NFL: What We Know at the Season’s Quarter Pole

4 weeks down.  Time flies when we’re having fun watching games doesn’t it?

So what do we know?  Here is a breakdown by division of how all 32 teams look one month in.

AFC EAST

  1. New England Patriots (2-2): So this team hasn’t been good at all, with Monday Night being the ugly icing on the early season cake.  Sure they’ve won 2, but they weren’t impressive wins.  Tom Brady and the offense have not looked good at all.  The only receiver that has looked good has been Julian Edelman, and that ended Monday as well.  Not to mention how terrible the defense looked on the road in Kansas City.  They couldn’t defend the run or pass.  Makes it kind of hard to win when you can’t do much in any phase of the game. They’re lucky to be tied for first.
  2. Buffalo Bills (2-2): Kyle Orton is in at quarter, E.J. Manuel is out despite the .500 record.  This team got off to a fast start, mostly on the strength of their run game and defense.  And while neither of those phases has dropped off much in weeks 3 and 4, Manuel hasn’t helped, hence the change.  That being said, I don’t think Orton makes this team any better.  But hey, with how even these teams seem early on, maybe the run game and defense can keep them in the race for the long haul.
  3. Miami Dolphins (2-2): Joe Philbin has been reluctant to name Ryan Tannehill the starting quarterback early in the week.  And this week, Tannehill showed him why it shouldn’t even be a question. Sure they played the Raiders, but if you simply look at Tannehill’s decision making and throws, you saw the guy Miami has been waiting for; completing 23-of-31 passes for 278 yards and 2 touchdowns.
  4. New York Jets (1-3): Could it be time for a quarterback change? I don’t think so, but it’s not long off.  Geno Smith has had moments of greatest, but this team continues to shoot themselves in the foot.  New York should really be no worse than 2-2.  But between poorly called timeouts, 2nd year QB growing pains, no secondary and not using their running backs properly, they sit at the bottom of the East.

AFC NORTH

  1. Cincinnati Bengals (3-0): Talk about a team that got the bye way too early. They’ve made the start of their season look easy.  Andy Dalton is earning his new contract, even catching a TD pass in their week 3 victory.  This is a team that has made the playoffs each of the last 3 seasons, but were knocked out in the first round every time.  If they continue to play like this all season, and can stay relatively healthy, Cincy is poised to not only challenge for a first round bye, but make a deep playoff run.
  2. Baltimore Ravens (3-1): A perennial playoff team, this week they put everything together to look like a playoff contender once again.  What a game for veteran wide-receiver Steve Smith against his former Panthers team! Not to mention how well the defense kept down Cam Newton.  And to be succeeding despite all the off-the-field drama revolving around Ray Rice, shows the strength of the guys in the locker room to put all outside issues out of their mind between the lines.
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2): This team has been hard to figure out for a few years now, and the start to this season is no different.  Blowing leads to bad teams left and right, the steel curtain looked more like a bead curtain as they allowed the win-less Bucs comeback in grand fashion.  They have the running back and they have the quarterback to get back in this.
  4. Cleveland Browns (1-2): They’ve had their bye, and get two of their injured stars back thanks to it.  Jordan Cameron and Ben Tate will play Sunday, and that should help their struggling offense.  The defense was the highlight to start the season, and Brian Hoyer has shown he can lead this team to victory.  Improvement is what this team is looking for, not a playoff berth this season.

AFC SOUTH

  1. Houston Texans (3-1): Remember when this team finished 2013-14 on a 14-game losing streak?  Well talk about a turnaround!  The defense was pretty good last season, and this year is no different.  Other than laying an egg against the Giants in week 3, they’ve been stout, led by early MVP candidate JJ Watt.  A former Defensive Player of the Year, Watt has scored on a pick 6, continues to sack at will, as well lined up at tight-end more than once. It also helps that Ryan Fitzpatrick has brought stability to the quarterback position.
  2. Indianapolis Colts (2-2): The first two weeks were very different than the next two.  But that isn’t something to be too happy about, as  they’ve shown they can beat the bad teams, not the good teams.  Last season Andrew Luck was able to lead this team to big wins over the Seahawks and Broncos.  So we know he can lead this team, now we just need to see it this season.  Their first test comes against the red-hot Ravens in week 5.
  3. Tennessee Titans (1-3): Defense has been an issue, offense has been an issue.  Only two teams have allowed more points than the Titans, while only three others have scored fewer.  Not the recipe for success.  Tight-end Delanie Walker, despite an injury, has been a bright spot.  The good news, they’ve played just one home game, so there’s room for improvement.
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4): They’re heading straight for another number 1 pick in the draft.  It’s a young team that I think made a mistake not starting QB Blake Bortles out of the gate.  Jacksonville had to know that they weren’t going to compete for a playoff spot, and needs to get their young pieces as many reps together as possible.  At this rate, you’re looking for some sort of improvement as the season wears on.

