Aaron It Out: Quarter-Pole Analysis

Well, we have officially completed a quarter of the NFL regular season.  It’s gone by so fast!  It seems like just yesterday the Rams were horrible, the Chiefs were an afterthought, and the Patriots looked dominant.  What happened?

I tell you, it’s just one of the things I love about the NFL.  You don’t know what’s going to happen and the standings now could totally flip by the time the season is over.  That’s just how it is – the NFL is full of surprises, and there is plenty to talk about this week.

I have absolutely got to lead off this week with the Kansas City Chiefs.  The only undefeated team left in the league, the Chiefs have certainly looked vulnerable at times over the past few weeks.  The difference this year is that they have the confidence to get back out there after an opponent scores or something of that nature and come back to be dominant.  They have loads of talent on offense, and a defense that’s not quite stifling or dominant, but can throw enough looks at an opposing team to make their lives somewhat difficult.

This was most apparent last week against the Redskins.  Washington jumped out to a lead and held onto it for the first half of the game and then some, but the Chiefs held on and overcame their defecit to engineer a win.  Against the Patriots in week 1, a game everyone and their mother thought the Pats would win, the Patriots were up 27-21 through a portion of the third quarter, and then the Chiefs found something they wanted to attack and scored 21 unanswered points in the 4th quarter, handing the vulnerable-looking Patriots their first loss in the first game of the year.

Part of the Chiefs’ success is the fact that Alex Smith is playing amazing football so far this year.  Smith does seem to rise to the occasion when his apparent successor is drafted; he had a career year his last season in San Francisco as well.  Whether this is Smith’s last season, nobody knows, but Andy Reid and the Chiefs’ offensive coaching staff has adapted the playbook to include a lot of different and unorthodox formations, and some zone-read as well, which Smith ran in college.  It also doesn’t hurt when you have Travis Kelce and amazing rookie RB Kareem Hunt on your squad.

Geoff Schwartz did an excellent job breaking down the Chiefs’ offense in this video, which is totally worth 3 minutes of your time.

A few more quick thoughts from around the league: Did anyone other than me have Buffalo in the tanking pool?  They sure seemed to be having a fire sale, getting rid of Sammy Watkins and others.  However, they currently sit atop the AFC East and just handed a very good Atlanta team their first loss.  Go Bills, for now… the Patriots have about nine or ten more weeks to get their act together.  They have two losses to teams everyone thought they would beat, and narrowly escaped losing to Houston.  The AFC Wild Card spots will be taken up by at least one AFC West team, if not two; if New England loses the division, they may be at home in January… the Giants are literally wasting the remainder of Eli Manning’s career.  He is capable of being a solid QB, but with that line and that defense playing, he can’t carry the whole team on his back… the Cowboys are starting to look very, very vulnerable… DeShaun Watson may be the best quarterback to come out of the 2017 draft.  He is very legit.

The Chargers are in trouble – they have a head coach that looks out of his element and tells his players to “just have fun” and they are having trouble selling out a soccer stadium that doesn’t even sit 30k.  To make matters worse, they had to tarp off some seats.  Why, again, did they move out of San Diego?  The owner has burned all his bridges back to Ron Burgundy’s favorite city, and he’s gotta be thinking, “I immediately regret this decision.”  However, they likely won’t go back to San Diego without a new stadium deal in place (Qualcomm is, by all accounts, horrid, although likely not as bad as the O.Co field in Oakland).  What happens to them, you ask?  Either they somehow miraculously get better and make people care (which, yeah right, that will never happen to the team that wasted Philip Rivers’ career worse than the Dolphins wasted Marino’s), they move back to San Diego and get a new stadium going, or… and stay with me here… they go to London.  Admittedly putting a team in London on a permanent basis is five years or more away, but if Los Angeles doesn’t pan out, SOMEBODY’s gotta do it.

In Jacksonville, the team’s woes begin and end with their quarterback, Mr. Balakay Bortles.  Yes, he of the up-and-down weeks, Mr. Inconsistent, Mr. Money-If-By-Money-You-Mean-Bills.  When Bortles is playing well, the Jags look good (see: week 1 against the Texans and week 3 against the Ravens).  When Bortles is not playing well, for whatever reason, the Jags look bad (at least on offense), and the defense cannot win them games on their own, no matter how good they are.

The Jaguars’ coaching staff has tried their best to remove Bortles from the outcome of the games.  They make his routes easy, they do their best to give the ball to the running backs.  But there are times that Bortles makes the team look like a joke.  They are wasting their defense and they are wasting their surprisingly good offensive line because they won’t move on a quarterback.  The narrative throughout the preseason that “Oh, a new QB won’t have time to learn the offense” and so forth has been destroyed by the Colts’ trading for and starting Jacoby Brissett, who is not elite by any means but I’d rather have him starting for the Jags than Bortles.

