Two weeks is just 1/8th of the way into the NFL season ... but that doesn't mean it's too soon to jump to some conclusions. Actually, it probably is too early ... but what is the NFL season for, if not for wild speculation based on very small sample sizes?
And for such an exercise, what we're going to need is a Jump to Conclusions Mat, the brainchild of business legend Tom Smykowski.
Among the eight conclusions that we can jump to, or not jump to, in this hopefully-recurring series: Are the Patriots unbeatable? Does Norv Turner have a prayer? Is Steve Smith the NFL's best wide receiver? Can the Packers actually win the NFC? And is there any chance that Rex Grossman won't absolutely cripple the Bears?
(Also at the bottom: The Yankees are now within 2½ games of the Red Sox ... Donovan McNabb would like to tell you what it's like to be a black quarterback, but you're right, you probably already know better than he does ... Mark Ecko is a goofball ... and Tank Johnson is gainfully employed once again ... )
1. The New England Patriots Can't Be Stopped.
I'm Not Jumping. If all I had to base this answer on were the two game tapes (preferably the ones showing the games, not just the defensive coordinators, not that Bob Sutton isn't a handsome gray-haired devil) of the Patriots/Jets and Chargers/Patriots games ... I'd almost have to jump here.
And the fact that I'm not jumping has less to do with the Patriots than it does with the Indianapolis Colts ... don't we still have an obligation to at least mention the Colts in any discussion of potentially dominant teams?
New England's been damn near flawless thus far (so long as you aren't judging on honesty and integrity). What I would mention, though, is that the two teams they've played are both at least a little bit overrated at the moment.
The Chargers are playing at about 40% of their potential right now (see Conclusion #4), and I never felt like the Jets were as good as their record indicated last year ... not to mention that they played Week 1 with a combination of Kellen Clemens and a gimped-up Chad Pennington under center for most of the second half.
Now, that's not to say I haven't been awed and frightened by the Patriots through two weeks ... the Death Star appears to be, as the say, fully operational. Randy Moss has delivered about the best-case scenario, Wes Welker is more dangerous than he gets credit for, and the defense, spurred by Adalius Thomas, looks younger and quicker than they have in years. Most teams won't play as well all year as the Patriots are in Week 2.
That said ... the Colts still exist, they still have Peyton Manning, and they can still light up the scoreboard against anyone. They beat the hell from New Orleans in Week 1, and got a division road win in Tennessee in Week 2. I'd argue that playing in Tennessee is the toughest challenge either of the two teams have faced to this point, and the Colts passed it.
The Patriots have been awe-inspiring. But unbeatable? Let's wait on that.
2. Larry Johnson Is in for a Long Year.
I'm Jumping. Imagine this was your first year playing fantasy football ... you come into it with no previous knowledge, no experience, no grasp of who's good and who's not in the NFL ... you bring the same skill set to the fantasy football table as would Liza Minelli.
So you go out, and you buy two or three fantasy football magazines ... and they all tell you that you can't go wrong with LaDainian Tomlinson, Steven Jackson, or Larry Johnson.
Right now, you'd be screaming, "Screw these magazines!" as you stood pouring gasoline over them and reaching for the matches. You'd have been better off buying an issue of Better Homes and Gardens and just picking a name out of a hat for your first rounder.
And of the three thought-to-be studs previously mentioned, Larry Johnson's the least likely to find his form. Tomlinson's been the most worthless to this point (see Conclusion #4), with Jackson not far behind ... but I think they'll both eventually bust loose. Larry Johnson, though ... he's fighting an uphill battle.
His biggest problem is that the team around him just isn't very good. The Chiefs are currently 28th in the league in yards per game, 29th in first downs per game, and 31st in points per game. The one thing they have had on offense is tremendous balance, as their running and passing games both suck equally. And I don't see them getting better.
With San Diego, you have an offense with Tomlinson, Philip Rivers, and Antonio Gates, and St. Louis, there's Jackson, Marc Bulger, and Torry Holt ... both teams are too talented offensively not to pull it together at some point. Johnson, Damon Huard, and Dwayne Bowe, however ... well, I have a little less faith.
3. Mike Tomlin Was a Good Hire for the Steelers.
I'm Jumping.. You could chalk up the Steelers numbers so far to a ridiculously weak opening schedule, and it's true ... playing the Browns and Bills is almost like an extension of the preseason, where the Steelers finished things up against the 3rd-string units from Philadelphia and Carolina.
But you can't ignore the impressive fashion in which the Steelers have trampled their meek opponents. They're averaging 30 points per game, giving up five points per game ... they're rolling up 392.5 yards per game offensively, and giving up just 222 ... and they're tied for the NFL lead with 10 sacks through two games. I don't care who you're playing, that's an impressive handling of business.
The Steelers were a big question mark coming into the season: No one knew how much they'd miss Bill Cowher, how effective the secondary could be, if Ben Roethlisberger could read, or if the ongoing love affair between Steely McBeam and Najeh Davenport would be a distraction.
But the Steelers look happy, organized, and confident. It's been as seamless as coaching changes get, in stark contrast to Conclusion #4 ...
