Tuesday, November 15, 2005

NFC Report: Week 11
By Zach

So everyone's played 9 games. It's time to see where we stand in the National Football Conference.

The True Contenders

Carolina Panthers (7-2)

Outlook: They just beat the crap out of the Jets. Of course, the Jets are terrible (sorry Ben, but it's true) and despite what John Fox may not let his players say, they appeared to give up late in the game. The Panthers offense has been curiously anemic lately, and while Steve Smith might have been a candidate for midseason MVP, it wouldn't surprise me too much to see his numbers drop dramatically. You've got to figure their future opponents will look to double him on just about every play, and since the rest of the Panther receiving core isn't that impressive (Keary Colbert, Ricky Proehl, and Rod Gardner be damned), I'm not sure they'll be able to exploit that properly. Plus, Stephen Davis is a shell of his former self, even if he remains a solid goal-line option, and DeShaun Foster has battled injuries his entire career. The defense is scary, with the ability to generate pressure with a four-man rush. Their secondary is very strong, with Ken Lucas shutting down one side and Chris Gamble developing nicely. Their remianing schedule could pose some challenges however, with two or three tough road games and a pair of home division games.

Remaining schedule: @CHI, @BUF, ATL, TB, @NO, DAL, @ATL

Seattle Seahawks (7-2)

Outlook: By beating the Rams 31-16, they finally put to bed all of the bad memories from previous years. They pounded the ball on the ground, as Shaun Alexander, my (perhaps biased) pick for MVP racked up 165 yards and 3 TDs, giving him 1114 and 17 on the season. Matt Hasselbeck threw a pair of interceptions, though the first should have never stood because Jerramy Stevens was manhandled by the Rams secondary and the second bounced right off Ryan Hannum's chest. Still, by far the most impressive thing about this Seahawk team to me is that unlike previous years, they didn't let those miscues cost them the game. Even when Torry Holt caught a TD to pull the Rams within 8 in the fourth quarter, they took the ball and ran it right down St. Louis' throat, something they failed to do last season in a similar situation. Still, they had some luck figure in too. Holt failed to see a Bulger pass which would have been an easy touchdown, and let another TD slip through his hands. If he hauls those passes in, it's a very different game. In the end, they just about clinched the NFC West, moving 3 games up on the Rams (plus the tiebreaker) with 7 to play. A 4-3 finish would clinch the division. The offense is playing tremendous football, especially the offensive line, which has to be the best unit in the league. With Darrell Jackson looking to return to action in the coming weeks, they should have their starting wideouts back. Plus, tight end Jerramy Stevens has finally become the player the Seahawks had hoped for when they drafted him in 2002. On defense, the drafting of Lofa Tatupu and LeRoy Hill has paid huge dividends as Tatupu is a frontrunner for Defensive Rookie of the Year at middle linebacker and Hill has done a great job stepping in at the outside position. The front four has been solid, with Marcus Tubbs developing nicely in his second year and Chuck Darby proving to be a nice addition via free agency. In the secondary, the loss of Ken Hamlin has been ameliorated by the impressive play of Marquand Manuel. The corners, especially Marcus Trufant, continue to play well. If you couldn't tell yet, I'm very, very excited about this team. In all honesty, I expect the Seahawks and Panthers to be playing in the NFC Championship game, and with their remaining schedules, it looks like that game might be in Seattle. When I look at their schedule, I see four easy wins (two vs. the 49ers, the Packers, the Titans), two more they should win (Eagles, Giants) and one game I can't predict (Colts, because who knows if they'll even be playing their starters). Worst case scenario is 11-5, 12-4 is more likely, and 13-3 is certainly doable. It would also be the best record in franchise history, and almost certainly earn them the top seed in the NFC.

Remaining schedule: @SF, NYG, @PHI, SF, @TEN, IND, @GB

Exposed This Weekend

Atlanta Falcons (6-3)

Outlook: Well, this is the game all us Falcon doubters were talking about. The defense got shredded by the immortal Samkon Gado, the run game stopped working, and the team as a whole stopped recovering every fumble. In truth, the Falcons are a team with a quarterback who can't decide what he wants to do with the ball. When he runs, he's dynamic, but also exposes himself to fumbles and injuries. When he throws, he's got all the arm strength in the world but rarely sets his feet and misses wide open receivers frequently. In short, he's going to win them as many games as he loses them, and since they lack playmakers on offense (besides maybe Warrick Dunn) I just don't buy them as anything more than a wild card team. They can be dangerous because who knows what Vick might do, but there's no way he strings together two or three good games in a row in the playoffs.

