Handicapping Rough Starts for NFL Teams
by Trevor Whenham - 9/26/2012
Teams don’t want to start out 1-2 in the NFL, but this year it seems like that is the “cool” record. Nearly half of the league — 15 of the 32 teams — have started out at this mark. That’s more than we would expect. Some teams at 1-2 are on the road to futility, while others are going to be headed for the playoffs once they get back on track.
Here’s a look at the five most likely to rebound and the three seemingly in the most trouble:
They’ll be fine...
Green Bay Packers
Anyone who was watching football on Monday night knows that these guys really are 2-1. This isn’t the team we saw last year by any means. Most notably, they are doing a lousy job of protecting Aaron Rodgers. if they don’t improve on that front they are going to get him killed. Beyond that, though, they still have a whole lot of talent. Four of their next five are very winnable, so there is a good chance that the team will be back on track and in good shape by the time November rolls around. That is, of course, as long as they don’t let what happened on Monday haunt them and distract them.
New England Patriots
The Patriots were my pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. I could feel better about that pick than I do, but I am far from giving up. They have lost their two games by a total of three points. Against Arizona they played the worst they have played in probably five years and still would have won if they hadn’t missed the final field goal. They need to address some key issues — most notably their protection and their receiver situation. With the experience they have at their core, though, and a reasonably manageable stretch of games before their Week 9 bye, there is no reason to panic yet.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I am higher on this team than most people. The Bucs keep showing flashes of strength — strong defense one game, solid offense the next — but they have yet to have a complete effort. They went through a lot of changes in the offseason, though, and it will take some time for them to get comfortable. One stat fuels my optimism, though — they are the top run stoppers in the league, allowing just 47.3 yards per game. That’s a good foundation to build on. I’m not confident they are a playoff team by any means, but they will be better than many expect.
I really like Jake Locker. In his college days he far outplayed his team, and I think he’ll be a very good pro. He rewarded my faith in him with a brilliant performance last time out against the Lions. That will give his confidence a big boost, and it should help this team going forward. The Titans running game also can’t continue to be as bad as it has been — it’s not possible to be that lousy on a sustained basis. That will make them a tougher team to play. Like Tampa Bay, I’m not at all convinced they are a playoff team, but they will be tougher than expected.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs were the closest to healthy that they have been in a long while last Sunday, and that fueled a very impressive comeback win at New Orleans. This team has special talent in spots on both sides of the ball — with Jamaal Charles standing out above all. They have a very big game at home against the Chargers on Sunday. A win there and I really think this team can win the AFC West.
They are in trouble...
I was never a believer in the Manning experiment in Denver, and nothing I have seen yet has changed my mind. He’s got all the heart and will in the world, but he just doesn’t have the talent or depth around him on either side of the ball to fully compete with elite teams. Games against good teams will be a fight — as they have been so far — and there are too many of those left on the schedule to really be optimistic. I will be surprised to see the Broncos as a serious playoff contender.
Andrew Luck has been everything we expected. Very impressive. He’s only going to get better, too. The problem in the short term, though, is that there just isn’t any talent for him to play with. The rushing game has been questionable. His line struggles to protect him. His defense can’t stop the run. This isn’t a team that is very good yet, and it will take another couple years of strong drafts to change that. The Colts are at the beginning of a positive process, but it takes time to reach the promised land.
St. Louis Rams
I really want to believe in Sam Bradford as a pro, but he keeps making it hard to do so. The Rams have the ability to be pretty good — like they were against Washington. When things don’t go their way, though, they seem to be far too quick to give up the fight. Their defense is mediocre. Offensively the passing game isn’t firing and their running attack isn’t scaring anyone. Most significantly, they don’t play with any heart. I just don’t like this team.
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