4. Norv Turner Was a Bad Hire for the Chargers.
I'm Jumping. In fact, I'm sprinting in the direction of this spot on the Jump to Conclusions mat ... and I'm carrying a baseball bat to club to death anyone who gets in my way.
What was the big positive for the Chargers in hiring Norv Turner? Continuity. They were still running the same offense Turner installed himself back when he was the Chargers offensive coordinator, so there weren't supposed to be any hiccups in the transition. Same with the defense ... Norv brought in Ted Cottrell to run the same aggressive, blitzing, 3-4 scheme that Wade Phillips ran. With Norv, continuity was the key.
But I don't think the Chargers meant continuity from the playoff loss to New England, as much as they meant continuity from their dazzling 14-2 2006 regular season. They're getting more the former than the latter.
And if you're not going to get that promised continuity from Norv ... what exactly are you getting? A rosy-faced doofus named Norv, that's what you're getting.
You're getting a LaDainian Tomlinson who's running like his shoes and socks have been replaced by a thick layer of maple syrup. You're getting a Philip Rivers who's looking like he's regressed to about his sophomore year at NC State. You're getting a defense that the Patriots just exposed like Britney Spears' hoo-hoo-dilly while she's getting out of a limousine.
5. Steve Smith Is the NFL's Best Wide Receiver.
I'm Jumping. I almost always believe that the NFL's MVP should be a quarterback. QBs are, by far and away, the most important component to an offense ... at least half the plays in a game are decided on a QB's decision making and physical abilities. But for the Carolina Panthers, I'll make an exception.
Anyone want to take a guess at what the Panthers would look like without Steve Smith? Smith's receiving yards account for 36.6% of the Panthers total offense, and he's scored 2/3rds of his team's touchdowns. Chad Johnson and Randy Moss both have more yards per game than Smith ... but 85 has Carson Palmer, and TJ Houshmandzadeh to help him out, and Moss has Tom Brady and a running game.
What's Smith got? Jake Delhomme, a running back platoon of DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams, and to draw defenders away from him on the opposite side of the field ... Drew Carter? And yet, Smith still goes out and gashes opposing defenses for whatever he wants.
6. The Packers Will Eventually Fade to .500 or Below.
I'm Not Jumping. Look around the NFC, and tell me who can claim to be clearly better than the Pack. Dallas? Fine. After that ... I'm not saying there aren't better teams, but no one's in a position to claim it at the moment.
Their wins so far are over the Eagles and the Giants ... not a murderer's row, but pretty representative of the rest of the NFC. If the Packers can handle those two, who can't they handle?
I don't know if there's a game on their schedule that you'd say wasn't winnable. They do have Dallas on the road in Week 13, which will be tough. Other than their division games (which are all winnable), they get to play the Chargers in Week 3 while they're still mired in the tragedy that is Norv (see Conclusion #4), they have Washington at home, Denver on the road, Carolina at home, and the Rams on the road.
That's it. Those are the difficult games on Green Bay's schedule.
For the past few years now, I've just wanted Brett Favre to retire and go enjoy life shopping for belt buckles and mowing his lawn. It was sad to see him flailing away on Packers teams that were so obviously going nowhere.
And honestly, from a talent standpoint, I can't tell you what the difference is between those teams and this team ... on paper, this one doesn't look so great, either. But something seems to be clicking for them. and I see no reason why it can't continue.
7. Rex Grossman is Hopeless.
I'm Jumping. Last year, there was Good Rex and Bad Rex, and generally, if Good Rex showed up, the Bears won. In games where Bad Rex showed up, they were still around .500.
So far in 2007, only Bad Rex exists ... and the Bears are .500.
There are seven players who have thrown passes in the NFL this year that have QB ratings lower than Rex Grossman's. They are: J.T. O'Sullivan, Tarvaris Jackson, Ronald Curry, Luke McCown, Anthony Wright, Charlie Frye, and Kerry Collins. This not is hallowed company.
I honestly believe that if Lovie Smith showed up for a game hammered one Sunday and opted to make every third offensive play the Bears ran a 60-yard bomb, that Rex, Lovie, and everyone in Chicago would be much happier.
But the more interceptions Rex throws, the more the Bears want to bail out and make him a dinker-dunker in the mold of Jeff Garcia, and that's just not his game. It strips away his confidence, he becomes timid, he holds on to the ball too long, and he makes bad decisions ... and the more he does this, the less likely Lovie Smith is to just let Rex get loose back there. It's a vicious cycle.
Rex is like Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing ... you want him to be like everyone else, but he'll just sit in the corner and wilt. But if Lovie Smith were to take his hand, point to a 50-yard post play on his wristband, and say "Nobody puts Rexy in a corner," then Good Rex could surface once again.
Won't happen, though.
8. The Houston Texas Are Actually Kinda Good.
I'm Jumping. I'm jumping, and I'm stomping on it with authority. The Texans are a complete unit, finally with a quarterback who understands that you're supposed to throw the ball before being engulfed by a defensive lineman.
Matt Schaub has been more than solid to open the season, and depending on Andre Johnson's health, could progress into one of the league's best QBs as the season goes on. The Ahman Green signing looks good so far (color me surprised), and Andre Johnson is a bona fide weapon in the class of Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens, or Steve Smith.
