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Additional Week 3 NFL Analysis

September 28, 2012

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The Saints aren’t just 0-3 but the 3 teams that have beat them are a combined 0-6 in their other 6 games. The Saints aren’t just losing, they’re losing to very average teams and that’s the biggest indicator in my opinion that the Saints are going to have a disastrous season in 2012. Everything I previously pointed out as to why the Saints would drop from 13-3 to 9-7 has come true as there appears to be a lack of leadership, the pass rush is non existent, and the secondary is extremely weak when teams spread them out. This Sunday they make a trip to Lambeau Field to take on a very motivated Green Bay Packers team coming off their controversial loss Monday night. I expect another loss for the Saints and at 0-4 their season will essentially be done.

I’m a big proponent of the QB Rating statistic as it has been proven to be one of the most accurate indicators of success or failure for a football team (yards per play is another one). Yet right now the QB Rating rankings are all out of whack compared to what I would have expected going into this season as regular Top 5 finishers like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Drew Brees, and Philip Rivers are all out of the Top 10 (Brees is out of the Top 20) while a number of fringe starters (Kevin Kolb) and young players (RGIII, Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder) are in the Top 6. It will be interesting to see if this is just a flash in the pan or if they can continue their stellar early play and improve the overall quarterback play in the NFL.

The Vikings, Cardinals, Seahawks, Jets, and Bills are the surprise teams in the NFL this year at a combined record of 11-4. I picked the Bills to the make the playoffs this season so they’re not surprising me yet the other 4 teams are. I believe the Jets will quickly begin floundering due to the Darrelle Revis injury and the lack of continuity on offense yet the Vikings, Cardinals, and Seahawks all have shown me play that makes me think they’re early success could continue.

The Seahawks boast the biggest and most physical secondary in the NFL yet the biggest part of their success so far this season has been their low turnover offense. Their heralded defense is only 15th in takeaways after 3 games yet still the team has a positive turnover differential due to the offense being 3rd in the league (behind only the Patriots and Falcons) in giveaways. Russell Wilson was considered a very seasoned and mature quarterback coming out of Wisconsin and it’s shown early this season as he’s a respectable 18th in QB Rating and has led an offense that runs the ball, keeps the defense fresh, and avoids the turnover. It isn’t an exciting form of football but it is effective and later in the season when Russell gets his feet under him I expect them to open up their passing game a little more and become a more dynamic team. The two areas of concern I have for them  is that they have a lot of #2 and #3 type WRs (Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin) yet lack a dominant threat on the outside and their secondary is so physical that I will be curious if they become less effective with the locked out officials being back and calling things more tightly.

The Vikings to me are the biggest surprise team in the NFL. Going into the season I expected them to go 4-12 or 5-11 as their best player was coming off an ACL injury, their secondary looked vulnerable, and Christian Ponder didn’t impress me last year. Yet they’re 2-1 and have Jerome Simpson coming off suspension this week which could provide an additional boost to their offense. The big key for them has been Ponder who is in the Top 5 in the league in QB rating (104.9), completion % (70.1) and interceptions (0). He has been consistent so far this season with a QB Rating between 94 and 114 in all 3 games including against the best defense in the league in the San Francisco 49ers. He also brings to the table more mobility than you would expect and burned the 49ers with a huge 23 yard TD scramble to help ice the game. The Vikings still have issues in the secondary as neither Chris Cook nor Antoine Winfield (at this stage of his career) are top notch starters yet Jared Allen and Kevin Williams have covered for them with their great pass rush and so far everything has worked out well for them. My concern for them is that I still see a roster that lacks talent in a number of spots (CB, S, LB, OG) and they are an overtime win at home against Jacksonville away from being 1-2 instead of 2-1. Their win against the 49ers got them a lot of publicity but I still suspect that this team is a year away from truly competing. I forecast them at 5-11 going into the season and that was probably too low but I still doubt they are better than 7-9 by the end of the year.

