America, I say this assuming that someone in at least one other state besides the one I live in has come across this column and justified my addressing you as “America”; we’ve got ourselves a problem. The first problem is that I can’t find the astronaut clothes from The Martian online anywhere and this makes me very sad because NASA had those guys (and girls, stop writing that angry letter) looking like professional athletes that happened to be floating around in space. The third problem is that I just bought the book Brady vs. Manning by Gary Meyers, which was the most anticipated thing in my life besides the next time I get to see the most awesome girl ever who I’m basically in love with at this point, and it’s a very insightful read so far. That is not the problem at hand. The problem is that Meyers, who is a great writer as far as I can tell, mentioned Dr. Dre “of Beats headphone fame”. Really? That’s Dre’s contribution to the world, Gary Meyers? Just headphones, huh? I almost returned the book on the spot after reading that sentence, but I managed to keep my composure.
The fourth and most relevant problem, as in the reason we find ourselves here today, is my friends’ disbelief in my ability to be objective. Let me make this a little clearer, okay? There is not one person who knows me and knows football and even remotely believes that I have ever objectively commented on or otherwise spoken about the sport of football. I’m not going to lie to you, folks, it kind of hurts. Now of course I joke around here and there about being completely biased and arbitrary and having no qualms about my very strong and very real bias, but I still cling to the cherished values of honor, truth, and objectivity that hold the world of semi-semi-professional sports journalism together.
You ever have a dream and then you realize that you had the dream, but you can’t really remember it? Then you’re trying to remember the dream, but all you’re seeing in your head are fuzzy shapes and faceless people? This is completely unrelated to what we’re here for; I’m just relaying this experience because it’s happening to me at this current moment. Also, its 7:48 am California hippie time, so forgive my absent-mindedness. Back to your regularly scheduled objective sports insight. Following the Packers’ demolition at the (not quite as strong as they once were) hands of Peyton Manning, there are four undefeated teams remaining as we head into the second half of the season. Only one team in the merger-era NFL has gone completely undefeated during the regular season because it is so difficult to just beat 16 teams in a row in this league. Even more important than whatever their final record will be, however, is whether or not these teams will contend for the Super Bowl. This is part where I lay down some totally objective prognostication and Bill Simmons calls me shortly after with a job offer. Let it begin!
Remaining opponents: Texans, Cardinals, Rams, Browns, Steelers, 49ers, Broncos, Ravens
Realistic final record: 13-3
The case for a Super Bowl: In 2014 Andy Dalton threw 17 interceptions in 16 games, which is at least one interception per game and then a twofer thrown in just for fun. Through eight games in 2015, Andy Dalton has thrown only four interceptions, projecting to eight interceptions through the entire season. By the way, Dalton threw 19 touchdowns in the 17 interception campaign last season, this year he’s already tossed 18. To be clear, Dalton is one touchdown short of his 2014 total in JUST EIGHT GAMES. The Red Rifle has looked like a completely revitalized quarterback this season and that is great news for the Bengals in this pass-happy NFL. If Dalton’s weapons (Eifert, Marvin Jones, AJ Green, Mohamed Sanu) can stay healthy as the season goes on, this Bengals offense will be difficult for even the league’s top defenses to stop. Cincinnati also boasts the two-headed running back monster of Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill. The running game has produced 100+ yards in six out of eight games this season. The Bengals will need to rely on the duo as the days get short and the wind gets sharp and possibly Andy Dalton remembers that he’s actually Andy Dalton and starts throwing interceptions at a Dalton-like clip.
The case against a Super Bowl: Let’s not get lost in this undefeated honeymoon and forget that Dalton’s Bengals have yet to win a postseason game. Red Andy has become notorious for performing at his worst when his team can afford it the least. Cincinnati has been able to rally under pressure so far this season which speaks volumes for the growing maturity in one of the league’s youngest teams. The issue with Dalton’s newfound dominance is that it could all be upset for their most disappointing letdown yet. The Bengals have undoubtedly become a “yeah, yeah, but just wait until the playoffs” team. Even if they won their next eight games by 50 points and achieved an undefeated season there would still be those (myself included) who refuse to buy in until Dalton claims himself a playoff win. Last year in Cincinnati’s postseason loss to Andrew Luck and the Colts, Andy threw 155 yards and no touchdowns. That’s just not what you’re asking your quarterback for come January and Dalton needs to prove that he’s left that no-show persona in the past.
