If you couldn’t tell already, this is going to be one damn good NFL season. There have already been so many interesting stories and changes, and the effects of those changes are clear throughout the league. This week involved several developments that shake up how we may have viewed divisions in the past, as well as former “weak” and “pathetic” teams looking like extremely powerful and legitimate playoff contenders.
The Buffalo Bills are ecstatic after beating the New England Patriots for the first time in 15 match ups and eight years, which is an NFL record they are happy to break. It is the first time in years and years that the Bills are actually featured on Sportscenter. That does make sense considering they were arguably one of the most forgettable teams in the league over the past five years. The difference for the Bills now is that they are being led by the smart, efficient quarterbacking of Ryan Fitzpatrick, the playmaking of Stevie Johnson and the full package that Fred Jackson brings to the table as a running back. This week, however, it was their defense that impressed me most. They managed to get four interceptions off of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, last year’s season total for him. Unfortunately, I don’t know if I’m quite ready to consider this team a contender for the playoffs just yet. They still give up a lot of points, albeit to good offenses, and we have yet to see if they can perform consistently over more than just a few weeks. If this preview is anything like the full season, however, the Bills will certainly be for real.
The Detroit Lions, the only other team to not make the postseason after the turn of the millennium, are pushing their best start since 1980 at 3-0. I know, even with Barry Sanders they couldn’t start that well. They beat their division rivals this week in overtime, showing the league that they can be clutch when they need be. Quarterback Matt Stafford has been incredible, and showed no signs of slowing down, especially with Calvin “Megatron” Johnson making it easy by clearing the path for him. I get reminded of the days of Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss when I see these two in conjunction. It seems like as long as it is a decent ball in his vicinity, Johnson will get it. That’s not to mention his six touchdowns in three games, which most receivers don’t even get in a whole year. With Nick Fairley coming back from injury to join the lineup soon, complementing Suh on the inside, their defense will be as formidable as any. I feel like they have as much as an opportunity to get to the offseason as any team in the NFC.
The Houston Texans have the best opportunity in their history to win the AFC South. The Indianapolis Colts are in shambles without Manning, and it seems he may be out for the season. The Titans just lost a huge part of their offense as Kenny Britt is out for the year, not to mention their lack of a running game. The Jaguars are completely dependant on Maurice Jones-Drew on offense while Blaine Gabbert progresses. Still, the Texans themselves have improved greatly. Even without Arian Foster, their offense still functions as explosively as ever, and their defense, namely their secondary, has made great improvements with their new members from the offseason. It was nice to see them hold back the Saints and Drew Brees until the second half. I almost guarantee that the Texans will be in the playoffs this year.
The Oakland Raiders and New York Giants were also impressive this week. Although many people believe the Chargers will win their division, the Raiders are making some noise, definitively beating the Jets this weekend. The Giants defeated the Philadelphia Eagles this week – almost with ease once Vick was taken out of the game – exhibiting that they still have the potential to win the division. They won due to the efforts of Victor Cruz and two picks from Aaron Ross, even with the loss of depth at wide receiver and defensive back. It seems as though the deciding factor for the NFC East may just be which team can adapt to their injury issues the best. At least it seems that way as Vick has been pushing himself, the Giants secondary barely has anyone left and the whole of the Cowboys offense has gone through an injury already. That’s not to mention the huge problem at center with snapping the ball on offense.
All of these teams and factors are sure to make this season interesting and present opportunities to teams that never had chances in the years prior. I look forward to what these teams plan to do to continue their success and how the playoff picture will turn out by the end of the season.
Contact Albert Raminfard at [email protected]