What happened to the practice of networks taking viewers away from blow-outs featuring non-local teams to closer games? I remember growing up this was routine. But this weekend, for the local-teamless Los Angeles viewer, we were stuck watching Oakland who went 4-12 last year running out the clock for the last ten minutes with a 15 point lead over Kansas City who went 4-12 last year and were playing their third string quarterback, meanwhile, two CBS sanctioned games: the Bills versus the Jaguars and the Colts v. the Vikings featured come-from-behind wins and teams that qualified for the playoffs last year. Over on FOX, we got to watch every fascinating second of the Super Bowl Champions Giants as they pummeled the helpless (and 3-13 last season) Rams while close games were occurring both in Carolina (Bears v. Panthers, final score 20-17) and Washington (Saints v. Redskins, final score 29-25). Is the NFL just getting too cocky? Are they essentially telling us: you will take these crappy games and like it fools and oh yeah, buy an Escalade while you’re at it?
Here’s the list (second parenthesis = change in spots)
1. New York Giants (2-0) (-): Sign of a winning team: the Rams close in to within a 20-13 score, the Giants methodically move down the field, score a touchdown, and never look back.
2. Dallas Cowboys (2-0) (-): I am not condoning any cheap shots that will lead to a long term injury or anything, but I really don’t want to see Terrell Owens pass Jerry Rice’s touchdown record.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0) (-): After lighting up the scoreboard in week one, they play the grind-it-out style that they patented for a week two win. Unless Ben Roethlisberger’s injury is severe, the Browns quickly turn it around or the Ravens are vastly improved with coach Harbaugh and rookie QB Flacco, the Steelers can clinch the division around the ninth week.
4. New England Patriots (2-0) (-): It’s not like the Pats haven’t gone to the Super Bowl with a second string quarterback before.
5. Green Bay Packers (2-0) (+1): Knowing then what we know now, do you think if John York had to do it all over again, he chooses Mike McCarthy (the 49ers offensive coordinator in 2005) as head coach and Aaron Rodgers with the first pick in 2005? Judging by his decision making history, probably not.
6. Philadelphia Eagles (1-1) (-1): Hard to fault them too much with the effort they put up in the Monday night loss in Dallas, but two thoughts: 1.) If they don’t fumble on the McNabb-Westbrook exchange, they probably march down the field for a time killing and decisive score 2.) Why didn’t Andy Reid once go for a two point conversion after continually scoring TDs that put them up by only 6 points. If they convert, they only need to kick a field goal game at the end to send it to overtime, and if they miss the conversion, no difference, they're down by 5 instead of 4 and would still need a touchdown on that last drive.
7. Tennessee Titans (2-0) (+3): All the off week issues with Vince Young didn’t stop the Titans from winning convincingly. That’s because they were prepared, and that’s why Jeff Fisher is the longest tenured coach in the NFL.
8. Indianapolis Colts (1-1) (-): Before the second half of Sunday’s game, I kind of thought that in January Peyton and Eli messed around in a laboratory and found themselves switching bodies a la Freaky Friday, Vice Versa, et cetera.
9. Denver Broncos (2-0) (+6): Nice assist from the officials, still you got to hand it to Shanahan, he’s got a pair.
10. Arizona Cardinals (2-0) (+3): The Cardinals start 2-0 for the first time since 1991, hopefully for them that's the only thing they share in common with the '91 team which finished 4-12.
11. Buffalo Bills (2-0) (+3): Promising sign: the Bills opened their season 2-0 with both victories coming against teams that made the playoffs last year. In 2007, the Bills were 7-9 overall, but 1-8 against teams with a winning record.
12. San Diego Chargers (0-2) (-5): Yes, they got hosed, and yes, they started poorly last year, but with Denver’s improvement, they can’t count on bouncing back and winning the AFC West easily like they did last year.
13. New Orleans Saints (1-1) (-4): A lot of money was spent in the off-season improving the defense, so far, they're not looking all that improved.
14. New York Jets (1-1) (-2): Perhaps Mangini is not used to coaching a great red zone quarterback, that’s the only excuse for running the ball three consecutive times from the two yard line with Brett Favre playing quarterback.
15. Carolina Panthers (2-0) (+4): After constant underachieving the last few seasons, I am treading cautiously with the Panthers here, but they’ve beaten two quality teams without Steve Smith. He returns Sunday.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1) (+1): I guess Jon Gruden is basing his quarterback starting decisions on lesson learned from Al Davis’ coaching decision practices.
17. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2) (-6): Three of their next four opponents: Colts, Steelers and Broncos. Things are not looking good for Del Rio and crew.
18. Washington Redskins (1-1) (+4): Hard to judge: Did their offense look bad in week one because they were playing a strong Giants defense? Or did they look good in week two because they were playing a weak Saints defense? I am guessing the truth lies somewhere in between.
