Sunday, October 16, 2005

Week 6 NFL Thoughts

Since I'm too distracted by this Denver-New England game to study Formal Methods, I'll put some thoughts down here.

I'll come back to Denver and New England later. First, I just want to comment on the current standings of teams. The East divisions in both conferences are remarkably wide open. In the AFC, New England's dominance looks to be gone (with some caveats, see below). Buffalo has looked pretty good from what I've seen and I think they're the Pats' biggest challenge. The Jets between last year and this year look like a team heading into a decline, while the Fins are playing surprisingly well. In the NFC, I've seen mixed performances by all of those teams. The Eagles' clear dominance of the NFC is also gone. I'm not saying that the Eagles and the Pats are going to lose their divisions. Maybe, maybe not. But their glaring dominance isn't there this year.

How bad is the NFC North? The Bears and the Lions are tied for the lead. That's pretty bad. The fact that one of those four teams is guaranteed a playoff spot makes for a pretty easy pick in that wild card game. On the other hand, in the South, you've got the Falcons, Panthers, and Bucs slugging it out. I would rather see all three of those teams in the playoffs than see any of the NFC North. I would almost say the same that I would rather see any of those three in over the entire NFC West, but I don't feel as strongly about that.

In the AFC, the Broncos and the Bengals are both looking damn good. The Bengals have the better record, but I'd pick the Broncos between those two. The Bengals had 2 incredible first games (6 interceptions each), but have looked human ever since. The Broncos look more consistent. In the South, my beloved Colts are looking solid (did I mention that 3 Colts are tied for the 1st, 4th, and 7th most sacks in the league?). Can't get complacent because the Jags are right there, and they're tough. I'm looking forward to MNF football tomorrow night. Colts host the Rams. I know what I'm doing.

OK, so now my Broncos-Patriots thoughts (it's now 28-3, Broncos, with 10:36 left in the 3rd). Or rather, my Patriots thoughts. I spent a lot of time and emotion last year arguing against the idea of a Patriots dynasty. I will fully admit this was inspired by a deeply rooted antipathy against the "nice guy" Patriots. (As a side digression, one of those "nice guys," Logan Mankins, got kicked out of today's games at half-time because he *punched* a Bronco in the stomach after the play was over. Classy.) While I will recognize my bias influenced my analysis, I still stand by that analysis.

The argument for the "dynasty" is simply the fact that they won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years. That's a very good point. However, the 2001 season was dominated by the Rams, who also thoroughly dominated that game. The Pats didn't win it. The Rams lost it. They gave it away with 3 turnovers. Yes, the victory still goes to the Pats, but they were the underdogs who got lucky. 2002? They didn't even make the playoffs. 2003, I will completely acknowledge that the Patriots were the best team in football that year. They were aided in that infamous playoff game against the Colts by the referees not calling the illegal contact on the Colts receivers (which led to the over-reaction last year in calling every single touch). But that does not take away from the fact that the Patriots were far and away the best team in football in 2003. Then, last year, they were aided by a very soft schedule. You give a good team a soft schedule and they'll end up with a 14-2 record and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Again, the Patriots were very good last year, but not dominant. Considering the injuries that plagued them last year, what they accomplished was due, in large part, to the coaching genius of Bill Belichick, Romeo Crennel, and Charlie Weis (see this year as a contrast). So, if you want to call it a dynasty, it was essentially one of 2 years. I think that does a lot of disrespect to the previous dynasties (the '60s Packers, the '70s Steelers, and the '80s/early '90s 49ers). Dynasties don't miss the playoffs.

Having said all that, now I get to this year. I have to say that I am saddened by what I'm seeing in Denver today. Again, injuries are killing the Patriots. Perhaps Tedy Bruschi coming back will help. But losing Weis and Crennel, along with Antowain Smith, Ty Law and others, missing Bruschi, Troy Brown, and Rodney looks to be taking a toll. I must admit that I am a little saddened. Tom Brady and Adam Vinatieri are two of the best clutch players to have played the game. There's still a lot of season left, but starting the season at 3-3 (which looks likely) doesn't bode well. Next week, they're hosting Buffalo. I like the Pats' odds there, but I think that'll be a close game. A 3-4 Pats squad. I think that would clinch my disbelief in the idea of a Patriots dynasty.

The other reason is that I would like the Colts to beat a stronger Pats squad. Considering they're playing in Foxboro, it is anything but a definite win. It's going to be a tough game, I have no doubt. But beating a 7-0 or 6-1 Patriots would mean a lot more than beating a 3-4 version.

As for the Colts, I like their odds of having home-field advantage in the playoffs. Eleven games remain, but that includes the Rams, the Titans, the Cardinals, the Seahawks, and 2 against the Texans. The other games include ones at New England, at Cincy, hosting the Steelers, and at Jacksonville. Those 4 are going to be tough. Watching this New England game, I think the Broncos are the team that I would fear the most in the playoffs. Their offense is making big plays and their defense has shut Brady down entirely.

So, those are my thoughts based on the games I've seen so far this year. Then again, it's only week 6. Six weeks ago, people were talking about the Vikings' Super Bowl chances. They're now 1-4...

Update: It's now 4th Quarter with 9:00 remaining, Broncos 28-13 and New England in striking distance. This isn't over yet. Not with a QB like Brady. But I still have the same thoughts that Denver is overall looking tougher than NE.

Update: OK, now it's over. Denver woke back up. The two plays of the game: The blitz on Brady on the Pats' last possession on 2nd and 10. It forced a rare intentional grounding by Brady, which is 10 yards and loss of down. So it's 3rd and 20. Next play, a pass by Brady to Deion Branch, who gets clobbered mid-air by 3 Broncos to break up the pass. Two guys hit him, while the third takes out his feet. That was a close call, because he almost came down on the back of his head (upper back instead). That could have been bad. Glad to see he got up with no injury.


At 4:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're a jackass. The Pats MADE the Rams commit those turnovers. They flat out outplayed them.


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