By Brian Spencer
Detroit Lions (2-5): In years past, a 2-5 mark in the standings next to the Lions likely meant two things: they were lucky to get those two wins, and they were probably on their way to 2-10. Not these Lions. The offense has suddenly become explosive, and is ranked first in the NFC at 26.1 points per. Perhaps more importantly, they’re fielding the NFL’s best defensive line–yep, I said it, the best–and superstar rookie DT Ndamukong Suh (27 tackles, 7 sacks, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery, 1 TD!) is running away with Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl honors.
This just might be the most exciting young team in the NFL. At 2-5, all indications are that the Lions are on their way up–nobody will be looking forward to playing them in the last half of the season.
Oh, shades of “the same old Lions” still haunt and threaten this team–the special teams coverage against the Redskins last week nearly killed them, and the inopportune fumbles are troubling–but unlike in years past, this group has proven they are not quitters and they are not going to be rolled over by just anybody. If there was any justice in the world they’d be posthumously awarded the win they deserved in Week 1 over the Bears, and at 3-5 actually be harboring realistic playoff hopes in the weak NFC; technically they are still in the hunt, you never know, but it’s unlikely. They still need another strong offseason, and history shows GM Martin Mayhew has it in him to make the right moves.
Don’t laugh, but this week’s home tilt against the New York Jets is the first legitimate measuring-stick game this franchise has been involved in for years. Vegas has only installed the visiting Super Bowl contender as 3.5-point favorites; could the Lions actually pull this one out? Yes, yes they can. They might not, but they can.
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4): So remind me again what the plan is here this season? Next season? Five years from now? Are the Jags trying to build around Maurice Jones-Drew? Are they or are they not confident in David Garrard? What kind of team are they trying to build? Can anybody outside of Jacksonville name more than one player on that starting defense? Can anybody in Jacksonville name more than one? I didn’t think so.
In this parity-driven league, the bland, directionless Jaguars are .500 and still firmly in the playoff picture, but I’m not sure I’ve seen a worse, more discombobulated-looking team than this one is. Kudos for their 35-17 thrashing of the Dallas Cowboys, and a job well done to the much-maligned Garrard for absolutely lighting up that porous ‘Boys defense (17-21 for 260 yards, 5 total TDs), but on most weeks this team is just brutal to watch; their -61 point differential on the season is proof.
The second half of their schedule should bring the Jags back down to earth, and that’s the best thing that could actually happen for this franchise. Outside of MJD there really aren’t many building blocks here, and they desperately need to start accumulating some. Head coach Jack Del Rio needs a playoff berth to keep his job, but even that might not be enough. Two things I still can’t figure out: how they managed to beat the Indianapolis Colts in Week 4, and why this franchise hasn’t been relocated yet.
Thoughts on the Bears, Cowboys, Chiefs, Saints, and Vikings after the break…
Chicago Bears (4-3): We’ve been calling the Bears frauds ever since their fraudulent Week 1 “win” over the Lions, and we’ll continue calling them that until they definitively prove us wrong. Mike Martz’s offenses are designed to put up points and get his quarterback bludgeoned in the process, and to that extent it’s been a successful run so far… at least in the latter category. Jay Cutler has been sacked a league-most 27 times (in just six games), while the offense is only averaging 18 per.
Coming off their bye week, the Bears head to Buffalo–actually, the game will be played in Toronto–to take on the 0-7 Bills this Sunday. Vegas has them as 3-point favorites; take the under, the Bills are walking away winners, and the Bears’ second-half slide will be underway.
Dallas Cowboys (1-6): You’re probably just as tired of hearing about the Cowboys as I am, so I’ll leave it at this: the 0-7 Buffalo Bills play with heart. The 1-6 Carolina Panthers have it in them to at least be called gamers. The Dallas Cowboys? They’re worse than both of those teams, and that makes them the NFL’s worst team in the first half of the season.
Kansas City Chiefs (5-2): I would never have even remotely considered myself a Chiefs fan… before this season. Matt Cassel is still a flawed starting quarterback and still doesn’t seem like the long-term answer there, but he has, at least, shaken off a horrid start and proven he can at least be a capable game manager; in today’s NFL, and with that league-leading rushing attack, that should be enough to keep this up-and-comer at the top of the NFC West and vault them into the playoffs.
Before you jump on the bandwagon with me, however, it’s worth noting that their five wins have come against teams with a combined 11-27 record, but like the Lions, there’s a different feel about the Chiefs than in years past. They have attitude, they have confidence… they have the NFL’s fifth-best defense in points allowed! Arrowhead Stadium’s longtime home-field advantage is back. And as long as we’re talking about their schedule, at the moment it looks like the Yellow Brick Road: none of their remaining seven opponents (they play Denver and Oakland twice) has better than a .500 record.
New Orleans Saints (5-3): A Halloween night win over the Pittsburgh Steelers might prove to be the kick in the ass this team sorely needed. Groggy all season long with an apparent Super Bowl hangover, the Saints were fortunate to sleepwalk to a shaky 4-3 start, with their first three wins coming by a total of 10 points over teams who now have a combined 5-17 record. In other words, they were this close from potentially being 3-4, even 2-5 heading into their matchup with the Steelers.
But, they weren’t, they were 4-3, and now get a chance to prove they’re “back” this week at Carolina, a team they edged 16-14 in Week 4. This defense still has issues, they’re going to have to figure out how to run the ball more effectively and more consistently, and I need to see Drew Brees and his cadre of interchangable parts string together a few successive strong outings before I cross them off my list of concerns. Still, they’re better than their 5-3 record and I expect them to enjoy a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Minnesota Vikings (2-5): Last time I checked, nobody was calling head coach Brad Childress a genius… so what makes this man so arrogant? I get it: he didn’t like Randy Moss’s postgame press conference and wasn’t going to tolerate insubordination.
Boo fucking hoo, Brad. You should have been waived first.
Somebody remind this guy that his franchise just coughed up a third-round pick to acquire Moss. Somebody remind him that he’s the one who bent over and spread his cheeks wide for Brett Favre. He’s played a leading role in creating this unfortunate trainwreck, and he’s the one who should fall on the sword. There’s a dead air floating around this franchise right now, and all I can think is “poor Adrian Peterson.”