It was a strange way to end a strange week. In a set of NFL games that saw three teams get their first win this season, it appeared that one of two unbeatens was about to taste defeat. But the Cardinals collapsed as they always do, and the Bears escaped Glendale at 6-0. How long will the Bears stay undefeated? What’s wrong in Kansas City? And are the Raiders the worst team of all time? Here are this week’s 10 Questions: Question 1: Are the Steelers back?
First off, the Steelers’ 45-7 manhandling of the decent Chiefs was the beating of the year so far. It looked like one of the games down the stretch last season, when Pittsburgh was in their top Steeler form and no one could touch them. But they aren’t back quite yet. This is the team that looked horrendous for three straight weeks, and this is the team that has one of the league’s toughest schedules. They lost to Jacksonville and San Diego on the road earlier this year, and have to travel to Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, and Cincinnati over remainder of the year.
The key to the Steelers is clearly playcalling and the burden of Ben Roethlisberger. In Big Ben’s first three starts this season, he threw over 30 passes each time. Each start resulted in no touchdown passes but multiple interceptions. Against the Chiefs, he three 19 times, two for scores, and wasn’t picked. That’s the Pittsburgh Steeler kind of game (238 passing yards, 219 on the ground) that led them to the Super Bowl title last year and a 15-1 record the year before.
Question 2: Just how good are the Rams?
The Rams did lose last week, ending what should have been an undefeated season (their only other loss is to the Niners). However, their offense has shown signs of explosiveness, and Torry Holt has been the best receiver in football. However, while their defense is turnover-happy, they’ve given up 84 points the last three weeks. This is a cause for concern, but their offense has looked impressive enough to override the questionable D. Marc Bulger (10 TD’s, 1 pick) is putting up a career season if he can stay healthy. Steven Jackson hasn’t dominated, but he’s among the NFL leaders in rushing.
But the key to St. Louis’ season is the next five weeks. Coming off a bye this week, they have one of the toughest four-game stretches you could imagine. They play at San Diego, Kansas City, at Seattle, and at Carolina. How they do in those four games will be key in evaluating just how good this team is. After that, the Rams will face only two more teams with a winning record (the Bears and Vikings). This should be a playoff team.
Question 3: Eagles, Giants, or Cowboys?
Coming into the year, everyone (including me) thought the NFC East would be the toughest division in football. Though the NFC South, AFC North, and AFC West are all treacherous, I’d say the East has held up its end of the bargain. While each team in this division has been pretty inconsistent, the Eagles, Cowboys, and Giants all appear to be playoff-caliber. Which will win the division? Despite the loss last week, I’d still go with the Eagles. Their offense is #1 in football (the Giants are second), and Donovan McNabb has been the league’s best player so far. With 1849 yards, 13 touchdowns, and only two picks, McNabb appears to be the NFL’s Fantasy MVP this year. And he’s had five different leading receivers in six games, with a bunch of no-names playing wideout. If you combine his play with the 23 sacks and 8 interceptions of their defense, then you have one impressive all-around ballclub.
The Cowboys are good, but have been unable to beat a good team this year. They’ve beat three teams with losing records and lost to two teams with winning records. That, combined with the Drew Bledsoe factor, makes the Boys a team just short of the playoffs, like last year. The Giants are too inconsistent, have an inexperienced quarterback that can’t perform in pressure situations, and have a murderous schedule. They face 11 winning teams overall and seven of those are still on their schedule. So I’d say Philly takes this division while the other two teams battle for possibly a Wild-Card spot.
Question 4: What happened to the Chiefs?
There’s just something wrong with the Chiefs having the league’s 26th-ranked offense. What had been once a potent, best-in-league unit for nearly five years has deteriorated into mediocrity. Their embarrassing loss to the Steelers wasn’t the only case of this problem; it just highlighted it. Kansas City put up 16 combined points in its first two games against contenders Denver and Cincinnati. What are the reasons for this?