AFC WEST

  1. San Diego Chargers (3-1): They snuck into the playoffs a season ago thanks to a 2nd half surge.  The way they’re playing so far suggests there will be no sneaking necessary.  Only 3 teams have allowed fewer points, while QB Philip Rivers is 6th in passing yards, 1st in completion percentage and has thrown just 1 interception.  The only negative was the loss of Danny Woodhead, leading to a running back by committee situation.
  2. Denver Broncos (2-1): The 2013 runner-ups have had two weeks to think about their first loss of the season, an OT loss to the Seahawks in week 3.  The time should have helped Wes Welker get back on track, after a pre-season injury and two game suspension limited him.  The defense has been solid, but they need more out of the run game in order to be a balanced team.  If Peyton Manning continues to be Peyton Manning, and stays healthy, a deep postseason run is in the cards again.
  3. Kansas City Chiefs (2-2): Just when you thought this team might take a step back from last season, they completely dominate the Patriots on Monday Night Football. Jamaal Charles was impossible to stop. Alex Smith helped eat clock with short completion passes.  And the defense was relentless.  They’re in a tough division, but they can definitely make some noise if they play close to how they looked in week 4 on a consistent basis.
  4. Oakland Raiders (0-4): Head coach Dennis Allen barely survived the flight back from London.  Charles Woodson called out the team early on.  The worst scoring team in the league, Maruice Jones-Drew has been a serious downgrade at running back from Rashad Jennings.  Derek Carr has taken over at QB and is showing rookie growing pains. New Head Coach Tony Sparano thinks the team can turn things around, I just think he’s spouting lines you say when you get a new job.

NFC EAST 

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (3-1): Despite the run game not being what we thought it would be, this team finds itself amongst the NFL’s best through the first quarter of the season.  Nick Foles has done a good job making last season not look like a fluke.  The defense has been pretty good, and they were one of the 3 teams to start the season 3-0.  But they have shown vulnerability, and with the Boys and Giants looking stronger than a year ago, a repeat as East champs isn’t a given.
  2. Dallas Cowboys (3-1): Remember when we all thought this team was going to have a historically bad defense? Well, that hasn’t been the case.  They aren’t the leagues best either, but the offense is starting fire on all cylinders after a rocky start.  DeMarco Murray is getting back to being an elite back, leading the league by more than a 100 rushing yardsm while Tony Romo continues to look horrible one day, spectacular the next.  They’re in good shape to at least give themselves a good shot at breaking a 3-year string of finishing the season at 808.
  3. New York Giants (2-2): For as bad as this offense looked the first 6 quarters of the season, this team could be 3-1.  Eli Manning has never been a high completion percentage guy, but the past two weeks he has been on point like few others.  Much like his postseason stats, in wins, he has a 6-1 touchdown to interception ratio.  Add to that a good defensive effort all year, a run game that’s coming on and a breakout from tight-end Larry Donnell, this team looks poised to prove some people wrong.
  4. Washington Redskins (1-3): Their point differential doesn’t tell the whole story.  Kirk Cousins has looked out-of-sorts at times, especially in week 4 against the Giants.  DeSean Jackson hasn’t been the play-maker they thought they were getting.  They put up a good fight against the Eagles, but the defense couldn’t make the stops needed.  RGIII continues to be hurt, and if they can’t get production from the former Rookie of the Year, they’re not going far, no matter how adequate Cousins can be.