The defense might not have the most impressive numbers at the moment, but consider that after giving up 14 points to Carolina in the first quarter this past Sunday, they tightened up and didn't allow another score until late in the 4th quarter, when their offense had already put up 34 straight points.
This team's for real ... real enough to contend for a wildcard spot in the AFC.
Sticking with the Office Space theme ... enjoy Sun Tiantian's O-face.
|Donovan McNabb: "Racism Exists." General Public: "NUH-UH!"
Donovan McNabb says that life is a little tougher for black quarterbacks than it is for white quarterbacks ... and predictably, the reaction, largely from people who will never be black or a quarterback, is an emphatic, confident, 100% assured, "NO IT'S NOT!"
I'm not going to say that McNabb is right or wrong ... I have no idea what it's like to be in his shoes, let alone to be in his shoes if he were white. What I don't understand is why people find his assertions so difficult to even consider. I haven't been watching Fox News much recently ... did I miss the news that all racial matters in the United States have been decided, and everything's fair and equal now? Has racism been eradicated at some point over the last 48 hours? Because that would be sweet.
I wouldn't find it difficult to believe if a black politician said he was judged a little more harshly because of the color of his skin ... or a black police officer ... or a black garbage man ... or a black actor ... or a black doctor ... or a black yoga instructor.
People have biases ... even people who don't think they have biases. There is a race problem in this country, and in this world. Is there any reason that Donovan McNabb, or NFL quarterbacks would be exempt from it?
When I first became aware of McNabb's comments, it didn't even register with me as a story ... he says black quarterbacks have to do a little bit extra, I don't think Donovan McNabb is a liar, and I don't find what he said shocking or difficult to believe ... I didn't think it would be a story.
The bigger story is our need to immediately shout him down and insist that he couldn't possibly be right, despite the fact that he's in a better position to judge than just about anyone on earth.
|Because Texas Needs More Gun Owners ...
Former Chicago Bears defensive tackle and current NFL pariah Tank Johnson is back on an NFL roster ... sort of. The Cowboys signed him, though he won't be eligible to actually play until Week 9.
Jerry Jones has never been one to shy away from guys with perceived character problems ... after all, he did sign Tony Romo, whose great, great, great, great, great, grandmother was a dirty, dirty, whore.
Anyway, I'm glad to see Tank back in the mix, and the Cowboys can certainly use the depth (and any knowledge he might be able to share about the Bears defense before Sunday). He deserved another chance.
|I Vote for D) This Designer Fellow Shoves It Up His Asterisk ...
What's happening with the Barry Bonds 756th home run ball is dumb. A clothing designer named Mark Ecko bought it, and because he's a clever man of the people, he's letting everyone vote on what to do with it ... the options are A) Give it to the Hall of Fame, B) Brand it With an Asterisk, Then Give it to the Hall of Fame, or C) Launch it into Outer Space.
I'm voting to blast it into outer space, because THAT WILL SHOW ... actually, that won't show anyone anything. It'll just mean there's a baseball floating around in space. The Hall can live without it. Barry Bonds can live without it. The baseball fans of the world can live without it. I just want Mark Ecko to spend as much of his money as possible on absolutely nothing.
My guess is that it'll end up being given to the Hall of Fame, with the asterisk on it ... and that the Hall of Fame will say, "No thanks, douchebag." There's no shortage of 756 memorabilia ... certainly not enough of a shortage so that the Hall of Fame would have to stoop to displaying an object that's been modified and disfigured at the whim of a fashion designer.
Lori Chalupny. Miss Chalupny scored in the first minute of the Team USA's game against Nigeria in the Women's World Cup ... we're now set to play a quarterfinal game against England. That'll go down Saturday morning at 8 a.m. Eastern. I'm really looking forward to waking up several hours later and seeing if we won.
Eric Gagne. Gagne blew another save for the Red Sox last night, letting the Yankees within 2½ games of the Red Sox for the lead in the AL East.
"We've had some weird games this past week," catcher Jason Varitek said. "Those things happen throughout a season. You don't want them to happen now but we need to focus on what we need to do to make things right."Weird? I don't know what's so weird about it. It's Gagne's 4th blown save since joining the Red Sox ... frankly, it would have been weird if he had nailed down the win. I fully expect some insane Boston fan to kidnap him before the playoffs start.
The Yankees have 11 games left to play, and the Red Sox 10. It's amazing that the Yanks are even this close ... people were discussing whether or not it was too soon to throw dirt on their graves back around June.
Deserving Of Your Full Attention ...
2:30, ESPN2. UEFA Cup Soccer. Sporting Clube de Portugal vs. Manchester United. It's Cristiano Ronaldo vs. his former club ... ah, you don't care. You'll probably be at work anyway.
Other Stuff ...
7:00, ESPNU. Women's College Volleyball. American @ Army.
8:00, ESPN. MLB. Reds @ Cubs.
8:00, CBS. Kid Nation.
10:00, ESPN Classic. 1993. Seattle Supersonics @ Phoenix Suns.