Green Bay Packers
Remaining opponents: Panthers, Lions, Vikings, Bears, Lions, Cowboys, Raiders, Cardinals, Vikings
Realistic final record: 12-4
The case for a Super Bowl: The Packers are playing some of the best defense we’ve seen from them in the Rodgers era. With a tally of 23 sacks and 20 interceptions through 7 games, the entire unit is benefitting from the harassment quarterbacks are experiencing every Sunday. Green Bay’s also got a guy named Aaron Rodgers, whose 15 touchdowns and just two interceptions are probably contributing to the success of the team as well. I’m having a tough time thinking up nice things to say about the Packers so let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
The case against a Super Bowl: November in the NFL is when the season shifts towards the playoffs and legitimate contenders begin to separate themselves from the teams who will be watching the postseason from home. Green Bay’s Sunday night shellacking from Denver exposed many of their flaws that will haunt them when the second season begins. The Packers currently feature the league’s 21st ranked rush defense that looks like it could be ranked 54th. There are 32 teams in the league. The offensive line was beat so badly by Von Miller & Co. that the police were probably called at least five times by young, horrified fans who couldn’t take any more of what they were watching and were desperate to help their team. Rodgers threw for just 77 yards which is a death sentence for a team so heavily dependent on its quarterback. Rodgers also received little help from the running game which managed just 90 total yards. Green Bay will need to solve their problems with the run game if they want to have a chance against the strong defenses waiting for them in the NFC postseason.
Remaining opponents: Packers, Titans, Redskins, Cowboys, Saints, Falcons, Giants, Falcons, Buccaneers
Realistic final record: 13-3
The case for a Super Bowl: The Panthers are regarded as the shakiest undefeated squad still hanging around. However, in a recent poll, Cam was second behind Tom Brady as the MVP at this point in the season. That lends to the idea that Carolina isn’t much more than Newton and whatever magical plays he can pull off on a weekly basis…and I can’t really argue with that. Whenever you’re counting on Ted Ginn Jr. to win games that’s a big sign you may be screwed. The defense is relying on Roman Harper, possibly the only person in the NFL with a full head of gray hair, and a bunch of other guys you’ve never heard of in the secondary. They’re also carrying a running game being stifled by defenses with nine men in the box because they’re completely unconcerned with any sort of pass longer than 10 yards. I realize that this quickly turned into a case against Carolina finding themselves in Levi’s Stadium come February, but that’s only because I can’t force myself to believe the Panthers can get there based on what I’ve seen to this point.
New England Patriots
Remaining opponents: Redskins, Giants, Bills, Broncos, Eagles, Texans, Titans, Jets, Dolphins
Realistic final record: 15-1
The case for a Super Bowl: Tom Brady is having one of the best seasons of his life, tossing 20 touchdowns in 7 games and looking generally unstoppable on any given Sunday, Thursday, or Monday. Shane Vereen’s absence, a concern coming into the season, has been filled without a flaw by Dion Lewis who spends his time on the field “juking the shit” out of people, as Dolphins linebacker Koa Misi would phrase it. The Wilfork-less defense has been impressive, producing 26 sacks so far and allowing just 96.7 yards per game, 7th least in the league. Opposing are living in Jamie Collins’ world and quickly discovering that is a cold, unforgiving place to find yourself. Collins himself has 4.5 of the team’s 26 sacks, adding many more quarterback hits and batted passes. New England’s toughest test so far was their face-off with the Jets’ 1st ranked defense, which gave the Brady Bunch all they could handle. The Patriots scored 30 points in the game.
The case against a Super Bowl: New England has uncharacteristically caught the injury bug this season, with several players either playing with a nagging condition or missing a few games already. Second-year center Bryan Stork is now available to come back for short-term IR, but has only played in one game this season. Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Julian Edelman have all landed on the injury report at some point this season, with Hightower and Edelman both listed as questionable for tomorrow’s matchup with the Redskins. New England’s secondary has caused some concern for the rest of season by allowing 250 passing yards per game through seven games. At this point it seems difficult to predict a team that might beat the Patriots, but if the pass rush has an off day then the problems in the secondary could be their undoing.
Hey, look! You stuck around for the Patriots section and now you get this week’s picks for free! (Home teams bolded)
- Panthers over Packers
- Patriots over Redskins
- Saints over Titans
- Dolphins over Bills
- Vikings over Rams
- Jets over Jaguars
- Raiders over Steelers
- Buccaneers over Giants
- Falcons over 49ers
- Broncos over Colts
- Cowboys over Eagles
- Bears over Chargers