LONGSHOTS: The mid-year report for the NFL
by Dave Long
Being that I’m a drive-by college football fan and I wrote about the college game last week, this week we’re going back to my more favored football topic: the NFL. So with the season at the official midway point here are some observations about the Patriots season progress and the NFL in general and the categories they fall into.
“I’m Stunned” Department: How the Patriots defense has played so far. I said in my season-opening column they’d have to be like the 1960s New York Giants in the Fran Tarkenton era, who had to score in the high 30s every time out to win. Instead it’s been the offense that struggled early with inconsistency and the defense has allowed a team as much as 20 points just ONCE!
Could Albert Hanesworth be THAT good? But the funny thing is I don’t think Tennessee is that bad. I just think the clock struck 12 on Kerry Collins as it always does and it crumbled from there.
“He Was Right” Award: Looks like Coach B was right about Richard Seymour, who may or may not be playing really well in Oakland, but whose departure hasn’t created the gigantic hole many predicted.
“Figured It’d Be This Way” Awards: Too bad the Raiders didn’t give up their top pick in this year’s draft for Seymour, ’cause it could wind up first overall. Of course with Seymour a free agent at the end of the year — with zero chance of being resigned — if this continues, they’ll probably wind up in the same place a year from now as well.
The “Mark Sanchez to the Hall of Fame” chatter has subsided in NYC for now after the #5 pick out of USC has gone back to playing like most rookies for the Jets after a fast start the first three weeks.
Also, even with the fast start this year for the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets and Miami’s impressive year last year, I had the both finishing at .500 or a game over in the pre-season prediction and I’m sticking with it.
The Denny Crane “I Don’t Have To Know the Facts of the Case to Try it” Award: Speaking of the Raiders: on the day JaMarcus Russell was drafted first overall I said he’d be a bust. Since I’d seen him play in parts of one Bowl game, it had nothing to do with my ability to judge football talent. I just had faith in the Raiders’ ineptitude.
The Julia Roberts “Big Mistake — HUGE!” Award: While Matt Cassel is struggling in KC as they rebuild the team, San Francisco should have tried to get him. They finished just a game behind the Super Bowl Cardinals after losing to them twice by a combined three points a year ago and a pretty good defense. If they had a QB who could play, they’d be in control of their division right now.
The “Predictions Gone Awry” Award: Guess I’m wrong about Josh McDaniels getting fired before year one was out in Denver. Just figured the turmoil that followed his arrival to be the head coach at 32 was a signal that maybe he was ready to manage the personalities of 53 men. He’ll not only keep his job, he’s got a shot at coach of the year.
“Perceptions Changing” Award: And what does that success — without the supposed better quarterback he had in cry baby Jay Cutler — say about the genius status many give his predecessor Mike Shanahan, who got fired after last year’s end-of-the-season collapse? And Denver really seems to miss the overrated Cutler, doesn’t it.
Pretty sure Brett Favre has turned a few heads with what’s happening in Minnesota, especially in both games against the Packers. I’ve always liked him and admired his toughness, but he’s really put a jolt of electricity into the entire Vikings environment. And the off-season soap opera aside, it still looks like he can really play.
“Love What’s Happening” Awards: I like that an undefeated season will be on the line when the Pats play the Colts Sunday and maybe also when they play the Saints at the end of the month. I mean shouldn’t the team that last was undefeated in the regular season get a chance to make them earn it?
I find it hard to root for, like or even stand success by the Baltimore Ravens. So I’m liking all the super team, Super Bowl chatter subsiding after the 3-0 start has fallen to 4-4 after Sunday’s loss to the once lowly Bengals.
Really like watching the younger defense grow up as the season moves along. Especially the safeties where Brandon Merryweather’s shown to be an emerging big-play guy that’s been missing since Assante Samuel left and Brandon McGowan is exactly what they needed back there — a guy who delivers the big hit and seems to always be around the ball as Rodney Harrison was, but with McGowan being better than Rodney was at any time last year before he got hurt.
Gotta tell you I love watching the Wildcat offense of Miami for three reasons. First, the deception is fun to watch and it’s like football in the 1960s and ’70s when every backfield had two real runners on the field instead of tailback U like it is now. Second, when Chad Henne becomes a more reliable passer they’ll be really tough to figure out how to defend from play to play — as they can go traditional NFL, the Wildcat with Ronnie Brown and Ricki Williams or the college QB option that they ran Sunday with rookie Pat White. And finally, they’re busting all existing NFL beliefs that you have to go with just one QB and that you can’t shuttle them in from down to down like they do with the nickel packages on defense.
I especially like anything that proves the prevailing thinking to be wrong.
And with Tim Tebow on deck in the draft, Vince Young starting to play again and Michael Vick likely to wind up somewhere else next year, this will be spreading around the league and not be a one-and-done in Miami. I love that too.
Predictions Going Forward: I’m not sure how I think the Vikings will beat the Saints after what I’ve seen from them, but I’m thinking it’s the Vikes from the NFC and I’m sticking with Pittsburgh for now, while hoping for the Pats, in the AFC for the Super Bowl.
While he may not be perfect, Vince Young shows why he was taken number three overall in 2006 in rallying Tennessee to a much better second half.
The undefeated and untied Colts go down this weekend in Indy to the Patriots by the higher-than-you-think score of 31-27. And sorry about those injuries in Indy, but that’s like the Pats in 2005 when the Colts blasted the Pats in Foxboro on Monday Night Football.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.