Too soon? Stacking the NFC race

“The sky isn’t falling.” “We’re not panicking.” “It’s a long season.” — said every 0–2 team ever.

Dealer’s choice for which bromide you want to cling to for your winless-thus-far team, fans of the Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants and Chicago Bears.

If you start a season 0–2, you have a nine percent chance of getting into the playoffs, said every pre-game show in existence last Sunday.

Things are not looking good for these nine bands of bumblers. Pop quiz: What do the first six of these nine have in common? Answer: They were either playoff teams or had a winning record a season ago.

Is the annual NFL re-sorting being revealed already as we head into week three?

Dysfunction junction, what’s your unction?

In the National Football Conference, the Seahawks, champions of 2014 and 2013, are already getting out their rain slickers as a 2015 hard rain falls upon them. It’s not just that the blue birds of the Pacific Northwest are winless, but the character of their losses so far are especially soggy. Consider:

  • They are 0–2 in the NFC.
  • They are 0–1 in the NFC West division (and they lost to the worst NFCW team, apart from themselves).
  • They lost any possible tiebreaker advantage to the conference’s presumed heavyweight, the Green Bay Packers.
  • The conference’s worst two teams from a season ago (Washington Redskins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) have better records than the 2015 Seahawks.

These characteristics cannot be denied. What is also emerging as the Seahawks turn up the heat on themselves is that behind the scenes, things are also not so easy-peasy. Consider:

  • Positive Pete Carroll continues to uncharacteristically criticize the officiating of the Seahawks’ latest loss.
  • New offensive toy Jimmy Graham is rehearsing his “I’m being misused” song.
  • Linebacker Bobby Wagner’s prescient, “You can’t pay everybody” warning continues to haunt the 12s as Kam Chancellor’s destructive holdout enters its second month.

If you’re keeping score of the Seattle choir boys, they managed to fly home from Green Bay with the first player disqualified from a game this season (K.J. Wright) and also with the first player to publicly threaten a child (Marshawn Lynch). But at least the 12s are conducting themselves with class and dignity. Except for those that launched and/or supported the GoFundMe site trying to get Ciara to dump Russell Wilson. Ahem.

It gets better

So the Seahawks may not be all that fun to be around these days. The good news is this is about to change. Through the quirks of the NFL schedule, the Seahawks, who took their lumps on the road through the first two weeks of the season, now look forward to feasting at home against two (also) winless NFC teams over the next two weeks: The Bears and the Lions.

And hey, Kam’s back. It’s more than fair to wonder if he’d been there all along would the Seahawks be in the hole they’re in now? We’ll never know for sure, but we do know the odds just improved greatly for the Seahawks to rebound quickly. There could hardly be a better “get right” scenario for the Kam-ful, “not panicking” current conference champions.

Rise of the red birds

Don’t look now, but the almost No. 1 seed in the 2014 NFC campaign is back atop the conference again through the first one-eighth of this season. The talking heads of the NFL Network certainly noticed, having bandied the thought that the Cardinals may very well be the team to beat in the NFC at this early stage. They have a point:

  • The Arizona Cardinals have scored the most points of any NFL team (79).
  • All-but-forgotten quarterback Carson Palmer nearly tops the NFL with 124.4 passer rating (You cannot stop Brandon Weedon — you can only hope to contain him).
  • Cardinals quarterbacks have zero broken knees so far — a stark contrast to last season.
  • The Cardinals have already won on the road and next host two division competitors at home.

This is shaping up to be a special season for the red birds. Just like last season. Maybe you should forget I said that.

Unstoppable force

This whole season may be academic at this point. Now that we have learned from the NFL’s reigning god that God is rooting for the Packers this year, it seems a tad unfair to make the other 31 teams endure this exercise in futility.

In the off chance that Aaron Rodgers’ comment was more about snark than reportage, I guess we should still play this thing out. The way it looks right now, the Packers week 16 game at Arizona is shaping up to be the game of the year.

Worth watching: The Packers’ unfortunate run of early season injuries, which has seen key players shelved for multiple games that include gone-for-the-season sashes for Jordy Nelson, Sam Barrington and Josh Boyd. Other key starters, tackle Bryan Bulaga, running back Eddie Lacy and wide receiver Davante Adams, are either certain or likely candidates to miss the next several games.

The clean south

Two teams that experienced their fair share of self-induced harm last season currently sport spotless records: The Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers.

To the uninitiated, the Falcons’ resurgence may look as simple as “Keep calm and Julio on.” This is one of those times when the shallow masses may have a point. It’s hard to argue against Julio Jones as the top receiver in NFL. Jones currently leads the NFL in receptions (22) and is second in receiving yards (276 to Antonio Brown’s 328). He easily leads all receivers in degree of difficulty.

Adding to the black birds of the south’s fifth-ranked offense is … not much else. Their run game remains largely punchless, currently toiling as the NFL’s 22nd-ranked outfit, and the oft-maligned Falcon defense is staying on-brand as the 27th-ranked unit. (Rankings via NFL.com)

Last year’s NFC South “champions” (we have to call them that), the Carolina Panthers, have punched their way to two victories over the unknown quantity that is the Jacksonville Jaguars and the unseen quality that is the Houston Texans. If the Panthers could line up the rest of their schedule against teams that also have no answer at quarterback, they’d get my vote to go 16–0. They can’t, so I won’t.

Look away

The 0–2 teams have a strong case for claiming status as the saddest of sacks in the NFC. For my money, I’d say it is the division-leading, yet snake-bitten Dallas Cowboys. Never has a team sacrificed so much (Dez Bryant, Tony Romo, Randy Gregory, Orlando Scandrick) to cobble together a one-game lead over the NFC East train wreck.

The good news for the Cowboys is two-fold: Their closest competitors are the Washington Redskins (!) and they can fairly well expect to get both Bryant and Romo back for the stretch run. As the NFL has taught us repeatedly, the teams playing their best football in December are the ones that go on to the playoffs. In the NFC East, all the Cowboys need to do is remotely hang around the top half of their division standings through November. This should not be especially difficult since the division (apart from the Cowboys) has won only one game thus far.

So there it is. The dirty secret of the NFL is now out in the open. Just like the NBA, whose critics claim that you only have to watch the fourth quarter of any game to see who’s gonna win, the NFL is all about who’s healthy and rolling come December. So cheer up, NFC winless and woeful. If you’re still alive and breathing after Thanksgiving, your misdeeds were merely character-building opportunities. Unless, of course, God is not on your side.


©Julian Rogers | @thejujueye | Juju Eye Communications, LLC

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