NFC NORTH

  1. Detroit Lions (3-1): Boy is this team putting something together! They’ve had the talent for years, but now everyone is living up to it, particularly on defense.  I mean they’ve already made the Packers offense look terrible. The offense has always been sharp, led by Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.  This could be the year they get to, and advance in the playoffs.
  2. Green Bay Packers (2-2): I laughed when people said Olivia Munn was why Aaron Rodgers and offense have looked off early.  If completing nearly 67% of your passes for 9 touchdowns to 1 interception is off, than I think he’ll be okay.  They haven’t looked good on the road, but still have 7 home games to come, meaning many of them will be in the cold, adding to the home field advantage that is Lambeau Field.
  3. Minnesota Vikings (2-2): Adrian Peterson and his off-the-field issues have left a gaping hole on offense.  But Teddy Bridgewater got off to quite the start.  The defense has been pretty good, and to be 2-2 without Peterson, in a balanced division, is pretty impressive.  I don’t know how long it can last, but you’ve gotta be happy with how the on-the-field product has looked.
  4. Chicago Bears (2-2): It’s not easy to go 2-0 on the road.  It’s also not easy to go 0-2 at home.  The up-and-down Bears have a fairly even points allowed to points scored ratio.  Jay Cutler has been pretty good getting his team into the endzone, but as a whole the offense is in the middle of the pack.  As is the defense, hence the 2-2 record putting them at the bottom of the division early.

NFC SOUTH

  1. Atlanta Falcons (2-2): Their best game came in week 1 when they took down the Saints at home.  They’ve been a different team on the road.  Good teams win at home, great ones win everywhere.  Matt Ryan has the weapons but the defense has been too inconsistent.  A road win would boost this teams confidence, but heading to New York in Week 5 to take on an invigorated Giants team might be too much to overcome.
  2. Carolina Panthers (2-2): If you asked me if the defense would be the problem early on, I’d think you were crazy.  If anything, I’d have thought Cam Newton’s injury concerns would slow down Carolina.  It has, but allowing nearly 20 more points than you’ve scored doesn’t help.  This team got a taste of success last season, so look for them to look to that feeling to help propel them going forward.
  3. New Orleans Saints (1-3): I did not see this start coming for Drew Brees and company.  The defense has looked awful, the offense not much better.  They’re first two losses were late game collapses, their 3rd an ugly blowout from the Cowboys on Sunday Night.  If there’s anyone who can get his team turned around it’s Brees, but in a conference that has seen the NFC East get off to a better start overall than expected, coupled with a tough Western division, you’re only guaranteed one spot coming out of the South.
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3): A change back to Mike Glennon under center, and a porous Steelers defense helped them avoid an 0-4 start.  But if they want to be success going forward, the run game needs to get involved, as well as more consistency from their defense.  Many thought they’d be good this season because of their defense, and there’s still time for them to be respectable thanks to it.

NFC WEST

  1. Arizona Cardinals (3-0): Carlson Palmer goes down, and Drew Stanton picks up the slack.  The defense has been the best in the league through 4 games, allowing just 11 points a game.  They’re not the most impressive undefeated team ever, but it’s hard to win games in the National Football League, and they’ve managed to win all 3 this season.  If they can find a way to split with the Seahawks and 49ers, they could steal a Wild Card spot, or even the division.  To me, it all hinges on the quarterback play.  We know the team can play defense.
  2. Seattle Seahawks (2-1): Despite a loss to San Diego, this team looks like one ready to repeat.  They’ve had their bye, so it will be interesting to see if conditioning comes into play late.  You could be concerned about blowing a big lead late to the Broncos in week 3, or you can focus on the championship type drive Russell Wilson orchestrated in overtime.  Marshawn Lynch is still a beast.  Richard Sherman doesn’t get challenged.  This team is good. Simple as that.
  3. San Francisco 49ers: (2-2)  Colin Kaepernick’s TD to interception ratio is nothing to write home about at 6 to 4. They’re playing close games, leaving no room for error.  A loss in division puts them behind the 8 ball, but of course they have 5 more chances to get back on track. The Niners defense is in the top half in points allowed per game.  If they want to get past the Cards and Hawks, they need to get more consistent on both sides of the football.
  4. St. Louis Rams (1-2): Losing Sam Bradford before the season began put this team back.  I thought they’d make improvements this season, and of course they still can.  Their defense is pretty good, something I am not surprised about.  Hard to place the offense, as they’ve only played three games, but I can say it’s not a competitive offense, and therefore not a competitive team.  Another top pick in the draft awaits St. Louis.
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Hello Playoffs Part II – Preview & Predictions

Center Court - Game 1 2013 Playoffs vs Bulls

Center Court – Game 1 2013 Playoffs vs Bulls

Remember when the Brooklyn Nets were 10-21 and coming off an ugly blowout to the San Antonio Spurs on the final day of 2013? Remember when they opened up 2014 with a Joe Johnson game-winner over the Oklahoma City Thunder the next day?

