Christmas List for NFL Teams
by Trevor Whenham - 12/21/2006
Christmas is just a few days away, so I thought I would help the big, jolly guy in the red suit out a bit. He's got a lot of work to do, so he probably doesn't get to watch sports as much as he would like to, and he therefore probably can't keep track of what some NFL teams need for Christmas. I, on the other hand, spend more time than is normal, or healthy, watching and following the league, so I have a few ideas:
Indianapolis Colts - The obvious answer would be that they need a run defense, but that definitely won't fit in a sack, and even Santa can't perform miracles. Instead, what the Colts need is a scapegoat. Unless something changes dramatically between now and January, this is not a team that is built for playoff success. At times, like against Cincinnati, they look more than competent. Their more regular look, though, is an often seemingly somewhat disorganized offense paired with a defense that is full of injuries and is almost unbelievably inept. They're headed for their standard playoff meltdown, and somebody's head will end up on a stake.
Jacksonville Jaguars - Some freaking consistency. The Jags have won by more than two touchdowns four times this season. Each time they have followed up that impressive showing with an equally unimpressive loss the next week. Their win against Indianapolis was among the best performances of the year by any team. Their first loss to Houston was among the worst. They are just 4-5 straight up when they are favored. As far as I am concerned, there isn't a team in the league that has been harder to handicap this year. They are almost always good enough to seduce me to back them, but not good enough to cover nearly often enough.
Seattle Seahawks - Takeaways. The defending NFC champs don't look anything like a team that is going to defend that title (though the NFC is so bad that anything is possible). There are a lot of things to blame for that - free agent losses, injuries to key players, a lack of productivity from the running game. The biggest difference in my mind, though, is the turnover differential. Last year, the Seahawks were a respectable +9 in turnover differential, which was the third best total in the NFC. So far this year they are -7. They are about the same on the takeaway side, but they have done a totally lousy job of protecting the ball this year. They have fumbled almost twice as much, and the have thrown well over twice as many interceptions this year (20) than they did last year (nine), and there are still two games left. It's as simple as this - good teams protect the ball. Seattle needs to improve quickly and dramatically, and Santa may be the only way to pull that off.
New England Patriots - Make every down a fourth down. The Pats have attempted to convert on fourth down 19 times this season, the second most in the league. They have converted 15 times, an astounding 78.9 percent rate. By contrast, New England's bitter AFC rival, the Colts, have only tried four fourth down plays, and they have failed to get the first down even once. Tom Brady has had some challenges at times this year, and the offense is not particularly dynamic, but when this team needs a big play at a crucial time, they usually get it.
Washington Redskins - A pass rush. The Redskins have a world of problems (starting in the owner's box, but that's a topic for another article). One of the most glaring issues is their inability to put pressure on the quarterback. They have 17 sacks on the season, four fewer than the next worst team. Their 17 sacks is just one more than half of the average sacks, 32, that teams in the league have, and the leader, San Diego, has more than three times more. When you don't have a consistent offense of your own, you can't afford to let the opposing quarterback have the time to control the tempo of the game. It's not a wonder Washington has only covered five times. The power of the pass rush was evident in their last game. The performance against New Orleans was probably their best of the season. They blitzed Drew Brees from all over the place, he never got comfortable as they sacked him twice and hurried him much more and the Washington was able to win in a major upset.
San Diego Chargers - Humility. The way people are talking about this team they are not only the best team in the NFL, but every single player can walk on water. I have little doubt that they are the best team in the league, and that they are the team most likely to win the Super Bowl at this moment, but the cart is way in front of the horse right now. The team hasn't exactly been a playoff dynamo in the last several years, their coach is as bad in the playoffs as a coaching legend can be, their two losses, and some of their wins, have exposed vulnerabilities, they rely very heavily on one player for the majority of their offense, and their quarterback, though impressive, is still essentially a rookie. To succeed, the Chargers will have to have the humility to realize that they are not nearly as good as people are suggesting they are, and that they will still have to play at their best to get what everyone seems to think that they deserve. Ask Indianapolis about that.