After giving up a 21-0 lead, the Hawks rallied and eventually beat Tampa Bay in overtime. The suggestion for the Hawks is simple, but teams seem to be unable to do it anyway. The Seahawks must remain hungry. For those non-sport lingo people out there, I mean don't get complacent. The Seahawks are a young team, which is good and bad. Although they made a deep playoff run last year, they still haven't been to the two biggest stages: the Conference title game and the Super Bowl. The Seahawks need to keep fighting and preparing with their motto of "1-0 every week" if they want to make it to and win the Super Bowl. They've all but locked up home-field throughout the playoffs, and as New Orleans will tell you, you don't want to play Seattle at home.
Now some may argue that the Patriots don't deserve to be here, but consider this: the only returning WRs for Brady were Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. Brady has had to be a coach, a QB and a magician to make this team win. The team's only reliable running back couldn't even touch the field after week one because he injured his wrist. The team's other backs tried to fumble the games away, hence why Stevan Ridley was benched last week against Houston. Brady has been the only consistent piece to this Patriot assault, and what does he have to say for it, nine wins including the OT game against the Broncos. Their only losses came against Cincy when the Bengals looked really good, the Panthers on that questionable no-call on the Pass Interference and the Jets who just seem to have Tawmy's number. The Patriots suggestion is also pretty simple. The Patriots young players need to play like the veterans they don't have. If Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson can play like Deion Branch and David Givens then the Pats will have a chance to beat anyone. However, the Pats may not even need them to play that well, just catch the ball, run, score, and stop dropping the football. The Patriots defense is a whole different story, but I won't get into them.
Why no Colts?
I'm going to keep this short. They lost to Miami, San Diego, St. Louis and Arizona. The only close loss was Miami, 24-20. They fell to San Diego by 10 and were demolished by St. Louis (38-8) and Arizona (40-11). The combined record (to this point) of the teams they have lost to is 22-25... The Colts are not as bad as those losses, but it's hard to argue. However, after laying an egg against the Chargers they bounced back to put a beat down on Denver. But since beating the Broncos they've played more inconsistent than watching Rick Grimes in season three of the Walking Dead.
Why no Panthers?
As good as I think the Panthers are, I'm not sure I can trust them yet. After starting off the season 1-3, they've rattled off 8 straight victories. Other than the squeakers against New England and Miami, the Panthers look strong. I will have to see what they do Sunday Night against the Saints in New Orleans before I knight them as contenders.
The most obvious answer is the Atlanta Falcons, but I give them a little less flack because of the injuries that have decimated their receiving corps. The biggest disappointments to me are the Houston Texans, the St. Louis Rams and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Jets & Ravens are also a disappointment, but I like sticking to threes, so sue me.
This team was supposed to contend. They were supposed to be Super Bowl contenders, well now they're starting a second year QB and have fewer wins than the Jaguars. Yes, the same Jaguars that started 0-8.... THAT IS PATHETIC! Most of this can be blamed on Matt Schaub, and I usually don't blame one player, but he put the coaches in a place where they couldn't go back to him. Schaub was throwing more INTs than WSU QB Connor Halliday at one point. As with the standouts, I have a prognosis for the Texans. If Case Keenum proves he can be a starting QB then, Keenum needs to not leave the Texans complex and just practice until he crashes. If Keenum proves he is not worthy of starting then, Houston needs to draft a QB in one of the next two drafts. Worst case scenario if the Texans think Keenum can play, but then they are so bad that they get Jameis Winston in two or so years.
St. Louis Rams:
In Sam Bradford's 5th year, he still has yet to produce very much in the NFL. It may be time for the Rams to cut ties, however until this year Bradford didn't have any good WRs. Before this year, Bradford could only rely on Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola. Now he has a solid rookie RB in Zac Stacy who is averaging 4.4 yards a carry this season. He also has rookie WR Tavon Austin. The sad part is the leading receiver for the Rams is Jared Cook, the team's starting Tight End. When your TE leads your team in receiving you'd expect it to be a team with either Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates, not Jared Cook. The Rams have too much talent to be this bad, and I think next year if Bradford doesn't perform better, he could be packing his bags and heading to the Jets. Rams need to develop Stacy and use play action to set up Bradford. If the Rams can get a solid running game, then Bradford won't have to do everything, but he'll still need to perform to get the job done.
Although they've suddenly remembered how to be competitive and win games, I can't excuse the dismal start this team had. Starting 2-6 is in excusable. Now sitting at 5-7, they are "in the hunt" according to ESPN. Everyone is jumping ship and saying Big Ben will be traded? That Dick LeBeau is too old to coach the defense? They need to cut everyone and start over? And I thought Cowboys fans were quick at jumping the gun. The last losing record they have was 2003 when they went 6-10. They have also gone 8-8 twice (2006, 2012) in the last 10 years. So, why now are Steelers fans freaking out? They haven't been at or under .500 in two consecutive seasons since the 1997-98 & 1998-99 seasons. My advice, CALM DOWN. Do you know what happened after that 6-10 season in 2003? They went 15-1 and lost to the Patriots in the Conference Title game. Again, CALM DOWN. My diagnosis, Steelers must sure up the O-Line and the RB positions going forward. Le'Veon Bell has been serviceable, but that's not what the Steelers need, they need a solid running game and a QB who can make plays. Well, Big Ben is great, so check that off. The running game is dependent on two things, the O-line and the RB. Bell will get better, and so will the line. They will get Maurkice Pouncey back next year, and that will help immediately. The oldest starting lineman for the Steelers is 27, so I would say they just need to work together more and see where that takes them. Another suggestion that might help, Fire Todd Haley. Harsh, but true. The Steelers have been just terrible since Haley joined the coaching staff in 2012, 8-8 his first season and 5-6 so far this season as mentioned. It might be a knee-jerk reaction, but I just don't trust Haley and neither does Ben; no matter how much Ben says he trusts and likes Haley.
Thanks for sticking around to read the whole State of the Sport World: NFL. Look for the NBA version within a few days.