The NFC season at the quarter pole
We’re now a quarter of the way through the 2014 NFL season and if we look at what many predicted a month ago, the season isn’t going anywhere close to what was supposed to happen.
Tuesday and Wednesday I will look at each division and evaluate who is going where as the season progresses. Today we’re going to take a look at the NFC.
Many feel that the NFC East is one of the worst divisions in the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles just by the nature of their high-powered offense were supposed to walk away with the division. While the Eagles are 3-1, they are no longer a lock to take the claim the NFC East.
Injuries, especially on the offensive line, have hurt the Eagles. For any offense to work, the offensive line has to be in sync. For Philadelphia, that’s been difficult because they seem to lose a different starter every week.
The good news is that Philly gets back starting right tackle Lane Johnson from a league suspension this week. While that will help, center Jason Kelce and guard Evan Mathis, two important parts of the Eagles line, are still out. Both players will be out until the second half of the season.
US PRESSWIRERomo and the Cowboys are sitting pretty after four games.
Last year, quarterback Nick Foles threw only two interceptions in 317 passing attempts. This year he already has four in less than 100 attempts. While the overall receiver play has been good, the Eagles miss the big play ability that DeSean Jackson gave them.
Dallas was looked at as the weak sister in the division before the year started, but the Cowboys have played solid football over the last few weeks. A month ago, who expected Dallas to blow out New Orleans?
We will get a better idea of just how good the Cowboys are in two weeks when they travel to Seattle.
Over the years, I have learned to never count out a Tom Coughlin-coached team. After two weeks of the 2014 season, the Giants looked like they might never win a game. Now they are on a two-game win streak and Eli Manning looks like the Eli Manning of two years ago.
One of the things that has helped Manning is the emergence of tight end Larry Donnell. Donnell has 25 receptions and four touchdowns over the first four games.
Washington was expecting big things from RGIII in 2014. When he went down with an injury, backup Kirk Cousins looked like the real deal. Unfortunately, the strong play of Cousins ended last Thursday when he threw four interceptions against the Giants. After watching that, who knows where the Redskins are headed?
At the beginning of the season, I said that the winner of this division would be determined by divisional play. Four weeks into the season, I still feel the same way.
While Detroit has the best record at 3-1, they have to prove to the rest of us that they are no longer the undisciplined Lions we have seen so often in the past. Looking at their personnel, the Lions are as strong, if not stronger, than any team in the division, but some of those same players have a way of not playing up to their talent level. In short, the Lions will only go as far as Matthew Stafford will take them.
If Cutler can't get past Green Bay, the Bears can't win the division.
If Chicago didn’t have to play the Packers, the Bears might walk away with the division. The problem is that the quarterback consistently has his worst games when playing Green Bay. Jay Cutler has played in 11 games against the Packers since becoming a Bear and has won only one of those. He also has thrown 19 interceptions in games against Green Bay.
The Bears spent a huge amount of money acquiring new players for the defense. Through four games, the new players (Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young) have not played up to expectations. If the Bears are to have a chance, the defense has to improve and Cutler has to beat the Pack.
In Green Bay, both the offense and defense were struggling going into the Chicago game. The offense got their act together last week, but the defense is still having issues, as they gave up 496 total yards to the Bears.
Aaron Rodgers can’t be expected to win every game and the defense is going to have to show drastic improvement if the Packers are to have a chance at getting into the playoffs.
Minnesota is now in the hands of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. With running back Adrian Peterson gone for an indefinite period, defenses will be able to concentrate on stopping Bridgewater. Yes, Teddy did some good things in his debut against Atlanta, but now opponents will have tape to see what he can and can’t do. Going forward, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.
After a month, it looks as if this is a division no one wants to win. Every team in this division has shown no consistency in their play.
Atlanta upset New Orleans to open the season and then looked awful in Week 2 against Cincinnati. The Falcons came back during the short week to blow out Tampa Bay and then didn’t show up in Minnesota.
Brees and the Saints are in bad shape after a month of football.
The Falcons are a team that plays well at home but looks like an entirely different club on the road. If Atlanta is going to challenge for the NFC South, they have to win their next two games against the New York Giants and Chicago Bears.
Through four weeks, the most disappointing team in the NFL is the New Orleans Saints. They haven’t played what could be considered a strong team, yet they have won only one game. The defense can’t stop anyone and Drew Brees hasn’t been the Drew Brees we are accustomed to seeing.
Clubs are figuring out a way to stop tight end Jimmy Graham. While he has caught 32 passes, he is averaging only 10 yards a catch. He may be human after all.
The other disappointing team in the NFC South is Tampa Bay. Lovie Smith always had disciplined teams in Chicago, but that hasn’t been the case in Tampa Bay. The team has made countless mistakes on both offense and defense.
It hasn’t helped that offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford is on a leave of absence with a heart problem. No one can expect a new offense to get into gear without the man who designed it.
Quarterback Mike Glennon played fairly well in a win at Pittsburgh. That win may turn things around for the Bucs. We will find out soon enough, as Tampa Bay travels to New Orleans this Sunday.
The team that is in best shape in the NFC South is Carolina, but they are struggling as well. Just as the Eagles keep losing offensive linemen, the Panthers are losing running backs. Without a ground game, defenses can gear towards stopping Cam Newton.
If the Panthers are going to repeat in winning the NFC South, the defense is going to have to come through. The last two weeks against Pittsburgh and Baltimore they haven’t been able to do that. The defense gave up a total of 454 yards on Sunday to Baltimore. Up next is the usually high-scoring Chicago Bears, who put up 496 yards in a loss to Green Bay last Sunday.
Going into the season, I felt that Seattle was the best team in not only the NFC, but the entire NFL. Even after a loss at San Diego, I still feel the same way. Seattle is a team with very few, if any, weaknesses and the y play as physical a game as any team in the NFL. Still, the Seahawks played sloppily at San Diego and at home against Denver
Wilson and the Seahawks are still the kings of the conference.
The Seahawks had a bye week to work out the problems and up next is a Monday night game at Washington. I have a feeling this game won’t be pretty for the Redskins.
I felt the 49ers may have been the second or third-best team in the NFL going into the season. While San Francisco is good, they are also inconsistent. They lost at home to Chicago and on the road to Arizona and were lucky to beat an injury-riddled Philadelphia squad on Sunday.
There is an obvious disconnect between head coach Jim Harbaugh and the front office and that disconnect has also found its way to some of the players. If those problems can’t be worked out, there is no way the 49ers are going to be in the playoffs. This is one of the most talented teams in the NFL, but something is missing.
If there is going to be a team that challenges Seattle for the NFC West, it’s going to be Arizona. The Cardinals and the Bengals are the only undefeated teams in the NFL and both of those teams have only played three games.
Arizona has won despite losing the middle of their defense to either injury, free agency or suspension. That means defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is doing an outstanding job with the potential to become a head coach in the near future.
The Cardinals are playing both good and smart football on both sides of the ball, but going into Denver this week will be a challenge. We will see if Arizona is for real in about five days.
Follow Greg on Twitter: @greggabe