What an eye opening week of football. I forced myself to watch about two and half quarters of the Bears game today and just had to leave eventually due to the sheer disappointment that was the Atlanta Falcons. Here I thought I would get to sit back and watch the one true threat in our division get kicked around a bit by a potential threat in the NFC. Instead I got a team get steam rolled by the perfected winning mediocrity that is the Chicago Bears under Lovie Smith. They don't do anything really great, but they sure do know how to beat down teams and win football games.
Alas the Buccaneers disappointed me too. The Lions basically owned them for the most pat, despite some bad turn overs and penalties on the Lions part. I thought the Bucs were going to be building on last year's surprise success, but instead they looked flat.
But the Bucs and the Falcons weren't alone in their disappointing week one performance. The Chiefs played so bad their head coach came out and admitted that the team just wasn't ready to play (actually unsurprising since our third stringers and guys not making the team basically beat their first string guys in week 4 of the preseason). The Colts were so bad that the Texans took the second half off and still blew the Colts out 34-7. The Ravens not only beat the Steelers at full strength for the first time, but blew them out. On top of it all these weren't the only lop sided games!
What the heck is going on here?
The answer is probably the lockout, which is quickly becoming the El Nino of NFL world this year. On a whole defenses just didn't seem prepared. There was a slew of sloppy tackling and broken coverages. Of the 14 games played so far 7 didn't have at least one team scoring 30 points and 5 of those 7 games had the winning team score at least 27 points. The only game that appeared to have a semblance of defense football from the score was the putrid Jacksonville vs. Tennessee game.
Kinda puts the defensive performance the Packers had into perspective....doesn't it?
Special teams weren't much better either across the league. Does anyone remember as many kicks and punts getting returned for touchdowns on one Sunday of games? I know I sure don't. Sometimes it's relatively understandable such as SD giving up a Harvin TD return. After all SD has terrible special teams and Harvin is a pretty good kick returner. Other times it's over the top like Ted Ginn's performance this weekend. Yes, Seattle is terrible, but come on!
No, this weekend was a bit of a revelation for me. Despite it being early in the year I now have a new view of who the real challengers are and who might be in for a long year. For instance I now have much more respect for Chicago. I'm not ready to say fear them, but I don't think they are going to be battling MN for last place anymore either.
I'm also much more convinced of the Saints. Sure their defense got torched, but I think their D looked much better than Atlanta., especially considering the competition. Mix that with a strong offense (although their line play needs to improve especially in short yardage situations).
Conversely I am down on pretty much everyone in the NFC East. Philly looks soft in the middle and the O-line is questionable, despite the big win. The Giants look terrible. The Cowboys are soft. The Redskins have the look of a tough team on D and with the run, but there are still some serious talent gaps for a legitimate run.
Similarly I'm down on everyone one in the NFC South not named New Orleans. Both sides of the ball flat out disappointed me for the Falcons. Their O-line was just bad (although Chicago does have a talented D-line). Their play calling was worse (why trade your future for Julio Jones if you aren't going to attack down field?). Capping it off is that their back seven are as bad as ever. As I said the Bucs got owned, and look like KC....a team that benefited from people looking past them last year and one that will stumble this year. Then there is Carolina. Cam may have looked legit, and they will be a bit more of a challenge than I thought, but it's going to take them some time to get everything together.
Out of the AFC the one team that got my attention was the Ravens. I'll admit that I didn't think much of Raven fans making noise through the offseason of how this might be the year for them. After the total and complete beat down they put to the Steelers this past Sunday I'm starting to believe. Really I think it's going to be a dog fight between the Pats and the Ravens for who is going to be in control of the AFC. Sure you could make a case for the Texans, Jets, and Chargers. Each of those teams can probably hang with the Ravens and the Pats, but the Ravens and Pats look the more complete teams and would win most of the time when meeting face to face.
What does all this mean for the Pack? A few things...
1. A part of me wants to talk about how important last Thursday was for homefield advantage and what not, but it's WAY too early to talk like that. I will say this though....I didn't think too many NFC teams could really roll with the Packer or the Saints this past Sunday (Chicago and Philly being the main ones and they each have deep flaws) so I think we'll be happy to have this win in our pocket come the end of the season.
2. I think the worst part of our performance on Thursday was special teams. Seeing how bad most special teams units were this past weekend I'm a bit more forgiving. I know Slocum hasn't given us much reason to hope in him, but a part of me is optimistic that this portion of our team can be tightened over the course of the year.
3. On a similar line as our Special Team woes...our defensive troubles might not be as bad as first thought either. The Saints have an elite offense and generally it seemed like defenses were behind offenses this time around (which is the opposite of what normally happens in the early part of the year).
4. Call me crazy, but after Cam Newton's surprisingly competent performance this week, I think we might missTramon Williams more than originally believed next week. Yes, they were playing AZ, and yes the Panthers lost...but throwing for over 400 yards is nothing to sneeze at.
5. What offense can go point for point with the Packers? Coming into the week I thought it was the Saints, Eagles, Patriots, Falcons, and Chargers. The Pats are yet to be seen, but I'm not sure about the rest. We saw what the Saints were able to do and I sure as hell respect it. The Falcons crapped the bed this week and they need to show me something before I believe. The Eagles are so soft along the line that I'm not sure about them either. Heck, so far no one has matched the points the Pack put up the opening night and that was after MM took the foot off the gas in the second half. What would a real shoot out with team look like?