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First Month Review of the NFL

(The Verge)- Believe it or not, we have already completed the first quarter of the 2012 NFL season. We have seen many surprises, upsets, and late game heroics. First off, what better way to end week four knowing that the “real” referees are here, and yes, they did stand up. Now that the proper officials are in place, especially after last week’s Monday night debacle, teams can have confidence knowing the right call will be made. The game may also change slightly due to the more experienced officials suiting up. Defensive backs will have to be less aggressive  holding opposing players, and linemen will have to watch their hands with more capable refs now back in business.
Now, for the shock of the season to this point: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your 4-0, wait for it, Arizona Cardinals? Yes, the Cards are impressively undefeated…playing dominant defense, and seemingly solving the quarterback situation. Their impressive thrashing of the Eagles last week is their most impressive feat thus far. They lead a vastly improved division by quarterback Kevin Kolb and all pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald. However, they are likely to face stiff competition the rest of the way. Previous division champion San Francisco has won 3 of their first 4, and returns many players from last years team. They added depth at wide receiver with Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, and first round pick AJ Jenkins. They also return the league’s most dominant defense, and are sure to challenge for the division crown. The competition doesn’t stop there; the Seattle Seahawks showed they have a fierce defense in sacking Packer’s reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers eight times on national television last Monday. Their charismatic rookie quarterback Russell Wilson is possibly the feel good story of the season to this point, and he leads an offense with play-makers Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Marshawn Lynch and company. The Seahawks are a force to be reckoned with. Last in the NFC West we have the St. Louis Rams, who were not supposed to contend, but find themselves at a steady 2-2 after the first month. Top draft choice Sam Bradford continues to improve and veteran tailback Steven Jackson make the Ram’s offense better than people think. They have their work cut out for them in a tough division, but it should be interesting to see how the west unfolds.

Pictured here is new Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Image taken from: cdn.newsday.com

Next, we look at the usually wild, AFC West. Headlining this division is the return to the game made by Peyton Manning, who after four games, seems to have picked up where he left off. He has quickly made third year receiver Demarius Thomas his favorite target, and the results have been impressive as Denver has won three of their first four. They also return a defense that was top ten a season ago with reigning defensive rookie of the year Von Miller. Denver will be challenged by the seemingly unpredictable San Diego Chargers. Philip Rivers is sure to always keep his team in the game, but they will need consistency from running back Ryan Matthews. He needs to stay healthy and correct his fumble problems if the Chargers offense wants to reach the next level. San Diego also needs to be consistent as team, rather than having to make late season pushes as we have seen in years past. Further up north in Oakland, the Raiders face several questions. Can Carson Palmer regain pro bowl form? Will they ever have a healthy Darren Mcfadden for 16 games? Most importantly, will they find some way to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2002? Only they can choose their fate. The potential is there, but we can only wonder if the performance will be too. Last but definitely not least in the division is Kansas City. This is a team with much to prove. After winning the division two years ago, they know they have the potential to be dangerous. They get quarterback Matt Cassel back from injury, Jamaal Charles reutrns from an ACL tear, and promising safety Eric Berry also returns from a major injury to bolster the defense. They have started slowly at 1-3, but have the pieces to contend as the season progresses.
Moving to the old “black and blue” division, the NFC North, the Packers look to move forward after last year’s disappointing playoff loss in the divisional round. Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers is among the league’s elite and will headline a potent Green Bay offense. However, if the Packers want to reach the promised land, they must improve their defense which proved to be their downfall last season. They have started strong at 3-1. Next, the Detroit Lions look to build off last season’s playoff appearance. An offense with the league’s best receiver in Calvin Johnson is sure to put up points, but they must improve their defense and commit less penalties than last year (they were in the top 10). They have struggled thus far winning only once in their first four.  Over in Chicago the enigmatic Jay Cutler leads a Bear’s offense with plenty of potential. Matt Forte is solid in the backfield, and Brandon Marshall will make many plays on the outside, but the Bears have to play with consistency, something they have had difficulty finding in years past. They have began 2-1 and face a challenge against Dallas tomorrow night. The surprise of the division is Minnesota. They have won three out of four and seen star running back Adrian Peterson make a successful return from an ACL tear. Tight end Kyle Rudolph is an excellent red zone target for second year QB Christian Ponder, and a solid run defense make the Vikings a sleeper team in 2012.
The AFC north seems to be the same old story. The Ravens have the talent required to make a run at the Lombardi trophy, but will need Joe Flacco to lead them there. His play in last season’s AFC title game showed he is ready to take the next step. Combine that with top tier running back Ray Rice and a usually stout defense, and the Ravens have started strong at 3-1. Division rival Pittsburgh will also look to contend with Big Ben leading his offense and Dick Lebeau’s dominant 3-4 defense. This formula has not changed much over the past few years, and should propel Pittsburgh to a playoff berth come season’s end. However, they will need to kick it into high gear after a rough 1-3 start. Upstart Cincinnati looks to further their success led by one of the best young cores of talents in the league. Andy Dalton, AJ Green, and Jermaine Gresham highlight a potentially explosive offense. The Bengals have started fast at 3-1 and don’t show signs of slowing down. And then there is the Cleveland Browns. An 0-4 start and is doesn’t look better with a rookie QB and a struggling defense.
Moving down south in the AFC, the Texans have established themselves as a dominant team. They are a perfect 4-0 and don’t show any signs of stopping. Arian Foster,
Arian Foster, Houston’s dominant running back, has helped turn the Texans into a dominant team. Image taken from: ww3.hdnux.com