Remaining schedule: TB, @DET, @CAR, NO, @CHI, @TB, CAR

Dallas Cowboys (6-3)

Outlook: Yes, I know they just beat the Eagles on Monday Night Football. But come on, did you see that game? If McNabb had been even slightly healthy, or if Reid had pulled him a bit earlier, the Eagles win that game. As it was, they needed a huge play by Roy Williams to bail them out. The problem for the Cowboys is that their line is too banged up to protect Bledsoe effectively, and when he's pressured he makes mistakes. In fact, his interception was the worst non-Plummer/Brooks play I've seen in a long time. In my mind, this team will hang around the playoff picture because they rarely beat themselves, but they just don't have the talent to do much more than lose a first-round game.

Remaining schedule: DET, DEN, @NYG, KC, @WAS, @CAR, STL

New York Giants (6-3)

Outlook: Honestly, they don't even really belong in this catagory, but since they're still tied for the division lead I'll keep them here for another week. Their defense played very well (though against a miserable Vikings team), but Eli Manning and their offense were 49er-level bad. Eli looks completely lost out there, as his completion percentage dropped to a miserable 51% on the season. The four picks were bad, but so was consistantly missing open receivers. I'm sure he'll turn out to be a fine QB eventually, but for now he's at best a mediocre QB. The problem for the Giants is that they don't have the talent on offense to make up for that. Tiki Barber is a very good player, but they seem to forget him for long periods of time. Burress is a good deep threat, but Toomer and Carter are so bad that defenses can double Plaxico with impunity. Shockey has played better this year but still needs to catch the ball more to be a true threat. Defensively, the line has played very well, especially Michael Strahan, but their secondary is miserable. All in all, this team is at least a year away from anything more exciting than a first round loss.

Remaining Schedule: PHI, @SEA, DAL, @PHI, KC, @WAS, @OAK

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3)

Outlook: Again, you may be asking how I can be so harsh on a team that won this weekend. But the Bucs defense was awful, and if they rely on Chris Simms and that offense to win them any more games this year, well, they'll be waiting a long time. Simms' game, in my opinion, rivals Joey Harrington's for flukiest of the week. Defensively, they get a great pass rush from Simeon Rice but terrible push up front from their tackles. Derrick Brooks seems to have lost a step, and their secondary no longer shuts anyone down. In all, this team is headed down...quick.

Remaining Schedule: @ATL, CHI, @NO, @CAR, @NE, ATL, NO

Washington Redskins (5-4)

Outlook: Well, the good news is the offense looks potent. The bad news is they let a Chris Simms-led team score 36 against them. Sure, the Mike Alstott two-point conversion may never have been, but the fact of the matter is it should have never come down to that. They'll have chances to get back in the division race, but they have to shore up a secondary which got torched by Joey Galloway. They need to get Walt Harris off the field immediately, even if it means starting rookie Carlos Rodgers. Harris is a TD pass waiting to happen.

Remaining schedule: OAK, SD, @STL, @ARI, DAL, NYG, @PHI

I Have No Idea Since the NFC North Sucks

Chicago Bears (6-3)

Outlook: Common sense tells me this Bears team isn't that good. Kyle Orton may not lose them many games, but he won't win them any either. Their offensive line is very good, at least when it's not punching teammates. Plus, they've got a very strong and opportunistic defense. Still, it's hard to win in the playoffs when you can't score or at least move the ball, and they still haven't proven an ability to do that. They should walk away with the NFC North, but I'm not sure they'll be able to win the ensuing home game. Well, unless the winds are blowing 45 mph across the field again.

