Over-paid and outdated... Simon Veness looks at why Philly, Dallas and San Diego are struggling in the NFL.
Last Updated: 01/11/12 11:37am
There are three kinds of teams in the NFL at the moment, and this week marks something of a watershed period for them in terms of Where We Go From Here.
After this round of games, everyone will have played at least eight times and there will be nowhere to hide from their record, whether it be good, bad or "What were we thinking?"
The half-way point of the season is usually the time for proper examination and evaluation.
The early rustiness has been shaken out of systems (notably at Pittsburgh, Denver and Green Bay), while freak early-season results have been balanced out (for Cincinnati, San Diego and everyone in the NFC West not called San Francisco).
Plus, the pre-season clunkers have been confirmed as, well, pre-season clunkers (yes, we're looking at you Carolina, Jacksonville and Cleveland - and no, a 7-6 'win' over the Chargers doesn't get the Browns out of this category. At all).
There are a few genuine surprises, such as the 2012 Chiefs looking like the 2009 Chiefs, Buffalo's defence being even WORSE than last year despite the addition of $100m man Mario Williams, Indianapolis being competitive this early in the Andrew Luck era and Atlanta looking like a 7-0 juggernaut (although, look at their record in detail and the only team with a winning record they have beaten are the Broncos, back in Week Two when Peyton Manning was still finding his Mile High feet).
But, by and large, a team's record is its record; they are who they are, and other similar such clichés (but, don't forget, just because it IS a cliché doesn't mean it isn't true).
Which brings me back to my three categories of team in today's NFL, of which all three will be firmly front and centre of this week's games live on Sky Sports.
Let's start with Group 1 - Yesterday's Teams:
These are the teams that have hitched their wagon to outmoded ideas, overpaid stars or coaches who have repeatedly shown they are no longer up to the task.
Top of the lot in this collection - for all three reasons - are Philadelphia, who are currently threatening to spontaneously combust in multi-coloured fashion, with no direction, no cutting edge and no heart. Andy Reid needs to wave the mightiest of wands over the Eagles before they take on the Saints next Monday or he could be first in front of the head-coaching firing squad this year.
Likewise Dallas, both the flailing mess that can disappear in a welter of turnovers (as they did in the first half at home to the Giants last Sunday) and the team with the seemingly inexhaustible ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory (as they did in the second half against New York). How Jerry Jones can sleep at night after watching his expensive toy implode week after week is one of the great mysteries of recent years.
Equally, San Diego and Kansas City are firmly among Yesterday's Men. The fact they come head to head this week (live on Sky Sports 2 HD from midnight on Thursday) is likely only to delay the inevitable, as they need to prove they can beat someone from one of the other two groups before they will command much respect.
Also in this group: New Orleans, Buffalo, New York Jets, Oakland, Cleveland, Tennessee, Carolina and Arizona (especially the Cardinals after seeing what they think passes for modern quarterback play against the 49ers on Monday night).
Group 2, or Tomorrow's Teams, are that lucky handful who are certainly not quite there at the moment but at least seem to have a clear grasp on where they're going and how to get there, even if it might actually be the day-after-tomorrow in the case of the Jaguars.
Indianapolis are the Poster Boys for this category, with the No. 1 draft pick leading a plucky collection of players who don't realise they aren't supposed to be this good this soon (although, take the experience of Reggie Wayne out of the equation and they may struggle).
Washington are the other shining light, building a fledgling contender around the prodigious talents of Robert Griffin III and a typically all-hands-to-the-pumps ground game that might feature a different running back each month but still gets the job done.
Defensively, the Redskins are still a work in progress, but their game at home to Carolina on Sunday (live on Sky Sports 2 HD from 5.30pm) should be an accurate check of how far along the road to 2013 they are. Also in this group: Miami, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, St Louis and Seattle.
Finally, Group 3 are the Teams of Today, those with the most realistic chance of being in New Orleans in anything other than party mode next February.
All are built around the solid Win Now equation of QQ + DD + NM = PS, where QQ is a quality quarterback, DD is a decent defence and NM is the necessary momentum to make both those qualities count when it matters most, in the Post-Season.
The Giants are the shining example of how to assemble the key components of Today and keep them cranking at just the right speed, and they take on another founding member of the group, Pittsburgh, on Sunday night (live on Sky Sports 2 HD from 9.15pm).
Both quarterbacks have two Super Bowl wins each and both have all the nous in the world when it comes to making things happen. A loss for either one certainly won't be a disaster, but the Steelers will have little margin for error the rest of the way.
The other members of this category all have immensely winnable games, hence it would be a sizeable shock if any of Denver, Baltimore, Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit, Houston and Atlanta failed to improve their win columns by Monday morning, while New England and San Francisco have a well-deserved week off.
Just for fun
After ending last week's column with a look at the current play-off standings, I've been asked to keep it going on a regular basis and see how things change from week to week. So here goes...
AFC: Houston and Chicago are still the top two seeds, and New England and Denver remain at numbers 3 and 4, but Miami have firmed up their wild card spot from 6 to 5 and Indianapolis are the other wild card, with San Diego dropping out.
NFC: the top four are still Atlanta, Chicago, the Giants and 49ers, with Green Bay moving up to No. 5 and Minnesota dropping back to No 6.