As we enter the finish line for the first quarter of the season, I've come to a few conclusions that I think will carry on throughout the rest of the regular season:
- THE NFC EAST IS DEPRESSING. Watching the Cowboys pull away from the pack is like watching a Pinto drive away with "JUST MARRIED" spray-painted on the back windshield with cans being dragged on strings behind it. Only, the Pinto is the Cowboys and the cans are the Redskins, Giants, and Eagles. Man oh man. Remember when Chip Kelly's offense took the league by storm in Week 1 and everyone thought they'd dominate? That's alright though. Most people thought Tim Tebow was a competent NFL quarterback, too. Sometimes we all need a mulligan.
- IN PITTSBURGH, THEY'RE OBSERVING A YEAR OF OPPOSITE DAY. When was the last time the Steelers were crap and the Pirates were awesome? You have to go back to 1991, when the Pirates reached the NLCS for the second of three straight times. The Steelers would finish 7-9 in the final season under the stewardship of Chuck Noll. Quarterbacking the Steelers would be the duo of Neil O'Donnell and Bubby Brister and featured current ESPN personality Merrill Hodge as their fullback. Bill Cowher would take over for Noll the following season and an unprecedented streak of relevancy would carry on. That isuntil now. Call it too early to call, but the Steelers, just on a basic level, are not as talented as their divisional counterparts in Cincinnati and Baltimore, and that's AFTER Baltimore was gutted in the off-season. This might be the start of an unusual trend in the Steel City.
- JOSH FREEMAN WILL BE BENCHED. Okay, I cheated there. . The question now is - what does Tampa Bay do with a young quarterback who, in the past, has shown flashes of brilliance, but is no longer in the team's plans? For the love of Tim Tebow, head coach Greg Schiano has elected to go with rookie Mike Glennon and DAN ORLOVSKY ahead of Freeman. Freeman wants a trade and has made that public, and the Bucs really don't want the distraction. Sowhat's the market for Freeman? For starters, let's evaluate Freeman's value. For his career, which is in it's 5th season, he's accumulated a 78.8 QB rating, 80 TDs, 66 INTs, 13,534 yards, and a completion percentage of 58.2%(all stats through last Sunday). His statistical high-water mark wast last season, in which he achieved career-highs in touchdowns (27), yards (4,065), and yards per completion (7.29) while lowering his interceptions total from 22 in 2011 to 17. He's only 25 years old and he's a big guy and can take a hit, he's mobile, and he's still highly projectible. The problem with Freeman centers around his attitude and work ethic. He can be lazy, inconsistent, and defiant. His career record is 24-35 and when your coach picks Dan Orlovsky and Mike Glennon over all of those above stats, that's saying a lot, and none of it is good. The market for Freeman will be sparse, and a starting job (something he openly covets) will be even more sparse. Jacksonville and Oakland would make sense, but quality back-up QBs are hard to come by and if Freeman wants to regain his good name, he'll likely need to master the clipboard behind an established starter. Chicago, Buffalo, and even Pittsburgh might make sense to give Freeman some veteran guidance, sure-handed coaching, and an opportunity to possibly step in if those teams' oft-mangled QBs are out of service here or there. If I'm any team looking into Freeman, I'd go no higher than a single 4th round pick and would probably, myself, only sacrifice a 5th or 6th rounder.
- THE COLTS WILL HANG WITH THE TEXANS ALL YEAR. The Texans fan in me despises the Colts for their brilliant trade with Cleveland last week that brought them Trent Richardson. However, the football fan in me was downright giddy. Nothing evokes more excitement from sports fans around the country than a big trade. We can't all win the Super Bowl/World Series/NBA Finals, but we can all gawk at the trade of a big-name star. In this instance, Richardson hasn't exactly been a game-buster for the Browns, but he'll dominate in Indy's spread offense. As a result, Indy is far more dangerous than we could have imagined. With the Texans scuffling every week thus far, it's hard to imagine them pulling away at any point this season. Indy is still young and due for some growing pains, but they won't be severe (if they come at all), and they could very well regain control of the AFC South this season. I'll go light myself on fire now.
