Friday, September 12, 2008

Read & React

HOLY HAND GRENADE, has there ever been a more eventful Week One in the NFL's history?! Between the major injuries and the big blowouts, it seemed like everybody was drawing definitive conclusions based on just a game played.

Based on the first game results, the dogs of the league would appear to the Rams, Bengals, Texans and Lions; all 4 teams are virtual locks for last. Don't think the Redskins will be as bad as they showed Thursday versus the Giants; they're an 8-8 team, but that's still bringing up the rear of the loaded NFC East. That's as far ahead as I'm willing to look. One game at a time, as the league's most trusted cliche puts it.

The first inclination among both writers and fans after Tom Brady's season-ending injury was to write off the Patriots with extreme prejudice. Now, Jets fans can't contain their giddiness, and who can blame them feeling optimistic when they look at their QB situation compared to their division rivals. But I for one would not be so eager to bet large sums of money against a cornered Bill Belichick, at least until we see Matt Cassel play a few more games. I just hate writing off a player before he gets his fair shot. Hell, didn't we learn anything from Tom Brady and Tony Romo coming out of nowhere? Let's give the kid a chance. I think there's a reason that the talent evaluators on the sport's model franchise over the last decade kept Cassel on the roster all these years.

Now, just like in baseball, where I refuse to follow the first 10 games of the endless MLB season, I usually try not to put much stock in Week One or Two results, no matter how one-sided. It takes at least 4 games into an NFL season before you know anything about how the season is gonna play out .

One thing I especially dread is the trend of "Power Ranking" NFL teams. You now see this regularly on every football Website. I mean, this is not college football, where rankings are everything; unless I'm mistaken, there will be a playoff tournament after the regular season, so ranking the Cowboys first, Giants second, Chargers third, etc., is an exercise in complete futility.

Remember how we were inundated all last year experts writing off the NFC's chances of winning a Super Bowl any time soon or even staying on the same field as a team like the Patriots or Colts or Chargers. How did that work out, all those columns about the supposedly inferior conference? Now just a year later, NFC teams like the Giants, Eagles, Cowboys and Packers are as deep and talented as anything the AFC now has to offer. Panthers and Saints may be a notch below those teams but still dangerous if Delhomme and Brees stay healthy at QB. There are major question marks surrounding the Colts (Manning's health), Chargers (losing Shawn Merriman) and Pats. Broncos and Steelers may be class of the conference by midseason. How the worm has turned.

Seems a little too early for such a showdown matchup, but Week Two gives us Eagles-Cowboys this Monday Night. Would have been nice in Week Six or Seven, but we'll still learn a lot about how strong this NFC East division may be. Everybody seems to want to focus on Romo's struggles last December in the 10-6 Eagles win -- the Jessica Simpson pink jersey game -- overlooking Romo's 38-17 dismantling of the Eagles at Philadelphia in a November Sunday Night game, when he went a blistering 20-25 for 324 yards and 3 TDs. Nice to know that Romo has that to fall back on, because judging by the experts no QB has ever completed a pass against the Eagles blitz.

But Romo will continue to be scrutinized until he erases the playoff drought, as if he's personally responsible for the Cowboys lack of postseason success since 1996, as if he ever stunk up a stadium or was, say, "Eli Manning Against the Panthers" bad -- throwing up 3 awful picks. No, Romo has exactly 1 INT in his two playoff games against 2 TDs. Yes, he hasn't played up to his own regular season standards in the postseason, but when measured against all-time greats like John Elway, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, sometimes the football gods test even the best before pointing the way to Football Valhalla. That's what makes the journey all the sweeter.
No QB in recent memory ever took the beating that Eli Manning took his first 3 seasons, not only from the out-of-town football pundits but also, and especially, in his own hometown from fans and sportswriters alike. In 2007, when Manning threw 20 INTs in a so-so regular season, the criticism became a feeding frenzy (and it's not like I wasn't one of the hungriest sharks in the sea), reaching the point where people were almost competing to throw the nastiest, lowest blows in Eli's direction. That's my latest conspiracy theory for why the New Jersey Giants rode one of the unlikeliest, most unbelievable waves to a championship in the history of organized sports. The notoriously temperamental and contrary Football Gods decided to reward poor Eli for taking all those personal cheap shots. And it's that same logic that this year Tony Romo gets his just reward, bringing his Cowboys along with him to the Promised Land. If you've got a better working theory, I'd love to hear it.

No comments: