The following Sports Agent Blog contribution is courtesy of Brandon Thorn.
San Francisco’s dominance – Since losing two of their first three games to start the season, the 49ers (6-2) have flat out dominated. In their last five games, the 49ers have outscored their opponents 174-61. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is the first player to record a 99+ QBR in consecutive weeks since the stat was created in 2006. Chatter that was briefly being floated around the league of the 49ers being in trouble after losing two games – albeit to two of the best teams in the league in the Colts and Seahawks – now seems like it never happened. Next week the 49ers have their bye week, and it couldn’t come at a better time. A huge boost could be coming with the return of wide receiver Mario Manningham, who hasn’t played a game yet this year and will give juice to an already dynamic offense.
Carolina Panthers – Carolina pushed their winning streak to three games, beating the hopeless Buccaneers 31-13 and improving their record to 4-3. This is the first time the Panthers have been above .500 since 2009. Quarterback Cam Newton deserves some praise as he is playing the most efficient football of his career. Newton hasn’t thrown an interception since week 5.
Yet the most intriguing and impressive part of this football team is how well-rounded they are. They have a three-headed monster at running back led by DeAngelo Williams. Their defensive front seven are as good as it gets, led by second year sensation linebacker Luke Kuechly. The defense has a stellar line that gets after opposing quarterbacks and clogs the middle against the run. Carolina’s offense won’t outscore the great teams in the league, so having such a solid defense is their key to being a playoff team this season. Learn about sports betting.
On the other hand, Carolina has beaten only one mediocre (Rams) and two bad (Vikings & Bucs) football teams in their last three wins. Next week will be more of a test when they host division rival Atlanta. The Falcons are extremely banged up, so Carolina should take care of business once again. Their true test comes the following week when they travel to the unfriendly confines of Candlestick Park to take on the 49ers. This will be the Panthers benchmark game of the year and a testament to where QB Cam Newton really is in his development as a quarterback.
Drew Brees – Brees was masterful on Sunday against the Bills, leading his team to their sixth victory in seven games. Brees – 26 of 34 for 332 yards and five touchdowns – broke the record for most five touchdown pass games in history with eight. The Saints continue to scare the rest of the league with their well-oiled offensive machine and much improved defense. Head Coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees are a dangerous duo.
Aaron Rodgers – While Brees was indeed masterful on Sunday, Rodgers reigned supreme. Rodgers made one jaw-dropping throw after another on Sunday, completing 24 of 29 passes for 285 yards, 2 TD, 2 INTs, and a 130.6 rating. Rodgers’ stellar day was just another day at the office for the NFL’s best quarterback.
The Packers (5-2) are an especially dangerous team this year due to their contributions from the running game. Former Alabama rookie running back Eddie Lacy is in the running for offensive rookie of the year, and the team ranks fourth in total rushing. If Green Bay continues to get this kind of all-around effort, Lacy could find himself on a championship team in back-to-back seasons.
Calvin Johnson – “Megatron” was the most impressive player in the NFL on Sunday. Johnson caught 14 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown. His 329 yards were the second most all-time and it came against one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL in Brandon Carr. I doubt that we will have another receiver compare himself in any way to Johnson anytime soon.
Andy Dalton (again) – Dalton followed his career best day last week with an even better day Sunday against the Jets. Dalton threw five touchdowns against one of the better defenses in the league, with none going to his superstar wide receiver A.J. Green. We are witnessing Dalton improving before our eyes. With a super-talented team around him, the Bengals will be a major hurdle for anybody once the playoffs begin.
Robert Quinn – Quinn’s name isn’t as well-known to the casual NFL fan as it should be. Playing for a bad Rams team doesn’t help, but Quinn deserves to be mentioned among the very best pass rushers in the league. On Sunday against the Seahawks Quinn recorded five solo tackles and three sacks, giving him 10 sacks and four forced fumbles for the year.
Quinn has had the making of a star ever since being recruited to play for the North Carolina Tar Heels out of high school. His sheer explosion off the line of scrimmage and ability to get around offensive tackles is unmatched. It was a matter of Quinn adjusting to the offenses in the NFL before he became a star.
Christian Ponder – Ponder had a chance to regain some confidence on Sunday. The quarterback who he was benched in favor of (Josh Freeman) missed the game due to injury and Ponder failed to capitalize on his opportunity. Ponder was 14 of 21 for 145 yards and zero touchdowns or interceptions. It wasn’t a terrible game for Ponder, but certainly not the type of game that will keep his starting job in the future.
Eagles quarterback situation – After the first six weeks of the season, the Eagles offense was among the best in the league. However, in the last two weeks, the offense has failed to score a touchdown. This is a direct result of their quarterback play. After missing last week’s game, Michael Vick gave it a go this week, despite not being close to 100% healthy. By the time the second quarter came around Vick was injured after hearing a “pop” in his hamstring. Backup QB Nick Foles is already injured so once again third-string rookie QB Matt Barkley entered the game. Barkley is simply ill-prepared to play meaningful minutes in the NFL. He hasn’t had nearly enough of the practice time needed and has played very poorly because of it. Next week when the team travels to the Black Hole in Oakland against a good defensive team, the quarterback play has to be straightened out to get a win.
Atlanta Falcons – Atlanta continues to fall victim to the devastating injuries they’ve suffered this season. Making matters worse, the Falcons were already a top-heavy team lacking depth. Wide receivers Julio Jones (done for the year) and Roddy White (expected to resume practice this week) have been out the last two weeks and the offense has fallen apart. QB Matt Ryan threw four interceptions on Sunday, albeit against a very good Cardinals defense.
Things do not get any easier the next two weeks for the Falcons as they travel to red-hot Carolina next week, followed by a home-game against the stellar Seahawks. With their playoff hopes already in jeopardy, next week’s division matchup is a must-win for them to have a fighting chance at the postseason.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Florida is not a place of NFL prosperity this season. The Bucs (0-7) lost to the Panthers on Sunday and once again it wasn’t a competitive game. Head Coach Greg Schiano’s job security is faltering by the day, and there isn’t much hope for the team’s future. It is worth noting that second year linebacker Lavonte David has been outstanding and deserves to be voted into the Pro Bowl this season. Sadly, this may not even happen for the Bucs because they have been so forgettable this season.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Next up for Florida’s dejected threesome are the Jaguars (0-8). Jacksonville lost 42-10 on Sunday to the 49ers, bringing up the question: Will Jacksonville become the second team to go 0-16? Looking at their schedule, it is difficult to see them getting a single win.
Miami Dolphins – Things aren’t nearly as bad for the Dolphins (3-4) as the aforementioned teams, but they aren’t good either. Last week’s article mentioned the overrated Dolphins being a year or two away from seriously competing for the playoffs. After Sunday’s loss to New England, Miami has now lost four straight games and host the 6-2 Cincinnati Bengals next week. While a loss seems likely, a win could completely turn things around for this young Miami team.