- THE BLACK UNICORN WILL GO DOWN AS THE MOST IMPORTANT AND IMPACTFUL FREE AGENT ACQUISITION IN THIS OFF-SEASON. In case you didn't know, The Black Unicorn is Bears TE Martellus Bennett, a man who recently . Thus far, Bennett has accrued 12 receptions for 135 yards and 3 touchdowns in 3 games as a Bear, including the game-winner in Week 2 against division-rival Minnesota. He was quiet last week, but believe me - the man is Jay Cutler's new weapon. Since Cutler's arrival in Chicago, I've lobbied for two things: A.) An offensive line, and B.) A pass-catching tight end. In the final year of his contract, Cutler now has both. Through three games, the differences are stunning. The Bears are different the year. That, in large part, is thanks to Martellus Bennett.
RAVENS (2-1) AT BILLS (1-2)
- The Bills are losing defensive players as quickly as Walter White is losing allies. Soon, they're just going to have to suit up some fans. Whenever you're using terms like "fourth string", you soon realize how close you are to.
Pick: RAVENS, 30-14
CARDINALS (1-2) AT BUCCANEERS (0-3)
- Mike Glennon's debut as starter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could probably be a little more favorable (Jacksonville, maybe?), but Arizona at home is a pretty good consolation prize. Tampa's offense has been stale, but Arizona's defense has been terrible, so this game could go a lot of different ways. The unknown variable of Glennon and the effect he may or may not have on Tampa's 31st-ranked offense, and the 'you never know' aspect of Carson Palmer and Arizona's turnover-prone offense. Neither team is 'saving it's season' on Sunday, but one will break out of it's slump. I'm taking Arizona.
Pick: CARDINALS, 19-13
GIANTS (0-3) AT CHIEFS (3-0)
- Eli Manning has thrown 8 interceptions in the season's first three games, the Giants are coming off of a mammoth 38-0 loss to Carolina, and they haven't allowed fewer than 36 points in a game this season. Oh, and they're up against old foe, Andy Reid. One thing is for sure - the Giants are out of miracles. Time to ride out the string, inventory pieces you want to keep, and blow it up.
Pick: CHIEFS, 28-16
COLTS (2-1) AT JAGUARS (0-3)
- Trent Richardson gets the majority of carries on Sunday as Ahmad Bradshaw will miss the game. Meanwhile, fans in Jacksonville willwait. Did I just say "fans in Jacksonville?" My apologies. I meant, the citizens of Jacksonville who are forced to use tax dollars to support this gutter of a franchise will get a chance to see yet another division rival come in a stomp the life out of them.
Pick: COLTS, 31-10
SEAHAWKS (3-0) AT TEXANS (2-1)
- Not pumped up for this game. I'm going into this like I did when T.J. Yates took over as starter in 2011 against Atlanta. Expectations tempered, eyes squinting, hopes high. The Texans pulled that one out at home, and the very same could happen on Sunday against Seattle, who aren't quite the same team away from home. Still, the thought of Matt Schaub tossing the rock around with guys like Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner patrolling the field is enough to make one queezy. Ed Reed called this game a possible Super Bowl match-up earlier this week. Boy do I hope he's right.
Pick: SEAHAWKS, 20-14
Bengals (2-1) at Browns (1-2)
- The Brian Hoyer era got off to a pretty exciting start with last Sunday's stunner in Minnesota, but reality will set in on Sunday. Brian Hoyer will realize he's Brian Hoyer, the Browns will stifle what little excitement may exist for their home fans after last weekend, and the Factory of Sadness will pump out yet another heartbreaker.
Pick: BENGALS, 27-12
BEARS (3-0) AT LIONS (2-1)
- This game, along with the Texans and Seahawks, will make up my afternoon of two-TV viewing. As good ole JR would say, "this is going to be a good-old fashioned slobberknocker!" I'm positively thrilled for it. Megatron should run wild with Peanut Tillman slowed by that balky knee, but I like the Bears for their consistency on offense and playmaking ability on defense. Matt Stafford is still highly mistake-prone, while Cutler has found more time in the pocket, more weapons on offense, and is looking very poised. I am dying to see the Lions employ Reggie Bush here. This is going to be a fun game.
