We'll talk about baseball in a couple days, when I can handle it. **Sigh**
In the meantime, we're getting into the meat of the NFL season, at which point we really get an idea of who's a contender, who's a pretender, who's a sleeping giant, and who's a disappointment. Since I just rattled off those categories, I think that it may be appropriate to try to put teams in those categories based on this past week's performances, and the season as a whole thus far.
Seattle Seahawks -- Just 5-11 last year, but a new fired-up coach, depth (if not excellence) at the skill positions, and improved health defensively have given the 'Hawks a jolt as they sit essentially 2 games up on the Cardinals, thanks to their 22-10 win against Arizona yesterday. Matt Hasselbeck has a few good young targets to throw to (and Mike Williams), and their rush defense is second in the league. Now, let's not go too far here; the NFC West is the most god-awful division I've ever seen. Everyone thought the 49ers would run away with this division, and they're 1-6. The Cardinals' quarterbacks went 12-for-33 for 132 yards and no touchdowns against a Seattle defense that was bottom-ten in the league in pass defense. The Rams are playing better, but they're still the Rams. I'm not saying they are threats to make a run in the playoffs, but making it there? Heck, their halfway to 8 wins, which should be enough to lock down the division.
Kansas City Chiefs -- Now this team had the NUMBER FIVE OVERALL PICK this year, and had won ten games in their last THREE SEASONS. But all of those top draft picks have to work out eventually, right? Well, the Chiefs defense has finally put some of those talented picks (Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Eric Berry...) into a position to make plays. On top of that, they have the best running game in the league! I don't think it's that much of a coincidence that Thomas Jones comes from the best running game in the league last year and helps the Chiefs get their ground game rolling as well. I guess he's not done (attn: fantasy draft gurus). Not only that, but they have a few young, talented playmakers in Dexter McCluster, Jamaal Charles, and DWAYNE BOWE that are making Matt Cassel look good, despite the fact that Bill Belichick clearly had some voodoo going when Cassel led the Patriots to an 11-5 record two years ago. The Chargers and Broncos are clearly quite flawed after both suffered embarrassing losses this week, and the Raiders are not good enough defensively to keep up with teams. They've played tough against contenders in the Colts and Texans, and I think they could surprise some people if Cassel can get it together consistently.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Yes, they're 4 and 2 after a late win against the also-better-than-we-thought Rams. Yes, they're getting much improved play out of the quarterback and have a top-10 pass defense. But it's not hard to have a top-ten pass defense when you face Jake Delhomme, Matt Moore, Charlie Batch, Carson Palmer, and Sam Bradford in five out of your first six games. Not to mention that they're 31st against the run, and will face in the next six weeks the Beanie Wells/Tim Hightower tandem without a passing game to take touches away, Michael Turner twice, Williams and Stewart in Carolina, Frank Gore, and Ray Rice. If they can't run the ball or stop the run, I'm not seeing much from this team in the second half. I think they'll stick around for a little and maybe put up 8-8, but in that division they won't sniff the playoffs. The Saints are hurting in the backfield and the Falcons showed yesterday that they can bludgeon people.
Tennessee Titans -- I know, I know, they just beat the Eagles (badly) without their starting quarterback. Chris Johnson, yeah, I know. But when Vince Young is in the lineup, they just don't have a passing game, and if teams line up to stuff Johnson, it appears that (this year, at least) they can contain him. The pass defense had allowed an average of over 370 yards in the three weeks prior to the Eagles game, and they haven't played the Colts or Texans yet. Yes, the Colts are having a down year, but Peyton Manning is the best regular-season quarterback we may have ever seen. This is not a team built for shootouts, and the latter part of their season is going to be full of them. Again, I think that they will win 8, maybe 9 games, but a playoff berth doesn't look likely from where I'm standing.
New Orleans Saints -- I mentioned them earlier as a team beset by injury, and that's my argument here. Last year, they were a top-5 passing and rushing offense, and that underrated run game kept them balanced and allowed Brees to have so many open receivers. With Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush ailing for longer than expected, Brees has had to try to will the team to victory, and twice has cost the team victories by throwing interceptions that get returned for touchdowns. The Saints' pass defense which was so opportunistic last year has forced half the turnovers it had last year, despite allowing under 200 yards per game. This team is a couple big plays (and missed field goals) away from being undefeated, and they have only 3 or 4 tough games left in the schedule. I think they get it together and get healthy, and at least make a wild card spot behind the Falcons. At that point, with that offense, they could easily make another magical playoff run.
San Diego Chargers -- This team has the number one offense AND defense (yardage-wise) in the league, and yet is 2-5. Not only that, but they have four losses against teams who were in the bottom ten of the league last year. Of course, the Vincent Jackson/Marcus McNeill holdouts and Tomlinson departure are hurting something, but the offense seems fine. The Chargers win their game yesterday if they don't lose two fumbles on plays where Chargers players fail to understand the rules of the game. Both of their top receivers are out with injury, and their first-round pick at running back is just getting back into the swing of things. Their team is playing too well overall for them to fall apart like this. Not to mention, THE CHARGERS DO THIS ALL THE TIME! They started 2-3 last year and finished 13-3, started 3-5 in '08 and finished 8-8 (making the playoffs), and started 3-3 in '07 and finished 11-5. Chill, people.
Dallas Cowboys -- Disappointment with a capital D. For Dallas. And "Don't even think about playing the Super Bowl in your own stadium." They get a chance to redeem themselves against the division-leading Giants tonight to get to within a game and a half of the lead, but this is a team that has all the talent in the world (especially offensively), a top-10 defense in terms of yards allowed, and a Pro-Bowl Jessica-Simpson-less quarterback. Oh, wait. Tony Romo's NOT Troy Aikman or Roger Staubach? They don't WANT to run the ball with what was one of the top backfields in the league just last year? They get called for excessive celebration and get burned for it MORE THAN ONCE??? This team, like the rest of the NFC East, has some serious trouble on the offensive line and in general discipline. They are one of the top-five most penalized teams in the league, and seem to just not want to do the things that one would think would help win them games. Romo, Wade Phillips, and co. just don't have the psychological "stuff" to win big games. They just don't.
Cincinnati Bengals -- What happened? This team, mostly the same as it was last year but with an improved receiving core, swept the very-competitive NFC North last year en route to a division title. Unfortunately, they got trounced by the Jets in Week 17 and the Wild Card round, and haven't been the same since. They ran the ball and played solid D last year, and are 19th rushing and 20th defensively this year. Yes, they're throwing it a bunch and TO and Ochocinco are happy, but Carson Palmer does not look like anything close to an elite quarterback right now, and despite all the yards they keep LOSING. Maybe you should give Benson and Bernard Scott the rock a little more? The defense has allowed the Patriots and Falcons to absolutely trounce them, and Palmer has thrown away games to the Browns and Buccaneers. Their division (and schedule in general) is too tough for them to fall behind like this, and once they lose a couple more games we'll hear the rumblings from Batman and Robin. The weird part is that no one really could have seen this coming.
Oh, and congratulations to Kenny Britt and Darren McFadden for frustrating fantasy owners everywhere. Great job there, sport.