The Arizona Cardinals are possibly the most underrated team in football. They’re 3-0 and for good reason as they have an absolutely stacked roster that unfortunately is missing one key ingredient: A quarterback. Put a mid level QB like Jay Cutler on this team and they immediately become a Super Bowl contender as they have one of the best wide receivers in the game (Larry Fitzgerald), the best 3-4 DE not named JJ Watts (Calais Campbell), a stud DT (Darnell Dockett), the most underrated linebacker in the NFL (Darryl Washington), two veteran safeties (Adrian Wilson/Kerry Rhodes), and two quality corners (Patrick Peterson/William Gay). Add to that a couple of young talents like Ryan Williams and Michael Floyd and they have quite a nice roster going yet it just shows how important a quarterback is as everyone still wrote them off this year. In the past two games Kevin Kolb has been efficient (3 TD/ 0 INT) and it’s resulted in two huge wins against playoff caliber teams in the Eagles and Patriots. The roster in Arizona is playoff caliber so if Kolb can continue his play the Cardinals will be a legit threat for the NFC West title or at least a wild card spot yet my concern is that Kolb won’t be able to sustain it. In 3 games this season he has a 4/0 TD/INT ratio yet previous to this he had a career ratio of 20/22 making his hot start very dubious in my eyes. Time will tell which, if any, of the teams I outlined will have staying power in the NFL this season yet all are off to hot starts and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them sneaked into the playoffs this season in what is looking like possibly a down year for the NFC.

The replacement officials. They’re gone and the real crews are back which will be nice as the games did take longer to complete and there were more missed calls than previously yet I for one am still pretty mad about the bias in the media on this issue. The NFL is being painted as the bad guy on this situation and the logic confuses me. The officials wanted 8% raises each year, no accountability for their performance till the end of the year, and an old school pension plan that is no longer used in 90% of businesses today. The NFL said no and suddenly they were the evil empire squeezing every last drop out of sweet, kind old men like Ed Hochuli. Where did this narrative come from? I’ve never gone to an NFL game for the officials so for someone to argue that they deserved a larger slice of pie as the pie expanded was being illogical as they weren’t making the product more valuable so didn’t deserve an increase in pay when the product became more valuable. It’s like arguing that a parking attendant should get paid more as the t.v. contracts and ticket prices increased. No one would argue that as they aren’t influencing the product on the field and neither are the officials. Now some would argue that the replacement officials proved that the locked out officials do improve the product on the field yet that’s a biased argument that again somehow was never dissected by the media. The officials union came together to make it illegal for any official in division 1 college football to be a replacement official for the NFL. It was an extremely savvy move by the union as without it the NFL would have had a huge pool of officials to pick from and could reasonably tell  replacement officials that if they performed well they would likely be promoted from college to the NFL down the road. Instead the NFL had to pick through the scrap heap of Division III, lingerie leagues, and 7 man football to find enough people to fill crews and then were blasted in the media for doing it. The referee union forced them to do it yet the NFL not the referee union was ruining the “integrity” of the game? This strike would have been somewhat logical if the NFL officials were underpaid or even just adequately paid yet by all metrics they are dramatically overpaid and that is the biggest issue I have with the bias against the NFL on this issue. BEFORE the lockout the average NFL official received around $150,000 a year. They also had a lucrative pension plan, had their travel paid, received a bit of fame themselves by being on t.v., and had no backups so they could not be fired for any reason during the season. It was about as cushy of a job as you could find considering they only worked 20 games a year and even after travel time and training days they still were making more money in 4 months at a part time job than 99% of Americans make in a year. Yet that somehow wasn’t good enough and they striked. Where was the outrage against these one percenters? Where was the argument in the media comparing an NFL referee who makes about $7,500 for 5 hours of work (most games are 3 hours and the officials are required to be there 2 hours before kickoff) with a minimum wage worker ($7.25/hour) who has to work 1,035 hours to equal the same pay? This argument of the NFL being selfish is so biased I have trouble even fathoming it. The officials had a gig that paid them $1,500 an hour, didn’t like it and striked, forced the NFL to use far less competent officials by threatening to blackball replacement officials and firing any officials on the Division 1 level who left, and then proceeded to bitch and moan from afar every single time a call was missed. It’s all ludicrous and what’s worse is that the average fan fell for it so now the officials will be bumped from $150,000 a year to $173,000 a year in 2013 and $205,000 a year in 2019. They also will be paid for an entire season if they are fired for any reason during the season (teacher unions would be so proud) and get to keep their old pension system for until 2016. Congratulations locked out officials you now get to have the best job in America back AND get a 16% raise next year simply because the media decided to back you and the average fan was convinced you were worth it after seeing the results of your rigged experiment with the replacement officials. The question I have though is: When will NFL owners raise ticket prices because of this? As a season ticket holder I know I will be paying part of their $7,500 an hour salary and am disappointed so few other fans realize this too.

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