Matt Schaub, and Andre Johnson are three major players on offense that are sure to put up points. Combine that with a young, athletic defense that was top 5 last year, and you have a very solid team moving forward. The rest of the division features young, inexperienced quarterbacks. Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert has struggled immensely, his team is 1-3, Tennessee’s Jake Locker has struggled, along with frustrated running back Chris Johnson, the Titans also 1-3, and Andrew Luck’s Colts are 1-2. All young QB’s need to improve if they want their team’s to progress.
Over in the NFC South, the Atlanta Falcons look like Superbowl caliber contenders. Matt Ryan is in the MVP discussion already. His nine touchdowns to one interception is tops in the league. Pair that with pro bowl receiver Roddy White and and a vastly improved defense, and you have a serious contender in Atlanta. The real shocker of the division is New Orleans. After all the off season controversy, the Saints have struggled mightily thus far. Drew Brees and the always dangerous New Orleans offense has put up points as expected, but turnovers and lapses on defense have been their weaknesses thus far. Tampa Bay has continued to struggle after last season’s disappointing 4-12 finish. Quarterback Josh Freeman has been very inconsistent, and their secondary has given up too many big plays to win games. Finally, Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers have gotten off to a rocky start again this year. Cam has excited with his athleticism, but their run game has been on and off, and defense has been one of the worst in the league to this point. Their 1-3 start tells all about Carolina’s rough beginning.
The media savvy AFC East has provided us with some interesting performances to this point. The Jets started fast in week one, but have not played well since and stand at 2-2. There is much controversy as to who should be the starting QB with the Tim Tebow rumors running wild. The remainder of the season will tell a lot about the Jets’ future. Rival New England has also had its share of hardships this season as well. After back to back heart breaking loses to Arizona and Baltimore, the Patriots righted the ship against Buffalo with a big win. Tom Brady and company are known to be one of the most consistent franchises in the league, but will the early difficulties be a negative omen? The next three months will tell us. Buffalo has shown its talent with emerging tailback CJ Spiller flashing his talent in several games. For his success to continue, he will need to stay healthy. His injury problems are already being felt, and need to end for the Bills to be dynamic offensively. Lastly, the Miami Dolphins are looking to move forward, but are still rebuilding with rookie QB Ryan Tannehill commanding the offense. They will also need veteran running back Reggie Bush to maintain top form to move the ball. Defensively, an average 3-4 defense makes for an uncomfortable season outlook, as they have began 1-3.
Finally, the NFC East is proving to be a division with numerous contenders. The defending champion New York Giants have to sort out some issues if they want to repeat. First, the offensive line needs to protect Eli Manning better, and provide more push for the run game. Next they must get healthy in the secondary and eliminate allowing opposing receivers to work in space. They are 2-2 and need to improve if they want to be playing in January. Next, the Eagles currently lead the division at 3-1, but must improve. They have won three games by a combined four points, and have seen Michael Vick turn the ball over too much. They know what needs to be done, now time to execute. Thirdly, the Dallas Cowboys are looking to finally make a deep post season run. Tony Romo is in top form, and an improved secondary makes Dallas legitimate contenders.  They sit at 2-1 and are looking to progress. Last on the list is the Washington Redskins. Rookie QB Robert Griffin is already opening eyes with his athleticism and excitement, but will need help from his run game, and better play from his defense if the 2-2 ‘Skins want to grab a spot in the post season.
Ramses Barden, the Burress-like Giants receiver, has helped and hurt the team thus far, but his squad seems to be stuck in another tough year of NFC East competition. Image taken from: sinfl.files.wordpress.com

One Reply to “First Month Review of the NFL

  1. packers are 2-2 but I appreciate you giving them credit for the win they deserved last monday night haha

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