Pick: BEARS, 34-31
STEELERS (0-3) AT VIKINGS (0-3)
- Sad Bowl in London! This should be a redemption game for the Steelers, who found positive signs in losing to a contender last week. By comparison, the Vikings lost a home game to Brian Hoyer and the Browns. Each week is it's own narrative, and it's important to remember that, but that's a fact that points a lot more to the dysfunctions on offense in Minnesota than it is a beacon of hope for Hoyer and the Browns. Matt Cassel gets the start at QB for the Vikes, which should make no difference at all. You could even call him Ponder if you'd like. It's no wonder London wants an NFL team, what with all this incredible competition we send them every year.
Pick: STEELERS, 24-14
JETS (2-1) AT TITANS (2-1)
- Two up and coming teams who have played nothing but close games this season. It's encouraging that both teams' only losses are against playoff teams from last season. I like what Geno Smith has shown thus far and I also like how the Jets' run defense has, yet again, been pretty stout. Through all of their Sanchez-Tebow-Geno drama over the last two years, that's one facet that has remained a strength. Neither team is playoff-ready yet, but they're both on their way up after listless 2012 campaigns. The Titans are still very much a run-first team, which doesn't bode well for this match-up. It's a toss up, but I like the Jets.
Pick: JETS, 17-13
REDSKINS (0-3) AT RAIDERS (1-2)
- Believe it or not, the Raiders are the more stable franchise right now. Washington's pass defense is THE. WORST. EVER. Seriously, they shouldn't even take the field. It's an insult to scarecrows, which would be more effective than the bunch the Redskins send out every Sunday. Blame RG3 all you'd like, and you'd be correct in assessing some of the blame to his rust and continued recovery, but that defenseno one wins with that defense. The Raiders aren't anything to write home about, but Terrelle Pryor is catching on (though his concussion could keep him out this weekend), they're discovering some diamonds in the rough, such as WR Rod Streater, and I think Matt Flynn's presence on the depth chart is good luck for any QB he's replaced by. Flynn is likely to start on Sunday, so it'll be interesting to see if he can replicate his last spot start. Hard to see the 'Skins at 0-4, but that's happening on Sunday.
Pick: RAIDERS, 24-20
COWBOYS (2-1) AT CHARGERS (1-2)
- Neither team is very adept at finishing games well, but in terms of which team is performing better in the large scheme of things, that award goes to Dallas, who quickly and confidently choke-slammed the Rams last weekend,31-7. Both teams are offensively affluent, so watch for Romo and Rivers to match big plays before Dallas uses it's running game and DeMarco Murray to put the lights out on the Whale's Vagina Chargers.
Pick: COWBOYS, 27-23
EAGLES (1-2) AT BRONCOS (3-0)
- Typically, when a new fad hits the NFL, it succeeds for a really long time before it either gets debunked or becomes a part of the league's fabric. The Wild-Cat and the read-option come to mind. In this instance, Chip Kelly's accelerated offense is taking the league by storm and has his Eagles at the top of many offensive categories. But they're 1-2. Lost in this offense are the details - proper run blocking and QB protection, and the pace leaves Philly's defense on the field too long, which opens holes, which allows opposing offenses to strike almost as quickly as Philly. After three weeks, the offense has too many holes and backfires too much for it to become anything other than a statistical plus and a fantasy attraction. Peyton Manning will systematically destroy Philadelphia. Dude is in rare form this season.
Pick: BRONCOS, 33-20
PATRIOTS (3-0) AT FALCONS (1-2)
- A very weak 3-0 for the Patriots, who have benefited greatly from their meager competition (Bills, Jets and Bucs). Things pick up this week and, despite Atlanta's struggles, are going to get uglier for a Patriots team that bled offensively in the off-season, and made little to no upgrades on defense. I love Atlanta's offense, and even though they'll be without Steven Jackson for some time, their passing game should more than suffice.
Pick: FALCONS, 30-21
Dolphins (3-0) at Saints (3-0)
- Don't sleep on either of these teams this season. It'll take some time for jury deliberations to come to a conclusion on the legitimacy of these two teams, but I like what I see so far from the Saints and their Rob Ryan-led defense, as well as Ryan Tannehill's growth in Joe Philbin's offense. The Saints will take this one on Sunday because Tannehill and Co. simply do not have what it takes to slow down this turf monster or keep up with it, but the future is bright in Miami. Tannehill to Mike Wallace may become a lethal combo as the season moves on.
Pick: SAINTS, 27-20
BYES: Packers (1-2), Panthers (1-2)