Remaining schedule: CAR, @TB, GB, @PIT, ATL, @GB, @MIN

See You Next Year

Philadelphia Eagles (4-5)

Outlook: Donovan McNabb is useless hurt. He can't throw the football with any accuracy. He's like Mike Vick only without the running ability (or herpes, I'd assume). They managed to run the ball some against Dallas but of course failed to do so when it would have mattered (and won them the game). Instead, they throw on second and seven...whoops, INT, ball game over. Their defense remains solid, but it gives up way too many deep passes considering how talented their secondary is. Of course, since Jim Johnson is apparently allergic to only rushing four guys, they do put their DBs in an awful lot of one-on-one situations. In all honesty, they should shut McNabb down for the season, give the ball to Mike McMahon, and see if Reggie Brown can do something at receiver. That's gotta be better than seeing McNabb throw like he just ate 100 cans of Chunky Campbell's Soup in Microwavable Bowls.

Remaining schedule: @NYG, GB, SEA, NYG, @STL, @ARI, WAS

St. Louis Rams (4-5)

Outlook: I guess Torry Holt was wrong. They don't have the "mental toughness edge" over the Seahawks, unless in his mind mental toughness equals dropping touchdown passes. Because then they have passed the Seahawks this year. Honestly, they have all kinds of talent on the offensive end but manage to screw it up by having a poor interior line and not giving the ball to Steven Jackson more. The guy is untacklable in the open field, so why not get him the ball 25-30 times a game? Defensively, they're a mess. Their line tends to disappear, since besides Leonard "Murderer" Little they have no other pass rushers. Their linebacking corps is mediocre, and the secondary is bad. Adam Archuleta is massively overrated, he lacks recovery speed and is easily fooled on play-action and pump fakes. However, with the NFC and their remaining schedule there is a chance they could get back in the playoff picture.

Remaining schedule: ARI, @HOU, WAS, @MIN, PHI, SF, @DAL


Blogger David Arnott said...

Re: The Bears... Here's the dirty little secret about Kyle Orton: RIGHT NOW he's probably the best quarterback in his draft class. Easily, he's the best one that's played. I've started thinking about Alex Smith as the poor man's J.P. Losman, who is, in turn, the poor man's Josh Mexico, which means, in hindsight, the Niners should've done the ballsy thing and drafted either Cadillac, Brown, or Braylon and gone for McPherson or Orton in the second or third rounds. I was shocked when Orton dropped to the fourth, and I bet there are at least a dozen teams that wish they'd grabbed him. Bill Simmons makes the excellent comparison of Orton to Trent Dilfer, but I think Orton's ceiling is more in the Roethlisberger range. The thing that kills me about the NFL drafting process is that even with craploads of information and super-intelligent people working their asses off, guys like Alex Smith get drafted in the first round despite not being significantly better than Orton or even Cody Pickett, for what it's worth.


Smith played two years at Utah, having one very good year and one excellent year. Orton was a three year starter and had two consecutive years that were top-notch, marred only by being benched for a game and a half during his senior year because of confidence issues. Neither, however, comes close to how good Cody Pickett's junior year was. So, Pickett was able to have a season superior to anything Orton did, in a major conference, something Smith can't say, and, subjectively, he's the superior all-around athlete. Yet, he was a 7th round selection and therefore will never get a chance to play unless his team is desperate for a body to fill in at QB.

The Pro Sports Drafting Rule of Thumb, which I developed via research and conversations with the Sportszilla crew, is to always draft the player who is best RIGHT NOW and not to worry about "upside". It applies in basketball, whether a guy is high school or college, as surface statistics indicate. It applies in baseball, with mounds of data and hordes of sabermetricians to support that position. And I'm willing to assert that it applies to football, too... I smell a column.

3:38 AM  
Blogger The Armchair Quarterback said...

I would have to agree with you that the Panthers and Seahawks are the class of the NFC right now. I have a very misguided and dillusional hope that the Rams could win 6 more games or possibly even go the rest of the way undefeated and grab a wild card spot. The only way I can keep this vision is to pretend I never saw the Seahawk game.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

TAQ, I share (to some agree) your feelings about the Rams. Maybe it's because they've been in the playoffs for so long, but I kind of expect them to get there again. On the one hand, they don't have a single game left that I think they can't win, but on the other hand at the very least they'll need to go 5-2 to get there, and probably more like 6-1. And with their inconsistant play, I'm just not sure that's gonna happen.

6:42 PM  

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