Sound familiar?  It should. Except for a slightly better record to start things out last year, it’s the same thing that happened last season during the Nets inaugural season in Brooklyn.  Two years in a row this team has turned things around after a blowout loss and a big win over the top teams in the Western Conference.
Last year Brooklyn  finished the regular season at 49-33.  They were never 11 games under last season, and yet only finished with 5 more losses than this year. Two different teams in may ways? Sure.  But they do share similar regular season story-lines.
However, that is where the similarities end.  Because what we thought would be a rematch of the Bulls-Nets series of a year ago, has turned into a 3-6 match-up between division foes.  A rough end to the season for Brooklyn dropped them to the 6th seat and into a 1st round bout with the Toronto Raptors.
The two teams split the season series 2-2, and boy was their final match-up of the regular season exciting.  Yours truly was there in person, and when I say it’s one of the best basketball games I’ve ever seen, I’m not exaggerating.  Runs, big shot after big shot by both clubs ending in a Nets 101-9 win at Barclays Center.
Toronto wasn’t supposed to be here.  Going into the season, thoughts were they’d tank the season and hope to get a top 3 pick in this years loaded draft, and maybe land Canadian star Andrew Wiggins.  That was made, what we thought more evident when the Raptors traded away Rudy Gay early in the season.  Yet here we are, getting ready to watch them host a first round match-up as Atlantic Division Champs.  Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan pu this team on their athletic backs and drove them into the postseason.
Athletic. Young. And hungry.  That’s the Toronto Raptors in a nutshell.  And the Nets should be afraid.  What couldve been a defensive battle has turned into an offensive slug-fest.  Both teams have been crazy good in 2014, but as the Nets limp into the playoffs, the Raptors have continued their hot play.  Inexperience up and down the lineup has to do battle with the veteran laden Nets squad.
For Brooklyn to have success, they have to limit turnovers.  Toronto’s speed can turn those into easy buckets in transition.  Not to mention Mason Plumlee, Kevin Garnett and (if he gets minutes), Andray Blatche have to do work down low.  Without Brook Lopez, they’ve been limited as far as having a rim defender, and though he’s not a great rebounding big man, Lopez makes you work for 2nd chance opportunities.  The Raptors front court of Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and Terrence Ross are quick, strong and not afraid to attack the paint.
But for me, the biggest match-up comes in the back court.  Lowry and DeRozan are one of the better scoring back-courts in the league.  Deron Williams has issues defending smaller, quicker guards, though Shaun Livingston’s presence will help.
So are the Nets better off in the 6th or would they have been better suited for that rematch with the Chicago Bulls?  Only time will tell, but I think if both teams play to the high levels seen since January, you can bet it’s going to be a fun and intense series.

So what will be some of the keys heading into this series if the Nets want to avoid being knocked out by the Bulls in two consecutive seasons?

  • Kevin Garnett must be healthy. You don’t need 30 minutes from him with Mason Plumlee playing well, but KG’s still a great defensive player, and their only real rim defender. He also has a fire that burns even brighter in the playoffs. This is why he was brought over in the off-season. Since returning from the back spasms, he’s looked very good.  Maybe the time off his legs will mean big performances coming up.
  • Deron Williams needs to be on every game.  Remember when he carried this team to the playoffs last season? He’s shown flashes of that player this season, but needs to show it more than once or twice a week. Shaun Livingston has been remarkable this season, but Brooklyn only goes as far as D-Will and his max contract can take them.
  • Mirza Teletovic and/or Marcus Thornton need to be consistent sparks off the bench. The Bulls can defend with the best of them, but when these players get hot, it doesn’t matter who is on them.  If they can come in, especially if the starters get off to a slow start, and hit a couple of 3s quickly, this team can possibly rattle a young Raptors squad.
  • Plumlee and Livingston need to limit the bad early fouls.  They’re too important to be on the bench too quickly.  The rookie is the energy of this front court, while Shaun is the same in the back.  Starting alongside Williams means you’ve got your two best ball handlers on the court for a majority of the game, and while Alan Anderson and Joe Johnson can handle the rock, that’s not what you want too often.   And as for Plumlee, this team isn’t deep at center, especially if you have to limit KG’s minutes.
  • Paul Pierce. Like KG, his postseason pedigree is a huge reason why he was traded for, and he’s shown he can still carry a team on his back.  If he gets established early, look  out.
  • And the biggest one? Rebounding. They’re a terrible rebounding team, but they still find ways to win.  Brooklyn has to try to limit Noah and Boozer from killing them too badly on the boards.  The Nets ability to force  turnovers will have to help counter act this.