To start off, Larry Johnson hasn’t performed in the same league as his 2005 self. He’s only averaging only 3.4 yards per carry, and is a distant 23rd among the rushing leaders. His problems are one of three reasons for this offense’s demise. The other two are the injury to Trent Green and the losses on their offensive line. Willie Roaf’s retirement was big, but Tony Richardson’s departure has been just as important. Two of the keys from what was the best blocking unit in football are gone. In the passing game, the Chiefs’ lack of receivers has finally caught up to them. Damon Huard has filled in well for Green (94.8 quarterback rating), but he simply has no one to throw to. This team, which likely won’t make the playoffs, will see some major changes before next year.
Question 5: Who will be the last unbeaten left standing?
We have two undefeated teams left, the Bears and the Colts. While it’s hard to forget the Bears’ bizarre game on Monday, this has still been the best team in football. While many say the Colts have underperformed, I don’t think they have many issues. Remember last year, when their offense took a few weeks to get going? They started 13-0.
Now let’s go back to the question at hand. Both of these teams have a chance at continuing their run. The Bears are off this week before facing the Niners and Dolphins at home. Pencil in an 8-0 start. The next three weeks, they face both New York teams and the Patriots, all on the road. They’ll lose one of those. Meanwhile, the Colts will feast on Washington at home this week, but their undefeated season will end either in Denver or New England the following weeks. The Bears will outlast them by a couple of weeks.
Question 6: Can the Raiders go 0-16?
This is the one that everyone’s talking about. Oakland is clearly the worst team in the league, but can they lose out the remainder of the season? There’s a certain possibility. They haven’t been able to beat Cleveland at home and San Fran so far, so they have proven to suck against losing teams. And their remaining schedule leaves only two easy games: Arizona at home (this week) and Houston at home (week 13). I’d say the Cardinals will kill them coming off the tough loss, but the latter may result in a victory.
Besides those two games, the Raiders should lose out. The other three teams in the division, who they have four remaining games against, can’t wait to beat up on them. Andrew Walter was unfairly thrown into this as a rookie and should not be on the field. In fact, he should be behind the outstanding mentorship of Aaron Brooks… Yeah, this team is really that bad.
Question 7: Which winning teams will finish with losing records?
I say there are two: the Falcons and the Vikings. Minnesota plays well at home, but they lack the firepower to outscore anybody with a decent offense. The three teams they’ve beaten are the pitiful Redskins, Steve Smith-less Panthers, and the Lions. Enough said.
The Falcons have problems of their own. They can’t score (only 8 TD’s so far), can’t pass (they rank last), and can’t beat good teams. Look for another underachieving season for the talented Falcons.
Question 8: What are the games to watch in week 7?
There are four games that should be pretty good this week. The first is San Diego at Kansas City, a statistical mismatch on paper that should be good because the Chiefs are playing at home. However, KC has already lost at Arrowhead this year, so I like the well rounded Chargers to win.
Next up is Pittsburgh at Atlanta, a game that would seem to favor Pitt based on last week. Still, this has the potential to be a good game. The last time these two teams met, they tied 34-34 in one of the best regular season games I can remember. Both teams like to run the ball, and I think the Steelers can defend the run better. They’ll win narrowly.
The toughest game this week to predict is Carolina at Cincinnati. Cincy hasn’t looked like themselves the past two games, while the Panthers have been on a roll. But the Bengals are playing at home, and their offense has yet to have its breakout game. I say Cincy edges Carolina in a shootout.
Now on to the game that has received the most hype, Giants at Cowboys. These teams are so unpredictable that I could see anything happening in this one. But because of the T.O.-on-Monday night factor, as well as the home field advantage, I’m going with the Cowboys.
Question 9: Who is the league’s MVP so far?
Not many candidates have set themselves apart in this race so far. Rex Grossman was one of the front-runners, but took a large step back with his six-turnover performance in the desert. Peyton Manning has gotten some hype, as always, and does deserve some consideration. Still, I’m going with McNabb as my six-week MVP. He’s carried the Eagles from last place to one of the best teams in the league, and done this without any big-time receivers. He’s on pace for over 4900 yards through the air, which would be second all-time.
Question 10: Which teams will make the playoffs?
Here are my predicted playoff teams and seeds.