And here we are again, after saying time after time that we should have gone QB in the draft.  “But what about the running game?” you may ask.  The Jaguars, instead of going Fournette-Robinson in rounds 1 and 2 this past draft, could certainly have gone Watson-Robinson-Hunt in rounds 1 through 3 and made out with some dynamic players.

But, you know, here we are again.

What are my expectations?  I will honestly be surprised if the Jags beat the Steelers, and the Rams don’t look like the easy win everyone figured they would be when they come to town in week six.  If Bortles has another bad game against the Steelers, expect boos in the stadium no matter what when the team returns home.  I will not be surprised if Bortles is pulled during another bad outing in one of the next two games – and you should be able to tell the team’s thinking by seeing whether Nassib is inactive on game day.  But man, either the Jags need to pump Bortles full of sunshine and rainbows to bring out another solid performance, or pull the plug before the season is wasted.

I also think the time will be right to dump Dave Caldwell at the end of this season, along with Bortles (hello, Baker Mayfield! Welcome to Jacksonville).  The argument that Caldwell turned it around with his drafting in the last couple of years is, to me, irrelevant.  The best cornerback of the decade most likely fell to him, and one of the best running backs in the SEC fell to him as well.  That is not an excuse for massively whiffing on your supposed franchise quarterback.

Enough of my incoherent rambling, you want to point and laugh at how wrong my game picks are!  Here we go:

AARON’S TOP FIVE, WEEK FIVE

  1. Chiefs
  2. Rams
  3. Lions
  4. Falcons
  5. Broncos

WEEK 5 GAME PICKS

PATRIOTS @ BUCS – Both of these teams are vulnerable and it doesn’t appear they know who they are yet.  Doug Martin is back and it would not shock me to see Tampa take it here, but there’s a few teams that Belichick will impose his will on, and the Bucs are usually one of them.  I’ll say the Patriots win.

NINERS @ COLTS – The Colts took one on the chin against the Seahawks but they are deceptively good and gradually getting better as Brissett settles into the system and becomes more familiar with his new teammates – and the collective leadership of the Colts takes a huge sigh of relief and don’t have to rush Luck back now.  They are also in better shape than the Niners.  Colts win at home.

JETS @ BROWNS – After their showing last week, the Jets look much better than the Browns do right now, and are doing more with their talent.  This may be largely decided by the running backs, but that’s okay with New York.  Jets win.

JAGUARS @ STEELERS – This will be the first major challenge for the Jags’ defense this season; all the talent on the Steelers offense will make for a long game, although the patchwork offensive line and aging Roethlisberger both add a wrinkle that may give the Jaguars an advantage.  Can the offense capitalize?  I’m gonna go ahead and say no. The Steelers win.

CHARGERS @ GIANTS – If two 0-4 teams face off and nobody is there to watch it, does it actually happen?  Probably not, but this game is happening, and I’ll say the Giants finally win.

BILLS @ BENGALS – This game didn’t look so intriguing until the Bills started winning; this one will be a test of their resolve and desire to impose their will on the outcome of a game, because it does look doable.  I think the Bills win.

PANTHERS @ LIONS – The Lions and Panthers are both coming off feel-good wins and that makes this matchup very intriguing to me.  However, I give Stafford and company a bit more credit because of their being at home.  Lions win, maybe.

TITANS @ DOLPHINS – The Titans are without Mariota so Jay “Mr. Indifference” Cutler and company should be able to take care of business at their long-awaited home opener.  Dolphins win.

CARDINALS @ EAGLES – The Cardinals and Eagles both won their games last week which is good for them, but despite going to overtime, it seemed to me that Arizona won a little more decisively.  I’ll say that they have the better chance here, and call a Cardinals win.

RAVENS @ RAIDERS – Baltimore has gone from top of the world to bottom of the trash heap so far this season, and the Raiders have come off of cloud nine to cloud one or two after a good start to the year.  That said, even though the Raiders will be without Derek Carr, the Ravens haven’t played well on long trips so far this year, so I think the Raiders win.

SEAHAWKS @ RAMS – It took a few mental errors by the Colts for Seattle to get going last Sunday, and the Rams look far superior offensively.  The Rams should win this.

PACKERS @ COWBOYS – This matchup is intriguing because of the NFC divisional game last season, but also because the Cowboys look extremely vulnerable this year and are solidly behind Philly (for now) in the division.  I think Green Bay comes down and, even though they definitely look vulnerable, take advantage of the game and go back with a Packers win.

CHIEFS @ TEXANS – Option vs. option, who ya got?  The Texans are also running a bit more option with their offense due to the presence of DeShaun Watson, but their defense hasn’t played against it as much as Kansas City’s has this year.  I look at this matchup and, while KC does have to lose at some point, this is Alex Smith’s chance to once again take it to his opponent on a national stage, and I think he will utilize the talent around him and do it.  Chiefs win.

VIKINGS @ BEARS – Mitch Trubisky’s first start, the Vikes’ first game without Dalvin Cook.  No matter how bad this game is going to be, Minnesota has a much better defense and a greater chance to win this game.  Vikings win.

See you next week!

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