1. Dallas Cowboys
They changed quarterbacks, but the quarterback play level was no better overall. Matt Cassel threw 3 interceptions, which cost the Cowboys 13 points. He did show more flexibility in ball distribution, and made several nice throws, but the interceptions were the difference in the score. One might expect that he will improve, but if he does not, benching Brandon Weeden will come to be seen as pointless. The injury to Tony Romo showed that the Cowboys, like many teams who have a franchise quarterback, have no Plan B at that position. (Look around the league and tell me how many teams with a high-dollar franchise quarterback have a durable, reliable #2 who can come off the bench and lead the team. It’s a short list isn’t it?)
The bigger issue is Greg Hardy. His disruptive behavior on the sideline reminds me of Charles Haley when he was playing. Haley turned out to have undiagnosed bipolar syndrome, and I suspect Hardy has the same mental condition. The Cowboys need to get Hardy straightened out fast, before the NFL or the judicial system hijacks him for sanctions once more.
2. New York Giants
They are winning ugly, but finding ways to win. They do not look good on offense or defense, but special teams came up big against the Cowboys.
The 49ers are just not a very good football team right now in any area. They lost a lot of players in the off-season, and it is difficult to not conclude that the reason so many players retired is because they did not want to play for a coaching staff led by Jim Tomsula. Tomsula behaves on the sideline and in press conferences like he is out of his depth. His room for manouver is limited. He has a #1 quarterback who is not the finished article, a #2 quarterback that nobody wants to see on the field of play, and holes on offense and defense. While he can babble on about performances being “unacceptable”, benching players is not an option when you have no adequate replacements.
I fear that the ownership, worn down by the incessant squabbles with Jim Harbaugh, wanted a quiet life with a new head coach, and went for the safe in-house candidate who would do the bidding of the ownership. This is remarkably similar to the mode of operation of Jerry Jones after he fired Jimmy Johnson, when he cycled through a succession of non head coaches (Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey and Dave Campo) before swallowing hard and hiring Bill Parcells.
It no action is taken by ownership soon to upgrade the team or the coaching staff, the 49ers risk falling into the same trap as the Oakland Raiders, who, known for being dysfunctional, could only attract free agents by offering too much money to players mostly on the downside of their careers. As a result, they ended up in cap hell, with an ageing roster, and a mediocre coaching staff, and only now are they breaking out of that zone with Jack Del Rio, who has already shown that he is not afraid to jettison high priced free agents if they are not going to be contributors. Right now, based on current performance, a number of people in San Francisco may soon be pointing out that the 49ers are no longer in San Francisco (translation: Santa Clara, you can have them).
4. Carolina Panthers
Quietly advancing to 6-0, the Panthers are not a glamorous team, but an effective one. They have experience and youth in equal measure, and Cam Newton looks mature and polished, quite different to the reckless ball-heaver of 3 seasons ago.
5. Seattle Seahawks
I am not quite sure what to make of this team. They have all of the talent, but they are misfiring badly on both sides of the ball. In particular, Russell Wilson is being sacked way too often. I worry that if he is knocked out, the Seahawks offense will splutter badly.
6. San Diego
They cannot win a game to save their life. They seem to be unable to play consistently for 60 minutes, and have a habit of going walkabout in the second half.
7. Houston Texans
This roster needs a stick of dynamite. They just lost their best running threat Arian Foster to what looks like a season ending injury, and they have a porous offensive line. Both of their quarterbacks are backups who are inconsistent, and one of them cannot set an alarm clock. They have next to no offensive playmakers..the list goes on.
8. Miami Dolphins
Having dumped Principal Philbin, the Dolphins handed the coaching job to tight ends coach Dan Campbell, and suddenly this is a different team. Either the team had tuned out Joe Philbin, or he was just not an energizing coach, because they hung 41 points on the Hpuston Texans in less than two quarters on Sunday, after looking for weeks like they were lifeless, and incapable of getting out of their own way. If they keep on like this, they may make the playoffs, which will validate the decision to fire Philbin, in an era where mid-season coaching changes seldom work well.
This team still looks to be struggling. They are inconsistent, and weak on both offense and defense. I am wondering if the coaching staff is overmatched.