19. Chicago Bears (1-1) (-3): Another schizophrenic team that’s its too early to judge entirely. The possible loss of Devin Hester will hurt them more than the loss of a special teams specialist has ever hurt a NFL team before.
20. Minnesota Vikings (0-2) (-2): While Ryan Longwell fantasy owners rejoiced, the Vikings have to realize if they are going to be a winning franchise, they cannot settle for field goals five times in a row.
21. Cleveland Browns (0-2) (-1): A tough schedule to open the season, playing two Super Bowl contenders, the Steelers and Cowboys, but, both of these games were in Cleveland, and if the Browns have any hope of making the playoffs, they need to beat teams of this caliber once in a while.
22. San Francisco 49ers (1-1) (+6): Like I was saying last week, Alex Smith was the only factor holding the 49ers back the last three years….
I kid, I kid. Seriously though, I think this game, victory that it was, proves some of my points that this team is suffering larger obstacles that they are just now learning to overcome. Again, the 49ers came out of the gate looking bad, a Nolan speciality, and found themselves in a 14-0 deficit. If this had happened against the Seahawks team of the last four or five years, the 49ers would not have won the game. Also, JT O’Sullivan won’t last the season if he’s routinely getting sacked 8 times. Yes, Seattle has a good defense, but either the line needs to improve rapidly or O’Sullivan needs to hold on to the ball less. Also, what happened to our run defense? Wasn’t that supposed to be our strong suit with Patrick Willis leading the linebackers? Julius Jones, and last week, Edgerrin James, neither of them exactly studs at this point in their careers, have racked up 100 yard games against them. Apparently, thinking that Seattle’s fourth and fifth wide receiver options would tear us apart, Nolan never made adjustments to the ground attack, lack of game time adjustments being another particular weakness of the coach (although in fairness, the emphasis on the pass, led to two interceptions-one a TD return). Without a few bad decisions (settling for a field goal at the end (Nedney’s miss at the end of regulation) without once trying for the end zone, poor red zone play in general, leaving enough time on the clock to allow the Seahawks to kick a field goal at the end of the half) this could have been an easier win.
Still it’s a quality win on the road in a tough atmosphere. JT (and Martz) brought the sexy back to the QB position, posting the first 300 yard plus effort in the Nolan era. Knowing that Martz will probably have some tricks up his sleeves against the Lions, the team that fired him last season, a win and they’re 2-1 and will have some confidence heading into a tough stretch of four games (@ New Orleans, New England, Philadelphia, @ New York Giants).
23. Houston Texans (0-1) (-): Due to Hurricane Ike, the Texans will not have their first home game until week five. Obviously, it’s not the top priority in Houston right now, but will Reliant Stadium be ready by then?
24. Baltimore Ravens (1-0) (-): The unplanned early bye week means they have 15 consecutive games in a row, but it may have bought a week for running back Willis Maghee to get healthier and ready to play full-time.
25. Seattle Seahawks (0-2) (-4): Mike Holmgren: “Well Jim, this team is all yours after I leave at the end of the season” Jim Mora Jr: “Uh, thanks a lot, big guy”
26. Oakland Raiders (1-1) (+5): Al Davis puts the “fun” and “Al” in dysfunctional owner-coach relationships. If Lane Kiffin is fired before season’s end, he can take some comfort in the fact that his early career is mirroring Mike Shanahan’s.
27. Atlanta Falcons (1-1) (-2): Matt Ryan learns a valuable lesson, you don’t get to play the Detriot Lions every week.
28. Miami Dolphins (0-2) (-2): They looked pretty good last week versus the Jets, this week, they looked very similar to the team that went 1-15 last year.
29. Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) (-): Wasn’t this supposed to be a powerhouse offense?
30. Detroit Lions (0-2) (-): Hard to win when you are spotting teams 21-0 leads in the first quarter each week.
31. Kansas City Chiefs (0-2) (-4): What’s a Tyler Thigpen? If Tampa Bay is offering, and the Chiefs are interested in trying to salvage this season, they should make a play for Jeff Garcia, here are the last six quarterbacks that lead the Chiefs to the playoffs: Trent Green (’03, ’06): drafted by Chargers, came to Chiefs in his fifth season in the league; Elvis Grbac (’00): drafted by 49ers, KC in fourth season; Steve Bono (’95): drafted by Minnesota, KC in ninth season; Joe Montana (’93, ’94): drafted by SF, KC in 14th season; Dave Kreig (’92), drafted by Seattle, KC in 13th season; Steve DeBerg (’90, .91) drafted by Dallas, came to KC in 11th season. Not exactly a quarterback making factory in Kansas.
32. St. Louis Rams (0-2) (-): A bad divorce for both sides thus far: since firing Mike Martz: the Rams are 11-23; teams with Martz as an offensive coordinator are 11-23.