Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Changing expectations

Realistically, it doesn't behoove anyone to make snap decisions based on the first two weeks, but some pretty significant stuff has happened in the NFL's first two weeks - things with season-long implications. Some of the things even predate week one...

Shawn Merriman - let's face a couple of basic facts here...Merriman changes the complexion of the Chargers defense, and so far that defense hasn't been very good. Merriman avoided doctor recommendations to get his knee operated on at the end of last season, choosing instead to rest the knee. Then, once again ignoring the doctors who told him not to play on the screwed up ligaments, chose to play in the first game of the season. With a sub-par Merriman in game one and with his understudy in game two, the Chargers have given up 65 points through the first two games - the most in the AFC. Fourteen more than Miami, 25 more than Kansas City. The only teams that have given up more? The Lions (82), Rams (79), and Seahawks (67). Neither the Lions nor the Rams were expected to compete by anybody, and people are having serious doubts around now about Seattle.

Sure, general manager AJ Smith said all the right things about Merriman's understudy, intimating that they expected no drop off in play, but if that player were really as good as Merriman, wouldn't he be starting opposite Merriman, not playing behind him? If the Chargers cannot get it together on defense, they will be watching the playoffs from their living rooms, not from the sidelines. Period.

Vince Young - Young is as much an emotional and mental description as it is his name. I give the Titans a better chance with Kerry Collins guiding the attack than Vince Young. I don't really believe that Young beat him out in camp so much as the team was committed to going with their first round draft pick. I've said this before about Young and I will say it again - he's a talented athlete, but a mediocre quarterback. He's not committed to the game and that's the last sort of person you want leading your team in a sport where people are expected to sacrifice their bodies. To paraphrase Bull Durham, he has a million dollar arm, but a ten cent head.

My guess is that Young is the second coming of Todd Marinovich, although Akili Smith might be a better comparison. Akili Smith vaulted into the first round of the draft when he had a great senior season in college. Before that, he was on no one's radar. What people forget about Young is that he wasn't even in the discussion in regards to the top of the draft until Texas qualified for the Bowl game, and wasn't mentioned as a top five pick until their Bowl win.

I suspect that when his contract ends, he either goes away completely, or bounces around the league as a back-up for a couple of seasons before fading away.

Jeff Saturday - I'm condensing this one. Saturday, the Colt's long-time center, is one of...well, most of the Colts starting line which is injured. The Colts have struggled mightily on offense through the first couple of weekends without their vaunted line. Fortunately for the Colts, no one is looking like they're ready to just take control of the division.

Osi Umenyiora - So far the pre-season loss of Umenyiora for the season hasn't affected the Giants on defense, but his loss has a definitive impact on the team's depth along the defensive line, one of the team's definitive strengths and a reason why they won last year's Super Bowl. It might never come back to bite them as long as the team remains reasonably healthy along the defensive line. Not unrealistic. And right now this team has the best defense in the NFC East. Given that and their running game, they will compete for the playoffs.

Yes, I predicted that the Eagles and Cowboys to finish ahead of New York, but I also said I wouldn't be surprised if the Giants ended up at the top of the heap at the end of the season. With Umenyiora in the line-up the team can afford injuries to the likes of Justin Tuck. Without Osi, the Giants have to hope that the back-ups are up to snuff - otherwise that changes the landscape in the East. (My prediction assumes that an injury will happen).

Tom Brady - This injury has changed two things...the Pats offensive philosophy (2001 revival on our hands here), and the Patriots as Super Bowl favorites. Yes, this makes life harder for the Pats, but all the favorites in the AFC are struggling early while the Pats work their way through a cupcake schedule that is likely to see them go into their bye at 3-0, and meet up with the Colts with anything from a 5-2 to a 7-0 record. Not unrealistic given the fact that the prolific Denver offense has not yet been challenged by a quality defense and that neither the Chargers nor the Broncos has been able to stop anyone.

Can Matt Cassel take the team all the way? That's the great unknown in regards to the Patriots.

Seattle's receiving corps - Put simply, Seattle has lost their top receivers. Their offense has been the third worst in the NFC. Coupled with the team's defensive problems, Seattle could well be screwed.

That Deion Branch trade/signing is looking pretty weak now, isn't it?

While the jury is still out on Brandon Meriweather, the player the Pats got, in essence for trading Branch to Seattle, Branch himself has not posted the numbers of the top receiver he believed himself to be. Currently, Branch is missing games due to a knee injury, the same Branch that the Seahawks desperately need right now. The same Branch who has started 16 games only once in his career.

Am I the only one who saw this coming?


Suldog said...

The casual fans have little idea of just how important the center is, especially if he's a great one like Saturday. Watching Peyton flail around without his line is a lot of fun for a Pats fan :-)

Kevin Smith said...

You're right - I think a lot of people don't understand how hard it is to hide a sub-par lineman, particularly a center.

I think that all the AFC perennial powerhouses have issues this year.

Dave said...

I think the common wisdom is pretty positive on Meriweather. I like him, anyway. He had a solid game against the Chiefs and had that INT against NY. I think he'll justify that first-round pick.

Kevin Smith said...

I agree with you, but he hasn't had significantly more impact with the Pats than Branch with the Seahawks...yet.

the blue state blogger said...

"he hasn't had significantly more impact with the Pats than Branch with the Seahawks"

Well, up until this year, he hasn't had the opportunity. Branch was supposed to be the go-to guy for Seattle from day one, and it hasn't happened. Really, I think both he and the Pats would have benefitted by his staying put, but those dollar bills kind of cloud one's vision sometimes. Kind of the same thing with Ty Law a few years ago, and the future for Asante Samuel.

Saturday should be back, well, Sunday. Let's see what the Ponies can do now with Sanders out.