Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens has reason to celebrate. The Ravens are off to a 4-1 start and are arguably the best team in the league.
Photo by Jeff Lewis
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
The NFL season is nearly a third of the way complete for most NFL clubs, and the separation of teams is starting to become evident. There is a lot of football to be played, so teams off to a hot start can fall flat, and teams off to a bad start can rebound, but it is clear who started the season off on the right foot and who started off on the wrong foot.
On the right foot
It’s not surprising that the Baltimore Ravens (4-1), New York Jets (4-1), and Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1) are looking like contenders, well, the Steelers were thought to be a playoff team entering the season, but many thought they would struggle through the first four games without suspended quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The Steelers have played great defense, ranking No. 1 in total yards, rushing yards, and points against. Offensively they are No. 8 running the ball, but last in total passing yards, which will improve with the return of Roethlisberger.
The Steelers were not supposed to be sitting at 3-1, but they are one last second drive against the Ravens from being 4-0. As a team they are getting it done.
The Ravens have to get the nod as the best team in the league right now. They’ve beaten both the Steelers and the Jets. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes the Ravens the best team, because they aren’t really great in any one category, but they are good in every category. Their defense is not as good as the Steelers, but the Ravens play really good on that side of the ball. Their offense is not as good as the best offenses in the league, but they get it done on that side of the ball too. They are just an all around good football team.
The Jets are a pretty simple team to figure out. They run the ball to bust the opposition in the mouth, they stuff the run on defense, they get after the quarterback, and they do not turn the ball over. That’s pretty much the formula to a championship team. Lighting the scoreboard up is nice, and some teams have made a living doing that, but the Jets are proving that the old school style of football still works.
The Jets play sound football and they do not shoot themselves in the foot. They have forced 12 turnovers while only turning the ball over once, giving them the highest turnover ratio in the league. Quarterback Mark Sanchez has not thrown a single interception this season.
The surprise team on the group is the Atlanta Falcons. The New Orleans Saints were supposed to be the class of the NFC South, and the entire conference for that matter, but they have gotten off to a rocky start, while the Falcons are soaring.
In today’s NFL, the difference between a good and bad team is not much. Good teams just find a way to win, while bad teams find a way to lose. The Falcons are a good example of that. The San Francisco 49ers had them beat, but then a miraculous fumble and a last minute drive pulled that game out. Their only loss of the season was against the Steelers, in overtime at Pittsburgh, and they already have a win over the Saints.
There are other teams with records as good as the Ravens, Steelers, Jets, and Falcons, but some of them may be frauds, like the Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Kansas City Chiefs, all with only one loss each. But don’t count on those teams separating from the pack. All three of those teams could end up at .500 or worse.
On the wrong foot
The 49ers, Carolina Panthers, and Buffalo Bills are all winless, but the Dallas Cowboys (1-3) gets an honorable mention with this group.
The Panthers and Bills have a whole lot of nothing to work with, so it is understandable why they are so horrible. Lump in the one-win Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns with those teams.
But the 49ers and Cowboys are major disappointments. They are two talented teams that were supposed to be contenders, but they just find ways to lose games.
Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips has totally lost that team and he needs to be fired. Phillips is a great guy, a great defensive coordinator, but his friendly nature stops him from being a good head coach. Even some Cowboys players say that the team lacks discipline, and it shows in the 4th quarter, with the game on the line, when they cannot close teams out. Instead they get closed out.
As for the 49ers, they have a head coach in Mike Singletary who is cracking the whip, who is shouting down players, who is trying to motivate and will his team to win. But he has a team that just can’t get right. Turnovers are killing them. They are a league worst -15 in turnover ratio.
In a three-point loss to the Philadelphia Eagles this past Sunday, the 49ers turned the ball over five times to the Eagles one. In a two-point loss the week before against the Atlanta Falcons, a fumble on a play where 49ers cornerback Nate Clements should have gone to the ground or run out of bounds to pretty much end the game, he fumbles, giving the Falcons new life. In a three-point loss against the Saints, the 49ers committed four turnovers, while the Saints did not turn the ball over once.
The Saints, Falcons, and Eagles will all be battling for playoff spots, while the 49ers will continue to commit costly turnovers, making them one of the worst teams in the league.
It’s pretty much a wrap on the 49ers season, and the blame might fall on Singletary. It doesn’t help that the 49ers owner is claiming that they will win the division. Ah… really? What games is he watching? The NFC West is a horrible division, but they are not that bad.
The resurgence of LaDainian Tomlinson
Did the San Diego Chargers really think that LaDainian Tomlinson was washed up? The guy goes to a team, the Jets, that puts the priority on the run and he is looking as good as ever. There is still juice in his legs.
Tomlinson is fifth in the league in rushing yards, but he would be higher if he were not splitting carries with Shonn Green. Tomlinson has a 5.7 yards per carry average, which is nearly two and a half yards higher than his average from last year. In 2008, Tomlinson averaged 3.8 yards per carry, and last year only 3.3 yards per carry. The Chargers shifted to a pass first offense with the emergence of quarterback Phillip Rivers, and they pretty much forced Tomlinson out of the door.
Well Tomlinson found a team that could maximize his talents. He is hitting the holes as quick as he ever has, and he is running over defenders here and there.
Did the Chargers make a mistake in featuring Rivers more than Tomlinson? Probably not. Instead of flaming out of the playoffs every year with Tomlinson as their main guy, now they flame out every year with Rivers as their main guy, so nothing has really changed. Maybe with the Jets, Tomlinson will actually show up come playoff time.