There’s no reason this version of the Brooklyn Nets shouldn’t make it out of the first round.    The biggest problem last season was toughness.  Chicago manhandled every person that took the court for Brooklyn.  While this team is perceived as “old,” they’ve shown they’re not afraid of anyone.   They’ve looked better overall this season in that department, and should get past their division foes.  Falling back to 6 also means advancing on would mean a possible 2nd round date with the Miami Heat, who they were 4-0 against, as opposed to seeing Indiana, who they dropped all 4 against in the regular season.

So how far do you think the Nets go? Let your voice be heard and vote on the poll below.

With all that being said, here’s how I see the playoffs going from start to finish.

Eastern Conference Round 1                         Western Conference Round 1            

(1) Indiana  vs (8) Atlanta – Pacers in 5                      (1) San Antonio vs (8) Dallas – Spurs in 5

(2) Miami vs (7) Charlotte  – Heat in 5                           (2) Oklahoma City vs (7) Memphis – Thunder in 6

(3) Toronto vs (6) Brooklyn – Nets in 6                           (3) LA vs (6) Golden State – Clips in 6

(4) Chicago vs (5) Washington – Bulls in 6                (4) Houston vs (5) Portland – Rockets in 6

  • Toronto wasn’t supposed to be here, they were thought to be rebuilding.  Yet here they are, the 3 seed and Atlantic Division champs.  And Washington hadn’t been over .500 since 2009-2010, and started off the season just as bad as Brooklyn did. And out west, the Clippers and Warriors hate each other. Both can run, both have deadly shooters who can get hot quickly.  And don’t get me started on their point guards. But for second straight season, Golden State will be without their best post defender in Andrew Bogut, and I see the size of DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Glen Perkins just being too much for the Warriors to overcome.  Memphis is hot coming in, but the Spurs aren’t going down in round one, and neither with OKC.  Houston plays little defense, and Portland isn’t any better.  Give me Dwight Howard, Chandler Parson and James Harden any day over LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews.  Indy has been struggling, but the Hawks tried with all their might not to make it to the postseason, and I think the Pacers will make it look easy.  Charlotte might give Miami issues, but I don’t see much more than 1 win and a bunch of close losses.

Eastern Conference Round 2                        Western Conference Round 2

(1) Indiana vs (3) Chicago – Chicago in 7                  (1) San Antonio vs (4) Houston – Spurs in 6

(2) Miami vs (5) Brooklyn – Heat in 6                          (2) OKC vs (4) Clippers – Thunder in 6

  • I wanted to pick the Nets, and if they’d closed out on a higher note, I would have. But I they get past the 1st round and no more.  Miami will find a way to make the plays they didn’t down the stretch, especially with a healthy Wade on the floor.  The Pacers can’t score, but neither can the Bulls.  But Chicago’s defense is just better, and I think they find a way.  Out west it should be a lot of fun, but the Spurs are better defensively and I just think it’s the Thunder’s time.  LA and Chris Paul need a 2nd round appearance, but I think next year is a better year for the Clips to make it any further.

Eastern Conference Finals                    Western Conference Finals

(1) Miami vs (3) Chicago – Heat in 6                 (1) San Antonio vs (2) Oklahoma City – Thunder in 6

  • Chicago’s good luck runs out.  I can’t pick against Miami at home.  OKC match-ups up better than any of the other 28 teams in the league with San Antonio, and despite not holding home court, I see a rematch of the 2012 Finals.

NBA Finals  

(1) Oklahoma City vs (2) Miami – THUNDER WIN in 7

  •  I think it’s time for my 2013-14 MVP, Kevin Durant, to win his first ring, and I think he gets it.  The Heat might make a 4th straight finals, but they’re going to be tired.  The Westbrook injury was a blessing in disguise for OKC.  It means fresh legs, the bench will be ready to pick up the slack and the sidekick Durant was missing last season.  And if it should be Spurs in the finals, I say revenge for last season.  The West has been miles ahead of the East all year, and I think it means a championship for whatever team gets out.

So that’s it. Nothing left to do but sit back and watch a whole lot of really good basketball for the next month and a half. Oh the horror!

And here’s a not so shameless plug on my personal blog – stick with Sirius XM NBA Radio Channel 217 and on the Sirius XM App before and after games for great analysis and guests throughout the postseason and beyond.

Enjoy the run towards a ring everyone. May the best team win!