Recapping the First Month of the 2012 NFL Season
Now that the calendar has flipped to October, most pro football pundits and prognosticators are busy handing out monthly grades or reshuffling their misguided Super Bowl picks because that’s the easy and trite thing to do when columns, blogs and two-minute segments need to be filled. Yay, the Cardinals received an A for going undefeated. How cute, the little fellas over at ESPN are convinced we’re on a collision course for a Texans-49ers Super Bowl. Whatever. Here’s what really mattered in the first month of the 2012 NFL season.
- Defense Strikes Back
After a 2011 season that saw three guys toss for 5000 yards and another seven go for 4000, it was a given defenses would respond in 2012. Well, they have so far and with a vengeance. Nine of the ten teams that are 4-0 or 3-1 have yielded less than 90 points through four games, led by Arizona's 61 points allowed. The only holdout is Cincinnati, who have curiously scored just as many points as they've given up (112). Nevertheless, touchdowns were hard to come by in September. It will be interesting to see if offenses adjust in October.
- Karma Police
You'd have to pretty naive to believe that under the table incentives of one kind or another haven't been commonplace in NFL locker rooms throughout the decades. But unlike in previous years, the New Orleans Saints got caught with their hands in the bounty jar, and life for them has been a pile of dogshit ever since. The Football Gods giveth and the Football Gods taketh away. The Cajuns got their Lombardi Trophy in 2009. Now they're getting their just deserts. With the 3-1 Chargers coming to town on Sunday night, the Aints could be staring at 0-5 heading into their bye. Ouch.
- Won’t Get Fooled Again
Speaking of those 3-1 San Diego Chargers, they have the makings of being a big ol' tease again. Their three wins have come against opponents with a combined record of 3-9, and their lone defeat was a crushing beatdown by the undefeated Falcons. In other words, they are a pig in lipstick. Trust Norv Turner and Philip Rivers and Ryan Mathews and Antonio Gates and an incredibly soft schedule if you must. But just remember we've been down this rocky road before with the Bolts and it always ends in disappointment.
- Ryan’s Express
All that Matty Ice preseason hype came to fruition in the opening month. He completed nearly 70% of his passes and his 11 touchdowns ranks second in the league. Dude is ballin'. Unfortunately for Ryan, what he accomplishes in the regular season means bupkis. He can win the MVP and replace Aaron Rodgers as the darling of the league, but until he delivers in January he'll never enter the elite class of signal-callers. A pre-Halloween visit to Philly will be his first major test in 2012. So far, so good.
- See Ya Next Year
The Browns, Jaguars, Titans, Chiefs and Raiders are abysmal, which is evidence of how weak the AFC is as a conference. Add a fading Jets team that just lost its best defensive and offensive players for the season and rebuilding (yet intriguing) Colts and Dolphins squads, and the list of legitimate contenders becomes smaller. It must suck to know your season is shot after one month, but none of the these dregs has the talent to rebound. The path for the Texans, Ravens and Patriots just got a lot easier.
- Bizarre Birds
They've scored the fourth fewest points, have a -5 turnover ratio, were humiliated in the desert by the Cards and have won three games by a total of four points. Love 'em or loathe 'em, these are the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles. Michael Vick is playing reckless, the duo of Jackson-Maclin has been underwhelming and the offensive line is fielding practice squad players. Lucky for Andy Reid he has Shady McCoy and a steadily improving defense to pick up the slack. Bottom line: the Eagles remain an epic conundrum.
- Tecmo Bills
No team plays video game pigskin quite like the Buffalo Bills. They score in bunches, give up points in bunches, collapse in embarrassing fashion, and generally look a hot mess on Sundays. That said, they sure as hell can't be accused of being boring. CJ Spiller alone, when healthy, is worth the price of admission. Not to mention Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is the purest definition of a poor man's Bret Favre. If you want to win at Madden, just copy Chan Gailey's playbook.
- Wild, Wild, West
Two of the league's best teams are in the NFC West. For real. All four teams are .500 or better and each has done it with stout defense. Alex Smith, Kevin Kolb, Sam Bradford and Russell Wilson won't conjure images of Joe Montana, Kurt Warner and Matt Hasselbeck, but somehow, despite the occasional egregious blunder, they are leading their charges in victory. Chalk it up to early season zaniness. San Fran is golden, but the other shoe should drop at some point on the other three.
- Sleeping Lions
It seemed like an inevitability. The feel good Detroit Lions have rolled their nightmarish offseason into the regular season like only they could. Their defense is atrocious, Calvin Johnson is being bracketed on almost every play, Matthew Stafford is erratic and the running game is relying on an injury-prone headcase. And that's the half-glass-full picture. What awaits them after the bye are trips to Philly and Chicago, and a visit from the pesky Seahawks. Paging Barry Sanders.
- Just. Win. Baby.
No, not the long dormant Raiders mantra, but the mantra of today's NFL. Toss style points out the window and ditch the dynasty talk. Parity has made it impossible to dominate on a weekly basis. That's why the Niners got beat up in Minnesota, the Pats got dumped by the Cardinals, the Pack gagged against the Seahawks and Oakland bitch slapped the Steelers. Expect head-scratching "upsets" from here on out. Expect "ugly" teams to qualify for the playoffs. Expect the unexpected.