posted 2012-10-24 12:13:44

NFL First Quarter Review

The NFL stays as unpredictable as ever    

Tom Wengler

Contributing Writer

A quarter of the NFL season is already behind us. As always, the quarter mark is a good time to reflect on preseason predictions and take inventory on the unforeseeable storylines that almost always end up defining an NFL season. How about the disastrous experiment that was the replacement referees? Who could have ever imagined the Minnesota Vikings would be sitting all alone atop the NFC North? Nobody knows what the next three quar- ters of the season will deliver, but for now, here’s a review of the first four weeks of the 2012 season.

There is never any shortage of drama in the NFL, and this year has been no ex- ception. Parity is at an all-time high, with only two undefeated teams heading into week 6. If the playoffs were to begin today, there would be four playoff teams partici- pating which didn’t qualify a season ago. The aforementioned Vikings, who finished in the NFC North basement a year ago, would be crowned division champions.

When I made my preseason predictions, it didn’t take advanced sabermetrics to pre- dict that the New England Patriots would be the team to beat in the AFC East. However, the surprise team in the AFC East has been the Miami Dolphins. Their record may only be 2-3, but this team was supposed to be the doormat of the conference. Their defense, particularly against the run, has been outstanding, allowing only 103 points through five weeks, good for 4th best in the AFC. The Dolphins could easily be 4-1. In New York, any positive feelings surrounding the Jets following their week one blowout of Buffalo have quickly faded; stars Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes both fell victim to season-ending injuries and the offense has desperately been trying to scrape points together without them.
And how about those Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North? A.J. Green has been an unstoppable force at wide receiver, and the defense is finally starting to come around. Baltimore is as vulnerable as ever, evidenced by their defense ranking in the bottom third of the league in most categories, something that’s unheard of for the Ravens. Pittsburgh can’t stay healthy and Ben Roethlisberger has to keep bailing them out of games. This division is going to come down to the wire. Sorry, Cleveland, but there really isn’t anything I can write about your team without risking my own well-being. There have been positive steps forward, but the Browns are a long way away from being competitive.
In the AFC South, Houston has pretty much clinched the division. The Indianap- olis Colts, who on top of everything else are dealing with the leukemia diagnosis of their head coach, Chuck Pagano, have to be encouraged, though. Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck has been just as good as advertised; he brought the Colts back from a 21-3 deficit to beat Green Bay in Week 5, something that could be a sign of good things to come in the Colts’ future.

I’m still not sure what to make of the AFC West. Okay, I blew it big time when I said Oakland would be good. They stink. I did say Kansas City would stink too, though, and at least I’ve been right there. Since it looks like the division is going to come down to Denver and San Diego, I’m going to stick with Denver. Their early sea- son schedule has been brutal, and they’re almost guaranteed to win more games as the season moves forward.
The NFC has been full of surprises, with both the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals tied for first place in their respective divisions. Both teams have been getting the job done on defense. The Vikings went from having one of the most putrid secondaries in the league to ranking 15th against the pass this season. Arizona is 4-1 while fielding an offense that ranks 31st overall.

The NFC East is completely up for grabs. The Eagles, Giants, and Cowboys have all shown flashes of being the elite teams they are capable of being, but all three are still bogged down by inconsis- tency. Both Philadelphia and Dallas have been outscored by more than 20 points this year, but are still in the thick of the race. The defending Super Bowl Champion Giants already have two divisional losses and have beat up on some pretty bad teams. This looks like one of those years where all three teams will stay neck-and-neck throughout the year, with the division being decided on the final weekend. The Washington Redskins looked good early, but they aren’t going anywhere if Robert Griffin III doesn’t learn to slide and run out of bounds.

Green Bay has to be the NFL’s biggest disappointment so far. A team that was picked by many people to get to the Super Bowl is sitting at 2-3. The Packers’ offense looks terrible. Another disappointing team in the NFC North is the Detroit Lions. At 1-3, the Lions are close to falling out of contention early.
One of the biggest surprises so far has been the play of the teams in the NFC West. In a division that only a few years ago featured a 7-9 team as its division champion, all four teams are above .500. The Arizona Cardinals have had some huge victories so far, including a shocking upset over New England. The San Fran- cisco 49ers might end up as one of the top teams in the league by the end of the year, and the Seattle Seahawks are flying high behind rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. Even the St. Louis Rams, who I accurately predicted would take a big step forward this year, are playing strong football behind new coach Jeff Fisher.