10. New Orleans
After starting badly, they are picking up momentum. They may not be good enough to make the playoffs, and they have major decisions to make in the next off-season, most notably about Drew Brees who is 36 years of age with an astronomical cap number for 2016. Their roster needs a makeover, and with Brees on the roster at his current cap number that will be impossible.
11. Kansas City
With a dink and dunk offense with no playmakers, and a running game shorn of Jamal Charles, the Chiefs look to be going backwards from 2 seasons ago. They need a roster makeover.
12. Tampa Bay
The shine is off of the Lovie Smith era. The team is inconsistent, and incapable of holding onto leads deep into the second half of games. Jameis Winston is making mistakes as one would expect from a rookie, but he is not getting much support from the offense. If this mediocrity continues, Smith may find himself on the hot seat before the end of the season.
13. Indianapolis Colts
The main question for the last month has been when Chuck Pagano will be fired, especially following the bungled fake punt play in a recent game, which brought down ridicule on the team and the coaches. Now the main question may be when Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson will be fired.
The more practical issue is that Andrew Luck does not look to be 100% when playing, despite there being no injury report entry for him. Yet his passes are floating and lack zip and accuracy. Right now, the Colts might be better served by having Matt Hasselbeck under center.
14. Denver Broncos
A 6-0 team being carried by its defense, with a struggling quarterback (which sounds remarkably similar to the story from 2011, when Tim Tebow was under center). This will be Peyton Manning’s last NFL season. His passes are starting to look more and more like wounded ducks. Enjoy one of the great NFL quarterbacks while you can. Whether the Broncos will make it deep into the post-season may depend on the defense. Maybe they can win like the 2001 Baltimore Ravens, using an adequate offense and a suffocating defense.
15. Philadelphia Eagles
Difficult to know what to make of this team. After purging or trading many veterans, swapping quarterbacks and overhauling the schemes, the team is inconsistent, including the quarterback. The strange thing is that there is almost no sign of the offensive innovations that everybody thinks of when the name “Chip Kelly” is mentioned. The Eagles are now playing an offense at a tempo like many other NFL teams, with few wrinkles, next to no gadget plays. It is almost as though Kelly has determined that Boring is Best.
16. New England Patriots
Another 6-0 team despite inconsistency. When your leading rusher in a game is your quarterback, who is not renowned for his mobility, and you are throwing the ball almost every down, but you are still winning, that tells you how good the team preparation and coaching is. Dour and uninformative Bill Belichick may be, but his methods work.
17. St. Louis Rams
They just seem to be inconsistent, like many NFL teams. The big question is when they will move back to California.
18. Cleveland Browns
This team remains in dysfunction, with a #1 quarterback who is streaky, and a #2 quarterback who is still working out how to function as a profesional adult. The roster is full of holes. As a result, the results are not good. Coaching changes may be on the way.
19. Arizona Cardinals
They were cruising a month ago, now they are not looking so good. Teams may have worked out how to cope with their passing attack, and things may be tougher for the rest of the season. The good news is that they are still the leaders in a weak division.
20. Washington Redskins
Although Kirk Cousins still throws too many interceptions, the team just won big after coming back from a deep hole, and those kinds of wins tend to energize a team. They may yet be able to run the table in November and December.
21. Cincinnati Bengals
The best hidden 6-0 team. They may yet be this year’s surprise regular season winner. The challenge is winning in the playoffs. Andy Dalton needs to ask Tony Romo how frustrating that can be.
22. Buffalo Bills
After a bright start, the mayhem of Rex Ryan’s man management is starting to rise up once again. For some reason, Ryan cannot stop talking, and as a result his team is undisciplined and sloppy. The team needs to take a good look at itself and sharpen up quickly on both sides of the ball, or this will become another lost season.
23. New York Jets
After the start of season brou-ha-ha over Geno Smith and his broken jaw, the Jets have settled down to play solid football, They may yet be in contention in January. I am sure that Ryan Fitzpatrick is glad he is not in Houston right now…
24. Green Bay Packers
Despite injuries, the Packers continue to move along like a well-oiled machine. As long as Aaron Rodgers remains under center, their presence in the post-season is assured.
25. Chicago Bears
Although nobody is prepared to admit it, the Bears are already rebuilding. Their trading of players shows that they are working for the future. The big offseason decision will be on Jay Cutler, who continues to be infuriatingly mistake-prone, suffering from Jake Plummer Hurl-The-Ball Disease at least a couple of times a game.