The following Sports Agent Blog contribution is courtesy of Brandon Thorn.
New Orleans Saints – The Saints, Chiefs, and Broncos are the only undefeated teams left in the league. While the Chiefs and Broncos have had a relatively easy road to 5-0, the Saints have quality wins over the Dolphins, Bears, and Falcons.
Last season the Saints had the worst defense in the NFL (ranked 32nd in total defense) and their offense had a +2 turnover differential, which is good, but not great. This year, with the hiring of Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan, the defense is ranked 7th and the team’s turnover differential is +6. Head Coach Sean Payton’s return from a year-long suspension has also been a catalyst for the team’s success. His energy, offensive genius, and leadership have this year’s team playing as well as their 2009 Super Bowl winning season.
As of this writing, tight end Jimmy Graham is on pace for one of the greatest seasons in NFL history, and is the current NFL leader in receiving yards and touchdowns. With Payton’s offensive ingenuity and Ryan’s defensive blitzkrieg, this team is the favorite to capture the NFC South division title.
Green Bay’s improving defense – The (2-2) Packers offense continues to play well, as expected with All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers leading the way. As long as Rodgers is healthy, this team will compete with anybody. What will guarantee a playoff spot is the improvement of the defense, particularly the pass-rush. Linebacker Clay Matthews is one of the premier players in the league at his position; the problem has been the lack of help on the other side. This has resulted in constant chip blocks and double teams on Matthews. When the Packers drafted linebacker Nick Perry out of USC with their first round pick in 2012, he was expected to be the answer to the pass rush problems. Perry missed the entire season his rookie year due to injury. This season has been a slow start for the defense and for Perry, which changed after yesterday’s game. Perry had his much-anticipated breakout game, tallying 5 solo tackles and 2 sacks.
As long as the defense continues to develop, combined with the Packers new young coup of running backs (Eddie Lacy & Jonathan Franklin), I envisage the Packers once again to be NFC North champions.
Andrew Luck’s development – The (4-1) Colts continue to beat formidable opponents. There is no bigger reason for this than the rapid development of second year sensation Andrew Luck. Luck has led his team to a 4-1 start, despite three offensive starters being lost for the year to season-ending injuries.
The Luck-led Colts have beaten the two NFC West powers in back-to-back weeks, stifling the 49ers in their house, and beating the Seahawks at home. In 21 career starts, Luck has 9 4th quarter comebacks, garnering his 9th Sunday, against the previously undefeated Seahawks. Next week, Luck and the Colts travel to San Diego in what looks like an expected win. The AFC South now goes through Indianapolis, not Houston.
49ers defense – After beginning the year 1-2, folks in the Bay Area and across the country were credulous enough to mention that the (3-2) 49ers were in substantial trouble. After all, the 49ers never had lost two consecutive games in Head Coach Jim Harbaugh’s tenure. This was overblown, and the last two weeks prove that. The 49ers have dominated in back-to-back weeks, allowing 14 total points while scoring 69 points.
The only legitimate concern with this 49ers team is their lack of receiving threats on offense. This is because at wide receiver they are depleted. What everyone needs to keep in mind is that wide receiver Mario Manningham is slated to return sometime in the next 2 weeks, while wide receiver Michael Crabtree is scheduled to be back at the end of November. This will free up wide receiver Anquan Boldin, allowing him to be at his best, as a compliment receiver.
Miami’s offensive line – The Dolphins surprised people with their 3-0 start, but have lost two games in a row, in large part due to their inability to protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill has been sacked more than any other quarterback in the league, an astounding 24 times. Head Coach Joe Philbin was frank about the lack of protection, saying “It’s hard to function offensively when you’re going backward.”
Next week the Dolphins host the division rival Buffalo Bills, who can get after the quarterback without blitzing very often. This is the perfect opportunity for a bounce back type of game for Miami, but they have to get better at pass protection or this could turn into the perfect opportunity for the Bills to steal a win.
Carolina Panthers/Cam Newton – Carolina continues to be plagued by an inconsistent, enigmatic offense. Their defense is ranked 2nd overall, while their offense is 30th. Quarterback Cam Newton continues his perplexing career, lacking in the consistency needed to be a premier quarterback in this league. Newton’s total QBR ranks 30th, which is worse than quarterbacks Geno Smith, Terrelle Pryor, and Matt Schaub. If Head Coach Ron Rivera wants to keep his job past this season, he has to start evolving the offense to put Newton in the best position to succeed, or else it will be Rivera who is looking for a job next season, not Newton.
New York Giants – The (0-5) Giants are off to their worst start since 1987, with no immediate remedy in sight. With a defense that is simply playing with no pride and an offense that can’t hold onto the ball, the Giants are being beaten up on a weekly basis. Quarterback Eli Manning leads the league in interceptions with 15. The team has been outscored 105-28 in the past 3 weeks. Everything seems to be falling apart in the Big Apple, with no relief in sight. A turnaround only becomes more daunting, as the Giants play again in 3 days, on Thursday Night Football, in Chicago.
Matt Schaub – If you read my piece last week on Schaub, you know that he has thrown a pick-6 in three straight games, well make that four. Schaub played perhaps the worst game of his career on Sunday when the team needed his best. Facing off against the 49ers, the (2-3) Texans were humiliated on national TV, losing 34-3. Schaub had a paltry QBR of 4.9, and was benched in the 4th quarterback for backup quarterback T.J. Yates. Head Coach Gary Kubiak will have a difficult decision next week whether or not to start Schaub again. I think he will, simply because what is on the bench isn’t any better, and the team has a home game against the St. Louis Rams. The Texans defense should be able to shut down the Rams struggling offense, which should give Schaub his confidence back before a tough week 7 matchup with the (5-0) Chiefs.